13/01/2012 Daily Politics


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Afternoon, Berks, welcome to the Daily Politics on Friday. Michael


Gove is giving school heads the power to sack bad teachers within a


term, so will this help improve children's education. David Cameron


concedes the plans to remove child benefit from higher earners could


be unfair. Is the Government about to rethink its policy? Back then it


was about 80p a how the fuel protests make petrol prices a very


political issue. All that coming up and with me


today for the first Friday of the parliamentary year in 2012, Trevor


Kavanagh of the Sun, and former political editor of the Observer,


Gaby Hinsliff. The Education Secretary Michael


Gove has announced plans to make it easier to sack poorly-performing


teachers. The process currently takes at least one year, but under


new procedures to be introduced from September, head teachers will


be able to remove a bad teachers from the payroll in just one term.


It is absolutely vital that we move on with underperforming teachers


who are making life difficult for other staff. In the past it has


taken up to a year to get rid of them. Now we have shortened the


process so we should just take the term. Some of the old, lame excuses


that were used where teachers pretended to go on the sick, to


delay the process, they cannot do that anymore. We have got a


determined focus on making sure that every moment children spend in


the classroom is with a great teacher. Sacking bad teachers, that


is not going to be popular with everybody, except the union


leaders? It will be popular with parents. Nobody wants to see


teachers fired up willy-nilly. They should have the same rights as


everyone else. There must be a process. They also must be helped


to improve. You do not want to see good teachers who need a good bit


of help turn on the junk heap. end of state education was one of


the things that was said. It is about time the unions for public


services and for all people and the public sector were Cup to the fact


that the public sector, the state education and health service, was


set up for members of the public and not for union members and they


should start thinking about the customers rather than their members.


This is decades overdue. Clearly something is wrong with only 17 out


of 400,000 teachers who were barred from applying for a teaching post


in the last decade. There are many good teachers in this country, but


it you have 400,000, they have got to be some bad ones by the lot of


average. I was not sure about this idea of giving parents a greater


role. That seemed a bit strange. was talking about parents coming


into the classroom to look at lessons and a lot of parents go in


to help children with reading. You get a chance to have a snoop around.


I am not sure as a parent of a child in school I am not sure I


would know exactly the difference. If a class is out of control, you


can see it, but I do not know that difference between a great teacher


and an ordinary teacher. The wonder how much substance there is to this.


He says, they have to make a positive contribution to the wider


life and ethos of the school. How do you measure that? It is down to


the headmaster. If you have got good headmasters, there is no


problem about identifying those teachers who are an adverse element


in the classroom. Out of 400,000 teachers, the vast majority are


good, industrious and creative. But it is in any work was a significant


sector. The idea of only 17 losing their jobs when others have been


shunted around from one school to the other... 17 were barred from


applying for other jobs, but 211 have been struck off for misconduct


in a decade. It is a small number for 400,000. It is astonishing it


is misconduct. This will work if it is seen to raise teaching


standards? Yes, without creating far too much upheaval and if you


pick the right teachers. The hard ones are going to be the mediocre


ones. I will be speaking to the Education Secretary Michael Gove on


the first edition of a brand-new political programme on the BBC. We


are on at lunchtime on Sunday politics on BBC One this Sunday at


midday. It took us a long time to think up that name. The Prime


Minister has been speaking to the Parliamentary House Magazine and


revealed he is looking again at cuts to child benefit. He says,


they are causing huge anxiety in these straitened times and many of


David Cameron's own backbenchers have spoken out against the policy.


What is going to change? From April 2013, Brummies where one parent


earns more than �42,000 are set to lose their child benefit. That is


�20.30 for the first child and �13.40 for every other child per


week, tax-free. When asked about the unfairness of this, David


Cameron said: But he said he did not want to, quote, impinge on the


Chancellor's budget which is coming in March. The Chancellor has


defended the cuts saying they would save up to �1 billion a year and it


was tough but necessary. We spoke to some of the Prime Minister's own


MPs in November and many urged him to look at it again. A couple came


to see me who are very cross because they are a single income


household and they will not get child benefit any more, but their


income is literally just over the threshold, whereas their next-door


neighbours have two incomes, they are under the higher tax rate


threshold and they will still get it. My constituents are saying it


has not been fairly applied. I need to see the detail on this, I have


great concerns we do not dissuade people from taking that pay rise


and puts them into the higher-rate tax band, but it means they use all


their child benefit. That is from the Government's own backbenchers.


This morning the Chancellor set to clarify matters and said higher


rate taxpayers would still lose their benefit. We are very clear


that it is fair that those who are better off in our society make a


contribution to the saving of money we need to make to pay down the


debt, so we will be removing child benefit from higher rate taxpayers.


We have not set out how we are going to implement that, but the


principle is it is not fair to ask someone who is earning �25,000 to


pay for someone who is on �80,000 to get child benefit. That was the


Chancellor after the Prime Minister had spoken. We are still not


exactly clear what the policy is. Let's see if James Brown can


enlighten us. Let's establish first, this cut in child benefit for


higher earners, how much it will it save year by year if it goes ahead?


The Government estimates that this measure will save about �2.4


billion a year. It is going to take child benefit away from about 1.5


million families, each of whom I losing between upwards of �1,000 a


year. 2.4 billion, as Ronald Reagan said, it soon adds up to real money.


Does the Chancellor need this to keep his death as a target online?


There are a lot of different things the Government could do if it


wanted to save money and this is just one option. However, looking


at the Public Finance numbers that came out in the Autumn Statement,


there does not seem to be very much wriggle room at all in terms of


meeting the Government's targets for a deficit reduction. Any


relaxation of policy in this area would almost certainly have to be


made up for by a tightening somewhere else. The principle of


the policy is simple to understand. If you are in the higher rate tax


bracket, you do not get child benefit. It is an easy thing to


understand. When the Chancellor is talking about we have yet to look


at the way we are going to implement it, what scope does he


have? Well, the way the Chancellor is talking about it at the moment


is that as soon as your income goes above the higher rate threshold,


which is about �42,000 a year on an individual level, your family will


complete you use your child benefit. They could try and introduce a more


gradual way of taking away child benefit from these higher earners


to raise the same amount of money. That means you would have to start


taking it away from someone somewhat below the higher rate


threshold. Alternatively, if you think this way of means testing


based on individual income of parents is unfair, if you think a


couple where they are both just below the higher rate threshold and


would not be affected by this policy, you think they are better


off than somebody in a single earner couple who is just above, if


you want to means test it based on the joint income, you might want to


consider perhaps getting rid of child benefit altogether and


bringing that into the means tested benefits system we already have


through something like the child tax credits. James Brown, thank you


for explaining some of the background. We are joined in the


studio by Charlotte Vere, a former Conservative parliamentary


candidate and now runs a think-tank on women's issues. It was at a


party conference I remember interviewing various Conservatives


and when Mr Osborne announced this, we all pointed out to him the


unfairness of the single earner family just being over the �42,000


threshold, but having a total income of only 42, but two working


parents earning a combined �80,000 and still getting the child benefit.


We still seem to be where we were when we did all these interviews.


completely agree and this is 15 months later and people are still


pointing out the same issues. But what is very important is we look


at the situation for the families where they have just one burner,


the single families, or where you have one parent going out to work.


There cliff edge is ridiculous, something has to be done. It is a


pseud sum of money. You would have to earn a lot more, taxed at 40%,


to be compensated in any way for the fall in child benefit. They


will have to do something about this. But the other thing to


remember is that many families where you have two incomes, they


are not both on �40,000 a year. They might be on 30 and 16. I do


not think the Government does enough to support those sorts of


families. In that situation, adding together their income and taking


away their benefit is not beneficial at all. We have to


support women and men in the workplace. Staying at home is hard,


being a working mum or dad is much tougher. I understand that, but


what James Brown is talking about is that is typical of the mess that


the Government ends up getting into. You come out with a policy that may


be seen as fair or unfair, and is relatively simple to understand.


Now they are talking about all sorts of tapering, relief, do it


this way, do it that and it adds another 50 pages to the tax code


and becomes a complete complicated mess and you end up with something


Mrs Thatcher used to hate, a huge bureaucracy giving you money with


one hand and a huge bureaucracy taking it away with another. That


is where we could Ted if we make it too complicated. Could they not


just junket? I think it is a good way to start looking at the child


benefit. It was a breeding bonus after the war and was a very


outdated benefit, we need to structure it. I understand that but


I do not see any Government who has got the balls to do that. Do you?


hope that some stage it is coming into the broader benefits system.


did all these arguments two years ago. The Government did not quite


anticipate how heard -- hire people were going to find the squeeze on


their living standards. When people are already feeling food and energy


and petrol is more expensive and their wages are not going up, they


would look at this and think one might think. This his Ed Miliband's


squeeze it middle. Maybe if you are on 42, you are not what some people


would call the middle. These are families who feel they are being


attacked on all sides by Government. 42 is not a lot of money.


Absolutely not. It is not a huge sum in the metropolitan area. But


any form of subsidy, whether it is welfare or anything else, is very


easy to introduce at the beginning, it is a walk in the park. Any


attempt to remodel it or reduce it after it is always going to produce


an anomaly and howls of protest from those who are the victims of


the anomaly. Women in particular who get the child benefit will not


be happy with this. A recent study found that of the �2.3 billion to


be raised from tax credit cards and caps on public sector pay, 73% of


that, almost 1.7 billion, comes from women. Is this one of the


reasons why the Prime Minister is Women get more from the Government


in the first place. So the cuts will necessarily for heavier upon


women. But the interesting thing about much of the research is that


it assumes that all child benefits go to the mother. That is not


necessarily true, and it is not up to the state to decide who should


get those benefits. We have to look at them amongst the whole of the


family's income. There are several things the government can do to


mitigate this. This is not an attack on women. What do you think


the Government should do about child benefit for higher earners?


In has to be implemented. There should be a grace period. But then


he does not get the savings. That will have to be found from


elsewhere. At the moment, you cannot have a single earner family


approaching �42,000 a year and then falling off a cliff. If I heard


that and I realised I would not get the savings, but I would still be


unpopular for doing this among the potential core Tory vote, I would


wonder if I was the Prime Minister, if it is worth it? The more


complicated it gets, the less money raised. Once it becomes complicated


to raise, it becomes expensive. But it was important to the whole "we


are all in this together" message that some things fell on higher


rate taxpayers. Why do people only care about stay at her mother's?


But the threshold is coming down. The 40% now covers several million


people, for whom it was not intended. If you run an English


department in a moderate sized comprehensive school, you are now


in the 40% bracket. They are in it together. I think people who are


earning �20,000 a year and struggling to get by might have


limited sympathy for people earning �40,000. I wonder if the Chancellor


has been caught by the failure of his economic policy to deliver in


time. He kicked this into touch when he announced it for 2013. The


announcement was that by 2013, the worst of the austerity would be


over and he would be able to say I was going to do this, but I don't


need to now. Now that is not going to happen. I am not sure that it


ever was. Most people felt at the time that there was a missed


opportunity to do really serious cuts, far deeper than they were,


from the outset. That momentum was lost, and we are struggling to


catch up. The markets will dictate this in the end. We must find


savings. There is no point in saying we can pay for these


anomalies by filtering them in and having a table. You will have to


pay for that from somewhere else. We have to borrow every penny we


spend, we have no money. I have a feeling this is going to


rumble. I detect nuances of difference between the Prime


Minister and the Chancellor on this. And now, can you imagine what would


happen if our petrol pumps run out of fuel? Cast your mind back to


2000, when a blockade by farmers and hauliers threatened to bring


the UK to a standstill. They were protesting against the increasing


price of fuel, which was then just over 80p a litre. Those were the


days. So what impact did the protests have? Matt has put on a


pair of wellies to find out. Here is after the storm.


A dairy farmer. His name is David Handley. Had it not been for the


few protests in the year 2000, he might have remained in obscurity


with his pedigree Jersey cows. But David, along with other farmers and


lorry drivers, wiped the smile off Tony Blair's face and came close to


shutting Britain down. Adrenalin rush all the time. After the first


24 hours, you really started to understand what was going on. The


enthusiasm from people all over the country inspired you to keep going.


We had to do what we set out to do, which was to make politicians


realise that people are speaking to you. By the turn of the millennium,


82% of petrol was tax. By September 2000, the haulage industry and many


farmers have had enough. Slow- moving lorries jammed the roads.


Tractors blockaded oil refineries, and COBRA met under the pavements


of Whitehall as forecourts closed and the petrol started to run out.


Three-quarters of the public supported the action, while the


government insisted that they would not back down, but then did it in


November 2000. David Hanley says the effects of the protests are


still felt today. The fuel issue has raised its head in the media,


and all of a sudden you get a very fast response from politicians. Ten


years ago, that did not happen. They were standing back and waving


two fingers at us. Not any more. What has changed since David was


involved in the fuel protests 12 years ago? The tax take on petrol


has fallen from 80% to about 60%. But the price of petrol has doubled.


The issue of fuel prices is a ticking timebomb. It is much more


important to most people in Britain than high-speed rail. The


Government have not really address bad. Yes, they have frozen duty on


some occasions and reduced it occasionally. They have done


nothing about the transparency of fuel prices or a fair few duty


stabiliser that brings fuel duty down when global prices go up.


to clearly now, with global economic uncertainty, the Treasury


has less room to manoeuvre on fuel duty because of public opinion. But


the pure protests also changed the way government deals with a crisis.


In 2000, they realised that nuclear weapons are no match for a bunch of


blokes in tractors on mobile phones. A special appearance there by the


cow. If I remember this fuel protesting 2000. It happened around


the party conference season, and it was tough to get to them. It has


had quite an impact. Over the years, governments of both persuasions


have had to reduce the tax share. It has really seeped into public


consciousness, firstly the idea that petrol is a massive bellwether.


How much people have to pay for petrol makes a huge difference to


how they feel about their quality of life. The other thing is the


realisation that we were close to the edge. We did not realise how


much we depended on fuel as part of the national infrastructure. How


easy it was for three blokes in tractors to bring the nation to a


halt. We were a day from not having enough fuel to run an ambulance


service. Arthur Scargill must have been jealous. It seems that the


protesters do know the difference between higher oil prices, which


are set by world demand and supply, and higher prices that are high


because the Government is taking a 2% of the tax. It has had an impact


on reducing the level of tax -- they are taking 80%.


groundswell of revolt has taken so long to reach the point of threat


to the Government because when you pay for a tankful of petrol these


days out of hard currency, you are forking out �80 to �90 to fill your


tank. Even with a small car. It really hits home. The Sun has been


campaigning for months now about fuel prices. We come back to the


point where the Government cannot afford to reduce its impact --


intake from fuel tax, because it has to cut spending. But they have


all been cowed since 2000. It has had an impact on British politics.


Fuel is so sensitive, because you do it every week. You fill the tank,


and every time it is the same amount of fuel, so you can see how


much it has gone up. You don't notice other costs rising so much.


Anyway, it is the first week back for MPs from the Christmas holidays.


How has it gone? Here is Adam with the week in 60 seconds.


On Tuesday, the Transport Secretary Justine Greening ignored concerns


from the Tory heartlands and gave the green light to high-speed rail.


David Cameron's father-in-law, Lord Astor, called the project a trap


for ministers. After last week's blockbusters row, Ed Miliband


decided it was time for a relaunch, although he refused to call it that.


There was a change in tactics when he told the country that in future,


Labour would not just be about big spending.


The three major parties joined forces to take on the nationalists


north of the border over Scottish independence. This week, the battle


commenced over the timing and wording of a referendum. We need a


referendum which is built in Scotland. It is not a referendum


they want. Meanwhile, the High Commission of India complained to


the BBC over an episode of Top Gear filmed in India, featuring the


Prime Minister. Number 10 said the complaint was a matter for the BBC.


A couple of minutes ago. Let's talk about Ed Miliband. How bad is it


for the Labour leader? It is bad enough that every question about


him starts with "how bad is it?" he is in a position where everything


is seen through the prism of, it is a mess, what do we do about it? It


is hard to get out of that defensive position. To break out of


that, you need something more dramatic than what we have seen.


Perfectly good speech, but it just did not fire. One Labour MP said to


me that a lot of what he says is the right thing he should be saying.


The problem is, he is saying it. Yes, it is Ed Miliband, not the


Labour Party. He is dead in the water. It is that serious? Yes. I


am not alone in that. He is a dead duck. There is no way Ed Miliband


will be able to resuscitate his reputation to the point of leading


his party to power. It may even be so bad that the Tories will win


outright. Thanks to Ed Miliband. But Labour does not get rid of its


leaders. We used to say that about the Lib Dems, and to have they got


rid of three in quick succession! But Ed Miliband will have learnt


that there is no outstanding sure- fire winner in the wings waiting to


be brought on. People get excited about Yvette Cooper or even his


brother, but neither is a guaranteed winner. He is not in the


position that Iain Duncan Smith was in with Michael Portillo. Alistair


Darling has emerged, perhaps against his better judgment, as a


possible runner. But he has spoken for. It is an indication of how


highly he is regarded. He is an elder statesman without being that


old. Watch this space. That's it for this week. Thanks to my guests.


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