Some Days The News Agenda Passes You By…….

UKIP Launch European Election Campaign – World Passes It By

I suspect that yesterday afternoon, when Nigel Farage was on the phone to his European Election campaign team, nobody thought very much of the rumours starting to circulate about David Moyes.

They were wrong.  Instead of today’s news being focussed on Nigel, pint in hand, fag in mouth, telling anyone who was prepared to listen that he had the only solution to the problems that membership of the European Union bring us, information about the person who runs a football team has overtaken all his plans.

I’m no fan of the ever-widening scope of the EU.  I certainly don’t like the effect of unelected  EU Commissioners creating laws that affect me, my family and my business.  As a young man, I voted for the first time in the EEC Membership Referendum.  Like most people, I voted for a Trade Agreement.  I didn’t vote for law-making bodies.  I didn’t vote for open borders and no immigration controls.  I certainly didn’t vote for people who have not paid into our tax system to be able to come here and claim benefits as soon as they get here.

Governments need to plan for the future.  It is no secret that large migrations of people put massive pressures on local infrastructure, whether that is housing, schools, or roads. Additionally, services get stretched when the population grows faster than provision can keep up.

We have to have an approach to immigration that prevents the potential for large numbers of economic migrants turning up because conditions are better here than in their country of origin.  A system that imports the right skills, helps people who aspire to get on by coming here, like so many people I know have, but turns away those who just want to take advantage of our services whilst not contributing to the economy.

One of my neighbours started a business last year.  He and his wife made pate and he took it round local delicatessens to see if they wanted to buy it to sell on.  It quickly became fairly successful and sales grew week after week.

Obviously, he had told the local Council so they could come and check the hygiene of his cooking facilities.  They passed with flying colours.  However, they also said that he had to comply with an EU Directive – a law made by the European Commission – which said some of his output must be sold directly to the public.

This regulation is ignored by most nations in Europe – but the net effect is they have had to cease production – not because they were producing something that customers didn’t want, or because they failed to meet hygiene standards.  They were put out of business by an artificial mathematical calculation designed by officials in Brussels.

They are now claiming benefits instead of paying taxes.

It’s cases like that of my neighbour’s that make me  want to be able to look at my country’s relationship with the EU again.  I want to redevelop that relationship, so the nonsense is removed, but the advantages of having a trade area with clearly defined benefits to all nations encapsulated in a new way of doing business with each other.

During the latter part of the last decade, anybody who voiced these views was described as “racist” – a thoroughly undeserved epithet for the vast majority.  There is a clear distinction between being concerned about something as obvious as service capacity and prejudice against a fellow human being on the grounds of where they were born.

Thankfully, for most people, the debate has moved on and there is clarity about the policies being offered by different political parties.  It will be no surprise that I am a member of the party that wants to renegotiate our relationship and put the results to the people of this nation in an “In/Out” referendum.

Whilst the news agenda has passed Nigel by today, we’ll no doubt hear more of the message that we know is the UKIP approach.  To listen to them, every single unemployed person in an EU nation is either heading here already, or making plans to come here.  It is possible to spend a huge amount of money on (insert as necessary) Police/Schools/NHS/Defence, whilst at the same time lifting tax thresholds for some people or cutting tax rates for others.  It is entirely feasible to wind the clock back so you don’t need rose-tinted spectacles any more.

For every question, UKIP will have an answer.  However, what they don’t like – what their policies simply will not survive – is the second question.  How precisely will they act to reduce immigration?  What will they do about people already working in the UK who are paying taxes and contributing to our GDP and community life?  Just where will the extra money come from to cut taxes whilst at the same time increase spending?

There is no doubt a considerable amount of work is still required to overcome the mess the Conservatives inherited from the last Labour Government.  Yet real progress has been made.  Growth is up.  Job numbers are up – and most of the new jobs have gone to people born in this country.  Wages are rising, inflation is falling.  There is real benefit in a long term economic plan.  Non-EU immigration is falling and people who have avoided deportation by using the courts as a delaying tactic have found this Government’s approach to be far more resolute than its predecessor.

So when people think of UKIP, perhaps they need to look beyond the beer and the fags, to think about more than the simplistic rhetoric.

UKIP is a one-trick pony when all is said and done, wholly based on their attitude to EU Membership.  Yet the one thing most people want when it comes to Europe is a referendum – the one thing you can guarantee Nigel Farage is simply unable to deliver, either now, or after the next General Election.

Yet the Conservatives not only can, but they will deliver a referendum in 2017 if David Cameron is Prime Minister – and nothing Nigel Farage or UKIP can say will beat that.

Should Police Be Crime Fighters Or Enforcers Of Social Norms? The BBC’s “Moral Maze”

Much to my surprise, a telephone call from the BBC earlier this week was to invite me down to London so I could contribute to a debate about Policing on one of their flagship current affairs programmes.

I was the first panelist to be called, so my contribution is right after the introduction.

Of course, you may want to hear the whole programme………………….

Michael Buerck Chairs the BBC's Flagship Debate

Michael Buerk Chairs the BBC’s Flagship Debate Programme

Looking At The Other End Of The Lead

This article is an updated version of one published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate.  At the time, some forces were thinking about engaging private contractors such as G4S to undertake the duties of Dog Handlers.  A combination of poor performance and scandals engulfing the companies concerned has put such a proposition off for the foreseeable future.

However, as Police & Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables reshape their forces to take account of new financial realities, concern is being expressed by many rank and file officers about the perceived focus on reducing “specialists” such as Dog Handlers.

Very few Chief Police Officers have a detailed understanding of how some of their specialist departments operate.  Most haven’t spent that long in junior ranks, many have found their niche in planning or development work.  Given that you will have been promoted eight times to become a Chief and will have spent at least two, if not three years on the courses that train you to get there, take away the probationary two years and the average time in each rank is about two to three years.  Most Dog Handlers have their four-legged partners for seven or eight years, so it’s a safe bet that there aren’t many Chief Police Officers who have been Dog Handlers and some who have little idea how Dog Sections work.

The partnership of human and dog is one that has provided benefits in the law enforcement arena for decades. It is fair to say that this partnership can be achieved quite simply. Once the dog has been trained to undertake the task required, whether it is to search for explosives or track a fugitive, all it needs is a handler (in this case a Police Officer and if you need convincing of that, read on).

If, for example, it is important that the dog is able to be taken at speed across a Police Force area, it is a good idea that the human has been trained to drive quickly, yet safely and is allowed by law to do so. If the dog is needed to act as part of the containment for a severe public order situation, or to keep a street clear during such an incident, it would help if the human was able to be there when that was happening. The same would apply when the dog was being sent into a house as part of a firearms operation. If a Burglar is being chased, it is helpful that the human is able to arrest the criminal when he or she is caught by the dog.

In the Policing context, the dog spends a lot of time waiting to do the things for which it is trained. Not every day will bring the need for an explosives search, a firearms operation, or a burglar to chase. During this time, the dog is relatively cheap to keep. Dog food and visits to the Vet cost a few hundred pounds a year. The Police handler, however, is very expensive. Having the handler doing nothing but go for walks or sit in a van is not at all cost-effective. If handlers are able to patrol the streets or get sent to an incident where he or she can look after the public (even though the dog plays no part in this) it makes them offer much greater value for money.

Those Police Officers drive a van with “Police” written on it, so why not get them to park in a market square or city centre, to get out and talk to people, giving reassurance and stopping badly behaved people getting up to no good. Listening to the Police radio system and going to help a fellow Police Officer who needs reinforcement at an incident, or stopping a suspicious vehicle that he or she sees whilst driving around  – there are so many opportunities for Police Dog Handlers to assist in reducing crime and helping communities feel safe.

People who just look at the dog and think they can save money, need to “look at the other end of the lead” for a while. That’s the part of the combination of human and dog that costs the money. It is the Cop holding the lead that makes the difference – use him or her properly and you will get more value than you could imagine.

And the reason I know this? I was fortunate enough to spend nine years as an Inspector on my way up the ladder.  I have had dog handlers as part of my team and as a Senior or Chief Officer, I’ve reviewed Dog Sections on a number of previous occasions.

Police Officers who are dog handlers are devoted to their task – and usually not managed or led very well. The moment you give them responsibility, let them demonstrate just how valuable they can be and above all, provide them with some understanding leadership, you will be astounded as to just how much value they contribute to the Policing operation.  “Look at the other end of the lead” before taking away the dogs – and use the expensive bit of the partnership more effectively.

Why “Earning Or Learning” Is The Right Policy To Get Youngsters Working

Listening to David Cameron’s speech at the end of the Conservative Party Conference, I was struck by the manner in which he was prepared to challenge the culture of dependency that grew up during Labour’s years in Government.

The more he talked about aspiration, the more relevant his words became – and that is because I see the effects of dependency on benefits and the sheer lack of recognition by people stuck on welfare that they can break free and become economically independent.

I spend most of my time helping unemployed people get back to work.  After years in the doldrums, the construction sector is growing once again and there are plenty of opportunities for skilled workers.

The challenge, of course, is where people lack skills and this is not just the ability to lay bricks or plaster walls, but to have the personal skills that must underpin someone’s worth as an employee.

When I speak to employers about taking on Apprentices, the most important issue is always the attitude of the individual concerned.  People who run businesses need employees who turn up on time, for whom every week contains five working days, who will be polite, who can read, write and do sums – the list could go on.

Yet the fact is that many unemployed young people simply lack these basic skills.  The youngsters who attend our Employability Skills programme have left school and gone straight onto the dole – where they will stay unless and until they gain the ability to persuade an employer to invest time and attention in making them a worthwhile part of their workforce.

The lack of educational achievement – and especially the lack of personal skills – tend (from my experience dealing with these young people) to be rooted at home and this feeds into their time at school.  Non attendance; Disruptive behaviour; Keeping quiet so you’re not noticed.  These are the three favourite routes for avoiding the challenge that sitting in a class can bring.  It’s no surprise the young people we train don’t lack intellect – they’ve just not achieved anything with it.  Arguably, they have used it to develop a series of avoidance techniques.

Look into the background and find the broken homes, the complex parental relationships, passing of children from one relative to another, the simple lack of care that every child needs.  Parents who have grown to anticipate the state will provide, no matter about their lack of acceptance of personal responsibility for themselves, their circumstances and most importantly, their children.

That’s why we need to put a stop to the “welfare cycle”.  We cannot permit a new crop of claimants to emerge every year as they leave school.  We must destroy the culture of dependency where it doesn’t matter whether you have contributed, you get a handout just the same.  This culture has created an acceptance that after school is over, you don’t have to have a job.

By stopping school leavers feeding in to the so-called NEET group (youngsters not in education, employment or training) by saying you either work or learn, we will change the culture.  By getting older people off benefits and into work, we will change the culture.  By giving people a hand up from benefits and into a job, we will change the culture.

I know the Government is investing in the training that unemployed people need – that’s what SuperSkills does.  I also know they buy training that most fits in with what the local economy wants – we are judged by how many people we train get jobs.

So when those who created the problem criticize the Prime Minister for saying that young people must be “earning or learning”, I disagree.  Hardworking people who want to get on and who do the right thing have every right to say they want their taxes to be used to benefit the country, rather than fund a lifetime on handouts.

What the young people I train want is a hand up – the skills to get a job.  They want to make things, to earn money, to have a car, to buy a house.  All they need is someone to show them how.

So those who say this is about “workfare”, who denigrate the jobs that young people will do, who see it as an affront to liberty that people who want to benefit from the welfare state should contribute first, or give their time in return, are wrong.

To change the “dependency culture” we must challenge it.  Getting young people off benefits and into training or work is the right approach.



UKIP & Life After Godfrey Bloom

Hands up everybody who has at any time, said something stupid at work.  Now hands up those who didn’t give an accurate answer to the first question.  OK – that’s everybody then.

That’s the issue regarding the Godfrey Bloom debacle at UKIP’s conference.  Ann Treneman was there and provided a word by word report of the unfolding PR disaster in The Times (£).

Like any boss, Nigel Farage blew his top – on television, he looked as though steam was about to come from his ears.  His plan was this year’s UKIP conference would demonstrate it was a grown up party, not just ready to fight the European Elections, but gain momentum for the longer haul to May 2015.  Bloom had scuppered UKIP’s plans spectacularly.

Many would say that Godfrey Bloom has been heading in this direction for some time.  This was not his first gaffe.  He has done it before and the response from his party hasn’t made him change.  In fact, the “happy chappie, booze n’ fags” UKIP image has, it could be argued, played to a considerable section of the electorate.  People like entertainment, UKIP have been providing it.

A more composed Farage took to the prime slot on “Today” this morning and two key issues emerged.  After a series of increasingly direct questions from John Humphrys, he ruled out any agreements with the Conservatives concerning the 2015 General Election.  Additionally, he made it clear that UKIP cannot afford to have people behaving the way that Bloom did if they want to be taken seriously.

The former puts Conservatives on notice that campaigns in every seat will have to recognise, analyse and deal with a threat to our vote from UKIP.  I live in one of the safest seats in the country, yet meet people on the doorstep who will support UKIP, having moved their allegiance from us.  In my local ward, (usually rock solid Conservative) an “unknown” UKIP candidate, who didn’t give any impression of actively campaigning, got 25% of the vote.

This means our job in the run up to 2015 gets tougher.  Analysis of the UKIP threat ward by ward.  Targeting those that have UKIP voters so our approach to the renegotiation about and referendum on our place in Europe gets across to voters.  Exposing UKIP’s frailties about taxation and spending because of their commitments to spend more, yet tax less.  I’m not sure it’s enough to say “Vote UKIP, get Labour”, because whilst that is true, Farage is already deflecting it.

Personal contact.  Give people a “Good Listening To”. Understand why their attitudes have shifted.  Put our case logically.  Because the second – arguably more interesting – issue that came from this morning’s interview may prove significant.

UKIP have started to rein in their “mavericks”.  Their people can no longer say what they like and get away with it.  With that will go their attractiveness to many voters.

Godfrey Bloom cut a lonely figure as he was filmed leaving the UKIP conference having been suspended from the party whip.  But with him went that party’s advantage – in being listened to without challenge.

From now on, they will have to make their arguments stick in a manner the rest of the parties have always had to – less of the rhetoric and with numbers that add up.  Bring it on!

(This article was published in Conservative Home on 21 September 2013)