Proceed slowly, Cameron

KRM & DC2Well, David, you have won and lost all at the same time.  You have won the immediate argument – just – but you now have a huge and long-term problem of securing constitutional reform that will satisfy most if not all and, particularly, England.

You have promised greater powers to Scotland’s parliament and you have said the Barnett formula will remain.  Lord knows why you have perpetuated a highly unfair financial allocation model. What you are now facing is a vociferous campaign by Wales and Northern Ireland to try to lever in similar devolution to their small statelets.  However, the bigger and quieter issue is England and it will not be quiet much longer.

To suggest you can develop a constitutional settlement for the whole of the UK on the timescale you have suggested is plain daft.  This is the largest constitutional change since the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 if not of Henry VIII’s split with the Roman Church.  It needs a lot more time and it needs to encapsulate local government in England as well as national government.

I think you are going to have to do your best with the Scottish settlement on your timetable and then do a proper job on the rest of the UK.  You do not have the slightest chance of a good deal for England in that timescale and the last thing we need is a short-term fudge that will come back to haunt us.

I note the demands from some of our English cities for devolution of powers and this has to be exactly right.  I make no apology for reminding you of the role of Joe Chamberlain in building the infrastructure of Birmingham.  It worked and it could work again.  However, this is about creating viable and sustainable functional economic regions.  It would mean combining many councils that presently govern cities like Birmingham and Manchester into a single city region council. This model is already working in some areas but it has great potential in many more. Boris has demonstrated this simple fact in London.

However, we should not be blinded by cities’ demands for more autonomy to think they are the only areas capable of delivering economic growth.  There are county areas that are also functional economic areas and Oxfordshire is a brilliant example.  Oxford City in its centre is too small to be a functional economic area alone but the whole of Oxfordshire is.  I would argue strongly that functional economic areas like Oxfordshire should be given the same powers as the larger metropolitan areas.

When Parliament reformed local government in Scotland, it was put in place almost overnight and it works.  There is no point in trying to reform England’s local government piecemeal and with consultation and consensus.  You need to work out what will work and create economic growth and then get on with it.  It is the only way.  You also need to understand the economies of scale and the recognition of functional economic areas.

Good luck!

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Scotland sees sense – now, will Cameron?

uniion jackAfter all the media hype, it was very comforting to wake this morning to find that we still have a United Kingdom and by a convincing margin of 54:46.  I spent a couple of days in the Scottish borders, visiting my English aunt who is 103 years old and still hale and hearty and who voted NO. Also my English cousins who have lived and worked and now retired in Scotland and who voted NO.  They will be celebrating today along with those who wanted to stay together.

Several things were particularly noticeable as we drove up from Oxfordshire to the Scottish Borders.  After you cross the border, the roads improve, the streets are cleaner and it is clear that the public sector is everywhere; in housing stock and in public buildings.  We stayed in Melrose, about the size of Bloxham but feeling more like a market town but without the ghastly urban housing estates Bloxham has suffered.  It seemed to be thriving and there was a rugby club, a tennis club and a number of other apparently well supported community buildings.  My aunt commended free prescriptions for all and my cousins lamented the fact that Scottish youngsters had a free university alongside youngsters from EU states but not potential English students who had to pay.  This felt like a country that expected but was willing to pay for a high level of public services.

It also felt like a divided country.  After crossing the border, there were plenty of large NO signs in the farmers’ fields and we saw few YES posters until we visited Galashiels where they predominated in the swathes of council housing.  Two days is no time to understand a nation but I sense a big political divide between those who expect high funded, high level public services that someone else will pay for and those who realise they are likely to be called on for that payment!  Which brings me to the central question of “what now”.

Despite a clear NO for independence, it is equally clear that the Scots are discontented and believe much of Salmond’s rhetoric about deprivation and unfairness and we need to put that right.  What we don’t need to do is for England to pay the price of this correction. We have already backed ourselves into a corner by pledging to keep the Barnett formula – a crass bit of political crisis mismanagement if ever there was one – which gives Scotland  £24 of public spending for every £20 England has.  No wonder they can afford free prescriptions, free university tuition, better roads and more public services!  Well, if Scotland wants them, Scotland must have them but Scotland must pay for them. So, by all means give them greater parliamentary powers, particularly to raise Scottish taxes, providing England does not pick up the bill for their Socialist tendencies.

By all means retain the Barnett formula but for heavens sake look at how it works and re-jig it to allocate public spending on a simple per-capita basis so that every £20 Scotland has to spend is matched by £20 for England.

St George flagThere is another consequence of the Independence referendum. It is the necessary consequence of greater parliamentary power for Scotland and is greater parliamentary power for England.  Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on purely English matters when English MPs cannot vote on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament?  It is time for complementarity with Scottish MPs debarred from voting on the English NHS or any other matter where Scotland has devolved powers and, as Scotland is given more, the argument for a separate English Parliament at Westminster, excluding Scottish MPs becomes overwhelming.

There is more.  Scotland is not the only part of the United Kingdom to feel discontent. We live with the most centralised government in the democratic world and, if Scotland deserves more devolved powers, so does local government in England.  Over the last fifty years – many of them under Conservative governments – local government has become more and more emasculated with the corset of tight central government control over finance and many policy areas.  If devolution is good for a part of the country it is good for all of it and this should involve enhanced powers and freedoms for local government.  It is time to take off the shackles, David and Eric, to trust local government and to allow it to prosper again and the communities it serves.  Remember what Jo Chamberlain did for Birmingham.  There is that capacity and talent in local government but you need to strike off the shackles that presently bind it.

There may be a price to pay by local government.  I last visited Scotland 3 years ago, meeting John Swinney among others and I was impressed when he explained that there are just 32 Scottish local authorities and they are unitary.  The government can meet the 32 leaders in a medium sized meeting room and have a coherent discussion. Compare this with the number and divergence of English local authorities and you start to see the problem.  In particular, the two tier structure in county areas is plain mad and bad.  No sane legislator would invent it with split, confusing and illogical responsibilities. While social care is a county responsibility; housing sits with district councils. While libraries are a county responsibility, recreation lies with the districts. Maddest of all, planning used to be split and still is but less logically than ever. Strategic planning used to be a county responsibility with the need to produce a county-wide structure plan while districts dealt with detailed planning policy. This changed when the Blair government introduced regional planning and abolished the Structure Plan. Regional planning has subsequently been abolished by the coalition while planning more generally has undergone further “reform”. The result is that there is no broad scale, high level strategic planning at a regional or sub-regional level and districts are generally too small to take a long and strategic view of a functional economic area. County councils remain the highway authorities and have a role but a diminishing one in education. In the latter, they are responsible for managing the education market to a certain extent and this includes managing future school needs in terms of growing or declining pupil numbers. All in all, there is only one word to describe our present two-tier system – shambolic.

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles

imageSo Dave and Eric, you need to be brave and resolute.  Don’t let Salmond bully you and don’t forget England in dealing with Scotland’s problems.  England is seething with discontent as well and needs more devolution to reflect the different needs of different areas and to re-engage electors who have lost all confidence in the political system largely through the perception of remoteness and disinterest whether real or imagined.  You have a huge canvass on which to paint a better and more localised political landscape and not a lot of time in which to start to get it right.

 

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Last Night of the British Proms?

I arrived home from my Masonic meeting last night in time for the last part of the Last Night of the Proms and could not help wondering if this would be the Last Night of the British Proms?

The audiences in the Albert Hall and the other venues were having a great time singing Jerusalem.

When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves"
 NOTE: Not “England” but “Britannia”

And then we had Elgar in all his glory:

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

Listening to Rule Britannia and Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance No 1, and watching the Union Flags (commingling the cross of St George with the Scottish saltire of St Andrew and the Northern Irish saltire of St Patrick) being waved wildly, I had to ask if the Scots could be so stupid as to destroy a political union that has lasted a bit over 300 years. I fear they just might but, if they do, I am afraid they will have been bamboozled by some very clever but thoroughly dishonest Scottish politicians into believing that Scotland has not prospered under the Union.

For fifty years, the Barnett Formula, named after Joel Barnett (a Labour politician) has divided public spending between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.  For every £100 allocated to England, Scotland receives £121; Wales £114 and Northern Ireland £132.  You only need to drive over the border into Scotland to notice the improvement in the road surface and the highway infrastructure.  No wonder they don’t charge student tuition fees!  No wonder there are no prescription charges in Scotland!  England is paying for them.  I have grown tired of hearing Scottish politicians winge about their country being deprived and starved of resources.  It is complete nonsense.

If they opt for independence, we need to make sure they do not continue to take more than their share from the national pot.  This implies that Socialist Scotland will want to continue its current high spending pattern but will not have the income to do it.  I suspect they will then want to borrow to find their spending habit and their dependency culture.  Who will guarantee their debt?  If they continue to use sterling as their currency, the Bank of England will.  A bit like a divorced man handing his ex-wife a pile of pre-signed cheques to his bank account.  Sheer madness and we must make sure it does not happen.  If the Scots leave us, they must leave our currency.  Will they join the Euro?  They would be stupid if they did.  Will they float the Scottish groat?  You must be joking!  Independence has to be a stupid idea on financial grounds alone but think about defence and diplomacy.

Will Scotland have its own fleet? Its own Air Force? Its own army? What sheer nonsense! Similarly, will we see Scottish embassies and consulates springing up around the world?

Get real, Scotland!

 

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The Great Scottish Question

Saltire

Saltire

There is a considerable irony that I will be in Scotland next week to see my (English) aunt who is presently 103 years old.  She moved there when her (English) daughter and (English) son-in-law moved there with his work.   I assume they will all have a vote in the Great Scottish Question next week while Scots who are living elsewhere will not. Add to that the extension of the Scottish franchise to 16-year olds who will mainly have had no experience of earning a living or the realities of the real world and we all face interesting and challenging times!

The debate seems to be polarising on political issues with the Scottish Labour voters apparently favouring separation.  I can understand this.  At a superficial level, I could be attracted to the idea of losing Scottish MPs from the Westminster Parliament, thus guaranteeing a permanently Conservative Westminster administration.  This would enable us to sort out the inefficient and bloated NHS and, perhaps, even our school system that has failed generations of pupils because of slavish adherence to the teacher unions, to trendy teaching styles and political correctness.

At the same time, the Scots can revert to the socialist model they clearly desire with state funded and managed health and school systems with no fear of intrusion from the South. Of course, the question to ask is why health and education seem to work in Scotland but nowhere as well in England?   Could it be connected with the Barnett Formula that allocates £25 to Scotland for every £20 allocated to England?  No wonder the roads improve as one crosses the border.  No wonder there are no student fees in Scotland!

While I could suffer a momentary attachment to the idea of a permanent Conservative government for England in the same way that the Scots seem to be attracted to gaining permanent socialism in their country, I cannot contemplate the sheer stupidity of this view in the longer term.

To start the break up of the United Kingdom as Salmond and his team are clearly determined and as will surely follow with Wales and Northern Ireland as day follows night seems to me to be complete madness.  This will relegate Great Britain or,  more accurately, the separate nation states of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to small countries no longer able to punch above their weight and no longer enjoying a special relationship with the USA.  Do we really want this?

Do we really believe it is anyone’s interest to divide our armed forces and our overseas representation?  Do we really think we will gain by years of argument over how much of the bloated national debt belongs to each of the nation states? Do we expect England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to enjoy the same credit rating in the money markets as the United Kingdom?   Will the Barnett Formula continue to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a much larger share of the national revenue pool than England?

I am afraid that Gordon Brown’s campaign to save the Union may well help the separatist cause and I fear the same is true about Cameron, Miliband and Clegg tramping off to Scotland.  It may be too late to save the United Kingdom and an emasculated but permanently Conservative England is a poor second.

Are the Scots really that stupid?   I fear they may be.

 

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Cherwell – solving the housing shortage or building tomorrow’s slums?

cherwell-logoCherwell District Council is not alone in having a serious problem in planning but residents of Cherwell will draw no comfort from knowing others are suffering the same destruction of their cultural and architectural heritage, particularly in the rural areas.

Cherwell has failed to produce a valid local plan and, as a result, developers are now enjoying open season, able to secure planning permission on appeal if not from the council on almost every application they submit.

For villages like Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote, the result is the bolting on of unsightlyMilton Road north and very urban housing estates around the edges of these fine old Domesday villages.  If you want evidence, drive from Adderbury to Bloxham along the Milton Road and see what the planners have done in Bloxham on either side of the Milton Road.  Alternatively, drive along the Oxford Road through Bodicote towards Banbury and see the horrible urbanisation of this fine village with 1,000 houses currently planned on the east side of the Oxford Road and within Bodicote Parish and, it now seems, even more to come.

Residents had drawn a small crumb of comfort when Cherwell submitted its local plan for inspection  earlier this year.  However, the government-appointed inspector almost immediately sent it back to Cherwell with an instruction to plan for an additional 6,000 homes.  This blog comments on Cherwell’s response to that instruction which is now out for consultation.

The response contains almost exclusively bad news for those who live in villages.

The Bodicote/Bankside site – already planned to see 1,000 houses – is to see “more intensive use of the site”.  In plain English, this means even smaller little tick-tack boxes, closer together, with smaller individual garden space, with even less storage space and deliberately discouraging the motor car with restrictive parking policies when every sane person knows the car is the only way for most people to manage their life styles.

Land south of Salt Way has been approved for more housing.  This breaches what has long been seen as a natural boundary between Banbury and its rural hinterland.   It is difficult to see what will prevent the joining up of Banbury with Bloxham and Bodicote in the next decade if this plan is accepted.

The rural areas are to have another 500 housing units imposed on them.  Of course, this will be restricted to the larger and “more sustainable” villages.  This places villages like Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote directly in the firing line.

If there is a single crumb of comfort, it ought to be in the undertaking to review the plan in terms of “design & connectivity” in the rural areas.  I am not holding my breath but I hope this means Cherwell have realised how angry villagers are at seeing urban-style housing estates planted on the edges of their villages.  The estates might be found in Banbury, Barnstaple, Bradford, Biggleswade, Birmingham, Bolton or Brighton and bear no relation to the village in which they have now been planted and that has evolved gently and thoughtfully since the Domesday Book.

I suppose the only question on which to end is “who has let down the people of North Oxfordshire’s villages?”  Partly, it has to be Cherwell who have failed to produce a valid Local Plan. Partly, it has to be the coalition who have failed to recognise either the pressure on councils in the South East or the failure of trendy environmental policies (encouraging walking and cycling and discouraging use of the motor car) to recognise the fundamental difference between urban and rural parts of the country. Above all, I think it is the emasculation of local government over the last fifty years that has destroyed public confidence and the ability of local government to deliver economic prosperity through planned and sustainable growth.

It is fascinating to hear two political groups promising a return of power to  local government.  They are UKIP and the Labour party.  Both are a joke.

UKIP has no chance of becoming a government; only of preventing Conservatives from forming a government.  The sooner we forget them, the better.

Labour might seem to be a more formidable opponent with their recent letter from Hilary Benn to all Council Leaders.  Pause and take breath.  When has the Treasury of any government ever allowed a reduction in central government’s power?  Add to this the socialist belief in centralising bureaucracy and you will start to understand the left’s unshakeable belief that they can run the economy better than the real economy.

 

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Rotherham – the question that dare not be asked

Prof Alexis Jay

Prof Alexis Jay

The news that at least 1,400 children were sexually abused over a sixteen-year period in Rotherham and that those who should have pursued and prevented the abusers instead turned a blind eye is as baffling as it is appalling.  Or is it?

In her report, Professor Alexis Jay makes it clear that police and social care senior management turned a blind eye to regular complaints and pleas for help because of a fear that identifying the abusers as mainly Asian men and the victims as mainly white young women would have provoked accusations of racial prejudice.

The question that needs to be asked is “what would have happened in Rotherham if the abusers had been a gang of villainous white men and the victims had been young Asian girls?”  I think we all know the answer.  The police and social services would have descended on the abusers like a ton of bricks.  There would have been no place to hide and they would have been brought to justice in the twinkling of an eye and in a blaze of righteous publicity.

We have allowed political correctness to invade every strand of public service and it has been busy driving out common sense.  If you were a police inspector or a social worker, faced with a tearful, frightened and bruised young woman who spoke of brutal and inhuman treatment would not your first reaction be: this is terrible; this might have been my child or my sister?  It certainly should have been.  However, when the abused child describes her abuser as being “Asian”, it seems the authorities developed paroxysms of fear lest news should leak out and the Asian community should be offended. Thus, the result seems to have been to brush the whole thing under the carpet and to hope it would go away.  Rotherham is not unique and my own council saw a similar but, thankfully, smaller instance of abuse that was finally brought to criminal proceedings but only after an inordinately long time.

Political correctness, when embedded in a public body’s practices can be a pernicious evil because it brooks no opposition; it disallows the application of commons sense and reason.  Public servants are literally brain washed into the importance of equality, equal opportunities, gender neutrality and other, equally murky areas like climate change, sustainable energy and carbon reduction.  All are civilised and civilising tenets but not when applied blindly and so as to drive out common sense and common humanity.

The immediate issue of ignoring horrific abuse because of a fear of upsetting an ethnic community has to be embraced and dealt with.  For the longer term, the supremacy of politically correct doctrines over the application of good old fashioned common sense needs to be addressed.

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Miliband savaged by Oxford Labour Party

I repeat below an extract from the Huffington Post blog with some amusement.

 

Red Ed

Red Ed

Ed Miliband’s policy agenda has been branded “pathetic”, “catastrophic”, “mealy-mouthed” and “bland” by the Labour Party’s grassroots.  The criticism for much of Labour’s policy platform came in response to the party’s policy review on its Your Britain website, which Miliband said aimed to “give a voice to members” as the party shaped a manifesto to win the 2015 general election.

An analysis of the feedback by The Huffington Post UK found that several Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) are less than impressed with the party’s current offer to voters.

In a submission this May, the Labour Party in Oxford branded the party’s economic proposals “wishy-washy” and full of “anodyne general statements that mean little in practise”.

The Oxford party concluded after an all-member meeting that the leadership’s plan for economic growth was “bland”, adding that the party’s proposed industrial strategy also had “no evidence of what it would contain”.

Miliband’s proposals to reform the banking sector with a “tough ringfence” between the retail banking and investment banking arms were similarly derided. “Those are the sort of weasel words used by the coalition and we should avoid meaningless phrases,” the Oxford East and West constituency Labour party associations warned.

The Labour leader’s beloved “One Nation” mantra was dismissed as “overused”, with members saying that it was still reminiscent of the Tories and Victorian-era prime minister Benjamin Disraeli “to those of us [the majority] who have studied British political history”.

Andrew Smith MP

Andrew Smith MP

Lady Liz Brighouse Oxon CC Labour Leader

Lady Liz Brighouse
Oxon CC Labour Leader

My thanks to the Huffington Post for this insight into the local Labour Party’s thinking. I wonder whether Andrew Smith (MP for Oxford East) and Lady Liz Brighouse (County Council Labour Leader of the Opposition) were present at the all-member meeting?

MilibandE4

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