Pony sales plummet as austerity measures reach Chipping Norton set

Angry residents of the Cotswold town of Chipping Norton have voiced their concerns to David Cameron that the Government’s austerity measures are having a direct effect on their children’s welfare.

In a letter to the Chipping Norton News one fuming parent detailed the trauma that her 10-year-old daughter experienced after being told that mummy and daddy could not afford to buy her a new pony. ‘It has been absolute hell,’ she explained. ‘Little India hasn’t come out of her room for days after up turning the scullery table and cremating her teddy bear in the Aga. Thank God she’s got an en suite.’

‘Other parents I have spoken to at our monthly Supper Clubs are experiencing the same issues. Hyperventilation, bruises to the feet following extreme stamping and fainting fits are affecting the health of vulnerable children across the county. It’s getting just like the Third World.’

There is evidence too that pony breeders and Gymkhana event organisers are feeling the pinch as a result of parental cut-backs. ‘In the run up to last Easter I’d already sold 12 Shetlands, 6 Welsh Ponies and 3 Grade Horses. This year I’m still left with 13 Ponies and now the only interest I’m getting is from the French and Tesco,’ said breeder Steve Braithwaite from Cheltenham. ‘Local charities are really suffering too with the annual Gymkhana getting hardly any sponsorship this year, even from Waitrose or Holland & Barrett.’

Other businesses have also reported a downturn in sales. Marjorie Sinclair-Smythe who runs True Blue Gifts in Charlbury said, ‘Things have got extremely tense lately, as a matter of fact I’ve had to take all of my Thelwell horse and pony merchandise out of the window as children are breaking down as they pass by. Last week someone even posted a steaming lump of horse turd through the letter box which really was the final straw.’

A shortage of social workers in the area has exacerbated the problem with parents forced to employ extra nannies, to deal with anger management issues and to wear saddles and harnesses when required.


Rock, Miliband, And A Hard-Place.

European Union

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David Cameron’s speech on the EU has put Ed Miliband between a rock and a hard place. True it was driven not by policy but by politics. Six months ago, the Prime Minister had no intention of promising an in/out referendum on the EU but his recalcitrant backbenchers and an insurgent UKIP forced him into a dramatic reverse ferret. His address, then, was less about outlining a sophisticated vision for the future of the EU (one that Cameron’s fantasy of an à la carte Europe, in which Britain picks and chooses which rules it obeys, does not represent) but simply about getting him through the 2015 general election.


On that limited basis, the speech may prove to be a success. The early reaction from eurosceptic MPs, such as Douglas Carswell, suggests that it will help to unify a Conservative Party that has been badly divided over the EU since the election.


The biggest long-term problem for Cameron remains that having promised a “fundamental change” in Britain’s relationship with the EU, he will struggle to persuade the eurosceptics in his party that it is in our interests to remain a member if he fails to deliver. The result would be the worst Tory split for decades as some cabinet ministers, such as Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, argued for an ‘out’ vote, while others argued for an ‘in’ vote. But that, if Cameron wins a majority at the general election (and it remains a very large ‘if’), is not an issue he will have to face until long after 2015.


For now, the Prime Minister enjoys the distinction of being the only party leader to have promised to give the electorate a vote over the EU at some point in the near future. This leaves Labour and the Liberal Democrats, both of whom have argued that Cameron’s pledge is a rash one, in a difficult position. If they seek they match his offer at some point before 2015 (most likely in the form of a straight in/out vote, rather than one tied to renegotiation), they will look weak; following, not leading. If they do not, they will stand accused of denying the British people a say over an institution that has changed dramatically in the 38 years since the first and only EU referendum in 1975. Will Miliband and Clegg allow Cameron to be the only leader to stand up at the TV debates in 2015 and promise a referendum on the EU? Almost certainly not, which is why both must now work out how to climb down in the most graceful and painless way possible.



Clegg Under Fire Again, But This Time By Tories.

Liberal Democrat Poster

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Labour and Lib Dem peers joined forces on Monday to defeat David Cameron over plans to re-draw the electoral map, leading the Tories to accuse Nick Clegg of trying to “fix the next election” in his favour. The House of Lords voted to delay any change to number and size of constituencies from 2013 to 2018, a blow to Tory hopes of making the change before the next election. The government’s plans were defeated by 68 votes.

The vote was also the first time first time Lib Dem and Tory ministers have voted against each other since the formation of the coalition in 2010. In all, 72 Lib Dems voted against the Government with none voting in favour.

The proposed re-drawing of the map would likely benefit the Tories to the tune of 20 extra Commons seats. By siding with Labour against the plan, the Lib Dems aim to make it harder for Cameron to secure an overall majority in 2015.

Clegg decided to order his MPs to vote against the boundary changes after Tory backbenchers scuppered plans to reform the House of Lords. Angry Tory peers rounded on Clegg and the Lib Dems during the debate in the Lords, arguing the changes to the electoral map were not connected to reform of the House of Lords – but rather had been linked to the AV referendum.

Former Conservative Scotland secretary Lord Forsyth accused the deputy prime minister of a “double cross” given Cameron had delivered Tory votes for the referendum. “The prime minister risked the future of the Conservative Party as a party of government by agreeing to that [The AV referendum],” he said. “And yet here we have today, the Liberals still trying to gerrymander our constitution.”

Tory peer Lord Dobbs slammed Lib Dem peers for voting against the boundary review, telling them he would need the “telescope at Jodrell Bank” to find their principles and accused Clegg of trying to “fix the next election”.

Senior Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard said the Conservatives should not be surprised at the vote. “In countries across Europe where coalition is much more the norm, it is much more normal and people understand that different parties vote in different ways on some issues while agreeing on packages of measures where they can find agreement in what they both consider to be in the national interest,” he said.

Despite the Lib Dem pledge to vote against the changes and Monday’s defeat in the Lords, the prime minister has indicated he still intends to push it to a vote in the Commons. A No 10 spokesman said last night that Cameron still intended to hold a vote in the Commons to try to reverse the defeat. “The PM remains of the view that we should have fewer MPs to cut the cost of politics, and more equal size constituencies so that people’s votes have more equal weight,” the spokesman said.

Without Lib Dem MPs, Cameron is highly unlikely to have the votes he needs to win, as he would need to convince MPs from the other small parties, including the six SNP MPs, to vote with him. An alliance of Tories, the SNP and DUP members would number 317. There are 312 Labour and Lib Dem MPs

EU Referendum or Not?

European Union

Photo by Ana Branca


Yet again this morning, David Cameron was interviewed about a speech on the EU he still hasn’t given. Asked on the Today programme whether the over-hyped address had been completed, Cameron said it was “finished and ready to go” (subsequently amending this to “largely finished”).


Once again, he said that he would seek to reach a “new settlement” with the EU before seeking the “consent” of the British people for the changes, a clear promise of a referendum. In his speech, which is now due to be delivered on 23 January (having been pushed back from 22 January in order to avoid clashing with celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treatybetween France and Germany), Cameron will say that after the next election, a Conservative government would seek to repatriate significant powers from the EU before offering the voters a choice between the new terms and withdrawal.


As such, a referendum is now viewed by most as inevitable. Yet this pledge is dependent on an outcome that increasingly few believe is likely: a Conservative majority at the next election. A reformation of the coalition would likely scupper any plans Cameron has to bring back major powers from Brussels. In addition, it is unclear how Cameron will respond if he proves unable to secure the changes he wishes to see. This morning, he simply told John Humphrys: “I’m confident we will get the changes that we want, we’ll have a new settlement and then we’ll put that to the British people.” Given the obstacles to a referendum, it is surprising how many now speak as if it is a certainty.


Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats will immediately match Cameron’s pledge to hold an EU referendum, both arguing that it makes no sense to discuss a public vote until the eurozone crisis has been resolved. However, it is also true that they are unlikely to allow Cameron to go into the 2015 election as the only party leader willing to offer the public a say on Europe. The Lib Dems have previously supported an in/out referendum, while senior Labour figures, including Jon Cruddas and Jim Murphy, both argue that a vote should be held at some point in the future. In all probability, then, an EU referendum is coming. But no one should assume it will be Cameron who holds it.


MPs want 32% Payrise!

Money UK British Pound Coins

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MPs have told the watchdog reviewing their pay that they deserve a 32% hike to £86,250, leading to accusations they are living in “cloud cuckoo land”. A survey carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) also found more than a third believe they should keep generous final salary pensions.

The findings emerged as Ipsa published a report on its initial consultation into pay and pensions, which ended last month. The research, which politicians completed anonymously, found that 69% thought they were underpaid on £65,738.

The average level suggested for the salary was £86,250.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said MPs should “get real. At a time when millions of workers are getting zero pay rises, the idea that MPs believe they deserve a 32% increase is living in cloud cuckoo land. MPs should get real about pay, this shows they are totally out of touch with working people. How can they think that they deserve a 32% increase when the rest of the country is being told to tighten their belts?”

Ipsa watchdog will put firm proposals out for consultation in the spring, with final decisions likely to be taken in the autumn.

YouGov conducted online interviews with 100 MPs on Ipsa’s behalf, and weighted the results slightly to represent the Commons by party, gender, year elected, and geography.

Conservatives were the most likely to believe they were underpaid, with 47% saying that was the case. Some 39% of Labour members and 9% of Lib Dems held the same view. On average, Tories said their salary should be £96,740, while Lib Dems thought the right amount was £78,361 and Labour £77,322. Other parties put the figure at £75,091. One MP said they should be paid £40,000 or less. Some 5% said £60-65,000 was fair, and 17% went for £65-£70,000.

A fifth of those questioned said they should be paid £95,000 or more.

The research found that 27% of the MPs believed their pay should go up by more than 1% over the next two years – despite public sector rises and most working age benefits being controversially capped at that level. However, nearly two-thirds said they should be subject to the same restraint. Some 53% wanted to bring back so-called “golden goodbyes” worth tens of thousands of pounds that were previously handed to members who step down from parliament voluntarily.

Ipsa also confirmed that it is not proposing to introduce performance-related pay, regional pay or to take outside earnings into account.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

Photo by Wikipedia

Chairman Sir Ian Kennedy said: “In the past, MPs have agreed their pay and pensions among themselves. So this new approach of independent decision-making marks a real and important change and is another crucial step in helping Parliament to regain the trust of the public.

“The consultation we held over the autumn has been hugely informative and important in directing our thinking. It also serves to show the spread of views and depth of feeling on this issue.

“We remain committed to listening and I would urge people to get involved in this debate.”

Asked what David Cameron thought of MPs’ demand for more pay, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister’s view is that MPs’ pay is a matter for Ipsa. The ‘I’ in Ipsa stands for ‘independent’.”

When asked whether the PM believed that MPs should be subject to the same pay restraint as public sector workers, the spokesman said: “The Government’s position on public sector pay is well-known.”

Will 2013 be better?

jubilee marmite "limited edition"

jubilee marmite “limited edition” (Photo credit: osde8info)

Like it or Hate it:  2012 has been a glorious year, the Jubilee, The first British winner of The Tour de France, our Olympians and Paralmpians who can only be described as National Heroes and – if you’re a rugby fan like me – England trouncing The All Conquering World Champion All Blacks at Twickenham.

For the prime minister, 2012 is best described in one word: omnishambles.

The year started with snow that was blamed for zero growth, but don’t worry the Jubilee will spur the flagging economy into growth. When no growth appeared the Jubilee was blamed!

We had the self destructing budget and Pastygate which could have come straight out of an episode of Yes Prime Minster. Most of the budget didn’t survive expect of course for the scrapping of the 50p tax band. No surprise there then.

Nor will Mr Cameron remember with joy the Leveson Inquiry where we learned how he shared intimate texts – and a horse – with a tabloid editor.

It hasn’t been much better for the deputy prime minister. He lost a Cabinet minister to an alleged traffic offence, he lost his plan to reform the House of Lords, and yes, he lost a shed load of elections.

His, two-year too late, apology for raising tuition fees was mocked across the internet.

And as a coalition, on the only issue that matters, Messrs Cameron and Clegg have not done much better.

The economy has double dipped and the forecasts are grim with a triple dip looking limey for 2013. The small flicker of optimism is that they remain united on cutting the deficit.

In the new year, the coalition will try to build on that unity by publishing a mid-term report, setting out their plans for transport, child care, youth unemployment and social care but as spring beckons that unity will be tested.

Having fallen out with the Tories over the budget, Lords reform, boundary changes, energy policy, the Leveson report and drugs reform. With the 2015 election looming closer the Lib Dems will attempt to use these differences to highlight differences between them and the Tories.

The rows over secret courts and communications data will be fought on open ground. There will also be tensions as both parties try to agree the nation’s budget for the first year of the next parliament, a spending review dominated by, well, less spending.

As for the Conservatives, there’ll be continuing division over gay marriage but it is Europe that presents the toughest challenge. Mr Cameron will in January give a long-awaited speech in which he will promise a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. The risk is that he does not go far enough to satisfy his own party or those attracted to the UK Independence Party.

UKIP have done well in elections this year as the new party of protest, regularly coming third in opinion polls ahead of the Lib Dems. Their challenge now is to start turning that support into seats in Parliament and elsewhere.

Labour have had a reasonable year. They are ahead in the opinion polls, they took a seat off the Tories in a by-election and their leader Ed Miliband has shown growing confidence at the dispatch box.

And yet questions remain. The party’s begun yet another policy review and it is still not entirely clear what Labour is offering voters on issues like education, health and, yes, the economy.

Some time soon the two Eds – Miliband and Balls – will have to set out what spending they intend to cut if they are to win trust on the economy.

North of the border, the battle for and against Scotland’s independence will heat up. The polls for now are leaning against the SNP who’ve got into difficulties over an independent Scotland’s relationship with the EU.

But there is a lot of time until the referendum in 2014 and opinion polls can change. So politics these days is fluid. Expect it to remain so in the year ahead.

What does Dismal Dave have to look forward to in 2013?

English: David Cameron's picture on the 10 Dow...

English: David Cameron’s picture on the 10 Downing Street website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Look behind you prime minister. Big set piece rebellions, disgruntled backbenchers and lurking ‘Big Beasts’, David Cameron has been given a rocky ride by his own party this year – and it does not look like 2013 will be any easier.


Conservative MPs conspired to kill of House of Lords reform, banded together with Labour to send the prime minister a symbolic eurosceptic message on the Brussels budget, fumed at suggestions prisoners may have to be given the vote and split over the Leveson report.


Coupled with big signature rebellions in the Commons, Tory MPs dissatisfied with the prime minister’s leadership of the party or with individual policy decisions are not shy about speaking out.


This year saw Nadine Dorries launch her now infamous “arrogant posh boys” attack on Cameron and George Osborne and it is not difficult to find other backbenchers who are willing to criticize their leader, if not perhaps in such colourful language and with such vehemence.


As well as the usual suspects, the ‘Big Beasts’ of the party also started to stir. Former leadership candidate David Davies teamed up with Liam Fox to articulate a more right wing message for the party – distinct from Cameron’s more deliberately liberal approach.


Ominously for Cameron, next year does not look likely to see a warming of relations between No.10 and the backbenches, with several confrontations penciled in for January.


First up will be Cameron’s speech on the EU. His “tantric” teasing of his backbenchers by delaying the speech has raised expectations and most will settle for nothing less than a pledge to hold an in or out referendum.


In the same month the coalition will introduce legislation to allow gay couples to marry. Cameron will allow his MPs a free vote, but with over 100 Tories expected to oppose the plan the Bill will expose a deep rift in the party. The split will gift Labour a chance to rubbish Cameron’s claims to have detoxified his party.


The repercussions of Leveson will roll on, with Tory MPs in favour of the statutory underpinning of press regulation, a move opposed by the prime minister, unlikely to keep quiet.


And of course, there is the small issue of the economy.


Clacton MP Douglas Carswell says the internal strife could be solved if the government beings to show signs it is pursuing a “coherent and credible free market policy” on the economy and addresses backbench concerns about the EU – starting with the prime minister’s speech.


“I think in order to be credible it will have to make it clear there will be a referendum it also needs to make it clear in that referendum an option will be in or out,” he says.


“If we get it right on the two big fundamental issues of the day all the other stuff will melt away. Those are the bread and butter issues that decide elections.”


He predicts unless Cameron can show he means business on the economy and Europe other disagreements, such as same-sex weddings, will continue to “flare up” and take on a significance they would not otherwise have.


“I find the issue of equal marriage the whole row deeply depressing,” Carswell says. “People I respect are fighting each other. I think both sides need to take a deep breath and remember Christmas is a season of good cheer, let’s get it right on the two big issues.”


Tory MPs fear that the biggest winner from the government’s approach to the EU and game marriage will be Ukip – which has the power to deny Cameron an overall majority at the next election if it snatches a few votes in marginal seats.


Recent polls have shown the anti-EU party led by Nigel Farage securing record levels of support, largely at the expense of the Tories.


Carswell puts Farage’s success to more than Europe. “I think the anti-politician mood, the anti-mainstream mood, can only really be dealt with by making parties open source,” he says.


He urges the Conservative leadership to embrace political change including open primaries and the introduction of a recall bill. The Tory party can no longer ben run as “private clubs from the 1950s”


Neutralising Farage as an electoral threat will be a real test for Cameron, as Ukip will hope to continue its advance next year with the goal of winning the 2014 European elections.


The prime minister could be in for a tough 2013. And that’s before mentioning the problems Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband may cause him.