Category Archives: Politics

In case you haven’t noticed I am a Liberal Democrat.

That Europe Debate: Who really makes UK Law?

In tonight’s debate on Britain’s future relations with the European Union, Nigel Farage stated that 70% or UK law comes from Brussels, whereas Nick Clegg stated that it was just 7%, but who was right and why?


Firstly it depends on your definition of Law. If by law you mean Acts of Parliament then Nick Clegg is right in that only 7% of UK statutory law is generated in Brussels. If however you include regulations initiated into British then that figure rises to 14%. However, it should be borne in mind that regulations are the very trade agreements that Nigel Farage is contending that we should negotiate from outwith the EU, and therefore the 7% of law that they represent would still come from the EU even if Britain left the EU.

Then there are EU initiated regulations, the interpretation placed on EU legislation by British Civil Servants and how it impacts on UK law. Even if you include the regulations, which are actually the British interpretation of EU Legislation, then the highest figure you get to is 50%, not the 70% that Nigel Farage has claimed.

It is not enough though to look at how much legislation comes from the EU, we also need to consider what that legislation is, and what it achieves.

For example, do we really want to repeal legislation that gives us clean air, or clean beaches, or that protects our wildlife and our farm animals? Do we want to end the international agreements on policing that have been bringing criminals back to the UK to face trial for murders and kidnappings amongst other crimes?

Maybe what Mr Farage want s to repeal the legislation that has been introduced to protect our fisheries and introduce new fish reserves off our coasts, that will enable our fish stock to replenish and revive?

Or maybe, just maybe, the European legislation that Mr Farage wants to re-write is the legislation that guarantees holidays, and restricts working hours and protects the employment rights of millions of British people. Mr Farage harks on about his not being a career politician (though quite happily refers to his political career) and pointing out that he was in business. Maybe it is the protection that Europe gives to millions of people in Britain is what Mr Farage really wants to get rid of.


Politics: Labour proposals to define E-Cigarettes as medicine is a shameful attack on the health of the poorest in society.

A new and welcome phenomenon of the last couple of years has been the shift that many smokers have made from cigarettes to E-Cigarettes, a cleaner and healthier alternative.  Literally thousands of Manchester residents have taken to this healthier and cheaper option, which will in time save lives.

That is why it came as a massive shock when the Labour Party in the European Parliament proposed that E-Cigarettes should  be declared to be a medicine, which means they would have to be tested and regulated, pushing the cost of production through the roof.

North West Liberal Democrat MP, Chris Davies, has been leading the assault on Labour’s policy, and he recently told me that when he was out canvassing in Manchester one Saturday a local GP told him that “I recommend e-cigs to my patients when they come to me about smoking problems.”  he went on to tell Chris that “Cigarettes are full of nasty things but nicotine is the least of them.”

Chris briefed me about his battle in the Environment & Public Health Committee of the European Parliament before the summer recess where he lost a vote to try and prevent Labour classifying and restricting them as medicinal products by 2-1.  Fortunately Chris’s campaign is gaining ground as more and more MEPs seem to be coming to the view that they could really help smokers switch to something less harmful.

Together with one of our Belgian Liberal colleagues Chris has been working to fashion an amendment that can address concerns (product safety, advertising to under 18s, etc) and secure cross-party support when the Committee vote in plenary on 8 October.

Chris has now had an email from the leader of the largest delegation of MEPs, the German CDU/CSU (Angela Merkel’s people) saying that they will be backing the Liberal Democrat amendment.  The ground is moving in the European Parliament in favour of the stand that Chris is taking, and E-Cigarette users in the North West can be thankful that they have one of the most experienced EU Legislators, Chris Davies MEP, on their side.

Politics: Lets get Income Tax and NI sorted before thinking of any new spending

With predictions of economic growth now standing at over 3.5% for the last quarter of 2013, and overall growth for the year  now standing at 1.5% the siren voices can already be heard calling for a loosening of the belt and an increase in public spending.

 These are the very siren voices that drew the British economy onto the rocks in the first place, and drowned so many young hopes and dreams as the deficit expanded and more and more debt flowed into the economy.

 On of the reasons that the economy has been slow to recover has been as much due to the decision of individuals to spend within their means and pay down their personal debts before spending more money as it has to the Government taking the same action with the national deficit and debts.

 Regardless of how fast the economy is picking up, we still have a massive personal debt problem and a massive national debt problem with both individuals and the nation still spending beyond their means and we must ensure that the increased revenue from the growth in the economy is not squandered.  We have got to grow the economy to the point where we have eliminated the deficit and are paying off our national debts before we even think of increasing our spending.

 However, there are things that we can do to help people on low and middle incomes to cope with the rising inflation that will come as interest rates finally lift from rock bottom and borrowing becomes more expensive.

 The first would be to continue to ensure that low cost loans are available to people struggling to pay down their debts whilst still on low pay, and that is best done by having the Bank of England set a new interest rate for Credit Unions.  Such a measure would be a massive boost in the fight against pay-day loans and loan sharks.

 The second would be to increase the basic income tax threshold, the lower earnings level for paying national insurance and the national minimum wage all to 50% of the aggregate National Average Earnings for men and women in the previous year.  Such a move would have the triple effect of taking the national minimum wage marginally above the living wage for the first time, helping to ensure that it pays to be in work and ensuring that if the people at the top get a pay increase it is reflected at the bottom as well.

The third measure would be to remove the upper earnings level on National Insurance in order that everyone pays the same percentage of their income towards the health and wellbeing of the nation.  If we are to do this then we may as well merge Income Tax and National Insurance into a single Income Tax code with a hypothecation of the NI element.

 A combined Income Tax and NI could then be made more progressive by introducing 10% band increases from 0% to 50%, with the thresholds for each band being set in line with the aggregate National Average Earnings for men and women in the previous year.

 If we take 2013 as the being the previous year, the National Average Earnings for 2012 was in the region of £ 26,500 (the exact figure would need to be calculated and aggregated for part and full time workers).

The proposed tax bands would be:

  • Band 1: 0% on all earnings up to £ 13, 250
  • Band 2: 10% on all earnings between £ 13, 251 and £  26,500
  • Band 3:  20% on all earnings between £ 26,501 and £  53,000
  • Band 4:  30% on all earnings between £ 53,001 and £  79,500
  • Band 5:  40% on all earnings between £ 79,501 and £106,000
  • Band 6:  50% on all earnings above £106,001

 This change would lower the overall percentage of tax paid by the poorest, and marginally increase  the percentage of tax paid by the richest, but most importantly for the people who are in charge of setting wages the fact that their own tax banding would increase in line with aggregate earnings for men and women would be a bigger incentive to equalise men and women’s pay and part-time and full time pay than all the equalisation legislation of the past 50 years.

 The increase of tax on earnings above the upper tax threshold to 50% would although being symbolic not actually be that great a jump.  The combined Income Tax and NI for people earning over the higher rate threshold at present is 47% which means that the increase is just 3% and for that they know that they get the satisfaction of having an income tax system that is progressive, simple and linked to earnings.

(NB: These are example figures, the final figures would be dependent upon complex miscalculations by HMRC).

Politics: the economy is finally in recovery

The growth forecast by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has been sharply increased for 2013 from an earlier estimate of 0.8% to a revised estimate of 1.5%.

The forecast came as a survey indicated that activity in the UK construction sector grew at its fastest pace for nearly six years in August, and earlier in the week a similar survey had shown strong growth in the manufacturing sector.  Within days of the OECD uplifting its forecast a further survey of the service sector showed that it too was increasing at its fastest rate in six years.

Whilst the OECD’s latest assessment of global prospects showed that global growth was to remain sluggish as problems in emerging economies offset improving recoveries in some advanced economies it cited the UK, North America and Japan as places where activity was expanding at “encouraging rates”.

The latest Markit/CIPS purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for the UK’s construction industry indicated its highest reading since September 2007.

Markit senior economist, Tim Moore, was quoted as saying “The latest construction PMI figures are yet another indication that the UK economy has

“A steep upturn in civil engineering activity suggested that public sector demand has joined residential building as a key driver of construction output growth during August.”

On Monday, the PMI survey for the manufacturing sector found the strongest growth in activity for two and a half years, with output and new orders rising at their fastest rate for 19 years.

Subsequently the latest CIPS survey shows that in August 2013 the UK service sector grew at its fastest pace in six years, building on the growth momentum seen in July.  It also showed that there was a slight increase in employment in the sector, and with backlogs of work running at the highest level in more than 13 years the pressure to take on more staff is growing.

August saw the eighth successive month that the survey, which questions 700 firms, has shown a growth in new business, and according to Paul Smith, senior economist at research firm Markit, “the sector’s recovery, which has been evident since the start of the year, has legs.”

Economists say the performance of the service sector is giving the whole economy a lift.

“Robust service sector activity played a key role in the UK’s developing recovery through the first half of the year, and the very strong purchasing managers survey for August suggests that the services sector is on course to make an even larger contribution to GDP growth in the third quarter,” according to Howard Archer an economist at IHS Global Insight.

The Syrian dilemma, the parliamentary motion and the parable of the Good Samaritan

I don’t necessarily believe that Jesus was the son of god, or that god is some sentient overlord, but there are many lessons in the bible that are worth reading, understanding and living by.  One such lesson is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which I have heard thrown into conversation numerous times in discussions about how we should respond to the heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Sadly, many of the people who throw this parable into discussions seem oblivious of what the parable actually says, and as it bears repeating I will quote the King James Version that is popular in England.

Luke 10:25-37
21st Century King James Version (KJ21)
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 He said unto him, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?”
27 And he answering said, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.’”
28 And He said unto him, “Thou hast answered right; this do, and thou shalt live.”
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment and wounded him and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was. And when he saw him he had compassion on him,
34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host and said unto him, ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.’
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?”
37 And he said, “He that showed mercy on him.” Then said Jesus unto him, “Go and do thou likewise.”

What the Good Samaritan did not do is establish who had beaten the man up and send a lynch mob round to sort him out.

If we are to do the Good Samaritan thing then what we should do is provide humanitarian aid to those who have suffered in this atrocity regardless of who is responsible or what the final outcome of this horrendous war may be.

However, we must also bear in mind that the man the Good Samaritan found on the road had not been killed by his attackers.  No doubt if he had been then the correct response from the Samaritan would have been to notify the authorities.  The authorities would then carry out an investigation and if they were able to identify the murderer they would prosecute him.

Similarly in Syria, we must first send in the Weapons Inspectors to do their job and establish who is responsible for this atrocity: only when they have done that the UN must seek an international arrest warrant for the perpetrator to be subjected to a full criminal trial in The Hague and, if found guilty, face punishment in accordance with the laws of Syria.

This is where I have difficulty with the motion to be placed before Parliament today, it is not seeking follow the correct legal processes, and it is prejudging guilt.  That prejudgement could lead us into another illegal war but this time one which has the potential to spread to other parts of the Middle East and also into Europe.  We must remember that Syria is a neighbour by land to Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Iraq amongst others, and by sea to every country with a Mediterranean coast.  If what is currently a civil war is allowed to spread over national borders we could be looking at the start of a much bigger conflict.

Let us then consider the motion before the House of Commons today:

This House:

Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;

Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;

Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on savings lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;

Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;

Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity – and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;

Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;

Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;

Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus. Whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;

Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken. Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place.

Notes that this motion relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

Despite having sent in Weapons Inspectors to establish the facts of the atrocity, the motion presumes that their findings are already known.  In its very first sentence it assumes “the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime” and from that moment on all else in the motion can not be impartial.   If we are to take seriously the Government’s assertion that the inspectors are there to establish the facts then it is incumbent upon the Government, and the House, not to assume those facts before they are known.

The motion also jumps from what is clearly the case to some pretty fanciful conclusions such as where is states that the House “Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on savings lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;”

This could mean anything from bombing chemical weapons stocks, risking millions of lives in the process as the chemical weapons are released, to deploying a full occupying army.  Unless it is qualified as to what the response is proportionate we can not know for certain the scale of response which would be proportionate.

The motion then says that the House “Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;” but how far is as far as possible, and who determines what is possible.  This is nebulous phrasing which basically means that “When we get fed up of waiting we will attack anyway.”

The motion then goes on to say that the House “Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus. Whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;”

HANG ON A MOMENT:  hasn’t all the talk been about establishing who is responsible?  Now we are being told that establishing who is responsible is not actually within the remit of the UN Weapons inspectors.  At this point we need to wake up and smell the coffee.  This motion is simply trying to salve the conscience of MP’s by allowing them to pretend that all possible avenues have been followed before they say yes to military intervention (or war as we used to call it in the last Century).

If it isn’t about military action then why is the penultimate sentence there at all?

Surely a far better motion would read:

This house:

Condemns the atrocious and illegal use of chemical weapons in Syria, an action expressly forbidden under international law.

Calls on the UN to extend the mandate of the weapons inspectors to establish where responsibility for this atrocity lies and then seek through the international courts in The Hague that full and appropriate legal action be brought against those who have perpetrated this atrocity.

Commits the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to continue the provision of humanitarian aid to the victims of the civil war in Syria.

Confirms that in the event that military action is required in order to execute an international arrest warrant for the alleged perpetrators of this atrocity to face trial before the international courts, following evidence based legal action, that any proposed action by British Troops would be subject to a further vote in this house.

I appreciate that it doesn’t take as many words to say, and doesn’t give the drama of the proposal actually before the house, but I do think it sets out the right course of action.

I don’t necessarily think we will gain eternal life for doing this, but it seems to me that it is the right thing to do.



Politics – Finally the DWP have worked out what most of us already knew about ATOS!

Of all the privatisation of services undertaken by the last Labour Government, one of the most dangerous and damaging was their privatisation of the review of disability benefits under a contract with ATOS.  Long before the coalition Government was formed, ATOS were blundering and blustering through appeal after appeal.

Their ineptitude resulted in more than 600,000 of the 1.8 million assessments carried out by ATOS since 2009 being the subject of an appeal, at a cost of £60m.   An astounding Around 30 per cent of the appeals succeeded and as I have said before this could only be the case if the Company was not following Government benefits policy.

From the first day that Labour privatised the assessment of disability benefits and hired ATOS to do it’s dirty work those of us who have been fighting to help people living with disabilities have been calling for a review of this company’s handling of benefits claims.  In many cases they have made rulings that have been wrong, based on unsupported assumptions, or simply outrageously unfair to the claimants.

Finally the DWP has heard the myriad voices calling for the quality of ATOS’s assessments to be reviewed and the contract they have for providing those assessments to be brought to an end, and commissioned an Audit of around 400 of the company’s written reports into disability claimants, grading them A to C.   Of these, 41 per cent came back with a C, meaning they were unacceptable and did not meet the required standard.of the quality of the service provided by ATOS.

Whilst the lowest grade does not necessarily mean the decision was wrong, it does indicate that a serious error or omission occurred, such as no evidence to justify the recommendations, or inconsistencies in the evidence provided.

Following the findings the company will be stripped of its monopoly on deciding whether people with disabilities are fit to work. The DWP said the poor quality of the company’s written reports were “contractually unacceptable” and announced on Monday it would be inviting other companies to bid for fresh regional contracts by summer 2014 to help reduce waiting times.  I repeat here what I have said many times before, for this scale of incompetence in dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in our society ATOS should have been sacked altogether.

Whilst Labour will claim that the failings are a direct consequence of three years of coalition Government, I must remind regular readers of my blog that I was raising issues about ATOS a matter of days after they took over the service when it was privatised by Labour.

Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of the disability charity Scope, is reported to have said: “It’s about time the Government told ATOS to smarten up its act. But, it’s also strikingly clear to disabled people that the whole £112m per-year system is broken.”

I happen to disagree with him.  It is high time that ATOS were sacked and that the determination of benefits claims and appeals were placed in the hands of local councils, with the support of the specialist medics working on the care of the patient in their local health trusts where needed, and second opinions from medics from other health trusts where appropriate.

That clause three moment

In previous blog-posts I have mentioned how the education policies central to the work of this Government make it the most Liberal Government in my lifetime but there is another way in which this Government is giving more than just a nod to Liberal principles, and that is in its economic policies.

Clause three of the preamble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats makes for interesting reading as it sets out clearly the economic philosophy of the party, and for those of my regular readers who have never quite got past the bit about creating a fair free and open society, clause three bears repeating here.

“We will foster a strong and sustainable economy which encourages the necessary wealth creating processes, develops and uses the skills of the people and works to the benefit of all, with a just distribution of the rewards of success. We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce within a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary. We will promote scientific research and innovation and will harness technological change to human advantage.”

In every aspect of this Government’s economic policies we are seeing strong threads of clause three borne out, and finally we are beginging to see benefits that those threads are bringing to our nation.

A strong and sustainable economy requires that we use more sustainable energy and become less dependent on fossil fuels. This Government has overseen the building of more wind turbines and more photoelectric power generation than any in our history. The research it is funding into renewable energies is substantial and as a result we are beginning to become less dependent as a nation on fossil fuel. It will take time but the path to a greener economy has finally been set out.

This Government is also working towards ensuring that our corporation tax is low so that we attract business to Britain, and the action of suspending employer’s NI for low paid jobs is creating more jobs to go round. This government has seen the creation of over a Million new jobs in our economy, and the Liberal Democrats in Government have set at target of creating a million more. The more jobs there are the more we can lift people out of benefits enabling everyone to get on in life.

It is also important that the burden of tax is more fairly distributed, and thanks to the Liberal Democrats in this Government we have seen over 2 million people lifted out of paying income tax all together and 25 million people receiving a £700 cut in their income tax through raising the threshold (money Labour still want to claw back to give a tax break for the rich on luxury goods) whilst the richest will pay more income tax in every year of this Government than they did in any year of the last Labour government.

The big difference though between a Liberal Market economy and the alternatives offered by Labour and the Conservatives is the co-operative principle. Liberal Democrats believe that the means of production should be at least in part owned by the workers, and one of the great advances that we have seen under this government has been the substantial increase in the number of worker co-operatives in the UK. Even the Royal Mail privatisation is to have an element of worker co-operative ownership (not enough in my oppinion but it is definitely a step in the right direction).

As a Liberal Democrat I want to see the Government do much more in this direction, I want to see a ‘worker buyout’ being always the first option when a company goes into liquidation. If you look at the turn round in the Argentinian economy, it is exactly this principle that has driven it, and the Unions have been able to use their massive funds to help workers to make the buy-outs and own their own workplaces. That is a far better option that allowing the dead hand of state to take over, or allowing forign investors to asset strip the company of its machinery and its intellectual properties.

Most importantly, this Government has not shied away from investing in new research and development. The money that is being invested in the Graphine Research Centre in Manchester is a prime example of this. British money being invested in an invention made here in Manchester to ensure that British companies and industry are able to take advantage of possibly the greatest scientific advance since Rutherford (again in Manchester) split the atom, and the greatest industial advance since Whitworth (again in Manchester) introduced his standard gauge for the maufacture of machinery.

The difficulty in this country is that we only really have three recognised modes of business, the private company, the partnership and the sole trader. What is needed is a fourth mode, the co-operative business which actually encompasses everthing from the big worker co-ops, farms and banks, right down to the credit unions and the community associations. The vast majority buisness in this country that is not sole trader is conducted by co-operatives of one form or another.

The Liberal Democrats, in my oppinion, must make the full legal recogition of the co-operative model of business the centre-piece of our economic policy for the next general election.