Cameron's aim is to make it ever harder to challenge unfair cuts

The implications of the PM's plan to abolish equality impact assessments and restrict judicial review.

What lies behind David Cameron's latest bonfire of the regulations? One of the main, if largely unspoken, aims is to allow the government to introduce unfair spending cuts - and to ensure that they can't be challenged. Under equality law, the government is currently required to assess "the likely or actual effects of policies or services on people in respect of disability, gender and racial equality". But in his speech to the CBI's annual conference, Cameron announced that equality impact assessments, established after the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, would be scrapped on the grounds that since there are "smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy", we don't need "all this extra tick-box stuff." Thus, ministers will no longer have to prove that they have taken into account the effect of policies on the disabled, women, and ethnic minorities - you'll just have to take their word for it.

In some respects, Cameron's announcement is merely a formalisation of existing practice. Since coming to power, the government has regularly flouted equality law and refused to carry out impact assessments. In August 2010, the Fawcett Society brought a legal challenge against George Osborne's emergency Budget after the government failed to assess whether its measures would increase inequality between women and men. Of the £8bn of cuts announced in the Budget, £5.8bn fell on women.

Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission criticised the government for not considering the impact the benefits cap would have on women, the impact cuts to bus fare subsidies would have on disabled people, and the impact the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance would have on ethnic minorities (almost half of children from ethnic minorities live in low-income households).

At present, any groups disproportionately effected by government cuts, are able to seek a judicial review (as the Fawcett Society did). But Cameron intends to make it ever harder for them to do so. In his speech today, the PM announced that he would reduce the time limit for people to bring cases, charge more for reviews, and halve the number of possible appeals from four to two.

So, not only has Cameron increased the scope for discriminatory cuts, he has acted pre-emptively to ensure that there's even less we can do about it. As ever, one wonders, where are the Lib Dems?

smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they're making the policy. We don't need all this extra tick-box stuff.

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/uk/cameron-pledge-on-equality-rules-16239455.html#ixzz2CfZZKGdo

smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they're making the policy. We don't need all this extra tick-box stuff.

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/uk/cameron-pledge-on-equality-rules-16239455.html#ixzz2CfZS2EHh

smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they're making the policy. We don't need all this extra tick-box stuff.

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/uk/cameron-pledge-on-equality-rules-16239455.html#ixzz2CfZS2EHh

David Cameron addresses delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.