Has Theresa May got it wrong over the Brexit negotiation plan?

View story at Medium.com

Theresa May

Theresa May, Prime Minister Pic Credit: conservatives.com

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Theresa May is about to trigger Article 50 and go into negotiations with the other 27 European Union countries to sort out arrangements covering British trade with this huge market. It is a complete mystery how Britain is going to play its cards and Theresa May doesn’t want to give anything away.

However  a fascinating  post  from Stewart Wood, a former adviser to  Labour PM, Gordon Brown and  later to  Ed Miliband, suggests that she does have a strategy but it may be the wrong one.

Drawing from his experience in Whitehall  he suggests that Theresa May plans to draw from her experience as home secretary where she successfully negotiated an opt out on police and criminal justice matters – choosing to opt back in to measures she accepted.

She plans to use this to apply to the whole British negotiation.

He writes : “Her plan is for the UK to leave the single market en bloc, but renegotiate continued access to it on preferential terms for some key UK industrial sectors as part of a wider free trade agreement. According to this vision, these lucky sectors would continue to enjoy de facto membership of the single market, but without the requirement to be bound by decisions of the European Court of Justice. Problem solved, our Prime Minister thinks.”

So will this work? Not according to Stewart Wood because  the mechanism she is using does not apply here.

” So it can work again, right? Wrong. The strategy of “exit then cherry-picking” worked with the JHA decision in 2014 for a simple reason: it was set up as an “exit plus cherry-picking” deal in the Lisbon Treaty itself. It is a colossal error to think that the same approach can work in the case of Brexit – a negotiation of phenomenally greater complexity, played on multiple chessboards simultaneously, where interests between the EU and the UK are nowhere near as simply aligned, and where opt-outs have not been negotiated by existing treaty provisions.”

I gather Stewart Wood’s views are reflected in Whitehall thinking. But whether Theresa May is taking any notice is another matter.

What it does mean is that if he is right  the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the Scots Nats are going to have a field day if they decide to hold the government to account. Also all the sectors – from the car industry, the financial sector and technology to name but a few – might vote with their feet to maintain unrestricted access to the EU. Interesting times.

View story at Medium.com

Robert Halfon v Jeremy Corbyn: The battle for the working class vote

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Jeremy Corbyn’s success in attracting tens of thousands of new Labour supporters was given a rare  accolade this week at the Conservative Party Conference.

Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow and the skills minister, told a Conservative  Party fringe meeting  organised by Respublica how the Labour leader had attracted these people because they saw him representing  their ” moral and ethical ” values and being fair minded rather than representing ” the privileged few”.

No doubt this would lead to a furious denial  from the Labour right wingers like Ben Bradshaw and Tristram Hunt – who see the whole exercise as a  1980s rerun of ” Reds under the Beds”  and  some predictable squealing from the Tory right who probably believe it should be a criminal offence to join a trade union.

But it was an intelligent assessment if you are a Tory at a time when capitalism is associated with unbelievable greed, inequality, globalisation and you are about to start an experiment  with Brexit that could lead to  uncertainty and an economic downturn.

For if there is another economic crisis the public- and particularly the young  -could easily turn against capitalism if it continues to crush and impoverish the working class at the expense of global multi billionaires. And Jeremy Corbyn will be ready and waiting.

Halfon’s pitch – which was reflected  in Theresa May’s speech – was basically to say unions were a good thing and should be given more power and influence in the board room. The arguments for collective bargaining  were made at this meeting – and the argument that where unions and management collaborated in other countries there was more prosperity and growth for more people.

Halfon is a member of the Prospect union and the union’s moderate general secretary Mike Clancy  was speaking at the same meeting and telling a few home truths to Tories.

Ha, ha , you might say from the party that has just passed the most vicious anti trade union laws in Western  Europe, penalised the poor and disabled ( Halfon is disabled too) and vilified people as scroungers. And it has also seen post Brexit a ferocious attack on immigration and immigrants that has led to the death of a Polish worker in Halfon’s constituency.

But what we are seeing under May and Halfon is a new battle of ideas to woo ordinary workers and families. The Tory Party is once again transforming itself – away from the uber Metro Notting Hill Set of Cameron, Gove and Osborne – to   Essex and Berkshire – combining an appeal to working class  Essex man and  middle class Berkshire woman. It always does this to maintain what it wants – to stay as the party of government.

But there is a very big elephant in the room called Brexit and in my view the conference was in total denial about it. We are going to curb immigration, tell the European Union what we want, build world wide markets for goods and services, and nobody will challenge us. Our newly trained doctors will be barred from emigrating until they have served time in the NHS, while foreign doctors will disappear from hospitals.. Our young people will spend their summers picking strawberries and hops in the UK rather than travelling  – like they used to a century ago – to bar EU workers from doing the same jobs.

And any opposition from people with different.viewpoints will be silenced. No doubt we will send a gunboat to any foreign power that dares challenge us like Palmerston in the nineteenth century.

Really? As the Daily Mail didn’t say this week, the Tories will be living in la la land if they believe this.

 

 

 

 

Call General Election now: What Ed would tell Theresa

ed-balls

Ed Balls Pic Credit: Wikipedia

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM 

I went to  an unusual book launch by a politician this week. Instead of a self serving glowing account of their great achievements (pace Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson to name but two) this book by Ed Balls is refreshingly  honest – it talks about his political mistakes (intended or otherwise).

Ed Balls – who probably will become more famous for his performances  on Strictly Come Dancing than his role in promoting tax credits – suffered the ” Portillo moment” at the last General Election when he was unexpectedly defeated by the Tories. Indeed he revealed  BBC Panorama had unsuccessfully tried to get him to do a programme with Michael Portillo on this very fact and compare and contrast how high flying politicians feel when the electorate rejects them.

Organised by the Strand Group  (see report ) at Kings College, London Ed Balls admitted many mistakes – such as he could have handled better the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of Haringey’s childrens’ services, over the notorious torture and death of Baby P.

He was also critical of May’s failure of leadership over Brexit and also warned that when governments have a weak opposition the media narrative is all about splits in the government – hence the obsession about the Blair Brown split when Iain Duncan Smith led the Tory party. So if the Labour row continues May could find life difficult as the media hone in on Tory Brexit splits.

One experience Gordon Brown and Theresa May share is that both of them have been anointed Prime Minister – neither faced a campaign against rivals and both took office without winning a general election.

In his book Ed Balls describes the botched attempt to call a general election immediately after Gordon became leader. Ed writes at the time ” the ‘risk’ of going for an early general elecrion was nowhere near as risky as deciding not to.”

But Labour dithered – first talking up an early election – and then knocking it down.But the result was devastating and certainly Brown made a mistake in not  acting  earlier and more decisively.

As Ed concludes on the day Brown backed off from an election: ” A dismal day in October, a day from which Gordon’s premiership and the togetherness and trust of his closest advisers and confidants never recovered.”

So what would Ed advise Theresa to do now. I asked him this when I got him to sign a copy of his book.

His answer was frank. She should call an election  setting out her  own manifesto and then be able to choose her own Cabinet.

Given the troubles she will face with colleagues – and potential new rows over decisions like Heathrow, HS2, Brexit, immigration etc and the current divisions within Labour it might be good advice for the Tories. She has a much smaller majority than Gordon Brown inherited from Blair.Otherwise she might regret it like Gordon Brown.

I wonder if she might surprise us all by announcing it at the Tory Party Conference?

 

 

 

 

 

An 11 plus failure speaks out:Theresa May wants conformity over opportunity

Theresa May

Theresa May, Prime Minister Pic Credit: conservatives.com

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Theresa May’s decision to turn the clock back five  decades by building a new generation of grammar schools makes me personally very angry. It is divisive, it will narrow opportunities for future generations and it will entrench the current Establishment by introducing a new ” gatekeeping ” role to ensure who succeeds and who fails.

Superficially it will allow a few hand picked intelligent  11 year olds from the poor to go to highly academic schools but the rest of the population can go hang.

I should know because I was one of those who would have been labelled a failure at 11. In 1958 I failed my 11 plus. Living in Streatham, South London and failing to get into Battersea Grammar meant I would be doomed to go to Dunraven Secondary Modern which then didn’t even teach enough O levels ( now GCSE’s) to get any professional job.
But I was lucky – educationalists in 1958 had this new fangled idea of  comprehensive education which was supported by Tories as well as Labour. A brand new school opened at the top of Brixton Hill called Tulse Hill – a   huge rough multi racial school that attracted idealist teachers across Britain.

Its first head came from Dulwich College, a prestigious public school (incidently where “anti establishment ” Nigel Farage later was a pupil) and teachers left cushy jobs at other elite schools to be part of the staff.

So instead of being consigned to the education scrapheap I was taught Latin by a teacher from Manchester Grammar, Spanish by a Republican fleeing Franco’s dictatorship, English by a guy who got plays on BBC radio and history by two brilliant teachers.

Even then though it took me to past 16 to really take off. As well failing my 11 plus I was a  “late developer”. I mucked  up some of my O levels but the flexibility at my school allowed me to retake some of them ( I was particularly bad at maths) while taking three A levels (one in 18 months). Even at 16 I was thought not to be university material but I was no longer thought to be a complete thickie.

I got much better A levels than people expected – though it did not surprise my history teachers- but had been rejected by every university. I used the ” clearing house” to re-apply to my first choice, Warwick University, backing it up by writing a letter.

In the meantime I was going to start my first job as a clerk with London Transport – but days before I suddenly got a place at Warwick on my chosen History and Politics course because someone dropped out. I gather the university chose me because they were heartened by my improvement at A level and thought I had more potential.

I have gone into such personal detail to illustrate why May is wrong – she may get some academically bright 11 year olds into grammars – but she will deprive thousands of other  ” late developers” like me who didn’t show their real potential until they were 16 of future opportunities available in a truly comprehensive system.

It is quite clear to me that without Tulse Hill and Warwick I would never have become a journalist. never have worked for The Times Higher Education Supplement and The Guardian. never been a lobby journalist and would not be sitting on a national independent  panel now. Neil Hamilton, Peter Mandelson. Tony Blair, Leon Brittan, Norman Fowler, Lord Ashcroft, Ed Lester and Brian Coleman to name a few, would never have been bothered by a pesky inquisitive journalist and could have slept more soundly.And talking of Tulse Hill, would Ken Livingstone, another pupil, ever had become mayor of London?

Since working at this level I have become aware of how much of a Club the Establishment is. It is dominated by public schools and old grammar school boys who share an ethos that is now miles apart from the working classes. By filtering people at 11 she will entrench this conformist view of society and help the Establishment- and that includes herself – to keep out oddballs like me – who can be a nuisance to so many people.

My view is that Theresa May’s real agenda is create a more conformist society and bolster the Establishment with a sprinkling of  academically clever working class boys and girls. Given her other main interest is pressing through a surveillance system that allows the state to keep records of every person’s digital footprint, the non conformists can easily be kept out of having a chance to shape society.

 

 

 

 

 

Alexis Jay: A game changer appointment for the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry?

 

Alexis Jay at the Rotherham inquiry Pic credit BBC

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The very fast decision by Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and Theresa May, to appoint Alexis Jay, as the new chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is a very positive move.

After three attempts to appoint leading lawyers  to run the inquiry have all failed, it was a breath of fresh air to decide that a non lawyer could take on the job. Amber Rudd used powers under the Inquiries Act to appoint an existing member of the inquiry to take over the job.

The appointment  shows ministers are thinking ” out of the box” after running into problems – two caused by perceived conflict of interest – over the three previous chairs, Dame Fiona Woolf, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Lowell Goddard.

I fully expected  politicians to try and get another lawyer to run the inquiry – because of the legal minefield surrounding  child sex abuse claims – but I am glad they didn’t.

Indeed it is a shame they did not think of appointing Alexis Jay in the first place to counteract the legal dominance of the inquiry.

Alexis Jay will bring a more human face to the inquiry and will have empathy for the traumas facing child sex abuse survivors. As a former social worker she may at last take seriously the problems of support for survivors – which should be one of the mainstream concerns of the inquiry  and has been sadly lacking until now.

But there are also other big advantages.

Her appointment means there will continuity and the Amber Rudd’s commitment to the inquiry couldn’t be clearer.

As Amber Rudd said:

Let there be no doubt; our commitment to this inquiry is undiminished. We owe it to victims and survivors to confront the appalling reality of how children were let down by the very people who were charged to protect them and to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Any new person coming to chair the inquiry would have needed time and space to read into events and there would have been an inevitable delay to further progress. This will not happen now.

It also means that the driving force of the future inquiry will not be a lawyer – which is my view is a good thing and puts it closer to the model adopted by independent panels.

Hillsborough for example was not chaired by a judge – and its impact on raising issues such as the  re-opening of the inquest into the deaths of the Liverpool football fans – has been enormous.

She  also has enormous experience in the issues of child sex abuse – and contrary to issues raised by survivor  Andi Lavery – there seems to be little potential for conflicts of interest.

Her letter to Amber Rudd dealing with  conflicts of interest also reveals  the breadth of her knowledge of the issue. As well as her inquiry into the appalling sexual abuse scandal in Rotherham  she had done similar work investigating child sexual abuse cases in Scotland.

As chief inspector for social work  in Scotland from 2005 to 2011 she investigated child sex abuse under the direction of ministers and  also took  a wider role in advising ministers on social work policy. As Scotland is outside the terms of reference of the inquiry, there is no conflict of interest here.

So what is the downside. She will need a lot of legal advice on how to handle some of the most difficult cases of child sex abuse -I am thinking of the judicial challenge to the investigation into Greville Janner – as the most pressing example. In a way this will enhance the role of Ben Emmerson, the inquiry’s QC and his team, as they will be crucial in defending the role of the inquiry to investigate this.

Secondly she may have to take some hard decisions about what to pursue and what to decline to investigate because of the massive amount of paperwork from the 13 streams they are already investigating. Otherwise it will become unwieldy.

I still  think the panel as whole is unbalanced in one respect – it has no dedicated investigator to cross all disciplines. The decision to drop having a journalist – Sharon Evans was the chosen person but it fell apart- on the panel was a bad idea. Lawyers are brilliant when they have got all the facts and can cross examine people about them – but they are not natural investigators and do not have the journalist’s mind to think ” out of the box”and make  connections.

I am not making a bid for myself – I am already on one national independent panel inquiry – but I think the issue should be re-examined and they should attach an investigative journalist to the inquiry.

Otherwise at this stage one can only wish Alexis Jay well in her new and demanding job.

A very legal coup:How Theresa May’s triumph meant Lowell Goddard’s demise

Theresa May

Theresa May,  then home secretary,  now prime minister.Pic Credit: conservatives.com

Unexpected political events can have unforeseen circumstances. The surprise coronation of Theresa May as Britain’s Prime Minister is one of them. Winning power because of Cameron’s failure to persuade the British people to remain in the European Union, she took office much earlier than expected when her gaffe prone rival Andrea Leadsom stood down.

It appears May’s sudden elevation and departure from the Home Office was the catalyst  that allowed some seasoned plotters unhappy for some time with Lowell Goddard’s performance as chair of the  child sex abuse  inquiry to act.

If Cameron had won the referendum and Theresa May was still home secretary it might well not have happened. For Theresa May could hardly accept the resignation of the third chair of a troubled inquiry within two years.

Piecing together what happened is not an exact science and not without its problems but it all points to a clever legal coup.

ben emmerson

Ben Emmerson:  Pic Credit: UN

The most powerful figure in the inquiry  apart from Goddard is Ben Emmerson, the QC to the inquiry. Nothing would have happened without his blessing and he must have been involved in her departure He is a formidable human rights lawyer, highly intelligent  and an award winning barrister from a highly political chambers, Matrix, whose former partners included Cherie Blair. He also has an ego the size of The Shard and is remarkably focused to the point of being perceived as a bit of a bully.

The irony about his role in the departure of Dame Lowell is that he was the one who introduced her to the Home Office in the first place.  He was the one because of his connections with the UN human rights body knew of her reputation in the human rights field .

He also rescued Theresa May at a time when two previous chairs, Dame Fiona Woolf and Baroness Butler Sloss, had to quit because of perceived conflicts of interest. At the time it seemed a brilliant move – removing any connection with the British Establishment when Establishment figures faced allegations of child sex abuse.

So what went wrong? According to different sources two things. Dame Lowell came into conflict with her own legal team about the scope and direction of the inquiry until the differences could not be resolved.

And the hard pressed secretariat became demoralised by the sheer scope and size of the different strands of the inquiry which promised to swamp their work and bury them in mounds of paper.. One source talked about absenteeism and low morale.

The decision to model the inquiry on the Australian child sex abuse investigation might have seemed a good idea at the time. But it is now clear that Australia is not England and Wales. The long running Australian inquiry has fewer numbers of people, fewer institutions and the population  is much lower than England and Wales.

I suspect that one of the issues that any new chair will have to examine is how to give the inquiry more focus. This may prove to be unpopular with survivors.who are already unhappy that some institutions are not being covered and will be worried that it could be used to cover up abuse. But to have any hope of meeting a timetable the inquiry cannot be opened ended. Nor is the issue of support for survivors being addressed either.

So who will get the new job. Some see the move as a clever ploy by Ben Emmerson to take over the chair himself and appoint a new QC to the inquiry. I am not so  sure he will want to be tied down for five years.

Some survivors want Michael Mansfield but this seems unlikely according to my Whitehall sources..

lady justice hallett pic credit BBC

Dame Heather Hallett – powerful candidate. Pic credit: BBC

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

 

My money is on Dame Heather Hallet – as being the most attractive to the PM who is bound to have a say alongside Amber Rudd, the home secretary.

A grammar school girl ( though an article  interviewing her suggested they did her no favours suggesting she would make a good domestic science teacher) and well grounded in the legal profession ( husband, Nigel Wilkinson is a mercantile judge and one of her sons, a barrister) she is a powerful contender.

She also showed considerable empathy as a coroner handling the  inquest into the 7/7 terrorism bombings and a fair amount of guts in investigating the scandal of the Blair government giving licence to IRA killers on the run  to avoid prosecution.

Whether she will want it is another matter.But whoever it is they will have to be very strong minded and an expert on English law. The first test will be the attempt by the Janner family to throw out any investigation into allegations against Greville Janner. The family are adamant that child sex abuse survivors have fabricated the allegations against him and therefore it should not even been considered  by the inquiry. This is why they want a judicial review not just to stop a ” trial “but I gather to reject any suggestion that such things ever happened.

All the survivors have been assured at a meeting with the remaining panel members ( but minus  Ben Emmerson) last week that the inquiry will continue. But how it will continue will depend on the next chair.

 

Time for Dame Lowell Goddard to explain why she quit

lowell goddard

Dame Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The shock decision of Dame Lowell Goddard to quit the child sex abuse inquiry has been compounded by her very terse statement on why she resigned. See here Dame_Lowell_Goddard_letter

Survivors have been suddenly let down  by someone who only two years ago committed herself to a five year comprehensive inquiry that would cover every aspect of child sex abuse from VIP paedophiles to institutions as varied as children’s homes, religious orders,  schools and colleges.
It already has a packed programme  including a controversial hearing of the facts surrounding the allegations against Lord Janner; the scandal in Rochdale around Sir Cyril Smith, Lambeth Council, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England to name but a  few. It was also, I understand, to look at the Westminster paedophile ring and Operation Midland but not until 2018.

So her decision to leave at this crucial moment when the inquiry was starting to get into its stride is more perplexing. Her statement today in full  read :

“I announce with regret my decision to resign as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, effective from today.

“When I was first approached through the British High Commissioner in Wellington in late 2014, and asked to consider taking up the role, I had to think long and hard about it. After carefully discussing the matter with the Home Secretary and her Officials and seeking the counsel of those people in New Zealand whose opinions mattered to me, I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area.  It was however an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.

“The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.

“While it has been a struggle in many respects I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the victims and survivors and have particularly enjoyed working with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel which I established.”

What I find particularly perplexing is her implication that she should never have been appointed to continue the inquiry in the first place. If suggests that she did not think things through.

The inquiry following the resignations of Baroness Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf because of conflicts of interest had already been remodelled – changing it from an independent panel to a  statutory judicial inquiry. Its work  and costs have gone up enormously and Lowell Goddard, as The Times pointed out, has taken time off and obviously misses her family.

The volume of work must be enormous – I know from sitting on a much smaller independent panel myself which I cannot talk about – that historic inquiries generate masses of documents.

In the child abuse area  a chair also needs to have a tough skin and a focused mind – since he or she is entering a minefield of controversy – and will face a barrage of complaints from a small but vocal minority who don’t believe that most of the child abuse took place – and most survivors are liars or bounty hunters.

Remember there are websites  devoted to the idea  that Jimmy Savile was totally innocent and everything has been made up by disturbed people. After all as Dame Janet Smith found the BBC either didn’t know or couldn’t bring itself to believe that he was a paedophile.

Therefore it seems to me that if she thinks there is something wrong in the process she should say so and she owes  the public who paid her a lot of money to chair this inquiry a full and frank explanation.

Reports suggested to me that her decision to go was not sudden. She has been seen as a little distant from event ( and not just physically ). There have been suggestions that Home Officials have tried to capture the direction of an independent inquiry and other suggestions that Ben Emmerson, the counsel in charge of the inquiry, may have had too much power.

Whatever happened we need a full explanation. And action from the Home Office and Theresa May, the PM who originally set up the inquiry as home secretary to make sure investigations and hearings go ahead regardless.

As I am the only person made redundant from Exaro who has a personal website – I intend to continue reporting on child sex abuse issues here and on Byline.com. Those who wish to keep abreast of developments should follow this blog or keep an eye on  Byline.com.