Support for our Troops

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The furore over the decision to ban Metropolitan Police Officer from wearing badges supporting our troops was deftly managed by The Mets new Commissioner. In reversing the ruling Sir Paul Stephenson showed himself to be a real piece of work who has what his predecessor lacked: common sense.

The success of the charity Help for Heroes is that it has managed to separate whatever people think of the wars we send our troops to fight in from the admiration most people feel for our servicemen and women. The pleading of the Stop the War Coalition spokesman on this issue was truly pathetic. He tried to claim that allowing Policemen or any other public servant to wear a Help for Heroes badge is an act of political support for the war in Afghanistan. He might as well complain that the moving acts of respect by the people of Wootton Bassett are political actions in support of the war. I suppose I am a public servant and I wear my Help for Heroes wristband with pride.

Police Officers and the vast majority of people in Britain know that our troops need their support. Our troops also need to know that while many have legitimate concerns about our role in Afghanistan, the piteous bile of the Stop the War Coalition on the issue of support for our troops represents a minute and irrelevant section of society.

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Lord Sugar

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Lord Sugar of Clapton has not made a very good start as a parliamentarian. He can, perhaps, be forgiven his ignorance of the whipping system and for not grasping the widely understood notion that, as a Labour peer, he would be required to follow the party line. What can’t be forgiven is his pathetic attempt to sue a journalist, Quentin Letts, for calling him a ‘telly peer’ who ‘doesn’t seem to have an enormous intellect’.

Matthew Parris puts it really well here, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article6740649.ece

He can dish it out to those sad creatures on The Apprentice but he can’t take it. What a wuss.

While on the subject of The Apprentice, I present the prizes at a business competition for local schools. I always try to explain to those present that business is nothing like The Apprentice. This programme may get good viewing figures but I think it is doing harm to a generation of aspiring young people. It fosters the idea that to get on in business you have to be a ghastly boastful self-opinionated prat and that the way to succeed is to talk down your work mates, even humiliate them. Business is actually all about working with people and, yes, being nice whenever possible (also someone should tell them that hair gel, wide pinstripes and silly glasses are “so yesterday”). Lord Sugar is a walking parody of this Government: thin-skinned, clueless and hypocritical. I have never met Quentin Letts but if he needs a donation to his legal fund he can count on me for a tenner.

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The economy….

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I have been asked by a constituent to start talking the economy up. He points out that there are many favourable comparisons to previous downturns and if we keep talking about how dreadful things are it will all become a self fulfilling prophesy. It is a difficult balance to get right. On one hand he is right: politicians, the media and anyone in a position of trust should act responsibly in how they comment on our economy at this time. On the other, things are undeniably bad and getting worse. I just tell it as I see it. I can only give voice to the concerns being raised to me by small businessmen, people who are being made redundant and those facing negative equity on their homes.

While I rely on the messages I hear in my constituency and from contacts in the financial world, I also read a lot about this crisis. Most commentators say this recession will be long and deep. Others equivocate. There is an interesting piece in today’s Times by Gary Duncan  (see http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article5019652.ece )
He points out that the good news from today’s point of view, is that we are not “throttled” by our membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism as we were in the 1980s which meant that we could not adjust interest rates to suit our own needs without an ignominious exit. All Parties supported membership of the ERM at the time. Thank Heavans many of us learned from that experience and have avoided a potentially worse “throttling” at the hands of a single currency. Gary Duncan shows some telling comparisons between now and the last recession. Fact: our housing market is in a much more parlous state this time. Fact: our savings index today is much lower than then. Fact: our services sector is in dire straits today and this represents 75% of our economy.
In his closing paragragh he asserts that a fall in the value of the pound, dramatic cuts in interest rates and fiscal fiddling by the Government could all conspire to allow us to avoid “a disasterous slump”. I hope he is right. What he failed to comment on is the news that the Government intends to spend its way out of recession. By bringing forward many large infrastructure projects the Government hope money will continue to flow through the economy. The trouble is that these projects take an age to happen even with a fair wind from Whitehall and how the hell is all that borrowing (on top of already record public debt) going to be paid for?

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Great Britain’s finances…

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The most important page of any company’s accounts is the balance sheet. By comparing its assets with its liabilities it provides a snapshot of a company’s financial condition. Great Britain plc should be no different, but life is not that simple. The Government may require companies to show all its liabilities on its balance sheet but it does not require the same of itself. This has allowed Gordon Brown to make the absurd claim that “Debt is considerably lower than a decade ago.”

A fellow MP and financial egg-head, Brooks Newmark, has done a superb job in finding out what our national debt really is. It turns out it is an staggering £1,866 billion, which is equivalent to 125.5% of GDP, nearly three times larger than the Government’s published figure of £645 billion or 43.4% of GDP. Brooks points out that this is equal to £76,475 for each British household. His work has shown how the full costs of Private Finance Initiative projects as well as the full cost of the rescue of Northern Rock and the Bradford and Bingley dwarf the Government’s figures when they are added in. It gets worse; the recent bank bale-out package could add another £500 billion to the balance sheet raising real debt to just shy of £100,000 per household. At the same time the Chancellor has ticked off bankers for not being transparent with their own off-balance sheet liabilities. The words “Physician heal thyself” come to mind.

Any solution to our current problems can only come from a full and frank assessment of our real position. Brooks Newmark’s work is well researched, timely and necessary. A Government that was truly committed to the “national good” would face up to their own true balance sheet position before lecturing others on solutions, be they global or national.

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Westminster Diary

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For a few short minutes each week Prime Minister’s Questions keeps reminding the most powerful politician in the land that they are mortal after all. That said, after weeks of trying my name came up on a day when the Prime Minister was pretending to be immortal in Brussels. This meant his place was taken by his deputy, Harriet Harman. In an exchange with William Hague she had claimed that the billions invested in the banking rescue would trickle down to the real economy as banks would start to lend again. The trouble is that we don’t know it will. We must just hope that it does. I pressed Ms Harman by pointing out the portents are not good when a wholly Government owned bank, Northern Rock, has passed on just 1/10th of last weeks interest rate cut to it’s mortgage holders. I am sure that banks will start to try to lend again but will it be at a rate that small businesses can afford? Rather than go bust many companies will pay much higher lending rates but this adds to the structural weakness in our economy.

Harriet Harman lacks a certain lightness of touch at the dispatch box. Gordon Brown is getting better at PMQs but still seems stuck in heavy plough at times. Neither of them are a patch on Tony Blair in his prime. He deftly avoided traps, moved onto ground of his own choosing and could call on any emotion a RADA student needs to learn. Anger, pity, scorn, self deprecation, humour, the lot. With Brown you can sense the venal malevolence he feels towards David Cameron. You almost sense his asking, how dare this person better me? Doesn’t he know who I am? Wednesday of this week was and easy points victory for Hague. In a footballing analogy, it was not unlike England vs Belarus.

On Friday night I hosted a gathering of around 190 Zimbabweans at Newbury Rugby Club. West Berkshire has become the favoured destination of hundreds of people who have escaped the hideous tyranny of Robert Mugabe’s regime. It was an opportunity for me to thank them for their great contribution to life in this community and to announce the formation of a network for them to support each other as they try to come to terms with a new life here, be it temporary or permanent. It was terrible to hear the stories of the misery being experienced by friends and relatives still in Zimbabwe. There has to be an end to this horror soon.

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Richard Benyon was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Newbury on 7 May 2015, with an increased majority of 26,368. Richard won 61 per cent of the vote share.

 

 

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