Sunday, October 30, 2011

Another take on the Euro-vote

Hat tip to Plato at "Political Betting" for drawing my attention to a very interesting piece by Mail journalist Tim Shipman called Why Cameron really defied the Euro rebels.

Shipman argues that Cameron's reasons for opposing the motion for a referendum on membership of the European Union was not because he completely disagreed with what the rebels wanted, but because he does agree with much of what they want but considers that calling for a referendum now is not the best way to get it.

Here are some extracts from the article

"Mr Cameron’s behaviour over the last week is more explicable if you take the view that he sought to crush the calls for a referendum not because he doesn’t want to repatriate powers but precisely because he does and wants to remain in charge of the process.

"If he is to take on Brussels, he wants to do so on his own terms and at a time of his chosing.

His aides stress that the threat of a referendum is a single shot distress flare, rather than a submachine gun with a magazine full of bullets. Mr Cameron will get one chance only to fire it and when he does so it has to count.

"The apparently minor EU treaty change which seems on the cards for this December is viewed at the top of government as a very bad time indeed for Britain to start throwing its toys from the pram over issues like employment legislation. Mr Cameron believes that would be destabilising for the economy and would win few to no friends in the EU.

"But my conversations over the last few days have convinced me the Cameroons believe there will be a much bigger treaty revision at some point over the next couple of years – anything less and the relationship between the 17 Eurozone nations and the 10 outside the single currency will become increasingly fractious.

"When that comes, that is when Mr Cameron will strike. Officials believe the prospect of Britain holding a referendum will put such fear into the European Commission that concessions will flow."


You can read the full article here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nixon, China, and the monarchy

Sometimes when a change happens it is people at the opposite end of the political spectrum from those you might have expected to enact it who actually do.

It's like the "Vulcan Proverb" which supposedly said that "Only Nixon could go to China."

And witness the fact that it was a Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary who finally took action, agreed at the Commonwealth meeting yesterday to start the process of scrapping archaic and ridiculous rules about the succession to the monarchy.

Both the ban on anyone married to a catholic inheriting the throne, and the rule which ruled a monarch's female children out of the succession while a brother of any age was available, should have been repealed decades ago. This sort of rule lays the country open to charges of enshrining discrimination against women in our constitution at the highest level and has no place in the 21st century.

(I don't think I need to declare an interest in the former case: I am married to a catholic but have no realistic prospect of inheriting the throne!)

I don't expect to live to see a woman become Queen as a direct result of this change to the law of succession, but I will be pleased to live in a country which has one fewer ludicrously outdated form of institutionalised discrimination.

Quote of the Day

On "Any Questions" today (rebroadcast from yesterday evening) David Davis, following a Lib/Dem speaker who had just made a contribution recognising the role of prison sentences in the fight against crime, said words along the lines of

'I'm a Liberal Democrat and I robustly support prison:' - the coalition is working.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cameron dismisses suggestions of "bitterness" over Europe vote

David Cameron has ruled out any suggestion that there might be any bad blood or rancour over the rebellion on Europe earlier this week.

He told Sky News that "These [the rebels] are valued Conservative colleagues. I understand why people feel strongly and we'll go forward together and tackle the difficult decisions that the country faces.

"But you have to do the right thing and give a lead in politics, and that's what yesterday was about."


He added that there was "no bad blood, no rancour, no bitterness" over the fact that some people had taken a different view.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

EU vote in the commons

Parliament has voted not to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership at the present time, despite a sizeable rebellion by both Conservative and Labour MPs.

The front benches of the Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour parties voted against the motion.

In total 483 MPs voted against while 111 defied party whips and voted for, a majority of 372.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the revolt was a "humiliation" for Prime Minister David Cameron.

"If he can't win the argument with his own backbenchers, how can the country have confidence that he can win the arguments that matter for Britain?" he said.

He didn't explain how this chimes with the fact that, on Labour's own figures, about 25 Labour backbenchers failed to vote with him.


A Downing Street spokesman said many people who voted for the motion felt very strongly, and their views were respected.

"However, the government has to do what is in the national interest. The easy thing to do would have been for us to have avoided expressing a view. It was important to take a strong lead - because Britain's best interests are served by being in the EU."

Nick Robinson at the BBC wrote that the challenge to DC "is not over his government's survival but to spell out what he meant by promising 'fundamental change' in Britain's relationship with Europe and when and how he'll deliver it."

William Hague said during the debate on the motion for an in-out referendum that

"This is not just something for the House of Commons to put up some graffiti on a Thursday afternoon. This proposition is the wrong question at the wrong time.

"It was not in the manifesto, it cuts right across the rules for holding referendums, it would create additional economic uncertainty. Clearly an in-out referendum is not the right idea."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On the rights and wrongs of a Euro referendum

A very insightful piece in the Economist today about the arguments concerning whether we should have an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the E.U.

I am old enough to remember that about thirty-five years ago Britain did have a referendum on E.U. membership and it produced a two-to-one majority for staying in. This was then used by the advocates of closer union as "proof" that Britain wanted a much greater degree of integration than I suspect many of those who voted "Yes" thought they were voting for.

Two thirds of referenda in Britain produce a vote for the status quo. I know that there are a lot of people who think that it's time for another vote on the issue, and they are entitled to that opinion, but I think it is worth those who support any given referendum asking themselves exactly what they are trying to achieve.

I know exactly why I support referenda being reqired for certain things. I wanted one on the Lisbon treaty because it was a bad treaty and I am convinced that British voters, like those in France and Holland when they were originally given the chance, would have voted it down.

More generally the reason I think that anyone who wants to change Britain's constitutional arrangements, including our relationship with Europe, should have to win a referendum is to make it difficult, but not impossible, to make such a change. The burden should be on those who want to change things to make an overwhelming case for that change.

Bagehot in the Economist makes some interesting comments about concerns on the Tory right. Some the concerns of those MPs, and their wish for a referendum on Europe, reflect views which I know are shared by many - not all - members of the party and many - not all - Conservative voters.

Bagehot's comments conclude as follows:

"Many on the right are convinced they are more in tune with the public than Mr Cameron’s cautious, languidly metropolitan inner circle. They are only half-correct. In some areas—crime, immigration, fuel prices, a broad hostility to Europe—the right’s arguments have populist appeal. But, often to its credit, the British right is not as populist as it thinks. It is a complex animal, but defining causes include free trade, deregulation, cutting taxes and welfare, and shielding City banks from EU rules. This is not reliably rabble-rousing stuff.

"The real danger from the right lies elsewhere. Because a showdown over Europe would split his party, Mr Cameron is left nagging EU leaders to do what it takes to save the euro, so long as they do not expect Britain to pay, sit at the table or help shape deeper integration. Still, the Tory right is disgruntled. Judging by the referendum motion before MPs, many want to tie the government’s hands still more tightly, with a utopian mandate to demand a free-trade relationship. They ought to realise that in a fast-moving crisis, their country needs more room for manoeuvre, not less.
"

You can read the full article here.

Buzz !

Just after I had come for lunch this week, a horrible noise started to come from the TV, the same sort of noise which sound equipment often makes when something else, such as a mobile phone, is interfering with it.

My wife asked if my mobile was causing the problem, and I had just pulled my phone out of my pocket and was trying to work it if this could be the cause when, on the TV, Andrew Neil asked the New Labour panellist who was speaking whether he had a mobile phone on him, and if so, could he please turn it off.

He had, and it was interfering with his mike.

A great many of the stories people tell about mobile phones - such as that they can cause explosions at petrol stations - are complete fiction. (The electrical impulses inside a mobile phone are orders of magnitude lower than those inside a car engine, and the hottest possible temperature or any component of a mobile phone is vastly cooler than many parts of a car. There is not a single confirmed case of investigation proving that a fire or explosion at a petrol station was due to a telephone.)

The main one that isn't fiction is that they can play old harry with microphones and speakers. Usually when I don't want my mobile to ring I put it on silent rather than turn it off. But this incident was a reminder that sometimes completely turning the phone off - in a hospital or on a plane, for instance - is more appropriate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Parliamentary boundaries

Spoke today at the public hearings about the Boundary Commission for England proposals for the new Parliamentary constituencies in the North West

The public consultation is open for another few weeks. Best way to study the proposals and have your say is through the BCE's consultation website, at

www.consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk
.

The website contains all the Initial proposals, reports and maps, the electorate sizes of every ward, and an online facility where you can have your say on their initial proposals.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Christmas is coming

It's still around a fortnight to halloween and the shops are already full of Christmas themed products.

It's a free country and they have the right to offer whatever they think they can sell, but it does seem a little premature.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Electoral registration day today: don't lose your vote

Today is the qualifying date for the electoral register: each household should register with the local electoral authority the names and details of voters, plus sixteen and seventeen-year olds, normally resident in that household as of tonight.

It is perfectly legal to have more than one place where you are normally resident and register to vote at more than one address - students, for instance, often register at both their home and college address - provided that you don't actually vote more than once for the same body.

This year we had the opportunity to register by returning the paper form, on the internet, by freephone telephone service, or by text. I used the internet service and found it very easy and straightforward.

Apart from the little matter that if you don't register you are breaking the law, it also means that you lose your vote and your voice. Don't forget to register!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Commons debate on nuclear power at Sellafield

There was an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, secured at the request of the MP for Copeland, at the conclusion of which the Minister made the following statement.

Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative)

"Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting this debate. I congratulate Mr Reed on securing it and thank him for doing so. The matter is timely and important, not just to his constituency but to our national interest

more generally. I am delighted to see on the Front Bench and to congratulate Caroline Flint and Tom Greatrex on their appointments to the important positions in the shadow team.

I am grateful for the chance to clarify the Government’s position on the future of the nuclear industry in Sellafield, although I cannot give the hon. Member for Copeland all of the answers that he seeks today. I begin by acknowledging the vital contribution that the nuclear industry makes to the economic prosperity of west Cumbria, and also the important contribution that the people of Copeland have made and continue to make to Britain’s nuclear heritage. West Cumbria is at the heart of the UK’s nuclear industry and has been since the early days in the 1950s. There is an enormous wealth of nuclear expertise and knowledge, and we want to maintain and use that for the future. The future is promising for west Cumbria as a nuclear community. There are plans for new nuclear to play a part, local authorities are expressing an interest in hosting a geological disposal facility, and decommissioning commitments are ongoing.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are fully focused on working with west Cumbria to deliver these commitments, as we are in ensuring that new nuclear has a role to play in the UK's future energy mix. The hon. Gentleman was kind and generous in his comments and we agree on much, but I hope that he will understand that I was a little disappointed by some of his recent media comments about the pace of movement and progress in these areas. I hope that in the light of the terrible events in Fukushima some months ago he will have welcomed the ongoing commitment that the British Government have shown to nuclear in comparison with many other Governments elsewhere.

The UK has everything to gain from becoming the No. 1 destination to invest in new nuclear. Nuclear is the cheapest low-carbon source of electricity around, so it keeps the bills down and the lights on. The Government have remained committed in their efforts to ensure that the conditions are right for investment in new nuclear in the UK. We are very pleased to build on the legacy that we received in this area from Lord Hutton when he was Secretary of State.

We have made significant progress in the 18 months we have been in power to ensure that the conditions for investment are right. Last October, the Secretary of State made his decision that two nuclear reactor designs should be justified, which was approved by the House by a large majority of 520 votes to 27—one of the largest majorities that we have seen on any issue. In July we designated the national policy statements for energy infrastructure, including a list of suitable sites for nuclear power stations. Those had been delayed as a result of amendments to emissions in the earlier drafts, but I know that the hon. Gentleman was pleased that Sellafield was one of the sites included in that list. We have also created the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and we plan to bring forward legislation to create a new independent statutory body as soon as we can. The regulators are continuing to work with the industry to take forward the generic design assessment process for new reactors. They have published agreed resolution plans for the issues that need to be resolved, and they will also need to factor Dr Weightman's report into their final assessment.

In the coming months the Government will look to finalise the framework governing the financing of decommissioning and waste management for new nuclear power stations. That will ensure that operators make secure financial provision from the outset in line with the Government's policy that there should be no subsidy for new nuclear. We have done all that in the wake of the tragic circumstances at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. We needed to understand the facts before making any decisions. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to look at what Fukushima means for nuclear energy in Britain and what lessons can be learned.

The UK is most certainly open for business in the nuclear sector. Investors know that EDF Energy will begin preliminary works at Hinkley Point soon and is preparing its planning application as we speak to put to the Infrastructure Planning Commission this autumn. I am also encouraged by the prospects for new nuclear in west Cumbria. The NuGeneration consortium has set out plans to build up to 3.6 GW of new nuclear capacity at Sellafield. We hope that construction will begin in 2015, with commercial operation of a new nuclear power station expected by 2023. Both Iberdrola and GDF SUEZ remain confident about new nuclear in west Cumbria and have increased their stakes in the project. They see no reason why the decision by Scottish and Southern Energy to end its involvement with NuGen should impact on their plans or timetable.

Sellafield is central to the west Cumbrian economy. The Sellafield site has been around for over half a century and has brought many new opportunities to the area. There are opportunities because we are pushing forward scientific frontiers in relation to clean-up and the management of radioactive waste. I congratulate west Cumbria sincerely on taking the lead in decommissioning one of the world’s largest and most complex facilities. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that the Government have allocated extra resources to that vital work. As I have mentioned, new nuclear power is once again on the agenda and west Cumbria is at the forefront of this, with land earmarked for development next to the Sellafield site. That will potentially provide 5,000 construction jobs at peak and 1,000 long-term operating jobs. We join him in wanting to see the economic success for the community he represents.

Radioactive waste is of course always an issue of great importance when talking about the future of the nuclear industry. West Cumbria has also expressed an interest in the process of geological disposal of radioactive waste. We are working in partnership to explore what that would involve. Should west Cumbria decide to participate in the next stages of the process—I emphasise that, in relation to this matter, we strongly believe in the voluntarist principle—it would show a real commitment to finding a long-term solution for nuclear waste disposal. The community is to be applauded for having the vision to find out more about the reality of that process and for fully considering all the implications, including the potential economic benefits. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the fact that we have sought to speed up the process by a decade.

The geological disposal facility would be a multi-billion pound engineering development on an enormous scale which will employ an average of over 500 people for

perhaps a century to come. Apart from the income generated, we expect that there will also be spin-off benefits through associated engineering and supply chain developments and potentially further additional benefits. Therefore, notwithstanding the long-term decommissioning of Sellafield that will see billions of pounds spent on cleaning up the site over the next 100 years, there are potentially major opportunities available to west Cumbria through the nuclear sector.

I now turn to the options for plutonium and the implications for future production of mixed oxide fuel at Sellafield. The future of MOX production at Sellafield can be described primarily by two recent events. The first was the publication in February of the Government’s consultation on the long-term management of the UK’s plutonium—we have the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world. The second was the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s announcement in August that it was to close the existing Sellafield MOX plant. Although both events are to an extent linked, it must be remembered that the Sellafield MOX plant was built to deal with overseas-owned plutonium recovered through reprocessing and was never intended to deal with the UK’s plutonium. A decision to close the SMP was taken by the NDA following a changed commercial risk profile arising from potential delays after the earthquake in Japan and subsequent events.

To ensure that the UK taxpayer did not carry a future financial burden from the SMP, the NDA concluded that the only reasonable course of action was to close the facility at the earliest practical opportunity. It was apparent that the SMP was never going to provide a solution for the large volumes of UK plutonium, which would need to be managed in new facilities. I am very grateful for the realistic approach that the hon. Gentleman has taken on that.

In our consultation on plutonium management we set out three high-level options for dealing with plutonium: continued storage; immobilisation followed by disposal as a waste; and reuse of the plutonium in the form of MOX fuel. The consultation set out at a high level the advantages and disadvantages of each option, but the Government’s preliminary view was that the best prospect of implementing a successful solution lay with the option of reusing MOX as a fuel and, therefore, with seeing its value rather than simply its cost, as the hon. Gentleman rightly called for us to do.

That option was the more technically mature, given that MOX fuel had been successfully fabricated and used in reactors in Europe, and given that by comparison no equally mature immobilisation technology was readily employable. Nevertheless, we recognised that there were still risks with the reuse-as-MOX option, particularly given the poor performance of the Sellafield MOX plant. The poor performance put limitations on throughput, which meant that, even if we wanted to use it, the Sellafield MOX plant would never be able to deal with all the UK’s plutonium.

For that reason, we acknowledged that to implement a reuse solution the Government would need to procure a new MOX plant, but as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the UK also stores significant quantities of overseas-owned plutonium, so pursuing a reuse-as-MOX option for UK plutonium could offer an opportunity for the overseas owners of plutonium currently stored in the UK to have their plutonium managed in the same way."

(At this point the MP for Copeland intervened to ask about what would happen to Scottish waste stored at Sellafield in the event of Scottish independence.)

"That departs just a little from the subject of the debate, and, although the hon. Gentleman is determined as I am to see off that threat, we are dealing with an issue that is not going to arise. However, in the event of separation there would clearly be implications for a settlement and they would need to be addressed and resolved. It is premature, however, to sit down and deal with those issues at this stage.

Were we to proceed down the path of a reuse, any new MOX plant would need to learn from the lessons of the past and take into account the experience from overseas. Additionally we anticipate that, for security reasons and to minimise the transportation of plutonium, any new MOX facilities would be located as close to the plutonium as possible and most likely in west Cumbria, which I believe many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would actively welcome. Plutonium management is a high-profile issue that requires appropriate consideration, and it is not a decision that can be taken quickly. The Government are in the process of clearing our response through Cabinet, and we anticipate being in a position to publish our response shortly.

I, like the Prime Minister, have made it clear that nuclear should remain part of the future energy mix, alongside other technologies such as renewable and carbon capture and storage, provided that there is no public subsidy for nuclear, and the Weightman report, published today, provides no grounds to question our approach that nuclear should be part of the energy mix in future, as it is today. The next step on plutonium management is for the Government to publish their response to the consultation paper, and, as I have just said, we are in the process of clearing our response through Cabinet and anticipate being in a position to make an announcement shortly.

We all recognise that nuclear power plays a significant role in the UK’s electricity supply, but that nuclear also results in radioactive waste. West Cumbria has expressed interest in the geological disposal of radioactive waste, and we are working in partnership to explore what that would involve. I pay tribute to the community as a whole, to the hon. Gentleman as their Member of Parliament and to the local authorities for having the vision to find out more about the process and to work very closely with us to see how we can take it forward."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Extending the Right to buy

David Cameron has announced that the government will increase the discounts offered to council house tenants to buy their homes as part of a plan to boost construction of new homes.

Cameron announced on the first day of the Conservative Party conference yesterday that the government would also release land it owns to be used to build homes.

These actions together would provide thousands of jobs in the building industry with more houses being built, he said.

The plan aims to make the Right to Buy scheme, introduced by the Thatcher government in the 1980s, attractive again, the government said.

The cash raised by an increase in council house sales will be used to build 100,000 homes that will then be rented out.

Cameron said that this would create 200,000 jobs in the construction industry, adding that the release of government land for house building would create a similar number of homes and jobs.

More details of the precise level of discount increase will be provided by the government's housing strategy, which will be published later this autumn. But the Department for Communities and Local Government has published some details on the scheme, which it said will rejuvenate the housing stock.

Currently, discounts for council house purchases vary, starting from between 35% for houses if the tenant has been renting for five years, to 50% discount for the same tenancy in flats. However, the Labour government put in place a cap on the total discount, which the DCLG report said ‘resulted in fewer people being able to take up this opportunity’.

The question and answer report states that under the new plan a new affordable home will be built for every one bought under Right to Buy. These homes will be additional to the government's existing plans, which propose that 150,000 new homes will be built by 2015.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

DC's final round up from Manchester

A final message from David Cameron about the Conservative Conference in Manchester this week.

"This year's Conservative Party Conference was a crucial one. We weren't talking to ourselves; we were talking to the nation, clearly setting out how we are delivering the leadership this country needs to secure a better future.

"Over the four days we spent in Manchester we showed that our resolve to tackle Labour's crippling debt is unwavering - because the only way to build a better country is to start with strong economic foundations.

"But our Conference was about more than dealing with the deficit. Because, even during these tough times, we can do so much. Together we can protect the vulnerable and safeguard our NHS. We can improve school standards. We can tackle the 'something for nothing' welfare system. We can build our Big Society. We can confront so many things - bonkers health and safety rules, the adoption crisis, famine overseas, reoffending rates. Why? Because Britain is a 'can-do' country.

"Our approach is not quick-fix, nor is it easy - but it is right for our country. That is what our Conference was about, and that is what our leadership is about. So I hope you enjoy this video for a recap of Manchester 2011"




Where is the Tomato Juice ?

Doing a famiy shop at one of the supermarkets in Whitehaven this morning I observed, not for the first time, that while in general there is a much broader choice of fruit juices than used to be the case, the healthiest of the lot, which was readily available in my childhood and early adulthood, is now quite hard to find.

Unless the latest dietary advice has done another flip-flop since I last looked, the substance which gives most tomato products their red colour is also one of the most powerful anti-carcinogenics known to man, and including tomato juice as part of one's regular intake of fruit and veg is a very good way to reduce the risk of getting several types of cancer.

So why is there obviously not as much demand for it as you might expect?

Perhaps tomato juice is for some people an acquired taste, although I never found it hard to acquire: certainly it isn't as good as some other drinks for dealing with a thirst because the taste is too strong to enable you to drink large mouthfuls, and you have to sip it.

Nevertheless it is disappointing that a drink which ought to be playing a part in the fight against cancer seems to have largely slipped off the menu. Perhaps an item which ought to be higher up the agenda in future health promotion campaigns.

The EU is not the best place to set speed limits

North West MEP Jacqueline Foster and other Conservative MEPs have slammed a proposal from German MEP Dieter-Lebrecht Koch, who has put forward on behalf of the Parliament's Transport Committee a resolution including the introduction of a 30km speed limit in every residential area in Britain. That's about 18.64 mph.

I am all in favour of LOCAL authorities being able to impose 20 mph speed limits where LOCAL people know that they are needed - for example, there are a number of places in Copeland where 20 mph speed limits are or have recently been in place where they were entirely appropriate. And the removal of the 20mph speed limit in St Bees was extremely unpopular.

But it is just plain daft to set that kind of speed limit in Brussels for every residential area in Europe. There are places where it's needed and places where it is not: and local people and councillors have a much better idea which is which than an MEP from the other end of the continent.

As Jacqueline Foster said,

"Of course speed limits as low as 20mph or so can be right in some very specific areas, especially near schools or children's nurseries, but every location is different and these decisions need to be made case by case.

"Not by a Europe-wide edict."


A British road sign declaring 'Speed limit - 18.64 mph' would be 'plain silly' she added.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

DC's speech to conference

"This week, in Manchester, this party has shown the discipline, the unity, and the purpose that is the mark of a party of government. I'm proud of my team, I'm proud of our members, I'm proud to lead this party - but most of all, I'm proud of you.

"People have very clear instructions for this government: "Lead us out of this economic mess."

"Do it in a way that's fair and right."

"And as you do it, make sure you build something worthwhile for us and our children."

Clear instructions. Clear objectives. And from me: a clear understanding that in these difficult times, it is leadership we need. To get our economy moving. To get our society working, and in a year - the Olympics year - when the world will be watching us, to show everyone what Great Britain really means.

But first I want to say something to you in this hall. Thank you. Despite the predictions we won elections all over the country this May, so let's hear it for those great campaigns you fought and the great results you achieved.

And thank you for something else. In the AV referendum, you did Britain a service and kicked that useless voting system off the political agenda for decades to come.

And next year let's make sure we back Boris, beat Ken and keep London Conservative. You're not just winners - you're doers.

This summer, as before, Conservatives went to Rwanda to build classrooms, teach children and help grow businesses. Social action: that is the spirit of the modern Conservative Party.

This is a party - ours is a country - that never walks on by. Earlier this year some people said to me: "Libya's not our concern", "don't start what you can't finish", and even - "Arabs don't do democracy." But if we had stood aside this spring, people in Benghazi would have been massacred. And don't let anyone say this wasn't in our national interest. Remember what Qadhafi did. He's the man who gave Semtex to the IRA, who was behind the shooting of a police officer in a London square, who was responsible for the bombing of a plane in the skies over Lockerbie. Let's be proud of the part we played in giving the Libyan people the chance to take back their country.

In Afghanistan today, there are men and women fighting for Britain as bravely as any in our history. They come from across our country: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. They now have the equipment they need. And we're on target to bring them home by the end of 2014.

Theirs has been a campaign of incredible courage and sacrifice, and I know everyone in this hall will want to send a message to everyone who serves and who have served. Those in uniform in our armed forces and in our police. And those not in uniform, keeping us safe from terrorism on our streets.

We're proud of you. We salute you. Thank you.

But leadership in the world is about moral strength as much as military might. A few months ago I was in Nigeria, on a trade mission. While I was there, I visited a vaccination clinic. It was very hot, pretty basic and the lights kept going off.

But to the rows of women, cuddling their babies, this place was a godsend. One of the nurses told me that if it wasn't for British aid, many of those beautiful babies would be dead. In four years' time, this country will have helped vaccinate more of the world's poorest children than there are people in the whole of England.

Of course, we'll make sure your money goes to the people who need it most, and we'll do it in a way that's transparent and accountable. But I really believe, despite all our difficulties, that this is the right thing to do. That it's a mark of our country, and our people, that we never turn our backs on the world's poorest, and everyone in Britain can be incredibly proud of it.

Leadership in fighting poverty. Leadership in fighting tyranny. But when it came to that decision to help the Libyan people, there was something dispiriting about the debate here at home. It wasn't that some people thought we shouldn't do what we did - of course it's everyone's right to disagree.

It was that too many thought Britain actually couldn't do something like that any more. And you hear that kind of pessimism about our economic future, our social problems, our political system. That our best days are behind us. That we're on a path of certain decline.

Well I'm here to tell you that it isn't true. Of course, if we sit around and hope for the best, the rest will leave us behind. If we fool ourselves that we can grow our economy, mend our society, give our children the future we want them to have. If we fool ourselves that we can do these things without effort, without correcting past mistakes, without confronting vested interests and failed ideas, then no, we're not going to get anywhere.

But if we put in the effort, correct those mistakes, confront those vested interests and take on the failed ideas of the past, then I know we can turn this ship around.

Nobody wants false optimism. And I will never pretend there are short cuts to success. But success will come: with the right ideas, the right approach, the right leadership. Leadership from government: to set out the direction we must take, and the choices we must make. But leadership also from you. Because the things that will really deliver success are not politicians or government. It's the people of Britain, and the spirit of Britain.

Some say that to succeed in this world, we need to become more like India, or China, or Brazil. I say: we need to become more like us. The real us. Hard-working, pioneering, independent, creative, adaptable, optimistic, can-do. That's the spirit that has made this United Kingdom what it is: a small country that does great things; one of the most incredible success stories in the history of the world.

And it's a spirit that's alive and well today. I see it in Tania Sidney-Roberts, the head teacher I met in Norwich who started a free school from scratch, now four times over-subscribed. Her ambition? To set up another school and do it all over again. That's leadership.

I see it in the group of GPs in Bexley who have taken more control of their budgets, and got their patients - some of the poorest in the country - free care on Harley Street. Their ambition? To cut waiting times, cut costs and improve care - all in one go. That's leadership.

And we all saw it this summer. Dan Thompson watched the riots unfold on television. But he didn't sit there and say 'the council will clean it up.' He got on the internet. He sent out a call. And with others, he started a social movement.

People picked up their brooms and reclaimed their streets. So the argument I want to make today is simple: leadership works. I know how tough things are. I don't for one minute underestimate how worried people feel, whether about making ends meet, or the state of the world economy. But the truth is, right now we need to be energised, not paralysed by gloom and fear.

Half the world is booming - let's go and sell to them. So many of our communities are thriving - let's make the rest like them. There's so much that's great about our country. We don't have to accept that success in this century automatically belongs to someone else. We just have to remember the origin of our achievements: the people of Britain, taking a lead. That's why so much of my leadership is about unleashing your leadership. Giving everyone who wants to seize it the opportunity, the support and above all the freedom to get things done. Giving everyone who wants to believe it the confidence that working hard and taking responsibility will be rewarded not punished.

So let's reject the pessimism. Let's bring on the can-do optimism. Let's summon the energy and the appetite to fight for a better future for our country, Great Britain.

Of course that starts with our economy. As we meet here in Manchester, the threat to the world economy - and to Britain - is as serious today as it was in 2008 when world recession loomed. The Eurozone is in crisis, the French and German economies have slowed to a standstill; even mighty America is being questioned about her debts.

It is an anxious time. Prices and bills keep going up - petrol, the weekly shop, electricity. On the news it's job losses, cutbacks, closures. You think about tuition fees, and house prices, the cost of a deposit, and wonder how our children will cope. Of course, government can help - and this one is. We have cut petrol duty, kept the winter fuel allowance and kept cold weather payments. We froze council tax this year, and as George announced in that great speech on Monday, we're going to freeze it again next year too.

But we need to tell the truth about the overall economic situation. People understand that when the economy goes into recession, times get tough. But normally, after a while, things pick up. Strong growth returns. People get back into work. This time, it's not like that. And people want to know why the good times are so long coming.

The answer is straightforward, but uncomfortable. This was no normal recession; we're in a debt crisis. It was caused by too much borrowing, by individuals, businesses, banks, and most of all, governments. When you're in a debt crisis, some of the normal things that government can do, to deal with a normal recession, like borrowing to cut taxes or increase spending - these things won't work because they lead to more debt, which would make the crisis worse.

Why? Because it risks higher interest rates, less confidence and the threat of even higher taxes in future. The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That's why households are paying down their credit card and store card bills. It means banks getting their books in order. And it means governments - all over the world - cutting spending and living within their means.

This coalition government, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg and I - we've led the way here in Britain. Our plan is right. And our plan will work. I know you can't see it or feel it yet. But think of it like this. The new economy we're building: it's like building a house. The most important part is the part you can't see - the foundations that make it stable. Slowly, but surely, we're laying the foundations for a better future. But this is the crucial point: it will only work if we stick with it.

And there's something else we've got to stick to. Because we're not in the Euro, we can lay these foundations ourselves: on our own terms; in our own way. So let me say this: as long as I'm Prime Minister, we will never join the Euro. And I won't let us be sucked into endless bail-outs of countries that are in the Euro either. Yes, we're leading members of the IMF and have our responsibilities there.

But when it comes to any Euro bail-out mechanism, my approach is simple: Labour got us into it and I've made sure we're getting out of it.

Of course, our deficit reduction programme is just one big bail-out of the last Labour government. This past year we've been subjected to a sort of national apology tour by Labour. Sorry for sucking up to Qadhafi. For not regulating the banks properly. For crushing civil liberties. For failing to go green. For not building enough homes. For the infighting that made them the most dysfunctional government ever.

But you know what? Nothing - not a peep - on the thing they really need to say sorry for. Wasting billions and billions of your money. No apology for that. You know what the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls claimed last week? That Labour didn't spend more money than they had "available". Hello? Ed - you spent £428 billion more than you had "available". There is only one conclusion you can rationally draw. We must never let these Labour politicians anywhere near our economy again.

As before, it falls to us to clear up after the Labour Party. I have insisted that we do it in a way that is fair. You can't cut a deficit the size of ours without everyone making a sacrifice. But those with the most money are bearing the biggest burden. We've imposed a permanent levy on the banks, getting them to pay more every year than Labour did in one year.

We've raised taxes on people who make their money overseas but live here. At the same time we've given real help to the poorest and most vulnerable. We're taking over a million of the lowest-paid people out of tax altogether. And after the scandal of the 75p pension rise under Labour, we're linking pensions to earnings so elderly people will be £10,000 better off in their retirement.

Yes, this is a one-nation deficit reduction plan - from a one-nation party. And here's something else that we - yes we - have done. The NHS is the most precious institution in our country - to my family, to your family. At the last election, it was Labour policy to cut the NHS. It was Liberal Democrat policy to cut the NHS.

It was our policy - Conservative policy - to protect the NHS and spend more on it this year, next year and the year after that because we are the party of the NHS, and as long as I'm here we always will be.

But real fairness isn't just about what the state spends. It's about the link between what you put in and what you get out. As we debate what people get from the state, let's remember how we generate taxes. So to the unions planning to strike over public sector pensions I say this. You have every right to protest. But our population is ageing. Our public sector pensions system is unaffordable. The only way to give public sector workers a decent, sustainable pensions system, and do right by the taxpayer, is to ask public servants to work a little longer and contribute a little more. That is fair. What is not fair, what is not right, is going on strikes that will hurt the very people who help pay for your pensions.

Dealing with our debts is line one, clause one of our plan for growth. But it is just the start. We need jobs - and we won't get jobs by growing government, we need to grow our businesses. So here's our growth plan: doing everything we can to help businesses start, grow, thrive, succeed. Where that means backing off, cutting regulation - back off, cut regulation. Where that means intervention, investment - intervene, invest. Whatever it takes to help our businesses take on the world - we'll do it.

The global economy has transformed in recent years. It used to take companies decades to become global giants: now it can take a couple of years. When you step off the plane in Delhi or Shanghai or Lagos, you can feel the energy, the hunger, the drive to succeed. We need that here.

Frankly, there's too much 'can't do' sogginess around. We need to be a sharp, focused, can-do country. But as we go for growth, the last thing I want is to pump the old economy back up, with a banking sector out of control, manufacturing squeezed, and prosperity confined to a few parts of the country and a select few industries. Our plan is to build something new and to build something better. We can do it.

Look what's happening in East London. Europe's financial capital is now matched by Europe's technology capital in Tech City. Facebook, Intel, Google, Cisco - even Silicon Valley Bank - seeing our potential and investing here. Look what's happening across our country. The wings of the world's biggest jumbo jet - built in Wales.

The world's most famous digger - the JCB - made in Staffordshire.

Do you watch Formula One? Well whether it's the German Michael Schumacher, the Australian Mark Webber or the Brazilian Reubens Barrichello, they all have one thing in common - they drive cars built right here in Britain.

This is the new economy we're building: leading in advanced manufacturing, technology, life sciences, green engineering. Inventing, creating, exporting.

Of course, it's easy to talk about these things: harder to deliver it. For a start, you won't deliver it just by dividing industries into saints and sinners. That's not just an insult to the financial and insurance companies, accountancy firms and professional services that make us billions of pounds and create millions of jobs - it's much too simplistic.

As I've always argued, we need businesses to be more socially responsible. But to get proper growth, to rebalance our economy, we've got to put some important new pieces into place. Taking action now to get credit flowing to the small businesses that are the engine of the economy. And ring-fencing the banks so they fulfil their role of lending safely to the real economy. Setting up Technology and Innovation Centres where scientists and academics can work with entrepreneurs to turn brilliant inventions into successful products. Reforming taxation to encourage enterprise and investment in high growth firms. And sometimes that means taking controversial decisions; challenging vested interests.

When firms need to adapt quickly to win orders and contracts, we can't go on with rigid, outdated employment regulations. The critics may say: what about workers' rights? But the most important worker's right of all is having a job in the first place.

When in modern business you're either quick or you're dead, it's hopeless that our transport infrastructure lags so far behind Europe's. That's why we need to build high speed rail and why we'll get the best super-fast broadband network in Europe too. When a balanced economy needs workers with skills, we need to end the old snobbery about vocational education and training. We've provided funding for 250,000 extra apprenticeships - but not enough big companies are delivering.

So here's a direct appeal: If you want skilled employees, we'll provide the funding, we'll cut the red tape. But you've got to show more leadership and give us the apprenticeships we need.

Unlocking growth and rebalancing our economy also requires change in Brussels. The EU is the biggest single market in the world - but it's not working properly. Almost every day, I see pointless new regulation coming our way. A couple of weeks ago I was up in the flat, going through some work before the start of the day and I saw this EU directive. Do you know what it was about? Whether people with diabetes should be allowed to drive. What's that got to do with the single market? Do you suppose anyone in China is thinking: I know how we'll grow our economy - let's get those diabetics off our roads. Europe has to wake up - and the EU growth plan we've published, backed by eight countries, which I want us to push at every meeting, every council, every summit, is the alarm call that Brussels needs.

There's one more thing. Our businesses need the space to grow - literally. That's one of the reasons we're reforming our planning system. It's hard to blame local people for opposing developments when they get none of the benefits. We're changing that. If a new manufacturing plant is built in your area - your community keeps the business rates. If new homes get built - you keep the council tax. This is a localist plan from a localist party.

Now I know people are worried about what this means for conservation. Let me tell you: I love our countryside and there's nothing I would do to put it at risk. But let's get the balance right. The proportion of land in England that is currently built up is 9 per cent. Yes, 9 per cent. There are businesses out there desperate to expand, to hire thousands of people - but they're stuck in the mud of our planning system. Of course we're open to constructive ideas about how to get this right.

But to those who just oppose everything we're doing, my message is this: Take your arguments down to the job centre. We've got to get Britain back to work.

The new economy we're building must work for everyone. You know the real tragedy of New Labour's economy? Not just that it was unsustainable, unbalanced, overwhelmed with debt. But that it left so many behind.

Labour talked opportunity but ripped the ladders of opportunity away. We had an education system that left hundreds of thousands unprepared for work. A welfare system that trapped millions in dependency. An immigration system that brought in migrant workers to do the jobs that those on welfare were being paid not to do.

We had a housing system that failed to meet demand, so prices shot up and fuelled an unsustainable boom. And we had a government that creamed the taxes off the boom to splurge back into benefits - redoubling the failure all over again. Labour: who tell us they care so much about fairness, about justice, who say they want to hit the rich and help the poor - it was Labour gave us the casino economy and the welfare society.

So who's going to lift the poorest up? Who's going to get our young people back to work? Who's going to create a more equal society? No, not you, the self-righteous Labour Party. It will be us, the Conservatives who finally build an economy that works for everyone and gives hope to everyone in our country.

That starts with a good education - for everyone. It sounds so simple: proper teaching, good discipline, rigorous exams. But it's hard. It's hard because our education system has been infected by an ideology that instead of insisting on every child's success has too often made excuses for failure. They said: "poor kids can't learn." "Black boys can't do well." "In this community we really mustn't expect too much - don't you understand?"

Oh yes, I do understand. Believe me I do understand and I am disgusted by the idea that we should aim for any less for a child from a poor background than a rich one. I have contempt for the notion that we should accept narrower horizons for a black child than a white one. Yes it's the age-old irony of the liberal left: they practice oppression and call it equality.

So we are fighting back. And something massive is happening. There is now irrefutable proof that the right schools, with the right freedoms and the right leadership, can transform the education of the most deprived children. You heard yesterday from that inspirational student from Burlington Danes Academy in Hammersmith. Inner city school. Deprived area. Nearly half the pupils on free school meals.

But this year, three-quarters got five good GCSEs including English and maths. That's way better than what the majority of the state schools in Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire got last year - some of the most affluent counties in the country.

Why? Because the head teacher, her staff, the parents - rose up and said: "We are as good as anyone. Our children can achieve anything."

Leadership works. So we're backing more head teachers to turn schools into Academies. And we want more parents, teachers, charities, businesses, entrepreneurs, to come in to our education system and set up Academies and Free Schools.

Change really is underway. For the first time in a long time, the numbers studying those core and vital subjects history, geography, languages are going up. Pupils' exams will be marked on their punctuation and grammar. And teachers are going to be able to search pupils' bags for anything banned in school - mobile phones, alcohol, weapons, anything. It's a long, hard road back to rigour, but we're well and truly on our way.

And here's something else we're going to do. In Britain today, we have schools that are intolerant of failure, where ninety percent of pupils get five good GCSEs. Yes: private schools. You've heard me talk about social responsibility so let me say this. I want to see private schools start Academies, and sponsor Academies in the state system. Wellington College does it, Dulwich does it - others can too. The apartheid between our private and state schools is one of the biggest wasted opportunities in our country today. So let it be this party that helps tear it down.

Rigour back in learning. Standards back in schools. Teachers back in control. Yes - the Conservatives are back in government.

An economy that works for everyone means sorting out welfare and immigration too. Welfare began as a life-line. For too many it's become a way of life. Generation after generation in the cycle of dependency - and we are determined to break it.

Part of our answer is controlling immigration. So we've put a cap on the numbers of non-EU immigrants allowed to come into our country to work. We mustn't lock out talent - I want the best and brightest entrepreneurs, scientists and students from around the world to get the red carpet treatment. But the bogus colleges, the fake marriages, the people arriving for a month and staying for years, the criminals who use the Human Rights Act to try and stay in the country - we are clamping down on all of them.

We've got to get some sense back into our labour market and get British people back into work. For years you've been conned by governments. To keep the unemployment figures down, they've parked as many people as possible on the sick. Two and a half million, to be exact. Not officially unemployed, but claiming welfare, no questions asked. Now we're asking those questions. It turns out that of the 1.3 million people who have put in a claim for the new sickness benefit in recent years. One million are either able to work, or stopped their claim before their medical assessment had been completed.

Under Labour they got something for nothing. With us they'll only get something, if they give something. If they are prepared to work, we're going to help them - and I mean really help them. If you've been out of work and on benefits for five years, a quick session down the job centre and a new CV just isn't going to cut it. You need to get your self-esteem and confidence back; you need training and skills; intensive personal support.

Previous governments were never willing to make a proper commitment to this, but we have - investing now, so we don't pay later. We're going to spend up to £14,000 on some people just to get them trained and back into work. Yes, I know that's a lot of money - but it's worth it. Let it be us, let it be this government that finally builds an economy where no one is left behind.

And for most people that includes a home of their own: not just any old home but a decent one: light and spacious, a place with a proper front door and room for the kids to play in. But the percentage of British people who own their home is going down. Unless they get help from their parents, do you know the average age of a first-time buyer in our country today? Thirty seven. You hear people say: "why can't people just rent like in Europe?" or "there's nothing we can do because we don't have the money."

I disagree. The failure of the housing market is bound up in the debt crisis. Because lenders won't lend, builders won't build and buyers can't buy. We're sorting this out, bringing back the Right to Buy and using the money to build new homes. Macmillan made us the party of the property-owning democracy. Margaret Thatcher gave people the Right to Buy. Now let us, in this generation, inspire a new Tory housing revolution.

While I'm on the subject of those great Conservative figures, let me say this. I'm incredibly fortunate to have such strong support from our previous leaders. Michael Howard. Iain Duncan Smith. William Hague. Sir John Major. And of course, Lady Thatcher. You know what? We don't boo our leaders. We're proud of our past and what those people did for our country.

A few months ago, we were shocked by the scenes on our streets in London and other parts of the country. But perhaps the most shocking thing is that people weren't that surprised. There was no great call for a public enquiry to find out what had gone wrong. Instead the sound you could hear was the angry, insistent, overwhelming cry of a country shouting to its leaders: We know. We know why this happened. We know what's gone wrong. We know that if the system keeps fudging the difference between right and wrong, we'll never improve behaviour. We know that as long as the police go round with one hand tied behind their back, we'll never make our streets truly safe. And more than anything we know that if parents don't meet their responsibilities, kids will get out of control. Yes, people said: we know what's gone wrong: and we want you to put it right.

One thing people want is speedy justice. After the riots those responsible were put straight in the courts and tough sentences were quickly handed out. And I've made it clear to the police, to the prosecution services, to the Ministry of Justice, to the Attorney-General, if we could do that then, let's make sure we do it all the time. But the problems go deeper. That's why my driving mission in politics is to build a Big Society, a stronger society.

It starts with families. I want to make this the most family-friendly government the country has ever seen. More childcare. More health visitors. More relationship support. More help with parenting. And for the 120,000 families that are most troubled - and causing the most trouble - a commitment to turn their lives around by the end of this Parliament.

Today I can announce this: a new focus on the 65,000 children in care. Do you know how many children there are in care under the age of one? 3,660. And how many children under the age of one were adopted in our country last year? Sixty. This may not seem like the biggest issue facing our country, but it is the biggest issue for these children. How can we have let this happen: we've got people flying all over the world to adopt babies, while the care system at home agonises about placing black children with white families.

With the right values and the right effort, let's end this scandal and help these, the most vulnerable children of all. But for me, leadership on families also means speaking out on marriage. Marriage is not just a piece of paper. It pulls couples together through the ebb and flow of life. It gives children stability. And it says powerful things about what we should value. So yes, we will recognise marriage in the tax system.

But we're also doing something else. I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn't matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we're consulting on legalising gay marriage.

And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.

We value community spirit and social action too. We see it everyday in our own lives, it's one of the great things about Britain, and do you know what? Over the last five years of the Labour government, the number of people volunteering went down. Last year, the decline was halted.

And now the proportion of people saying they feel they belong strongly to their neighbourhood is the highest for a decade. If you're cynical, go to Wythenshawe, a few miles from here. It used to be ravaged by crime and drugs and graffiti. But local people opened a community hall and a gym. They got the kids off the streets. They cleaned up graffiti and kicked out the drug dealers. Of course, government can't legislate for this. But we can support the leadership that makes it happen.

That's why we're giving neighbourhoods new powers to take over the running of parks, playgrounds and pubs. It's why we're making it easier for people to give their time and money to good causes. It's why we want elected mayors in our great cities, and it's why right now we're drawing up plans to really open up public services and give more power to people.

But one of the biggest things holding people back is the shadow of health and safety. I was told recently about a school that wanted to buy a set of highlighter pens. But with the pens came a warning. Not so fast - make sure you comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Including plenty of fresh air and hand and eye protection. Try highlighting in all that.

This isn't how a great nation was built. Britannia didn't rule the waves with arm-bands on. So the vetting and barring scheme - we're scaling it back. CRB checks - we're cutting them back. At long last common sense is coming back to our country.

Building stronger communities is why we've introduced National Citizen Service. You saw it for yourself at the start of this afternoon's session. One of the people who took part this year, Owen Carter, wrote to me and said:

"[This] has changed my perspective of life - you can do anything if you work hard and have a supportive team around you. You can do anything'.

That's the spirit I'm talking about. That's why we're tripling the scale of National Citizen Service. That's how we'll build our Big Society. That is leadership.

Next year, we welcome the world for the Olympics - and of course the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. These two events say a lot about Britain. Tradition. Modernity. All in one.

And today, we can choose to be a country that's back on its feet and striding forward. Paying down our debt and earning a living. Getting people off welfare and into work. Breaking new ground in education, with excellence for everyone not a privileged few.

We can be a country where people look back on their life and say: I've worked hard, I've raised a family, I'm part of a community and all along it was worth my while. We're too far away from that today but we can get there.

It's not complicated, but not easy either - because nothing worthwhile is easily won. But you know, we've been told we were finished before.

They said when we lost an Empire that we couldn't find a role. But we found a role, took on communism and helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

They called our economy the sick man of Europe. But we came back and turned this country into a beacon of enterprise.

No, Britain never had the biggest population, the largest land mass, the richest resources, but we had the spirit. Remember: it's not the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog. Overcoming challenge, confounding the sceptics, reinventing ourselves, this is what we do. It's called leadership.

Let's turn this time of challenge into a time of opportunity. Not sitting around, watching things happen and wondering why. But standing up, making things happen and asking why not.

We have the people, we have the ideas, and now we have a government that's freeing those people, backing those ideas.

So let's see an optimistic future. Let's show the world some fight. Let's pull together, work together. And together lead Britain to better days."

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Manchester diary, final day: cat flap!

And so the fourth and final day of party conference begins.

I was in the hall for Theresa May's speech yesterday about the human rights act which has apparently generated what one paper called a "cat-flap."

Whether or not she was right about the case of a burglar who supposedly escaped deportation because he had a cat, her essential point was undoubtedly right.

Which was that the section in the European Convention on Human Rights which lays out a right to family life has been applied unreasonably by some court decisions in a way that neither the proposers of the EHCR nor those of the Human Rights Act intended.

I remember when the act was going through. The pessimists and opponents of the act predicted that it would be used in perverse ways and put the human rights of criminals and terrorists above those of their victims and potential victims.

Optimists and supporters of the act pointed out - quite correctly as far as what the Act and the ECHR actually say - that they are supposed to be applied with common sense in a way which respects the human rights of all concerned and the interests of society, not just those of the accused and the criminal. Theresa May's speech specifically quoted the section of the ECHR which qualifies the "right to family life" in precisely this way.

As ever the outcome has been somewhere between the two extremes, and not all the court decisions based on the Human Rights Act, by any means, have been as perverse as those which often hit the papers.

For example, when I was planning portfolio holder for planning in St Albans, we had to deal with a family of "travellers" who repeatedly ignored planning rules and court decisions. The council launched a court action to put the head of the family in prison until they complied with the law. Despite an attempt by his lawyers to argue that this breached his human rights, the court accepted that the remainder of the community have human rights too, that travellers are not above the law, that he had ignored his duties and responsibilities under the law, and jailed him.

However, there have been some perverse instances where proven criminals, including the perpetrator convicted of one particularly infamous murder, have been able to avoid deportation at the conclusion of their sentences by misusing the ECHR provision of a "right to family life."

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the "cat burglar" this should not happen, and Theresa May is right to wish to clarify the law and the application of the ECHR to stop it happening.

This morning we have had a "Conservative Policy Forum" followed by a session on foreign affairs and defence. The final session of conference this afternoon will be a speech by David Cameron.

Martin Kettle on IDS

One of the most thoughtful speeches I have heard in Manchester this week was from Iain Duncan Smith, who has re-invented himself from a right-wing party leader to a much more successful thinker and reforming secretary of state addressing welfare and social deprivation.

Interestingly, he also impressed Guardian commentator Martin Kettle, who pointed out that IDS was the only platform speaker at any of the party conferences to say anything constructive or thoughtful about the riots. Martin had this to say on the Guardian blog:

"It is barely two months since the urban riots of 2011. Yet the party conferences of 2011 have scarcely addressed them. There have been exceptions, of course. Nick Clegg had a section in his leader's speech to the Liberal Democrats, which concluded that young people could be put back on track with a bit of extra summer schooling. Yvette Cooper, speaking at the Labour conference, had a section on the riots because she saw them as an example of Tory police cuts leading to lawlessness. Doubtless David Cameron will have a section on the riots on Wednesday when he addresses the Tories.

"But it's a simple fact that the only speech at any of the conferences which really attempted to say something thoughtful about the riots was the one given by Iain Duncan Smith at Manchester this morning. It wouldn't be true to say that IDS said everything there is to say, but at least he tried to rise to the seriousness of the subject. Nor did he break free of clich̩. The riots were "a pertinent reminder" about Britain's social problems. They were a "wake-up call" on gangs. On the page, this looks pretty pedestrian stuff. But IDS nevertheless tried to wrestle with the difficult issues Рthe underclass, family breakdown, the importance of drugs and alcohol, and the allure of gang culture. Gang members were "like child soldiers of the third world", a powerful image. The inner city "is not just a place, it's a state of mind," РI'll remember that phrase. And "we must end the false belief that we can arrest our way out of this crisis."

"Compared with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who trivialised the riots, IDS took them seriously. He is interested in them, and therefore has something interesting to say. The other parties, Labour in particular, merely slotted the riots into their pre-existing frame of government negligence. But IDS's response was a world away from the entirely draconian approach of the Conservative government in 1981 after the last serious urban riots too. Duncan Smith's speech may not have been the final word, but it was a reprimand
to the superficiality of the other parties in their responses to the riots."

You can read his and other Guardian comments here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Quote of the day - Tuesday

"While I am secretary of State the NHS will not be fragmented, privatised, or undermined.

I am committed to an NHS which provides equal access and quality of care."


Andrew Lansley

Manchester Diary: Day Three

I thought George Osborne was brilliant yesterday: back to Copeland for a meeting after his session. Returned to Manchester this morning.

Conference began with a "Back Boris" session, followed by a discussion on Crime and Home Affairs policy with ken Clarke and Theresa May.

The NIA Fringe meeting on Tuesday lunchtime about new nuclear build was extremely well supported with standing room only at the back. It was chaired by Lord Hutton (formerly a Labour cabinet minister and Cumbria MP as John Hutton) in his capacity as chairman of the NIA and excellent contributions from three speakers including energy minister Charles Hendry.

Support for nuclear new build within the Conservative party appears to have moved from strong to everwhelming with no voices of dissent raised at any of the fringe meetings I have attended: the only anti nuclear voice I have heard in Manchester has been one lone nutcase shouting at people outside the entrance to the conference secure area.

The afternoon featured a session on Children and Cities addressed by Greg Clarke and David "Two Brains" Willetts - who took a question from the President of NUS, something requiring some bravery on both sides.

I just imagine how many people in both the National Union of Students and the Conservative hierarchy would have had apolplexy if someone had allowed David Aaronovitch to put a question to Sir Keith Joseph at Conservative party conference while they were respectively President of NUS and the minister whose portfolio included Universities. (Calls on one side of "Sellout!" and on the other of "What's he doing here?") Though to be fair, I suspect David and Sir Keith would not have been among those who would have had any trouble with the idea.

He also pointed out that in it's first year the government has over-fulfilled the promise to create 50,000 new apprenticeships by actualy creating more than 100,000.


This was followed by a panel discussion on schools led by Michael Gove, and one on the NHS with Andrew Lansley. Both brought in a series of professionals and people involved with education and health respectively.

I thought as Michael Gove introduced his panel "Please God none of these people loses their job this year for daring to come and speak to us." Which did happen, totally unjustifiably, to a deputy head who made a brilliant speech to last year's conference. This time the education speakers were two heads, and a young student whose head teacher was one of the other speakers, so they'll probably all be OK.

The health session was particularly interesting. Andrew gave a very impressive list of acheivements, showing how the government's policy of protecting NHS spending in real terms while switching spending from Bureaucracy to front line services is paying dividends.

Since the coalition government took over the NHS employs 5,000 fewer managers and 1,500 more doctors.

Three quarters of a million more people have access to an NHS dentist

NHS waiting times have dropped slightly on average, and hospital acquired infection rates in the NHS in England are 27% down.

Real progress at a very difficult time

Quote of the day - Monday

"You cannot borrow your way out of Debt."

George Osborne

Monday, October 03, 2011

Manchester Diary - day two

Another early start, though not quite as early as yesterday morning: up in time to make the half-hour trek from my hotel to the conference for a very interesting Nuclear Industry Association fringe meeting at 8 am.

The discussion centred around the nuclear industry in the community: obviously an issue very dear to the heart of people in Cumbria, particularly West Cumbria, where as one speaker rightly pointed out, the local economy would be unrecognisable without the investment brought by the nuclear industry into the area.

Sellafield has now managed to raise the proportion of their supply chain spending going into the local community to 30% which is extremely good for this kind of industry, though they would like to do even better. The point was mentioned that to achieve an even better proportion will need effective co-operation with local authorities and all parties concerned need to think carefully about what they can do to help bring this about.

There was also a reminder of one other point which I had intended to mention from yesterday: Energy minister Charles Hendry pointed out in his speech at conference that Nuclear Power is the lowest-cost form of low-carbon energy. So if we wnat to meet our carbon targest and keep costs down nuclear has to be part of the mix.

It was also pointed out that Germany are going to get themselves in a real fix if they try to persist in doing without nuclear energy while trying to meet their carbon targets: this policy has already driven up the cost of energy in Europe, and forced them to import electricity from France.

Which effectively means that Germany is still using nuclear energy, but with the plants based in France rather than Germany - and with a lower energy efficiency and more impact on the enviroment due to transmission losses.

Tuesday morning's conference sessions are on welfare reform and jobs followed by the Economy. The people organising the conference are aiming, on the basis of a lead which comes from David Cameron downwards, to talk to the country rather than ourselves and address the issues which matter to the public like jobs, the economy, health services, and schools.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Manchester Diary

Up before the crack of dawn to reach Manchester for the 9.30am “National Conservative Convention” which precedes the Conservative party conference. This body consists mostly of constituency chairmen, with a few others such as area and regional chairmen added, and is a key part of the party structure.

The convention heard a brilliant speech from David Cameron; if his speeches later to the public sessions of the conference are anything like as good as this speech delivered in private, it will set the tone for a good conference.

The main conference session started in the afternoon. The attendance is good and the mood is buoyant but the weather has been diabolical. So much so that I had to put a good cumbrian cagoule on for protection from the rain. Seeing me donning this garment one policeman said to me:

"I see you’ve been to Manchester before, sir!"