Nick Webb was the Conservative candidate for Newport East in the 2011 Assembly elections and is now Deputy Chairman of Newport West Conservatives.
Localism, and tackling the cross-border challenge unites the Conservative response to the Silk Commission. The Commission, established in 2011, is in the final month of hearing evidence before preparing a report due for publication in Spring 2014.
Silk’s current remit is to look at the balance of powers between devolved Wales and the UK Government. In practice, this is almost certainly going to result in more powers being devolved to Cardiff Bay, although one recent opinion poll showed a notable minority in support of returning health and education policymaking to Westminster.
It would be wrong to claim that debate around “Silk” has engendered excited debate amongst the electorate, but it certainly has been a focus of the political class. The outcomes of the Commission are likely to be significant in shaping Wales’s future.
The Welsh Conservative Assembly Group finds itself with a very delicate balancing act. Much of the Party membership remains hostile to principle of Welsh devolution. However, electoral reality requires the group to be an acceptable coalition partner to Welsh nationalists and, more broadly, not to be fighting the battles of yesterday.
Syed Kamall is a Conservative MEP for London. Follow Syed on Twitter.
Despite the best efforts of the Coalition, Britain is still a “broken society”. We have a hard core of about a million adults who simply do not know the meaning of work. We still have hundreds of thousands of people trapped on welfare dependency, some looking for a job but others comfortable and unambitious on their benefits, plus sixteen hours a week of part time earnings. Up and down the country, we still have gangs of youths hanging around on the streets with nothing to do, many from broken families whose parents were too preoccupied with their own survival to be in a position to spend energy on disciplining their children.
The welfare state of today is a far cry from what its inventor Beveridge envisaged: a system which would support people in need at times when they most needed it and help return them to self sufficiency. Today, the welfare state has become the master rather than the servant of the poor. Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms, which are the first serious attempt to get rid of poverty traps, cannot come soon enough. But the overhaul of the benefit system will not be a panacea.
By Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC. Follow Lord Ashcroft on Twitter.
For most of the summer Labour’s poll lead has been in single digits. Though enough for victory at a general election, this is hardly a comfortable margin for Ed Miliband at this stage of the parliament – particularly since, as I have found in my previous research, Labour’s support is far from firm.
But as we know, the picture is seldom uniform across the country; the national headline figures can sometimes mask what is happening in marginal seats where elections are won and lost. In the last few weeks I have polled nearly 13,000 voters in the 40 Conservative seats with the smallest majorities: 32 of which the party is defending against Labour, and eight where the Liberal Democrats came second in 2010.
The encouraging news for the Tories, such as it is, is that Labour have made no further progress in their top targets seats than they had when I conducted a similar exercise in 2011. Voters here are slightly more likely than not to think Britain is heading in the right direction, and the opposition has not fully won their confidence: the Conservatives are more likely to be seen as willing to take tough decisions, and being clear about what they stand for. They still see David Cameron as better leadership material than Ed Miliband: 38 per cent say Cameron would make the best Prime Minister, compared to 28 per cent for the Labour leader.
Brian Monteith is a former Tory student chairman and Conservative MSP. He is now editor of ThinkScotland.org
On Monday Lord Ashcroft’s polling of Scottish voters’ views and intentions caused a predictable stir. It even led to the rare occurrence of a Scottish political story making the pages of MailOnline!
The focus was, understandably, the opinions on the independence referendum (a resounding 65 to 26 No), that the SNP’s fixation with independence was not shared by the majority of the electorate and that there remains a good deal of confusion about what the Scottish Parliament is responsible for and what it has actually achieved (the most popular being making various benefits or services ‘free’).
I reviewed that aspect of the polling here.
There was, however, some other rather revealing information that readers of ConservativeHome will be especially interested and I’m afraid it was not good news. Here are the headline findings:
Sadly, almost from its inception, the debate about how these two ships will be utilised has been confused, even undignified. Mention the subject in Parliament and one is immediately drawn into the weeds about the type, performance, and cost of the aircraft that will finally replace our iconic Harrier.
Whilst optimised to deliver Carrier Strike, they can also function as a transportable maritime garrison and perform a variety of roles from Littoral Manoeuvre to crisis response/humanitarian tasks. Indeed in an age of reduced defence budgets this new size of ship, accompanied by the right assets, could set an international standard in how a versatile aircraft carrier of the future should operate.
Alex Morton is Research Director for Housing, Planning and Urban Policy at Policy Exchange.
Politicians love to talk about evidence-based policy making. They also love to talk about the need to raise peoples’ living standards. Yet there is an area of policy that currently goes against both, and simply pretends nostalgia and central control is the way forward.
Retail is undergoing a huge shift. It is responding to the way that people prefer to shop. No longer do people need to head to one of many local high streets – they can click and get it delivered. As a result in the surge of the internet, only desirable retail destinations in their own right will survive. This is the fundamental driver of many retailers’ difficulties. There is no longer any need to go shopping. But people may still want to go shopping. The 14 per cent vacancy rate in our shops masks a variation among high streets across the country. In well run and attractive high streets the number of boarded up shops is below 10 per cent, while in other areas it is well above 20 per cent.
Business rates are not the main problem. Neither are online/offline taxes. Amazon may underpay corporate taxes, but so does Starbucks, hardly an online retailer. Business rates may be £6 billion or so but retailers’ sales are worth some £300 billion – in other words just two per cent or so of total sales. The key is that retail as social activity is the future, and this means change. But policy has lagged, with negative economic and social consequences.
"Due to the continued violence and civil unrest in Damascus and Aleppo, our Churches there have been closed down for the unforseeable future. Your prayers for the congregations and the people of Syria are sincerely requested and greatly appreciated. Please pray for peace throughout the Middle East."
So reads the website of All Saints Episcopal Church in Damascus. While Christians here fret over issues of gender identity and sexuality, those across North Africa and the Middle East are confronted by a momentous crisis that is nothing short of existential. It is not merely that churches are shut, pews empty and pulpits silent; their schools are being bombed, homes ransacked and businesses burned down. From Algeria in the west to Iran in the east, Christians are being kidnapped, terrorised, tortured, raped and murdered. They are being systematically ‘cleansed’ from the very lands where Jesus preached of the coming kingdom, and the Apostles first carried the gospel of salvation. They have returned to the first-century era of intolerable persecution, martyrdom and the coming apocalypse.
It has been observed – though not at all widely – that our eager assistance in the ushering in of various ‘Arab Springs’ has had certain unforeseen consequences for Christians across the region. Or perhaps they were all entirely foreseen by the FCO, but simply brushed aside as acceptable collateral damage; a price worth paying for greater geo-political security, enhanced economic cooperation and the propagation of democracy, liberty and human rights – all laudable objectives of an ethical foreign policy.
Michael Fallon is the Minister for Business and Enterprise and MP for Sevenoaks
This is an important day for Royal Mail, its employees and customers. Royal Mail needs to be able to compete with the internet, smart phones and international postal operators - and to be able to adapt to the changing postal market and seize new business opportunities.
That’s why I have announced that the Government will sell shares in Royal Mail through an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange. This sale will complete the final part of our reforms of the postal sector which Parliament debated and decided over two years ago. Our objective is to continue to secure the universal service – the six day a week, same price, goes anywhere service which is vital to the UK economy. We have already put in place a proper regulatory framework and given Ofcom stronger powers to take the action necessary to protect the universal service. We have also taken away Royal Mail's historic pension liabilities which were crippling the company's financial position.
Our reforms, together with the hard work of Royal Mail employees, have put Royal Mail on the road to sustainable health. But under the restrictions of public ownership Royal Mail's core mails business lurched between profit and loss in 5 of the last 12 years. Losses were around £1bn, and over 50,000 jobs went during that period. The sale of shares will give Royal Mail the commercial freedom it needs to succeed. It will give the company future access to capital it needs for investment – to seize the opportunities for growth such as increasing parcel volumes from the boom in online shopping. It will give Royal Mail commercial confidence – free from Whitehall interference.
Rob Gray explains why he is leading a new local community campaign – Back Heathrow - to give a voice to the thousands of residents who support Heathrow expansion.
The debate over Heathrow expansion is too often seen through the prism of national vs. local – the national economic interest colliding with the views of local residents who are often painted as a uniform block opposing expansion at the UK’s international hub airport.
Recent polling from Populus gives the lie to this caricature. The poll of a representative sample of more than 6,000 local residents showed more people in the communities around the airport back Heathrow than oppose it. It showed that 60 per cent of residents feel positive towards Heathrow compared to just 6 per cent who feel negatively. Two-thirds of the local residents polled said that the benefits of Heathrow outweigh the disadvantages for their community.
For too long, these voices – the local residents who support Heathrow - have been the silent majority in the debate on Heathrow’s future.
A total of 114,000 jobs are dependent on Heathrow airport – jobs that are now at risk from the Mayor’s plans for a new hub airport to the east. This threat is real and growing. Boris Johnson has himself admitted that his plans would mean the closure of Heathrow – an outcome that would be devastating for the West London economy and for the businesses and residents who rely on Heathrow for their livelihoods. People have compared this threat to Britain’s worst ever mass redundancies with job losses greater than the closure of our car factories and the pit closures put together.
Lord McColl of Dulwich, CBE is a British surgeon, professor, politician and Conservative member of the House of Lords. He has been an advocate for the survivors of human trafficking in the House of Lords for many years, bringing forward several Private Member's Bills on the issue.
Human trafficking has been a blight on British society for many years, yet still not enough is being done to help vulnerable children who are victims of this hideous crime.
A new report, ‘Still at Risk’, released today by the Refugee Council and The Children’s Society, shows that too many of these children are not being protected by the very agencies that are supposed to be supporting them. These are children who have been forced into a range of slavery and subjected to such horrific abuse as domestic servitude, forced criminality and sexual exploitation.
Often, they do not even know they are being trafficked or that what is happening to them is wrong.
Their traffickers threaten them with physical violence, frighten them into not trusting the police or strangers, and tell them if they try to get help that their families will be hurt. Despite the fear, some do escape and try to get help.
Sadly the report’s findings show that our care system is failing to protect and support them adequately. Instead of finding safety and being provided with the specialist care needed as traumatised children, some are sent to prison or detention centres.
Brooks Newmark MP is MP for Braintree and a member of the Treasury Select Committee. Follow Brooks on Twitter
If we needed more proof that plan A is on track then this week’s labour market statistics are it. The latest figures show that employment continues to rise, with more men and women in work than ever before. Furthermore, unemployment is down by 24,000 for May-July 2013, and July’s revised fall of 36,300 is the biggest fall since June 1997. The Government’s economic plan is beginning to bear fruit; we have repaired the damage inflicted by 13 years of Labour’s financial mismanagement, and our economy has started to recover. As the Chancellor, George Osborne, has stated, our welfare reforms are helping more people into work, and inequality is falling.
Yet as we carry on towards economic renewal it is important we pay special attention to young people, especially as yesterday’s jobs market analysis reveals that whilst the unemployment figures continue to drop, youth unemployment has not been following the overall employment trend in the UK. There are 960,000 unemployed 16-24 year olds, which is around one in five who are in need of a job. A Manifesto published this week by the Million Jobs Campaign, of which I am a founder, seeks to address this problem. The Million Jobs Campaign was established to address the problem of youth unemployment, and our manifesto sets out five key policies that will help young people across Britain move into jobs:
1) Get rid of employer National Insurance Contributions for unemployed under 25s.
2) Make sure school pupils know all about apprenticeships.
3) Get rid of rules that stop employers from giving honest feedback.
4) Encourage more companies to take on a young person.
5) Help every young person to find a mentor.
He admitted that Europe had meddled too much in some areas and now needs to focus on completing the single market with a respect national sovereignty and also avoiding any new powers for the eurozone against the EU as a whole.
Barroso, in the winter of his term and without the support of Germany in recent year, paid lip service to the hoary rhetoric of "political union" but failed to explain what he meant outside of the current snail’s pace stagger to banking union - which is a very different thing.
Matthew Elliot of Business for Britain writes in ConHome this morning about the inevitability to banking union. This is not simply a runaway, uncontrollable fact. The German constitutional court is a major impediment to deeper integration.
Today the eleventh President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, will deliver his fourth and final State of the Union address to Brussels before he steps down after the European elections next year.
We know already that he will say that the EU needs further economic and political integration. It is likely that he will start to expand on his vision of banking and fiscal union, welding the countries of the Eurozone ever closer together into a new highly-integrated economic bloc.
This should come as no surprise to anyone. The President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, set out proposals for deepening integration in his ‘Towards a genuine Economic and Monetary Union’ paper in 2012, and President Barroso floated the idea in his State of the Union address last year.
In fact, anyone who witnessed the debate about the single currency at the turn of this century would have seen commentators warning that the euro would not survive without a strong coordination of fiscal policy underpinned by a single pan-European banking system.
Eric Pickles MP is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Follow him on Twitter here.
New figures released this week have shown what a significant difference the Government's troubled families programme is making in England. 14,000 families have been turned round so far, which means their kids are back in school for three terms or more; levels of crime and anti-social behaviour have been cut by two thirds, and in some cases one of the adults is off welfare and has got a job – perhaps the first job in the family for generations.
The scheme is working because for the first time troubled families are being shown a bit of tough love. For too long the system allowed them to be cuddled into the system, giving the most vulnerable no obvious exit from the cycle of despair. This was not only damaging to one generation but to the future generations growing up in households without role models, rules or any idea of routine or structure.
As the success of our scheme is showing, the majority of these families want to get their lives back on track, and have embraced the practical help offered with open arms. It may not appear revolutionary at first but this approach represents a radically different way of working with troubled families, many of which have been struggling for years – sometimes decades. Instead of multiple agencies dealing with a parent's mental health problems or unemployment, police sorting out an older kid's drunken bad behaviour and a social worker with the younger child’s trouble at school, the whole family gets help to sort out problems together.
It isn't unusual for the Public Accounts Committee to hear tales of taxpayers money being wasted, but the cavalier way in which senior public servants look after their own is, on occasion, truly shocking.
There appears to be an emerging culture where it is totally acceptable for redundancy to be accompanied by a golden handshake which can be as large as you can negotiate.
Payments in lieu of notice, or PILON as they are known, appear to have become custom and practice to a degree which is unacceptable at a time of pay and expenditure restraint.
Public servants must always recognise that they are using taxpayers money for a purpose voted by Parliament. It isn't there for them to do as they please once they have been given the budget. Furthermore we need to ensure that the systems of governance in place to establish accountability are genuinely challenging the executive and delivering value for money.