Wednesday 28 February 2007

New Labour Privatises the Probation and Prison Services tonight.

I have just got back from the House of Commons after the debate on the Government's Bill to privatise the Probation Service and Prisons. 23 Labour MPs voted against the Government and about 33 abstained. Nevertheless the Government's proposals were voted through the Commons with majority of 25 and now go on to the Lords.

Gordon Brown intervened personally to get the privatisation bill through the Commons by calling in individual Labour MPs to meetings with him in order to persuade them and indeed threaten them to vote for the privatisation.

In opposition when the Tories started the process of privatising our prisons both Jack Straw and Tony Blair described the use of the private sector in the process of imprisoning our fellow citizens as immoral.

To justify this privatisation policy John Reid and his junior minister Gerry Sutcliffe did the usual dressing up of the privatisation as just another way of allowing the voluntary and charitable sector to play a wider role in providing probation and prison related services.

The reality is that the probation service and prisons will be packaged up into sizeable contracts which will be bid for by a near monopoly grouping of transnational corporations like Securicor. Huge profits will then be made at the expense of cuts in the wages, conditions and pensions of the workforce and by reductions in the quality of service to clients and inmates. The government will eventually claim that it has invested vast sums in both services but just like the NHS tax payers this taxpayers' money will have been laundered into private profits.

Without any flicker of conscience Labour MPs trotted dutifully through the lobbies to vote for this handing over of yet another section of our welfare state.

Gordon Brown urged us all last year to be advocates for globalisation. New Labour MPs have obviously taken this to heart. We saw tonight globalisation at work. After a long but very powerful and effective lobbying campaign transnational corporations have effectively used a New Labour Government to prise open this vital element of the British welfare state for profiteering.

Some concessions were forced out of Reid such as a 3 year delay in the implementation of some elements of the privatisation process and that the existing probation officers will be allowed to compete against the private and voluntary sector for their own jobs. However I somehow doubt whether this will send the thousands who work in this service and their families off to the polls at the next election with a song in their hearts determined to vote Labour.

We will now do our best to defeat and, failing that, amend further this legislation in the Lords but the privatisation feeding frenzy under New Labour goes on apace. Last week I discovered that the Government is privatising the CoastGuard Service in a contract worth about £3 to £5 billion.

There are times when you feel ashamed of what this Government is doing in the name of our party.

Tonight was one of those times.

Bring on Miliband, the Son of Blair.

Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn today launch their so called policy debate. This is a smokescreen for a fairly obvious attempt to promote a Blairite, anti Brown candidate. Although Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn have at different times dearly hoped that either one of them would be seen as this candidate, those around them know that there is no support for either of them in Parliament and even less in the Labour and Trade Union movement. So the last remnants of Blairites are desperate for Miliband to stand as the last standing standard bearer of Blairism.

Understandably David Miliband is seen as natural successor to Blair because he was Blair's head of policy in Number 10 responsible for the back room development of the policy programme implemented by New Labour over the last decade. Parachuted into a safe seat by the New Labour machine, Blair then promoted him into the politically safe yet high profile role of environment secretary and given the warm, positive, uncontentious role of tackling climate change. Some anxieties were expressed when he was seen to be largely one large soundbite and delivering very little but when has this worried the Blairites. Panic also almost broke out when Miliband stumbled in the Commons over the bird flu outbreak.

Nevertheless you have to give Blair his due as a political operator. Positioning Miliband in this way set up the prospect of Miliband being ideally placed if the Brown leadership successsion faltered. Blair has been absolutely desperate to stuff Brown and derermine his own successor. Miliband has been quietly and stealthily promoted particularly amongst trusted members of the media as his natural and privately chosen successor.

Now the polls are running against Brown, exactly as we predicted, the Blairites have launched their pre-emptive coup. This could be the first time in history a coup has been launched against someone not just before he has become a leader but even before he has become a formal candidate for leadership!

My view is straightforward. What are all these people worried about? Why have all this backstairs plotting? Bring on the candidates and let's have an open debate on the future of the Labour Party, the Government and the country.

There is no difference in substance between Brown and Miliband or Clarke or Milburn. They have all developed, promoted and voted for the same policies for ten years. They are the policies which have lead us to our lowest standing in the polls for nearly 20 years and facing the prospect of a majority Tory government.

The attempt to divert the leadership election into personality politics based upon image not substance completely misses the point that it is the effect of New Labour policies in the real world that has undermined support for Labour.

The promotion of Miliband reminds many of us of the time when John Smith died and Tony Blair was promoted as the youthful, leader of the party without anyone knowing what his politics were or the policies he would promote. At least with Miliband we know what his politics are. They are New Labour/Blairite neo con to the core.

So let's have the leadership election and bring on the "big clunking fist" and the "son of Blair" for our grass roots campaign to challenge politically.

Sunday 25 February 2007

Labour Members of Parliament must reject Blair's Starwars Deal with Bush

On Friday I spoke at the Welsh Labour Grassroots fringe meeting at the Wales Laboour Party Conference. Delegates were still recovering from Tony Blair's speech in which he heaped praise on the policies being pursued by the Labour administration in the Welsh assembly. As virtually all of these policies and the basic direction of Labour in Wales run counter to New Labour's neo liberal philosophy and policy programme in England you can appreciate why delegates were astounded at his comments. Most somehow doubted that the Prime Minister had been converted to socialism on the road to Llandudno.

During the day on Friday it was confimed by Downing Street that the Prime Minister had been secretly negotiating with the Bush administration on the siting of part of the US "starwars" ballistic missile network on British soil. On Saturday speaking at the CND/Stop the War demonstration in Trafalgar Square I expressed my anger at the way in which as part of his legacy agenda Blair is seeking not only to bounce Parliament into a commitment to Trident renewal but also to offer up Britain as an aircraft carrier for the Bush starwars project. I will be raising this issue in Parliament tomorrow and I will be calling for support from other Labour MPs to reject this deal on Starwars.

We need a leader who serves as a British Prime Minister not as a virtual vice president of the USA. We need a peace Prime Minister.

Later on Saturday I spoke at the well attended AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. I am grateful for the overwhelming vote CLPD gave to a resolution backing my candidacy. This means that every left rank and file organisation in the Labour Party and in the trade union movement is backing my campaign.

I was also pleased to receive the public support of Tony Benn, Christine Shawcroft and Elaine Smith MSP in the letter they submitted along with others and published in the Guardian on Saturday.

Thursday 22 February 2007

Long-Expected Announcement of Meacher Changes Nothing

I have just released the following press statement regarding Michael Meacher's announcement today that he is attempting to stand for Labour leader:

"We have been expecting Michael's announcement for over 9 months. It doesn't change things.

"It is clear that there should be an election for the leader of the Labour Party based upon a choice of policies not personalities. Michael's announcement doesn't change that choice.

"Labour Party members will still have the same choice between my record of voting against the war in Iraq, voting against tuition fees, voting against privatisation of our public services and cuts in benefits and the record of those ministers and former ministers like Gordon Brown and Michael Meacher, who have consistently voted for these policies.

"Virtually every rank and file organisation representing the active membership of the left of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions are publicly supporting my campaign and indeed ASLEF as the 1st union to nominate has unanimously nominated me. Our campaign on the stomp throughout the country is resulting in large numbers of people joining and rejoining the party and at long last young people are enthused by the prospect of a socialist challenge for the leadership.

"We now have about half the MP nominations required, with another 15 - 20 MPs who will support on the basis of a contest not a coronation. That leaves about 5 - 10 votes to fight for.

"I have asked Michael to come on board with our campaign but he's chosen to go his own way. Now let's have the debate on policies and the election and let the members decide."

The organisations that have so far committed to backing the campaign include: Aslef, T&G Broad Left, Amicus Unity Gazette, CWU Broad Left, Unison Broad Left, Scottish Labour Party Campaign for Socialism, Welsh Labour Grassroots, Labour Representation Committee, FBU and the RMT - as well as CLPs and trade union branches across the country.

We are also expecting nominations from other Labour party organisations in the coming weeks.

I want to thank everyone for their continued support for this campaign.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Troop Withdrawal From Iraq: Welcome but too little, too late and we need an exit strategy.

Yesterday the British Pensioner Trade Union Action Committee organised a tremendous John4Leader rally in Birmingham with about 150 pensioners supporting our campaign. When I got back the Press Association contacted me about the leak from Number 10 to the Sun that the Prime Minister was to announce today that some British troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq.

My reaction was that whilst I welcome any withdrawal of troops this was too little, too late and that what was needed was for the Prime Minister to bring forward an exit strategy, appealing to the rest of the world to assist Britain achieve total withdrawal of it forces. Any role for Britain in Iraq in the future can only be humanitarian, supplying doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and human rights advisers rather than soldiers.

It was good to get the chance to comment. Although our campaign has worked hard professionally and very creatively to get our message across in the national media it is obvious to anyone with any experience that we are strugglibg to breakthrough what some have described as a virtual news blackout. The lack of coverage is not for want of trying or from any lack of professional expertise in our approach. Also we shouldn't allow ourselves to sound paranoid. But the reality is that we are swimming against the tide and we just have to try even harder.

That is why it was good getting coverage in today's Guardian survey of leadership candidates on their attitiudes to the war in Iraq.

Try and get a copy to read. You couldn't find a clearer example of the difference between not just what we are saying in policy terms but also the complete straightforwardness and lack of evasion in explaining our policy positions in contrast with the performance of the other candidates.

Let's keep plugging away to get the coverage we deserve. If you can, start banging in those letters to the papers on our campaign and to the various radio and tv programmes calling for coverage of our campaign and fair access for representatives from our campaign to invitations onto programmes.

At times I am beginning to feel like a cult movie which is recognised and appreciated by anyone that has access to it but whom many have only distantly heard of rather than actually seen. Let's turn that round.

Monday 19 February 2007

Tory 13 Point Poll Lead

Wake up tomorrow to a Guardian poll which gives the Tories a 13 point lead over Labour when people were specifically asked about their voting intention if Gordon Brown were leader and a 9 point lead if asked the usual question of which party they were voting for. This would provide the Tories with a Parliamentary majority of up to 50 seats.

The poll explodes any myth that a smooth transition from Blair to Brown will result in an uplift for Labour. The loss of support associated with Brown as leader is statistically close to the range of sampling error but still provides no comfort for the Brown camp.

As we keep saying, the reality is that it is not personalities but the New Labour policies which are losing us support. Simply changing the face at the top without a fundamental change of the policies is irrelevant.

A poll last week confirmed that it is our core supporters who are deserting us most.

We are disillusioning the very people who put us into power.

With this polling news it is even more imperative that Labour MPs allow a leadership contest to take place by supporting our nomination campaign. This will permit a debate over policies to be staged and enable our members in both the party and unions to have a say over the future of our government and country.

Three Questions for a Monday Morning

Three questions for a Monday morning.

First another privatisation too far. Through the "Public Services not Private Profit" campaign we have been pretty well on the ball when it comes to monitoring Government privatisation plans but I have to admit I missed the latest example of the New Labour privatisation obsession. Brown is now selling off HM Coastguard service for £5billion.

This includes the coastal helicopter search and rescue operations sold on a 20 to 30 year contract. The service is directly linked to police, fire and ambulance services as well as the volunteer Royal National Lifeboat Institution. So the question is when will these other elements also be put up for sale?

A service as vital as the Coastguards is in the public sector to ensure democratic control of the standards and security of the service, especially as it is so integrally linked to such other critical emergency services.

So the question is who in their right mind would take risks with such an important, life saving service?

Well, only New Labour with every Cabinet Minister supporting the Brownite privatisation obsession.

Second, Why over the last two weeks have we witnessed the attempt to start a roll of a bandwagon, particularly in the Murdoch press and media empire but also amongst what's left in the Blairite faction of the Guardian?

The bandwagon started with reports of David Miliband mildly distancing hmself from the Chancellor and trying to rehabilitate Ton y Blair. It was followed by his article in Murdoch's Times calling for "Bold not Old Labour" and again containing a covert denigration of Brown along a "yesterday's man" theme. Then we have witnessed a succession of Frank Field but more importantly Guardian Blairistas like Martin Kettle, pleading with Miliband to stand for leader.

It is fairly obvious that Blair's people are flying the kite of Miliband as a potential "anyone but Gordon" candidate but Murdoch's support for Miliband is more interesting. Clearly the old eminence grise is unsure whether Brown or Cameron will win the next election and is keeping his options open with a slight preference for Brown as someone he has done business with for the last decade. There have been no problems or threats to his empire from the Chancellor during this period allowing him to avoid paying a bit of tax every now and again.

However Murdoch is covering his back against all eventualities. So he is promoting Miliband as a safe pair of hands in case Brown stumbles and there are calls for change within the Labour Party. Failing that he looks on Miliband as a long term investment for grooming into office. Having witnessed Miliband and every other current cabinet minister vote for every policy demanded of them by Murdoch it is hardly surprising that he sees this as a sound investment.

Third question, does anyone think the Government's response to the wave of gun deaths in South London of proposing an increase in sentences will have any effect?

I will publish a more detailed policy piece on this issues later but what I can't fathom is why the Government has largely ignored the comprehensive research of experts like Richard Wilkinson, Danny Dorling Rob Reiner and the various specialist bodies such as the Crime and Society Foundation and Smart Justice.

This now overwhelming body of evidence which I find irrefutable demonstrates that the more unequal a society the greater the level of crime, anti social behaviour and social harm.

Wilkinson draws a useful chart in his book "The Impact of Inequality on Health" explaining how greater income inequality lead to greater social distances between income groups, more dominance and subordination with increased status competition and a shift to aggressive anti social values where rivalry centres for some around respect and disrespect.

The response is a programme of redistribution of wealth which in itself also enables the intensive investment in programmes to tackle education failure, provide more constructive activities for young peoples, support families and improve parenting, provide more mental health, drug and alcohol treatment in the community, and extensive rehabiltation support for young offenders both in detention and in the community.

The Thatcher years started this process of community degeneration by allowing the free market to let rip. Ten years of New Labour largely continuing the free market philosophy is ensuring the replication of the US social model. Change is needed but none of the New Labour advocates who have presided over the policies of the last ten years are offering anything different.

Saturday 17 February 2007

The Left in Scotland providing an Alternative to New Labour.

I've just got back from Scotland. This morning I spoke to a joint meeting of AMICUS and TGWU members, at lunchtime a fringe meeting at Labour's Youth Conference and in the afternoon at the AGM of the Campaign for Socialism , which is the grassroots organisation of the Labour Left in Scotland. It was a real bonus to be on the same platform as Elaine Smith MSP, who has been a tremendously effective voice for socialism in the Scottish Parliament.

There is real enthusiasm for our campaign in Scotland in both the constituency left and especially amongst the trade unions. This week more manufacturing job losses have been announced and a demonstration was being held today in Ayrshire at the loss of jobs in a local factory. The dogmatic adherence by Gordon Brown to the unfettered operation of the free market and the refusal by the Goverenment to intervene to protect and develop manufacturing industry is leading more and more trade unionists to seek an alternative.

Labour Party members are fearful at the prospects for the Scottish Parliament elections unless we can demonstrate an alternative to the current policies.

It is likely that as a result of the electoral system Labour will be able to remain in power with a continuing alliance with the Lib Dems. The predictions are that the SNP will not be able to put together the coalition needed to put them into office.

I am sure that in London this type of result will be spun as a major victory for New Labour, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The reality will be the result is likely to demonstrate even further that replicated in a general election more seats will be lost and power will slip away from us.

There is speculation that this could produce a crisis of confidence in Gordon Brown amongst Labour MPs fearful of losing their seats and that this would trigger demands for another candidate from the New Labour stable to come forward. David Miliband is being touted not just by himself testing the water in his recent Times article but also in Guardian articles by Frank Field and Martin Kettle.

The response in Scotland was exactly right. Changing New Labour faces just wont wash no matter if they are from the generation below.

When will they learn?

It is the policies not the indidividuals. Unless there is a radical break with New Labour's neo con agenda people will very quickly see through just a change of New Labour personnel, especially as all the New Labour potential leadership alternatives have voted for every New Labour policy disaster from Iraq to privatisation of our NHS.

I hear from young people at the conference that virtually every front bench speaker launched an attack on my campaign without actually namimg me. Thetyt must be getting worried that our message of change is getting across.

Friday 16 February 2007

Solidarity with GMB members in Enfield

On Wednesday this week, I was proud to join about 70 parking attendants and GMB members on their first of five days of strike action in their campaign to get union recognition. Over 80% of the workforce are GMB members - so how does NCP react? It refuses to recognise the union and suspends their union rep.

Support for the strike was 100% solid - the workers had voted 100% for strike action on an 85% turnout - and this was evident in the great atmosphere of solidarity on the picket line.

The striking workers were boosted by the pledges of support from workers across London and GMB Regional Secretary for London, Ed Blissett, announced that the entire Region backed this dispute. I will bring this dispute to the attention of MPs on Monday by tabling an EDM in support of the strike.

This is yet another example of why we need the Trade Union Freedom Bill that I am taking through Parliament as a private member's bill. On 28th February in Liverpool I will be speaking an IER conference on the Bill, and on the eve of the Bill's second reading date, I will be speaking alongside Tony Woodley, John Hendy QC, Bob Crow and others who have done so much to campaign for this essential Bill to bring UK employment rights into line with the rest of Europe.

Wednesday 14 February 2007

UK children worst off in industrialised world

Today's UNICEF report blows the lid on the New Labour rhetoric about focusing on child poverty. Inequality in the UK has grown under Brown's Chancellorship, and we have missed even our own moderate targets on reducing child poverty.

This independent report puts the UK bottom among 21 industrialised nations for child well-being - and is a result of long-term trends that started under the Tories and have continued under New Labour.

In reaction to the report, Save the Children said: "The UK Government is not investing enough in the well-being of children, especially to combat poverty and deprivation". Even the Government's own Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green said, "I think the shocking conclusion is that as a nation we have been failing our children".

The most startling findings are that the child poverty has doubled since 1979, and that over one in seven children live in households earning less than half the national average wage. The UK came 18th in the study for children's material well-being, despite being the fifth richest country. In education well-being (which measured school achievement, further education, and the transition to employment) the UK came 17th.

Despite this evidence, and a volley of condemnation and concern from the UK's children's charities and from the Children's Commissioner, the Government has dismissed the report as "out of date".

So let's bring the Government up to date: the latest figures for youth unemployment (December 2006) show that it is higher than when we came to power in 1997; according to UCAS last year there were fewer university applications from working class children - deterred by top-up fees and debt; and a report by Save the Children in January this year showed that in many inner city areas about half our children are living in poverty.

The reality is that inequality in income, health, housing, education is damaging the life chances of UK children both materially and psychologically.

The shameful findings of this report should act as a wake-up call to fight for socialist and redistributive policies.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

Support Builds Across the Labour Movement

This week has seen yet another endorsement for my leadership campaign. The T&G Broad Left passed a motion unanimously supporting the campaign at their conference in Birmingham on Sunday. In a statement passed to us this week, members of the Broad Left explained their reasons for this important decision: "There is a wide appreciation throughout the TGWU that John McDonnell is supporting the issues that matter to the trade union movement and the working class in general."

This is a tremendous boost for our grassroots campaign. The Broad Left is the most important grassroots organisation of trade union activists within the T&G and played a decisive role in the election of Tony Woodley, the current General Secretary of the union. It is recognition of the fact that I am the only candidate standing for Labour leader who backs T&G policies - including a real living wage, the restoration of trade union rights, an end to the privatisation of our public services, a Corporate Manslaughter Bill, and the immediate restoration of the link between pensions and earnings. The Broad Left will play a key role in building support for the campaign within the T&G - which is, after all, the third biggest affiliated union.

The T&G Broad Left are the latest in a series of organisations to back the campaign. As many of you will know, the broad lefts in Amicus, UNISON and CWU have already unanimously backed the campaign. ASLEF unanimously backed the campaign last week, as did the RMT late last year. Union regions, such as CWU London and FBU London, have already endorsed the campaign. Grassroots organisations of Labour activists that have already supported the campaign include the Labour Representation Committee, the LRC's Socialist Youth Network, the Network of Socialist Campaign Groups, Welsh Labour Grassroots, and the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism.

Every week, we're told of yet more union branches, CLPs and Labour party branches that have voted to back the campaign. There's a real groundswell of support growing right across the labour movement. Labour party members and trade unionists want to be able to vote for a leadership candidate who actually supports Labour party and trade union policies.

Finally, I want to thank all of the activists who are putting in such hard work to ensure that this campaign is a success. I'm genuinely inspired by the commitment and enthusiasm out there. We've all got every reason to be excited about the months ahead.

Sunday 11 February 2007

US preparations to attack Iran gather pace.

Warnings have been given for some time that the Bush regime is preparing the attack on Iran. From the news today the preparations appear to be gathering pace.

Having failed to loot Iraq as planned, all the evidence points to the Bush regime now aiming to target Iran.

There is a significant build up of US naval power in the Gulf.

Prior to Christmas we saw leaked the evidence of the Israeli air force undertaking dry run training of the aerial bombardment of the Iranian nuclear establishments.

This week we have seen US spokepeople bring forward claims that Iranians are infiltrating into Iraq to supply arms to insurgents and even launch attacks on US forces.

It is hard to credit it but there is even talk today of the US administration publishing a dossier of their "evidence" proving their allegations about Iran's involvement in the Iraqi conflict. You would have thought that they had learnt their lesson over dodgy dossiers!

The threat of an attack on Iran is serious. Both the USA's military preparations and propaganda justification for the attack are clearly well under way.

Across the world now we need to stand together to reject this course of action. We need to unite our country in opposition to this folly and also link up with progressive thought in the US.

I am calling on our Government to make it clear to George Bush that we will not support an attack on Iran.

I am also calling on all members of our Labour movement to let Tony Blair and Gordon Brown know that we will not support military action against Iran and certainly will not support any British involvement in such an action.

I appeal to all those who hold elected office in the Labour Party and the Trade Unions to make their position clear to the Prime Minister that they will not support military action.

My appeal goes to all MPs, Ministers, Trade Union General Secretaries, and candidates for leader and deputy leader of the party. Gordon Brown especially has a responsibility to make his views known.

If we all stand together this time we can prevent the Government making the same mistake as it did over Iraq and we may be able to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life.

Media Coverage Like London Buses.

Typical isn't it. Yesterday there I am complaining about no mention of our campaign in the national press and then today two references come along in the same paper, the "Independent on Sunday."

In one article on the leadership election the Indie's veteran political commentator, Alan Watkins, refers to me as "the admirable John McDonnell." That came as a bit of a surprise as although I have always thought that much of his writing is particularly astute and certainly demonstrates an independence of thought, Alan usually has a pop at me and my politics. Anyway I can only be grateful for such a mention and description.

Further down the same page of the Independent a diary columnist, Joy Lo Dico, (someone I don't know and have never met) refers to Alan Watkins view that I may find it difficult obtaining the necesary MPs nominations but that Michael Meacher is faring worse. She goes on to write that it is "said by rivals that we are in talks about the idea that Meacher runs ahead with McDonnell as his deputy."

It goes on to say "Such an idea would delight Chancellor Gordon Brown, who needs a sacrifical lamb to stop the contest from becoming positively North Korean and Brown would rather crush Meacher than McDonnell."

I don't know who has planted this story. but you know how it is with sections of our beloved media. No matter how inaccurate or baseless a story, if it appears in print once it can get legs of its own. So before this gossip gets any legs and anyone gets any ideas I thought it best to put it down firmly and immediately.

Step by step let's get it right. The one thing about our campaign which completely reflects our politics is that we are open, honest and just straightforward. We have absolutely nothing to hide and actually nothing to lose in being completely open.

I am running for leader and nothing else. In our campaign we believe that we are nearing the halfway mark in terms of MPs committed to nominate with about another 15 or so MPs who we believe will eventually nominate because they want an election not a coronation. That leaves us needing another 5 to 10 nominations to find. We think there are another up to 20 possible nominations up for grabs. I don't think these MPs will make up their minds until pretty late on in the process and will base alot of what they decide on the opinions expressed by their constituency parties and their unions. That is why the focus of our campaign is based upon building momentum in the CLPs and unions. I've set out that strategy in virtually every speech I've made so it is no secret.

I am not badgering MPs to nominate me or putting anyone under pressure. That just isn't my style anyway. I understand the factors they have to weigh up and respect that. I want them to come to the right decision in the interests of our party.

I am not running for deputy leader as I want a decisive change in the the policies of the party. This change could only be brought about with a change of leader. Running for deputy would just be for position and to be frank has just become a career move for many others.

I am not entering into any pacts or deals with anyone, including Michael Meacher, to stand for deputy. I have always looked upon Michael as a friend and indeed I have expressed time and time again my respect for the work he has put in on climate change. Before last year's Labour Party conference I explained our campaign to him and told him he would always be welcome on board as part of the campaign team and he thanked me for that. That offer is still open.

However I would not stand as his deputy. No matter what my strong feelings of friendship I have for Michael I have to be completely honest on this matter. In the critical vote in Parliament on whether this country should go to war in Iraq, Michael voted for the war and remained in Ministerial office when Robin Cook and others resigned.

I know that Michael has later expressed regret for this decision and believes he was deceived by the Prime Minister over Iraq. However when you cast a vote for a position as important as the leader of the Labour Party you have to make a judgement on someone's ability to make decisions on principle at times like the war.

I wish Michael all the best but this is how I feel.

We will continue our enthusiastic grass roots campaign which has gained so much support from rank and file members in constituency parties and unions. Michael is very welcome to come on board and I would welcome his invaluable expertise on environmental matters.

Let's move on now and work together to mobilise the members of our movement and in this way get those nominations to secure a democratic election for the leader of our party.

Saturday 10 February 2007

Notes on the Campaign Stomp: Heartening and Motivating

Someone asked me to blog about it was like to be on the campaign trail. To get a flavour here's just the last few days.

On Wednesday night I was at a great meeting in Leytonstone talkng with Labour Party members and ex members. There were about 120 people at the meeting enthusiastically debating national and local politics. The local MP, Harry Cohen, and Katy Clarke MP joined me. Harry is not only well known as a really hard working constituency MP but he is also a principled socialist who has consistently campaigned in Parliament on a wide range of progressive causes. Katy was elected at the last election and quite simply is one of the best hopes for the future of the Left in Parliament and the party. She's a superb advocate of our policies.

On Thursday the encouraging news came through that ASLEF executive had taken the decision to support me for leader of the party. As this was the first union to declare its nomination this was seen as a real breakthrough. You would have thought it would merit at least a small column inch in the Guardian so even I was a bit surprised that there was not even a mention in the paper. Nevertheless the news of the nomination spreads throughout the day.

On Friday I attended my local youth parliament to talk about local issues but was pleasantly surprised when a group of young people came up to me at the end to offer their support and help for the leadership campaign. Later that day after speaking to the NUJ national Executive I was on the campaign trail in Norwich.

First I spoke at an early evening meeting of about 80 to 90 students and some trade unionists at the University of East Anglia. They had range of fascinating questions. Later I addressed a meeting for local Labour Party members. There were about 20 to 30 members, with the local MP Ian Gibson. Ian has consistently and barvely spoken out on issues like the Iraq war and Trident and with his academic and scientific background speaks with an authority which surpasses Ministers and their advisers. The discussion with Norwich party members demonstrated yet again that despite the media people want the right to have an election for the leader based upon policies not personalities and many want change.

On Saturday (today) we have had a brief meeting of the co-ordinators of the different elements of our campaign. Everyone is really buoyant and reporting back widespread activity and enthusiasm from the local meetings to the different campaigning groups such as the pensioners4John or the womens group, the Punjabi community campaign or the Socialist Youth Network. We have planned a rally livened up with music, stand up etc for the afternoon of 31 March at the Shaw Theatre in London.

Artists and speakers are being booked as we speak but as always it is a rush job and we are all a bit edgy about whether we can pull it off. But if you don't try you don't succeed. If there is any one out there with music and arts connections let me know. Does anyone know what Soweto Kinch's politics are and how he could be approached? If you have heard him you will know why. He is just superb.

After the meeting I dashed to the demonstration outside Harmondsworth Detention Centre and spoke to the demonstrators. Harmondsworth is in my constituency and I have been visiting the centre for over 20 years. It used to be a few small huts with about 20 detainees. Now it is a massive prison like insitution with 400 inmates and with another 400 in the Colnbrook centre next to it. My constituency office deals with detainees' cases every day.

At the demonstration I met the campaigners I have been working with who are trying to expose the Government's policy of deporting people back to Iraq. On Monday they told me the Government is deporting up to 40 detainees back to Iraq by military airplane from RAF Brise Norton. I raised this issue in Parliament two weeks ago and yet the Government persists in sending people back to a war zone. Where is the humanity in that?

This is just a brief description of a few days on the campaign stomp. For me it combines the exhilaration of meeting good people who want to talk about what socialism means in the twenty first century with the heartrending consequences of the existing administration's policies towards asylum seekers. These experiences both hearten and motivate me.

Friday 9 February 2007

Tackling Pensioner Poverty

The Government's Pensions Bill will be returning to the House of Commons in the next month.

I have tabled amendments to the bill to restore the link between pensions and earnings, to uprate the basic state pension to the Pension Credit level, and to make the proposed rises in the state retirement age contingent upon increased life expectancy among the poorest.

In the early 1980s, Thatcher abolished the link between earnings and pensions. As a result, pensioners have lost out on around £50 per week. The current state pension is £84 – the lowest in western Europe. The Pension Credit takes this to £114 via the means-test, but by the Government's own figures up to 1.6m pensioners do not receive their entitlement. That's why we must restore the earnings link and increase the basic state pension.

The proposal to raise the state retirement age to 66, 67 and 68 is supposed to reflect increased longevity. While average life expectancy has risen, in some of the poorest areas it is still under 70. I have tabled an amendment so that the state retirement age can only rise to 66 in 2024 if average male life expectancy for the poorest 10% of the population has reached 76, and 77 for the rise to 67 in 2034, and 78 for 2044.

I am not prepared to accept a rise in the state retirement age that would mean 24 months of retirement before death for the poorest people. This amendment would encourage the Government to tackle health and other social inequalities.

I am calling on all MPs from all political parties to support my amendments to the Pensions Bill. I will be campaigning with local and national pensioner organisations to restore the link between pensions and earnings and ensure that there is a just pensions system for today's pensioners and those in the future.

Restoring the link is easily affordable and I am appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to block my amendments. In 1997, the Labour manifesto said, "We believe that all pensioners should share fairly in the increasing prosperity of the nation". Ten years on, I am tabling amendments to make sure this happens.

Meanwhile the Royal Mail (majority owned by the Government) has announced it will end its final salary pension scheme. If I was a postal worker today I would feel completely betrayed by the Government. Under the terms of the Warwick agreement, we gave the unions clear undertakings that public sector pension schemes would be protected.

At a time when Royal Mail is making an annual profit of £355 million, and awarded its Chief Executive with a £2.2 million bonus in 2005 in addition to his regular millionaire's salary, it is a disgrace that they are treating their own workforce with such contempt. I am calling upon the Government now to step in at once and facilitate meaningful discussions with the union to ensure that the final salary pension scheme for postal workers is properly preserved for both present and future employees.

Thursday 8 February 2007

ASLEF: First Trade Union to Announce Who It Will Support for Labour Leader

Yesterday the first union affiliated to the Labour Party announced who it would be supporting in the Labour leadership election. The national executive of the rail drivers trade union, ASLEF, met and took the decision to support me.

This is a real honour for me and a great gain for our campaign. I am a member of the ASLEF Parliamentary group and have worked with the union on a wide range of issues and campaigns of direct concern to the union and its members both nationally and locally.

In recent years many New Labour leaders and ministers have appeared to be embarrassed by any association with the trade union movement and I am extremely concerned that there are some who will be seeking to use the Hayden Phillips inquiry recommendations, to be published later this month, in an attempt to break or undermine the link between trade unions and the Labour party.

I am also anxious about the proposals being promulgated by some Labour MPs and in the New Labour leadership to significantly reduce the role of unions in our policy making structures. They seem to forget that the trade unions founded our party and have been its mainstays ever since.

I welcome the support and active involvement of trade unionists in my campaign. The New Labour leadership seems to have forgotten who our friends really are.

Rest assured, I haven't.

Monday 5 February 2007

It isn't just whether loans were obtained for peerages, it is that people believe this could have happened under a Labour government.

Nearly a week on from the arrest of Lord Levy and the revelation of the second Police interview of the Prime Minister, the furore over the loans for peerages is unabated. All through last week I was continuously asked by the media whether I thought the Prime Minister should step down.

My response was that for at least two years I have been calling for the Prime Minister to go because I disagreed with his political ideology and many of the policies which stem from it but with regard to the loans for peerages issue I adhered to the straightforward principle of innocent until proven guilty whether it is the Prime Minister or any other citizen.

I left it at that. However I made it clear it was critical that the Police should be allowed to get on with their investigation and that they should be given the fullest co-operation.

My main concern was for the reputation of the Labour Party and the standing of politics more generally. That is why on Tuesday I urged that the Labour Party should act to protect its reputation by appointing an independent person to liaise directly with the Police inquiry so that we could demonstrate that the Party was doing everything it could to co-operate with the inquiry and to be completely open and transparent. In this way we could overcome any allegations that the Party was involved in any cover up.

Many New Labour advisers, surrounding both Blair and Brown, hope that nothing will come of the Police inquiry and once it is over they can return to politics as normal. This misses an important lesson of this whole episode.

A critical concern for every Labour member and supporter must be not just whether loans were obtained for peerages but the fact that a large proportion of the electorate believe that under a Labour government this could have occurred at all.

We need to think very carefully about how we have so lost the trust of a large section of our community that they could even contemplate this happening under a Labour government.

Thursday 1 February 2007

Policy videos added

I've added a series of videos to to the website which you can see in the Audio/Video section or by clicking here.

The videos include short interviews about some of the key issues of my campaign - including fighting for peace, tackling poverty, trade union rights, NHS and privatisation, education, Trident, and climate change.

The events page has also been updated - and keep checking back for more!