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Protesting with Women Against State Pension Inequality in Cardiff

Mr Brennan recently joined Women Against State Pension Inequality's march to the Welsh Office in Cardiff to raise concerns that a number of women in Cardiff West are being treated unfairly by the UK Government's decision to increase women's pension age quicker than promised.

The 1995 Tory Government Pension Act first introduced plans to increase the age of retirement for women, but the current Tory Government has decided to implement this change quicker than 2011 Pension Act promised.

"The way the current Tory Government has introduced this far sooner than the 2011 Pension Act promised has been unfair and heartless," said Mr Brennan.

"It has meant many women have had no time to make alternative plans and their retirement plans have been shattered with devastating consequences.

"I have spoken to and received correspondence from a number of female constituents who are deeply upset and angry at the way this has been implemented.

"I was therefore happy to join this protest march and continue to campaign on their behalf for a fairer and less severe way of introducing this policy such as a 'bridging' pension to help those women effected until they reach 65."

A Squad system for the Lords

The publication of Boundary Commission Proposals for the next election has sparked a lively debate. Inevitably, there is a very close interest in this matter from MPs themselves, some of whom find that the new proposals cut up their beloved constituency into several pieces.

Every Boundary Review is certain to upset somebody, but this one is particularly difficult because of the arbitrary decision of the previous Coalition Government to simultaneously and arbitrarily cut the size of the House of Commons.

There is a further element in that a new rule has been introduced to make each Parliamentary constituency contain a closer number of registered voters. Although this sounds superficially fair, the way that the Government has gone about it has meant that two million registered voters are not even counted for the purpose of drawing up the boundaries. On the Labour side, we believe that this has been deliberately done to diminish our electoral fortunes.

It will be difficult to reverse this part of what the Government is doing, but there is a growing concern, across all Parties, about the reduction in the number of elected MPs from 650 to 600.

This was initially proposed by David Cameron as an austerity measure to reduce the ‘cost of politics’. Circumstances have changed radically in such a way that I believe this proposal no longer commands majority support in the House of Commons. There are a number of reasons for this.

1) The Government is reducing the number of elected MPs whilst adding to the number of unelected Peers, exploding the argument that this is about reducing the ‘cost of politics’. What it is doing in practice is reducing the level of democratic accountability in our political system.

2) As a result of the Brexit referendum, and on the assumption that Brexit really does mean Brexit, the UK will no longer have elected MEPs. So the cost of politics is being reduced at a European level and there will be fewer elected politicians in any case.

3) All of the issues that came under the competence of MEPs and the European Union will transfer to Parliament, but will have to be handled by fewer MPs than pre-Brexit. It was already acknowledged that the level of scrutiny of issues dealt with in Europe needed to improve even before full competence for those issues is returned to the British Parliament.

4) The Government has not proposed any corresponding reduction in Ministers. The number of MPs is being reduced by 50, but Britain’s bloated payroll vote in Parliament means that over a fifth of MPs are compelled to support collective responsibility and vote with the Government. This already high percentage will be increased by the reduction in the number of elected members. Many backbench colleagues on the Conservative side are extremely unhappy about this prospect and its implications for the effectiveness of Parliamentary scrutiny of a powerful executive.

So what is to be done?

The Government could solve this whilst keeping its equalisation of constituencies reform but working much harder to ensure everyone is on the register and then moving towards automatic registration of voters as soon as that is technically achievable.

For all the reasons outlined above however, it should abandon plans to cut the number of elected members and instruct the Boundary Commission to redraw their proposals based on 650 rather than 600 seats.

Lords reform is notoriously difficult, not least because the Commons is split three ways across Party lines on this matter. There are those like me who would like to see an elected Second Chamber with clearly laid-out, limited powers. There are others who believe an elected Chamber would inevitably become too powerful and challenge the authority of the House of Commons, and feel it is best left pretty much as an appointed House. And then there are the abolitionists.

On the principle that we should never let perfection become the enemy of the good, and that politics is the art of the possible, it seems to me that only an imaginative initiative could deal with the problem of the bloated size of the House of Peers.

I have suggested in the Commons that a lesson could be taken from sport. We could introduce a squad system in the House of Lords, capping the number of active Peers at any one time to say, 500. Initially, the numbers would be allocated in proportion to the current make-up of the Lords. Each Party group and the Crossbenchers would, from amongst themselves, nominate which Peers were actively members of their squad, and entitled to speak and vote.

This is in effect what already happens with hereditary peers who are limited to 93, although ideally they would be abolished in this reform.

Peers not selected could retain their titles, and even have lunch in the Lords if they so wished, but would not be entitled to an attendance allowance or access to the other political trappings of a Peerage.

In other words, Peers would be brought onto the bench, rather than off the bench, as happens in the sporting world. There is no reason why Party groups could not be free to bring onto the bench a Peer with a particular expertise provided they substituted another Peer out of the squad.

It might even become an annual political event when the squads were announced, just like the hullaballoo around the announcement of the Ryder Cup squad or the British and Irish Lions: perhaps not.

Whatever the solution, the current growth in the size of the Lords is unsustainable, and the proposals the cut the number of elected MPs is constitutionally dangerous. At some point soon, the Commons, I am sure, find a way to express its view in a vote. The Government would be better to pre-empt that defeat by abandoning their cull of elected Members.

What Next: Grammar Hospitals?

Imagine a hospital where patients have to take a fitness test in order to qualify for treatment.

At the Grammar Hospital for the healthier, only those with next to nothing wrong would be accepted for treatment. Patients would have to be able to run 10 miles to be eligible for an MRI, to comfortably deadlift to be offered dialysis. You’d have to be fighting fit to get an IV drip. An existing diagnosis? They’d show you the door.

Such a hospital would be able to brag about its great outcomes and people would be keen to be treated there. You’d almost certainly be discharged in good health; back to your old self again. Not even Jeremy Hunt could conjure up a scary weekend death-rate statistic. There would be little chance of infection in the waiting room either because nobody’s ill, although you might catch a serious case of smug.

And it would probably be a pleasant place to work for those who are medically trained. There would be little need for surgery so scrubs would stay nice and clean, and no need to work the night shift since most patients could go home. This would leave both doctors and patients refreshed enough to spend their days congratulating each other on their miraculous recoveries and medical skills respectively.

And of course Tory Ministers would wax lyrical on the success of their ‘Healing for the Healthy’ initiative and of the quality of service they and their families receive at their local grammar hospital branch. Good outcomes, high efficiency, low operating costs.

Meanwhile at the local Secondary Modern hospital, staff would be working valiantly to treat the rest of the population, but the outcomes would never match those of the Grammar Hospitals.

Of course in reality, no one would propose that a public-service based on the principles of fair access for all should function like this, would they?

Affordable homes to be available next year at Ely Paper Mill

Kevin Brennan MP recently visited the Ely Paper Mill site to see how the development of 800 houses was coming along and was pleased to learn the first houses will be occupied sometime next year.

The £100 million development is one of Wales' biggest redevelopment programmes with half of the houses being built set to be affordable homes.

"It's great to hear that some people will already be living in completed houses by the end of next year," said Mr Brennan.

"I have been calling for more affordable housing to be built in the West of the city for sometime and it's pleasing to see it coming to fruition.

"I've been told that most of the infrastructure will be in place by the end of 2016 with 102 houses being available to rent by the end of 2017.

"When completed there will be a total of 442 houses available for rent with 75 of these being for social housing and 325 available at a discounted rent price.

"I will continue to closely monitor the development and look forward to seeing some new afforable housing in Cardiff West."

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.