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My week (18 – 24 October)

October 25, 2010

Main event of the week was obviously the Comprehensive Spending Review.  This merits a note of its own, so I’ll confine myself here to the theatre of the announcement.  The House was packed to hear the Chancellor end months of speculation on the contents of the CSR.  Many of his predecessors (Tory and Labour) were sat in the Peers’ gallery.  I would not say that I am normally the biggest fan of George Osborne’s speaking style.  But on this occasion he was calm and measured, especially in answering the hour and half worth of questions that followed. The expressions on the faces of Labour MPs told a story.  They had spent months predicting Armageddon for public services and the poor.  They sat through the statement looking remarkably glum, as the story clearly didn’t match the build up.  The Chancellor announced at the end that the cuts were set at 19%, lower than the figures Labour had been predicting and lower than the 20% suggested by Labour as its own policy. This was met with laughter and some cheering – entirely at Labour’s expense.  Personally, I don’t go in for the traditional Commons ballyhoo and order paper waving…

The statement wasn’t all cuts either.  The NHS gets year on year increases and the schools budget is protected.  The best news was confirmation of £2.5 billion a year extra funding for the pupil premium – a key Lib Dem policy and one which I spoke about more than any other in my election campaign in Bristol West.  I asked the Chancellor to confirm the funding and spoke of my own experience of being on free school meals, the key qualification for the new funding.

Back in Bristol on Thursday evening I was able to mention another area where this coalition government will have a good record.  The Bristol Festival of Ideas (see http://www.ideasfestival.co.uk/?p=521 ) held a debate at the Watershed on the “Robin Hood Tax”.  The CSR has given a wopping 47% increase in funds to the Department for International Development.  Britain will be the first major economy in the world to reach the target of 0.7% of national income being given in overseas aid.  Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Luxemburg are already there.  The Robin Hood tax campaign want a mix of three funding streams, broadly being a bank levy, a tax on bank bonuses and a transactions tax (commonly known as the Tobin Tax) on speculative transactions such as currency deals.  I support the broad thrust of the campaign.  The government has made a start with a £2.5 billion banks levy.  An independent commission is looking at the structure of banking and has been asked to consider a FAT – a financial activities tax.

In the Commons much of my time this week was taken up with constitutional reform.  The Bill allowing the referendum on AV and resizing of constituencies continues to make progress.  I spoke in the debate on the size of the House, which is set to fall from 650 to 600.  I said that Britain compared to other countries (and after my visit to the US, used the State of Michigan as an example) had remarkably few elected politicians.  We actually do politics on the cheap, relying on a lot of part time or pure voluntary service by councillors, JPs and school governors.

The Political Reform Select Committee continued our look at post election procedures and coalition forming.  Oliver Letwin gave evidence.  He described the coalition talks as a game of battleships and owned up to being an avid reader of Lib Dem policy documents!

Finally, the constituency weekend saw two pleasant events.  I visited St Nicholas Tolentino School in Easton.  Years 5 and 6 had written to me about their community.  The children are particularly concerned about local parks and litter in the streets.  They showed their work to the full school assembly and then I met them in class.  From there it was off to the Mansion House to witness the awarding of the German Order of Merit to Ann Newby.  The German Ambassador presented her with her medal to make her many years service as the German Honourary Consul in Bristol.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2010 3:28 pm

    This turgid and lengthy blog entry is an attempt to bury the much commented on post below.

    So I’ll repeat the question here for your convenience Stephen.

    Do you plan to apologise to Bristol West’s residents/students for breaking your promise on fees and increases?

    • October 25, 2010 5:44 pm

      I suggest you read my responses in the relevant blog.
      Sorry if you find the whole range of what I do in a week boring. Don’t bother standing for office if you think speaking in debates, visiting schools and supporting constituents is dull.

      Your entries say so much more about your character than mine.

      • Christopher Marshall permalink
        October 25, 2010 9:36 pm

        Mr Williams, what a rude response, it seems more like a personal attack than an actual response to a comment posted by Bristol resident.

        I would advise that YOU don’t bother standing for office if you cannot handle such comments.

      • October 26, 2010 10:50 am

        Stephen what do you suppose you achieve by these increasingly irrational responses?

        Someone on the other page stated “It’s hard to believe you are a real MP.”

        You aren’t painting yourself in the best of lights by simply ignoring the question.

        All we want to know is will you oppose an increase in fees or not?

        Which is what you pledged here:

        A failure to even acknowledge my question because I’m not a member of your party is neither liberal or democratic.

  2. Joe permalink
    October 25, 2010 6:47 pm

    “The best news was confirmation of £2.5 billion a year extra funding for the pupil premium”

    But surely Michael Gove told the BBC Politics Show, “Some of it comes from within the department for education budget, yes”

    So is it extra? Are you right or is the Secretary of State?

    • October 25, 2010 9:45 pm

      the department does much more than schools. The policy is certainly meant to be that the schools budget is protected, with the pupil premium coming from non school budgets. Given that it’s to be £2.5billion a year much of it must come from outside the department and I assume all of it from outside the schools budget.

      • Joe permalink
        October 26, 2010 6:57 am

        How come the IFS indicate that nearly 9 out of 10 secondary schools and more than half of primary schools will see a real terms fall in per pupil funding? The simple fact is that, after the pupil premium is factored in, the rise in funding is 0.1%.

        And with all that rising demand for primary places in Bristol West a 0.1% rise ain’t going to go very far is it?

        The pupil premium is a good idea. But is being underminded by the abject failure to fund it properly.

    • Jermel permalink
      October 25, 2010 9:46 pm

      He meant The Schools Budget…the argument is over pragmatics….

      Gove said on the Politics show that some of it is coming from outside the Schools budget but still within the Education budget (The distinction being that one exists within the other)

  3. Christopher Marshall permalink
    October 25, 2010 9:34 pm

    Mr Williams.

    Please answer questions that are put to you by members of YOUR constituency, myself included,

    Do you plan to apologise to residents for your U-turn of tuition fees?!

    If not then why not!? I mean you did follow the party line prior to the election did you not? And now your party has made a U-turn of their own it seems you are once again following the party line. Right or Wrong Mr Williams?

    • Jermel permalink
      October 25, 2010 9:45 pm

      He hasn’t made a U-turn on tuition fees as nothing has been announced yet?

      How about waiting for an actual official announcement before you begin the jeering..also…he pledged to put ‘pressure on the government to introduce a fairer alternative’ so again…where has he pulled a U-turn?

      Anything you have heard about this is speculation…so unless you can see into the future…

    • October 25, 2010 9:47 pm

      Christopher – Please read my posts on the blog that deals with this issue. I have not made a u -turn, as the article makes clear.

      • harryT permalink
        October 26, 2010 9:53 am

        Yes Christopher. We established on the other post that our MP is a turncoat, not a u-turner. Get the definitions right.

        [Unless that is he chooses to vote against the tuition fees rise]

  4. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    October 27, 2010 10:47 am

    Perhaps somebody will explain to a mere non-party political person like myself how you can possibly have a coalition without both sides having to make concessions. Surely, at times you have to go along with what you don’t really believe in, so at others you can exert your influence. In the present situation, the Lib/Dems are by far the smallest of the two parties involved, and it seems to me their influence is greater than this warrants.

  5. November 14, 2010 12:19 pm

    Commenting ahead of Lord Mandelson’s announcement that students should be treated like consumers and given more information about courses, Liberal Democrat Shadow Universities Secretary, Stephen Williams said:

    “While giving students more information and more choice is good, it is clear that what Mandelson is really doing is laying the groundwork for a hike in tuition fees after the election.

    “The Government has colluded with the Tories to keep tuition fees off the agenda until after polling day.

    “This is cynical and dishonest and will plunge students into even more debt without any public debate. The Liberal Democrats want to scrap tuition fees and will fight any attempt to raise the cap.”

  6. anonymous permalink
    November 14, 2010 12:28 pm

    I see you’re getting around the constituency office occupoations by hiding behind a PO box. Nice. Can’t wait for the election when you lose your seat. Enjoy it while it lasts big man!

    • November 16, 2010 4:42 pm

      what an odd posting from someone who doesn’t reveal their identity. Many MPs use a PO Box number for the safe delivery of large amounts of mail. I am not the only one in Bristol.

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