Posts Tagged ‘reform’

Britain needs to be at the heart of a reformed European Union

07/11/2013, 05:10:55 PM

by Callum Anderson

“Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.”

That was president Kennedy addressing the Canadian parliament in 1961. However, to me, those words also hold particular resonance with Britain’s relationship with the European Union. As is well known, the prime minister has already made a commitment to giving the British people a referendum on British membership of the EU in 2017. The argument is set to be intense: I’d like to set out why Britain must retain its EU membership.

If Britain wants to be prosperous in the 21st century, it must engage not only with countries such as China, India and Brazil, but also with EU members. But what has the EU achieved during Britain’s membership? It has continued to maintain the peace, helped to bring down the Berlin wall and the iron curtain, and welcomed new states from across Central and Eastern Europe into the EU family. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Britain’s take advantage of our EU membership every year.

According to Eurostat, the EU’s independent statistics office, 711,151 UK citizens lived in other EU countries in 2011, whilst the British Council has stated that 9,095 UK students participated in the ERASMUS programme, the exchange programme allowing young Britons to study in other EU countries not only free of tuition, but with the help of a grant from the EU. Moreover, without the EU, British workers wouldn’t have a range of protections that they take for granted including, but not limited to: a maximum number of working hours, guaranteed breaks and protection against being forced to work long hours.

Britain and the EU are, like it or not, bound together economically. Now, there are many who say: “If only Britain left the EU, it could simply join the European Free Trade Area, thus maintaining the current economic ties, whilst freeing itself to seek free trade deals with other countries – most notably the Commonwealth countries, the United States and China.” Sounds good, right? Well, if anything ever sounded too good to be true, then this is it.

First, it is important to note that a little over half of the UK’s trade is done with the EU; it just makes no sense to leave an economic trading bloc which we are so dependent on. Were we to just leave (almost certainly in controversial circumstances), than whilst it is unlikely that we would be economically cut off, it would be too dangerous to assume that countries such as France and Germany would allow British businesses to enjoy the same advantages of market access, as it does now.

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If Labour wants to save the NHS it must change it

16/02/2012, 07:30:58 AM

by Peter Watt

Almost everybody agrees that the NHS bill is dangerous. Except, probably, the health secretary Andrew Lansley. Patients groups, trade unions and most of the royal colleges are seemingly all united in their condemnation. And opinion polls indicate a sceptical public. The legislation is so dangerous that the end of the NHS is apparently nigh if you listen to the most hysterical opponents of the legislation.

And increasing numbers of Tory MPs allegedly think that the bill is bad for their political health. If the economy is Labour’s weakness, then they know that the NHS is theirs.  Much of the public may not yet have caught up with the reforms, but they fear that they will soon.

Up until now the government has successfully blamed all of the country’s ills on the last Labour government. It has been easy, and on the whole very successful. But they know that between now and the election, every winter crisis, unclean ward or staff shortage is an opportunity for Labour to blame them and their NHS legislation. And that risks their seats and may just put the outcome of the next election, which up until now they were feeling optimistic about, in some doubt. (more…)

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The government is spinning crime rates rather than tackling them

14/07/2011, 05:58:51 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Earlier today the Home Office published the annual crime figures for England and Wales. The Spectator blog informs us that ministers are trying ‘to spin the figures as a vindication of their nascent reform programme’. This is foolish: their only big reform, elected Police and crime commissioners, will not come in until next spring at the earliest. The other policies ministers are fond of citing, like online crime maps, local beat meetings, and a reduction in top-down targets, are all broadly welcome but are incremental developments of initiatives begun under Labour.

Meanwhile, the only major changes in today’s BCS figures which the statisticians judge to be statistically significant are a 9% fall in vandalism – this is the extent of the good news – and a 14% rise in burglary, a 38% rise in assault with minor injury, and a worrying 35% rise in domestic violence. The raw BCS figures also show a 6% rise in all violence, and a 1% rise in overall crime, but neither is judged to be statistically significant.

It is too early to say whether these increases are blips; or a sign that the long downward trend in crime since 1995 has flattened out; or the start of a belated surge in crime associated with the state of the economy. The second is the preferred hypothesis of Home Office statisticians; the third has some grounding in past experience, in that burglary and domestic violence are particularly prone to rising in tough economic times.

At the start of the downturn in early 2009, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reacted to a much smaller increase in burglary by, first, accusing Labour of complacency, and second, predicting a ‘recession crime wave’. They were wrong on both counts: far from being complacent, ministers had already been working with the police to try to pre-empt a rise in acquisitive crime; and the increase in burglary turned out to be a blip, in marked contrast to the pattern in the last recession in the early 1990s – as I set out on this site two weeks ago.

I hope these latest increases will also be a blip. But it would be more reassuring, as well as more consistent, if Tory and Lib Dem ministers showed the same concern as they evinced in 2009 in reaction to today’s figures, and rather less complacency. The real test of their reforms – and of the impact of their cuts – will come in the equivalent figures in 2012 and 2013.

Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on crime and justice under the last Labour government.


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If reform means breaking the link then we will lose

18/11/2010, 03:59:42 PM

by Tom Watson

One of the most difficult meetings I have taken part in was when I defied Gordon Brown at a sub-committee of the NEC. He had been convinced of the need to impose a candidate in Nottingham East by outgoing general secretary of the Labour party, Ray Collins. The general election had been called and there was little time to organise a last minute selection of members.

Collins was worried about the amount of time that would be diverted from campaigning in key seats. On balance, he was probably right, but I felt very strongly that members should ultimately decide who their Parliamentary candidate should be, even if it was at a quickly convened meeting. The vote was won by one, after Dianne Hayter, in a last minute shift and out of deference to Gordon, conceded on her avowed opposition to impositions. I voted against him. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

Up until the Nottingham decision the last candidate to be imposed by the leadership of the party was a general secretary of a powerful trade union, Alan Johnson. I thought of that moment today when I read Alan’s comments in the Times newspaper. Alan wants to introduce full one-member-one-vote rules for electing our leader like the ones we have for selecting our MPs.

“It can be one member four votes and that’s wrong”, says Alan. He may be right about that. The current system of an electoral college allows multiple votes in different sections all having an unequal value, with a trade union levy payer vote having the least value and an MPs vote having the most value. One MPs vote was worth hundreds of trade unionist votes in the leadership election. Many people think that unfair. (more…)

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