Labour at war over mansion tax

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has been forced to defend Labour’s planned ‘mansion tax’

Abraham Lincoln once famously stated that ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand,’ an idiom which is only too appropriate when discussing the current split within the Labour Party over plans to introduce a so-called ‘mansion tax’ on houses worth over £2 million. The idea of such a tax is not new, nor is it an exclusively Labour proposal; indeed, it was the Liberal Democrats who first proposed the introduction of a mansion tax in 2010, but as with many of their policies it was soon shelved once Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were ensconced in their plush ministerial offices.

Not everyone in the Labour Party is happy to see the mansion tax resurrected, however, with several of the party’s London MPs speaking out against a move which will disproportionately affect residents of the capital, where house prices are notoriously high. Two such figures have been Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbott, both of whom represent relatively deprived London constituencies and are expected to seek the Labour nomination for London Mayor next year. Despite coming from very different factions of the party, Jowell and Abbott have been united in their opposition to the mansion tax, pointing out that it will hit ordinary people and not just those living in Downton Abbey style residences.

The Labour leadership has so far managed to quell the party’s internal conflict over the tax, but this week has brought further bad news as former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson has waded into the debate, with some harsh words for Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. A prominent Blairite who famously declared himself to be ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich,’ Mandelson lashed out against the plans, stating that Labour will merely end up ‘clobbering people with a rather crude, short-term mansion tax.’

This intervention from Mandelson has forced Ed Balls to come out fighting in defence of his flagship policy, with the Shadow Chancellor today stating that the proposals will simply ensure that the wealthiest make a fair contribution towards the running of the NHS. However, once again Balls is wide off the mark, failing to recognise the increased pressure that the tax will place upon ordinary families living in modestly-sized flats and houses in up-and-coming areas of London. By ploughing on regardless, Miliband and Balls show total disregard and contempt for such people whilst resurrecting a deeply unpopular and discredited tax-and-spend approach to the economy.

If the mansion tax represents a hammer blow against residents of London, it is equally a victory for the people of Scotland, who stand to gain 1,000 new nurses as a result of Labour’s proposals, and it is therefore unsurprising that one of the tax’s biggest cheerleaders has been the new Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy. Whilst the increase in nurses north of the border is much-needed, the means by which Labour propose to achieve this goal are far from desirable. By fleecing ordinary Londoners in order to provide for ordinary Scots, the Labour Party are playing a highly divisive political game whilst pandering to the anti-London rhetoric of groups such as the Scottish National Party.

Like many of Ed Miliband’s economic policies, the mansion tax is poorly thought-out and riddled with flaws and contradictions, hitting modest terraced homes in London whilst leaving sprawling country piles in northern England absolutely untouched. No matter what Ed Balls may say, it is nothing more than a shameless bit of populism, exposing the Labour Party’s deep-seated desire to punish London and the South East. One can only hope that the internal conflict it has created will be enough to signal the tax’s demise, and indeed the demise of Labour’s election hopes.

George Reeves

Charlie Hebdo proves that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword

12 people have died in a terrorist attack on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo

Incidents of terrorism have become a relatively common feature of the modern world, but yesterday’s violent attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo carried far more political significance than most. It was an attack which claimed the lives of 12 people, including some of France’s most beloved and talented cartoonists, whilst also striking at that most cherished democratic principle, freedom of expression.

Charlie Hebdo is one of France’s most prominent organs of satire, a publication which mercilessly pillories the great and the good, from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to the French political elite. Not everyone always saw the funny side, and indeed as a Christian myself I find some of their attacks on Catholicism to be in rather poor taste. However, I also firmly believe that they have every right to print such content, and that any infringement on these rights would represent a deeply disturbing shift towards censorship and authoritarianism.

However, not everyone has been happy to tolerate the magazine’s irrepressible anti-religious outlook, and over the years Charlie Hebdo has been widely criticised by those within France’s sizeable Muslim community who believe it to be disrespectful and even Islamophobic. Such accusations of irreverence are indeed correct, but surely that should be expected from a satirical publication. However, many Muslims claim that Charlie Hebdo has crossed the line on numerous occasions, most notably in publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, and as such they have now been forced to pay a rather substantial price for simply exercising their freedom of speech.

It is not often that I find myself in agreement with socialist intellectual Noam Chomsky, but with regards to freedom of speech he is absolutely correct to claim that ‘if you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like.’ Charlie Hebdo may at times contain content which is offensive to Muslims, Christians or any other religious or political group, but in a free society it has every right to print such views and we should resist any attempts to limit their freedom to do so.

In 2012, the comedian Rowan Atkinson led a campaign here in Britain to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which states that ‘insulting words or behaviour’ can provide legitimate grounds for an arrest. Atkinson and his fellow campaigners rightly pointed out that freedom of expression should also include the freedom to insult or contradict the beliefs of others, as long as nobody is prevented from holding their own particular beliefs, and in France we see a similar situation emerging. Any attempts to create a society in which offensive material is prohibited represent a dangerous attack on traditional conceptions of freedom.

However, not all people agree, and in the wake of the Paris shootings the radical Islamist cleric Anjem Choudary has written an article for USA Today in which he declares that ‘Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression,’ whilst quoting the words of the Prophet Mohammed to justify the actions of those who ‘take the law into their own hands’ in order to defend ‘the honour of the Prophet.’ Such words are not only intrinsically dangerous, but they also show that there are indeed those who believe that the Islamic religion should be a no-go area for satirists and comedians.

In a free society, there should be no areas which are out of bounds in this way – all religious, social and political outlooks should be freely criticised and mocked, as long as this mockery does not prevent individuals from subscribing to such worldviews. Like it or not, Charlie Hebdo provides French satire with a much-needed platform, and I hope that it emerges from this attack stronger than ever before.

George Reeves

Previously posted on the author’s personal blog:

Whiney left-wing students and my political awakening at YBF

“Yah, I’m like a marxist” says the posh boy while he sips his Starbucks and whips out his
iPhone. “I’m in broad left and defend education” says about 99% of the people I come
across at university. Not that I could tell already from their dreadlocks, colourful clothing
and aggressive looking boots. Okay that’s generalising, but I think I’m perfectly entitled to
this when considering the context of student politics.

I don’t talk about my political views often, unless you know me well. The main reason is
that being a conservative (both small c and big c) at university is very uncommon. It seems to be something shameful where I’m automatically wrong and don’t get the chance to prove myself right. I can barely even engage in free debate (I will come back to this point
later). The usual response to “I’m a conservative” is something on the lines of either:

a) “But you’re really nice. How’s that possible? That makes me sick”
or b) “Thanks for making me pay £9000 a year you bastard!”

And that is the end of the discussion because as it is pointed out to me: being right-wing
means I hate the poor, I hate equality, I love bankers and I’m evil. Well, nothing could be
more wrong and if you’re reading this hear me out… I’m the one who’s sickened by this
behaviour and I am going to put my views across, define who I am and maybe convince a
few people that conservatism is the way forwards!

I recently attended a conference run by the ‘Young Briton’s Foundation’, a non-partisan,
not-for-profit educational, research and training organisation that promotes conservatism in schools, colleges and universities. It identifies, trains, mentors and places philosophically sound activists in politics, academia and the media. I was warned before attending that it was a quite a bit more right-wing than I am, but nonetheless I thought it was worth hearing the arguments and views and seeing where I stand.

Well I can say with certainty that I have been truly inspired. The pinnacle was probably
listening to the former chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson give an incredible speech about how
we are the future and how he is appreciative of our work and our future endeavours. So, to
address the left-wing mass at this university and beyond, I will place forward my views and
see if any of my ‘evil ideas’ resonate with anyone.

Where do I stand? I’m a conservative, Eurosceptic, free-market libertarian who believes in
freedom and social liberty, first and foremost. Someone said to me that the belief in
freedom and right-wing values are incompatible. I don’t understand why they said this.
Freedom is about being able to get on with life and being able to do what you want
because you’re a free citizen. It is about aspiration and the ability to dream big and follow
those dreams. It is about being able to receive all the benefits from this hard work as well.

So, what hinders this freedom? Having a big nanny state that takes away all these benefits
because they believe they can do better. One that unfairly takes enormous amounts of tax
away from us when it is our hard earned money. One that thinks rich people and
businesses are ‘evil’ and should be punished; simply forcing them to leave and causing no
growth or investment when instead it can be used to benefit everyone, including the

This can be done particularly through taking the lowest paid out of tax and
redistributing the wealth. The idea of a living wage makes me cringe. It is an easy idea to
follow but it does not work in practice. Yes, the minimum wage should continue rising but
companies can not afford a living wage; there would be huge unemployment and rising
inflation. Instead, minimum wage workers should be allowed to keep all of the money they
work for, not being taxed unfairly. This is a conservative idea. We should not be burdened
by an enormously bureaucratic government either, another conservative idea.

What about a few more specific areas? The NHS for example (which apparently I hate and
want to destroy). The NHS is an amazing national institution and should always be free at
the point of use and no one but an idiot would disagree with that. However I do believe
where possible, small parts should be given to private contractors but only where it can
increase efficiency while reducing costs. I’m fed up of the constant rhetoric of the NHS
being terrible, in crisis and slowly being destroyed.

The EU is one of my big hatreds and I am strongly for Britain leaving. Not because of
immigration at all. But on the basis of sovereignty and economics. I believe we should
follow suit of Switzerland and Norway and continue free trade, without the enormous
disastrous union which has no accountability and makes no sense whatsoever. Also giving
us more chance to trade with the rest of the world and stop sending ‘foreign aid’ and start
investing. The developing world is beginning to prosper and by giving aid we are
undermining their power to do well. This is happening in India for example and many
South American countries. The EU restricts us; it chokes us and swallows up enormous
amounts of money and only benefits one or two countries per every issue. It is also in no
way democratic. We vote for some person from a region, to go to Europe and vote in a
committee who votes in another committee who votes some president we’ve never heard
of. Ridiculous.

Finally, tuition fees — the big one. I have to say, I used to be strongly against them until I
listened to and heard arguments from my conservative friends that rung true to me. Okay
so they’re a lot, I understand. But I will outline several reasons why they’re not as bad as
we make out:

1) The money loaned is never seen and it does not become repaid until people are in
strong employment. It is repaid monthly depending on salaries; if you are earning little,
you repay little, if you are earning a lot, you repay a lot. I worked out if you’re earning
£25,000 a year, the amount you pay back each month is equivalent to an iPhone 6 on
contract, which lets face it, is not the end of the world.

2) Since they were introduced and increased, it really sorts out the people who want to go
to university to learn and achieve and those who want to go ‘for the banter’ or for the
party lifestyle. In fact, places for courses such as mechanical engineering have had an
enormous surge. To be honest, if someone hears the price and can’t be bothered to do
some research about it, they clearly do not value their education and shouldn’t even be

3) It in no way undermines those who are the poorest and the most disadvantaged.
Government grants and scholarships are available for those who deserve it, and rightly

4) Labour’s idea is to have free tuition etc but then to place a graduate tax on people after
their time at university. It is the exactly the same thing, the money will get paid one way
or another. They need to stop pretending tuition fees are evil in order to get votes and
then mask their policy as something new and fairer.

I could go on and on but I’ve realised how much I’ve actually written here. At least I’m
engaging in free-speech thanks to the wonderful and open internet we have. If you’re
going to take away one point, then take away this:

Next time you see or hear a mass of left-wing ideas, stop and think. Are they right,
just because they’re popular at university? Think for yourself and do not be led like
a sheep. Engage in debate.

Andrew Beattie

Night of misery for the Democrats as GOP retake the Senate

Mitch McConnell celebrates his re-election and is poised to become Senate Majority Leader

It was a night which couldn’t have gone much better for the Republicans. All the polls were predicting that the GOP would emerge from these elections in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in eight years, but not many were expecting the results to be so comprehensive. All in all, it was an evening of much celebration for a Republican Party not used to such electoral success, but a night of misery for Barack Obama and the Democrats.

For the Republicans, these elections will provide a much-needed confidence boost for a party which has been dogged by infighting, factionalism and an inability to win votes beyond their electoral base. By taking control of Congress the GOP have the chance to prove that they are ready to govern America, and it is therefore vital that Senate Republicans use their new-found power to provide strong and coherent leadership, not simply to obstruct and block the president at every opportunity.

The man who will determine how the Republican Senate will conduct itself is the new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who overcame a strong challenge from Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to be re-elected as Senator for Kentucky. In his victory speech, McConnell declared that the elections marked a decisive vote against President Obama’s record, but he also indicated that he would be prepared to co-operate with Democrats in the Senate, stating that the two parties have ‘an obligation to work together’ in the interests of the nation.

Such rhetoric will not endear Senator McConnell to the right-wing Tea Party faction who already hold him in disdain for his relatively moderate views and his public persona as the archetypal Establishment Republican. However, under his leadership the Republican Party will be in safe hands; having represented Kentucky in the Senate since 1985, the 72 year-old McConnell has a meticulous knowledge of Washington and Senate rules and will almost certainly live up to his word as a Majority Leader open to compromise and co-operation.

It was not just in the Senate where the Republicans had a fruitful night; in the House of Representatives, the GOP not only retained control but are now on course to win their largest majority since World War II. Likewise, the keys to governor’s mansions across the nation were handed over to Republican candidates, most notably in the solidly Democratic states of Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, whilst in the swing-state of Florida the Republican incumbent Rick Scott narrowly defeated his Democratic rival Charlie Crist. These results demonstrate the nature of last night’s results; the Republicans won, and they won big.

Regardless of all this, it would be wrong to see these elections as a solid endorsement of the Republicans. Polls suggest that public disillusionment is at an all-time high, and this extends to both parties. Indeed, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is even more unpopular than President Obama, and so these results should be interpreted as more of an anti-politics vote than a solid GOP mandate.

These facts make the need for co-operation and bipartisanship even more crucial, particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. The Republicans cannot rest on their laurels over the next two years, but instead must take advantage of the opportunity they have been given to provide the USA with much-needed political leadership.

George Reeves

Let’s stop taking Russell Brand so seriously

Why do we take Russell Brand’s interventions on politics so seriously?

The British media seems to take a perverse satisfaction out of continuously airing the political views of celebrities, no matter how ridiculous or poorly thought out they might be. A perfect example of this phenomenon was the appearance of Premier League footballer and convicted criminal Joey Barton on Question Time earlier this year, in which he was introduced by David Dimbleby as ‘football’s philosopher king’ and managed to cause offense by describing UKIP as the best out of ‘four really ugly girls.’

It is this same obsession with the cult of celebrity which has propelled actor and comedian Russell Brand into the political limelight. Once upon a time, Mr Brand was simply famous for his past life as a drug addict, his dismissal from the BBC over a tasteless prank call and his short-lived marriage to pop star Katy Perry. However, thanks to the news media he has since become the de facto spokesman of radical socialism. Granted, he’s not exactly Tony Benn or Arthur Scargill, but Russell Brand fits perfectly into the mould of a thoroughly 21st Century revolutionary. You could almost describe him as the ‘philosopher king’ of the hard-left.

That doesn’t mean that he is a particularly convincing prophet of anti-capitalism, and indeed his entire political viewpoint fails to add up. After all, this is the man who rails endlessly against the evils of free-market neoliberalism, globalisation and corporate power whilst freely admitting that he doesn’t understand economics. Likewise, in his infamous Newsnight interview last year with Jeremy Paxman he described voting as a ‘waste of time’ and urged young people to stay at home on election day, but is now said to be considering running for London Mayor in 2016 as an independent candidate. For Brand, it doesn’t matter that his arguments don’t add up or are uninformed, he simply has a particular view of the world which he is determined to relentlessly propagate.

Of course, most people on both sides of the political spectrum can see past Brand’s glamour and bravado, and realise that his political philosophy (if you can call it that) is fundamentally incoherent. However, his message remains one which resonates with a certain audience, one which is far bigger and more diverse than many people realise.

In particular, it is the young who are more likely to be taken in by Brand’s populist rhetoric; after all, this is the age group with which he is most popular and well-known due to his prominent showbiz career. This is what makes the cult of Russell Brand so worrying – the media are basically giving him the perfect platform to teach young people not to take part in this country’s democratic systems. Never mind that women died whilst campaigning for the right to vote. Never mind that pro-democracy activists across the world are still imprisoned, tortured and murdered on a daily basis. As far as Brand is concerned, voting is not a gift and a privilege that we should cherish, but merely the legitimation of a corrupt and morally bankrupt socio-economic system.

Of course he is entitled to hold these views – after all, plurality and diversity of opinion are one of the great things about living in a liberal democracy! However, this does not mean that anyone should have the right to broadcast their views repeatedly in the national media, and when Brand is given such a loud megaphone with which to air his beliefs we should realise that we are simply fueling the growing trend of political apathy amongst young people. Additionally, his message is one which is riddled with inaccuracy and distortion, feeding common leftist stereotypes by describing Nigel Farage as a racist and David Cameron as only ‘marginally less racist,’ whilst also indulging in conspiracy theories by hinting that the US government orchestrated 9/11.

Russell Brand is a comedian, and as such his political interventions are always delivered in his trademark light-hearted manner, fusing often-crude slang with traditional revolutionary vocabulary. However, his lack of coherence and consistently surely begs the question of why we insist on taking him so seriously. Fame and prominence do not automatically make someone an authoritative voice when it comes to matters of politics, and the news media should therefore put an end to their superficial obsession with celebrity culture.

George Reeves

The tale of two UKIPs

Nigel Farage (left) alongside Douglas Carswell, the man who could become UKIP’s first MP

Casually disregarding the utter irrelevance of the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Glasgow this week, the nation’s political commentators are focusing instead on the two impending by-elections, both of which are to be held this Thursday and both in constituencies where UKIP believe they stand a realistic chance of victory.

Despite the optimism of those within the UKIP ranks, these are two very different constituencies. Heywood and Middleton is a solidly Labour seat in Greater Manchester, encompassing parts of the deprived and ethnically diverse town of Rochdale, whilst Clacton is a largely white constituency on the Essex seaside favoured by socially conservative retirees. Although both areas contain significant areas of deprivation, the contrast between a deep-red northern seat and a staunchly right-wing one in the south should, in theory, present numerous difficulties for Nigel Farage.

Instead, these two very different constituencies have helped to create two very different UKIPs. The UKIP fighting in Clacton is the one we are most familiar with, the eurosceptic party standing up for traditional values, tighter immigration controls and populist patriotism. This is a message which fits in nicely with their candidate in Clacton, the area’s much-loved former MP Douglas Carswell who defected from the Conservatives in the summer.

It was this right-wing message which propelled UKIP to success in this year’s European and local elections, hoovering up the support of those former Conservative voters who have become disillusioned with mainstream politics due to three main issues: Europe, immigration and same-sex marriage. This is also the same message which the party will use to fight the upcoming by-election in Rochester and Strood, where the sitting Conservative MP Mark Reckless has followed Douglas Carswell in defecting to UKIP. Reckless’ seat is also situated in the home counties, although is somewhat more affluent than Clacton, and at the 2010 general election he won a majority of almost 10,000. Whether he can hang onto those votes and retain the seat under the UKIP banner remains to be seen, but he has already made it clear that he will be running on the party’s traditional conservative platform.

However, the local and European elections also saw UKIP make some headway in Labour’s traditional northern heartlands, and since then Nigel Farage has tailored his party’s message somewhat, ramping up the populism whilst toning down the Thatcherite ideology. His deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, has been forced to retract his support for the privatisation of the NHS, and several of the party’s more stridently right-wing policies have been repealed.

The fruits of this rebranding are not visible on the streets of Clacton or Rochester, where conservative orthodoxy wins votes from disaffected ex-Tories. However, one would be excused for seeing very little similarities between the UKIP fighting these seats and the very different entity attempting to seize Heywood and Middleton from Labour. The party’s candidate here is John Bickley, and he is poles apart from the Conservative defectors that Nigel Farage has been chasing in the south; Bickley grew up in Greater Manchester as the son of a trade unionist, and instead of originating from the Tory right he was a Labour supporter before switching to UKIP due to their policies on the EU.

This ex-Labour voter now has harsh words for his former party, but he is also running a campaign which has been deeply influenced by Labour culture and attitudes. Unlike in Clacton, UKIP’s Heywood and Middleton campaign has focused heavily on the future of the NHS and the bedroom tax, which UKIP want to abolish. Indeed, a recent UKIP campaign poster declared that Labour had let the people of Heywood and Middleton down by ‘planning to allow American corporations to take over the running of large parts of the NHS’ and letting ‘City Fat Cats make millions out of the privatisation of many NHS services.’ Quite a different message to Paul Nuttall’s musings on the benefits of privatisation.

By masquerading as a resurrected version of Old Labour in seats such as these whilst simultaneously employing a very right-wing programme of policies in soldily Conservative southern seats, UKIP have effectively split into two contrasting factions; northern UKIP and southern UKIP. This may be a pragmatic attempt to make electoral gains across the nation, but if he is not careful the former City trader and self-confessed Thatcherite Nigel Farage will soon find that he has created a deep divide within his party which could lead to its eventual destruction.

George Reeves

Cameron closes a successful Conference with a bold pitch for re-election

David Cameron speaking at Conservative Party Conference today

So that’s it then. No last-minute defections, no significant protests, no nasty surprises – the Conservative Party Conference is officially over for another year, and David Cameron will surely be thankful that it has gone so smoothly. Just a few days ago all hell was breaking loose for the Tories following the shock defection of backbencher Mark Reckless to UKIP and the resignation of government minister Brooks Newmark in a tabloid sex sting, but despite these rocky beginnings this has turned out to be a Conference which has successfully steadied the Conservative ship in the run-up to next year’s general election.

Using their experience in government to present an image of credibility and competence, the Conservatives have highlighted the successes of the last four years and promised to build on these achievements if they are re-elected. That means more tax cuts, more welfare reform, more spending cuts and more deficit reduction. Not exactly measures to set the heart racing, but very much the right prescription for Britain.

Of course many of these proposals have already received a fair amount of criticism; Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to introduce pre-paid ‘benefit cards’ has attracted the ire of those who believe that it is only a matter of time before the Work and Pensions Secretary announces the return of the Dickensian workhouse, whilst Home Secretary Theresa May’s speech yesterday was widely condemned for its hints of authoritarianism. However, the Conservatives are more than used to such criticism and condemnation, and as such learned long ago to ignore the naysayers and plough on with what needs to be done; as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in his speech today, quoting Margaret Thatcher, ‘there’s no shame in being in a minority of one, so long as you’re right and all the others are wrong.’

That isn’t to say that the Conservatives are deaf to the interests of the people, however, and this year’s Conference has been markedly more eurosceptic than in previous years. Several senior figures including Mr Hammond, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and London Mayor Boris Johnson spoke out strongly against the EU status quo and the desire in Brussels for an ‘ever-closer union,’ whilst David Cameron today had harsh words for the European Court of Human Rights and promised to scrap the Human Rights Act if he is re-elected, some obvious red meat for the party’s eurosceptic right.

Reform of human rights law was not the only area which stood out in the Prime Minister’s speech, an address which was passionate, fiery and deeply personal. Cameron warned of the dangers of handing the economy back to the same Labour politicians who trashed it only a few years ago, and launched a furious rebuttal to those who claim he wishes to dismantle the NHS by referring to his own experiences of the health service during the tragically short life of his oldest child, Ivan.

The Prime Minister also used his speech to lay out some of what a Conservative majority government would do, with promises to ring-fence NHS spending, raise the tax-free allowance, widen the scope of the National Citizen Service scheme and build 100,000 new homes for first-time buyers. The promise of an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU was also reaffirmed as Cameron attempted to present the next election as a simple choice between him and Ed Miliband, with a vote for UKIP simply being a vote for Labour.

As the countdown to the general election begins and all parties ramp up the rhetoric, it will be the events of the coming months which decide who will occupy Downing Street for the next five years. Despite the polls being too close to call, party conference season ends with David Cameron and the Conservative Party very much on the front foot. Their Conference has been an undeniable success compared to Labour’s farcical Manchester convention, and if Cameron and his team are equally successful in compiling a solid manifesto and running an effective campaign then they should be able to win that coveted political trophy – five more years.

George Reeves

We should not ignore Tony Blair over Iraq- he is one of the few people talking sense

An article on the Telegraph website caught my attention this morning. It focused on Tony Blair telling people to listen to him on Iraq. He has been interviewed and stated that military intervention in Iraq with boots on the ground should not be ruled out. Both Barack Obama and David Cameron have ruled out such an option and as Tony Blair rightly points out, this is a mistake.

France recently began air strikes on key Islamic State targets  joining the US who have spent a significant part of this month attacking IS through similar methods. Such methods work in slowing the movements of IS troops and at times key buildings and compounds are destroyed delivering a critical blow to them. Britain sadly has not joined the US in doing so, instead to just opting to send humanitarian aid. While air strikes have not been ruled out, the government has said that they are not a priority at the moment.

A month or so ago David Cameron wrote in the Telegraph about the dangers of IS and how they could cause great danger to people on British soil. It sent a message that David Cameron was obviously considering militarily action of some kind (most likely air-strikes). But then next day military intervention was ruled out creating rather hazed policy idea where nobody really seems to know what to do.

Many Conservative backbenchers have called for air strikes, most notably the former Defence Secretary Liam Fox. But here we sit still waiting to see what response, if any, Britain will do. The US are making this issue a national priority with Congress recently agreeing to arm ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels.

This is where we come back to Tony Blair. While the war in Iraq in 2003 remains controversial, he has the experience of such matters and the comments he makes should be respected and considered.  Many people will just sigh when he appears on the news as he probably will do tonight calling for possible boots on the ground.

However, you should ask yourself what is Britain doing. We have seen one British citizen killed violently with another threatened. The US strategy is not great and President Obama has at times handled the situation badly but unlike us they have a strategy and it is delivering results.

Boots on the ground should always be a last resort and as Tony Blair has said it would be better if they were Iraqi forces or Kurdish soldiers instead of Western troops. After all these unstable states need strong forces to protect them from the likes of IS. But as several key and influential people are not starting to suggest the idea, such as Sir Graeme Lamb, a former Director of British special forces who has said it was time to ‘rule in’ the idea of British ground troops in Iraq.

It is too simplistic to blame the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a reason for the current turmoil. As we’ve seen over the past few years the region as a whole has grown incredibly unstable. Therefore instead of blaming Tony Blair , politicians  and the public alike should heed the words of the former Prime Minister. After all, as David Cameron wrote last month, IS is a very dangerous threat to Britain and no options should be ruled out to counter that threat.


Ben Callaghan

People of Scotland: Say ‘No’ to Salmond and his false promises

He can talk the talk, but Alex Salmond has no real plan for Scotland’s future

This Thursday will see the biggest vote in modern British history, one which could trigger the break-up of our nation if the people of Scotland side with First Minister Alex Salmond and his dreams of independence. Such a possibility would leave Britain and Scotland worse off, and therefore it is vital that the No campaign prevails. The Union is an arrangement which brings multiple benefits to its constituent nations, and a vote for independence would drastically weaken the rest of Britain whilst plunging Scotland into a highly uncertain future.

Unfortunately, it is the Yes camp which seems to have the upper hand at the moment, and although polls remain too close to call there are fears that Salmond could well swing the vote in his favour. It would be disingenuous to deny that the First Minister is a highly skilled and canny politician, and as a result he is single-handedly responsible for the upturn in the Yes campaign’s fortunes. Alongside other figures from across the political spectrum including Nigel Farage, George Galloway and the late Ian Paisley, Salmond is a combative rabble rouser who fuses populist rhetoric with a deeply-held ideological commitment, with devastating consequences for his political opponents. He is certainly not a man to underestimate, and has provided the pro-independence campaign with clear and authoritative leadership.

In comparison, the No camp has appeared rather tired and disorganised, accused of running a negative and scaremongering campaign and blighted by its multi-party makeup. That isn’t to say that it has lacked competent leadership, and Alistair Darling should be commended for the civilised way in which he has steered the campaign, often in contrast to Mr Salmond’s bullyboy tactics. However, the First Minister has been able to get away with painting the No camp as a front for the Conservative Party, an accusation which goes down well in Scotland’s socialist heartlands but in reality is simply not true; after all, the two most prominent figures fighting to save the Union are Mr Darling and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, both Labour politicians.

Indeed, the Conservatives have played a minimal role in the run-up to the referendum and David Cameron has appeared very relaxed about delegating responsibility to Mr Brown and Mr Darling, despite their political differences. After all, the Conservatives are a toxic brand across Scotland with only one MP and a visible Tory presence would have simply played into Alex Salmond’s hands, providing him with futher ammunition to use against the No campaign.

So why is it so crucial that the people of Scotland reject the chance of independence on Thursday? The argument for the Union is a complex and multi-faceted one, but ultimately it should come down to one core question – would an independent Scotland be a more prosperous, powerful and influential nation? On the surface, it is easy to see why independence is so tempting, but in reality it would be highly detrimental, condemning Scotland to a future of political isolation and economic instability. Alex Salmond likes to make grandiose promises, yet much of what he has promised will almost certainly not be possible.

For example, Mr Salmond has declared that an independent Scotland would seek to join the European Union, but this would need to be approved by all current EU member-states, an unlikely prospect given that the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has declared that he would veto such a move. Furthermore, even if Scotland did enter the EU it would be obliged to adopt the euro as its official currency, despite the fact that this has already been ruled out by Mr Salmond. This would be deeply problematic, and so far Salmond has avoided confronting this crucial issue, an area which has proved to be his biggest weakness.

According to Salmond, an independent Scotland would seek a currency union with Britain, thus retaining the pound, but such a proposal has been repeatedly ruled out by Chancellor George Osborne as well as the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. Therefore, it would seem that the most likely scenario would be Scotland using the British pound without exercising any control over the running of a central bank, a system of ‘Sterlingisation’ similar to Panama’s use of the US dollar. This would inevitably prove to be disastrous for the Scottish economy and would almost certainly trigger spending cuts and tax increases.

Although Alex Salmond has made a compelling emotional case for Scottish independence, it would be wrong to claim that in contrast the pro-Union case is simply concerned with the rather sterile questions concerning international alliances, currency unions and budgets. Indeed, I believe that the best arguments from the heart are on the side of the No campaign, even if they have been less passionately presented. A vote for independence is a vote for separation, a vote for division, a vote to end one of the most successful unions in world history.

The people of Scotland share so much in common with the rest of Britain, and it would be a tragedy if those same people were to become foreigners for the sake of some constitutional tinkering. Some of the most amazing places in Britain are to be found north of the border, from the buzzing cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh to the beautiful and imposing scenery of the Hebrides and the Highlands. I don’t want these places and their inhabitants to become a foreign land, and instead we should continue to celebrate our unity as well as our vibrant diversity.

Political change will come to Scotland regardless of Thursday’s result; even if independence is rejected, all parties have accepted that plans for further devolution will be required, and quite rightly so. Such reform would signify a positive step and would be a far more preferable option than independence, granting the Scottish administration greater power whilst still remaining part of Britain. Independence may seem like a glamourous and exciting option and it certainly has a very convincing salesman in Mr Salmond, but hopefully the electorate will come to the conclusion that the Union is far too important to be broken up – we really are better together, and I urge the people of Scotland to vote No on Thursday.

George Reeves

May the Union perish and the Scots flourish

I am not a Scotsman. I was raised in the heart of the Industrial Midlands, spent a childhood scaling the Clent and Malvern hills and was educated by teachers and family who had, for the most part, never even been to Scotland. Yet, for historical reasons, decisions that affect my family, my friends and myself are, in part, influenced by people who claim solely to represent Scotland. Mostly, the politicians who represent the Scottish do not reflect the party my family elects. In short, I am an Englishman; without representation. This is not the case in Scotland, which has a parliament to represent the Scots, and who through the power of their nationalist movement, have secured a healthy degree of independence from Westminster; a representation that can only increase from the next Thursday.

So, how do I as an Englishman feel about Scottish Independence? From my perspective, it is simply the best course of action that either the Scots, or the English, could take. Following a ‘yes’ vote, both England and Scotland would be a far more interesting, and a far more democratic, place. National parliaments are designed to represent the national will, the collective decision making process for all constituent members of a nation. The United Kingdom has never been a nation; it is a ‘family of nations’ (to use the Prime Minister’s own words). Therefore, Westminster can only continue with any legitimacy if it can claim representation from all constituent parts of its territories. However, it is quite clear that is not the case at all. Scotland is increasingly represented by its own parliament, to decide its own affairs. They are not bound up in a single, collective institution. As Enoch Powell once said:

The right to Nationhood is one of those rights, of which it may be said, that time does not run against it. It is not yet known, whether the Scottish Nation, will decide by a majority, to resume the status which they relinquished in 1707. But if they do, I would like to hear their reply, to those who would tell them, that they could not do it, because of the Treaty of Union. History is littered, and some of its most glorious pages are adorned, with instances of nations which reasserted and reclaimed their right to govern themselves, and live under their own laws and policies, not after 5 or 10 years of eclipse, but after centuries.”

The Scottish Nation has not for a long time felt bound up politically in Westminster. Powell’s comments came as early as 1976, when the stirrings of Scottish Independence were already growing. The Scottish people want to represent themselves, and to make their own policies and laws. This is the heart of the problem, and has been for a long time.

When the Union was first proposed in 1707, following the bankruptcy of Scotland after a disastrous attempt at empire, a deal was brokered that essentially involved large scale bribery. The Scottish folk songs have long decried the union, and the men who were bought for ‘English gold’. How far can we truly say Scotland was ever bound up collectively in Westminster? They have had, since the beginning, their own national church, their own legal system, their own traditions and culture, their own military regiments and their own territories. The border between England and Scotland was never brought down. For a long time the union was sustained through the pursuit of empire. Britain became the greatest imperial power of all time, and that project alone sustained a union not only between Scotland and England, but also for the Irish and the English. Yet we have long since forgotten the Irish contributions to empire. The majority of Ireland fought and died for independence, and achieved Home Rule in 1922, breaking a union that had been established since 1800. Both entities prospered. Soon through demographic change Northern Ireland will likely depart the union too.

This leaves the union in a very precarious position. The union has been dead for a much longer time than many are willing to admit. It may not even end politically after next Thursday, but culturally and spiritually it has been dead for a long time. The affinities between England and Scotland exist despite this; not as proof of friendship but as a testament to history. For Scotland and England do have a long and proud history together and there is no reason why that shouldn’t be recognised. However, if this friendship is to mean anything, and if the Scottish are to be truly represented and the English finally rediscover themselves, independence is a necessity. It is no longer possible to see the union as a ‘natural and unquestionable entity’, as was possible in the nineteenth century.

If the Union between Scotland and England was a marriage; it was an arranged marriage. Not one born of love and affection, but out of financial necessity and mutual need. Those perquisites died with the empire, and increasingly we have seen growing divisions between the English and the Scottish; as we are fundamentally different people, with different attitudes. This is most apparent in the most recent general election results, where the Scottish people returned 41 Labour, 11 Liberal Democrat, six SNP MPs and just a single Conservative. Yet, they were represented by a Conservative government, essentially because England voted for one. Though quite controversially, the Scottish chose the SNP to represent them in 2011 for their own parliament, and on their own issues. Yet, just a year earlier returned considerably more Labour MPs than SNP MPs. In short, they want a party devoted to Scotland to represent them, and send Labour MPs to represent the UK.

The case to preserve the Union, which has escalated over the last few days, is truly a detestable one. It has played on the fears and anxieties of the Scottish. It has consistently referred to arguments concerning currency, it has scared them by saying “you’ll be £500 worse off you know”, in a time when people can’t afford to lose £500 from their salaries. John Lewis and ASDA today have added that prices will be higher. They have been told they may not have ISAs, their savings may be at risk, they may face higher taxes, that North Sea oil won’t sustain them (despite Westminster wasting oil revenues and not creating a sovereign wealth fund).  Every argument, every point they make, is designed to suggest two things: that independence will cost you money and that independence is a question of economics and prestige. This is the most scare-mongering and reductionist campaign that any in Scotland could be forced to endure. No wonder it has caused a boost for Salmond. However, ultimately it may prove very effective. In particular, elderly people in Scotland, who are more likely to vote in favour of the union, may become very fearful of seeing their pensions and incomes decline. There is a serious moral questionability about this, as after all Scotland will ultimately belong to its next generation, and it seems they are far more likely to favour an independent Scotland. This decision, whatever it may be, should be decided on issues of nationhood; not on economics and scare-mongering.

In just over a week’s time, the Scottish people have a chance not to disregard history, but to make history. They have within their power to end what has ultimately been an unsuccessful union, and to restore the national independence not only of Scotland; but of England too. We can together, in mutual friendship, shape our isles into a genuine home for English and Scottish people, who can live independently from one another in mutual appreciation. We can live by our own national traditions, governed by our own representatives, and end what is becoming a bitter political and cultural chasm between the English and Scottish. The future for independence is not one of conflict, of redrawing hostile borders. It is a future of optimism and freedom; but ultimately it is a future where the English and the Scottish can build for themselves a home and identity, which would represent our respective people and enact our own laws, a place kinship and tradition – a state of affairs which used to be called nationhood.

Dylan Grove

The Tories sneer at the people of Clacton at their peril

Matthew Parris has called on the Conservatives to ‘turn their backs’ on the people of Clacton

I have come to the opinion that it is critical, in the sake of the national interest, that someone should politely yet forcefully tell Matthew Parris to shut up. This is not an easy task and I can guarantee that Mr Parris will resent such advice; after all, he is a man who has spent his entire career offending others and craving publicity. However, his recent dismissal of the entire population of Clacton has proven that he should no longer be rewarded with the attention he so desperately seeks due to the toxic and intolerant nature of so many of the opinions he espouses.

For those who are blissfully unaware of Mr Parris’ existence, he is the former Conservative MP who, since leaving Parliament, has made a name for himself as one of Britain’s most outspoken and controversial political commentators, as well as being the man who ‘outed’ the former Labour minister Peter Mandelson. A suave and charming figure, Parris is indeed deeply knowledgeable and a fantastic journalist, but he is also the archetypal metropolitan liberal, a sneering and fully paid-up member of the London intelligentsia who is inherently distrustful of ordinary Britain, its inhabitants and their way of life.

This sneering distrust has most recently manifested itself in a recent article that Parris wrote for The Times in which he revealed the full extent of his disdain for the British working classes. Discussing the upcoming by-election in the Essex seaside town of Clacton, Parris launched into a tirade against the town and its people who he clearly believes are beneath the ambitions of the Conservative Party. According to Parris, the people of Clacton are simply too old, too poor and too uncultured; surely the mighty Tory machine has better things to do than attempting to woo such people?

In a way, he has a point. Clacton is indeed a place which is largely made up of older, poorer voters who are more likely to be seen eating fish and chips and swilling lager than attending one of the posh Hampstead dinner parties favoured by Parris and his friends. But why does this mean that the Conservatives have any right to, as Parris so grotesquely put it, ‘turn their backs’ on such people?

Never mind that the people of Clacton make up the ‘Essex man’ demographic so crucial to Margaret Thatcher’s three election wins. Never mind that Clacton is a solidly Conservative seat (Douglas Carswell’s majority in 2010 was over 12,000). Never mind that the Conservative Party is supposedly concerned with bettering the lives of all people across the nation. No, these facts are irrelevant to the likes of Matthew Parris, who seem to be genuinely terrified of anything that doesn’t resemble London’s more cultured and affluent areas.

This phobia of ordinary Britain is what makes Tories such as Parris indistinguishable from their Labour and Liberal Democrat counterparts who also cling to the Hampstead cocktail party circuit and show a staggering dislike of vast swathes of the British public. It is also what makes the Tory brand seem so toxic to those same people, reinforcing the ‘nasty party’ image and providing ammunition for populist groups such as UKIP. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that much of Nigel Farage’s appeal comes from the fact that he doesn’t inhabit the same exclusive world as the likes of Matthew Parris.

Not only does Parris dislike the people of Clacton and their way of life, he also fails to understand them. He cannot understand why anyone wouldn’t share his liberal and London-centric view of the world, and as a result he writes them off as extremist, swivel-eyed loons who are resistant to change. This is the precise reason why next month, the people of Clacton will elect their first non-Tory MP for decades; not because they have abandoned conservatism, but because they feel that they have been abandoned by the Conservative Party.

The views which are so prevalent in Clacton and similar towns may seem alien to Mr Parris, but for Nigel Farage these are the places where UKIP can break through and achieve electoral success at the Conservatives’ expense. This should be deeply troubling for David Cameron and the Tory hierarchy, as they will be acutely aware of the importance of having these seats and these voters onside next year if they are to remain in government.

Therefore it is indeed critical that we should shun the likes of Matthew Parris and the rest of the liberal intelligentsia who sneer at traditional working class voters with their seemingly backward and archaic views on issues such as gay rights and immigration. Regarding the people of Clacton, Parris concluded his article by claiming that the Conservative Party ‘should be careless of their opinions.’ However, in light of such arrogance it is clear that the only opinions that we should be careless of are those espoused by Parris and anyone else who seeks to ignore an important and often overlooked demographic.

George Reeves

In defence of the Conservative Party

They’re far from perfect, but the Conservatives are Britain’s best hope

Chris Kelly, the MP for Dudley South, has become the latest Conservative representing a marginal seat to announce that he will be standing down at the next general election. Mr Kelly, a Eurosceptic who many had tipped to defect to UKIP, has only been an MP since 2010, and considering that he is only 36 years old it is not unreasonable to be ever so slightly surprised that he is already calling time on his political career.

He is not the only member of the Tories’ 2010 intake who is deciding to pack it in after just one term, a trend which is deeply worrying for Prime Minister David Cameron as he prepares for what will almost certainly be the most closely fought general election of recent years. Does he have what it takes to emerge victorious in his bid for re-election, or are the Conservatives a toxic brand under fire from both the left and the right?

The biggest game changer of this parliamentary term has undoubtedly been the rise of UKIP, a brand which has rapidly evolved since 2010. Back then under the doomed leadership of the ageing Lord Pearson, UKIP were a mess with an impenetrable election manifesto, lunatic policies and absolutely no sense of cohesion, organisation or effective management. Nigel Farage has changed all of this and successfully replaced his party’s homespun and amateurish public image with a much slicker operation. That isn’t to say that all of UKIP’s rough edges have been smoothed, but the fact that they look almost certain to win the upcoming Clacton by-election is proof of how far they have come in so little time.

Farage’s other great success has been to take UKIP’s ideological message and make it attractive to ordinary voters. Whilst there will always be a large number of people who consider the right wing party to be racist and scare-mongering, the facts are that Farage has done more than most commentators realise to take UKIP’s positions on Europe, immigration and welfare and to bring them into the political mainstream. Now more than ever, people are asking pertinent questions concerning these issues, and we have Farage to thank for opening up this debate in a new and radical manner.

Consequently, it is little wonder that UKIP is proving to be such an attractive outfit for those who are disillusioned with mainstream politics. Cash for questions, the expenses scandal and the corruption of prominent figures from Peter Mandelson to Maria Miller have widened the gulf between Westminster and ordinary people, and the public have every right to be angry at a political system which is all too often guilty of putting its own interests above the nation’s. However, no matter how strong our anger may be, UKIP are ultimately unable to provide a long-term answer.

Nigel Farage may claim to be building a movement, his own self-styled ‘People’s Army,’ but on the morning of 8th May 2015 the new Prime Minister will be one of two men, neither of whom is Mr Farage. UKIP are admittedly attractive, a new and fresh force which almost seems to transcend the partisan ‘left-right’ political spectrum, but in reality they are impotent as there is no chance whatsoever of them even holding the balance of power, let alone forming the next government.

It may be a cliche, but the facts are that a vote for UKIP is a vote for Ed Miliband. Admittedly Farage has managed to win over some ex-Labour voters in the north-east, but the seats where UKIP pose a real threat are almost all Conservative ones – South Thanet, Clacton, Boston and Skegness and Great Yarmouth to name but a few.

Farage and his supporters like to claim that a Labour government would be no worse than a Conservative one in their eyes, yet this simply exposes their naivety and short-sightedness. If Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister there will be no EU referendum, no renegotiation, and almost certainly no substantial immigration or welfare reform. The only way that these issues which are supposedly so important for UKIP will ever be addressed is if we elect a Conservative majority in 2015.

As I have argued many times before, David Cameron is not an ideal Conservative leader or Prime Minister, but he is infinitely better qualified for the top job than his Labour rival. A Miliband administration would be a victory for many groups – EU bureaucrats, government pen-pushers and militant trade union leaders – but it would deliver absolutely nothing for the ordinary men and women of this nation.

Despite the setback of having been shackled to the lifeless Liberal Democrat corpse for the past four years, the Conservatives have used their time in government to deliver some much-needed reforms, successes which are largely thanks to the more far-sighted and radical ministers within this administration. Under George Osborne’s watch the economy has steadily been guided back on track, Michael Gove used his time as Education Secretary to implement some meaningful changes whilst simultaneously standing up to the teaching establishment, and Iain Duncan Smith has guaranteed himself a place in history by implementing the biggest shake-up of welfare in recent history. However there is still more work to be done, and with so much at stake in 2015 it would be nothing less than scandalous if we were to jeopardise our future by wasting our votes on a party that sounds good, yet will never get the opportunity to make those tough decisions which are so important for our nation.

Donald Tusk’s appointment gives David Cameron a glimmer of hope

In November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy was selected to be the first full time President of the European Council, courtesy of the Lisbon Treaty.  A rather odd choice, Van Rompuy had only been Prime Minister of Belgium for a year and unsurprisingly he had his critics, most notably Nigel Farage who said he had the ‘charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk’. Nevertheless, he plodded along in the role without showing any real flair and managed to secure a second term expiring in November this year. On Saturday EU leaders chose his successor.

According to the media Donald Tusk had been a long touted favourite to succeed Herman Van Rompuy. Unlike his predecessor, Donald Tusk will come into the role with much more gravitas from being Poland’s first Prime Minister being re-elected since the fall of communism and from representing the so-called ‘leading’ country in Eastern Europe. His reluctance to accept the job also suggests something rather different to the approach taken by other senior EU officials, most notably Jean – Claude Juncker who seemed power mad to become President of the Commission (There is probably very little doubt that Van Rompuy too was very keen for his role so he could take benefit from the EU ‘gravy train’). A man not driven by greed, his salary in Poland was only 240,000 zloty a year (£47,500 or 60,000 euros), yet it was not the 300,000 euro salary that convinced him but rather his wife (and the possibility he that may be defeated in Poland’s general election next year.

Yet what is important for us is how Donald Tusk’s appointment would benefit Britain. I am not overly optimistic that Lord Hill, David Cameron’s rather odd choice to be Britain’s next commissioner, will get a key spot with the EU looking to fill the top spots with strong female candidates (as with the appointment of Frederica Mogherini as Baroness Ashton’s successor) and Hill himself being seen in Europe as a Eurosceptic. With a strained relationship with Jean-Claude Juncker he now has to focus on Mr Tusk.

As leader of Poland’s centre right Civic Platform Party and somebody who strongly believes free markets, privatisation and minimal government interference he is very much a true conservative and should be a natural ally. Of course with David Cameron’s rather messy and bizarre European policy, it is unlikely to be that straight forward.

When he is feeling in an anti-Europe mood, David Cameron many times criticised  the EU freedom of movement rights which have helped many hardworking Poles settle in the UK since 2004. Their relationship has not always been great and to start David Cameron was against the appointment of Mr Tusk. This changed when David Cameron thought he might once again upset Germany, where Angela Merkel strongly supported Mr Tusk.

Since his appointment however, there has been some very good news for David Cameron. Mr Tusk has claimed that he cannot imagine Europe without Britain and it would be a ‘dark scenario’ if Britain left.  There is no doubt that Mr Tusk does not want to be the person who loses Britain, a very similar situation that David Cameron is in over Scotland. Mr Tusk has promised to reform the free movement rights, which is rather surprising as the whole idea is one of the founding pillars of the EU and secondly that Poland itself has benefited from greatly.

For the many of us who see Britain’s future to still be within Europe, a possible ‘reformer’ (we will have to wait and see) at the head is very encouraging. Whether or not Mr Tusk can fight off the federalist ideas of Mr Juncker or if he can convince other EU leaders to support reform, he is at the time representing a promising future in Europe.

Many Conservative backbenchers will still be unconvinced. Nigel Fargae will no doubt attack him verbally just like he did to Herman Van Rompuy when he takes the position in November. The fact that Mr Van Rompuy praised Mr Tusk as a ‘European statesmen’ will do little to help win over sceptics, but the nevertheless David Cameron can be now be for a short time, pleased. Who knows, it may even lead to a more organised and successful European policy.

Ben Callaghan

Call for new contributors!

Got strong feelings on a particular news piece? Ready to put your ideas to an audience? BUCF need new contributors to our blog. As long as it’s relatively ‘conservative’ leaning, well written and not too controversial, BUCF would be more than happy to publish it on our award winning blog. 

Just send a draft to our blog editor (George Reeves) and he will have a look through it, and post it up (giving you full credit). If you are interested in blogging on a more regular basis then we will also be more than happy to hook you up with a publishing account. 

Bercow’s job and Parliament’s integrity on the line in Clerk crisis

Order, order: Speaker John Bercow is playing a risky game 

The position of Clerk of the House of Commons is a crucial one, but it is also a role which is meant to be kept well away from the glare of the media spotlight. Until just a few weeks ago, this had been the case, and it is fair to say that very few people outside Westminster had heard of the incumbent Clerk, Sir Robert Rogers. However, recent events have changed all of this as Rogers has been inadvertently propelled into the centre of a political firestorm following his recent resignation.

A widely respected figure with a remarkable knowledge of parliamentary protocol, Rogers was a competent Clerk who was sadly forced to step down due to the conduct of his immediate boss, Commons Speaker John Bercow. According to numerous sources, Speaker Bercow had used unrepeatable language towards Mr Rogers on more than one occasion, and it is not difficult to understand why, in such circumstances, Sir Robert felt compelled to relinquish his position.

Such a situation is concerning enough, especially when one considers the disturbing way in which this episode was covered up by Speaker Bercow after it was raised in Parliament by the flamboyant Conservative MP Michael Fabricant. However, the last few days have brought further scandal as the Speaker has shamelessly bypassed standard protocol in an attempt to appoint a little-known Australian official, Carol Mills, who appears to be totally unsuitable for the position of Clerk of the House.

Alongside his appalling treatment of Robert Rogers, Speaker Bercow’s actions seem to be the manoeuvres of a man who wants to consolidate his own power at the expense of his colleagues. By humiliating a constitutional expert such as Rogers, the Speaker has successfully removed someone who was certainly his intellectual superior, and the following events surrounding the appointment of a successor have seen a whole host of Commons officials sidelined, most notably the popular Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle who was removed from the panel to select a new Clerk.

In contrast to Sir Robert Rogers, Carol Mills appears to be a lightweight appointment with little knowledge of British parliamentary customs and procedure. It is foolish and dangerous for John Bercow to treat the position of Clerk with such contempt, and as a result the outrage which his actions have triggered is totally justified. Numerous high-profile figures from across the political spectrum have lined up to criticise Bercow, including former Speaker Betty Boothroyd, Labour grandees Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, and the Conservative Leader of the House William Hague.

Since his appointment as Speaker in 2009 John Bercow has been a divisive and controversial figure, especially amongst the right wing of the Conservative Party who see him as a self-obsessed phoney. Despite being a high-profile Conservative MP, Bercow struggled to win substantial support from his own party whilst running for the post of Speaker, and indeed only emerged victorious due to Labour support. Such vilification of a man who hadn’t been able to prove himself seemed unfair at the time, but now it would appear that Bercow’s critics were justified as they simply had the advantage of  already knowing of the significant character flaws which have become glaringly obvious during the five years of his Speakership.

The crisis now engulfing the Speaker over the appointment of a new Clerk could prove to be the straw which breaks the camel’s back, with many talking of a potential vote of no confidence in Mr Bercow if he fails to re-evaluate Ms Mills’ suitability for the role. Bercow’s predecessor, Michael Martin, was the first Speaker of modern times to be brought down in a vote of no confidence, and it would be a great shame if, as with Speaker Martin, John Bercow continues to act in a manner which makes his position untenable.

George Reeves

Can anyone stop Hillary in 2016?

Are America’s First Couple on their way back to the White House?

The year was 2007, it was the middle of US primary season, and Hillary Clinton seemed a shoo-in to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for the following year’s presidential election. Indeed, Mrs Clinton was so filled with self-confidence that she had already consulted with her closest aides as to how she would manage her transition to the White House. A tough political veteran with eight years of unique experience at the heart of power as First Lady, Senator Clinton saw herself as the Democrats’ only credible candidate, a big fish surrounded by political minnows.

Of course, things didn’t quite go as expected and Clinton was overtaken and soundly defeated by one of those minnows she had so perilously underestimated, the young and inexperienced Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton regarded Obama with suspicion and disdain; yes, he was clearly a talented man and a rousing public speaker, but he wasn’t presidential material! The Clintons were convinced that Obama, who had been a senator for less than three years when he announced his candidacy, was a flash-in-the-pan figure whose appeal was only temporary and who would soon begin to lose momentum once his superficiality and lack of substance was exposed.

How wrong they were. Obama’s momentum grew and grew as he mobilised key demographic groups including students, young professionals and ethnic minorities. In contrast, Senator Clinton seemed to be the candidate of the past, the epitome of the Democrats’ corporatist Washington establishment. Against such a backdrop, it must have been a brutal kick in the teeth for Mrs Clinton to find herself in 2009 being sworn in not as President of the United States of America, but as Secretary of State in an Obama administration.

Fast-forward five and a half years, and the situation is a very different one. Hillary Clinton is once again in pole position to be the Democratic candidate in the next presidential election, this time with a lack of any credible alternatives. Her supporters claim that she is a new woman and that her four-year tenure as Secretary of State allowed her to reinvent herself once again, this time as America’s top diplomat. This is a claim which may indeed be based in some truth – after all, no one is as skilled as Hillary Clinton when it comes to the art of political reinvention.

During her time as First Lady she was widely seen as an activist who was to the left of her more centrist husband, particularly on the issue of healthcare reform where she gained notoriety for her controversial and ultimately botched ‘Hillarycare’ proposals. This activism caused her to be the most polarising First Lady in living memory, a hero to the feminist left but a hate figure amongst conservatives who largely viewed her as an overly ambitious, self-promoting careerist. All too aware of her public perception, Clinton moved towards the political centre-ground after entering the Senate in 2001, befriending several key Republicans, supporting the Bush administration’s Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11, and most controversially, voting in favour of the invasion of Iraq.

However, by moving to the centre she alienated the left wing of the Democratic Party, which rallied around Barack Obama in order to deny her the presidency. So why does anyone think that things will be different in 2016? After all, the Democrats seemed determined to find a suitable ‘anti-Hillary’ candidate in 2008, and on paper at least it would appear that the same thing will also happen this time around.

Hillary Clinton is still just as controversial and polarising as ever; although she was a fairly popular Secretary of State she is still deeply disliked by the Republican grassroots, feelings which have been strengthened by her role in the Benghazi controversy of 2012. Likewise, she is still far from being the American left’s candidate of choice, a fact which is highlighted by the presence of Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent progressive who many are tipping to run as an anti-establishment dark horse candidate.

No matter who wins the Democrat nomination, the 2016 election will be a much closer fight than 2008. The Republicans are still bitterly divided, but they do have the potential to regain the White House as long as they can nominate a solid and plausible candidate with the ability to reach out to independents and swing voters as well as the conservative grassroots. Likewise, with President Obama’s popularity waning, the Democrats will have to beat off ‘incumbency fatigue,’ a struggle which will prove to be difficult anyway due to the fact that the present incumbent was once the personification of new beginnings and political change. With Hillary Clinton at the helm, it could turn out to be impossible.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Coalition’s move to the right in cabinet reshuffle

Philip Hammond (right) leads a pack of newly promoted right-wingers

If David Cameron intended to use today’s cabinet reshuffle to make a clear political statement then he has certainly been successful. In the biggest shake-up of his government to date the Prime Minister has made three very smart decisions which were much-needed ahead of next year’s election; moving potential liabilities, appointing several women to key posts and promoting Tory right-wingers.

So first of all, the liabilities. Many would point to the continuing presence of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and argue that this is proof that the Prime Minister has not been successful in purging the more toxic members of his government, but this is an unfair accusation for two major reasons. Iain Duncan Smith may embody this government’s unpopular welfare-cutting agenda, but he is also a Conservative elder statesman whose presence at the cabinet table is vital, adding a degree of gravitas and substance that many younger members of the government lack. This is a man who has led the Conservatives through their roughest period in living history and who is yet to complete his crusade against Britain’s excessive benefits culture, a fight that Mr Duncan Smith regards with an almost evangelical zeal.

Iain Duncan Smith may have clung on at the Department for Work and Pensions, but another unpopular minister hasn’t been so lucky. Michael Gove has become one of the nation’s most divisive politicians during his four-year tenure as Education Secretary, lauded by the right for taking on the teaching unions and overhauling the school curriculum yet pilloried by teachers who largely see him as an arrogant meddler driven by a narrow-minded ideology. I personally share the former view of Mr Gove, who I regard as one of the most talented brains in the cabinet, but I also believe that David Cameron was right to move him to the position of Chief Whip. With an election looming a combative figure like Gove would only alienate swing voters, whilst his new job will perfectly suit his pugnacious political style.

Gove’s successor as Education Secretary is Nicky Morgan, one of several women to have been given promotions in this reshuffle. A former corporate lawyer, Morgan entered Parliament at the last election and is seen as a close ally of Chancellor George Osborne. She will be joined in the cabinet by the new Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss and Employment Minister Esther McVey, a tough-talking Liverpudlian who has served as a minister since last year and will now attend cabinet meetings.

Despite these changes, the most important shift that this reshuffle has heralded has been the promotion of those on the right of the Conservative Party, a clear attempt by David Cameron to distance himself from the Liberal Democrats ahead of the next election. Philip Hammond’s appointment as Foreign Secretary is the most obvious sign of a shift to the right and as a result British foreign policy is now being represented by a man who is unashamed of his Euroscepticism, a move which will no doubt be popular amongst those who defected to UKIP in last month’s European elections.

Additionally, many moderate and pro-European Conservatives have been shown the door including Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Sir George Young and David Willetts. One Liberal Democrat source was quoted as describing this reshuffle as ‘the end of the Tory modernisation project,’ and this is a view which isn’t actually much of an exaggeration. The only exception to this rule has been the dismissal of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, a global warming sceptic who opposed same-sex marriage and presided over the unpopular badger cull, but he has been succeeded by fellow right-winger Elizabeth Truss, a former employee of Shell who idolises Margaret Thatcher and has a record of opposing environmental red tape.

This shift to the right is to be commended in the run-up to the next general election, and David Cameron now needs to ensure that he can create a resolutely conservative platform and manifesto. Having unsuccessfully flirted with more liberal positions on crime, economic affairs and the environment, Cameron now needs to stick to the right if he wants to win in 2015. The rise of UKIP has been proof of public disillusionment with the political establishment, and today’s reshuffle is a promising move in the right direction for a Conservative Party in desperate need of regaining the trust of the electorate.

George Reeves

Also published on my blog:

Juncker’s victory is proof of where the EU is heading

Newly elected President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker

If any proof was needed of the direction in which the European Union is heading, look no further than today’s appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the post of President of the European Commission, one of the two most powerful jobs in Brussels. Despite the bold and resolute opposition of Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Juncker cruised to victory in a highly undemocratic contest in which he was the only candidate, backed by almost every European head of government including the influential German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Juncker is far from being a household name in Britain; he served as Prime Minister of Luxembourg for eighteen years before stepping down last year, and is a leading member of the centre-right European People’s Party which topped last month’s elections. A bland, grey figure, he is the archetypal EU bureaucrat very much out of the same mould as European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, who was famously described by Nigel Farage as having ‘the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.’

Nevertheless, Mr Juncker’s obscurity and blandness means that he is the perfect front-man for today’s EU, aided by his overarching vision for where Europe should be heading. David Cameron has attacked Juncker as an ‘arch-federalist’ who is part of the European old-guard and who will oppose any attempts at reform, and in wake of today’s result the Prime Minister conceded that Juncker’s win makes the possibility of renegotiation much harder.

Here in Britain, Prime Minister Cameron has not been alone in his opposition to Mr Juncker; indeed, all three main parties had declared that he is not a suitable candidate to lead the European Commission. However, once again Britain has found itself isolated in a Europe which is happy to anoint a federalist bureaucrat to such a powerful position, with only Hungary choosing to side with David Cameron. Indeed, Angela Merkel, largely seen as Europe’s most influential head of government, made it clear that British support for Juncker wasn’t needed and that Cameron’s stance would not stand in the way of his appointment.

Time will tell whether Mr Juncker’s personal defects prevent him from carrying out his new position effectively; media reports in the last few days have described him as a heavy drinker who is lazy and lacks motivation, and these could be qualities which eventually lead to his downfall. However, by taking the stance that he has, David Cameron has once again proved that he is prepared to stand up for British interests, even if this leaves him isolated and alone amongst his fellow European leaders.

This is not the first time that Cameron has gone against the grain in Europe. Soon after his election as Conservative Party leader he withdrew the Conservatives from the European People’s Party, which he viewed as being too federalist, and helped to set up the European Conservatives and Reformists, a right-wing alliance of moderately Eurosceptic parties. Today’s selection of Jean-Claude Juncker is a major setback for any hope of renegotiation and reform, and as a result the Prime Minister will have to take the option of British withdrawal from the EU far more seriously.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Why we should listen to Tony Blair

A Yougov poll yesterday suggested that former Prime Minister Tony Blair would be more than twice as popular as current Labour leader Ed Miliband if he were to make a political comeback. Despite the fact that Blair won three general elections and remained a largely popular figure throughout his tenure, these statistics surprised me, as it seems hard to find anybody today who remains supportive of Labour’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

To the left, Mr Blair is a disgrace and a sell-out who embraced the worst excesses of Thatcherism and forged a dangerous alliance with a stridently right-wing administration in Washington. Likewise, the right see him as a big-government social democrat who is responsible for the smoking ban, the hunting ban and open-door mass immigration.

I share many of the standard conservative concerns about Tony Blair’s domestic legacy, but yet I cannot join the throngs of critics who recoil at the very mention of the former Prime Minister’s name. With regards to foreign policy, Blair has continuously been on the right side of the argument from the conflicts in the Balkans in the late-1990s to the spread of hardline Islam in the Middle East.

His recent comments regarding the current violence in Iraq have attracted much scorn and vitriol, some of which has even come from his former cabinet ministers. Clare Short, who famously resigned from the cabinet over the Iraq War and subsequently left the Labour Party, has described her former boss as a ‘complete American neocon,’ whilst John Prescott, Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister for the entirety of his premiership, has said that Blair wants to go ‘back to the Crusades.’

However, such criticism is not restricted to those on the left. The Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie rather tastelessly compared the former Prime Minister to the infamous mass murderer Harold Shipman, whilst UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declared that ‘the West should declare an end to the era of military intervention abroad.’ Likewise, London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a stinging personal attack in the staunchly conservative Telegraph describing the Iraq War as a ‘tragic mistake’ and questioning Mr Blair’s sanity.

One has to wonder whether such figures would be so critical of the Iraq War if it had been a Conservative Prime Minister who had authorised the invasion. I wholeheartedly believe that much of the vitriol from the right such as the comments of Mayor Johnson are merely the result of an opportunistic and deeply partisan desire to have a go at Labour’s most successful Prime Minister and to tarnish his political legacy. However, it is refreshing that the wider Conservative Party have resisted giving in to this temptation; Downing Street have refused to comment on Mr Blair’s intervention, whilst several senior Conservatives such as Foreign Secretary William Hague and former Defence Secretary Liam Fox have reaffirmed their support for the 2003 invasion.

Despite the intense level of scorn his comments have attracted, Blair is right to maintain that today’s problems in Iraq are not the inevitable consequences of the Anglo-American invasion orchestrated by himself and President Bush. He pointed to the violence in Syria, where a similar situation of civil war has emerged even though their dictator is still firmly in power. It is therefore foolish to assume that if Saddam Hussein were still in power there would be peace and stability in Iraq today.

Mr Blair is also right to point out the threats that Islamic extremists in the Middle East pose to the Western world. Many of the terrorists who form the militant group ISIS are British and American radicals who could return home, leading to terrorists attacks on the streets of London, Washington and New York.

Critics may angrily shout about the ‘warmongerer’ Tony Blair, but he is the only senior British politician who is proposing potential action plans for Iraq. David Cameron has been noticeably silent in recent days, and anti-Blair figures such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have simply trotted out the usual non-interventionist mantras. If we are to help the Iraqi people and minimise the terror threat at home, we could do a lot worse than to actually listen to what our former PM has to say.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Civil war and political implosion: the fruits of the ‘Obama Doctrine’ in Iraq

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain told the story of an American mother whose son had died whilst fighting in the Iraq War. Far from being bitter about US involvement in the conflict which ultimately took her son’s life, this woman pleaded with McCain to ensure that her son’s death wouldn’t be in vain.

Ultimately, John McCain was unsuccessful in his bid for the White House, losing out to Barack Obama who ran on a largely anti-war ticket (despite the fact that his running mate, Joe Biden, had been one of a number of senior Democrats to support George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003). One of President Obama’s first decisions was to end US military involvement in this particular conflict, announcing in February 2009 that there would be an 18-month timetable of withdrawal of US forces.

How foolish and premature this decision now seems. Obama’s anti-war stance may have been a vote winner in 2008, but ultimately it has undone all the good work achieved during the Bush years. The subsequent rise of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Iraq following US withdrawal has caused chaos, anarchy and bloodshed, and the worst thing about this crisis is that it could have been avoided.

John McCain warned in 2008 that an early withdrawal of all US troops would leave Iraq’s fledgling democracy highly vulnerable, accelerating the threat of civil war and terrorist insurgency. Despite his defeat on election day, Senator McCain has since continued with these warnings throughout the Obama presidency, opposing the administration’s plans for Iraq at every turn, but he and his fellow Republicans have ultimately proven to be powerless to stop what the president had always set out to do as an immediate priority.

Barack Obama and the Democrats therefore can’t be surprised at the Iraqi insurgency which has risen to prominence in the last week, as this is simply the fruits of their passive approach. President Obama has now declared that no options can be ruled out in fighting the insurgency, including the use of military force, but yet he cannot admit that a more measured approach on his behalf five years ago could have prevented the chaos seen today.

Let’s not underestimate the threat that such anarchy in Iraq poses for the USA either. Senator Lindsey Graham, a prominent foreign policy hawk and neoconservative, has described how the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq could mean that ‘the next 9/11 is in the making,’ and so it is in the interests of US national security that Iraq is stabilised and the terrorist insurgency is defeated. The Bush administration’s War on Terror was criticised by many, but yet these policies ensured that another terrorist attack on US soil did not occur after 9/11. President Obama may be proud about the number of troops he has brought home, but the long-term fruits of his softline policies will be the deaths of US civilians and the eventual collapse of Iraq’s young political structures.

George Reeves

Originally published on my blog:

Never mind swing voters, the GOP’s first priority must be to regain the trust of their base

Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who this week was defeated by a Tea Party outsider      

When will the Republicans start to realise that they no longer have the trust of the very people they claim to represent? This week has seen an earthquake in Washington as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in the Republican primaries for the Virginia seat he has held since 2001 by a long-shot Tea Party outsider; if this isn’t proof of dissatisfaction with the GOP establishment then I don’t know what is.

The influence of the Tea Party has steadily grown since George W Bush left the White House in 2009, as grassroots American conservatives have become more and more disaffected with the unaccountable and unrepresentative Washington establishment. Angered by what Tea Party godfather Jim DeMint describes as the ‘aggressively liberal’ agenda pursued by the Obama administration, ordinary men and women see no hope in a Republican Party which is failing to pick the president up on the issues which truly matter; a stagnant economy, uncontrolled immigration and the masses of red tape and regulations which make setting up a business more and more difficult.

In Britain, this is a phenomenon which has led to the rise of UKIP, fuelled by the anger of those who can no longer identify with David Cameron’s Conservatives and are looking to a new political party instead. However, the American situation is very different, as their protest movement has manifested itself not in a separate party, but in an internal faction which is steadily driving the GOP further to the right.

I don’t agree with the Tea Party on everything; like UKIP, they are susceptible to their fair share of clowns and loonies, the ‘Obama-is-a-Muslim’ brigade who clog up social media with (at best) thinly-veiled racism and who enjoy branding the entire Republican establishment as ‘RINOs’ (which, for the uninitiated, stands for Republican In Name Only). These tactics should shock and appall any sensible person, whilst I personally can’t help but wonder whether these same people who say they want to restore the Ronald Reagan glory days would even describe the Gipper himself as a RINO if he were starting out his political career today.

However, despite the fact that these abhorrent tactics are so prevalent amongst certain sections of the Tea Party’s support base, it is clear that this is a movement which has tapped into a very real sense of public anger and disaffection with the current state of US politics. At a time when President Obama is implementing the most regressive and damaging political agenda since the Carter days, the Republicans should be a credible alternative to the Democrats and their failed policies, but yet they are still seen as an impotent bunch of crony-capitalists who are well and truly in the pockets of big business.

The Tea Party want to make US politics more accountable, and this overarching vision should be welcomed no matter what one may think about their wider political philosophy. Both Republicans and Democrats seem to care far more about loopholes and earmarks for the super-rich and the big corporations instead of representing the American people, and the backlash Eric Cantor experienced this week is proof that the public will not stand for this any longer.

Cantor’s challenger was Dave Brat, an unassuming economics professor who ran a simple campaign but yet was able to unseat the GOP’s main man in the House of Representatives, and so other establishment figures must now be realising the end of their careers could well be in sight. In Tennessee, Senator Lamar Alexander is facing a challenge from the Tea Party’s Joe Carr, whilst Mississippi’s Thad Cochran could be facing the end of his 36-year Senate career after he was narrowly defeated in the first round of voting by conservative challenger Chris McDaniel. This rise of the conservative grassroots can no longer be dismissed by Washington; the GOP must change, or else face political extinction.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Britain’s sovereignty is already lost – whoever leads the EU

A figure from the Eighties cannot resolve the problems of the next five years” so wittily did David Cameron remark when considering the proposal of Jean-Claude Junker to the position of EU commissioner. Apparently, he completely missed the irony of this remark, after dedicating a huge tribute to Margaret Thatcher, and the lessons she taught us. Regardless of this inconsistency, and the unshakeable faith in progress that is implied in such a short-sighted remark, it seems Dave is in a bit of a pickle. He wants to reform Europe, but Europe doesn’t want to be reformed.

The appointment of Jean-Claude Junker to the post of EU commissioner would not be a victory for an ‘ever-closer union’. Whoever achieves the post of EU commissioner, the European Union will be committed to Federalism. From its very conception, in the creation of the European Economic Community, its fundamental objective was a United States of Europe. Winston Churchill famously endorsed such proposals in 1946, in a speech to the academic youth of Zurich, for a ‘United States of Europe’. Though in his vision the United Kingdom would not be a member. It would appear some form of united Europe is simply unavoidable. The question that is open to us, here in Britain, is if we surrender over 1,000 years of history, our national institutions and our national sovereignty itself, to become a part of this federal Europe.

There have been suggestions, by people with far greater credentials than our esteemed Prime Minister, that we can work with Europe, to make it a ‘union of nation states’ as opposed to a Federal Europe. However, where these allies will come from, is a mystery. One proponent is conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, who suggests allies could be found in Eastern Europe. David Cameron suggests they could be located in Germany. However, since Chancellor Merkel has recently endorsed Mr. Junker for the post of EU commissioner, I sincerely doubt many will continue to think that alliance possible. Scruton’s claim is a lot more credible, within Eastern Europe there are several pockets of resistance to a united Europe. However, even between them, they could not out-vote Germany in the European Parliament. Some have suggested their hopes lie in the far-right. Indeed while it is true the far-fight is on the rise in Europe, many of these groups wish to leave the European Union, or simply lack anything near the support required on a national level to overturn the European Union. No, the far-right’s prominence in national politics, will come with the failure of the European Union. Its inevitable collapse, both economically and politically, will no doubt provoke the kind of extremism it was designed to avoid.

Regardless of the European Union’s future and its longevity, the question that should concern us, is whether we in Britain should remain a part of this experiment in supranationalism. Whether Mr. Junker gets the commission or not. Or indeed if Ian Duncan Smith delivers a package of power repatriation from Brussels or not, simply does not matter. The question of national sovereignty remains at the heart of this debate. Whether 75% or 1% of our laws are made in Brussels, that is somewhere between 1% to 75% that cannot be altered or overturned by the British people. It is beyond the remit of our own national democracy. Indeed, within a Federalist union, our ability to determine our national affairs would be completely destroyed. Instead, we would be subject to EU decree, just like our sales taxes and post offices are today; all aspects of national life would be decided outside the nation itself. Yet all of these decisions will affect our nation profoundly.

When it comes to the European Union, I simply do not care if it keeps the forces of Socialism at bay, or if retains some pseudo-intellectual proposition of peace. I would much rather live in a nation, governed by a Socialist state and at war with the forces of Capitalism, than surrender sovereignty to any supranational organisation. We must be free, to determine our own collective destiny, be that through the forces of Socialism or Capitalism, Conservatism or Liberalism. The politics of this, doesn’t lie in factions or principles. It lies in where we regard the ultimate political authority to reside. In this case, it has been, and can only be, the Nation-State. Within this authority, a single people can determine their affairs, conduct and destiny. Outside of it, in the case of the European Union for instance, decisions are imposed upon the people. Furthermore, to those who argue that we need ‘more european democracy’; I would simply reply thus: there cannot be a European Democracy, for there is no European demos.

As Tony Benn so rightly claimed:

Britain’s continuing membership of the [European] Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation.”.

The real divisions over the European Union lie not between the right and the left, between Labour and the Liberal Democrats on one hand, and the Conservatives and UKIP on the other. It transcends any party agenda. Division ultimately lies between those who have faith in the nation, national democracy and self-determination, and those who wish to impose a ‘higher’, international authority upon us, and erode the boundaries of the nation entirely. Between those who are Nationalists, and those who are Internationalists.

So when David Cameron talks about powers being “returned’ from Europe, in a complicated series of compromises and relentless pleading, remember that those powers rightly belong to us anyway. We the people, the British people, have a right within our democracy to determine our own national affairs. The rights of the European Union, its institutions and its representatives, are entirely illegitimate. Sovereignty within a nation, belongs to the nation. Reject, in its entirety any ‘negotiation’ with Europe. Remember, Mr. Junker is no more, or less, a federalist than thousands of others in Brussels; including many of the previous commissioners. Simply decide, if your loyalty lies with the supranational project and its unaccountable commission; or your own national institutions.

Dylan Grove

Jean- Claude Juncker – A man who could end Cameron’s political career

The so-called ‘political earthquake’ that occurred over the European elections has possibly delayed the process of Jean- Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg Prime Minster, being named as the next President of the European Commission. The results of the Front National in France have caused President Hollande to state that urgent reform of the EU is needed (even though just a couple of months before he told David Cameron that it was not a prioroity) and UKIP’s victory has led to a much more Eurosceptic David Cameron. Tony Blair, who was prevented from becoming President of the European Council in 2008, has said that the results are a ‘wake- up call’.

The greatest victor from these results is our very own David Cameron. The rise of Eurosceptic behaviour will only help his push for reform in Europe ready for the proposed referendum in 2017. Of course, the decision on who will replace Jose Manual Barroso will have a serious role in this and with the rise of Eurosceptic fever, you would have thought this was a prime time for a reformer to take centre stage. Instead, we see the arch federalist or ‘raving’ federalist as Nigel Farage puts it lining up to take one of Europe’s prestigious positions.

His appointment would be disastrous for Cameron and arguably other European leaders who were hit hard by Eurosceptic parties. Farage will visit every TV station barking out the fact that Cameron is weak on Europe; Marine Le Pen will do the same in France. This is why Cameron and other leaders such as Mateo Renzi (who however, did very well in the European elections), Francois Hollande and both the Dutch and Hungarian Prime Ministers.

This brings us back to David Cameron. Juncker has previously publicly claimed that he is not favourable towards Cameron’s idea of reform. Over the past few days, the relationship between the two has seriously deteriorated with Juncker claiming that Cameron is blackmailing the European Union. It was claimed before the elections that Juncker, who is the candidate form the Centre Right European People’s Party (EPP) was not supported by Cameron as no British parties were represented in that bloc. After becoming Conservative leader, Cameron moved his MEP’s into the newly created European Conservatives and Reformists. Juncker stated that ‘the question is not whether we are supported in Great Britain’.

Therefore, if Juncker gets the job, which following the Lisbon Treaty, states that the candidate of the largest party should get the job (which is the EPP), Cameron has essentially signed away anyway chance of getting the significant reform in Europe that he wants. He was criticised for blocking his appointment too early. Instead, the sensible option would have been to play out it for a longer period and see how other governments responded.

With Angela Merkel’s backing, Juncker is most probably going to be the next President. Other names have been touted such as the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and head of the IMF Christine Lagarde. The problem with ‘outside’ candidates however, is that the European Parliament will not accept them. The Parliament has to accept the nominee by an absolute majority of 376. If the Centre Left Socialist and Democrats Group vote with the European People’s Party (which they may do to ensure a pro-EU commissioner) then Juncker is essentially safe. National leaders can attempt to block, but it is insure how successful they will be.

The problem for Cameron is that Juncker will make it difficult to reform Europe, a Cameron’s attitude to his possible appointment will not help matters. When interviewed, Conservative minsters state they are very certain they will get reform and therefore they will vote to stay in a reformed EU. However, if Juncker is appointed, ministers are going to have state how they would vote if they cannot reform Europe. If Cameron make a wrong move with this, especially with UKIP, a party which simply is looking indestructible at the current time, the consequences would be dire for him and the party.

Ben Callaghan

More of the same weak foreign policy from President Obama

Barack Obama’s speech at West Point Military Academy today should have come as no surprise for those who have always been sceptical about his approach to foreign policy. From the premature winding down of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to the utterly inappropriate appointments of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as Secretary of State and Defence Secretary respectively, Obama has cut a weak and ineffective figure on the world stage, a stark contrast to his Republican predecessor.
George W Bush was certainly not universally loved, but even his critics conceded that he had a clear and unchanging approach to foreign affairs. He firmly believed the USA to be the world’s greatest force for good, and so in the wake of 9/11 launched an ambitious and wide-reaching effort to reshape US foreign policy in his own image, based on the view that freedom, democracy and human rights are universal values not simply confined to the nations that already enjoy them. Both his supporters and his enemies saw him as uncompromising, aggressive and forthright, qualities which when used correctly are highly admirable for the leader of the free world to possess. However, since Bush left office in 2009, US foreign policy has taken a turn for the worst, to the point where it is now marked by weakness and inconsistency.
President Obama has vacillated over key questions of international relations, and has never been clear as to what he truly believes in. Some have labelled him as being broadly interventionist, with critics on the left even claiming that his presidency has been indistinguishable from the Bush administration concerning foreign affairs.
However, this view is not a convincing one; President Obama was swift to end US operations in Iraq and to scale down involvement in Afghanistan, and his rhetoric too suggests that he has been keen to put an end to the ‘foreign adventurism’ of the Bush years. His presidency has also taken a very different line concerning Israel, frequently criticising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warning that his government is leading Israel ‘toward near-total isolation.’
In today’s speech, Obama has simply added to this dismal record. It takes some nerve to criticise the ‘mistakes of the past’ committed under President Bush, but to claim that the last year has seen progress in Ukraine and Iran and that the USA is now stronger than ever before. In case the president hasn’t realised, an entire Ukrainian region has been annexed by Russia, whilst Iran is continuing with its nuclear development programme which remains one of the greatest potential threats to world peace. Additionally, a failure to leave a US presence in Iraq has allowed the spread of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in that region, a blunder which will soon be repeated in Afghanistan. Far from appearing strong, the USA has been made to look weak as the direct result of Barack Obama’s hesitant approach to tyrants and despots, from Bashar Assad of Syria to Vladimir Putin of Russia.
When he was sworn in as US President in 2009, many claimed that an Obama presidency would mark a new era in US foreign policy. The perceived wisdom of the liberal intelligentsia was that the aggressively neoconservative agenda of the Bush administration had only served to radicalise a generation of young Muslims, uniting the Arab world in opposition to the ‘Great Satan’ which is the United States of America. However, five years later we can see just how wrong this view was. President Obama has indeed presided over a new era in US foreign policy, but it is one which has been marked by weakness, dithering and political impotence. Today’s speech just proved how removed from reality the president is, and how badly the USA needs a change in direction.
George Reeves
This post was originally published on my personal blog Plainly Speaking at

To save his party, Clegg must stand down by 2015

Four years ago Nick Clegg was arguably one of the most popular of all party leaders. His performance in the TV debates was lauded and there were even claims that the Liberal Democrats, judging by the polls, were in with a chance of significantly increasing their number in the House of Commons. Come the day after the 2010 General election, they actually lost seats. Nevertheless, they were a party who had grown considerably under Nick Clegg and they had reached a stage where they were strong enough to enter government. From then on, as I am sure you are aware; it has been a very steep downhill ride for the party.

The last recent election results from Thursday and Sunday were devastating for the party. The local elections since 2010 have not been good for the party, but there has always been a consensus that things can only get better. However, as recent results have shown, it is getting worse year by year. Losing MEPs in their strongholds such as the South West and finishing the night with just one (down from 12), it is not surprising by many of those who lost are raising serious questions over the party’s leadership.

Is Nick Clegg to blame for all the damage that happened last week? The simple answer is yes. While I have never been a real supporter of Nick Clegg, I do admire his determination for convincing people the pros of EU membership and respect his courage for debating with Nigel Farage, a debate who knew it would be impossible to win. However, he should really ask himself ‘should I have been so openly pro-Europe?’. Like Miliband, he is only offering a referendum if there is a transfer of power. As we saw on Sunday, the rise in Eurosceptic behaviour across Europe makes it seem very unlikely that any further treaty changes would be accepted by the member states. Britain itself would have to hold a referendum on a treaty and judging by the rise of UKIP, it would be surprising if it was accepted. Back to the idea of the referendum, Clegg could have taken a very similar approach to the Green Party, who rather embarrassingly beat the into fourth place on Sunday. They, while being openly pro-Europe, support the idea of having a referendum in the near future. Across the majority of Europe, not many people want to hear the words that Europe is good and beneficial and by doing so, Clegg has essentially made himself and his party extremely vulnerable.

To make matters worse, this morning Nick Clegg would have seen a leaked poll showing that there is a very good chance of losing his ‘safe’ seat of Sheffield Hallam to the Labour next year and this is the fear that is now spreading through the party. If Clegg loses his ‘safe’ seat, are any Liberal Democrats ‘safe’? No matter how hard parliamentary Liberal Democrat candidates try, I would be very surprised if they win any new seats. It is not surprising then that the list calling for Nick Clegg to resign, which includes many, parliamentary, is now around 300 and growing.

The sinking Liberal Democrat ship could be rejuvenated for the 2015 election however, only if Nick Clegg is not at the helm. Danny Alexander, Vince Cable and Ed Davey, all touted as possible replacements, would also be a disastrous move. As the vast majority of Liberal Democrat supporters will say, the past four years have not been a success, especially electorally. Therefore, the way forward for them is to essentially start afresh. They have to move on and anybody such as the people mentioned above, who are in the cabinet will not be able to do this. For example, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable have both played a significant role in the Coalition. It has to be somebody outside, somebody such as Tim Farron, the President of the Party.

This change though has to happen before the election. Clegg could still stay as Deputy Prime Minister, but he simply cannot lead them into the election. As one of Clegg’s critics said, it is the ‘messenger not the message’ that is the problem and I couldn’t agree more with them. Many Liberal Democrats are too calling for the coalition to break apart so the Liberal Democrats can rebuild themselves ready for the election. In fact, some Conservatives, notably Michael Frabricant writing in The Daily Telegraph believes now is the perfect time for the coalition to break away. It is unlikely that it will happen and there is very little chance that Clegg will go before 2015. He has stated he wants to stay until 2020, but if he is still leader come this time next year, they can expect a wipeout in the general election.

Ben Callaghan

Understanding Farage’s threat – Why so many Tories have UKIP wrong…

Farage: ‘I think frankly, when it comes to chaos, you ain’t seen nothing yet.’

Since Friday morning’s results, a number of conservative activists, from ministers and backbenchers to journalists and think tankers, have attempted to proclaim the one true solution to dealing with Thursday’s supposed UKIP ‘earthquake’. Naturally, all these solutions differ widely, from moving an In/Out referendum forward to 2016, to agreeing some form of electoral pact for the General Election, to the sacking of Party Chairman Grant Shapps. If anything, the last few days seem to have been little more than a shouting match, with every arm-chair Tory leader attempting to demonstrate how their vision for the party is the only one which can possibly deliver Mr Cameron to Downing Street next year.

The problem with all of these proposed solutions is that they seem to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of UKIP’s support base. They appear, in the words of Nigel Farage himself, to assume ‘that every single UKIP voter is a retired half Colonel living on the edge of Salisbury Plain’. As such, so many of these proposed solutions assume that the principles and policies of the Conservative party already broadly connect with UKIP voters, and that with a few minor tweaks around the edges, can be changed to incorporate this new wave of purple voters.

In contrast to the mainstream view, according to Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin (as laid out in their recent release Revolt on the Right), UKIP voters tend to have little formal education, identify as working class, and are likely to soon be retiring (if they have not done so already). They are the people who lost their jobs under Thatcher, who feel they’ve were hindered from finding new ones because of immigration under Blair, have then been hit badly by the Great Recession, and now find themselves struggling under the fiscally conservative policies of the Coalition. In essence, UKIP voters feel let down and left-behind by modern British politics.

It’s this protest element which makes UKIP quite so strong. They don’t oppose the European Union and mass migration because of some academic allegiance to nationalistic concepts. They don’t oppose HS2 because they fear it will inflict irrevocable damage to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Nor do they oppose Same-Sex Marriage because they are raving homophobes who believe it brought January’s floods. Nor oppose wind-farms because they believe the subsidies to be waste of public money which could better be invested in more long-term and efficient means of energy generation.

Theses white, working class, economically insecure individuals oppose all these initiatives as indicative of a new metropolitan ruling class which they simply believe does not represent their views or interests. And despite being a public schooled banker who’s spent nearly half of his life in professional politics, Nigel Farage can connect to these people in a way Cameron, Miliband and Clegg can only dream of.

The tweaking of a few Conservative policies simply won’t be enough to win these voters back. UKIP represents a powerful force for change in Britain’s political culture, and the work of a few focus groups, spin doctors and campaign managers may ultimately be unable to pacify it.

Tom Pike

Consumers have a right to know what they are eating

I was surprised to see that MPs have overwhelmingly rejected a measure which would have forced shops and restaurants to label products which contain halal or kosher meat. The measure, proposed by Conservative backbencher Philip Davies, was overwhelmingly crushed in the Commons with the support of only 17 MPs. So why is it so controversial to suggest that consumers may want to know what they are eating?

This debate was sparked by the recent admission of popular pizza chain Pizza Express that all the chicken they serve in their restaurants is halal, meaning that it has been slaughtered in accordance with traditional Islamic law whereby the animal bleeds to death and Muslim prayers are recited. Although this revelation has caused a public outcry, politicians seem unconcerned and do not share the commonly held view that halal and kosher meat should be clearly labelled.

The belief that halal products must be clearly labelled as such should not be a controversial one; after all, any products that we buy currently contain long lists of ingredients and nutritional information. It is therefore pure common sense that the method of slaughter also features on packaging. However, there are many who have been quick to depict this as an anti-Islam debate, an accusation which is simply untrue.

Muslims make up less than 5% of the British population, but yet halal meat is being sold in restaurants and shops across the country without people knowing about it, even though many would rather not eat meat that has been slaughtered in this way. Additionally, there are many Muslims who happily eat non-halal products, as the Qur’an does not specify how animals should be slaughtered. Therefore, only a tiny minority of the British public stringently follow the halal guidelines, and we should not give their religious customs priority over the basic rights of individuals.

This is not an attack on British Muslims, or a cheap excuse to indulge in shameless Islamophobia; indeed, a prominent imam and Muslim scholar has written an article for the Daily Mail calling for transparency in the labeling of food and attacking the ‘white, liberal, Guardian-reading classes’ who act as apologists for Islamic extremism. Instead, it is a call for businesses and the government to take action in order to help consumers know what is on their plate and to make an informed choice over the products they are buying.

George Reeves

Originally published on my personal blog, Plainly Speaking:

There is no reason for David Cameron to resign if Scotland votes for independence

The debate over Scotland’s future is now in its final months. This year has seen a rather worrying surge of support for the ‘Yes’ campaign and this could continue to build as we get closer to the all –important day on the 18th September. Yesterday I was glad that it became clear that David Cameron would not resign if Scotland voted to leave the Union. The idea has been floated around and I have always believed that there is no real reason for him to resign. The idea that he might was taken very seriously by some and Philip Hammond yesterday was forced to say that he would not try to become leader if a vacancy arose.

Cameron has also recently defended his decision to allow Scotland to have the referendum. He was completely right to do so. With the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) having a majority in Holyrood, kit would have been disastrous not do have offered one. The same would obviously happen if Plaid Cymru won a majority in the Welsh Assembly. Critics would say by doing so he has essentially destroyed the union. Instead he has respected the views of the Scottish people and the Scottish government who have a strong mandate for a referendum on Scotland’s future.

It is also important to look at the Better Together campaign. This is led by Labour’s former Chancellor Alistair Darling. This group fighting for a no vote is an all-party group consisting of members from all three of the main political parties. Gordon Brown too has recently come out fighting against independence. There is a general consensus from Westminster (excluding obviously the SNP MPs) that Britain is stronger together and that is how it remains. Therefore it is difficult to point the blame at the Prime Minister if the Union does fall apart. Instead, it was the failure of the all the parties and it would be very hypocritical for members of the Left calling for Cameron to resign if such a thing happens.

Cameron has rightly refused TV debates with Alex Salmond. He is not the one leading this battle. As he has often joked, most Scots would not want him speaking on their behalf. That does not mean he cannot have an opinion on the matter.

Hopefully, Scotland would vote to stay and then the pointing of blame can be avoided. The talk that has erupted that Cameron should resign is just ridiculous. No doubt he would be known as the man who broke up the union if they vote to leave, but really the blame should be shared across all the pro-Union parties. If there is a yes vote, the weeks following the 18th September will no doubt be some of the toughest for Cameron, but he should not be criticised and forced to resign for respecting the views of the Scottish people.

Ben Callaghan

Farage shows his true character

In 2010, the UK Independence Party finished last, 26,000 votes behind Patrick Mercer in Newark. Mercer’s resignation on Tuesday evening was followed by immense speculation that it be beginning of Nigel Farage’s British parliamentary career. I for one thought he would run. It seemed fitting with his overall character, somebody hungry for the power and influence that Westminster brings. When he is interviewed on television, he is never afraid to say something controversial or certain politicians weak. He never trembles when attacking the European establishment. But events with Newark this week have changed his character. Twelve hours after stating he was interested in running, he rules it out. He claims he is not running scared, but his actions are very much out of character.

I think it is completely right the claims of cowardice Farage now faces and his arguments that he is not running scared do not add up. Farage claims he is no ‘opportunist’ and this is why he has not run. Think back to the last couple of years since UKIP’s surge began. Every time there is a scandal or mistake form Westminster, Farage appears ready to benefit from the situation. We’ve seen it recently with Maria Miller who was one of the first to call for her to resign. This is quite ironic now considering Farage himself is under intense scrutiny for ‘missing’ expenses. The party’s popularity has essentially grown form the opportunistic actions they have taken.

Why else did he not run? He did not want UKIP to be a one –man party. The fact is it is too late to change that. Without doing research, the vast majority of people will struggle to name more than two or three senior UKIP members. With Farage, the party would be nowhere. Whoever is chosen as the UKIP candidate for Newark will not win. They may be a local candidate but he or she will not carry the same gravitas and certain qualities that are attracting voters to Farage. There will be no UKIP MPs until Farage himself is elected (if he ever is). Farage himself caused this through his dictatorial leadership of his party. If anybody criticises him, they are kicked out of the position they held. Recently following claims by The Times over his expenses, UKIP members were told to essentially ‘shut up’ if they asked about money.

Politicians form his all over the spectrum attacked him. At this point I found myself (rather surprisingly) agreeing with former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom who stated that ‘He vacillated- and I think that made him look indecisive’. He did add however, that it may be part of Farage’s ‘cunning’ plan, but I am struggling to see that. Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a fierce Farage critic called him ‘frit’, a phrase that describes his actions perfectly.

His cowardice could have some serious repercussions. Looking ahead to the possible TV leaders debates next year, Farage would have a much stronger argument to be part of the debate if their support remained high and they actually had an MP. At the current time, there is now actual way how it can be justified for him to appear. In my opinion the Green party and George Galloway with Respect have a much stronger right.

It is disappointing not see him run, and most likely lose. The look on his face following defeat would have been priceless and could have slowed down the UKIP train. Nevertheless, this could very well begin to ‘burst’ the UKIP bubble. Fingers crossed, the Tories should the seat and with no Farage threat the scale of UKIP’s influence in the area would be much weaker. The events of the past few days have shown the public that Farage is not a strong leader. He could have avoided all of this by stating that he was not interested in running. Instead, it has shown him running scared and it presents us the the ‘true’ Nigel Farage.He will deflect criticism in every way and it will not affect him in the polls. But for those not hypnotised by his character, they will see the cowardice that lies within.

Ben Callaghan

John Kerry should resign over Israel ‘apartheid’ comments

The position of Secretary of State is arguably the most prominent and important post in the US government after the President and Vice President, with the holder of that office being the representative of US foreign policy interests across the globe. John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State little over a year ago, but yet in this short period of time he has already proven why he is not fit to serve in this role. Yesterday’s comments concerning the future of Israel have reaffirmed that Kerry is not a suitable representative of American and Western interests in a deeply hostile world, and as a result I believe he must resign.

I happen to agree with Secretary Kerry that a two-state solution is the most desirable long-term aim in order to put an end to the Middle East conflict. However, I also believe that whilst this may be the preferred solution, it is not the only solution, and at a time when the Palestinian Authority are making unity deals with the anti-Semitic terrorist group Hamas it is also not a particularly likely solution for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, in this context it is deeply unhelpful and insulting for Secretary Kerry to suggest that, without a two-state solution, Israel risks becoming an ‘apartheid state.’ Not only does such language damage US authority and call into question Kerry’s commitment to supporting the state of Israel, it is also a highly offensive smear against the Middle East’s only democracy, incorrectly framing Israel as the main obstacle to a two-state solution. As a man whose political career was forged in the anti-Vietnam War movement, John Kerry will be familiar with contemporary protest movements and will be fully aware of the common usage of the phrase ‘apartheid state’ by Israel’s most militant opponents.

Several Jewish leaders have condemned Kerry’s comments, with one organisation criticising him for using the ‘repugnant language of Israel’s adversaries and accusers.’ Likewise, there has been an angry reaction from politicians on both sides of the political spectrum, most notably from Republican Senator Ted Cruz who rightly noted that  the word apartheid is ‘inextricably associated with one of the worst examples of state-sponsored discrimination in history.’ Cruz, who many believe may stand in the 2016 presidential election, has become the most prominent political figure to call for Kerry’s resignation, but he is certainly not alone.

It is important not to take Kerry’s words out of context; after all, he didn’t suggest that Israel currently is an apartheid state. However, by using such language he has unintentionally associated himself with the worst excesses of the anti-Israel movement, therefore leaving his position as Secretary of State untenable. Likewise, by making these comments just a day before Holocaust Remembrance Day, he  has shown at best a significant lack of judgement and sensitivity. Ted Cruz is right to call for Kerry’s resignation; the coming days will determine whether he has the integrity to do so.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog Plainly Speaking:

Britain is a Christian nation: Get over it!

It has been over a week now, and still the furore continues over David Cameron’s comments about his Christian faith and the role that religion has to play in Britain. 55 leading secularists wrote a strongly-worded letter claiming that the Prime Minister encourages ‘alienation’ by stating that Britain is a Christian nation, whilst the news media has been dominated by debate over this issue, with figures including the head of the British Humanist Association Andrew Copson and former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell rushing to condemn Cameron’s remarks. Indeed, Campbell questioned the sincerity behind the Prime Minister’s admissions of faith and claimed that he is simply seeking to move on from the Maria Miller scandal. But the question that should be on everyone’s lips is this: why is it so outrageous for a Prime Minister to talk about religion?

It would be hard to imagine a Muslim politician being shouted down for expressing their beliefs, and both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have spoken openly about their atheism, so why is Christianity such a taboo subject in British politics? No matter how much the likes of Alastair Campbell and Philip Pullman may complain and protest, the facts are that Britain is still a Christian nation. That doesn’t mean that we have an overwhelming number of churchgoers; indeed recent census data and a visit to almost any parish church on a Sunday morning will prove that this is far from being the case. However, empty pews do not diminish the Christian heritage that this country was built upon and continues to be governed by, from our legal system to the structure of Parliament. In fact, Britain is the only nation in the world which allocates a certain number of seats in its Parliament to Christian clergy. We have an established Church nominally led by the monarch, and so any claims that Britain is a secular country are quite frankly delusional.

The outrage that greeted David Cameron’s comments about his own personal faith are further proof of the struggle British Christians face in expressing their religious views in public. A hostile form of secular atheism has been allowed to gain significant influence in British culture, with the intent of removing every last element of Christianity from contemporary society. From people being told they can’t wear a cross to work to nurses facing the sack for offering to pray with a dying patient, British Christians are being made to feel like unwanted strangers, extremists and weirdos.

The hostility towards Christianity in politics hasn’t always existed; Margaret Thatcher spoke often of her Methodist upbringing and the values that instilled in her, whilst Gordon Brown took pride in being the son of a Presbyterian minister. However, Cameron is now experiencing the same reaction that Tony Blair previously faced when he was blocked by advisers from finishing a speech with the words ‘God bless Britain.’ Britain is a Christian nation with a proud heritage, and if the Prime Minister or anyone else wants to ‘do God,’ they should be able to.

George Reeves

Also published on

Britain’s next Commissioner – Another European Headache for David Cameron

The Nick vs Nigel debate are over. David Cameron managed to avoid them without receiving too much criticism. But now he has a crucial decision to make regarding Britain’s future within the European Union. The majority probably wish that the topic of Europe would just fade away into the background. David Cameron too, no doubt, would want that. Instead, he has to start thinking about who is best suited to represent Britain on the European Commission. Whoever he chooses will be crucial in any re-negotiation talks between Britain and the EU and this puts Cameron into a serious dilemma.

Andrew Lansley – the best man for the job

The political views of the individual will most likely shape how influential Britain’s new representative will be. The Commission President, who too will be newly elected in the summer, hands out the portfolios. It is safe to say that following Baroness Catherine Ashton’s rather prestigious title as Vice-President of the Commission as well as being in control of Foreign Policy, Britain will not get one of the top jobs. There are still some important roles such as Trade that David Cameron would like to get his hands on.

He could choose a staunch Europhile. No doubt this individual would be welcomed with open arms into the Commission and could be rewarded with a significant portfolio which would make this person a much respected member. Here, though Cameron faces two problems. First, he will anger his own Eurosceptic backbenchers. Secondly, a Europhile is unlikely to want the same changes that Cameron wants. There has however, been very few names form this category that have expressed an interest suggesting that a Europhile is not the way Cameron is looking.

Then is it better to go for a Eurosceptic? He would no doubt please many backbenchers in the party and would actually show that he is serious about Britain wanting a better deal with Europe. The downside is, a Eurosceptic is unlikely to get a significant position. If Britain is not in one of these top roles, then it will make it much more difficult for the member to be influential. Peter Lilley and Owen Patterson have both been linked to the job form the Eurosceptic wing of the party. Peter Lilley in particular is a name that has pooped up on several occasions. A key man during the Thatcher and Major years, Lilley has the political experience that could make a good choice. He too has said that he will ‘relish’ the opportunity if it was offered to him.

There is the option of going with somebody who has not made a public view on Europe. Here, we could look at both Andrew Mitchell and Andrew Lansley. Both regarded as ‘heavyweights’ in the party with both having held government positions. With the Plebgate scandal still quietly continuing in the background, Mitchell may not be the favoured choice, despite claims that he is owed a favour from Downing Street. That leaves Lansley, somebody who has though been criticised for a lack of flair.

Lord Mandelson, who is a former trade EU Commissioner, has said that both Lansley and Mitchell would be more influential than Lilley or Patterson and he is probably right. The new Commission President is looking most likely to be the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean – Claude Juncker, very much a strong supporter of the EU. He is very much aware of Cameron’s proposals and just the other he openly criticised them/

Therefore, it is best for Cameron to choose a ‘middle’ candidate. Both Andrew Mitchell and Andrew Lansley would be well suited. With the controversy still standing around Andrew Mitchell then Lansley would seem to be better suited. Despite a lack of flair, his experience as a civil servant and government minister should make him well suited to tackle the levels of bureaucracy in Brussels and possibly deliver the reforms that Cameron has continued to promise.

As Sir Menzies Campbell has said, it is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for Cameron. There is no move in which he would please the whole party. If he makes the wrong move, he could struggle to get any of the reforms that he wants. Looking into it, this is one of the biggest decisions that Cameron will make this year. It could also be one of the most difficult decisions he will make.

Jeb Bush – The GOP’s best hope of a 2016 victory

The 2016 Presidential Election may seem a long way off, but speculation is already building as to who will run for the two main parties. For the Democrats, it would appear to be a one-horse race with Hillary Clinton the overwhelming favourite. However, the Republican nomination is much more open, with a variety of possible candidates having been touted. Although New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still seen as a likely contender, recent weeks have seen a new figure rise to the fore: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents. Having previously ruled out running in past elections before speculation was allowed to gather, now seems to be the time for Governor Bush. The question is, do the GOP want him?

I wholeheartedly believe that Jeb Bush would make a fantastic president. A moderate Republican, he even has some Democrat admirers due to his hugely successful tenure as Florida Governor and would therefore be able to reach out to swing voters and independents. His appeals to the centre ground have been highlighted in the past week, after he made a series of comments advocating a more liberal immigration policy. I can’t say that I agree with all of his rhetoric, particularly his view that illegal immigration is not a felony but ‘an act of love,’ but yet these are forgiveable sins, and could indeed help Governor Bush shore up support amongst minority groups. The last two elections have proven that the GOP has a serious problem gaining votes from the Hispanic and African-American communities, but yet it shouldn’t be this way; after all, the Republicans were traditionally the party of civil rights, whilst America’s Hispanic community is largely Catholic and socially conservative.

The main reason why many people dismiss Jeb Bush’s chances is his family name. However, this could in fact work in his favour. Despite only serving one term as president, his father George HW Bush is a popular elder statesman, whilst the US people are starting to reassess George W Bush’s legacy, with a recent poll suggesting that he is the second most admired man in the USA, ahead of Bill Clinton. Therefore, whilst it is vital that Jeb successfully proves that he is his own man, Hillary Clinton will also have to separate her candidacy from her husband’s presidency. A much more realistic concern is that a Bush v Clinton race would create a sense of apathy and disillusionment amongst the US people tired of the same old family dynasties, but yet I reckon this can be avoided as long as both candidates run fresh and effective campaigns.

Many on the right wing of the Republican Party fear that Jeb Bush is not sufficiently conservative to be their man in 2016, and whilst I understand some of their concerns they also have to think about which scenario they would prefer; a Jeb Bush presidency, or Hillary Clinton in the White House as a result of the GOP fielding an unelectable candidate. The Tea Party may be successfully mobilising conservative support, but running on an uncompromisingly hard-right platform in 2016 will not go down well with minorities, swing voters and independents and instead will simply deliver the presidency to the Democrats for a third term. If Jeb Bush could run the USA in the same way that he ran Florida, I believe the fears of the Tea Party would soon disappear, as they would realise that he is a conservative after all.

George Reeves

Also posted on

Nick v Nigel: There was only going to be one winner

I recently wrote a piece for my personal blog describing how under Nick Clegg’s leadership, the Liberal Democrats have become a spent force in British politics. Today’s much anticipated showdown between Clegg and UKIP leader Nigel Farage proved that to be the case, and despite his best attempts, the Deputy Prime Minister was well and truly defeated by a man barred from participating in the general election debates.

That isn’t to say that Clegg didn’t try his very hardest to dominate; he resurrected the old tricks successfully employed during the 2010 election campaign, staring straight down the camera and addressing members of the audience by their first names. But unfortunately for the Lib Dem leader, the public now know better, and like a jilted ex-girlfriend the British people will not give a second chance to the man who seduced them and made them feel good about themselves before letting them down big style. Now, it is Nigel Farage and UKIP who are winning the argument, and tonight’s performance was proof of that.

Public debate is what Nigel Farage does best, mixing folksy charm with a sharp sense of humour and a surprisingly comprehensive grasp of the key facts and figures. Therefore, a debate about his favourite political issue, Britain’s membership of the EU, was a godsend for the UKIP boss. For the first time in his career, he was given the opportunity to lay out his case in the public arena and oppose a man who is the personification of everything UKIP oppose. After all, Nick Clegg’s political career began in the European Parliament, and now as Lib Dem leader he is on a mission to establish himself and his party as the most prominent pro-European voice in British politics.

Early polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly saw Farage as the winner of tonight’s debate, and this is something which should frighten Mr Clegg. Not only is it further proof of the implosion of Lib Dem support, but it could also be a sign that the British people are becoming more Eurosceptic. The Guardian has attempted to suggest that whilst Farage won this battle, the war is still being won by the Europhiles, but this argument simply does not stack up. If pro-EU politicians such as Nick Clegg are unable to lay out their arguments in a convincing manner during a prominent public debate, then the logical conclusion is that people will soon become disenchanted with Europe, its institutions and its supporters. Undoubtedly, Farage’s personality and UKIP’s stance on social issues have helped to boost levels of support for the right wing party, but their stance on the EU remains their most attractive selling point (indeed, Farage recently indicated that he was prepared to relax UKIP’s hostility to gay marriage).

Tonight’s debate was more than just a battle between two politicians vying for votes. It was a clash between two very different visions for Britain’s future, and it represented the polarisation of British politics over the issue of Europe. By choosing not to take part, it was the two main parties which ended up looking out of touch and obsolete; for all Nick Clegg’s faults, at least he had the guts to defend denying the British people a say over their own sovereignty in the face of the nation’s most popular Eurosceptic. However, only one of these visions can triumph, and Nigel Farage tonight showed that he is on the right side of the argument – let’s hope that the British people don’t let themselves get duped once again by Clegg and his cronies.

George Reeves

Make way for a new, strong and ‘weird’ Miliband

It has not been Ed Miliband’s most successful week as Labour leader. His response to the budget last week was filled with the usual Labour sound bites which resulted in a speech that simply was not relevant. It simply just reinforced the clear fact that he is not (and probably never will be) in a position to become Prime Minister. It has been very enjoyable flicking through the papers seeing the Labour leadership in crisis. Both The Times and The Telegraph stating that Miliaband is under pressure, the Financial Times saying that they are in a mess over pensions. There is also the very interesting poll that concluded that 41% of the electorate think Miliaband is weird (backed up on the video of him sniffing a woman on TV).

Almost four years after being elected, it is not surprising that there is anxiety on the backbenchers. Grassroots are also panicking. They are worried that their top man is simply not getting any better. The concerned in the party have now acted. They have essentially told Miliband to toughen up and not to ‘play safe’. They are anxious that the Labour leader is solely relying on the unpopularity of the government to win a majority. His populist policies too, according to the signatories of a letter sent to him, do not appeal to the widespread voting public. Now while this letter is not a direct criticism of his leadership, it does show the concerns within the party. With the general election looming, I think it is safe to say that these events are just the beginning. As we get closer, they will realise that Miliband is simply not suitable to be given the top job.

No doubt though Miliband will try to improve. Will he roll up his sleeves and become more aggressive? The answer is no. He will give it all he has got but frankly it does not seem to be in his character. His ‘Wallace’ image will always stay with him. After almost four years, it is very difficult to change the public opinion. He has failed to prove himself as a real leader and now time has essenatilly run out to change that.

After failing to find a Labour supporter who praises him, it is difficult to understand why he is still there. There have been a few quiet suggestions for a possible ‘coup’ with Alistair Darling being lined up. Soon, one could imagine a scene from The Thick Of It, with a senior Labour official stating that ‘Miliband is unelectable’. While it is unlikely, I am sure some members are saying that very quietly to themselves. Despite the pressure that will be put on him, it is unlikely he will change. Strong leadership does not seem to be one of his traits. As tensions grow, I cannot wait for the divisions in the party to emerge.

Ben Callaghan

Boris for PM? Let’s hope not

It was all going so well. The sun was shining and the rain had eased off, and so my girlfriend and I decided to walk along the canal into Birmingham city centre to get some lunch at Brindley Place and pick up some shopping. However, all feelings of content soon evaporated when I walked into Sainsbury’s and saw, emblazoned on the front page of The Sun, the headline ‘PM: I want Boris with me as an MP.’ I let out an almost audible groan, mainly because Rupert Murdoch had seemingly lost all common sense by allowing James Corden to guest edit my beloved paper, but also because of the contents of that headline. The country may love him, but I’m afraid I will never succumb to Boris-mania – the question is, why has the Prime Minister?

Before I am accused of being a killjoy or a ‘Boris hater,’ let me justify my position. I openly admit that Boris is a highly intelligent man; despite his clownish public image, he remains an Oxford graduate with a degree in Classics. Likewise, he also possesses the skill of having huge levels of charisma, despite being an appalling public speaker. He is certainly not a Barack Obama or even a Tony Blair, instead bumbling his way through speeches in an often incoherent mixture of Latin, Greek, and his own made-up words (and he also occasionally throws in the odd bit of English). But yet the crowds lap it up – he is funny, witty, and refreshingly down to earth, happily falling into ponds and getting stuck on zipwires for the general amusement of the British people.

However, like most clowns there is a darker side to Boris Johnson, a side which renders him unsuitable for the job of Prime Minister. For one thing, he makes David Cameron look like a man of principle, which is no easy feat, and I truly believe he is one of the most slippery characters in British politics. From his hazy private life to his political ambitions, everything about Boris is vague and fuzzy. Having strenuously denied any ambition to be Prime Minister just a few years ago, saying that he had more chance of being ‘reincarnated as an olive,’ he has now all but admitted his true ambitions, whilst secretly his allies fume that it was his old Eton rival who took the top job. Indeed, he even admitted during the 2005 leadership campaign that he was only voting for Cameron out of ‘pure, cynical self-interest.’ One thing is for sure about Boris – he is calculating, ambitious, and potentially ruthless.

As well as his own personal defects, Boris simply lacks the statesmanship to serve as Prime Minister of this country. We would, quite frankly, become the laughing stock of the world. Likewise, he would provide the left with an endless supply of mud to sling at the Conservative Party, having made a series of racist, sexist and generally offensive comments. From joking about black people having ‘watermelon smiles’ to describing the city of Portsmouth as being ‘full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs,’ these comments would suggest that, at best, Boris is naive and insensitive, and that in the worst case he is actually a rather bigoted man. I do not personally believe he means any harm, but he certainly doesn’t endear himself to the humourless Guardian-reading middle classes either.

I oppose almost everything that Ken Livingstone stands for, but at least when he was Mayor of London he was harmless. Indeed, I would even go as far as saying that his eight-year tenure was surprisingly successful. Boris, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Whilst Ken Livingstone used the position of London Mayor to sign off his long political career, Boris is using it to build up a power base within the Conservative Party and to establish himself as Britain’s most recognisable and well-known politician. For a man whose intentions are often so difficult to work out, his machinations from City Hall are only too clear. David Cameron may be willing to welcome him back as a Conservative MP, but it won’t end well for Britain.

George Reeves

Good news for Britain in Osborne’s ‘beer and bingo’ Budget

Today must have been the day from hell for the Labour Party, as not only did they have to endure George Osborne unveiling a set of fair and sound changes in this year’s Budget, but they also had to experience the pain of watching Ed Miliband attempt to respond to these proposals. Predictably, Miliband trotted out the usual platitudes, accusing Osborne of failing to fix the economy (which Labour trashed in the first place) and cutting taxes for the rich whilst the rest of the nation suffers (which is just simply untrue, and always has been). But despite Labour’s protestations, Osborne should be commended for delivering a Budget that will truly help the British people by implementing some truly conservative policies.

The tabloids have been quick to dub this the ‘beer and bingo’ Budget, as Osborne has announced that beer duty and tax on bingo halls will be cut. Such measures may be shameless in their populism, but are certainly not bad ways to reach out to those people who often feel disillusioned by an ‘out of touch’ Conservative Party. And regardless of their populism, these measures already seem to be working; immediately after the cuts to bingo duty were announced, bingo hall operator Rank Group announced plans for three new clubs. The lesson – tax cuts are popular, they work, and they are vital to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Beer and bingo aside, Osborne proved his Thatcherite credentials by announcing that the government’s Help to Buy housing scheme will be extended, good news for aspiring homeowners across the country. Likewise, the level of earnings exempt from income tax has been increased by £500, whilst the threshold for the 40p tax rate has also risen. These are all positive measures, reducing the amount of tax being paid at all income levels and rendering Labour’s arguments about the Conservatives just helping the rich absolutely meaningless.

Osborne also appealed directly to pensioners by announcing radical reform of the pensions system. In a move which will help 13 million people, the changes reduce the level of tax on a person’s pension pot, and abolish all restrictions on access to those pension pots, ending the mandatory purchasing of an annuity. This is a shrewd move from the Chancellor, and one which looks ahead to next year’s general election due to the high voting levels of pensioners. The ‘grey vote’ cannot be underestimated, and the Conservatives cannot afford to risk losing votes from this particular demographic.

Overall, the Budget is hugely promising, proving that by implementing policies which are unashamedly conservative, all people stand to benefit. The Conservatives are slowly beginning to prove that they understand what ordinary people want, outclassing the Labour Party in the process. The pitiful sight of Ed Miliband simply repeating tired soundbites in response was proof that Labour haven’t got a clue, and are not fit to govern. Let’s just hope that the recovery isn’t jeopardised at next year’s general election, because we as a nation cannot afford to hand the keys back to the people who crashed the car.

George Reeves

Are Americans ready for another Bush?

If Jeb Bush gets elected as President of the United States in 2016 it would mean that the last three Republican Presidents would have been form the same family. There is also little doubt that the Bush family will become the most famous and influential political family in the world overtaking the Kennedys. But before we think about this we have to ask a simple question. Are Americans ready for another member of the Bush dynasty in the White House?

A poll has suggested that many Americans are not exactly thrilled by the prospect of another President Bush.  There is a general feeling that many Americans could be suffering from a so-called ‘Bush fatigue’.  This is essentially the problem that faces Jeb Bush.  He could shine on national television and build up support in the Republican Party. But many of the population may think he is just one Bush too many.

But for the people who are not suffering from ‘Bush fatigue’ they may notice his ability to succeed in elected office. From 1999-2007 he was the Governor of Florida and the only Republican to have served to full four year terms.  While in the post, he was praised for his improvements in health care, education and environmental services as well as improving the economy in the region.  If people cleared their minds of the past, they could see that Bush is somebody who could be well suited for the job.

In November, I wrote a piece about Chris Christie, a possible rival to Jeb Bush in 2016. Through the ongoing investigation ‘Bridgegate’ incident however, his chances may have suffered.  While it may be a loss to the Republican Party, Jeb Bush could fill his place.  In 2012 the Republicans suffered to win the support of certain groups such as the Hispanics and women.  This Hispanic vote in particular is now essential to win. Often regarded as the ‘sleeping giant’ of American politics, it was arguably their support to the Democrats that led to Obama winning re-election. This problem with the Hispanics arose when McCain and Romney were the nominees for the Republican Party. But if you look back to 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush did very well in winning over this group and this is something that Jeb could repeat come 2016. His wife, Columba Bush is of Hispanic origin and like his older brother, Jeb also speaks Spanish which is regarded as a key way to align themselves with this group. There are also his connections in Florida. From the famous events in 2000, this has been a crucial state which in 2012 carried 29 Electoral College votes. This is a must-win state for the Republicans and through his past connections, it would be surprising if they did not win it.

The main threat would be from Hilary Clinton. I would be amazed if she does not win the Democrat nomination come 2016. It is time the Republicans reclaimed the White House and to do so they need to pick the right candidate. If Bush runs and Christie can avoid the allegations than they already have two strong candidates not to mention others such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Obama has not shown strong leadership during his tenure and only the Republicans can essentially deliver this. If the Republicans fail yet again, then serious questions about the credibility of the party will be asked. If the Tea Party agrees to support a ‘middle’ candidate such as Jeb Bush, then this strong sense of unity could lead them to victory. With Jeb Bush, the US could have a suitable President in waiting.  If people look at him as an individual, I am sure that he would be attractive to a large majority of the American population.

Ben Callaghan

Kerry has missed a perfect opportunity that Putin will not offer again

Kerry with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

John Kerry is a man with extensive knowledge in foreign affairs having chaired the Senate Commission of Foreign Relations from 2009 to 2013. When he was nominated by President Obama to succeed Hilary Clinton as US Secretary of State, he was regarded as a safe pair of hands and somebody who was suitably qualified for the role. He has shown his determination to solve international problems such as his success in the Iran nuclear talks. His handling of the situation in Ukraine in recent days however, raises one particularly interesting question. Why has Kerry refused to meet Putin to find a diplomatic solution?

The answer given to us by US officials is that there will be little to discuss if the referendum on Crimea’s future goes ahead on Monday. The outcome of this referendum is going to be very clear as David Aaronovitch repeatedly said on Question Time, it is going to be rigged.  The fact is, however, that this will not end on Monday. The ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said in Russia yesterday ‘I will be back in Kiev’.  He, along with the Russian government and the pro-Russian people of Ukraine believe he is their legitimate President. If Russia get their way in Crimea (which is looking inevitable), attention will then shift back to Kiev and Eastern Ukraine where there will no doubt be heavy protests as Yanukovych will try to reinstate himself as the country’s leader.

It seems odd that Kerry would miss this opportunity. Putin is clearly in control of the situation and he is not going to repeatedly offer invitations to Kerry to talk about the crisis. There have been claims by the US that Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister was not authorised to lead talks, but this is quite difficult to believe judging by the amount of meetings he and Putin have been conducting.

Relations between Lavrov and Kerry were already strained and this latest snub will no doubt stretch them even further apart making a diplomatic solution more and more unlikely. On Monday, Crimea will vote on its future and if this happens, the US has said that diplomacy between the two nations would be hopeless.  That would therefore lead to economic sanctions as military intervention would not be supported by the US or the EU.

But then another question has to be asked. Is it in the countries interests to impose sanctions? For the US it probably is but how much pain can they inflict? There have been talks of freezing assets of wealthy Russians in the West. This could be very painful and Putin himself has noted this telling those with assets in the US to relocate before the freeze can be put in place. Another plan that is being discussed is missing the G8 Summit that is to be held in Sochi. However, this will do very little damage to Putin.

The EU will unlikely support such an approach with many countries, including Germany, relying on Russia for gas and this is why Putin is in a very powerful position.  He knows the power that Russia has over many European states and relishes having this power.  Kerry however, needs the strength to overcome this. Kerry needs to continue down the diplomatic path no matter what happens in Crimea on Monday as it will not be the end. It would be very surprising if Putin offered such an opportunity again. But if he did, Kerry must not miss it.

Ben Callaghan

Boris Johnson – Will he or Won’t he?

The news that Boris Johnson is still unsure whether to stand in 2015 is back in the limelight.  He has ruled out returning to Parliament before the election amid claims that George Osborne was pressuring him to do so by offering him the role of Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Mr Johnson’s political future at this point is very hazy. All we know is that he will remain as mayor of London until 2016. But that does not stop him seeking a way back into Parliament. If he decided to run, there is no doubt whatsoever that he would be elected, as he would be given one of the safest Conservative seats in London.  Cameron has said that when he returns he would immediately join the cabinet (of course this depends on a victory in 2015). Therefore, has Boris really got anything to lose?

As an ambitious man, he will most likely as we speak be eyeing up the position of leader. While he will have no problem being elected, he may face trouble being elected leader (if the position arises). He is respected by the majority of the party, and shares his ideology with many of them too – a liberal, who like Cameron will help modernise the party and attract a wider range of voters.

But there is the issue of his ‘silly’ behaviour which has made him a popular figure with the people, but it is not sure how well it would go down in the House of Commons.  Maybe come 2015, we may see a more ‘calm’ Johnson which many may find a more attractive quality for a Prime Minister.

How would the public react to him as leader? I think here we will get mixed reviews.  Essentially regarded as a ‘celebrity’ icon by the British public, there will no doubt be support for him as a possible Prime Minister. Who knows, his liveliness and humour may make the office of Prime Minister more attractive and spurge a new interest in politics.

There are of course, many who are sceptical of him. His appearance on TV shows such as Have I Got News For You have shown a side to him you would not necessarily trust as a senior political figure. Also his affairs and his overall character are something many people would not want to see in Downing Street.  Despite this, he has proven himself a very good politician, somebody who is likeable and can get their message across. As an ‘outsider’ from Parliament, he very well may be the ideal man for the job. George Osborne, Teresa May and Jeremy Hunt could all see themselves in Number 10. He could bring some new life to the party and when the position arises, Boris will just have to prove himself that he is leadership material. Of course, we still do not know what his plans for the future are.

Ben Callaghan

The European Autumn – Ukraine’s Future

Until recently many would profess a lack of knowledge towards the state of Ukraine however the recent escapades that have been played out in an almost Hollywood like manner have thrust it into the spotlight. If the Arab Spring was the democratic revolution of the Arab world then this would be the revolution of what that democracy would be in Ukraine.

The media has been full of the violence and corruption displayed by the government forces of the now former president Viktor Yanukovych who started the protests by refusing to sign a deal with the EU while signalling his intentions to grow closer to Russia. Which would be like having a cigarette in a firework factory; foolish, explosive and dangerous. It is worth noting that Ukraine only achieved independence from Russia in 1990 however despite the two decades of ‘freedom’ it seems that Russia is more than happy to reassert its position in Eastern Europe as it has been reported (though not confirmed by the Kremlin) that Putin has ordered a test of combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia. Unless he fears an invasion from Ukraine (think Goliath vs David with David being unarmed and Goliath wearing a suit of armour) this move can only be seen as an attempt to pressure the new Ukrainian government into continuing the pro-Russia policies.

The media frenzy over this situation has produced some memorable highlights including the house of the former President complete with a galleon and a golden toilet; which due to the poverty of the country, where significant numbers are starving or in extreme poverty; can only be described as actually taking the p**s.

Ukraine is in a dangerous position with Russia becoming more overt on its borders, a non-confirmed government in power that not all support as well as ongoing protests over this situation mean that the parallel with Egypt is hard to avoid. Ukraine has the potential to become a solidified player in the international system as well as stable nation for its citizens, but the fastest manner for this would be a Mandela figure to emerge. But seemingly lacking this asset the state of Ukraine faces the risk of being one again subjugated by a foreign power.

What is needed right now is a broad consensus in both national and international institutions in order to move forward into a stable position for Ukraine. Complicated somewhat by both local political divisions and having Russia as the next door neighbour with its eyes on the military send button. Ukraine has economic potential so it makes sense for Britain and the rest of the international community to send non-military assistance into the region.

Jack Fennell

The way we tackle human rights in Africa is simply not working

Africa, as I am sure you are aware, is a continent with a very dubious human rights record.  While many countries have improved such as South Africa, there are a number of countries that appear in the news for the very wrong reasons. For instance, we see political corruption in many of these countries, most notably Zimbabwe and we also see the passing of laws that are hostile towards certain groups within society. Uganda, is the most recent of these countries to have passed a controversial piece of legislation.

On Monday, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill introducing tougher penalties for people who engage in homosexual activity. If found guilty, the punishment is life in prison. On a more positive note, the death penalty clause was removed but this has not removed the fear that now faces many in the country. One person said they were ‘very scared’ and said ‘I don’t know what going to happen’. Prior to this bill, homosexuality was already banned in Uganda. US President Barack Obama has called it a backward step and William Hague stated that he was ‘deeply saddened and disappointed’.

What happened yesterday however, was more disturbing. The national newspaper Red Pepper listed 61 known homosexuals under the headline ‘Exposed!’ and promised to name around 200 known homosexuals.  These included openly gay activists such as Pepe Julian Onziema and a Ugandan Hip-Hop star. The paper is not one of the most respected, but is read by a large portion of the population. It is unclear what the public response to this will be.

Britain has made it known that African nations that pass such types of legislation will be treated as human rights violators. Earlier last week, Britain and other Western nations urged the Ugandan president to veto the bill. He faced pressure from his own parliament to pass the bill.

Simply, condemning these pieces of controversial legislation seems to have a very small (if any) impact on the leaders behind it. The US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticised Nigeria for passing a similar law to that of Uganda. You could easily ask yourself what difference has it made? For years, there have been problems about Africa. When asked, politicians show their concerns, but we have not really seen any successful action in dealing with the problems.

In African countries such as Uganda, there are growing communities of a more liberal, Western – leaning middle class which is open to more alternative lifestyles. Therefore it can be said that African governments need to adapt to this growing class of people it is there to represent.

Is there any action that Western powers could take? In both the US and Britain there is growing support to cut of international aid with Uganda. The US gives Uganda $400 million a year while Britain gives £107 million. It seems unlikely though that this will happen as it is unclear what  may happen to these developing countries without international aid. One thing is clear. The current way of dealing with human rights in Africa is not working. To create results, a new method might be needed.

Ben Callaghan


Mitt Romney – The Best President America Never Had

I recently watched Mitt, a very well-made documentary about Mitt Romney’s two shots at running for the US presidency in 2008 and 2012. The film is made up largely of footage shot behind the scenes during the campaigns; footage of Romney preparing for debates, hugging his family, and praying with his wife, Ann. Viewers see the toll that campaigning for the world’s biggest job took on Romney and his family, and it would be impossible not to feel empathy and a degree of admiration for his toughness and self-belief, not matter what your political views.

Although I am not American, I take a huge interest in US politics and I followed the 2012 election campaign closely. It was interesting to see the way the British media covered the contest; there was near unanimous support for President Barack Obama to a degree where the press seemed unashamed about their anti-Republican bias. When Mitt Romney visited Britain he was vilified for comments he made about our readiness for the 2012 Olympics; you would have thought that the opinion of a man who successfully organised the 2002 Winter Olympics might be worth listening to, but the liberal British media were having none of it.

But if we step away from the media myths and analyse Romney the man, what do we find? Liberals depicted him as a flip-flopping millionaire with no understanding of ordinary Americans – as Romney admits in the documentary, he was seen as ‘the flipping Mormon.’ But in fact, this is not a fair caricature of the man. The media usually enjoys depicting Republicans as dogmatic and closed-minded, and so when Romney comes along and bucks this stereotype, he isn’t lauded for being a moderate but instead tarred with the ‘flip-flop’ label. His money was also highlighted as an issue, but why should Romney have to apologise for having been a successful businessman with a track record of turning failing companies around and creating profit and jobs? I would have thought these were virtues in a man seeking to run the world’s most powerful economy!

Ultimately, Romney faced a near impossible job in unseating President Obama in 2012; whilst some of Obama’s shine had faded during his first term he was still a force to be reckoned with. No one can deny that he is extremely charismatic, and elections seem to be what he does best, mobilising support and fighting off his detractors (albeit with a little help from his friends in the press). Even though polls suggested the election was too close to call before the results were released, no one really was in any doubt who the winner would be. However, I sincerely believe America and the rest of the world have missed out, as Mitt Romney would have made a truly fantastic president.

Having tried twice to reach the White House it is now clear that we will never see a President Mitt Romney. The Republicans now need to look forward to 2016, and potential candidates need to start getting their voices heard. A number of figures have been touted as possibilities – Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to name just a few. However, there is no front runner, and this puts the GOP in a difficult position; they cannot afford to lose in 2016, and America can’t afford a third term of a Democrat in the White House.

George Reeves

Originally posted at:

A Conservative Crusader Against Modernity

If you are one of the many people who seem to be suffering from the lethal combination of ignorance and a sense of self-importance, then Question Time could very well be the programme for you. It was with great trepidation I tuned in to Thursday’s edition of the show, fully expecting the usual plethora of whiners and moaners to fully sap the soul of any hope for the future. Indeed, the only reason I attempted such remarkable masochism, was the appearance of what could perhaps be described as the most influential Anglo-sphere Conservative currently living; Roger Scruton. Being a rare combination of both an Intellectual and a Conservative, he offers an incredible wealth of philosophy to conceptualise politics in a way that transcends the traps of Modernity and Ideology.

In an age where politics is a barren wasteland for anyone concerned with truth or wisdom, figures like Scruton become a diamond in the rough. It takes serious courage and insight to ask on Question Time “Isn’t the problem, not the yobbery of the members of parliament, but the bad judgement of the people who vote for them?”. I could not help smile at the awkward grin on the Labour MP ‘Lizz’s’ face, as she said “controversial”. God forbid a Labour MP ever accepts an uncomfortable truth. Such criticisms of the electorate, while being entirely justified, simply aren’t usually levelled in a democracy. Vote chasing populism will always triumph in modern politics. Which is why we on the genuine Conservative right must turn to the likes of Oakeshott, Burke, Powell, Minogue, Scruton and maybe even Hayek (at a push). For these figures give us an outline of something far more sophisticated, that is the philosophy of Conservatism.

What Scruton represents to a philosophical Conservative approach, is that modern politics is shaped by a lot more than MPs and Politicians. While there are many things to disagree with from the revered John Maynard Keynes, he did get one thing right: “Practical men, who believe themselves free from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. Okay, maybe one small correction is required, we must supplant the word ‘economist’, with ‘academic’. For the works of Gramsci, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman all influence the direction of public policy; and thus politics itself. We create consensuses around particular ideologies, that when they finally exhaust themselves, are replaced by another hyper-rational theory. What can very simply be deduced, is that culture and politics are entirely separate, but not exclusive. Those who control the institutions that define culture itself, such as universities, schools, churches etc. can define the direction of a nation itself. Public policy, is usually a reflection of those changes in broader society.

This is where Conservatism has the ability to triumph. Oakeshott once argued, that Conservatism was almost too sophisticated for politics; preferring instead to influence the world through culture and academia. This kind of approach is useful to anyone who seeks a revival in genuine Organic values, as opposed to the advances of one rational planner to the next. These archaic values, that are scorned so much by Starbucks-drinking Progressives, are simply the backbone of any healthy people. This is the message I feel figures like Scruton are attempting to force on the national phsycie of the Anglo-sphere countries; or what we may call the ‘West’. To return to this week’s Question Time, there was an excellent point in the debate, where Scruton blames the decline of educational standards not on one policy or another, but a general culture of indolence. It is this broader approach, that supersedes the narrowing agendas of Modernity. Once we understand that legislation is often the result of some ideological dogma, be that of the market or of the state, we can begin to construct a new politics based on genuine Organic values; that mitigate the changes of social engineers. We must wake up to the failure of the public sphere, whose primary goal for some time was to engineer society to ideology.

If there is one thing we can take from figures like Scruton, it would be to remember that politics is much more than just the actions of the state, or the ideologies that occupy public debate. It is in fact, a much broader thing, in which a broader culture can define the way we think and act. It is in this field, that we can hope to lead the almost-holy crusade to restore all things natural and organic, to restore our freedoms and traditions, our rights and our duties; and that force is, and always has been, Conservatism.

Dylan Grove

Could the Lib Dems really survival a tussle with Farage over Europe?

Britain and the EU is once again the major topic that is surrounding British politics. Both Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg have agreed to have a debate over the EU. Nick Clegg originally proposed the idea to Farage earlier this week and Fargae yesterday welcomed the suggestion.

If the debate goes ahead, it would certainly very interesting to see who would come out on top – Farage, a fierce critic of the EU or Clegg, a great supporter who at times as struggled to get his message across.  If we look at the recent success of UKIP it would seem that Farage would be the one with the most support.

Clegg however, has nothing to lose. He frequently speaks about the benefits of the EU and is now telling supporters to spread this message. He has made it very clear that the Liberal Democrats are in the ‘In’ party when it comes to Europe. Their recent party broadcast was based solely on the issue of Europe.

There is a fear, mainly by the Lib Dem party chairman Tim Farron, that the Lib Dems will suffer heavy losses in May. Looking at recent by-election results this would be no real surprise. So, it could be seen as a rather clever move by Clegg to have one last attempt to claw back support before the European election s. If he can win over voters who are still unsure about Briatin’s relationship with Europe, the damage in May might not be a serious.

For Farage, it is not enough. He wants Ed Miliabnd and David Cameron present at the debate. If this happened, we would essentially have a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the possible debates in 2015. Of course, we don’t know if there will be debates and we don’t know if Farage will be invited. However, it seems here that he is attempting to get the momentum going for these debates which he strongly believes he should be a part of.

Nevertheless, if the debates go ahead, Clegg could rescue the Lib Dems from decline. If he fails to win, then they have no chance of surviving.  It would be interesting to see how both Cameron and Miliband respond to this. Farage will no doubt continue to put pressure on them.  They will need to respond carefully, because if Farage is successful in the debate, it would have serious consequences for both Labour and Conservatives.

Ben Callaghan

‘So why are you actually here…?’

When Ed Miliband travelled to Purley in Berkshire on Tuesday, he probably believed that he would be welcomed with open arms by its residents who have been hit badly following the recent floods. Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West publicly expressed his thoughts towards the Leader of the Opposition’s visit.

After refusing to shake his hand he asked ‘the issue is Mr Miliband, why are you actually here?’ . Miliband (who took a quick glance at the camera) looked dazzled and confused. When he was finally given time to speak, he said the reason he was there was to pressure the government to do ‘everything possible’.  Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, also came under fire from a flood victim live on television.

These events lead to one question: What can politicians actually do at times like this?

For Ed Miliband, the answer is nothing. All he can do is persuade the government. At times like this, the people want actions not words. They want people there who can make a significant difference.  It would have also helped Miliband if the last Labour government tackled the issue of flooding. As Alok Sharma said, Labour did nothing to solve the flood problems that they had in 2003. As usual, we have also heard Miliband complaining about the slow government response without him saying what he would have done if he was in David Cameron’s position.

As Prime Minister, David Cameron has every right to be there. After all, he has the power to solve the situation. Although the Government was slow in dealing with the situation, we are seeing some solutions such as the announcement recently that money will be available to help flooded victims.

Constituents of Alok Sharma praised him for his approach to Miliband. The fact is people are fed up of politicians capitalising on the event that is making life miserable for many. MPs have every right to be visible in their constituencies at times of difficulty. Miliband’s attempt to look useful has backfired who has been branded a ‘Westminster flood tourist’ simply interested in a ‘photo opportunity’.

There has still been a lack of action from both the Environment Agency and the Government. The military now is helping the mist vulnerable. The people are growing restless but as David Cameron said ‘it’s going to take time’. Flooding is expected to continue. To solve the problem, we need to leave to the people who have the power to do so.

Ben Callaghan

Vladimir Putin: The Greatest of Gay-Rights Campaigners…

Should you not be a hermit living under a particularly large rock in Outer Mongolia, leader of an Amish commune, or just a technophobe extraordinaire, you’ve likely noticed Google’s two footed leap into the Sochi gay rights debate earlier today. With their rainbow doodle, and emphasis on the fourth principle of Olympism, we’ve witnessed a rather surprising move from what is usually an apolitical company. Similarly, the giant US mobile provider AT&T yesterday condemned Russia’s gay-propaganda law, with official Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola showing a married gay couple in their recent Super-bowl advert, though have yet to condemn the Russian government outright. Closer to home, Channel 4 have incorporated the rainbow flag into their logo for the duration of the games, and have produced a gay cabaret performance (shown below), where a bearded man in his boxers sings to the tune of the Russian national anthem… It is to be shown regularly over the next month.

As an openly gay man myself (albeit not the greatest fan of the Gay Liberation Front), I find the sincere solidarity of these free individuals with the LGBTQ rights movement genuinely heartwarming. The raised awareness for the cause of equal rights, an appreciation for the distance we have travelled as a society in the past fifty years, and a better understanding of the day-to-day persecution faced by others around the world have all developed considerably over past months. And they’ve all come as the result of the pet-project of one man.

Despite rumors of shoddy building, widespread corruption and that the games are likely to provide a significant financial drain rather than benefit, Vladimir Putin has got his wish; the Winter Olympics are being held in his favorite city.  And his drive, dedication, and single-mindedness has benefited nobody more than the global gay rights movement.

Because some Games stand out in history, for reasons both good and bad. We remember 1936 as Hitler’s Nazi showcase, 1968 for the Black-power Salute, 1972 for the Munich massacre, 1980 and for the international boycott. Sochi’s legacy? A struggle against homophobia and authoritarianism.

For Vladimir Putin has created an unintentional showcase of his own. While the mirrored buildings have been carefully sculpted to dazzle and impress, he has provided the perfect opportunity for movements opposed to his rule, from around the world, to unite around one single cause, and present their case on a global stage. Indeed, there a few events which last so long, touch so many people, and have such a legacy as the Olympic Games.

And for that very reason, today Vladimir Putin writes gay history.

Tom Pike

Why Bob Crow is in no position to call a strike

Today commuters in London have woken up to chaos as Underground staff strike over proposed cuts and the closure of manned ticket offices. The strike is expected to last for 48 hours.  On 11th February, Londoners will face it all again.

It is the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) who are behind the strike action. Their leader is Bob Crow, man who earns around £145,000 a year and lives in a council house in London that is paid for by the tax payer.  He has also recently just returned from a holiday to Bermuda where he was pictured sunbathing on the beach and relaxing by a pool.

The main problem is here is not the fact that he was on holiday on the Caribbean just days before the strike (as Boris said Bob is entitled to his holiday). Instead, it is somebody in his position having the power to disrupt the lives of millions of working people in London. If he was somebody who worked hard for a living like the groups of people he represents, then maybe we could see the logic in why they are going on strike. However, Bob Crow is using this strike to score a point over his ‘political foe’ Boris Johnson.

Until yesterday, they had not spoken for years.  That was broken with an ‘armed stand-off’ on Boris’ monthly phone in on LBC. The events yesterday were quite dramatic with Bob Crow marching to City Hall demanding to speak to the Mayor and then phoning up his radio show as Bob from Woodford Green. Afterwards, he sat at City Hall for a large part of the day, waiting to see Boris. He left without seeing him.

The simple fact is that there should have been no strike action over the issue of closing ticket offices, especially not a strike of this size which would cause enormous disruption to the ‘greatest city on Earth’ (in the words of Boris). Boris was right in saying that we must use the technology we have to modernise Britain and a good way to do this is to use ticket machines. The vast majority of people will voluntarily use these machines now.

Instead, all they have to do is sit down and talk it through. It got a bit ridiculous yesterday when Boris said he would not talk to Bob for organising a strike and Bob would not talk until Boris changed his demands.  If they both keep taking this attitude, then nothing will be solved.

Bob Crow needs to have the interests of the people of London in mind when taking such action instead of just expressing the power that his union has. Today will see millions of Londoners cramming onto buses and the few remaining Tube services. Businesses have estimated it will cost the London economy around £50 million. There is still time to call of the next set of strikes.  Let’s hope Bob has a change of spirit.

Ben Callaghan

A Potential Palace of the Past…?

It can be argued that buildings define a people. If Egypt has the pyramids and France has the Palace of Versailles then England has the Palace of Westminster. But as similar as these magnificent structures can be said to be culturally then there is a difference between the first two and Westminster. That being that Westminster is the only one to receive regular use and despite the massive cultural credit that we give it, does it properly serve its purpose. As the image above demonstrates of the 650 MP’s that are elected to these prestigious positions, at one time only 427 of them can be seated.

Following the Second World War Churchill rightly proclaimed that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards out buildings shape us” but this shaping process must be called into question when the buildings can no longer properly serve their purpose. If on a bus or a train only two thirds of the people on board can actually sit down most people would admit that there was a problem, but when it’s one of our most culturally important buildings that serves as the work place of the government of our country, then people seem wilfully blind of the issue.

On the side for tradition and cultural significance Churchill’s words still ring loudly but assuming a transition to a modern building Westminster palace could still be used for events like the Queen’s speech. It would also mean it wouldn’t be damaged as much by tourists and people at work which would allow us to properly completely repair its incredible design and interior.

On the side for modernisation is the argument that the building is no longer fit for purpose, with massive needs for repairs, and that the prestige of British government would receive a boost from a modern building. Why stand up and go to a corridor for a head count when you can just press a button which would speed up proceedings and transparency efforts.

It seems therefore that we can drag this building on life support for however many years but sooner or later this building will effectively rot beyond all use and we can wait until this happens, the Mail will happily cover the front page with a full page of the collapsed building, or we can act now and give the old girl the dignity she deserves.

If our buildings truly shape us then, while remembering the lessons of the past, we must move forward into the new century and the new world unencumbered by the chains that pull us backwards for no other reason than tradition.

Jack Fennell