By Peter Hoskin
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Amid all the bother about immigration and Boris and Cyprus, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the report being released by the McKay Commission today. This independent commission was set up last year, with Government backing, to look into the question of…
“How the House of Commons might deal with legislation which affects only part of the United Kingdom, following the devolution of certain legislative powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales.”
…and it appears to have reached some significant conclusions about – and for – England. Among them is a recommendation that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have their influence over English laws curtailed. The report will say that this can be done in a number of ways, including separate votes on legislative clauses that relate only to England.
The Cabinet Office assures us that it will reply to the Commission’s proposals in due course. Here’s hoping it doesn’t dismiss them out of hand. As the best report on this subject – the IPPR’s The dog that finally barked: England as an emerging political community – has already shown, English disgruntlement has spread alongside devolution. One poll in that report found that 34 per cent of English people want a settlement much like that one the McKay Commission will recommend, against 24 per cent who prefer the status quo and 20 per cent who would prefer a straight-up English Parliament. This sentiment could well intensify as the vote on Scottish independence nears.
By Matthew Barrett
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David Cameron's speech to the Council of Europe today sought to make the case for reform of the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR, Mr Cameron said, has become too active in meddling with the affairs of national governments - behaviour which is now undermining not just the ECHR, but the cause of "human rights" in general.
Mr Cameron first put "human rights" in the context of British (and English) liberty:
"Human rights is a cause that runs deep in the British heart and long in British history. In the thirteenth century, the Magna Carta set down specific rights for citizens, including the right to freedom from unlawful detention. In the seventeenth century, the Petition of Right gave new authority to Parliament; and the Bill of Rights set limits on the power of the monarchy. ... It was that same spirit... that drove the battle against tyranny in two World Wars and that inspired Winston Churchill to promise that the end of the "world struggle" would see the "enthronement of human rights"."
Mr Cameron also noted that modern British foreign policy (Libya, Iran sanctions, engagement in the UN, empowering women in Afghanistan, etc) has shown "if called to defend [a belief in human rights] with action, we act."
By Joseph Willits
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With the release of 'The Iron Lady' last Friday, political commentary has focused on feminism, and women in politics a great deal. This morning in a Telegraph blog, Cristina Odone discusses the superiority of Tory feminism. She writes:
"Blue feminists don’t go in for the tokenism their red counterparts support. They despise positive discrimination as a confidence-sapper. Red feminists want the nomenklatura filled with quotas and box-ticking representatives; but blue feminists argue that women, like men, should be chosen on merit, not sex. Knowing they’re the best for the job gives them the self-confidence that the Left’s token women lack."
Whilst other commentators have been keen to focus on rising female Tory MPs such as Louise Mensch, Claire Perry and Amber Rudd as examples of card carrying Tory feminists, a more subtle, yet incredibly powerful example would be that of Baroness Warsi.
Commenting on the guilty verdict for Stephen Lawrence's killers, Trevor Phillips cited Warsi's position in the Cabinet, as an example of how far politics and race relations had come since 1993.
By Matthew Barrett
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Ahead of the Commons vote (which Number 10 claims will attract 85 votes for a referendum), David Cameron has written for the London Evening Standard this afternoon, setting out his reasons for opposing a referendum on our relationship with the European Union.
Firstly, the Prime Minister focuses on the national economic picture, urging a "single-minded" drive for growth:
"We need to be utterly single-minded about meeting the great challenges that face our country today - getting on top of our debts and getting our economy to grow. And that single-mindedness should apply to the subject we're debating in the Commons today: Europe. We need the European Union to contribute to economic growth, not hold it back. That means tackling the crisis in the euro zone that is having a chilling effect on our economy."
Mr Cameron then contrasts that drive for economic growth with the consequences of leaving the EU:
"Of course I share people's frustrations about how the EU works. I'm driven as mad by the bureaucracy as anyone else. But we cannot ignore our trade figures - 50 per cent of that trade is with Europe. I visit countless small businesses whose livelihoods depend on exports to the continent. For their sakes - for all our sakes - it's no use just saying 'Europe's not working for us' and pulling out; single-mindedness means recognising that our membership of the EU gives us a seat at the table at which the rules of that market are made, and we must make those rules work for us. "
By Tim Montgomerie
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Some of the 'Britain is Great' posters. Others celebrate Britain's universities.
David Cameron sees global salesmanship as one of his most important roles. Earlier this year he defended the way he takes businesspeople on his international trips. "Do you think," he asked, "the Germans and the French and the Americans are all sitting at home waiting for business to fall into their lap?" He continued: "While there are contracts to be won, jobs to be created, markets to be defended - I will be there." He was in Russia last week doing just that, helping to sign and seal £100m of new contracts for UKplc.
Yesterday in New York David Cameron launched the latest phase of his global salesman role. The £510,000 'Britain is Great' campaign aims to maximise the opportunities for Britain's global standing that will be presented by next year's Olympics and the celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The PM said:
“In 2012 there will be only one place to be…we are determined to make the most of this unprecedented opportunity to ensure we deliver a lasting economic legacy that will benefit the whole country. This campaign is simple. There are so many great things about Britain and we want to send out the message loud and proud that this is a great place to do business, to invest, to study and to visit.”
Mr Cameron also announced plans for a global investment conference on the eve of London's Olympics Games. 200 of the world's leading businesses will be invited to Lancaster House to consider investing in Britain as they also arrive to enjoy the sport (see FT (£) report). The UK Trade and Investment entity estimates that networking opportunities associated with the 2012 Games could yield up to £1bn in new investment into Britain.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has denied that the 'Britain Is Great' campaign is an attempt to repair the damage done by the summer's riots. The campaign has been in gestation for a long period.
By Paul Goodman
It's a debate that's divided political parties, the security services, the civil service and the police. Should government seek to target violent extremism (that's to say, acts of terrorism, such as the 7/7 atrocity, and those responsible), or extremism itself (in other words, the ideology that helps to inspire those acts, and those who further it)? Should government deal with the weed only, or the soil from which it grows?
Theresa May's speech on Tuesday got squeezed for coverage by Michael Gove's preceding debate, and those inspirational teachers and educationalists who spoke in it.
But this passage from her speech is worth noting -
"Foreign hate preachers will no longer be welcome here. Those who step outside the law to incite hatred and violence will be prosecuted and punished. And we will stand up to anybody who incites hatred and violence, who supports attacks on British troops, or who supports attacks on civilians anywhere in the world.We will tackle extremism by challenging its bigoted ideology head-on.
We will promote our shared values. We will work only with those with moderate voices. And we will make sure that everybody integrates and participates in our national life."
That's the most explicit indication to date that the Government's made up its mind: ideology matters, as well as acts. Theresa May made an excellent start by banning Zakir Naik from Britain. Some of her key civil servants need to get the message. The next test will be the Government's response to the Royal Ascot of British Islamism - the coming Global Peace and Unity event: see here and here
So the signs are encouraging. But Ministers now need to deliver.
Some Conservative conferences are thrown off course by events at a fringe meeting, by a chance remark at a rally or in a bar, by scandal and coming resignation (remember the 1983 conference and the Cecil Parkinson affair), or by events from outside - like that of two years ago which was hurtled off course by the banking crisis. Others are rocked by a plan or speech that comes from the leadership itself. This has been one of them.
The turmoil over the Government's child benefit plans has consumed two of the conference's four days to date. This morning's papers report the carnage - an apology from the Prime Minister, a letter from George Osborne, claims that key Cabinet members weren't consulted, off-stage noises from David Davis and other MPs, continuing editorial anger and critical story angles from the media left and the right, and suggestions of a tax cut for married couples to compensate (which would consume much of the savings gained from the child benefit move in the first place).
It's evident that George Osborne and David Cameron cooked up the plan between them. They'll take some comfort from today's Sun poll, which at first glance suggests that voters don't give a fig for what the media think, and don't care for universal welfareism either: 83 per cent of those polled by YouGov support scrapping child benefit for those on higher incomes. However, the poll also shows that opinion on the plan's main anomaly - that two-earner households below the threshold gain disproportionately from it - is much more evenly divided.
What's certain is that the Party leadership's not out of the woods on the matter, that the row's revived accusations of closed decision-making by a leadership magic circle, that it's a foretaste of the furore that will hit the Government after this month's spending review, and that the polls will worsen over the autumn. Much of this is how it must be: salvaging the nation's finances - a task no less imperative now than during the early 1980s - was always going to be arduous, tough and bloody.
Toil and sweat this week and in the future, then, plus some tears, though (hopefully) no blood. The intended conference message to date has been formal, consensual, even bland - "Together in the National Interest". As I wrote on Sunday, I rather like its patriotic overtones. It's not inappropriate for the Party to deck out its symbol in the Union Flag, since we are, after all, a patriotic party. And voters seem to like the idea of two parties working together in Coalition for the common good.
But there's a risk in all this that the Government will come to be seen not so much as Stanley Baldwin but as Victor Meldrew, dispensing not the early Cameron change, optimism and hope but inertia, pessimism...even despair. Ed Miliband moved to exploit this possibility last week. David Cameron knows well this morning that after the week's sweat and toil - not to mention the child benefit turmoil - he has to try to persuade voters today that the hard journey will have a happy end, and point the way towards the sunlit uplands.
As John Lennon once crooned (dire song: but the words serve a purpose), "it isn't hard to do". Imagine a country in which the deficit's been eliminated, the economy's recovering, living standards are rising, the immigration cap is in place, the universal credit's coming in, free schools are steadily opening, elected police chiefs are in place, GPs are fundholders, our aid budget's helping more people and giving value for money, 28 days imprisonment without charge has gone, national and local spending state is on-line for inspection and local referendums are happening.
Sure, Britain won't be perfect in 2015 (if the Coalition lasts that long). On - in particular - lower income tax rates and the recovery of powers from the EU, the Coalition Agreement is deeply disappointing. But the prospect sketched out above would be an immeasurable improvement on what we have now. And it can be turned from imagination to reality if the Government holds its nerve, and its leadership plans its strategy and tactics more effectively than it has this week over child benefit. Let's hope that David Cameron delivers today an agenda for growth and reform.
by Paul Goodman
As I write, Islamist groups will doubtless be searching for women contacts in the Kettering constituency. There's no guarantee that they'll find one, but if they do, they'll doubtless use their arts of persuasion (if that's exactly the right phrase) to persuade her first to wear a veil, if she doesn't already; second, to book in soon at one of the constituency surgeries of the local MP, Phillip Hollobone and, third, turn with up with protesters in attendance, plus a media scrum of hacks, cameras, boom mikes and tape recorders.
I say this because the Kettering MP's declared in this morning's Independent that he would refuse surgery time to such a woman if she refuses to remove her veil. He says that this is because since "I could not see her [face], I am not able to satisfy myself she is who she says she is". This is an unusual line of reasoning, because most MPs conducting surgeries accept constituents' claims to be who they say they are at face value. Perhaps Hollobone is more scrupulous, asking as a matter of course for proof of identity.
I believe that our Government shouldn't be compliant in the torture of Abid Naseer. Were it to return him to Pakistan, he probably would be so treated. So he shouldn't be sent there.
But I accept the view of the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission, which says that he represents a "serious threat" to public safety. A Commission panel saw closed material including "pointers to an imminent attack".
It follows that Naseer should therefore be put on trial if possible. (The Party's been campaigning to make intercept evidence admissible in court.) If not, he should be put in prison.
Theresa May has said that the Government's taking "all possible measures" to ensure that Naseer doesn't engage in terrorism. The use of the qualifying word "possible" suggests that it may be impossible to stop him.
What helps drive this risk to public safety? The Human Rights Act, of course. The Party was pledged to replace it with a British Act of Rights. Such a measure might have helped to protect the public in this case.
But it now looks unlikely to be brought forward. The Liberal Democrats are among Parliament's leading champions of the Human Rights Act. So we read that a committee is to examine the issue - i.e: boot it into the long grass.
That Naseer is to be constrained only by the discredited Control Orders regime - one that provides neither security not liberty, and which is gradually being picked to pieces by the courts - is a vivid demonstration of why the Act doesn't work.
Nick Clegg's speech this morning on new politics here was in many ways admirable. He referred at one point to "great, British freedoms". But there's nothing British about the Human Rights Act. It helps pass power from elected to unelected people - and is therefore, in a profound sense, anti-democratic.
The Naseer imbroglio, then, provides further evidence of the deep problems thrown up by coalition. An impasse on the Act was in neither Party's manifesto. There's certainly no mandate for it. If Conservative MPs don't keep making the case for scrapping the Act - and strongly - there's little point in them being there.
Monday will see the launch of the latest phase of the Conservatives' national poster campaign.
Earlier in the week saw the launch of this poster stating that the Conservatives would cut benefits for those who refuse to work and another highlighting Labour's jobs tax.
The latest four posters all project positive messages about what a Conservative Government under David Cameron has to offer and will appear on 2,200 billboard up and down the country from Monday morning: