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.

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)

Property “Bubble” – Why I Disagree With Proposals For A Lending Cap

I remember the early summer of 2007, when house prices were rising.  The Labour Government were coming under pressure to do something.  As usual, they responded to short-term bad headlines.  Not with policy, but with spin.  They “let it be known” they were considering a “Stamp Duty “holiday” to help first-time buyers.

Buyers all over the country – or more likely their Solicitors – responded to the rumour.  They telephoned their opposite numbers in transactions that were about to go ahead and put them on hold.  Cue property market coming to a grinding halt.

Nobody would suggest this action was the cause of the financial crash that took place in 2008.  But it certainly led to difficulties for the Construction Sector of our economy, which has yet to fully recover.  This sector drives the fortunes of thousands of other businesses, large and small, because people want to take pride in their homes.

Getting my hair cut the other day, I spent the time (shorter these days) chatting to the young lady who does the honours.  She was absolutely delighted to have moved into her first house, using the “Help to Buy” scheme.  House prices round here haven’t grown like in London.  She just needed help to get the deposit together.  Her sense of satisfaction in making this step onto the housing ladder was obvious.

That’s why I have many reservations about the intervention of the Royal Society of Chartered Surveyors about a house price “cap” today.  Outside the M25, the property market does not have any “bubble” to speak of.  It is moving, but slowly.  Prices are rising in some areas, but not by much.  It is far too soon to be thinking of controls.

In addition, the RICS proposal will only create “windows” when lending is available.  In the period leading up to the cap, there will be a rush, followed by a slump.  Confidence in the market will reduce.  Builders will not be able to borrow from Banks, because they can’t guarantee sales.

As long as demand outstrips supply in the property market, prices will continue to rise.  Where action needs to be taken in the housing sector is on the supply side.  Banks lending to builders.  Councils ensuring their planning policies meet the projected needs of their communities.  Housing being made available.

This is where sustainable growth in the sector will come.  Along the way, many more young people will be able to share the same pride as the lady who cuts my hair.

Why Are Judges So Scared Of Democracy?

I sometimes wonder why institutions that exist solely because this country is a democracy should be so united against the principle of electoral accountability on occasions.

It is as though elections are generally a good idea, but if they are to be used to extend accountability to areas previously regarded as the private domain of people already in charge of them, then this must be wrong.

No more has this been manifested than in the context of electing Police and Crime Commissioners.  The latest salvo came, according to last Sunday’s Observer, from the judiciary.  “Judges warn of ‘disastrous’ reforms to the justice system” the headline said.

The report goes on to describe an “astonishing attack, approved by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales”, which includes “grave concerns” about allowing Police and Crime Commissioners to become responsible for victim support services.

The premise of their argument appears to be that Commissioners will choose what services are offered.  Mr Justice Calvert-Smith is quoted as saying  “The proposal that the service provided to victims and witnesses… be left to individual police and crime commissioners elected on political platforms is potentially disastrous.”

There is a complete lack of logic to this argument.  The fact that a Commissioner must deliver a high standard of victim and witness care or face losing the next election is completely ignored.

Yet the reality is that courts are the last place that should be criticising greater accountability for victim support.  There is much they can do to get their own house in order before doing so.

Far too frequently judges permit victims to be the subject of bullying styles of cross-examination, rather than intervene.  Victims and prosecution witnesses are still exposed to the trauma of having to wait outside the courtroom, facing the unremitting attention of friends and family of the defendant.

When it comes to sentencing, judges appear to accept anything said on behalf of the defendant at face value.  The lawyer’s fig leaf “my instructions are” covers the most outrageous nonsense by way of mitigation, so a burglar who obviously hasn’t worked a day in his life is mysteriously starting a job (better still, an Apprenticeship) next Monday, has – against all the medical odds – shed his heroin habit and decided he will turn his life around.

The result is that instead of seeing the burglar sent to prison, which would be the best thing the victims might hope for, they instead realise he will be out with his mates by the time the pubs open.

It is absolutely right that Police and Crime Commissioners will be responsible for victim support – in fact it is the “and crime” part of the job that makes it so different and so much better as a form of governance than the limited remit of Police Authorities – and not least because the vast majority of victims do not get anywhere near a court.

In my local force, only one in eight Burglaries are detected.  That this is a woefully inadequate performance goes without saying, but it is clear that for every offence where an offender is identified, seven other victims exist and all need an effective service from the moment the crime is reported.

The report will come to the police and from that moment, the interest of the Commissioner should start.  There is no better way of supporting a victim than to detect the crime - clearly within the “effectiveness” remit of the Commissioner.

Yet there is far more.  Many studies show that understanding the circumstances of the victim heightens the probability of detection.  They are reinforced by the demographic data that consistently demonstrates certain socio-economic groups are more likely to be crime victims.

In many crimes of violence, the perpetrator has a relationship with the victim.  One of the most important lessons for a Homicide investigator is the adage “people are killed by people they know”.

On top of this are the opportunities to create lasting relationships with victims of crime, their families and neighbours.  Far too many corners are cut when dealing with investigations of crimes that are “routine” for the attending officers, yet anything but for the victims.

In addition, the victim of a burglary is far more likely to become a “repeat” victim within a few weeks, especially as the burglar is unlikely to have been caught or will have told his associates where new items will be available when the insurance pays out.

As any business person knows, the way in which you deal with people presents the opportunity for them to ask you for other services in the future, to recommend you to others or to seek your advice.

High quality initial contact and attendance at crime scenes enhances all these opportunities – which can be converted into more effective Neighbourhood Watch participation, greater take up of Crime Prevention advice – even recruitment into the Special Constabulary.

As a Superintendent, I arranged for every dwelling burglary have as a standard action an officer calling at the ten closest addresses, so that all in the neighbourhood knew what had happened, which stopped “series” of burglaries occurring in the same street as the residents took that little bit of extra care about home security.

The Chief Constable of the day, Sir David Phillips, went a stage further – so concerned was he about the quality of crime scene attendance, he had a building converted into a “burgled house” so every uniformed officer was trained in how to effectively deal with that crime.

As a minimum, the aim should be the person is prepared to call the police the next time something happens – a worrying fact is that many people don’t.

If they are responsible for victim support, Commissioners will also be able to follow the process through – to examine it at every stage, to match the level of service with the individual requirements of the victims, to seek their feedback – and they should be prepared to make it very clear where people are being let down.

One of these points will no doubt be where the police have identified the offender and the file of evidence is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.  This is where victims are frequently forgotten as cautions are decided upon rather than prosecutions, or lesser charges are brought to avoid “not guilty” pleas.

By far the most frequent will be the “discontinuance” of proceedings and Commissioners will no doubt be alert to the commentary these present on the quality of evidence gathering demonstrated by their police force – and hopefully asking some pointed questions about all these things when the indications are that those concerned could do better.

I disagree with the view taken by the judiciary about the involvement of elected Police and Crime Commissioners in victim support.  I absolutely believe that one of the great benefits of reform is that one person will now have end-to-end responsibility for ensuring the care victims and witnesses get is significantly improved.

I want the local Commissioner to speak out when Police, Crown Prosecution Service or Court officials are letting victims down – which may be the reason that judges are expressing their concern – they know the courts need to improve.

And I am delighted that whoever the Commissioner is, he or she will be accountable at the ballot box to all the people in this area for making sure these improvements happen.