An election candidate has been advised to vote against himself by a former front bench spokesman of his own party.
Lord Oakeshott, who was Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman from 2001 to 2011, has sent a controversial letter to Liberal Democrats in the highly marginal Stockton South constituency, including the Party’s candidate Drew Durning.
The letter, which has been distributed by the Labour Party, has been condemned as “a bit grubby” by Mr Durning and “sneaky” by Conservative candidate James Wharton.
However, the Labour candidate Louise Baldock stressed the letter bore a Labour Party imprint and was “absolutely not misleading”.
The letter is on yellow paper, the Liberal Democrat colour, and proclaims Lord Oakeshott’s status as the Liberal Democrat’s Treasury spokesman for a decade.
Lord Oakeshott is now an Independent, and the letter explains he is an independent peer in the opening line. He left the Liberal Democrats after being involved in a controversy where he leaked a party opinion poll which showed the Nick Clegg as struggling and was accused of deliberately undermining his party leader.
He has donated to parliamentary candidates for Labour, Liberal Democrat and the Green parties and has declared he wants an anti-Conservative “progressive alliance.” Ms Baldock has received £10,000 for her campaign from Lord Oakeshott.
Mr Durning laughed off the fact the letter was sent to him and dismissed it as “bad organisation.” But he was upset about the use of Liberal Democrat imagery.
He said: “I am annoyed about the approach. It is in yellow and they’re dressing it up as if it’s Liberal Democrat. It’s a bit grubby.”
Mr Wharton said: “It a bit sneaky. It’s obviously misleading: it’s on yellow paper. But, to be honest, I don’t think a letter will make much difference.”
Source – Northern Echo, 30 Apr 2015
Ms Baldock strongly defended sending out the letter.
She said: “There is absolutely no intention to mislead. It carries my imprint. It is actually there on the letter, and it will be declared in my expenses. He wanted to write to people in this constituency to express his views and he can do that. This is common practice. Mr Wharton himself did it by distributing a letter from a neurologist.”
At the last election Mr Wharton won by just 332 votes over former Labour MP Dari Taylor and it is the North-East’s most marginal seat.
The full list of candidates are Louise Baldock, Labour; Drew Durning, Liberal Democrat; Jacqui Lovell, Green, Ted Strike, Ukip; Steve Walmsley, Independent and James Wharton, Conservative.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg privately wanted to give councils powers to impose new taxes including road-pricing, workplace parking taxes and local beer and cigarette taxes, it has emerged.
In his role as Deputy Prime Minister he also said councils should be free to impose a tourism tax, such as taxes on visitors staying in hotels, and to scrap existing council tax discounts including the 20% discount for people who live alone.
The proposals were set out in a letter from Mr Clegg to Eric Pickles, the Conservative Local Government Secretary, in 2011 – but were rejected by Mr Pickles.
The latest revelation about the behind-the-scenes debates within the Coalition government comes as Tories and Lib Dems fight a series of pitched battles in marginal seats such as Berwick-upon-Tweed.
While Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are the only politicians with a chance of becoming Prime Minister after the general election, many of the seats the Conservatives have a realistic chance of gaining on May 7 are held by their Lib Dem Coalition partners.
Mr Clegg wanted councils to have “a much wider range of taxation and charging powers” which they would be free to use.
The aim would have been to ensure councils were “self-funding” rather than depending on funding from central government for most of their income, as they do now.
Specific proposals in the letter to Mr Pickles included giving councils “complete freedom over discounts rather than mandating them to offer specific discounts to single people, empty homes, second homes etc”.
The letter continued:
“There is a set of further tax powers that could warrant further consideration, including, but not limited to: fuel taxes; sales taxes; landfill taxes; workplace parking levies; utility taxes; ‘tourism taxes’; local airport levies; duties on alcohol, tobacco and other substances; and stamp duty”.
> He left out a Fresh Air tax. Pay-to-breathe…
And the Government should consider give councils charging powers covering “parking charges; speeding fines; waste collection; road pricing” and more, the letter said.
Mr Clegg told his Cabinet colleague:
“We should drive to ensure that local authorities have the greatest range of revenue raising powers at their disposal and are as unencumbered from central government restraints as possible.”
The letter was written as the Department for Communities and Local Government considered plans to allow councils to retain some of the business rates they collect.
But it has emerged now as the battle between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in marginal seats becomes increasingly bitter, with the two Coalition parties lifting the lid on internal Government discussions from the past five years in an attempt to embarrass each other.
Lib Dems are defending a majority of 2,690 in Berwick.
Both parties have accused the other of secretly backing plans to impose regional pay – which would mean public sector workers such as nurses or teachers were paid less in the north east than those in the south east.
And Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has said that in 2012 the Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, distributed ideas for cutting the welfare bill which included limiting child benefit and child tax credit payments to two children – cutting up to £3,500 from a family with three children – and means testing child benefit, which would cut payments by £1,750 for a middle-income family with two children.
Mr Duncan Smith also wanted to remove child benefit from 16 to 19 year olds, a cut of over £1,000 for parents of a single child, according to the Lib Dems.
George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor, retaliated by claiming the proposals were contained in a policy document “that was commissioned by the Chief Secretary himself”.
In a statement responding to the letter’s publication now, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:
“This Tory spin shows their true colours.
“They simply don’t trust local people and want to govern every aspect of people’s lives from Westminster.
“The proposals in this letter could give local authorities the power to LOWER these taxes in response to the wishes of local people.
“Liberal Democrats believe the best decisions are taken by those closest to the people those decisions effect.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Apr 2015
Nick Clegg, as many of us already know, is a bullshitter. His election promises are lies and the party he leads is slippery, two-faced and not beneath playing the race card when it suits. Clegg pretends to be the people’s champion; the brake on the out-of-control Tory juggernaut. It was all a pose: all he ever wanted for himself and his party was power. Letting go of the ministerial limousines and briefcases will be difficult for them. But change is a good thing. Right? Then, it’s time for a change.
When Clegg appeared in the media to announce his ‘red lines’, I knew immediately that he was getting ahead of himself. What makes him think his party will win enough seats to hold the balance of power? What makes him think anyone really wants to vote for a party that propped up the cruellest government since Thatcher? Clegg’s announcement…
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Not one leader from any of the major political parties has visited Tyne and Wear or County Durham as part of the General Election campaign.
David Cameron is the only leader so far to even venture into ANY part of the North East since the dissolution of parliament.
He visited Northumberland’s Alnwick and Stockton, the two areas where his party has a chance of winning next month, but bypassed large swathes of the region.
Labour leader Ed Miliband – whose party is favourite to win EVERY seat in Durham, Tyneside and Wearside, most seats in Teesside and half of those in Northumberland – has failed to make a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
The Liberal Democrats are defending Redcar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, yet Nick Clegg has been nowhere to be seen.
Nigel Farage claims UKIP is targeting parts of Teesside and has a strong interest in Blyth, and yet the leader of the “people’s army” has not made a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
And despite evidence of a Green surge in pockets of the region, Natalie Bennett has not visited to show support for her party’s candidates, either.
The North East is widely-regarded as safe Labour territory and this may explain the lack of interest from the parties’ top politicians in campaigning in this area.
Nonetheless, voters will be disappointed when they compare the region to, say, the Greater Manchester area, where the parties are fighting a higher number of key marginals.
Nick Clegg has visited seats in Greater Manchester four times, David Cameron twice and Ed Miliband four times.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Apr 2015
Not a single Liberal Democrat candidate will be standing at next month’s local elections in South Tyneside.
The Lib Dems’ no-show at the ballot box, the first in a generation, comes amid fears by one of its former representatives that its brand is now “toxic on the doorstep”.
Until just a few years ago, the party’s candidates at Parliamentary elections in the borough were the natural opposition to Labour.
In South Shields at the 2005 general election, Lib Dem Stephen Psallidas finished second to then-Labour MP David Miliband with almost 6,000 votes, 19.7 per cent of the total cast.
In local elections around the same time, the party, led by Nick Clegg since 2007, could usually guarantee a handful of seats, particularly in the Hebburn North ward.
At one time, it held all three seats for Hebburn North.
However, since the 2010 general election, the party’s fortunes have declined dramatically in the borough.
At the 2013 Parliamentary by-election in South Shields, its candidate, Hugh Annand, lost his deposit, receiving just 352 votes, just 1.4 per cent of the vote, and only narrowly avoiding the ignominy of being defeated by the Raving Monster Loony Party’s contender.
Now, not a single Lib Dem is to contest the local elections in South Tyneside on Thursday, May 7.
The party’s absence from the political scene in South Tyneside comes as no surprise to Joe Abbott, formerly a Lib Dem councillor for Hebburn North.
He said: “It’s something of a shame, but I’m not surprised no-one is standing from the party.
“The reality is that the Lib Dem brand is toxic on the doorstep.
“It all dates back to the party getting into bed with the Tories.”
Mr Abbott is standing as an independent in Hebburn North next month.
He was the Lib Dems’ last councillor in South Tyneside until he quit the party in disgust over its decision to form a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010 and back his austerity measures.
He stood as an independent at 2012’s elections but lost out to Labour’s Mary Butler.
Meanwhile, the far-right British National Party (BNP) is not putting forward any candidates at May’s Local Elections either.
The party has targeted several ward seats in the borough over recent years, but it isn’t throwing its hat into the ring this time round.
At 2012’s local elections, it contested eight of the 18 South Tyneside Council ward seats up for grabs.
Source – Shields Gazette, 15 Apr 2015
George Osborne has refused to categorically rule out rolling child benefit into Universal Credit (UC) to help contribute towards Conservative plans to save £12 billion from the welfare budget.
The Chancellor was asked repeatedly to rule it out and did not, but said that if the Tories had wanted to include child benefit in the new welfare system, they would have done so when it was created.
The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that scrapping child benefit and increasing UC for eligible families could save £4.8 billion a year.
But such a measure would mean that 4.3 million families who receive child benefit at the moment but would not be entitled to UC in the future would lose more than £1,000 a year, the IFS said.
At a Westminster briefing, Mr Osborne was asked to rule out rolling child benefit into UC.
The Chancellor replied:
“If you judge us on our approach in this parliament and if we wanted to put child benefit into Universal Credit, we would have done it when we set up Universal Credit.
“We have got a track record, we have got a plan that’s based on clear principles about making work pay and sharpening work incentives…”
Asked again to rule it out, Mr Osborne replied:
“I’ve just given you an answer. If we wanted to do it we would have done it when we created Universal Credit.”
Asked again, Mr Osborne said:
“I’ve given a very clear answer and you have to be a contortionist to think I’m not giving a pretty clear answer to that.”
The Conservatives’ plans for the next parliament involve saving £30 billion to contribute to deficit reduction, with £12 billion set to be cut from the welfare budget.
But the party has faced criticism from the IFS and Labour for failing to set out how it would achieve the majority – around £10 billion – of those welfare cuts.
The Chancellor said:
“If you look at our track record, the £21 billion we’ve saved in this parliament, you can look at principles we will apply to future such savings.
“We want to go on creating a welfare system which rewards work and the aspirations of families and protect the most vulnerable.”
Universal Credit is the coalition Government’s flagship welfare reform and simplifies the system by rolling a string of benefits and tax credits into one payment.
It is being rolled out in stages after being hit by delays and IT problems but will eventually take in jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit.
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said Mr Osborne had put middle income families in the firing line.
The Labour frontbencher said:
“The Tories won’t admit where their £12 billion of welfare cuts will come from, but after this press conference it’s now clear middle income families are in the firing line.
“George Osborne repeatedly refused to rule out rolling child benefit into universal credit. This would mean 4.3 million families losing over £1,000 a year, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.”
Treasury Minister Priti Patel said rolling child benefit into UC was not Conservative policy.
She told BBC News:
“We’re very clear as well, we have made it clear and we’ve said that we need to find £12 billion of welfare savings but it’s not our policy, that suggestion, and that there are other ways in which we can find those savings.”
But Ms Patel would not be drawn on whether the Tories will pay child benefit only for the first two or three children.
Asked if it was a possibility, she said:
“I’m not going to come here and start talking the ins and outs of the spending review because that will all be for the next government.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he was not surprised by Mr Osborne’s failure to rule out the move as he insisted the change would not feature in his own party’s manifesto.
Speaking in Newtown, Mid Wales, he said:
“It’s no surprise to me that the Conservatives are considering pretty dramatic changes like taking child benefit away from lots of families because they have committed to taking £12 billion away from some of the most vulnerable families in this country.
> And we’ve been helping them for the last five years…
“They have committed to taking the equivalent of £1,500 away from eight million of the poorest families in this country to balance the books; they are not asking the very wealthy, those with the broadest shoulders, to make a single contribution through the tax system in balancing the books.
“Even if they did what is now being floated by George Osborne, they would still have £8 billion or £9 billion to fund. Who are they going to affect next, those with disabilities?
“Which other vulnerable groups will be affected by this unfair plan from the Conservatives?”
Asked whether the Lib Dems would rule out the move, Mr Clegg said:
“Child benefit rolled into the Universal Credit will not be in our manifesto because we are not planning the very, very extensive reductions in support given to the most vulnerable in our society that the Conservatives are.”
> But if anyone’s interested we’ll sell our souls again. Cheaply.
Pressed on whether it would be a measure he would block in coalition as a red line issue, Mr Clegg said:
“There’s no way the Liberal Democrats would ever endorse, of course not, in government or in opposition an approach which takes £1,500 away from eight million of the most vulnerable families in Britain.”
Source – Northern Echo, o7 Apr 2015
Up to 40,000 people could benefit from access to a mental health treatment course in jobcentres, costing £25 million over the next three years.
The scheme will provide access to treatments such as talking therapy and online support in jobcentres, with the aim of helping more people with mental health conditions into work.
Mental health specialists will be based at 350 jobcentres across England to provide psychological treatment to mentally ill benefit claimants. Evidence suggests that offering onsite support could improve the work prospects for unemployed people with mental health issues.
The new scheme follows recommendations made by the Mental Health Task Force, established by the Liberal Democrats. The task force explored ways the government could improve the support available for people with mental health conditions.
The Liberal Democrats say they will put equality for people with mental health problems on the front page of their manifesto.
An additional £8bn a year funding will assist the NHS in delivering better care for people with mental health problems.
Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
“I’m determined to end the out dated attitudes and tackle the stigma that still surrounds mental health.
“People with mental health problems, who haven’t been able to work, often need support to get back to working life.
“It is vital therefore that we provide treatment as early as possible, rather than letting their condition worsen, lengthening their time away from a job.
“I set up a cross Government taskforce to look at what can and should be done to raise our game on mental health. One of the key recommendations is to help people back into work who have a mental health problem.
“I’m pleased to say that I’ve secured the funding to make this a reality and bring mental health services into the job centre for the very first time.”
> So, are ‘Work coaches’ now going to get another string to their bows and add mental health counselling to all the other things they do badly ?
I know it says Mental health specialists, but that could just mean a work coach who’s done a half-day course.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 19 Mar 2015
As a general rule, for a “political” blogger, I don’t really write that much about what politicians say or do. I usually find it’s simplest to just start off assuming that whoever’s in power is going to try and screw us over, and then move on to the more interesting question of what we’re going to do about it without worrying too much about the details.
But every now and again, one of them says something that sticks in my head, and seems to demand further comment and exploration. Nick Clegg’s “why not invite the tea lady?” jab at David Cameron about the number of parties invited to electoral debates might seem like a fairly harmless joke about a pretty boring, irrelevant question, and it’s certainly a very long way down the list of bad things Clegg has said and done in his life, but I think it’s worth examining…
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SNP politician Christine Grahame insists that she is serious about contesting the Berwick seat at next year’s General Election and says she has had “loads of supportive messages”.
The level of interest can certainly be verified by the Berwick Advertiser – over 4,500 read the story online in one day and a Facebook link to it received over 3,500 likes.
Ms Grahame initially came up with the idea of contesting the Berwick seat as a possible way to get SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on to the national platform in the run up to the general election and taking part in the televised leader debates.
Last month the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky jointly wrote to David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage inviting them to take part is a series of multi-platform party leader debates. The directors of BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sent out separate invitations to the main political parties in each nation to discuss setting up general election debates.
The Berwick seat is currently held by Sir Alan Beith who is standing down in May. First elected in 1973, he is the longest serving Lib Dem MP and, in 2010, he had a majority of 2,690 over his Conservative rival.
Ms Grahame told the Advertiser:
“I await consideration by the SNP of my proposal which is a serious suggestion to reflect the similarities between the requirements of Berwick and its near neighbours in the Scottish Borders.
“I would, as always, be campaigning to win the seat but would continue in my role as MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.
“I know the good that devolution can do and would fight to bring this to Berwick and the north of England. In addition I believe we need to ensure that good cross border relations continue.
“My focus is, as always, on social justice and democracy which, of course, crosses borders.”
The Conservatives have the Berwick seat in their sights with the retirement of Sir Alan, and their candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said this week:
“I believe that all voters should have the opportunity to vote for the person and party of their choice, and I know from my own doorstep canvassing, that there are some Berwick residents whose views resonate most closely with the SNP.”
Liberal Democrat candidate, Julie Porksen, was a little less welcoming of the idea of Ms Grahame as a rival candidate:
“For the SNP to stand a candidate in the Berwick constituency in order to get into the leader’s debates is a publicity stunt and does nothing to improve the lives of those living in north Northumberland.
“The real choice facing people here in the next election is between Lib Dem action on the A1, local health services, jobs and education, or the Tories whose policies, like regional pay, would do great damage to Northumberland.”
Jeremy Purvis, a Berwick native and former MSP who lost his Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale seat to Ms Grahame in 2011 and now sits in the Lord as Lord Purves of Tweed, said:
“It seems a remarkable move from someone who worked so hard to become a Borders MSP,
“If anyone was looking for evidence that the SNP is an anti-English party, then sending Christine Grahame to Berwick should do the trick.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 27 Nov 2014
A future Tory Government would slash benefits for around 100,000 struggling families and young people to fund more low-paid apprenticeships, Prime Minister David Cameron will pledge on Monday.
Cameron will say that he plans to deliver 3 million more apprenticeships by cutting the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 a year.
The plan would affect 70,000 families in receipt of either in-work or out-of-work benefits and tax credits, saving around £135 million a year. This will include 40,000 households who have so far managed to escape welfare cuts, according to Conservative Party figures released to the Press Association (PA).
Figures released at the end of last year (December 2013) show that for the first time in recorded history more low-paid working households are living on or below the breadline than those who are out-of-work. More cuts to in-work benefits could further exacerbate this issue and cost the Tories votes at the next general election.
The Tories would also remove Housing Benefit entitlement from 18-21 year-olds, affecting 30,000 young people and saving an estimated £120 million a year.
SKY News reports that Mr Cameron has the backing of a number of large firms including Nestle, Airbus, Ford, Balfour Beatty, Fujitsu and the National Grid.
“Because of difficult decisions we will make on welfare, we will deliver three million apprenticeships by 2020. This is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain.
“It will help give us the skills to compete with the rest of the world. And it will mean more hope, more opportunity, and more security for our young people, helping them get on in life and make something of themselves.
“We have already doubled apprenticeships this Parliament. We will finish the job in the next and end youth unemployment.”
Cameron had previously told the Andrew Marr show:
“All the evidence is the cap is too loose, particularly in some parts of the country, so bringing it down saves money, will mean more families getting into work, and what I want to see – the plan we have for Britain – is to spend less money on welfare and more on helping people into work.”
However, the Tories relentless attack against the young and low-paid has come under criticism from their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
Leader Nick Clegg used his speech at the Liberal Democrats annual conference to attack the Tories for taking an “axe” to the welfare budget, without showing any “regard for the impact on people’s lives”.
His words will anger millions of people affected by welfare cuts his party helped (voted) to introduce – including the cap on benefits.
Currently the minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £2.73 an hour for 16-18 year-olds. The same hourly rate applies to 19 year-olds who are in the first year of their apprenticeship.
Apprentices over the age of 19, or who have completed their first year, are paid at least the national minimum wage for their age group, with some businesses willing to pay more – if you’re lucky.
The national minimum wage rate for 16-18 year-olds currently stands at £3.79 an hour, £1.06 higher than that for apprentices. Those aged 18-20 receive a minimum wage rate of £5.13 an hour, rising to £6.50 for the over 20’s.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 20 Oct 2014