Monday, January 15, 2018

Making International Aid popular.

I am a contrarian. The more that public opinion has lambasted the Government commitment to ‘invest’ 0.7% of GDP in International Aid, the more determined I’ve been to stand behind the policy. I believe it is right and in the UK’s long term interests. I feel incredibly proud that the Parliament I’ve been a member of for the last 8 yrs has met our obligations to the world by meeting the United Nations International Aid targets.
But there are many British people who do not agree. New Minister for International Development, Penny Mordaunt is going to have to make the case. She writes in today’s Telegraph. Rightly, she outlines the threats to the UK from disease, mass migration and wars, which do not respect international boundaries, and the shortsightedness of just waiting til these threats arrive on our doorsteps. Like sitting ducks. Neither does the Secretary of State intend to just sit back and not meet the challenging arguments of those who would dismiss the importance of International Aid. She sets out her argument as backing to 5 pledges to the people of Britain.
She pledges to use International Aid alongside the Dept of International Trade to grow business and investment in developing countries. She pledges not to invest if others, with equal or greater responsibility will not invest. The aim will be to develop skills that enable developing companies to stand on their own. She pledges to reduce funding to those who fail to deliver on targets set. She pledges to invest in programmes like plastic pollution and illegal wildlife trading which matter to the British people. And she pledges to work with other Govt departments to maximise effectiveness of any investment. It seems that Secretary of State Mordaunt intends to be hard-headed as well as generous. We need all the British people to be proud of out investment in International Aid.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trumpian Hypocrisy

Don’t normally read the Daily Mail, though do take the Mail on Sunday, along with the Telegraph. But did buy today’s copy - to take advantage of a very generous free gift offer of an Airfix kit. Anyway, it was first time for months that I’ve read anything written by Peter Oborne, who used to write for Spectator and Telegraph. Top class columnist. Always worth a read. Headline today read - “The stench of Labour’s hysteria and hypocrisy over Trump”. Like anyone writing anything which can be read as being on Trump’s side, he has to begin by setting out his opinion of the US President, which I repeat here. “Trump is a narcissistic and absurd figure. He is a racist who retweeted videos posted by Britain First, a fascist organisation that all decent people condemn.”
But he does not, and nor do I agree with the campaign to prevent President Trump visiting the UK. The public attitude of the Mayor of London is particularly short-sighted. Anyone would think he was mid election campaign, when irresponsible attitudes are sometimes struck.  Absolutely not protecting the interests of London. And same goes for a whole lot of others who are keen to be seen as ‘virtuous’ by parading their distaste of Trump. Actually, I have little criticism of those who are not in positions of influence wanting no contact with Trump. Every right to express their opinions. Makes little difference on the international politics plain. It’s the rank hypocrisy of opposition leaders that I find so utterly nauseating.
First time I was faced with this sort of choice personally was when Xi Jinping was accorded the honour of speaking in Westminster Hall, as great a privilege as Parliament can offer. Despite Xi making Trump look like and “hand-wringing Liberal” - in Oborne’s words. But of course Xi is totally inscrutable, impressively polite, charm personified and very skilled at manipulating public opinion. I went because a good relationship with China is hugely important to the UK, to our economy and our security. The Leader of the opposition even wore his white tie and tails to attend a state banquet for President Xi at Buckingham Palace. He was right to do so.
Same attitude will be important when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon visits us this summer. Another who makes Trump look like a “hand-wriggling Liberal”. I will treat him as an honoured guest as well, despite the terrible happenings in Yemen. There have been many other high profile visits from leaders who have committed deeply unsavoury acts. It’s always been thus. Across the Channel, President Macron welcomed President Trump with great pomp, while the French people  accepted the importance to French jobs and French security. Generally, the whole of French politics accepted this.
I cannot defend the drivel that the President of the United States, the country which is our most important friend and allay in this unstable world tweets on his Twitter account. But I know it’s crucial for the UK to work for a good relationship with the individual the American people voted to be their President. It matters for the British economy and British security. In fact, the Opposition leaders like Khan and Corbyn know it too. Which makes their public utterances all the more unworthy of their office.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Prime Minister’s New Confidence.

Bearing in mind how difficult 2017 was for our Prime Minister, it’s amazing how confident and focussed she is. It was a genuinely Prime Ministerial performance on today’s media. Mrs Thatcher was known as the ‘Iron Lady’. Well, Theresa May has shown herself to be a ‘Lady made of Iron’. It’s not how you cope when the tide is flowing your way; it’s how you cope when it’s flowing against you. And I sense that she begins 2018 in a far better place than most would have imagined 7 months ago. To me, all those (including the journalists and commentators) who have been part of the the baying mob look rather ‘smaller’ people than they did.
We all know that Brexit will remain a defining issue. There remain many retainers. And much of our media will give massive coverage to them, or anyone, and any report supporting their desire to reverse the referendum vote to Leave, casually damaging the British interest at the same time. For example, very few had heard of Lord Adonis until he resigned from the Gov’t, citing Brexit. Suddenly he was being portrayed as some great guru, though in reality, he jumped before he was pushed, and has never had anyone actually vote for him - ever. But our Prime Minister is not for turning. She has “played a blinder”, and developed a working relationship with the EU negotiators, where the aim is to deliver the best deal for the UK and the EU - ignoring the columns of ill-informed froth. Just getting on with the job. In all of our interests.
Personally, I’m impressed by the commitment to a Northern Forest the PM spoke of today. Combined with the commitments Michael Gove has been making to environmental policy over recent days, the Conservative Party is the genuine party of the environment. Again, it’s important to ignore the gesture politics and virtue signalling of those who would undermine the Government for partisan advantage. Just getting on with the job.
Also, good to see our Prime Minister looking beyond Brexit. There are problems facing Government. The NHS and Social Care, educational attainment, facilitating more private and public housing, and a hundred other issues. It was ever thus. But today we have keyboard warriors populating the Internet, and a main opposition party willing to do and say almost anything for partisan advantage - irrespective of the national interest. It can easily seem that these problem issues are unmanageable. Anyone serving in Govt has to look beyond the Twitter inspired froth, and just get on with the job. Seems to me that’s what the Prime Minister intends to do.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Conservatives must be ‘Green’ and ‘Welsh’.

I have long held two opinions on policy that I believe should form part of the basis of Conservative thinking in Wales. Neither have been ‘mainstream’ opinion in my party. But that’s not stopped me in the past. Theses two opinions underpin my ambition that my Conservative Party should reach out to Plaid Cymru with a view to working more closely together in Wales. Politics is about power, and the only way the Welsh Conservatives will secure power in Wales in the foreseeable future is in partnership with Plaid Cymru. I fully recognise a lot has to change before that can actually happen, but I’m the perennial optimist. I believe it will happen, and sooner that many might think. Lots of Plaid supporters I talk to are instinctively ‘Tory’.
Anyway, the two opinions I advocate are that there should be Conservative commitments to being both ‘Green’ and ‘Welsh’. Because it’s right, and it’s Conservative, as well as being the pathway to power (in Wales). Let’s consider ‘green’ to begin with, mainly because Michael Gove’s speeches this last week so inspire me. I’ve spoken with Michael in the lobby more than once already.  It’s clear that as Secretary of State at Defra, he intends to use the post-Brexit freedom from EU control to redirect policy towards the environment, diversity and animal welfare. There in nothing more Conservative than this approach, than to take care of our world, our environment, and our landscapes. Nothing more Conservative to leave an environment to our children as secure and cared for as our own generation inherited. So often, the Conservative Party has stood back and allowed non Conservative voices, to dominate the ‘green’ agenda with unrealistic woolly thinking that’s high on rhetoric and low on practicality - bunny-hugging and anti business. But this is going to change because of Michael Gove. Last week he spoke at the Oxford Farming Conference and told the farming industry that he was giving notice that (from 2024) financial Support would not be given for acres owned, but to support investment that the public approves of - like new woodland creating public access to leisure and reducing carbon emissions. Look enough to give farmers time to adapt and radical enough to appeal to genuine environmentalists. It’s all rather promising.
 At last years’s Welsh Conservative Conference in Sophia Gardens, I worked with the Tory Reform Group to share my ideas at a fringe meeting. I was joined by Assembly Member, David Melding CBE and political commentator, Daran Hill. It was an early morning meeting and a tidy audience turned up. At the time I felt I was ‘out on a limb’ with my enthusiasms for ‘greenness’ and ‘Welshness’. Since then, the UK Govt has delivered the Wales Act (through Parliament without a single Parliamentary defeat) and changed Parliamentary procedures to allow Welsh to be spoken in the House of Commons (first time will be Welsh Grand in early February). I know there continues to be anti-devolution views in my party, but it’s no longer in the majority. There is no doubt that the Conservative Party in Wales, while being committed to the ‘Union’ is now unmistakenly ‘Welsh’. And we have Michael Gove, who totally ‘gets’ the importance of establishing the Conservative Govt as the party of the Environment. My main Westminster interest is Wales ,things Welsh and the countryside. And I sense it’s all going rather well.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Pumlumon Project.

Between losing my ‘seat’ in the National Assembly for Wales in 2007, and being elected to the House of Commons in 2010, I was a trustee of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. Always had a great interest in the Welsh countryside, it’s natural appearance and it’s wildlife. Still have. Not in a sentimental bunny-hugging way. The rythym of the natural world is often brutal and cruel. What matters to me is diversity, and how people can best connect with it.
Much the most ambitious project that MWT embarked on was/is The Pumlumon Project. It relates to 100,000 acres within the triangle stretching between Llanidloes, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth, where the Rivers Severn, Wye and Rheidol begin their journeys to the sea. The project involves re-wetting the peat bogs, and connecting existing habitats to create natural pathways. This would, if done at scale, hold back enormous amounts of rain water and melting snow, preventing flooding further down the Severn Valley. At the same time give more support to viable communities, create more natural landscapes, a more diverse wildlife, cleaner water and store carbon.
The area has enormous potential for tourism based on a diverse environment. It’s immediately adjacent to the Osprey observation site on the Dyfi Estuary which attracts tens of thousands every year. The potential is massive for hen harriers, short eared owls and black grouse -and much much more.
Now to the downside. Money. To deliver the project at the scale proposed will cost a lot of money - in my view, probably more than its reasonable to expect the Welsh Govt to provide. It is reasonable to expect part of the reformed post Brexit farm funding to support new practice and support diversification investment, but it’s unreasonable to expect the ‘Welsh’ budget to fund the flood prevention work. All the benefit would accrue to towns in the Severn Valley in England - Shrewsbury, Tewksbury etc. This is why I’m trying to secure a debate at Westminster, hoping to win over the support of England based MPs. Hoping I come up in the ballot for debates soon. And if I do, I’ll be on the phone to Clive Faulkner at the MWT to help me write my speech. I also think I might be interviewed by the BBC on this issue tomorrow. Will keep you informed.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Let’s pull together for a great post Brexit UK.

Must admit I was never that keen on an EU In-Out Referendum. I thought it too complex a decision for a winner-takes-all question. But once David Cameron announced it, I went along with it. Saw no real choice. And though I thought a vote to Leave was unlikely and would create great uncertainty, I always knew I personally would vote Leave. And I did, on June 23rd 2016, with far less certainty than I would were there to be another referendum in the near future. I am much more certain Leave was the right decision today.
I simply cannot contemplate the damage it would do to UK society, national unity and morale, and the international reputation of the UK if in some way we did not Leave. Which is why I am so certain we will leave. And I also feel sure that the appallingly biased presentation of debate by some of the media, intended to undermine the UK in negotiations to the extent that we might reject the final negotiated deal is making the British people more in favour of leaving. The massive publicity given to Lord Heseltine, who was fired from his Government role months ago, and Lord Adonis, who jumped a few days ago before he was pushed. Anyone would think they were key players. They are not. They are given a supposed level of importance to give credence to a Preferred Option. Most people have never heard of Lord Adonis. Actually, they still haven’t.
I have no problem with them holding the opinion they do. Just as I continue to admire Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry. They are perfectly entitled to follow their beliefs, and vote accordingly. Those I find far less worthy of admiration are those who announce they “respect” the vote cast by over 17 million people in the referendum, and then do all they can to undermine it. Labour MP, Kate Hoey has written a great article in today’s Telegraph making that very point - about the Labour Party. She really is a genuine star. It really is depressing that a political party, which aspires to Government, treats the most important issue of our time as a matter of political opportunism rather than a matter of great principle. They will pay a price for this later on.
In my New Years message to constituents, I said I was feeling first shoots of optimism for a good while. Almost none of the threats that were supposed to land upon us the day after we voted to Leave have not come to pass. And I really don’t think they are going to. Quite a bit of commentary is about opportunity that Brexit presents. The reality is that the UK is leaving the EU. And it really would be best for our nation if we all focussed our efforts on securing the best possible arrangement for the UK and for the EU.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Future Fit in the News Again.

I was much taken by the irony of the front page of today’s Shropshire Star. Headline is “NHS boss in pledge to end farce”. Chief Officer of Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is quoted “Time for talking is over”. Oh what irony! My sense is that there has been no-one who has contributed more to the ‘farce’ that the man quoted. Let’s recap, for those who have not been following the farce - and try to stick with the facts.
We have known for decades that the Shropshire NHS is not sustainable in the long run without reform. The catchment population (Shropshire and part of Mid Wales, including most of Montgomeryshire) will not sustain two District General Hospitals. The position had been complicated by a Chief Executive of the Trust which runs both hospitals, who decided to spend roughly £30 million on a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Telford, when anyone with an iota of strategic thinking capability would have known it should have been built at Shrewsbury. Unfortunately, Mr Adam Cairns did not have a listening gene. This development simply did not deal with the basic problem, and thankfully, Mr Cairns moved on.
It was 2013 when it was decided to face up to the long term  unsustainability issue. The two CCGs representing Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin agreed to establish a Future Fit Programme Board, and said it was setting aside £1.145 million to redesign the service. At the time when the decision about the Women’s and Children’s Hospital decision was taken, the leadership of the Powys Local Health Board just ‘sat on their hands’. Deeply disappointing to me. In 2013, Powys Health Board were enthusiastically ‘onside’ though. Made a difference.
Initially, I favoured a new Emergency Centre on a green field site between the two existing hospitals to replace the two A&E Depts, but that was fairly quickly ruled out for cost reasons. Around £600 million was the rumoured figure. The delays and refusal to face reality continued and the cost of the Future Fit process increased hugely. It was end of 2016 when the Future Fit Programme Board finally put forward its recommendation that Emergency Care should be based at Shrewsbury, and Planned Care should be at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital. This recommendation had to be approved by the two CCGs covering Shropshire. Shockingly, on Dec 12th 2016, after the expenditure of around £4 million over 3 years, the 2 CCGs failed to reach a decision.
In July 2017, the Future Fit Programme Board (made up of both CCGs plus independent members appointed by the Secretary of State plus reps of Powys Health Board reaffirmed (unanimously) that the Emergency Centre should be at Royal Shrewsbury and Planned Care Centre at Telford’s Princess Royal - long long overdue. This time the Powys Health Board representatives behaved in a responsible way.
Now we are told that the roughly £200 million needed to fund the reform must be agreed before the statutory 12 weeks public consultation  can begin. It’s certainly the case that the “Time for talking is over”. Hope that’s all clear.