london-parliament

What Next for Party Politics?

As the dust settles on the most fascinating election for decades, there are two party leaders celebrating and three party leaders who have had to stand down.

The Conservatives are the conventional victors with an unexpected majority at the expense of their old enemy, Labour. The Scottish National Party, fresh from an unsuccessful campaign for independence from the United Kingdom, also stole some support from Labour as well as the Liberal Democrats.

Let’s run through the predicaments each party is in, and the paths they need to tread:

Labour

With the resignation of Ed Miliband as party leader, the intriguing successor in many minds might be his brother David. However, he hasn’t been a member of parliament for several years and it might be a tall order for his returning move to be Leader of the Opposition. Andy Burnham, a likeable character by all accounts, is the bookies’ favourite. Chuka Umunna, on the other hand, may be seen as something of a wild card; a rebranding that could be just what the party has been crying out for. New Labour in the mid-late 1990s was a breath of fresh air that buoyed the progressive left, indeed its association with Cool Britannia provided a feel good factor for the nation. Labour+ could win them the 2020 election.

Conservatives

Support for the Conservatives has become something of a guilty pleasure, with the loudest political voices coming from left-leaning enthusiasts and the Blue vote still apparently suffering from the grey days of John Major. David Cameron urgently needs to address the areas that incite his most vitriolic criticism. Fears around the NHS have been increasing for the last few governments, and Cameron needs to practically allay fears that he’s intent on ‘selling off’ the National Health Service. The next subject is zero hours contracts. These irregular employment arrangements may have made employment figures look handsome in recent years, but they are universally disliked; and employers need to be incentivised to invest in people.

Liberal Democrats

The phrase “I agree with Nick” seems a distant memory, and it seems the work that Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and co have done in the interests of national stability has not stopped the Lib Dems from losing their label as the 3rd party. The former Deputy Prime Minister’s resignation and the loss of 47 MPs means their wounds will be the most difficult to heal. Whilst Clegg still has his Sheffield Hallam seat, he will stand aside to allow a huge rebuilding process to begin. It could take two or three more elections before they claw their way back to 53 seats, not to mention the roles in government that will now be taken by their former coalition partners.

UKIP

Nigel Farage didn’t win his precious seat in South Thanet and, though he said he’d never felt happier, one must assume he and his party feel a sense of injustice that almost 4m votes has given them just one seat in parliament. Farage’s resignation speech left a fair amount of ambiguity over who would be leading the party, and the return of such a charismatic figure would undoubtedly be welcomed in most circles. Any further debate about Alternative Voting and Proportional Representation would be backed by the periphery parties, and UKIP’s plight is the example many are citing when they demonstrate an outcome under PR.

Scottish National Party

The SNP used to be a one of those ‘other’ parties, and their currency really came to light in last year’s Scottish Independence Referendum. However (in)famous the party became under Alex Salmond’s nationalist agenda, it is no exaggeration to say that they became the UK’s de facto third party overnight. In contrast to the Lib Dems, who used to hold the ‘third party’ tag, SNP are now preparing for a massively different political existence as the dominant party in Scotland and a fresh significance in the context of the UK. Further devolution is inevitable, but whether the independence debate officially resurfaces is another matter.

The future

Whether they realise it or not, the new government have a task on their hands which is akin to an election campaign. They need to address the dissenting voices and convince them that they really do have the best interests of the nation at heart. Prove that the poor (both deserving and undeserving) are being looked after, demonstrate a thriving economy and bring about real improvements in the NHS. Tough gig

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Nurse our NHS Back to Health

By Paul Hurford

Believe it or not, Britain still has a lot of things to be proud of. High up the list is undoubtedly the National Health Service. In principle.

As we emerged from the Second World War, the newly elected Labour Party implemented the welfare reforms outlined by economist Lord Beveridge and the Ministry of Health. The result in 1948 was the National Health Service, something any Labour politician will keenly crow over. Indeed, it represents a hugely significant turning point in the wellbeing of the nation. Diseases were controlled, life expectancy increased and the average Brit began to enjoy a healthier life.

These days though, any mention of the acronym NHS triggers debates about overcapacity and waiting lists. This then extends either to the subject of immigration or just a budgetary and legislative blame game between political parties.

Some politicians and broadcasters have argued the case for charging for treatment, which is basically how dentistry works on the NHS. This is a bit of a hot potato because of the preciousness of the ‘free at the point of use’ concept which underpins the organisation. Another interesting angle to this is that hospitals already have a secondary income stream from parking fees, and shops and services onsite which pay for a premium pitch. So a typical outpatient or visitor would already part with some money during their time at the hospital.

Health Practitioners (doctors and nurses) will bemoan the trend of patients to bypass their local GP and go to Accident & Emergency with minor ailments. This means a proportion of the people in the hospital do not need to be there.

My solution? Have a GP in A&E!  Each hospital could have a designated area with a duty GP (or two) who can assess the patient and, if necessary, administer the same advice and prescription that you get from your standard GP. The key differences would be that this GP surgery is open in evenings and weekends, it would be drop-in service rather than by appointment, and of course the fact it’s inside a hospital is useful for when further treatment is necessary.

So that just leaves the next part which, if it were the Health Secretary saying this, would result in a resignation by the end of the week. Charge a small fee for procedures. £10 for an X-ray, £50 for a new knee, something like that. It’s still a drop in the ocean compared to ‘going private’, and it could raise tens of millions for the Nashnul Elf.

I’m glad I’m not Health Secretary

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5 reasons why Scottish independence would be bad

Very shortly, our compatriots in Scotland take to the polling stations to vote to save their country from future financial ruin. Here are 5 reasons why it’s better for the rhythm guitarist to stay in the band:

1. Alex Salmond is already negotiating automatic EU membership, whilst there are arguments for Britain to leave the EU so we can govern our own business, immigration and law. Who do Scots want to have more influence on Scotland? Compatriots in London or foreigners in Berlin and Brussels?

2. All new EU member states must join the Euro, so the idea of a Scottish Pound is pretty unlikely. Staying in the UK would mean Scotland carry on using Sterling.

3. Current and recent British governments have had huge involvement from Scottish politicians, including the last Prime Minister and Chancellor both hailing from above the border.

4. One of Britain’s most refreshing and direct politicians is an MEP, Nigel Farage. He routinely stands before the European Parliament to fight for British values and clamp down on the millions of your pounds that go abroad instead of to British people

5. The BBC, if not supported by the people of Scotland, would become a premium service. The BBC sells content to international broadcasters, who also have to be funded by advertising. Don’t expect much filming to be done north of Carlisle again if Scotland becomes a foreign land.

Best of luck to Scotland, they will always be loved by the rest of Great Britain, whether or not the sentiment is returned. However, if they were to leave the Union, they would be turning their back on stability.

We shall see

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Charity Disparity

One of the best traits of the British character is our willingness to do our bit for charitable causes. Comic Relief, Children In Need and Live Aid are just a few household names in entertainment-based fundraising. Many retailers display collection tins on the counter and sometimes offer daffodils, poppies, wristbands or other adornments which enable us to display our charitable allegiances.

However, in recent years, the traditional forms of fundraising such as the lady rattling a collection jar and the sponsored silence are being taken over by more calculated methods.

The last decade or so has seen the introduction of the term ‘charity mugger’ (often shortened to ‘chugger’), to refer to those colourfully-tabarded youngsters who leap out at you on the high street or at an event to persuade you into signing up for regular payments. Single cash donations are not accepted, all they want is your personal details and a direct debit arrangement. The spontaneous and unsolicited nature of mugging is experienced by the donor in this scenario, but the financial hit that isn’t dwelled upon is faced by the beneficiary charity. All the parading and hectoring done by the chuggers is paid for out of your donations.

One excellent modern way to donate a set amount to a cause is by text message. We’ve all seen the adverts, a charity asks to send a text message to a premium rate number, and that premium is used as your donation. However, it appears increasingly impossible to just make a donation and get on with ones life.

This morning I responded to an Oxfam appeal by donating £5 by text message. Half an hour later (on a Sunday, I ask you) I was phoned up by a company, ostensibly requesting my details for Gift Aid; but in fact wanting to ask me why I donated, read a script about what Oxfam do, and ask for my email address so they can send me more info. This in effect turns a simple way of donating into a drawn out affair that may discourage me from doing so in the future. I had to interrupt the caller and declare that I didn’t need to know about how important the charity is, I just needed him to skip to the part where my donation becomes Gift Aided. Oxfam could have included a link in the confirmation text message which would have covered the Gift Aid details, so I must assume that my personal details are useful to this company in some other way.

My recent donation to Water Aid, on the other hand, was a simple affair. Go to a web site, pay via PayPal and fill in details for Gift Aid if you wish.

Sadly, I now know that if I make a text donation again, I face getting the third degree from a company whose trade involves exploiting the good nature of donors whilst risking the reputation of the charities.

Roll on November so I can just put a pound in a box and wear a Poppy without signing up to have my personal details pimped out.

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PETA Out

As an animal lover it is naturally unpleasant to hear of cruelty or neglect of pets or livestock. As well as an animal lover, your esteemed writer is also a meat eater. I won’t bore you with the reminder that human beings are omnivores, although I sort of have now. I’ve also long been skeptical of Halal preparation, which seems to fly in the face of our excellent animal welfare legislation. This is something else we don’t have room for right now.

Many charities in Britain and around the world do great work rehoming and caring for abandoned and injured animals, and if I were wearing a hat I would take it off to them.  However, it is the fetishisation of abuse footage and the wildly unfeasible ‘solutions’ touted by the more bullish institutions that sadly cause more harm than good.

Two hens standing outdoors on the grass © RSPCA photolibrary

Unfortunately, it appears that the larger the organisation is, the more naive their crusade to change the world becomes. 100% of the pages I visited this morning on peta.org.uk (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) upheld very bad animal abuse, and instead of managing a solution to protect the animals, they are trying to get animal lovers to change what we eat and what we wear.

The article on sheep welfare cajoles the viewer to sign a petition against all wool production, needlessly naming Ralf Lauren as if to suggest that a leading retailer and designer that uses wool has blood on their hands. How about focusing our efforts on prosecuting the handful of scumbags who abuse animals, rather than trying to change the clothing industry?

As much as I admire the music and wit of Paul McCartney (I’m actually a big fan), and even respect his decision to omit significant food groups from his diet; I must differ with his assertion that veganism is good for animals.

Narrating a video of chickens and other livestock being actively abused as an accompaniment to the preparation of meat and dairy products, he suggests that we all become vegans. If thousands of us were to exclude meat and eggs from our diets, it would not stop the production of battery hens. By advising against meat and dairy consumption like this, we are effectively tarring honest and decent farmers with the same brush.

Have these people not heard of free range meat and dairy? We are much more likely to switch to a higher welfare grade (which Britain is moving ever closer to anyway) than vow never to enjoy a boiled egg again. British food safety and animal welfare standards are the best in the world, so please don’t feel guilty next time you buy that woolly scarf or free range chicken.