Saturday, November 07, 2015


Tony Thomas attended the recent UK Conservative Party conference on behalf of the ICF. He has now issued his report and we thought our readers might find it of interest:

Lord Feldman, Chairman of the Conservative Party opened the Conference, saying, with reference to the Labour Party, that we need to defend ourselves. Heads as well as hearts. The Party needed to maintain a world-class campaign team. The average age of the Party is rising, and he was concerned about the lack of contact with youth. It was a Party of opportunity for all, and was debt-free.
He was followed by Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, who said that Britain was meeting her defence budget. Labour was a threat to our security. He said we will defeat ISIS, and pledged support for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.  
Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said there were 4000 servicemen and women operational in 21 centres. His reference to the Armed Services drew a standing ovation. WE were meeting our target of 2% of GDP spending on NATO.  Now was no time for Britain to retreat from the world. WE will build 4 ballistic submarines.
The Secretary of State for International Development said we were committed to spending 0.7 of   GDP on overseas aid. A video recording from Bill Gates and the President of the World Bank  gave tribute to Britain’s commitment to this target. She said the solving of the Ebola crisis was an example of Britain at its best.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke  on Monday morning.  He said if we take the right decisions people trust you. We must not let us rest on our laurels. “We are the builders”. There was a record number of people in work. He referred to this autumn when the Spending Review had to be made. There were tough decisions.  He wanted to “fix the roof when the sun is shining”. He wanted a low welfare and high wage economy. There would be lower taxes for the lowest paid, and a National Living Wage. He was going to build a home-owning democracy, and get Pension Funds to invest in infrastructure. He announced an independent National  Infrastructure Commission, chaired by Lord Adonis, the former Labour Minister to advise on rebuilding.  WE would never be part of the Single currency (the Eurozone). Being an MP in the North had changed him. He was committed to development of the Northern Powerhouse. We must live within our means. He would give Councils the right to keep their own rates (these exceed Government grants)  and abolish the uniform business rate.
Tony went to a Housing “fringe” meeting where it was said that 15% of publicly-owned land (NHS, railways etc) would be released for building. Most tenants wish to be home-owners. 60% of London’s Police live outside London. 40% of housing in London is built by Housing Associations and the Government is to give them powers to sell to tenants. 99% of land owned by City Hall London is now being developed. By 2020 London’s population is expected to be 10 millions. Tony asked a question re council housing, especially as councils would have income from their rates. It was felt there would be a case for that, but that many councils had disbanded their departments and there was a serious shortage of skilled craftsmen.  Many homes in London were built for the investment market. Overall there was concern for the housebuilding programme. The Leader of Harrow Council said 240,000 homes are required.
In the afternoon the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said a strong environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. There was a growing demand for British food. Kew was a global asset.  The role of science and data was invaluable in charting the way ahead.
Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary of State, spoke on Tuesday, saying that there were now 80,000 prisoners. He has plans for  training them in skills, so they can be usefully employed on release, following an investigation he made in Texas. At present far too many re-offend after release. He said every life is precious. Three-quarters of offenders have an absent father. Many are victims of domestic violence. He arranged for  a representative from Timpsons, the shoe repairers to recount how his firm are now the biggest employers of ex-offenders in the country. Nine of their shops are now being managed by ex-offenders. (they do not train them to cut keys!)
Theresa  May, the Home Secretary, spoke next. She said the UK was the biggest donor after the USA to give aid to the Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan for their refugees. The numbers coming from Europe must be controlled. Net migration is still too high. We don’t need a European Common Asylum policy. We need to cut the need to enter Britain. There is a difference between economic migrants and refugees. Our present infrastructure cannot sustain a high level of migrants.
The candidate for the Mayor of London spoke in the afternoon. Next year is the election. Rents are already twice the national average and there is a need to build more homes.There is no shortage of land. He was followed by Boris Johnson, who gave a witty speech, as he usually does.
Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary said that there were now 2 million more employed. He would ensure that work pays better than welfare.Work our way out of poverty. He would ensure that policy makes families stronger. He welcomed the Chancellor’s introduction of the National Living Wage. There were no people more fair-minded than in the UK.
The Head Teacher of an Academy School in Stourbridge introduced four pupils from the school who spoke confidently of their educational  opportunities. He was followed by a worker with vulnerable youth in Rugby. His organisation selected 10/15 young people and trained them for 2 years. He said 63% of prisoners miss mainstream education. His organisation receives support from the private sector. He was succeeded by the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, who said that teaching was the noblest of professions.
Speakers from the regions were given a good hearing, some a standing ovation (Wales and Scotland).
The Prime Minister gave the closing address. A third of the Cabinet are women. A one nation Party. He would defend the Union with his all. He would not fight another election as Leader. WE need to tackle some deep social problems – poverty, blocked opportunity, the shadow of extremism. Britain does n’t just need a stronger economy – it needs a stronger society. “My first duty as Prime Minister is to keep people safe”. He took action to eliminate  British subjects in Syria planning terrorist attacks on UK soil. “If we opened the door to every refugee, our country would be overwhelmed. The best thing we can do is help neighbouring countries, the Syrian people and the refugees in the camps...and when we do take refugees, to take them from the region.” We will spend 2% of GDP on defence. (the audience gave a standing ovation to the Armed Services). On Europe he said Britain is not interested in “ever closer union”. He wanted renegotiation of terms. On the economy he said there was more inward investment  than any other country except America and China. “but, if anyone thinks the battle on the economy is won, they need to think again. The battle has only just begun.....we can’t just be thinking about today, we should be thinking about the rainy days that could come – just like a family does.” He spoke of housing needs – the Help to Buy scheme and the Right to Buy, and also building affordable homes to buy. With reference to social reform, he said, “It is people that fire me up”.The best route out of poverty is work. “We must also stop children needing to be in care at all.” “If we tackle the causes of poverty, we can make our country greater.” He was passionate about academies and free schools. He was upset that in Britain today, even if  they have the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic=sounding names. He wanted his Party that did n’t care where people come from, but only where they were going. He said we must take on extremism in all its forms, and we need to tackle segregation . He called for an end to passive tolerance – enforce the laws. Free speech – and the best literature in the world. “The fight against extremism is the fight for our existence.”  He believed that  this era, the 2010’s, could become a defining decade for the country. A Greater Britain.
                                                                                                                                       Tony Thomas 12.10.2015

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