Monday 30 October 2006

Climate Change Reports are Welcome but Action is Needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 26 October 2006

Fleshing out the policies

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

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

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

Challenging Brown Over Public Sector Pay

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

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

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

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

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

My letter to Gordon Brown reads as follows:

Dear Gordon,

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

John McDonnell MP
Member of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington

Tuesday 24 October 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 23 October 2006

Extradition by Order of the USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 17 October 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 13 October 2006

Where is there any leadership in government on Iraq?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 12 October 2006

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

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

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

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

The Iraq Exit Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 11 October 2006

Career not Conscience

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

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

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

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

Monday 9 October 2006

Corporate Manslaughter Bill Copout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 6 October 2006

A Wave of Islamophobia.

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

Just a few examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron/Blair Merger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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