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Jane Merrick

Jane Merrick is the Political Editor of the Independent on Sunday. She has been a political journalist for seven years, previously working at the Press Association and the Daily Mail

Women don't like Cameron's policy on marriage

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 01:42 pm
The Independent on Sunday/ComRes poll last weekend contained an early Christmas present for David Cameron: a 17-point Tory lead. True, this is the upper end of a range of about 10 points in the polls - the Guardian/ICM poll today has the gap at just 9 points.

There was encouragement too in our poll for the Tory leadership on the class war question - seven out of ten people don't think Cameron's Etonian schooling would make him a worse Prime Minister.

But buried in the detail was a figure which might one day cause a setback for the Conservatives: a substantial majority of women don't like Cameron's policy on marriage. Among both sexes, opinion is split 46-46 on whether it is right for married couples to be given tax breaks that are not available to unmarried couples. But among women only, 52 per cent oppose the policy, while 39 per cent are in favour (the opposite is true among men).

In polling terms, 52 per cent is a substantial figure and should cause concern to Cameron and George Osborne.

So, what is the problem? It doesn't seem to be solely about a feeling of missing out on cash - among social groups, opinion is fairly evenly split (although among C1s, the lower middle class, which includes many crucial floating voters, the opposition is 54 per cent to 39 per cent).

Perhaps, if I can hazard a guess, it is that women have a problem with being told - lectured - by a politician that we should get married - which is the very strong impression we are left with by this policy. It is one thing to be asked, frequently, usually at Christmas, by our mothers: "Do you think you'll ever get married, dear? Am I ever going to be the mother of the bride?" It is quite another to hear this from the future Prime Minister. When women do get married, it is for love - not because a politician tells us to do so for the good of society.

Yes, Cameron says he has nothing against single parents, or cohabiting couples. But it is the tone of his message - one that does not sit well with the 21st century - that leaves the impression that he has everything against them.

I cannot see either how this policy appeals to younger voters - and our poll shows that 64 per cent of 18-24-year-olds are opposed, as are 55 per cent of 25-34-year-olds. I also note that the Conservatives did not deny the point Harriet Harman made - that a man who left his wife and children and remarried would benefit while his ex-wife would not.

To be against this policy is not the same as being against marriage. Marriage can be a wonderful thing - but it should be about love and choice, not the prescription of an incoming government desperate to prove it is doing something about the "broken society".

There are rumours that Osborne, more of a social liberal than Cameron, is not so keen on the message it sends out. And I have no idea what Samantha Cameron, whose own parents divorced, thinks about it. A story last weekend suggesting that Tory women were opposed to the policy was rubbished by Central Office, but on the basis of this poll it has the ring of truth.

Cameron and Osborne should take note of how women feel about this and ditch the policy. But I doubt they will.

IPSA factor

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Wednesday, 4 November 2009 at 01:52 pm

After PMQs, a quick statement by the Speaker on the new chairman of what we have to call IPSA, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, who is Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, who I suppose we should refer to as PSIK. Many MPs from all sides stayed to listen Speaker Bercow announce that PSIK will be paid £100,000. Everyone roared with laughter at this new watchdog earning £40k more than them, and even the Speaker allowed himself a giggle, as it must be rather amusing from his point of view to annoy the heck out of MPs.

Then came the statement by Harriet Harman on the Kelly Report into MPs' expenses. The green benches emptied, as if MPs couldn't stomach listening to the reforms announced by Sir Christopher Kelly earlier. This was a shame, because I was hoping for some of the MPs who have been complaining in private at the measues to issue some full-scale whingeing in public.
I sat through the debate, which lasted around 25 minutes. Most of the MPs who spoke talked about how important it was for the reforms to be implemented. Only a couple expressed dissatisfaction with the report, including Peter Bottomley, who warned that the restrictions on second homes would be bad for the children of MPs, who would see their parent less. But that was it. I thought it was rather cowardly, given the scale of oppositon among MPs to Kelly, for no one else to state in public what they are saying in private.

Cameron: the magic many were expecting was not there

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Thursday, 8 October 2009 at 04:02 pm

The reaction to David Cameron's speech is mixed, but I haven't heard anyone say it was his greatest, or say they were swept away by his oration.
But were we supposed to be? Would a passionate belter of a speech fitted with the theme of the week, not to be complacent or triumphalist? No. But the audience beforehand was pumped up, there was a "best bits" film at the start (including a clip from his stellar 2005 leadership bid - perhaps they should have run the whole tape instead).
The expectation in the Manchester Central conference hall was high, and Cameron's speech fell short. Cameron is good orator, usually, so we can only think the low-key approach was deliberate. And yet, this was the moment that we were supposed to see the Prime Minister-in-waiting, and some will feel they are still waiting. 
Aides say there was a deliberate build-up, and yes, there was a flicker of passion was the final section - the stuff about "I see a country". There was a good section on crime, and the NHS - that it should not be a machine - and on telling us how Blair wasted his mandate and how Brown is messing up. Some of it was convincing.

But other sections were stodgy. He sounded rather exhausted. And some bits were just downright unconvincing. The most ill-advised line was "I want every child to have the chances that I had." Yes, we realise he doesn't literally mean go to Eton. But it reminded people of his charmed childhood. Cameron shouldn't be afraid to discuss Eton, but he could have put it better.

There were contradictions - attacking big government, while setting out a vision of the home and family life he thinks Britons should have. And I am not convinced by being told, day in day out, that we are living in a broken society, because this is simply not true. So it was good that, as well as repeating his broken Britain theme, he acknowledged that in 2009, this country is "in so many ways, a great place to live". Finally.

This speech is not going to change the political landscape - he looks set fair to win in 2010 anyway. But the magic many were expecting was just not there.

The Conservatives are wrong about Michal Kaminski

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Wednesday, 7 October 2009 at 12:46 pm

As has been reported today, the Board of Deputies of British Jews has written to David Cameron raising concerns about his new allies in Europe and most notably the head of the alliance, Michal Kaminski of the Polish Law and Justice Party.
Both Cameron and the Board of Deputies should look up the stories that have been written about Mr Kaminski's past - especially the quotes he gave to the Polish newspaper Nasza Polska. Justifying his opposition to a Polish apology for the massacre of Jews at Jedwabne, he said Poland should not apologise unless and until, and I quote, "someone from the Jewish side will apologise for what the Jews did ... for that mass collaboration of the Jewish people with the Soviet occupier, for fighting Polish partisans in this area, and for eventually murdering Poles." He added: "Maybe it is an attempt to suppress conscience by those Jews who did a lot of harm during the first Soviet occupation."

Based on his own words, the Board of Deputies and other Jewish leaders have a right to be concerned about Mr Kaminski's views. On the homophobia point, Mr Kaminski gave an interview to BBC Parliament in 2000 in which he described gays as "fags" - "because they are fags".

I have written about this before. But what I would take issue with today is the content of the statement put out by the Tories last night in response, saying they are concerned about the "politically motivated allegations made by the Labour Party and their allies". In fact, reports about Mr Kaminski's past, in the Independent on Sunday and elsewhere, are facts reported by journalists. Yes, David Miliband criticised the Tories last week, but this story has been reported, by neutral journalists, since the middle of July. I am alarmed that reporters, including myself, are being referred to as "allies" of the Labour Party. This is not true.

The second part of the Tories' statement says "all these allegations have repeatedly been shown to be false". This is not true. They have not been shown to be false - rather, William Hague and others have repeated this claim without refuting any of the facts. I have not read or heard Mr Hague respond to the Nasza Polska interview. What does he say about this?

The third part of the Tories' statement says "people should take account of the fact that the Polish Chief Rabbi has said that his remarks have been misrepresented". I have not heard or read anywhere Michael Schudrich saying he has been misrepresented.

Perhaps he did so in a private telephone call, perhaps there was a headline somewhere he did not agree with, but here is the full text of the email Rabbi Schudrich sent to the New Statesman, in late July, on Mr Kaminski: "I do not comment on political decisions.  However, it is clear that Mr. Kaminski was a member of NOP, a group that is openly far right and neo-nazi.  Anyone who would want to align himself with a person who was an active member of NOP and the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne ( which was established to deny historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne) needs to understand with what and by whom he is being represented." I would argue that the Conservatives are misrepresenting Rabbi Schudrich by claiming he has given Mr Kaminski a "clean bill of health", (to quote a senior Tory speaking to me last night).

Finally, the Tories' statement says, the Latvian government has made representations to the Foreign Office, including David Miliband, that the Foreign Secretary's remarks about the country's For Fatherland and Freedom party, another ally with the Tories in Europe, were "unacceptable and misleading". That is for Miliband to respond to, but - without wishing to be accused of being an "ally" of Labour - I would disagree that his remarks were unacceptable and misleading.

Someone told me last night that I should stop being interested in this story because "the voters are not interested in Europe". But this is high stakes politics for David Cameron. His entire European policy, the project to withdraw from the European People's Party and form a new alliance with Kaminski et al, the very thing which helped him win key votes from the Tory Eurosceptic right in his 2005 leadership campaign, rests on Mr Kaminski being given a "clean bill of health". If Mr Kaminski's past is open to scrutiny in the way it is, Cameron's European project could come crashing down. The Conservative statement cannot be allowed to become a statement of the facts. It is wrong on several points.

William Hague and David Cameron justify their position - ie denying Mr Kaminski has a dubious past - because he, Kaminski, is now a "friend of Israel" and has been supported by Conservative Friends of Israel.

What is sad about this issue is that some members of the Jewish community feel that they are being used by the Tories to justify the project. But the facts should not be allowed to be distorted to ensure Mr Cameron has a smooth path to Downing Street.

Tories in Manchester: Get Britain Shopping

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Monday, 5 October 2009 at 03:53 pm
There have been some reports that an entire shopping mall has been plonked inside the conference centre for Tory conf in Manchester - including a Harvey Nichols - and the suggestion that this consumerism is a bit much. Also, it is said, it's all Harvey Nicks, and Crombie, and it is all a bit posh and not what the modern face of Conservativsm should be.

Purely in the interests of research, of course, I've just checked it out and can report that there is indeed a Harvey Nicks - but in the form of a champagne bar and mini foodhall, not top of the range fashion (probably a good thing). There is also a Marks and Spencer selling relatively cheap 100% cashmere cardies (about £50) - not so posh.

Surely, in this peri-recessional world, this is a good thing. The best thing for the economy those who are still working and find they have cheaper mortgages can do is to shop. Perhaps the Tories are telling us they want to, as well as Get Britain Working (see welfare package), they also want to Get Britain Shopping. David Cameron may have opposed the fiscal stimulus but his party are backing the cashmere stimulus. And, if you excuse me, I'm going to go and do my bit for the economy.

Boris should stick his fiver on Lipponen

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Monday, 5 October 2009 at 12:19 pm

Boris Johnson writes today that Tony Blair will not become EU president because he is too much of an Atlanticist and a defender of the Anglo-Saxon market economy. He's willing to bet any reader £5 that he's right.

I think Boris is right - but also because Blair is too charismatic for Europeans. Yes, Sarkozy came round to the idea a few months ago after initial reticence, and he, like Merkel will be able to shape the outcome more than other EU leaders. But the Blair story will continue for the next few weeks, and it will become too toxic for many leaders.

Former Spanish PM Felipe Gonzalez is said to be a write-off because he is not fluent in English. I reckon Boris should stick his £5 on Paavo Lipponen, the former Finnish PM who at the moment is about 7-1. Lipponen, like Blair, supported the Iraq war and this contributed to him being voted out of office in 2003, but unlike Blair the association does not haunt him six and a half years on.

PL is fluent in English and is well respected in Europe. He was PM for 11 years and before becoming an MP was a party official specialising in foreign relations for the social democrat party.

In Helsinki, he is seen as a "grumpy old man" but was also regarded as a "grumpy young man" when he was younger. He played water polo until recently and swims daily all year round. Like Blair, he is writing his memoirs. My Helsinki source says: "He is not as charming as TB but has far more substance than appearance." A Finnish Gordon Brown then. They even looked alike when they were younger. A bit. Probably right for a job like president of the EU Council.

Cameron and Osborne's "astronaut chats"

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Saturday, 3 October 2009 at 08:43 pm
When The Sun switched from Labour to the Tories last week, the newspaper pictured David Cameron and his right hand man walking through the Commons cloisters, with the Tory leader carrying a copy of their "Labour's Lost It" splash.

Cameron's right hand man was not George Osborne but William Hague. Tory focus groups have shown that voters recoil when Cameron and Osborne are pictured together, but Cameron alone triggers a more positive response, as if Osborne is still contaminating the Tory leader.

This explains why Osborne has done a lifestyle-focused interview with The Daily Mail's Jenny Johnston today, to show us his softer side. So, we learn his signature dish is ham boiled in Coca Cola (he refers to "cherry cola" - and notice he says cola to avoid the obvious jokes, although this meal sounds truly disgusting) but we also get to know about his rather prime ministerial ambition: "I had a calling to get involved in current affairs in my country".

Cameron has done a similar interview with Jane Moore in The Sun and the common theme between the two is this "Daddy Politics", which cannot be a coincidence. Both men, who are on the brink of the highest offices in the land, have had "astronaut" chats with their children - by that I mean the sort of conversations that astronauts, on the verge of a great mission, must have with their loved ones before going off into space for a few months. "Daddy isn't going to be around for a bit, things are going to change, but what he's doing will help the world" - that kind of thing.

Osborne, we learn, sat his son Luke down and said "there were things he needed to know about what Daddy does. He needed to understand that Daddy might not always be very popular, and that there might be people who don't like Daddy, or the things he has to say".

For Cameron, he is asked whether his five-year-old daughter Nancy knows what he does. "Nancy says I'm 'a politicianer like Gordon Brown' and that 'Daddy fixes speeches on a computer."

It is all rather sweet, even if it is staged. Cameron is now in the six-month pre-No10 phase that Blair entered shortly after Labour conference of 1996. We learn more about the man, and his family life, through carefully-crafted PR, and we should expect more to come.

Kinnock did not look happy with Mandelson

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Monday, 28 September 2009 at 03:14 pm

Peter Mandelson gave a mixed speech just now - the first half was a bit stilted, maybe because it was his first conference performance for a long time. But the second half, tearing into the Tories, stirred the audience - although how Gordon Brown must be getting fed up with ministers talking about the future.

The PM will use the word "future" tomorrow too, but Mandelson's line that "British people have their minds on the future, and so do we" seemed to make Brown bristle slightly in his seat on the platform, because when many Labour supporters think about the future, GB isn't there.

A man from Labour's past is Neil Kinnock - who was watching Mandelson's speech from the wings. He clapped when the audience clapped, until a moment which seemed to hit him like a blow to the stomach. The Business Secretary said he, Mandelson, had fought five election campaigns for Labour and "deep in my guts" knew every time who would win and was right every time, including, he was afraid, in 1992. Suddenly, Lord Kinnock was no longer smiling.

At first, his head lowered slightly, but then he jutted his chin out of his shirt collar, and gazed at Mandelson with an even stare. He must have been aware that, in the minds of the audience would be flashing the image of him at the eve of election rally in Sheffield in April 1992, the mistaken triumphalism. What a fool he must have felt. Oh dear. Kinnock did not like that, not at all. Perhaps Kinnock remembered a conversation with Mandelson on the night of the Sheffield rally. "Of course we can win," Peter would have said, soothingly, "Of course."

There is only so much you can read into body language, but that five second moment was a scene of pure political theatre. Breathtaking.

Vince Cable backs "outstanding" Alesha

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Monday, 21 September 2009 at 11:16 am
Nick Clegg might have wrong-footed himself over his use of the phrase "savage cuts", but his deputy Vince Cable has been much smoother when describing the controversial replacement of Arlene Phillips by Alesha Dixon in Strictly Come Dancing.

The best ballroom dancer in Westminster (yes, better than you, Mandy), who told me at the weekend he's learning the "erotic" (his word) Argentine Tango, refused to criticise the show's producers for swapping age and experience for youth (something the Lib Dems know a lot about).

In fact, Cable has come to the defence of Alesha - who has been widely criticised by Strictly fans for not being a patch on Arlene - describing her as "outstandingly capable and glamorous".

I asked Cable about this, but there wasn't room to include it in the Independent on Sunday at the weekend. But given the flak Alesha is getting, I feel it's my public duty to reveal his chivalrous intervention.

"Since her (Phillips') replacement is so outstandingly capable and glamorous, I certainly don't have any objection to her replacement."
So, there we are.

Are we emerging from recession or not?

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Tuesday, 15 September 2009 at 04:20 pm
On Saturday, Downing Street trailed excerpts from the Prime Minister's speech to the TUC, the most interesting one of which was the sentence "today we are on a road towards recovery". The accompanying briefing suggested this would be the PM sounding a note of, albeit cautious, optimism.

On Monday, Brendan Barber warned that such talk was off-beam because, despite signs of green shoots, the unemployment toll is still rising and will continue to rise for at least a year.

Today, when Brown came to deliver his speech, that sentence was missing. Yes, he talked of "first steps" and said the "recovery is not automatic" and "still fragile" - still hopeful but not as explicit as we were told he would be a few days ago. 

So, did Brown listen to the brothers and water down his speech accordingly? Or is this just a coincidence? The point is that, words matter and this only serves to blur the message of how Brown is supposedly steering Britain out of recession.


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