David Cameron's reshuffle does not "reflect modern Britain". Photo: Getty
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This reshuffle shows David Cameron doesn't have a clue about modern Britain

The PM had the chance with his reshuffle to signal that he intends to make a fresh start in tackling a divided and uneasy country. But he fluffed it. 

David Cameron said that the cabinet reshuffle was designed to “reflect modern Britain”.

So, we now know what the Prime Minister thinks modern Britain looks like.

He says it looks like him; and his Cabinet.

 Still white and male at the top. At least ten multi-millionaires. Nineteen from Oxbridge. Over half independently educated. Largely former consultants, accountants, lawyers and assorted bankers.

25 of them represent constituencies south of Yorkshire.

Clearly, Cameron hasn’t got a clue about modern Britain.

If Cameron thinks that his Cabinet is Britain, he is profoundly mistaken. They are only a narrow slice of the country.

That matters because his actions, his policies and his budgets are all wholly skewed towards people like them. The overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens fall outside of the categories of people who he has selected to govern the country.

Let’s face it, we live in a country which has rarely been as divided as it is now. A small elite run things, usually in its own interests, rather than the interests of the vast majority.

They make the rules which everyone, but themselves, follow.

The test which politicians must therefore pass is whether we will confront these divisions or reinforce them?

Labour is working on a programme of radical policies to confront these divisions. Cameron and the Coalition have spent four years making things worse.

They put up tuition fees for students, they gave tax breaks to millionaires but they failed to act on the race to the bottom on wages at work, and they did little to offer more security to the millions who fear the uncertainty which faces too many in our country.

The fortunes of the richest thousand people increased in the last year alone by a total of £69bn.

The five richest families have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 12m people.

Meanwhile the number of people who rely on food banks has doubled.

And for those in the middle of the income band, the value of their incomes has diminished every year since the Coalition was elected. On average, people have lost £1600 spending power for every year in which the government has been in power.

Today new official figures emerged which revealed that the squeeze on incomes has now become fiercer than ever.

The poor have been hit hard but so too has Britain’s middle class.

And apart from those families at the top, there has never been greater anxiety about what future our young people face. The hardest hit, say the Institute of Fiscal Studies, are people in their 20’s who have experienced pay cuts and high rates of unemployment.

Among the 22 to 30 year old group, incomes have fallen by 13 per cent and there is real worry about what kind of jobs will be available to young people in the low wage, low skill, insecure economy which Osborne is building.

Cameron had the chance with the reshuffle to signal that he intends to make a fresh start in tackling a divided and uneasy country.

But he fluffed it. And we know why.

Aneurin Bevan once said that the Tories hold the view that the state is an apparatus for the protection of the swag of the richest. Little has changed in the years since he made this comment.

The country didn’t need a reshuffle.

We need a new government.

And so it falls to Labour to break open the closed elite which runs our country and to form a government which will govern in the interest of the millions and not just the millionaires.


Jon Trickett is Labour MP for Hemsworth, shadow minister without portfolio and deputy chair of the Labour party 

Jon Trickett is the shadow minister without portfolio, Labour deputy chair and MP for Hemsworth.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.