Sunday 30 July 2006

Innocents are Dying but still Bush and Blair Refuse to Call for an Immediate Ceasefire

Like most people I found the pictures from Qana of more innocent lives being lost through indiscriminate bombing by the Israelis distressing in the extreme. In the Observer this morning it is also revealed that the Israelis are using in civilian areas cluster bombs, which are designed to kill and maim in such an indiscriminate way. In addition it is reported that the US has delivered at least 100 "bunker buster" bombs containing depleted uranium warheads.

In the face of such immense suffering on all sides it is incomprehensible why the Prime Minister has determinedly followed George Bush in refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire. This refusal is being interpreted rightly or wrongly as part of a joint US/UK strategy of allowing Israel sufficient time to invade south Lebanon, wipe out Hezbollah and extend its border to annex a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon. If this is the case I believe that this cynical strategy will not only fail but will also prove to be counter productive in the long term by breeding further hatred and future terrorist activity.

What is needed is for the US and UK to join up with the rest of the world calling for an immediate ceasefire. Israel will not be able to withstand pressure from its major backer and arms supplier, the US. This will also enable the creation of a united front with the Arab world in pressurising Hezbollah to enter into serious peace negotiatons, including the exchange of prisoners.

Many have been angered to discover that Britain has been used as the transit station for US weapons being transported to Israel for use in Lebanon. Now that we know not only the type of weapons being used but also how these weapons are being used in an indiscriminate way against civilans, the Prime Minister must now refuse the Bush regime the right to transport these weapons through our country and airspace. If the Prime Minister refuses I believe that any workers associated with this transport activity have every right to refuse to assist in transporting these weapons on the grounds that they are being used in a way which is contary to international law.

If a ceasefire is not achieved within the next 48 hours I am calling for the recall of Parliament so that Parliament can itself be given the opportunity of calling for an immediate ceasefire on behalf of the British people and debating an alternative strategy to the failed Bush/Blair approach.

Many now also believe that at a time of world crisis like this the spectacle of a British Prime Minister taking time out to pander to the whims of Rupert Murdoch by virtually playing the role of an after dinner speaker at a Murdoch staff conference will be interpreted by some as demeaning the office of British Prime Minister.

Friday 28 July 2006

Call for Inquiry into Use of UK as Transit Station for US Weapons to Israel

The revelation that an airport in the UK, (Prestwick in Scotland), has been used as a transit station for the transportation of US weapons to Israel has come as ashock to many MPs and commentators. The fact that senior ministers in both the British Government and the Scottish Government have stated that they were unaware of this arrangement begs a number of questions.

First, how long has this practice been going on?

Second, if the Foreign Secretary was unaware of this arrangement, was the Prime Minister, any of his staff, the British Intelligence Services or the Secretary of State for Defence aware that this was happening?

Third, who in the British Government authorised this practice?

Fourth, what assessment was undertaken of the risk to UK interests and indeed the safety of our citizens of allowing the UK to be used in this way?

This incident destroys any last vestige of Tony Blair's claims about the neutrality of his stance between the differing parties in the Middle East. The use of UK soil as an airstrip for the US' role in arming Israel will confirm on the Arab street whose side Tony Blair is really on. More enemies will have been made by this incident and it will serve to confirm yet again in many eyes the subservient relationship between the Blair administration and the Bush regime.

I am calling for a full inquiry into how the US can use our airports to transport weapons to a foreign country in conflict and who in government has given the political go ahead for such an arrangement.

Wednesday 26 July 2006

Desperate News from the Failure Of World Trade Talks

It is desperate news that the world trade talks have floundered on the US refusal to agree to reduce trade barriers. Despite all the hopes that at last the World Trade Organisation was beginning to recognise the impact on the developing world of trade injustices, the Bush administration destroyed any hope of an effective deal by insisting on maintaining its protectionist policies.

There is a savage irony in all this. Here we have the Bush regime, the greatest advocate of free market, neo-liberal economics, demanding that its transnational companies be protected from competition from the developing world but at the same time calling upon developing countries to open up their economies to rabid exploitation and product dumping by the US.

The present WTO talks round is the best object lesson one could have in how the WTO and Gatt system was designed to promote the neo liberal agenda of forcing trade deals on the developing world to make it easier for US transnationals to dominate the economies of developing countries. When the developing world and its allies demand a mild redressing of this balance, the US refuses to play ball. Whilst in the eyes of the supporters of the "Washington Consensus" the unhindered operation of the free market is good enough for the developing world it is not acceptable if US profits are at risk and the protectionism is called for. These recent talks expose this hypocracy. Noam Chomsky's book "Profit over People-Neoliberalism and Global Order" provides a hard hitting expose of the role of the WTO and other global institutions in the promotion of free market philosophy.

The Bush/Blair Alliance

The first day of the Rome talks to secure peace in Lebanon has demonstrated yet again the role played in international diplomacy by the Bush/Blair alliance. The majority of the countries engaged in the talks and those outside the Rome forum have called for an immediate ceasefire and truce to save lives and avoid further human suffering. Only Bush and Tony Blair have refused to call for an immediate truce. It is accepted in diplomatic circles that of course where Bush leads Tony Blair automatically follows but it is not acceptable in the eyes of a majority of people in this country. This week's latest poll demonstrates that a majority believe Blair is too close to Bush.

The Bush strategy has been to refuse to intervene in order to give the Israelis sufficient time to invade Southern Lebanon. This cynical manouevre has been disgracefully supported by Tony Blair. The result is the scenes of heartrending suffering as civilians are killed, wounded and rendered homeless by Israeli bombs and Hezbollah missiles. The killing of UN peacekeepers by the Israelis is an appalling crime against the civilised world. Given the Israeli use of precision missiles in this attack and the numerous appeals by the UN prior to the assault it is difficult to believe that this was an accident as the Israelis now claim.

The world will not forget or forgive the role played by George Bush and Tony Blair at this time. When there was a desperate need for the rest of the world to stand together to secure an immediate peace to save lives they not only failed but connived to allow Israel to prosecute a savage invasion of Lebanon.

We must all now do all we can to press our Government to act and call for an immediate ceasefire. If Tony Blair will not make this call the British people will have to do it together themselves, using every form of media available to us, particularly by using the internet to get our message across.

Tuesday 25 July 2006

Prescott's Hints at Early Leadership Change

On Sunday most of us almost fell off our chairs listening to John Prescott give the impression that Tony Blair would be leaving office sooner than later. Most commentators and MPs, including me, have been predicting an announcement from the Prime Minister in about May or June of next year with the 2007 conference as another possibility.

I have been working on the basis of having the opportunity of about a year long campaign to get our message across and recruit people back into the Labour party to enable them to qualify to vote in the leadership election for a new direction for the party.

I will still be surprised if Tony Blair announces early but we have to prepare for that possibility by urging as many people as possible to join the party and soon. The qualifying period of membership to vote in the leadership is 6 months. So if you are not a member of the party now, join quickly.

The critical element of the leadership election is the political debate to be had on the future direction of the party in government. That is why in September we will be hitting the ground running with meetings around the country region by region, at the TUC and in the run up to Labour party conference.

If you feel you can help in organising meetings in your area please contact our campaign. This is a grass roots campaign relying upon the voluntary assistance of Labour party members, trade unionists and supporters. If you can help in any way, no matter how small, please link up with us.

Civil Service Fair Pay Petition

I presented to Parliament tonight (Monday) a petiton signed by 50,000 civil servants demanding fair pay across the civil service. Civil servants from virtually all government departments had signed the petition amidst a growing anger that the Government is just not taking low pay and unfairness in the civil service seriously.

In addition to the ongoing scandal of low pay in many departments and agencies, civil servants are facing real inequalities in pay rates with many working alongside colleagues doing the same job but on widely different pay rates.

This unfairness has been introduced into the system by the Government's policy of allowing over 200 different departments, agencies and other public bodies to set their own pay rates.

The PCS trade union is demanding an end to this vast array of pay negotiations and for the Government to re-introduce national pay bargaining. This would establish common standards and minimum requirements on pay and conditions across the civil service.

I fully support the PCS demands. National pay bargaining would overcome this chaotic negotiating maze set up by the Government and would allow us to concentrate on eradicating low pay.

This was the largest petition in the history of the civil service. Coming on top of Gordon Brown's unilateral announcements of 100,000 job cuts and a three year pay freeze the Government shouldn't underestimate the strength of feeling amongst its own workforce on this issue.

LRC Conference and Socialist Youth

The Labour Representation Committee's conference on Saturday was attended by over 400 delegates from Constituency Labour Parties, trade unions and progressive organisations. The conference unanimously endorsed my candidature for the leadership of the Labour Party and addressed the policy programme upon which any challenge should be based.

The conference agreed that the LRC should ensure that people have a clear choice in determining the future of Labour and the future of the country.

The choice should include:

between promoting public services or continued privatisation.

between free education or trust schools and tuition fees.

between increasing the state pension and restoring the link with earnings or forcing more people onto the means test.

between allowing councils to build council houses once again or high rents, escalating housing costs, homelessness and overcrowding.

between energy from green power sources, conservation, and British clean coal or the costs and risks of nuclear power.

between promoting civil liberties and trade union rights or reactionary incursions into the right of free speech, assembly and trial.

between a government committed to peace, withdrawal from Iraq and nuclear disarmamentor backing Bush's wars and wasting £24 billion on Trident.

The conference debate on these issues demonstrated a real depth of support for a clearcut Left programme. There were many insightful speeches based upon delegates' front line experiences of the Government's current policies.

For the first time in years there were a large number of young people at the conference. For me the most moving speech of the conference came from Mary Partington, a student, who said "People of my generation voted for the first time in last year's general election. We had the choice of warmongering, cuts and privatisation, or on the other hand, warmongering, cuts and privatisation. But when I hear a potential leader talk about socialism I'm excited. I fully support John McDonnell in his leadership campaign. I wasn't lucky enough to be around in the 1970s and I've been waiting all my life for this."

A large meeting of young people from the conference met this evening at the House of Commons and established an LRC Socialist Youth group committed to organising and campaigning amongst young people. They came across as really dedicated, enthusisatic and superbly creative and astute about the methods we can use to get our message across in this campaign and also how we can engage young people in this political dialogue.

This is the new generation emerging, politically aware and determined. The aim is to stimulate a wide ranging debate on the issues facing young people and create a young person's manifesto for the campaign. Anyone interested in participating in this initiative should contact us via this website or the LRC's website.

Saturday 22 July 2006

LRC Conference Statement on Lebanon

At today's LRC Conference I made the following statement on the grave situation in the Lebanon.

"Before I introduce the LRC's Executive Statement to this year's conference I want to say a few words about what is happening in the Lebanon. Most of us have come here today enthusiastic at the very start of a new and exciting campaign. But our thoughts can't help but turn to the men, women, and yes children, who are suffering and dying in the Lebanon, Gaza and Israel.

As troops mass on the Lebanese border, I am ashamed that the British Government alongside the Bush regime is one of the only countries in the world to refuse to call upon Israel to ceasefire.

Isn't it time that we had a British Prime Minister who led this country in peace rather than was led by Bush in war? How much more suffering does it take to force Bush and Blair to act? We know that one call from Bush would halt the Israeli attacks.

If Tony Blair won't do it, then we will. From this conference today, we call for an immediate ceasefire in the name of humanity.

I give this commitment. In our campaign in the coming weeks and months we will reassure people that the pursuit of peace will be a central role of any future real Labour Government."

Friday 21 July 2006

LRC Conference Sets Course

It has been a week since I announced publicly that I would be seeking to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party when a vacancy arises. As you can guess the week has been a whirlwind of activity to get our message across, from tv and radio studios, meetings with various people, debates in Parliament, constituency engagements, a pensioners meeting in Parliament and joining the anti privatisation picket line by the PCS outside the MOD.

I just want to say thank you to all those many, many people who have contacted me to express their support. It has just been overwhelming. I have been touched at the number of people just coming up in the street to wish us all good luck. I have been particularly moved by the number of people who have contacted me to say that they are rejoining the Labour Party to join our campaign. Thank you for all this. It is really appreciated and has given our campaign such a boost from the outset.

The LRC Conference takes place at the TUC on Saturday under the title "Challenging for Labour's Future." This year's conference looks like being the largest so far and could be a pivotal moment in the history of the Left in Britain.

The conference will focus on how the left organises to challenge for Labour's future on the policiies needed by a Labour Government and the methods needed to restore democracy to the party once again. Within just over two years the LRC has become one of, if not the largest, rank and file group within the Labour Party. It was founded to bring socialists together from across the Labour party, trade union movement and progressive campaigning bodies in this country. It enables people not just to become involved in political discussion but also to participate in campaigning on the key issues facing our movement.

The LRC has been instrumental in developing, supporting and campaigning on issues like the campaign against privatisation,"Public Services not Private Profit" and the Trade Union Freedom Bill.

Before the last election the LRC published a "Policy Programme for a Real Labour Government." This included amongst others two important demands for both old and young. They were for pensioners an increase in the basic state pension and an immediate restoration of the link with earnings, and for young people the abolition of tuition fees.

Our argument on pensions was that forcing up to 50% of pensioners onto means tested benefits would result in large scale unclaimed benefits and a massive waste of resources on the administration of complex claim and assessment processing.

Yesterday at a meeting in the House of Commons, which was hosted by Kate Hoey and myself, the National Pensioners Convention undertook a detailed briefing on its alternative Pension White Paper. The Convention should be applauded for the effective work it does. This excellent exposition of the real plight of penssioners in this country sets out a clear and affordable approach to tackling pensioner poverty based upon increasing the basic state pension and restoring the link.

Each year in the Parliamentary debate on the budget I have presented a detailed and costed alternative budget including the Pensioner's Convention proposals. The alternative budget is prepared using the expert advice of the Left Economic Advisory Panel, which I chair and which comprises a range of socialist economists. Each year these pension proposals have been opposed by Gordon Brown and the Government.

The Turner report was a bit of a breakthrough as it came out in favour of a restoration of the link between pensions and earnings but regrettably recommended that this would be at some time in the future and would not assist many existing pensioners. At first Tony Blair backed the Turner proposals and Gordon Brown opposed the restoration of the link. Eventually Brown capitulated but still left the restoration to some time in the future and hedged with various caveats, which would enable any future Government to wriggle out of this commitment.

We are making the National Pensioners' Convention demands set out in its alternative white paper a central plank of our campaign. A number of supporters are aiming to form a pensioners' group within the campaign that will work to promote this issue. If you are a pensioner or have an interest in this issue come and help us in this campaign.

Coincidentally this week research proved what the National Union of Students and many of us who opposed tuition fees said three years ago. WE warned then that the imposition of fees leading to massive debt amongst young people would serve as a deterrent to working class young people going to university. This week's figures for new entrants and the drop out rates from college demonstrate tragically that we were right. Young people from less affluent backgrounds are being put off staying on in education by the costs and risk of debt.

The solution is obvious. Scrap the tuition fees and restore maintenance grants. This is what we will be campaigning for and next week young people are coming together to discuss how over the coming months support can be mobilised in the leadership campaign around this policy.

This is exactly the type of campaign we need. Groups of people coming together to mobiliise support for a change in policy but based upon really concrete analysis and workable proposals.

I am convinced that we can win the political argument but it still needs us to win the organisational battle as well. That is why I am so encouraged by the overwhelming response we have received over the last week. It has been really heartwarming to gain such support and so many good wishes from so many people. If you have time tomorrow come along to the LRC conference. It should be intellectually stimulating and politically motivating.

I hope to see you there.

Sunday 16 July 2006

Britain Must Act to Secure Truce in Middle East

We are in danger of witnessing a rapid descent into a widespread war in the Middle East, involving Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, unless Britain with other peace allies act swiftly as mediators. Already the loss of innocent lives on all sides in this conflict is mounting hour by hour but the scale of suffering will be immense if the war engulfs the whole region as it now threatens to do.

Following his meeting with George Bush, the Prime Minister seems to be simply following the American line of seeking to blame the current escalation of military action on both Iran and Syria.

Whatever the provocation of having soldiers captured, the Israeli response has been commonly acknowledged as totally disproportionate. In addition the lack of early intervention by the US to seek to restrain the Israeli reaction at the outset leads some to fear that the implication of Iran in the current conflict suits the USA's wider political and military agenda for the Middle East.

Britain could play an important role in preventing the further escalation of this conflict and in laying out the terrain for its resolution.

Israel is only influenced in any meaningful way by the US. Britain must now call upon the US administration to make it patently clear that it does not support the present Israeli military action and that consequences for the Israeli/US relationship would follow if Israel persists in its attacks on Lebanon and Palestine.

Britain, along with its European peace allies, should now seek a mediating role via the UN. First, to negotiate a ceasefire and subsequently the handing over of prisoners from both sides.

There is a possibility that we could assist all parties to this conflict to step back from the brink. But we can only succeed in playing this role if Britain is demonstrably seen to be independent of the Bush administration.

Our role on the international stage is diminished by Britain being viewed as a satellite of the Bush administration.

The Ministry for Peace initiative, which I participated in establishing in the UK three years ago, has demonstrated that around the world conflict has been overcome by some very basic techniques of peace making and conflict prevention.

It is time that we established at the heart of the UK government a Ministry for Peace, so that we are organised and resourced to assist in preventing any future conflicts like the one we are presently witnessing in the Middle East.

You can find out more about the Ministry for Peace at the website.

Saturday 15 July 2006

The New Labour Spin Attack Has Started Already

Many people warned me that as soon as I announced I would be standing for the leadership of the Labour Party the New Labour spin doctors would do everything they could to undermine our campaign from the outset.

I've been around long enough to have witnessed their behaviour so I suppose by now I shouldn't be shocked. I don't mind New Labour disagreeing with and criticising my policies. In fact I really welcome debate of this kind but I just cannot come to terms with downright lies.

Most of the media reported our launch statement fairly accurately. There was extensive almost wall to wall coverage on radio and TV, with follow up reports in many of this morning's newspapers. Even where a TV, radio or newspaper journalist had a pop at me it was at least from a genuine political perspective.

However within hours of our launch it is clear that New Labour was briefing against our campaign. The result was a disgraceful tissue of untruths and distortions in today's Independent.

I have to say the Independent is usually pretty balanced and its political reporters like Colin Brown always do their best to check their facts and give us a fair opportunity to have our say.

Colin was on leave yesterday so a reporter named Andy McSmith covered our launch. His report smacked of a New Labour private press briefing. It was a pack of dishonest, untruths and fabrications clearly based upon the spin technique perfected over the last decade by New Labour. At no stage did Mr McSmith speak to me to check any of the elements of his story.

McSmith entitled his article "Stalking Horse Challenge Falls at the First Hurdle." The article alleges that I had called a press conference at Millbank Tower to launch an immediate "stalking horse " challenge against the Prime Minister but only backed down and cancelled the press conference because I had been warned by fellow Left wingers that I hadn't got the support.

Let's get the facts straight.

First, I have for some time now ensured that supporters and the media were aware that I did not back a "stalking horse" challenge to the Prime Minister and that if I were to run it would only be when the PM decided to stand down and would only be as a serious challenger to win the election. We have confirmed that Mr McSmith's colleagues on his own paper were fully aware that this was the case. In fact this was what was contained in my campaign launch statement and in everything I have said to the media on this issue.

Second, there was no plan to hold a press conference at Millbank Tower, a ghastly place. Initially I wanted to hold my press launch in the park next to Parliament beside the statue of Mrs Pankhurst, to celebrate the role of women in the fight for democracy, but the TV crews asked if we could use the Green opposite as they have live feed connections available there. No fellow left wingers advised us against this strategy. In fact many urged us on and applauded our approach. We went ahead then with a launch of the campaign in exactly the way we had planned and it was an overwhelming success.

I have demanded the right of reply in the Independent and will be taking Mr McSmith's behaviour up with the NUJ and the Press Complaints Commission.

But let me make it extremely clear to the New Labour spin doctors.

You can throw at us all you want. You can lie, smear, fabricate and invent all the untruths that you wish.

We will respond by telling the truth and sticking to the policies not personalities.

I suppose you have really done us a favour from the outset. In this first attempt to spin against us in this patently dishonest and underhand way you have exposed the role you play in politics. You bring disgrace upon what should be a noble cause, the Labour party and indeed British politics. You are dragging our party into the gutter with your spin and sleaze. With your lies and slick dishonesty you have undermined the trust the British public placed in a Labour government. People may not have agreed with all of our policies but at least they believed the Labour Party was honest. You have destroyed that faith in the party in the eyes of so many of even our supporters. Thanks to you the latest polls now show that people have more trust in the Tories.

You are one of the reasons why I am standing in this election. I want to clean up Labour party politics once and for all. My aim is to end the spin and scrap the sleaze and to clear out from all sections of our party and government those elements that are undermining the trust in the honesty and decency of our party.

I warn again all those that have supported my challenge for the leadership of our party. Elements in New Labour will stoop even lower to attack our campaign but we will stand ready and reply to every falsehood with the truth and will be strengthened as a result.

They will not and cannot halt this flowering of democratic debate in our movement.

Friday 14 July 2006

Leadership Campaign Launched

My campaign for the leadership of the Labour party was launched this morning with wide ranging coverage in the media. Following the principles of Tony Benn we have emphasised time and time again that this campaign is a debate about policies not personalities.

The reaction from the emails, phone calls and phone-ins to radio stations has been a massive wave of support. Ex Labour party members are contacting us to say that they are re-joining. Others have welcomed the opportunity of being able to vote for something they believe in again. The launch has generated real excitement.

Naturally we expect everything to be thrown at us and the spin doctors are already out their trying to undermine confidence by arguing that the support isn't there.

I believe that sceptics are in for a real shock. There is real climate for political debate and policy change.

We will now build on this launch by stimulating the most wide ranging and dynamic political discussion our party has experienced in decades.

We need supporters to come forward now and help us organise this programme of political engagement.

We are about to demonstrate that another politics is possible to make another world possible.

Challenging for Labour's Future

Over the coming months, I will be regularly updating this blog to keep you updated as we build this campaign.

On 14th July at 10.30am, I delivered the following statement:

"It is becoming increasingly apparent that Tony Blair will announce his resignation as Leader of the Labour Party over the next 12 -18 months.

Some have argued that instead of an open democratic election for the leader of the party, there should be a smooth transition or virtual coronation of his successor.

This would deny party members the opportunity of openly debating the issues facing our party and the future direction of the country.

An election for the Leader of the party will allow for a democratic debate on the future of Labour.

Therefore following increasing demands from various sections of the movement, I have decided to declare myself as a candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party as soon as the present incumbent retires. To be clear this is not a so-called "stalking horse" candidature but a serious challenge for the leadership of the party when a vacancy occurs.

I am standing to ensure that thousands of Labour Party members and supporters have the chance to participate in deciding not only who should be the next leader of our party but more importantly what policies the party should be pursuing.

There are many that feel the party has lost its way. Many of the policies being pursued in Government have broken up the broad coalition of support Labour has relied upon throughout its history to bring it to power.

New Labour has systematically alienated section after section of our supporters - teachers, health workers, students, pensioners, public service workers, trade unionists and people committed to the environment, civil liberties and peace. Spin and allegations of sleaze are causing decent people to lose trust in our party.

This is reflected in lost votes, lost elections, lost members and a Labour Prime Minister having to rely upon Conservative votes in Parliament to force through legislation.

There are growing calls from across the party for change. We need to rebuild a progressive consensus, inspiring and giving people hope that another world is possible. We need those who have turned away from Labour to come back home.

For the first time in decades people no longer feel they have a political voice. This campaign is a challenge to the present political consensus.

I will now seek support from all sections of the movement. At next Saturday's conference of the Labour Representation Committee we will debate the policies needed by a real Labour government and the way in which we can reinvigorate democratic participation in the party.

From September this campaign will be travelling the country, convening meetings face to face with party members, supporters and the general public to discuss the issues facing us. We will be urging those thousands of Labour Party members who have left the party to rejoin and those who are no longer active supporters to re-engage.

We are launching a campaign web-site today and we will use every possible means of communication and new technology to stimulate this debate and get our message across.

The campaign will be waged in an open, comradely and friendly manner based upon a debate on the policies not personalities.

Let the debate begin."