Uncork the Gauke: Could the Tories go for another grey man to lead the party – like John Major

david gauke gov uk

David Gauke: potential leader? pic credit; Gov uk

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August is the time of the year when lobby journalists love to speculate on leadership plots. If Jeremy Corbyn had done really badly in the June general election – it would be all about who is going to succeed him. But as it is Theresa May who lost her majority and authority – the speculation is all about who will replace her – even though she is at the moment determined there will be no vacancy. So I thought I would add my pennyworth.

The last Tory PM to be deposed in office was Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and she was at that point even more unpopular than Theresa is now. Her disaster was the poll tax – which was quickly replaced by the present council tax – after she stood down.

People forget that at the time John Major was the least known of the candidates who stood to be leader and PM.

Just as now the leadership favourites were big beasts –  the two top runners were Michael Heseltine – who had resigned over a row over the  fixing of an order for a new generation of helicopters in what became the Westland affair – and Douglas Hurd, a well known big Tory beast and foreign secretary. Both are now peers.

Heseltine was at the time a bit of blonde bombshell – unpredictable and strident. Nicknamed ” Tarzan ” because- though he denies it – he was accused of swinging the Parliamentary mace in protest against Labour. Definitely regarded as leadership material – he had shades of Boris Johnson in his leadership claims for today.

While Hurd was seen as more thoughtful – just like Michael Gove who prides himself as a radical thinker – sees himself today.

But both these big beasts were trounced by the ” grey man ” – the relatively unknown John Major.

Today there is another relatively unknown man – a John Major for the 21st century. He is David Gauke. In the Westminster bubble he is known by the phrase ” Uncork the Gauke ” for  his ability to smoothe over gaffes made by his then boss George Osborne in successive budgets. He is a safe pair of hands to send to Westminster and handle Opposition anger over ministerial mistakes.

He was first out of the traps to address the Westminster  press gallery lunches this month – and came to put himself over as an agreeable lunch companion with a store of self deprecating jokes. He is also benefiting from Theresa May’s decision to promote him to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, presumably thinking like Thatcher about Major that he is no leadership challenger.

But don’t be fooled by his manner. At the heart of the man is a determination to continue the Conservative austerity programme. He was careful only to park plans to end the ” triple lock” on pensions and a new charging system for social care. He has since taken the decision to raise much earlier the pension age to 68 – something that was not in the Tory manifesto.

He also showed little real concern that benefit claimants had committed suicide as a result of  tough decisions. He came out in favour of means testing and to a question from me that his ministry was turning into the Department of Corporate Manslaughter – ignored the point – saying  lamely that there might be mistakes by staff.  There is a lot of difference between a  mistake and a suicide.

A lot is at  stake at the next general election – and Jeremy Corbyn has no longer that element of surprise that he is supposed to be a ” no hoper”  to become PM. So expect the unexpected from the Tories – they will devise new ways to stay in power and an unexpected figure emerging as their leader could be one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why treacherous Michael Gove can’t be trusted with your money at Number Ten

Michael Gove

Michael Gove Pic Credit: Channel Four

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The extraordinary treacherous act by Michael Gove in ditching Cameron and then dumping Boris Johnson  to try to be Prime Minister has obscured another damning trait in this discredited Tory star.

While the sound and  fury surrounding the Referendum campaign dominated the headlines Whitehall quietly produced a damning finding which questions the competence of Michael Gove to stand for  high office anywhere.

Before he moved to the Ministry of Justice, where he undid some of the nasty work of Chris Grayling, Gove was secretary of state for  education.

In the run up to the  Campaign Whitehall belatedly published the Whole Government Accounts – an international accounting standard record of every pound spent of taxpayer’s money and the value of the assets held by the British government.

This report was late because of the failure of one Cabinet minister – Michael Gove – to be able to  account for a staggering £33 billion -yes billion- of public money and assets while he was in office. That’s equivalent to half the education budget or THREE years of our contributions to the European Union.

As the findings by the National Audit Office says in Whitehall officialese:

“The 2014-15 Department for Education (DfE) accounts were qualified on the basis of incomplete and inaccurate valuation of academies’ land and buildings assets.

“ In 2014-15, the number of academies continued to increase from 3,905 to 4,580, but the DfE has not addressed the difficulty in maintaining oversight over them. As a result the scope of this issue has grown to £33 billion during the year and is likely to continue to be a source of continued qualification within the Whole Government accounts (WGA ) until there are changes in the oversight and accountability regime for academies. “

The findings means the department has no accurate record of the billions of pounds of school buildings and property they have handed over to private academies and free schools in the rush to create so many academies. The man who rushed through this in such a cavalier fashion was Michael Gove.

Whoever is the next Prime Minister is going to have a head for figures to negotiate one of the most complex series of deals to disentangle ourselves from the EU and be responsible for signing off tens of billions of pounds of complex trade deals across the world.

If Michael Gove gets to  Number Ten job it would be like handing over the running of the country to a reckless  irresponsible teenager who ran up huge debts on his parent’s credit card  but couldn’t properly account for what he had done.

Gove obviously has no responsibility, interest or understanding of how to control our money. He is entitled to his ideological commitment to creating academies but in his enthusiasm for this controversial policy he is leaving a trail of muddle and mess in his wake. In my view this makes him totally unsuitable to hold this top job. This of all times is no place for incompetents.

Stop these nasty attacks on people living here now

Manchester tram attack

Racist abuse on a Manchester tram this week Pic credit:www.dazeddigital.com

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During both the first and second world wars my family came under  suspicion and attack from people because our family name Hencke is German. At one stage we even considered changing it or  Anglicising it  to something like Henkey.

The reason was that we were  at war with Germany and although our family left Germany via Holland in 1862 and we were virulently  anti Nazi ( my mother is Jewish after all) the hatred of the foreigner was very high at this time.

Since the Brexit campaign there has been an upsurge in nasty, vicious attacks on EU people staying and working here and racist attacks against ethnic minorities which we have not seen  for some time.

Frankly I blame  Nigel Farage, UKIP and both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove for giving respectability and legitimacy to people who have held these views privately to think they can now openly harass foreign workers in this country.

By promising to quit the European Union and ” take control ” people have been given the impression that we can stop immigration altogether and that perhaps their wish that people could be sent home will be granted.

They have been told that all their problems getting jobs, housing, places for their kids in school, hospital operations  and even traffic jams and waiting in queues are all the fault of immigrants. If they left everything would be wonderful.

This monstrous lie was perpetuated in split screen TV campaign broadcasts by the Brexit campaign. Any sane person would know that this is far more complicated.than that.

But what has been alarming is the reaction. People attacked on a Manchester tram, women abused in the street, someone quizzing people on their nationality  in a supermarket queue and telling  the till staff to serve British born people first. Others have been nastier including abusing Polish  kids at school, putting nasty messages through Polish people’s letterboxes and daubing German made cars (presumably bought by British people) with swastikas. And there was the nasty graffiti  on the Polish centre in Hammersmith, west London.

It is soon going to become very obvious that people are NOT going to get what they want from Boris Johnson. Immigration will not stop, they are not going to be miraculously rehoused and immigrant’s children are not going to be removed from school. All because  this depends on policies that have nothing to do with immigration – such as house building or providing enough places in schools.

So what should  be done. There should be a crackdown on people who do this to show it is unacceptable.

But there also should be action to explain to people that if they want to live in  dynamic, prosperous, modern society  it is going to be a multi racial and diverse and people of different beliefs, race and sexuality all have something to contribute. We are no longer a pale male and stale society and can’t turn the clock back  centuries. That is why I think London rejected the Brexit case.

The problem is that we are left with a nasty backlash from people who see they have been left behind and want to take it out on anybody who is different to them. That must be tackled or we slip into a nasty, divisive country that no one will want to stay in.

 

 

 

How Gove is dumping one of Britain’s worst courts on Labour’s Greater Manchester

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Michael Gove, the justice secretary, is planning to dump on the citizens of Greater Manchester responsibility for running one of the worst funded and performing courts in England and Wales.

It is being packaged  under the slogan ” Northern Powerhouse” but it amounts to making sure Labour has to take responsibility for the court at a time when the government is planning even more cuts to the judicial system which is already in chaos. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Already a damning report last month from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee  has accused the ministry of bringing the criminal justice system to breaking point after slashing 26 per cent from its budget and closing courts across the country. Another 15 per cent of cuts are proposed between now and 2020.

The report revealed for the first time how the impact of the cuts had on individual crown courts revealing the best and worst performers in handling trials in a system now bedevilled by delays, lawyer shortages, and inefficiencies. A backlog of more than 50,000 cases has built up.

On average only around a third of trials in Crown Courts went ahead as planned on the day they were due to start. One in 10 cases were not ready and were postponed to another day. Currently, 24 per cent of cases are withdrawn on the day they are due to start, most commonly because the defendant pleads guilty on the day.

In Greater Manchester, only 18 per of cases went ahead on the day (the only worse place was Lancashire with 16 per cent); 21 per cent were withdrawn on the day after the defendant pleaded guilty and more than half, the joint highest in the country, of cases (55 per cent) are put back because they cannot start on the day scheduled.

MPs tried to get information from the government on how the new devolved package to Greater Manchester would work but were told “there is quite a lot of detail to be worked out” even though the move had been included in the March Budget statement by George Osborne, the Chancellor.

To my mind this suggests that the proposal is nothing more than a” back of the envelope ” job by the Tories who have  not thought out what exactly this will mean. Any sane person would have a plan in mind before making such a radical change. But then that is hardly surprising given the mess Gove has left behind  at the Department of Education by rushing through plans for academies without checking financial controls.

Greater Manchester need to be on their guard that they are not being offered a poisoned chalice by the government – and need to negotiate very carefully what exactly is being offered by Gove to run this part of the judicial system. Otherwise they find themselves the whipping boy for failed Tory policies and  be conveniently blamed for the cash starved judicial system.

Dropped: The vile Saudi Arabian contract that helped prop up a barbaric justice system

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The Cabinet revolt that ended the £5.9m contract bid by the now doomed Just Solutions International – the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice – is to be welcomed.

Justice Secretary  Michael Gove’s decision to press home ending this deal over the head of Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and initially, David Cameron, is the only morally acceptable case. Britain could not be seen helping a country that uses public beheadings, floggings and crucifixion as a routine part of its justice system.

When I first saw the disclosure of the deal in a routine half yearly report of the Ministry of Justice laid before Parliament I had no idea we had a commercial arm of the ministry, let alone that we had already done deals with Oman and Macedonia and were bidding for a Saudi contract.

Thanks to the work of. lawyer David Allen Green – known as Jack O’Kent on Twitter- who has assiduously followed this issue since -Downing Street has become embarrassed – and finally thrown in the towel. You can follow him on the JackofKentblog

I am also delighted that Lord Falconer, the shadow Lord Chancellor has reported this to the National Audit Office – because Just Solutions International set up by Gove’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, deserves a thorough financial examination.

I am also pleased that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader used his conference speech to demand David Cameron dropped the deal. I realise that he reads Tribune where I also featured developments there.

So for once justice has been done and seen to be done in the full glare of the media – rather than injustice being sneaked out in obscure Parliamentary reports.

So afraid of the Saudis: How the Brits daren’t cancel a contract to bolster barbaric justice

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Jeremy Corbyn has challenged David Cameron to explain why the British government can’t cancel a contract with the Saudis to provide training for their prison system just as it is about to execute a teenage dissident and crucify his body.

The Prime Minister who rightly does not spare a word in condemning Islamic State for its barbarism from throwing gay people off high buildings, and the public beheading of dissidents and hostages, is coy about financing the Saudis to behead its own dissidents or lash its social media bloggers like Raif Badawi.

Michael Gove, the new justice secretary, last week announced he was closing down Just Solutions International, the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice that was flogging expertise to unsavoury regimes including Oman and the Saudis.

Except  that in its afterlife it will continue with a contract to Saudi Arabia,His decision reverses the policy of his predecessor, Chris Grayling, who was planning to expand its business as a way of raising revenue for the ministry without being particular about which regime’s justice system they were supporting.

The existence of Just Solutions International was revealed earlier on my own blog. So it i is good news that Michael Gove, the new justice secretary,is closing it.

This is a secretive organisation that the ministry refused to reveal any details about – despite admitting there are 2000 emails about its operations. A splendid thorough investigation of the background of the company’s bid for Saudi Arabia has been written up by David Allen Green on his Jack of Kent blog.

I have also written a story for Tribune highlighting how ministers are admitting that the real reason they have not cancelled it is because in Andrew Selous’s words -( he is the junior minister at the Ministry of Justice) – “The critical factor was the strong view from across Government that withdrawing at such an advance stage would harm HMG’s broader engagement with Saudi Arabia.”

This replaced the phoney reason originally given to Parliament which ministers had to withdraw that it couldn’t be cancelled because the government faced penalty clauses. Despite that it is still reported in some media that this is the reason.

This is an appalling situation and the fact that Jeremy Corbyn linked this to the case of teenager Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr who will be beheaded for a ” crime ” he committed when he was 14  deserves highlighting.

He wrote: “Will you step in to terminate the Ministry of Justice’s bid to provide services to the Saudi prisons system – the very body, I should stress, which will be responsible for carrying out Ali’s execution?”

The Labour leader concluded: “Ali’s case is especially urgent – the secrecy of the Saudi system means that he could face execution at any time, and even his family may only find out after the event. There is therefore no time to spare in taking this up with the Saudi authorities, if we are to prevent a grave injustice.”

Not only should he take this up  and the Foreign Office has said it will – but this contract should not go ahead. Britain should not dirty its hands with aiding a regime that imposes such cruel punishments anymore than it should support the Islamic State.

In Britain the National Audit Office ought to look at the setting up of Just Solutions International and decide whether this experiment in commercialising a department was ” value for money”..This should then be taken up by the Commons public accounts committee.

The secrecy around this is totally unjustified and it appears only Parliament can properly investigate it.

Exclusive: Michael Gove faces High Court action over selling legal services to aid Saudi beheaders and torturers

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Tomorrow the High Court will receive an application from  the Gulf Centre  for Human Rights to bring a judicial review over the Justice Secretary’s decision to bid for commercial work from the Saudi Arabian government because of the regime’s appalling record of public beheadings, torturing dissidents and flogging bloggers like Raif Badawi.

The case against Michael Gove is a legacy from his predecessor Chris Grayling but is linked to an appalling case of torture against a Saudi Arabian -simply known for his own protection as AB.

The Gulf Center, a non governmental organisation based in Beirut and Copenhagen, defends independent journalists, lawyers and bloggers in the Middle East, is applying to take over the case  started by AB after it appears the Ministry of Justice retrospectively removed legal aid from him.

Central to the case is the shadowy and secretive (we know this as it vigorously finds any way not to release information) Just Solutions International, a commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice set up by Chris Grayling.As readers of this blog and those who follow the excellent  Jack of Kent aka lawyer David Allen Green will know – Just Solutions has an unenviable reputation of providing services to dodgy regimes and has a £5.9m bid for Saudi work at the moment.

The centre’s lawyers  want leave from the court to challenge whether the organisation has complied with official Whitehall guidelines before bidding for the contract and also whether Michael Gove or his predecessors  has acted illegally by creating this commercial organisation without any Parliamentary approval.

Their case cites information from  government documents on this blog and Jack of Kent’s blog. We have been separately pursuing the ministry over related issues.What they have found out is that there are no public documents saying that it followed the coalition’s  Overseas Judicial and Security Assistance guidelines.

These restrict all government departments from bidding for work from regimes which breach human rights if the Government’s reputation is damaged or is a serious risk to aiding or significantly increasing human rights abuses.These are spelled out as regimes that unlawfully detain people, have the death penalty, torture people and limit freedom of expression. Saudi Arabia ticks nearly very warning box.

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Until now the standard response has been that this help is meant to help improve standards. that is until a comment from  foreign office minister Baroness Anelay in reference to the flogging of Raif Badawi in the Lords : ““My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population.”

Melanie Gingell, a member of GCHR’s advisory board, said:: “It seems to us that far from improving human rights standards in the detention systems of these  regimes, the UK is more likely to be simply improving the efficiency of the systems within which these notorious abuses are being carried out.  The British public has been horrified by the public beheadings and floggings carried out in Saudi Arabia, and now mirrored by ISIS, and they have a right to know exactly what role the UK government is playing in these systems.”

She added, “We fear that the driving motivation behind these bids is purely commercial, and the veil of secrecy that has been drawn over them simply serves to deepen our concerns that the UK is making money out of the worst aspects of these regimes, that it condemns in public, but is happy to give support to in private.”

Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors (DPG) are acting for GCHR.  Adam Hundt, a partner at DPG, stated: “It is surprising that JSi’s activities have taken place shrouded in secrecy, and without parliamentary debate or approval.  If the UK is to sell its public services to regimes that behead people for sorcery, stone women to death and flog people for expressing pro-democracy views, then one would expect our Parliament to be consulted and given the opportunity to impose appropriate parameters on such activities.”

A campaign to crowd fund this action has also been launched by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. The link is http://www.gofundme.com/saudiprisons