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Red White and Blue

Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writerHe is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Sinn Fein challenges pro-welfare reform parties to spend a week on benefits

I wrote last week about how a stalemate over welfare reform had brought Northern Ireland’s devolved politics to a standstill. That fight has shown no sign of letting up in the week since. Sinn Fein, who are defying what has been devolved convention since the re-establishment of a Stormont assembly by refusing to implement the Coalition’s mainland reforms, have challenged the pro-reform parties to spend a week on benefits.

The move was dismissed by the Democratic Unionists as a ‘stunt’, designed to distract from Sinn Fein’s snarling of Northern Ireland’s devolved machinery and the party’s “ideological intransigence”.

Despite welfare technically being devolved to Stormont payments are made with a portion of the block grant from the Treasury. Because it does not levy the money itself from its own taxpayers, it is customary for Northern Ireland to adopt mainland welfare policies. Refusal to do so has seen the British government start to levy financial penalties on Stormont, and all devolved departments barring health and education are earmarked for sharp budget reductions as a consequence.

Thus “pro-reform” parties like the DUP are not necessarily positively in favour of the Coalition’s policies, but favour implementing them over reductions in the block grant.

Former First Minister, Ulster Unionist leader and now Conservative peer Lord Trimble has called for the rescission of Stormont’s welfare powers. Since having four different welfare regimes appears to be on nobody’s blueprint for the future of the constitution, correcting this anomaly and formally restoring welfare to Westminster seems a sensible suggestion.

Scots police accused of adopting ‘Glasgow tactics’, influence of Chief Constable blamed

A couple of weeks ago Sir Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland was in the firing line, so to speak, over covert move to expand the arming of the Scottish police. He has hit the papers again, this time at the root of a broader complaint that the pan-national Scottish police force is essentially just the Glasgow force writ large. Scotland’s eight regional police forces were merged into a single service last year.

Derek Penman, HM Inspector of Constabulary, rejected this complaint when he gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee. “It’s not Strathclydisation”, the Scotsman reports him telling the committee. “It’s more about the Chief Constable’s style.” Sir Stephen was previously the chief constable of the Strathclyde police.

The only other home nation with a single police force is Northern Ireland, which is served by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and prior to that the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Coincidentally, given Sir Stephen’s beliefs in the virtues of armed officers, the Northern Irish police and the Irish police before them are the only British police service, excluding specialist units, whose regular officers are routinely armed. Perhaps he has chosen them as a model.

British government accused of blocking attempt by Gaddafi spy chief to reveal regime’s links to IRA

Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and former intelligence chief has reported offered to assist victims’ justice campaigners by revealing critical details about his regime’s links with the IRA. Abdullah Senussi is currently imprisoned in Tripoli, awaiting trial on charges of crimes against humanity. But he has offered to meet victims’ campaigners if they can visit him in prison.

A visit by campaigners was stopped at the last minute earlier this month, apparently on security grounds. But some campaigners accuse the British government of trying to prevent them from meeting Senussi, given the potential scope of his knowledge about IRA activity and senior leadership.

Victims have also been attempting to extract compensation from the Libyan government for that country’s prior involvement in the IRA terror campaign. With Libya on the brink of renewed civil war, campaigners have called on David Cameron to use the frozen assets of former members of Gaddafi’s regime to pay compensation instead.

Welsh Tories “are committed to reviving grammar schools”

The Welsh Conservatives have doubled down on their ‘controversial’ commitment to revive the grammar school system should they win power in Cardiff Bay. Angela Burns, the Shadow Minister for Education, has set out the need for ‘fundamental change’ in the way that Welsh education is run.

Under Welsh Conservative proposals, a modernised version of the grammar system would see children separated into two “equitable streams” at 14, rather than the traditional 11, and a ‘middle phase’ educational level set up to help students transition from early-years schooling to the advanced schools.

The Tories also argue that a clear distinction between academic and vocational education as equally valuable education styles could see the latter get the specific support and credibility it currently lacks in the UK, where vocational education is not afforded the respect or resources it is in countries like Germany. This emphasis addresses both a criticism of the original grammar system – that all other schools became ‘also-rans’ – and the fact that, with their drive to expand university admissions, New Labour’s comprehensive system completely side-lined vocational training.

This bold pledge, alongside Ruth Davidson’s increasingly assertive adoption of ‘Govian’ education policies in Scotland, shows how education has become a policy field where Conservatives are on the front foot across mainland Great Britain. The Welsh educational establishment is appalled, of course.

6 comments for: Henry Hill: Sinn Fein remains defiant on welfare reform

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