Author Archives: Chris Key

Why Tory pilots for improved integration feel like a microwave dinner

The government’s pilots for improved “integration” among immigrant communities in 5 English councils feel much like a microwave dinner – reheated and lacking fresh ingredients. As the government launches yet another “integration agenda” it’s worth examining how the Conservatives and their friends in the media who support them are in fact, hindering integration in a number of ways.

Government funding for teaching English as a second language (ESOL) has dropped from £203m a year in 2009/10 to just £90m in 2015/16. If it really was concerned about new arrivals speaking English, perhaps cutting funding for ESOL was not the best way of going about it.

When a friend recently complained that some immigrant communities do not integrate, I reminded him that bus drivers, taxi drivers and shop workers (jobs often taken by immigrants) cannot afford house prices where we both live in Richmond Upon Thames. The local Conservative run Council has failed time and again to stick to its target of 50% affordable housing when approving new developments. Until we stop hollowing out communities in this way, and support economic integration, things are unlikely to change.

Another area where the government and elements of the Conservative leaning press have been utterly hypocritical is when it comes to adhering to so-called “British values”. A key “British value” children are required to learn about is the rule of law. Had it not been for Gina Millar , Article 50 would have been triggered without recourse to Parliament.

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What happened to those burning injustices?

When she took office, Theresa May spoke on the steps of Downing Street about the just about managing.

She said, “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty but to you. When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you”.

In our own Borough – Richmond upon Thames, 6,000 children are living in poverty. Last year 14 desperate families went to Citizens Advice to seek a reduction in …

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An open letter to Liam Fox about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Embed from Getty Images

Dear Mr Fox/Liberal Democrat Voice

As a Cabinet Minister I am astonished that on the Today program you have claimed that we must be careful not to “over-react” about Boris Johnson’s comments over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. If your wife was stuck in jail on trumped up charges I don’t think you would be saying that.

Nazanin has already appeared in court since the careless comments of the Foreign Secretary.

Comments that are now being used against her. As a consequence she may face another five years in prison.

One of the primary duties of the Foreign Secretary is to help protect British citizens abroad. If Mr Johnson is unable to do that then he has failed in the basic part of his job description.

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How a Lib Dem budget could respond to the real challenges our nation faces

As we approach the forthcoming Budget, we have the opportunity to present ourselves as the party of business which also cares about the dreadful level of inequality in the UK today.

Brexit is obviously the key issue affecting the economy and there is nothing more pro business than our stance of wanting to remain in the Single Market and the customs union. Rising inflation is hitting the low paid particularly hard. Public sector workers need and deserve a proper pay rise. It is a disgrace when one reads that nurses are having to rely on food banks.

Outside of Brexit, …

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It’s up to all of us to prevent hate crime

There is one childhood memory which will always stick in my head. Aged 8 or 9 our headteacher at primary school sat us down and told us about the first black child to enter our school. We were given a pep talk us that this boy was no different to the rest of us and that we were to treat him as an equal. This was middle class Surrey in 1982.

What I have seen and heard since the referendum in various parts of the UK has made me thing that in some ways we have not moved on when it comes to dealing with hatred and bigotry.

A French friend of mine was told last November to “F..k off back to France” after having his head beaten badly by youths in Hampshire, near where I went to University. A Polish schoolgirl committed suicide in Cornwall after being bullied earlier this year. A Spanish man was badly beaten for talking Spanish in Bournemouth last year. MPs have reported Polish children being spat at in school. There are more examples one could cite of the impact of the referendum vote has encouraged bigotry and hatred against EU citizens.

Daniel Hannan and Tory MEP and arch-Brexiteer has protested that the country has not become more racist since the referendum. There is no problem it would seem, all is well. No problem of course unless it is your Dad who was the one who was beaten up, or your daughter who ended their own life. One person’s statistic is another person’s loved one.

So what can we do?

Quite simply we need to challenge racism and xenophobia at its core. At a recent family event I was told that “we didn’t need foreigners”. Someone else told me that parts of Lincolnshire have an “immigrant problem”. A local Tory association in a part of my constituency was last week re-tweeting Katie Hopkins. Last year after leaving a Comments through the door of a local house, an elderly lady spent twenty minutes ranting at me. We need to send all black people home she snarled. Like my best friend who has a PhD and works for a big bank I enquired ? Yes she replied. It turned out she was a retired Geography teacher.

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Why has nobody been held accountable for the Garden Bridge scandal?

Yesterday on LBC, Sadiq Khan acknowledged that the taxpayer is unlikely to see anything for the £50 million which has been spent on the Garden Bridge.

The Daily Express did its best to portray Khan, rather than Boris Johnson, as the guilty party here. Following James O’Brien’s show, they wrote a piece which totally failed to recognize the fact that it was Khan who had been the one who had instigated the enquiry which Margaret Hodge produced. A report which made it clear that no more public money should be invested in this project.

It is clear that there were …

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We can learn from the aviation industry about preventing and managing disaster

Air travel is safer than it has ever been. Despite a 60% rise in worldwide passenger numbers in the ten year period to 2015, that year was the safest on record for aviation. The following year was the second safest.

So this begs the question of whether we should look to the aviation industry when we consider how to respond to future tragedies like the Grenfell fire.

Put quite simply the airline industry is very good at learning from past accidents and near misses to understand why these have happened and what changes need to be made to make flying safer.

As an example after the Manchester airport runway fire in 1985 in which 53 people died, procedures from how pilots should react to an on board fire on the ground, to the seating configuration on planes were altered.

Planes are taken out of service when deemed a safety risk  and parts changed, pilots are re-trained and technology moves on to adapt to the safety needs of the industry. National air accident investigation bodies from different countries share knowledge and often work together after a crash.

This gives passengers re-assurance that their odds of being caught up in a plane crash are incredibly low.

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War with Spain over Gibraltar?

 

Normally I try to switch off on holiday. I am in the Canary Islands with my family. When I switched on my Twitter feed I nearly choked on my cafe con leche after reading Lord Howard’s comments about Gibraltar.

Today was the 35th Anniversary of the start of the Falklands war and should have been a day to remember the dead and learn from the past. Yet instead Lord Howard used an interview on a Sunday politics program to remind people of what Thatcher did in 1982 and support a similar reaction in relation to Gibraltar.

This was wrong at so many levels. As my wife who is from Argentina said, how can someone of his experience make a comparison between the military junta of Argentina in 1982 and the democratically elected government of Mariano Rajoy.

Secondly, we want to set up trade deals with the EU and other Latin American countries. Does Lord Howard think that being the class room bully  will help us to enter this wonderful global world we are told by Brexiteers was created on June 24, 2016 ?

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The refugee ban harms not just our reputation, it will harm our armed forces too

 

Yesterday, Tim Farron quite rightly called out the desperate situation in which Theresa May now finds herself. Like a door to door salesman selling their wares she is now desperate in terms of who she will deal with on the world stage.

The refugee ban imposed by Donald Trump goes against all of the British values we stand for as a party and has even resulted in a Conservative MP being banned from visiting the US.

The primary duty of any Prime Minister is to defend British citizens. Yet when quizzed at the press conference in Turkey she claimed it was for the US to determine the refugee policy of the United States. Imagine if Churchill had said the same about Nazi Germany in 1940 when it came to the treatment of Jews.

Secondly there is the impact this ban will have on our armed forces. Among those detained at a US airport was an Iraqi who had been a translator for the US army. He was held in handcuffs and quizzed for 17 hours before being released. If that’s how the US treats those who work for their military risking their lives it is much less likely that Iraqis or others for that matter will step forward to help. Would you do so if you knew safe passage to the US could not be guaranteed?

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Our nation’s mental health is a clear and present danger

On Monday, Theresa May’s announcement about mental health came to precious little in money terms – a mere £15m of additional investment to be precise. This despite the fact that Norman Lamb and others have made it clear that extra money that was earmarked for mental health last year has in fact been used to prop up NHS trusts who are suffering from financial difficulties. Mental health is crying out for more money as Isabel Hardman eloquently writes about in the Telegraph today based on her own experience.

The statistics are clear. Research in 2014 found that one in ten people wait over a year just to get an assessment for a talking therapy, while four in ten wait more than three months. Two thirds told the We Need To Talk coalition that they had become more unwell while waiting, with one in six attempting suicide. In 2014, over 6,000 people died from suicide which is 16 per day. Nobody would be happy to wait three months for a broken leg to be treated or to have to travel 300 miles to see their children for a broken arm. Yet this is precisely the state of mental health in the UK today.

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How the Lib Dems can reach out to lower paid voters ignored by the Labour leadership

 

This year’s revelations about Amazon and Sports Direct’s business practices have shown that even though we are in the year 2016 some companies still behave as if we were still in the Victorian age. As the Labour party drifts into an ocean of hard left anti-business irrelevance we in the Liberal Democrats have an opportunity to speak up for a better way forward.

In the area of low pay, many companies especially in the retail sector have taken advantage of the introduction of the living wage to chip away at other benefits. Take the example of Cafe Nero which took away the free panini from staff in response to the Living Wage.

Paying staff properly so that they do not have to take second jobs is good business sense. Making work pay reduces staff turnover and consequently recruitment costs as Costco found out in the US a few years ago.

We as a party should be calling for an expansion of the teams involved in enforcing regulations on pay and calling out companies who act in this way.

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Liberal Democrats need to play smart on immigration and border controls

If we are to learn from the lessons of Trump becoming President and the EU referendum, we progressive politicians must play smarter in the area of immigration. This does not mean aping Mr Trump or Nigel Farage but working out where the real blame lies for failures in our border controls and who has accountability for fixing them.

The current government has decided landlords and schools are suddenly  quasi immigration officers. Even the Daily Mail noted that the government pilot project to require landlords to check tenants rights to live in the UK had been an abject failure. Many parents at my own children’s school complained about the need to audit the nationalities of their children and where their parents were from. Parents were not even told this was optional and that they could refuse to complete the census. The head teacher complained of the administrative burden of this new dictat. Quite rightly so, given no extra resources were given to schools to carry out this work.

This brings me back to where I think we as Liberal politicians should be looking to do more around border controls. The introduction of proper exit checks last year was long overdue and the Lib Dems contributed to this in the Coalition. Yet individual landlords and schools are being asked to mop up the mess created by previous governments. Technology initiatives from the Labour government on immigration control during the 2000s cost up to £1 billion and were not fit for purpose.

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An Economics lesson for Trump voters

 

No doubt the millions of Americans who voted for Trump will claim he will be the economic saviour of the United States bringing back millions of jobs from Mexico and Asia. For anyone who has studied even a basic level of Economics knows that this false promise will only bring disappointment to those who voted for him.

Argentina is a classic example of what happens when a country takes a protectionist and nationalistic approach. During the years of its former President Cristina Kirchner, it gorged on a diet of economic populism including ridiculous import restrictions in the vain hope that everything would be suddenly mass produced by “Industria Argentina”. Things got so bad that at one point women could not even by tampons because they could not be imported and prices sky rocketed with inflation hitting 40%.

Americans would do well to realise that slapping a tariff of 45%, as Trump wants to do on Mexican imports, will not encourage US industry to become more efficient as it will simply isolate them from competition. Moving car production back to the US will simply serve to raise prices, and reduce demand which will lead to less demand for employees. Furthermore all the tariffs in the world will not help prevent technology from replacing humans in producing everything from I-phones to Electric cars.

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Reasons to doubt Zac Goldsmith will be re-elected

So we have the first by-election test in London for the Prime Minister who wants a country that works for everyone. How does Zac Goldsmith stack up against this mantra (even if not the official Tory candidate)?

Firstly he voted to cut disability benefits by £30 a week, resulting in him being dumped by a local disabled charity.

Secondly he has never railed against the lack of affordable housing in his own area as Richmond Council allows more and more luxury flats to be built in a form of Bosnian style ethic cleansing as his friend Boris described the London housing crisis. He also supported the sale of precious social housing stock.

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The double-speak of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet

It is a common dictum that politicians should be judged by their actions not by their words. Well it would appear that on many fronts the government could be rightly accused of double-speak after this week’s Conservative Party Conference.

Theresa May was Home Secretary for six years.  During that time she deported almost 50,000 students with dubious legality and yet still failed to meet her own unrealistic targets. She also oversaw a big reduction in the number of immigration officers at ports and airports. However rather than accepting targets will never be met and giving the Home Office the staff they need, it has now become the job of head teachers and property owners to control immigration. If you cannot do it yourself outsource to someone who can is the leitmotif of the May government.

Landlords now face the risk of prosecution if they fail to check the right of their tenants to live in the U.K. Yet when a Tory Minister for immigration in the last government failed to check the papers of his cleaner he simply went to the back benches only to be reappointed to a Ministerial job. The “A country which works for everyone” slogan needs more small print than the average insurance policy.

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It is time to see spending on mental health as an investment not a cost

On a recent Question Time there was an excellent debate on the future funding of the NHS and social care. Norman Lamb, the former Care Minister and Lib Dem MP made a passionate plea for greater investment in the NHS and in particular on mental health.

Tory MP, Jacob Rees Mogg, unsurprisingly, countered that the UK cannot pay more tax. Even the usually more Conservative Julia Hartley Brewer nodded in agreement when Lamb outlined how little we spend on health as a proportion of GDP, which by the way is less than other European countries including Portugal.

While Lamb focused on the human cost of a lack of investment in mental health including on his own family, Rees Mogg’s attitude was totally oblivious to the impact of not spending more. It appeared as if Rees Mogg was finishing an A Level Economics test, not appearing on a national TV programme where human beings with real problems were watching as he regurgitated historical tax take percentages.

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There may be a snap election – your country needs you to do your duty

 

The key question on the mind of most journalists is whether Theresa May will call a snap general election. Personally as a supporter of fixed term parliaments I would not be in favour of this as we have had enough uncertainty of late.

Yet, there are very powerful reasons why she might do, which relate to the strength of our democracy.

Firstly the awkward squad of right wing Eurosceptics has far too much leverage in a government with a majority  of just 12. A group of 25 Tory Brexiteers in the Commons (2016 lexicon for those Major called bastards) are already meeting to try to form a policy which would aim to minimise immigration at the expense of our membership of the single market. I am not too old to remember the paralysis and internal division of the Major government over Europe and he had a bigger majority than May does. Indeed we know that Boris and Liam Fox have already began a spat worthy of my six and four year old girls over who should have the ability to call decisions in the Foreign Office. Mother May it would appear, was not amused.

If Theresa May were to call an election and win big, then she would have a comfortable majority to work with where she could come up with a Brexit Strategy without the influence of the awkward squad. I am not sure the City or most international busineses would be happy seeing their role dimminished just to enable the sulky teenagers IDS, Fox and David Davis get what they want when it comes to immigration (i.e. bringing numbers down to the impractical tens of thousands level promised by Cameron).

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The cultural loss from Brexit

As a 20 year old, I stood up in a French classroom, to teach children two years younger than me, it was literally life changing. I have gone on to live abroad three more times, speak two other languages, marry someone from another continent and work in multinational companies where I get to travel the world. I want these opportunities for my children, but fear that due to the selfishness of the older generation, that things will never be the same after Brexit.

Living overseas gives you a fresh perspective, it helps you to learn how to deal with other cultures …

Posted in Op-eds | 63 Comments

Let’s create a positive legacy for Jo Cox

 

The tragic death of Jo Cox is a potent symbol of what Britain in 2016 has become.

A society in which blame of the other, hatred of those with differing  opinions and distrust of MPs have all sadly become de rigueur.

Yet she is also a beacon of what one human being can do to change the course of politics and something good has to come from her tragic death.

She entered the House of Commons just a year ago  and campaigned fervently to change government policy on refugees. George Osborne said tonight that Jo would never know how many lives she has changed. What a fitting tribute.

Any aspiring MP should watch her fabulous maiden speech and wonder if they could do the same. I have been considering the idea and she has made me want to try.

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Let’s make the UK a better place for those with mental health challenges

 

Imagine being in a situation where you have had months of no sleep, you have lost over 15 kilos in weight when you were already under weight and you cannot do anything but ruminate over problems. You go to your GP, he gives you some shiny pills then tells you to book an appointment in a few weeks, and offers you no therapy or treatment. A few weeks later your mental health deteriorates to a point where you consider self-harm.

That was my story and I am lucky because I am here to tell it. I paid privately for treatment as the only other option was being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which could have had devastating consequences for my financial and employment prospects. Luckily this episode is well behind me and my life has moved on to a much better place.

Sadly many cannot because they do not have the financial means, or support of family or friends to get through it. Around 4400 people end their own lives in England each year – that’s one death every two hours – and at least 10 times that number attempt suicide.

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It’s the UK itself not the EU holding our industry back.

Our EU membership is holding us back from trading with the rest of the world and awful EU regulation is to blame for struggling small businesses in the UK. Sound familiar? It’s the broken record of the Leave campaign’s business message. This group of politicians wants to portray the UK like a child who needs to have the umbilical cord cut, in order to be set free and conquer the world. In reality, leave or stay in the EU, there is plenty we could be doing to help business and trade, all of which is within our power today.

Lets start with tax. Current UK tax law runs into a total of a staggering 10 million words. Every Chancellor for the last 20 years has added to the problem and only recently has an office for tax simplification been set up, so far with little effect. Small businesses find it impossible to get through to HMRC on the phone while large corporates have easy access to HMRC officials in order to do deals like the one Google struck. Fixing the complexity in our tax system would really help our small business owners to thrive much more than repealing EU legislation actually designed to ensure the single market works for all.

When it comes to the internet, the UK’s slowest recorded broadband speed is slower than at the base camp at Everest. This is like a 1900’s steam train compared to Korea where speeds 25 times higher have been recorded. It is the lack of willingness to invest by government and industry in broadband infrastructure and not the EU which are to blame here.

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It’s nurses and midwives who really need our support

 

The ongoing junior doctors strike has unfortunately focused the attention of the public and the media away from the plight of nurses and midwives. I believe this group deserves much more sympathy.

Nurses and midwives, while not required to study for as long as doctors, nevertheless have to complete a degree course. Nurses’ standard hours are usually 37.5 to 40 hours per week and many work extra nights, weekends and evenings to earn enough to provide for themselves and their families. A Royal College of Nursing report from 2015 found that 35% of nurses have to work 12 hour shifts.

Unlike junior doctors  they are more likely to have to go home on public transport than jump into a car after a night shift. Even those  nurses and midwives who can afford a car are often required to pay for parking in hospitals, at a cost of up to £600 a year, while the Chief Executive has their nominated free parking space.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 29 Comments

The erosion of British local democracy

 

Slowly but surely, local democracy is being eroded away by the Conservatives and crumbling into the sea, like parts of the British coastline. Not everyone in Britain knows this is happening. Here is how…

The decision of forcing all schools to become academies, far from improving local democracy, will see decisions taken by Academy Executives who may live hundreds of miles from your school. Take the example of the E-ACT Academy trust, which has decided to remove local governing bodies entirely.

According to the Local Government Association, there is a forecast need for over 880,000 new primary school places in the UK over the next 10 years. This will require coordination and planning to ensure new schools and places are located in areas of need, rather than the free-for-all which will now ensue. In future, when parents of children at academies want to complain, they will have to go to a mandarin in Whitehall and getting a timely response and action will be as easy as getting Ryanair to give you compensation for a delayed flight.

Posted in Op-eds | 18 Comments

An open letter to Allison Pearson: Don’t use terror attacks to justify Brexit

I read the following tweet by Allison Pearson yesterday in response to the terrorist attack in Brussels.

Here is my letter to her in response.

Dear Allison,

We all agree today’s events were terrible. However we have a choice as to how to react.

Even Nigel Farage managed to be restrained within the first hour of the attacks today. Today you have won the “who can make political capital out of a terror attack the quickest award”.

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  • User AvatarPeter Watson 21st Jun - 2:22pm
    @frankie "When the Second World War ended in 1945, it was quickly recognised that the reconstruction of the British economy required a large influx of...
  • User AvatarRoland 21st Jun - 2:17pm
    The displacement of workers in lower value jobs by those in higher value jobs can be a natural and desirable result of market-driven economic development....
  • User AvatarOnceALibDem 21st Jun - 2:16pm
    Don't know if he has given any reasons, but from Wikipedia: "Lloyd voted to remain in the European Union in referendum on the United Kingdom's...
  • User Avatarfrankie 21st Jun - 1:40pm
    Bless Glen, So immigration only started in 2003, well possibly in your small village but most people believe it started at lot longer ago than...
  • User AvatarPhil Beesley 21st Jun - 1:35pm
    There is also a debate going on between Ofcom, BT and other service providers about basic services like POTS, Plain Old Telephone Service. It is...
  • User AvatarCassie 21st Jun - 1:30pm
    To answer I.B's question: No, I was trying to say that it is easy for unscrupulous people to fool people (including intelligent ones) with mis-information....