Few doubt Trident’s capability – they doubt those in charge of it

To all intents and purposes, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should be inline for a bumper next few years. Following the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the plans Secretary of State Sir Michael Fallon (knighted in David Cameron’s resignation honours list) laid out should begin to take shape.

For the Army, continuing investment in a massive relocation programme has seen the start of building work right across Salisbury Plain, preparing accommodation and infrastructure to house the thousands of soldiers and their families relocating from Germany. Indeed, a November newsletter reported that “82% of troops based in Germany at the time SDSR 2010 have been relocated”.

The Royal Air Force could expect to do well out of the next few years. A new military flying training Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is beginning to take shape, ready to make use of brand new aircraft for its first students in 2019. The RAF will also regain a maritime surveillance capability in the coming years, with the delivery of its first P8 Poseidon, as well as boast to the UK’s drone fleet. On top of that all, despite President Trump’s best efforts, the UK will form its first operational F35 Lightning II squadron in 2019 as the Tornado is slowly wound down from its long term deployments in the middle east.

The first of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be delivered and will begin sea trials prior to its first deployment next year. Upgrade contracts have been announced for the Fleet Air Arm’s Merlin Mk2 fleet to be fitted with Crowsnest radar, replacing capability currently provided by the venerable Sea King Mk7. The transfer of the RAF Merlin fleet into the custody of the Commando Helicopter Force has been also been a success, maintaining a rotary winged naval heavy lift capability with a first class, familiar airframe. And of course, Trident is to be renewed; or is it?

To the men and women of the armed forces, to journalists and commentators, academics and to Joe Public, it seems like the MoD, after years and years of poor leadership, ineffectual procurement plans and mismanaged finances, could have finally got itself into a strong position. Alas, it was all an illusion, thanks to the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent.

One of the first acts carried out by Theresa May’s fledgling government back in July was to win a vote on the renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Yet now, the Sunday Times reports that a Trident missile suffered a major navigational error during a training exercise which took place prior to the vote, calling into question the wisdom behind the decision and angering Trident’s growing band of critics. The Prime Minister quite embarrassingly refused to answer any questions on the subject.

One of the UK’s largest employers (when you include the three services and vast numbers of civilian staff), one of the largest government departments by budget, the organisation tasked with keeping the nation secure and our overseas interests safe; despite this vital task and stats in its favour, the Ministry has always been racked with problems. Just when it looked like it had the next three or four years sorted, with an upgrade programme and developments in military capability that would allow the UK Armed Forces to keep pace with an ever changing global situation, thanks to catastrophically bad management, the MoD again looks about as competent and in control as a US President with a twitter account.

Would this incident, if it had been reported at the time, really have influence the outcome of the parliamentary vote? On balance, probably not. However, to focus solely on Trident is to misunderstand the issue with this alleged fiasco.

Yet again, the Defence Ministry has made a rod for its own back and, yet again, interested onlookers are sighing with despair. The list of crises the MoD has apparently shrugged off is growing, from false predictions and cancelled programmes in the late 1950s, the Westland Affair during the Thatcher Years through to the procurement cock ups of the noughties.

To add insult to injury, on Monday 23rd January Sir Michael Fallon faced an urgent question in the House of Commons. Numerous times, MPs stood up to ask him whether this was a cover up, who ordered the news blackout and why was this story kept from parliament. Each time, the Secretary of State rose to his feet and responded by claiming such details were beyond the remit of what he can discuss about the submarine fleet.

At the same time, CNN reported that a US defence official had given them a blow by blow account of the incident and had explained the missiles apparent trajectory of veering towards the US as part of a self destruct sequence if the missile malfunctions. By not commenting on this incident at all, even in the face of facts presented by multiple sources, has created a vacuum that has allowed that ever present political poison, speculation, to develop. Speculation that has yet again put the MoD to shame.

It is a damning state of affairs when we have to rely on the officials of a foreign power to provide us with updates on our own defence issues, when our own defence ministers can’t be trusted to tell the truth, nor balance the books or secure key equipment; will it ever change? I’m afraid to say that the existential crisis of the Ministry of Defence looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Why I’m feeling pushed out of The Labour Party

Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn was unsurprisingly re-elected as leader of the Labour Party. With another impressive result, increasing his mandate to 62%. This leaves me personally in a tough position. You see, I am someone many in the party now might describe as a ‘red Tory’ or a ‘Blairite’. The Labour Party has always been a big tent party, being home to all those on the left of British Politics and although we have seen conflict in the past, the party has almost always held strong and united under the common aim of serving the most vulnerable in society.

Now Jeremy has a good heart, he has clear and strong values and although I don’t agree with him on everything, most notably foreign policy and some of his economic views, I feel, like myself he is fighting for the most in need. Where the problems lie are some of the figures behind him. This leadership contest has been the most bruising yet and has completely alienated me from the Party I have supported my entire life.

Momentum started as a grassroots organisation supporting Jeremy’s leadership after his victory first time around, and over the past year it has grown exponentially. Many lines coming out of the group have been extremely worrying. During the back end of the campaign this year where they published a list of MP’s they would like to see deselected and this wasn’t the first time. After the vote on airstrikes in Syria there were many suggestions from Momentum to deselect MP’s who did not hold Jeremy’s view on the intervention. This blatant disrespect towards our MP’s saddens me greatly. Many of these MPs are hard working men and women who have dedicated their lives to the labour movement. Take Liz Kendall, one of the so-called moderates who I’m sure Momentum would love to deselect. This week alongside Norman Lamb and Dan Poulter she renewed calls for a cross-party commission to tackle the horrific funding gap in our NHS. This is someone we should be happy to have to working with us, fighting to keep our National Health Service one of the best in the world, not being set aside as a traitor by our members.

And it’s not just threats of deselection over the past 12 months there have been several claims of abuse on our MP’s. Threats of rape, violence and Antisemitism appear to have become common place. The Labour Party feels like it has been taken over by a mafia gang with the levels of abuse we are seeing. The abuse against women and the Jewish community hits home the most, as we are the party that have always fought for an egalitarian society.

This is definitely not what Jeremy Corbyn would have wanted to bring to the party after being elected 12 months ago but it is definitely his responsibility to stamp out. And we have not seen that from Jeremy, yes he condemns the actions of these certain individuals but words aren’t enough. For The Labour party to be seen as a safe place for all thought on the left of British politics we need him to take action against these groups as ultimately they are acting in his name.

So where does that leave me? A self-described social democrat who wants to fight and campaign for a government with fair policies giving the poorest in our society the ability to prosper, protect our liberties and regulate business in order to help our workers and consumers. All while keeping our people safe and secure. That is a question I can’t currently answer. I want to stay with the party I have voted and supported my entire life, but it just doesn’t feel like home anymore.

‘Malcolm Tuckered’ – A tale of long lenses and documents on show

This week, Justine Greening, Education Secretary, looks set to bring about the return of the Grammar School. This idea was originally floated in the press following a photograph of a document carried by an unnamed official walking into Downing Street. Generally this kind of incident happens relatively regularly; civil servants, political assistants and MPs themselves seem to forget that the large scrum of photographers lined up opposite the black door to number 10 often carry lenses strong enough to see through a polly-pocket folder.

The offending document, hot off the press from the office of the top civil servant in the Department for Education.

Analysing the photo, it appears to me that whoever the person carrying this document is, they certainly seem to be trying to make the document far more visible to an onlooking photo journalist. Sound familiar?

My favourite political comedy, The Thick of It, has already satirised this exact situation. Series 4, Episode 2; Leader of the Opposition Nicola Murray is photographed holding notes from a meeting, outlining a policy that she hoped would bring benefit for ‘quiet bat people’. In the programme, this incident is all a ploy by the illustrious Malcolm Tucker to take Nicola Murray down from the inside, by alerting the press to her apparent stupidity at the helm of her party.

The image that brought down Nicola Murray, and eventually, Malcolm Tucker himself.
The image that brought down Nicola Murray, and eventually, Malcolm Tucker himself.

The plot by Malcolm backfires; on closer inspection by an inquiry launched following a political disaster, the photo incriminates Malcolm in having illegal acquired an NHS number.

Anyway, back to the real world. Grammar schools are a massively emotive issue, and there are arguments across the political spectrum both for and against them. Some argue they improve social mobility for pupils from right across communities. Others argue that they serve no purpose and are a relic of the past. It’s not limited to Tories voting one way, Labour voting the other. Imagine if someone working the Department for Education wasn’t too keen on the idea? A peeved civil servant? A grumpy political assistant? Or even a rogue MP?

One shuffled pile of paperwork to be taken to the PM’s office and suddenly an idea not yet fit for public consumption has been shouted out from the hills. I don’t think Justine Greening or Theresa May (definitely not Defence Secretary Michael Fallon) thought Grammar Schools would be on their to do list, but someone decided otherwise. Now Justine Greening stands before parliament, defending the government’s previously unknown plans to bring Grammar Schools back from the dead. Though despite unnamed attempts to scupper Grammar School plans, I don’t think this will develop into the ‘Quiet Bat People’ moment a conspirator might have hoped for.

It’s my birthday, so be nice!

An introduction to the West Midlands Combined Authority

In 2016 the Cities and Local government act came into law. This act allowed the formation of combined authorities with directly elected mayors and with it devolution of certain local services. This was a crucial part of George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ vision and plans were quickly made in forming many combined authorities in Northern England for example, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and Sheffield City Region. The North was given a lot of love by Osbourne during the 2015 campaign, but alas nothing on the West Midlands. Almost as if the region itself doesn’t exist, leaving many residents worried about the plan for them. Was the area going to become a commuter hub for London? Something not too far fetched with the only recent large-scale project announced being HS2.

Birmingham, the Uk’s second largest city forgotten by Osborne

Home to over 2 million people and with 90% of residents relying on the area for work. The region is in desperate need for its own devolution plan to drive growth and tackle many of the issues in the area. For example, youth unemployment well over 20% in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and fewer people able to get on the property ladder.

But luckily we can take a sigh of relief of sorts, after much arguing between local authorities we finally have our own devolution plan and a new West Midlands Combined Authority with an elected mayor coming in 2017. But what is the plan and how might things change? Overall you won’t see much change, you’ll pay your Council Tax to the same people, the same bin men will come every week and you will still elect representatives to your local council.

Former MP for Birmingham Erdington, Siôn Simon(Lab)
is the first man to put his name forward for mayor

But there will be changes in certain areas, most notably transport. Firstly, the Mayor will have the ability to award Bus franchises, with the aim to allow better integration across the region and the wider roll out of smart ticketing. In addition, the area has already seen Rail devolution with a new body formed called West Midlands Rail. Which has been working with the DfT to outline the required service for the next West Midlands Franchise coming in 2017. The Briefing document boasts huge increases in capacity, reinstatement of old lines and modernisation of services with Wi-Fi on all services by 2019 and £5 Million investment to improve stations.

Massive improvements asked of new rail Franchisee including
a 30% increase in peak time capacity 

Another key area we will see changes is housing. The authority will be granted compulsory purchase powers, a £500 million housing investment fund and a new land commission to investigate ways of making new land available for building. All of these powers are granted with the objective of driving new house building in the region.

Finally, Education will also see some changes. The authority will be responsible for delivering an Employment and skills strategy throughout the area, working with businesses and government to identify skill gaps and to plan how to tackle these gaps. Also the authority gains local control of adult skills education, giving  the power to invest in the skills needed within the region. Furthermore, alongside the government, the authority will undertake a review into 16+ education to provide recommendations on how to improve the service received by our students.

So it would seem a great deal of power has been given to our new Mayor and Combined authority, even more than I have mentioned (Click here to read the full plan). Hopefully, the plan will bring prosperity and improvements across the region and get more people interested in local politics.

 

The tax crusade begins and Ireland is the victim

The Republic of Ireland is a nation that I know and love. My mother was born there, my father’s family come from there and I am a citizen of the emerald isle. I often visit; for birthdays, weddings and funerals generally. Over my many years of visiting, I have come to know and appreciate the country’s main struggles and strifes.

I think there is a misconception that Ireland is a slightly more rural looking version of the UK. We speak the same language, and it is so geographically close, you could be forgiven for thinking that these days there is little difference between the two. But again, these days it is easy to forget that the northern counties of Ireland, and Northern Ireland itself, were a war zone not so long ago.

Then of course, beyond the many massive cultural differences, the thing that probably sets Eire and the UK apart, is economics. The Republic of Ireland, despite years of EU investment in infrastructure, is a poor country in comparison to the UK.

Perhaps that slightly rambling introduction might leave you wondering what this article really has to do with anything. Well, Ireland’s fight to rebuild and inject some life back into the Celtic Tiger was sent back to square one this week, thanks to a body that has often been the first to come to Ireland’s aid.

The European Commission has ruled that Ireland must claim €13 billion in tax back from Apple. Across Europe, many see this as a victory against multinational companies abusing tax policy in order to maximise profits. But strangely, despite a possible €13 tax windfall, the Irish government will not be popping the champagne corks anytime soon. In short, this is a disaster for the Republic.

In recent years, Ireland has hit tough economic times, and as a country they have been hit hard by job losses and a lack of business. To combat this, the Irish Government have made a concerned effort to reduce tax levied on large companies in order to encourage large firms to set up shop there. They didn’t just set up shop; Apple, Intel and Google have all based their European headquarters in Ireland. This has brought a much needed economic boost and the results were almost starting to show. Foreign investment was the main factor in a massive 26% jump in Irish economic growth last year.

Yet suddenly this week, all of this has come undone. The European Commission has taken issue with Apple’s Irish tax affairs, and it is clear that they will not stop there. As they slowly take apart Ireland’s attempts to attract foreign investments, the EC could single handedly be responsible for the flight of the multinationals that have been slowly bringing Ireland back to life.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a European migrant crisis, European security disasters and Brexit. Now add to that list an effort to send an EU country backwards in its attempts to boost its own economy and it does make you wonder; maybe the Brexiteers were on to something after all? 

 

Labour’s answer to #sadmanonatrain breaks an illusion

Jeremy Corbyn never seems good at taking pressure from the press. Over the past few days, his bubble has once again burst, and once again Jezza proceeded to just get a bit angry when people kept asking him about sitting on the floor of a train. As it happens, Virgin Trains now find themselves in a bit of trouble for releasing the footage that fuelled these questions.

On a weekly basis, the wheels seem to be coming off poor old Jeremy’s wagon. But despite accusations of support for the IRA, making friends with Hezbollah, or generally being quite far on the left (check out this Spectator blog, it lists them), the bus keeps on rolling. Yet I wonder whether this might be slightly different.

Corbyn has ignited political passions and sparked a revolution (known as Momentum, to you and I). He has sold himself as a principled man, who stands for honesty, integrity and justice; you’d be forgiven for thinking that these values had evaporated from the British political zeitgeist.

Yet suddenly, Richard Branson has released CCTV from one of his trains. The train, allegedly so crowded as to be standing room only (amateurish commuting really, if he wants overcrowding Jeremy should try the West Country),  was so busy he had to sit on the floor. Once there, Jeremy filmed a video, making a point about overcrowding and a need for re-nationalisation of the railways. But, and here’s the big ‘shock horror’ moment, that fateful CCTV video suggested the train wasn’t overcrowded at all

This man who has portrayed himself as a pillar of honesty amidst a murky grey sea of lies, darned lies and expenses, was apparently no better than the rest of them. Not great timing, considering the upcoming leadership elections, but this is just the latest in a long line of issues cropping up in the run up the ‘Smith vs Corbyn’ showdown. There have been accusations of lunacy, discrimination, betrayal and some rather odd policy ideas (plus Ice Cream?).

Anyway, Corbyn’s campaign team seemed rather nonplussed by the incident swiftly labeled #traingate, thought their initial attempts at explanation were a little, uh, odd. “Children are small, they might have been hiding behind the chairs,” they exclaimed. “There were bags on the seats,” they cried.

Too polite to ask someone to move a bag perhaps? That would be music to the ears of Mrs Cameron; perhaps the incumbent Labour leader has suddenly become so British that he’s bound to be found learning the national anthem soon enough.

 

 

 

The Advance Politics’ Olympics

The last two weeks has been an exciting time for sport, in particular, Team GB with their record-breaking medal haul in Rio. But the Olympic fun isn’t all over because there is a new Olympic Games in town. The Advance Politics’ Olympics, here’s a rundown of the action so far.

The Labour Party Boxing event is about to head into its sixth round although feels like the tenth. The champion Jeremy ‘Mandate’ Corbyn is being challenged by Owen ‘Electable’ Smith. Both have been throwing strong punches but with little accuracy, with every punch going straight in the face of the party itself. Owen boasts a strong team behind him with both Sadiq Kahn, Kezia Dugdale and 172 MP’s and MEP’s. Sadiq quickly whispers Jeremy’s weaknesses to Owen, a right hook of antisemitism allegations and an uppercut of EU referendum failure. Jeremy has no one in his corner to talk through strategy, but the crowd is full of his adoring fans cheering his name. Tom Watson, who’s manning the doors, becomes increasingly worried many have confused the event with a TUSC meeting next door. Meanwhile, with the bout clearly going to the judge’s verdict, ratings have plummeted with the majority of the general public preferring ‘Come Dine with Me’. All the while no one has noticed the beaten up referee lying on the floor knocked out after taking 5 rounds worth of stray punches, we wonder if they will ever recover.

Elsewhere at a small athletics track in Berkshire, Theresa May is running in the Brexit 100m Sprint. However, somebody forgot to tell Mrs May this was, in fact, a sprint. instead, she believes it is actually a walking race, leaving her Team pretty red-faced after she suggested she was the fittest athlete to be selected, announcing ‘Brexit means Brexit’ before the Race. EU leaders and 52% of the public wait at the finish line getting increasingly frustrated at her lack of progress down the track, while the other 48% sit at home taking a sigh of relief or enquiring about emigrating to New Zealand.

Other events include the UKIP Judo tournament, which like the actual sport is impossible to understand and to make things worse the top contender was late, leaving the tournament full of amateurs. And finally, The Southern Rail javelin competition where the RMT, looking a few years past its prime tries to show they still have it, but instead hit a crowd of unsuspecting commuters and blames its fellow competitor.

Want economic growth? You need STEM!

 

You would be forgiven for thinking that A Level Results Day (Today, 18th August) was all about teenagers finding out whether or not they need to take out £40,000 (possibly more) of student loans to fund a degree. What we often neglect to remember is that these bright eyed and bushy tailed graduates to be, or more specifically their degree subjects, matter a great deal to the future success of our nation. This has never been more true, especially considering the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union.

The United Kingdom has always been at the forefront of engineering innovation. Manufacturing is the back bone of a strong economy; powerhouse giants like Rolls Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Dyson, all need technology minded graduates. Yet with ever increasing numbers of students heading to university, these big companies are crying out for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates.

It isn’t just top engineering firms that need graduates; technology companies, at the forefront of innovation in computing technology are also struggling. The verdict from all this? Not enough people are going to university to study STEM subjects.

Of course, the answer in years gone by would have been to recruit the skills we lack from overseas. Yet now the UK suddenly doesn’t look half as attractive to young european graduates as it once did, especially given that some EU nationals have already decided to leave following Brexit. But to my mind, the problem with STEM is not just about recruiting for industries that are vital to our economy.

We have always had a very touchy relationship with STEM, especially mathematics. Despite the UK bringing the world mathematical greats like Isaac Newton and Alan Turing into the world, we seem to associate mathematics with nutty professors and boffins locked in darkened rooms. As a mathematics student (hopefully soon to be a mathematics graduate!) I completely reject this ideology.

Maths, and more generally STEM, are at the basis of the modern world. Everything from the device you’re reading this on, to the chair you’re sat in have made use of STEM at some point in their operation or manufacture. STEM isn’t nerdy, STEM isn’t boring. STEM is the creative forefront of British innovation, solving problems and designing world beating products to make the world a better place.

STEM matters. On this results day, lets hope that STEM can start to regain the place it deserves amongst students, and that we can start to fight the ‘STEM Gap’ that is growing in the UK.

 

Brexit: A disaster for our universities and students

The UK boasts some of the best learning and research institutions in the world. Leading the way in a variety of disciplines and developing key technologies for the modern world. Everything from Graphene and MRI to the Internet and the Computing architecture 98% of our mobile phones use came out of the UK. Research and the development of new professionals for our industries is vital to our economy and advancement.

Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov  discovered the new material Graphene
 whilst working at the University of Manchester

But Brexit has caused a huge headache for our Institutions for many reasons. Firstly, co-operation with other institutions around the world is clearly vital for continued prosperity and leaving the EU may a hinder the possibility of involvement of future European research projects with concerns already being raised. In addition, ERA funding currently provides 11% of the research income to Russell Group universities, if the access to this funding changes under our renegotiation this could increase the funding gap many of our universities are already struggling with and may increase pressures for further rises in the tuition fee cap.

Research funding is not the only income that will suffer. Currently all EU nationals are eligible for ‘Home Fees’ when studying in the UK, this has attracted some of Europe’s brightest to our universities with over 125,000 EU nationals studying in the UK if fees and it is predicted these students contribute £3.7Bn into the British Economy supporting 34,250 jobs. This also ignores the EU nationals that continue to live in the UK after their studies and help make further advances in research. If we don’t continue to support EU students wanting to study in the UK we may find less come to study here again reducing income if this gap isn’t filled by our own students.

Russel Group universities, our leading research institutions may struggle
 to receive funding sufficient funding for projects

But less about the universities themselves, let’s talk about the students. Leaving the EU could be detrimental to the opportunities available to us. Firstly, it may hinder our chances of studying in Europe if we are required to pay Non-EU rates. Also many of my university colleagues have had the opportunity to undertake paid industrial placements in Europe, a great life experience. But If the ability for Britons to work in the EU changes this could affect the opportunity for us to have this experience. In addition, The Erasmus programme currently offers scholarships enabling EU students to travel abroad to study for a year, if these links are broken between our institutions It would be very difficult for our students to undertake a year abroad especially without the Erasmus grant.

Overall the UK needs to be careful on how it implements Brexit to avoid huge issues for such an important industry in our country. We have already seen some work with Philip Hammond announcing plans to continue funding for EU backed research projects but so much more work will be needed to done in the years to come to keep the bonds between our universities and the EU together and protect the quality of education we enjoy.

The Labour Party – An Outsider’s Perspective

Today, the fate of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was sealed. Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s embattled incumbent, successfully fought a campaign in the High Court to win the right to vote in the upcoming leadership election. This all came about when the party’s National Executive Committee ruled that members who had joined Labour after January 12th would be ineligible to vote, unless they paid an extra £25.

This is a key victory for Corbyn and his supporters. He has been able to rally “grassroots” supporters, and generally these newer members are far more likely to support Corbyn than they are to support the welsh challenger, Owen Smith.

An appeal has been launched against the High Court’s decision, so this situation is subject to change. But it’s clear that the problems the PLP is facing are coming to a head.

If this ruling by the High Court is upheld, then Corbyn will undoubtedly win the leadership election. This then creates a very interesting situation – a party leader will be elected with no support from his parliamentary party. There is no doubt in my mind that the PLP will then split irreversibly, with Corbyn’s small band of MPs rallying around whilst the remainder will try and form a new centre-left initiative to face the Tories.

Three groups stand to benefit from this (and neither are Labour); Firstly, the Conservative party will be overjoyed at this news, as unchallenged Tory rule is pretty much guaranteed for at least the 2020 General Election. Second, UKIP will be licking their lips at the thought of snatching up ‘classic Labour supporters’ – the working class Brexiteers who have felt increasingly alienated by the Labour party. Finally, the Liberal Democrats (remember them?) will see this as a chance to snatch the centre-left ground and establish themselves as a serious political party. I for one know many, many Labour supporters who are considering turning to the Lib Dems, should Corbyn win his election.

So Tories in power, UKIP surging in popularity, the Lib Dems resurgent – could the political landscape change so drastically again?

The leadership election is a month and a half away, so I would like to add a pinch of salt with my predictions; these days we should know better than trying to predict political decision making!