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The Daily Telegraph

The adoption crisis is a legacy of target culture 

12th November 2014

Rules intended to speed up the process have led to fewer children finding a suitable home

The Daily Mail

How can rewarding the feckless and punishing the hardworking be the right way to support families?

19th August 2014

The Times and Sunday Times

Arrogant Bercow should be brought to heel

20th August 2014

The Speaker’s nonsensical appointment of a new clerk of the Commons threatens to bring parliament into disrepute

The British parliament is the envy of the world, a model for lawmaking. So as the public lose trust in politicians, the reputation of parliament itself is crucial. That is why the row over the appointment of a new clerk to the House of Commons, at a salary of £200,000 a year, is not just a silly season Westminster spat. The prime minister should intervene.

The clerk of the House reports to the Speaker and is responsible for ensuring that parliamentary procedure is observed. This is not just fusty tradition: these rules allow MPs to be properly heard in debates, for due weight to be given to proposed law changes and for parliamentary privilege and freedom of speech to be upheld. The rules are  set out in Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, now in its 24th edition and comprising 45 detailed chapters. They are an essential part of the UK constitution.

John Bercow, the Speaker, depends on the guidance of the clerk and his or her team, as does every MP. The clerk’s salary is much higher than the prime minister’s because it is pegged to that of a lord justice of appeal, which suggests its quasi-judicial status. Indeed, the clerk has the authority to correct the Speaker if necessary, as Mr Bercow’s predecessor, Michael Martin, found to his cost. Mr Martin, under fire for his failure to respond to public concern about MPs’ expenses, tried to slap down backbench attempts to instigate a motion to unseat him. On consulting the clerk, Mr Martin was proved wrong; he resigned the next day.

Perhaps Mr Bercow is keen to avoid this fate. He is said to have clashed with the current clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, who is standing down after more than four decades of service. Sir Robert is said to find Mr Bercow’s domineering behaviour towards him intolerable.

In common with his predecessors, who have typically spent their working lives in parliament, Sir Robert not only has a comprehensive grip of procedure but also knows every MP by name. This knowledge is not lightly acquired, which is why the obvious front-runner to replace him is his current deputy, David Natzler. But Mr Natzler, despite being well-liked and respected by parliamentarians, has been passed over by Mr Bercow, who proposes to appoint instead Carol Mills, a manager from the Australian senate.

Ms Mills has apparently been chosen for her management skills, having been responsible for catering and other administrative services at the Senate. Yet she is totally unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure. The clerk of the Australian Senate, Rosemary Laing, described the potential appointment of Ms Mills as “bizarre and an affront”. Baroness Boothroyd, the former Speaker has this week joined her voice to the criticism, declaring that Ms Mills would be “totally out of her depth”.

In choosing a clerk with so much to learn Mr Bercow clearly wants to grab more authority for himself. At the very least, he is showing disdain for the institution he is meant to serve.

To date, he has shown not only a determination to modernise his role but also to put his personal stamp on it. His decision to reject the speaker’s traditional robes and breeches, in favour of a lounge suit and schoolmaster’s gown, was an early indication of his tendency: to assume that his own choices are more important than the office he occupies.

Yet parliament is much greater than the sum of its parts. What makes it great is not its MPs or indeed its officers, but the collective wisdom drawn from its rules and traditions, built up over eight centuries. Foremost among the guardians of those traditions is the clerk of the House. Governments and prime ministers come and go; they rise and fall in public esteem and the quality of their governance varies widely. But their mistakes, their whims and preferences, and the possibilities of corruption, are curtailed by the “mother of parliaments”.

If, when the Chilcot inquiry finally reports, questions are raised again about whether Tony Blair knowingly misled the House of Commons over the Iraq war, there may be calls for the former prime minister to be impeached. The decision whether or not to do so will lie with the House of Commons, under the guidance of the chief clerk. Should this be a former Australian services manager or a clerk whose working life has been steeped in the workings of our democracy?

Mr Bercow’s wish to jettison institutional wisdom to further his own agenda must be overruled immediately. The clerk’s post is a Crown appointment, which must be authorised by the Queen on the advice of her prime minister. There are two problems. The passed-over deputy clerk, Mr Natzler, is said to be planning a sex discrimination case, arguing that the reason he was rejected for preferment was his gender. Ms Mills is also facing an investigation into her department’s decision to allow CCTV surveillance of an Australian minister’s office. The Queen should not be invited to ratify Ms Mills’s appointment with these issues still outstanding.

It is hard to see how such a controversial candidate can occupy this post with the quiet authority that is needed. The prime minister has the power to send this proposed appointment back to the Speaker and ask him to think again. He must do so.

First win hearts and minds. then win elections.

16th April 2014

Politicians must win the battle of ideas, and the Conservatives are at last making progress in tax and welfare debates

Has George Osborne finally decided that Conservatives can win the battle of ideas? The Chancellor’s new-found confidence, derived from a well-received budget and a growing economy, seems to be inspiring him to seek a change in the terms of debate. Given the importance of positive language in winning hearts and minds, this could be a crucial turning point. On Monday he appeared to lay to rest a negative description of tax cuts that for many years pervaded every speech he made on the subject.

The pejorative phrase “unfunded tax cuts” entered the political lexicon back in 2006, when Gordon Brown used it to slap down Blairites on the Labour benches. It was swiftly adopted by Mr Osborne, then shadow chancellor, who deployed it at regular intervals to dampen expectations that he would cut taxes. Notably, he used it to rebuff his own Tax Reform Commission’s proposals for increases in the personal allowance, asserting that he would (like Mr Brown) put “stability” ahead of reductions in tax — as if the two were mutually exclusive.

Such timidity in the face of Labour’s arguments has now, it seems, been overcome. This week, heralding the results of a new Treasury analysis showing that freezing fuel duty has contributed to growth, the Chancellor was bullish about the ability of tax cuts not only to help “fund” themselves, but also to boost the economy. This analysis came hard on the heels of the news that cutting the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p resulted in £9 billion of extra revenue to the Treasury — too big a margin to be explained away by deferred earnings. Instead of trying to defend “tax cuts for the rich”, Mr Osborne can now ask Ed Balls: “How would you fund a return to the 50p tax rate?”

Seizing the initiative in this way is hugely important for the Conservatives, who have spent too long — both in opposition and in government — on the defensive. Fearful of seeming to relish their task, ministers have often appeared apologetic about the decision to cut state spending. Yes, deficit reduction is a necessary and vital task — albeit one in which the government has made painfully slow progress — but it is not the only reason to curb the excesses of the Labour years.

The growth of the state was not just financially costly. As the long arm of government reached further into our businesses, our schools and our families, it squashed initiative, eroded trust and — as we have now learnt — increased inequality. The Blair/Brown governments proved that spending more does not solve deep-rooted social problems; on the contrary, it often exacerbates them.

In their pre-election pledges to increase spending on overseas aid and the NHS, the Tories appeared to concede an important argument to Mr Brown: only by spending more taxpayers’ money can you prove you care. Yet the cabinet minister most associated with “compassionate Conservatism”, Iain Duncan Smith, has argued consistently that public spending creates dependency and damages lives. He has been vindicated by a steady accumulation of data showing that tougher welfare sanctions are getting people back to work, confounding his left-wing critics.

The number of UK households where no one has a job has fallen from 20 per cent in 2010 to 16.6 per cent last year. Figures released yesterday show that in more than 4,000 of the households affected by the government’s benefits cap, working-age adults have now found jobs. If Labour had achieved these advances it would be proclaiming them from the rooftops.

Children growing up in a home where no one is working were among the greatest victims of the Labour years, lacking any role model for their future lives and learning to accept joblessness as a way of life. In describing the plight of these households, Mr Duncan Smith has rightly refused to describe the welfare dependent as feckless scroungers. Indeed, his preferred terminology is not welfare “cuts” but welfare “reform”. This insistence on positive language has reaped popular dividends, with polling showing consistent support for the government on this issue.

It is said that Mr Osborne’s new, positive language is at the behest of the Conservative campaign adviser Lynton Crosby, who has been concerned that the party is too often on the intellectual defensive. In observing Mr Duncan Smith’s success in getting voters on side, however, the Treasury should also take note of the role of think-tanks in crafting and promoting policy. Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievements, in curbing big government and unleashing enterprise, would not have taken place without free-market think-tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies. Mr Duncan Smith’s own policy agenda was developed over the past decade by the important think-tank he himself founded; the Centre for Social Justice.

As Ed Miliband presents the electorate with a vision of old-style price controls and renationalisation, it is imperative for Conservatives to win the battle of ideas. In doing so they must demonstrate, as Mrs Thatcher did, that ideas are not the preserve of policy wonks in dark rooms, but are capable of transforming millions of lives. Key to the ideas’ success will be the language in which they are expressed. As Mr Osborne speaks of a “quiet revolution” where people come to realise they are better at spending their money than government, he is at last recognising the power of ideas and the vital necessity of sharing those ideas with voters. Otherwise it is your opponents who set the terms of debate.

Couples on £300k should pay for their own nannies

19 March 2014

David Cameron could soon be eligible for £6,000 a year of taxpayers’ cash to help him pay his nanny’s wages. The PM’s salary of £142,500 might seem a pretty comfortable annual income but things must be tougher than they look. The upper earnings limit for the coalition’s shiny new childcare subsidy is a whacking £150,000, or £300,000 for a couple, provided both parents are in paid work.

As long as Samantha’s part-time role at Smythson slips under this limit, the Camerons’ annual outlay on their Nepalese nanny could be nicely reduced. An extra £6,000 (£2,000 per child under 12) might come in handy. It might even pay for a chillaxing family holiday in Ibiza.

I can’t help thinking, however, that the Camerons, and other “hard-working families” on £300,000 a year, should pay for their own nannies. Nick Clegg, who is keen to take the credit for this government largesse, seeks to justify this generosity towards the rich by claiming that a lower cap would make things “too complicated”. Funnily enough, we didn’t hear the “too complicated” excuse when, two years ago, George Osborne confiscated child benefit from any family with a parent earning more than £50,000. They were labelled as the “better off” who should not, in the Chancellor’s view, be receiving support for raising children.

That confiscation has hit hardest families with only one breadwinner, for whom £50,000 represents their total annual income. These one-earner couples, typically with a mother at home looking after young children, are so far beyond the Government’s sphere of concern that they have been repeatedly punished by coalition policies. The increase in the tax-free personal allowance, for example, is worth half as much to them as to a dual-earner couple. The tax burden on one-earner families in the UK has risen steadily since 2010 and is now 45 per cent higher than the OECD average. And unlike the Prime Minister’s Notting Hill friends, these families will have no share at all in the latest childcare goodies.

Nor indeed will the very poorest couples, if one of them has the temerity to stay at home looking after their baby. In the eyes of the coalition, a mother who cares for her own children cannot by definition be “hard-working”. As far as Cameron, Clegg and Osborne are concerned, childcare is only worthy of financial recognition if someone else does it.

Jill Kirby is a policy analyst who blogs for The Conservative Woman

The nanny state must prove nannying works

31 May 2013

Is the Government really about to make some of the poorest working families in Britain worse off? 

Tax credit changes to encourage hard work can be justified but they have been bungled

6th April 2012

If you’ve got erotic capital, why not flaunt it?

Feminists may hate it, but good looks are just as important in the boardroom as the bedroom

23rd August 2011

Why Britain must spring its dependency trap

22 April 2011

Don’t tell us debt is bad then treat savers like mugs

7 April 2011

More maternity rights are bad for mothers

14 January 2011

National insurance is just a tax by another name

26 November 2010

Mummy, they’re misleading you about going back to work

The Sunday Times 8 August 2010

This retirement age needed pensioning off

30 July 2010

How Labour blew the children’s inheritance

11 June 2010

ASBOs can’t beat a neighbourhood policeman

30 September 2009

It’s not hard to spot the children really at risk

12 August 2009

Spare some change for our new billboard?

7 April 2009

Dithering ministers saddle us with an energy crunch

The Sunday Times, 3 August 2008

Parents beware: do-gooders want to push you aside

The Sunday Times, 8 February 2009

A mother’s place isn’t in the war zone

The Sunday Times, 1 April 2007

Scandal of the pension haves and have-nots

The Sunday Times, 25 February 2007

After Climbié, children are at even more risk

The Sunday Times, 11 February 2007

The hoodie needs a daddy, not a hug

The Sunday Times, 16 July 2006


The Daily Telegraph

Prison isn’t working for Huhne or for us

2nd April 2013

Neither the lax regime housing the disgraced MP nor high-security jails are fit for purpose

Our abortion law is being undermined

4th February 2013

The 1967 Act was never intended to make terminations a form of contraception.

Nick Clegg is not going to give working mothers a helping hand

14th November 2012

Mothers want to be able to spend more time with their children – this requires changes in the tax system, not pushing fathers to take paternity leave

Parenting should not be taught by the state

18th May 2012

David Cameron must not be led astray by Norway’s “Golden Skirts”

10 February 2012

Quotas are not the way to promote women’s interests

(Also covered as Talking Point  in The Week 10 February 2012)

Marriage desperately needs a royal boost

19 April 2011

When is the Coalition going to tackle the growing problem of family breakdown?

There is a way to save our lost children

22 February 2011

With 64,000 children in care, and adoption rates falling, reform is urgently needed.

Marriage makes us all richer – not poorer

8 February 2011

The cost to the nation of family breakdown is immense. It is time for politicians to act.

Prison is what Jon Venables knows best

24 July 2010

It might have been kinder to have left James Bulger’s killer in custody

Labour’s Katherine Rake is wrong: it takes two to mend a ‘broken …

1 December 2009

It is not in the interests of children to suggest that the nuclear family is dead.

The bigger Britain’s government gets, the worse it is for us …

10 July 2009

How has government become so disconnected from reality? Five techniques have been deployed to create the appearance of success while presiding over failure.

The equality agenda is bad news for women

30 July 2009

Women are being told to avoid ‘feminine’ jobs – but what they want is to stop being lectured.

The worst place to grow up is in care

7 November 2008

Councils should not be making it even harder for children to be adopted.

Why the NHS keeps failing mothers

10 July 2008

A lavishly funded health service in a Western economy should surely be able to guarantee every mother a properly supervised delivery. Where has it gone so wrong?

Tories must set parents free to raise children

16 June 2008

The Conservatives must develop their ideas for less state intervention in childcare.

Labour must stop penalising marriage

7 December 2005

Jill Kirby argues that the Chancellor’s policies have deepened the lone-parent trap.


Daily Express


27th October  2012

Couples are putting off having children because they need both salaries to pay the rent or to keep up their mortgage payments.

They also worry about the price of childcare and the sacrifices they will have to make to give their children a good start in life.

Why should their taxes be spent on allowing a jobless household to avoid these tough choices?



5th November 2011

We know that the coalition is fighting shy of a row about immigration.

But if it wants to cut the welfare bill, lift the burden on public services and get our young people into work it needs to talk about it.



10th September 2010

Today a child in a house where no one works may have access to a flatscreen TV and the latest trainers….



3rd February 2010

Do children have a duty to look after their parents in old age? The leading lawyer Baroness Deech believes we are too quick to shrug off our responsibilities…



2nd December 2009

Why won’t Gordon Brown stand up for marriage? The Prime Minister is, by all accounts, a happily married man…


The Independent

The trick is to succeed where a Labour government failed

28 July 2010


The five ways that government disguises failure as success

10 July 2009


The sinister Newspeak that makes cynics of us all

28 December 2007