Friday, July 22, 2011

Bizarre Thought of the Day

If my maths and calendar are correct, as of today I have now spent more of my life as a member of the Conservative Party than not being a member of the Conservative Party.


Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WARNING: This post has nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch but is about something else important

I thought you may like to consider an issue that doesn’t involve phone hacking but does impact on millions of families across the country – the issue of paternity pay.

One of the things that has impressed me about this government is the way in which Mr Cameron pledged to make his government the “most family friendly” in Europe. He spoke about general wellbeing being as important as economic wellbeing. I think Nick Clegg doing the school run is a great example to Dads all over the country. And yet in one very important respect I feel the government is failing badly.

I have two children and a third due in November. I work as a High School teacher and earn a decent salary – over the national average but certainly now what you would call “rich”. I understand politicians like to call us a “hard working family” and that Mr Miliband would suggest I am the “squeezed middle.” I want to be there to support my wife after she has our baby, and this support is increasingly important given that the other children need love, support, packed lunches and getting to school! My employers at my school are amazingly good to me when I need to perform parental duties but they are tied by local government paternity leave packages.

That package gives me one week – 5 days – at full pay. It then offers a second week but at a fixed lower rate of standard “SMP”. This lower rate is around £128 per week, which is very much lower than my normal weekly wage. I would, therefore, be taking a massive financial hit in order to be able to spend an extra few days with my new baby and to support my wife. I am being asked to choose between the money and my family. Unfortunately the way that the economy is, I have to choose going back to work to keep the money coming in. So within 7 days of the trauma and exhaustion of giving birth, my wife is being expected to juggle 2 kids, a new born baby and everything that comes with you. Of all all people, the one who must understand this is the Prime Minister.

However it isn’t just the lack of support for new fathers that I have a problem with. There is, in my view, a further more worrying injustice. As the rate of SMP is fixed, the more you earn the bigger the drop you will take to be at home with your family and so the greater the problem is. Don’t get me wrong – I believe rich, poor or anywhere in-between, a new father should be there for their new family member. But for the very rich taking the time off isn’t a financial worry because they are, by virtue, very rich. And for the poor paid the SMP is closer to their actual weekly income. For those people, like me, in the middle we are being priced out of spending time with our families.

It is in many ways the same as my opposition to tuition fees - fees don't affect the rich (because they are rich), don't affect the poor (because they don't pay) but do affect those of us in the middle. As usual.

If you could leave a solution in the comments that would be great - but before you are tempted into telling me I ought to be grateful for being on a teachers wage, I would ask you ... at what salary do you consider people rich?

Monday, July 18, 2011

There IS no life after Cameron

As the hackgate story claims scalp after scalp, Iain Dale wonders if the crisis will lap up against the feet at Number Ten, whilst speculates on who might be next if the PM is hit by that theoretical political bus.

I have no idea how far the investiagtions will go or what the outcome will be, but I am willing to bet at any odds that the PM will survive. And for 2 very good reasons.

Firstly there is absolutely nobody to replace him - there is, literally, no life after Cameron. Johnson isn't in the Commons, Osborne is not loved by the public and the election of Hunt would be too ironic given the circumstances. Hague? Doubtful. Even my own beloved Gove - along with Lansley - would be controversial given their reforming zeal in parliament has made them enemies. Some suggest David Davis, but he has languished too long on the backbenches to have a realistic powerbase. Theresa May is being "bigged up" by some and true she has made great strides at the home office but her leadership metal has yet to be tested. It therefore leaves Hague, but Hague would always be the caretaker leader and the public, coalition, party and parliament would know it. We've got this coalition because the nation needs stabilty and having a caretaker PM wouldn't deliver that. Until there is "another", Cameron is safe.

But also a second reason. The personal glue that holds this coalition together is Cameron and Clegg. Could any other leader hold this government together in the way that Cameron has? I very much doubt it. A lurch to the right - say under Fox - would destroy the coaltiion quickly and many of the other candidates would see a slower but equally painful death. The fact is that Cameron IS the coalition and without Cameron there is NO coalition. My view is simple - if Cameron falls, we are back into General Election territory within six months and that election would be without the smaller Commons and boundary changes the Tories crave.

As I say, I am not sure where the hackgate situation is going, but Cameron is going nowhere. The party needs him, the coalition needs him and, given the current polling (the Tories took the lead again tonight) the country still needs him.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Don't worry about the money, Iain ...

Iain Dale writes passionately about the financial perils of being a parliamentary candidate and he is right to do so.    No matter how correct he is, I fear his warnings will fall on deaf ears as the issue of political recruitment is one where “the powers that be” make all the right noises without actually having any answers to it and, in some cases, making it more difficult for folk to get involved in politics.


David Cameron once said that he wanted a British Parliament that looked more like the people it represented.  The public anger towards politicians is about more than just expenses and betrayed promises; I believe strongly that part of the issue is the kind of people that end up becoming MPs.  More and more of our “representatives” are young, professional politicians.  The MPs of old had the route through Oxbridge and then via Daddy’s firm; the new breed of politicians are the think tankers, the well connected, the party goers and those with the disposable income and location to put themselves at the centre of the action.  Go out on the High Street near you and see how many people that pass you who look, sound or act like the average parliamentary candidate.


It isn’t just those without money , Iain.  It’s those who live too far from London to attend the right parties.  Those who have demanding jobs and cannot take weeks off to camp out at by-elections.   Those who have family commitments which mean you can’t dump the kids and dash off to conferences here there and everywhere.  Those who aren’t asked to pose for tattler or write for the Spectator.  We have a new generation of those “born to be MPs”.

Forget “diversity” as you know it.  Where are the MPs who were once firefighters?  What about the computer programmers or the restaurant owners?  Where are the teachers on the Tory side or the business leaders in the Labour ranks? 


Answer me this.


Michael is an ambulance driver.  He isn’t well paid and lives, with his wife and 3 kids, in a northern town.  He works a full-time, usually 6 days a week, and takes pride in caring for his family and his young children in particular.

Is Michael the kind of guy we want to stand for parliament?  If we do, what do you think his chances of getting selected and elected are?


Tom is a graduate from central London who earns a decent wage in a job that gives him flexi time and plenty of holidays.  He is single and has no kids.  He attends all of the party events and conference.  Using this he knows the right people and has the time and effort to put into the leg work.  Is Tom the kind of guy we want to stand for parliament?  If we do, what do you think are his chances of getting selected and elected are?

If we want a representative parliament we need Michael and Tom in parliament.  The trouble is that the system is so stacked against one of those candidates it isn’t just money we ought to be concerned about.


The cash rich have an advantage, yes, but so too do the time rich and the contact rich.  And what do the party machines plan to do about this?  Don’t hold your breath for anything to change too soon ... but we do need a national debate about how we support a more diverse group of people to stand for parliament and serve as our MPs.