It is now one year since the coalition was formed. Twelve months have flown by but so much has happened. The scene of David Cameron and Nick Clegg standing in the rose garden like life-long friends seems an eon ago. The Conservative and Lib Dem parliamentary parties and their rank-and-file are certainly not as close as the two party leaders. In this May issue we speak to the embattled health secretary Andrew Lansley. He is one of the great survivors of modern Conservative politics. Now, he is finding that his reform programme is in deep trouble. It has been over six years in the making and, yet, so much went wrong with the justification and selling of the reforms. When Caroline Crampton and I spoke with Lansley he looked tired but still determined that the principle of his reforms would remain intact. The interview ended, as you will read on p38, with Lansley almost jogging out of the room with barely a goodbye flung over his shoulder. It was, apparently, because he needed to be in Parliament for a vote. His reforms are not moving nearly as quickly. Depending on what happens to these reforms and the man leading them, the post-mortem by the government will be intensive. How did such wide-ranging reform, conducted at such speed and signed off by both the prime minister and deputy prime minister, come off the rails in such a spectacular fashion?
It is also the story of a cabinet minister, widely accepted by allies and opponents as an expert in his field, lacking the ability to communicate the biggest idea of his career. I would like to finish by talking about Sir Simon Milton, the Mayor of London’s deputy who sadly passed away in April. He was a member of the Total Politics advisory panel and always had helpful advice and kind words to contribute. The tributes that came in following his death show the huge regard and affection in which he was held.
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Coalition chaos on immigration Your interview with Damian Green (TP, April) allowed the minister to paint a rosy view of the government’s reforms of the immigration system. The truth is somewhat different. This week ministers have missed their own targets to set out plans for the UK Border Police. Last week David Metcalf, the chair of the Independent Migration Advisory Committee, described the government’s immigration target as “bizarre” and not under the government’s control.
Cuts to the UK’s Border Agency are continuing with the loss of up to 5,000 staff dedicated to enforcing strong and secure borders. The arbitrary proposals for cutting the number of students sends a message to the brightest and best overseas students that they are not welcome in the UK and it will have a devastating effect on the higher and further education sectors. The government’s immigration policy is getting more confused and chaotic by the day. Gerry Sutcliffe MP Shadow immigration minister
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Police officers for North Yorkshire The Liberal Democrat manifesto for Yorkshire and the Humber promised the region an additional 200 police officers. In government the Liberal Democrats are instead supporting a 200 police officer reduction in North Yorkshire alone.
All Labour local government leaders in Yorkshire and the Humber co-signed a letter to Nick Clegg asking for his party to live up to his manifesto promise. I sent the original letter before the New Year and I have chased this up with his office. I have still had no response. Perhaps this letter in the public domain will jog his memory. Cllr James Alexander Leader of City of York Council’s Labour Opposition Group The Lords cannot hold back tide of reform It comes as absolutely no surprise that peers are unhappy at giving up power and jobs for life (TP, April). Unfortunately, the majority of MPs voted for a wholly-elected or predominantly elected chamber, all three main parties promised it at the last election and according to polls two-thirds of voters want it.
Party patronage devalues politics. Elections would strengthen the Lords by making it more legitimate, representative, and accountable without changing its core duties. The House of Lords often does a good job at improving our laws. We hope peers take a constructive rather than destructive view of the bill.
The Lords have always accepted the democratic mandate of the Commons. They must now decide either to accept that public opinion is against them or to sit like King Canute and try and hold back the tide. Peter Facey Director, Unlock Democracy Don’t overlook the power of the south east With the Budget emphasising progrowth and pro-enterprise measures, I would urge the coalition not to lose sight of the economic benefits the south east can bring the country (George Pascoe-Watson, TP, March).
Other areas may have a greater claim to other funding for the likes of regeneration or education improvements but the south east has the engine with the power to put the UK firmly on the road to recovery. It is the economic powerhouse of the national economy and contributes not only massive sums to our national GDP, but also generates the highest tax revenues for the Exchequer.
Investment in the region creates a virtuous circle in which the south east’s economic potential could be harnessed to create more jobs, more growth and higher tax revenues that can be reinvested in other areas of the country. Investment in the south east is an investment in the UK as a whole. Dr Andrew Povey Leader of Surrey County Council High Speed 2 wil widen the North/South divide In his article ‘Keeping Our Transport System On Track’ (TP, April), Philip Hammond makes great play on his belief that High Speed 2 will tackle the north/south divide. I support High Speed 2 but starting it in the south east with no legal commitment to take it to Leeds and Manchester, let alone Glasgow and Edinburgh, will make the north/south divide worse. Crossrail, the Tube PPP, Thameslink, not to mention the better links to the Olympic site, have meant that more than 90 per cent of transport investment has gone into London and the south east over the last 10 years.
There has always been a disparity but this has made the investment gap between the north and south grow. If Philip Hammond wants to keep the fragile alliance that will get the High Speed 2 Bill through the complicated parliamentary procedures he had better find some immediate investment for the north of England as well as making sure there are legal commitments to take High Speed 2 further north.
We are fed up of having a rail system not fit for the nineteenth century when the south has a twenty-first century rail network. Graham Stringer MP Member of the all-party parliamentary group for rail in the north Hague’s time as leader of the oposition prepared him wel The secret of William Hague’s success lies not in his years as shadow foreign secretary before stepping into the hot seat, but in his time as leader of the opposition. That position is described as the toughest job in politics. The holder has to be quick on his feet with finely tuned antennae and sensitivity to prevailing moods.
But in Hague’s case, he took on the job in the aftermath of the Conservative’s biggest election defeat in a century, which had left the party demoralised and lacking in confidence. That he should have stopped the party’s decline and gave it a sense of purpose was no mean feat. The skills learnt in those days are now coming to the fore in a highly significant era where foreign policy is constantly under scrutiny and seemingly occupying centre stage on a permanent basis! Richard Ottaway MP Chair of foreign affairs select committee Not so rosy at DfT From reading Philip Hammond’s article (TP, April) you would be forgiven for believing that everything in the transport garden was rosy. It is true that some of the transport investment started by the Labour government is going ahead, even if in many cases schemes are being delayed or scaled back.
But the transport secretary skips lightly over the real transport issue facing most households, regardless of what modes they use. In tough economic times, the Conservativeled coalition is forcing up the cost of travel, whether this be through imposing increased VAT on fuel, raising rail fares by RPI+3 per cent or threatening higher bus fares and reduced services through cuts to subsidies.
Mr Hammond and his colleagues are putting an unfair squeeze on families that are already severely stretched. Raising travel costs cuts access to employment, training, education and leisure activities. At a time when economic growth is vital, this is a deeply dangerous policy to pursue. John Woodcock MP Shadow transport minister The poxy parliamentary traditions must be stoped Helen Grant is right to oppose the introduction of quotas (TP, April) but her article fails to address the real issue behind the gender imbalance in politics, the very nature of the job and its irregular working patterns.
If you don’t have a constituency in London then you may spend days away from your family. If the role of an MP was more like a normal job a gender balance would be more likely. Recesses should be truncated. It is only due to poxy tradition that Parliament sits for only about half the year. It’s no surprise they have all-night sittings to cram in a year’s worth of work into six months. There is a place for tradition but it should not be in the working patterns of a modern democracy. Reducing recesses to the length of school holidays would at a stroke make politicians’ jobs more family friendly. Catherine Smith Leeds Trade Union’s PR Disaster I do not know how John Hannett can claim that “trade unions represent modern Britain” (TP, April), while at the same time the RMT threatens to shut down the Tube network on the day of the Royal Wedding. Union leaders are completely out of touch with their own members, never mind the ordinary public. The trade unions are doing themselves harm while the public become increasingly unsympathetic to their cause. If they decide to strike during the Royal Wedding it will be a PR disaster. Jeremy Pearce London
Total Politics | May 2011 | 5