Theresa May

Have SpAds been campaigning for the Tories, paid for by the taxpayer?

cameron and may

The political news at the moment is filled with stories of SpAds (Special Advisers, basically bag-carriers and assistants to government ministers) being kicked off candidate lists by the Conservatives. Specifically, one of Theresa May’s SpAds has been removed from the candidate list by CCHQ.

It has been interpreted as a Tory civil war, between Theresa May and Downing Street. But I think there’s something a little more sinister emerging here.

I may well get a threatening letter from Tory chairman Grant Shapps for saying this, but could these Special Advisers have been working campaigning for the Conservative Party, whilst their salaries have been paid by you and I, the taxpayers?

Read on…

Police Commissioner elections 2012 – what went wrong?

What went wrong? Well, everything.

When they right the historical accounts of David Cameron’s premiership, there will be many contenders for the chapter title of “Farce”, but I would like to humbly submit the police commissioner elections of 2012 for that honour.

I meant to write an overall analysis of the nationwide results yesterday (and I did manage a local analysis for the Thames Valley), but every time I came to write it all I could see was the turnout figures. The people of England and Wales managed a shocking 15% average turnout (in some places much worse).

Theresa May may well be:

…confident that the turnout at the next election will be greater because people will have seen Police and Crime Commissioners in their posts…

but the verdict from the electorate was that they didn’t want to see them in those posts in the first place. I can’t say anything for certain, but I’d certainly hope that the next Labour government would make sure that these are the last as well as the first elected police commissioners.

Looking at the map of the results, there’s a mixture of red and blue, but also a surprising amount of grey. Yes, a lot of independents won out over party candidates, which I take as part of the public’s distaste for May’s blatant politicising of the police.

I’m not sure that this is necessarily a good thing, to be honest. I know that at least one (Winston Roddick — North Wales) is a Lib Dem in disguise, and given the quality of the independent candidates in the Thames Valley, I worry who may have just taken the reigns of twelve police forces across the country.

Campaigning has been disastrous. Part of it is the huge areas, often very many parliamentary constituencies in size. It was always going to be difficult for candidates to cover so much ground, a problem which wasn’t helped by not giving candidates a free mailshot (if anyone can tell me why, I’d be eternally grateful).

Beyond that, holding an election in the middle of November was a stroke of idiocy. It’s been cold, dark, gloomy and miserable. Poor weather hampered both campaigning and turnout, with activists struggling to get around voters and those same voters were in no way encouraged to venture out of their warm homes to the polling station.

I’ve heard the argument that the US manages to have a country-wide election, so why should it make a difference in the UK? Well, for many reasons. Chiefly that these ill-conceived roles were unwanted, poorly-understood and anonymousWhereas the US presidential election is…not.

The Electoral Reform Society have described these elections as “a comedy of errors“. The Electoral Commission has launched an inquiry into what went wrong. The public is utterly disinterested, and 41 individuals now have the unenviable task of enacting budget cuts without a clear mandate, and after almost certainly having made promises to keep up police numbers.

Surely, amid this democratic humiliation and chaos, someone should be questioning the person behind this policy? Someone needs to be asking the difficult questions of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, as to how this could have happened.

Theresa May: playing politics with the police

I was listening to Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham earlier, and although there was only one brief mention of cats this year (I can’t think why), there was something she said which took me by surprise.

While Labour candidates use [the Police and Crime Commissioner] elections to play politics, and the Lib Dems try to make up their minds whether they should even take part, our candidates are talking about how to help their communities by getting tough on crime.

Sorry, what? Labour are playing politics? That sounds odd. It seems to me that holding elections for the heads of police forces instantly politicises what previously was an independent and impartial — not to mention important — role.

I also seem to recall that it was a Conservative policy to introduce them, one which Labour opposed due to concerns that it would be…erm…playing politics with policing.

John Redwood Wants Your Letters

John Redwood, MP for Wokingham, would like residents to email him to tell him that they oppose the Health and Social Care Bill.

It may surprise readers to learn this, but I don’t always watch the BBC’s flagship political debate show, Question Time. I enjoy it (most of the time) and with the advent of twitter and the #bbcqt hashtag it makes it all the more interesting to be able to interact with and contribute to the debate as it’s unfolding. Of course, the counterpoint of this is that it can sometimes be a little trying as an experience.

Last week, however, I did watch it. I had debated whether or not to, with the excellent Rachel Reeves being a mark in the plus column, and the increasingly barking and offensive David Starkey a reason against. I didn’t actually know that Wokingham’s own John Redwood, a man not-undeservingly called “The Vulcan”, was representing the Conservative side of the argument until I turned on.

When John was asked by an audience member why, if the Health and Social Care Bill is so good, it is taking so long to pass, he predictable blamed that old red axis of the Labour Party and the Trades Union. He then went on to make this statement:

“I don’t find, as Rachel does, that this is a matter of great controversy in my constituency. I’ve had very few letters and emails about it, and my general practicioners are just getting on and implementing it because they like it and they want to make a success of it.”

At the time, I took the route of the cynic and simply tweeted this:

I didn’t think much beyond that, to be honest, but John decided to make his own digital response- not to me specifically, but tweeters in general. This is something of a pleasant surprise, as since Mr Redwood’s twitter account only tweets new posts to his blog, I hadn’t thought it was manned by him or even a real person. But clearly someone checks tweets directed at it, so I guess they aren’t in vain. Hope springs eternal.

On his blogged response, John further claims that the emails he has received to date have had no addresses attached, so he concludes that they were not from constituents. I don’t think this is a particularly unreasonable conclusion, but I do stand by my tweet. I am convinced there is opposition to this inherently flawed bill, even within Wokingham. I don’t, however, expect John “heir to Thatcher” Redwood to find any problem with the privatisation and fragmentation of the health service.

John goes on to say this:

“If any constituent does wish me to consider objections to the Bill or wants me to take matters up with Mr Lansley, I remain as always very happy to do so and will reply personally to you as I always do. I would be grateful for you to include your address so I can see you are a constituent.”

Which, as they say, sounds like fighting talk. So, if you live in Wokingham constituency and want to let your MP know your feelings about the Health and Social Care Bill, why not drop him a letter or an email (with your address included) to the below address(es):

The Rt Hon John Redwood MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

And just as an explanatory note, I haven’t (and won’t) write to Mr Redwood, as I’m not a constituent of his. By a quirk of electoral boundaries, whilst lying within Wokingham local authority Wargrave is inside Maidenhead constituency; so my MP is the Rt. Hon. Theresa May. I will, however, be writing to the Home Secretary to outline my opposition to the bill, because according to John that’s what counts. I would have thought that my letter to the Maidenhead Advertiser the other week, signing the e-petition against the bill, and previously holding forth against it in all manner of media would have been enough, but there you go.

If any of you are interested, I may post my letter to Ms May on this blog, so you can use it as a template.

Letter in the Twyford Advertiser

My letter in the Twyford Advertiser (3rd November 2011)

This week’s Twyford (or Maidenhead) Advertiser sees a letter from yours truly, adorning the letters page. It’s a bit of a cheeky one, so I thought I’d share it with you all.

For those of you who can’t read my tacked-together-in-Paint image (sorry, it was over two columns), I will relate it in full:

ON TUESDAY morning I browsed the Hansard records of Monday night’s House of Commons debate on an EU referedum, I was surprised to find Theresa May listed among the No’s.

This, one would assume, is the same Theresa May who called so vocally for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, until that pledge was quietly dropped from the Conservative manifesto.

Given her vote on Monday night, and her response reported by Ken Wight in last week’s letters page to a UKIP activist, is Mrs May perhaps becoming something of a Europhile?

And will Maindenhead Conservative Association be deselecting her in punishment for toeing the Government line, as numbers other local parties across the Country are reported to have threatened?

Only time, one presumes, will tell.

Matthew S. Dent

Firstly, I would like to highlight that the abombinable apostrophe mistake in the first paragraph was not mine, but that of the Advertiser’s editorial staff. I know how to us an apostrophe, and I know (because I sent it to them as) “noes”. Sadly, the Advertiser seem to have stopped posting letters on their website, so you can’t comment angrily about it there. Feel free to do so here, instead, though.

Secondly, this is just a lighthearted jab at my local MP. I know Maidenhead Conservative Association won’t deselect her, no matter how annoyed many of them may be about the government’s stance on the EU. Probably, if they tried to, Mrs May would be given a different safe seat, and the whole lot of them would be suspended. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But what it does show, is that Mrs May might be at risk of splitting her vote. I don’t think we’re likely to see an upsurge of grassroots anger dethroning her (she had a majority of 16,769- even split, she won’t lose her seat), but these things always start small.

The incident I’m referring to in the letter, is when she was approached in the street by a UKIP campaigner who tried to offer her a UKIP DVD to watch, and she responded “I don’t need anything from UKIP, thank you.”

I probably would have said the same (or similar…), but this is different for two reasons. Firstly, I’m not an elected MP. Surely Mrs May would want to listen to the views of all constituents (apart from me, of course, I’m a Labour MP).  Secondly, the Tories have been hemorrhaging voters to UKIP for a while now, and following the government’s performance on the EU referendum motion, even more quickly.

Maybe that’s something Mrs May should be concerned about. Or maybe not, what do I know?

UPDATE: My ego insists that I point out that the misplaced apostrophe was not the only sin of the Advertiser editorial staff, and that the butchered thing which they printed, whilst carrying the true content of my letter, bares little resemblance in structure.

Cat’s Out of the Bag

Theresa May really should check her stories are true, before using them in keynotes speeches at the Conservative Party Conference

I shouldn’t laugh. It’s really not funny. A major UK politician, caught using an untrue story in order to inflame public sentiment against human rights.

The thing is, though, this sort of thing gets a daily airing in the tabloid press. Not a day seems to go by without the right wing papers featuring some scandalous story about the Human Rights Act causing some scandalous miscarriage of justice, coupled with various calls for it to be repealed- along with the idea that people have any rights at all.

Right wing attacks on the HRA have long been classic strawman arguments. By and large misconceiving court cases, to demonstrate that human rights are evil things indeed. That’s not to say that sometimes the provisions of the HRA aren’t sometimes misapplied, but that’s surely only an argument for better judicial training, rather than repeal of the act.

I won’t go into too much depth about the act itself, since I’ve already written a response to Theresa May’s calls in the Sunday Telegraph for the act to be scrapped, in an article published on The New Political Centre. Everything that I said in that article still stands, and the repeal of the act is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

I just hope that a few things will change now. I hope that bizarre statements about how the HRA means psychopaths can rove around old folks’ homes, doing residents in with meat cleavers, will in future be subject to a little more scruitny. And I also hope that high-profile right-wing politicians will not be able to pass off such nonsense-on-stilts as factual.

I, the people of Maidenhead constituency and the whole of the UK await Ms May’s retraction of and apology for her comments.

EDIT: After a comment by Will Prothero, I feel I should probably make clear here that I do recognise that May has been called out over this from the right, as well as the left. Particularly, by Ken Clarke. So bravo Ken, and bravo Will for making me take another look at how I presented the facts.

Chasing Shadows

So, after much anticipation, and a fair amount of spectacle, Mr (E.) Miliband has announced his Shadow Cabinet. And the commentators and speculators had it largely wrong (that’ll teach them). So here, fresh from my first Law & Politics in Britain and North America seminar, is my after-the-fact and probably under-informed view on the choices. This isn’t, by the way, going to be a full analysis, just a bit of comment on the bits I find interesting.

The obvious starting place is the place where all the speculation and rumour seemed to congeal- the Shadow Chancellorship. Of particular importance at the moment given the amount of attention being given to the economy, many had expected (and I had personally hoped) leadership candidate Ed Balls would get the job, given his political ferocity and economic understanding. Throughout the leadership campaign he had been noteworthy as particularly informed on the economy (just see his phenomenal There Is An Alternative speech), and has been supported by a number of key economists. Failing that, it was thought that his wife Yvette Cooper might be placed opposite Osborne, drawing on her experience as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.


Alan Johnson MP, Shadow Chancellor and Nicest Guy in Politics


Well we were all wrong. In the event, Mr Miliband has lumped for former Home Secretary Alan Johnson. Johnson, winner of my personal and very unofficial Nicest Guy in Politics Award, wasn’t much touted for the job, and is a bit of an odd appointment. Part of the reason might be that he’ll be more likely to tread the new leader’s line on the economy, being a slower reduction of the deficit rather than Balls’ radical investment and economic growth beliefs. It’s a bit early to comment on Johnson’s appointment, but whilst he’s a bit of a shock, he’s quite a diplomatic choice- probably designed to placate David Miliband’s supporters.

So consequently, Mr Balls has ended up as Shadow Home Secretary. I’m quite glad of this, to be


Ed Balls MP, Shadow Home Secretary


honest. As I said above, Ed is a fiery opponent, and I look forward to seeing him take on Theresa May and her one jacket (which is actually of particular interest, as one of Ms May’s constituents). I’m hoping that Ed will take the same hard line against cuts to the police, and policies on immigration which could potentially be disastrous to the recovering economy.

Yvette Cooper, meanwhile, sits herself down in the newly-vacated seat of David Miliband, as Shadow Foreign Secretary. This might seem an odd choice, but makes perfect sense, I think. William Hague (the Foreign Secretary) is famed as particularly talented orator, and whilst Ms Cooper may not have the same profile as the former Conservative Leader, I can assure you that she is a very talented politician. Iain Duncan Smith will be breathing a sigh of relief that he won’t be facing her across the dispatch box.


Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Education Secretary


The only other leadership candidate (aside from the two Eds) to make it into the cabinet is Andy Burnham, who has been given Balls’ old brief in Education. This appointment I can genuinely say I am thrilled with. Just as Gove is poking his head out from behind the barricade and wondering if it’s safe to come out now that the nasty Mr Balls has moved on, here comes another heavyweight. In particular, Andy’s line on fairness and equality throughout the leadership campaign fits perfectly here, and with Balls having moved to the Home Office, I can’t think of anyone better to fight the inequality and foolishness of Gove’s education policies.

Sadiq Kahn, the man who ran Ed Miliband’s successful leadership campaign, is rewarded with a brief opposite Ken Clarke in the Ministry of Justice. This is quite a promotion, for the man who was formerly Minister for Transport, and no doubt reflects his loyal service to the new leader. It’s also going to be a fairly difficult task, standing opposite one of the few men who I will laud as a “sensible” Conservative.

To finish, I’m glad to see that Shaun Woodward and Peter Hain have been worked into the cabinet, despite not qualifying through the election. Counter-democratic as it may be argued, I think that the election of the shadow cabinet is daft, and Peter Hain needed to be included so that a Welshman could be placed shadowing the Welsh Secretary. As for Shaun Woodward, I genuinely like the guy. He had the strength of character to follow his principles, and cross the floor from the Tories to Labour, which deserves respect, and I am thoroughly glad to see him as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.

That’s just a taste of the new Shadow Cabinet, and if you want to see the whole list then the BBC News Website has helpfully got them all listed for you. As for how effective the various members will be in their new roles remains to be seen. But the fact is that with the results of the spending review being announced in a fortnight, they’re going to have to hit the ground running. This should make for good politics, and exciting watching.

Meet the New Politics…

…same as the Old Politics.

So it’s happened. For almost a week, we have been living in a ConDem Nation, under a Libservative government, led by (coined by the Mirror in a surprising, if simplistic, show of wit) Dick Clameron. The government that loves a good contradiction started with that now-famous love-in in the garden of Number 10, and made half of the country feel supremely uncomfortable. And on the front page of Friday’s Guardian Clegg looked very much like he felt the same way.

The attempted sell of this new oxymoronic regime was the “New Politics”, a supposed new era and new way of running the country. And so far, so…meh. Nothing, to my mind, has really changed. I mean, the Department of Children, Schools and Families is now the Department of Education; everything the government can get its hands on will be cut in an attempt to bring back the recession, the only circumstances the Tories are comfortable in; and endless promises how things are going to be different.

The main proposed change is a worrying one, though. Clameron wants to change the constitution so that in order to dissolve Parliament 55% of MPs would need to vote in favour of it. We’re told that this won’t apply to votes of no confidence, and that it’s a necessary part of having fixed Parliament terms, but I still don’t buy it. We have a coalition government, of which the Conservatives command 47% of Parliament. Less than a majority. Under this new proposal, if the Libseravtive coalition fell apart, we could be in the bizarre situation where although the minority Conservative government couldn’t pass any legislation, it also couldn’t be removed.

This seems to me a lot like entrenchment, which is something that the British constitution is fundamentally against, and which looks like Cameron trying to cement himself into power so that he can stay in Number 10 even if public opinion turns against him. Yeah, the New Politics are looking great.

Also, the New Politics also seems to include a number of wholly inappropriate ministerial appointments. First off, in this new coalition, there are going to be only 4 women. Now, I’m not a raging feminist by any means, but I do feel that such a proportion is wholly unrepresentative, and something of a disgrace for the Lib Dems, and a Conservative Party we are constantly being told has changed. Not to mention that the new Equalities minister is Theresa May, a woman whose anti-equality credentials have already been well-documented across the internet (see the Facebook group aimed at removing her). To put her, of all people, in that position when the Coalition has a host of Liberal Democrats, and Alan Duncan of the Tories, is just illogical. Though I question the appropriateness of anyone who voted against the repeal of Section 28 being in a modern government, to be honest (but since Kemptown turned blue at the election, maybe the message is that homophobia is alright now, I don’t know).

The other frankly stupid ministerial appointment is George Osborne as Chancellor. I think that most of the electorate would agree that Vince Cable (the new Business Secretary) is a very intelligent, very sensible, and extremely qualified man. He was the ideal candidate for Chancellor (that is, if Cameron was viewing the Coalition Cabinet as a way of getting the best people into the best places, not just a boys club he had to throw a few minor roles to Lib Dems in order to satisfy the smaller party). And yet we end up with George Osborne, a man who has little to no understanding of money, and who thinks that a flat tax is the way forwards. Another kick in the nads for social justice, then.

So this Coalition has been, from the outset, every bit the disappointment I expected it to be. And I think Clegg might be beginning to see his error. The backlash against him has been clear online (thousands of people have joined or rejoined Labour in the last week, a sizable number of them disillusioned former Lib Dems), and even Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown have criticised it. He’s sold his soul for the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, and judging from the picture of him on the front page of Friday’s Guardian, he seems to know it. I don’t think the New Politics are what he expected them to be…