Category Archives: UK Politics

Baroness Thatcher 1925-2013

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week we lost a Political heavyweight. Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom died of a stroke on Monday morning. While I certainly did not agree with everything she did, she was a passionate, sharp and ruthless politician.

No matter what I say about her, others have probable said it better, so I have decided just to link to a few articles I have found that cover Baroness Thatcher.

One that did surprise me was Russel Brand’s take on the former Prime Minister.

When I was a kid, Thatcher was the headmistress of our country. Her voice, a bellicose yawn, somehow both boring and boring – I could ignore the content but the intent drilled its way in. She became leader of the Conservatives the year I was born and prime minister when I was four. She remained in power till I was 15. I am, it’s safe to say, one of Thatcher’s children. How then do I feel on the day of this matriarchal mourning?

Comment is free: Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher: ‘I always felt sorry for her children’

Ireland’s Europe Minister Lucinda Creighton had a piece in the Irish Independent on Thatcher that is also interesting to read!

So, how did this grocer’s daughter of modest means and no political patronage break through the Tory club of middle-aged and middle-class men? It certainly wasn’t by way of roll-over compromise, conformity or gender quotas.

Lucinda Creighton: Margaret Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter who made her country stand tall again

Conservative MP Conor Burns spoke yesterday in the House of Commons on his relationship with the former Prime Minister. It is very interesting to read of this as he is an out gay MP! The Pinknews have the story:

Mr Burns, who voted in favour of same-sex marriage, after public deliberation, said that he visited former prime minister Lady Thatcher almost every Sunday.

He said that on one visit, a cab driver refused to take his fare when he was dropped off at Lady Thatcher’s former Chelsea home saying that he recognised it as “Maggie Thatcher’s gaff” and that he should “tell her from me, we ain’t had a good’un since”.

Mr Burns told MPs: “I imparted this message to Margaret and she intoned: ‘Well he was quite right

Gay MP Conor Burns amuses Commons with tales of his ‘friend and mentor’ Margaret Thatcher

Public Service Europe have a great article by Giles Goodall on Thatcher contributions to Europe which are often overlooked.

Perhaps Thatcher’s biggest legacy to Europe, apart from securing the legendary British rebate and simultaneously condemning future budget negotiations to be a zero-sum game, was to drive forward the single market and enlargement; first to the south but subsequently also north and eastwards. These dual achievements, originally pursued as means to thwart what she considered to be the twin European threats of socialism and further integration – or ‘deepening’ – have arguably become two of the EU’s greatest success stories.

Margaret Thatcher helped drive forward EU’s biggest successes

The Guardian have coverage of more of the stories shared in the Commons and Lords yesterday.

They also have some great Anecdotes!

The Economist have a good article on her legacy.

SEVERAL prime ministers have occupied 10 Downing Street for as long as, or even longer than, Margaret Thatcher. Some have won as many elections—Tony Blair, for one. But Mrs Thatcher (later Lady Thatcher), Britain’s sole woman prime minister, remains the only occupant of Number 10 to have become an “-ism” in her lifetime. She left behind a brand of politics and a set of convictions which still resonate, from Warsaw to Santiago to Washington, DC.

Margaret Thatcher: A cut above the rest

I finish with this excerpt from her last speech as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, it is one of my favourite speeches.

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UK Local Elections – Councils

Signs for May 2007 Scottish Parliament and loc...
Signs for May 2007 Scottish Parliament and local elections. Picture taken in Edinburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a bad night and day for David Cameron and the Conservatives last night. A bad night that the Liberal Democrats joined them in. Labour managed to surpass the modest target they had set. In the 181 councils across the UK that elected new councillors Labour gained 32 of them. The Conservatives lost 12 councils and the Liberal Democrats lost 1. Labour gained councils in the South and Midlands where they needed to regain ground if they are to have any hope of electoral success in the future.

In terms of councillors themselves Labour gained 823, while the Conservatives lost 405 and the Liberal Democrats lost 336.

It was one of the worst nights for Liberal Democrats since they were founded in 1988 and of course the Conservatives took a battering also even David Cameron’s own Whitney constituency elected a Labour Councillor.

This is to be expected during a mid-term election with the Government taking tough economic decisions which are dislike on the ground.

Interestingly 9 cities rejected the idea of having a locally elected Mayor, while Bristol voted to have one and Doncaster voted to keep theirs.

This is again been seen as a defeat for the Government but it must be remembered that they were brought in by the Labour Government.

In Scotland both the Scottish National Party and Labour gained 2 councils each and gained a similar number of councillors. They failed to beat Labour and the end it was the other parties, especially the Liberal Democrats who lost out to Labour and the SNP.

In Wales it wasn’t a great night for Plaid Cymru who lost control of their only council, Caerphilly, and they lost 41 Councillors. Those weren’t the highest looses, as again the brunt was felt by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

In England, the Greens are now the fourth largest party on English Councils and they gained 5 seats in England alone (11 nationally). The BNP lost all the seats they were defending in England and failed. It is also unlikely that they will do well in the London Assembly. UKIP whose vote went up, but they have failed to convert that into seats as they may have allowed Labour victories by splitting the Conservative vote.

So a good result for Labour and the SNP, while the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will have to reconsider their party strategies.

The Catholic Church in the UK to be the Vanguard against Gay Marriage?

English: A photo of the Cardinal Keith Michael...
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The Catholic Church in the UK has stepped up its opposition to Gay Marriage being introduced in the UK. Today mass-goers will be urged to oppose any moves towards Gay Marriage in a pastoral letter from Archbishop of Westminster Most Rev Vincent Nichols and Archbishop of Southwark Most Rev Peter Smith. They argue that they must save marriage for “Future Generations”. They of course join the hierarchy in opposing this move as Cardinal Keith O’Brien last week compared Gay Marriage to slavery.

Two polls also appeared in the UK this week on this issue. One for the Catholic Voice and one for the Telegraph.

In the poll for Catholic Voice by ComRes 70% of respondents said “Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.” This poll seemed to have found opposite results to nearly every opinion on the subject in the UK. Thankfully Pinknews have done some analysis of the poll, which only had four questions, and shows what is wrong with the poll.

To set the record straight a poll in todays Sunday Telegraph has a poll showing 45% of respondents support Gay Marriage in comparison to 36% against. The rest had no firm view.  Excluding those with no firm view 55.6% are in favour and 44.4% against.

Interestingly only the Catholic Church and the Church of England are the only two religions to express their opposition to Gay Marriage while Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and just yesterday, Reform Judaism wish to conduct religious same sex marriages.

Also on Monday the Times became the first UK daily paper to back Gay Marriage. It said “It would enrich the institution of marriage, enhance social stability and expand the sum of human happiness. It is a cause that has the firm support of The Times.”

It continues ”

“Opponents accuse the Government of undermining the foundations of marriage and abusing the power of the State. It was predictable that some Conservative backbenchers would deride the proposals as (in the words of one of them) “completely nuts”. But more influential figures are deploying similarly heated rhetoric.

“Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, yesterday branded the Government’s position a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has accused the Government of acting like a dictatorship. More temperately, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, maintains that changing the law to allow gay marriage would force unwanted change on the rest of the nation.”

It finishes with “Earlier ages considered that allowing women to own property was against God and nature. Changing the law abolished a gross injustice and thereby enhanced the legitimacy of marriage. It is time to lift another form of discriminatory treatment. Reforming the law would enrich the lives of same-sex couples who wish to marry in order to affirm by rite that they love and are loved in return. By that commitment, they will enrich the society and culture that their fellow citizens share.”

Northern Ireland Assembly Election 2011

Northern Ireland Assembly logo
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This year the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect 108 MLA’s to the Northern Ireland Assembly on May 5th.

The current standings of the parties are as follows:

  • Democratic Unionist Party: 36
  • Sinn Fein: 27
  • Ulster Unionist Party: 18
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party: 16
  • Alliance Party: 7
  • Green Party: 1
  • Independents: 5

The campaign is well under way since the Assembly was dissolved on 24th of March and a number of issues have been raised.

Issues raised have been health, education, policing, and the possibility of a Sinn Fein First Minister. This may be seen as scaremongering, but it is a possibility.

I will be following the election as it progresses. Below is some of the Party Election Broadcast that have been shown.

DUP

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn-QDLA0DzU’]

Sinn Fein

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-1zEMuMOXg’]

UUP

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4lg_yR5Tvw’]

SDLP

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ3Mm-8c2Ag’]

Alliance

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMPsxq_7AzE’]

Green Party

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA7faRfVhjk’]

UKIP

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKHVo8DNU3g’]

BNP

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dasfQyGSBkY’]

Have I missed any? Let me know.

 

Yes2AV Broadcast

I am on the mailing for Yes2AV and today they sent out a preview of their broadcast tonight for the referendum on May 5th. This will be the first broadcast and it will be aired at 5:55pm on BBC 1 and an hour later on BBC 2 and ITV.

I think it is a really smart broadcast and focuses and all the relevant stuff. Must say it has impressed me hugely.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShE847wJpDo’]

No2AV supporters trying to confuse people

I was doing my usual perusal of Guido Fawke’s blog this morning. This is a blog I normally find interesting and informative but as the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum campaign continues it seems to be peddling more lies about AV and STV (the PR varient used in Ireland). To try and show AV as a confusing system he posted this picture to try and show how confusing it is.


Now that picture above would be ok if it showed the actual results. But it dosen’t. Its the transfer analysis from the Dublin Central By-Election in 2009 which is on Elections Ireland. Not many people look at the page apart from Politics heads like me. The actual results of that election was

The full results can be viewed on the Elections Ireland page. Its fairly obvious from that picture who won the election, even from the first count. It really shows the desperation of those on the No side when they are peddling myths on how confusing AV (and by extension STV) are when in reality they are not.

Heres hoping the Yes Side will win.

European Union Bill Returns to the Commons

Today the House of Commons will consider as a Committee of the whole house, the European Union Bill. This will mean that in future the United Kingdom will have to hold a referendum on future treaties which amend the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Function of the European Union

Under the Bill the UK will have to hold a referendum if the treaty meets one of these conditions:

(a) the extension of the objectives of the EU as set out in Article 3 of TEU;

(b) the conferring on the EU of a new exclusive competence;

(c) the extension of an exclusive competence of the EU;

(d) the conferring on the EU of a new competence shared with the member  States;

(e) the extension of any competence of the EU that is shared with the member States;

(f) the extension of the competence of the EU in relation to—

(i) the co-ordination of economic and employment policies, or

(ii) common foreign and security policy;

(g) the conferring on the EU of a new competence to carry out actions to support, co-ordinate or supplement the actions of member States;

(h) the extension of a supporting, co-ordinating or supplementing competence of the EU;

(i) the conferring on an EU institution or body of power to impose a requirement or obligation on the United Kingdom, or the removal of any limitation on any such power of an EU institution or body;

(j) the conferring on an EU institution or body of new or extended power to impose sanctions on the United Kingdom;

(k) any amendment of a provision listed in Schedule 1 that removes a requirement that anything should be done unanimously, by consensusor by common accord;

(l) any amendment of Article 31(2) of TEU (decisions relating to common foreign and security policy to which qualified majority voting applies) that removes or amends the provision enabling a member of the Council to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority voting;

(m) any amendment of any of the provisions specified in subsection (3) that removes or amends the provision enabling a member of the Council, in relation to a draft legislative act, to ensure the suspension of the ordinary legislative procedure

It is important to note that if the treaty does any of the following, a Referendum is not needed and an Act of Parliament would suffice,

(a) the codification of practice under TEU or TFEU in relation to the previous exercise of an existing competence;
(b) the making of any provision that applies only to member States other than the United Kingdom;
(c) in the case of a treaty, the accession of a new member State.
 

It is an interesting idea from the Coalition Government. Maybe it is something we should consider doing here as it would remove some of the confusion that it exists in relation to the Crotty Judgement and would set out when we actually do need to hold a referendum on European Treaties.

Hattip: Archbishop Cranmer

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House of Commons to Debate Loan to Ireland

House of Commons of the United Kingdom
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This Evening the House of Commons will be debating the Loans to Ireland Bill which will allow the United Kingdom to give a loan of £3,250 million to Ireland.

The plan is that the bill will finish off all stages today. It will pass the Committee stage in the whole House.

Already today the issue has been raised four times in the House of Commons. The first time by Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood, during Northern Ireland Questions, in relation to assets held by NAMA in Northern Ireland and suggested that maybe some of these assets could be used as collateral in the loan. The second time was in relation to the effect of the economy in the Republic on the North. Northern Ireland Minister, Hugo Swire MP for East Devon, said that it was important that the UK was seen as part of the solution for Ireland and not the problem.

During Prime Ministers Questions, Mark Reckless MP, again, raised the issue of the loan to Ireland and suggested that the UK does not follow the wishes of the German Finance Minister. David Cameron in his response agreed with Mark Reckless and said that he was glad that the UK could come to Ireland’s aid.

I will be watching the debate on the bill and it will be interesting to see some of the remarks that are made.

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George Osborne’s Statement on the UK’s Bilateral Loan to Ireland

George Osborne MP, pictured speaking on the la...
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A statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt. Hon. Mr George Osborne. From Hansard:

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement regarding financial assistance for Ireland.I hope Members will understand that an announcement had to be made at the weekend, ahead of markets opening this morning. Last night, I spoke to the Chair of the Treasury Committee and the shadow Chancellor to keep them informed of the latest developments.

The United Kingdom, alongside the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the eurozone and other member states, is participating in the international financial assistance package for Ireland announced last night. We are doing this because it is overwhelmingly in Britain’s national interest that we have a stable Irish economy and banking system.

The current Irish situation has become unsustainable. Its sovereign debt markets had effectively closed and had little prospect of reopening. While Britain’s market interest rates had fallen over the past six months, Ireland’s had risen to record levels, and Ireland’s banks had become completely reliant on central bank funding to maintain their operations. In the judgment of the Irish Government, as well as of the IMF and others, this situation could not go on.

Members will understand that it would not have been appropriate for us in recent weeks to have engaged in public speculation about whether Ireland should request assistance from the international community, but I can now report that we have been engaged in intensive private discussions with the G7, the IMF, the EU and the Irish Government on plans for the eventuality that Ireland would request support. At the G20 meeting in South Korea two weeks ago, I was one of the European Finance Ministers who issued a joint statement that provided a brief respite. At the ECOFIN meeting last Wednesday, my colleagues and I discussed the Irish situation with Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, with whom I have also kept in touch directly. Following meetings in Brussels, the Irish Government committed to engage in a short and focused consultation with the IMF and the EU. On Thursday a joint mission arrived in Dublin, and in the last few days I engaged with my counterparts in the G7, the euro area and the EU about the way forward.

Following intense work over the weekend between the Irish and international authorities, last night Ireland’s Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, made a formal request for assistance. This was followed by statements from the G7, the IMF, the Eurogroup and European Finance Ministers to

“provide the necessary financial resources for Ireland to implement its fiscal reform plans and stabilise its banking system.”

The statements made it clear that there were two components to the rescue package. The first puts beyond doubt Ireland’s ability to fund itself. The international assistance package will support an ambitious four-year fiscal strategy which the Irish government will set out later this week. This will see a fiscal consolidation of €15 billion by 2014, of which €6 billion will be implemented next year, as part of a strategy leading to a target budget deficit of 3% of GDP in four years’ time. The second part of the assistance package is a fund for potential future capital needs of the banking sector. This will support measures to promote deleveraging and ensure restructuring of Ireland’s banks, so that its banking system can perform its role in supporting the economy.

Let me turn to how the package will be financed. This is a joint programme, with funding from both the IMF and the EU. The amount of money involved will, in part, depend on the IMF’s analysis of what is needed, and Prime Minister Cowen has said that he expects it to be less than €100 billion. The international community is working on the rough assumption that the IMF will contribute about one third of the total. The total European package will provide the other two thirds. Based on the significant reform of the IMF agreed by G20 Finance Ministers last month, the IMF is well placed to play a leading role in this international effort. The UK, of course, is an important shareholder of the IMF and we will meet these multilateral obligations. I would like to reassure the House that the IMF is currently well resourced and able to meet the cost of the package for Ireland.

The European element of this package will primarily come from two sources of funding agreed in May before this Government came into office: the €60 billion European financial stabilisation mechanism; and the €440 billion European financial stability facility. The balance between the European mechanism and the eurozone facility will be determined in the coming days. The United Kingdom is not a member of the euro, and will not be a member of the euro while we are in government, and so we will not participate in the eurozone stability fund. To be fair to my predecessor, he kept us out of that fund, but he did agree to the UK’s involvement in the European mechanism two days before we took office. I made it clear at the time that I did not believe he should make that commitment. However, it operates according to qualified majority voting and so we cannot stop it being used, and to exercise that vote at this time would, I judge, be very disruptive. So the EU will lend money to Ireland on behalf of all 27 member states, and the UK must accept its share of this contingent liability, which would arise in the unlikely scenario that Ireland should default on its obligations to the EU.

On top of this, I have agreed that the UK should consider offering a bilateral loan to Ireland, as part of the IMF and European package. I judge this to be in Britain’s national interest. Let me explain why. We have strong economic relations with Ireland. Ireland accounts for 5% of Britain’s total exports—indeed, we export more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China put together. Ireland is the only country with which we share a land border, and in Northern Ireland our economies are particularly linked, with two fifths of its exports going to the Republic.

Just as our two economies are connected, our two banking sectors are also interconnected. I should stress that the resilience of our own banks, which are now well capitalised, means that they are well placed to manage any impact from the situation in Ireland. But two of the four largest high street banks operating in Northern Ireland are Irish-owned, accounting for almost a quarter of personal accounts. The Irish banks have an important presence in the UK. What is more, two Irish banks are actual issuers of sterling notes in Northern Ireland. It is clearly in Britain’s interest that we have a growing Irish economy and a stable Irish banking system. By considering a bilateral loan, we are recognising these deep connections between our two countries and, crucially, it has helped us to be at the centre of the discussions that have shaped the conditions of an international assistance package that is of huge importance to our economy. Of course, this is a loan and we can expect to be repaid. In fact, Sweden has already deemed it to be in its national interest to consider a bilateral loan to Ireland.

Now that the Irish Government have requested assistance, a lot of the detailed work of putting together the package can take place. I understand that Members are keen to hear the specifics, such as the rate of interest on the loans, the repayment periods and the contribution from each of the various elements of the package. I shall keep the House informed.

Later this week, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be in Northern Ireland to discuss the situation there. I will ensure there is a specific discussion in the House if there is a bilateral loan, and we will need to take primary powers.

Finally, let me say something about the future of the various European support funds, which are being discussed later this year. Both the Prime Minister and I are very clear that when it comes to putting in place a permanent eurozone bail-out mechanism, the UK will not be part of that.

This is a situation of great difficulty for Ireland and it is a tragedy when it did so much to improve its competitiveness with low taxes and flexible labour markets, but the truth is that it had a hugely leveraged banking sector that was badly regulated—a pattern that we have had to deal with in our own country. In addition, because Ireland is a member of the euro, exchange rate flexibility and independent monetary policy were not tools available to it when the crisis took hold. The arguments against Britain joining the euro are well rehearsed, not least by me, but although “I told you so” might be correct, it does not amount to an economic policy.

When the coalition Government came into office, Britain was in the financial danger zone. We have taken action to put our house in order. We were once seen as part of the problem, but we are now part of the solution. Ireland is a friend in need and it is in our national interests that we should be prepared to help at this difficult time. I commend the statement to the House.

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The Con/Lib Agreement on Europe

Cleveland (European Parliament constituency)
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My last post had a quick look at what the Con/Lib Agreement said on Political Reform. Now look at what should be a what the Agreement says on the EU. As a Euroblogger I probably should have done this first!

The UK will not join the Euro. No surprise there.

They will try to limit the Working Time Directive in its application to the UK.

The 1972 European Communities Act will be amended so that any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that Treaty. Basically the idea of the Irish Crotty Judgement incorporated into UK Law.

The Sovereignty Bill is only a maybe. The basis will be “examined”

They will press for the European Parliament only to have one seat, in Brussels. I hope they will push hard on this!

Thay have agreed that that all forthcoming legislation in the area of criminal justice will be judged on a case by case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security and protecting Britain’s civil liberties. Britain will not participate in the establishment of any European Public Prosecutor.

It is an interesting agreement on Europe and it looks like the Liberal Democrats managed to hold back the Conservatives on some of the most europhobic parts of the party.

Another interesting part of this is that Nick Clegg may actually have more influence before a European Council then David Cameron. I am sure he will be ensuring that he attends the get togethers of the Liberal Leaders before summits, David Cameron on the other hand has no one to meet in the ECR, the Conservatives grouping in the European Parliament.

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