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.

Friday 8 September 2006

Launching at the TUC a Trade Union Programme for a Real Labour Government.

The first public meeting of our leadership campaign took place in Manchester last night and was a real success. It's just great to attend a packed meeting again where people were enthusiastic once again about discussing the future of our party.

The meeting focussed on a set of 6 key policy pledges:

1. Withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

2. End to privatisation.

3. Abolition of student fees and full support for comprehensive education.

4. Restoration of civil liberties and trade union rights.

5. A green energy policy based upon renewable power sources.

6. Increase in the Basic State Pension and the immediate restoration of the earnings link.

The debate was open, serious and friendly. I was struck by the determination of the many party members and trade union members who were so enthusiastic in their support for the policies being advocated by our campaign. A good point was made that we need always to ensure that whilst we undertake a proper critique of New Labour's failures our campaign must remain an overwhelmingly positive one, which acknowledges the advances we have made as a party over the years and more importantly looks to the future.

As one contributor said, she was excited that for the first time in a long time she was now able to go out there and argue from a Labour Party perspective for policies she believed in and supported.

A major section of our party has been virtually ignored by New Labour over the last 9 years. That is the trade union movement.

As Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, once commented, New Labour has treated the trade unions like some embarassing member of the family, best hidden from view. The only times New Labour seems to acknowledge the existence of the unions is when the party either needs funds or needs trade unionists on the ground to campaign in elections.

As a result of a historic breakthrough in the co-ordination of trade union influence within the party, the unions secured the famous "Warwick Agreement." This union/Labour Party pact set out a programme of very basic but critically important policy initiatives which New Labour pledged to address in government. Key issues like corporate manslaughter legislation, protection of pensions, the development of a strategy for manufacturing and challenging privatisation.

Many trade unionists will feel totally conned by the performance of New Labour over Warwick. Barely any meaningful progress has been made on the implementation of the major pledges of the Warwick Agreement. The Corporate Manslaughter Bill published by the Government is ineffective. Pensions remain largely unprotected with companies continuing to demolish schemes and withdraw hard fought for benefits. The pace of privatisation of public services and public sector jobs is actually speeding up. Britain's manufcaturing sector is losing so many jobs each year that it is expected the country's manufacturing base will have all but disappeared within the next twenty years.

The setback of New Labour reneging on the Warwick Agreement doesn't mean that the strategy of unions co-ordinating the exercise of their influence on the Government was wrong. The only way in which we will be able to secure the implementation of a trade union agenda is if there is greater and firmer co-ordination of trade union influence on the Labour Party and in Parliament.

That is one of the reasons why I have worked hard over a number of years establishing trade union groups of MPs in Parliament to secure a stronger voice for trade unions in policy making. It is also why I have been at the forefront of developing the strategy for the Trade Union Freedom Bill and why I set up the "Public Services Not Private Profit" campaign with the support of 16 unions.

New Labour may have failed us over Warwick but there is still the need to develop a new trade union/Labour Party pact based upon a clear commitment to its implementation.

At the TUC next week I will be launching a Trade Union Programme for Labour in Government. It includes a commitment to introduce the Trade Union Freedom Bill we have been drafting over the last two years designed to bring the employment rights of trade unionists in Britain up to the same level as workers in other European countries. Other elements of this programme include an end to privatisation of public services and the bringing back of rail and air traffic control into public ownership. In addition the programme commits a Labour Ggovernment to the introduction of a firmer health and safety regime, including an effective corporate manslaughter bill and ensuring that the Health and Safety Executive id properly resourced. The programme includes also the development of an interventionist industrial strategy to protect and develop manufacturing industry.

These are just some elements of my Trade Union Programme for Government. I am launching the programme not only to encourage trade unonists to support the programme's policies but also to launch a debate on what else should trade unions expect from a Labour Government if we are to secure a decent quality of life at work for our members.

Let me hear your proposals.

Tuesday 5 September 2006

First off the Starting Blocks in Launch of National Leadership Tour

Now the Sun has been kind enough to inform us of the timetable for the departure of the Prime Minister and the schedule for the process by which a new leader of the Labour party is to be elected I am launching my national leadership campaign tour at a publc rally at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester on Thursday night. Joining me on the platform will be Tony Benn, Alice Mahon, Jeremy Dear NUJ General Secretary and Dave McCall Regional Secretary of TGWU.

We are to be the first off the starting blocks in the election campaign to determine the future leader and therefore the future of our party.

We are following this up with a barrage of fringe meetings at the TUC next week at which I will launch my Trade Union Manifesto and calling for support for a series of policies including:
the trade union freedom bill,
an end to privatisation and restoration of public ownership,
protection of pension rights,
increased state pension and restoration of the earnings link,
a new health and safety regime and quality of life at work legislation,
a peace programme including withdrawal from Iraq, justice for the Palestinians and scrapping of Trident.

I just want to get on with the political debate.

I have to say though that I found it nauseating watching New Labour MPs turn on Blair.Most of them owe their whole existence to Tony Blair and have sycophantically supported often in the most degrading terms every policy he has introduced. They were motivated not by any policy or philosophical disagreement but simply to save their own political skins. Many of them were hand picked by Blair and were parachuted into their seats by the New Labour machine controlled under Blair. They served as his boot boys in Parliament or in the media whenever grovelling sophistry was needed to crowd out real debate.

They still haven't got the message though have they?

The reason Blair is unpopular is not the individual but the failed policies that he stands for and the style of government New Labour has introduced where trust has been coroded by spin and dishonesty. A change of leader without the fundamental break with New Labour, its policies and its politics risks not just the loss of office but the potential of a party broken and in the wilderness for a generation.

Many Labour MPs cling to the hope that they can pull off the same strategy as John Major after Thatcher i.e. changing the leader and clinging on to office at the subsequent election.

There are a number of fundamental flaws in this comparison.

First no recent poll has suggested that a change of leader to Brown or Reid or any cabinet member would lead to a lift in support.

Second Major had the odd advantage of relative anonymity and hence a significant avoidance of guilt by association with the worst excesses of Thatcher. Brown and Reid and others are all irrevocably tainted with New Labour.

And third the opposition to Major was Neil Kinnock, who was never seen as a popular or competent alternative. It is a truism that oppositions do not win elections but governments lose them. Then all oppositions have to do is to be seen to be a safe pair of hands to catch disillusioned voters. Cameron is following exactly that strategy.

My fear is that all sorts of grubby manoeuvres will be attempted to prevent members of the party being able to participate in the political debate about our policies and future in Government. I will do all I can to lay the foundations of this critically important process of political engagement. I urge all party members and supporters to become involved but also to make it clear to MPs and others that we demand an election for the leader which enables this debate to happen and not some one candidate election reminiscent of past Stalinist regimes.

Come along to Manchester if you can and have your say. See you there.

Sunday 3 September 2006

End the Blair and Brown Faction Fighting and Start the Leadership Debate

The Sunday Papers are saturated with the sparring between Blair's outriders, Byers and Milburn, versus Brown's appointees, Ed Balls and others. New Labour politics is looking more like an episode of "The Sopranos" than a political party seeking to repesent its members and govern the country.

On the one hand we have Byers and Milburn calling for a debate on the future of New Labour. This is clearly just a transparent attempt to play for time, keeping Tony Blair in power for as long as possible and in the hope that events may come to pass which either allow him to stay or facilitate the emergence of an annointed Blairite successor such as John Reid or anyone who is basically not Gordon Brown.

On the other hand we have Balls et al desperately arguing for "a stable and orderly transition" and denouncing any debate within the party as either "internal navel gazing" or a dangerous process when "factions" take hold. The Balls' logic is that there are "no fundamental divides" in the Labour Party and therefore there is no need for a debate within the party because we are all so united behind Gordon Brown's New Labour policies.

It seems almost inpolite to intrude on this internal infighting between the factions of New Labour but most of us Labour Party members are looking on aghast at these antics. The very people who are excluded from this critical debate on the future of the Labour Party appear to be its members. The "poor bloody infantry" of the Labour party who deliver the leaflets, sustain us with their contributions through their party and trade union subs and who undeservedly lose their seats on councils because of the unpopular policies of the New Labour leadership are all being prevented from having any realistic say.

The political argument between the militant tendencies of Blair and Brown also fails to address the real life issues the vast majority of our members are facing and the ideals which motivated them to become part of our movement.

When the Blair and Brown factions trade blows over issues like employment, globalisation, taxation, pensions, reform of public services, the environment and foreign policy, they speak in terms which are totally unrelated to the real life experiences or aims of the vast proportion of our members and supporters.

Employment for the many is increasingly insecure, unrewarding and stressful. Ministers' speeches extolling the virtues of globalisation and exhorting workers to embrace flexibile employment whilst refusing to address rights at work just ring hollow.

Policies which increase the retirement age and fail to protect workers' pensions whilst at the same time turning a blind eye to allowing company bosses walk off with massive pension pots prompt questions about the links between New Labour and big business.

Most see through New Labour calls for reform and modernisation and have come to understand that public service reform for both Blair and Brown means public service privatisation in all its different guises of sell offs, PFI, and the latest laughable euphemism of "contestablility."

Labour Party supporters also experience the consequences of our grotesquely unequal society, where cumulative disadvantage produces communities where life expectancy itself can differ by as much as 15 years beween rich and poor and educational opportunities increasingly under New Labour are accessed by fee paying.

Many New Labour ministers would do well to read Professor Richard Wlkinson's insightful work "The Impact of Inequality" which sets out in detail the wide ranging research linking many of the malaises of our society to inequality.

Labour Party members will not tolerate for much longer the unseemly public rucking between the Blair and Brown factions which puts next year's elections at risk and gives such an open goal to Cameron. In addition they will not accept being sidelined in any debate about the future leadership of the party and its future political direction.

Both Blair and Brown courtiers need to be reminded that this party belongs to its members not some New Labour Westminster elite.

Party members and supporters must have the opportunity to participate fully in the future of Labour debate. Neither the argument by Brown supporters against any debate nor the call by Blair supporters for a debate to delay change are sustainable.

I have consistently called for Blair to go. I announced that I would stand for leader of the party so that members and supporters would be given the chance of debating and having a choice over the future of the party. So my position on Blair is clear. But if we have to find a way forward before the Blair and Brown factions plunge our party into a civil war at a minimum it is critical that a timetable is set for this debate to take place with an assurance that if Blair will not go now then either the election for a new leader commences before the Scottish and Welsh elections next year or a clear announcement of a timetable is made before those elections. This should be the minimum demand of Labour MPs, trade union representatives and party bodies.

The New Labour and journalistic elite are undertaking their usual exercise of arrogantly and complacently dismissing any challenge from outside their coterie as hopeless. I believe that their inability to look beyond their inner London dinner party circuit leads them to completely underestimate the scale of support amongst rank and file Labour party members and trade unionists for a challenge to the New Labour narrow consensus.

Let's surprise them.

Saturday 2 September 2006

A Message of Solidarity to the Firefighters in Dispute in Liverpool

I send a message of support to the firefighters taking industrial action in Liverpool. No firefighter takes industrial action lightly but there comes a time when they see their service being put at risk and neither management nor government is willing to listen and so they have no alternative. That is what is happening in Liverpool and increasingly in other fire authority areas, as we saw in Hertfordshire only weeks ago.

Disputes are breaking out in various areas across the country as the local fire authorities develop their local integrated risk management plans. The Government has scrapped national fire safety standards and has withdrawn from any role in monitoring or enforcing any national performance levels. Instead local fire authorities have the responsibility to produce a local risk management plan, setting out local staffing levels and the level and type of service needed within their areas.

Some fire authorities have seen this as an opportunity to cut firefighter jobs, remove pumps and close fire stations.

The Government has washed its hands of setting national standards to which local fire authorities must adhere or of intervening to ensure fire authorities abide by any particular minimum level of staffing. The result is that in some areas local managers are riding roughshod over the views and experience of their front line staff.

The fear is that cutting firefighter jobs in LIverpool or anywhere else will put lives at risk. That is why I fully support the FBU not only in the industrial action its members are taking in Liverpool but also in calling upon management of the fire authority to engage in meaningful talks to resolve this dispute.

Friday 1 September 2006

Changing Leader is Futile without Changing Policies

Many Labour MPs who have supported Blair for over a decade and voted for virtually every policy he has put in front of them have suddenly woken up to the need for Blair to go.

For some it is a fairly desperate attempt to save their seats which successive polls now clearly demonstrate are threatened at the next election. For others it is just Brown's accolytes stirring in the background for their man to succeed Blair sooner rather than later.

All this is pretty cynical and more importantly pretty futile.

Of course Blair's position is increasingly unsustainable but changing the leader is futile without changing the policies.

To coin a phrase "it's the policies stupid."

The challenge to those MPs who are calling for Blair to go is what changes in Labour's policies and political direction do they want to see after Blair?

What is their post Blair agenda?

If their resignation calls are simply to change Blair for Brown, the architect of most of New Labour's policies, many may well ask what's the point? There would be no change in policies and as a result no effect on the electoral unpopularity of New Labour.

Yes Blair should go but if Labour is to survive in Government there must also be a radical break with the neo con politics of New Labour.

Bring on the leadership election and let's have that debate on the policies not personalities.