Alan Milburn – There is only so long you can push water uphill
Last night Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary who had been appointed by David Cameron as the government’s ‘social mobility tsar’ in 2012, announced that he would not be continuing in the role any longer, and nor will any of the current membership of his team. This morning, Milburn spoke to Andrew Marr about the reasons for his departure:
Milburn: I care deeply about the issue and I believe that it matters profoundly to the country. I’ve reached the conclusion sadly that with the current government there is little, if any hope of progress being made towards the fairer Britain that the Prime Minister has talked about. The government, probably for understandable reasons is focused on Brexit and seems to lack the bandwidth to be able to translate the rhetoric of healing social division and promoting social justice into reality. So I’m afraid I reached the conclusion that there’s only so long you can go on pushing water up hill.
Marr: These are areas of desperate deprivation around the country where people are stuck and angry. Theresa May has only had 18 months as Prime Minister. She came in saying that she would correct ‘burning injustices’. Are you saying that she’s simply unable to do that?
Milburn: No. The Prime Minister, I have got no doubt, has a personal commitment to social justice. She has championed quite unfashionable causes in her time – modern slavery for example – but what is lacking here is meaningful political action to translate very good words into deeds. In the end what counts in politics is not what you talk about, it’s what you do…
Marr: Some people will say ‘No surprise here, here is a former Labour minister, never a fan of the Tories, working under a Tory Prime Minister. He’s not been reappointed, he’s going and he’s kicking her as he goes out the door’.
Milburn: Of course people will say that sort of thing, but frankly it’s a bit pathetic… We’ve tried to change the terms of the political debate in the country, and I think that we have. What is needed is really clear leadership to translate perfectly good words into actions that will make a difference.
Marr: And the Prime Minister is not providing that leadership?
Milburn: At the moment, not.
However, when asked if Jeremy Corbyn would be the better option for social mobility, Milburn replied ‘I don’t think he is the answer, personally’, adding… ‘The social divides, unfortunately, are now being paralleled by a political polarization in the country. That isn’t good for our sense of being a united kingdom rather than an ever more divided one’.
Jeremy Hunt – European law ‘will not have sway over British law’
Jeremy Hunt raised a few eyebrows this morning by boldly claiming that there could easily be ‘no Brexit’. In an apparent warning to the Brexiteers currently in a bother over government concessions, Hunt said:
‘I think there’s an even bigger point here, that the choice we face now is not between this Brexit and that Brexit; if we don’t back Theresa May we will have no Brexit – and she is doing an unbelievably challenging job amazingly well.’
However, this scenario remains extremely unlikely for as long as the current government remains in place – under the provisions of Article 50, if negotiations fail, the default option is that the UK would leave the EU with no deal. The Health Secretary also became the first Cabinet Minister to outline the circumstances in which the European Court of Justice could continue to be able to have jurisdiction in the UK. Jeremy Hunt told Robert Peston that in the case of EU migrants living in the UK and vice versa, the ECJ could still play an important role. However, he asserted that in a purely domestic context the Supreme Court would no longer have a higher authority:
.@Jeremy_Hunt becomes the first Cabinet Minister to explain contentious government proposals for the ECJ to have a permanent role protecting the rights of EU migrants after Brexit. #Peston pic.twitter.com/sFEfVed1wg
— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) December 3, 2017
Peston: You were in the cabinet meeting which… contentiously said in the case of EU migrants, if the Supreme Court feels that it needs to take advice on European law, it can refer cases to the European Court of Justice. Many of your colleagues regard that as wholly toxic and wholly contrary to what they think the British people want.
Hunt: I don’t agree with that. I think this is just a technical point. We have a common law system, and where there isn’t common law in the case of EU migrants…
Peston: In your view it is clear that British law has precedence and the ECJ does not in your view have sway here?
Hunt: Absolutely. The Supreme Court will decide what the law of the country is in this country as voted on by Parliament. That is the big thing that Theresa May has achieved… This is a negotiation and there are technical things that we have to sort out, but the fact is that the ECJ will not have sway over British law. This is a very big change. And I think we have to accept that in terms of migrants rights, we have lots of Brits who are living over in Spain, and there are lots of Europeans who are living over here. There’s going to need to be some kind of co-operation between the legal systems of the EU and UK to make this work, but this is a detail. The big thing is that will not have sway over British law.
When asked about the effect of social media on mental health, Hunt replied ‘When it comes to mental health we know there is a correlation between people who have mental health issues and people who spend a very long time online,’ and added that ‘Technology needs to be part of the solution, it shouldn’t be the problem’.
Justine Greening – Social mobility is ‘a generational challenge’
The Education Secretary defended the government’s record on social mobility against Milburn’s earlier attacks. Milburn had earlier singled Greening out as someone who was keen to see him stay in post, something which Greening did not deny. Greening commented that ‘Alan has done a fantastic job’, but she countered his claims the government was not making progress in this area:
Marr: If the four people you put into place to oversee [social mobility] say ‘Nothing is happening’… surely people are going to believe them?
Greening: I absolutely don’t agree with them. When you look at what we’re doing in my own area, we have set up opportunity areas working inside and outside schools and communities to improve education results. If you look at school standards overall they’re continuing to rise – 1.9 million more children in great primary and secondary schools who wouldn’t have been before. Going beyond that look at the technical educational reforms we’re bringing forward, and of course today, announcements around mental health, which will remove some of the barriers which hold children back.
Marr: As a politician… don’t you look at those areas of extreme deprivation and think ‘Something really bad is going wrong here’? The Joseph Rowntree Foundation are going to say tomorrow that in terms of poverty for pensioners and for children, things have got worse in a way that hasn’t happened for 20 years. There is a quiet, slow, but real crisis in this country.
Greening: I think there is a real problem that we need to fix. Britain is not a country where we have equality of opportunity. Where you grow up affects your future far too much. Your circumstances affect your future far too much…
Marr: You’ve been in government for 7 years.
Greening: This is a generational challenge. But actually when you look at the results of what we’ve achieved… we are seeing standards in our schools rise, critically we’re seeing the attainment gap narrow. We’re bringing forward our reforms in technical education that will mean for the half of our young people who don’t go to university, they will get every bit as world class an education post 16… We’re mobilising British business to make sure they’re providing the opportunities…
Marr: You certainly talk the talk. I’m just saying that out there, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Greening: I’m saying that we’re delivering… and we’re making sure we’re doing it in the places where it needs to happen and is most important.
On the issue of Brexit, Greening urged that ‘Everybody needs to get behind the Prime Minister’ and in the case of the border with Ireland stated that ‘I don’t think there is actually any difference between what the government of Ireland and the government of the United Kingdom want’.
Michael Howard – Damian Green allegations risk damaging trust in the police
Former Home Secretary and Conservative leader Lord Howard has argued that the allegations from retired police officers against the embattled First Secretary of State Damian Green – namely that he viewed pornography on his workplace computer – risk damaging trust between the public and the police. The allegations were made against Green in the wake of an accusation that he had touched a journalist’s knee. Green strenuously denies any wrongdoing on all counts. Howard discussed the matter with Sarah Smith:
Michael Howard says policing in Britain is based on trust between the police and the public and leaking confidential information by retired police officers is "damaging that trust" #bbcsp pic.twitter.com/FrFHQ6qVik
— BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics (@daily_politics) December 3, 2017
Smith: You’ll know that there have been more stories reported this week, around the accusations that [Green] viewed pornography on his parliamentary computer, something which he absolutely resolutely denies. If it is discovered that he wasn’t telling the truth when he told the Prime Minister he hadn’t done this, that would be a resigning matter wouldn’t it?
Howard: That’s [a] hypothetical question. Damian was my parliamentary neighbour for many years. He’s denied it. I believe him. And I agree with those who have condemned the leaking of information by these retired police officers. I think that’s a very serious matter indeed. Policing in this country is based on trust between police and the public, and if we have retired police offers leaking confidential information of this kind, it will be very damaging to that trust.
On Brexit, Howard went on to say ‘I have confidence in the judgment of the Prime Minister and David Davis. I am content to let them decide what is the best deal’ and claimed that the EU was ‘in breach of Article 50’ because of its refusal to begin talks about the UK’s future trading relationship.
Nigel Farage – It’s not hypocrisy to take my EU pension
And finally, while reviewing the papers today on the Andrew Marr Show, Nigel Farage told the nation that if he is deemed eligible, he will be claiming his full £73,000 EU pension and that it is not hypocritical of him to do so:
Marr: One of the things you’ve been very eloquent about is lavish overspending of EU funds. And I noticed that one Nigel Farage is going to get a £73,000 pension.
Farage: This is very important. There are 22,000 people who either receive or who are in line for EU pensions. It just happens to be me they’re talking about [in the Sunday Times]. All I can say is given the arbitrary way the European Union behaves in terms of money, I’d be very surprised if I get any of it.
Marr: This is your moment on live television to say that I will stick by my principles – ‘I, Nigel Farage, would not accept this pension’.
Farage: I’m not going to get it anyway, so I don’t think this will even occur.
Marr: But if it did, you wouldn’t take it?
Farage: Of course I would take it. I’ve said that from day one. Why should my family and others suffer even more?.. It is not hypocrisy. I just voted to get rid of my job. I was the turkey who voted for Christmas… If it was hypocrisy, I would have said that we should stay in the EU.