Is “reforming the EU from within” realistic?

Today David Cameron announced – to the surprise of no one – that the EU Referendum will be held on 23rd June. He further stunned the world by announcing he would be campaigning to remain in the EU. This followed months of painstaking negotiations over some trifling ‘reforms’ he had cobbled together. This was concluded last night after a two day summit of EU leaders. The result seems to have been that Cameron can go away and say he has secured a ‘special status’ for the UK, while all the other EU leaders laugh behind his back and go home to tell their voters that nothing of import has changed.

So that’s where we are now. No one who is campaigning to remain – including Labour, the Green Party and the Lib Dems – actually say they are happy with the current set-up of the EU. ‘Reform from within’ seems to be the mantra. But given the tortuous mess that were David Cameron’s attempts to achieve his “thin gruel” reforms (as Jacob Rees-Mogg called them), what possible hope do the likes of Labour have for achieving a single reform they want going forward? They don’t have a cat in hell’s chance.

If we vote to remain on 23rd June, the EU will consider the matter settled and push on in the same direction they have been travelling for the last 40 years – towards greater and greater integration. I don’t know how anyone could vote for that.


EU referendum purely about internal Conservative Party politics

A poll published by Comres today had 58% of respondants answering ‘yes’ to the EU referendum question. This is before Cameron has ‘renegotiated’ anything. The result already looks like a foregone conclusion.

Cameron’s strategy has been clear from the start. Step 1. Pretend you are ‘fed up with the EU’ and want change or you’ll back a ‘no’ vote. Step 2. Come up with some piffling ‘reforms’ that will do nothing to address the concerns people have, but strenuously argue they do. Step 3. Get some politicians from other EU nations to pretend the negotiations have been tough and they are grudgingly accepting Cameron’s changes. Step 4. Pretend you have secured everything you wanted and begin the yes campaign. It’s simple, but it will probably work. (This is a firm prediction from me. My general election predictions were dreadful, so hopefully I’ll be wrong again.)

This is not Cameron’s problem though, and it’s not what the referendum is really about. It’s really about internal politics within Cameron’s own party. His problem at the moment is all his Eurosceptic colleagues are perfectly aware of his fake negotiations and they are probably not going to stand for it. Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan calls out Cameron today in a column in the Telegraph, and up to 50 Tory MPs have already formed a ‘Conservatives for Britain’ campaign group to argue for nothing less than full sovereignty for Britain, something Cameron has no intention of trying to achieve (and almost certainly couldn’t even if he wanted to).

There are alos a number of avowed Eurosceptics in Cameron’s cabinet like Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove. Cameron at first tried to enforce discipline on his Cabinet by saying they would need to campaign for a yes vote or resign, but this tactic lasted less than a day, and he now seems to have u-turned. In the 1975 referendum, cabinet members like Tony Benn were allowed to camapign to leave the common market without resigning, but Cameron has made this such a personal mission with his hyping up of his renegotiation strategy, I can’t see how cabinet members could play active roles in any no campaign without resigning.

Cameron decided to push through with this referendum over two years ago to shut up his backbenchers. Now he actually has to deliver it though, but his aims are a million miles away from those of a lot of his Parliamentary colleagues. Cameron seems to me to be as pro-EU are anyone in the last Labour Government. The referendum is supposed to settle the question of Britain in the EU. No chance! If the yes campaign is fought dishonestly (as it will be), I would think a lot of Conservative will not forget it.

I’m a bit young to remember the Tory Party tearing itself apart over Maastrict in the early 90s, but hopefully the second time around will be just as fun to watch!

Latest apprenticeship figures show a reality a long way from the spin

To me, an apprenticeship always meant a young kid leaving school at 16, and instead of doing A Levels or a full time FE course, going to learn a trade for three of four years while doing a day or two at college. Not any more. Figures published in this report show that almost half (42%) of those starting apprenticeships are over 25 years old, and two thirds were already employed by their company before they started an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships have been sold in recent years as being a solution to youth unemployment and as a viable option to the academic route. Young people are buying this message, but they are often finding the places just aren’t there. 16-18 years olds have made 57% of total applications for apprenticeships since 2010, but only made up 27% of starts.

The Coalition government expanded the number of apprenticeships quite significantly, but as the chart below shows, the number of 16-18 year olds apprentice starts has barely moved. What happened was that when previous training schemes like Train to Gain were wound down, employers simply replaced that training with apprenticeships – often of dubious quality, and often in occupations that traditionally wouldn’t require an apprenticeship qualification. For example, in 2011, Morrisons Supermarkets became Britain’s largest provider of apprenticeships.

Screenshot 2015-06-01 at 8.16.15 PM

Another perhaps surprising finding from the report was that even though the apprenticeship minimum wage is significantly lower than the normal minimum wage, 24% of 16-18 year old apprentices are not even being paid that. This is a scandal.

During the election campaign, David Cameron said:

“We’ve already created 2.2 million apprenticeships since 2010 but a future Conservative government is committed to opening up three million more high quality apprenticeships – to help strengthen our economy and communities and give millions more people financial security.”

This is a noble aim, but the reality is a long way from that ambition. As long as apprenticeships are just a way for employers to train their established workforce on the cheap, or for other employers to use them to exploit school leavers by paying them a pittance, apprenticeships will never be a pathway to a high skilled, high productivity workforce.

Government gets nasty to give the illusion of control over immigration

Figures released today showed net migration rising to 318,000, its highest level since 2005 and a far cry from David Cameron’s promise to cut net migration to the tens of thousands. With free movement of labour guaranteed between countries in the EU, this was never a sensible promise to make. The truth is, as long as free movement remains in place, no government can have any real control over net migration whatsoever. For as long as the UK economy out-performs it’s European neighbours, net migration will be destined to remain high. This has always been the elephant in the room.

To try and mask this rather large elephant, the Government of David Cameron has talked up all sorts of measures to ‘tackle’ immigration which will do nothing of the sort. Today, they decided to sink to a new low in an attempt to appear to be doing something – anything. They’ve previously tried to blame the rules around social security benefits on high immigration, but there is no evidence that what has been labelled ‘benefit tourism’ actually exists. Cameron’s latest foray into ‘being seen to do something’ territory is to go after the right wing presses’ favourite bogey man – the illegal immigrant.

Cameron today announced plans to legislate to allow police to confiscate the earnings of anyone found to be working illegally. It is estimated there may be up to 300,000 in the UK who have overstayed their visas, but how many of those are working is not known. 300,000 is less than half the number of migrants that came here just in 2014. In short, it is not a big problem, and certainly not something that is going to make a dent in the net migration figures (if that is indeed its intention).

Over-blowing this issue and pretending it has anything to do with high net migration is a rather nasty thing to do, because, like the so-called ‘racist vans‘, it can create a climate of fear and suspicion in communities already feeling alienated from British society. This is purely about political expediency, not addressing a problem that actually needs to be solved.

Cameron also announced his intention today to see if he could also limit the numbers of high-skilled migrants coming from outside the EU. He can’t do anything about unskilled EU migrants coming here, so this is all he has left, but it’s exceptionally dumb. So dumb and nasty all on one day. Must be a Conservative Government.

Getting your priorities right

After his somewhat surprising victory last week, David Cameron gave a speech outlining his intention to bring the country together. About his last government he said:

The government I led did important work. It laid the foundations for a better future and now we must build on them. I truly believe we’re on the brink of something special in our country: we can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing.

So foundations laid, a majority won, time to hit the ground running with policies that will help achieve that ‘good life’ for all right? It was a nice speech, but the priorities of his new government seem rather different. Far from building on these foundations, the immediate priorities of the Conservative Party seem to be rather different. Here’s the policies that seem to be top of their list:

Bash the BBC

Further undermine free speech under the guise of tackling extremism

Hobbling the Freedom of Information Act

All but ending the right to strike

Scrapping the Human Rights Act

I not quite sure how these things go together with ensuring the good life for all (at least all who are “willing to work hard and do the right thing”, but I’m sure the ‘one nation’, ‘good life’ will be announced soon!

What does Cameron’s reshuffle tell us?

We learnt more details about Cameron’s ministerial team today, and his choice of personnel exposes Tory thinking in certain key policy areas. The holders of the three key jobs are unchanged with Osborne, May and Hammond remaining in post at the Treasury, Home Office and Foreign Office respectively. Jeremy Hunt remains at Health demonstrating that acting disgracefully whilst in office need not harm your career.

Surprisingly maybe to some, Iain Duncan Smith kept his job at the DWP. I would have thought the thinking there is that people already hate Duncan Smith, so why ruin someone else’s career when they can let him force through an extra £12bn in welfare cuts? Given the track record of IDS, it seems unlikely to end in anything but disaster.

Being in favour with George Osborne seems to be good for your career. Key allies Sajid Javed, Amber Rudd and Matthew Hancock all got promotions. Hancock in particular is someone with no obvious talents who was slavishly loyal throughout the last Parliament, never shy of going on TV to defend the indefensible. He seems to have got his reward.

Other appointments include John Whittingdale – a man who doesn’t think the BBC should exist – appointed as culture secretary, and Michael Gove at Justice (who surely can’t be any worse than Chris Grayling). Boris Johnson – for no good reason that I can discern – gets a seat at political cabinet whilst he tries to combine the full time job of being an MP with the full time job of being Mayor of London.

Finally, Priti Patel – one of the most free market Tories – is given the job of Employment Minister. Expect lots of talk of ‘personal responsibility’ and not much support for those out of work.

There is a remarkable stability to Cameron’s Cabinet. Most of the top jobs are still with the same people as the last Parliament. There were favours given to key allies, and the appointment of a pro-Murdoch, anti-BBC Culture Secretary speaks volumes, while we must still watch this space for the inevitable downfall of IDS at Work and Pensions.

Silver Linings

A very surprising result yesterday I’m sure you’ll all agree. Five more years to endure now of preening smug Tories who will now start to believe their own bullshit about long term economic plans and the like. I’ll be giving political TV shows a miss for a while now. It wasn’t all bad though. Here are some silver linings:

  • Although the Tories now have a majority, it is by less than 10 seats, and less than the number of ‘bastards’ in the Conservative party, so David Cameron’s life is not going to be easy. Give it a year or two and the problems for them will begin.
  • Labour’s defeat was horrendous enough that they might have a proper clear out of the dead wood (most of the front bench) and come back with something better. I say might because it’s just as likely they’ll conclude they lost because they weren’t enough like the Tories.
  • The Lib Dems were wiped out. It seems the electorate saw through these disingenuous charlatans and got rid of all but 8. Danny Alexander and David Laws were the two that most deserved to lose and did. Nick Clegg won, but probably wishes he hadn’t now.
  • UKIP only won one seat and Farage has resigned. Their only MP Douglas Carswell is a much different politician to Farage.
  • Caroline Lucas retained her seat in Brighton. I like Caroline Lucas. Hopefully she will lead the Greens again.
  • Ed Balls lost his seat. In one of the biggest shocks of the night, the Tories took this seat from a man probably more to blame for Labour’s demise than anyone else.
  • Esther McVey lost her seat. A very unpopular unpopular DWP Minister who gave the impression of caring more about her career than the disadvantaged who it was her job to help, she will not be missed.
  • George Galloway lost after running a tawdry and personal campaign against Labour candidate Naz Shah. The extent of his defeat was stunning. I had been certain he would win.

So not good if you are on the left like me. But not all bad either.

Cameron channels Thatcher to remind us what the Conservatives really stand for

“Let us never forget this fundamental truth: the State has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. If the State wishes to spend more it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. It is no good thinking that someone else will pay – that ‘someone else’ is you. There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money.”

Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 1983

I was six months old when Thatcher gave this speech. It was nonsense then and it is still nonsense now. That hasn’t stopped David Cameron from channeling the spirit of his hero in a speech given on the campaign trail today saying:

We know that there is no such thing as public money – there is only taxpayers’ money. And we know how we’d rather see it spent: Not on bureaucracy or bloat or the latest crackpot Government scheme but on you, your family – your future.

“Quite simply, it’s your money – you earned it. And we believe it’s people – not politicians – who know best how to spend their own money. And that’s what today is all about.”

The wording is remarkably similar to Thatcher’s phrasing in ’83. I doubt it’s a coincidence. The truth though is 180 degrees from Thatcher and Cameron’s assertions. “taxpayer’s money” is an ideological term used to set the bias towards lower spending and lower taxation. That’s a perfectly defensible argument to make, but the likes of Cameron make it so dishonestly. How far does he want to take this “you know how to spend money best” line? Health care? Schooling? That’s the logical conclusion.

We could just as easily turn the phrase around though and say “there is no such thing as taxpayer’s money – there is only public money”. The UK government is the issuer of pounds. They don’t come from anywhere else, so in order for us to have money to pay our taxes, government must spend the money into the economy first, and it must generally spend more than it taxes back in order for the supply of money to increase sustainably.

Now I don’t think Cameron wants to shrink the size of government to nothing (I don’t think he really believes in anything really), but this section of his speech shows a willingness to gently lie to people in order to push policies which seem to benefit all, but are really squarely aimed at benefiting those at the top. Those at the top can afford the best of everything. They don’t need public services. Everyone else though doesn’t have that luxury though, which is why pooling our resources makes sense in so many areas. Cameron also talked about the “immorality” of government spending, but providing useful public services is not immoral, it’s just common sense!

Cameron’s cognitive dissonance on jobs

The Tory campaign (well the lesser, positive slice of it) is focused on the economy. The phrases “We’ve created two million jobs” or “1000 jobs a day” form a part of every statement uttered by leading Conservatives, but this message is comically different from what we hear from the same people when in opposition. Bill Mitchell explained this rather well on his blog yesterday:

“I am always amused when conservative politicians make claims like they created so many thousands or millions of jobs while in government. Typically, in Opposition they will claim that governments do not create any jobs, which justifies them introducing pro-business policies and imposing austerity. That ‘free market’ position soon changes when they are trying to take credit for growth. With an election in the offing in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister is demonstrating one of these shifts in causality. He told the BBC in an interview (March 30, 2015) –Election 2015: Cameron pledges ‘1,000 jobs a day’ if re-elected – that his government had “created a thousand jobs a day” and would continue to do so if re-elected. But there is clearly more to this claim that a 1000 net jobs per day.

David Cameron told the – BBC Breakfast program – that:

Over the last five years we’ve created a thousand jobs a day, and we commit to continuing that record because we’re going to continue supporting business and industry, continuing to make our country an attractive one to invest in and so we believe we can create those thousand jobs.

The data supports the conclusion that the UK economy has created in net terms around a 1000 jobs every day since the Conservative government was elected.

Of course, many thousands more jobs have been created and destroyed each day in Britain over the period in question. The 1000 jobs a day is just a net figure.

He clearly didn’t think the government was responsible for job creation while in Opposition.

On May 2, 2010, as part of the General Election campaign, the UK Conservative Party leader, now Prime Minister launched the – Contracts for Jobs – strategy.

In the Launch Speech, the British Prime Minister David Cameron said:

And nowhere is that more true than our economy because you all know as business people it“s not Governments that create jobs it is businesses that create jobs.

So government’s do not create jobs! So where have those 1000 net jobs a day come from!”

Watching the debate tonight, I rather wish there was someone up there like Bill. Watching all seven in turn talking about how “of course we need to balance the books” left me wishing for someone who had the first clue about how the macro economy actually works, rather than debate being between bashing the poor or bashing the rich. It’s probably a good thing there is only one of these debates.

Has the PM been taking tips from his Party Chairman?

David Cameron was in Brussels the other day for a meeting of EU leaders. He was quoted as saying this:

“When I first came here as prime minister five years ago, Britain and Greece were virtually in the same boat, we had similar sized budget deficits. The reason we are in a different position is we took long-term difficult decisions and we had all of the hard work and effort of the British people. I am determined we do not go backwards.”

As whoppers go, this is Shapps-esque. If only Greece had had a #longtermeconomicplan, all would be rosy now. The sun would be starting to shine once more. To say this is ‘misleading’, doesn’t really begin to cover it. Greece is a member of the Eurozone. We are not. When the crisis hit Greece, its options were much more limited than ours, and ot was forced into accepting a bailout. The conditions attached to this bailout included austerity several orders of magnitude greater than we have seen here. The on Greece’s economy are quite nicely subsidised in this infographic (found here):


So for Cameron to claim the difference between the two countries today is the ‘tough decisions’ taken by his Government is kind of insulting to both the Greek people and to the intelligence of all of us.

The real reason why the UK is in a lot better shape is firstly because we are not in the Euro and as a consequence of this did not need to go down the fiscal austerity road. Greece did go down that road in a big way, and the results are plain to see. It’s maybe to Cameron’s credit that the Government eased off on the cuts after 2012 (while still needlessly clobbering to poorest), but to admit that would be to admit everything they’ve said in the past five years has been a lie.