The major political issue this week has been the debate over the coalition's health reforms, with Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Andrew Lansley seeking to reassure voters the NHS is safe in their hands.
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• The major political issue this week has been the debate over the coalition’s health reforms, with Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Andrew Lansley seeking to reassure voters the NHS is safe in their hands.
The health secretary launched a “listening” exercise at the start of the week, designed to ease concerns over the health and social care bill – though it was business as usual at the Department of Health, as Left Foot Forward reported on Monday. Also that day, senior Liberal Democrat peer Lord Owen said the government was acting with “no authority” over the NHS reforms, writing to the cabinet secretary to express his concerns.
“I believe that to go to an external market will do great damage… It is basically treating health as another commodity… They don’t even know if their new form of wording, ‘any qualified provider’, will invoke EU competition law…
“They haven’t any legislative authority for this… They have no authority. You shouldn’t legislate in this chaotic fashion… I think there are far deeper issues in this legislation than we have realised… A lot of the democratic controls are going out the window.”
Not only has Lord Owen come out against the plans, but Tory peer Lord Tebbitt has joined the chorus of criticism – with questions being asked about whether the “listening” exercise will make the slightest bit of difference, shadow health secretary John Healey saying:
“They failed to listen to concerns in 6000 responses to consultation. They failed to listen to the same concerns in rejecting over 100 Labour amendments to the Bill. So the ‘pause’ looks suspiciously like a PR stunt to quell the coalition of criticism.
“Andrew Lansley will look to turn this Tory pause into a positive for David Cameron. Labour will encourage patients, staff and the public to raise their voices and challenge the changes wherever and whenever the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Health Secretary go through the motions of “listening” in the weeks ahead.”
For all the talk of The Three Amigos that they will “pause, listen, reflect and improve”, the question for the grey-haired, “humiliated” Mr Lansley remains: why say you’ll listen if you aren’t going to change?
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• On the economy, there was more evidence this week of the regressiveness of the government’s tax and benefit changes, which came into force this week.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies disputed Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander’s claim that 80 per cent of families will be better off as a result, with James Browne, IFS senior research economist, saying there are “winners and losers” in each of the eight lowest deciles, and it was therefore “misleading” to say eight out of ten families would benefit.
The remarks back up what the IFS said in its February Green Budget (pdf):
“Tax and benefit changes to be introduced in April 2011 involve a net ‘takeaway’ of £5.4 billion from households in 2011–12; this is equivalent to £200 per household and comes on top of the £12.8 billion increase in indirect taxes introduced in January 2011, which is equivalent to £480 per household on average… Working couples with children also lose significantly from cuts to tax credits.”
On that point in particular, Nicola Smith explained on Left Foot Forward on Wednesday:
“To allow households to gain a better understanding of what the changes mean for them the TUC has launched a tax credit calculator, which shows how changes to tax credits will affect household entitlements over the years ahead – and exposes the reality behind today’s rhetoric about winners and losers…
“Today’s changes reveal much about the government’s priorities. The coalition has chosen to deliver a small tax cut to households above the income tax threshold who are on low or middle incomes, at the cost of far larger effective tax rises for the lowest income households (those who are below the income tax threshold but still pay VAT) and for low to middle income families with children.
“Lone parents face some of the greatest cuts – being more likely to rely on childcare tax credits and only benefiting once from the personal allowance increase – and parents with small children also lose considerably, with the baby and toddler elements of tax credits dropped.
“For these working families the Treasury’s analysis of today’s changes is far removed from the reality of their household budgets.”
To read Tony Dolphin’s latest Economic Update, click here.
• The people and politicians of Northern Ireland stood united together in defiance of the terrorist murder of PC Ronan Kerr, killed by a car bomb outside his home in Omagh on Saturday.
At his funeral on Wednesday, Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and Edna Kenny stood shoulder-to-shoulder, sending the most powerful message to the killers that the peace process remains on track, the community stands as one, and the future has no place for their evil.
As the Belfast Telegraph commented:
“The images of young men from the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Police Service of Northern Ireland standing side-by-side in salute to Ronan Kerr’s short life should be imprinted on the minds of every person who votes in the forthcoming elections on May 5. The people voted overwhelmingly in their tears and with their feet yesterday behind his coffin to reject terrorism and support peaceful partnership.”
And the News Letter said:
“We came face to face with the past and the present in Northern Ireland yesterday. Constable Ronan Kerr was buried in his home village of Beragh, surrounded by his grieving family and friends, his police colleagues and by unionists and nationalists alike. It was a dignified, solemn and painfully sad day when the community came together to pay their respects to a brave young man who wanted a better future for the community he served.”
Two men have been arrested in connection with Ronan’s murder.
Progressives of the week:
Hugh Grant and John Prescott, who took on disgraced former News of the World phone hacker Paul McMullan this week; Grant turned the tables on the tabloid hack, secretly recording a conversation with him, while Prescott took him apart on last night’s Ten O’Clock Live. Watch the full video of Prescott v McMullan on Left Foot Forward here and in high-definition on the excellent Political Scrapbook here.
This afternoon, it was announced that Rupert Murdoch’s News International is to apologise and offer to pay damages to eight News of the World phone-hacking victims who are currently suing the paper, including actor Sienna Miller, former culture secretary Tessa Jowell and former Sky Sports commentator Andy Gray, described by The Guardian as “one of the most dramatic apologies in the history of Fleet Street”.
Regressives of the week:
Far-right madmen Glenn Beck and Jean-Marie Le Pen, who this week backed Côte d’Ivoire despot Laurent Gbagbo and failed to support the internationally-recognised president Alassane Ouattara – because he’s a Muslim.
Leading US blog Media Matters reports:
“Glenn Beck once again proved that he definitely knows how to spin any news to paint President Obama as anti-American and pro-terrorist.
“Beck criticised Obama for supporting Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised winner of last year’s presidential election in the Ivory Coast. Beck specifically highlighted the fact that Ouattara is a Muslim while the person he beat in the elections, Laurent Gbagbo is a Christian.
“Furthermore, although Beck condemned Ouattara for a recent massacre that took place in the city of Duekoue, he downplayed the actions by Gbagbo and his supporters, saying only that ‘the current Christian president who has his own share of issues is refusing to allow a power change, mostly because he fears that [Ouattara] is going to round up all of [his] supporters and kill them all’.”
Watch Beck’s latest swivel-eyed lunacy in full here.
Evidence of the week:
Tuesday’s OECD report, “What is the economic outlook for OECD countries? An interim assessment” (pdf), that provided evidence refuting the chancellor’s arguments about Britain being similar to Portugal – which is, like Greece and Ireland beforehand, having to be bailed out.
As Will Straw explained on Left Foot Forward yesterday:
“For the case of Common Sense vs. George Osborne, I offer Exhibit C from the OECD (pdf, page 18). The chart shows that the spread between yields on Portugal’s 10-year government bonds and the rest of the euro area began at the end of 2008. This was precisely the point that Labour announced its stimulus plan, which successfully offset the worst impact of the recession and the Conservatives decided to abandon their commitment to Labour’s spending plans. Since that point, the UK’s 10-year gilt yields have bobbed from 3.1% to 4.1% – at or close to the euro average.
“Britain doesn’t look much like Portugal to me.”
Ed Jacobs’s Week outside Westminster:
Northern Ireland: The news in Northern Ireland this week was dominated by the tragic murder of Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr following a bomb attack in Omagh.
Amidst the powerful sight of Northern Ireland’s political and religious leaders united at the funeral, including Democratic Unionist Party leader, Peter Robinson, attending a Catholic service for the first time, perhaps the most poignant words came from Ronan’s mother, Nuala. who so bravely responded:
“We don’t want to go back into the dark days again of fear and terror. We were so proud of Ronan and all that he stood for. Don’t let his death be in vain.”
“By 2020 I want to create a new Scottish economy, built on high-tech engineering and modern green manufacturing. I want a flourishing private sector exporting high quality products to growing markets abroad. I want excellent public services that deal with the challenges of our aging population. I want a confident Scotland, comfortable with its place in the world, that cares for all its citizens, is proud of our past and hopeful for our future.
“I want all of that for a reason, because there is a moral imperative to what we do. Labour believes that a more equal society is a stronger society, that one man, woman or child in poverty is an offence against us all, that our government exists not merely to govern well but to make change for the better, to progress the lot of those who have least and to make this country live up to the potential of all of its people.
“These are the principles that have guided my politics and have led me to this point, where I am asking for support for my programme to be the First Minister of a Labour Scottish Government.”
Elsewhere, a senior Lib Dem appeared to support Alex Salmond for first minister – before being forced to perform an embarrassing u-turn; UKIP launched their campaign with a call to abolish the Scottish Parliament they will be seeking votes for; and the Lib Dem candidate for Clydesdale constituency, John Paton-Day, failed to get his nomination papers in on time, leaving the seat without a Lib Dem on the ballot paper.
Wales: As polling suggested Labour was on course for a slim majority in May’s elections, it was a week of pledges from all the parties.
Labour launched its five key pledges, namely: greater numbers of apprenticeships and training opportunities for young people; access to GP surgeries in evenings and on Saturdays; more funding for schools; an extra 500 PCSOs for communities across Wales; a doubling of the number of children benefiting from free childcare and health visiting.
Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, outlined its four “4 a better Wales” pledges to tackle illiteracy; create jobs; ensure quicker and more effective healthcare; and invest in transport and technology links “fit for a 21st century nation”. And the Conservatives, not wanting to miss out on the rafts of promises coming from Wales’s governing parties, pledged to freeze car tolls for the Seven bridge.
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