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Plus ça change

Preparing for next May’s election has shaped this week’s government reshuffle. Eight senior posts have changed hands and the number of women in the Cabinet has increased to five, with three others attending when necessary. 

Cameron is persuaded the election is winnable but his party’s image of posh boys out of touch with how the other half live had to be changed. William Hague has left the Foreign Office in a step towards quitting politics altogether next May.

The Prime Minister has nominated Lord Hill of Oareford, the Leader of the House of Lords, as Britain’s next EU Commissioner.  He is a Eurosceptic so one wonders how he will be received in Brussels. The Commissioners have to be approved by the European Parliament and coming soon after Mr Cameron’s attempt to block Mr Juncker’s appointment as Commission President there is speculation that the MEPs might reject Lord Hill. Even if they do not, Mr Juncker might not give him the trade portfolio that the government wants him to have. Ultimately this is about the economy and our jobs, not a squabble in Brussels.

Employment statistics released on Wednesday show unemployment down to 6.5%, the lowest since 2008. Predictably the Prime Minister was jubilant but the Leader of the Opposition said the benefits of economic recovery were not being felt by working people. He claimed that seven million working people are in poverty but did not identify what he meant by this. Cameron accepted that wages are only growing slowly but the nation is recovering from the deepest recession in a century so this was not surprising. The Government’s strategy is to increase jobs and get people into work and the statistics shown that it is working. More women are in work than ever before and youth unemployment is now lower than when the Coalition came into office. He attacked Harriet Harman for saying middle income earners should pay more tax.

On Friday the House of Lords gives a Second Reading to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. This seeks to enable competent, terminally ill adults to be provided at their request with specified assistance to end their own lives. As with abortion, two registered doctors would authorise this, confirming that the person has a progressive and irreversible condition and is expected to die within six months. 

Supporters, including the former Archbishop George Carey see this as showing compassion for the terminally ill. Opponents, including the current Archbishop, Justin Welby and the Prime Minister, are not convinced and fear that sick elderly folk might choose this way out to avoid being a burden. There are also questions about the possibility of doctors being mistaken about when someone is terminally ill, with stories of people recovering from what was diagnosed as a terminal condition. Experience with handling abortion requests makes some critics suspect the authorisation requirement in the Bill is not tight enough. Personal choice has become a major factor in how we decide on such issues and there is a risk that it pulls us away from a relationship with our Maker.

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