Wednesday 30 August 2006

Hands Off Venezuela

Reports have appeared this morning confirming what many of us suspected. The Bush regime is interfering in the Venezuelan elections in an attempt to depose President Chavez. Funds are being deployed by the US to mobilise support against Chavez. This is an unacceptable act of imperialist inteference in a foreign country which must be condemned by democratic governments across the world.

As joint president of the "Hands Off Venezuela Campaign" I am calling on our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to issue immediately a statement condemning any such interference and calling upon the Bush regime to disengage in this illiegal activity. The UK government must insist on the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people being respected and must disassociate itself from any acts by the US or any other government seeking to undermine democracy in Venezuela.

Under a real Labour Government Britain would work co-operatively with the Chavez administration to tackle poverty and inequality in both our countries and to secure peace and justice globally. This includes upholding the rights of the people of Latin America to determine their own futures democratically and to secure the full benefits of the natural resources of their continent.

The message to Bush is "Hands Off Venezuela."

Message to Byers and Milburn: People aren't Interested and aren't Listening Any More

The press have been briefed that New Labour outriders, Byers and Milburn, are to make major speeches over the next few weeks, to accompany major policy announcements and speeches from the Prime Minister to demonstrate that New Labour still exists.

They clearly just haven't got the message yet even though the rest of the country has. People aren't just not listening to them any more they are just not interested.

The only questions of any interest to most people are when is Blair going and what does the future hold.

Whilst Blair, Byers and Milburn desperately plot how long they can delay the innevitable, we continue to reap the harvest of the failed policies of their New Labour. Another British soldier dies in Afghanistan and the bumper drugs harvest from that country floods the streets of Britain. Iraq continues to degenerate into civil war and the US army is staging another new battle for Bagdad. Health workers are demonstrating against closures and job cuts in their local health services, and it is revealed that BP has been allowed to get away with manipulating the energy markets aginst the interests of consumers to maximise its profits.

The considered view amongst even some of the MPs who have been the most supportive of Blair and New Labour, is that Blair and his courtiers should now just go quietly.

But what are Gordon Brown and his supporters offering? Absolutely nothing. No change. Nothing new.

For Brown Ed Balls has taken on the mantle of Milburn and Byers as Brown's representative on earth, tactically manouevring to hasten Blair's demise but vacant wneh it comes to explaining what the difference would be under Brown as leader.

Next week in Manchester I start a national campaign tour explaining to rank and file party members across the country why there needs to be a challenge for the leadership of the Labour Party and the policy programme upon which we are campaigning.

Come along and get involved in this debate. Let Milburn, Byers, Balls and all the other New Labour outriders continue to engage themselves in a self interested, self serving discussion of their own futures, cut off from the realities facing our communities.

Let us get on with the real debate about how we secure a world free of poverty, war and the grotesque inequalities we witnesss today.

Come along if you can.

Sunday 27 August 2006

Surely the Message to Blair and Brown Coming from All Sides is that Time is Up for their Policies

In a week when nearly 40 members of Margaret Beckeet's local party have resigned in protest at Blair's international policies, and AMICUS's General Secretary, Derek Simpson, has described New Labour's domestic policy programme as being infected by Tory ideology, the message coming from all sides to both Blair and Brown is that the time is up for their policies and politics.

It appears that the only minister New Labour could field to defend Blair was his old flatemate, Lord Falconer, a person who owes his whole political life to the powers of patronage of the Prime Minister. However Lord Falconer's response unwittingly confirmed our own view that removing Blair and simply changing leader will do nothing to halt the slide in support for Labour in the polls.

Leadership change without a radical break with New Labour's policies will be totally futile.

The response to New Labour's failed and unpopular policies from Labour Party members is not to leave the party but to stay and campaign for change. The reaction from trade unions should not be simply to voice criticisms of the policies but to work for a radical break with New Labour's programme of privatisation, flexible employment exploitation and anti trade union rights.

This requires the development of an alternative new Warwick agreement setting out the programme trade unions want a real Labour Government to pursue in power. Central to this Warwick Mark 2 programme should be the end of privatisation, the promotion of public ownership and public services, and the implementation of the Trade Union Freedom Bill.

The media have been briefed this week that the Prime Minister is to undertake a series of major policy speeches to bind the future programme of the Labour party for a decade. It is clear that he and his dwindling entourage have just not grasped the growing reality that increasingly people are just not listening. After nearly 10 years of office and having the opportunity to lay the foundations of transforming our society in a way few other Labour Prime ministers have had, the Blair administration has demonstrably failed. The very simple message to both the key architects of the New Labour, Blaur and Brown, is that time is up.

Radical change is needed and our campaign for the leadership will give the rank and file of the Labour party, trade unions and progressive organisations the opportunity of participating in the creation and advocacy of that radical new agenda.

One way in which people can participate in this creative policy process is just simply letting us have your ideas via this website and blog of the policies a real Labour government should be implementing in office to transform our society.

We will publish these ideas for debate on the site and bring people together to work up their ideas into practical programmes for government.

Over to you.

Tuesday 22 August 2006

Conservative 9 point Lead in Poll Confirms our Warnings and Requires a Radical Break with New Labour Policies.

Apologies for lack of postings over last 10 days.

I have been on holiday with my family sailing round the Norfolk Broads in largely wind and rain but having a great time. So it is particularly depressing to get back to a Guardian poll showing the Tories with a 9 point lead over Labour. It gives me no pleasure in saying that the poll simply confirms the warnings we have been issuing that New Labour policies and activities in Government are alienating whole sections of that broad coalition that threw the Tories out of office and decided to give Labour a chance in government in 1997.

This is just one poll but it adds further evidence to confim the trend of the 2005 general election, the 2006 local elections and other polls that more and more people are losing trust in Tony Blair and New Labour.

When people vote they do so on the basis of a leap of trust. They take a conscious decision for a whole range of motivating factors to place their trust in the party they are voting for. Often they are motivated by a longstanding commitment to that party, sometimes passed on over generations. For others it is because they have lost confidence in the existing party of power and have gained sufficient trust in an alternative party to enable them to undertake this leap in trust.

Labour Party members and the organisations affiliated to the party need to wake up fast to the fact that large numbers of people who have supported us and who have turned out to vote for us in past elections have lost trust in both Blair and New Labour. This breakdown of trust is so fundamental and deep rooted that without sigificant change the party is drifting to loss of office and allowing the return of the Tories.

Of course Cameron is vacuous when it comes to deatiled policies but that isn't the point. His strategy is simply to create an image of the Conservative Party as a safe pair of hands in which to catch the falling disillusioned Labour supporters.

Support for New Labour is falling apart because its policies, particularly its international policies, are not just unpopular but also have meant that members of the public are increasingly feeling that they just can't believe a word the Prime Minister or any government minister or spokesperson tells them any more.

This latest poll is interesting not because of the Tory 9 point lead but startlingly because it has demonstrated that trust in the Government under Tony Blair has fallen so much that only 20% of the public believe that the Government is telling the truth over the terrorist threat. For all John Reid's appearances in the media, people are not reassured about the trustworthiness of the Government. The poll also reveals just how out of touch the Government is with the judgements of the British public.

For over a year now minister after minister have repeatedly asserted that there is no link between the Government's policies in the Middle East and the risk of terrorist attack on Britain. This poll demonstrates that 72% of people do not find this credible and judge that Government policy has made Britain more vulnerable to terrorist attack. Staggeringly only 1% of voters think that the government's foreign policy has made Britain safer.

What has been New Labour response over the last week to the obvious plummeting of support for the Government? Extraordinarily New Labour is so lacking in anything new to say it falls back on the traditional neo con solution of offering a tax cut. Bizarrely the person they roll out to float this new policy of abolishing inheritance tax is Steve Byers, the very person who as a minister embodied along with his press officer Jo Moore the breakdown of trust the public had in New Labour ministers telling them the truth. This is how desperate and how far the New Labour project has sunk.

How do we regain the confidence of the British public? Only a radical break with New Labour will restore some basic trust in Labour. Simple changes of personnel in leadership positions won't be enough, especially as all of them Brown,Reid, Johnson, Hain, have all been architects, advocates and loyal supporters of the existing policies.

If one of the main reasons people no longer trust the government is its foreign policy then this is the ideal place to start the radical break with New Labour.

Step by step this would involve a declaration of independence from the foreign policies of George Bush, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, a return to the United Nations to seek new initiatives under the UN for Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan and the reformulation of British foreign policy as a peacemaker lead by a new British Ministry for Peace.

A radical break of this kind would give us the chance of convincing people that Labour can be trusted once again. Without it we will continue to allow New Labour to put us out of office and let the Tories back.

Wednesday 9 August 2006

The Government Must Recall Parliament Without Delay

Last Wednesday, I called for an immediate recall of Parliament to give MPs the right to discuss the escalating crisis in the Middle East and decide Britain's strategy in a free vote. A week later, the Government is still resisting these calls despite the utter failure and moral bankruptcy of its position.

Like hundreds of other MPs, I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response from constituents who want an immediate end to the bloodshed. At a time of such crisis, it is crucial that MPs are able to represent the views of their constituents. Only an immediate recall of Parliament will allow our voices be heard.

Like the vast majority of the British public, I simply cannot comprehend why the Prime Minister still refuses to demand an immediate ceasefire, even as hundreds of civilians continue to die, thousands are forced from their homes, and Lebanon's infrastructure is systematically destroyed. Just today, the Israeli Government has approved military plans to further extend the invasion of Lebanon. How many more innocents have to die before the Prime Minister supports our calls for an end to this violence?

I also want to thank everyone who has been in touch to offer their support. I share your anger and grief at the senseless loss of so many innocent lives.

Sunday 6 August 2006

Success of Stop the War March

I joined and spoke at the Stop the War demonstration today (Saturday). I pay tribute to the Stop the War Coalition for its success in mobilising in such a short space of time such a huge number of people. To mobilse tens of thousands of demonstrators in less than 10 days is a remarkable feat of organisation but also shows the strength of feeling in our country on the issue of Lebanon.

I believe that the backlash across the world against the Bush/Blair strategy has had its effect in forcing the US and Britain to the negotiating table much sooner than was ever intended by Bush and Blair.

The draft UN resolution appears to move peace nearer with France playing a pivotal role in forcing the pace of negotiations. The Lebanese government however will not accept the loss of sovereignty over vast swathes of its own land and the Lebanese people of all religions will not now allow the isolation of Hezbollah.

At the same time the people of Gaza continue to suffer the oppressive intervention of the Israeli miltary.

If a cessation of military action is secured by early next week the progressive world must not turn its attention away from the Lebanon for the terms of the peace may be a further injustice perpetrated on the Lebanese and on the Palestinians.

Injustice breeds resentment. Traumatic experiences such as invasion and all the human suffering associated with it breed anger and a culture of revenge. Revenge is the mobilising force for terrorism. For the Israelis their military invasion of Lebanon and the use of intense force may appear to resolve the immediate threat of physical attack. However the long term cost is the potential of a new generation of enemies mobilised by their actions.

If a UN resolution is achieved this week and a cessation of hostilities takes place, let us call upon the UN to launch a fresh and much longer term peace making initiative in the region, addressing the injustices and bringing all parties back into the political process.Tony Blair has blown Britain's opportunity of having a major role in the peacemaking process as few around the world trust the independence of Blair's Britain. We may now need to look to France as the catalyst and coordinator of a new peace confrence for the region, including all parties but especially from Lebanon, the Palestinians, Iran, Syria and Israel.

Friday 4 August 2006

Labour's NEC Election Results Demonstrate We Can Win

The election of my old friend Walter Wolfgang to Labour's National Executive Committee demonstrates the large majority that there is within the Labour Party's rank and file for candidates not just of the Left but also those that are opposed to war and opposed to nuclear weapons.

There are thousands of party members who are willing to use their votes in party elections to voice their concerns about the way in which Tony Blair has implicated a Labour Government in George Bush's military adventures in the Middle East.

I will be speaking at the Stop the War demonstration on Saturday calling for an immediate ceasefire in both the Lebanon and Gaza but also damanding that Tony Blair be recalled to Parliament to be held accountable for his failure to work with others to secure peace in Lebanon. I hold Tony Blair to account for the tragic loss of life in both Lebanon and Palestine. His failure to seek an immediate ceasefire and to support the Bush strategy has contributed to the significant loss of civilian lives and is unforgiveable. The failure of cabinet members to publicly demand a change of policy is equally a failure of nerve.

Saturday's demonstration will give voice to the anger at the failure of the British Government and will also allow the voice of the majorirty to heard.

Wednesday 2 August 2006

Recall Parliament on Lebanon

The military invasion of Lebanon by Israel and the escalation in the number of Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel is a sure indication that far from being a limited and short lived enagagement the fighting in Lebanon is deteriorating into a full scale war. Unless some resolution is found shortly there must be a real risk of other states being drawn into the conflict.

The Bush/Blair strategy of allowing the Israelis a period of grace of 10 days in which they could destroy Hezbollah has not only failed but is proving to be counter-productive in that support for Hezbollah appears to be hardening both in Lebanon and on the Arab street.

The Prime Minister's latest speech in the US offers nothing new by way of analysis or strategy. In fact it is a patently obvious rehash of earlier speeches, slightly more messianic but desperately spun out to make it appear that some new approach is being developed.

My main fear is that every day this present fighting goes on there will be more atrocities perpetrated by either side, which will make it all the more difficult in the long run to secure a lasting peace in the region and prevent an inevitable increase in terrorist activity around the globe.

Scilla Elsworthy, founder of the world famous Oxford Research Group and Peace Direct, and Gabrielle Rifkind, founder of the Middle Esat Policy Initiative Forum, describe very concretely in their excellent book "Making Terrorism History" how "violent conflict is prolonged through cycles of trauma and retaliation, but also how armed intervention designed to end conflict can often have the effect of stimulating more violence."

The Bush/Blair strategy is failing before our eyes at such a dreadful cost in terms of loss of life and human suffering. The latest total of lives lost is nearly 700, with nearly 1 million refugees displaced in the Lebanon. We need to have an urgent and open debate on what we as a country can do to bring a swift end to the current escalating conflict and what role we can play with others to help prevent future aggression. One step in starting this critical debate would be the recall of Parliament. I called for the recall of Parliament last Sunday. Other MPs have now joined that call. What is the Prime Minister's fear of having a Parliamentary debate?

We hear that a debate went on in Cabinet and a number of Cabinet Ministers have let it leak out that they questioned the Prime Minister's strategy. I have to say Cabinet Ministers trying to salve their consciences in this cowardly and pathetic way is almost as disgraceful as Tony Blair supporting the Bush strategy. If Cabinet Ministers had spoken out in public in opposing Tony Blair's support for the Bush line or had even done the honourable thing and resigned in order to speak out on this issue, I would have had some respect for them. To hide behind leaks and off the record briefings is degrading. If those in Cabinet who were concerned about the Bush/Blar strategy had acted decisively together there may have been the opportunity of securing a break with Bush and Britain joining with others in calling for an immediate ceasefire. Their failure to act implicates them in this failure to demand and secure peace and end the killing in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel.

Recalling Parliament would give every Member of Parliament the opportunity to speak and vote on the basis of their conscience. If Parliament is recalled, I would wish to see the opportunity given to MPs to vote on a motion to determine Britain's independent strategy and for this vote to be unwhipped.

Tuesday 1 August 2006

Halt the Use of Britain as Transit Station for US Weapons for Israel

Despite the revulsion and outrage felt at the Israeli attack on Qana and the tragic loss of children's lives, the British Government is still allowing British airfields to be used as transit stations for weapons being transported by the US to Israel. The Observer newspaper identified the Israeli accumulation and possible use of cluster bombs, bunker busters and depleted uranium tipped warheads.

The use of these weapons in civilian areas as witnessed in Lebanon is contary to international law. And yet the Prime Minister continues to allow George Bush to use our airstrips to resupply the Israeli military.

In a cat and mouse game in the face of protests today Des Brown, the Secretary of State for Defence, has switched the US airplane landings from Prestwick to England.

I fully support those protesting against the use of our country by the US as a base for arming the Israelis with such devastating weapons which are resulting in such heavy and terrible civilian casualties.

I go further and express my support for any workers engaged in the operation of these airports or our airspace who refuse on grounds of conscience and international law to participate in supporting the shipment of these weapons. In the light of all the evidence in recent days demonstrating the use to which the Israelis are putting these weapons I believe that workers have every right to refuse to facilitate the transportation of these weapons.