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Posts Tagged ‘Cameron’

A Collection of Thoughts

In Economy, Europe, Events, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Party politics, The Media, Uncategorized on December 17, 2011 at 7:14 pm

By polarii for the Daily Soapbox – @polar_ii

So here’s time for a big apology to any regular readers – between us all at the Daily Soapbox, we haven’t had any time to put down some ideas for a blog post. That’s not for want of things to say (and how much we have wanted to say!), but for lack of time. So it’s our fault for not finding time. Sorry.

If you want the blog to be fuller, and you enjoy what you read, and maybe even reckon you could do better, why not join us? Email: dingdongalistic@gmail.com and we’ll set you up as the latest Soapbox contributor.

So to kick us back off, here’s a couple of thoughts from my ice cave in the Arctic… or Germany, as everyone outside the BBC calls it.


Why has everyone forgotten Cameron is a bona fide Eurosceptic in his own right? Sure, he doesn’t foam at the mouth with quite the aplomb of Daniel Hannan, but this is a good thing. In the Conservative leadership election (in the heady days of 2005), he was elected on and later delivered a promise to take the Conservative party out of the EPP and form a soft-eurosceptic bloc, which was further than David Davis (who is more ‘right-wing’) was prepared to go. While ConHome and others have been whingeing about the lack of a referendum, Cameron has managed to a) move the European issue to a more central stage while b) uniting his historically divided party behind a moderate Eurosceptic stance and c) not banging on about it. Clever or what?

A further thought: Labour wouldn’t have signed up to these agreements either, but that’s not half the fun of it. These agreements will enforce a statutory deficit-limit stricter than the ones in the Maastricht Treaties. The Maastricht Limit is 3% of GDP, so presumably the Merkozy limit will be 2% or 2.5%. But Labour’s ‘Darling Plan’, even on their own (overly optimistic) reckoning, will only halve the deficit over four years. Our deficit is currently about 10% of GDP. In the event that Britain was bound by the Maastricht or Merkozy Treaties, Labour would have no plan to bring the deficit within the legal limits. Brussels would throw Labour’s budget back in their faces, impose hefty fines, and tell them to follow Osborne’s plan. Now who thinks Merkozy’s scheme is in our national interest?


The charge levelled against Cameron is that he has left Britain without allies. This is, of course, untrue, because most every country outside the EU is taking a position very similar to Britain’s, especially the United States.

But even within Europe, he isn’t as isolated as some claim. Mads Persson correctly notes that the Irish, French, Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles all have not insignificant problems with the agreement as posed (see also this surprisingly excellent Indy graphic). But then, let’s look at some other countries, particularly Italy and Greece. There have been close votes in both parliaments on European issues, and it is not an unreasonable parliamentarian who, having been subjected to EU budget targets for the next ten years, objects to handing over control of their country’s budgets over to the EU for the rest of history. Rebellious parliaments can rebel again, and it’s hard not to imagine Eurosceptic parties like LAOS (Greece) and Lega Nord (Italy) doing quite well in upcoming elections. Of course, I could be completely wrong. But I wouldn’t write anything off either.


In case you missed the gratuitous sideswipe at the BBC in the preamble, it’s coming again. If you didn’t miss it in the preamble, I am actually going to make a point. The BBC is getting into the habit of presenting things out of context. I’m normally annoyed that the BBC displays institutional (but not conscious) bias against Conservatives and Christians, but others complain about biases in other directions, which I assume means the BBC is doing a decent job (since it’s clearly not doing an atrocious one).

However, there were two glaring errors in this week’s programming. The first was coverage of Cameron’s veto. The one report suggested that the EU was suggesting the UK was separate and even inferior because Cameron was the last to sign Croatia’s accession agreement. The context: all countries sign in alphabetical order. The United Kingdom, being the last country alphabetically in the EU, signed it last. Snub? Hardly.

The other error caused me less apoplexy, but the public more. David Attenborough juxtaposed an Arctic female polar bear making an ice-den (in which polar bears give birth to their cubs) with some polar bear cubs in a den in a zoo in Germany. The seamless transition implied to many people that the BBC was actually filming wild polar bear births. Which is stupid because the cameraman would certainly have his head bitten off if that were the case. Nonetheless, in both cases, the BBC failed to properly explain the context of what was going on, and in each case, their coverage suffered because of it. The BBC is slowly metamorphosing into an institution that doesn’t care about the truth, rather sensationalism.


Did you know who Neville Thurlbeck was before the Leveson inquiry? If you did, you read the News of the World regularly. Shame on you (unless you were his colleague or his relative).

On a serious note though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the public doesn’t care. This was evident because, although Ed Miliband made hay with it during the summer, the polls didn’t budge. And neither BBC Parliament nor Sky News is broadcasting Leveson live. It’s a Westminster Village thing.


Ed Miliband is a completely unsuitable leader of the Labour party. Everyone who wasn’t in the Labour party knew this as soon as he was elected, yet only now have the socialists collectivised their brain cells enough to realise it. Read around, with people like Dan Hodges getting incredibly close to calling for him to go, if you still think Milibland is cutting the mustard.

However, who is going to run against him? If Ed Balls runs, everyone will laugh. If Yvette Cooper (aka Mrs Balls) runs, she cannot dispose of Labour’s least helpful asset, her husband. If David Miliband runs, Cameron can drag out the feuding brother story indefinitely – a back-to-backstab if you like. The only plausible candidate is Jim Murphy. “Who?” I hear you cry. “Precisely”, say I. Labour don’t have the talent or the policies to win the next election.


So now let’s do the same for the Tories. Boris will win London 2012 (somehow), and will step down in 2016. He will win a by-election by 2017, which will give him time enough to be well positioned enough when Cameron goes sometime between 2019-2022. After a term and a half of Boris (for all I admire him, I don’t think he has a sufficiently grand vision to drive the country), the natural choice is Jeremy Hunt, a man of such impeccable composure that it is truly inconceivable he should never be leader of the Conservative Party. For all they seem worlds apart, both BoJo and Hunt are suitably amicably placed with George Osborne and William Hague to mean that they can come in without wholesale change of the top table. Osborne’s best bet is not to run himself, but pick the winner, keep the political strategy as a sideline, and go down in history as the kingmaker and the chancellor who fixed Gordon Brown’s mess.


Once again, I find myself in a statistical quandary. ONS says unemployment went up 128.000 people in November. Yet it says only 3,000 people signed on to Jobseekers’ Allowance. Which gap have those 125,000 people fallen into? They are either a) retiring early, b) decided not to work for the next few years and make home instead, c) in receipt of a sufficiently generous redundancy package to make claiming JSA unnecessary, or d) moving their labour into the ‘black market’ – taking cash payment and not declaring it to the Exchequer. Now, most people won’t be doing a) given how poorly pensions pots are performing. The general move of our culture has been away from b) for some time; there can’t be too many people who worked for long enough at a high enough wage to be in position c), so thousands of people are in position d). Really? Or are the unemployment figures inflated by people who otherwise wouldn’t be reckoned as part of the workforce (e.g. students) taking part-time jobs and then losing them?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the more important figure is the JSA claimant count, which is about 1.60 million. So hardly as bad as the 2.64 million Labour like to moan about. Incidentally, in 1992, pretty much everyone who was unemployed according to the statistics was also a JSA/Unemployment benefit claimant. By 2001, the gap between unemployed and claimants was 0.5 million, and now it is now over 1 million. I’ve had no brainwaves about why this gap is increasing so quickly. Any ideas?


I For One Welcome Our Con-Lib Coalition Government

In Home Affairs on May 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm

By Stephen Wan

Ok, I’m going to go out and say it. I voted Labour in general election, and I’m not ashamed to say it; they have been a positive, progressive government for the past 13 years, with the minimum wage, devolution, investment in our public services, many pushes towards equal LGBT rights such as the Civil Partnership Act, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act, banning Fox Hunting, increasing international development aid, international agreement on dealing with the financial crisis at the G20, steps towards world action on climate change such as Kyoto and more. They’ve also done a lot of very bad things as well, such as the Iraq War, too many market-reforms in public services, erosion of civil liberties with ID cards and 42-day detention, the abolition of the 10p tax rate (which Labour introduced in the first place mind) and so on. I’m not completely misty-eyed when it comes to the New Labour project, but I respect it for achieving a lot in this country, and is under-recognised for its achievements, whilst remembering it had its faults.

But that is history now. We now have a new project – the ConLib project, a formation a year ago thought unimaginable. David Cameron is the Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister. George Osborne is the Chancellor, whilst Vince Cable as the Business Secretary. This is pretty much what I expected if a coalition was to come about, although I’m surprised the Lib Dems didn’t get Education. There’s a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there’s a point to no Lib Dems holding any of the great offices of state; the Conservatives want to remind them who’s in charge.

I’ll be the first to say I did not want this coalition to go ahead. Firstly, I thought it just wouldn’t work – how on earth could the Lib Dems and the Cons reconcile on issues like Europe, immigration and constitutional reform? The answer – they’ve been pragmatic beyond belief. Secondly, I always think coalitions will lead to the worst of both worlds; policies that are the least bit controversial will be dropped and we get left with stuff that everyone agrees with but nobody likes. Thirdly, I didn’t want to see the Lib Dems reduced to a hand-maiden for the Conservative party, bowing to every whim Cameron has.

Now, with a firmer idea of what the Conservative and Liberal Democrat negotiation teams have come up with, I’ve warmed to the idea. On liberal conspiracy, there’s apparently the agreement between the Con and Libs on a coalition: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/05/12/exclusive-was-this-the-con-lib-agreement. Reading through and hearing what they’ve agreed on, I found myself nodding and going “Oh, that’s not too bad”. I’ll examine the sections bit by bit and give my thoughts on them.

The first section is aptly deficit reduction, the biggest key issue for the government. I’m beginning to accept that we need to cut the deficit sooner rather than later, and it is better done by lowering spending rather than raising taxes. There’s an emphasis on protecting the lowest paid workers though, which I think is a good step. I do worry about taking £6bn out of the economy, as Brown so often used to say; can we really take that without a double-dip recession? What irks me though is a reduction in CTFs and CTCs, but at least the terrible Lib Dem policy of abolishing CTFs has gone through the window; the Conservatives actually are more progressive than the Lib Dems here!

The second section on spending review has its ups and downs; I have no idea why they continue to think they can ring-fence the NHS and reduce government spending. Unfortunately, the Cons manoeuvred themselves into a corner there with their populist but dangerous stance on not reducing spending on the NHS in real terms. Pupil premiums are coming in though, which might be quite a good policy actually, if we get disadvantaged students a good chance in education. The Lib Dems have backtracked on Trident though, which is disappointing if not terribly surprising – and it was an empty gesture in the first place, because there’s really not going to be a cheaper alternative than the one we have.

Tax measures was a give and take one. Cons give up raising inheritance tax and accept raising personal allowance to £10000. Libs give up their mansion tax, and promise not to oppose recognition of marriage in the tax system; by the way, any proposal that the Cons put forward which the Lib Dems abstain from is almost guaranteed to go through, because if you factor the Lib Dems out of the sums, the Cons have more seats than all the other parties put together.

Banking reform goes towards the hands of Cable more or less, as he has to tackle the idea of a banking levy, huge bonuses, and reducing risk. Euro is ruled out as well for this Parliament, something I don’t think the Lib Dems were ever serious on joining; its more of a way to placate the right in the Conservative party. Immigration, and the Lib Dems give up opposing a cap on it; still, if the cap is high enough, it may make virtually no difference whatsoever. No doubt the points system is still coming into effect though.

Political reform is interesting, with fixed term parliaments barring a loss of a confidence vote by 55% of the MPs – basically, the Lib Dems can break up this coalition whenever they want. A referendum on AV, not exactly what the Lib Dems wanted, nor what the Cons wanted to give, but the least offensive alternative (what a great metaphor for AV as a voting system). Some more fluff on the ability to trigger a by-election with 10% of a constituency’s agreement – the average size is about 7000 voters, so we’re talking about 7000 signatures in one area. It might be quite good for an expenses scandal type, but I wonder how many times that’s going to come about?

Skipping the next few, the environment is my passion, and these proposals sound good on paper – stopping the Third Runway, tax per plane, a green investment bank, and this crazy idea of a national recharging network for hybrid and electric cars. So specific targets on reducing CO2 emissions though; subject to the CCC it seems.

Overall, again I think its been a pretty reasonable compromise, and kudos to the Lib Dems and Cons for coming to this kind of agreement. I’m quietly hoping David Cameron will be a good PM, being impressed by his speech into No10 praising Brown and the Labour government instead of condemning it. It remains to be seen whether most of these ideas will materialise, and whether Clegg can actually make anything of the Deputy Prime Ministerial position, which is possible the most vacuous one in the cabinet (can anyone remember what Prescott did apart from punch a voter?). Nonetheless, I’m swaying to the yellowy blue side of politics – now its time to deliever.

The General Election – Results speculation

In Home Affairs on May 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Election 2010

By Stephen Wan

This is, as they say, the most exciting general election for a generation. The outcome could, quite possibly, be anything, from a Conservative majority to a Labour minority. With the polls showing the Conservatives still not having enough support for a majority (based on uniform swing), and strong support for the Lib Dems at the expense of Labour (although Cleggomania seems to have died down), there is still a chance for a Hung Parliament for the first time since 1974.

I’ve been asked by David to blog about what outcome I would prefer, why, and what outcome I actually predict. These are plenty of interesting scenarios that I would love to say would be ideal, such as a Green government, but I’ll restrict myself to talking about scenarios that are actually in the realms of possibility.

In my ideal scenario, I think there will be as many small parties and independents in the House of Commons as possible. From Wales for example, I’d like to see Plaid Cymru win a couple more seats, to a total of 5, and the number of Independents, that is two, remaining stable. From Scotland, the SNP total to rise, and inevitability you’ll get a mix of Sinn Fein, DUP, Ulster Unionist and SDLP from Northern Ireland. In England, I’d want Green to win its first seat in Brighton, RESPECT to keep its seat, and (and I’ll probably be shouted down for this), even UKIP and the BNP to get seats in Parliament. I think the more parties there are, and the larger the variety of views, even if demented and wrong (at least it challenges the government and the political establishment to respond, particularly on immigration), the better Parliament will be. Also, any reduction in the overall power of the main two parties, which is hugely disproportionate to their number of votes, is a good thing.

As for who wins overall power, ideally for myself Labour would win as the largest party, but without an overall majority, but still enough seats to be able to rule with the support of the ‘Celtic bloc’, that being the SNP and Plaid Cymru. What it does in a sense is show the inadequacies of our current voting system, and so we might see some momentum for change to our electoral system. More importantly, whilst it might be an unstable coalition for a time, there can be a definite push by the Welsh and Scottish for more powers, whilst stemming the flow of Scottish nationalism once they realise they can create changes in the British government, more funding for the Welsh, and a much greater scrutiny of Labour’s plans. It would be a coalition of all the nations of the United Kingdom, and so perhaps a much stronger sense of everyone being in it together. The Lib Dems will hopefully win enough seats to be in a strong position to really gain from the next election. The Conservatives not so much, and thus the end of compassionate conservatism once and for all.

What I think will probably happen is a Conservative minority government with the backing of the Ulster Unionists, since the other groups are too left-wing and opposed to public spending cuts. We might see them rule on an issue by issue basis, putting forward a budget and daring the other parties to vote it down. If so, prepare for another general election 6 months from now, just like 1974. And then expect a Conservative majority, as the only political party with the funds to afford two general elections successively in such a short period of time.

On some level I’d quite like to see a Conservative majority government, if only for it to become the most unpopular government in history, and banished for another generation to the political wilderness. However, the fervent anti-Toryism that has existed for too long may dissipate if we get a government under Cameron that does indeed have some fiscal discipline, makes cuts in the right places and so on. I don’t think that’s likely though.

Just my two cents.

Foreign Affairs Debate – predictions

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm

By Stephen Wan

With a high rise in the polls for the Liberal Democrats, and a higher approval rating than Brown and Cameron put together, Nick Clegg has the most pressure, and the most to lose, in tonight’s foreign affairs debate shown on Sky News at 8pm (if you don’t have Sky, the Guardian is streaming the debate live on their website). But how much impact will this debate have in comparison to last week’s one? Relatively little I think – firstly, foreign affairs doesn’t register highly in the public’s top issues, with the economy, immigration, employment, education, health etc. (all but the first of which were covered last week). It therefore doesn’t matter so much if Clegg does lose this one – foreign affairs are unlikely to dominate this election anyway. Secondly, the number of people watching this debate will almost definitely be lower than the 9.8 peak viewer level of the first one; there aren’t as many people who have Sky News, myself included, and some people I’ve talked to are turned off watching it because of how boring the last one was. Perhaps the first election debate had a novelty factor, but the second one does not. Still, nothing should be taken for granted, and given a fairly high level of public interest in these leaders debates now, there’s still a lot to play for. What will be discussed? And who, if anyone, will come out top? My guesses on what will come up tonight is Afghanistan, the role for Britain in international affairs, the future Defence Review, Trident, Europe and the EU, our ‘special relationship’ with America and possibly dealing with rising superpowers such as China and our relationship with them. Iraq, though important a few years ago, has mostly been eclipsed in the media. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something on international climate change agreement as well. Brown, as the Prime Minister for the past couple of years, is an international figure – he’s been said to be more popular overseas than here in his own country. He was responsible for the applauded for the G20 summit, continues to have strong ties with America, strongly pushes for a continued presence in Afghanistan, wants a strong trading relationship with China, wants to renew Trident, and is neither anti-Europe (Lisbon treaty) or particularly pro-Europe (no Euro). Out of all three of them, Brown is easily the most experienced in international affairs; he knows the game, and he’s known by the leaders of the countries very well. If he pushes the influence he’s had over the global financial stimulus, and his strong reputation abroad, he could well win it. His weakness will be on Iraq (although again this isn’t a prevailing issue), his handling and funding of Afghanistan (helicopters is a word I’m expecting to hear quite a lot), and denying Britain the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which will probably be the most damaging. Cameron, as leader of the Opposition, is never going to match up to the credentials of Brown, although I can’t think of a less experienced Conservative leader hoping to become Prime Minister since WW2. He likes lots of alliances, so keeping with the US, but not too much political intergration, so no to EU influence. Wants to keep Trident, although apparently to protect against rogue states like China, so no strong relationship with them. Promised a referendum on the EU if they got into power, but had to backtrack from that after the Lisbon Treaty was ratified. Angry about the lack of funding to our troops in Afghanistan, wants to introduce a government pledge to look after our troops – a military covenent. Took the Conservatives out of the pro-European grouping in the European Parliament, into a anti-federalist group with arguable far-right nationalist parties. Cameron I think is weakest here, with both a lack of experience and seemingly a lack of tact (calling China a nuclear threat for example). If he wants to win, he’ll need to appeal strongly to the eurosceptic part of the country, constantly attacking Brown and Clegg for handing, or wanting to hand, powers over to Brussels. He can also push against Brown on funding for our troops, and our patriotic duty to look after them. Clegg is again the wildcard here, because nobody’s quite sure what he stands for. He seems less keen on the US, and wants stronger ties with the EU. International agreement on Climate Change is a big priority, and is more anti-Afghanistan than the other two. Voted against Iraq with the Lib Dems in 2003, so maybe a couple of brownie points there. Wants to include Trident in the Defence Review, so he doesn’t want to renew Trident, preferring some other alternative system. No idea what he thinks the UK’s role in the future is though – he’s never really had to talk about it. Definitely weak on being recognised on the international stage – at least Obama stopped by Cameron for a quick chat. Being pro-EU more steadfastly than the others may repel some people, but may bring others around to him. Any attack by Cameron on Clegg wanting to join the euro will definitely deflect off – Clegg can simply deny that, because they don’t. Weakness may well be on Trident, since the majority of polls shows we support having a nuclear deterrent; however, if he can get the argument across that the cost is too great, and we can have a cheaper alternative, that may do it. Overall, I think Brown to win, and Clegg a close second, with Cameron last. However, don’t think I’m willing to put money on it. Really, this debate is a slight misnomer, because a government’s stance in foreign affairs is primarily pragmatic, particularly for Britain, than it is ideological. In a sense then, a lot of what is said in these debates is meaningless, because it is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that pushes the agenda on the international scene. Still, should be a good watch.

Reasons why I’m for All Women Short-lists

In Constitutional Spotlight, Home Affairs on March 30, 2010 at 11:09 pm

By Stephen Wan

The idea of All Women Short-lists (AWS) for parliamentary candidates is a contentious issue, not least because it seems to give a job to someone not on merit or ability, but just on the fact that they are female. David Cameron has come out in favour of it, hoping to create a more representative Conservative party. I am inclined to agree with Cameron’s position, seeing the necessity of creating a more representative Parliament out-weighing the apparent patronisation of women.

Firstly, AWS are a way of dealing with the problem of under-representation of women in Parliament. There are 126 women MPs in Parliament, compared to 519 male MPs – if it was done by the percentage of women to men in the UK, it should be 331 women MPs to 314 male MPs (the male:female sex ratio is 0.95). At the current rate of increase in the number of female MPs, it would take another 200 years before it is equal to men. This is seriously worrying, because we want an affective Parliament, and the most effective Parliament is one which best represents the British society, which is in turn best achieved by having a cross-section of society hold Parliamentary seats.

A common argument made in response is to say it is better to educate society and change its attitudes, to the point where it becomes normal for a women to be elected an MP in the same way as men are. However, such an argument ignores the reasons behind why some women choose to not stand; because Parliament is seen as a predominately male environment, and women simply do not see it as a career choice. This illusion would be shattered if more women entered Parliament, and appropriate provision such as crèches and flexible working hours are provided. The more female MPs there are in Parliament, the stronger the feeling that politics is a career that women can pursue. Currently, the low levels of women in Parliament is self-perpetuating, and the only way to break this cycle is through positive action.

Another argument is to say entering Parliament should be as meritocratic as possible, and not based on one’s gender, either male or female. I agree that jobs that are meritocratic should not be based on gender, which is why I oppose positive discrimination in almost every other job. However, an MP’s job is very different, by virtue of the very fact that they are a member of a Parliament that seeks to represent people. What is the measure by which someone becomes the ‘best person for the job’ for an MP? There is no appropriate answer, although the closest may be one who most commands the confidence of the electorate within their constituency. However, when the question becomes by what measure is Parliament itself ‘the best institution for the job’, that job being to represent the British people, then clearly a Parliament that has an appropriate percentage of males to females would be better than one that does not. A Parliament that commands the confidence of the country is more important than one that does not.

It is a mistake to think MPs are given their job based on the sort of merit that is the same as why other people are given jobs; that’s simply not how Parliament should function. A great deal of people are given jobs based on their qualifications, or their past experience. If Parliament was to be a place where the most qualified or experienced get a job, then Parliament would be horribly out of touch (and to a great extent it currently is). Parliament instead needs to be seen as a place that understands the views and needs of society, and particularly the half of society that seems to have been missed out.

However, one should not make the mistake of thinking AWS is the final solution to the problem of women’s representation; major social attitudes and structures still need to be changed, such as violence against women, female poverty, equal pay and childcare. Nonetheless, AWS is a means by which the voice of women with regards to violence and poverty can be channelled, which in turn re-enforces the ability of women to make an impact in politics, leading to more women wanting to become involved in the first place. It would be naive to think we can bring about a change in social attitudes without a role for women in representing women; a change in the nature and structure of society is best done with the input of women in the first place.

One thing that should not happen is that women are appointed to ministerial positions just on the basis that they are a women (with perhaps the exception of the Minister for Women and Equality), because these positions are ones that are more fundamentally about merit, and about who is best at organisation, running a department, providing reports and press speeches etc. Notice here though the difference between a ministerial position and a parliamentarian position; the latter involves representation whereas the former does not. There should not then be any criticism of an executive that may happen to have an under-representation of women, because the role of the executive is not to represent women like Parliament should.

In conclusion, I welcome AWS as a means to kick-start the representation of women in Parliament when it most badly needs to have people regain trust in it as an institution. Part of that trust relies on the ability of Parliament to relate to the people, best achieved if it was more representative. There should not be a feeling that women elected into Parliament got there on less of a mandate than others who weren’t on a short-list, because the most important thing is that Parliament is effective at representation. Whilst perhaps someday in the future the need for AMS will no longer be, which I hope is soon, without AWS that change would take far too long. People need to be represented now, not some 200 years in the future.

The National Security Council of the UK

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2010 at 8:57 pm

By Stephen Wan

Perhaps its just my fervent imagination, but for some reason I feel the UK’s political system is falling closer and closer to the USA’s; the growth of presidentialism, the creation of the Supreme Court, the creation of the quasi-federal state, and now a “National Security Council” is to be created in the UK.

I’m not going to pretend this is new news – Brown made a big deal about creating it in late 2007/early 2008. However, it seems to have disappeared from Labour’s agenda, as either the body hasn’t come into being, or its so secret that I can’t find any record of it. The Conservatives, on the other hand, seem a bit more keen on it, as Cameron releases plans for the NSC to ‘bring together the work of different government departments“. I’d recommand taking a quick look at page 8 onwards of the Conservative Green Paper on National Security.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on what the NSC will become, or how government departments interact, or the impacts it will have etc. However, I’m going to make some educated guesses at the impacts and effects of a NSC, and try to draw some general conclusions from it. I’m therefore going to focus on what the Conservative’s proposal is, since they’re the only party really talking about it.

Firstly, the NSC is essentially a spruced up “Joint Intellignce Committee”, which is responsible for directing intelligence services in the UK for the cabinet, as well as advising them about security, defence and foregin affairs. That’s not to say the NSC will replace the JIC; I’m not sure anyone’s said anything like that. However, considering the NSC will include the Heads of Security and intellignce services, as well as permanent secretaries, it seems highly likely that the JIC will be made redundent. As the NSC will be responsibly for developing a long-term strategy for the UK’s security, it will have oversight on foreign affairs, the military, and sometimes economic issues – the Chancellor of the Exechequer will be a member as well.

However, the Conservatives are making some sneaky noises around the NSC, in regards to overseas development aid. They have promised to keep international aid at 0.7% of British GDP – now they’re saying what the army spends in overseas development should also be counted as well. The NSC is a pretty convenient way, by combining a fund for the home office and the foreign office, for that kind of money shifting to be done.

Secondly, I think the creation of a NSC, if the USA’s NSC is anything to go by, will be one of the most important creations of a new Conservative government. The powerful link between foreign policy and national security, perhaps obvious in our eyes but much harder to coordinate in practise, will forge a unignorable forum that will create recommendations that will be difficult to refuse. The Prime Minister as well will head the forum – it could be seen as an extension of the office’s powers.

I point to the NSC in the USA for an example, who’s National Security Reports have dircted US policy constantly; NSC-68 for example has been called the ‘blueprint’ for the Cold War, shaping US foreign policy for 20 years since its issue in 1950. The same could well happen here, as foreign policy in the UK is shaped by a powerful but small group of cabinet ministers, civil servants and intellignce and army chiefs.

There’s not much else to conclude without going into even more speculation; it may be that the Tories do not win the General Election, and Labour forget about the idea. Cameron wants to do it all-party appointments style, but senior Conservatives are fairly opposed to this. Perhaps in the end, this will be just another minor committee lost in Whitehall, relatively insignificant. However, I’d watch out for this; if you’re interested in our security, foreign policy, economic development, government plans to deal with climate change etc., you could well find the NSC of the UK calling the shots in the near future.

Be Wary of Expecting a Hung Parliament

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2010 at 5:34 pm

By David Weber

With the Polls down to as little as a 6% gap between Labour and Conservatives, the narrative of a hung parliament is becoming ever-more-popular. There are reasons to be wary of such an argument, however.

Firstly, one has to remember the question of momentum. Despite some tentative recovering steps in the last month, and an opposition that has seen a remarkable stalling in their previously admirable PR machine, the government still remains on a knife-edge where unity is concerned. Only on Friday the announcement of James Purnell that he would step down as an MP nearly translated into another huge backlash in the media against the governing party’s unity. Although there is the question of whether the media truly does play a role in shaping public opinion with its reporting of minor upsets like this, or rather follows it, it is not a call I would imagine any party would wish to make. History is against them when it comes to the role of unity during an election campaign, as well. In 1997, the Tories called an unusually long campaign, of  6 weeks, prior to the election, and rather than this being an asset, it turned into a disaster, as party disunity accumulated even more strongly than it might otherwise have done.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the media’s narrative so far as the electoral map is concerned is very, very simplistic. It appears to have decided on an easy to understand line that 9% is the required lead for Cameron and Co. to secure a majority, but as with most simple statements in politics, it is far from the truth. The actual truth depends very much on the electoral geography; where Cameron gains votes just as much as how many.

Stephen Wan talks in his latest article, in reply to James Langford, of the co-incidence of a more serious decline in turnout with the rise of New Labour. I hope that I am not betraying a partisan flavour when I argue that I do not view this to be entirely fair. He is certainly right to point out the correlation — unusually, the landslide change in government in 1997 took place on a significantly reduced turnout (c. 77%>71%), compared to the previous two changes in government, which had occured on an increased turnout. However, I feel very strongly that it is unfair to translate this correlation into causation, or to blame New Labour for using what methods were open to it.

The fact is that to say that spin and PR are to blame is not likely to be true. Spin and PR have been with us throughout the ages, and a natural human trait. It is far more likely to be science and technology, rather than the arts of deceit, that have progressed in the last couple of decades, leading to an alienation of the increasing number of voters who simply Do Not Matter. And indeed, one thing that was notable about the 1992 election was how many people got it wrong — the media, the polling organisations, even the parties. Though it is not likely that either party expected Labour to win, at least some Conservatives were surprised at just how many seats were lost on a net -0.3% shift in their vote, and conversely many were surprised at the extend of the “Shy Tory” factor in the polls.

Fast forward to the last decade of politics, and there is a very different picture. No polling upset, to my knowledge, has been as great since, and the last three elections have seen, according to reports, a significant advancement in the science of electoral dynamics, with people like Philip Gould and Lynton Crosby proving a huge asset to the Labour and Conservative parties respectively. Inside reports from the Conservative party have talked of the “love-bombing” of marginal voters in marginal constituencies during the 2005 general election, and if more recent polling is anything to go by, Labour have little to celebrate. A recent article in the Guardian by Andrew Sparrow reported that the Conservative lead has been consistently higher in the Marginal seats, enough to potentially translate to 20-30 extra seats — a significant number, enough to spell the difference between a minority and majority government.

It would be ironic if Cameron won, not on a huge majority of national votes, and not on an increased turnout, but simply due to an ever-more effective science of electoral geography. I sincerely hope this is not the case — not least because some of the alternatives, such as the Conservatives gaining less seats for more votes, could possibly prove a catalyst for real electoral reform — whereas more of the same, with a party winning on ever less votes, will simply lead to stagnation.

Addendum: At the time of writing, I incorrectly referred to Andrew Sparrow as ‘Anthony Sparrow’. This has now been corrected.