A No Deal Brexit could leave nearly 500,000 expatriate Brits with frozen pensions like those living in Canada and Australia

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Last year  it looked like the 474,000 expatriates who retired to 27 European  Union countries had their pension increases protected forever and a day. A deal which meant the UK would sign up to the EU Social Security Convention  guaranteeing pension payments both to British expatriates abroad and EU citizens remaining in the UK.

There was only one caveat “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” which would prevent this happening and  the  government’s aim is the commitment would be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. This was emphasised in the White Paper on Brexit in July.

But now the spectre of a No Deal Brexit is again being raised everything is being thrown into the air. Supporters like Liam Fox talk of a country thriving on new free trade but what about the social cost? What is clear is that without a signed withdrawal treaty Britain appears to fall out of the social security convention – and as EU arrangements superseded most national arrangements the automatic rise in pensions goes as well.

The House of Commons library have just produced two new reports on the issue. One published in July on Brexit and state pensions provides an accurate summary of the present situation. You can download it here. Another published this week provides the latest analysis of frozen pensions overseas. You can get it here.

There is a current official breakdown of the situation for both  unfrozen pensions in EU countries and the Channel Islands and frozen pensions elsewhere at the end of this blog.It shows that EU  countries make up the vast majority of uprated pensions.

The government has only limited agreements with overseas countries to allow Brits who settle there to get uprated pensions. Outside the EU  the UK has agreements with Barbados; Bermuda; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Guernsey; Isle of Man; Israel; Jamaica; Jersey; Mauritius; Montenegro; the Philippines; Serbia; Turkey; the United States of America; and, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The rest of Europe includes Switzerland and Norway. The US agreement also covers American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

For those who could be confined to a frozen pension the results can be dire. And they get worse the longer you live. An expatriate living to the age of 90 in Canada would have to live on just £41.15 a week while someone who went to live in Canada in 2015 would be on just over £110.15 a week.

Ian Andexser, chairman of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, said:

“The UK continue to adopt a 70 year old policy which makes no sense, is unfair and in violation of the Commonwealth charter. If you are British and live in Niagara Falls USA, you get a fully indexed pension. If you live 400 yards away in Niagara Falls , Canada, you do not!”

An even more complex situation exists in Australia where they have a means tested pension and even getting Britain to pay up part of your state pension if you have already left the country is problematic.

The latest Commons guide on frozen pensions shows campaigners – once they have lost their case for any uprating – are unlikely to get it back. Successive British governments have refused to change the rules on grounds of costs and the spurious claim that the rises caused by  British inflation rates should not apply to other countries which had different rates of inflation. If that were the case the same would apply to people living in the European Union or Mauritius where people do benefit from British inflation.

The cost to do this is about £500 million a year and opposition parties – notably the Liberal Democrats – have backed the change only to renege on it once they got into office. Indeed the only change that followed the Pensions Act that  created the new pensions system was a minute extension of the uprating to pensioners who had retired to Sark in the Channel Islands.

So Brits in the EU better keep abreast of what does happen in the EU negotiations. They need to ensure that there is an agreement with the EU. The expatriates in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Jamaica, to name   few of the frozen pension  states can only  get redress by either pressurising British politicians or by pressuring their newly adopted country to demand Britain fulfils its obligations by refusing to sign a trade deal until it does.

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Bishop Peter Ball:Time for the Church of England to take a lead on stamping out child sex abuse

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Bishop Peter Ball at his trial . Pic Credit: BBC

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This week was a torrid week for the Church of England and very embarrassing week for the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse reran the scandal of  former Bishop Peter Ball, a convicted sex offender who preyed on young men. He jailed in 2015 for 32 months for offences against 18 teenagers and men.

The case which I wrote about a year ago here  was a classic Establishment cover up where a lively and personable bishop lead a double life which was well exposed last year by Dame Moira Gibb in her investigation into the scandal. As I said last year :

“Peter Ball comes out of this report as a manipulative, sadomasochistic  predator who appears to have used every trick to entice young men from public schoolboys to priests and damaged and vulnerable youths coming to the Church  for his own sexual  gratification.”

Let it not be forgotten that as a result of his activities a young man, Neil Todd, who had first accused him in 1993  of abusing him in when he was 17 killed himself in 2012 when  Sussex Police re-opened an investigation when he was Bishop of Lewes.

As last year’s report revealed how he wanted to whip Neil Todd who was only saved by worried staff at the Bishop’s house who sent him away. He also got youths to strip off in the chapel so they could pray together in the nude and even used a ceremony to anoint a youth’s penis in some bizarre religious rite.

Now it appears while all this was going on Peter Ball could rely on the support of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and Prince Charles, who were both subject to a very active campaign from the former bishop and his twin brother saying it was a   “vendetta ” against  him and all the claims were false.

Prince Charles letters reveal frankly he was duped by the bishop. – a man he had known for 20 years. In the letters between Prince Charles and the Bishop, read to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Ball spoke of a “malicious campaign” against him and “harassment” by “fraudulent” accusers.

In a letter to Ball in 1995, the prince said: “I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strong about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you.” In 1997, the prince wrote a letter in which he described an apparent accuser as a “ghastly man… up to his dastardly tricks again”.

In the written submission, read by the counsel to the inquiry Fiona Scolding,

“I first became aware of Peter Ball during the 1980s. He was later appointed Bishop of Gloucester when he became my local diocesan bishop.Peter Ball told me he had been involved in some sort of ‘indiscretion’ which prompted his resignation as my local bishop.

“He emphasised that one individual that I now understand to be Mr Neil Todd had made a complaint to the police, that the police had investigated the matter, and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to take no action.

“That sequence of events seemed to support Mr Ball’s claim that the complaint emanated from one individual and that individual bore a grudge against him and was persecuting him, that the complaint was false, but that the individual had nonetheless profited from the complaint by selling his story. Events later demonstrated beyond any doubt, to my deep regret, that I, along with many others, has been misled.”

The main point of these disclosures seem  not to be that Prince Charles was to blame but he is probably the highest profile figure to be conned by a manipulative sex offender. He is not the first and won’t be the last

The real blame in my view lies inside the Church of England which needs urgently to take a real stand against child sex abuse – by first ending the conflicting and blurred distinction that requires senior people in the Church to take a pastoral role in looking after priests while at the same time having to handle abuse complaints against them. It needs to segregate the two by handing over complaints to an independent authority.

It also needs to look at mandatory reporting of claims of sexual abuse. It doesn’t have to heed what the government believes over this issue – it can take a stand by itself. In that way the matter will be handed over to the police for a proper investigation to find out the truth.

It does not have to wait the full inquiry’s findings before it takes action either. It owes people like Neil Todd who was vilified and took his own life to create a just and fair system to deal with sexual abuse – so that others do not take their own lives.

Race equality groups seek big changes to the mental health act to end stereotyping and over-medication

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Sir Simon Wesseley, planning to report on reviewing the mental health act later this year

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While Theresa May is battling to hold her line on Brexit her almost unreported initiative to reform the mental health act is leading to demands for the government to introduce radical reforms for treatment and new rights for patients.

A submission from Race on the  Agenda and the Race Equality Foundation to the review  by Sir Simon Wesseley, set up by Theresa May to look into why so many black Afro Caribbean people were being detained in mental hospitals and the need for changes to the Act. It also comes against a disturbing background of deaths in police custody.

The submission has been backed by the Runnymede Trust;Patrick Vernon OBE, Chair of the Labour Party’s Race Equality Advisory Group, writer Amy Kenyon and Professor Rachel Tribe, of the School of Psychology at the University of East London among others.

NEED FOR BIG CHANGES

The Downing Street interim report  contained many warm words but not a lot of action. It stated: “Experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage are particularly poor and they are detained more than any other group. Too often this can result in police becoming involved at time of crisis. The causes of this disparity are complex.” The  full report  and details of its members  and terms of reference is available here.

Now the submission to the inquiry proposes major changes to tackle the problem. The link to it is here. The main proposals are:

1. The Mental Health Act (the Act) should set out principles that define human rights, anti-discriminatory practice and a commitment to combat institutional racism.
2. The Act should be amended to include a clause that states explicitly that a diagnosis for a ‘mental disorder’ must take account of the patient’s social and cultural background. And the Act should allow for appeals against diagnoses via a Tribunal, with a panel that includes experts from BAME backgrounds.
3. Patients detained under the Act should be empowered to choose which carers or family members have a say in their care and can support them during an appeals process.
4. A new system of appeal whenever a new diagnosis is applied and/or continued, to a tribunal-like body, with the right of the patient concerned to have legal representation at the hearing.
5. All mental health service providers should be set targets to reduce the use of Community Treatment Orders and minimize racial inequalities in their use. This should be monitored by the Care Quality Commission  during inspections. Specific amendments in relation to supervised treatment in the community should be made to ensure this is statutory.
6. Statutory bodies should be regularly inspected by the CQC or other appropriate body to ensure that training of professionals working in mental health services addresses issues of racial bias and cultural competence.

The  submission  says: “:We were glad to see an emphasis on the urgent need to address the disproportionate number of people from black African and Caribbean backgrounds being detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA).

Equally, we were unsurprised that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) focus group participants highlighted a lack of cultural awareness in staff and a need for culturally appropriate care as paramount. We would express concerns about racism, stigma, stereotyping and overmedication. We hope that these findings will guide and underpin the recommendations made in the final report ”

It is to be hoped that Sir Simon and Theresa May do take action to remedy these many faults in the system. Otherwise it will be another case of political posturing  like help for the ” just about managing” which has so far amounted to warm words and little else.

There were concerns expressed at the recent conference organised by Rota at the University of East London that little would really be done to tackle this. If little happens it will only make matters worse and there is a need for strong campaign to make sure Downing Street does really listen.

Vote Leave and Cambridge Analytica: A stench enveloping Downing Street and the Cabinet’s hard Brexiteers

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Stephen Parkinson, Now political secretary to Theresa May, previously national organiser Vote Leave Pic credit: Powerhouse

 

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The growing and completely unpredictable coverage following the exposure of Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm, for data harvesting is  fast turning into a scandal that  will seriously damage the reputation of the government or eventually could even bring it down.

From past experience of Westminster and Whitehall scandals once the genie is out of the bottle there is precious little those in power can do to put the stopper back. And from this weekend due to a crass and vile statement from Stephen Parkinson, Theresa May’s political secretary, about  the private life of the latest whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, it has drawn Downing Street into the fray.

For the ordinary voter the row over data analytics  and how it may have been misused may sound a trifle arcane – since it goes back to two past events – the election of Donald Trump and the controversial Brexit vote. Those in power will be tempted to say – nothing to see here, all done and dusted, let’s move on.

The problem is that they can’t. The huge scale of data harvesting  by Cambridge Analytica via  Facebook of 50 million US citizens plus the potential Russian involvement is now the subject of a huge investigation by  special counsel Robert Mueller and that will not go away. Already Facebook has taken a financial hit  for not protecting our data.

And in England, the Electoral Commission is now investigating the Brexit donations and the  Cambridge Analytica  and Vote Leave’s links to other companies, including the Canadian firm,AggregateIQ (AIQ). The Information Commissioner’s Office is now investigating Cambridge Analytica for potential data breaches for political purposes. Neither investigation is likely to stop.

I won’t need to go over the details of the story which now involves two whistleblowers and has led to the suspension of  the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix.

You can find it in full in The Observer by the dogged and determined Carole  Cadwalladr  here. Or you can see the excellent Channel Four documentary here.

What I will do is look at the ramifications which are now knocking on the door of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, both in the Cabinet. Central to this is why £625,000 was given to the student run  Vote BeLeave campaign to spend on a Vote Leave analytical company, when Vote Leave was not supposed to be connected to Vote BeLeave – and could breach strict  campaign spending guidelines. There are also the very serious allegations – of the mass removal of emails and links between Vote BeLeave and the two highly seasoned campaigners, Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers alliance fame  and chief executive of Vote Leave, and the aggressive  ex special adviser Dominic Cummings, who jointly ran Vote Leave. He is denying this happened but it appears the whistleblower has sent information to the Electoral commission contradicting that.

Did Gove and Johnson know? and why is Johnson just saying it is ludicrous to suggest this happened – ” sound bites ” don’t make the issue go away.

And finally there is the behaviour of Theresa May’s political secretary. Stephen Parkinson, in deciding the world should know about his previous love life with the whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni.  Shahmir did not wish to go public to the whole world that he was gay. Mr Parkinson is not some political celeb – his role, as I am sure he will be reminded pretty quickly by the Cabinet Office, is to stay in the background not to become part of a public love story. Most people won’t care a damn who he sleeps with – so the only real reason can be a botched attempt to discredit and embarrass the whistleblower.

Parkinson also has previous form. According to Spinwatch’s Lobbying Portal he is an experienced campaigner, being part of the ” No to AV ” campaign to stop the alternative vote in 2011. He also was involved in the scandal over whether the Tories had broken election law in 2015 by overspending. They were mainly cleared of this  but there is a legal case pending  in May against Craig Mackinley, Tory MP for South Thanet, his agent and a Tory campaigner, for making false election returns. Parkinson has worked for Theresa May since 2012 – apart from his work on the Vote Leave campaign.

The real problem for the government is that the next revelations could come from anywhere – it could come from the US  investigations or it could come from the UK if more whistleblowers come forward. They are not in control. So far the reaction has been pure bluster.

I can see in the end the most serious issue will be the use of people’s data by political organisations and breach of privacy – which will  even override  the bitter aftermath of Brexit and the US election result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Settle: a tragic case of a traumatised former senior Met police officer who is lashing out at politicians and child abuse survivors

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Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle giving evidence to Parliament

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Paul Settle, the former head of Met Police’ paedophile unit,, has given two interviews to the media in the last few days.

In the first to the BBC he describes how he has quit the Met at the very young age of 44 because he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a career as a high flying policeman.

He told the BBC:”Most of my career was dealing with serious crime and it was not uncommon for me to see things that most people would regard as horrific. I’ve probably dealt with 100 murders,” he says.

But eventually things which had happened years before started to haunt him – an IRA bomb attack in Wood Green, London in 1992 and his work to help identify and repatriate Britons killed in the 2004 Thailand tsunami.

“It is really difficult to understand because for the best part of 20 years it never affected me, then out of nowhere it started to affect me in a very nasty and intrusive way.”

He started to have nightmares where he would wake up feeling the heat from the bomb blast.

“In the case of the tsunami, I could smell the bodies when I woke up. It was quite a rapid descent. You begin to dread going to sleep so you stay up later.”

He says he initially turned to alcohol to help him get to sleep, but quickly found that made matters worse so sought intensive treatment instead to try to help him overcome debilitating symptoms which he says have reduced him to a shadow of his former self.

Even after treatment he still finds it hard to go out or be in a crowd.

Sirens and some loud noises can trigger gut wrenching and exhausting episodes of hyper arousal, an intense anxiety which can last for weeks on end.

“On two occasions I was preparing to kill myself. But whilst I was at my lowest point I decided I needed to try to make the best of a bad situation. I don’t think I’ll ever recover fully.”

One would feel extremely sorry for him – if not for an interview in the Daily Mail two days later – which skates over his state of mind – where he follows the paper’s agenda of rubbishing any paedophile case involving anybody remotely important. The interview is one of three in the last two weeks all on the same theme.

In it- and he has done this before – he aggrandises the role of  Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, describing the Met Police’s as being  “terrified ” of him ( I doubt that myself.)

Mr Settle told the Mail :: ‘The management at the Yard were absolutely petrified of Tom Watson. They were scared of what he could do to their careers.

‘They hung me out to dry. It was about their self-preservation. I was an expendable DCI and their careers were more important to them.

‘I was quite emphatic that the allegations against Lord Brittan were nonsense.’

He is particularly angry that Tom Watson contacted the DPP over an historic allegation  that Lord Brittan had raped a young woman.

The Mail said: He was ‘disgusted’ to learn that a month earlier, Mr Watson had written directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, asking her to review the decision and demanding that Lord Brittan – who was dying of cancer – be interviewed. The letter was forwarded to Met chiefs. ”

Yet the CPS did decide that a different approach should have been made and I am sure not just because it wanted to appease a Labour MP, then a backbencher. And Brittan was interviewed though there was not enough evidence to bring charges.

Mr Settle also believes ” Nick” who is  a child sex abuse survivor should be prosecuted for bringing forward such allegations  which did involve prominent figures and accusations of murder as well as child sex abuse and led to the Operation Midland investigation.

“If the evidence is there, he should be charged. He has done more harm to victim rights’ than anyone in modern criminal history.’

He also has told the Mail that he believed he lost his job because of his stand.

‘I was hounded out at the Met purely because I stood up and said ‘we should not do that’. But I can look myself in the mirror. I did the right thing.

‘However it was patently obvious that having exposed the failings of senior officers – and the level of indecision that existed and some would say incompetence – that I had no place in the organisation.’

‘I have been vindicated in the end but I have lost the job I love.’

Scotland Yard disagree. A spokesman is reported by the Mail as saying : “The Met does not believe that Mr Settle was “hounded out” of the organisation.”

To my mind there is one big unanswered question in all this. Given the high profile role and all the complexities of the Westminster paedophile investigation – why was a man who was in such a bad mental state – drinking himself to sleep and having nightmares because of previous police duties – ever put in charge of it in the first place.

He would have difficulties in dealing with such graphic and  difficult allegations and putting such prominent people through the mill.It strikes me that the main criticism of the Met must be whether it followed its ” duty of care ” to its own staff, not any suggestion that it hounded him out of office.

 

 

Hypocrisy and double standards: How a Tory flagship council denies the ” just about managing ” their new homes

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Nickie Aiken – Westminster Tory leader and a bit of a hypocrite over housing

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Today Philip Hammond the Chancellor made a big statement aimed to help the young get on the housing ladder with promises to build hundred of thousands of new homes and no stamp duty for the first £300,000 of the cost of a first time buyer home.

At the same time the Tory flagship council of Westminster has just decided NOT to make available affordable homes for young people which  it could provide by legally demanding a deal with a developer to provide cash and new homes for ordinary people in the centre of London.

The development around Baker Street by Portman Estates will allow the company to make a mint by building 51 homes, new offices and shops in a part of London where flats easily go for over £1m and much more.

By law Westminster could demand that nearly a third of the homes are made available at affordable (still high) rents to ordinary people and that the developers given £12.5 m towards the council’s own affordable housing fund – this is used often to export the homeless to other cheaper places.

In fact council documents show Westminster is about to agree a deal to accept the wealthy developer’s offer of providing just ten affordable homes ( under 20 per cenr) and contribute less than half the £12.5m the council could demand  from them = by agreeing to their offer of £5m.

You might think that this is well par for the course for the council that was famous in the 1990s for the ” homes for votes ” gerrymandering scandal under Dame Shirley Porter. They tried to move out poor families by letting new council homes to the middle class in Tory marginal seats.

But the new feisty leader Nickie Aiken  – she gave a good compassionate speech at the Tory party conference in a local government fringe – has made the point of NOT being another Dame Shirley.

She has told the Financial Times in June : “My view is that too many times we have not always pushed back enough in requiring affordable homes on-site, have buckled on viability or surrendered to the idea that brutal market economics simply denies housing opportunities for most people and that is just a harsh fact of life.”

And in case you missed it told the London Evening Standard  the same thing in January this year.  They reported : She suggested she would do things differently by no longer accepting “cheques” from developers in lieu of building more affordable homes.

“I can tell you there will be a lot more built under me than today.”

Well really – what a hypocrite – obviously not accepting cheques from developers meant they needn’t pay her so much to make even more money.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour’s Business, Planning and Public Realm spokesperson, said:

 “Once again the Conservatives prove that they cannot be trusted on delivering new affordable homes for Westminster residents. The Conservatives talk tough but roll over when developers plead poverty on major multi-million pound redevelopment schemes. The Conservatives are giving the go-ahead to more luxury housing and failing those in need of an affordable home in central London.”

If anything he was probably being too polite. The Tory leader is very keen to show a compassionate face for next May’s elections. The trouble is deeds count much more than words for the plight of young people who can’t get homes. Hypocrisy is not necessarily a good vote winner. I bet you don’t see this story in the London Evening Standard.

The full details  of the planning application and Westminster’s recommendation are here.

 

Hidden in plain sight: Labour trains a new generation of political activists

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Labour Conference 2017: the top of the iceberg Pic credit: politicshome

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The Labour  Party conference this year was like one huge political iceberg.

The ten per cent that was visible was dominated by the passionate, football chant style support for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – as the architects of a Labour revival that had seen membership soar to 569,500. It did unveil new and radical policies.It suppressed a public row over Brexit  which I notice Danny Finkelstein on The Times saw as shrewd politics, leaving divided Tories to take the flak. It contained a dispute about whether there was anti-Semitism among  Left wingers despite the best efforts of Guido Fawkes ,the Daily Mail and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to stir the pot.

But under the eyes of the media ( who were given very restricted access to the conference hall) the hidden 90 per cent of the Labour conference was carrying out another revolution which will ensure that the current revival of political activism among the young has a long term future.

Contrary to what most Conservatives would like to think the 369,000 new party members who joined after Corbyn became leader are not all former card carrying members of the Social Workers Party, the Communist Party and other Left wing groupings. And they even applies to those who joined Momentum

Just on a micro political point, members of the local Labour Party in Berkhamsted and Tring in  Hertfordshire have jumped from about 40 to 450 as a result of Corbyn.. If they were all committed former Communists, I think I would have noticed. Having lived in Berko since 1983, the town is not known for having Marxist banners festooned all over Berkhamsted station or the civic centre.

No the truth is – thanks to lack of any political  or civic education in our schools – they have ideals, strong views but little hard knowledge of how to participate in a political democracy. Many may be savvy with social media but need to know how to use it for the benefit of the Labour Party.

There were sessions on door knocking, electoral law, what becoming a councillor is like. making Labour Party branch meetings more fun, championing equality, building up women’s forums,  getting more disabled friendly meetings and how to use the traditional and social media to get your points across. There was also advice on how to tackle the problem of success, too many new members swamping local meetings.

Jeremy Corbyn has already transformed interest in politics by doubling the percentage of people involved in party membership in Britain. Now it looks as though Labour is going to get the new membership to engage in democracy. to help them win the next election. Even if only 10 per cent of the membership become fervent activists – that is still some 57,000 people – more than half the total Tory membership, I am told.

What is going to be interesting is when that hidden 90 per cent of the Labour iceberg hits  the opposition at the next election. Will it be the  sinking of the Tory Titanic or will the Tories try and steer well clear and come up with something new.