Given the enormous interest into Johnson’s determination to leave the EU on October 31, there are questions about the huge hedge fund and City trader financial backing for his leadership campaign this deal when they stand to make billions of pounds on shares and the potential collapse of the pound. Read my story on Byline Times here.
While MPs were enjoying drinks and snacks in parties and receptions across London last week – I admit I was at one in the gardens of Westminster Abbey – a team of intrepid campaigners from BackTo60 took to the streets with the support Media Gang Guerrilla Marketing.
They stopped outside the Bank of England, The Law Courts in the Strand and opposite the House of Parliament to project images backing the 50s bornwomen campaign. One of my blogs was projected on the Bank of England and the Backto60 logo appeared on the side of Parliament overlooking the Thames.
Certainly if nothing else this campaign is creative – equal to some of the stunts of the younger generation. They should be proud that people never give up campaigning.
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Without huge coverage MPs from two influential Parliamentary committees yesterday proposed a new tax system to pay for the burgeoning cost of social care.
The proposal could mean a new hike in national insurance contributions, some redistribution of money going to fund your local council, higher council, inheritance and income tax and/or abolishing some of the existing universal pension benefits, like the heating allowance or cutting future state pension rises.
Significantly it includes making existing pensioners pay more tax particularly if they are still supplementing their pension by working.
This makes this the first serious policy proposal to deliberately tax people differently depending on their age – and exempting the millennials at the expense of the elderly. In that it feeds into the current and my view misconceived debate that millennials are being robbed by wealthy pensioners and the system must be changed to tax pensioners more.
The proposals may well prove to be attractive to the present government which has been trying to create an inter generational wedge between the young and old people – as a sop to the younger generation who have been burdened with huge student loan debts by government policy and can’t afford to buy a home.
No one can deny that the present system for social care is in a mess and is underfunded and it is estimated by the report using data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that spending on care needs to rise by 3.9 per cent a year just to keep the current severely means tested system which means many cannot get help. It will cost billions more if personal care like the NHS became free at the point of use.
At the moment many people are already paying for care through local council tax. When people ask where is all the council tax money is going – anything from 25 pc to 57pc is going on social care for the young and old. The average of 37.8 pc according to the report.
The government is also transferring a big tranche of business tax revenue from Whitehall to the councils and at the same time abolishing grants – but not according to the MPs earmarking any of this money for social care.
The MPs have done a lot of groundwork – suggesting an independent body should supervise the new earmarked tax- and have used a citizens assembly to advise them of how they could do it-. The report can be read in full here.
MPs need to tread very carefully over their funding proposals because there is no doubt it could make matters worse for a lot of people.
For a start – and it is picked up by people they consulted – 40 year olds will probably have the expense of large mortgages, or higher rents, the cost of bringing up children and may find, if they have had successful careers that they are paid enough to have to pay back student loans. So they may be even more squeezed.
They have completely ignored the plight of 3.9 million 50s women. – many being forced to work for up to six years – and would now have to pay extra insurance or tax just at the point when they find it difficult to get a highly paid job.
Also by extending national insurance contributions at a higher rate for those who still have a job after turning 65 could well hit people who have taken part time low paid jobs to make ends meet. The MPs also suggest the premium should apply to unearned income and investments held by pensioners – which amounts to a tax on pensioners savings.
The committee talks of setting an income threshold to make sure some pensioners are exempt – but does not state what this threshold should be.
To my mind there are too many questions that have not been answered or evaluated for the government to go ahead with this. People should remember that everybody who drew up this report was on an MPs salary of £77,000 a year, way above many people’s incomes.
Yes we need a debate on how to fund social care – but it shouldn’t be used as part of way to drive a wedge between generations- and we shouldn’t rush into yet another use for the National Insurance Fund when they are so many women who have been robbed of a decent pension by the existing system.
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There has been much debate about populist slogans from Brexiteers about Britain needing to take back control of the country from so called Brussels bureaucrats when we leave the European Union in 2019.
The very same MPs are remarkably silent about a decision taken seven years ago by the UK Parliament to set up an independent committee to take back control of how the government can present its legislation to Parliament.
Put it very simply we are supposed to live in a Parliamentary democracy but in fact MPs allow the government to monopolise and control Parliament through the Whips system without so much as a whisper of discontent.
The fact that nothing has been done was highlighted ( though you won’t have read in mainstream media) by John Bercow, the Speaker, in an address given in Parliament to the Hansard Society this week. You can read the full speech here.
In 2010 a committee chaired by Tony Wright, a Labour Mp who did a very good job scrutinising Whitehall on the public administration committee, proposed a series of reforms to allow MPs to take back control of the running of Parliament from the government. One reform giving backbenchers a greater role in debates got through. Another reform giving Mps much more control over government business was also approved – but guess what the government did nothing about it.
As John Bercow said in this extract from his speech:
” It is missing in action, confined to something akin to parliamentary purgatory. Nailed to its perch.”
He goes on in this longer extract:
” As a matter of basic democratic principle this will not do. The House decided to back the concept of a House Business Committee along the lines of the Wright Committee recommendations. One of three courses of action should follow. The House should have its decision implemented. Alternatively, it should be consulted on some other design for a House Business Committee. Or the House should determine in a vote that it has changed its mind on the issue. It should not be side lined in this fashion. It is quite wrong for there to be a vacuum. This is as inappropriate as, for example, legislating to hold a referendum on a major question of the day and then simply ignoring the outcome. The longer that this state of affairs persists the more profoundly unsatisfactory I believe it to be.
“The Wright formula, to remind enthusiasts in the room for such detail, was very balanced. It did not seek to defenestrate the Whips Offices. It recognised that the Government of the day had a right to have its business tabled. Elections would be rendered impotent affairs if this were not the case. Ministers are, therefore, in my view entitled to a majority but not a monopoly on a House Business Committee. The legitimate issue for the House as a whole is the balance of allocation of time across the various measures that constitute a legislative programme. The Wright Committee also underlined the importance of the Official Opposition – and other opposition parties – being given more say on scheduling their business, and envisaged, I am reliably informed, the House Business Committee as the forum for such discussions. I dare venture that some of the recent tensions over scheduling Opposition Days or more accurately not scheduling Opposition days, might have been avoided if there had been a House Business Committee to hand.
“Any such Committee should be chaired by an independent figure. Wright suggested the Senior Deputy Speaker. It should have a backbench component as well as representation from the smaller parties. It would also be desirable to link the chamber to the select committees perhaps via the presence of the Chair of the Liaison Committee. Finally, if not instantly but over time, it should include the direct election of the backbench members in the spirit of the various other reforms which Wright offered to the House more than eight years ago and which the House chose to adopt.”
Now you might say -particularly after this long extract – why should I be bothered about this arcane Parliamentary stuff? You should for two reasons.
First though she won the most votes Theresa May did not win enough Parliamentary seats to have a majority in Parliament but is ruling – because of the deal with the Democratic Unionist Party – as though she does using every statutory wheeze to try and stay in power for five years.
This measure will put Parliament as a whole in control as it will give greater bargaining power to Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable, the Scots Nats and the solitary Green MP – to influence how the government timetables its legislation and how Opposition Mps and backbenchers can get issues debated.
Second whatever your views on Brexit the government is planning to try and by-pass Parliament by using the Brexit bill to take power to change all sorts of laws and regulations by ministerial diktat – the ” so called Henry VIII clauses ” – named after the monarch who dissolved Britain’s monasteries – with little chance of debate.
These could be used to change rights for the disabled, curb worker’s rights to holidays , drop environment protections , cut benefit entitlement and amend health and safety protection, – like for example reducing safeguards on working with asbestos ( this has actually been suggested by one Tory).
This will affect you in your daily life and Parliament needs to defend itself by making sure that ministers can’t avoid being challenged by manipulating the Parliamentary timetable.
So what we need are some bolshie backbenchers of all parties to put up a motion to set up this committee. From what was said week they would get a fair wind from the Speaker.
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Before we were flooded by news of the sensational Presidential election victory of Donald Trump, Dame Lowell Goddard. the third chair of the troubled inquiry into child sexual abuse inquiry delivered a stunning blow to Parliament.
She refused point blank to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament and also announced that she would refuse to give any further interviews to the media on why she resigned.
It is no wonder that the new chair of the inquiry, Labour MP Yvette Cooper issued such a strong statement objecting to her refusal.
Dame Lowell had written :
“As a High Court judge in New Zealand for many years before I resigned to take up the chair, I have a duty to maintain judicial independence,” she wrote.
“That is why I have volunteered detailed written reports (in preference to oral communication) so that no dispute on powers or damage to IICSA’s independence could arise.
“I am not aware of any matter which remains unanswered. Meanwhile I have been the subject of malicious defamatory attacks in some UK media.
“I am disappointed that there has been no government defence of me in England, despite the fact that information refuting some of the more serious allegations has been held by the Home Office and your committee since the time of my initial recruitment.”
She got a stiff reply
” Dame Lowell Goddard’s refusal to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about her resignation from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is disgraceful,” Ms Cooper said.
“Dame Goddard has been paid significant amounts of public money to do an extremely important job which she suddenly resigned from, leaving a series of questions about what has been happening over the last 18 months and why the Inquiry got into difficulties.
“This is an astonishing response from a paid public servant who should know how important transparency is in an inquiry as sensitive and crucial as this one.
“Child abuse survivors have been let down by the extremely rocky start to this inquiry and we do need answers as to why it went wrong in order to be confident it is back on track now.”
I quite agree. She was given a very generous package running into hundreds of thousands of pounds to chair this inquiry . Her annual salary was £360,000. Her accommodation costs amounted to £119,000. Relocation costs were just short of £30,000 as well some £67,000 spent on travel, including trips for her whole family to and from New Zealand.
Yet she doesn’t have the slightest compunction to refuse to explain what went so horribly wrong. She was offered to give evidence by video link from new Zealand but declined because she said Parliamentary privilege would not cover the video link.
Frankly her refusal is an affront to the survivors, the general public, the taxpayer who met her bills and to Parliamentary sovereignty.
If she had been a British judge living in the UK she could have been ordered to attend. As it is she better not apply for a tourist visa to come here or she might find herself having to attend Parliament. I find her attitude arrogant particularly as she never properly explained her reasons for going.
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The reaction to the High Court decision saying that Parliament should be able to debate and trigger Britain’s application to leave the EU has been both depressing and ludicrous.
Newspapers like the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have treated the judges as ” enemies of the people ” just for having the temerity to lay down what is a perfectly valid constitutional decision.
They have NOT ruled that Britain should never leave the European Union but only that our leaving should follow proper constitutional procedures.
The papers have whipped up popularism on a totally false premise and played to the ignorance of people about what is actually happening.
The people who voted to leave the European Union should be delighted not furious about what has happened.
Their main case for leaving the EU was that they didn’t want to be ruled by Brussels and wanted to take back our sovereignty to rule ourselves.
Well what has happened. A British court composed of British judges has ruled that a British Parliament should have the last word and decide how we leave the EU. Brussels or any other foreign power has not said a word.
That seems perfectly reasonable to me. We are a Parliamentary democracy who elect MPs to pass laws and take up issues on our behalf. What we had earlier this year was a referendum not a general election in which the people decided to leave the EU. Therefore it is Parliament not the government that should be guardian of that referendum.
The last general election was won by a party that promised a referendum on whether we should leave the EU, not on a mandate that we will leave the EU – you had to vote UKIP for that.
The other criticism of media coverage of this ruling is the despicable attack on both the person who brought the case and on the judges themselves. Anybody has a right to bring a case and the idea they should be pilloried for doing so is anathema to democracy.
And the attack on the judges – particularly the homophobic criticism of one of them – was absolutely beyond the pale. What right has the Daily Mail to highlight that one of the judges was gay. Do we have ruling that no gay judge can pass judgement in this country? That is utterly despicable – worthy more of Donald Trump than Paul Dacre.
There is another profound reason why Parliament should make the final decision. Yes we voted to leave the EU but nobody was given a clear picture of how we were going to leave the EU during the referendum. The No camp did not have a plan.
So given there about 57 Heinz varieties of doing so – it is right that our MPs and for that matter peers under the present system should debate how we are going to do it and question the government on their plans.
The government is arguing that to do so would give away their hand. This is ridiculous and untenable. If the government think they can negotiate in secret they misunderstand the role of the press in this country and Europe. their plans will inevitably be leaked and when it comes to the negotiations to leave in Europe- journalists will have the resources to tap officials from 28 countries to find out what is going on. Theresa May is living in cloud cuckoo land if she thinks she can keep a lid on it.
So what is all this sound and fury about this decision by the judges – in my view it is much ado about nothing. People should grow up and accept in a mature democracy the issue should be debated and decided in the best forum to safeguard our sovereignty- Parliament.
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An extraordinary event took place in Parliament last night only hours after Amber Rudd, the home secretary, made the really bad decision to turn down an inquiry or independent panel into the ” battle of Orgreave ” in the 1984 Miners’ Strike.
Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for Leicestershire North West, moved a rare motion objecting to the appointment of :Labour MP, Keith Vaz, to the Commons Justice select committee.
Keith Vaz, the MP for Leicester, East stood down as chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee after an exposure in the Sunday Mirror, that he was involved in sex with two male prostitutes while posing as a ” washing machine salesman” in a flat he owned in North London. Police are at present assessing whether Mr Vaz committed any offences as a result of the scandal.
Mr Bridgen’s main point was that he should not stand for the post – because he himself had ruled out standing a home affairs committee chairman.
During his speech, Mr Bridgen told the Speaker Mr Bercow: “You have often spoken that this place must reflect the society with which we make the laws and I agree with you.
“I respectfully point out to the House that in any other sphere of activity a candidate with so much hanging unresolved over him would be very unlikely to be considered for such an important office.
“I believe and if (Mr Vaz) was in his place today I’d ask him to stand down from his nomination, but he’s not.”So I’d ask this House to reject his appointment otherwise I think we cannot blame the Great British public for having a low opinion of its politician and its politics – we can only blame ourselves.”
Earlier he had been warned by Mr Bercow to ” desist” after he also referred -under Parliamentary privilege- to a current historical child sex investigation said to be being conducted by Leicestershire Police where four people had come forward alleging child sexual abuse crimes.
However the view of Vaz’s supportive MPs was that it was perfectly proper for him to be a member of the justice committee -despite the recent scandal. And it was 159 Tory MPs and ministers that came forward in droves to support the Labour MP. Labour MPs were remarkable in their absence – though a number of MPs who have raised child sexual abuse cases did vote for him – notably Simon Danczuk and Tom Watson.
But it was the Tory Cabinet that stood out in support of him. They included Amber Rudd, the home secretary, who decided that there has been no ” miscarriage of justice in Orgreave” and was obviously happy to think that Mr Vaz had committed no offence.
Other key supporters included Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, Liam Fox, the International Secretary; James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary and former home office minister: David Gauke, chief secretary to the Treasury;Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary,and Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, who is advised by Craig Woodhouse, a former Sun journalist and David Lidington, leader of the House.
Only nine MPs supported Mr Bridgen’s motion. They were Nicholas Soames; Jake Berry, Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen; James Duddridge, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East; Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering; Scott Mann, Conservative MP for North Cornwall;Matthew Offord, Conservative MP for Hendon; and Mr Bridgen himself. Two other MPs acted as tellers, Karl McCartney, Conservative MP for Lincoln, and Nigel Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley.
On these occasions Parliament seems to resemble more a members’ club than a body representing the nation. And it does itself no good. I have a feeling that the loyalty of MPs to Mr Vaz’s rehabilitation plan will be misplaced and a large swathe of the Cabinet might regret their hasty decision to follow their whips advice. Parliament should not be used to play games or it will fall even more into disrespect.