Sunday, 1 September 2013

Chris White rebels

Looking through the list of MPs who voted against the Coalition Government on Syria, I found my own MP from Warwick and Leamington, Chris White. He has, of course, rebelled before on HST2, but this is an issue that profoundly affects his constituents. By doing so he may well have any chances of preferment, even as a private parliamentary secretary.

The vote on Syria is significant because I would regard White as a Cameron loyalist. It does reflect the extent to which the Government got itself into a mess on this issue, particularly through a poorly conducted whipping operation and the absence of ministers 'discussing Rwanda'. It will be interesting to see how Chris White explains his actions, not that I think he was wrong to vote the way he did. If you are going to conduct a military action, you need clear objectives and you need to be confident that your action will actually achieve them.

Chris White has explained his vote here: Chris White

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Visiting No 10

I have been to No 11 Downing Street before, but today I was invited to a lunchtime reception promoting the referendums for city mayors in my capacity as chair of the Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors.

Michael Heseltine introduced the speakers and joked, 'I hope it will not be misunderstood when I say how pleased I am to welcome you to 10 Downing Street.'

Dave Cameron put the case for elected mayors in terms of greater accountability (being directly elected rather than indirectly elected as leaders of a council); promoting economic growth; and as a platform for developing national political talent. He also noted that the Mayor of Mogadishu in Somalia was called Mayor Tarzan.

Boris Johnson was almost a cabaret turn, albeit one with perfect timing and some good lines. He said that he would 'like to thank Dave for letting me into No.10'.

Closing the proceedings, Michael Heseltine said that whatever else Boris achieved, he would also be remembered as the man who succeeded him as MP for Henley.

The famous photos of prime ministers on the stairs look a little squashed up, but no doubt they can be arranged one day to make more room.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

'Granny tax' may be bad politics

Media coverage of the Budget this morning is focussing on the so-called 'Granny Tax' with some criticism coming from the right-wing press. In part this reflects the fact that it was the one part of the Budget that wasn't leaked in advance (apart from the tax on pasties and sausage rolls). It may well be good policy but bad politcs.

There isn't really a logical justfication for special allowances for the retired (they were introduced by Churchill in 1925), particularly when tax threshholds are being increased. The one argument that is put forward is that it penalises thrift.

One pensioner interviewed in a vox pop said that she didn't think they should be taxed at all. Given the services they consume this is a bit rich to say the least. Pensioners have also been relatively unscathed by austerity with a big pensions increase this April and bus passes and winter fuel allowances untouched. But it illustrates the political problem. There are a lot of retired people and they turn out and vote in numbers.

Another sting in the tail is that the threshhold for paying the higher rate of 40 per cent will actually fall next year making another million people higher rate taxpayers. Some of these people will be in the much vaunted 'squeezed middle'.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Political posters

Some classic political posters here: Posters

The Conservative ones seem to be more effective, even if they are misleading. Remember 'Labour Isn't Working'? 'Life's Better Under the Conservatives' captured the mood of an era, even if the country was facing serious problems of economic competitiveness.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas cheer in the polls for Dave

After a long period in which the polls have been in a 'holding pattern', they have delivered a Christmas present for Dave Cameron in terms of a jump in the ratings: Polls

As the experts at Nottingham University point out, this is undoubtedly related to the exercise of the European 'veto' and probably involves an erosion of UKIP support. However, they also doubt whether the boost will be an enduring one, given the low salience of the EU in British politics and the fact that UKIP voters have other concerns.

Nevertheless, it does once again raise the issue of why the Labour Party is not doing better given the overall economic and political situation. One reason is that the polling evidence suggests that the electorate have no confidence in their economic competence, a reasonable given view given the way in which they spent what would have been a substantial budget surplus after 2001.

The other factor is Ed Miliband who continues to fail to impress. There are situations in which he could made more off. For example, the 'We are the 99 per cent' claim of the Occupy movement does resonate, even though it is ultimately spurious given that it assumes that the 99 per cent have a homogeneous set of interests and values which is clearly not the case. Nevertheless, Miliband could have recognised that they had an emotional case which required some intellectual development.

What instead we get is a lot of dithering and sitting on the fence as he tries to steer a course, for example, between the public sector unions and those who work in the private sector. In the dispute over public sector pensions, the Government has had to make some concessions but has largely got what it wanted in terms of higher contributions, later retirement ages and smaller entitlements.

Labour loyalists seem determined to stick with Ed to the last, however.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Do English cities want elected mayors?

Next May voters in eleven English cities will be asked if they want elected mayors - which already exist in fourteen locations ranging from the rather special case of London to smaller towns such as Bedford and Mansfield.

The Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors which I am chairing has been set up to provide an evidence base for considering the case for and against elected mayors. We are interested in whether they make a real difference compared with more traditional forms of local government. Some people think that the idea is an important democratic innovation, others that it is just a gimmick.

If voters in one or more cities do choose to have them, we need to think about how they can be effective and this will be one of the Commission's tasks. Read more here: Elected mayors

I have also written a longer post about this topic on the LSE Politics and Policy blog: Elected mayors

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Church militant?

Leamington Parish Church

Not for the first time the Church of England has made a fool of itself over handling the demonstration outside St.Paul's. The Church's response has been weak and inconsistent, revealing once again internal divisions. Given its overall weakness, these events could do it permanent damage.

The Church stands accused of being more concerned with temples of stone than a community of people and failing to preach the social gospel of the Sermon on the Mount. The placard held aloft by one demonstrator, 'What would Jesus have done?' was rather telling.

However, I do have some sympathy with the Church in terms of its positon as a custodian of what are in effect national monuments which cost a great deal of money to run but for which it receives no public money (unlike a number of European countries that have 'church taxes' such as Germany and Finland). No wonder that it relies on 'suggested donations' for admissions and is worried about the income from its gift shops.

St.Paul's is the ultimate cathedral icon because of the pictures of it standing proud among the smoke and devastation of the blitz, a symbol of the country's stand against the Nazis. But the problem is replicated on a smaller scale across the country.

In Leamington we have a Victorian parish church. It is a large building, too large for the congregation in a town that has several Anglican churches. It's pleasant on the eye not particularly outstanding architecturally and it costs a lot of money to maintain. But it's an important and familiar part of the townscape, as important as the town hall with the statue of Queen Victoria outside and if someone suggested knocking it down there would be a furore.

No doubt all these problems will raise the issue of Disestablishment again. Many outside and inside the Church of England would like to see it hapen and the arguments in favour are convincing. Probably the main counter argument is that an Estabished church has to offer its services to all its citizens.

I would be personally sorry to see the Church of England disappear, but large parts of it have failed to move with the times or not quickly enough. It still has too many echoes of the 1950s which was not a glorious age whatever historian Dominic Sandbrook (now writing daft articles in the Daily Mail) might tell us. It recalls an era of a stuffy, repressed and repressing Establishment whose worst sin was to be boring.

As a Londoner born and bred, I have never been in St. Paul's and I must do sowhen these troubles end. Incidentally, as far as the demonstration is concerned, it is become a story about the Church rather than the banks.