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Nick Harvey: The bigger picture

We’ve learnt many lessons over the past three years; in the run up to 2015 it’s time to put some of those into practice, says Nick Har...

 

This is an important conference for Liberal Democrats. With less than two years until we face the polls again, and three years of Coalition politics under our belts, we must now lead a party of Government into the next election.

Nuclear power, housing and the economy, among many others, weigh in on this year’s conference agenda. The press will be avidly watching the perceived fight between moving toward a strategic centre ground on some of these key issues, and the political mood of the party’s grassroots. The media frenzy will revolve around questions that will be asked about ‘disengagement strategies’ from the Tories, and with members critical of various Government policies, how we can sell the virtues of coalition to the electorate next time around.

Despite all this, we must remember the job at hand – something I believe our membership and parliamentarians are united in seeing as the number one priority of this Coalition Government: tackling the enormous deficit we inherited from Labour, and getting the country’s economy back on track. Many completely undesirable measures have had to be introduced to this end.

But for all the hyperbole about the savagery of cuts, at the end of the entire austerity era the size of “the State” will only be back to where it was 10 years ago, when Tony Blair was proclaiming an economic miracle and a permanent end to “boom and bust”.

Nor will deficit reduction have gone any further than Labour promised at the last election – without the faintest idea how it was going to achieve it or what pain would be entailed.

We have proven our worth and capabilities in Government with such achievements as raising the tax threshold to £10,000 and taking many of the lowest earners out of tax completely, record raises in pensions and helping the most disadvantaged children in our society with the Pupil Premium – to name a few. But of course we have learnt many lessons over the past three years and as we move towards 2015, it is time to put some of those into practice.

As a party of Government, we have the bigger picture in mind: what we can achieve next time around. The Lib Dems have a clear identity: reflected by our mantra of standing for a stronger economy in a fairer society. It is evident that the Tories do not prioritise fairness in our society, just as Labour’s economic incompetence prevails. This is our message as we go into the next election, and on our key issues we will not lose the traditional Lib Dem streak we have built our reputation on – but we must also be pragmatic.

Trident is one of those key issues – which I have played a part in over the years – that will be put to our membership at conference this year. The Government’s Trident Alternatives Review, which I started during my time as Armed Forces Minister, opened up this debate again recently and confirmed that there are, indeed, alternatives to like-for-like replacement. The policy proposal being put before the conference is bold and radical, though work remains to be done in explaining it to the party and country.

Polling figures show roughly equal support for the three basic options of replacing like-for-like, total disarmament and scaling down. But fighting the next election on the promise of unilateral nuclear disarmament, an unrealistic outcome at the present time no matter which party is in government, risks the Lib Dems being dismissed from the serious debate entirely. Conference this year will be presented with a clear proposal: pointing a clear route to the exit door, but leaving a foothold for the future just in case.

Taking a step down the nuclear ladder is the right thing to do at this point in time, and there is an audience out there willing to listen to that. The Lib Dems have to decide to be part of the broad church that builds the outcome, or prefer the cosy comfort zone of complete disarmament, which risks vacating the field and missing the opportunity to affect the outcome at all.  

 

 

 

 

Simon Hughes: Welcome to Conference

At this year’s conference we must champion everything we have achieved in Government. But we must also challenge ourselves, for our co...

 

It is good to be back in Glasgow for a federal Liberal Democrat conference again. I hope it reminds Liberal Democrat members, supporters and the wider public of our proud record as supporters of the Union, but long time and principled campaigners for devolution and self-government in Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland, too). As a London MP, I should add that I am aware that there is still much work to be done on proper devolution in England as well.

Liberal Democrats entered Government in 2010 in the national interest. We did this in coalition with our traditional opponents because this was the only way of securing a majority government strong enough to deal with the economic crisis left after 13 years of Labour, the mismanagement of the banks and the international financial crisis. The only alternative would have been a minority Conservative government followed no doubt by an early general election with a high chance of a clear Conservative majority. I would not have wished to have been responsible for that. 

From the beginning our objective was to work over the full five year term to deliver our twin goals of a stronger economy and a fairer society. Our aim is an economy stronger than the one left by Labour and a society fairer than any the Conservatives could be expected to deliver. (We should of course always remember that the Labour record on the fairer society is nothing to applaud given the legacy of bankers’ bonuses, huge personal debt and the greatly increased gap between the rich and poor between 1997 and 2010). 

Liberal Democrats should be proud of the contribution we’ve made over the last 40 months to both of our original objectives. Inflation and interest rates are still low; job creation, company creation and apprenticeships are at record levels; unemployment is beginning to come down and growth to increase. Slowly, but with increasing confirmation from the statistics on issues such as manufacturing and exports, and the analysis of independent commentators from home and abroad, we appear to be on the road to economic growth. 

The number one priority in our manifesto in 2010 was to lift the income tax threshold from £6,475 to £10,000. By April next year we will have fully achieved this – lifting 2.5 million people out of tax altogether, and giving over 24 million people a lower tax bill. More money will have been put in the hands of those on the lowest incomes.  

The second major success we should be proud of is helping businesses to create more jobs. We should celebrate the fact that since we came into Government over one million new jobs have been created in the private sector. We are now pulling out all the stops in Government and in councils we run to create one million more jobs and deliver on our new one million jobs campaign. 

But there have been many other achievements as well. We have introduced the ‘pupil premium’, providing £2.5bn to support the most disadvantaged young people to have the education and training they need; we are helping parents by providing 15 hours free childcare per week for all disadvantaged two year olds; we are tackling climate change and supporting the low carbon economy by introducing the Green Deal and the first ever Green Investment Bank; we are supporting pensioners by having restored the earnings link to the basic state pension, giving state pensioners an extra £500 per year; and empowering local communities by giving them the opportunity to buy local shops, pubs and other community assets. We are also the only party really standing up for civil liberties by implementing policies such as reducing the maximum length of pre-charge detention, and scrapping the expensive and intrusive ID card scheme.

So there is much to celebrate. We should focus our attention on these successes and be proud of the fact that after decades in opposition, we are back in Government and making a real difference.

Of course, we should also enjoy and celebrate the fact that we are the most democratic of the three major parties – and passionately but respectfully debate, discuss and disagree on the major issues of the day. Welfare reform, university tuition fees and foreign affairs have at times divided the party. These and others understandably remain controversial subjects for many of our members and supporters. This conference as always we must listen to and respect the diversity of views that exist throughout our membership. We must provide the space and time for all our supporters to express their views and be listened to. 

Conference is a time to debate and discuss new policy, but it is also a time to come together and focus on the principles and values that unite us. Liberal politics must be a shared endeavour. At this year’s conference we must champion enthusiastically everything we have achieved in Government. But we must also challenge ourselves, for our country’s sake, to do even more. 

 

 

 

Sajid Javid: City Smarts

One of the brightest stars of the 2010 intake is already an established minister. What next for Sajid Javid?

 

Sajid Javid is sharp, razor sharp. Pointing to his shaved head, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury says proudly that his distinctive hairstyle (or lack of one) is all his own work. “Gillette Mach 3 Turbo, takes me two minutes,” he smiles.

Self-reliance, efficiency, cutting to the chase are characteristic features of a man whose impact in Government has helped him underline a reputation as one of the brightest of the 2010 intake’s rising stars.

While others have failed to live up to their promise or are still waiting for promotion, Javid has spent the past year taking on increasingly important roles at the Treasury, covering everything from the Help to Buy scheme and retail banking to pensions, tax credits and payday loans.

With the mini-reshuffle still planned for this autumn and Javid seen as a candidate for bigger things, George Osborne may have a battle keeping him. Javid is careful to stress how much he loves his current post and the personal debt he owes to the Chancellor (who took him on as his PPS in 2011), though it seems inevitable he’ll move up at some point, either inside or outside the Treasury.

Yet rapid advancement seems to come as second nature to the Bromsgrove MP. Unashamedly ambitious, but lacking the sense of entitlement that can plague some of those tipped for greater things, he is certainly used to climbing career ladders.

After becoming a bond trader on leaving university, he rose to become one of the youngest ever vice presidents of Chase Manhattan bank at the tender age of 25. He later became a director of Deutsche Bank and ran its global credit arm in Asia.

It’s a background that has helped hugely in his current role. “I spent 20 years in the financial markets. My specialisation was fixed income markets, I used to buy and sell bonds working on the trading floor for many years,” he explains.

Ever keen to get in a jibe at Labour, he points out the UK was in danger of its very own default in 2010 and says that the Government’s relentless focus on deficit-cutting is still the biggest difference between the two parties.

“You only have to look at the countries I specialised in which were in emerging markets, countries that defaulted on their debts in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe. I’ve seen the problems of the past. I’m not saying our problems were anywhere near as bad as that but they could have been had we continued on the trajectory [set by Gordon Brown].”

Not strictly a poacher turned gamekeeper, he nevertheless says his City experience has been an advantage. “I’ve definitely found that my hinterland is very helpful in this job because a large part of what I deal with, the retail banking, consumer banking, the pensions industry, I don’t have to spend too much time studying the background because I’ve been there on the coalface. I can focus very much on getting the right policy solution.

“It also means when I’m speaking to bankers that they are maybe less likely to educate me on what they do and how important it is because it is difficult to tell me something is black when it is actually white. As a result maybe they cut to the chase a lot quicker.”

An ardent admirer of Margaret Thatcher, not least for the way she opened up the City to more (and foreign) competition after the ‘Big Bang’, Javid recalls his time in finance fondly.

“It certainly wasn’t mundane. Working on a trading floor in the City, it is fast paced and it is dynamic, it’s very pressurised, there’s a constant focus on competition, trying to be that bit better than others, you are surrounded by a lot of talent. People in the industry are academically smart, street savvy as well. One other thing I would say is that it is generally speaking very meritocratic and more meritocratic than most other industries and sectors.

“In fact that’s why I got a break. I didn’t have any background in finance, my family didn’t know anyone who worked in a bank until I started working for one myself. My dad was from Rochdale and drove buses. And as they recruit people, the City is colour-blind, at the end of the day all they are interested in is ‘can you do the job and can you come and make money?’ They don’t really care what colour you are, what sex you are, what background you have.”

But it wasn’t always thus and Javid points out that when he first applied for a City job in 1990 there were still “maybe too many barriers and special interests”. He recounts an anecdote that lays bare just how far some parts of the Square Mile at the time had failed to catch up with the Thatcher revolution.

“I was interviewed by British banks and I was interviewed by [US banks] Chase Manhattan and Merrill Lynch. I got offers from foreign banks, I didn’t get an offer from the British banks. I can think why…

“At my Rothschild interview, I can remember it very well, the people interviewing me were seven men sitting on a stage. I was standing while they were sitting. The first question was what school I went to. And when I told them it was Downend in Bristol [a state comp in one of the poorest parts of the city] I don’t think they were impressed. And then they asked me what my dad’s job was and it basically ended with ‘had I thought of applying to a high street bank?’.”

He had a radically different interview with American bank Chase Manhattan. “When I eventually got the job I remember asking the head of HR why they hired me and they said ‘because you don’t wear green wellies and because you’ve got hunger in your belly’.”

Javid went on to start work in New York and was put on ‘LDCs’ (“‘less developed countries’, which then became known as ‘emerging markets’, it’s more PC,” he jokes). He worked in defaulting nations Argentina and Brazil, finding a knack for trading and hard-nosed negotiation. “I did really well and promotions kept on coming.”

But did he end up dealing in the complex financial instruments and derivatives that are now indelibly associated with the crash of 2008? The minister points out that the key issue is whether people entering into such transactions “actually know what they’re purchasing”. “At the end of the day, derivatives are a mechanism for shifting risk. Partly where it started to go wonky was because people entering into transactions didn’t appreciate that they had shifted risk, not eliminated risk.”

Yet he also stresses that central banks were partly to blame too as they flooded the world with money because of low interest rates, forcing traders to look for any advantage on tight margins. “Partly the authorities were to blame for not regulating properly. But also as a banker for 20 years, whenever there was a financial crisis you could guarantee that the Federal Reserve would cut interest rates to a record low to in effect indirectly bail out banks.

"That became an understanding on trading floors around the world, that bankers felt interest rates would be cut, it became known in the industry as ‘the Greenspan put’ [short for a ‘put option’, a policy that led to greater risk-taking]. Gordon Brown had his version of it when he stood up in Parliament and he had said he’d abolished the cycle of boom and bust, which was exactly the same concept which Alan Greenspan had…if you were a banker and believed what Gordon Brown told you then you would think ‘why don’t we take on more risk because there’s going to be no bust?’ That encouraged excessive risk taking. It helped to feed the risk-taking frenzy.”

Still, was he one of the few canaries down the coalmine and did he have any idea of the coming crash? “I knew along with many people at Deutsche Bank that ‘this party is going to end’, we didn’t know when but at that time I was running the trading floor in Asia. It was both my view and that of many other risk-takers of Deutcshe Bank. We didn’t know when things were going to go wrong but felt strongly that there would be a correction in the markets at some point. The timing was the difficult thing.

“Markets work on a herd instinct so that when things happen they happen very quickly. I would go so far as to say it was one of the major reasons Deutsche Bank was not bailed out – they were just a little bit more prepared.” The pride in his voice at his former employers resisting bailouts is palpable.

After his 20 years in finance, Javid’s thoughts turned to Westminster. He’d studied politics and economics at Exeter (and is a contemporary and friend of ConservativeHome founder Tim Montgomerie) and was keen to get involved. With the expenses-fuelled departure of Julie Kirkbride, he was overwhelmingly selected to fight Bromsgrove and took the seat comfortably in 2010. His talents were quickly spotted by the Chancellor, who has supported him ever since.

“I’ve been blessed with having both a very good boss and a mentor throughout my working life. That started when I was at Chase [Manhattan] to help me get along and do well and it just happened to me that way when I entered politics too,” he says.

“The world of politics is very different to the business world. My first opportunity was as PPS to John Hayes, who was great. The real big break was getting asked to be George’s PPS which taught me a lot about how Government works at very high levels and how decisions are made, but also what I was lacking. I had a background in finance but I didn’t have a background in politics. I needed to learn much more about the process, I still do. I still feel that there’s lots to learn and George is a great person to learn from and be a boss at the same time.”

One reason Osborne likes his minister is his radical edge, and in many ways Javid sounds more economically dry than even his boss. He clearly loathes moral hazard and has said RBS and Lloyds should not have had state bailouts. Early in the Parliament he had a 10-minute rule bill to cap the national debt at 40% of GDP. Does he still back the idea?

“The fact that I had a 10-minute rule bill tells you what I think about the concept. One of the joys of being in Government is collective responsibility,” he smiles. “We look at these issues together. Sitting in this job now, there are things, ideas and future policy, you can come up with, but the approach I take is to discuss them robustly internally, in private first, to try and convince my colleagues and also listen to their ideas and then hopefully have that influence on policy. And I feel in this role that I am getting an influence on policy which is ultimately at the end of the day why I came into politics. You have ideas that you would like to see considered and seriously taken.” Could the idea make the next Tory manifesto? He doesn’t rule it out but is suddenly, uncharacteristically coy. “I’m putting forward my ideas for the manifesto. And when they come out you will be able to look at them.”

But his stance is clear: “I certainly believe in lower taxes. Economically they are helpful in terms of the incentives they create. Also, I just think out of principle, it’s right that people get to keep more of the money that they actually earn themselves. I’ve always been a low tax Conservative. I think that when it comes to future tax cuts, they have to go together with the other objective we have, which is a lower deficit. The kind of tax cuts you can make that quite quickly can start bringing in extra revenue for the long term because of the economic activity that they generate. I continue in my job to see it as my responsibility to keep looking for other tax cuts we can make and help build that case.”

The minister is also a noted Eurosceptic. Though the eurozone has turned the corner, he’s still wary and is delighted the PM has promised a referendum on the UK’s membership. “The best outcome is we do have a renegotiated relationship. I’ve done thousands of negotiations in my job in business and you never go into a negotiation without some sort of weapons in your arsenal, so we are right to have a referendum as it increases our ability to negotiate. I think the European Union should be much more focused for us on free trade in goods and services. If the British people decide that they want to leave the European Union, that’s not something I’d be afraid of.

“In my 20 years in business I’ve worked around the world, I think we are already a global player, an international country when it comes to business. I want that to happen inside the European Union and we can reform it and focus it on trade and ensure it is not insular looking. We can all be better off inside the European Union if it can change some of its ways. But as I say, if the British people decide the decision is they want to leave the European Union, then that isn’t something that I’d be afraid of, I’d embrace the opportunities that would create.”

Raised as a Muslim but married to a Christian wife, Javid is in many ways a model of modern Britain as well as of social mobility. The couple have four children and the minister’s favourite pastime outside work is simply being with his family.

Family is deeply important to him, not least as his parents taught him of the virtues of hard work and self-improvement. His father, known as ‘Mr Night and Day’ because he had two jobs, started as a cotton mill worker before becoming a bus driver and then funding his own business. As the son of immigrants, he says it’s important to stress that many from ethnic minorities back the Government’s immigration policies. He rejects as a generalisation the idea that second generation immigrants are somehow 'tougher' on the issue than their parents, but says it's clear times have chaged.

“Our parents came here genuinely, my father was actually in his village in Pakistan and there were companies coming to recruit, begging him to come to Britain. At that time, with the nationality laws and with a Pakistan passport, he could come here quite easily.

“He came here, started working in a cotton mill in Rochdale and worked every single day of his life. He came here legitimately. Where there is zero tolerance among the community is where people come to Britain illegally or maybe even legally, but have no interest in working or contributing – just seeing what benefits they can accrue. There’s no tolerance for that.” He adds that the Coalition’s plans to charge health tourists to use the NHS are not opposed by the Asian community he knows.

But despite his own and his father’s admiration for Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives remain hamstrung in chasing the votes of ethnic Britons. Is that more a question of culture than policy?

“It’s fair to say, the facts show that at the last election more people from ethnic minority backgrounds voted for Labour than Conservative and it’s natural for Conservatives to explore what are the reasons for it, going beyond just policy issues. My father’s time when he came to Britain, I remember him telling me stories about some of those posters ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’. These kind of things stick and seep into people’s consciousness and they pass them on to their children. I’ve said in the past that what Enoch Powell said, people do remember that. He did not represent the Conservative Party’s opinions then, he got thrown out and even then there was a lot of misperception of what the Conservative Party stood for. But because the perception is there we are right to look at ways to try to change that.”

Of course, one of the best ways to change the party’s image among Asian voters is to have able, eloquent Asian ministers on the media putting the case as forcefully as a certain Sajid Javid has been. Put to him that his very presence in Government is a key to persuading ethnic voters that the party is for them, the minister has a glint in his eye. “Well, it can’t be unhelpful, can it…?”

 

 

JAVID ON… CAPPING PAYDAY LENDER CREDIT RATES

“We now have a regulator with teeth. Part of those teeth is the ability for the new regulator to impose caps if it sees fit, to impose marketing restrictions, to even ban and shut down companies.”

JAVID ON… LABOUR’S SINGLE DIP

“The only recession this country has had in recent times was the one under the previous government. And not just a recession but the mother of recessions.”

JAVID ON… THE BANKING COMMISSION

“I’m not saying we won’t listen to the debates that take place in Parliament or elsewhere but our response was deliberately very comprehensive. And I think that’s where it will stay.”

JAVID ON… HELP TO BUY

 “We are coming off an all-time low of housing starts…we only intended it as a temporary intervention and the FPC will review it in three years’ time.”

JAVID ON… HIS CHILDREN’S FAITH

“They’ve been to mosque and they’ve been to church. We are both quite relaxed about it, when they are older they can decide what faith is for them.”

 

 

Profile: New Lisa of Life

After roles which saw her influencing Parliament from the outside, Lisa Nandy realised change could come from the inside too. Three ye...

 

Lisa Nandy was at the 2009 Conservative Party conference when she decided to run for Parliament.

She hadn’t fallen under the sway of David Cameron – she was there in her capacity as policy adviser at The Children’s Society, where she specialised in issues facing young refugees.

“Everyone was pretty sure they [the Tories] were going to win. It was in Manchester which is my home town, which was pretty depressing, and I thought somebody has got to do something about this.

“Wigan came up a few weeks later. I had never tried to stand for Parliament before but I thought ‘it’s not very different from where I am from, not very far away’. My mum lives in Bury, which is a part of Lancashire that is really quite similar to Wigan so I thought I would pitch in, have a go and see what happens. Twelve weeks later I was trying to work out how to run an election campaign.”

Nandy had put a Westminster career out of her mind after working for Neil Gerrard, a well-regarded but overlooked Labour MP during the Blair years.

“He is someone that I have the most respect for. It is difficult at a time when people hate politicians to come out of the system with your integrity intact and he did that. I loved working for him and I was massively frustrated that he didn’t have the influence that he ought to have had.

“With a huge government majority, Parliament was particularly weak at that point. If you weren’t in that inner circle I am not sure you got much of a say.

“I thought if you really want to change things and set the agenda then Parliament is not where you do it. I still think that actually. You can use Parliament to help set the agenda but the change still has to come largely from the outside. That’s why I went outside and worked for a youth homelessness charity and then for The Children’s Society, campaigning to get things on the agenda.”

The sight of all those triumphant Tories in Manchester, quaffing champagne and preparing for government, caused a change of heart.

“What changed my mind was realising you need people to change things from the inside,” Nandy says. “Before 2010 I was struggling to see many people on the inside that spoke for people like me, I thought you cannot just complain about things.”

The House magazine travelled to Wigan to meet Nandy, a town where people are not backward in coming forward. As she walks the streets constituents stop for a chat, a joke or to raise an issue with her.

“Wigan is that sort of place, people know each other and people are friendly,” she says. “You would expect if you are the MP here that people would come up and chat to you. On a Friday night when we go to one of the local pubs people will always come up and have a chat and it is people who are interested, or people who have been a socialist for a long time and are just pleased to meet the local Labour MP. It’s nice.”

 Nandy describes herself as “proud” to be a socialist, but her father is far to the left of his MP offspring.

“He was born in Calcutta and came over here as a teenager to study – he went to Leeds University and has been here ever since. He is a Marxist, he wouldn’t probably go as far as to say I am a horrible New Labour sell-out, but in our family I am definitely pushing the fringes and outflanking him from the right.”

While clearly from the left, she claims “those categories don’t work as well as they did for my dad’s generation”.

“You can loosely see groupings in any political party and you would be hard pushed to say I was on the right-wing or Blairite wing of the party. You find that you have things in common with people from all the so-called groupings.

“One thing I learnt in the jobs I did before I came into Parliament is that when you are representing homeless young people or refugee and migrant children you will work with anybody where you can find common ground. The situation for them is so desperate that you have to find a solution. You do ’t have the luxury of putting yourself in a camp and saying ‘I am not going to talk to anyone who does not agree with me’.”

Nandy was appointed as PPS to the distinctly Blairite Tessa Jowell and also served on the Education Select Committee.

“I worked for Tessa first, well I suppose you could say I worked for Graham Stuart first – he still thinks I do! He follows me around shouting instructions at me from that mobility scooter.

“Some of the people I have worked with most closely in the last few years to get things done have been people from other parties.

“I knew the Tory frontbench better than the Labour frontbench when I was elected because in opposition people like Tim Loughton and Damian Green had been in the same jobs for a long time and I’d worked with them. I gave them a bit of stick, but also worked with them to get things done.”

Nandy has fond memories of her time ‘working’ for Graham Stuart on the select committee, and contacted him after his skiing accident.

“I did text him and tell him that Pat [Glass] was doing a marvellous job filling in for him and not to rush back. I thought it would give him a bit of a kick to get better.”

She was brought up in “a not massively deprived part of Manchester”, but her comprehensive school opened her eyes to “big disparities between kids in terms of family background”.

Nandy was appointed Shadow Children’s Minister by Ed Miliband, a useful marrying of her work outside Parliament with a frontbench role.

While not willing to offer any concrete policy, she claims Labour’s “general vision” on education is emerging.

“What is it we are trying to achieve for children? At the last Labour conference Ed talked about going to a comprehensive, which was important because of what he learnt, but also because of who he met. Education is a way that you come into contact with people from different backgrounds and ways of life. You learn how to have a good life and not just about how to pass an exam and get into university.”

Nandy says children from low income families tend to have the same high expectations and aspirations as their better off peers, but only to a certain age.

“It is almost as if the system beats it out of you. It is not clear what you need to do to make your dreams a reality.

“There are probably enough outside influences telling you that it’s not possible and you should shut up and do something else. It is one of the reasons why I wanted to be the Shadow Children’s Minister. It’s crazy that we start with a situation where young people have the highest ambition and optimism for themselves, their families and their communities and then somehow through our own interventions we end up where they don’t.

“You can change that easily, but you have to go in the opposite direction from this Government.”

Nandy, unusually for a frontbencher, is not afraid to point to the mistakes of the last Labour administration.

“In relation to education it was very functional; it was investing in young people for the future along a largely economic model. Cameron came along before the 2010 election and said quality of childhood matters, though he has completely lost that now with all the cuts, but that was a really important recognition.

“Quality of childhood really does matter and children are not units to be invested in. Learning for its own sake is really important, as is life-long learning. It has always been a really strong part of the socialist tradition.”

Nandy doesn’t miss having to attend all three party conferences as she did before being elected, though she displays a surprising soft spot for the Lib Dems.

“Their conference was the most interesting - this was a few years ago. It was fascinating.

“You had this genuine debate and buzz about the place, something both the other parties seem to have lost. I don’t know if they have managed to hold on to that in Government.”

Nandy’s main frustrations with the Coalition are Michael Gove and rushed legislative processes.

“This Government has tried to do so much so quickly we have not been given time to look at legislation. It is kind of criminal.”

As for the Secretary of State, she concedes he is “extremely clever, he is one of the sharpest people that they have”.

“He’s very good at evading scrutiny. That is a challenge and can be frustrating but that is the job of opposition. The fact he is determined to make that job difficult tells me there are things he doesn’t want the public to know.

“I’ve made it my business to look under every stone to find out what’s going on in the department and what he’s planning.”

 

 

 

 

Laura Kuenssberg: Give us a break

MPs work hard but they also take twice as much time off as the rest of us – yet another way in which they’re a breed apart, says Laura...

 

I love a holiday. Everyone loves a holiday. Frankly, if you don’t love a holiday and seeing what happens outside of your workplace then you might have issues that these few short paragraphs are unlikely to be able to address.

But surely it is not unreasonable to question whether the owners of the posteriors which grace the green and red benches of our fine parliamentary institutions might take just a little bit too much.

MPs finished for the summer break on July 18th. They were scheduled to come back to work on September 2nd. In the end they had the mild inconvenience of having to come back a bit early. But the bungled, if not futile recall of Parliament over Syria highlighted for many the fact that MPs were still away when most people are back at work. The Lords did carry on a little bit longer in the summer, but are hardly short of vacation time.

During the session the hours are long, votes and nights can be very late, and many MPs have self-inflicted, extremely punishing schedules. Just as the vast majority of MPs go into politics for the right reasons, most of them work pretty damn hard when they’re about in Westminster – that is especially true of ministers and their opposite numbers trying to juggle a brief and a constituency. And equally, many spend much of recess on home turf.

Many hold summer surgery tours, sweating through every acre of their patch. But not all. As Parliament states, during recess members ‘can carry out their other duties’ – but there is no requirement for them to do so. We would be kidding ourselves to assume hyperactivity is the norm.

And there soon follows three weeks for conference, which let’s face it, fewer actual MPs attend every year, then another week in November and then three weeks over Christmas and New Year. That is more than double the normal holiday entitlement for one of those ‘hard working families’ politicians love to target, in just six months. That’s not even counting the break at Whitsun, that handy little top up.

Envy is rather pointless, even though some MPs themselves recognise the level of holiday allowance is extraordinary. But there are two important side effects.

With Parliament on such a long break, officials complain nothing can get done over the summer. Salaries are still being paid, the Government machine ticks over but progress on any legislation or policy? Forget it.

And while politicians say again and again they are determined to rebuild trust, taking more than twice as much as time off as the rest of us, making themselves again a breed apart, is hardly a good place to start. And those photographs designed to show, ‘look we’re just a normal family on holiday with the kids, agonising over the brill or the bream at the local fish market’? When those photographs display several different locations and several holidays in one year… normal? It is anything but.

Everyone doesn’t just love a holiday, everyone needs a holiday too. But is it healthy to have more than half the year when the public is not quite sure what their elected representatives are doing? Perhaps it’s time to give us all a break.

 

 

 

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