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New Prime Minister, same old Tory politics

I am old enough to remember when Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street. When she did so her first statement seemed to suggest that she would be a unifying, One Nation Prime Minister despite her previous right-wing credentials within the Conservative Party.

She even went so far as to quote Saint Francis of Assisi;

"Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope”

The years that came brought serious discord, error and despair, and the faith Thatcher brought was a compassionless laisse faire capitalism which devastated many communities.

So it was with some scepticism that I listened to the words of the new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May on entering number 10 Downing Street. Perhaps my scepticism will be proved unfounded in practice, but her record in office and her choice of Cabinet Ministers gives little comfort to those thinking that her apparent signalling of a more moderate and consensual politics will be more meaningful than Mrs Thatcher’s proved to be.

The problem with so-called ‘compassionate Conservatism’ is the contrast between rhetoric and reality.

‘Compassionate’ is the rhetoric. ‘Conservative’ is the reality.

In fact there was very little compassion about the way that Theresa May ran her department as Home Secretary. Some of the practices which have been developed in recent years are the opposite of compassionate. For example, it’s no coincidence that there is a spike in the number of deportations of asylum seekers around Christmas when the Home Office knows that many of the agencies who might intervene in order to assist those being deported are less likely to be open. This of course includes the offices of Members of Parliament who often deal with cases of this kind.

Of course it is right that we have a rules based system of immigration and asylum, and inevitably some people whom are not entitled to remain in the United Kingdom will be removed. But the way it has operated under Theresa May as Home Secretary has become less and less compassionate in its nature. On the evidence I see little reason to believe that this will be any different under Theresa May as Prime Minister in other areas of public policy where a dose of discretionary compassion from the State would be welcome.

And the signs are not good when you look at her cabinet appointments. The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox who previously left office in disgrace is a right wing ideologue who makes Donald Trump look like St Francis of Assisi. The trade deals he will make on our behalf will be skewed in the interest of big corporates rather than working people and publicly run services.

He has also previously called for NHS spending to be cut, opposed plans to increase foreign aid spending and has criticised gay marriage as “social engineering”.

David Davis has expressed concerns about the impact of paid maternity and paternity leave as well as action to deliver equal pay for women, criticised ‘green’ targets for the environment and winter fuel payments for the elderly. Can we expect him to defend the social rights currently protected by the EU in our Brexit negotiations?

The appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary has been widely ridiculed. He has previously said he wants a different model of healthcare to the NHS, wants to water down our employment rights and give millionaires more tax cuts. He has even used the racial heritage of President Obama to question the US leader's attitude to Britain.

The new International Development Secretary Priti Patel wanted to scrap that department. Andrea Leadsom wants to bring back fox hunting, and has been a climate change sceptic.

This is not the cabinet of someone who genuinely wants British Politics to move to the centre.  It is a cabinet even more right wing than David Cameron’s.  In the coming months Labour needs to expose this and argue for a politics of the centre-left that can provide a credible electoral alternative to the most right wing Government since Margret Thatcher's.

Resignation from the Front Bench

The Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn
House of Commons

28th June 2016

Dear Jeremy,

Having reflected overnight following the PLP meeting I have decided to stand down as Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry after 11 years on the Labour front bench.  I do so after a great deal of agonising because by instinct I am a loyalist.  In 15 years in the Commons I have voted only once against the Party’s position when on March 18th 2003 with 138 Labour colleagues including yourself I voted against the war in Iraq.

From last night’s meeting it is clear that today’s PLP vote of no confidence in your leadership will carry.  You made it clear that you would not stand down whatever the outcome.  In a subsequent leadership contest colleagues serving on your front bench, including me, will inevitably be expected to nominate or publicly support you for Leader. Although I have the greatest respect for you, I have always believed that it is my duty in any contest to support the person I genuinely believe would make the best Leader of the party with the potential to be elected as a future Labour Prime Minister. Despite your many admirable qualities as a campaigner on often unpopular causes, I would not feel able to nominate or support you for leader.

It was not my intention to resign, but it would be dishonest of me to stay under these circumstances. I want to thank you for allowing me to serve, and I am proud of the work we did to win major concessions on the odious Trade Union Bill, our defeat of the Tories on Sunday Trading, and our success in dragging the Tory government, against its ideological instincts, towards intervening to save our vital steel industry.

In closing I thank you for your unfailing courtesy as a colleague over many years, but given the situation I feel that it is only right that I should step down.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Brennan MP
Cardiff West

Wales Bill could allow Assembly to introduce compulsory voting

Wales Bill - 14 June 2016

Kevin Brennan: The Secretary of State said that he would get to this point, but he has not answered my question, which is not about who will be able to vote, but whether the Bill will give powers to enable the Assembly to introduce compulsory voting if it chooses to do so. For clarity’s sake, it is very important that we know whether the answer to that question is yes or no.

Alun Cairns: I am happy to clarify that matter. The Bill gives provision for who votes rather than for compulsory voting.

Albert Owen: My hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff West and for Wrexham have been campaigning hard on compulsory voting. This is a great opportunity for the Welsh Government to be radical. Let us give them the tools to do the job. If the Welsh Government decide that they want compulsory voting in Wales, that would be a good step forward.

I give way to the Secretary of State. I realise that I have taken up more time than I wanted to.

Alun Cairns: The hon. Gentleman is making a considered speech. I have had further information since the earlier questions about compulsory voting. I am happy to clarify that compulsory voting is permitted under the Bill as drafted.

Albert Owen: That is excellent news, and it is on the record. It is a victory for the three of us on the Labour Back Benches that we will now have the opportunity for compulsory voting in Wales, which I think is a radical step. Hansard will make that known, but I hope the media in Wales are watching the progress of the Bill. After all, it is not dry as dust, but is about the real issues affecting people, including compulsory voting.