Archive for May, 2011

Shadow cabinet league table: Murphy opens up clear lead

27/05/2011, 07:39:34 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Bottom three adrift as Uncut readers vote on whether there should be relegation from the shadow cabinet

Jim Murphy has opened up a commanding lead over Douglas Alexander at the top of the league. Following a month in which he landed yet another urgent question and was a fixture in the media, there is now a gap of 74 points between first and second.


The gap is all the bigger because of an uncharacteristically quiet month for Alexander. For the first time since the shadow cabinet was formed, he didn’t put out a single press release in the month. Based on his performance in May, Alexander was the eighth hardest working member of the shadow cabinet.

He has never been this low in a monthly ranking.

It’s too early to tell whether this is the start of a decline in his work rate, but with the conflict in Libya, upheaval in the Middle East and the Taliban’s summer offensive underway, this is hardly time for a dip in activity.

In third, Sadiq Khan posted another solid month. He stepped up his media output, issuing four press releases, double the number of any previous month. In previous months, this media profile has been a weakness for Khan. Increased press work will help establish him as a major Labour figure in his own right, beyond having been Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign manager.

But, for Khan, there were areas for improvement that highlighted the difference between being third and what it takes to be number one. (more…)

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Don’t forget the old git vote

26/05/2011, 07:19:05 AM

by Peter Watt

I was on a train the other day when a couple of kids got on acting like total muppets. They were shouting, running up and down the carriage, throwing rubbish and swearing. Selfish and self-centred, they had no consideration for anyone else on the train. They acted as if the world revolved around them. The guard asked them to calm down and they let fly a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse. The rest of us kept quiet.

I considered the possible impact of low incomes and deprivation on their lives. How this had probably lead to feelings of helplessness, low levels of aspiration and the resultant attitudes and behaviour that we were experiencing.

Except that that is not what I was thinking at all. What I was really thinking was, “bloody yobs”, “kids of today: I blame the bloody parents”, and best of all, “it wasn’t like that in my day”. I really was the proverbial old git. It wasn’t just this incident; I increasingly find myself saying to people that my own children don’t know lucky they are:

“They have lots of toys, get to go on holidays and never really want for anything. But it never seems to be enough. When I was younger I was always grateful for what I had, knowing that I was more fortunate than many others”.


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Thursday News Review

26/05/2011, 07:00:11 AM

BMA call for Health Bill to be scrapped as Clegg demands change

Nick Clegg will seek to maximise the Liberal Democrats‘ influence over the imminent changes to the government’s NHS plans with a major speech on Thursday setting out his party’s demands. The deputy prime minister will outline the substantial revisions he expects to see made to the health and social care bill to ensure that his MPs feel able to support it when it returns to parliament. He will also make clear why the NHS needs reform. Party sources say it will echo a keynote speech last week by David Cameron and endorse the prime minister’s view that, although some of health secretary Andrew Lansley’s proposals will be rethought, the service in England will still be expected to embrace far-reaching changes so it can cope with growing financial and clinical pressures. John Healey, shadow health secretary, will accuse Cameron of refusing to amend the bill enough to ensure that it does not harm healthcare. “David Cameron is a PR man looking for a PR answer. He must accept the problem is not the presentation of his NHS plans but the full-blown free market ideology behind them,” Healey will say in a speech to NHS, medical and health policy experts. “This Tory ideology is totally at odds with the ethos of the NHS and the essential way it works.” – the Guardian

In its response to the government’s listening exercise, the BMA said it is vital for the future of the NHS that the Bill is withdrawn, or ‘changed significantly’.  The BMA demanded a number of changes to the proposals, including putting an ‘explicit duty’ on commissioning consortia to involve doctors in secondary care, public health and academia.  It said: ‘The existing duty in the Bill on commissioning consortia to “obtain appropriate advice” is insufficient to ensure that the best clinical practice is enshrined in commissioning. ‘Clear guidance should be developed on models for how this can be achieved in practice, such as by developing clinical networks alongside the strategic and decision-making functions of commissioners.’ The BMA also called for economic regulator Monitor’s primary role to be amended to protecting and promoting high quality, integrated healthcare services, not promoting competition. It said the powers given to the NHS Commissioning Board are ‘inappropriate’ and the Board should be required to consult with consortia before making use of its powers. – GP Online

Osborne warned about pace of cuts

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which had previously given strong backing the Government’s plans to tackle the deficit, has warned that the UK should cut spending more slowly if the current slow rate of growth persists. OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan said: “We see merit in slowing the pace of fiscal consolitdation if there is not so good news on the growth front.” Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls seized on the comments, saying it was “now time George Osborne listened to wise advice, looked at what is happening to the economy and thought again about the speed and scale of his cuts”. Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that there were “hydrogen bombs” in the economy which could push it back into disaster. Dr Cable also said that governments had not “got to grips” with the country’s economic problems. – Politics Home

Cable warns of economic “hydrogen bombs”

The Business Secretary said other economic “hydrogen bombs” were “out there” and accused the Coalition and other governments of failing to “get to grips” with the threat. The remarks are likely to antagonise David Cameron, who leaves today for a G8 meeting in France with other world leaders, during which the economy is not expected to be high on the agenda. In an interview with the New Statesman magazine today , the Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister also rated his party at only “one or two” out of ten for its political acumen since the election. He said he did not think that Nick Clegg deserved “pity” but described the “relentlessly hostile” pressure the Deputy Prime Minister faces. But Mr Cable said he was most worried by the potential for a repeat of the recent global financial meltdown. – the Telegraph

Obama fails to back Coalition cuts

Barack Obama stopped short of endorsing the Coalition Government’s big spending cuts yesterday in a setback to David Cameron’s hopes of winning the President’s seal of approval. Although Mr Obama said the US and UK shared the same goals of securing economic growth and deficit reduction, he insisted that each country would tackle the problems in their different ways and at their own pace. He also suggested that nations would need the flexibility to change course if their strategy was not working – a so-called “Plan B”, which the Chancellor George Osborne refuses to contemplate. Speaking at a joint press conference next to Mr Cameron, the President said the success in pulling the world out of recession was in large part due to concerted action between the US, UK and other countries – a process in which Gordon Brown played a leading role. Admitting that the US and UK were cutting on a different timescale, Mr Obama said: “The nature of the debt and deficits are different. And as a consequence, the sequencing and pace may end up being different.” – the Independent

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Brown haters remember: what goes around comes around

25/05/2011, 07:00:17 AM

by Kevin Meagher

So George Osborne is to officially nominate French finance minister, Chstistine Lagarde, to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the international monetary fund.

In the process, Gordon Brown’s potential candidacy for the role has been banjoed before it even (officially) began. His pitch well and truly queered.

The black spot was pushed across the table to him last month when Cameron said he “might not be the most appropriate person” for a role “work[ing] out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems”.

A bit rich, perhaps, coming from the former special adviser to Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday, but there you go.

Now it is suggested that David Cameron intends to champion Peter Mandelson for the soon to be vacated role as director general of the world trade organisation; suitable political cover, he no doubt thinks, for not backing Brown’s IMF bid.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a bit of tribal disdain for your political opponents. In fact, I would go further; it is impossible to hold ministerial office without doing some things badly and having at least part of your record that deserves to have rocks thrown at it.


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Wednesday News Review

25/05/2011, 06:40:16 AM

The pomp and ceremony is over, now the politics begins

Barack Obama will today express hope that the Atlantic alliance may now be “turning a corner” towards a more peaceful existence after a decade of continuous warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. At a speech this afternoon at the Palace of Westminster to address both houses of parliament, Obama will point to the withdrawal of US and Britain troops from Iraq, the expected drawdown from Afghanistan beginning this summer, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the weakening of al-Qaida as signs that the worst might be over for the transatlantic alliance. According to the White House, the president will stress that the stabilisation of north Africa and the consolidation of the Arab spring will be critical. Although, the Americans have been adamant on this visit that they will not retake the lead in the Nato offensive against the Gaddafi regime, they argue they are already doing a lot behind the scenes and plan to do a lot more in the coming days to give greater legitimacy to the Benghazi-based rebels. – the Guardian

President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will discuss ways to sustain pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi when they meet tomorrow in London before Obama’s address to Parliament. The NATO campaign against Qaddafi and measures to support the opposition in Libya will be “one of the lead agenda items” for the meeting at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office, Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said today. “It’s essential that the U.S. and Europe continue to serve as that catalyst for global action” in Libya and countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are in a state of upheaval, Rhodes said. Today, in addition to meeting with Cameron, Obama also will address members of Parliament. He will be the first U.S. president to do so in Westminster Hall. – San Francisco Chronicle

The second day of the politician’s state visit to Britain will begin at Downing Street where he will hold talks with David Cameron on issues ranging from Libya and Afghanistan, to terrorism and the global economy. The highlight of today is likely to be the President’s keynote speech to both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. According to the White House, Mr Obama is expected to tell MPs and peers that even though the world has changed significantly since World War Two, the UK-US relationship and the broader transatlantic alliance is still the “cornerstone of global security”. The president will also strike an optimistic note by claiming that the world is “turning a corner” following a “difficult decade”. Mr Obama follows Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan to become the third US president to address Parliament. – Sky News

Huhne and ex-wife questioned by police

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was quizzed by police yesterday over allegations he pressured his wife to take his speeding penalty points. The Cabinet minister spoke to officers after they launched an inquiry into the 2003 incident. Another person – thought to be his estranged wife Vicky Pryce – was also questioned yesterday. Essex police said: “We can confirm two individuals have been interviewed at stations in Essex and London over allegations regarding a speeding offence.” The force would not confirm if the interviews were carried out under caution but stressed no arrests were made. Mr Huhne is said to have asked Ms Pryce to take the three penalty points on her licence after allegedly being caught speeding on the M11 in Essex eight years ago. – Daily Mirror

The Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was interviewed by police yesterday over allegations he tried to evade punishment for speeding. Mr Huhne’s ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, was also questioned over claims he asked her to accept penalty points on his behalf in March 2003. Essex Police confirmed that two individuals had been interviewed in relation to allegations of a speeding offence. A spokeswoman for Mr Huhne said: “Chris Huhne helped the Essex Police with their inquiries today and looks forward to an early resolution of this issue.” Ms Pryce’s solicitor said in a statement: “Vicky Pryce met with Essex Police today as part of their inquiry. She continues to do what is necessary in respect of the inquiry but in view of the fact that it is on going it is not appropriate for her or anyone on her behalf to comment further.” – the Independent

Another blow to the big society

The Prime Minister’s cherished Big Society project suffered a severe blow last night after the man appointed to implement it dramatically resigned. Lord Nat Wei stepped down just months after saying he could not devote as much time to the project as he thought. The former management consultant was taken on last year as Big Society tsar, with a remit of enthusing the public into carrying out unpaid community work. But he was reportedly shocked to find that he himself would have to work for nothing. At the time he was reported as saying he wanted to cut back his Government work so he could earn money and have ‘more of a life’. The resignation is a blow to Mr Cameron, who has described the Big Society as his ‘mission in politics’. Labour accused the Premier of expecting the public to carry out voluntary work, when he could not even count on his own Big Society tsar to do it. – Daily Mail

The man in charge of the Big Society project quit yesterday – to take up a paid job. Lord Wei’s departure is a further blow to David Cameron’s pet scheme, which he tried to relaunch this week for the fourth time. The peer had already cut the hours given to the voluntary role, claiming he needed other work to pay the bills. Yesterday he said he was going to work for a charity. The PM said Lord Wei had worked “incredibly hard” to help develop policies that support the Big Society. But Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said: “Yet again the Big Society is descending into farce. Only a day after Cameron told us all to take more responsibility, it appears there will be nobody responsible for bringing the Big Society into reality.” – Daily Mirror

Clegg sidelined over Ashcroft appointment

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, is understood to have urged David Cameron not to make the appointment, to head a review of British military bases in Cyprus, but was overruled. The move was described as “deeply offensive” by a Liberal Democrat peer who campaigned to force Lord Ashcroft to disclose his non-domicile status. Mr Cameron’s decision to defy his deputy is a clear signal that the multi-millionaire, who is one of the Conservatives’ biggest donors, is back in favour with senior Tories. However, on forming the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, who had long detested Lord Ashcroft for targeting their candidates in marginal seats, vetoed any appointment. It is a sign of Mr Clegg’s waning power within the Coalition that his personal objection to the appointment fell on deaf years. – Daily Telegraph

With the help of his old friend, William Hague, Lord Ashcroft is to return to politics, acting as a lead adviser to the government on its review of the UK’s military bases in Cyprus. It’s nearly a year since Ashcroft gave up his non-dom tax status in order to keep his seat in the House of Lords but we can still expect this appointment to raise some eyebrows. How does Nick Clegg feel about the return of the man he once denounced as the “baron of Belize”? The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweets that the Deputy PM made his objections to the appointment clear but that Cameron went ahead anyway. A Lib Dem source tells her that “you can’t go the wall on every issue”. Expect Labour to use this apparent division at the top of the government to its advantage. I’d be surprised if Ed Miliband doesn’t make at least one Ashcroft-related gag at PMQs tomorrow. – New Statesman

“A day to bury bad news,” where have I heard that before

Tory strategists were last night accused of using the visit of Barack Obama to bury “bad news”. The news in question is David Cameron having handed a Government post to controversial Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, provoking a bitter coalition row with the Liberal Democrats. Within hours, Lord Wei announced his resignation as Mr Cameron’s Big Society “czar”, just a day after the PM’s fourth try at relaunching his pet project. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott said: “It’s silly to think you can bury really bad news just because Obama is visiting.” – the Independent

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The Twitterati have made an ass of the law

24/05/2011, 05:19:59 PM

by Dennis Kavanagh

If you asked John Selden back in the 1600s what he thought of super-injunctions, he may well have said: “Equity is a roguish thing: for law we have a measure, know what to trust to; equity is according to the conscience of him that is Chancellor”.

He went onto say that he didn’t know the length of the chancellor’s foot and that’s a bit like an uncertain law. Times change, and with all due respect to Johnny, I’m not sure I want to ask our lord chancellor, Ken Clarke, what his shoe size is in case he thinks I’m coming onto him. Our modern day answer to Selden came in the form of John Hemming MP yesterday when he revealed that Ryan Giggs had secured a super injunction against a former Miss Wales.

He justified the intervention on the basis that Giggs’ lawyers were going for the Twitterati, and managed to upset the Speaker, Nick Clegg and the high court in the process. Upsetting Nick Clegg is a noble goal, it is a shame that this important constitutional debate is circling round the tabloid drain of “guess who’s sleeping with whom this week”. That said, before we walk away from the tabloid sewer with our noses held tightly, it’s worth recognising that some serious issues are at stake.


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Lessons from Ken week: the fake allure of “false choice”

24/05/2011, 07:00:41 AM

by Dan Hodges

“It’s a false choice”, we were told. Labour could let the liberals have their cake, and allow the squeezed middle to gorge on it as well.

Those warning that their party must decide between appealing to the “progressive majority”, and our lost small “c” conservative base, were trouble makers. Jaded soldiers, trying to fight the last war. Blairite “ultras”, unwilling or unable to come to terms with the brave world of the new politics.

There was no need to choose. To do so would be painful and divisive. Premature. We have had our fill of pain and division. Surely we’ve earned the right to rest awhile?

So rest we did.

Until last Wednesday. When the justice secretary barged in on Victoria Derbyshire, told her to stop being such a silly girl, and blithely explained that some rapes were worse than others and letting out the perpetrators half way through their sentences was a jolly good thing for their victims, and a jolly good thing for the country as well.

At which point, the centre-left rose as one. Took a deep breath. And went screamingly, maniacally, insane.


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Tuesday News Review

24/05/2011, 06:42:02 AM

The World’s Commander in Chief

It comes as the President of the United States arrives in London for a three-day state visit. He and his wife Michelle will stay at Buckingham Palace as guests of the Queen. This afternoon the Prime Minister and his wife Samantha will host a barbecue in the Downing Street garden for the President and First Lady. In a joint newspaper article today the two leaders point to the close relationship between the two countries, and say it is vital not just for Britain and America, but also the rest of the world. The two men say: “When the United States and Britain stand together, our people and people around the world can become more secure and more prosperous. “And that is the key to our relationship. Yes, it is founded on a deep emotional connection, by sentiment and ties of people and culture. But the reason it thrives, the reason why this is such a natural partnership, is because it advances our common interests and shared values.  “It is a perfect alignment of what we both need and what we both believe. And the reason it remains strong is because it delivers time and again. Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship – for us and for the world. Mr Obama last night addressed an adoring audience in Dublin. He had earlier visited Moneygall, a small village in County Offaly, the home of one of the President’s ancestors who emigrated to America in 1850. – Daily Telegraph

Hurried along by the Icelandic ash cloud, President Obama arrived early in the UK, where he will meet with David Cameron to rechristen the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. as the ‘essential relationship’. With the Grimsvotn volcano eruption threatening UK airspace Mr Obama cut short his visit to Ireland by a night and touched down at 10.15pm yesterday at Stansted Airport on Air Force One for his first state visit. But despite the hasty change to their planned schedule, the couple were still given the formal welcome expected of a state visit. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were originally due to meet the Obamas tomorrow, but instead the couple were greeted by the Lord in Waiting Viscount Brookeborough, who met them on behalf of the Queen. And instead of a traditional red carpet they left the plane on special red-carpeted stairs because of windy conditions at the airport. Among the party was also Alison MacMillan, deputy director of protocol from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) who greeted the president on behalf of the foreign secretary. An RAF Ceremonial Squadron was on hand, saluting as the couple walked the red carpet to their motorcade. Also present was US ambassador to the UK Louis Susman and his wife Margaret, Chief Constable of Essex Police Jim Barker-McCardle, and Nick Barton, managing director of London Stansted Airport. – Daily Mail

I thought Hannan was bad enough

A Tory MEP has claimed some rape victims are partly to blame for their assault. Former party spokesman Roger Helmer made the comments in defence of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s claim last week that the crime had less serious forms. Contrasting date-rape to “classic stranger rape” on his blog, Mr Helmer said a woman who “voluntarily undresses and gets into bed … surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing expectations”. “Most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence. Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.” Labour frontbencher ­Caroline Flint branded the comments “outrageous”. – Daily Mirror

Writing on his blog, Roger Helmer weighed in behind the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, who last week suggested some forms of rape were more serious than others. Helmer’s comments were criticised by a party spokesman and by Tory MP Louise Bagshawe, who said his remarks were “appalling”. Helmer described a “classic stranger rape” scenario, where a “masked individual emerges from the bushes, hits his victim over the head with a blunt instrument, drags her into the undergrowth and rapes her, and then leaves her unconscious, careless whether she lives or dies”. He then described “date rape” as being when a woman “voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naively expecting merely a cuddle. But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says ‘Stop!’ The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on. In both cases an offence has been committed, and the perpetrators deserve to be convicted and punished. But whereas in the first case, I’d again be quite happy to hang the guy, I think that most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence in the second case. Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.” – the Guardian

Just go for it lads

A controversial new industry earmarked for the edge of Liverpool is backed by MPs today – despite being linked to polluted tap water and fears of gas explosions in the USA. The Government is urged to give the go-ahead to “shale” gas drilling, with a prediction it could be worth £28bn and cut Britain’s dependence on imported gas. The recommendation comes just months after a company revealed huge untapped reserves are trapped in rocks beneath Wirral, North Cheshire and North Wales. IGas said it hoped to exploit a string of licence areas around Liverpool, including exploration blocks beneath John Lennon Airport, Widnes and Warrington. – Liverpool Daily Post

There should be no moratorium on prospecting for shale gas in the UK despite concerns about its negative environmental impacts, a report from an influential group of MPs has advised. The UK could have “considerable” shale gas resources, particularly offshore, said the energy and climate change select committee, and should exploit these to reduce reliance on energy imports. But the MPs acknowledged that exploiting shale gas could be environmentally damaging and could spell severe problems for the renewables industry, which is facing a lobbying onslaught from gas industry representatives seeking to position their fuel as “green” because it produces less carbon than coal. Tim Yeo, the Tory MP and former minister who chairs the committee, said: “Shale gas could encourage more countries to switch from coal to gas, which in some cases could halve power station emissions. But if it has a downward effect on gas prices it could divert much needed investment away from lower carbon technologies like solar, wind, wave or tidal power.” – the Guardian

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The positive alternative to just denouncing cuts

23/05/2011, 03:00:42 PM

by Jessica Asato

I don’t agree that Labour should stop fighting the cuts as Peter Watt wrote last week. But in the furore surrounding his audacious suggestion, most people seemed to miss a sensible point. That the public still blames Labour for overspending and is aware that, had we been elected, would be making cuts too, seems lost on the wider party.

On the doorstep, the overwhelming impression I get is that people are indeed angry about the cuts that are threatening their communities, but don’t believe Labour has yet set out a credible alternative. The question – so what would you do differently – has become as tricky on the knocker as taming a tetchy pitbull.

It is because we have such trouble answering this simple request that the cuts have become our single narrative. We cling to the belief that as people see services falling away they will repent of ever doubting Labour. They’ll flock back to the true righteous path and thank Labour for spending their money on great things. Except, they won’t. No matter how much we shout “international global financial crisis”, the public believes that Labour got the country into a financial mess like they always do and don’t know how to get out of it.


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The government’s policy on the armed forces: giving with one hand and taking with the other

23/05/2011, 12:00:33 PM

by Michael Dugher

After months of pressure from the Royal British Legion and others, including the Labour frontbench, and in the face of certain Parliamentary defeat, the government finally agreed to enshrine the “military covenant” in law.  A year ago, Cameron had personally promised to have the covenant “written into the law of the land” in a big set speech on HMS Ark Royal, only to later back track on the pledge (and then scrap the Ark Royal for good measure).  The government’s u-turn on the covenant is welcome. At a time when more is being asked of our armed forces, it is vital that we put the government’s obligations to the armed services on a proper legal footing.  Yet the announcement is, sadly, only the latest example of the government’s approach to the armed forces: giving with one hand, while taking away with the other. Labour should expose this. We also need to recognise both the achievements, as well as the limitations, of our time in office.  And we need to be at the forefront of argument that our forces and their families deserve the very highest levels of care and support.

The truth is that Labour should have taken the covenant out of party politics at the end of the last parliament. The opportunity was there to fully commit to enshrine the covenant in law, as we had already paved the way with some ground-breaking work on armed forces’ welfare. Labour was the first to deliver a cross-government strategy on the welfare of armed forces personnel. Bob Ainsworth, in particular, deserves credit for pushing through the publication of the service personnel command paper in summer 2008, when he was minister for the armed forces. This set out improved access to housing schemes and healthcare, the doubling of compensation payments for the most serious injuries, the doubling of the welfare grant for families of those on operations and free access to further education for service leavers with six years service.


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