Andrew Neil has the latest political news, interviews and debate. Guests include Trevor Kavanagh, Associate Editor of The Sun, and political commentator Gaby Hinsliff.
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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.