Two issues today highlight the way this Conservative-led LibDem-supported Coalition Government operates.
Fees of up to £1200 to bring an employment tribunal case are being introduced today. This is allegedly intended to prevent so-called vexatious claims from being brought. The reality is that for the first time since employment tribunals were introduced in the 1960s there will be charges imposed to deter those who have been badly treated or exploited by their employers. The fees discriminate against the weak and the low paid.
Less important, but symptomatic of the way this Government pays lip-service to engagement and consultation are a series of consultation exercises launched in the last few days with closing dates for response at the end of August or in the first week of September. Good practice would be that consultations should be open for up to three months – five weeks over the peak holiday period is designed to stifle responses. The consultations cover such matters as pensions fro retained firefighters, the housing transfer manual, and various notices under the Gas and Electricity Acts (and yes, I don’t know what these are about, but they are no doubt complicated and take time to understand their implications).
I am not surprised by the Tories, but I hope the LibDems are ashamed of themselves.
There were a series of exchanges during Question Time in the House of Lords this afternoon on the Arctic and the implications of the melting of the ice cap. The implications are substantial – and not just because of the impact on global sea levels. There is the potential opening up of a new sea route: the North West Passage sought by explorers so assiduously for centuries. There is the potentially easier access to mineral deposits and the possibility of oil drilling as the ice recedes. The ocean (and this brings with it the rights to exploitation of natural resources) itself falls within the territorial waters of a handful of countries – principally Canada, Russia and Greenland.
So what is the strategy being followed to protect UK interests (indeed have those interests even been defined)?
Alas, the answer is not to be found in today’s Hansard:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the 2012 Arctic Report Card of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States showing record-low sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean during the past year.
There was a fairly surreal discussion in the House of Lords this afternoon following the Government statement on the resignation of the Director General of the BBC. This reflects the wider political and media preoccupation with the inner workings of the BBC and not the very serious allegations of child abuse that lay beneath the two questionable editorial decisions by those in charge of the BBC Newsnight programme.
The depths were plumbed by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, former Leader of UKIP, who seemed to think that the central issue was that “a large majority” of the members of the BBC Trust are “climate change enthusiasts” and that “the BBC remains blindly Europhile …. as exemplified by its chairman, who has a large EU pension which he could lose if he went against what the European Commission regards as the interests of the European communities.”
It took a Bishop to reinject some sanity into the discussion:
My Lords, I am very grateful that in the initial Statement the Minister said that we must continue to recognise the needs of those who have been abused. He spoke of the BBC facing a series of crises. Those who were abused face a far more serious series of crises. Will he stress again that the primary concern at this point needs to be the protection of children and young people? Will he also stress the continuing desire of us all to encourage those who have suffered abuse to come forward so we can change the culture of how we deal with such issues?
But that didn’t stop Lord Stoddart of Swindon from trying to bring the debate back to the people selected as BBC Trustees and lobbying for his UKIP mate, Lord Pearson, to be appointed:
Does the noble Lord agree that the selection pool for the BBC Trust is very narrow? Would it not be as well that that pool should be widened so that a perhaps more critical attitude could be taken of the operations of the BBC? Perhaps one of the new candidates could be the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has rightly reminded the House that the people we should be most concerned about in all of this are those who were the victims of abuse. Can the Minister comment on whether the Government feel that the frenzy around the existential crisis of the BBC is not really a distraction from concerns that there was very real abuse in children’s homes in north Wales and elsewhere; that there was an individual who, because of his celebrity, was able to abuse children all over the country; and that we are in danger of being deflected, which of course plays into the hands of those who would rather cover up what happened and the names of those who were ultimately responsible?
No doubt I will be told that I don’t understand the nuances of American politics, but I can’t help feeling that Tropical Storm Isaac’s disruption of the Republican Party Convention at Tampa in Florida is not the problem for Mitt Romney’s strategists that they are suggesting it is.
Conventional wisdom is it that a Presidential candidate – particularly one that is already securely nominated – gains a political boost from his Party’s Convention and the TV exposure that it brings. In this case, the Republican Party was hoping to relaunch/repackage their Presidential candidate and demonstrate to/bamboozle an excited American electorate that Mitt Romney was Presidential in timbre, had the vision thing, and was an-all-round nice decent guy (oh and that his Mormonism is OK really).
Now that some of the Convention has already had to be cancelled because of Tropical Storm Isaac this plan is in disarray.
However, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is also determined to use the Convention to write into the Party’s platform their particularly weird mix of ideology, including such gems as:
This, of course, would be on top of Mitt Romney’s own platform of massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and tax increases for other Americans (sounds familiar).
Maybe I am naive but wouldn’t TV exposure of all this stuff strengthen the Democrats?
So perhaps Tropical Storm Isaac is actually a boon to the Republican Party and will in fact boost the chances of the rest of the world having to come to terms with President Romney in a few months time.
The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just published a report criticising the Government for failing to take seriously the concerns that it expresses in its First Review of the Strategy.
In particular, the report points out that the Government has failed to respond adequately to the Committee’s concerns about the implications for the National Security Strategy of major shifts in US strategy, of the Eurozone crisis and the potential impact of Scottish independence.
The Joint Committee had urged the Government to press ahead with planning the next national Security Strategy, allowing sufficient time to involve academics and experts external to the Government in the process and to allow the next Comprehensive Spending Review and the Strategic Defence Review to be properly integrated in the process. The 2010 National Security Strategy was rushed and weaker as a result.
The Government has acknowledged that it is “important to start thinking about the work plan” for the next National Security Strategy “well in advance of 2015″. However, there is no indication that any effort has been made to start drawing up plans to ensure that the next Strategy is a more candid and more explicit document that properly addresses difficult questions.
Even more disturbing is the absence from the Government of any indication that it intends to draw up the next Strategy in a way that achieves a broad national consensus on the foundations necessary to plan for our nation’s security in the longer -term.
Failure to build such a consensus will be a wasted opportunity – without such a consensus any future Strategy will not have abroad enough basis of buy-in and consent and that in turn will weaken the Strategy and also National Security itself.
Nearly three years I posted about the threat of an electro-magnetic pulse that could permanently disable the electricity grid and most electrical systems. I followed this up with some parliamentary questions and a further post this time last year that concluded:
“So the good news (heavy irony) is that the Government may have got round to working out what “the reasonable worst case scenario” might be.”
At the risk of coming over all I-told-you-so-ish, we now learn in today’s Observer that:
“Explosions on the sun that blast solar winds towards the Earth have been identified for the first time as one of the biggest threats to the UK’s ability to carry on normal daily life, according to a new official government register of major risks to the country.
A significant event on the sun could leave large swaths of the country without electricity, lead to the immediate grounding of planes, disable communications and even destroy household appliances.
The danger has been prioritised in the Cabinet Office’s National Risk of Civil Emergencies as the sun enters the most active point in its 10-year cycle – its solar max – raising the chances of a damaging burst of radiation, plasma or energetic particles (such as neutrons).
More significantly, the UK is regarded as particularly vulnerable because scientific advances have made the country more dependent on technology than ever before. Ministers have been advised by scientists that the most advanced technology is also the most delicate and that “high levels of energetic particles produced in the atmosphere by solar radiation storms can greatly enhance error rates in ground digital components found in all modern technology”.
The newly published risk register lists severe space weather alongside terrorist attacks, coastal flooding and pandemic influenza as likely sources of “serious damage to human welfare”.
It says: “Severe space weather can cause disruption to a range of technologies and infrastructure, including communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids.”
The register adds: “While storm impacts in the early- to mid-20th century appear relatively benign, dependency on technology vulnerable to space weather has pervaded most aspects of modern life, and therefore the disruptive consequences of a severe solar storm could be significant.”
The threat was placed on the register after a panel of experts, including two scientists from the Meteorological Office, produced a “reasonable worst case scenario” for ministers.”
Ben Brogan, the Daily Telegraph’s Deputy Editor, is fed up with the tent protest at Parliament Square.
And what is more, he is fed up with Mayor Boris Johnson’s failure to sort it out:
“Well, those of you who have long wondered about that ghost town of dirty tents lining two sides of the square might have a look at this video, which we filmed a few days ago. We used a thermal camera in the same way we did at the St Paul’s protest. If anything the result is even more damning. Turns out the ‘peace camp’ looks deserted because… it’s deserted. MPs might like to ask why the Met/Westminster Council/Boris Johnson don’t pop round and take these abandoned articles away. Either that or stop bullying us about left luggage and locked bicycles being destroyed. The Mayor should get down there this afternoon with a van and clear the lot himself.”
Strong words: “get down there this afternoon”.
Is even the Daily Telegraph beginning to realise that the Mayor needs to get a grip?
Running London is not about sound bites and photo ops – it is about doing things for London and Londoners.
Whether Londoners agree with the Daily Telegraph’s fixation about tented protests or not, they do agree that London needs a Mayor who takes the job seriously and really does care about the city.
I am genuinely sorry to hear that Baroness Browning is standing down as Minister of State at the Home Office (particularly so as I understand this is on health grounds). Despite the lengthy (even epic) exchanges that I and others had with her during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (now an Act), she always responded with good humour, even when she was having to defend something that was either indefensible or so poorly drafted as to be incomprehensible. I think her approach will be missed in the Home Office.
Her retirement has triggered a mini-reshuffle in the House of Lords: Lord Henley is promoted to Minister of State rank and moves across from DEFRA to the Home Office; his place as DEFRA Parliamentary Under Secretary is taken by Lord Taylor of Holbeach; and his postion as a Junior Whip is taken by recent-appointee Baroness Stowell of Beeston.
Fairly straightforward you might think, but that doesn’t prevent the Number Ten website mangling the information and implying that all three have been thrust into Ministerial office and appointed as members of the Lords at the same time under the headline:
Can’t they afford proof-readers now?
An indication of differing approaches in the Home Office?
Lord Henley replaces Baroness Browning
I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress. I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.
Jenny Jones AM, London “Green” Mayoral Candidate, is exploring the canal network (very green and worthy, not to say sanctimonious).
She reports by Twitter: