Posts Tagged ‘David Willetts’

Wednesday News Review

08/06/2011, 06:47:33 AM

Cameron’s concessions leave no-one happy

David Cameron tried to buy off critics of his hated health reforms by offering a string of concessions yesterday. The Prime Minister promised hospital medics a say on how NHS cash is spent and put a limit on competition with the regulator made to “support integration” as well as encouraging the NHS and private firms to fight for business. He even ditched the 2013 deadline for medics to take control in a move that will enrage Tories who fear reforms will never happen. But Labour leader Ed Miliband still dismissed the U-turn saying: “They should go back to the drawing board on the NHS. These are botched policies.” And Tory MP Karl McCartney raged at the Lib Dems for helping force the concessions, condemning “political posturing by our flip-flopping coalition partners”. – Daily Mirror

The bartering between Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg over health reforms as the Government prepares to unveil a revised package next week risks deepening coalition tensions. There is mounting anger on  the Conservative benches at  the stance of the Lib Dems,  who have demanded a series of changes despite initially backing the legislation. Tory MP Nick de Bois, who sat on the committee examining the Bill, said sticking to the original time-table was crucial. ‘One of the fundamentals – one of the pillars – of the Bill is… that we can remove the vast swathes of democracy from primary care trusts and returning power to GPs by April 2013,’ he said. ‘Let me be clear, these pillars have to remain. I hope they do. I understand there can be changes, but I don’t want to be in a position when I can’t support this Bill because we have lost those essential pillars.’ – Daily Mail

David Cameron is facing a battle to reassure anxious Conservative MPs after he announced a series of changes to the government’s NHSreforms to win over the Liberal Democrats and members of the medical profession. As Nick Clegg told his parliamentary party last night that the time was fast approaching for the Liberal Democrats to swing behind the reforms after securing major concessions, Tories voiced concerns that the prime minister had abandoned key elements of Andrew Lansley‘s original blueprint. Cameron alarmed his backbenchers after he moved to meet the demands laid down by the Lib Dems at their spring conference in March by announcing the shelving of Lansley’s 2013 deadline, changes to the role of the health regulator, Monitor, and the opening up of GP-led consortiums. A senior Tory MP who warned last month that core “red lines” must not be crossed, warned shelving the 2013 deadline could threaten £5bn of spending on frontline health services. – the Guardian

Oxford Dons have no confidence in Willetts

Dons at Oxford University have delivered a decisive “no confidence” vote in the Universities minister, David Willetts. There were cheers last night when the vote was announced in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre – the first time a “no confidence” motion had ever been issued in a government minister by the university’s Senate. It was carried by the massive margin of 283 votes to five. During the debate, Abdel Takriti, a tutor at St Edmund Hall, called the Government’s plans for further education – under which student fees would rise to up to £9,000 a year – “ill-articulated and incoherent”. Robert Gildea, professor of modern history at the university, proposing the motion, said proposals to introduce “off-quota places” outside the proposed £9,000 fee cap risked introducing a two-tier system. – the Independent

Oxford University has formally declared it has “no confidence” in the policies of the universities minister, David Willetts, in the first sign of a concerted academic backlash against the government’s higher educationreforms. Lecturers passed a motion opposing the coalition’s policies by 283 votes to five at a meeting of the congregation, Oxford’s legislative body. The university is the first to take a public stand against the raising of tuition fees and slashing of the teaching grant, but the rebellion is spreading. Cambridge is expected to announce a date for a “no confidence” vote, while a petition against the government is gathering force at Warwick University. It is the first time a vote of no confidence in a minister has been passed by an English university, and follows a no- confidence vote by the Royal College of Nursing in the health secretary Andrew Lansley’s handling of NHS reforms. The message of “no confidence” will be transmitted to the government by Oxford University’s council, its governing body. – the Guardian

May talks tough about preventing terrorism

Its new counter-radicalisation strategy, Prevent, warned that some people who are supportive of terrorist groups and ideologies have “sought and sometimes gained positions in schools or in groups which work closely with young people.” It said that new standards to be enforced by Ofsted should enable schools to take action against staff who demonstrate unacceptable views. The Education Bill will also include a stronger focus on pupils’ “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.” A “preventing extremism unit,” which will include experts in counter-terrorism, has been established at the Department of Education to stop unsuitable providers setting up Free Schools – a key part of the government’s new education strategy. Applicants will need to demonstrate that they would support UK democratic values including support for individual liberties within the law, equality, mutual tolerance and respect. – Daily Telegraph

Not a great first day back from his honeymoon

Ed Miliband returned to work today a married man – and, judging by his animated expressions, it looked as if he was reliving every single emotion he has felt over the last few weeks in the space of a few minutes. The Labour leader tackled the sensitive subject of social care at a press conference this afternoon – but all attention was focused on the sheer number of faces he pulled during his speech. Speaking at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, Mr Miliband described marriage as ‘an important institution’ but insisted that parents did not need to be married to bring up children well. – Daily Mail

At his first press conference since his wedding on May 27, the Labour leader faced questions over his personal popularity and the party’s failure to gain a big poll lead given the economic gloom. “We have succeeded in winning back a section of voters who left us at the last general election,” he stressed. But he admitted that Labour faced a “long task”. “You have got to recognise that we are coming from a long way back,” he said. “We got 29 per cent at the last election, the second lowest share for Labour since 1918.” The party had to address “anger” over decisions made by the last Labour government and lay out a vision for the country’s future. On his personal ratings, he argued that Opposition leaders “early in their time in office” were still building a relationship with the public. – Evening Standard

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Wednesday News Review

11/05/2011, 06:13:30 AM

A year on

Nick Clegg will risk the wrath of Coalition colleagues by boasting that the Liberal Democrats have blocked a string of flagship Conservative pledges. In a transparent attempt to cheer his battered troops as the Government marks its one-year anniversary, the Deputy Prime Minister will describe the union as one of ‘necessity, not of conviction’. He will reel off a list of Tory manifesto promises – including scrapping the Human Rights Act, replacing Trident in this Parliament, cutting inheritance tax and building more prisons – that have been prevented by the Lib Dems. ‘None of these things has happened,’ the Lib Dem leader will say. ‘They haven’t happened because the Conservatives are not governing as a majority party. They are in a coalition, and coalition requires compromise.’ His remarks reflect intense Lib Dem frustration that they are being punished by voters for ripping up their pledge to scrap university tuition fees, while Tory support has held firm despite their failure to deliver key promises. – Daily Mail

In a speech later today, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will review the first year of the coalition Government and promise a clear party identity, which he is calling “muscular liberalism”. The Deputy Prime Minister will say he understands the anger over tuition fees, but will again repeat his point that the Lib Dems did not win the election. He will explain that with just 8% of the MPs in the Commons, they cannot deliver on all parts of their manifesto – but in a coalition, neither can the Tories. Mr Clegg believes the Liberal Democrats need to be seen as a distinctive voice within the coalition Government. Mr Clegg claims the Lib Dems are “punching well above our weight” on policy, delivering 75% of their manifesto promises, but he wants his party to be more assertive over the next year. “You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition Government. You might even call it muscular liberalism,” he will say. – Sky News

What a U-turn

Samuel Beckett was once asked why he quit his job as a university lecturer teaching the cream of Irish society. Indeed, the rich and the thick, was his riposte. The Tory minister, David Willetts, was forced into an embarrassing climbdown before the House of Commons yesterday after suggestions that he wanted to introduce a two-tier system in English universities which would apparently favour those with money over those with academic ability. Politicians who fly kites take the risk that they might be struck by lightning. That was what happened yesterday to Mr Willetts. By mid-morning he was back-pedalling furiously on an idea that critics portrayed as a daddy’s chequebook exercise in old-style Tory privilege. In Parliament, Mr Willetts was forced to state categorically that the scheme to allow businesses and charities to fund extra places would not allow rich students unfair access. Public schools, many of which have charitable status, would not be able to buy places, he promised, but he failed to dispel fears that family trust funds and the old boy network would buy preference in a system where almost a third of applicants now fail to secure a university place. – the Independent

It has to go down as one of the fastest U-turns in ­the history of politics… Blundering David Willetts dropped plans to let rich students buy a place at university just four hours after he announced them. The Universities and Science minister had suggested those from well-off families should be treated like foreign applicants who pay up to £28,000 a year for places. But critics immediately slammed the idea, warning it would create the sort of elitist higher education system campaigners have fought for decades to abolish. Mr Willetts tried to justify the ­ludicrous idea at 10am by claiming it would free up more college spots for poorer children as the wealthy would not count as part of the strict quota of students because they would pay their own costs in full. But by 2.05pm, he was forced into a humiliating climbdown after his announcement sparked a furious backlash. David Cameron had angrily slapped down the minister, sparking fresh questions about his volatile temper. The university farce is just the latest in a long line of Coalition U-turns that also includes ­flogging off forests, granting rape-suspect anonymity, Mr Cameron’s vanity photographer and cutting school sport. – Daily Mirror

MPs to review Scottish defeat

Labour leader Ed Miliband has moved to exert his authority over the party in Scotland following the disastrous Holyrood election campaign. At a meeting of Labour MPs, Mr Miliband vowed “never again” to allow them to be cut out of a Scottish campaign. The Labour leader has also ordered a review panel, to be led by former Scottish secretary Jim Murphy MP and Edinburgh MSP Sarah Boyack, to produce an interim report by June on the future for the party. The review will also involve Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, and shadow Scottish secretary Ann McKechin. The move by Mr Miliband suggests a reversal of a leadership campaign promise to allow the Holyrood party to run itself without Westminster interfering. But it comes as the Labour leader has to explain to his own internal critics how the party lost so heavily in Scotland. – the Scotsman

Tributes pour in

Westminster was in mourning at the sudden death of Labour MP David Cairns, aged just 44, from acute pancreatitis. Tributes poured in to Inverclyde MP, a former Catholic priest, whom party leader Ed Miliband said would be “missed beyond measure”. His death leaves Labour facing a by-election battle against the resurgent Scottish Nationalists in what was one of their safest seats. Popular Mr Cairns won in May 2010 with a huge 14,416 majority – but the same area in last week’s Scottish elections saw Labour win by a wafer thin 1.8 per cent, or 500 votes. Mr Cairns leaves behind his partner Dermot, father John and brother Billy. “David will be missed beyond measure as a former minister, as an MP, as a friend and a colleague by many people,” said Mr Miliband. Former prime minister Tony Blair added: “David was, quite simply, a good man, with time for everyone and a wonderful sense of humour, which made him a delight to be around.” To enable him to enter the Commons,Parliament had to reverse a law dating back to the 19th century which banned former Catholic priests from taking up a seat. – Evening Standard

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Tuesday News Review

10/05/2011, 06:58:39 AM

It’s not about your A levels…

Wealthy parents could be allowed to ‘buy’ their children places at top universities by paying higher fees under plans being put together by the government. Extra places would be provided at the leading universities and could be filled by undergraduates rich enough, or whose parents were wealthy enough, to pay fees up front. The idea, which is expected to be contained in a white paper, is part of a package of suggestions designed to create extra places at universities without increasing costs to the taxpayer. David Willetts, the Universities Minister, is keen for businesses and even charities to sponsor more undergraduates and by enabling them to be counted as extra places – or “off-quota” places – they would allow more students to attend their first choice university. At present when businesses sponsor students they are counted as part of a university’s normal quota of places. However, he wants the forthcoming White Paper on universities to consider a whole range of options and as such he is also willing to consider allowing the wealthy to pay enhanced fees of at least £12,000 per year and in some cases more than £28,000. – the Independent

The proposals would allow universities to charge willing British students the same full–price fees as overseas undergraduates to ensure them a place. Teenagers who take up the places would not be eligible for publicly funded loans to help pay for tuition fees or any living costs, according to a report in The Guardian. It would mean that only students from the most privileged backgrounds would have the funds to take advantage of the scheme. Annual fees for overseas students range from £12,000 to £18,000 for arts and science courses respectively, rising to more than £28,000 for medicine at the best universities. The places would fall outside of the current government–dictated quotas of undergraduate places each English university is allowed to offer each year. – Daily Telegraph

Some policy at last

A demand for a return to a “responsibility society” has emerged as the dominant theme from submissions to Labour‘s policy review, the review’s co-ordinator Liam Byrne is due to reveal on Tuesday. Byrne’s speech can also be seen as a call for the party to respond to its failure to make a breakthrough against David Cameron in the south in last week’s elections. “Quite simply there is a sense that if we stop rewarding people for doing the wrong thing, we could do more to help the people doing the right thing,” Byrne will say. He will add that the public see “the renewal of the ‘responsibility society'” as the way through the challenges Labour now confronts. Summing up 20,000 submissions to the review, Byrne will say: “The public instinct is that we need a renewal of responsibility in the Treasury, in the City, in boardrooms, in parliament, on immigration and on welfare. “Labour is not ahead on trust on welfare reform right now,” he is expected to say, adding: “We can’t win back trust by simply sitting back and letting the government get it wrong. We have to be the party that stands for restoring a sense of a ‘something for something’ deal at the heart of the welfare state.” – the Guardian

How long has Lansley got?

Tory MPs last night urged David Cameron to refuse demands from the ‘double-dealing’ Nick Clegg to radically water down controversial NHS reforms. They are furious the Deputy Prime Minister appears to have been given free rein to trash the flagship health bill, to shore up his battered reputation with the Liberal Democrat grassroots. As speculation swirled about his future in the Cabinet, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley fought back – insisting critics must say who should be in charge of the NHS if not doctors, nurses and patients. Under legislation that has already been passed by the Commons, with Lib Dem support, power for commissioning NHS care will pass from bureaucrats to groups led by GPs. Mr Clegg suggested at the weekend that slamming the brakes on the plan was the price of continuing in coalition with the Conservatives. Both Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond have been tipped as replacements for Mr Lansley if he refuses to make major concessions to his reforms, though Downing Street insists he is ‘going nowhere’. – Daily Mail

Mr Clegg is insisting that any changes to the health service should be evolutionary, a sentiment that resonates with many Tories as well as Lib-Dems. But criticisms of the reforms from doctors could still risk doing the Bill, and ministers, serious damage. The Royal College of General Practitioners is today just the latest body to express serious doubts about the direction of change. It is worried that “we are moving towards an insurance-type model of the NHS” and wants to re-examine those parts of the Health Bill that relate to increasing competition. Other critics, including the King’s Fund and the BMA, have voiced their own concerns. Many of us accept that reforms to the NHS are overdue; most people would also accept that the NHS must cut costs. But beyond that there is little agreement about the nature and pace of change. Indeed there are concerns that in the short term, restructuring of the health service will not cut costs but will increase them. The one-man enthusiast for the Bill, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, may yet fall victim to Coalition in-fighting. What is needed is a salvage operation for those parts of the Bill that are useful and a period of reflection for the rest. Many GPs do not want the additional administrative burden that would fall on them if, as the Bill proposes, they were responsible for all healthcare commissioning. – Evening Standard

Any excuse

A Home Office minister reported to have had a ‘difficult’ relationship with her boss, Theresa May, resigned last night. Baroness Neville-Jones quit the post of Security and Counter-Terrorism Minister, which she had held since the Coalition was formed. She gave no reasons in her resignation letter to David Cameron. Downing Street said she had stepped down ‘at her own request’. The Security minister is said to have ‘had her fair share of fallings-out with the Home Secretary’, according to a Whitehall source. But sources suggested she had argued repeatedly with both Home Secretary Mrs May and Liberal Democrat ministers. ‘She was concerned about the influence of the Liberal Democrats,’ a source said. ‘It’s not great timing to lose a security minister given that Al Qaeda are threatening revenge attacks for the death of Bin Laden.’ Baroness Neville-Jones, 71, will take up a newly-created role in the Government as Special Representative to Business on Cyber Security. – Daily Mail

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Saturday News Review

02/04/2011, 06:59:02 AM

AV campaign heats up

David Cameron has stepped up his attack on the alternative vote backed by Nick Clegg, describing the system as crazy and reminding voters that his deputy once regarded the reform as a “miserable little compromise”. He did so as the yes campaign prepared today for a celebrity-backed launch and a poster campaign beginning on Monday designed to argue the voting changes will make MPs work harder by needing to win 50% of their constituency’s support. The comedian and Labour supporter Eddie Izzard and European and world championship gold medal winner Kriss Akabusi today launch the yes campaign, with the referendum five weeks away.Other celebrities to come out in favour of the yes campaign include broadcaster Jonathan Ross, actors Nick Hoult and David Schneider, and comedian Chris Addison. – the Guardian

David Cameron last night condemned plans to scrap Britain’s historic first-past-the-post voting system as “crazy”. In his most passionate intervention yet in the electoral reform debate, Prime Minister David Cameron rubbished the proposed Alternative Vote system backed by Labour and the Lib Dems as “undemocratic” and a recipe for a “politicians’ fix”. And he risked worsening tensions within the coalition Government by mocking Nick Clegg’s switch to supporting AV. The Deputy PM had called it a “miserable little compromise” before the last election.Daily Express

‘Miserable excuse’ of an EMA replacement

Listening to Education Secretary Michael Gove on his cut-price replacement for the education maintenance allowance, I nearly burst a blood vessel. It wasn’t so much his plans, which mean thousands of students aged 16-19 being deprived of  state support, but the fact he said: “We’ve got to fix our broken education system.” What an insult to the army of teachers and students whose work and dedication over the past 13 years have seen more schools than ever labelled “outstanding”, more pupils passing five GCSEs at grades A*-C and more students going on to higher education. You haven’t done your homework Mr Gove. Go and stand in the corner. – Daily Mirror

The Government announcement this week of a £180 million bursary scheme to replace the scrapped Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) demonstrates that it is beginning to realise its mistake in cutting support for the most disadvantaged students (“Rethink in cash help for students”, Mercury, March 29). However, what the Government has offered is totally inadequate. For example, 75 per cent of students at Gateway College, in Hamilton, were eligible to receive EMA. Under the new system, they estimate that only 40 per cent will be able to receive any financial assistance. With nearly two million young people in the UK not in employment, education or training it is vital that the young people of Leicesterare given every opportunity to improve their social mobility. – Leicester Mercury

Boris Johnson has been in talks with the education secretary, Michael Gove, after calling on his Tory colleague to review the government’s policy on financial support for poor 16-19 year old students. The mayor said he fears young Londoners from low-income backgrounds could drop out of education altogether and see their life chances “radically diminished” as a result of a cut in funding. Johnson became the most senior Conservative figure to speak out against ministers’ decision to replace the £560m education maintenance allowance (EMA) budget with £180m for the new 16-19 bursaries, when he appeared on Question Time on Thursday night. – the Guardian

David ‘Keys’, sorry Willetts whips up a gender storm

Feminism has set back the cause of social mobility by decades, a senior minister has claimed. Universities Minister David Willetts said feminist policies had inadvertently halted the improvement in the life chances of working-class men and  widened the gap between rich and poor. He said feminism was the ‘single biggest factor’ in the decline in social mobility since the 1960s,  adding: ‘Feminism has trumped egalitarianism.’ – Daily Mail

The countries with the highest levels of social mobility are those with the highest levels of gender equality. David Willetts’s claim that feminism is to blame for the decline in social mobility has caused no shortage of outrage this morning. His thesis is that middle class women, who otherwise would have been housewives, snapped up university places and well-paid jobs that could have gone to working class men. But to my eyes, there’s a basic empirical problem with his claim. All of the available data on the subject shows that the countries with the highest levels of social mobility are those with the highest levels of gender equality. The 2010Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks countries according to how well they “divide resources and opportunities amongst male and female populations”, puts Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden at the top, with Britain lagging behind in 15th place (a fact that suggests, pace Willetts, that the “feminist revolution” has some way to go). – New Statesman

Anger as NHS reforms steps up

The constituency offices of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley have been daubed with graffiti by anti-NHS reform activists. Cambridgeshire Police are investigating the incident at Hardwick last night when red paint was thrown at the building and “Hands off our NHS Tory scum” written on a wall. Protesters left a letter demanding to be treated as “patients, not consumers” and said: “We are taking action to fight this attack on the welfare state.” The incident happened as unions today stepped up protests against the Health and Social Care Bill which they say will lead to the NHS being privatised. – Daily Mirror

He still hasn’t got on that bike

Lord Tebbit insists on adding a tie to his outfit. “I can’t have a go at David Cameron and the bloody tieless and gormless lot and then not wear one in the photo.” He turned 80 on Tuesday, but he will not let his standards slip. Did the Prime Minister send him a card? “No he didn’t,” he says with an impish smile. “But then I didn’t send him one either.” He says he is more of a Conservative than David Cameron. The Big Society is just a “buzzword. It’s a logo looking for a product”. He wants to turn the party back to being nationalist and jokes that he would like it to go into coalition with the UK Independence Party. Chuckle. Lord Tebbit has written to the Prime Minister several times about issues, and while he always gets a reply, “sometimes I have had to give him a reminder to”. By contrast, when he wrote to Nick Clegg before the election — to tell him he how much he agreed with the necessity to raise the threshold of income tax — “I had a nice letter back”. As a joke I ask if he has more admiration for Mr Clegg than Mr Cameron, and am astonished when he says, “Yes, in a way, because I think he has pushed his agenda quite hard. I think Clegg is probably more politically motivated than Cameron.” Damning for them both. – Daily Telegraph

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Together we can make the government act over legal loan sharking

16/12/2010, 12:00:42 PM

by Stella Creasy

Campaigns thrive on names and numbers – the more of either, the greater the chance of interest and engagement. History may lionise the lone crusader, but it is only through convincing others to join in that causes actually succeed. If we are to win the arguments for progressive policies, Labour must be capable not only of speaking up for our ideals but building a critical mass of active champions for our actions in every community.

Yet in the competition for the airtime of advocates that now defines modern politics, slick single-issue groups often surpass complicated political messaging. We know many people share our progressive instincts – and that many also baulk at the confusion of institutions we have set up to express them. Even the hardiest Labour enthusiast struggles to set out with conviction the vital differences between the GC, EC, branch and LGC meetings. So to, when supporters make the effort to attend such forums we can let detail on policy close down rather than open up debate. Too often we start by proposing motions for others to be for or against rather than with open enquiry and deliberation to see if we can find mutual terms for collective action.

If we are confident in our passion for social justice, we should embrace and enjoy the process of seeking shared ambitions as well as recognising the value of compromise along the way. This principle is not just about being inclusive; it’s also about being effective. Common cause is the foundation block for asking people to help and ultimately common endeavour. That’s why in the fight to end legal loan sharking, as much effort has been made not just to have the right arguments about legislation, but also to reach out to any and all those who share our concerns. (more…)

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