All posts tagged 'cameron'

Out with stale males - but will anyone really care at election time?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 16 2014

With the kind of chutzpah you tend to expect from politicians, David Cameron declared that his reshuffle presented the best of modern Britain, which begged the obvious but unanswered question as to what sort of Britain we have been living in until this week.

Still, the reshuffle threw up enough changes to satisfy the hungriest of political commentators and observers, not least in the departure of the much-maligned education secretary Michael Gove, who will now get first hand experience of the challenge faced by many teachers every day - handling an undisciplined group of disinterested people.

For Kent's MPs, it proved to be a mixed bag. The much heralded cull of stale middle-aged males led to the unexpected sacking of policing minister Damian Green, the Ashford MP. What had he done wrong? Nothing at all.

Even the hard-nosed Police Federation lamented his departure, surely a first. But he fell into the political demographic being targeted by the PM and paid the price - the irony being that as a moderate, progressive Tory he no doubt believes that Mr Cameron may be doing the right thing in freshening up his top team. Having said that, in replacing Mr Green with Mike Penning - who is the kind of stale male Cameron wanted to cull, he is entitled to  be a little perplexed.

He is not a natural rebel, with consensual tendencies but his note of defiance in a tweet was intriguing, announcing that he would continue to fight for what he believed in. What could it mean? 

Also heading for the exit door is the Faversham and Mid Kent MP Hugh Robertson, widely praised for his stint as Olympics minister.

He decided to stand down as foreign office minister to take stock with his family about his future, which leaves open a variety of options. Having had arguably two of the most interesting ministerial briefs and overseeing the London Olympics, he may consider that he won't top that unless he gets a senior cabinet role. Might he decide to leave politics? A possibility as he has never made secret that he would like the chance to try his hand at another career.

Anti-fracking groups will no doubt be celebrating the departure of Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon, who has landed the role of defence minister after a lengthy parliamentary career and who may owe his elevation partly to his Euro-sceptic tendencies.

The question is whether anyone will, come May 2015, care two hoots about this reshuffle? Cameron is obviously concerned that many regard his government as being made up of a privileged, public-school educated male-dominated elite who, despite their protestations, have no real grasp of the daily challenges of "ordinary hard-working" families. 

I seriously doubt anyone will go into a polling both next year, reminding themselves that the PM changed his top team to include more women. Voters are not stupid and tend to see through this kind of opportunism but you can understand Cameron's dilemma. If he had stuck with his hand rather than twisted, he would have handed his opponents an easy target.

On balance, it seems the right thing to do but it also runs a risk. Some of those promoted are unknown quantities and lack experience at the top level. And beyond the confines of Westminster, there is a large constituency of stale males in their fifties who may feel ratheraffronted at being written off.

UKIP no doubt already has them in its sights.


 Michael Gove's departure as education secretary is said to have prompted high-fives and cheers in staff rooms up and down the length of the country.

You might also have heard a smallish cheer at County Hall, where the relationships betwen KCC and the DfE have been slightly fractious to say the least. KCC started the ball rolling by joining a High Court challenge over the cancellation of various building projects under the BSF scheme scrapped by the coalition.

More recently, there has been the vexed progress - or lack of it - over KCC's attempts to create a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, which Mr Gove seemed rather cool about.

Where the new education secretary Nicky Morgan stands on selection is anyone's guess. But KCC will be extending the hand of friendship to someone who they hope just might be more sympathetic to their plan. 



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Categories: Politics

Maria Miller's resignation was inevitable but who wins?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, April 9 2014

Maria Miller's resignation was predictable the moment it became clear that many of her Conservative parliamentary colleagues were not happy about her staying in her job and were taking flak on the doorsteps from voters who were questioning why she hadn't already been sacked.

And as the days went on, more Tory MPs were prepared to say publicly it might be better if she went - effectively questioning their leader's judgement and his inistence that she could stay in the cabinet.

The judgement was made by David Cameron that because she had been cleared of the central charge, she ought to be allowed to stay on.

Despite Cameron's emphasis on this point, the finer technical details on which a committee of MPs delivered this verdict went unnoticed by many - or was delibarately ignored.

That is part of the problem with accusations of political sleaze. The public - much to the exasperation of MPs elected in 2010 - were largely oblivious to the fact that her conduct and claims were being judged against the old regulations, not the new ones which have tightened many of the loopholes gratuitously abused by so many former MPs.

Fair or not, there was enough in the standards committee report - not least the charge that she had sought to frustrate the inquiry - to give her opponents ammunition. She did not do herself many favours with her perfunctory apology, a PR car crash by anyone's standards.

It is telling that as a result of this episode, politicians from all parties are now falling over themselves to talk about the need for further reforms to the expenses regulations - having told everyone back in 2010 that they had devised a foolproof set of new rules that would restore the integrity of  politicians and be impossible to circumvent.

The public backlash over the saga is not just about Maria Miller but a wider feeling that our elected representatives still play by different rules. Unless they can address that, distrust will remain.


The forthcoming European and council elections were undoubtedly a factor in the pressure being heaped on Maria Miller.

An already tricky election for the Conservatives risked becoming even more challenging with sleaze allegations swirling around.

UKIP - already favourites to win the Euro elections - will no doubt pick up even more votes from those disaffected with the mainstream parties. And it still looks like the leader Nigel Farage will be standing as a candidate in Kent.

Whether it is Folkestone and Hythe or Thanet South remains to be seen but Mr Farage came much closer than he has before now to confirming it will be one or the other, telling my colleague Matt Leclere that "it was more than likely" he will be a candidate somewhere in the Garden of England.




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Categories: Politics

Fracking push leaves councils in a bind.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, January 14 2014

There are good reasons why the planning system has legal safeguards to stop developers offering sweeteners to councils. 

But there is nothing to stop politicians from doing so - which explains how the government has been able, as it announced yesterday, to dangle the promise of money before hard-pressed local authorities if they give the go-ahead to fracking wells.

Government push for more fracking denounced as bribery>>>

The political line is that communities that are affected by fracking deserve a share in the rewards.

In this case, it is a pledge that councils will be able to keep 100% of the business rates companies pay. There is also the promise that communities where wells are sunk may get an additional dividend from any profits.

Of course, the politicians would prefer us to describe this as an incentive rather than a bribe.

But whatever term you use, it still looks like a fairly naked attempt to buy off councils who are desperately short of money - not least because the government has cut their grants. 

It is hard to tell how planning authorities will respond but they are in an invidious position. Give the go-ahead for drilling wells and they stand to be accused of putting money before the environment.

Refuse and others will complain that they are running scared and want to avoid becoming the next Balcombe, let alone forfeiting money that could be used to support crucial frontline services.

Fracking is controversial and the government's latest intervention is only likely to make it more so. In fact, it reinforces the perception that there are risks associated with the way shale gas is extracted.

After all, if the arguments in favour of fracking were so comprehensive and persuasive, would there be any need to make such offers?


Kent County Council has produced a new version of its report that rather controversially asserted that there was a link between the government's welfare reforms and rising crime, homelessness and food bank use.

It followed a decision from council leader Paul Carter to withdraw the report over concerns that the evidence on which conclusions were drawn was flawed and data was misnterpreted

Guess what?

The second report has concluded that the evidence on which the conclusions were drawn was indeed flawed and it was too early to say "with any certainty" what the impact of the changes might be.

Fancy that.



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Eastleigh: what lessons for Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 1 2013

It is always difficult to extrapolate from the result of a by-election what wider messages the voters have sent to politicians and how they might affect the parties' prospects in other areas.

So, is it possible to draw anything about Kent's political landscape from the outcome of the Eastleigh by-election?

Only in general terms, perhaps - particularly given that this was a seat where there was a two-way fight between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives which really has no parallel in most of the county's parliamentary constituencies.

The Liberal Democrats did not so much gallop to victory as hang on by their fingernails, which against the backdrop of the Chris Huhne affair and the Lord Rennard allegations, was arguably no mean feat.

The Conservatives had a miserable result, losing ground yet again to UKIP in a result that suggested that David Cameron's pledge for an "in-out" referendum on the EU did not help shore up the party's core vote.

That will worry Kent Tories who are very jittery about UKIP and see Nigel Farage's party as more of a threat to their prospects at May's county council election than anyone else. It was interesting to hear Michael Gove cite immigration as one of the "doorstep" issues mentioned by voters during the Eastleigh campaign - that, coupled with voters' concerns over the EU - make UKIP more than just a natural repository for protest votes.

Cameron's dilemma is whether to stick to the centre ground or adopt more right-wing policies to neutralise the UKIP threat.

For evidence closer to home of the potential for UKIP to take votes away from the Conservatives, the result of a by-election in Ashford is telling: UKIP came third in a contest won by Labour (it was a safe seat) but came within two votes of beating the Conservatives to take second place.

On the other hand, Labour should be equally alarmed that Ed Miliband's efforts to depict his party as a "one nation" party appears to have had little resonance with voters.

The phenomenon of Labour's "southern discomfort" is something the party is desperate to resolve: if it cannot attract voters back in the constituencies in Kent that it won during the Blair era, it will not be in a position to form the next government.

Eastleigh was never a seat where Labour had any chance of winning but it will have to ask why, given all the coalition's woes, it did not fare better.

UKIP didn't win but will undoubtedly be happiest at its surge in the polls.

The question now is whether in places like Kent, it can sustain its momentum in a way which means it is regarded by voters as  legitimate part of the political mainstream - and not just somewhere to register a protest against the others.

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Categories: National Politics

Conservatives scratch at their European itch

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, October 25 2011

Try as they might, the Conservatives have an unfortunate habit of scratching at a running sore that might be better left alone. Last night's rebellion, joined by four Kent backbenchers, was undeniably an embarrassment for David Cameron who seemed to have misjudged the mood among the ranks quite badly.

Kent MPs who joined revolt>>>

More than that, however, it exposes him to the damaging accusation that he presides over a disunited party and if there is one thing voters dislike more than anything, it is the sense that there is a split in the government.

His problem is that dissident Euro-sceptic backbenchers are a notoriously tenacious bunch, as unlikely to give up the cause as a dog with a tasty bone. The attritional warfare that blighted John Major in the 1990s sapped his government's energy and credibility over time and Cameron will have to do something to avoid a repetition. At the moment, his argument that powers are being repatriated strikes me as weak, largely because not many people understand the policy.

Adam Holloway, who quit as the PPS to the European minister, to join the revolt, was right to demolish the rather lame government line that 'now was not the right time' for a referendum. 

My suspicion is that rather more Kent backbenchers might have liked to join the rebellion. One interesting footnote to the debate is that back in 1996, when Bill Cash - the arch Eurosceptic - was causing his government so much grief - two of the county's MPs backed his Bill to force a referendum on our membership of the EU: Canterbury's Julian Brazier and North Thanet's Roger Gale.


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Categories: Precept

Why hacking scandal is an achiles heel for Cameron

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, July 8 2011

When voters in Kent go to the polls in 2015 to elect a new government, will they be pausing in the ballot box to reflect on how the government handled the hacking scandal and David Cameron's choice of Andy Coulson as his press chief?

No, tof course they won't. The state of the economy, the health service, schools and the nation's general prospects will be far more important and the conclusions of a Judicial inquiry into the Press will not be foremost in voters' minds.

Nevertheless, our view of politicians is influenced as much by what we think about their personal judgements and character as it by how they have run the country.

Which is why David Cameron is, arguably for the first time, finding people wondering about his sureness of touch and why it matters how he is responding to the current hacking scandal.

You won't find many people who will now give him credit for appointing Andy Couslon and, if it turns out that he is charged and convicted, people will wonder even more about the decision.

Like Blair, Cameron has (notwithstanding his Eton background) sought to capitalise on the sense that he is a "regular guy" who "gets it" when it comes to how the public view the government and its actions in responding to the kind of everyday challenges and problems most of us have.

But he has been on the back foot for much of this week and his usual adroitness in identifying with the general climate of public opinion over an issue has deserted him. 

He is now discovering how easy it is for the public's trust and faith to be eroded. Trust and integrity are incredibly valuable commodities for any politician.

And for a leader, it can be fatal to appear to be more concerned about the vested interests of commercial conglomerates and big business than the man or woman struggling to get through a recession. He is fortunate that it has not only the Conservatives who have danced to Murdoch's tune over the years.

Cameron has time to recover lost ground. But the hacking scandal has exposed a vulnerability and lack of deftness in the PM that has wounded him and left a nasty scar.

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Categories: Politics

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