Thursday 21 December 2006

Have a very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year

I got back home this morning from a really well attended meeting of Labour Party Members and Trade Unionists in Halifax last night. The political discussion was superb and enthused us all in our campaign.

Alice Mahon and Linda Riordan MP came along to support me. It was good to see Alice who following her retirement from Parliament has thrown herself into political campaigning in the real world outside of Parliament like Tony Benn. Linda is such a political find. She is a solid principled, socialist and such a worthy successor to Alice in this constituency. If, as they say, you are judged by your friends, these are the people I call my friends and by whom I would want to be judged.

I am taking a break over the Christmas holidays to spend time with my family. This largely involves my wife Cynthia and I playing football, tennis, snooker and virtually every sport you can think of with our ten year old son Joseph.

I will be back on the blogisphere on 1st January.

I would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Thanks to all those who have worked hard in support of my campaign and all those who have contributed to this website and participated in the blog discussions.

I have really enjoyed the last 6 months, campaigning and engaging in the political debates and discussions both at the various meetings I have spoken at and on the website.

I hope that my leadership campaign so far has stimulated people into greater political engagement, debate, discussion and activity.

Have a good Christmas and see you in the New Year.

Best wishes,


Monday 18 December 2006

Contrast the Government's Attitudes to City Bonuses and the Unemployed

Contrast two news stories over the last week.

On Thursday it was confirmed that City Christmas bonuses this year will come close to £9 billion, with the average payout for Goldman Sachs employees amounting to £320,000 and with 4,200 city workers gaining over £1 million each. This is an increase of 18.3% on last year.

Some church leaders have condemned the obscene scale of these bonuses but we have heard not a peep out of Government Ministers in response except from the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has recently warmly praised the City for its income earning success.

Contrast this with today's speech by Secretary of State John Hutton, which launched an attack on the unemployed following the publication of a leaked memo that revealed the Government is gearing up to remove all benefits from unemployed people who he claims "play the benefits system" and refuse offers of work.

I wonder how many of these unemployed were offered jobs in the city?

John Hutton's speech was clearly designed as part of the softening up of the media and MPs for the debate on the Welfare Reform Bill taking place when Parliament resumes in January.

This debate should be broadened to include the much more important and wider issue of inequality in our society and the role of taxation as well as welfare payments.

Prem Sikka and Austin Mitchell's recent booklet, "Pensions Crisis: A Failure of Public Policymaking," highlights the policies which have contributed to this increasing inequality.

Whilst John Hutton lectures the unemployed the Tax Justice Campaign discloses that tax avoidance by the rich is resulting in between £90 to £154 billion uncollected taxes widening the gap between rich and poor to the extent that we now live in a society which is more unequal than at any time over the last century.

According to the Government's own statistics, when New Labour was elected in 1997 the most wealthy 1% in our community owned 26% of the marketable wealth. In 2003 the wealthiest 1% owned 34%. The top 50% now owns 99% of the wealth.

Just to even up the situation a little I suggested a short while back a windfall tax on city Christmas bonuses of 10%. Of course the Treasury and Number 10 refused.

As grotesque inequality in our society continues to be ignored we are increasingly witnessing our country slowly but surely replicate the US model of extremes of high crime, alienation, poverty and political disengagement.

Labour in government could offer an alternative but only if we accept inequality is an issue to be addressed.

Wednesday 13 December 2006

The Latest in the Blair Legacy Agenda

It's been just another week in the Blair legacy agenda.

On Monday the Government introduced into Parliament its National Offender Management Scheme (NOMS) Bill. The way the probation and prison services have been set up for privatisation under this legislation has been in classic, text book New Labour style. You've got to hand it to them, they never fail to disappoint when it comes to the art of dissembling.

First the media gets set up to run a series of stories about how the probation service is failing to meet its targets and is fed a range of spurious statistics and a few shock case stories. Second you find an ambitious junior minister with a trade union background to seek to reassure everyone that this is not privatisation really but simply the wider involvement of the voluntary sector. Next you prompt a few supportive statements from voluntary sector bodies, which by the way are likely to gain huge sums from contracts awarded by the Government as a result of the legislation. And then you mobilise newly elected backbench MPs, who are aspiring to become the bag carrier to a minister, to eulogise in the Commons chamber about the wonders of private prisons.

Despite 27 Labour MPs voting against the Bill, it gets through its first stage in the House of Commons and New Labour begins the process of allowing private companies to garner massive profits from the imprisonment of our fellow citizens, something which in opposition when the Tories tried it on Jack Straw described as immoral. I thought the scenes from Harmondsworth might have given the New Labour project second thoughts about the disaster of allowing a private company run part of the justice system but I forgot it isn't any more "what works is what matters" but "what profits is what matters."

The week took a further tragic downturn with daily reports of more large scale loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each Prime Minister's Question Time now seems to start with the sadness of an expression of condolence for another British soldier killed in conflict.

Today the next part of the Blair legacy agenda was revealed by the leaking of the Hayden Phillips report on party funding. Again this was a classic New Labour stroke. Here we have New Labour caught out bending the rules on the declaration on the registration of loans to the party and up to its neck in the loans for peerages investigation. What is the New Labour strategy? We shouldn't ever be surprised. It is to turn weakeness and defence into attack by using the situation to promote its long held scheme for breaking the link between the Labour Party and the trade unions.

Leaving aside the need to cap election expenditure which we all agree with, the report's proposals prevent the party from being funded on any scale by the trade unions but leave the Tory party free to be funded by a multiplicity of rich individual donors. In one fell swoop the trade union link is broken, Labour is financially crippled in contrast with the Tories unless it resorts to funding from a large number of rich individuals and from state funding. New Labour will have achieved the ambition Blair and Mandelson dreamed of. They will have transformed the Labour Party into the Democrat or Republican party whose sole role is to secure the electoral rotation of an unaccountable political elite, largely representing big business.

Allegations are now being levelled that these proposals form part of a deal cooked up in secret discussions between Blair and Cameron. The silence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the last 24 hours appears to demonstrate that he has been complicit in their development. It is widely known that he has reacted badly against decisions at the Labour Party conference supported by the trade unions which opposed his privatisation policies.

So just another week in New Labour's legacy project to privatise the last traces of the welfare state introduced by past Labour Governments and to destroy the Labour party itself.

If you are a member of the Labour Party now is the time more than ever to contact your nearest Labour MPs and demand they stand up to this threat.

If you are a member of a trade union affiliated to the Labour Party, get your union in gear at every level to defeat this attempt to break the link. If we don't win this one there wont be a second chance as your voice will no longer be heard within the party.

Saturday 9 December 2006

Britain Must Act over the Tragedy that is Darfur

The situation is rapidly deteriorating in Darfur. The Government of the Sudan, using Janjaweed forces has intensified its military offensive leading to the killing, rape, and displacement of innocent civilians on an immense scale.

On November 16th Kofi Annan put forward a three step for an African Union and United Nations hybrid force for Darfur. This included a $21 million support package to the AU with the deployment of several hundred soldiers and police and finally the deployment of a 17,000 strong hybrid force under UN command and control, to conduct peacekeeping duties in Darfur.

The Government of the Sudan has used its influence to prevent the UN from having a direct role. The result is a continuation of the muder, rape and attrocities.

Unless the international community acts, and acts now, to provide effective protection to civilians we risk genocide on a horrific scale.

I am calling on the Government to link up with other European countries to support the UN and the African Union in this peace plan to address the tragedy that is Darfur.

Friday 8 December 2006

Real Investment in Education Needed not Spin on Economic Statistics

Pre budget statements are begining to go the same way as Budget statements. When they are announced in Parliament they sound really impressive. Who cannot but applaud massive extra spending on education? The problem is that increasingly the golden glow rarely lasts longer than a few days. This time it has barely lasted 24 hours.

The assessment of the Chancellor's announcement of increased education spending by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies is devastating. The IFS described the claim of £36 billion of new spending on education as "misleading" as most of it has already been announced and is just recyled money. In the Guardian's economics section the IFS is quoted as saying "Of the £200 per pupil he announced he is sending to schools in three months time, only £20 is new." Investment in education which has averaged 16.3% a year since 1997 is now to fall to 4.9% a year for the next five years.

Questions are now being asked about the macro management of the economy under Gordon Brown's watch. Adherrence of the Tory's public expenditure plans for the first years after Labour was elected is now revealed as a major error, holding back unecessarily the much needed programme of investment in public services and delaying the visible impact of any consequent service improvements.

As we enter a period of restraint on public spending the Government is increasingly looking to savings from supposed increased productivity in Government departments, largely from cutting staff whilst claiming that this is all about shifting resources to front line services. In reality what public sector workers and the recipients of their services are experiencing are straightforward old fashioned cuts. So now questions are being asked about the Government's competence at micro management of departments and policies.

A good example is the Chancellor's management of his own department, the Treasury. In 2006 the Treasury is aiming to save £105 million through job cuts in Customs and Revenue but has spent £106 million on external consultants to achieve it. It is estimated that thanks to job cuts in the Inland Revenue's ten largest tax processing offices there are one million unopened items of post.

If we really wanted to have an impact on educational standards it would be worth looking at David Drever's proposals in "The Red Paper on Scotland." David points to the incontrovertible research evidence that closely links significant increases in educational achievement with decreases in class size. The Tennessee STAR programme found that all pupils benefited from reduced class size but that disadvantaged children entering school with low initial attainment were the biggest winners. London University confirmed these results in their own research as did the OECD international surveys.

So if we are to give all our children the best start in life and if our aim is to match the levels of expenditure in public schools my view is that we should support the call pioneered by the Educational Institute for Scotland for a reduction in all class sizes to no more than 20 pupils. A simple demand but a significant step forward for equality in education and a real investment in education rather than spinning investment statistics.

Thursday 7 December 2006

Birmingham Meeting Cancelled Because of Rail Privatisation

For all those attentive to this website who may have been hoping to go to the meeting in Birmingham tonight, unfortunately I've been trapped at Euston station thanks to privatisation of our railway service. Branson's Virgin trains have had another incident and all trains have been cancelled to Birmingham. All passengers have been advised to travel the next day. Branson is clearly trying to sabotage one of the central planks of my campaign, which is to bring rail back into public ownership.

Coincidentally, I bumped into an angry passenger at the station, fuming at the abysmal service by Branson's Virgin trains. This was noone other than Conservative MP William Cash, ardent advocate of rail privatisation and who under Thatcher voted consistently to undermine our rail service. Poetic justice or what?

Wednesday 6 December 2006

Economics of the Real World

At times recitations by politicians of economic statistics to prove their successful management of the economy can come across as complacent and even unreal when matched against the day to day reality of most people’s lives.

Undoubtedly in his Pre-Budget Report the Chancellor will lay claim to a series of data evidencing the robustness of the UK economy and its underlying strength in meeting the economic challenges of the globalised economy. This is the traditional approach to economics.

There is another economics though. It is the economics of the real world, a world the majority of us inhabit. Real world economics tell a different story. Real world economics use alternative measurements to assess the success or failure of our economic policies. This basket of measurements comprises those elements which determine the quality of life families experience in modern day Britain.

In real world economics, budgetary decisions are assessed against a checklist, identifying basic benchmarks of life chances, including:

Child poverty: Currently, infant mortality is twice as high for children born to unskilled manual workers, and these children are five times more likely to die in an accident. Nearly 3.5m children remain in poverty, representing 27% of all children. Half of these children have at least one parent working. Nearly 100,000 families are living in temporary accommodation and one in seven children, about 1.6 million, are growing up homeless or in bad housing.

Unemployment: UK unemployment has risen to 5.6%. Over the past year, there are an extra 263,000 people out of work, and an extra 70,100 claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance. Youth unemployment, whether measured by claimant count or by the ILO standard, is at its highest level since 2000 at 10% for the under-25s.

Income poverty: A full-time job at the minimum wage would mean an annual salary of just £6,435 for a 16-17 year old or £8,677 for an 18-21 year old. Even the minimum wage for those aged 22 and above equates to just £10,432. For working adults, the poverty rate is 19% - the same as in 1997. Women comprise two-thirds of income support claimants. The gender pay gap remains at 20% for full-time work, while women in part-time work receive 40% less. Ethnic minorities earn less than 16% than their white colleagues. Student debt has risen to an average of £13,501 upon graduation, and graduates pay 42% of their salaries in tax, compared with 41% for top rate tax earners. Personal debt is at unprecedented levels and personal bankruptcies and insolvencies are rising at an alarming rate.

Wealth and Tax Inequality: In 2005, FTSE 100 directors have grown by 28%, compared with average earnings increase of 3.7%. Earnings growth in the financial sector is running close to 7.0%, while for non-financial workers, real pay is falling sharply. The Chancellor’s insistence of a public sector pay cap of 2% will result in a real terms pay cut for millions of public sector workers. By adhering to Thatcher’s tax policies, the poorest fifth of the population are taxed more heavily than the richest fifth. The richest 1% own 34% of UK wealth and the poorest 50% own only 1% of UK wealth. The inevitable outcome is that social mobility has declined since 1997.

Health Inequality: Male manual workers are 40% more likely to suffer from chronic sickness than their non-manual counterparts. Life expectancy is 10 years shorter for the poorest.

Pensioner poverty: Nearly 20% of pensioners remain in poverty, and this is disproportionately women and ethnic minorities, whose lower pay throughout their working life results in poverty in their retirement. Due to means-testing many of the poorest pensioners are not receiving their full entitlement.

These are the startling everyday facts demonstrating that while by traditional economic standards the Chancellor will applaud himself for the prudent management of the economy, by real world economic standards the last 9 years have been an opportunity largely missed.

The Chancellor and commentators may claim that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. However, these are the fundamentals which affect the real world economy. They include a decent income, avoiding debt and poverty, having a decent roof over one’s head. On these measurements of the basic fundamentals of life, for many families in Britain the picture is not so rosy.

They pose the question, what has New Labour been doing for all this time – the longest period of Labour Government, and the only post-war Labour Government to have overseen an increase in inequality.

The Left Economics Advisory Panel (LEAP), which I chair, has made a number of proposals in its Alternative Pre- Budget Report, which you can download here.

Monday 4 December 2006

Trident Replacement : The Party should Decide.

Today the Cabinet meets to be presented with a copy of the White Paper on the future of Trident. A couple of hours later the publication of the White Paper will be announced in a statement to the House of Commons. So much for Cabinet government, ministers will have no opportunity to amend the White Paper, which has already been printed.

The media has been widely briefed by Number 10 that there will be about three months consultation and then the recommendations of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to replace Trident will be put to a vote in Parliament. So much for Labour Party democracy, party members will be excluded by Blair and Brown from determining policy on one of the most important decisions of this generation.

I oppose the replacement of Trident as I believe it is a waste of vast resources, (estimated at anything between £26 and £76 billion) on a weapon of mass destruction which is impotent in protecting us against modern day threats and which encourages nuclear proliferation thus making the world less safe.

However, there may be many in the party who support nuclear weapons and Trident rewewal. None of us, either for or against Trident, are to be allowed by Blair and Brown to determine democratically the policy of our party and therefore our government on this issue.

I am calling for the decision on Trident renewal to be put to Labour Party conference. Even the most hawkish promoters of Trident renewal do not think that there is any logistical reason for a decision to be rushed through in the next three months as the Prime Minister is demanding. Instead the timing seems to be simply part of the Blair legacy agenda and part of a deal between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to get an unpopular decision out of the way early.

I believe that there should be a thorough period of discussion, questionning and debate, enabling the Labour Party conference in September 2007 to come to a final decision.

By attempting to bounce this decision through Parliament on the back of Tory votes and preventing the party from taking a decision on a question of such critical importance, both Blair and Brown are risking splitting the party, alienating even more of our supporters and undermining what little faith there is left in democracy within our party.

Let our members decide.

Profiteering from Prisons is Immoral and a Privatisation Too Far.

I have been on the campaign trail for three days meeting members of the party and trade unions in Sheffield, Leeds and Blyth in Northumberland. In meeting after meeting the same concerns are raised about the direction of Government policy. One of the key worries expressed is the Government's obsession with privatisation.

Members quote example after example as they share their experience of what privatisation, PFI and outsourcing are like on the ground. It is the same story of cuts in the wages and conditions of the workforce and cuts in service for the people using the service.

Sometimes though you come across a Government privatisation policy proposal which politically goes beyond anything you ever imagined.

When the Guardian revealed that the Government was actually considering a proposal for members of the public to be offered shares in new prisons under a "buy to let" scheme even I was astounded at how far New Labour had travelled from basic decency.

The scheme is meant to be attractive to small investors because it is predicated on a dividend from rental income being assured by rising prison numbers.

I share a distaste for those who seek to profit from the incarceration of fellow human beings with Jack Straw, who in opposition described as immoral the process of earning income from the Tory's policy of privatising prisons.

In the light of the Harmondsworth experience I would also expect a responsible government to review the whole role of the private sector in prisons and to reject any further attempts to profiteer from the misfortune of those who are imprisoned.

Thursday 30 November 2006

Harmondsworth Crisis is not just about a single Detention Centre but the Detention Policy overall.

Most will have seen the pictures of Harmondsworth Removal Centre on television of the papers yesterday and today. Detainees placing sheets on the ground in courtyards spelling out their appeal for "Help."

Harmondsworth is in my constituency. Next to it is also the large scale Colnbrook Detention Centre. I deal with two to three deportation cases a week from the centres and at times a case every day or more. People often in the most desperate circumstances. They are not criminals but generally people who have come to the end of their asylum claims process and the Government has designated them for removal from the country. If allowed to remain my experience is that most would contribute to our society as any other citizen.

The decision by the Home Office to detain them is often a complete mystery to many of us who deal with these cases. Once they get detained they become trapped in what can be an incomprehensible, often demeaning and sometimes brutal bureaucratic system.

On Tuesday Anne Owers, Her Majesy's Inspector of Prisons, published a devastating report describing the dreadful and at times inhumane conditions detainees were experiencing at the hands of the private company running the Harmondsworth centre.

Her report found that 60% of detainees reported that they felt unsafe in the centre. As the report states "More worrying the main fear was of bullying by staff. 44% said they had been victimised by staff." The Inspectorate found an "over-emphasis on physical security which was more appropriate to a high security prison than a removal centre"

This not the first disturbance at Harmondsworth. In 2004 there was a riot and fires after a detainee committed suicide. From the Owers' report it looks as though few lessons have been learnt from that incident.

I wrote yesterday immediately to the Home Secretary and spoke to Minister of State at the Home Office explaining of course my worries for the safety of both detainees and staff but making it clear that in the first instance the centre should no longer be run by a private company and should be returned to the direct management of the Home Office. If people want to understand the implications of privatisation and putting profit before people, look no further than Harmondsworth.

The riot throws up wider questions though than just the management of one centre. We need an urgent review of the whole policy of mass detention of asylum seekers being pursued by the Government. Everybody understands that a Government has a duty to detain criminals but we were assured that these centres were not constructed to house criminals and that the detainees are not criminals.

The scale of detention taking place and the harsh and at times inhuman treatment being meted out to detainees reflects the fact that Government policy appears to be based more upon responding to the xenophobic attacks on all migrants by the Daily Mail than a rational approach to upholding our international duties to assist and shelter those who come to our shores in need.

Tuesday 28 November 2006

Brown Calls for us all to be "Evangelists for Globalisation."

Anyone who had any illusions left that a transition from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown would signal a shift to any semblance of more progressive policies should read the text of the Chancellor's speech to the CBI conference yesterday.

The Chancellor is promoting both nationally and internationally the standard neo con agenda of flexible labour, pay controls, privatisation and forcing developing world countries to open up their markets to the savagery of international competition.

Let me give you some direct quotes from the Chancellor's speech:

On Globalisation

"My theme today is that it is for us to be evangelists for globalisation, taking on the anti-globalisation and protectionist forces who fail to recognise today's economic truth that free trade, open markets and flexibility are pre-conditions of modern economic success across our global economy."

On Public Sector Pay

"We will entrench our stability, keep public sector pay under control, maintain discipline in public finances.....On pay we must do more to encourage local and regional pay flexibility."

We have witnessed the first round of this approach in the Chancellor's recent announcements of public secor pay cuts and the massive scale of job cuts in the civil service leading to the first compulsory redundancies and the pressure for local pay in some areas of the public sector.

Trade unionists at every level should take careful heed of the Chancellor's message for the future. It's simple - public sector job and pay cuts and privatisation on an international scale.

Does the phrase "Turkeys voting for Christmas" come to mind for any trade union supporting Gordon Brown for leader now?

Friday 24 November 2006

Another London is Possible

On the eve of the London Labour Party Conference this weekend, I have set out my manifesto for London, which you can download.

This alternative programme for London would dramatically improve the quality of life for Londoners by striking at the roots of the Capital's environmental, social, and economic problems.

London is one of the richest cities in the world but Londoners don't share in its wealth and opportunities. By using the wealth created in London to invest in its transport, environment, housing and industries we could transform the life of many of its citizens.

Central Government forced the disaster of tube part-privatisation on a resistant Mayor and Londoners. That disaster is now forecast to cost an extra £750m – money that would be better spent reducing fares and expanding the public transport network.

Fares Fair was an extremely popular policy that slashed public transport fares for Londoners and hugely reduced traffic congestion in the Capital before it was ruled illegal in the courts.

City bonuses this year are expected to total £8.8bn. A windfall tax of just 10% on these grotesque payments would cover the £875m that Londoners will contribute towards the Olympics. A similar tax in five years' time could fund free tickets to the Games for Londoners.

The ten points in full are:

The main 10 points of the London manifesto are:

1. A new 'Fares Fair' policy for the 21st Century, slashing fares for Londoners

2. End privatisation of the London Underground, including the East London Line, restoring the tube to public ownership

3. Windfall tax on City bonuses to pay London's contribution to the Olympics and ensure free access to Londoners

4. Restore control of business rates to local councils and abolish the Corporation of London, transferring its functions and resource base to the GLA

5. A real living wage of at least £7 per hour, plus a London weighting of 20%

6. Decentralised London energy system, based on alternative energy sources

7. No further expansion at Heathrow and no third runway

8. Halt hospital cuts and NHS privatisations

9. Emergency house-building programme, and allow 4th option, to tackle London's housing crisis

10. Support free and comprehensive education and an end to Trusts, City Academies and tuition fees

Wednesday 22 November 2006

Government in Mess over Local Government Pensions

I attended a briefing meeting today from my own trade union, Unison, just before trade union members from all the local government unions came across to Parliament to lobby MPs on the future of pensions for local government workers. The briefing was to explain to the trade union members how to lobby their MP and what the key issues were they had to get across.

What absolutely perplexes me is how has the Government got itself into this mess. The Government has demanded that public sector pensions must change. Ministers have argued that because people are living longer the public sector pension schemes are no longer afordable and must change. This means basically people retiring later, paying more and receiving less.

Strange, I didn't hear this argument used in the debate around MPs' pensions.

The reality in local government as it is in many parts of the private sector is that employers have at various times opted out of paying their full contribution to maintaining the pension scheme.

Nevertheless the eleven unions, representing about 2 million local government workers, have done everything possible to negotiate a reasonable settlement, which is practical, affordable and maintains the basic benefits of the pension scheme. Their proposals are generally in line with the new scheme the Government agreed with the civil service unions last year.

The unions mobilised a lobby today because of their frustration at the Government's intransigence. Over the next few days the employers'body will be meeting and subsequently Government MInisters will be coming to a view.

I urge MPs and Government Ministers in particular to listen to local government workers and those effected by changes in this pension scheme. They have real and genuine fears for the future which could be overcome by the Government simply agreeing to offering the same pension scheme protections agreed for the civil service.

If this issue is not sorted soon the Government could be faced with industrial action and local government workers and their families marching out to vote against Labour in next year's Scottish, Welsh and local government elections. The anxiety must be the risk that if people have decided to vote against the Labour Party once it will become extremely difficult to regain their confidence and support in the future.

Tuesday 21 November 2006

CND shows the way on Trident

The CND Alternative White Paper, which was launched this morning, is the definitive argument on why the Government should not waste billions of pounds on these ineffective weapons, which fulfil no role in creating a peaceful world.

Trident replacement is opposed by the TUC, thousands of Labour Party members and MPs, and by an increasing majority of the British public. A recent opinion poll showed 59% of the public opposed the replacement of Trident.

My concern is that despite the Labour leadership promising an open debate on the future of Trident, this debate has been pre-empted by statements from both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in recent weeks endorsing the renewal of Trident.

Friday 17 November 2006

Campaign Hits Scotland

Scotland has always been a bedrock of support for the Labour movement. That's why I'm particularly pleased to be up in Scotland as part of my national campaign to build up grassroots support for the campaign.

Yesterday I had a packed day in Edinburgh, including interviews with local radio, TV and newspapers as well as meetings with MSPs and students and a big public meeting in the evening. The enthusiasm of the evening meeting was contageous - and I was particularly impressed by the number of young people turning up. There were a couple of great speeches made by members of School Students Against The War which demonstrates that young people are once again becoming politically inspired.

At the meeting, we discussed putting together a campaign strategy for the New Year - including lobbying MPs and building support for getting on the nomination paper. As people said at the meeting, unless Scottish MPs nominate, tens of thousands of Labour party members and trade unionists will be deprived of a vote. We also discussed the issues that are particularly hitting Scotland at the moment - not least the new wave of PFI of PFI and privatisations in the health service and beyond, as well as public sector pay freezes.

Today I've got meetings in Glasgow, including a seminar on the Trade Union Freedom Bill with Scottish trade unionists, a meeting with students at Strathclyde University, and a public meeting at 7.30pm at the Scottish TUC.

I return to London on the Saturday for both the Campaign for State Education conference and the Stop The War People's Assembly.

What has struck me as the running theme of all of the meetings that I've been doing is that people are demanding a say over the future, the right to a choice on the ballot paper, and - most importantly of all - a radical break with New Labour. The enthusiasm for change continues to build.

I hope to be meeting a lot more of you in the months to come.

Wednesday 15 November 2006

My Alternative Queen's Speech

Below is an article I've written for the Guardian's Comment Is Free website on today's Queen's Speech. You can also see the article I wrote for the Guardian yesterday here. If you want to download the full alternative Queen's Speech I am proposing, you can download it in PDF format here.

The whole point about the new politics I am trying to engender in my campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party is to encourage politicians to be straight about their aims and political judgements. This is not the same as political balance or objectivity. I have a political philosophy by which I judge political events. It's called socialism, which at its core is about achieving equality, justice and peace through democracy.

How do the proposals in the Government's Queen's speech stack up against these criteria?

Will our society become more equal? I'm pleased that pensioners will be able to travel free on buses across local authority boundaries and that measures are being taken to improve child maintenance but these welcome additional benefits pale into insignificance with the announcement this morning that city financiers have awarded themselves up to £5.5m each in bonuses this year.

Will our society become more just as a result of the Government's Criminal Justice bill proposals to increase sentences and extend ASBOs and its plans to privatise the probation service and our prisons? This model of criminal justice has failed to work in America so there must be serious doubts about its efficacy here. The private companies which run some of our prisons already make their profits out of cutting the wages and conditions of staff, undermining the professional approach needed if prison is to rehabilitate. The laws aimed at restricting trial by jury and using legal powers against those suffering mental illness need careful consideration if our basic civil liberties are to be protected.

Will our society be better protected against terrorism and part of a more peaceful world as a result of the proposals in the Queen's speech? Tightening up border and immigration controls go nowhere in addressing the underlying causes of terrorism in our society and in our world. There is a widespread consensus that the government's policies of pursuing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East have led to an increased threat of terrorism and increasing division between communities. We have got to deal with Iraq sooner rather than later and recognise that the presence of occupying forces is part of the problem not the solution. Instead of remaining isolated with Bush and the neo-cons, all our powers of diplomacy should be directed towards fully involving the international community in helping resolve Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the world's conflicts. Unless the injustice of the Palestinians is effectively dealt with the terrorist threat will continue.

Overall this Queen's speech provides even more evidence of the gap between the government and the real world.

Friday 10 November 2006

Blair Left Isolated After Bush Smashed in Elections

I've been meaning to update you with my thoughts on the US elections - but I've been on the road all week, addressing packed meetings in Brighton, Oxford, Manchester, Bristol, Swindon and Leicester. Once again, I've been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of people for this campaign.

The results of Tuesday's elections in the States are a watershed. The message of the American people is clear - there needs to be a major change of direction on Iraq. Just as in Britain, people in the US feel that they have been ill-advised, misled, and ignored and with the death toll in Iraq mounting on a daily basis they are saying enough is enough.

These election results have not only damaged Bush, but they mean that Blair is now totally isolated in the international community.

Unless we heed the people's verdict in the US, there is every chance that the British electorate will similarly punish Labour at the next election for our role in the chaos of Iraq.

I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate Bernie Sanders for his successful election to the US Senate. This is the first time in American history that a socialist has been elected to the Senate. Bernie opposed the war in Iraq, opposed the Patriot Act and is a support of free health care. The election of Senator Bernie Sanders shows that there is a growing demand in the US for an alternative to the disastrous policies of Bush's administration.

Thursday 9 November 2006

Don't Duck Climate Change Agenda in Queen's Speech

The Queen's Speech will be absolutely critical in determining the Government's agenda on climate change. We are now in the last chance saloon and our fear is that we will get a climate change bill heavy on spin but light on substance.

According to Friends of the Earth, the UK produces 2.3% of the world's CO2, from just 1% of the world's population. The UK must take its responsibilities seriously and harness the technology and resources at our disposal to stop climate change.

What we need is a Climate Change Bill with teeth, which has measurable annual targets. These must be met if we're going to tackle the climate change catastrophe facing our planet.

The sort of targets we will be looking to be included in the proposed legislation will include:

  • Annual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 3% per annum
  • Sectoral targets for industry
  • Tougher energy efficiency targets
  • Significant increase in renewable energy sources in electricity generation and in transport

Sunday 5 November 2006

Website success

It's been nearly four months now since I launched my campaign for Labour's future. One of the main ways that I have tried to communicate with you is through this blog - by letting you know what I'm up to as well as explaining what I'm standing for. I've been absolutely overwhelmed by your response. Since the website was launched in July, there have been nearly half a million hits. I've been absolutely overwhelmed by thousands of your emails of support. I want to thank all those who've written to me - and I look forward to meeting many of you on the campaign trail over the coming months.

I've also been fascinated by the debates that have taken place on the blog over the main issues of the day. In order to allow the debate to flow better, I'm turning off the moderation of comments for now. That means that your contributions will instantly appear without having to wait for approval. This is a trial run - but I hope that we will see even more debate conducted in a friendly spirit over the issues that matter to you.

Friday 3 November 2006

Concrete Support for the Policies Mobilising Tomorrow's Climate Change Demonstration

Tomorrow (Saturday) will see a broad based coalition demonstrating for action on climate change from our own Government and internationally.

I want to express again my support for this critically important initiative. At last the issue of the environmental threat to our planet is hitting the popular and political agendas in an effective way.

Many are sceptical about the impact of demonstrations particularly after the Government ignored the 2 million people marching against the war. This fails to recognise that people coming out on the streets to show a commonality of purpose builds solidarity and confidence not just in those demonstrating but also in those who care about the issue but who at this stage are on the edge of action.

More and more now we are seeing groups campaigning on one issue linking in solidarity with others campaigning on another concern. The pensioners joining health workers on the lobby of Parliament on Wednesday and joining students marching against tuition fees were excellent examples of this re-emerging sense of solidarity in our society which politicians for over three decades have tried to extinguish.

I just want to express my solidarity with tomorrow's demo in one more very concrete way. In our newspapers this morning was an advertisement placed by Greenpeace. The ad said "What's really needed is a government that will create policies of real substance, and will commit proper resources to preventing climate change. A Government, in short, that will deliver a new kind of power. Is there any leader out there up for the challenge?"

Yes there is. I am campaigning to become leader of the Labour Party to introduce the very policies that Greenpeace and the Coalition on Climate Change are advocating.

So I express my solidarity with tomorrow's demo not just by committing myself to promoting this policy programme in my campaign but more importantly by undertaking publicly to ensuring its implementation if elected leader of the Labour Party.

Wednesday 1 November 2006

Iraq Inquiry Vote in Parliament

The first debate on Iraq on the floor of the House of Commons for two years took place this evening on a motion calling for an inquiry into the build up to the invasion and its aftermath. The proposal was for a committee to be established of Privy Counsellors who would investigate and receive evidence on the wide range of issues and concerns about what is increasingly being recognised as a policy disaster of the Prime Minister's making, for which thousand upon thousand of Iraqi people are paying for with their lives.

My main concern was to use this debate to press the Government to bring forward a clear programme for the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. Of course it is important to know what happened, how and why, but more important is the question of what is going to happen from now on.

The Government line of staying "until the job is done" is clearly no longer feasible. It is now widely accepted that the occupying forces are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

I was hoping that this debate would provide the Government with the opportunity to outline its exit strategy to help move the situation forward from the chaotic daily bloodbath that is now Iraq.

I believe that this exit strategy should include:

An announcement of a timetable for immediate withdrawal of UK forces.

A return to the UN and the launching of an appeal to the international community for assistance in peacekeeping and transitional arrangements.

A rehabilitation of Britain's role in international affairs by the UK government convening with our EU partners an international peace conference for the Middle East, including Israel and Palestine.

I was also hoping that today's debate would rise above the usual tribal, partisan bickering of the Commons but of course it didn't and we are no further forward in properly addressing the future of Iraq. The Government celebrated defeating the motion to call for an inquiry with a majority of 25.

Then within hours the Secretary of State for Defence stated that an inquiry will eventually take place but within minutes he is denounced and overridden by Downing Street. What absolute chaos in government.

I then get home and watch more scenes of casualties in Iraq, including young children killed and wounded who were just members of a wedding party.

Rather than despair it is critical that the campaign for withdrawal goes on and the campaigning to restore the Labour Party as a party of peace continues with increased commitment and vigour.

Many have made comparisons with the Suez crisis of the 1950s. Suez was a break in history that marked the confirmation that Britain could no longer play the role of an imperial, world power. If anything of value is to come out of the disaster of Iraq it may be the recognition that the days of Britain being an agressive military force are over.

Instead Britain could now become a world leader in the promotion of peace, conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Britain has shown what a skilful player for peace it has become in the role it has played in Northern Ireland. What a service our country could povide the world as a major force for peace

Monday 30 October 2006

Climate Change Reports are Welcome but Action is Needed

The Stern report published today is a welcome step in getting the Government to take the issue of climate change seriously. After nine years the Government seems to be catching up with the mounting anxiety within society about the threat of climate change to our planet.

The Government now needs to demonstrate with actions that the report and the appointment of Al Gore are not just tactical political manoeuvres in trying to upstage Cameron on the issue of the environment.

After delays and lengthy consulations the Government published its renewed Climate Change Programme (CCP) earlier this year. The general reaction was that by failing to set out a clear strategy and programme of action the CCP was a wasted opportunity. The report of the All Party Parliamentary Environmental Group on the CCP prepared by the Institute for European Environmental POlicy found that the CCP failed to set out the actions needed to move the UK economy forward towards its target of emissions reductions.

The CCP's projections confirmed that the Government does not expect to reach its 2010 target of 20% reduction in carbon dioxide until 2016 or beyond. This does not bode well for the Government's performance over reaching the 60% reduction target by 2050.

It also explains why up until now the Government has also steadfastly refused to support legislation to set clear annual targets on cilmate change policy.

This weekend's media reports of the devastation being caused by climate change in Africa brought home with graphic effect the impact on the poorest in our global community.

The Campaign Against Climate Change demonstration on Saturday (4th November)will be highlighting that the action currently being taken by Governments to control climate change is nowhere near sufficient to match the scale of the problem.

Ther is a clear and urgent need for a Climate Change Bill to be a priority in the forthcoming Queen's speech but this Bill must set out a series of radical and concrete actions which transform the policymaking and expenditure priorities of the Government.

This means challenging some powerful vested interests who have always had the ability to almost dictate Government policy to protect their interests. This includes the aviation industry. For over 20 years I have campaigned to press successive Governments to make the aviation companies accountable for the environmental damage they inflict. The Treasury under Gordon Brown has blocked any attempt at making the aviation industry pay its way even in terms of VAT on fuel and has come out promoting expansion at Heathrow airport.

As Chair of "Heathrow Watch" and with Heathrow in my constituency I know just what environmental damage can be done by an industry virtually out of environmental control. At long last people and Government's are beginning to listen to us.

I fully support the Demonstration at the weekend and will seek to ensure that any proposed Climate Change Bill will not be too little too late.

Thursday 26 October 2006

Fleshing out the policies

Throughout the coming weeks, we want to highlight in more detail the policies on which I'm campaigning. We'll be inviting guest writers and policy advisers who are experts in each policy field to explain the background to the particular issues that we're dealing with and to set out the policy proposals in more detail. We want to draw on the expertise of policy analysts and the organisations campaigning on each policy.

We start with what some see as a contentious issue, the Trade Union Freedom Bill, explaining what it will contain, why it's necessary, and what its purposes are. John Hendy, Chair of the Institute of Employment Rights has written an invaluable briefing on this proposed Bill which you can read here.

As we continue to publish these useful policy briefings, I'd welcome your thoughts on the issues that they raise.

Challenging Brown Over Public Sector Pay

Today I have written to Gordon Brown to warn him of dire political consequences if the Government follows through on its threat to impose a pay cut on over a million NHS workers.

In their evidence to the Pay Review Body that sets NHS staff pay, the Government have sought to impose an increase of just 1.5%. NHS staff unions have rightly pointed out that with inflation pushing on towards 4% the Government's position represents a significant pay cut for health care staff.

This is madness. The Government seems to have launched itself on an electoral suicide mission. We appear to be sleepwalking into a winter and spring of discontent with possible industrial action being provoked right across the public sector early in the New Year, just before the local, Scottish and Welsh elections.

Polls this week show that Labour's rating is at its lowest in over 20 years. They also show that the public and NHS staff are furious with the Government's cuts and privatisation policies which are ripping through our health care and other essential public services.

Imposing a pay cut on health care workers and across the public sector next year will fuel the anger amongst NHS staff and other public servants who already feel betrayed by the Government. Telling them that they either accept a pay cut or risk more redundancies and service cuts smacks of bullying to me and will do nothing but alienate hundreds of thousands of core Labour supporters.

My letter to Gordon Brown reads as follows:

Dear Gordon,

I am writing to express my concern regarding the Government’s proposal of a pay award of just 1.5% across the public sector and with particular regard to workers in the NHS and civil service. With inflation nearing 4% (as set out in evidence given to the Pay Review Body), this can only be construed as a pay cut for millions of workers, adding fuel to the growing concern of NHS Staff Unions, civil servants, public sector workers and the general public over this government’s handling of public services.

As I am sure you will agree, public sector workers have very demanding jobs and work hard to provide high quality public services. The imposition of such a pay cut will have a highly detrimental effect on the morale of these dedicated public servants and instead of rewarding them for their professionalism and expertise undermines their work, achievement and potential. Combined with the Government’s ongoing plans to introduce the private sector into the NHS and other public services, such a policy critically threatens the quality of health and public services we are able to provide.

Additionally, in a period when, as I am sure you are only too well aware, it is essential that the Government reconnects with our core supporters, the provision of publicly funded and efficient public services is a key priority for our members, supporters and the electorate in general. The polls this week suggest that the party’s rating is at its lowest level in over 20 years. This programme of public sector cuts is already causing considerable anger throughout the movement and can only alienate hundreds of thousands more of our natural supporters.

Many now fear that the Government seems to have launched itself on an electoral suicide mission in advance of the local, Scottish and Welsh elections. The Government appears to be sleepwalking into a spring of discontent with possible industrial action being provoked across the public sector early in the New Year. I urgently appeal to you to fully reconsider these plans before any further resentment is allowed to grow, and the party and Government are seriously damaged as a result.

Yours sincerely

John McDonnell MP
Member of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington

Tuesday 24 October 2006

A Change in the Government's Strategy in Iraq will only come with a Change of Leader.

Whilst Iraq descends day by day into deepening bloody chaos, the Prime Minister and Government appear to be looking on frozen by the enormity of the tragic consequences of their error of judgement in supporting the US invasion.

Nobody in Government, including Blair and Brown, seems to have a clue what to do next.

Bizarrely the Bush regime is now publicly comparing the situation in Iraq with Vietnam.

Only last week Blair rejected the early withdrawal of British troops, arguing that Britain will not "cut and run." Within less than a week this has now changed to a withdrawal in possibly 12 months.

Apparently without even informing the Blair government Bush is preparing for the withdrawal of US troops at least to base. The aim of the Bush regime is to minimise US losses whilst maintaining sufficient presence to protect the flow of oil into US oil company coffers.

Isn't it time that the Prime Minister admits that the decision to support the US invasion of Iraq was the greatest political misjudgement since the second world war?

There are rumours leaking out that supporters of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are using the tragic, disaster of Iraq as a lever to speed the Prime Minister's retirement. The argument being deployed is that a change of strategy on Iraq requires a change of leader.

Many agree with this assessment. However many will also judge that changing to someone who voted for and actively supported the dreadful mistake of invading Iraq is both futile and irrational.

Surely the changes that are needed are a change in policy from war to peace and a change in leader from someone who failed our party and our country by supporting this misguided war to someone who had the judgement and principle not to.

Monday 23 October 2006

Extradition by Order of the USA

The Police and Justice Bill returns to the House of Commons today from the House of Lords. The Lords have amended the bill on a number of issues. One of the most important amendments is to insist that if a person is to be extradited to a foreign country a British court must have the right to decide whether it is in the interests of justice that the extradition goes ahead.

This sounds a reasonable enough safeguard given that it is the primary duty of any state to protect its citizens. Not for New Labour though. John Reid is refusing to budge on this question and will demand that Labour MPs vote to overturn the Lords' amendment.

An extraordinary alliance has been formed to lobby Parliament to maintain the safeguards inserted into the bill by the Lords. The alliance includes Liberty, Justice, the CBI and the Institute of Directors.

The alliance is based upon the fear of the wide reach of the Government's extradition proposals which though designed to counter terrorism is also drawing in businesspeople accused of any felony in the US or with even the vaguest connection with the US.

With the emergence of global business communications it is often the case that more than one state will have jurisdiction over an alleged crime. The effect of the Government's proposals is that a person can be plucked from their home country and transported abroad to be tried and face a long period in custody before the case comes to court even if the British authorities do not believe that there are grounds for a prosecution.

The Lords' amendment to the bill allows a British court to determine whether the trial in the state requesting extradition would be in the interests of justice. This sort of condition is common in most extradition treaties.

New Labour ministers and whips have been touring the Commons arguing that there is nothing controversial in the bill and that the Government is simply tidyng up the law.

Far from it, this bill in fact threatens a fundamental principle of British justice that a British citizen can look to a British court to protect his/her rights.

Surely it is for British courts to determine the guilt or innocence of a British citizen or failing this whether there are sufficient grounds for a British citizen to be held to account in a foreign court.

It is hardly surprising that many view this as an abject failure of New Labour to protect British citizens and dancing once again to the tune of the Bush regime.

Tuesday 17 October 2006

Why are Ministers Blocking Anti-discrimination Laws for Lesbians, Gays and Transsexuals?

Way back in the early 1980s as a GLC Councillor I set up the GLC's Grants Committee, which gave grants to a vast number of local organisations providing much needed services to communities in London. A group serving the gay community approached us for support. It was a Gay Bereavement Counselling Service, which provided counselling and support for gay men and lesbians whose partner had died.

We adopted a firm equal opportunities policy which ensured that in the distribution of grants nobody would be discriminated against on grounds of race, colour, creed or sexuality. The counselling service was a superb example of the type of voluntary organisation which, with a little bit of state support, could play an esential role in supporting members of our community often in desperate need of care and assistance at a critical time in their lives.

The reaction at the time from the media and many politicians of all parties was appalling, with a hysterical tirade of the grotesquely abusive, homophobic attacks. I had my windows smashed, maggots put through my letterbox and the glass from a milk bottle broken into my children's sand pit.

Despite all the derision and abuse in the media and being denounced by leading political figures we continued on at the GLC to adhere to our equalities policies and even developed a specific Lesbian and Gay Committee to promote policies to respond to the needs of members of the lesbian and gay community in the capital.
Andy Harris, a fellow GLC councillor, served as the Chair of this committee. Tragically he died only a few weeks ago.

Twenty years on and the equalities policies we developed at the GLC have become accepted and adopted by all the main political parties as fair and sound common sense.

I was alarmed therefore to read the reports in this week's press that some ministers were seeking to block the recent legislative proposals to prevent companies, agencies, and public bodies like schools discriminating against people on grounds of their sexuality.

This is a very basic and overdue simple piece of legislation which removes a remaining discriminatory practice. No fair minded person living in a civilised society should have any objection to this measure.

Friday 13 October 2006

Where is there any leadership in government on Iraq?

The extraordinary developments over the last 48 hours over Iraq beg the question "where is there any leadership in Government on Iraq?"

The views expressed by Sir Richard Dannatt, the army's chief of staff, confirmed again this morning on the BBC's Today programme, were clear calls for an exit strategy to be brought forward by the Government.

Nobody however, neither Blair nor Brown, is coming forward with anything new.

Instead we face the prospect of a lingering, directionless presence in a country which is obviously sinking into civil war with all the consequent loss of life and threat to our troops.

We need clear and firm leadership on this question now. This must involve the placing before Parliament next week of a planned exit strategy including a deadline for withdrawal, a direct approach to the United Nations for assistance and a convening of a European summit to bring our European partners back on side to assist Britain in extracting itself from this disastrous mess that is Iraq.

Thursday 12 October 2006

Public Inquiry into Blunkett's Call for Blair to Bomb al-Jazeera

It was revealed today that David Blunkett has admitted to a Channel 4 documentary that he called upon Tony Blair to bomb al-Jazeera in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq, even though this would have been in violation of international law.

I am calling for an inquiry into Blunkett’s statement on the basis that it is contrary to international law to be calling for attacks on civilian institutions, and in fact it is laid down in international law that the military must seek to do all it can to protect civilians during any military operations.

The fact that a senior Cabinet minister was calling for an attack on civilians must be taken extremely seriously. The Government must now launch a public inquiry into former Secretary of State Blunkett’s role in this affair.

The Iraq Exit Strategy

Last night I was asked to appear on Newsnight to comment on the report of the terrible scale of casualties in Iraq.

I explained that the important question now was how deaths on this scale can be avoided in the future. Dreadfully having taken us into this war neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown appear to have any idea of an exit strategy from the dreadful and bloddy mess that is Iraq today.

On the programme I proposed that Britain and the US should start by admitting that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and appreciate that Britain and the US are not part of the solution but part of the problem.

Both countries should now set a deadline for withdrawal and appeal to the rest of the world via the United Nations to assist in securing a settlement in Iraq.

I did not expect my views to be largely endorsed within 24 hours by the Chief of Staff of the British Army.

Sir Richard Dannatt has tonight been reported as stating that the presence of British troops in Iraq is exacerbating the situation and that we should withdraw soon.

The Government has responded by confirming that there will be no change of policy from its existing commitment to staying in Iraq.

Some Labour MPs are trying to spin the story away from this soldier's assessment of the situation in Iraq into challenging the constitutionality of a leading serviceman commenting on such a major policy issue.

The reality is that it is the overwhelming opinion of the Britsih people that British troops should withdraw and that this has now been confirmed by the professional judgement of Britain's most senior military leader.

In the name of reason and humanity the Government must now act and bring forward an exit strategy. The Government appears to be paralysed by indecision on this issue.

Anyone leading or offering themselves as candidates to lead this country must demonstrate now that they are capable of leading on this critical question and indeed have an exit strategy to remove this country from this disastrous mess we have been taken into by the current cabinet.

I am calling upon the Government to bring before Parliament as a matter of urgency in the next week its strategy for withdrawal so that Parliament can debate it and decide.

Now is the time for all people of reason and good will to stand up and demand action of our Government.

Wednesday 11 October 2006

Career not Conscience

The Lancet medical journal has published figures today estimating that over 650,000 Iraqis have died since the illegal invasion in 2003

The absolutely shocking scale of casualties which the Lancet has now revealed demonstrates the disastrous decision of the Cabinet to back Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

David Blunkett's revelations in his diary today show that ministers in the Cabinet, including Gordon Brown, knew that following George Bush into this war would be a disaster but did nothing for fear of losing their jobs.

Putting one's Ministerial position before your conscience calls into question both your judgement and your integrity. If more people had stood up and been counted in the way that Robin Cook did and had resigned their Cabinet posts, we may well have prevented this war, its terrible consequences for the region and the world, and the appalling loss of an estimated 650,000 lives.

Monday 9 October 2006

Corporate Manslaughter Bill Copout

Tomorrow (Tuesady 10th October) the House of Commons will debate the first stage of the legislative process for the Government's Corporate Manslaughter Bill.

This legislation was promised by Labour in opposition and has appeared in each of its election manifestos since 1997.

After 9 years, two detailed consultations and a strong campaign within the trade union movement the Government is finally presenting its Bill to Parliament.

Unfortunately the overwhelming view of those organisations such as the TUC, Justice, Liberty, the Centre for Corporate Accountability and Families Against Corporate Killers, is that the proposals in the Government's Bill are so weak that, to quote the ultimate voice of moderation, i.e.the TUC, "without considerable changes its effectiveness will be considerably compromised."

The CCA says " We are concerned that after 12 years of debate the Government has brought forward a bill that may well not result in increased accountability of large organisations." FACK describes the Government's Bill as "totally inadequate and will not hold negligent employers who kill to account nor will it act as an effective deterrent." The Hazards Campaign states that "As it stands the Bill will make little difference."

Why are so many disappointed with the Government's Bill?

At present companies can only be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter if there is sufficient evidence to charge a director or senior manager for the offence of manslaughter. If not the company cannot be prosecuted for the failures of the company as a whole.

The new Bill maintains virtually the same senior management test in that the only people covered are those who play a significant role in making decisions about or actually managing the activities of a company as a whole or a substantial part of it.

In complex organisations with various sub divisions and subcontracts it will be almost impossible to demonstrate a person is responsible for a "substantial" part of the operation of a company.

There is nothing in the bill which will lead to the directors of companies being held liable.

People who connive, conspire, collude in an act which results in a death i.e what is described as "secondary liability" will also get off scot free.

The only penalties against an organisation will be an unlimited fine or remedial order, no different from those under existing Health and Safety laws.

There is one organisation which has welcomed the Government's approach and described it as "sensible." No surprise it is the bosses' union, the Confederation of British Industry.

After tomorrow's debate the Bill will go into committee and when it returns in a couple of months time to the floor of the House of Commons I and others will be moving amendments to radically improve the Government's proposals.

I heard today however that the line coming from some senior members of the Trade Union Group of MPs in Parliament is that some want to draft amendments but not push them to the vote in Parliament.

Let me make it clear. This Bill must be amended if it is to be of any use in bringing corporate killers to justice and if it is to help prevent further deaths at work. I and others will table amendments at the appropriate time and will demand the Government amends the Bill.

If the Government refuses I will vote against the Government and for amendments which fulfil the promise made in three election manifestos and to the trade union movement in the Warwick Agreement that we would legislate against corporate killing.

I urge other Labour MPs to follow this strategy and I call upon all trade unionists and Labour Party members to press their local Labour MPs to support this approach.

Friday 6 October 2006

A Wave of Islamophobia.

If anyone doubted that Islamophobia existed in our country they should be in no doubt after reading and listening to the torrent of bigotry and prejudice pouring out of some of our national press and from our main media outlets over the last 48 hours.

Just a few examples.

The Daily Express launched its salvo with the headlines "Riots over Mosque on Queen's Doorstep." A story which also ran for 24 hours throughout the national and local television and radio news programmes.

The Evening Standard sunk to its usual depths with an almost farcical headline "Guide Dog is Banned by Muslim Driver." Almost farcical except when you know the Standard's racist track record over the years.

The Guardian, Times, and Telegraph plus the BBC and most radio news programmes ran with the story of Jack Straw requiring Muslim women to remove their veil when meeting him.

This followed hard on the heels of Cameron's comments on Muslim schools and Reid's statements about no "no go areas" at Labour Party conference.

We are clearly in the middle of one of those regular episodes, launched by the unsavoury alliance of media and politicians, of attacking the latest vulnerable minority.

The historical parallels with the persecution of the Catholic minority in this country three centuries ago and the jews even further back in our history are striking.

This week saw the commemoration of the "Battle of Cable Street," when socialists, trade unionists and people of good faith stood up to the emerging Nazi threat in this country and stood in solidarity with the Jewish community against the despicable attacks on it by Mosley's fascists.

It is now our time to stand up in solidarity with Muslim members of our community.

Whichever minority group comes under racist and bigoted attack in this way be it catholic, jew, muslim, hindu, sikh, black or ethnic minority, lesbian or gay, our role as fellow human beings is to stand with them.

That is what I am calling on every person in this country of good will to do today.

If we act now in standing together in defence of the Muslim community we can bring to a swift end this latest wave of prejudice.

If we do not act, my fear is that the islamophobia we have witnessed this week will gain the respectable cover it has been seeking and will grow unchecked.

Cameron/Blair Merger

Having listened to Cameron's party conference speech it was obvious that the Conservative strategy in the run up to the next election is to present themselves as offering the potential for electors to vote for a smooth transition from Blair to Cameron. The Conservative Party has clearly decided to offer itself as a sort of New Labour plus.

The Prime Minister seems to take this as a compliment as though Cameron has been incorporated into New Labour. The reality is that New Labour has been shifted so far to the right that it is easy to see a sizeable proportion of Conservatives now accomodated into New Labour.

Cameron's strategy though even in the crudest electoral calculations seems to have missed the point of recent elections. The most significant feature of the recent period has been the electorate's increasingly angry disillusionment with New Labour, both its policies and its style of politics. People increasingly do not like the society that is being created by the policies pursued by New Labour and now advocated by the New Conservatives.

The disllusionment therefore isn't just with Tony Blair the individual but with the concrete results of his New Labour's policies and the consequent breakdown of trust in both him and politics more generally.

Although there was no policy content to Cameron's speech he was offering virtually the same political mood music as New Labour but with a fresher face.

There is a real world test for this coterie of political consensus of the right.

In a society which is visibly fraying at the edges as a result of the most prolonged period of widening inequality in the last century what will their policies do to redistribute wealth and power in Britain?

There is no point any politician wittering on in even the most flowery conference eloquence until they demonstrate that they are willing and are capable of tackling this issue.

How can we put up with a society in which the gross inequality of distribution of wealth determines so crudely and on such a scale not just the quality of the life of our children but even their very life expectancy?

Tony Blair has had his oppportunity to tackle this issue and simply avoided the question. David Cameron hasn't even acknowledged its existence.

Friday 29 September 2006

Labour Party Conference - Grassroots Success

Despite all the stage management by the New Labour machine, reality did begin to break through in to the Labour Party Conference both in the fringe meetings at the Conference and also even on to the Conference floor. There's been a lot written about the techniques developed by New Labour to control the Conference as a media event which I don't need to repeat here. However even I am quite surprised at the lengths to which the New Labour bureaucracy has gone to seek to prevent any real debate on policy issues. It isn't just the intensive briefing of delegates on which way they're supposed to vote by full-time Labour Party officials or strategically placed members of staff to organise clapping and standing ovations, or even the handing out of hand-written placards by Labour Party apparatchiks. The worse, I suppose, is the delusion that they have that somehow this will prevent the issues being debated and the concerns of Labour Party members about the direction of the Government ever being expressed.

Instead, what occurred this week was the defeat of the Government on the Conference floor on a number of key issues such as health service privatisation, council housing and corporate manslaughter legislation. Outside the Conference chamber the real debate took place where party members and trade unionists couldn't express themselves on the Conference floor. They simply transposed their expression of views in to the fringe meetings. At fringe meeting after fringe meeting it was demonstrated that there is a widespread coalition now for change in direction for the Labour Government. Clear calls were made for a series of changes in Government policy, including ending privatisation, the need to introduce a Trade Union Freedom Bill, the importance of having a real debate about Trident, and withdrawal from Iraq.

So, looking back on Conference week, it's encouraging to report that whenever a vote was allowed on the Conference floor, the Labour Party Conference endorsed key elements of the policy programme upon which I am standing for leader of the party. On the issues where New Labour refused to allow a debate, it was clear from the many packed fringe meetings on these subjects that there is majority rank-and-file support in both the Constituency Labour Parties and trade unions for the policies we are advocating as part of this campaign. So, I have come back from Manchester significantly encouraged that there is a massive basis for support for our campaign, its policies and for our leadership bid.

The whole week was one frenetic series of fringe meetings which I attended and spoke at. This enabled us not just to gage support for these policies, but also get real feedback on the details of policies and how we drive them forward as part of this campaign. People were buzzing with ideas, both about the detail of policy but also about organising the campaign in their communities and in their unions. The Conference has given our campaign a major boost. Of course it's a continuing struggle to gain a breakthrough into the national press, but our effective use of live media this week has given us the opportunity of explaining our policies to a wider audience.

Naturally I try to speak from the Conference platform - but, unsurprisingly, was never called to speak. I was hoping to speak in the debate on the privatisation of the NHS, but was denied the opportunity. In fact the only time allocated to speakers called from the floor in a combined debate on the NHS and education was approximately 15 minutes. Although I was unable to speak on the subject of NHS privatisation, I set out my views on this issue at the LRC/Campaign Group fringe on Wednesday evening. You can see my speech at the Guardian:

The New Labour hierarchy including many Labour MPs and the London-based media still have no understanding of what we're about and the nature of our campaign. We have rejected the traditional path followed by political campaigns in the past for seeking position within Government or a political party. The traditional route is for a small group of MPs to come together and select a candidate between themselves, to determine their own programme of policies and to launch a campaign from a Westminster committee room and invite and cajole other MPs to support them, virtually excluding party members and supporters. So, a fait accompli determines and restricts to a narrow range of candidates - MPs basically telling us who we can vote for. Our campaign has virtually reversed this process. Rank-and-file members of the Labour Party and trade unions have determined that we should have a challenge for the leadership, have proposed a policy programme and have offered a leadership candidate for support. On this basis our campaign flies in the face of all those traditional processes and challenges the very structures of decision-making and power within our party and within the political system. You can see now why they have no idea where we're coming from, what we're about or any understanding of the process we are using. In my view, this lack of understanding leads them to completely underestimating the demands for change within our movement and also the massive potential support for our campaign.

Tuesday 26 September 2006

Guardian Profile

Many of you have been in touch to ask us why they we've had such limited coverage in the national papers. Some have described it as an almost "news blackout". Well, the good news is that the Guardian today have published in the G2 section a profile written by the author and human rights campaigner Ronan Bennett. If you're interested in our campaign, have a look at the profile, but more importantly, take a look at some of the policy issues we've been raising - and let us know what you think.

Honest John
John McDonnell has never shirked a fight - whether his opponent was Margaret Thatcher or his bosses in Labour. And now this little-known leftwing MP wants to lead the party. Ronan Bennett, who has worked on campaigns with him, profiles the first candidate in the race to succeed Tony Blair

Tuesday September 26, 2006
The Guardian

On a Saturday night shortly before the 1992 general election, I bumped into Peter Mandelson at the party of a mutual friend. Affable and charming as he can be when he wants, Mandelson asked what I was up to. I said I was going to spend the following morning campaigning for the Labour candidate John McDonnell in the Hayes and Harlington constituency in west London. Mandelson's smile froze in an instant. "Don't waste your time," he said with evident distaste, before turning sharply away.

The architects of New Labour never made any secret of their contempt for community activists and socialists such as McDonnell, but the suggestion that they preferred the Tory incumbent to hold the seat rather than see McDonnell in parliament was shocking. McDonnell lost by 54 votes but five years later was elected with a 13,000 majority. Two months ago - still an MP - he announced his candidacy for the Labour leadership after Tony Blair steps down.

Read more at,,1880921,00.html

Issue Avoidance

I wrote this comment piece for Guardian Unlimited yesterday:

Issue Avoidance
Gordon Brown's failure to address concerns about Iraq, privatisation or the controversy over Trident shows how out of touch he is

To be fair, Gordon Brown was in a no win situation as he approached yesterday's speech. Carefully planned to herald in his transition to leadership of the Labour Party it was widely judged that he needed to give the speech of his lifetime.

The formula was fairly obvious. Pay respects to Tony Blair, show Gordon the person, set out a record of achievement, do the vision thing, hint at a few big ideas and finally round on the Tories.

The problem was that it sounded like a speech too long in preparation and so nervously drafted that it avoided any controversy. As a result key issues facing not just the Labour Party conference but more importantly the real world outside were just finessed over.

How could any leading politician avoid addressing directly the bloodbath that is Iraq? How could Gordon fail to take on the concerns of not just the public sector unions but communities across the country about the latest round of NHS cutbacks and privatisation in the health service?

And at a Labour Party conference especially, how could he fail to mention the hottest issue causing controversy amongst even his own supporters, the spending of £76 billion on renewing Trident?

Nobody could disagree with his rallying call that "working together the good society can and will be built" but there was nothing by way of concrete policies on how this "motherhood and apple pie vision" could be achieved. The only policies announced were largely rehashed from past speeches, including his last budget speech.

How many times have we seen politicians in office become cut off from the outside world and become unaware that the world has moved on? Gordon seems oblivious to the change in mood in the country.

There is an underlying rumbling for change. A new generation is emerging which wants its politicians to address the hard issues openly and directly. They are up for it. The question they are posing is: "Is the Labour Party?"

Sunday 24 September 2006

Time to Restore Trust in Politics

I've been on the road for a week now, doing meeting after meeting as part of my campaign for the Labour leadership - in Hull, Liverpool, London and now back up to Manchester. I've been meeting with Labour party members, Labour supporters, trade unionists, and people just walking in off the streets. The enthusiasm of people to just discuss politics can almost be touched. Young people are turning up to the meetings in numbers I've not seen for a decade. The key issue that's emerging is a breakdown in trust, not just in the Labour leadership, but in politics overall. Nevertheless, people who have come to the meetings are there because they share a determination to turn things around.

New Labour evidenced this weekend that they haven't learnt the lesson by refusing to allow a debate about Trident's replacement at Labour Party Conference. New Labour has prevented Labour party members having any say on this major policy issue in advance of the decision to be made on whether Trident is to be replaced or not. This could be the last opportunity for a Labour Party Conference to have any say because the decision could be made by Blair and Brown before the Party Conference meets again.

The revelation this week that Trident will now cost not the £26 billion first envisaged but £76 billion clarifies why the Government doesn't want to debate this issue. Imagine how much this country could gain from the investment of £76 billion into its public services, into its pensions system, and into improving our environment. I believe that the electorate of this country will not support a Government that goes ahead with this waste of resources. This missile system is clearly unusable. We must now use the period ahead to implement the programme of arms conversion to protect the jobs of those workers currently associated with the operation of the existing Trident system. In the first instance this workforce will be utilised in the dismantling of the system itself. With the massive skills that exist within the Trident workforce, the next stage of this process should comprise the redeployment of these skills into a programme of development of alternative power technology. There is an ideal match between the skills available and the need of the country to develop sustainable alternative power sources which will contribute towards tackling climate change.

We welcome people's views on how this arms conversion programme can be developed to provide the practical alternative to secure the jobs and the skills base of the workers currently engaged in the Trident programme.

Tuesday 19 September 2006

Health Minister Sets No Limit to NHS Privatisation

In the midst of the dispute over the privatisation of NHS Logistics Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health, has angered NHS workers by refusing to set any limit to the Government's privatisation of the NHS.

This intervention will mobilise NHS workers in support of the Logistics dispute and public service workers across the public sector.

It is an astounding refusal to listen to the voices not just of NHS workers but also the general public who overwhelmimgly reject the privatisation of our health service.

Politically Secretary of State Hewitt's stance is almost suicidal and unless challenged will result in the loss of marginal after marginal seat across the country. All of this is driven by the Chancellor's obsession with the market and privatisation.

My fear is that as a result of the Brown/Hewitt policy many hardworking Labour MPs in key marginals could be facing independent candidates waging local NHS campaigns and lose their seats.

Government Takes Prison Officers Association to Court for Contempt

I have just been notified that the Government is taking the Prison Officers Association to the High Court today for contempt of court because the Home Secretary is claiming the union is taking industrial action. The Tories took away the right of prison officers to take industrial action. This abuse of the civil liberties of prison officers was condemned by Labour in opposition and New Labour oppposition spokespeople promised that this anti trade union legislation would be removed from the statute book.

9 years on and New Labour in government has not only failed to live up to its promises in opposition but is now using the Tories' legislation against the POA.

Many in the POA rightfully feel a sense of betrayal. They are deservedly angry.

What is even more inexplicable is that the POA members were not threatening strike action or anything that in normal parlance would be considered industrial action. They simply did not wish to continue undertaking additional work on a voluntary basis.

The heavy hand of the Government is destroying industrial relations in the justice sector both in prisons and the probation service.

The Trade Union Freedom Bill, which I have assisted in drafting and co-ordinating in Parliament, aims to restore basic trade union rights to the POA.

It's time now to moblise in support of the POA and the enactment of the Trade Union Freedom Bill.

Call to Halt the Privatisation of NHS Logistics

There can be fewer better examples of the ludicrous nature of the ideological commitment of New Labour to privatisation than the Government's plans to privatise NHS Logistics. Here we have a division of the NHS efficiently supplying on a not for profit basis more than 500,000 products to hospitals, GPs surgeries and patients at over 10,000 destinations. An organisation which has been awarded and praised for its effectiveness and yet the Government, obsessed with giving the market free rein over our public services, is selling the service off to DHL and transferring contracts worth over £22 billion and 1,650 staff.

This is the ultimate madness of Gordon Brown's compulsive neurosis with regard to privatisation. Whatever happened to New Labour's commitment to "What works matters" and to evidence based policy making?

If DHL is allowed to take over I fear for the service and I fear for the jobs, wages and conditions of work of the staff being forced to transfer.

If ever there was a case for all public service workers to stand together against privatisation and in support of the NHS Logistics workers it is ths one.

I wholeheartedly, 100% back the trade union members who are taking industrial action at NHS Logistics in defence of their service and their jobs against this malign privatisation.

I send a message of solidarity to the workers as they come out on strike this week.

I simply ask the question where are all those Cabinet ministers who are seeking our support as trade unionists for their candidacy for leader or deputy leader of the Labour Party. This dispute is an objective lesson for all trade unions opposed to privatisation. If these Cabinet ministers can't support us when they are seeking our votes, what hope is there of gaining their support after the votes have been cast.

The strategy of some trade union leaders of seeking to negotiate support for policy change is being blown out of the water by example after example of intransigence by Gordon Brown and all the other New Labour heirs apparent.

As a speaker said at the TUC last week, we need to learn the lesson and learn it now before it is too late.

Saturday 16 September 2006

Darfur: Time to Act to Offer Protection but also to Tackle the Arms Trade

With 300,000 people having already died and 2.5 million made homeless by the conflict the reports from Darfur are depresssingly reminiscent of Rwanda, when the world failed to act. Withdrawal of the African Union troops could augur a genocidal attack on the refugee camps by the Sudanese troops and the Janjaweed.

The world needs to intervene via the UN to secure protection for the refugees. I support the call today by a wide range of academics, artists and human rights activists for the Government to prioritise the issue of Darfur until a UN force is deployed and the people of Darfur are protected. However the role of the US and Britain in the Middle East has largely destroyed the credibililty of Bush and Blair internationally in being capable of leading a peace initiative. This means allowing and encouraging the UN to play a direct leadership role in pressurising and negotiating with the Sudanese government to enable the necessary security arrangements to be put in place.

The evidence is mounting that for months weapons and bombs have been pouring into the region and are being amassed by the Sudanese forces for use against civilians. This tragedy should prompt us now to open up a global debate on the role of the arms trade. It is time for us in Britain as a major arms manufacturer and supplier to take the lead in facilitating a global process by which we can secure control over the international arms trade via the UN or new bodies of global governance.

Tuesday 12 September 2006

Time for a Trade Union Freedom Bill

At the TUC this week, I have been busy launching my Trade Union Manifesto. Last night, at a fringe meeting of the TUC organised by the Institute of Employment Rights and the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws, I explained the details of the Trade Union Freedom Bill which is critical to the success of any future Labour Government.

Workers and trade unions in Britain today have fewer rights than anywhere else in Western Europe. Not only do trade unionists risk losing their jobs if they take industrial action, but their union faces the confiscation of its assets and, potentially, total demise if they are associated with action in solidarity with others.

A Trade Union Freedom Bill will bring the rights of British workers into the 21st century. We have already won the argument in the labour movement. It's the policy of the TUC and Labour Party Conference voted to back solidarity action last year. 167 Labour MPs have backed the demand for such a Bill. The Cabinet - including the Chancellor - are increasingly isolated in their opposition to thisBill.

However, I realise that many in the wider community have only heard about this campaign for workers' rights through the media, which is largely hostile to the Bill. That's why it is our duty to go out and explain to people why this Bill is so important for improving the quality of their life at work. I believe that we can achieve a consensus right across our community in favour of this legislation, including on both sides of industry.

We did it with the campaign for a Minimum Wage by explaining how it would work and what its implications would be. We can do it again.

I am calling upon the TUC and the Labour party to combine in a joint hearts and minds campaign to win majority support for the Trade Union Freedom Bill, and then to subsequently introduce the Bill into Parliament on a wave of consensual support.

Let me explain the main points of this proposed Bill:

Better protection for workers
The Bill would give all workers the right to strike or take official industrial action free from the fear of dismissal or victimisation. Employers will be prevented from sacking or penalising staff for taking action before, during or after a dispute. Employers would also be banned from taking unfair deducations from workers' pay packets for taking official industrial action and ensure that workers have the right to pay for the work they do.

Workers will be given the right to enforce the rights easily and effectively. Courts will be able to order employers to stop penalising staff before a full hearing and order that sacked workers should get their jobs back.

Employers would also be prevented from hiring agency workers to carry out work normally done by staff taking official industrial action.

Cut red tapes for unions
The Bill will simplify bureaucratic rules about industrial action notices and ballots. Unions will have to give only seven days' notice of their proposed start of industrial action and will not have to give notice of a ballot. They will also be free to ballot for action, even if previous calls for industrial action have been unsuccessful.

Employers will not be allowed to use legal loopholes to get injunctions stopping industrial action. Injunctions will not be granted for minor technical errors when a clear majority of members have voted to back industrial action.

Balloting rules will be brought into line with how MPs elected - that is, ballots will stand unless unions make a mistake that could have changed the ballot result.

Supportive action
The law on industrial action is years out of date and fails to recognise changes in the economy like contracting out, modern business structures and the complex patterns of modern ownership.

A Trade Union Freedom Bill will give unions the ability to take industrial action:

- over the terms and conditions offered by a future employer where jobs are being transferred to the new employer

- against associated employers of the employer involved in a primary dispute, which will help to ensure that employers cannot use technical loopholes to prevent workers in the same workplace, with the same management structure and effectively the same employer from taking action in support of each other.

When there is official action being taken in one workplace, supportive action against another employ should be allowed after a ballot:

- when work or production has been transferred to that employer during a dispute or during a strike; or

- where a union is taking defensive action int he first workplace and the other employer has contributed to the dispute, for example, by aggressively cutting costs.

This is a fight for justice which I believe we can win.

I'd be interested in hearing your own thoughts.