Ed Miliband shook up his shadow cabinet today, seizing the agenda while the Tories fiddled over ‘cat gate’, reports Left Foot Forward’s Shamik Das.
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• Ed Miliband shook up his shadow cabinet today, seizing the agenda while the Tories fiddled over ‘cat gate’.
In come Rachel Reeves (chief sec), Chuka Umunna (business), Michael Dugher (minister without portfolio), Stephen Twigg (education), Tom Watson (deputy chair), Margaret Curran (Scotland), Liz Kendall (care and older people), Vernon Coaker (Northern Ireland), Emily Thornberry (Attorney General), and Stewart Wood (Cabinet Office).
Out go John Healey (health), John Denham (business), Lady Scotland (Attorney General), Shaun Woodward (Northern Ireland), Meg Hillier (energy and climate change), and Ann McKechin (Scotland).
And moved sideways are Angela Eagle (chief sec to leader of house), Ivan Lewis (culture to international development), Harriet Harman (deputy leader and shadow culture), Andy Burnham (education to health), Hilary Benn (leader of house to communities and local government), and Caroline Flint (communities and local government to energy and climate change).
Miliband said of the reshuffle that he wanted the shadow cabinet to speak “to the public and the country”, adding of the rapid promotion of members of the 2010 intake, elected just 17 months ago:
“My decision to appoint half-a-dozen members of the 2010 intake shows the talent that Labour has and the way in which this new generation can join us in taking Labour’s agenda forward.
“Together we will show how the government are failing to help families who face a cost of living crisis, how they are failing to take action on energy bills and rail fares and failing to get the economy moving again.
“They will show how we aspire to be a government not for more of the same but to deliver a new bargain for the British people.”
And on the newcomers, the BBC’s Mike Sergeant writes:
“With an election not expected until 2015, Ed Miliband has taken the opportunity to promote some he believes are talented but unproven. His hope will be that the likes of Chuka Umunna and Rachel Reeves can grow into their roles and become seasoned operators over the next four years…
“The impression Labour wants to give is of a fresh and balanced team – with 11 women and six who came into the Commons in 2010.”
• Moving on to the story that lit up an otherwise uninteresting Tory party conference, and it looks like there could be a sting in the tail for Ken Clarke.
Reports suggest the justice secretary, rather than home secretary Theresa May, will be for the chop. Ridiculously. Laughably. The man who is right on the cat story, and right on the Human Rights Act, gets bumped off, while the shallow, shabby, right wing tabloid myth regurgitating clown remains.
This is government by Daily Mail gone mad.
So what is it, then, about human rights, and human rights for “them foreigners” in particular, that really eats up the mad right?
As former Solicitor General Vera Baird QC wrote on Left Foot Forward on Wednesday:
“That our blessed home secretary can be applauded for proclaiming that human rights won’t let us deport a pet owner shows the Tories’ amazing gullibility to myths about foreigners. Xenophobia is deep in the Tory heart, fuelling their anti-human rights obsession…
“May’s moggy was meant to exemplify what’s bad but forced her onto what’s good about our rights. Although she mentioned repeal in her speech, by mid-afternoon she was conceding that there is a balance in Article 8. She only ever argued for change to immigration rules to emphasise that balance.
“There is a balance in Article 8 – the right to family life against the need to prevent disorder or crime, the protection of health and the rights and freedoms of others. One can’t think that a feline weighs a lot in that mix nor that changes to immigration rules could make much difference.
“Ken Clarke wins his bet. The judges say she is wrong about the case; the cat had nothing to do with the judgment. Attorney General Dominic Grieve apparently refused to talk to the press last night, saying the cat was too complicated to comment on.
“Ken should win the policy struggle too, because he is right again there. Repealing the Act would turn back the clock making Strasbourg the only enforcer again. Nothing else would reverse, as our courts have been implementing rights now for ten years and they are mixed into our common law, like two very similar colours of paint.”
And as Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti said:
“[Theresa May] well knows that the human rights act leaves the last word on immigration control to parliament. Perhaps tomorrow the prime minister will explain how he is going to scrap the HRA without ceding more decisions to European judges in Strasbourg.
“Why put your party at odds with 93 per cent of people who value human rights protection in this country?”
For the rest of the news from the Conservative party conference, see our reports on education secretary Michael Gove, health secrerary Andrew Lansley, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, employment minister Chris Grayling, Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the prime minister himself.
• Bigger than all the above, however, is the worsening economic gloom enveloping the country.
Last night, Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King warned Britain could be in the grip of “the most serious financial crisis ever”. His remarks followed the announcement of a second round of quantitative easing yesterday morning, which will see an extra £75 billion injected into the economy.
Sir Mervyn said:
“We’re creating money because there’s not enough money in the economy. That may seem unfamiliar to people… but that’s because this is the most serious financial crisis at least since the 1930s, if not ever. We’re having to deal with very unusual circumstances but react calmly to this and do the right thing.”
He added that for many decades there had been “too much” money printed, leading to inflation being pushed up:
“That has been the major challenge for most of the post-war period. Since the world financial crisis we are now facing the opposite crisis – there’s not enough. It happened in the 1930s and it’s happening now. The amount of money in our economy fell in the last year. That’s why we’re creating money… to ensure the economy can keep growing.”
Earlier this week, the ONS revised down its second quarter growth figures from 0.2 per cent to 0.1%, with the IMF warning governments against pursuing deficit reduction at the expense of growth, and saying a global recession in 2012 “can’t be ruled out… [there is a possibility] activity will turn downwards”.
For more on the economic crisis and George Osborne’s speech to the Tory conference see our articles this week from Willie Bain MP, Tony Dolphin, Ann Pettifor, Sara Ibrahim, Ben Fox, Cormac Hollingsworth, Alex Hern and Richard Exell.
Progressives of the week:
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman, the winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, announced this morning in Oslo. They were awarded the prize for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women.
Leymah Gbowee mobilised and organised women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in west Africa during and after war.
And Tawakkul Karman has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen, in the most trying circumstances, both before and during the Arab Spring.
As the Nobel committee say:
“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”
There is a rundown of some of the other 2011 Nobel Laureates in the World Outside Westminster below.
Regressive of the week:
Defence minister Gerald Howarth, who lifted the lid on the nastiness at the core of the Tory party with an anti-gay marriage rant in today’s Telegraph.
Howarth, enraged by David Cameron’s declaration this week that he supports same-sex marriage, describes it as “a step too far” – sentiments echoed by Tory backbencher Peter Bone, who said he was “disappointed” by the prime minister’s comments, calling them “political correctness”.
Howarth even uttered the old “some of my best friends are in civil partnerships…” line.
However much Cameron claims to have changed the Conservative party, time and again the haters rear their heads, be it over Europe, gay rights, women or race.
Evidence of the week:
Figures from UNISON, the UK’s largest trade union, providing further evidence women are bearing the brunt of the coalition’s attack on public sector pensions. UNSION revealed this morning that more than 3.7 million women – six in ten – working in public services across the UK could be affected by the government’s plans to make them pay more, work longer and receive less from their pensions in retirement.
To save for their retirement, UNISON say, the lowest paid already pay 5.5% of their salaries in the Local Government Pension Scheme and 5% in the NHS Pension Scheme. This rises to 7.5% and 8.5% for those on higher pay. If they did not save, they would end up on means-tested benefits, at a cost to taxpayers.
“We have found that women are being badly hit by the recession both as providers and as users of services. In the public sector, they face pay freezes at a time of rising inflation, job losses and now an attack on their pension entitlements.
“These women are often low paid and struggling to make ends meet as prices rise and wages are cut; many are single parents. They already pay a sizeable proportion of their salaries into their pension schemes to save for their retirement. And those schemes are already sustainable and affordable.
“Government ministers want them to pay on average around 50% more, with no guarantee that the money will go into the pension schemes. All but the lowest paid will have to pay what is effectively a tax on public sector workers trying to save for their retirement.”
There’s more on the pensions crisis, and the effect on women of the coalition’s policies, in our report on Left Foot Forward on Wednesday. For more on the campaign to reverse the regressive pension changes, see here.
The World Outside Westminster by The Grapevine’s Tom Rouse:
As the Republican nomination race heats up, potential rivals to Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are falling by the wayside.
Sarah Palin confirmed late on Wednesday she would not be standing for the Republican nomination. Having spent the summer attempting to drum up support with a series of tours and speaking engagements, without ever really generating substantial support, Palin’s decision will probably not surprise many.
More intriguing is what effect this will have on Michele Bachmann’s campaign: will potential Palin supporters flock for her? Or is there simply not the desire amongst the GOP for an outsider candidate who lacks appeal amongst independents?
Chris Christie’s decision not to stand will come as more of a blow to the party’s movers and shakers. Christie was a darling of the grassroots and the man who was viewed as the perfect middle ground between Romney and Perry.
The New Jersey Governor has been vocal in declaring time and time again he will not stand, but in the last few weeks had appeared to bow to outside pressure and begun to consider a tilt at the Presidency. His latest declaration is designed to firmly shut the door on any hopes of him making a late run.
Primary season is fast approaching and supporters’ money and resources will now be funneled elsewhere, rather than being held in reserve.
Christie’s withdrawal leaves Romney as the only credible moderate Republican candidate and points to a straight shoot out between him and Perry for the nomination.
Herman Cain’s ratings have begun to increase over the last week, but after the blink and you’ll miss it rise and fall of Donald Trump, it is too early to consider the former Godfather Pizza magnate’s run a credible one; similarly, Perry’s slump in the past week does not point to a tangible worsening of his chances – it will take a string of bad poll ratings before the Texan starts to worry.
Turning to the White House, the polls are looking bleak again for President Obama, with 76% of those polled by Gallup believing the US economy is getting worse and his approval rating in danger of slipping below the 40% mark. In recognition of the upcoming campaign, the President has began to take steps to galvanise his base, issuing a stinging rebuke to the Bank of America over their plans to introduce a $5 debit card free.
Outside the States, bailing out Italy is the nightmare scenario for the eurozone, but after the Italian credit rating was downgraded three notches by Moody’s, it is looking more and more like a reality. The downgrade has been challenged by Silvio Berlusconi, who said the downgrade was more due to media perception than reality.
The downgrade capped a terrible week for the eurozone, which is coming under increasing pressure to take further action to shore up the current fragile financial status. The French and Belgian governments have already taken action to avoid the biggest Belgian bank, Dexia, from collapsing due to exposure to toxic debts, with its good assets being ring-fenced in a new instiution in an attempt to save the bank.
The problems mounted further for eurozone leaders after Greek public sector workers went on strike on Wednesday, protesting against the austerity measures being implemented by the Greek government. The Greek government claim there is no alternative to the cuts, which as previously mentioned in Look Left, will hit public sector workers and people relying on a state pension the hardest.
Despite these latest measures, there are serious doubts over Greece’s ability to cut its deficit, having missed the last EU set target to reduce the budget deficit to 7.5%. Meeting this target was a requirement for receiving the next tranche of bailout money, but given the current precarious situation, it is inconceivable EU members will deny Greece payment, as to do so would effectively force the country to default.
In Libya, forces loyal to the National Transitional Council have launched a major assault on the city of Sirte, 225 miles east of Tripoli, deposed despot Gaddafi’s last major stronghold. The BBC reports government forces have largely retaken the town but are meeting stiff resistance, with huge columns of smoke across the city and many buildings struck and on fire, while the Guardian says there is no water, electricity or petrol, with people coming out of Sirte, including deserters, saying everything is very expensive – even a cigarette lighter costs four dollars.
Finally this week, and as reported above, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize has been jointly awarded to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.
Amongst the other 2011 Nobel Laureates are: Tomas Tranströmer, literature, “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”; Dan Shechtman, chemistry, “for the discovery of quasicrystals”; in physics, jointly Saul Perlmutter, and Brian P Schmidt and Adam G Reiss, “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae”; and in physiology or medicine, jointly Bruce A Beutler and Jules A Hoffman “for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity”, and Ralph M Steinman for his “discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity”.
Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:
The Welsh government published its draft budget for 2012-13 with a commitment at its heart to support growth, jobs and the public services.
Criticising the UK government’s failure to establish a credible growth strategy, Welsh finance minister, Jane Hutt, agued:
“We have a responsibility to use all the levers we have to stimulate the economy against the backdrop of failing economic performance, with the UK government having no credible plan for long term growth.
“Our vision for Wales is for a more prosperous economy with better, more efficient public services that equip people to fulfil their potential and maximise their contribution to society and the economy.”
As the Conservative faithful gathered in Manchester, meanwhile, UK health secretary Andrew Lansley started a spat with Cardiff Bay by claiming its handling of the health service in Wales showed you couldn’t trust Labour on the NHS.
Outlining how the NHS in Wales, unlike the service in England, was not at threat of privatisation, Welsh health minister, Lesley Griffiths, responded:
“The Tories are trying desperately to deflect attention from their own failings in the NHS in England. The fact remains, the NHS was made in Wales and is safe in Wales, under Labour.”
In Scotland, meanwhile, things began to get interesting in the contest to lead the Conservatives at Holyrood as the party’s only MP in Scotland, the Scotland Office minister David Mundell, broke a vow of silence to attack leading candidate Murdo Fraser’s plans for a new centre-right party.
Writing for Scotland on Sunday, Mundell argued:
“No-one would disagree that the party must change because we must attract more people to vote for us. We must be the clear choice for those who want to vote for a sensible centre-right party. And we must be able to demonstrate we are relevant.
“That is why the leadership election should focus on policy, leadership qualities and campaigning style.
“But let me be clear – any change must be in the context of the existing Scottish Conservative and Unionist party. I cannot support the disbanding of our party. It is a betrayal of our stalwart members and activists and the 420,000 people who voted Conservative at the UK general election.”
The University of the Highlands and the Islands, meanwhile, became the last Scottish university to set its tuition fees for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students as those from Scotland continue to enjoy free tuition.
Reacting to the development and looking across at the broader policy of discriminatory charging, the NUS’s president in Scotland, Robin Parker, argued:
“When you look at the fact that over 40% of students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland study at Edinburgh and St Andrew’s universities, where degrees will cost £36,000, the real average degree will cost over £30,000. This figure doesn’t even take into account the additional year of living costs in Scotland.
“This system is one that simply allows principals to cash in on students from the rest of UK, and that’s unjustifiable.”
Across Northern Ireland, it was a week dominated by industrial unrest as unions began to flex their muscles over pay, conditions and pensions. As acting first minister, John O’Dowd, warned of a winter of “deep discontent” facing schools, it was reported 26,000 of UNISON’s health workers in Northern Ireland had gone on strike over cuts being imposed on health services by Stormont.
Outlining her members’ reluctance to take such action, the union’s regional secretary, Patricia McKeown, argued:
“It does not have to be this way. In just one action alone, if the UK government collected tax evaded by large corporations, NI’s take would restore the block grant.
“If the Executive were to properly do what UNISON members have been doing with their employers for the past four years and collectively look at how money could be better spent they would save millions of pound – our members have.”
Elsewhere, it was reported that the executive, apart from SDLP minister Alex Attwood, had agreed to a plan to increase public sector workers’ contributions to their pension pots by 3.2% following a threat from the UK government to cut tens of millions of pounds from the block grant.
Ms McKeown responded:
“Why are they promoting the idea of a cut in corporation tax which will benefit the big corporates and knock almost £400m off the block grant?
“Is it that we look after a small number of elite businesses but we totally ignore the biggest workforce in Northern Ireland? I think big questions are going to be asked.”
This week’s most read:
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1. Exposed: Boris Johnson’s efforts to evade air pollution rules – Darren Johnson AM
3. Kitten heels May gets in a cat flap – Alex Hern
4. ‘Back of a fag packet’ housing policy continues – Kevin Gulliver
5. The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories – Vera Baird QC