Can anyone stop Hillary in 2016?

Are America’s First Couple on their way back to the White House?

The year was 2007, it was the middle of US primary season, and Hillary Clinton seemed a shoo-in to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for the following year’s presidential election. Indeed, Mrs Clinton was so filled with self-confidence that she had already consulted with her closest aides as to how she would manage her transition to the White House. A tough political veteran with eight years of unique experience at the heart of power as First Lady, Senator Clinton saw herself as the Democrats’ only credible candidate, a big fish surrounded by political minnows.

Of course, things didn’t quite go as expected and Clinton was overtaken and soundly defeated by one of those minnows she had so perilously underestimated, the young and inexperienced Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton regarded Obama with suspicion and disdain; yes, he was clearly a talented man and a rousing public speaker, but he wasn’t presidential material! The Clintons were convinced that Obama, who had been a senator for less than three years when he announced his candidacy, was a flash-in-the-pan figure whose appeal was only temporary and who would soon begin to lose momentum once his superficiality and lack of substance was exposed.

How wrong they were. Obama’s momentum grew and grew as he mobilised key demographic groups including students, young professionals and ethnic minorities. In contrast, Senator Clinton seemed to be the candidate of the past, the epitome of the Democrats’ corporatist Washington establishment. Against such a backdrop, it must have been a brutal kick in the teeth for Mrs Clinton to find herself in 2009 being sworn in not as President of the United States of America, but as Secretary of State in an Obama administration.

Fast-forward five and a half years, and the situation is a very different one. Hillary Clinton is once again in pole position to be the Democratic candidate in the next presidential election, this time with a lack of any credible alternatives. Her supporters claim that she is a new woman and that her four-year tenure as Secretary of State allowed her to reinvent herself once again, this time as America’s top diplomat. This is a claim which may indeed be based in some truth – after all, no one is as skilled as Hillary Clinton when it comes to the art of political reinvention.

During her time as First Lady she was widely seen as an activist who was to the left of her more centrist husband, particularly on the issue of healthcare reform where she gained notoriety for her controversial and ultimately botched ‘Hillarycare’ proposals. This activism caused her to be the most polarising First Lady in living memory, a hero to the feminist left but a hate figure amongst conservatives who largely viewed her as an overly ambitious, self-promoting careerist. All too aware of her public perception, Clinton moved towards the political centre-ground after entering the Senate in 2001, befriending several key Republicans, supporting the Bush administration’s Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11, and most controversially, voting in favour of the invasion of Iraq.

However, by moving to the centre she alienated the left wing of the Democratic Party, which rallied around Barack Obama in order to deny her the presidency. So why does anyone think that things will be different in 2016? After all, the Democrats seemed determined to find a suitable ‘anti-Hillary’ candidate in 2008, and on paper at least it would appear that the same thing will also happen this time around.

Hillary Clinton is still just as controversial and polarising as ever; although she was a fairly popular Secretary of State she is still deeply disliked by the Republican grassroots, feelings which have been strengthened by her role in the Benghazi controversy of 2012. Likewise, she is still far from being the American left’s candidate of choice, a fact which is highlighted by the presence of Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent progressive who many are tipping to run as an anti-establishment dark horse candidate.

No matter who wins the Democrat nomination, the 2016 election will be a much closer fight than 2008. The Republicans are still bitterly divided, but they do have the potential to regain the White House as long as they can nominate a solid and plausible candidate with the ability to reach out to independents and swing voters as well as the conservative grassroots. Likewise, with President Obama’s popularity waning, the Democrats will have to beat off ‘incumbency fatigue,’ a struggle which will prove to be difficult anyway due to the fact that the present incumbent was once the personification of new beginnings and political change. With Hillary Clinton at the helm, it could turn out to be impossible.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Coalition’s move to the right in cabinet reshuffle

Philip Hammond (right) leads a pack of newly promoted right-wingers

If David Cameron intended to use today’s cabinet reshuffle to make a clear political statement then he has certainly been successful. In the biggest shake-up of his government to date the Prime Minister has made three very smart decisions which were much-needed ahead of next year’s election; moving potential liabilities, appointing several women to key posts and promoting Tory right-wingers.

So first of all, the liabilities. Many would point to the continuing presence of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and argue that this is proof that the Prime Minister has not been successful in purging the more toxic members of his government, but this is an unfair accusation for two major reasons. Iain Duncan Smith may embody this government’s unpopular welfare-cutting agenda, but he is also a Conservative elder statesman whose presence at the cabinet table is vital, adding a degree of gravitas and substance that many younger members of the government lack. This is a man who has led the Conservatives through their roughest period in living history and who is yet to complete his crusade against Britain’s excessive benefits culture, a fight that Mr Duncan Smith regards with an almost evangelical zeal.

Iain Duncan Smith may have clung on at the Department for Work and Pensions, but another unpopular minister hasn’t been so lucky. Michael Gove has become one of the nation’s most divisive politicians during his four-year tenure as Education Secretary, lauded by the right for taking on the teaching unions and overhauling the school curriculum yet pilloried by teachers who largely see him as an arrogant meddler driven by a narrow-minded ideology. I personally share the former view of Mr Gove, who I regard as one of the most talented brains in the cabinet, but I also believe that David Cameron was right to move him to the position of Chief Whip. With an election looming a combative figure like Gove would only alienate swing voters, whilst his new job will perfectly suit his pugnacious political style.

Gove’s successor as Education Secretary is Nicky Morgan, one of several women to have been given promotions in this reshuffle. A former corporate lawyer, Morgan entered Parliament at the last election and is seen as a close ally of Chancellor George Osborne. She will be joined in the cabinet by the new Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss and Employment Minister Esther McVey, a tough-talking Liverpudlian who has served as a minister since last year and will now attend cabinet meetings.

Despite these changes, the most important shift that this reshuffle has heralded has been the promotion of those on the right of the Conservative Party, a clear attempt by David Cameron to distance himself from the Liberal Democrats ahead of the next election. Philip Hammond’s appointment as Foreign Secretary is the most obvious sign of a shift to the right and as a result British foreign policy is now being represented by a man who is unashamed of his Euroscepticism, a move which will no doubt be popular amongst those who defected to UKIP in last month’s European elections.

Additionally, many moderate and pro-European Conservatives have been shown the door including Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Sir George Young and David Willetts. One Liberal Democrat source was quoted as describing this reshuffle as ‘the end of the Tory modernisation project,’ and this is a view which isn’t actually much of an exaggeration. The only exception to this rule has been the dismissal of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, a global warming sceptic who opposed same-sex marriage and presided over the unpopular badger cull, but he has been succeeded by fellow right-winger Elizabeth Truss, a former employee of Shell who idolises Margaret Thatcher and has a record of opposing environmental red tape.

This shift to the right is to be commended in the run-up to the next general election, and David Cameron now needs to ensure that he can create a resolutely conservative platform and manifesto. Having unsuccessfully flirted with more liberal positions on crime, economic affairs and the environment, Cameron now needs to stick to the right if he wants to win in 2015. The rise of UKIP has been proof of public disillusionment with the political establishment, and today’s reshuffle is a promising move in the right direction for a Conservative Party in desperate need of regaining the trust of the electorate.

George Reeves

Also published on my blog:

Juncker’s victory is proof of where the EU is heading

Newly elected President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker

If any proof was needed of the direction in which the European Union is heading, look no further than today’s appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the post of President of the European Commission, one of the two most powerful jobs in Brussels. Despite the bold and resolute opposition of Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Juncker cruised to victory in a highly undemocratic contest in which he was the only candidate, backed by almost every European head of government including the influential German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Juncker is far from being a household name in Britain; he served as Prime Minister of Luxembourg for eighteen years before stepping down last year, and is a leading member of the centre-right European People’s Party which topped last month’s elections. A bland, grey figure, he is the archetypal EU bureaucrat very much out of the same mould as European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, who was famously described by Nigel Farage as having ‘the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.’

Nevertheless, Mr Juncker’s obscurity and blandness means that he is the perfect front-man for today’s EU, aided by his overarching vision for where Europe should be heading. David Cameron has attacked Juncker as an ‘arch-federalist’ who is part of the European old-guard and who will oppose any attempts at reform, and in wake of today’s result the Prime Minister conceded that Juncker’s win makes the possibility of renegotiation much harder.

Here in Britain, Prime Minister Cameron has not been alone in his opposition to Mr Juncker; indeed, all three main parties had declared that he is not a suitable candidate to lead the European Commission. However, once again Britain has found itself isolated in a Europe which is happy to anoint a federalist bureaucrat to such a powerful position, with only Hungary choosing to side with David Cameron. Indeed, Angela Merkel, largely seen as Europe’s most influential head of government, made it clear that British support for Juncker wasn’t needed and that Cameron’s stance would not stand in the way of his appointment.

Time will tell whether Mr Juncker’s personal defects prevent him from carrying out his new position effectively; media reports in the last few days have described him as a heavy drinker who is lazy and lacks motivation, and these could be qualities which eventually lead to his downfall. However, by taking the stance that he has, David Cameron has once again proved that he is prepared to stand up for British interests, even if this leaves him isolated and alone amongst his fellow European leaders.

This is not the first time that Cameron has gone against the grain in Europe. Soon after his election as Conservative Party leader he withdrew the Conservatives from the European People’s Party, which he viewed as being too federalist, and helped to set up the European Conservatives and Reformists, a right-wing alliance of moderately Eurosceptic parties. Today’s selection of Jean-Claude Juncker is a major setback for any hope of renegotiation and reform, and as a result the Prime Minister will have to take the option of British withdrawal from the EU far more seriously.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Why we should listen to Tony Blair

A Yougov poll yesterday suggested that former Prime Minister Tony Blair would be more than twice as popular as current Labour leader Ed Miliband if he were to make a political comeback. Despite the fact that Blair won three general elections and remained a largely popular figure throughout his tenure, these statistics surprised me, as it seems hard to find anybody today who remains supportive of Labour’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

To the left, Mr Blair is a disgrace and a sell-out who embraced the worst excesses of Thatcherism and forged a dangerous alliance with a stridently right-wing administration in Washington. Likewise, the right see him as a big-government social democrat who is responsible for the smoking ban, the hunting ban and open-door mass immigration.

I share many of the standard conservative concerns about Tony Blair’s domestic legacy, but yet I cannot join the throngs of critics who recoil at the very mention of the former Prime Minister’s name. With regards to foreign policy, Blair has continuously been on the right side of the argument from the conflicts in the Balkans in the late-1990s to the spread of hardline Islam in the Middle East.

His recent comments regarding the current violence in Iraq have attracted much scorn and vitriol, some of which has even come from his former cabinet ministers. Clare Short, who famously resigned from the cabinet over the Iraq War and subsequently left the Labour Party, has described her former boss as a ‘complete American neocon,’ whilst John Prescott, Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister for the entirety of his premiership, has said that Blair wants to go ‘back to the Crusades.’

However, such criticism is not restricted to those on the left. The Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie rather tastelessly compared the former Prime Minister to the infamous mass murderer Harold Shipman, whilst UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declared that ‘the West should declare an end to the era of military intervention abroad.’ Likewise, London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a stinging personal attack in the staunchly conservative Telegraph describing the Iraq War as a ‘tragic mistake’ and questioning Mr Blair’s sanity.

One has to wonder whether such figures would be so critical of the Iraq War if it had been a Conservative Prime Minister who had authorised the invasion. I wholeheartedly believe that much of the vitriol from the right such as the comments of Mayor Johnson are merely the result of an opportunistic and deeply partisan desire to have a go at Labour’s most successful Prime Minister and to tarnish his political legacy. However, it is refreshing that the wider Conservative Party have resisted giving in to this temptation; Downing Street have refused to comment on Mr Blair’s intervention, whilst several senior Conservatives such as Foreign Secretary William Hague and former Defence Secretary Liam Fox have reaffirmed their support for the 2003 invasion.

Despite the intense level of scorn his comments have attracted, Blair is right to maintain that today’s problems in Iraq are not the inevitable consequences of the Anglo-American invasion orchestrated by himself and President Bush. He pointed to the violence in Syria, where a similar situation of civil war has emerged even though their dictator is still firmly in power. It is therefore foolish to assume that if Saddam Hussein were still in power there would be peace and stability in Iraq today.

Mr Blair is also right to point out the threats that Islamic extremists in the Middle East pose to the Western world. Many of the terrorists who form the militant group ISIS are British and American radicals who could return home, leading to terrorists attacks on the streets of London, Washington and New York.

Critics may angrily shout about the ‘warmongerer’ Tony Blair, but he is the only senior British politician who is proposing potential action plans for Iraq. David Cameron has been noticeably silent in recent days, and anti-Blair figures such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have simply trotted out the usual non-interventionist mantras. If we are to help the Iraqi people and minimise the terror threat at home, we could do a lot worse than to actually listen to what our former PM has to say.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Civil war and political implosion: the fruits of the ‘Obama Doctrine’ in Iraq

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain told the story of an American mother whose son had died whilst fighting in the Iraq War. Far from being bitter about US involvement in the conflict which ultimately took her son’s life, this woman pleaded with McCain to ensure that her son’s death wouldn’t be in vain.

Ultimately, John McCain was unsuccessful in his bid for the White House, losing out to Barack Obama who ran on a largely anti-war ticket (despite the fact that his running mate, Joe Biden, had been one of a number of senior Democrats to support George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003). One of President Obama’s first decisions was to end US military involvement in this particular conflict, announcing in February 2009 that there would be an 18-month timetable of withdrawal of US forces.

How foolish and premature this decision now seems. Obama’s anti-war stance may have been a vote winner in 2008, but ultimately it has undone all the good work achieved during the Bush years. The subsequent rise of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Iraq following US withdrawal has caused chaos, anarchy and bloodshed, and the worst thing about this crisis is that it could have been avoided.

John McCain warned in 2008 that an early withdrawal of all US troops would leave Iraq’s fledgling democracy highly vulnerable, accelerating the threat of civil war and terrorist insurgency. Despite his defeat on election day, Senator McCain has since continued with these warnings throughout the Obama presidency, opposing the administration’s plans for Iraq at every turn, but he and his fellow Republicans have ultimately proven to be powerless to stop what the president had always set out to do as an immediate priority.

Barack Obama and the Democrats therefore can’t be surprised at the Iraqi insurgency which has risen to prominence in the last week, as this is simply the fruits of their passive approach. President Obama has now declared that no options can be ruled out in fighting the insurgency, including the use of military force, but yet he cannot admit that a more measured approach on his behalf five years ago could have prevented the chaos seen today.

Let’s not underestimate the threat that such anarchy in Iraq poses for the USA either. Senator Lindsey Graham, a prominent foreign policy hawk and neoconservative, has described how the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq could mean that ‘the next 9/11 is in the making,’ and so it is in the interests of US national security that Iraq is stabilised and the terrorist insurgency is defeated. The Bush administration’s War on Terror was criticised by many, but yet these policies ensured that another terrorist attack on US soil did not occur after 9/11. President Obama may be proud about the number of troops he has brought home, but the long-term fruits of his softline policies will be the deaths of US civilians and the eventual collapse of Iraq’s young political structures.

George Reeves

Originally published on my blog:

Never mind swing voters, the GOP’s first priority must be to regain the trust of their base

Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who this week was defeated by a Tea Party outsider      

When will the Republicans start to realise that they no longer have the trust of the very people they claim to represent? This week has seen an earthquake in Washington as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in the Republican primaries for the Virginia seat he has held since 2001 by a long-shot Tea Party outsider; if this isn’t proof of dissatisfaction with the GOP establishment then I don’t know what is.

The influence of the Tea Party has steadily grown since George W Bush left the White House in 2009, as grassroots American conservatives have become more and more disaffected with the unaccountable and unrepresentative Washington establishment. Angered by what Tea Party godfather Jim DeMint describes as the ‘aggressively liberal’ agenda pursued by the Obama administration, ordinary men and women see no hope in a Republican Party which is failing to pick the president up on the issues which truly matter; a stagnant economy, uncontrolled immigration and the masses of red tape and regulations which make setting up a business more and more difficult.

In Britain, this is a phenomenon which has led to the rise of UKIP, fuelled by the anger of those who can no longer identify with David Cameron’s Conservatives and are looking to a new political party instead. However, the American situation is very different, as their protest movement has manifested itself not in a separate party, but in an internal faction which is steadily driving the GOP further to the right.

I don’t agree with the Tea Party on everything; like UKIP, they are susceptible to their fair share of clowns and loonies, the ‘Obama-is-a-Muslim’ brigade who clog up social media with (at best) thinly-veiled racism and who enjoy branding the entire Republican establishment as ‘RINOs’ (which, for the uninitiated, stands for Republican In Name Only). These tactics should shock and appall any sensible person, whilst I personally can’t help but wonder whether these same people who say they want to restore the Ronald Reagan glory days would even describe the Gipper himself as a RINO if he were starting out his political career today.

However, despite the fact that these abhorrent tactics are so prevalent amongst certain sections of the Tea Party’s support base, it is clear that this is a movement which has tapped into a very real sense of public anger and disaffection with the current state of US politics. At a time when President Obama is implementing the most regressive and damaging political agenda since the Carter days, the Republicans should be a credible alternative to the Democrats and their failed policies, but yet they are still seen as an impotent bunch of crony-capitalists who are well and truly in the pockets of big business.

The Tea Party want to make US politics more accountable, and this overarching vision should be welcomed no matter what one may think about their wider political philosophy. Both Republicans and Democrats seem to care far more about loopholes and earmarks for the super-rich and the big corporations instead of representing the American people, and the backlash Eric Cantor experienced this week is proof that the public will not stand for this any longer.

Cantor’s challenger was Dave Brat, an unassuming economics professor who ran a simple campaign but yet was able to unseat the GOP’s main man in the House of Representatives, and so other establishment figures must now be realising the end of their careers could well be in sight. In Tennessee, Senator Lamar Alexander is facing a challenge from the Tea Party’s Joe Carr, whilst Mississippi’s Thad Cochran could be facing the end of his 36-year Senate career after he was narrowly defeated in the first round of voting by conservative challenger Chris McDaniel. This rise of the conservative grassroots can no longer be dismissed by Washington; the GOP must change, or else face political extinction.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog:

Britain’s sovereignty is already lost – whoever leads the EU

A figure from the Eighties cannot resolve the problems of the next five years” so wittily did David Cameron remark when considering the proposal of Jean-Claude Junker to the position of EU commissioner. Apparently, he completely missed the irony of this remark, after dedicating a huge tribute to Margaret Thatcher, and the lessons she taught us. Regardless of this inconsistency, and the unshakeable faith in progress that is implied in such a short-sighted remark, it seems Dave is in a bit of a pickle. He wants to reform Europe, but Europe doesn’t want to be reformed.

The appointment of Jean-Claude Junker to the post of EU commissioner would not be a victory for an ‘ever-closer union’. Whoever achieves the post of EU commissioner, the European Union will be committed to Federalism. From its very conception, in the creation of the European Economic Community, its fundamental objective was a United States of Europe. Winston Churchill famously endorsed such proposals in 1946, in a speech to the academic youth of Zurich, for a ‘United States of Europe’. Though in his vision the United Kingdom would not be a member. It would appear some form of united Europe is simply unavoidable. The question that is open to us, here in Britain, is if we surrender over 1,000 years of history, our national institutions and our national sovereignty itself, to become a part of this federal Europe.

There have been suggestions, by people with far greater credentials than our esteemed Prime Minister, that we can work with Europe, to make it a ‘union of nation states’ as opposed to a Federal Europe. However, where these allies will come from, is a mystery. One proponent is conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, who suggests allies could be found in Eastern Europe. David Cameron suggests they could be located in Germany. However, since Chancellor Merkel has recently endorsed Mr. Junker for the post of EU commissioner, I sincerely doubt many will continue to think that alliance possible. Scruton’s claim is a lot more credible, within Eastern Europe there are several pockets of resistance to a united Europe. However, even between them, they could not out-vote Germany in the European Parliament. Some have suggested their hopes lie in the far-right. Indeed while it is true the far-fight is on the rise in Europe, many of these groups wish to leave the European Union, or simply lack anything near the support required on a national level to overturn the European Union. No, the far-right’s prominence in national politics, will come with the failure of the European Union. Its inevitable collapse, both economically and politically, will no doubt provoke the kind of extremism it was designed to avoid.

Regardless of the European Union’s future and its longevity, the question that should concern us, is whether we in Britain should remain a part of this experiment in supranationalism. Whether Mr. Junker gets the commission or not. Or indeed if Ian Duncan Smith delivers a package of power repatriation from Brussels or not, simply does not matter. The question of national sovereignty remains at the heart of this debate. Whether 75% or 1% of our laws are made in Brussels, that is somewhere between 1% to 75% that cannot be altered or overturned by the British people. It is beyond the remit of our own national democracy. Indeed, within a Federalist union, our ability to determine our national affairs would be completely destroyed. Instead, we would be subject to EU decree, just like our sales taxes and post offices are today; all aspects of national life would be decided outside the nation itself. Yet all of these decisions will affect our nation profoundly.

When it comes to the European Union, I simply do not care if it keeps the forces of Socialism at bay, or if retains some pseudo-intellectual proposition of peace. I would much rather live in a nation, governed by a Socialist state and at war with the forces of Capitalism, than surrender sovereignty to any supranational organisation. We must be free, to determine our own collective destiny, be that through the forces of Socialism or Capitalism, Conservatism or Liberalism. The politics of this, doesn’t lie in factions or principles. It lies in where we regard the ultimate political authority to reside. In this case, it has been, and can only be, the Nation-State. Within this authority, a single people can determine their affairs, conduct and destiny. Outside of it, in the case of the European Union for instance, decisions are imposed upon the people. Furthermore, to those who argue that we need ‘more european democracy’; I would simply reply thus: there cannot be a European Democracy, for there is no European demos.

As Tony Benn so rightly claimed:

Britain’s continuing membership of the [European] Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation.”.

The real divisions over the European Union lie not between the right and the left, between Labour and the Liberal Democrats on one hand, and the Conservatives and UKIP on the other. It transcends any party agenda. Division ultimately lies between those who have faith in the nation, national democracy and self-determination, and those who wish to impose a ‘higher’, international authority upon us, and erode the boundaries of the nation entirely. Between those who are Nationalists, and those who are Internationalists.

So when David Cameron talks about powers being “returned’ from Europe, in a complicated series of compromises and relentless pleading, remember that those powers rightly belong to us anyway. We the people, the British people, have a right within our democracy to determine our own national affairs. The rights of the European Union, its institutions and its representatives, are entirely illegitimate. Sovereignty within a nation, belongs to the nation. Reject, in its entirety any ‘negotiation’ with Europe. Remember, Mr. Junker is no more, or less, a federalist than thousands of others in Brussels; including many of the previous commissioners. Simply decide, if your loyalty lies with the supranational project and its unaccountable commission; or your own national institutions.

Dylan Grove

Jean- Claude Juncker – A man who could end Cameron’s political career

The so-called ‘political earthquake’ that occurred over the European elections has possibly delayed the process of Jean- Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg Prime Minster, being named as the next President of the European Commission. The results of the Front National in France have caused President Hollande to state that urgent reform of the EU is needed (even though just a couple of months before he told David Cameron that it was not a prioroity) and UKIP’s victory has led to a much more Eurosceptic David Cameron. Tony Blair, who was prevented from becoming President of the European Council in 2008, has said that the results are a ‘wake- up call’.

The greatest victor from these results is our very own David Cameron. The rise of Eurosceptic behaviour will only help his push for reform in Europe ready for the proposed referendum in 2017. Of course, the decision on who will replace Jose Manual Barroso will have a serious role in this and with the rise of Eurosceptic fever, you would have thought this was a prime time for a reformer to take centre stage. Instead, we see the arch federalist or ‘raving’ federalist as Nigel Farage puts it lining up to take one of Europe’s prestigious positions.

His appointment would be disastrous for Cameron and arguably other European leaders who were hit hard by Eurosceptic parties. Farage will visit every TV station barking out the fact that Cameron is weak on Europe; Marine Le Pen will do the same in France. This is why Cameron and other leaders such as Mateo Renzi (who however, did very well in the European elections), Francois Hollande and both the Dutch and Hungarian Prime Ministers.

This brings us back to David Cameron. Juncker has previously publicly claimed that he is not favourable towards Cameron’s idea of reform. Over the past few days, the relationship between the two has seriously deteriorated with Juncker claiming that Cameron is blackmailing the European Union. It was claimed before the elections that Juncker, who is the candidate form the Centre Right European People’s Party (EPP) was not supported by Cameron as no British parties were represented in that bloc. After becoming Conservative leader, Cameron moved his MEP’s into the newly created European Conservatives and Reformists. Juncker stated that ‘the question is not whether we are supported in Great Britain’.

Therefore, if Juncker gets the job, which following the Lisbon Treaty, states that the candidate of the largest party should get the job (which is the EPP), Cameron has essentially signed away anyway chance of getting the significant reform in Europe that he wants. He was criticised for blocking his appointment too early. Instead, the sensible option would have been to play out it for a longer period and see how other governments responded.

With Angela Merkel’s backing, Juncker is most probably going to be the next President. Other names have been touted such as the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and head of the IMF Christine Lagarde. The problem with ‘outside’ candidates however, is that the European Parliament will not accept them. The Parliament has to accept the nominee by an absolute majority of 376. If the Centre Left Socialist and Democrats Group vote with the European People’s Party (which they may do to ensure a pro-EU commissioner) then Juncker is essentially safe. National leaders can attempt to block, but it is insure how successful they will be.

The problem for Cameron is that Juncker will make it difficult to reform Europe, a Cameron’s attitude to his possible appointment will not help matters. When interviewed, Conservative minsters state they are very certain they will get reform and therefore they will vote to stay in a reformed EU. However, if Juncker is appointed, ministers are going to have state how they would vote if they cannot reform Europe. If Cameron make a wrong move with this, especially with UKIP, a party which simply is looking indestructible at the current time, the consequences would be dire for him and the party.

Ben Callaghan

More of the same weak foreign policy from President Obama

Barack Obama’s speech at West Point Military Academy today should have come as no surprise for those who have always been sceptical about his approach to foreign policy. From the premature winding down of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to the utterly inappropriate appointments of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as Secretary of State and Defence Secretary respectively, Obama has cut a weak and ineffective figure on the world stage, a stark contrast to his Republican predecessor.
George W Bush was certainly not universally loved, but even his critics conceded that he had a clear and unchanging approach to foreign affairs. He firmly believed the USA to be the world’s greatest force for good, and so in the wake of 9/11 launched an ambitious and wide-reaching effort to reshape US foreign policy in his own image, based on the view that freedom, democracy and human rights are universal values not simply confined to the nations that already enjoy them. Both his supporters and his enemies saw him as uncompromising, aggressive and forthright, qualities which when used correctly are highly admirable for the leader of the free world to possess. However, since Bush left office in 2009, US foreign policy has taken a turn for the worst, to the point where it is now marked by weakness and inconsistency.
President Obama has vacillated over key questions of international relations, and has never been clear as to what he truly believes in. Some have labelled him as being broadly interventionist, with critics on the left even claiming that his presidency has been indistinguishable from the Bush administration concerning foreign affairs.
However, this view is not a convincing one; President Obama was swift to end US operations in Iraq and to scale down involvement in Afghanistan, and his rhetoric too suggests that he has been keen to put an end to the ‘foreign adventurism’ of the Bush years. His presidency has also taken a very different line concerning Israel, frequently criticising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warning that his government is leading Israel ‘toward near-total isolation.’
In today’s speech, Obama has simply added to this dismal record. It takes some nerve to criticise the ‘mistakes of the past’ committed under President Bush, but to claim that the last year has seen progress in Ukraine and Iran and that the USA is now stronger than ever before. In case the president hasn’t realised, an entire Ukrainian region has been annexed by Russia, whilst Iran is continuing with its nuclear development programme which remains one of the greatest potential threats to world peace. Additionally, a failure to leave a US presence in Iraq has allowed the spread of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in that region, a blunder which will soon be repeated in Afghanistan. Far from appearing strong, the USA has been made to look weak as the direct result of Barack Obama’s hesitant approach to tyrants and despots, from Bashar Assad of Syria to Vladimir Putin of Russia.
When he was sworn in as US President in 2009, many claimed that an Obama presidency would mark a new era in US foreign policy. The perceived wisdom of the liberal intelligentsia was that the aggressively neoconservative agenda of the Bush administration had only served to radicalise a generation of young Muslims, uniting the Arab world in opposition to the ‘Great Satan’ which is the United States of America. However, five years later we can see just how wrong this view was. President Obama has indeed presided over a new era in US foreign policy, but it is one which has been marked by weakness, dithering and political impotence. Today’s speech just proved how removed from reality the president is, and how badly the USA needs a change in direction.
George Reeves
This post was originally published on my personal blog Plainly Speaking at

To save his party, Clegg must stand down by 2015

Four years ago Nick Clegg was arguably one of the most popular of all party leaders. His performance in the TV debates was lauded and there were even claims that the Liberal Democrats, judging by the polls, were in with a chance of significantly increasing their number in the House of Commons. Come the day after the 2010 General election, they actually lost seats. Nevertheless, they were a party who had grown considerably under Nick Clegg and they had reached a stage where they were strong enough to enter government. From then on, as I am sure you are aware; it has been a very steep downhill ride for the party.

The last recent election results from Thursday and Sunday were devastating for the party. The local elections since 2010 have not been good for the party, but there has always been a consensus that things can only get better. However, as recent results have shown, it is getting worse year by year. Losing MEPs in their strongholds such as the South West and finishing the night with just one (down from 12), it is not surprising by many of those who lost are raising serious questions over the party’s leadership.

Is Nick Clegg to blame for all the damage that happened last week? The simple answer is yes. While I have never been a real supporter of Nick Clegg, I do admire his determination for convincing people the pros of EU membership and respect his courage for debating with Nigel Farage, a debate who knew it would be impossible to win. However, he should really ask himself ‘should I have been so openly pro-Europe?’. Like Miliband, he is only offering a referendum if there is a transfer of power. As we saw on Sunday, the rise in Eurosceptic behaviour across Europe makes it seem very unlikely that any further treaty changes would be accepted by the member states. Britain itself would have to hold a referendum on a treaty and judging by the rise of UKIP, it would be surprising if it was accepted. Back to the idea of the referendum, Clegg could have taken a very similar approach to the Green Party, who rather embarrassingly beat the into fourth place on Sunday. They, while being openly pro-Europe, support the idea of having a referendum in the near future. Across the majority of Europe, not many people want to hear the words that Europe is good and beneficial and by doing so, Clegg has essentially made himself and his party extremely vulnerable.

To make matters worse, this morning Nick Clegg would have seen a leaked poll showing that there is a very good chance of losing his ‘safe’ seat of Sheffield Hallam to the Labour next year and this is the fear that is now spreading through the party. If Clegg loses his ‘safe’ seat, are any Liberal Democrats ‘safe’? No matter how hard parliamentary Liberal Democrat candidates try, I would be very surprised if they win any new seats. It is not surprising then that the list calling for Nick Clegg to resign, which includes many, parliamentary, is now around 300 and growing.

The sinking Liberal Democrat ship could be rejuvenated for the 2015 election however, only if Nick Clegg is not at the helm. Danny Alexander, Vince Cable and Ed Davey, all touted as possible replacements, would also be a disastrous move. As the vast majority of Liberal Democrat supporters will say, the past four years have not been a success, especially electorally. Therefore, the way forward for them is to essentially start afresh. They have to move on and anybody such as the people mentioned above, who are in the cabinet will not be able to do this. For example, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable have both played a significant role in the Coalition. It has to be somebody outside, somebody such as Tim Farron, the President of the Party.

This change though has to happen before the election. Clegg could still stay as Deputy Prime Minister, but he simply cannot lead them into the election. As one of Clegg’s critics said, it is the ‘messenger not the message’ that is the problem and I couldn’t agree more with them. Many Liberal Democrats are too calling for the coalition to break apart so the Liberal Democrats can rebuild themselves ready for the election. In fact, some Conservatives, notably Michael Frabricant writing in The Daily Telegraph believes now is the perfect time for the coalition to break away. It is unlikely that it will happen and there is very little chance that Clegg will go before 2015. He has stated he wants to stay until 2020, but if he is still leader come this time next year, they can expect a wipeout in the general election.

Ben Callaghan

Understanding Farage’s threat – Why so many Tories have UKIP wrong…

Farage: ‘I think frankly, when it comes to chaos, you ain’t seen nothing yet.’

Since Friday morning’s results, a number of conservative activists, from ministers and backbenchers to journalists and think tankers, have attempted to proclaim the one true solution to dealing with Thursday’s supposed UKIP ‘earthquake’. Naturally, all these solutions differ widely, from moving an In/Out referendum forward to 2016, to agreeing some form of electoral pact for the General Election, to the sacking of Party Chairman Grant Shapps. If anything, the last few days seem to have been little more than a shouting match, with every arm-chair Tory leader attempting to demonstrate how their vision for the party is the only one which can possibly deliver Mr Cameron to Downing Street next year.

The problem with all of these proposed solutions is that they seem to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of UKIP’s support base. They appear, in the words of Nigel Farage himself, to assume ‘that every single UKIP voter is a retired half Colonel living on the edge of Salisbury Plain’. As such, so many of these proposed solutions assume that the principles and policies of the Conservative party already broadly connect with UKIP voters, and that with a few minor tweaks around the edges, can be changed to incorporate this new wave of purple voters.

In contrast to the mainstream view, according to Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin (as laid out in their recent release Revolt on the Right), UKIP voters tend to have little formal education, identify as working class, and are likely to soon be retiring (if they have not done so already). They are the people who lost their jobs under Thatcher, who feel they’ve were hindered from finding new ones because of immigration under Blair, have then been hit badly by the Great Recession, and now find themselves struggling under the fiscally conservative policies of the Coalition. In essence, UKIP voters feel let down and left-behind by modern British politics.

It’s this protest element which makes UKIP quite so strong. They don’t oppose the European Union and mass migration because of some academic allegiance to nationalistic concepts. They don’t oppose HS2 because they fear it will inflict irrevocable damage to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Nor do they oppose Same-Sex Marriage because they are raving homophobes who believe it brought January’s floods. Nor oppose wind-farms because they believe the subsidies to be waste of public money which could better be invested in more long-term and efficient means of energy generation.

Theses white, working class, economically insecure individuals oppose all these initiatives as indicative of a new metropolitan ruling class which they simply believe does not represent their views or interests. And despite being a public schooled banker who’s spent nearly half of his life in professional politics, Nigel Farage can connect to these people in a way Cameron, Miliband and Clegg can only dream of.

The tweaking of a few Conservative policies simply won’t be enough to win these voters back. UKIP represents a powerful force for change in Britain’s political culture, and the work of a few focus groups, spin doctors and campaign managers may ultimately be unable to pacify it.

Tom Pike

Consumers have a right to know what they are eating

I was surprised to see that MPs have overwhelmingly rejected a measure which would have forced shops and restaurants to label products which contain halal or kosher meat. The measure, proposed by Conservative backbencher Philip Davies, was overwhelmingly crushed in the Commons with the support of only 17 MPs. So why is it so controversial to suggest that consumers may want to know what they are eating?

This debate was sparked by the recent admission of popular pizza chain Pizza Express that all the chicken they serve in their restaurants is halal, meaning that it has been slaughtered in accordance with traditional Islamic law whereby the animal bleeds to death and Muslim prayers are recited. Although this revelation has caused a public outcry, politicians seem unconcerned and do not share the commonly held view that halal and kosher meat should be clearly labelled.

The belief that halal products must be clearly labelled as such should not be a controversial one; after all, any products that we buy currently contain long lists of ingredients and nutritional information. It is therefore pure common sense that the method of slaughter also features on packaging. However, there are many who have been quick to depict this as an anti-Islam debate, an accusation which is simply untrue.

Muslims make up less than 5% of the British population, but yet halal meat is being sold in restaurants and shops across the country without people knowing about it, even though many would rather not eat meat that has been slaughtered in this way. Additionally, there are many Muslims who happily eat non-halal products, as the Qur’an does not specify how animals should be slaughtered. Therefore, only a tiny minority of the British public stringently follow the halal guidelines, and we should not give their religious customs priority over the basic rights of individuals.

This is not an attack on British Muslims, or a cheap excuse to indulge in shameless Islamophobia; indeed, a prominent imam and Muslim scholar has written an article for the Daily Mail calling for transparency in the labeling of food and attacking the ‘white, liberal, Guardian-reading classes’ who act as apologists for Islamic extremism. Instead, it is a call for businesses and the government to take action in order to help consumers know what is on their plate and to make an informed choice over the products they are buying.

George Reeves

Originally published on my personal blog, Plainly Speaking:

There is no reason for David Cameron to resign if Scotland votes for independence

The debate over Scotland’s future is now in its final months. This year has seen a rather worrying surge of support for the ‘Yes’ campaign and this could continue to build as we get closer to the all –important day on the 18th September. Yesterday I was glad that it became clear that David Cameron would not resign if Scotland voted to leave the Union. The idea has been floated around and I have always believed that there is no real reason for him to resign. The idea that he might was taken very seriously by some and Philip Hammond yesterday was forced to say that he would not try to become leader if a vacancy arose.

Cameron has also recently defended his decision to allow Scotland to have the referendum. He was completely right to do so. With the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) having a majority in Holyrood, kit would have been disastrous not do have offered one. The same would obviously happen if Plaid Cymru won a majority in the Welsh Assembly. Critics would say by doing so he has essentially destroyed the union. Instead he has respected the views of the Scottish people and the Scottish government who have a strong mandate for a referendum on Scotland’s future.

It is also important to look at the Better Together campaign. This is led by Labour’s former Chancellor Alistair Darling. This group fighting for a no vote is an all-party group consisting of members from all three of the main political parties. Gordon Brown too has recently come out fighting against independence. There is a general consensus from Westminster (excluding obviously the SNP MPs) that Britain is stronger together and that is how it remains. Therefore it is difficult to point the blame at the Prime Minister if the Union does fall apart. Instead, it was the failure of the all the parties and it would be very hypocritical for members of the Left calling for Cameron to resign if such a thing happens.

Cameron has rightly refused TV debates with Alex Salmond. He is not the one leading this battle. As he has often joked, most Scots would not want him speaking on their behalf. That does not mean he cannot have an opinion on the matter.

Hopefully, Scotland would vote to stay and then the pointing of blame can be avoided. The talk that has erupted that Cameron should resign is just ridiculous. No doubt he would be known as the man who broke up the union if they vote to leave, but really the blame should be shared across all the pro-Union parties. If there is a yes vote, the weeks following the 18th September will no doubt be some of the toughest for Cameron, but he should not be criticised and forced to resign for respecting the views of the Scottish people.

Ben Callaghan

Farage shows his true character

In 2010, the UK Independence Party finished last, 26,000 votes behind Patrick Mercer in Newark. Mercer’s resignation on Tuesday evening was followed by immense speculation that it be beginning of Nigel Farage’s British parliamentary career. I for one thought he would run. It seemed fitting with his overall character, somebody hungry for the power and influence that Westminster brings. When he is interviewed on television, he is never afraid to say something controversial or certain politicians weak. He never trembles when attacking the European establishment. But events with Newark this week have changed his character. Twelve hours after stating he was interested in running, he rules it out. He claims he is not running scared, but his actions are very much out of character.

I think it is completely right the claims of cowardice Farage now faces and his arguments that he is not running scared do not add up. Farage claims he is no ‘opportunist’ and this is why he has not run. Think back to the last couple of years since UKIP’s surge began. Every time there is a scandal or mistake form Westminster, Farage appears ready to benefit from the situation. We’ve seen it recently with Maria Miller who was one of the first to call for her to resign. This is quite ironic now considering Farage himself is under intense scrutiny for ‘missing’ expenses. The party’s popularity has essentially grown form the opportunistic actions they have taken.

Why else did he not run? He did not want UKIP to be a one –man party. The fact is it is too late to change that. Without doing research, the vast majority of people will struggle to name more than two or three senior UKIP members. With Farage, the party would be nowhere. Whoever is chosen as the UKIP candidate for Newark will not win. They may be a local candidate but he or she will not carry the same gravitas and certain qualities that are attracting voters to Farage. There will be no UKIP MPs until Farage himself is elected (if he ever is). Farage himself caused this through his dictatorial leadership of his party. If anybody criticises him, they are kicked out of the position they held. Recently following claims by The Times over his expenses, UKIP members were told to essentially ‘shut up’ if they asked about money.

Politicians form his all over the spectrum attacked him. At this point I found myself (rather surprisingly) agreeing with former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom who stated that ‘He vacillated- and I think that made him look indecisive’. He did add however, that it may be part of Farage’s ‘cunning’ plan, but I am struggling to see that. Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a fierce Farage critic called him ‘frit’, a phrase that describes his actions perfectly.

His cowardice could have some serious repercussions. Looking ahead to the possible TV leaders debates next year, Farage would have a much stronger argument to be part of the debate if their support remained high and they actually had an MP. At the current time, there is now actual way how it can be justified for him to appear. In my opinion the Green party and George Galloway with Respect have a much stronger right.

It is disappointing not see him run, and most likely lose. The look on his face following defeat would have been priceless and could have slowed down the UKIP train. Nevertheless, this could very well begin to ‘burst’ the UKIP bubble. Fingers crossed, the Tories should the seat and with no Farage threat the scale of UKIP’s influence in the area would be much weaker. The events of the past few days have shown the public that Farage is not a strong leader. He could have avoided all of this by stating that he was not interested in running. Instead, it has shown him running scared and it presents us the the ‘true’ Nigel Farage.He will deflect criticism in every way and it will not affect him in the polls. But for those not hypnotised by his character, they will see the cowardice that lies within.

Ben Callaghan

John Kerry should resign over Israel ‘apartheid’ comments

The position of Secretary of State is arguably the most prominent and important post in the US government after the President and Vice President, with the holder of that office being the representative of US foreign policy interests across the globe. John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State little over a year ago, but yet in this short period of time he has already proven why he is not fit to serve in this role. Yesterday’s comments concerning the future of Israel have reaffirmed that Kerry is not a suitable representative of American and Western interests in a deeply hostile world, and as a result I believe he must resign.

I happen to agree with Secretary Kerry that a two-state solution is the most desirable long-term aim in order to put an end to the Middle East conflict. However, I also believe that whilst this may be the preferred solution, it is not the only solution, and at a time when the Palestinian Authority are making unity deals with the anti-Semitic terrorist group Hamas it is also not a particularly likely solution for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, in this context it is deeply unhelpful and insulting for Secretary Kerry to suggest that, without a two-state solution, Israel risks becoming an ‘apartheid state.’ Not only does such language damage US authority and call into question Kerry’s commitment to supporting the state of Israel, it is also a highly offensive smear against the Middle East’s only democracy, incorrectly framing Israel as the main obstacle to a two-state solution. As a man whose political career was forged in the anti-Vietnam War movement, John Kerry will be familiar with contemporary protest movements and will be fully aware of the common usage of the phrase ‘apartheid state’ by Israel’s most militant opponents.

Several Jewish leaders have condemned Kerry’s comments, with one organisation criticising him for using the ‘repugnant language of Israel’s adversaries and accusers.’ Likewise, there has been an angry reaction from politicians on both sides of the political spectrum, most notably from Republican Senator Ted Cruz who rightly noted that  the word apartheid is ‘inextricably associated with one of the worst examples of state-sponsored discrimination in history.’ Cruz, who many believe may stand in the 2016 presidential election, has become the most prominent political figure to call for Kerry’s resignation, but he is certainly not alone.

It is important not to take Kerry’s words out of context; after all, he didn’t suggest that Israel currently is an apartheid state. However, by using such language he has unintentionally associated himself with the worst excesses of the anti-Israel movement, therefore leaving his position as Secretary of State untenable. Likewise, by making these comments just a day before Holocaust Remembrance Day, he  has shown at best a significant lack of judgement and sensitivity. Ted Cruz is right to call for Kerry’s resignation; the coming days will determine whether he has the integrity to do so.

George Reeves

Also published on my personal blog Plainly Speaking:

Britain is a Christian nation: Get over it!

It has been over a week now, and still the furore continues over David Cameron’s comments about his Christian faith and the role that religion has to play in Britain. 55 leading secularists wrote a strongly-worded letter claiming that the Prime Minister encourages ‘alienation’ by stating that Britain is a Christian nation, whilst the news media has been dominated by debate over this issue, with figures including the head of the British Humanist Association Andrew Copson and former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell rushing to condemn Cameron’s remarks. Indeed, Campbell questioned the sincerity behind the Prime Minister’s admissions of faith and claimed that he is simply seeking to move on from the Maria Miller scandal. But the question that should be on everyone’s lips is this: why is it so outrageous for a Prime Minister to talk about religion?

It would be hard to imagine a Muslim politician being shouted down for expressing their beliefs, and both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have spoken openly about their atheism, so why is Christianity such a taboo subject in British politics? No matter how much the likes of Alastair Campbell and Philip Pullman may complain and protest, the facts are that Britain is still a Christian nation. That doesn’t mean that we have an overwhelming number of churchgoers; indeed recent census data and a visit to almost any parish church on a Sunday morning will prove that this is far from being the case. However, empty pews do not diminish the Christian heritage that this country was built upon and continues to be governed by, from our legal system to the structure of Parliament. In fact, Britain is the only nation in the world which allocates a certain number of seats in its Parliament to Christian clergy. We have an established Church nominally led by the monarch, and so any claims that Britain is a secular country are quite frankly delusional.

The outrage that greeted David Cameron’s comments about his own personal faith are further proof of the struggle British Christians face in expressing their religious views in public. A hostile form of secular atheism has been allowed to gain significant influence in British culture, with the intent of removing every last element of Christianity from contemporary society. From people being told they can’t wear a cross to work to nurses facing the sack for offering to pray with a dying patient, British Christians are being made to feel like unwanted strangers, extremists and weirdos.

The hostility towards Christianity in politics hasn’t always existed; Margaret Thatcher spoke often of her Methodist upbringing and the values that instilled in her, whilst Gordon Brown took pride in being the son of a Presbyterian minister. However, Cameron is now experiencing the same reaction that Tony Blair previously faced when he was blocked by advisers from finishing a speech with the words ‘God bless Britain.’ Britain is a Christian nation with a proud heritage, and if the Prime Minister or anyone else wants to ‘do God,’ they should be able to.

George Reeves

Also published on

Britain’s next Commissioner – Another European Headache for David Cameron

The Nick vs Nigel debate are over. David Cameron managed to avoid them without receiving too much criticism. But now he has a crucial decision to make regarding Britain’s future within the European Union. The majority probably wish that the topic of Europe would just fade away into the background. David Cameron too, no doubt, would want that. Instead, he has to start thinking about who is best suited to represent Britain on the European Commission. Whoever he chooses will be crucial in any re-negotiation talks between Britain and the EU and this puts Cameron into a serious dilemma.

Andrew Lansley – the best man for the job

The political views of the individual will most likely shape how influential Britain’s new representative will be. The Commission President, who too will be newly elected in the summer, hands out the portfolios. It is safe to say that following Baroness Catherine Ashton’s rather prestigious title as Vice-President of the Commission as well as being in control of Foreign Policy, Britain will not get one of the top jobs. There are still some important roles such as Trade that David Cameron would like to get his hands on.

He could choose a staunch Europhile. No doubt this individual would be welcomed with open arms into the Commission and could be rewarded with a significant portfolio which would make this person a much respected member. Here, though Cameron faces two problems. First, he will anger his own Eurosceptic backbenchers. Secondly, a Europhile is unlikely to want the same changes that Cameron wants. There has however, been very few names form this category that have expressed an interest suggesting that a Europhile is not the way Cameron is looking.

Then is it better to go for a Eurosceptic? He would no doubt please many backbenchers in the party and would actually show that he is serious about Britain wanting a better deal with Europe. The downside is, a Eurosceptic is unlikely to get a significant position. If Britain is not in one of these top roles, then it will make it much more difficult for the member to be influential. Peter Lilley and Owen Patterson have both been linked to the job form the Eurosceptic wing of the party. Peter Lilley in particular is a name that has pooped up on several occasions. A key man during the Thatcher and Major years, Lilley has the political experience that could make a good choice. He too has said that he will ‘relish’ the opportunity if it was offered to him.

There is the option of going with somebody who has not made a public view on Europe. Here, we could look at both Andrew Mitchell and Andrew Lansley. Both regarded as ‘heavyweights’ in the party with both having held government positions. With the Plebgate scandal still quietly continuing in the background, Mitchell may not be the favoured choice, despite claims that he is owed a favour from Downing Street. That leaves Lansley, somebody who has though been criticised for a lack of flair.

Lord Mandelson, who is a former trade EU Commissioner, has said that both Lansley and Mitchell would be more influential than Lilley or Patterson and he is probably right. The new Commission President is looking most likely to be the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean – Claude Juncker, very much a strong supporter of the EU. He is very much aware of Cameron’s proposals and just the other he openly criticised them/

Therefore, it is best for Cameron to choose a ‘middle’ candidate. Both Andrew Mitchell and Andrew Lansley would be well suited. With the controversy still standing around Andrew Mitchell then Lansley would seem to be better suited. Despite a lack of flair, his experience as a civil servant and government minister should make him well suited to tackle the levels of bureaucracy in Brussels and possibly deliver the reforms that Cameron has continued to promise.

As Sir Menzies Campbell has said, it is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for Cameron. There is no move in which he would please the whole party. If he makes the wrong move, he could struggle to get any of the reforms that he wants. Looking into it, this is one of the biggest decisions that Cameron will make this year. It could also be one of the most difficult decisions he will make.

Jeb Bush – The GOP’s best hope of a 2016 victory

The 2016 Presidential Election may seem a long way off, but speculation is already building as to who will run for the two main parties. For the Democrats, it would appear to be a one-horse race with Hillary Clinton the overwhelming favourite. However, the Republican nomination is much more open, with a variety of possible candidates having been touted. Although New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still seen as a likely contender, recent weeks have seen a new figure rise to the fore: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents. Having previously ruled out running in past elections before speculation was allowed to gather, now seems to be the time for Governor Bush. The question is, do the GOP want him?

I wholeheartedly believe that Jeb Bush would make a fantastic president. A moderate Republican, he even has some Democrat admirers due to his hugely successful tenure as Florida Governor and would therefore be able to reach out to swing voters and independents. His appeals to the centre ground have been highlighted in the past week, after he made a series of comments advocating a more liberal immigration policy. I can’t say that I agree with all of his rhetoric, particularly his view that illegal immigration is not a felony but ‘an act of love,’ but yet these are forgiveable sins, and could indeed help Governor Bush shore up support amongst minority groups. The last two elections have proven that the GOP has a serious problem gaining votes from the Hispanic and African-American communities, but yet it shouldn’t be this way; after all, the Republicans were traditionally the party of civil rights, whilst America’s Hispanic community is largely Catholic and socially conservative.

The main reason why many people dismiss Jeb Bush’s chances is his family name. However, this could in fact work in his favour. Despite only serving one term as president, his father George HW Bush is a popular elder statesman, whilst the US people are starting to reassess George W Bush’s legacy, with a recent poll suggesting that he is the second most admired man in the USA, ahead of Bill Clinton. Therefore, whilst it is vital that Jeb successfully proves that he is his own man, Hillary Clinton will also have to separate her candidacy from her husband’s presidency. A much more realistic concern is that a Bush v Clinton race would create a sense of apathy and disillusionment amongst the US people tired of the same old family dynasties, but yet I reckon this can be avoided as long as both candidates run fresh and effective campaigns.

Many on the right wing of the Republican Party fear that Jeb Bush is not sufficiently conservative to be their man in 2016, and whilst I understand some of their concerns they also have to think about which scenario they would prefer; a Jeb Bush presidency, or Hillary Clinton in the White House as a result of the GOP fielding an unelectable candidate. The Tea Party may be successfully mobilising conservative support, but running on an uncompromisingly hard-right platform in 2016 will not go down well with minorities, swing voters and independents and instead will simply deliver the presidency to the Democrats for a third term. If Jeb Bush could run the USA in the same way that he ran Florida, I believe the fears of the Tea Party would soon disappear, as they would realise that he is a conservative after all.

George Reeves

Also posted on

Nick v Nigel: There was only going to be one winner

I recently wrote a piece for my personal blog describing how under Nick Clegg’s leadership, the Liberal Democrats have become a spent force in British politics. Today’s much anticipated showdown between Clegg and UKIP leader Nigel Farage proved that to be the case, and despite his best attempts, the Deputy Prime Minister was well and truly defeated by a man barred from participating in the general election debates.

That isn’t to say that Clegg didn’t try his very hardest to dominate; he resurrected the old tricks successfully employed during the 2010 election campaign, staring straight down the camera and addressing members of the audience by their first names. But unfortunately for the Lib Dem leader, the public now know better, and like a jilted ex-girlfriend the British people will not give a second chance to the man who seduced them and made them feel good about themselves before letting them down big style. Now, it is Nigel Farage and UKIP who are winning the argument, and tonight’s performance was proof of that.

Public debate is what Nigel Farage does best, mixing folksy charm with a sharp sense of humour and a surprisingly comprehensive grasp of the key facts and figures. Therefore, a debate about his favourite political issue, Britain’s membership of the EU, was a godsend for the UKIP boss. For the first time in his career, he was given the opportunity to lay out his case in the public arena and oppose a man who is the personification of everything UKIP oppose. After all, Nick Clegg’s political career began in the European Parliament, and now as Lib Dem leader he is on a mission to establish himself and his party as the most prominent pro-European voice in British politics.

Early polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly saw Farage as the winner of tonight’s debate, and this is something which should frighten Mr Clegg. Not only is it further proof of the implosion of Lib Dem support, but it could also be a sign that the British people are becoming more Eurosceptic. The Guardian has attempted to suggest that whilst Farage won this battle, the war is still being won by the Europhiles, but this argument simply does not stack up. If pro-EU politicians such as Nick Clegg are unable to lay out their arguments in a convincing manner during a prominent public debate, then the logical conclusion is that people will soon become disenchanted with Europe, its institutions and its supporters. Undoubtedly, Farage’s personality and UKIP’s stance on social issues have helped to boost levels of support for the right wing party, but their stance on the EU remains their most attractive selling point (indeed, Farage recently indicated that he was prepared to relax UKIP’s hostility to gay marriage).

Tonight’s debate was more than just a battle between two politicians vying for votes. It was a clash between two very different visions for Britain’s future, and it represented the polarisation of British politics over the issue of Europe. By choosing not to take part, it was the two main parties which ended up looking out of touch and obsolete; for all Nick Clegg’s faults, at least he had the guts to defend denying the British people a say over their own sovereignty in the face of the nation’s most popular Eurosceptic. However, only one of these visions can triumph, and Nigel Farage tonight showed that he is on the right side of the argument – let’s hope that the British people don’t let themselves get duped once again by Clegg and his cronies.

George Reeves

Make way for a new, strong and ‘weird’ Miliband

It has not been Ed Miliband’s most successful week as Labour leader. His response to the budget last week was filled with the usual Labour sound bites which resulted in a speech that simply was not relevant. It simply just reinforced the clear fact that he is not (and probably never will be) in a position to become Prime Minister. It has been very enjoyable flicking through the papers seeing the Labour leadership in crisis. Both The Times and The Telegraph stating that Miliaband is under pressure, the Financial Times saying that they are in a mess over pensions. There is also the very interesting poll that concluded that 41% of the electorate think Miliaband is weird (backed up on the video of him sniffing a woman on TV).

Almost four years after being elected, it is not surprising that there is anxiety on the backbenchers. Grassroots are also panicking. They are worried that their top man is simply not getting any better. The concerned in the party have now acted. They have essentially told Miliband to toughen up and not to ‘play safe’. They are anxious that the Labour leader is solely relying on the unpopularity of the government to win a majority. His populist policies too, according to the signatories of a letter sent to him, do not appeal to the widespread voting public. Now while this letter is not a direct criticism of his leadership, it does show the concerns within the party. With the general election looming, I think it is safe to say that these events are just the beginning. As we get closer, they will realise that Miliband is simply not suitable to be given the top job.

No doubt though Miliband will try to improve. Will he roll up his sleeves and become more aggressive? The answer is no. He will give it all he has got but frankly it does not seem to be in his character. His ‘Wallace’ image will always stay with him. After almost four years, it is very difficult to change the public opinion. He has failed to prove himself as a real leader and now time has essenatilly run out to change that.

After failing to find a Labour supporter who praises him, it is difficult to understand why he is still there. There have been a few quiet suggestions for a possible ‘coup’ with Alistair Darling being lined up. Soon, one could imagine a scene from The Thick Of It, with a senior Labour official stating that ‘Miliband is unelectable’. While it is unlikely, I am sure some members are saying that very quietly to themselves. Despite the pressure that will be put on him, it is unlikely he will change. Strong leadership does not seem to be one of his traits. As tensions grow, I cannot wait for the divisions in the party to emerge.

Ben Callaghan

Boris for PM? Let’s hope not

It was all going so well. The sun was shining and the rain had eased off, and so my girlfriend and I decided to walk along the canal into Birmingham city centre to get some lunch at Brindley Place and pick up some shopping. However, all feelings of content soon evaporated when I walked into Sainsbury’s and saw, emblazoned on the front page of The Sun, the headline ‘PM: I want Boris with me as an MP.’ I let out an almost audible groan, mainly because Rupert Murdoch had seemingly lost all common sense by allowing James Corden to guest edit my beloved paper, but also because of the contents of that headline. The country may love him, but I’m afraid I will never succumb to Boris-mania – the question is, why has the Prime Minister?

Before I am accused of being a killjoy or a ‘Boris hater,’ let me justify my position. I openly admit that Boris is a highly intelligent man; despite his clownish public image, he remains an Oxford graduate with a degree in Classics. Likewise, he also possesses the skill of having huge levels of charisma, despite being an appalling public speaker. He is certainly not a Barack Obama or even a Tony Blair, instead bumbling his way through speeches in an often incoherent mixture of Latin, Greek, and his own made-up words (and he also occasionally throws in the odd bit of English). But yet the crowds lap it up – he is funny, witty, and refreshingly down to earth, happily falling into ponds and getting stuck on zipwires for the general amusement of the British people.

However, like most clowns there is a darker side to Boris Johnson, a side which renders him unsuitable for the job of Prime Minister. For one thing, he makes David Cameron look like a man of principle, which is no easy feat, and I truly believe he is one of the most slippery characters in British politics. From his hazy private life to his political ambitions, everything about Boris is vague and fuzzy. Having strenuously denied any ambition to be Prime Minister just a few years ago, saying that he had more chance of being ‘reincarnated as an olive,’ he has now all but admitted his true ambitions, whilst secretly his allies fume that it was his old Eton rival who took the top job. Indeed, he even admitted during the 2005 leadership campaign that he was only voting for Cameron out of ‘pure, cynical self-interest.’ One thing is for sure about Boris – he is calculating, ambitious, and potentially ruthless.

As well as his own personal defects, Boris simply lacks the statesmanship to serve as Prime Minister of this country. We would, quite frankly, become the laughing stock of the world. Likewise, he would provide the left with an endless supply of mud to sling at the Conservative Party, having made a series of racist, sexist and generally offensive comments. From joking about black people having ‘watermelon smiles’ to describing the city of Portsmouth as being ‘full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs,’ these comments would suggest that, at best, Boris is naive and insensitive, and that in the worst case he is actually a rather bigoted man. I do not personally believe he means any harm, but he certainly doesn’t endear himself to the humourless Guardian-reading middle classes either.

I oppose almost everything that Ken Livingstone stands for, but at least when he was Mayor of London he was harmless. Indeed, I would even go as far as saying that his eight-year tenure was surprisingly successful. Boris, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Whilst Ken Livingstone used the position of London Mayor to sign off his long political career, Boris is using it to build up a power base within the Conservative Party and to establish himself as Britain’s most recognisable and well-known politician. For a man whose intentions are often so difficult to work out, his machinations from City Hall are only too clear. David Cameron may be willing to welcome him back as a Conservative MP, but it won’t end well for Britain.

George Reeves

Good news for Britain in Osborne’s ‘beer and bingo’ Budget

Today must have been the day from hell for the Labour Party, as not only did they have to endure George Osborne unveiling a set of fair and sound changes in this year’s Budget, but they also had to experience the pain of watching Ed Miliband attempt to respond to these proposals. Predictably, Miliband trotted out the usual platitudes, accusing Osborne of failing to fix the economy (which Labour trashed in the first place) and cutting taxes for the rich whilst the rest of the nation suffers (which is just simply untrue, and always has been). But despite Labour’s protestations, Osborne should be commended for delivering a Budget that will truly help the British people by implementing some truly conservative policies.

The tabloids have been quick to dub this the ‘beer and bingo’ Budget, as Osborne has announced that beer duty and tax on bingo halls will be cut. Such measures may be shameless in their populism, but are certainly not bad ways to reach out to those people who often feel disillusioned by an ‘out of touch’ Conservative Party. And regardless of their populism, these measures already seem to be working; immediately after the cuts to bingo duty were announced, bingo hall operator Rank Group announced plans for three new clubs. The lesson – tax cuts are popular, they work, and they are vital to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Beer and bingo aside, Osborne proved his Thatcherite credentials by announcing that the government’s Help to Buy housing scheme will be extended, good news for aspiring homeowners across the country. Likewise, the level of earnings exempt from income tax has been increased by £500, whilst the threshold for the 40p tax rate has also risen. These are all positive measures, reducing the amount of tax being paid at all income levels and rendering Labour’s arguments about the Conservatives just helping the rich absolutely meaningless.

Osborne also appealed directly to pensioners by announcing radical reform of the pensions system. In a move which will help 13 million people, the changes reduce the level of tax on a person’s pension pot, and abolish all restrictions on access to those pension pots, ending the mandatory purchasing of an annuity. This is a shrewd move from the Chancellor, and one which looks ahead to next year’s general election due to the high voting levels of pensioners. The ‘grey vote’ cannot be underestimated, and the Conservatives cannot afford to risk losing votes from this particular demographic.

Overall, the Budget is hugely promising, proving that by implementing policies which are unashamedly conservative, all people stand to benefit. The Conservatives are slowly beginning to prove that they understand what ordinary people want, outclassing the Labour Party in the process. The pitiful sight of Ed Miliband simply repeating tired soundbites in response was proof that Labour haven’t got a clue, and are not fit to govern. Let’s just hope that the recovery isn’t jeopardised at next year’s general election, because we as a nation cannot afford to hand the keys back to the people who crashed the car.

George Reeves

Are Americans ready for another Bush?

If Jeb Bush gets elected as President of the United States in 2016 it would mean that the last three Republican Presidents would have been form the same family. There is also little doubt that the Bush family will become the most famous and influential political family in the world overtaking the Kennedys. But before we think about this we have to ask a simple question. Are Americans ready for another member of the Bush dynasty in the White House?

A poll has suggested that many Americans are not exactly thrilled by the prospect of another President Bush.  There is a general feeling that many Americans could be suffering from a so-called ‘Bush fatigue’.  This is essentially the problem that faces Jeb Bush.  He could shine on national television and build up support in the Republican Party. But many of the population may think he is just one Bush too many.

But for the people who are not suffering from ‘Bush fatigue’ they may notice his ability to succeed in elected office. From 1999-2007 he was the Governor of Florida and the only Republican to have served to full four year terms.  While in the post, he was praised for his improvements in health care, education and environmental services as well as improving the economy in the region.  If people cleared their minds of the past, they could see that Bush is somebody who could be well suited for the job.

In November, I wrote a piece about Chris Christie, a possible rival to Jeb Bush in 2016. Through the ongoing investigation ‘Bridgegate’ incident however, his chances may have suffered.  While it may be a loss to the Republican Party, Jeb Bush could fill his place.  In 2012 the Republicans suffered to win the support of certain groups such as the Hispanics and women.  This Hispanic vote in particular is now essential to win. Often regarded as the ‘sleeping giant’ of American politics, it was arguably their support to the Democrats that led to Obama winning re-election. This problem with the Hispanics arose when McCain and Romney were the nominees for the Republican Party. But if you look back to 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush did very well in winning over this group and this is something that Jeb could repeat come 2016. His wife, Columba Bush is of Hispanic origin and like his older brother, Jeb also speaks Spanish which is regarded as a key way to align themselves with this group. There are also his connections in Florida. From the famous events in 2000, this has been a crucial state which in 2012 carried 29 Electoral College votes. This is a must-win state for the Republicans and through his past connections, it would be surprising if they did not win it.

The main threat would be from Hilary Clinton. I would be amazed if she does not win the Democrat nomination come 2016. It is time the Republicans reclaimed the White House and to do so they need to pick the right candidate. If Bush runs and Christie can avoid the allegations than they already have two strong candidates not to mention others such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Obama has not shown strong leadership during his tenure and only the Republicans can essentially deliver this. If the Republicans fail yet again, then serious questions about the credibility of the party will be asked. If the Tea Party agrees to support a ‘middle’ candidate such as Jeb Bush, then this strong sense of unity could lead them to victory. With Jeb Bush, the US could have a suitable President in waiting.  If people look at him as an individual, I am sure that he would be attractive to a large majority of the American population.

Ben Callaghan

Kerry has missed a perfect opportunity that Putin will not offer again

Kerry with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

John Kerry is a man with extensive knowledge in foreign affairs having chaired the Senate Commission of Foreign Relations from 2009 to 2013. When he was nominated by President Obama to succeed Hilary Clinton as US Secretary of State, he was regarded as a safe pair of hands and somebody who was suitably qualified for the role. He has shown his determination to solve international problems such as his success in the Iran nuclear talks. His handling of the situation in Ukraine in recent days however, raises one particularly interesting question. Why has Kerry refused to meet Putin to find a diplomatic solution?

The answer given to us by US officials is that there will be little to discuss if the referendum on Crimea’s future goes ahead on Monday. The outcome of this referendum is going to be very clear as David Aaronovitch repeatedly said on Question Time, it is going to be rigged.  The fact is, however, that this will not end on Monday. The ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said in Russia yesterday ‘I will be back in Kiev’.  He, along with the Russian government and the pro-Russian people of Ukraine believe he is their legitimate President. If Russia get their way in Crimea (which is looking inevitable), attention will then shift back to Kiev and Eastern Ukraine where there will no doubt be heavy protests as Yanukovych will try to reinstate himself as the country’s leader.

It seems odd that Kerry would miss this opportunity. Putin is clearly in control of the situation and he is not going to repeatedly offer invitations to Kerry to talk about the crisis. There have been claims by the US that Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister was not authorised to lead talks, but this is quite difficult to believe judging by the amount of meetings he and Putin have been conducting.

Relations between Lavrov and Kerry were already strained and this latest snub will no doubt stretch them even further apart making a diplomatic solution more and more unlikely. On Monday, Crimea will vote on its future and if this happens, the US has said that diplomacy between the two nations would be hopeless.  That would therefore lead to economic sanctions as military intervention would not be supported by the US or the EU.

But then another question has to be asked. Is it in the countries interests to impose sanctions? For the US it probably is but how much pain can they inflict? There have been talks of freezing assets of wealthy Russians in the West. This could be very painful and Putin himself has noted this telling those with assets in the US to relocate before the freeze can be put in place. Another plan that is being discussed is missing the G8 Summit that is to be held in Sochi. However, this will do very little damage to Putin.

The EU will unlikely support such an approach with many countries, including Germany, relying on Russia for gas and this is why Putin is in a very powerful position.  He knows the power that Russia has over many European states and relishes having this power.  Kerry however, needs the strength to overcome this. Kerry needs to continue down the diplomatic path no matter what happens in Crimea on Monday as it will not be the end. It would be very surprising if Putin offered such an opportunity again. But if he did, Kerry must not miss it.

Ben Callaghan

Boris Johnson – Will he or Won’t he?

The news that Boris Johnson is still unsure whether to stand in 2015 is back in the limelight.  He has ruled out returning to Parliament before the election amid claims that George Osborne was pressuring him to do so by offering him the role of Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Mr Johnson’s political future at this point is very hazy. All we know is that he will remain as mayor of London until 2016. But that does not stop him seeking a way back into Parliament. If he decided to run, there is no doubt whatsoever that he would be elected, as he would be given one of the safest Conservative seats in London.  Cameron has said that when he returns he would immediately join the cabinet (of course this depends on a victory in 2015). Therefore, has Boris really got anything to lose?

As an ambitious man, he will most likely as we speak be eyeing up the position of leader. While he will have no problem being elected, he may face trouble being elected leader (if the position arises). He is respected by the majority of the party, and shares his ideology with many of them too – a liberal, who like Cameron will help modernise the party and attract a wider range of voters.

But there is the issue of his ‘silly’ behaviour which has made him a popular figure with the people, but it is not sure how well it would go down in the House of Commons.  Maybe come 2015, we may see a more ‘calm’ Johnson which many may find a more attractive quality for a Prime Minister.

How would the public react to him as leader? I think here we will get mixed reviews.  Essentially regarded as a ‘celebrity’ icon by the British public, there will no doubt be support for him as a possible Prime Minister. Who knows, his liveliness and humour may make the office of Prime Minister more attractive and spurge a new interest in politics.

There are of course, many who are sceptical of him. His appearance on TV shows such as Have I Got News For You have shown a side to him you would not necessarily trust as a senior political figure. Also his affairs and his overall character are something many people would not want to see in Downing Street.  Despite this, he has proven himself a very good politician, somebody who is likeable and can get their message across. As an ‘outsider’ from Parliament, he very well may be the ideal man for the job. George Osborne, Teresa May and Jeremy Hunt could all see themselves in Number 10. He could bring some new life to the party and when the position arises, Boris will just have to prove himself that he is leadership material. Of course, we still do not know what his plans for the future are.

Ben Callaghan

The European Autumn – Ukraine’s Future

Until recently many would profess a lack of knowledge towards the state of Ukraine however the recent escapades that have been played out in an almost Hollywood like manner have thrust it into the spotlight. If the Arab Spring was the democratic revolution of the Arab world then this would be the revolution of what that democracy would be in Ukraine.

The media has been full of the violence and corruption displayed by the government forces of the now former president Viktor Yanukovych who started the protests by refusing to sign a deal with the EU while signalling his intentions to grow closer to Russia. Which would be like having a cigarette in a firework factory; foolish, explosive and dangerous. It is worth noting that Ukraine only achieved independence from Russia in 1990 however despite the two decades of ‘freedom’ it seems that Russia is more than happy to reassert its position in Eastern Europe as it has been reported (though not confirmed by the Kremlin) that Putin has ordered a test of combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia. Unless he fears an invasion from Ukraine (think Goliath vs David with David being unarmed and Goliath wearing a suit of armour) this move can only be seen as an attempt to pressure the new Ukrainian government into continuing the pro-Russia policies.

The media frenzy over this situation has produced some memorable highlights including the house of the former President complete with a galleon and a golden toilet; which due to the poverty of the country, where significant numbers are starving or in extreme poverty; can only be described as actually taking the p**s.

Ukraine is in a dangerous position with Russia becoming more overt on its borders, a non-confirmed government in power that not all support as well as ongoing protests over this situation mean that the parallel with Egypt is hard to avoid. Ukraine has the potential to become a solidified player in the international system as well as stable nation for its citizens, but the fastest manner for this would be a Mandela figure to emerge. But seemingly lacking this asset the state of Ukraine faces the risk of being one again subjugated by a foreign power.

What is needed right now is a broad consensus in both national and international institutions in order to move forward into a stable position for Ukraine. Complicated somewhat by both local political divisions and having Russia as the next door neighbour with its eyes on the military send button. Ukraine has economic potential so it makes sense for Britain and the rest of the international community to send non-military assistance into the region.

Jack Fennell

The way we tackle human rights in Africa is simply not working

Africa, as I am sure you are aware, is a continent with a very dubious human rights record.  While many countries have improved such as South Africa, there are a number of countries that appear in the news for the very wrong reasons. For instance, we see political corruption in many of these countries, most notably Zimbabwe and we also see the passing of laws that are hostile towards certain groups within society. Uganda, is the most recent of these countries to have passed a controversial piece of legislation.

On Monday, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill introducing tougher penalties for people who engage in homosexual activity. If found guilty, the punishment is life in prison. On a more positive note, the death penalty clause was removed but this has not removed the fear that now faces many in the country. One person said they were ‘very scared’ and said ‘I don’t know what going to happen’. Prior to this bill, homosexuality was already banned in Uganda. US President Barack Obama has called it a backward step and William Hague stated that he was ‘deeply saddened and disappointed’.

What happened yesterday however, was more disturbing. The national newspaper Red Pepper listed 61 known homosexuals under the headline ‘Exposed!’ and promised to name around 200 known homosexuals.  These included openly gay activists such as Pepe Julian Onziema and a Ugandan Hip-Hop star. The paper is not one of the most respected, but is read by a large portion of the population. It is unclear what the public response to this will be.

Britain has made it known that African nations that pass such types of legislation will be treated as human rights violators. Earlier last week, Britain and other Western nations urged the Ugandan president to veto the bill. He faced pressure from his own parliament to pass the bill.

Simply, condemning these pieces of controversial legislation seems to have a very small (if any) impact on the leaders behind it. The US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticised Nigeria for passing a similar law to that of Uganda. You could easily ask yourself what difference has it made? For years, there have been problems about Africa. When asked, politicians show their concerns, but we have not really seen any successful action in dealing with the problems.

In African countries such as Uganda, there are growing communities of a more liberal, Western – leaning middle class which is open to more alternative lifestyles. Therefore it can be said that African governments need to adapt to this growing class of people it is there to represent.

Is there any action that Western powers could take? In both the US and Britain there is growing support to cut of international aid with Uganda. The US gives Uganda $400 million a year while Britain gives £107 million. It seems unlikely though that this will happen as it is unclear what  may happen to these developing countries without international aid. One thing is clear. The current way of dealing with human rights in Africa is not working. To create results, a new method might be needed.

Ben Callaghan


Mitt Romney – The Best President America Never Had

I recently watched Mitt, a very well-made documentary about Mitt Romney’s two shots at running for the US presidency in 2008 and 2012. The film is made up largely of footage shot behind the scenes during the campaigns; footage of Romney preparing for debates, hugging his family, and praying with his wife, Ann. Viewers see the toll that campaigning for the world’s biggest job took on Romney and his family, and it would be impossible not to feel empathy and a degree of admiration for his toughness and self-belief, not matter what your political views.

Although I am not American, I take a huge interest in US politics and I followed the 2012 election campaign closely. It was interesting to see the way the British media covered the contest; there was near unanimous support for President Barack Obama to a degree where the press seemed unashamed about their anti-Republican bias. When Mitt Romney visited Britain he was vilified for comments he made about our readiness for the 2012 Olympics; you would have thought that the opinion of a man who successfully organised the 2002 Winter Olympics might be worth listening to, but the liberal British media were having none of it.

But if we step away from the media myths and analyse Romney the man, what do we find? Liberals depicted him as a flip-flopping millionaire with no understanding of ordinary Americans – as Romney admits in the documentary, he was seen as ‘the flipping Mormon.’ But in fact, this is not a fair caricature of the man. The media usually enjoys depicting Republicans as dogmatic and closed-minded, and so when Romney comes along and bucks this stereotype, he isn’t lauded for being a moderate but instead tarred with the ‘flip-flop’ label. His money was also highlighted as an issue, but why should Romney have to apologise for having been a successful businessman with a track record of turning failing companies around and creating profit and jobs? I would have thought these were virtues in a man seeking to run the world’s most powerful economy!

Ultimately, Romney faced a near impossible job in unseating President Obama in 2012; whilst some of Obama’s shine had faded during his first term he was still a force to be reckoned with. No one can deny that he is extremely charismatic, and elections seem to be what he does best, mobilising support and fighting off his detractors (albeit with a little help from his friends in the press). Even though polls suggested the election was too close to call before the results were released, no one really was in any doubt who the winner would be. However, I sincerely believe America and the rest of the world have missed out, as Mitt Romney would have made a truly fantastic president.

Having tried twice to reach the White House it is now clear that we will never see a President Mitt Romney. The Republicans now need to look forward to 2016, and potential candidates need to start getting their voices heard. A number of figures have been touted as possibilities – Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to name just a few. However, there is no front runner, and this puts the GOP in a difficult position; they cannot afford to lose in 2016, and America can’t afford a third term of a Democrat in the White House.

George Reeves

Originally posted at:

A Conservative Crusader Against Modernity

If you are one of the many people who seem to be suffering from the lethal combination of ignorance and a sense of self-importance, then Question Time could very well be the programme for you. It was with great trepidation I tuned in to Thursday’s edition of the show, fully expecting the usual plethora of whiners and moaners to fully sap the soul of any hope for the future. Indeed, the only reason I attempted such remarkable masochism, was the appearance of what could perhaps be described as the most influential Anglo-sphere Conservative currently living; Roger Scruton. Being a rare combination of both an Intellectual and a Conservative, he offers an incredible wealth of philosophy to conceptualise politics in a way that transcends the traps of Modernity and Ideology.

In an age where politics is a barren wasteland for anyone concerned with truth or wisdom, figures like Scruton become a diamond in the rough. It takes serious courage and insight to ask on Question Time “Isn’t the problem, not the yobbery of the members of parliament, but the bad judgement of the people who vote for them?”. I could not help smile at the awkward grin on the Labour MP ‘Lizz’s’ face, as she said “controversial”. God forbid a Labour MP ever accepts an uncomfortable truth. Such criticisms of the electorate, while being entirely justified, simply aren’t usually levelled in a democracy. Vote chasing populism will always triumph in modern politics. Which is why we on the genuine Conservative right must turn to the likes of Oakeshott, Burke, Powell, Minogue, Scruton and maybe even Hayek (at a push). For these figures give us an outline of something far more sophisticated, that is the philosophy of Conservatism.

What Scruton represents to a philosophical Conservative approach, is that modern politics is shaped by a lot more than MPs and Politicians. While there are many things to disagree with from the revered John Maynard Keynes, he did get one thing right: “Practical men, who believe themselves free from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. Okay, maybe one small correction is required, we must supplant the word ‘economist’, with ‘academic’. For the works of Gramsci, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman all influence the direction of public policy; and thus politics itself. We create consensuses around particular ideologies, that when they finally exhaust themselves, are replaced by another hyper-rational theory. What can very simply be deduced, is that culture and politics are entirely separate, but not exclusive. Those who control the institutions that define culture itself, such as universities, schools, churches etc. can define the direction of a nation itself. Public policy, is usually a reflection of those changes in broader society.

This is where Conservatism has the ability to triumph. Oakeshott once argued, that Conservatism was almost too sophisticated for politics; preferring instead to influence the world through culture and academia. This kind of approach is useful to anyone who seeks a revival in genuine Organic values, as opposed to the advances of one rational planner to the next. These archaic values, that are scorned so much by Starbucks-drinking Progressives, are simply the backbone of any healthy people. This is the message I feel figures like Scruton are attempting to force on the national phsycie of the Anglo-sphere countries; or what we may call the ‘West’. To return to this week’s Question Time, there was an excellent point in the debate, where Scruton blames the decline of educational standards not on one policy or another, but a general culture of indolence. It is this broader approach, that supersedes the narrowing agendas of Modernity. Once we understand that legislation is often the result of some ideological dogma, be that of the market or of the state, we can begin to construct a new politics based on genuine Organic values; that mitigate the changes of social engineers. We must wake up to the failure of the public sphere, whose primary goal for some time was to engineer society to ideology.

If there is one thing we can take from figures like Scruton, it would be to remember that politics is much more than just the actions of the state, or the ideologies that occupy public debate. It is in fact, a much broader thing, in which a broader culture can define the way we think and act. It is in this field, that we can hope to lead the almost-holy crusade to restore all things natural and organic, to restore our freedoms and traditions, our rights and our duties; and that force is, and always has been, Conservatism.

Dylan Grove

Could the Lib Dems really survival a tussle with Farage over Europe?

Britain and the EU is once again the major topic that is surrounding British politics. Both Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg have agreed to have a debate over the EU. Nick Clegg originally proposed the idea to Farage earlier this week and Fargae yesterday welcomed the suggestion.

If the debate goes ahead, it would certainly very interesting to see who would come out on top – Farage, a fierce critic of the EU or Clegg, a great supporter who at times as struggled to get his message across.  If we look at the recent success of UKIP it would seem that Farage would be the one with the most support.

Clegg however, has nothing to lose. He frequently speaks about the benefits of the EU and is now telling supporters to spread this message. He has made it very clear that the Liberal Democrats are in the ‘In’ party when it comes to Europe. Their recent party broadcast was based solely on the issue of Europe.

There is a fear, mainly by the Lib Dem party chairman Tim Farron, that the Lib Dems will suffer heavy losses in May. Looking at recent by-election results this would be no real surprise. So, it could be seen as a rather clever move by Clegg to have one last attempt to claw back support before the European election s. If he can win over voters who are still unsure about Briatin’s relationship with Europe, the damage in May might not be a serious.

For Farage, it is not enough. He wants Ed Miliabnd and David Cameron present at the debate. If this happened, we would essentially have a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the possible debates in 2015. Of course, we don’t know if there will be debates and we don’t know if Farage will be invited. However, it seems here that he is attempting to get the momentum going for these debates which he strongly believes he should be a part of.

Nevertheless, if the debates go ahead, Clegg could rescue the Lib Dems from decline. If he fails to win, then they have no chance of surviving.  It would be interesting to see how both Cameron and Miliband respond to this. Farage will no doubt continue to put pressure on them.  They will need to respond carefully, because if Farage is successful in the debate, it would have serious consequences for both Labour and Conservatives.

Ben Callaghan

‘So why are you actually here…?’

When Ed Miliband travelled to Purley in Berkshire on Tuesday, he probably believed that he would be welcomed with open arms by its residents who have been hit badly following the recent floods. Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West publicly expressed his thoughts towards the Leader of the Opposition’s visit.

After refusing to shake his hand he asked ‘the issue is Mr Miliband, why are you actually here?’ . Miliband (who took a quick glance at the camera) looked dazzled and confused. When he was finally given time to speak, he said the reason he was there was to pressure the government to do ‘everything possible’.  Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, also came under fire from a flood victim live on television.

These events lead to one question: What can politicians actually do at times like this?

For Ed Miliband, the answer is nothing. All he can do is persuade the government. At times like this, the people want actions not words. They want people there who can make a significant difference.  It would have also helped Miliband if the last Labour government tackled the issue of flooding. As Alok Sharma said, Labour did nothing to solve the flood problems that they had in 2003. As usual, we have also heard Miliband complaining about the slow government response without him saying what he would have done if he was in David Cameron’s position.

As Prime Minister, David Cameron has every right to be there. After all, he has the power to solve the situation. Although the Government was slow in dealing with the situation, we are seeing some solutions such as the announcement recently that money will be available to help flooded victims.

Constituents of Alok Sharma praised him for his approach to Miliband. The fact is people are fed up of politicians capitalising on the event that is making life miserable for many. MPs have every right to be visible in their constituencies at times of difficulty. Miliband’s attempt to look useful has backfired who has been branded a ‘Westminster flood tourist’ simply interested in a ‘photo opportunity’.

There has still been a lack of action from both the Environment Agency and the Government. The military now is helping the mist vulnerable. The people are growing restless but as David Cameron said ‘it’s going to take time’. Flooding is expected to continue. To solve the problem, we need to leave to the people who have the power to do so.

Ben Callaghan

Vladimir Putin: The Greatest of Gay-Rights Campaigners…

Should you not be a hermit living under a particularly large rock in Outer Mongolia, leader of an Amish commune, or just a technophobe extraordinaire, you’ve likely noticed Google’s two footed leap into the Sochi gay rights debate earlier today. With their rainbow doodle, and emphasis on the fourth principle of Olympism, we’ve witnessed a rather surprising move from what is usually an apolitical company. Similarly, the giant US mobile provider AT&T yesterday condemned Russia’s gay-propaganda law, with official Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola showing a married gay couple in their recent Super-bowl advert, though have yet to condemn the Russian government outright. Closer to home, Channel 4 have incorporated the rainbow flag into their logo for the duration of the games, and have produced a gay cabaret performance (shown below), where a bearded man in his boxers sings to the tune of the Russian national anthem… It is to be shown regularly over the next month.

As an openly gay man myself (albeit not the greatest fan of the Gay Liberation Front), I find the sincere solidarity of these free individuals with the LGBTQ rights movement genuinely heartwarming. The raised awareness for the cause of equal rights, an appreciation for the distance we have travelled as a society in the past fifty years, and a better understanding of the day-to-day persecution faced by others around the world have all developed considerably over past months. And they’ve all come as the result of the pet-project of one man.

Despite rumors of shoddy building, widespread corruption and that the games are likely to provide a significant financial drain rather than benefit, Vladimir Putin has got his wish; the Winter Olympics are being held in his favorite city.  And his drive, dedication, and single-mindedness has benefited nobody more than the global gay rights movement.

Because some Games stand out in history, for reasons both good and bad. We remember 1936 as Hitler’s Nazi showcase, 1968 for the Black-power Salute, 1972 for the Munich massacre, 1980 and for the international boycott. Sochi’s legacy? A struggle against homophobia and authoritarianism.

For Vladimir Putin has created an unintentional showcase of his own. While the mirrored buildings have been carefully sculpted to dazzle and impress, he has provided the perfect opportunity for movements opposed to his rule, from around the world, to unite around one single cause, and present their case on a global stage. Indeed, there a few events which last so long, touch so many people, and have such a legacy as the Olympic Games.

And for that very reason, today Vladimir Putin writes gay history.

Tom Pike

Why Bob Crow is in no position to call a strike

Today commuters in London have woken up to chaos as Underground staff strike over proposed cuts and the closure of manned ticket offices. The strike is expected to last for 48 hours.  On 11th February, Londoners will face it all again.

It is the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) who are behind the strike action. Their leader is Bob Crow, man who earns around £145,000 a year and lives in a council house in London that is paid for by the tax payer.  He has also recently just returned from a holiday to Bermuda where he was pictured sunbathing on the beach and relaxing by a pool.

The main problem is here is not the fact that he was on holiday on the Caribbean just days before the strike (as Boris said Bob is entitled to his holiday). Instead, it is somebody in his position having the power to disrupt the lives of millions of working people in London. If he was somebody who worked hard for a living like the groups of people he represents, then maybe we could see the logic in why they are going on strike. However, Bob Crow is using this strike to score a point over his ‘political foe’ Boris Johnson.

Until yesterday, they had not spoken for years.  That was broken with an ‘armed stand-off’ on Boris’ monthly phone in on LBC. The events yesterday were quite dramatic with Bob Crow marching to City Hall demanding to speak to the Mayor and then phoning up his radio show as Bob from Woodford Green. Afterwards, he sat at City Hall for a large part of the day, waiting to see Boris. He left without seeing him.

The simple fact is that there should have been no strike action over the issue of closing ticket offices, especially not a strike of this size which would cause enormous disruption to the ‘greatest city on Earth’ (in the words of Boris). Boris was right in saying that we must use the technology we have to modernise Britain and a good way to do this is to use ticket machines. The vast majority of people will voluntarily use these machines now.

Instead, all they have to do is sit down and talk it through. It got a bit ridiculous yesterday when Boris said he would not talk to Bob for organising a strike and Bob would not talk until Boris changed his demands.  If they both keep taking this attitude, then nothing will be solved.

Bob Crow needs to have the interests of the people of London in mind when taking such action instead of just expressing the power that his union has. Today will see millions of Londoners cramming onto buses and the few remaining Tube services. Businesses have estimated it will cost the London economy around £50 million. There is still time to call of the next set of strikes.  Let’s hope Bob has a change of spirit.

Ben Callaghan

A Potential Palace of the Past…?

It can be argued that buildings define a people. If Egypt has the pyramids and France has the Palace of Versailles then England has the Palace of Westminster. But as similar as these magnificent structures can be said to be culturally then there is a difference between the first two and Westminster. That being that Westminster is the only one to receive regular use and despite the massive cultural credit that we give it, does it properly serve its purpose. As the image above demonstrates of the 650 MP’s that are elected to these prestigious positions, at one time only 427 of them can be seated.

Following the Second World War Churchill rightly proclaimed that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards out buildings shape us” but this shaping process must be called into question when the buildings can no longer properly serve their purpose. If on a bus or a train only two thirds of the people on board can actually sit down most people would admit that there was a problem, but when it’s one of our most culturally important buildings that serves as the work place of the government of our country, then people seem wilfully blind of the issue.

On the side for tradition and cultural significance Churchill’s words still ring loudly but assuming a transition to a modern building Westminster palace could still be used for events like the Queen’s speech. It would also mean it wouldn’t be damaged as much by tourists and people at work which would allow us to properly completely repair its incredible design and interior.

On the side for modernisation is the argument that the building is no longer fit for purpose, with massive needs for repairs, and that the prestige of British government would receive a boost from a modern building. Why stand up and go to a corridor for a head count when you can just press a button which would speed up proceedings and transparency efforts.

It seems therefore that we can drag this building on life support for however many years but sooner or later this building will effectively rot beyond all use and we can wait until this happens, the Mail will happily cover the front page with a full page of the collapsed building, or we can act now and give the old girl the dignity she deserves.

If our buildings truly shape us then, while remembering the lessons of the past, we must move forward into the new century and the new world unencumbered by the chains that pull us backwards for no other reason than tradition.

Jack Fennell

Hollande is the embodiment of EU ineptitude: Britain must look to Washington, not Brussels, for international support

Europe has had its fair share of political sex scandals, from Silvio Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga parties to the consistent promiscuity of a succession of French Presidents. However, none of these figures have cut a more pathetic figure than the current incumbent of the Elysee Palace, Francois Hollande. Everything about the French President’s affair with actress Julie Gayet has been deeply farcical, from the infamous photos of Mr Hollande on a moped travelling to and from his secretive trysts, to his complaints that the French press were invading his privacy by reporting the affair. All the past few weeks have revealed about Hollande are that he can’t even pull off a sex scandal well.

Since coming to power in 2012, Francois Hollande has systematically trashed France, imposing a crippling form of secular socialism which has won him plenty of enemies, most notably the hierarchy of the French Catholic Church, business leaders and entrepreneurs who don’t share his enthusiasm for a 75% top rate of tax, and his former partner Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and former Socialist Party presidential candidate. The only prominent supporter of Mr Hollande is our own Ed Miliband, who has declared his intention to emulate Hollande’s style of socialism in Britain if, God forbid, he comes to power in 2015.

Today, Hollande has been engaged in meetings with David Cameron about Britain’s future in the EU, and has declared his opposition to Cameron’s demands for imminent EU treaty changes. This should sound warning bells in the heads of anyone who is sceptical that Britain is getting a good deal out of its relationship with the EU, especially if Cameron’s commitment to a referendum on EU membership is to be believed. The bottom line is, the Eurosocialist elite that run the EU are not interested in treaty changes or reform, they are quite happy continuing to expand the unwieldy bureaucracy which restricts its member states. Hollande is an appropriate representative of EU ineptitude, and it is about time that Britain stops trying to reform a body which is so far beyond reform. We need to free ourselves from this political bondage immediately, and start looking back to Washington for international economic and political support.

George Reeves

Who is allowed to speak?

Maajid Nawaz is a Lib Dem PPC and founder of the anti-Islamist think tank Quilliam.

In this country it seems, sadly, that there is a two tier system for speaking rights. If I want to walk into town, stand on a box and shout that <pick a football team> is terrible, then besides odd looks, I am free to do that. But if I want to make a comment regarding the Islamic prophet Mohammed, then it seems that any comment, other than outright veneration, is inappropriate. This has been a lingering issue but now seems to have taken a strange turn when Maajid Nawaz a Liberal Democrat candidate for Hamstead and Kilburn posted an image of Jesus and Mohammed on twitter. The character of ‘Mo’ simply says “How Ya Doin’?”.

I and I’m sure many others would see this as a simple comment; not offensive in any way, perhaps a positive metaphor for Christian-Islamic relations and representing the hope of a future of understanding among the minority of Muslims who tarnish the name of the non-violent majority. Others apparently would see this simple cartoon as a political and religious warrant for execution. The minority response to this cartoon has been death threats to Mr Nawaz and calls for him to step down as the Liberal Democrat candidate.

While freedom of speech should be limited by the prevention of the publication offensive material, the question that needs asking is; when someone, especially a Muslim makes a comment that is in no way offensive to the Islamic faith or to Mohammed himself then why is he attacked for this? We live in a secular and pluralist society, and with many announcing how offensive this has been to Muslims, perhaps it is worth noting that Jesus was in the image and the corresponding lack of hatred from the Christian community.

While this issue has been useful for generating the debate over; freedom of speech, the rights of people to not be insulted and the position held by some members of the more extreme Islamic community, it would be nice if instead of petitioning for the removal of candidate Nawaz and calling for him to be beheaded they took a more moderated approach of properly explaining why this, apparently neutral, cartoon is so offensive to them.

However regardless of all this it is truly pleasant to see people standing behind someone who has been attacked for no real reason. Many have defended Mr Nawaz over his recent actions including Mr Clegg which demonstrates the attitudes at the heart of British society of tolerance, moderation and plurality.

Jack Fennel

A Muslim Liberal Democrat candidate has revealed he tweeted a cartoon of Muhammad and Jesus because of his desire to speak freely without fearing a charge of blasphemy, even though it prompted death threats and calls for him to stand down.

Maajid Nawaz, who is running to be an MP in Hampstead and Kilburn, said he tweeted the image and stated he did not feel it threatened him in order to defend his religion “against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest”.

Eight years on UKIP have done nothing to remove their ‘loonies’ image

Every week we see a new story about the UK Independence Party and the suitability of their candidates. Most recently there was UKIP councillor David Silvester who claimed that David Cameron’s gay marriage legislation led to the devastating floods in the South of England. Last year, we had the memorable comments by Godfrey Bloom MEP (now an Independent) for calling women ‘sluts’ and calling countries that were receiving British foreign aid as ‘Bongo Bongo Land’.

The actions by their members reinforce one point. That they still are ‘fruitcakes’ and ‘loonies’ as David Cameron called them in 2006. We have seen Nigel Farage try to ‘clean’ the UKIP image, most recently through his bizarre UKIP weather forecast on the Daily Politics. He is also promising to vet every MEP candidate thoroughly so they do not repeat the fiasco that followed after the local elections in May last year.

The party’s policies are also unclear after they threw away their 2010 manifesto. Farage (who was not leader in 2010) called it ‘drivel’. However, according to David Campbell Bannerman, who wrote the manifesto, Farage never even bothered to read it. The fact is that apart from proposing that we leave the EU, there seems to be no clear policy that would make them a credible governing party.

It is safe to say that UKIP is a one man party. Without Nigel Farage as their leader, they would still be the party that they were in the 1990s- a small minor party with very little support. Even the founder of UKIP, Alan Sked, has said he is disappointed how the party is now.  After the 2004 European elections , Sked said of the party ‘they are racist and have been infected by the far-right’.

Looking ahead to May, there could be some good news. According to IPSOS MORI research, the British public believe that there is more chance of finding life on Mars than a UKIP victory. Even though it only sampled a small group of people, it shows that the UKIP machine could be rusting away.  Labour is currently leading in the polls for the European elections. But if the economy continues to grow and people begin to see more money in their pocket, anything could happen come May.

If UKIP members keep drawing attention to themselves (which seems very likely), it will not be long before their growing number of supporters will stop taking them seriously. Farage himself is making matters worse recently with his speech that women are less valuable than male colleagues. Eight years on it seems that Cameron’s claims about UKIP were correct.

Ben Callaghan

Labour’s Cost of Incompetence Crisis…

This month’s ONS figures will no doubt make good reading for many a Conservative activist up and down the country. GDP growth is the strongest since 2007, unemployment falling sharply, and inflation has finally hit its 2% target. The sustainability of the returning growth may be in question, but at least from the outside (and particularly to the average voter), Britain’s economic fortunes are on the mend, and with them, the fortunes of the Conservative party.

But for many Labour activists, these figures won’t just simply highlight a short-term setback in the strategic chess game that is Westminster politics, but moreover, a series of increasingly dangerous failings at the heart of their electoral machine. Failings which – at this rate – may see Cameron and Osborne veritably stroll back into Downing Street, rather than face the bitter battle which 2015 has been predicted to become.

What are these failings?

Firstly, and to rather state the obvious, the Labour leadership is weak. Miliband is broadly unpopular, as is Ed Balls, and voters simply do not believe that the party has the metal to take tough decisions on the economy, in stark contrast to the Conservatives. But crucially, after an intensive three-year long campaign to improve Miliband’s image, he has never been seen as a credible Prime Minister by a plurality of the British people; Cameron has consistently trumped him. The ‘Red Ed’, son-of- a-Marxist, Wallace and Gromit image has stuck. And it’s staying.

Secondly, and to state the obvious again, Labour are seriously distrusted over the economy. Even with their new Cost of Living/Cost of Cameron/Cost of Capitalism buzzword offensive, according to a recent ComRes poll for The Independent, more people believe their financial outlook would be better under the Conservatives than under Labour. Which means that critically, Labour are failing to win the battle which they’ve specifically chosen to fight. The collapse of what was once an 11%+ poll lead is thus unsurprising.

So as 2014 begins in earnest, Labour must now consider how to move forward. Continue with the buzzwords and hashtags, desperately hoping that the figures will eventually prove them right? Or take yet a different approach, quietly consigning the ‘cost of living crisis’ to the history text book, along with the emphasis on ‘One Nation’ and ‘Plan B’?

Regardless of the image the party chooses to take, it still faces its own crisis: only 14% of the British public believe that Labour are led by ‘people of real ability’. And until Labour is seen as a party of real economic competence, I shall be betting blue for 2015.

Tom Pike

EU Climate Control – Operation Hair Shirt

Following the devastation of World War Two a small group of people came together and made a simple plan of how to stop Europe from going to war with itself for the third time. The plan was as ingenious as it was sadly flawed. In order to foster closer ties among member states they would simply form a closer economic relationship between themselves … in order to allow for a closer political union. That first bit was genius, why go to war with someone you’re in business with. That second part however has been inflated out of all proportion. An economic union, what is now the EU started as the European Coal and Steel Community, has now become so mutated that it is actually making policies against its initial economic function.

All member states of the European Union must cut Carbon emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels and the target is to produce 27% of its energy from renewable energy. The good news is that the EU is on course to cut its carbon emissions by 25% by 2020 so it is possible to reach the Carbon reduction plan the not so good news is that as of 2010 we produce 8% of our energy from renewable resources. However is must be noted that Mr Cameron was successful is changing the renewable target from a requirement to a target so hats go off to him.

This new policy is something of a catch 22 for Mr Cameron as it will be derided by many as being an economic noose during this period of low growth while others say that it isn’t enough and that for starters the target should be legally enforced. But as unusual as it may be to suggest, there is one manner that Mr Cameron can use this ugly duckling to his advantage and that is green business. If Mr Cameron can pressure energy companies, research groups (like University’s) and others to put more money and research into green energy solutions and job creation then he can turn this global warming problem into his advantage. I would not be stupid enough to say that this would be easy but if he can do so then re-claim the employment issue and gain credibility on green issues as the man with the solution. Not easy but possible.

Which leaves the last question a simple one. What manner of man is Mr Cameron, a great or ordinary leader because how strong he is coming out of this will be determined by how he responds to an issue that will only get more vocal.

‘Great men are forged in fire, it is the privilege of lesser men* to light the flame’

*Looking at European Commission President Jose Manuel here

Jack Fennell

The Lord Rennard Crisis – A killing blow to Nick Clegg

Nobody really knew how Nick Clegg would cope with his new job in May 2010. They were the days when the Liberal Democrats approval ratings were at  29%. Morale across the entire was party was high as they entered a new age not knowing what to expect. They remained united as they took their seats on the government benches for the first time, worshiping their leader who had performed extremely well in the televised leadership debates just a few months before.

As you know, this united party did not last long. Only until December 2010 when they split over tuition fees, something they promised they would not introduce.  Since then, we have seen the party at the bottom of the polls struggling to gain back the support that they once possessed.

It is the sexual harassment claims of  Lord Rennard , a non-political issue that is currently shredding the Liberal Democrats to pieces, and in particular their once most cherished leader. Younger members of the party are turning against Lord Rennard, former chief-executive of the party, while the people of Rennard’s generation are willing to back him. Their comments however, have not been too helpful with Chris Davies MEP saying ‘This is not Jimmy Saville. This is touching someone’s leg six years ago at a meeting through clothing’. It was not really the best he could say, but he has apologised for his ‘crass’ remarks.

It is Nick Clegg however, who will be hit hardest and there are three factors that make this a very damaging time for him.

First, it has been reported that he knew about certain claims as early as 2008 and Scotland Yard concluded that he should have ordered a formal investigation much sooner than he originally did.

Secondly, Lord Rennard has been the most significant individual in the party in recent years. He has been credited as building the party into that of what we saw at in 2010 – a party that could be a suitable opposition. He was also involved in keeping the Eastleigh constituency in Liberal Democrat hands after Chris Huhne was arrested (this is last time Clegg has spoken to him).

Finally, it has allowed Tim Farron, the party president and Clegg’s most dangerous rival, to attack the party’s handling of the situation and therefore allow him to build up a strong base of supporters for when he runs for the party leadership.

The simple fact is this incident should not have become such a large scale event. It is not a political issue. It is just the failure of Lord Rennard to apologise. Of course, nothing has been proven so it is difficult to ask him to apologise. Instead, a rather insignificant event has thrown the party into a conflict that is significantly weakening the party. With legal action against the party looming, the whole crisis shows that Nick Clegg is unable to control his party. He will remain leader until 2015, but no matter what happens at the general election, he will most likely be ousted.

Ben Callaghan

Britain’s housing crisis, and how the state is causing it.

The Hotel of Mum & Dad could be your perfect holiday destination this decade. Good food, an in-house laundry service, broadly friendly staff, and all at a very affordable rate, if BBC Three is to be believed…

But while this may not always be the case, figures recently released by the Office of National Statistics show that more than 3.3 million persons age 20-34 are choosing to remain living at home with their parents. That’s 26% of the entire age group. And it’s on the rise.

The figures demonstrate a long-term and, until relatively recently, an unmentioned problem developing across the country today: namely, a lack of genuinely affordable housing for our young people.

But the government’s flagship Help to Buy scheme, aimed at addressing the issue, appears to be meeting only with mixed success. While 750 homes have been purchased and 6,000 offers have been made since the scheme was launched last year, average house prices rose 8.4% in 2013 according to a survey by Nationwide, raising fears of a pre-2008 US-style housing bubble amongst commentators. Others have suggested that scheme will likely benefit wealthy investors, but not those who are keen to step onto the property ladder. The government has dismissed the criticism, claiming that 80% of applicants are first-time buyers, and that safeguards exist to guard against any bubbles. Draw your own conclusions.

Labour have hit back, arguing that the government should instead focus on housing construction, and that any future Labour government would commit to the construction of 200,000 new homes per year. It must be said, attempting to increase supply as a means to deflate prices does seem a rather reasonable Labour policy. Except that they’re willing to engage in widespread land seizures if necessary, a policy rather popular with a certain Comrade IV Stalin. He also liked price fixing.

It seems that ultimately, the crux of the problem hasn’t quite been found yet (or rather has been, but is being deliberately ignored) by the major parties. For ultimately, the problem lies with the very strict planning regulations which govern housing developers, and which the Localism Act appears to have failed to relax.

These regulations, which are readily asphyxiating our housing market, are in the direct interests of home owners. Land suitable for building has become extremely difficult for planners to purchase, and that which is available is often so high priced that developers will only construct high-value units upon it. The result: the values of currently owned properties remain high, directly advantaging those who own their own home at the expense of those who don’t.

Well-organised home owners, aware of their potentially high monetary losses as a result of developments, organise and lobby local governments, and coupled with electoral calculus, politicians are keen to block developments in order to retain their seats.

Ideally, a system is needed where development rights reside with small local communities, rather than with councils, who can auction such rights off, profiting from development, and thus be incentivised to encourage development. But in the short-term, serious deregulation of the market is desperately needed, and stimulating demand, nor the seizure of land will solve the problem.

But until we see such liberalisation, we should expect to see more Hotels of Mum & Dad springing up across the country.

Because, yet again, government is the problem, not the solution.

Tom Pike

Europe – Our 2014 Nemesis

Europe: Bane of many a Tory leader…

When Adam Afriyie called for a referendum on Briatin’s membership of the EU in October last year, it was rejected unanimously by the party. It looked good. It appeared that Cameron had satisfied the Eurosceptics within his party by promising a referendum in 2017. For once it looked as if the Conservatives were united on the issue of Europe.  It remained this way with the party pushing James Wharton’s Private Members Bill through the Commons just before the New Year.

It was inevitable that the issue would not disappear from the backbenches of the party.  A group of 95 ‘rebel’ Conservative MPs have broken this so-called truce.  A letter was drafted by Bernard Jenkins, a senior member of the party.  In this letter, they urge Cameron to change the law to give the Commons authority to block new EU legislation. It is also believed that another six MPs, who are in governmental roles, have expressed their support for the demands.

With James Wharton’s Bill being blocked in the House of Lords, Cameron is under intense pressure to tackle the issue of Europe. We are constantly told that he wants to reclaim powers back from Brussels. I agree that it would be dangerous economically to leave the EU, but if these powers are not retrieved soon, then many will lose patience and will vote to leave.

Everybody who is pro-Europe is criticising Cameron’s handling of the situation. His calls for reform from within the EU however, are gaining support.  The vice-president of France’s centre – right party UMP has shown her support for Cameron’s reforms. Rachida Dati, an MEP, has called them ‘bold’ and clearly supports his calls for reform.  This is encouraging. There is no doubt that with the European Elections approaching, we will see more politicians expressing from within the EU a need for some much needed reform.

We all know Cameron wants to stay in the European Union.  As I said above, economically it would be too risky to leave. I hope Cameron will successfully reclaim the powers back from Brussels, but I fear that it something he will not able to do.  Also, with the Bill proposing a referendum in 2017 struggling to make it through the House of Lords, Cameron is now facing some difficult times ahead. As things stand, it could go a lot worse in May with reports saying the party will finish third in the European elections. We need to see some drastic action on Europe.  Conservative backbenchers are getting restless and if nothing is done, the party will be punished in the elections in May.

Ben Callaghan

Could humanity’s success by Earth’s undoing…?

Imagine an island with 10 people. The island has the capacity of water, land and resources to support 100 people. This would mean that these 10 people will be able to live well. Now as long as the population stays below the amount the island can provide then the population will be fine. But when the population gets to 80 there would be concern but most likely little would be done. At 85 there might be some small action like spreading the word and advocating a lower birth rate. Now what would happen when the population got to 90 or 95? People would notice the increasing drain on resources and thus the amount they could expect to receive. At this point lets postulate they all get together and present some possible solutions.

A)     Birth control of one or two children to halt the population growth before bringing it back under control.

B)      Forced suicide of those who are above a certain age, commit crime or show undesirable qualities.

C)      Go to war over ethnicity, diversity of religious or political beliefs etc.

Now this situation assumes two things: 1) that the entire group would come together, agree on a policy and enforce it, and 2) that they hadn’t already exceeded the population.

Now project this to the current world situation. The population has been estimated at over 7 billion with declining resources such as water already affecting up to 2.8 billion people. With the expected population figures expecting 10 billion by 2100 we can assume that this situation will only get worse and with the current international situation we can reliably predict that the chances of all the current national governments getting together and agreeing on something like this is about as likely as Belgium announcing that they just made a real lightsaber (no offence Belgium). At the moment the west are facing few over-population based problems but the issue is how long this will last and when it gets to boiling point what are we prepared to do. China’s solution of controlling the birth rates was deemed as cruel by many but the longer things continue to escalate the more this option becomes the least inhumane.

Frankly I can offer no solution, all I can suggest is that someone needs to start talking about this because if not then Soylent Green might not be as dystopian as we would like.

Jack Fennell

In the Defence of the MP’s Pay Rise

There is never a good time to suggest the idea of a pay rise for MPs.  As I’m sure you can imagine, the 11 per-cent rise proposed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has created a storm over Westminster. IPSA ignored the heavy political pressure from July and have decided to make a recommendation to increase the pay of MPs. This rise would add £7,600 to their salary from 2015. So, in 2015 your MP will receive a salary of £74,000.

The media has reacted very strongly against the increase. Newspapers have printed that millions of struggling workers are only getting a 1 per-cent increase and that if politicians accepted the pay rise it would be ‘political suicide’.  Politicians too are vocally against the proposals. Danny Alexander has stated that it would be ‘wholly inappropriate’ to have their salary increased when many workers in the public sector are having their pay frozen.  David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have also voiced their opposition stating that this is not the time to be discussing the issue.

Is there are argument for there to be a pay rise? I think there is. IPSA was set up following the expenses scandal of 2009. It prime focus was to take the issue of pay out of the Commons.  As Jack Straw has stated, MPs should not complain after giving the responsibility of their salary to an outside body. The deputy speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, also believes that MPs should not vote on their own pay. The IPSA chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, has said that the increase is ‘fair’ and brings MPs pay to the ‘right’ level.

Under the proposals, the rules of expenses will be refined and MPs will no longer be able to claim for an evening meal. There will also be tighter rules on taxis and hotels. According to IPSA, the changes to expenses will save £178,000 in 2015. The proposals would also create a more transparent House of Commons as annual reports by MPs would also be introduced so their constituents know what they are doing.

The problem for MPs is they are powerless over the decision. They can do nothing to stop IPSA implanting their proposals. They cannot appeal against the decision and they cannot vote to abolish the body. Therefore it seems inevitable that in 2015, they will see their salary increase. However, the proposals are sensible. The whole idea of this proposal is to try to prevent another expenses scandal and therefore allow MPs to gain back the trust of the public. With the election looming, I don’t think any MP really wants to admit that they are in favour of the proposal.

Ben Callaghan

Have we ‘turned a corner’ with China? No we haven’t.

The Prime Minister was hoping for a successful visit to China this week. However, as he hails ‘indispensable’ ties with China, the state media tell him what they think of Britain. It was in the editorial of China’s Global Times, which reflects the mood and opinions of the country’s leadership.  So, according to the leadership we are ‘just an old European country apt for travel and study’.  They’ve also ‘discovered that Britain is easily replaceable in China’s European foreign policy’.

The fact is David Cameron has not been forgiven for his controversial visit to the Dalai Lama last year. Following his visit, relations turned very frosty and an earlier trade delegation was cancelled by Beijing. Earlier this week we were told that Britain has ‘turned a corner’ with China suggesting all was forgiven. But it is clear this is not the case.

What is also clear is that Cameron is afraid of bringing up the issue of human rights. On his trip to Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister openly criticised the regime for their human rights abuses. However, during his visit to China there has been no mention of Tibet or the imprisonment of the Noble Peace Prize Winner, Liu Xiaboo. By mentioning these issues, Cameron could put the trip in jeopardy.  If he brings up the issue in China, the trade deals he is currently negotiating could very likely fall through.

At a press conference, reporters were not allowed to ask questions. Both Premier Li and the Prime Minister read prepared statements and left straight after. When Nick Robinson tried to ask a question he was ignored by both leaders. Did they believe the issue of human rights might be asked that could create an awkward moment? It’s certainly a possibility.

To look on a more positive note, the trip on the whole is looking rather good. According to the Prime Minister, the trip has ‘delivered almost six billion pounds worth of deals’.  There is no denying the economic impact these talks will have, but it seems that there is still some tension between the Prime Minister and China. Cameron seems to be ignoring the comments, instead pointing to positive meeting with Premier Li and President Xi Jinping.  But as Sky’s Asia correspondent has said the ‘editorial in China’s Global Times gives a clear hint about how Mr Cameron has been received in China so far’.

Ben Callaghan

Will we be seen as the ‘nasty country’ of Europe?

David Cameron has announced that migrants from EU countries will be prevented from claiming out-of-work benefits for three months after arriving. Jobseeker’s allowance will also be limited to six months for foreign nationals. It is a package that is aimed at making Britain a less attractive country for would-be benefit claimers, focusing on the tens of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians who may arrive in Britain at the beginning of next year. So by doing this, will Britain be seen as the ‘nasty country’ of Europe?

David Cameron is challenging one of the main principles of the EU – the free movement of people across EU borders. Because of this, the package is expected to be challenged by the European Commission who says that the free movement of people is Europe’s greatest achievement. In particular heavy criticism has come from László Andor (pictured above), the EU Commissioner for Employment. It was him who has stated that Britain risks itself of being the ‘nasty country’ in Europe. He claims that the Prime Minister is not telling us the ‘full truth’ about immigration. Even though Polish migration had been higher than expected, Mr Andor claims it did not cause harm and it had benefited the UK economy.

To the electorate of this country, it paints a very different picture. It is clear that the people want immigration to be controlled and Cameron himself knows this. To many, this will be very popular. With election getting closer, it is policies such as this one which could have a significant impact.   Despite a lot of criticism, the Prime Minister does seem committed to these plans which could now show that he is beginning to take back powers from Brussels.

Of course whenever an issue such as this arises Nigel Farage is keen to speak to the media. He seems confident that Cameron does not have ‘the guts’ to make such changes. Instead he argued that the Prime Minister was the ‘biggest cheerleader for EU expansion’.  He does agree with Cameron on one thing- that Labour made a ‘monumental mistake’ allowing mass immigration in 2004 when it was predicted only 13,000 Polish migrants would come to Britain.

This measure has already caused controversy in Europe. We don’t know if Cameron will legally be able to introduce this package and if he is successful how effective it will be. Will it please UKIP supporters? Probably not if Nigel Farage keeps telling his followers it is not tough enough. However, it does show that the party are taking a tougher stance against Europe which will probably go down quite well with the electorate.

Ben Callaghan

Scottish Independence – Road map to somewhere…

With the release of the White Paper regarding Scottish Independence it is worth asking the question, is Mr Salmon doing this for political purposes (so he can call himself Prime Minister/ President) or because he actually believes what he is saying. The White paper titled Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, which does not suggest a bias of any kind, was projected as a blue print not just for an independent Scotland but any independent country. It turned out as more of a child’s Christmas list of what Mr Salmon wants but with little to no explanation as to how it will happen.

I have two problems with this. First is a personal let down in the sense that this comprehensive guide (a completely ridicules notion suggesting that Mr Salmon has no understanding of how different two countries can be) cannot claim that it is anything other than a bucket list. This was the SNP’s chance to lay the facts down to educate most people, including myself, who don’t truly understand the many complexities of a country going independent and set the tone of the future debate. Instead we get a political platform of which many suggest a possible wilful misunderstanding of facts which is my second problem. His desire to retain the Bank of England as a lender of last resort for instance. Why would the bank give an independent country a bail out? You have financial control so your problem is your responsibility and your entire financial argument is that you are in a better position to get Scotland out of the financial crisis. The irony is that he seems to want all the benefits of the English system while giving nothing in return. Also on the membership of the EU, Scotland was never a signatory, England signed up to the EU, so Scotland became a de facto member but if they left the UK they would have to re-join to EU. This causing some economic , immigration and legal issues as they would temporarily not be a member. Other wishes of extended social care to infants and giving Scottish citizens a “voice in negotiations on agriculture and fisheries” through direct representation in the EU, now I’m no expert but this raises a question. What’s stopping you from doing that now? You have Members of the European Parliament whose job it is to raise questions that Scottish citizens are concerned of in the European Parliament, like on agriculture and fisheries.

I recognise that you have significant issues on spending and Trident, but if you are going to release a White Paper to begin the formal process of proving your ability to lead your own country to better places and times. Could you please do it in a manner that makes it harder for people to suggest it has too much in common with a child’s Christmas list?

Jack Fennell

Trust in politicians, how we love to hate them.

Politicians are elected as the representatives of the people; they are called public servants for a reason. Every re-election for them is seen as a question of whether we agree with what they have done and what they intend to do. So why is it that when something goes so against the grain, nothing of substance happens. This charming gentleman is Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who ‘allegedly’ was seen smoking cocaine. The MP’s expenses scandal has cost millions and US congressional approval ratings are at 9%.

Every time there is a political scandal politicians will say we’re sorry, we will never do this again. Then turn around and keep going. Mark Sandal is a US Congressman from South Carolina who after having an affair while Governor of South Carolina not only got re-elected to the House of Representatives but also married his mistress. How is it that when politicians fail in their duties as elected officials the national response is always; shock, horror then go and re-elect them. The media will spend plenty of time revealing the juicy details until they all seem to be little more than a Hello magazine and we still re-elect them. In order to be elected normally voters would like an articulate candidate with experience and ability. Usually with no major skeletons in the metaphorical closet but once their elected it seems like they have a free pass. As voters should we not ask for a candidate with higher standards of personal conduct, it’s not as if these people are our representatives on issues of spending, public services and almost all areas of our daily life. Oh wait.

Rob Ford was kind enough to sum this up as “I’m not perfect”; well thank you Captain Obvious, but if an ordinary citizen was filmed smoking cocaine then I would hope that they would be arrested so why is it then politicians get an effective pass. There is a police investigation against him and yet he is still in office (he has had some of his powers taken away from him I’ll admit) but here is the curve-ball a poll of over 1000 random citizens found that his approval ratings had gone from 39% before this to 44%. They went up despite their mayor being an alleged drug user. The next Toronto election is in 2014, worryingly it looks like ‘crack mayor’ will be re-elected.

Jack Fennell

Bercow must rein himself in…

An article earlier this week has stated that John Bercow has degraded the office of Speaker by being too curt and personal as well as showing blatant favouritism. I quite like Bercow but throughout his time as Speaker he has made more enemies than friends.  Now his remaining allies believe that he is putting his own position in jeopardy by showing his dislike for David Cameron and Tory backbenchers.

Bercow is a fantastic speaker when you compare him to his predecessor Michael Martin. Martin was never very effective of getting his voice heard. Bercow on the other hand is much more confident and has the ability to project his voice throughout the Commons. He is very intelligent, witty and a very strong public speaker.

So why is he becoming increasingly unpopular? In his youth, Bercow was on the hard right of the Tory party. Over time he has slowly moved towards the left side of the political spectrum. After Martin’s resignation in 2009, the Conservatives wanted one of their own as Speaker. At this time, Bercow was not one of them anymore.  The Conservatives wanted Sir George Young, but Labour voted for Bercow because he almost one of them. This as you can imagine did not go down well with the party. I’m sure you recall Simon Burns calling him a ‘stupid, sanctimonious dwarf’.

You would think that he may try to fix relations with the party. He however, has not done this.  Earlier this year, he said Philip Hammond had been ‘woefully inadequate’ during a government announcement and during debates he treats many Tory MPs as fools.

Then there are the actions of the infamous Sally Bercow who seems to be using her husband’s job as a way of getting into the spotlight. Events such as the  libel row over Lord McApline , drunkenly balancing a pineapple on her head at the Labour conference and appearing in a picture wearing only a bed sheet with the Houses of Parliament in the background have made Bercow’s job much more difficult and they have damaged the credibility of the Speaker.

Ben Callaghan