Posts Tagged ‘john healey’

Mothers who have babies through surrogates deserve equal rights

17/04/2012, 01:38:20 PM

by John Healey

Today I’m bringing a Ten Minute Rule Bill as a first step towards closing a legal loophole meaning mums who have babies through surrogates aren’t entitled to any maternity leave or pay.

I’m doing so on behalf of two Rotherham women who came to see me at one of my constituency advice surgeries in January.

Amy Bellamy was seven months pregnant with twins for her cousin Jane Kassim. Jane had been told at 15 she could never carry children and Amy had selflessly offered to be a surrogate.

When Amy became pregnant it was the news Jane and her husband had longed for. Implntation of Jane’s fertilised eggs had failed twice, so they were elated when the third attempt was a success. Then they found out they were expecting twin girls!

Like any other mother Jane started to prepare for the birth.

She asked her employer for maternity leave, but was stunned to find out that she had no legal right to maternity leave or pay. She had fully expected to take up to 52 weeks off and get 39 weeks’ pay, just as mothers who have their own babies or adopt are able to do.

I was also astonished to find this gap in the law when I checked the facts.

Maternity rights are to help mothers and their newly born babies through the earliest months of the child’s life, when time together is most needed.

Mums like Jane need this support just like any other new mother. They nearly always start to care for their baby full-time soon after the birth. It’s unfair and unreasonable to deny mothers whose babies are born through surrogates the rights that those giving birth themselves or adopting automatically have.


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The Tories are destroying Labour’s golden NHS legacy

04/10/2011, 12:09:20 PM

by John Healey

Another day, another 400 senior health professionals raise their alarm over the Tory-Lib Dem NHS plans.

They make the same arguments in today’s Telegraph as Labour made first last Autumn, and have been leading in opposition since – that the biggest internal reorganisation in NHS history is wasting billions on new bureaucracy, while the legislation will break up our health service with market competition replacing medical collaboration at the heart of the NHS.

David Cameron claimed a month ago “the whole health profession is on board for what is now being done”. He’s in denial about the depth of opposition to his NHS plans. And he’s in denial about the damage his government is doing, as NHS staff and patients see services cut, treatments denied and long waiting times rise.

Since he became prime minister, more than a million patients have had to wait longer for treatment in hospital and A&E than Labour’s waiting time guarantees.

More David Cameron declarations that “I love the NHS” at his conference in Manchester this week simply won’t cut it for the public.


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Thursday News Review

19/05/2011, 06:53:47 AM

The Tory mask slips…

The suggestion by his junior minister, Crispin Blunt, that rapists could have their jail sentences cut by half in return for a guilty plea, had triggered furious accusations of “soft justice”. But if the situation was bad before Mr Clarke decided to take to the airwaves to defuse the row, it was considerably worse soon afterwards as he managed, during the course of a radio interview, to suggest that some types of rape were less serious than others. The remarks triggered a “car crash” of a day, during which the Justice Secretary conducted a further two rounds of broadcast interviews in an attempt to ‘qualify’ his remarks yet succeeded only in muddying the waters even further. – Daily Telegraph

The Justice Secretary suggested in a radio interview that teenage and date rape were not “proper” offences. When he was told that “rape is rape”, he then replied: “No it’s not”. Mr Clarke, who was confronted in the street in Westminster yesterday afternoon by campaigners, then refused to apologise and said he was “astonished” by the reaction. Labour leader Ed Miliband led calls for Mr Clarke to be sacked, saying he “cannot speak for the women of this country when he makes comments like that”. He told David Cameron: “Let me say very clearly – the Justice Secretary should not be in his post at the end of today.” Mr Clarke wants to halve jail sentences for offenders who plead guilty – and in the Commons on Monday he revealed this could also apply to rapists. But during a Radio 5 Live radio interview yesterday, an attempted rape victim warned him of the dangers of an early release for sex offenders. The caller, Gabrielle, told Mr Clarke she was attacked by a man who had been released early on licence despite being convicted of six previous sex attacks. Breaking down in tears, she told Mr Clarke his plans were a “disaster”. – Daily Mirror
Mr Clarke sparked an outcry while defending controversial Government proposals to halve the sentences of some rapists if they made early guilty pleas. He angrily rejected reports sex attackers could face just 15 months behind bars as a result, insisting “classic” rapes involving violence and unwilling women resulted in longer sentences. Mr Clarke insisted less clear-cut “date rapes” and consensual sex between teens, one of whom was under age, skewed average sentencing figures. Rape victim support groups in Merseyside stopped short of calling for Mr Clarke to lose his job, saying the debate should be kept to sentencing. Jo Wood, from Merseyside’s Rape And Sexual Abuse Centre (RASA), said: “He has gone off policy and started coming out with personal opinion, because nobody in their right mind is going to have a policy statement that there are different types of rape. – Liverpool Daily Post

Ed’s first goal

Mr Miliband might have chosen to urge, more in sorrow than in anger, that Mr Clarke be told to correct any misleading impression of being lenient on rape. The Labour leader instead tried to get Mr Clarke sacked: “The Justice Secretary should not be in his post at the end of the day.” The merciless instincts of a Brownite attack dog had driven out any idea Mr Miliband might have had of presenting himself as a liberal-minded person who recognised Mr Clarke as a kindred spirit. Mr Miliband has recently displayed the same intolerance towards Nick Clegg, with whom he refused to share a platform during the AV referendum campaign. One also detected a hint of ruthlessness in Mr Miliband’s conduct during the Labour leadership campaign, when he carved up the liberal-minded front runner, who happened to be his own brother. – Daily Telegraph

It was a day for dinosaurs. Sir Peter Tapsell reared up among cheers to suggest the PM order an investigation into the death of David Kelly. Dennis Skinner gave a fabulous display of primordial rage (it’s his birthday today: he is 65 million years old). And Ken Clarke got into trouble for his Jurassic views on sex crime. He had said some rapes were worse than others and Ed Miliband demanded he resign. Your sketch writer found himself a bit Triassic on the subject. Isn’t statutory rape (a 17-year-old having consensual sex with his girlfriend just shy of her 16th birthday) less serious than… let’s not imagine the details. Cameron made this defence a bit – but it didn’t quite command the House. Taken with the Coalition proposal to give rape defendants anonymity this was dangerous ground for a Tory. Ed Miliband’s case was a modern one: rape is one single category of offence. That’s the progressive view. Fair enough, that’s probably what Independent readers think too. But wasn’t that the Ed of two weeks ago? Hasn’t he assigned dinosaur status to his “progressive majority”? The modern thing, the mutation of the moment is Blue Labour, isn’t it? That’s the idea that England is more and more like the Daily Mail describes it. You have to wonder whether Ed Miliband is the person – or “guy”, as he calls it – to pitch working-class conservatism. He is after all a hereditary aristocrat of the political class. – the Independent

A demand too far

Nick Clegg has put another obstacle in the path of the Government’s  controversial health reforms. The Liberal Democrat leader announced that he will oppose the establishment of a regulator to promote competition in the NHS – a key plank of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans. But the intervention incensed Tories who yesterday questioned why the Lib Dems were happy to vote for the plans in the Commons, but are now against them following their  disastrous showing in the local elections. Two weeks ago the Deputy Prime Minister promised a more ‘muscular liberalism’ – with the Lib Dems not going along with so many Conservative policies. He has already demanded Mr Lansley change his plans so that hospital doctors and nurses become members of the new GP commissioning boards which will run most of the NHS budget under the reforms. – Daily Mail

People can’t trust Nick Clegg to protect the NHS. After the Lib Dems’ local elections disaster, his concern is to save his party, not safeguard our NHS. As students faced with £9,000 tuition fees know, you can’t take the deputy prime minister at his word. Clegg has backed David Cameron’s NHS plans every step of the way for 12 months. They made and broke together the coalition agreementpromise “to stop top-down reorganisations” and they co-signed the foreword to the NHS white paper in July. Clegg signed off the NHS bill in cabinet in December. He took to the airwaves in January to defend the plans. His MPs have backed the bill in parliament at every stage so far, and in the committee it was his Lib Dem health minister who led rejection of Labour’s amendments to make the changes Clegg now claims he wants. The deputy prime minister has come so late to concern about the legislation, that if the bill were any shorter it might have been on the statute book by now. His Mr Muscle act is born of desperation after the Lib Dem electoral meltdown on 5 May. – John Healey, the Guardian

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Saturday News Review

30/04/2011, 06:51:12 AM

A nation celebrates

David Cameron, still in his morning suit, tucked into cake and posed for pictures at the No10 celebration. Guests included actress Barbara Windsor, schoolchildren and charity fundraisers, young and old. The PM said: “It’s been an amazing day.” In Anglesey, North Wales, where Prince William serves at the RAF base, thousands partied in a showground. One reveller said: “I expect William won’t be at the pub’s quiz night with his friends as often now he’s married.” Coronation Street star William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow, joined 300 friends and neighbours in Wilmslow, Cheshire. In ­Southampton, Michaela Coutakis, 45, dressed in patriotic colours, said: “We’re not royalists but it’s bringing the ­country together. We will remember this when we’re old and grey. She looked absolutely stunning.” Outside the royal residence of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, people enjoyed picnics and drank bubbly on the lawn where six large TVs showed the wedding. Mother Amanda Mann, 40, said: “You can’t put a price on memories like today.” – Daily Express

While the nation readies itself for mass jubilation tomorrow as Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the knot, Downing Street too has got in on the act – with a little bit of bunting. Perhaps the Government didn’t want to give the wrong impression in these times of austerity as the bunting budget clearly didn’t stretch very far. There may have been no signs of Union Flags or George Crosses outside – but it was a different matter inside. Larry the cat – brought in to deal with a rodent problem – was seen sporting a very patriotic bow tie ahead of the No.10 street party. Sitting on the Cabinet table, wearing his little Union Flag number, he looked as happy as, well, Larry – but let’s hope he won’t be called on for his official rat-catching duties tomorrow. The usually cordoned-off street will host a party for 100 revellers to celebrate the Royal Wedding. Guests for the do are mostly pensioners chosen by local charities and Save The Children. As well as tucking into home-made cupcakes – which Samantha Cameron helped to bake – they will be entertained with games. To get in the mood for the big day, David Cameron took a stroll along The Mall this evening and met well-wishers. He also re-visited the spot where he camped out at for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. – Daily Mail

Dave says “They have no right to stop you having fun”

An unofficial street party in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park was descending into violence tonight as police stuggled to cope with a crowd of thousands of revellers. Hundreds of thugs threw missiles at officers and at least three cops were injured. Two teenagers had organised the rave in on Facebook on the back of a pledge from PM David Cameron, who hit out at spoilsport councils for blocking parties with red tape. However trouble flared after the plug was pulled more than three hours early on the unofficial event, amid rising tensions and scuffles inside and outside the park. Many of the 4000-strong crowd at the bash were boozing heavily and attacked officers as they tried to split up a fight. The event was organised after David Cameron attacked “pen pushers and busybodies” for thwarting royal wedding celebrations. The PM said : “They have no right to stop you from having fun. I am the Prime Minister and I am telling you if you want to have a street party, you go ahead and have one.” – Daily Record

Police condemned “irresponsible” drunkenness after arresting 21 people when violence broke out at an unauthorised Glasgow park rave to coincide with the royal wedding. One officer was taken to hospital with a head injury after police moved in to break up the unofficial party in Kelvingrove Park, and police say more arrests could be made as they study video footage. More than 4000 revellers, mostly in their teens and early-twenties, converged on the beauty spot yesterday and the majority were drinking. Glasgow City Council, which now has to mount a huge clean- up operation, had warned against the unofficial party and urged people to find a “safer alternative” way to celebrate. JJ Gardner, 19, one of two students who organised the event, spreading the word through social networking sites, said: “David Cameron said people wanting to organise street parties should forget the red tape. That’s what we’re doing.” – Daily Herald

Hain has a howler

Crude politics has intruded on the Royal Wedding after all, and all courtesy of Peter Hain. The Shadow Welsh Secretary has complained — on Twitter, naturally — that the BBC’s coverage of the event dwelt too long on David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and ignored Ed Miliband. “BBC airbrushing Labour like the Palace?” he asked leadingly. The Tory minister David Jones has since admonished him, “time, place, Peter.” If Labour have much sense they’ll play this down as efficiently as possible. Miliband, it is true, barely featured in the television coverage — but that’s really beside the point. It is rarely smart politics to take on the Palace at any time. Yet on the day of the Royal Wedding it’s just downright foolish. Hain’s outburst may not have been the official party line, but he is still a shadow cabinet member, and his leader could have lived without this embarrassment. – the Spectator

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain was rebuked by Labour bosses yesterday after accusing the BBC of political bias in its coverage of the royal wedding. He also appeared to attack the royal family when he took to social networking site Twitter to complain there had been far fewer television shots of Labour leader Ed Miliband during the course of the coverage than of Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg. Mr Hain tweeted: “Loads of TV coverage of Cameron and Clegg at wedding but none of Ed. BBC airbrushing Labour like the palace?” The second line is a reference to former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown not being invited to the wedding, unlike other living former premiers Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major. Responding to Mr Hain’s comments, a senior Labour source said: “The last thing Ed and Justine [Thornton, Mr Miliband’s fiancee] are worried about is getting on television on William and Kate’s big day. It should just be about them. No-one should be trying to make a political row on this day of celebration.” – Western Mail

A day to bury bad news

Labour has accused health bosses of burying bad news on royal wedding day when it emerged that the health regulator Monitor had predicted hospitals would have to make efficiency savings up to 50% higher than previously envisaged. Monitor, in a letter to NHS foundation trusts dated 27 April and released on Thursday, said the higher efficiency savings were partly due to inflation rising above predicted levels. Monitor oversees NHS foundation trusts and assesses applications for foundation status. It is due to become the overall regulator for the whole of the NHS under the government shakeup. It suggested average savings of up to 7% a year may be required in the acute sector over the next five years, compared with the 4% called for by the Department of Health as part of efforts to slash £20bn from running costs. – the Guardian

John Healey, the shadow health secretary, raised questions over the timing of an official announcement that hospitals may need to make savings far greater than those already planned. He said the statement by Monitor, that leading hospitals must make savings of up to 7 per cent a year, proved that the reorganisation of the NHS and cost-cutting plans are putting the system under “huge strain”. Mr Healey said: “With all eyes on the Royal Wedding, the Government is trying to bury bad news on the NHS. This confirms the combination of broken promises on NHS funding and reorganisation is putting a huge strain on hospitals. David Cameron must halt his high-risk, high cost overhaul of the NHS. The Prime Minister promised to protect the NHS but his health policies are piling extra pressure on health services, and patients are starting to see the NHS going backwards again under the Tories.” In plans established under Labour, the NHS must make efficiency savings of 4 per cent of its budget by 2015, totaling £20billion. Many trusts have already announced job cuts and service reductions, although ministers want them to concentrate on reducing waste. But Monitor, which oversees the 137 leading hospitals known as Foundation Trusts, has warned them that they may need to make savings of at least 50 per cent more than initially thought.  – Daily Telegraph

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Knowing me knowing… John Healey

26/04/2011, 01:00:38 PM

In the first of a new series on Uncut, shadow health secretary, John Healey, takes the hot seat

What was the last film you saw in the cinema?

The Social Network.

What was the last piece of music you bought?

Pork pie: the best thing about being British

Adele, 21.

What is the best thing about being British?

Pork pies and HP sauce.

Describe David Cameron in three words

Out of touch.

What is your favourite meal to cook yourself?

Steak and chips.

Is it wrong to hate Tories?

No – but it’s their values and views that matter most.

In a film of your life, who would play you?

Starring Nicholas Cage as John Healey

Nicholas Cage – he’s prepared to play unlikely characters.

Which current non-Labour MP do you most admire and why?

Andrew Tyrie – always intelligent and independent-minded.

Do you believe that the message of socialism alleviating inequality will be heard in our lifetime?

It must – it’s our mission.

What is your most irrational fear?

Losing our child.

If any, what instruments can you play?

None – above all, I’d love to be able to sing. (more…)

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Uncut presents the shadow cabinet goal of the month competition

15/04/2011, 07:00:07 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Readers to choose from Alexander, Balls, Cooper, Healey and Murphy to pick best performance

Back in January, Uncut launched a monthly shadow cabinet league table.  It tracks shadow cabinet members’ effort in Parliament and outside in the media. But, effort, while a useful measure, isn’t the whole picture. One frequent comment has been that the table focuses only on process and effort, whereas it is important to looking at results as well.

Fair point.

We present the shadow cabinet goal of the month competition.

The contest has been developed to recognise the successes in the shadow cabinet, based the impact they have had.

Judging quality is a subjective business. One person’s barnstorming performance at the despatch box is another’s unhinged rant. And that’s where you, the Uncut public come in.

Five examples of the shadow cabinet at their best have been painstakingly sifted from the past month’s action in the Commons and the media. They are set out here for you to consider and then cast your vote to award the most prestigious title in Labour politics – Uncut shadow cabinet goal of the month.

As with the league, this isn’t intended to be the be all and end all, but it gives a view of recent highlights.

This month’s five contenders are, in alphabetical order: Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, John Healey and Jim Murphy.

1. Alexander fells the great white buffalo

William Hague came into office with a reputation as a sparkling Commons performer, an elder statesman with experience as a cabinet minister and a general wit and raconteur. He was deputy leader of the Conservative party in all but name.

How the mighty have fallen.

And in that fall, Douglas Alexander deserves his share of credit.

Questionable personal decisions and Foreign Office bungling might have taken their toll on Hague, but without Alexander’s work-rate and scrutiny, the impact on the Foreign Secretary’s effectiveness would have remained unexposed.

The exchange between Alexander and Hague over the bizarre secret mission in Libya which ended with the Benghazi rebels arresting the British party provides a parliamentary snapshot of the moment a big beast was felled.

As ever with the Commons, piercing wit was the weapon.

Alexander’s deadpan delivery of an expertly framed analogy succinctly demonstrated the true absurdity of the situation. It delivered Hague his worst moment in the Commons in over twenty years. (more…)

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How much does the government love the NHS?

11/04/2011, 10:35:33 AM

In an attempt to save themselves from the hands of voters, nurses, Norman Lamb, the BMA… Cameron, Lansley and Clegg have begun a desperate “listening exercise”. Just in case the cynical public weren’t sure they were really listening -and began to question if they really could trust big Dave with the NHS – they’ve published a pamphlet alongside the photo calls: Working together for a stronger NHS.

And just to make absolutely certain we didn’t get confused into thinking their rushed, ill thought out reforms were ideologically driven, the introduction tells us that they “love” the NHS. Four times. Four. That’s how much they love it.

“We love the NHS. The NHS is our most precious national asset. Every second hundreds of people walk through its doors. Every week it saves thousands of lives. Every year millions of us rely on it. We love the NHS because its there when the people we love fall ill. Because its there all the time. Because whoever you are, wherever you are from, however much money you have got in the bank, theres somewhere to go to get looked after. And because that says amazing things about our country. That’s why we love the NHS”

John Healey has written to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, to question the political nature of the cringe worthy photo calls and the “synthetic sentimentalism” of the  sickening love letter.

John Healey – Gus O’Donnell

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Tuesday News Review

01/02/2011, 06:59:26 AM

Even Cameron’s family disagree with NHS reforms

David Cameron’s health plans suffered a devastating blow yesterday when his brother-in-law blasted the Government’s ruthless dismantling of the NHS. The Prime Minister admitted his sister Tania’s husband Dr Carl Brookes had said: “You’re giving too much power to GPs, and hospitals will be disadvantaged.” Dr Brookes refused to comment when The Mirror approached him at his Basingstoke office. But by 7pm, No.10 issued an astonishing U-turn statement on his behalf, saying: “I am supportive of the reforms of the NHS. Clinicians should be more closely involved in decisions about where the money goes. I support the aim of reducing the overall management costs of the NHS and the measures designed to allow that.” The Prime Minister’s initially damning admission came as the Tory-led Coalition tried to force the Health and Social Care Bill through Parliament in the face of mounting opposition. On a day of blunders, Mr Cameron also admitted that district hospitals could close as market forces are unleashed throughout the health service. He said: “People like their local hospital and as long as they go on using it, it will remain open.” But in opposition, he had promised to keep hospitals open, saying: “We believe in them, we want to save them.” Shadow health secretary John Healey said: “The Prime Minister’s brother-in-law is one of three in four doctors who don’t believe this high risk, high cost reorganisation will improve services for patients.” – Daily Mirror (more…)

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Friday News Review

14/01/2011, 06:56:44 AM

NHS meltdown

Labour has accused Andrew Lansley of “disgraceful secrecy” for refusing to reveal what risks his officials believe the NHS shakeup poses to the health system. The Department of Health has admitted it has identified things that could go wrong as a direct result of its radical restructuring of the NHS in England. But it has rejected Labour’s request for details to be released under the Freedom of Information Act, arguing that such disclosure would impede ministers. Experts have warned that the reorganisation could hit the quality of care, lead to financial problems and make local NHS organisations less accountable. Many major NHS and medical organisations identified a large number of risks, in both the changes themselves and the period before they take effect in April 2013, when they responded to the recent government consultation on the controversial plans. John Healey, the shadow health secretary, began pursuing details of what risk assessment the health department or its advisers had undertaken to identify potential hazards caused by the biggest changes to the NHS since its creation in 1948. – Guardian

The coalition’s big idea for health is that while the government would still pay for NHS treatment, all commissioning will be carried out by private GP consortiums and service provision will be further opened up to private companies, with the odd sprinkling of not-for-profits. Market competition will drive up standards and lower costs, bringing value for money for taxpayers. So why not say so? In health secretary Andrew Lansley’s consultation on the reforms, due to close tomorrow, there is no use of the words ‘private’, ‘market’ or ‘commercial’. The issue is clouded over with the words “any willing provider” and “independent providers”. – Left Foot Forward

Was it ever in doubt

Debbie Abrahams secured a 3,558 majority – higher than their 1997 landslide – to give a boost to Ed Miliband’s leadership. The Liberal Democrats, who came within 100 votes of taking the seat in May, held on to second place. The Conservatives, who were accused of “soft-pedalling” in the contest in order to try and help their Coalition partners, came a distant third. Nick Clegg insisted the Lib Dems remained a “strong, united” party, despite the heavy loss. Leaving his London home this morning, the party leader insisted that it had been a good showing at what was a “challenging time” for the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. “I think the strong result in this by-election for the Liberal Democrats shows that whether we are in government or in opposition we remain a strong, united independent party whose values continue to attract support,” the Deputy Prime MInister said. – Telegraph

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams took 14,718 votes, over 3,500 more than the Liberal Democrats’ candidate, Elwyn Watkins, who was beaten by just 113 votes last May by Labour’s Phil Woolas, though Woolas was later ejected from his seat by court judges. However, the disappointing result for the Conservative candidate, Rashif Ali, who received just 4,481 votes, will strengthen Mr Cameron’s party critics, who have argued that the Conservatives failed to throw their weight behind Mr Ali because they wanted the Liberal Democrats to win. In her victory speech, Ms Abrahams said Oldham East and Saddleworth had delivered a message to Mr Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader, Mr Nick Clegg that they had “cutting too much and too fast”. The Labour victory came less than 12 hours after Greater Manchester Council, which is responsible for Oldham, announced that it would cut nearly 20 per cent of its staff over the next year, in an attempt to keep inside reduced Whitehall spending pledges. Delighted by the victory, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Mr Andy Burnham, said it marked “the first step” in rebuilding the party after last year’s election defeat: “I know it is going to be a long road, but it is the first step,” he told The Irish Times . – Irish Times

There was another election last night

Labour has secured its only seat on Cornwall Council after winning a by-election. Labour soared from fifth place at the last by-election in 2009 to win Camborne North. Jude Robinson, who stood as a Labour candidate in the general election in 2010, won 230 votes, a 15% swing from the Conservatives who came second. She called it a “turning point” for Labour, which also won Oldham East and Saddleworth parliamentary by-election. Ms Robinson said: “I am very pleased. “I worked hard and people have been told for a long time they can’t vote Labour here because that would let the Conservatives in. “But this has proved Labour is the opposition to the Conservatives. This is a turning point for us.” –

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Wednesday News Review

29/12/2010, 06:58:33 AM

Hughes set to sell the un-sellable

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, was yesterday handed the job of selling the Government’s unpopular higher education reforms to prospective students. Downing Street said Mr Hughes – who abstained in the Commons vote on raising tuition fees – agreed to take up the unpaid role as an “access advocate” to persuade parents and children from poor backgrounds they will be able to afford a university education when the new fees come into effect. However, just as important will be Mr Hughes’s role in convincing recalcitrant Liberal Democrat supporters that the party has not sold out to the Tories over the policy and that the new fees structure is genuinely fairer than the previous system. Mr Hughes is a popular figure in the party and his acceptance of the new role is a sign of how seriously the leadership takes the fall-out from the tuition fees vote. – Independent

The unprecedented unpaid appointment was agreed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg before Christmas, and follows the huge controversy that followed the Commons decision to treble tuition fees from 2012. In an admission that he is losing the propaganda war, Cameron, in his letter appointing Hughes, claimed there was a “material risk” poor schoolchildren would be put off by “misinformation” from applying to higher education institutions or staying on to study A-levels. It was also being stressed that Hughes will have the power to make policy recommendations for what should replace the abolished £560m education maintenance allowance aimed at helping poor children into further education. EMA subsidised young people in England who remain in education after the age of 16 by up to £30 a week if they came from poorer families. – Guardian

Mr Hughes, who has positioned himself as a standard bearer for the left of the party, will tour schools and colleges to discuss the policy with the students of the future and report their concerns to Mr Clegg and David Cameron. The move is designed to ease Lib Dem concerns about the policy, which directly contradicts their manifesto pledge to abolish tuition fees. Fewer than half the party’s 57 MPs supported the plan to raise fees to a maximum £9,000 a year earlier this month. But the unpaid role risks opening Mr Hughes to ridicule, coming less than three weeks after he threatened to vote against the policy he will now be promoting.  – Daily Mail

Labour and Tories trade flu jab insults

The health minister, Simon Burns, accused Labour of stooping to a new low of political opportunism today after it claimed the government had cut a routine flu vaccination for under-fives. John Healey, the shadow health secretary, said the cut had been against scientific advice and was driven by the need to make financial savings. He said: “The serious problem lies with the groups that are most at risk, like children. That has come because the government axed the annual advertising campaign and they cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives.” But an angry Burns said: “Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism today. By calling on the government to reject independent scientific advice, they risk undermining the public confidence in immunisation programmes which is so crucial to their success.” The rate of flu cases in England almost doubled in a week earlier this month, from 34 people in every 100,000 to 87 in every 100,000 – a faster rise than in 1999, the last time England suffered a flu epidemic. Labour had criticised the government over the lack of dedicated protection for young children and the decision to axe the annual flu jab awareness campaign. – Guardian

Last year, all healthy children aged six months to five years were offered the jab. This year, doctors asked for £25 per patient to cover the costs of the jabs for the 38million youngsters. Mr Healey accused ministers of making the ‘wrong judgment’ by cancelling the jabs. Mr Burns yesterday hit back, saying: ‘Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism. The Government is legally obliged to implement recommendations made by experts on the joint committee. John Healey is either spectacularly ill-informed or playing politics with people’s health.’ Mr Healey told the Mail on Tuesday: ‘The problem lies with the groups most at risk, like children. That has come because the Government axed the annual advertising campaign and cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives.’ – Daily Mail

Is David stateside bound?

South Shields MP David Miliband could be US-bound. The former foreign secretary is being touted for the post of British ambassador to Washington, according to reports in the national press. Mr Miliband forged a good relationship with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton when he was foreign secretary and, as US ambassador, observers believe he would be a voice trusted by the Obama administration. But if he was offered the post it could lead to problems within the Labour Party – with the ambassador appointed by the UK Tory-led government. – The Shields Gazette

It’s official Tories have something wrong in their head

Scientists say Conservative voters really do have something unusual happening in their heads. Researchers found that right-wingers are likely to have a very thick amygdala – a part of the brain associated with emotion. Like many Tory supporters, the amygdala is ancient and primitive. The study was commissioned as a bit of fun by actor Colin Firth as part of his stint guest editing BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – but has developed into a serious effort to discover if people’s political views are encoded. – Mirror

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