Thursday 21 December 2006

Have a very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,


Monday 18 December 2006

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

Contrast two news stories over the last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 13 December 2006

The Latest in the Blair Legacy Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 9 December 2006

Britain Must Act over the Tragedy that is Darfur

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 8 December 2006

Real Investment in Education Needed not Spin on Economic Statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 7 December 2006

Birmingham Meeting Cancelled Because of Rail Privatisation

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

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

Wednesday 6 December 2006

Economics of the Real World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 4 December 2006

Trident Replacement : The Party should Decide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let our members decide.

Profiteering from Prisons is Immoral and a Privatisation Too Far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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