By Paul Goodman
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The combination of Eastleigh and Italy have between them unleashed a tidal wave of commentary about the drawbacks of being governed by the professional politics. Consider Charles Moore's column in today's Daily Telegraph:
"Eastleigh brings out something which more and more voters feel. A quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that “they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us."
Even the briefest inspection of David Cameron and Ed Miliband supports this view. Miliband has been a full-time political apparatchick since University. Cameron briefly had a job in television, but not a career: the post was acknowledged to be a waiting room for the Commons, even by his employers.
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the groups of Tory MPs continues with a look at a pioneering Eurosceptic group which helped backbenchers cause significant headaches for Prime Minister John Major during the early 1990s. The Bruges Group is a well-established forum for advocating looser ties with Brussels, and it has gone from a relatively small collection of Tories to one of the groups that best represents mainstream Conservative thinking on its particular policy area.
Origins of the group
The Bruges Group was founded in February 1989 to promote and uphold the ideas Margaret Thatcher expressed in her famous Bruges Speech in late 1988. Mrs Thatcher argued that the tide of opinion on the continent was towards centralising the structure of the European institutions - and this would be unsuitable for Britain's national identity and democracy. In the most famous passage of the speech, Mrs Thatcher said:
"I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world. But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy. ... We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels."
The group was set up by Patrick Robertson and Lord Harris of High Cross, ie Ralph Harris, the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs from 1957 to 1988. Lord Harris' work promoting free-market economics at the IEA was instrumental in the creation of Thatcherism.
By Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.
Origins of the group
Cornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.
Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.
When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:
"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."
The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.
By Paul Goodman
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We will have a proper look at the Hansard list after it's published, but in the meantime it's worth noting that Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox and Owen Paterson supported the amendment in the lobbies earlier this afternoon.
These are probably the three leading representatives of the right in Cabinet, and their united presence is bound to be noted. A senior source told me earlier that at least two of them - Duncan Smith and Paterson - spoke in advance. Fox indicated in advance that he'd probably support the amendment.
PoliticsHome (£) has an intitial reckoning here.
By Jonathan Isaby
This afternoon, Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, made a statement to the Commons on the tragic incident. He paid tribute to the murdered officer - the victim of a "revolting and cowardly act" - and said that no-one involved in democratic politics would allow it to destroy the stability which Northern Ireland now enjoys.
He told the Commons:
"I am sure that the whole House will join with me in sending our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of this brave young officer. He was a local man, who having gained a university degree, decided upon a career in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He dedicated his life to the service of the whole community. The terrorists who murdered him want to destroy that community. The contrast could not be clearer.
"These terrorists continue to target police officers and endanger the lives of the public. We all pay tribute to the remarkable commitment of the PSNI and the Garda and to their success in thwarting a number of recent attacks. Working seamlessly together, last year they charged 80 people with terrorist offences compared with 17 in 2009. But regrettably, on Saturday, a device exploded killing Constable Kerr. His murder was a revolting and cowardly act perpetrated by individuals intent on defying the wishes of the people.
Last month I noted how the Queen's Speech had failed to include any plans to implement the Kelly recommendation that MPs should not be allowed to hold a dual mandate and sit concurrently in a devolved legislature.
I also pointed out that the major beneficiaries of the current arrangements which allow so called "double-jobbing" were the DUP's nine MPs and Sinn Fein's five MPs - all of whom also sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and get an additional chunk of salary and allowances for their trouble, of course.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and shadow Northern Ireland minister in the Lords, Lord Glentoran, have taken the view for some time that double-jobbing by Ulster's MPs should be brought to an end - and anyone elected under the Conservative and Unionist banner at the general election in Northern Ireland will be expected to be a full-time MP.
But now Lord Glentoran has tabled amendments to the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill, which would, if passed, prevent an MLA being paid, receiving allowances and taking a pension if he or she is also an MP or MEP. The amendments would also remove the Assembly's right to make decisions on MLAs' salaries, allowances and pensions.
Owen Paterson, explained the move thus:
"The Conservatives were the first party in Northern Ireland to call for an end to double-jobbing in Northern Ireland. Voters want full-time MLAs, MPs and MEPs and rightly believe they currently get a raw deal when some of their elected politicians split their time between Stormont and Westminster.
"We have introduced amendments to legislation that are aimed at ending double-jobbing by Northern Ireland politicians at Stormont and Westminster. They are also intended to ensure that all decisions on MLAs' salaries, allowances and pensions are made by a third party, as at Westminster. We believe the current situation is wrong and should end."
Having indicated that they want to see the Kelly recommendations implemented, it will be interesting to see if the Government back these amendments which would attempt to put some of them into law. If Labour fail to back them, it will only heighten speculation that some kind of deal has been done with the DUP and Sinn Fein on the issue.
Shadow Northen Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson spoke for the Conservatives yesterday on the Northern Ireland Bill. The central purpose of the bill is to transfer responsibility for policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly from Parliament - but only once the Assembly requests it and Parliament agrees.
Mr Paterson thanked the Secretary of State (former Tory Shaun Woodward) and his officials, before outlining the Conservative position:
"The last Conservative Government began the peace process, and their work was built on by the current Labour Government. As I said in the debate on the programme motion, it has always been our policy in opposition to set party politics aside on issues concerning Northern Ireland, and broadly to support the Government in their approach to the peace process and devolution.
In doing so, we have not given the Government a blank cheque, however. While trying to be as supportive as possible, we have made constructive and detailed criticisms.
At the outset, I reconfirm that we emphatically support the Belfast agreement and the current devolved institutions that followed on from it. We would like to see the institutions that were established by ensuing agreements working effectively for the good of all the people of Northern Ireland. We have therefore always supported the eventual devolution of criminal justice and policing, when the conditions were right and once the proposed model for devolution had the support of all communities. Devolution of criminal justice and policing was, after all, envisaged in the Belfast agreement and re-affirmed in the joint declaration of 2003, and subsequently at St. Andrews in 2006.
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson yesterday challenged his opposite number Shaun Woodward.
The Secretary of State had announced that following advice from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, he was extending the weapons decommissioning amnesty to February 2010. This amnesty comes under the provisions of the 1997 Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act.
Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride (whose husband Andrew Mackay is a former Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary) made a particularly persuasive point:
"Since the Northern Ireland peace process began more than a decade ago, the people of Northern Ireland have been promised a deal, which is to say a compromise on political issues in return for the decommissioning of the vicious paramilitary groups whose activities have scarred Northern Ireland for far too long. The public have delivered their side of the deal, so why are the Government prevaricating on their side?
Mr. Woodward: Let us be clear about what the purpose of this process is. We all want to see every gun and every weapon removed from the streets. The decommissioning order provides an additional route towards seeking that goal. The record of achieving decommissioning over the years has been successful. I have to weigh the advice of the Chief Constable, as well as that of the IICD and the other bodies that give me security advice, about whether they believe that it would be useful to continue for another year to provide that additional way of getting weapons off the streets. It does not prevent the police from doing their work and removing those weapons, which are of course illegal, but if it provides an additional route that may be successful in removing the guns, it would be foolish of me to ignore that advice."
Mr Paterson later weighed in:
"Eleven years on from the agreement, it is unacceptable that there are armed gangs operating in any part of Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has just mentioned new evidence that has convinced him that the amnesty should be extended. Will he give us some of that evidence now?
Mr. Woodward: The purpose of sharing with the House the advice from the Decommissioning Commission is to encourage Members of this House to listen very carefully to that advice, as well as to me. I am not in a position to disclose the commission’s current negotiations, but I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that there are channels available to him through which I am prepared, and happy, to engage.
Mr. Paterson: The Chief Constable has consistently said that anyone who has guns should give them up immediately. One officer has been shot in the back, and five have had to be rehoused. By extending the amnesty period, the Government are letting down local communities and the police who are trying to protect them. These are parasitical gangsters, drug dealers and protection racketeers. They do not deserve another extension. As we are strongly opposed to what is proposed, will the right hon. Gentleman consider withdrawing this statutory instrument?
Mr. Woodward: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has a hearing difficulty, but as I have just explained to him, it is advice to us from the commission that has ensured that, on balance, we have made this decision. In my last answer, I made the offer to the hon. Gentleman that it would be possible through the usual channels to discuss with him further details, but if he really thinks it would be helpful for me to make public now the content of discussions that might result in guns being removed from the streets, I have to question what his motives are. If his motive is to remove the guns, I suggest he listens to the advice from the commission. On the other hand, if his intention is simply to proceed with a decision he made before that information emerged, I am afraid that even I am unable to help him."
Conservative members are right to raise these concerns. Northern Ireland may be unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, but its residents are no less entitled to protection from gangsterism and violence than anyone else.
On 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry in Northern Ireland, a civil rights procession took place (in defiance of a Stormont ban on parades and marches). Demonstrators - protesting against internment without trial - approached a barbed wire Army barricade. A variety of missiles were hurled. Members of the Parachute Regiment opened the gates and sent armoured vehicles into the crowd.
Thirteen people were shot dead. Another person later died from their injuries. A number of others were injured. Protestors claimed that the shooting was unprovoked. The Army claimed that they responded to shots from two snipers.
The events of what is now called Bloody Sunday have been an ungoing source of immense tension. The tribunal which reported a few weeks afterwards was condemned as a whitewash. In 1998 Tony Blair established the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry after the Law Lord in charge of proceedings. Formal hearings began in 2000. There has still not been any report.
Yesterday Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson asked about this in the House of Commons:
It is being reported that the Executive deadlock in Northern Ireland (which has lasted since June) might be about to come to an end. The DUP and Sinn Fein are apparently both making preparations in Stormont.
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson has been vocal recently condemning the stalemate, describing it as an "absolute disaster" economically. He has also said:
"Gone, it seems, is any hope of major US investment bringing both new jobs and investment to the country. Instead of holding the country to ransom, the DUP and particularly Sinn Fein need to get back around the table and sort these problems out the mature way."
The parties are in disagreement over the devolution of responsibility for policing. Sinn Fein believed that they had a deal from the St Andrews talks in Scotland in 2006 that a local minister would take the policing and justice job. The DUP denied this. Last August a new deal seemed imminent, as both parties agreed they wouldn't take the job, and that a minister should be elected with cross community backing. But no settlement has been reached.
Following weekend talks, there apparently is a chance that this might be about to change.
During questions in the House of Commons yesterday, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, asked a supplementary question about the devolution of responsibility for criminal justice and policing.
It is worth noting that the Secretary of State (and former Conservative MP) Shaun Woodward did not rule out bringing forward legislation in event of a local lack of agreement on the matter.
The Executive in Northern Ireland has not met since June.
Shropshire schools do very well: "Shropshire has 141 primary schools, 22 secondary schools and two special schools. In 2007, Shropshire performed ahead of the national average on all 11 indicators for seven-year-olds. The pattern of results in Shropshire has largely mirrored or exceeded national changes. This year, we again secured top grades against the five every child matters outcomes. Shropshire’s performance has remained ahead of the national average for 11-year-olds in English, mathematics and science. Its performance has also remained ahead of the national average on eight of the nine available indicators for 14-year-olds and has moved further ahead in the key level 5-plus indicator in English and mathematics. For 16-year-olds, the indications are that the results for GCSE or equivalent are likely to be the best ever recorded in the county. All results of the seven available indicators have improved over the 2006 county figures, and they have moved further ahead of the equivalent national figures in six of the seven indicators. Shropshire is ranked either first or second on all the main indicators. Attendance in Shropshire continues to be over the national average, and Shropshire’s permanent exclusion rates remain low in comparison with other authorities in the west midlands. That splendid track record is all the more remarkable when one considers that Shropshire is the second lowest funded of all 34 England upper-tier authorities. Shropshire’s guaranteed unit of funding per pupil for 2007-08 is £3,551."
But Shropshire pupils get half as much taxpayer investment as Inner London pupils: "I am not calling for a single penny more in taxation to be levied for education. Shropshire’s hard-working taxpayers are already taxed quite enough. My criticism is of the formula that distributes so much less taxpayers’ money back to Shropshire per pupil from Whitehall. The City of London receives £7,089 per pupil and Tower Hamlets receives £6,028, as against Shropshire’s £3,551. Perhaps a direct comparison would be with Ealing, which, with an almost identical number of pupils—39,250—receives £4,634 per pupil but in a much less sparse area. If Shropshire’s children received Ealing’s funding per pupil, they would have an incredible £42,486,428 extra. I repeat that I do not want a penny extra to be raised in tax, but I would like the Minister to explain how these extraordinary disparities come about. Does he believe that it is fair that a child in the City of London should receive back from general taxation twice what a child in Shropshire receives?"
The rural system of school competition may explain the Shropshire performance: "I hope, however, that the Minister recognises that the current system of education works well. That situation is very much due to the number of small schools that provide local education and parental choice. Having visited every school in my constituency in recent years, I can confirm that competition among schools guarantees higher standards as schools strive to satisfy parents, knowing that those parents often have an alternative so long as they possess a car."