PoliticsHome | Only the latest five entries on the PhiWire are visible to non-subscribers
- Sign up to see last 24 hours
Dont have an account?Sign up here
Words: Paul Waugh
Photos: Paul Heartfield
Sajid Javid now knows he’s finally made it. He may be a Cabinet minister, a Privy Counsellor to the Queen and the man who gets the plum seats at the opera. But as far as his mum’s concerned, the clincher is that he’s now met Audrey Roberts from Coronation Street.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport recalls his trip to the fictional Weatherfield, at the ITV studios in Manchester. “I went on set to Audrey’s hair salon. I was really chuffed to meet her. I took a picture and showed it to my mum a few days later. She said ‘ooh, Audrey, aren’t you lucky? What was she like?’ I’ve shown her pictures of me and the Prime Minister and she’s hardly asked me about it. But with Audrey, this is like her son is actually getting to meet some really interesting people.”
Self-deprecating, unpretentious and proud of his close-knit family and working-class roots, the story illustrates just why Javid is popular among his colleagues – and why he’s risen so rapidly up the government hierarchy since entering Parliament five years ago.
The 45-year-old’s backstory is well known at Westminster, but still invaluable to the Tory party’s attempts to showcase its freshest faces ahead of the general election. The son of a former bus driver who arrived in the UK with just £1 in his pocket, comprehensive-educated Javid opted for a career in banking.
Having been rejected by traditional British firms – in one interview with Rothschild’s he was asked what his father did and was told high-street banking might be more his thing – he found a much warmer welcome in the more meritocratic world of American finance. By 25, he was one of the youngest ever vice presidents of Chase Manhattan bank, before going on to run Deutsche Bank’s global credit arm in Asia.
Given his experience of snobbery in the old City, it was all the more ironic perhaps that some critics instantly rounded on his lack of an arts background when he got the job of Culture Secretary last year.
“There were a few people who said things like ‘what does this banker know about culture?’ At least I think they said banker…,” he smiles. “But I’ve got a thick skin, and it was up to me to get into the job and show that I could do it and that I’m serious about bringing about the changes we all want.
“So I got involved very quickly to try to understand the issues. Right from day one, I never pretended to know about something that I just clearly don’t. I want to be educated about it, so I will listen to people. I will take a number of views on an important decision, especially if I am unfamiliar with the issue, pros and cons, and then make what I think is the best, balanced decision.”
Early on, he even confessed that he didn’t have a favourite opera for the very good reason that he’d never been to the opera. “A lot of people who heard that thought it was a refreshing answer. As Culture Secretary, one of my jobs is to promote the sector, make sure it stays the best in the world, stays vibrant, stays creative, deals with its challenges around funding to get the best value for money. My job isn’t to be the artist,” he says.
It’s clear he’s more used to watching Coronation Street (he tweeted his sorrow at the passing of its veteran actress Anne Kirkbride this month) than attending Glyndebourne.
But Javid laughs off a recent Twitter joke about a piece he’d written for The Times, praising Socrates’s ‘writings’. Classics don Mary Beard was swift to point out that ‘Socrates didn’t write anything (that’s the point of Plato)’. Javid responds: “It was my piece, I take full responsibility for it. But I think everyone knows what I was really saying. I like Mary Beard and I thought it was a nice bit of fun.”
Javid is unabashed about his background in finance and his close links to the Treasury (one of George Osborne’s former ministers, his current office is firmly in the same building). Alongside his Margaret Thatcher autobiography, the shelf on his Commons office proudly displays a bottle of ‘The Local Heroes Beers: Sajid’s Choice’, presented to him for his work in the Treasury in cutting a penny off beer duty. And it’s his closeness to the Chancellor that appears to have helped win tax breaks for the film industry, children’s TV and orchestras. Only this month he unveiled £109m for children’s access to the arts.
Javid highlights new figures showing that the creative industries – from film to tech to advertising – are now worth £76.9bn a year to the UK economy. Accounting for 1.7m jobs in 2013, its economic output has grown by 9.9%, an increase almost three times the size of that managed by the UK economy as a whole, and higher than any other industry.
He points to the role DCMS is playing in delivering superfast broadband, at a rate of 40,000 premises a week, compared to 10,000 a week a year ago. Average speeds have tripled while the cost is lower than most of Europe. “We are ahead of the five largest EU countries. But we are far behind countries that are leaders in this field, Japan and South Korea. I think we need to be comparing ourselves to the best in class, which isn’t our European competitors. Although we should be pleased we are doing better than Germany and France, we should be looking at these other countries in Asia and be more ambitious.”
A big push on rural broadband is under way, using more wireless and other technologies. But Javid is acutely aware that even in London’s Tech City, poor broadband speeds and connections are a constant complaint of startups. “I took quite a bit of interest in this,” he says. He found that one reason is the big City firms’ own reliance on bespoke satellite links, making it uncommercial to roll out broadband for smaller companies and households. EU rules allow subsidy for rural rollout, not for urban areas, but Javid is on the case. “We are working on that with the European Commission and others to see if there’s a workaround on that. At the moment it’s going well and I think we can make some good progress on that.”
The BBC, another key part of the media landscape which makes up his wide-ranging remit, is trying to keep up with technology itself. But the success of its iPlayer, as well as other platforms for viewers to consume TV, led Director General Tony Hall this week to float an intriguing idea: the end of the 9pm watershed.
The Culture Secretary says he understands the point about the challenge of technology, but is firm on the principle. “As a parent, I think the case for a watershed has always been a good case. I don’t want my young kids hearing swearing or seeing sexual images. Every parent would share that concern; Ofcom and its predecessors have always taken that seriously.” And given the unregulated nature of Netflix and others, he adds: “As people consume modern technology, it becomes incumbent on policymakers and regulators to look at that and see what impact that has on existing policies.”
On the licence fee itself, Javid has previously said there’s a case for cutting it. But for now he has a straight bat. “We haven’t looked at it, that’s because it’s properly looked at when you have a more holistic approach. I don’t think you can take the licence fee in isolation. The right time to do it is when we have the Charter Review; whichever government is in office is going to play a key role in that. Every 10 years the Charter is reset and looked at afresh and that needs to take into account new technology changes and other developments.”
As for screen habits in the Javid household, the minister has a firm rule for his four children. “Our general rule is no screens until you’ve finished your homework,” he says. “Once that happens we are quite relaxed. But screen time also includes computer screens, tablets. Now you’re finding more often that homework is actually on screen as well, you want to ensure that it actually is for homework rather than them trying to sneak something in.”
Another form of on-screen regulation being demanded of DCMS right now centres on the spread of gambling advertisements. The PM himself has expressed concern about his son being bombarded with football odds during a match, so does the minister have sympathy with that? He says the Government will “respond in a matter of weeks” to a review of the issue. “It needs to be driven by the evidence – where are these ads appearing, how often, what impact are they having? When we do we will set out what can be done and if something needs to be done. Where everyone is in agreement is this an area that needs to be looked at. No one benefits if a government just takes an issue and just assumes this is the answer to a problem and just goes ahead and does it.”
And what about that other advertising hot potato, plain packaging for cigarettes? A free vote has been called, but Javid sounds like he has yet to be convinced. “I will be driven by the evidence,” he says. “I haven’t decided yet which way I’m going to vote. What I’m taking into account already is that there’s a lot that’s already been done. I don’t smoke but people choose to do so, that’s up to them.
“I think government has a duty to try and discourage people. We do that through the tax system at the moment, we do that through the recent rules that came in about newsagents putting tobacco products behind their covers. But also from April this year there’s a new EU directive that 65% of the pack has to be a health warning. When I lived in Singapore they already had that rule and they have some pretty gruesome, hard-hitting health warnings.
“So these are big changes already taking place. I’m fully aware that Australia has been among the first countries to use the plain packs. I’m not sure if there’s enough evidence yet, given it’s quite recent, about the impact that can have. But I think that whenever one looks at these kind of changes, you need to be driven by the evidence.”
But while Javid is keen on the EU directive on cigarette packaging, he’s not overly keen on the current state of the European Union. A noted Eurosceptic, he says that the Tories’ 2017 referendum pledge “is the exact thing that concentrates the minds of your European partners” in getting reform. “My faith is in the British people. If they decide that, taking into account the renegotiation, they want to continue that relationship with the EU, of course that’s something that everyone would accept. But if they decide to end that relationship then that is not something anyone should be frightened of,” he says.
As for fellow Tory MPs campaigning for an ‘out’ vote in any campaign, would that be OK? “We’ve already seen in this parliament, in all parties, that when it comes to issues that are really important to people – Europe was one of them, we saw it with the House of Lords vote and others – MPs ultimately, they have a relationship with their constituents and they will decide which way it is they want to campaign,” he replies. “But this is something the Conservative party is united on: we must get a renegotiation and we must put that to the British people in a referendum.”
As the UK’s first elected Muslim Cabinet minister, Javid is also determined that the British people should be united in rooting out Islamist terror. He made waves recently for declaring that Muslim communities had a special responsibility to tackle extremism, and he explains why. “When I first heard on that day about the murders in Paris, when the news was just trickling out, my first reaction was ‘oh, no, it’s not some Islamic terrorist again is it?’ Because when it happens you know the discussion that will then take place afterwards: ‘what does this say about Islam?’, ‘what’s really motivating them?’, ‘why did they really do it?’ I understand all that. But it is important for people who have a background like mine with a Pakistani heritage, with a Muslim heritage, to speak up. And most importantly not just what you think about the event but how can you stop this from happening again. Because that’s what everyone wants, we want it to stop. And no one is naive enough to think it’s just one policy change; it’s an international problem, it’s been with us for many years. Sadly it’s going to be there for many years until we can truly look back one day and say that was an event in history and that era is now over. And a lot of those issues are just out of our control.
“But my main point was that it’s not enough for British Muslims, or any Muslims for that matter, to say ‘this has got nothing to do with my religion because these people are not Muslims’. They are not Muslims, a Muslim won’t do that kind of thing. But it’s not enough to say that because they are not Muslims it’s got nothing to do with me or my religion.”
He continues: “Clearly these people are motivated in some warped way in taking this great religion and twisting it for their wicked means. But that does mean that people who practice that faith have to ask ‘why is this happening, again and again?’ “On that same day they killed over 30 people in Yemen, a few months earlier we heard about 100 children being killed in a school in Peshawar. Why does this keep happening again and again? I don’t pretend for a second that I have the answers to the ‘why’ and ‘what should be done’. But I do know that if we are to defeat this cancer eventually, the solutions have to come from all communities. And that includes the Muslim community.”
Is he a practising Muslim? “I am a Muslim,” he replies. “Whatever religion it is, whether Muslim or Christian, you practice it in different ways. Ultimately I think it’s between the individual and whoever they believe in, in my case in God, to decide whether, how you practice. That’s the only person you are ever going to answer to when it comes to your religion.
“I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve, I don’t think about it all the time. I was born a Muslim, I am a Muslim and I believe in God. But that relationship I or any person has, I think is a very personal one.”
It’s not just on the Paris shootings that Javid has recently taken a more high-profile role. He was the go-to minister used to attack Labour’s spending pledges at the start of this year’s electioneering and is often given a freedom to roam beyond ‘culture’.
But while it’s sometimes easy for others to forget that he only arrived in Parliament in 2010, he stresses that he has a long way to go. “I’m learning all the time. I learn lots of things every day. That’s one of the best things about this job, both being an MP and being a minister. Because I feel I want to – a bit like a sponge – suck up information and learn. Not just because I have a thirst for knowledge but also I think it just helps me do my job, be a more rounded person and help others.”
When he first arrived at Westminster, he admits he knew little about procedure. “It’s not that kind of job where there’s a manual. And you don’t even know if the people giving advice have got your best interests at heart,” he laughs. “So you have to learn on the job, you make friends.”
As Culture Secretary, he says he’s “really fortunate” to be able to view exhibitions with the curators acting as a personal guide. “And often I will take my children along with me and they can learn too,” he says.
“I took my daughter recently to the Rembrandt exhibition [at the National Gallery], I took three of my children to the Science Museum for the Information Age exhibition. And also when I’m lucky enough to go to a theatre production, we take one of our children and get their feedback on things.
“I took them to see The Railway Children at King’s Cross Theatre. I loved it but it’s interesting to see what kids make of it as well. There are lots of opportunities in this job to learn. And when I look back at it one day, I will think I got things done hopefully but that I also built my own knowledge.”
Another perk that comes with the job is the chance to visit film sets. Asked if he’s had a chance to see the latest James Bond movie in production, he makes clear he’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “I might do. Watch this space…”
Like many fortysomethings, he recalls queuing round the block as a youngster to see the original Star Wars movies. And one set he has recently visited is that for the new JJ Abrams sequels. “But I’m not going tell you anything about it until it comes out! I don’t want to spoil it for you.”
No studio has yet bought the rights to Javid’s own rags-to-riches life story. But he’s certainly caught the eye of the party rank and file, a fact helped by his regular appearances at local association events across the country. A recent ConservativeHome poll found he was its readers’ top choice as the ‘Conservative To Watch in 2015’, even ranking ahead of Boris Johnson. Another ConHome poll recently put him as third favourite to be next Tory leader, a point above George Osborne, the man who’s done so much to champion his protege. Does all that talk of him as a future prime minister make him uncomfortable, or is it just a fact of political life? “Whatever media commentators or party members say, that’s up to them. But I can assure you it’s not something that I spend any time on or I think about. Along with all my Conservative Cabinet colleagues, we know we’ve got to work hard to win this election and if we do that we’ve got a very good chance. And David Cameron will be Prime Minister.”
He may be learning on the job, but the minister delivers that answer like an old hand.
In the Secretary of State’s office, he has a painting on the wall (from the government art collection) that others would have overlooked. The watercolour of Toad Lane, Rochdale, the town of his birth, features a street every bit as cobbled and gritty as that of Coronation Street.
Sajid Javid hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from. But he will let others speculate as to just where he’s heading next.
JAVID ON...THE UK'S CULTURAL STRENGTH
"We punch well above our weight. We have the largest creative sector any European country."
JAVID ON...EXPORTING BRITISH CULTURE
"It's an area where we can promote our soft power. The more we can get British culture to touch more lives around the world, it helps promote our values."
"If we compare where we were back in 2010, we've gone from 45% of premises to 80% of premises."
JAVID ON...HIS CHILDREN
"I feel very fortunate that my children have more things around them, whether it’s a house that’s a bit bigger or going on more holidays than I did.”
Words: Daniel Bond
Photos: Paul Heartfield
Tom Greatrex has got a lot on his mind. In the week Westminster marks 100 days until the election, and as the campaign steps up another gear, the Labour MP is fighting on several fronts. The crisis in the North Sea, public concern over fracking and reform of the energy market are all on the agenda, not to mention the surge in support for both the SNP and the Greens. If they are to triumph in May, these are all battlegrounds where the Labour party must win. And Greatrex, a rare Englishman in a Scottish seat and the shadow minister for energy and climate change, finds himself on the front line of all of them.
But as we sit down in Portcullis House to discuss his plan of action for the fight ahead, he is more immediately concerned about Robert Burns. The Rutherglen MP appears to have taken the old maxim about ‘campaigning in poetry’ literally, and has agreed to spend this weekend at a late Burns supper delivering the Immortal Memory – the keynote speech of the evening – to a room full of expectant Scots. “I’m probably more nervous about that than most other things,” he admits, daunted by the prospect of reciting the poet’s work. “My familiarity is increasing. But I couldn’t ever pretend to be an expert on Burns.”
A self-described “adopted Scot”, Greatrex was born and raised in Kent, and is the first to admit he stands out as “someone who very obviously grew up in England”. But after more than a decade north of the Border he says he’s proud to consider Scotland his home, and in the spirit of Burns Night even professes a love of haggis. “And I like it in its most unhealthy form – battered haggis with chips,” he adds, his thoughts already turning to the weekend.
But more importantly, despite his Home Counties upbringing, Greatrex can also boast an insider knowledge of Scottish politics that few Westminster contemporaries can rival. An early apprenticeship as a researcher to the architect of Scottish devolution, Donald Dewar, was followed – via a couple of years as a regional officer in the GMB and a public affairs role with East Dunbartonshire Council – by employment as a special adviser to no less than three secretaries of state for Scotland in Douglas Alexander, Des Browne and, finally, the party’s new leader in Edinburgh, Jim Murphy.
The latter faces a Himalayan task to rebuild his party’s support base ahead of May if he is to avoid the sort of drubbing the opinion polls point to, and with Scottish Labour leaderless for much of the autumn, Greatrex admits the SNP have been able to dig in and take advantage of the “inevitable period of readjustment” that followed the referendum. But already, he adds, his former boss has begun to win a hearing for the party by showing a “sense of urgency” about the challenges facing the country.
“We had lots of things on pause for a long time in Scotland while the referendum was happening,” he says. “We’ve got a real A&E crisis, which I hear about every single week. We’ve got real issues in terms of further education, where the SNP have cut college places so drastically that very many young people, particularly from less privileged and working-class backgrounds, can’t get college places. There are real issues to be dealt with in Scotland and there’s been a real dereliction of duty from the Nationalists, who seem less interested in using the powers that are vested within the Scottish Parliament currently to deliver better outcomes in health, education and justice, than they do in talking about the powers that they haven’t got.
“What Jim’s been able to do is highlight some of those issues and make very clear that what Scotland needs for the future is a sense of purpose in our politics – what is it we want to get to?”
For the SNP, he says, the answer to that question is straightforward. “All that the Nationalists want is to hasten the end of the United Kingdom. It’s not a secret. That’s just stating the facts; that’s their agenda,” he says. “What Jim’s demonstrated is a desire to ensure that Scotland is a fair and just place and that all of the policy powers we have – which are considerable, it will be probably one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world after the Smith agreement – that those powers are used for a real purpose, rather than being simply seen as a staging post towards trying to break up the United Kingdom. And when it comes to the general election, I’m confident we will continue to have a large representation in Westminster to be able to make the case for Scotland here.”
But recent weeks have also highlighted the careful balancing act Labour must perform if it is to win back Scottish voters without jeopardising support south of the Border from those who feel England gets a raw deal from devolution. Murphy risked the ire of several Labour London MPs earlier this month by pledging to fund 1,000 new nurses for Scotland with the proceeds of the mansion tax – a levy he pointed out would overwhelmingly hit houses in the capital and the south-east. “It’s a real win-win for Scotland,” he said, sparking criticism from mayoral candidates David Lammy, Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbott, who all accused their colleague of treating London like a “cash cow”.
It’s a row which won’t be costing Murphy too much sleep – not least after his predecessor Johann Lamont’s parting barb about Scottish Labour being treated as a ‘branch office’ of the UK party – and Greatrex insists his former boss is entirely within his rights to point out the financial benefits of the union.
“Jim’s made it very clear – and he’s absolutely right to make very clear – that when it comes to the Scottish Labour party, he’s the leader, elected by members, affiliates and parliamentary representatives, and his job is to ensure that the party is pursuing the right policies for Scotland. That’s what he’s doing,” Greatrex says. “The choices about what we do with that additional revenue from the Barnett formula are entirely and absolutely for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to take. I think that’s a good example of how in Scotland we benefit from continuing to be a part of the UK. That pooling and sharing of resources could enable improvements in, for example, the number of nurses – not just for Scotland but for other parts of England – to be able to deal with the real emergency which exists in both the English NHS and the NHS in Scotland.”
Is he disappointed with the negative reaction from his London colleagues? “Well, people have concerns about a range of different issues, but I don’t think Jim should be concerned about that,” he replies. “His focus is on making sure that we’ve got the right policies for Scotland and that’s what he’s doing."
Greatrex joined Murphy, and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, on a trip to the North Sea last week to meet with bosses from the crisis-hit oil industry, amid warnings about the devastating impact an extended period of low oil prices could have on the region. In recent days oil giants Schlumberger and BP have announced hundreds of job losses at their North Sea operations. Just how bad could the situation get? “I think there is a fear that there could be further job losses,” he explains. “I can’t tell you which companies are going to announce job losses next, if they are. But there is certainly a sense that the situation is serious and urgent, people are assessing their options, which may lead to further losses in the future.”
And with experts and North Sea operators alike clear that the drop in price is “not a short-term blip”, he warns that real action on both the fiscal and the regulatory environment must be taken sooner rather than later. Leading producers have called for an urgent rescue package, including a cut in the 30% supplementary tax on profits, and last week the Chancellor announced he would take “further steps” to help the industry in his March Budget. “This is something George Osborne should be doing now,” Greatrex says. “I don’t think it can wait until the Budget. That’s what the industry is asking for, that’s what people who work in the North Sea who are concerned about their jobs and livelihoods are saying needs to happen, that’s what the city of Aberdeen is asking for and that’s something that the UK government could do now. There is no reason, because of the degree of cross-party support, that this couldn’t be done before the Budget and got through Parliament quickly.”
The falling oil price may be bad news for the North Sea, but it’s no doubt good news for consumers. This week SSE became the fifth of the ‘big six’ energy firms to announce a price cut in response to falling wholesale costs, bringing to an end years of rising bills and potentially disrupting one of Labour’s key election pledges – to freeze household bills. But for Greatrex the price cut is a case of too little, too late. “Everybody knows that when wholesale prices increase it doesn’t take very long for everybody’s bills to go up. But when a significant decrease happens it seems that – if there is a response at all – it’s a grudging, partial, delayed, caveated response, and that’s what we’ve seen in the last week from the energy companies,” he says, criticising in particular British Gas’s decision to delay their price cut until the end of February, “after the coldest part of the winter is over”.
“This is one of the reasons why there’s a deficit of trust among consumers and a lack of confidence in suppliers,” he continues. “It highlights that this is a market which does not function in the interests of the consumer. It highlights exactly why the regulator needs to have powers and duties to ensure they can step in and act if companies don’t; it highlights exactly why there needs to be real transparency in the way the market works so the big companies can’t use their size and volume to distort a market to their advantage and against the interests of consumers.
“And it is still something that people are very, very concerned about, because – despite whatever claims the Tories make – people do not feel as though they’re benefiting from any economic recovery. They’re hugely angry that when there are reductions, they’re not being passed on. There is a market failure there which the Government have done little or nothing to address. That’s why our determination to tackle that and to have a freeze in increases in prices for that fixed, defined period of 20 months, while we put those reforms through, is hugely popular among the public.”
One factor the Government hopes could bring down energy bills in the long term is the development of fracking. But Greatrex says he remains “dubious” about talk of a US-style boom on this side of the Atlantic, “partly because I’m not sure that it’s economic to do currently and I don’t think it will be for some time to come, and partly because the public acceptability test to be able to ever start doing it is quite high”. That public scepticism about fracking hasn’t been helped, he claims, by the approach taken by the Government. “I think they’ve completely misunderstood the level and seriousness of public concern. The language they’ve been using and the macho posturing about ‘all out for shale’ has actually made it a harder issue to deal with, because it is controversial and people do have legitimate concerns.”
On Monday the Government was forced to accept 13 amendments put forward by Greatrex to tighten safeguards and ban any development in national parks and areas of natural beauty, a U-turn the Labour MP describes as “pretty extraordinary”. It is an example, he says, of the power of the Opposition to force the Government to take action, and reinforces why Labour is the only party which is able to “take forward these policies as a matter of priority, rather than as a protest”.
The last word is no doubt a reference to the Greens, a party which has been breathing down Labour’s neck in a number of areas and has made opposition to fracking a cornerstone of its offer. Greatrex says Labour and Green policies do overlap in a number of areas, particularly over the commitment to the 2030 decarbonisation target and the need to “focus much more on the jobs and growth opportunities in low-carbon industries”. “But ultimately,” he adds, “people have got to make a choice about which government they want. And there is not going to be a Green-led government. There’s going to be a Labour government, or the only other person who will be Prime Minister is David Cameron. People have to make that judgment. And our job is to demonstrate exactly why our policies are the right ones for the country going forward, in terms of the environment and in terms of economic growth. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Labour has been split over how to deal with the Green threat, with some on the left – including Peter Hain – urging the party to adopt a more radical manifesto to win back voters tempted by Natalie Bennett, while others argue that the party must stick to the moderate centre. It’s a choice Greatrex flatly rejects – Labour can be both a “credible potential government” and also “radical in lots of these areas,” he says. “I’ve been knocking on doors – not just in my own constituency but around the country – and people who are concerned about these issues, when you talk to them about our policies, are supportive of them and reassured by them. The concerns that people have that may attract them towards the Green Party are concerns that are also addressed by the Labour party and the policy mix that Labour has. In relation to the environment, global warming and energy we have got a very credible, thought-through, comprehensive set of policies.
"But we’ve got to make sure we communicate those policies to the electorate over the next three months or so. It’s a very strong part of our message, and it’s our job to make sure people are aware of that as they make their choice at the election.”
From Aberdeen on the North Sea to Balcombe on the south coast, this May Tom Greatrex is ready to campaign – in poetry or prose – for every vote.
One has to admire the pluck of Jim Murphy. In the Autumn, the former cabinet minister decided to end a promising Westminster career to take over the Scottish Labour Party which is, truly, one of the worst jobs going.
Yes, the Glaswegian’s prospects under Ed Miliband were limited (the pair do not get on) but if Miliband does not make it to Number 10 then Murphy would have been well-placed to play a role in the party’s revival if it shifts back to the centre.
Instead, Murphy decided to seek the Scottish Labour leadership in an effort to prevent the party being obliterated or severely damaged by the surge of the SNP since the referendum campaign.
What has happened after the referendum is remarkable. It looks as though the old pattern of electoral support was smashed. When independence used to command about a third of support, at Westminster elections the SNP struggled to get all those voters. Then devolution blurred the lines. The referendum boosted the independence vote to 45% on a high turnout. Now it looks as though they are getting ready to vote Nat, with potentially calamitous consequences for Labour in London.
Just a few weeks ago, I was confident that Murphy would turn this around. He is a formidable operator who is comfortable in his own skin. As a Labour MP from Scotland put it to me recently: “Jim is the first person for 30 years to do that job who hasn’t been scared of the Nationalists.”
Indeed, he proved it on his “Irn Bru box” tour of Scotland during the referendum, when he endured eggs and insults thrown by furious Nationalists. Throughout he maintained a sense of humour.
When he took over a battered party the early signs were promising. The Scottish Labour machine was bolstered by the arrival of experienced advisers such as John McTernan, a self-styled tough-guy former adviser to Tony Blair.
But now the question is whether it is too late for Murphy to stop the SNP. Such is the polling advantage that the Nationalists have built up that it will be an achievement if Murphy can get close in the popular vote north of the border.
Senior SNP figures, trying not to look too stunned or smug, talk in terms of their party getting more than 40 seats in May and holding the balance of power in the UK. A former Labour minister who served Donald Dewar, Labour’s inaugural First Minister after the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, likes to declare: “The Scottish Labour party is dead.”
There are Scottish MPs who think such talk alarmist. The polls are overstating the SNP’s support, they claim. Said one MP: “It’s soft. Jim Murphy is a good guy and Nicola Sturgeon (the new SNP leader) is starting to make mistakes. It’ll be much closer than people think.”
But it is difficult to overstate the poor condition of the Scottish Labour party machine when compared to the booming SNP, which now has almost 100,000 members and even registered on a UK-wide poll this week just two points behind Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems.
Then there are Murphy’s latest initiatives, which smack of sheer desperation. He recently announced that he wants to nationalise the railways (the Scotrail franchise) and he also would ban – yes, ban – fracking north of the border. These are not the self-confident actions of a worshipper at the shrine of Tony Blair. It looks rather like a blatant and not very convincing attempt to convince left-leaning Scottish voters in the West of Scotland that he can tell them only what they want to hear. In doing this he risks squandering his most valuable asset: authenticity.
There are only weeks left and if there is to be significant movement in Murphy’s direction then he had better get a move on.
Iain Martin is a political commentator
With 2015 upon us – now into the second half of the second decade of the 21st century – one thing has become increasingly clear. Given tougher fiscal circumstances, the success of nations in this century is going to depend on innovation. The key public policy challenge for this generation of politicians is simple: how to make public services catalysts of innovation.
This applies nowhere more urgently than in our NHS. With an ageing population, a deepening structural deficit in health and a rising drugs bill, it is vital for the health of us as patients and UK plc that the NHS takes full advantage of innovative drugs and treatment, making sure patients get access to the help they need.
If you think an iPad is the limit of technological advancement, think again. A technological revolution is starting to transform healthcare: digital diagnostics, cell therapy, genomics and stratified medicines are fundamentally changing the medical landscape. The interaction between patient and doctor will evolve rapidly and permanently. The functions and settings will be different: online consultations, remote diagnostics, real-time monitoring. And more than this, the fundamental balance of power will change as 21st-century health citizens are equipped by new technologies and information to be senior partners, in the driving seat of their own health and wellbeing. These advances will also provide us with an opportunity to begin addressing the funding gap, driving efficiencies across the system.
That means being innovative in making sure patients get access to the latest life-saving drugs, devices and diagnostics. That’s why I recently launched the UK’s Innovative Medicines and Medical Technology review. The review will consider how our healthcare and regulatory systems can best respond and adapt to this new landscape of innovation. The UK is strongly placed to do this: our £1bn National Institute for Health Research programme provides a globally unique health research system for developing, testing and evaluating biomedical innovations, and we have internationally renowned expertise in evidence-based assessments of the health economics of drugs and devices.
As an integrated healthcare system, the NHS is a unique global asset which we should start to use to drive inward investment and faster access to innovation for NHS patients. We also need to invest in infrastructure. That’s why we’ve recently invested £150m of funding in the Medical Research Council’s Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative. This money adds to the £80m funding also pledged to the initiative by the MRC, devolved authorities, universities and charities, bringing the total capital to over £230m – a major step on the road to making the UK the leader in the global race for medical research.
Thirdly, we must make the most of transformative technologies like genomics. That’s why the Government launched our landmark 100,000 Genomes Project to sequence 100,000 whole genomes, confirming Britain’s position as a world leader in the field of genetic medicine. This project will help us sequence genomes on an unprecedented scale, bring better treatments to people with cancers and rare diseases for generations to come, and make us the first nation to shift genomics from a research setting into frontline clinical practice in the NHS.
The NHS needs long-term vision, not short-term politics. We on the Conservative benches don’t seek to ‘weaponise’ the NHS, or play politics with a service we all depend on. What matters is how we use every health pound to deliver 21st-century healthcare. By making sure the UK and the NHS are at the forefront of medical innovation through faster access to the latest drugs, investing in medical infrastructure and making the UK a world leader in genomics, we are developing a long-term plan for the NHS.
George Freeman is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences and Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk
The last few weeks must have convinced anyone who still needed convincing that the Health Secretary remains politically and publicly accountable for the NHS. However, the situation has changed since the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and there are now other leaders with different roles who can also speak publicly.
Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, led the production of the excellent strategy document The NHS Five Year Forward View. It was agreed by the leaders of the other five national bodies – Public Health England, Health Education England, Monitor, the Care Quality Commission and the NHS Trust Development Authority.
Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, plays a prominent role in all health-related issues. Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, is heard in the media leading action on diabetes. Meanwhile Professor Keith Willett, in his role as NHS England’s Director of Acute Care, speaks with all the authority of a deeply experienced trauma surgeon and clinical manger about the problems in A&E. He is an excellent example of the developing role of clinician manager in the NHS. I could continue – there are now many voices.
The theory was that the Health Secretary would determine the strategy which NHS England and the others would deliver. In reality he mostly speaks about the immediate issues of the NHS, and it is the Chief Executive and others who are mostly shaping strategy. In this case the practice may well be better than the original theory. The people who actually understand the day-to-day reality of health deliver services better than any politician can and are best placed to develop strategy while the Secretary of State has the proper role of shaping political priorities, challenging the professionals, legitimising the strategy and taking political responsibility for funding.
Success in the next few years – whichever parties are in power – will depend in part on these leaders working together to create a coherent long-term vision for the entire health system and providing the leadership needed to bring it about. However, they can’t do it by themselves.
The founding of the NHS in 1948 was a great national coming together – albeit reluctant in some parts – of the public, voluntary and private sectors around the common purpose of providing health services for everyone. Its success despite all the vicissitudes of the last 60 years is shown in continuing public support and the fact that it emerged as the top performer in a recent international review of the health systems of developed countries. This result may have surprised many people, but it is a reminder of just how hard it is to deliver health services to a nation. There is no right solution, but some approaches are better than others and all need improvement.
However, improving health services will not by itself improve a nation’s health. Excellent diabetes services, for example, are only a partial solution; we also have to reduce the numbers of people becoming diabetic. Health professionals and politicians, however good, cannot do this by themselves.
An equally bold initiative is therefore needed today to bring together the expertise and resources of all the parts of society which have an impact on health to improve health for all and develop a health-creating society. Everyone has a role to play here. Town planners and architects can design buildings and cities that enhance health; schools and universities can promote health literacy; businesses can develop healthy products and help their employees be healthy. Citizens and civil society can drive change alongside health services and local and national government.
The World Health Organisation has memorably written that “modern societies actively market unhealthy lifestyles”. The time is right to reverse this and begin to develop a health-creating society whose constituent parts all market healthy lifestyles.
Much of what is needed is already happening in parts of the country but there is not a concerted and unified approach which draws on the resources and energy of all sectors, as happened in 1948. In my view, the next government needs to make an early commitment – preferably in the Queen’s Speech – to developing a health-creating society. It needs to establish a new cross-sectorial and non-political Compact for Health in which everyone has a role to play, and bring together people from all sectors into a grand coalition for health in order to deliver it.
Lord Crisp is a Crossbench peer and was Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and NHS Chief Executive from 2000 to 2006