Thursday 20 December 2007
In the week before Christmas I am in my constituency office dealing with a family who have been told by their private landlord that they must quit their home on Christmas day. Their privately rented home is in a disgraceful state of disrepair but costs them £825 per month. The property is a former council house which has been bought by a buy to let landlord who lives in a wealthy area in the Home Counties. He owns many properties in my constituency. The family dont want to publicise their plight because they are frightened of retaliation by the landlord.With 2000 homeless families in my community I come across obscene exploitation like this is on a daily basis.
It shouldnt be like this after 10 years of a Labour Government. In 2008 we can no longer remain quiet about New Labours grotesque failure of the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. The role of the Left will be to expose more fiercely and campaign even harder against the injustices of our society.
I am signing off for a break with my family over Christmas.
I want to thank all those people who supported me and my various campaigns throughout the last year and all those many many people who inspired me with their determination altruism and courage.
Have a Good Christmas and I wish you all a peaceful and happy New Year.
We wil be back in 2008 determined as ever to work in solidarity with all those who believe like me in the words of our campaigns title that another world is possible.
Tuesday 18 December 2007
Bankers at Goldman Sachs are giving themselves at least £5 million each from a record bonus pool worldwide of £9 billion. They will joined in the bonus bonanza by Barclays Capital,DresdenerKleinwort, Lehman Brothers, UBS and Morgan Stanley.
So the people and institutions who have brought us to the brink of recession are rewarding themselves by becoming even more filthy rich.
The City of London plays a significant role in assisting individuals and companies avoid tax on their income. The IMF has recently described the City of London as an onshore tax haven. Latest estimates put the figure of tax lost by tax avoidance in Britain at £150 million every year. It is estimated that Africa loses £75 billion through tax dodges, five times what it receives in aid.
Today I have tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling on the Prime Minister to introduce measures to tackle this tax avoidance and also to introduce a windfall tax on the city bonuses. Even a small redistribution of the income from these grotesque bonuses would assist in eradicating child poverty in our society.
Will Gordon Brown act to tackle this obscene increase in the wealth of the very rich at a time when many in our society face the insecurities of a possible recession? After ten years of a Labour Government we shouldn't have to ask the question.
Wednesday 12 December 2007
Speakers from Karen Reissman's campaign explained that Karen, a health worker, has now had her appeal rejected and has now been sacked for speaking out publicly against the privatisation of health services in Manchester. Michael Gavan was also with us. Michael is the Unison branch secretary at Newham council and has also been sacked for organising meetings to protest against the council's privatisation of its services.
The Freemantle care workers also came along and John Freeman, their Unison branch secretary, described the treatment the care workers received at the hands of the Fremantle company after Barnet council had privatised their service and jobs.
It was incredibly moving to listen to these stories of courage and determination in standing up for what people believed was right. We all acknowledged the courage shown by Karen, Michael and the Freemantle workers.
Unison members at the meeting resolved to take the message about these individual disputes and acts of victimisation back into their branches and to use every mechanism available through the union's structures not just to gain support for these individual campaigns but to mobilise to put Unison at the heart of campaigning against privatisation.
Tonight could just be the start of transforming Unison into a fighting union.
Tomorrow NAPO holds its rally in Parliament against cuts in their services and jobs caused by Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review. At the same time the Police Federation is holding a 1000 strong meeting in protest at the pay settlement imposed on the Police by the government. On Thursday RMT is demonstrating outside City Hall in London against the Mayor's decision to put the East London line and Crossrail out to a franchise and Newham council workers are out on strike in support of Michael Gavan.
Surely the message is fairly clear. People have had enough and are not willing to take it anymore.
Tuesday 4 December 2007
Whilst the media has been dominated by the coverage of the dodgy donors story the usual business of New Labour goes on almost unnoticed. In just one week the Brown administration has effectively gutted the new Housing Bill of any hope of implementing Labour Party conference policy of tackling our housing crisis by restoring the role of local councils in building council houses. We have also learnt in recent days that the Government is now poised to prevent failed asylum seekers from accessing health care.
In the same week a succession of independent reports have also exposed the neglect and abuse our elderly people now face in the largely privatised care homes. Later this week PCS members in the Department of Work and Pensions are out on a two day strike, furious at the way in which they are bei9ng treated by the Government with wages and job cuts. To round the week off dire warnings are now echoing round the serious financial press explaining that the economic miracle manufactured by Gordon Brown by allowing personal borrowing and house prices to let rip is moving into at best a downturn and possibly a major recession.
The reason the Tories have made advances in the polls has nothing to do with the policies they are advocating or even the Cameron imagemaking. It is because people who supported us in 1997 to get rid of the Tories and who have stuck with us through three elections are running out of patience. Like many of us Labour Party members, they know that after 10 years of a Labour Government it just shouldn't be like this.
Wednesday 28 November 2007
That hasn't happened and we are now facing the prospect of another Police investigation into the activities of the party hierarchy.
So today I have written to the Prime Minister urging that he take immediate and decisive action to restore the confidence of the electorate in our party. I have asked him to make an early statement explaining that he is putting proposals to the Party's National Executive Committee which end the practice of receiving large scale donations from rich individuals once and for all. I have proposed to him that he announce a cap of a maximum of £1000 per annum is placed on donations from individuals.
I have suggested to the Prime Minister that if the introduction of this cap results in a budget shortfall for the party then any shortfall is made up by the determined rebuilding of our party membership, which has become so depleted over recent years.
We cannot ever again allow our party to be dragged through the media as a result of any untoward financial arrangements.
The Labour Party conference policy is straightforward. It is the Fourth Option, allowing councils to access funds in the same way as housing associations so that councils can start building council houses again. This would enable us to launch the large scale housing programme that is desperately needed if we are to overcome the severe housing shortage which is causing such immense homelessness, overcrowding and the return of Rackman-like landlordism under the buy to let regime introduced by Gordon Brown.
Last night whilst many eyes were focussed on the latest party donations scandal the Housing Bill was debated in Parliament. The Government launched the Bill with a fanfare of claims announcing that we are to build 3 million new homes. Gordon Brown said in June "Councils will be able to build homes again."
This now looks as though it was just spin again. Our hopes have been dashed by the publication of the Government's new Bill. The Defend Council Housing Campaign has explained that the Bill means the Government will continue to discriminate against councils building new homes while offering public money to profit making private companies with little protection to either tenants or taxpayers. Profit making private landlords will be able to apply for social housing grants while councils cannot unless they set up arms length companies. At the same time councils will be pressurised to put public land into public/private partnerships that will build private not council housing. A new definition is also introduced for low cost housing which introduces for the first time in our history a means test for access to council housing.
Last night the Bill secured its second reading in the Commons only on the basis that backbench Labour MPs would be bringing forward amendments to the Bill which would reflect Labour party policy of supporting the Fourth option. The DCH campaign will be mobilising support in the Labour party, the trade unions, housing and tenants organisatiosn for the campaign to amend this bill, including a lobby of Parliament in the New Year. We all need urgently to get behind this campaign before it is too late and public housing is totally privatised. For further info look at the DCH website www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk
Monday 26 November 2007
Thursday 22 November 2007
Labour MP John McDonnell accuses Government Betrayal over Heathrow Expansion Plans
Labour MP, John McDonnell, whose constituency includes Heathrow airport, has accused the Government of betrayal over its announcement today that it will back a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow.
John said The Government has betrayed the communities that will be devastated by this massive expansion of Heathrow airport and betrayed all those who believed the Prime Minister’s promises this week to tackle climate change. The Government’s proposals go well beyond the plans set out in the original aviation white paper and will double the size of the airport. This will result in the forced clearance of up to 10.000 people from their homes with the demolition of whole communities, homes, schools, and churches. People feel betrayed on every count.
Betrayed because the Government promised a short runway, but they have now come forward with a full length runway with a sixth terminal wiping out even more homes and communities.
Betrayed because it has now been revealed that BAA has been allowed to dictate the Government’s drafting of the consultation paper. The credibility of the consultation document has been rendered laughable by the Government’s argument that a doubling of the size of the airport will have no impact on increasing air and noise pollution and climate change.
Betrayed because the consultation has been curtailed and fixed in advance by the Government is refusing to even have a consultation exhibition in Sipson, the very village they acknowledge will be demolished.
Betrayed because in the week Gordon Brown made his main speech on climate change his government announces an expansion of aviation which will undermine any attempt to meet emission reduction targets and is to introduce new planning legislation to prevent local people having an effective say in the planning process to determine this expansion proposal.
I warn the Government that it now faces against it the biggest environmental campaign that we have seen in our history, which will permanently destroy its environmental credentials.
Sunday 18 November 2007
After a no punches pulled debate about the future role of the LRC, agreement was reached on the need for the LRC to work both within the Labour Party and outside the party to form a broad united front, campaigning issue by issue with all those who have a shared concern on these issues. This includes working in solidarity not just with organisations within the Labour and Trade Union movement but also linking with the social movements campaigning within the wider society.
The LRC's strategy statement, available on the LRC website, sets out this analysis of the current circumstances facing the Left and describes the principles of this broad front strategy.
An early test of this strategy will come this week. The media is full this weekend of the latest UN report on the rapid deterioration of the global environment under the impact of climate change. As usual the Brown administration has tried to spin its way out of real action by briefing the media that he may raise the UK target for reducing emissions by 2050. This would be laughable if it wasn't so serious.
In the week we receive the hard evidence that the plight of the world's environment is reaching desperation point Brown will launch on Thursday the consultation paper which commences the process of expanding Heathrow airport. This would in one simple action undermine all efforts and plans to reduce emissions in the UK by 2050.
What is worse is that we now learn that the British Airports Authority has been able to influence the evidence upon which the consultation paper has been drafted to try and convince us that a third runway and 6th terminal at Heathrow can go ahead without harming the environment.
The decision on Heathrow expansion is the issue which will determine whether any government or political party is serious about climate change. It will be the most significant and I predict the largest environmental battle over the next generation across all of Europe.
If the LRC is to be taken seriously on climate change and environmental issues more generally it will need to link up with all those within the Labour movement who are opposed to this expansion policy and as importantly with all those environment campaigning groups within our wider community. If a broad united front can be established on this critical issue I believe we can win in transforming the whole approach to environmental policy making in this country. Instead of allowing our environment to be polluted for profit, we could start the process of planning the preservation of our planet.
Friday 16 November 2007
Anyway one of the issues that has brought me back to the blog is the depth of anger I and others feel at the contrast between the Government's behaviour over recent days towards Remploy and Northern Rock.
Earlier this week Labour MPs were presented with the Remploy Board's revised proposals for a major closure programme of a large number of its factories, which employ workers with disabilities who are either unable to work in the private sector or are being prepared for return to mainstream employment. We are told that the Government is generously willing to support Remploy for the next three years at a cost of about £160 million a year in order to make the Remploy operation cost effective. £160 million may sound alot but it does not reflect the immense benefits Remploy provides workers with disabilities and their families by ensuring that they can work with dignity and alongside colleagues live a productive working life that would otherwise be denied them and which many of us take for granted.
In addition contrast the support for Remploy with the £22 billion shelled out to support Northern Rock. Most commentators estimate that this will reach £30 billion by Christmas. It is calculated that the Government is likely to lose £2 billion over the Northern Rock debacle.
When the Northern Rock crisis happened I along with others called upon the Government to bring it into public ownership. Some, including some Labour MPs, denounced this as out of date nationalisation looking back to the 1980s. In effect this is virtually what Alistair Darling did in using such large amounts of public money to prop the organisation up. He used taxpayers' funds to cover the risk but is preventing them gaining any benefits.Interestingly even the BBC's economics adviser on Newsnight this week suggested that it would have been cheaper for the Government to have brought Northern Rock into public ownership.
The one thing you can guarantee about the Brown government is that its neo liberal ideology will always override practical common sense policy making.
Thursday 8 November 2007
Labour MP backs Manchester health worker Karen Reismann
Labour MP John McDonnell is seeking to raise Karen Reissman's case in Parliament to draw attention to the heavy handed attempt by the Manchester Mental Health Trust to silence Karen from speaking out to expose the implications of cuts in local services for patients.
John McDonnell said
"I believe that many Members of Parliament will be shocked at the heavy handed and bullying tactics being used by this health body to silence one of its critics from exposing the effect its cuts in services will mean for patients.
"That is why I am seeking to raise this issue in Parliament in the hope that the Health Trust will back off from trying to intimidate staff in this way."
Her sacking is an absolute disgrace. Karen is a community mental health nurse and a member of the Unison National Executive. Who benefits from her sacking? Certainly not the community she serves who rely on public service workers such as Karen who are prepared to defend the services they provide against cuts.
Credit must also go to Unison members in Manchester Mental Health Trust who voted 87.3% to go on strike in defence of Karen.
For more information, see the Unison website.
Tuesday 6 November 2007
This Queens Speech fails to provide any clear direction at a time when people are increasingly losing confidence in Labours ability to deliver the policies and public services they require. It will do nothing to lift the morale of Labour supporters and painfully we seem to be allowing ourselves to be out manoeuvred by second rate Tories.
Todays legislative programme comes across as an uninspiring, rehashed mix of neo liberal economic policies at home and neo con policies abroad which in no way addresses the underlying demand for change in our country.
At the next election Labour will largely be judged on our record of delivering public services that meet the real needs of our community. Continuing to dress up privatisation as public sector reform wont deliver the quality of public services we need and will continue to demoralise the public servants whose dedication we rely upon to achieve success. Unless the Labour leadership gets a grip people will increasingly lose hope in us both as a Government that understands the real world issues they face and also lose confidence in even our managerial ability to deliver.
Wednesday 24 October 2007
I doubt if many have even heard of the Network or Billiton but I hope that the work of the Network will become increasingly familiar because I was moved tonight by the information the Network patiently and quietly laid before all of us attending the meeting.
The Network is an alliance of organisations like the Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links, which are campaigning to draw attention to the impact the world's major mining companies are having on the environment and on the lives of people in the developing world.
The Network had brought to London the trade union representatives of workers at the British owned Cerrejon mine in Colombia. Since the summer 2006 the unionised workers at the mine have been supporting the local small farming communities whose land has been taken by the mining company and who are demanding a collective resettlement to land of equal agricultural worth. Billiton is one of the companies owning the mine and so the union reps will be presenting their arguments to the company's AGM tomorrow. They have other issues to raise including their low pay, long working hours and basic health and safety.
The Colombian miners were joined by representatives of indigenous communities in the Philippines whose land is under threat from a nickel mining project being promoted by Billiton in an area which has recently beeen proclaimed as a wildlife sanctuary as well as a protected forest. There has been massive opposition to this project with one local councillor being shot dead by a security guard. Friends of the Earth Philippines has been instrumental in exposing this large scale environmental and humanitarian threat and in mobilising opposition to the mining plan.
I wish the Colombians and Philippinos success at tomorrow's AGM. To reinforce their message I will be laying an Early Day Motion in Parliament in the new session after the Queen's speech on 6th November and I will be pressing the Government to ensure that legislation is brought forward so that British mining companies or any mining company trading from Britain know that they cannot act with impunity in their operations in the Developing World.
Monday 22 October 2007
However I don't know how but I missed it. Missed the fact that the role of looking after children taken into care by the state has largely been privatised over the last decade. In the Observer business section at the weekend I was shocked to read that 65% of children's homes are now in private hands. Earlier this month I discovered that fostering is now largely under the control of private fostering agencies.
With companies able to charge between £2000 and £4000 per child a week this sector of the welfare state has become an attractive opportunity for profitmaking by the private sector and in particular private equity companies which are always seeking new fields in which a lucrative profit can be made.
Recenty however one of the biggest players, Sedgemoor backed by the private equity company ECI, has gone into administration. This is only three years after its group gave a £20 million payout to its investors. Sedgemoor's childrens homes are now being sold off leading to uncertainties for the staff and for the future care arrangements of the children.
I don't know how we have allowed the care of the most vulnerable members of our society to be privatised and passed over to institutions whose main and overriding motivation is profitmaking.
The Chief Executive of the Adolescent and Children's Trust summed it all up for me when he said "Our concern with private equity firms moving into the sector is that their prime motivation is making a profit not the quality of service they provide. I think it is immoral to want to make money out of children living in care."
I couldn't agree more. I also think it is immoral for any Government to pursue policies which allow this to happen.
Friday 19 October 2007
In Parliament, two private members' bills (the Temporary and Agency Workers Bill by Paul Farrelly MP and my Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill) were blocked by the Government. They are supported by every major trade union in the UK and by over 100 backbench Labour MPs. Still, the Government refuses to act. I am calling for the Government to bring forward legislation on both bills as part of the Queen's Speech.
Last night I spoke at a rally attended by over 500 people in the House of Commons to support the campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill where there was a real passion from the platform and the audience.
If the Government is looking for a vision, this would be a good start. If we are to reverse the inequality in our society, we need to empower people to fight for better pay, pensions and terms and conditions. I supported the open letter sent today to Gordon Brown calling for legislation to give agency workers equal treatment. The letter was signed by ten general secretaries and numerous Labour MPs.
Meanwhile outside Parliament, we witnessed the peace camp in Parliament Square again being harassed for peacefully protesting against the war and being the conscience of the building opposite. It's time the Mayor of London, Westminster Council, the Metropolitan Police and this Government started respecting the right to peacefully protest.
On the day when our ex-Prime Minister is fanning the flames of war with Iran (in a speech to a $1000 plate dinner in New York), I hope Gordon Brown has learned from the mistakes of his predecessor and it is still Government policy that an attack on Iran would be "inconceivable", as Jack Straw said earlier in the year.
Having unleashed bloodshed and mayhem in Iraq, a period of quiet reflection would be a more appropriate and welcome response from our ex-Leader.
Friday 12 October 2007
I tabled the motion because like many others I am angry that the Government will be paying the Saudi king a warm welcome while thousands of incarcerated Saudis face the most brutal forms of torture and the threat of public execution.
This is a dictatorship that allows no political parties, free elections, independent media or trade unions and deprives women and gays of their most basic rights.
The invitation to King Abdullah reflects the double standards of the British Government which talks about promoting human rights, but allows the economic interests of oil multinationals and the defence industry to dictate our foreign policy.
The full text of EDM 2102: State Visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reads as follows:
“That this House notes with concern the state visit of King Abdullah bin Abdul Azaz al Saud of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom on 30th October 2007; believes that Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive societies on earth, with no political parties, free elections, independent media or trade unions; views with alarm the systematic human rights abuses that exist within the Kingdom, such as the lack of basic rights for women, the practice of public beheadings and the repression of homosexuals; condemns the recent sale of 72 Eurofighters to such a barbaric regime; and calls upon the British Government to base its foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia on democracy and human rights rather than on narrow economic interests.”
Thursday 11 October 2007
I am increasingly convinced that the management of Royal Mail is aiming to force through as part of this dispute a casualisation of the workforce, resulting in lower pay, longer hours and an erosion of pensions and working conditions. Management has already taken a "you'll do as I tell you, what I tell you and when I tell you" attitude to the workforce resulting in a series of spontaneous unofficial strikes across the country.
The Government has introduced legislation allowing a creeping privatisation of postal services.The private sector is able to cherry pick the most profitable contracts and ultimately undermine this essential community service. The management's response to this pressure is to seek cuts in wages and conditions - a race to the bottom.
However, the current dispute isn't just about wages and working conditions, it is also about the future of the postal service itself.
The Government owns the Royal Mail. It is the sole shareholder. That is why the responsibility falls on Gordon Brown's shoulders to intervene to resolve this dispute.
Yesterday I tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling upon the Prime Minister to intervene. So far all he has done is call upon the CWU members to go back to work.
I think it is time the Prime Minister got to work on this issue. That is what leadership is all about.
Wednesday 10 October 2007
New Statesman Online Published 09 October 2007
Mixed reactions to Alistair Darling's first Pre-Budget Report from John McDonnell, Martin Salter, Jo Swinson, Derek Wall and Frank Field
We asked UK politicians with a variety of perspectives to react to Alistair Darling's first Pre-Budget Report
John McDonnell, former Labour leadership hopeful and MP for Hayes and Harlington
Electioneering for an election that never happened dominated both the Chancellor’s pre-budget statement and the Tories’ response. The knockabout farce that comprised the debate had less to do with real needs of our community and more to do with political positioning by the Government in response to the Tories' party conference policy announcements.
The good news is that after the vigorous campaign by trade unions and tax justice groups for the past two years to end the tax loopholes being exploited by private equity companies, the Government has at long last taken action. The bad news is that the Government has bottled it when it comes to addressing similar tax avoidance by mega rich non-domiciles. Instead of action after four years of a Treasury review the best the Chancellor can offer is yet another consultation with proposals to let the rich off the hook yet again..
Inequality is still the elephant in the room, and there was nothing in these statements which will effectively tackle poverty or reduce inequality.
Sunday 7 October 2007
In the morning I sent out the following press release.
Later that afternoon when the BBC reported that Gordon Brown had briefed them that the election was off I sent out a response set out below.
You can see I just thought what a mess. Gordon Brown promised change but we are back to spin and a continuation of the same policies. As many of us predicted we are sleepwalking towards a Tory government if there isnt real change in both policies and also in the attitude towards democracy and how we govern. The only way forward is to demonstrate real change by withdrawing from Iraq, ending privatisation, tacking inequality and restoring civil liberties and rights, and reasserting democracy in both our party and in our country. If we do this people may start trusting a Labour government again
Press Release issued Saturday morning:
As time Labour MP, John McDonnell, Accuses Brown Team of Presenting the Tories with an Open Goal.
John McDonnell Labour MP and former candidate for the Labour leadership commented today that many in the Labour Party were losing patience at the inept handling of the election issue by the inexperienced Brown team, accusing them of squandering the peoples goodwill during the Brown honeymoon period and presenting the Tories with an open goal.
John said “As a result of weeks of inept tactical gameplaying by Brown's inexperienced team we have reached a point where the Prime Minister either calls an election in the face of volatile polls and unnecessarily risks a Labour Government or backs down and looks both opportunist and weak.Just when the weakness of the Tories could have been consolidated, the Prime Minister and his team of political testosterone-filled young men have presented the Tories with an open goal and offered them a chance of revival.Confidence in a leader and a government once lost are almost impossible to regain. The incompetent handling of the last few weeks by the Brown team has squandered the good will people felt towards Labour as a result of Tony Blair going.It is time to just get back to serving the people and governing the country.”
Press Release two issued Saturday afternoon:
Labour MP and former Labour Leadership Candidate, John McDonnell, describes the Prime Minister’s Election Climbdown as an utter Fiasco
John McDonnell MP said This climbdown is an utter fiasco. After weeks of political gameplaying by the inexperienced, testosterone fuelled young men in Browns team we have presented the Tories with an own goal, making a Labour leader look weak and re-associating the party with spin. The incompetent handling of the last few weeks has squandered the good will the people of this country felt towards Labour as a result of Tony Blair going. It is time to get back to serving the people and governing the country.
Saturday 6 October 2007
As We Wait for the PM's Decision on an Unnecessary Election, the Business of Privatising under Brown Goes on as Usual.
Yesterday RMT published an analysis of the tax avoidance being used to boost the profits of the privatised railway companies. The research exposed that the private rail industry profits from £1.3 billion in unpaid tax and that these companies are using deferred-tax loopholes to fund a leap in dividends to their shareholders. RMT revealed that nearly half of the £1.5 billion in dividends paid out in the last five years by nine private train operators and rolling-stock companies has been funded by unpaid tax, according to a detailed analysis for RMT by tax expert Richard Murphy of Tax Research.
Richard Murphy confirmed that almost £1.3 billion of deferred tax is owed by the biggest six train-operating companies (Tocs) and the three rolling-stock leasing companies (Roscos) - but this is tax that will most likely never be paid, and is effectively a hidden subsidy that dramatically increases cash profit levels.The report shows that the nine companies declared profits almost doubled from £435 million in 2002 to £810 million in 2006, but their declared tax charges remained almost constant at about £190 million a year throughout the period. The declared percentage rate fell from 43 per cent in 2002 to 24 per cent in 2006.
If people were also looking forward to Brown pulling back on the privatisation agenda they will also be disappointed to hear that Alan Johnson has announced this week that £70 billion worth of new contracts for the management and commissioning of NHS services are to be put out to the private sector.What this means in my area is that BUPA is being given half a million pound contract to vet whether a patient really needs the operation at the local hospital that their consultant has recommended. If BUPA says no they get a cut of the money saved from the operation not going ahead. And oh yes, if the patient is unhappy, then there is always a BUPA hospital on hand to offer the operation at a price. UNISON has expresed the union's concerns at this latest round of privatisation and profiteering from the NHS.
Who did the UNISON leadership insist on backing for Labour leader?
Of course, Gordon Brown, the architect of this policy. As someone once said "It's a funny old world." Not so funny though for the patients who will not receive their treatment and the UNISON members whose jobs are being privatised by this latest round of sell offs under Brown.
Friday 5 October 2007
So what better than to hype up the possibility of an imminent general election to wrongfoot the Tories. When the political tetosterone filled young men surrounding Gordon Brown sped round the Labour party conference briefing the media on the potential dates for an election in November it must have seemed such fun.
Unfortunately some of them started believing their own propaganda on their omniscient political talent and became turboed up for an immediate election. As a result the prospect of a general election gained an almost unstoppable momentum of its own.
The next week was filled with a public relations strategy which was little more than a crude political painting by numbers. The headlong rush of policy announcement after policy announcement on everything from Crossrail to Adazi's health proposals was rather obvious. The Prime Minister's timely trip to Iraq during Tory Party conference risked being interpreted as political opportunism but was overshadowed by the bizarre spinning of the scale of the planned troop withdrawal which became reminiscent of dodgy dossier calculations.
The Tories reacted in the only way that they could -" Bring it on!"
As a result of this inept tactical posturing by Brown's inexperienced team we have reached a point where the Prime Minister either calls an election in the face of volatile polls and unecessarily risks a Labour Government or backs down and looks both opportunist and weak.
Just when the weakness of the Tories could have been consolidated the Prime Minister and his team of arrogant young men have presented them with an open goal and offered them a chance of revival.
Confidence in a leader and a government once lost are almost impossible to regain. The inept handling of the last few weeks by the Brown team has jeopardised the good will people felt towards Labour as a result of Tony Blair going.
It is time to just get back to serving the people and governing the country.
Tuesday 2 October 2007
After the events at the TUC and the Labour Party conference it is time for the Left to take a hard nosed look at where we go from here. First of all we have to face up to the harsh realities of the new political world in which we are operating.
The historical path of the Left stems from working people coming together in the workplace and discovering their strength through solidarity. Nourished by socialist ideas they recognised that if they wanted to exercise power beyond the workplace they needed political representation and so the Labour party was born. Democratic party structures were established to develop the policy programmes to be implemented when power was achieved.
This week's vote to close down democratic decision making at the Labour party conference and Gordon Brown's first leader's speech demonstrated that the old strategy is largely over. The conference is now virtually irrelevant and its replacement, the National Policy Forum, is a behind closed doors exercise of centralised control of party policymaking.
Brown's speeches at both the TUC and Labour conference demonstrated decisively how much he fundamentally believes in the principles of neo liberalism - the dominance of the market, flexible labour and privatisation. Even if there was the potential to use what is left of the party's structures to attempt to influence him, it is clear that the overall political direction of the Brown government is non negotiable.
The Left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down. We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes into effective political activity.
The contradiction is that the more undemocratic the Labour Party becomes the more it cuts itself off from the real world at a time when new social movements are emerging. People may be increasingly giving up on political parties but they haven't given up on politics. They still want to challenge the injustices they meet in our society and they are devising a multitude of mechanisms to do so from indy media and climate camps to affinity groups organising direct action.
New social movements have mobilised on a vast array of issues ranging from climate change, asylum rights, to housing and arms sales. Many trade unions have also rediscovered their roots as social movements themselves in their new campaigns on everything from private equity to the exploitation of migrant workers. New alliances are being forged and where trade union leaderships have been incorporated as supporters of the status quo, rank and file activity within their unions is re-emerging and organising.
The difficult task for the Left now is to appreciate that new strategies, new coalitions of forces and above all else a new dynamism are needed to deal with the new political environment where the traditional routes have been so narrowed. The Left needs to open itself to co-operation with progressive campaigns within our community, learning from them, treating them with mutual respect, rejecting any patronising or sectarian approach, and where needed to serve as the catalyst to instigate and facilitate campaigning activity. Creativity is also needed to stimulate the analysis, debate and discussion of the ideas and principles which we may share in our wish to transform our society.
The main political parties are increasingly seen as irrelevant to the real world issues facing our communities resulting in declining participation rates and election turnouts and deepening scepticism. This doesn't mean people are apathetic. Far from it. There is a growing radical nature to our times and an opportunity for a period of exciting, frenetic activity capable of creating a climate of progressive hegemony which no government could immunise itself from no matter how ruthlessly it closes down democracy in its own party.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star.
Thursday 27 September 2007
Business, as usual
Labour 07: This year's event proves it: the moneylenders really have taken over the temple.
Under the strapline "Our conference can provide an exciting place to do business", there was a revealing pie chart in the Labour party's conference guide that gave a breakdown of who now attends the annual gathering.
It is: 10% elected representatives, 20% media, 30% Labour party delegates and visitors, and - top of the list - 40% from the commercial and corporate sector.
So when Gordon Brown and his ministers received their standing ovations, the largest group clapping was the companies looking forward to doing business with this government.
Now that biblical references are de rigueur in the party, it seemed to many that the moneylenders really had taken over the temple.
The rule changes bounced through the conference this week removing the right of Labour members to determine the party's policies at the conference mean the event is now little more than a trade fair and media platform for speeches from the leader and ministers.
And it takes a remarkable feat of ingratiating contortion to consider Gordon Brown's first leader's speech as setting "a new tone" and offering "the possibility of a different kind of Labour government", as Jon Cruddas and others have claimed.
While warm words of praise were bestowed on the NHS and public servants, outside in the real world we learned that in order to save the budgets of some primary care trusts, Bupa was to vet whether patients should or should not receive the treatment recommended by their consultants. Bupa will be paid from the savings made by preventing operations.
Similarly, at an almost surreal fringe meeting at the conference, we heard from the government's adviser on welfare reform, the obviously suitably qualified venture capitalist David Freud, that a similar principle was to be applied to getting people off benefit and into work. While 40,000 jobs are to be cut at the Department for Work and Pensions, private sector companies are to be given the role of forcing the long-term unemployed into work. The firms will make their profits from the benefits saved.
Meanwhile, despite the declaration of a new social housing programme, behind the scenes immense pressure was being applied to delegates to ensure that what was possibly the last resolution ever to be debated at a Labour party conference actually reversed existing conference policy, which calls for councils to be treated fairly in the distribution of resources for building houses.
On the morning we hear of the children of eastern European migrants being racially abused on our streets, how does Gordon Brown's slogan of "British jobs for British workers" sit with those urging "a more positive message on migration"?
Playing tactical games over the timing of the election also reflects an approach to politics where policies are too often determined for party advantage, and even the stability of the government is risked for the same reason.
Caution suggests current poll leads result more from a combined sense of relief at Blair going and the rejection of an incompetent, passé alternative than they do from a belief in the government being committed to real change. John Major and 1992 come to mind.
The scenes of Buddhist monks in Burma losing their lives in a struggle for democracy are a stark reminder that democratic politics should be about more than developing subtler forms of spin and party game-playing.
Saturday 22 September 2007
The whole Northern Rock saga stinks to high heaven. It is estimated city traders have made £1billion in profits from “bear raids” on Northern Rock. Added to this the renowned tax expert, Richard Murphy from Tax Research, has revealed that Northern Rock had established what it sarcastically called “Granite” Companies in which funds were placed to ensure that in the event of any financial turbulence the City would be protected ahead of Northern Rock’s own customers. Plus we have today’s exposure that the Rock’s board has paid itself £30 million over the last five years. This all adds up to the need for an immediate windfall tax on the speculators profiteering from this crisis and for a full and independent inquiry into the role of the Government, Bank of England and FSA in turning a blind eye to city excesses for so long.
Friday 21 September 2007
From Comment is Free:
I read Peter Hain's article yesterday on Cif and thought "God has it really come to this!" I admit to feeling anger but more so an immense personal sadness that someone who was such a fine radical as Peter had come to resort to such self-serving sophistry. Arthur Koestler's novel Darkness at Noon came to mind. The next steps on from this craven performance of justifying the leader's every contortion are confessions of guilt for crimes against the party and show trials.
Why such anger? Well, because so much is at stake - the last vestiges of democracy in a once great party that was founded to give democratic voice to those that were powerless and had no voice.
It may sound corny in a cynical age but literally generations of our people have given much of their lives to establishing and cherishing the Labour party because they believed what the party told them when they joined. When they received their party card every member, no matter how humble a position they held in the party, gained the right to attend their local party or trade union branch and seek to convince their fellow members to adopt a particular policy. If successful this policy could be pursued all the way to the party's annual conference with the aim of influencing the agenda of Labour in government.
Of course this process can look messy and at times is rumbustious, which appears to offend Peter Hain's sensibilities, but that is what healthy democracy looks like whether it's in the House of Commons or the conference hall.
Gordon Brown's proposals, set out in his Orwellian-titled document Extending and Renewing Democracy, remove this basic right of party members and trade unionists at party conference to determine the party's policy position on key issues of the day. Instead the delegates attending the conference will only be allowed to raise issues to be referred for subsequent consideration by the arcane centrally controlled structures of party policy forums, commissions and working parties.
Why is this being proposed? Partly it stems from a statement Gordon Brown made to trade union leaders last year when discussions were taking place over the need for legislation on trade union rights. At that stage it was made clear that if there was no movement by the government, the campaign for the restoration of basic trade union rights would inevitably spill onto to the floor of Labour party conference. Worryingly to some of us at the time, Gordon Brown responded by saying that under his leadership we can't have Labour party conference defeating a Labour leader in office on policy issues.
So this is not about in Peter Hain's consultancy-speak "engaging with the challenges that a responsible party of government must resolve" or "New Politics". It is straightforwardly the old question whether a Labour leader is accountable to the Labour party.
In recent years, one of the reasons for the exodus of members from the Labour party has been the implementation of policies to which many party members have not only been opposed but also have had no valid opportunity to have a say over and have been unable to hold the Labour leadership to account.
The ability of Labour party conference to decide by resolution the policy of the party on a number of key questions meant that at least there still remained some opportunity for members to participate in a process of direct democracy.
If allowed, democracy does actually work. The message to Gordon Brown is give democracy a chance and trust our members. Instead of trying to bounce the party into adopting these proposals next week when there has been virtually no time for a realistic consultation, I urge him to compromise and allow a proper consultation, a thorough debate and democratic decision making process, bringing a real democratic reform programme to next year's conference which will hold the party together. Please don't use this issue as some publicity stunt "Clause 4" moment.
If Gordon Brown obstinately refuses this compromise and forces his proposals through, could the last Labour party delegate leaving the Bournemouth conference hall turn off the lights please, they will be the lights of democracy.
Sunday 16 September 2007
LEAP publishes a set of analytical papers twice a year, under the title Red Papers; first prior to the Autumn budget statement and then immediately prior to the budget in the Spring.
Now that the Northern Rock meltdown has prompted a review of Gordon Brown's management of the economy and in particular his approach to allowing the unfettered operation of the finance sector I would urge a look at the paper published by LEAP as part of the Red Papers in March last year written by Tanya Adams, a City economist. You can find them on the Labour Representation Committee's website.
Adams' paper is entitled "Binge Borrowing - an unhealthy economic diet." To quote the paper, it said " The Chancellor might do well to reflect on the inherently unstable dynamics of the UK economy. Since New Labour came to power the so-called growth miracle has been fuelled by a relentless rise in personal debt levels.......relying on excessive personal sector borrowing as a major driver of economic growth creates the potential for all sorts of stresses and strains further down the line .....No one can guarantee that such a wanton and reckless increase in the country's debt burden may not trigger a relapse at some point in the next two to three years. The UK may yet pay a heavy price for an economic policy that has increased the risks posed by the accumulation of excessive debt."
LEAP meets again this month and will be publishing its alternative Autumn analysis. Watch this space. I will make sure we send a copy of LEAP's Red Papers this year to Alistair Darling. He will need them.
Saturday 15 September 2007
Set in the 1930s Depression the play is both humourous yet deeply moving, telling the story of a working class Jewish family struggling to survive the grinding poverty and insecurity inflicted on them. We witness the strain placed upon their relationships by their plight but also their enduring humanity, self sacrifice and determination to win through.
The irony of watching a play set in the Depression was not lost on many in the audience on the day queues were forming outside Northern Rock offices as investors feared for their savings. The play is at the Almeida theatre in Islington, not far from Karl Marx's old drinking haunts. Alive today, Engels woould have been buying his mate Karl a few pints of porter to celebrate his theory of the inherent instability of capitalism being proved accurate once again.
The significance of staging Odet's play now is not just the timeliness of its subject. Odet was writing at a time of immense upheaval and change in the world, when new social forces were coming onto the scene. He was one of a wave of artists, writers, economists, social theorists and political activists who played a critical role in not only describing the new world they were experiencing but also explaining it and above all else motivating people, giving them confidence, to change it.
Odet and many of his progressive contemporaries gave people the belief that by reaching into their shared humanity they could not only cope with what the world threw at them but could change the world itself. They could do so by solidarity. A simple message that we can deal with this together.
The advent of globalisation over the last 30 years means that we are in a similar period of immense and dramatic change. Just as the artists, writers, theorists and activists emerged in the 1930s to describe and explain this change so today we are witnessing the beginnings of this reinterpretation of the world and the blossoming of campaigns, social movements and artistic initiatives to give people hope.
Tuesday 11 September 2007
People weren't bothered about Brown's rhetorical style. Blair became a superb orator but it was the content of his speeches that was the problem. With Brown there was neither style nor content to inspire TUC delegates. Worse, what was increasingly obvious to even those trade union general secretaries who had manoeuvred their unions into backing Brown for the Labour leadership, was that Brown's speech was vacuous when it came to addressing the real world issues facing the 6 million members they are supposed to represent.
There was no mention of the Trade Union Freedom Bill supported unanimously by the TUC and which is coming before Parliament on 19 October. Tuc delegates know that on the changes in legislation thrown as sops to the TUC on agency workers Brown had been working behind the scenes to render unworkable and that his proposed reforms on anti discrimination were actually taking us backwards.
There was understandable anger and dismay not only at his refusal to offer any way out on public sector pay but also that whilst he was demanding pay discipline for public sector workers he failed to utter a word of condemnation of the obscene bonuses in the city and the grotesque inequality in pay between many private sector chief executives and the average pay of their workers.
Instead delegates received the same lecture from Gordon Brown on globalisation that we have heard in virtually every speech from him for the last five years at least. The speech left the impression of a Prime Minister certainly adrift from the trade union movement but also distant from the day to day experience of life in the real world by most ordinary people.
Some media commentators have referred to the prospect of another "winter of discontent" this year as occurred in 1978 with widespread public sector strikes and disputes. Whatever the outcome of the various public sector union pay campaigns Gordon Brown needs to be concerned about another type of winter of discontent. It is the type of ongoing underlying discontent amongst public and private sector workers who feel that they are working long hours under stressful conditions just financially to keep their head above the water. It is a low morale economy with people feeling totally disempowered, undervalued and at times downright exploited at work, witnessing their companies making on average 16% profit gains over the last year whilst average pay has increased only 3.5%, some are having pay cuts forced upon them and chief executive pay under New Labour has rocketted nearly 300%.
This climate of discontent relates directly to the feeling of powerlessness by employees at work because of the one issue Gordon Brown deliberately avoided in his speech, i.e. the lack of a basic code of trade union rights and rights at work in this country ten years after the election of a Labour government. Making sure Labour MPs turn up to Parliament on 19th October and vote for the Trade Union Freedom Bill is one way of forcing the Government to address the key question avoided by the Prime Minister yesterday.
Sunday 9 September 2007
Many trade unions and the TUC seem to be continuing to operating under an illusion about the way the political system currently operates. The old constitutional theories about how political parties operate and how governments, particularly Labour governments, govern have gone out the window under New Labour.
In the past political parties brought together their supporters to debate, discuss and decide the policies which were then drafted into a manifesto and placed before the electorate. If there was sufficient support for the policies and the party was elected, new ministers would arrive into office with civil servants waiting with advice on how to implement the policy programme. The battle for an incoming Labour government was with the vested interests of the status quo which had largely permeated government and all its departments.
Trade unions need to forget this archaeological exhibit of constitutional theory. The modern reality is that policy may still be debated within the Labour party but this policy debate and even decision making is rarely translated into the manifesto which is drafted internally by the Prime Minister’s closest aides. Once in office ministers responsible for policy implementation are now surrounded by a policy network dominated by advisers drawn from or even directly representing private sector interests. Dominating centralised control means that no policy which contradicts the core ideology of the government is allowed to surface.
The core ideology is shared by both main political parties. That is why Gordon Brown has found it so easy to appoint Tories to be part of his government. Both parties share a neo liberal ideology which believes that the market must be given free reign and as a result will produce the optimum solution in virtually every instance. Consequently both share an evangelical zeal for flexible labour, privatisation, low corporate taxation and corporate driven globalisation.
Trade unions and the TUC need to wake up to the fact that they are just not part of this structure of government policy formulation and implementation any more under New Labour. Occasional delegations of trade union general secretaries to the Prime Minister and to individual ministers resemble in reality little more than shouting through Number 10s letter box and peeking through its key hole. Ministerial visits and speeches to trade union conferences are viewed by ministers as some sort of tiresome atavistic rituals that have to be endured.
The TUC and some trade union general secretaries mistake vague, at times almost mystical, policy statements and minor offerings of changes in policy by the Prime Minister and other ministers as signs of a genuine relationship that reflects real trade union influence. In reality they are little more that patronising pats on the head to box off any effective mobilisation of alliances within our movement aimed at having a real effect on policy. They enable those union leaders who want to be bought off for a quiet life, those that enjoy the status of wandering the corridors of power, and those who want to kid themselves that they are having some influence, to be easily bought.
In the real world where government policy has changed it has mostly been as a result of change being forced upon it by hard realities within our society, external influences and external campaigns. Rarely has it come from trade union influence and even where deals have apparently been negotiated, like the Warwick agreement, most are generally ignored or only implemented if on the government agenda anyway.
The lessons are fairly obvious for us.
First, trade unions need to ensure that what limited opportunities for influencing policy debate within the Labour party still exist are maintained by rejecting at this year’s Labour Party conference the imposition of the Brown proposals to undermine Labour Party conference policy making powers.
Second we mobilise immediately a new alliance across the unions, constituency Labour Parties, affiliates and linking with supporters within the Parliamentary Labour Party to reassert democracy within the Labour Party at every level.
Third, we recognise that on issue after issue large sections of our community are increasingly losing confidence in the Parliamentary system of government where they see no difference between the political parties which are party to a neo liberal political consensus. Instead they are forming extra parliamentary social movements to campaign on issues like climate change, asylum, developing world poverty and liberation, inequality, and privatisation. These movements are increasingly becoming effective at changing societal attitudes to forcing governments and political parties to address issues. Linking to these emerging social movements by supporting and becoming active participants in their campaigns would enable trade union movement to be much more effective in creating a climate of influence no government can ignore than continuing to delude ourselves about the effectiveness of Prime Ministerial speeches to Congress or tea with ministers.
Friday 7 September 2007
Government Attempt To Fix Nuclear Consultation Augurs Badly for Imminent Heathrow Runway Consultation.
The Government's aviation white paper two years ago concluded that a third runway at Heathrow could only go ahead if the environmental problems associated with such a development could be overcome, in particular air pollution and increased noise. Since then the British Airports Authority has added the demand for a 6th terminal to the proposal for a third runway. The Climate Change Camp this summer caught the imagination of the country and even of the wider world in drawing attention to the impact of allowing this aviation expansion on climate change.
Reports appeared in the media only last month of BAA being allowed to interfere in the supposedly independent processes the Government had set up to assess the environmental impact of expansion at Heathrow. In the next few weeks the Government is expected to publish its consultation paper setting out options for consultation on proposals designed to overcome the environmental damage caused by a new runnway and new terminal.
The attempt by the Government to influence the consultation on nuclear powere does not bode well for the independence and integrity of the prospective consulation on aviation. Just as on the nuclear issue Gordon Brown has already pre-empted the consultation on aviation by expressing his preference for Heathrow expansion.
The Climate Camp was a warning to politicians of all the major political parties which have been dominated by the influence of the aviation industry. If the formal political process fails them people will take the view that direct action is the only option.
Wednesday 5 September 2007
I was pleased to be asked because the book makes a significant contribution to exposing the way in which our society allows many of our fellow human beings to be treated within our community. It is also an eloquent, moving and forceful cry for action.
The book is "Enslaved:The New British Slavery" by Rahila Gupta. Today Rahila achieved a major breakthrough in gaining extracts from the book published in the Guardian's Society section.
Campaigners and authors like Rahila deserve all our thanks for the work they undertake to bear witness to the brutal treatment meted out to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They put on stark display what many politicians and commentators determinedly insist on ignoring.
For those of us who have to deal with the victims of the asylum system on almost a daily basis Rahila has done us all a great service.
Let me give you just yesterday's example in my constituency office. A young woman we had been assisting some months ago came to us, ill, hungry and so tired she was dead on her feet. She came to this country some years ago as a minor and was taken into care. She was designated an "unacompanied asylum seeker" and given temporary leave to remain in Britain. After leaving care she was at first put into a private rented flat on her own but then told that under the Government's asylum policies she was to be dispersed to the Midlands where she knew no one.
She came to us when she was told to at short notice to pack up her belongings and leave her accomodation to be taken to the Midlands. Even to the layperson it is fairly obvious that she has mental health problems and exhibits all the symptoms of chronic depression and stress. We did all we could to get some support for her in the place they were moving her to.
Although she has been in this country some years she has now been told that her application for asylum has been refused and all legal rights of appeal have been exhausted. As a result she has lost all physical means of support from the state, including accomodation.
What does she do? She comes back to the only area she really knows in this country and the only place she has anyone she actually knows. Without financial support, terrified of going back to her country of origin, Eritrea, frightened of being picked up by Immigraton Officers to face detention and deportation, her only option is to sleep rough and borrow or beg for assistance.
This young woman is just another victim of the grotesque inhumanity of our asylum laws and of the corporate driven globalisation which creates such a scale of inequality and exploitation across our globe.
So I am honoured to be asked to take part in the launch of Rahila's book, along with Teresa Hayter from "No One is Illegal" and speakers from Southall Black Sisters. The launch takes place on 19th September at the Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, EC2. Try and come along, but also try and get a copy of the book. It's published by Portobello Books.
Tuesday 4 September 2007
On Tuesday 11th September the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) is organising a peaceful demonstration against the DSEi arms fair being held at the ExCel exhibition centre in East London, assemble at 11am at Plaistow Park.
The DSEi arms fair is one of the largest arms fair in the world and is organised every two years in London with the full support of the Government. Arms dealers and buyers come from all over the world to shop for weapons, ranging from small arms to fighter jets, to battleships. These weapons will contribute to the armed violence which kills 500,000 people every year, one person every minute. It is estimated that at least 80-90% of all illegal small arms start in state sanctioned arms trade. As CAAT points out, it is an irony that this arms fair is being held in Newham where gun crime has become an increasing problem in recent years with many victims under 20.
CAAT has been an extremely successful campaign.This year its successes include persuading Reed Elsevier, the company organising arms fairs, to sell off its arms fair operation. In addition the campaign has played the key role in pushing the Government into announcing in July that its Defence Export Services Organisation is to shut by the end of the year. This is the body which on behalf of the Government promotes and supports arms sales by the arms industry in Britain.
So supporting CAAT is one of the most effective ways of tackling gun crime and preventing more people being brutally killed by guns and other weapons both in Britain and across the world.
I have always supported the work of CAAT and used its research but through lethargy never made the effort to actually join. So today I am sending off my cheque and application form to join to support its work. If all those media pundits and politicians who have recently pronounced on gun crime are serious about tackling this issue there can be no better way than supporting CAAT www.caat.org.uk and email to email@example.com
Monday 3 September 2007
Gordon Brown and the Downing Street spin machine are desperately trying to present last night's evacuation of 500 British troops from Basra Palace as part of a planned process of withdrawal from Iraq.
Let's be absolutely clear. The British troops are being drawn back to the base at the airport because it became increasingly impossible to sustain them in central Basra in the face of continuous attacks by insurgents as they lay siege to the British positions. As one Labour member of the Defence Select Commiittee put it, the Palace could only be kept supplied by the British by "nightly suicide missions."
By any military standards this withdrawal is a humiliating defeat for those politicians, including Gordon Brown and his cabinet colleagues, and the military that dragged our country into Bush's invasion of Iraq without due regard to the consequences for both the Iraqi people and serving British troops. It should not be forgotten that the price of their arrogant folly has so far been the lives of 160 British personnel and at least 650,000 Iraqis. When questioned about the next stage of his policy for Iraq, instead of acknowledging that the only option is urgent withdrawal altogether Brown went into a bizarre promulgation of the need for an economic development forum in the area as though he was dealing with the need for economic development in the North East of England and not in a country that to most observers and the Iraqi people themselves is little short of experiencing a civil war.
Get real Mr Brown. Stop pretending that this is anything other than a retreat and withdraw the troops now altogether.
Thursday 30 August 2007
If you want to get in touch with me, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm looking forward to reading your comments and contributions!
Brown's Pay Policy: "Pay Discipline" for Public Sector Workers, Bonuses for Financiers and Chief Executives.
This morning as the strike by prison officers forces pay talks with Jack Straw, Gordon Brown has demanded "pay discipline" by public sector workers. At the same time the Guardian earnings survey exposes the huge gap between the income of chief executives and the wages of their workers which has opened up under Brown's supervision of the economy.
Take just a few examples: Giles Thorley, chief executive of Punch Taverns, now has a salary package of £11,276,000 which is 1,148 times the average wages of his workers of £9,821. How about Tesco's chief executive whose salary is £4.6 million which is 415 times his average worker earning £11,000.
The Brown pay strategy for the coming period is fairly obvious. The aim is to control any inflationary pressures in the economy by restricting public sector pay overall and where there is union resistance to buy off individual unions with minute concessions, particularly to unions where Brown sees soft leaderships or where a strike would be impossible for the Government to withstand.
Above all else Brown sees that he must prevent a united front from building across the unions on pay because this could demonstrate what co-ordinated action could do on other issues such as privatisation and trade union rights. That is why everything is being done both to work with the UNISON leadership to deter UNISON members from supporting industrial action and also to prevent a policy of effective co-ordinated action across the public sector being achieved at the TUC in a fortnight. It is a classic divide and rule strategy, with the added objective of seeking to isolate PCS, the largest civil servants union.
The lessons for the trade union movement are obvious. The POA has shown the way. Strength, determination and solidarity are what is needed now.
John McDonnell MP
Wednesday 29 August 2007
The depth of anger amongst POA members can be gauged by the 87% vote in favour of the industrial action in its recent ballot. It is completely understandable why are they angry.
In 1993 the the Tory Government took away the POA's right to strike. Despite commitments from Labour in opposition that this issue would be addressed, the New Labour Government refused to restore the right to take industrial action to the POA and instead established the Pay Review Body process to determine future pay awards. Any attempt by the POA to take industrial action remains outlawed under this Government and the President and General Secretary of the POA have regularly found themselves being threatened with legal action for what in other sectors of public service would be seen as normal trade union activities.
Hounded by further rounds of privatisation, under pressure from a dramatic increase in the prison population and with a £60 million savings exercise threatening less staff to cope, morale amongst prison officers is reported to be at rock bottom. Warnings are being made that the prison service is under the same pressure that resulted in the riots that saw prisons burning in 1990.
The Government has refused to meet with the POA to discuss its concerns and to resolve this dispute. As Secretary of the Justice Unions'Parliamentary Group I have emailed Jack Straw's (Secretary of State for the Ministry for Justice) office today to urge him to meet the POA to listen to their worries and seek a settlement to this dispute. The POA just want justice for its members.
The POA's dispute is just the tip of the iceberg of the discontent that there is amongst public sector workers at the way they have been treated on pay, pensions, and privatisation by a Government most of them voted into office.
Tuesday 28 August 2007
It was revealed today that city bonuses have hit a record £14 billion, an increase of 30%. Most will go to a small number of City speculators, with one group of hedge fund managers receiving £200 million to £250 million each. To ensure that the super rich can maximise their incomes Gordon Brown cut corporation tax in his last budget and still refuses to tackle tax avoidance by the so-called non domiciles.
Under Brown's tax regime the Tax Justice Campaign estimates that every year between £90 billion and £150 billion is not collected as a result of tax avoidance and new figures published today report that nearly one third of companies are not paying any corporation tax at all.
Is it any wonder that under the financial management of our economy by Gordon Brown inequality has increased and social mobility has ground to a halt?
Whilst in London the financial speculators are able to pursue a life style of obscene conspicuous spending, working class young men and women continue to lose their lives and shed their blood in a Vietnam style retreat on the roads of Iraq simply to save the faces of the politicians and generals who placed them in this danger.
I was asked the other day why I was so angry at the political situation when we were experiencing such a Brown bounce in the polls. Angry, yes, I am angry. Angry at every death in Iraq and Afghanistan. Angry at the super rich getting richer when we still have 100,000 of our families homeless, when 3 million of our children and 2 million of our pensioners still live in poverty and furious that the Government denies treatment costing £2.50 a day to Alzheimers sufferers when we learn that city bonuses have meant that there is a 5 year waiting list for Rolls Royces and the super rich are experiencing the trauma of not being able to recruit sufficient crew for their yachts.
It is about time more of us got angry.
Saturday 25 August 2007
Today's Office for National Statistics survey of economic activity confirms that whilst profits in British companies are increasing at the fastest rate since Labour was elected in 1997 the wages of workers are rising at their slowest pace since 2002. The ONS demonstrates that profits have grown by 16.2%, in the latest quarter of the year, the best since 1994, whilst wages rose by only 3.6%, the worst in 5 years.
It is predicted that the annual excecutive pay survey will show this week that company directors' pay continues to soar, increasing the gap between executive pay and the wages of ordinary employees. This confirms the trend that has seen executive pay rise by nearly 300% since 1993, seven times the rate of the average workers pay.
Since he became leader Gordon Brown's public relations strategy has been based upon the same old Blairite New Labour process of triangulation. Take an issue on which you have failed or are being attacked, create a fanfare around change to seize the critics' territory and undermine any criticism whilst actually barely moving and in fact staying on your original underlying course.
I am never surprised that this strategy works with large sections of the media, as their politics are largely New Labour/Tory and will naturally swing behind their best bet to retain the status quo. I am amazed at times though at the gullibility of elements within the Labour and Trade Union Movement who consistently fall for it. In their desperation to see the back of Blair many in our movement so hoped for change that the slightest nod by Brown in the direction of change is seen as evidence of a radical break with the past. It is becoming increasingly like a version of "The Life of Brian" as people desperately chase for evidence of miracles to prove the arrival of the new messiah.
Today's statistics on the widening gap in pay between many of the already super rich and the average wages of workers, most of whom are struggling with high debt, demonstrate the realities of Gordon Brown's neo liberalism. This is the society his economic policies over the last 10 years have created, a society more unequal than at any time since the second world war, our public services increasingly privatised to facilitate profiteering and a dog eat dog market ethos so inherent that many believe community cohesion is strained to breaking point.
There is an alternative and over the coming period it is our responsibility on the Left to bring together all those who are interested in undertaking the detailed work of developing in all their complexity the detailed policies to create that alternative
Thursday 23 August 2007
No matter what the statistics may say about falling crime, tragedies like this and all the other young deaths over this last year bring home the reality of the violence and harshness that can be encountered by children in the society we now live in.
Leading politicians, the media and many commentators appear perplexed at the scale of violence that exists within our community and have been seizing on a wide variety of causes ranging from family breakdown, the accessibility and cheapness of alcohol,the expansion of drug use, the growth of gang culture to the lack of role models for young people.
Over the last five years policy analysis and policy development seem to be trapped in a circular debate which includes at the same time both largely failing attempts at social policy interventions and an overwhelmingly failing penal policy.
And yet all the research evidence from experts such as Richard Wilkinson, Danny Dorling and many others is clearly pointing to the association between increasing inequality, increasing breakdown of social cohesion and subsequently increasing violent crime and social harm.
In virtually every opinion poll over the last decade crime has been placed in the top three of people's concerns. Fear of crime is across all social classes but it is the poorest who suffer from crime the most.
People earnestly want solutions.
It is our responsibility now to set the tenure of the debate that will now follow this week's tragedy. A debate that needs to be about the society we want to live in and how we tackle the causal factors of inequality, the loss of power in communities to effect change and the loss of a sense of social solidarity which contribute to violence in our society.
Tuesday 21 August 2007
For one of the key lessons of the Climate Change Camp is that when the political system is ignoring us and failing to represent us, social movements, widespread coalition forming, creative protest and direct action are once again the effective tools for change for the committed but disenfranchised.
As we hear of another British soldier dieing in Iraq and large numbers of Iraqis themselves being killed in almost daily barbarity surely now is the time to demand the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq now.
Every rational person from senior generals to the squaddie in Basra now knows that the military adventure of Iraq has been a bloody, life-devasting, disastrous mistake. British soldiers are now under such attack that they are largely pinned down in their fortified bases serving as sitting targets for attack by insurgents. Even where areas are handed over to the Iraqis we can't even guarantee the safety of the Governor of the province as exemplified by the recent assasination.
Gordon Brown must know the game is up. Having supported, argued for and funded the war he is impicated fully in this fiasco. The least he can do is accept that the situation is irretrievable and order the withdrawal of British troops. At present he is either dithering or is for waiting for the best public relations opportunity to move withdrawal forward without appearing to lose face.
Too many lives are being lost and too much suffering is taking place to wait for a face saving public relations strategy to be rolled out.
British forces should be withdrawn now and if we have to take to the streets again to achieve this let's start organising the demonstrations now.
Monday 20 August 2007
Over the last decade there has been an awakening amongst local campaigners that airport expansion has a much wider impact on our environnment than on just a local neighbourhood and that the very future of our planet is being put at risk. The Climate Camp was the embodiment of the concept of acting locally but thinking globally.
The Camp and its demonstrations yesterday have put our issue on the world's media map. For virtually a month this issue has dominated the headlines in way our past campaigning has never before been able to achieve. The debate on the environmental impact of aviation has at long last begun in earnest. We are at that point in the debate that was reached over the car twenty years ago. The debate has begun and for that we should be grateful for the contribution made over the last week by the Climate Change Camp protestors.
The next stage in that debate will be the introduction of the forthcoming Climate Change Bill into Parliament in the next Parliamentary session. From the statements by Gordon Brown and various ministers there is little confidence that the Bill will be sufficiently radical to meet the urgency of the threat of climate change. The recent attempts by the Government not only to cover up its failure on promoting renewable energy but to undermine the limited measures introduced by local councils do not bode well for the seriousness of the Government's approach.
Over the coming weeks I will be doing all I can to assist in bringing together the broad based lobby that will be needed if we are to achieve amendments to the Climate Change Bill that reflect the urgency of our environmental crisis. No further expansion of Heathrow would be a simple and effective amendment.
More generally the Climate Camp protest has been just a further example of direct action and political activity which is based upon individuals and groups reasserting their ability to effect change and gain a voice beyond what many believe are discredited and increasingly undemmocractic traditional politics. There appears to be a social movement of protest asserting its coming into existence.
Traditional political structures are not seen as working for people and so activity is breaking out in a wide range of different forms ranging from a resurgence of industrial disputes to an increasing willingness to take direct action to have one's voice heard. Often ignored or sneered at by the traditional media direct and unfettered forms of communication are rapidly being developed and used freely and effectively. On issue by issue people can now judge whether and how to support a particular campaign in solidarity. Fluctuating coalitions are therefore being formed on an issue by issue basis.
The Left needs to recognise what's happening and get in the debate.
Sunday 19 August 2007
I am off to join my constituents and supporters of the Climate Camp on a walk to mark out the length of the new runway at Heathrow which BAA and the Government are proposing. Our aim is to demonstrate just what local devastation will be caused to our local community. There will be a wide range of activities and protests over the next 24 hours. I have explained why I support the Climate Camp in an article on the Guardian's Comment is Free website. The Climate Camp has been committed throughout to peaceful and non violent action. BAA and elements within the media are desperate to sideline the issue of the impact of airport expansion with lurid headlines of protest violence, etc. Whatever happens today by way of activities and protests it is absolutely critical that the central message of the impact of airport expansion on local communities and on climate change is not lost.
In Scotland the Campaign for Socialism is meeting to discuss the leadership election in Scotland and whether the Left should seek to field a candidate. Some have referred to this as the "McDonnell moment" for the Scottish Left. As I explained in my last blog I believe the political circumstances in Scotland are significantly different from in England and the Labour Party overall.
This may be a "McDonnell moment" but it also smacks of being a "Rhodri Morgan moment." In Wales, people will recall, Alan Michael was imposed as the favoured candidate of Number 10 to lead the new Welsh Assembly; a puppet leader who was seen as being readily controllable by Westminster and someone who would not only would give the Prime Minister no problems but would enthusiatically follow the political line dictated in London. Labour Party members and trade unions reacted against this dictat by Number 10 and the rest is history.
The imposition of Wendy Alexander by Gordon Brown without a democratic election would be seen in exactly the same light as the Alan Michael fiasco and would be a political and electoral disaster for Labour in Scotland, offering Alec Salmond an open goal and alianating many of our supporters who want a say in the party's future. The Left fielding a candidate opens up a significant opportunity for socialists in Scotland not only to lead the policy debate but also potentially to lead the party.