Saturday 31 March 2007

Thanks to All the Artists, Speakers and Organisers For Making our National Rally Such a Success.

Just a quick line to say thanks to all the artists, speakers and organisers for making today's national rally at the Shaw Theatre such an overwhelming success.

With just over 6 weeks of organisation the theatre was filled throughout the afternoon with over 400 activists coming to discuss the campaign and hear a fantastic range of music and witness some beautiful dance.

Representatives from trade unions, CLPs, MPs and numerous campaigns came along to voice support for our campaign.

The speeches were incredibly moving statements of commitment to the socialist ideals upon which our party was founded.

To listen to young people expressing their hopes and beliefs for the future and to hear the response of solidarity from speakers from the pensioners movement was just inspirational.

All this offered hope for the future.

Today we witnessed the birth of a new united progressive front within our movement.

Thanks once again to all the volunteers who organised to make this happen.

Friday 30 March 2007

Global Women's Strike

Last night I spoke at a packed meeting in Camden organised by the Global Women's Strike, details here:

It was great to see a number of friends and comrades who I have worked with over the last twenty years on a variety of different campaigns, and discuss common ideas and strategies together.

The John4Leader campaign is built up on a coalition of different interests reaching out in a completely non-sectarian way to all manner of different campaigns and political groups who share our values. Meetings like this are classic example of this leadership contest's ability to foster cutting edge discussions and debates about a whole range of wide-ranging and often challenging issues. I am delighted to have the support of the many women and men who attended the meeting tonight from a variety of autonomous organisations and campaigns attached to Global Women's Strike.

We discussed the effects of inequality in our society on health, crime and anti-social behaviour; the culture of long hours and low pay and its effect on families and community networks - encouraged by a government that believes the only route out of poverty is work and pushes people into badly paid work with poor terms and conditions, threatening the removal of benefits if they won't comply; the necessity of challenging institutional sexism by holding officials accountable; ways of finding flexibility in local service provision where democratic representatives, service users and frontline staff make decisions together instead of decisions being imposed from above; the forced destitution of asylum seekers, the unwillingness of government to accept rape as torture and cowardly refusal to challenge the hard-right's stance on immigration.

I am repeatedly struck by the difference between these types of meetings and the way government policy is often formed. Last night there was a wealth of well-informed, intelligent comment from representatives of self-organised groups with direct experience of the effects of government policy. Contrast this with policy advisory groups dominated by private sector interests, shaping government policy in the interests of the rich without any understanding or concern about their impact on vulnerable groups. It's small wonder New Labour can seem bogged down in a one-track mindset of privatisation and managerialism, out of touch with the priorities and values of ordinary people. Last night we saw how through self-organisation, working class communities can come up with creative and new ways of adapting socialism to the twenty-first century that the government would do well to listen to.

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Bring in Land Value Tax to replace Council Tax

As part of my platform for the Labour leadership, I'm advocating the replacement of Council Tax and business rates with a Land Value Tax. This is something long campaigned for by the Labour Land Campaign.

We all know that council tax is a regressive tax, with those in Band H paying only three times as much as those in Band A. Rises in Council Tax are therefore hitting the poorest hardest. There is also £1.8bn in unclaimed Council Tax benefit.

Last week the Lyons Review published a report into the Council Tax review, which recommended that the large homes of the super-rich should be charged double what they are currently paying to allow for a rebate of £150 per year for the poorest. This was immediately rejected out of hand by Gordon Brown's Treasury. As David Hencke writes in the Guardian: "The man who would be prime minister threw away an opportunity for a real change that would have hit the rich and helped the poor".

A Land Value Tax (LVT) would simplify matters and accords with our sense of justice. Land is a gift of nature and its value rises according to the social and economic environment to which all of us contribute - yet only landowners benefit. For example land values in East London have risen due to the Olympics, yet it is the investment of public money that has enabled the Olympics to take place and for land values to rise. A tax on land values will return some of this unearned wealth to the community and the income used to reduce or replace regressive taxes such as council tax.

LVT is fair, transparent, impossible to avoid (you can't store land in an offshore tax haven), simple to collect, and would help tackle the growing inequality of wealth. It also encourages efficient use of land in towns and cities for jobs, affordable homes and leisure and thus avoid urban sprawl.

In 1906, Keir Hardie said "The slums remain, overcrowding continues whilst the land goes to waste. Shopkeepers and traders are overburdened with rates and taxation whilst the increasing land values that should relieve the ratepayer go to people who have not earned them". 100 years later we have an opportunity to make LVT a reality.

Sunday 25 March 2007

Iran's Arrest of British Military and Mandelson Resurfaces

Iran; the Risk of Military Action.

We all want to ensure that the Bristish Service personnel detained by Iran are safe and secure and are released unharmed. However there are questions that have to be answered by all sides about what led to their arrest by the Iranians.

Where exactly were the British service staff operating?

In whose territory were they when they were detained?

What was their role or mission?

Similarly, where were the Iranian forces?

What was the Iranian operation?

Especially, what were the grounds upon which they detained the British personnel?

My fear is that already the hawks in the US are using the detention of the British military personnel as a further justification for military action again Iran.

Some of those surrounding Bush are content to use this incident to set Iran up for further provocative actions against Iran and even invasion.

Instead what is needed is calm negotiation to get to the truth of how and why the British were detained and how they can be freed safely.

One measured approach could be for Britain to request the UN to invite both Iran and Britain to meet to explain each other's version of events and to seek to negotiate a resolution to the present stand off. This potentially dangerous situation could be turned to everyone's advantage by bringing about a new point of contact for longer term negotiations.

A rush to threat of further sanctions and acts of military aggression will do nothing except exacerbate the present, hazardous sitauation.

Mandelson Resurfaces.

On a more parochial note, I hear on the news that Mandelson is calling for a challenge to Gordon Brown from a new generation of New Labour MPs and in the press Blair has let it be known through his aides that he is encouraging Miliband to run.

The depths of personal bitterness and nastinesss amongst the architects of New Labour never fails to surprise me. This group has worked closely together in their project to hijack the Labour Party, undermine the socialist principles upon which it was founded and destroy its mission to transform our society.

Now they are tearing each other apart for what?

Not because of any difference over political philosophy, ideas or policies. This is about naked ambition and bitter personal infighting.

Do any of them care about the future of our party or our government?

They are disgracefully putting their own political careers and ambitions and personal animosities above the needs of our movement. By making our party look so divided in this way they are undermining our support just before the elections in Scotaland, Wales and local government.

I am calling upon all of them to put the interests of our party first and to act with some dignity not like a pack of political hyenas fighting over a carcass.

Let us have a democratic election for the leader of our party.

Let's have a range of candidates standing based upon the range of different policy approaches within the party.

And for the party's sake let's end this persistent, personal backbiting within what's left of the New Labour clique.

We need a friendly, comradely debate over policies not this personality clash between the Blair and Brown factions of New Labour.

Thursday 22 March 2007

Speeches at Trident rally and People's Assembly

Below I've included two speeches I've made in the past week or so - one at the rally against Trident, and the other at the Stop The War People's Assembly.

Trident rally

People's Assembly

The budget will exacerbate inequality

Below is an article on the Budget I've written for the New Statesman website.

Ten years in power affords any Government the opportunity of laying the foundations of the society it aspires to create. Ten Brown budgets have produced a society which is more unequal today than when New Labour was elected in 1997. Just look at the facts. In 1997 the richest 1% owned 25% of marketable wealth. By this year that had risen to 34%. Meanwhile the poorest 50% had gone from holding 6% of the nation's wealth in 1997 to just 1% today.

Today's budget will exacerbate the problem of inequality.

The Chancellor's announcement to cut Corporation Taxes will fuel even more obscene City bonuses and will be paid for by the cuts announced in the wages and jobs of public sector workers over the next two years. As part of this attack on public sector wages, the Government has quietly started the process of introducing local pay rates for public sector workers based upon an assessment of the local labour market. Public sector workers undertaking the same work will be paid less in vast areas across the country if local pay rates are low.

Vying with the Tories on tax cuts as an electioneering stunt may appear as a morale boost in the short term but in the longer term will undermine any strategy to create a society capable and willing to fund the public services our community needs and tackle the inequality and poverty which so disfigures our society. In practice this budget is at best neutral in terms of wealth redistribution but I fear that cutting the basic rate of tax to 20p by abolishing the 10p rate will hit the poorest earners as many are unable to find their way through the complexities and inadequacies of the tax credit system.

The failure to restore the link between pensions and earnings, to increase the basic state pension and to increase child benefit sufficiently means that Britain will still have two million of its children and three million of its pensioners living in poverty. How can we find it acceptable that 25,000 of our pensioners died last winter from cold related conditions after 10 years of a Labour government?

Where the Chancellor has announced continued increases in public spending on health and education the scale of the public expenditure growth is significantly less than needed to maintain the pace of investment to meet growing demand and expectations. In comparison with other European countries which have had long periods of Social Democratic government public expenditure in the UK is still amongst the lowest: 45.4% in the UK in comparison with 57.1% in Sweden, and 53.85% in Denmark.

In addition on Monday Gordon Brown and Tony Blair published the New Labour's policy documents committing the Government to more and extensive privatisation. Many fear therefore that any additional public investment will be laundered into private profits.

Where there has been a growing consensus on the key issue of climate change the Chancellor has taken a few small steps towards encouraging change in our polluting behaviour but these appear to many as mere tinkering at the edges. Much more radical change is needed in promoting a large scale programme of developing alternative energy sources and changing our polluting economy and lifestyles. How can we claim to be serious about tackling climate change when the Government is sanctioning the greatest expansion of airports in our history?

The budget is designed to raise the Chancellor's electoral standing. In the short term there may be an immediate lift but within days as the detail is unpicked it is likely that there will be a reaction to what will be seen as electioneering spin. I worry that this will undermine our longer term project of convincing our community that creating decent public services and a fairer society requires a progressive redistribution of wealth.

Tuesday 20 March 2007

Whatever happened to equality as a Labour aim?

We published today the Left Economic Advisory Panel's (LEAP) alternative budget analysis, entitled "Whatever happened to equality?"

LEAP is a group which I founded and chair comprising socialist economists providing economic policy analysis and advice for the Left. It serves as our alternative to the Bank of England Advisory Committee but looks to the much longer term economic propects. LEAP publishes its Red Papers twice a year both prior to the autumn statement and prior to the budget. You can read and download LEAP's pre budget report on the Labour Representation Committee's website.

Ten years in power affords any government the opportunity of laying the foundations of the society it wishes to create. After ten years of New Labour Government and ten years of Gordon Brown's budgets it is valid and indeed timely to question the reality of the impact of the Chancellor's economic policies in shaping our community and the quality of life of our citizens.

The conclusion is that the most startling feature of our current society is the grotesque inequality which is disfiguring our community. Even the Financial Times today points out the difference that exists between the significant growth of GDP and the lack of matching growth in disposable income for many families suffering from low pay, long working hours, heavy tax burdens on the lower paid and rising housing costs, council tax and energy prices. Far from overcoming boom and bust what has been created over the last decade is an economy which is boom for some but bust for others.

In tomorrow's budget the Chancellor is hardly going to miss the opportunity prior a leadership election of making a great show of additional expenditure on education and some targetted benefit and expenditure increases but this will only be tinkering at the edges of inequality. Too many millions of our pensioners and of our children will still be going to bed in poverty tomorrow night because New Labour has refused to even accept inequality as an issue to be addressed over three terms of office.

Finally on a separate issue I spoke at the Stop the War assembly in Central Hall, Westminster today on the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, alongside Rose Gentle, a member of the military families who have lost relatives in Iraq. I thought what sadness and brutality Blair and Brown and all those who voted for this disgraceful war have brought into our lives. But it is not just the war for which this Government stands accused of inhumanity.

Before I spoke I had met Bob Holman, a Labour Party member for 43 years. Bob is an immensely respected community activist in Scotland, a writer, researcher and social policy expert. He showed me a report in today's Herald, the daily Scottish newspaper. It described how Mr Uddhav Bhandari, a father of two and an asylum seeker from Nepal, had doused himself in petrol and set himself alight earlier this month because he was facing a second legal hearing which could have resulted in him being forcibly returned to Nepal where his life was at risk. Mr Bhandari died yesterday.

The paper also reported that another asylum seeker, Mr Max Waku, who had fled from the Congo, was arrested from his home in a dawn raid. His children watched as their father was handcuffed and led out of the house to a waiting van. The children and their mother were then themselves removed one by one from their home and put into vans.

I find it hard to come to terms with the suffering that the Government is inflicting both at home and abroad.

That's why we need not just a change of leader but a wholesale change of the policies.

Sunday 18 March 2007

Campaign rally - 31st March

Many of you will already know about the national rally in support of the campaign that takes place in London on Saturday 31st March. It promises to be a packed day of speeches, music and entertainment. Above all, it will be a chance to meet other supporters of this campaign from across the country. For more details, click here. I want to thank all the activists who have put in so much work to make sure that it's a fun and successful day. I look forward to meeting many of you there!

As you will know, the date of the leadership election is fast approaching. If you have not already done so, I hope that you will think about joining or rejoining the Labour party now to ensure that you will have a vote for this campaign. Joining only takes a couple of minutes - you can do it online, by ringing 08705 900 200, or by downloading the form. I hope that you'll also consider encouraging others to do likewise.

Today we've put up the first sample of messages of support for this campaign. I really want to thank everyone for their words of support. From the very beginning, we've made it clear that this is a grassroots campaign embracing the whole labour movement right across the country - and I hope that these messages give a flavour of that. Above all, the comments show that there is a real appetite for a change in direction for our party and an alternative to New Labour policies of war and privatisation.

We'll be putting up many more endorsements from other supporting MPs, councillors, trade unionists, Labour party members, campaigners and ordinary activists on a very regular basis - so I hope that you will keep coming back.

Finally, please don't hesitate to email or ring the campaign office on 020 7529 8296 if you can help out in any way.

Thursday 15 March 2007

Trident Vote In Commons; A Third of the PLP rejects Trident Decision.

I am just back from the debate in the Commons on the replacement of Trident. Over 90 Labour MPs voted against the Prime Minister's proposal to commission the construction of the new nuclear submarines immediately.

Labour MP after Labour MP questioned Ministers on why the rush to such an early decision on Trident replacement. The independent evidence and expert advice explained that, just as with the system used in America, the operational life of the existing submarines could be extended to enable a thorough analysis of whether the renewal of our nuclear deterrent was necessary at all.

In 2010, Britain will be involved in the international assessment and review of the implementation of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. It was argued by a number of MPs that this would provide the objective evidence on which to judge whether Britain's nuclear arsenal was needed or should be renewed.

Despite the depth of feeling shown by Labour MPs, with over 90 voting against the Government and about 60 abstaining, Tony Blair with Gordon Brown's fullsome backing forced the vote through Parliament with the support of Tory MPs.

In effect on this and many other issues we now have Tony Blair leading a national coalition government, with Brown in support.

The Labour Party and the country has been bounced into supporting what we now know from Number 10's recently published emails was a done deal between Blair and Bush last September.

The Labour Party has been refused a say on this question as all resolutions on Trident were ruled out of order at last year's annual conference.

Labour MPs have been denied sight if the legal advice given to the Prime Minister on the legality of renewing Trident.

There has been no major consultation exercise in the country which a critical long term and expensive policy decision like this merits.

Trident is part of the Blair legacy agenda and the timing of this decision is based upon an agreement with Brown that his path to the leadership would not be littered with this unpopular decision outstanding.

This strategy has disastrously backfired. We now have a party divided at every level with only weeks to go before the crucial elections in Scotland, Wales and local councils in England.

The issue of nuclear weapons will also not go away. The decision on the main contract will be required in two to four years and already the demand is that it must come before Parliament for decision.

Tonight's decision risks contributing to the setting in train of a global escalation in the acquisition of nuclear arms. Let's build the campaign to ensure that when the next stage decision returns to Parliament we do not have a leader of the Labour Party who is willing to use the votes of Tories to put our country and planet at risk from nuclear weapons.

Friday 9 March 2007

A Women's Manifesto for International Women's Day

Yesterday on International Women's Day women members of our campaign published a "Women's Manifesto; Women Rise Up." Some time ago a group of women formed Feminists4John in order to develop the policy debate within our campaign on the policy issues facing women and to mobilise support amongst women for our campaign.

The Women's manifesto has been drafted to stimulate a real discussion on how we address gender inequality and empower women in our society. It is unacceptable for example that in 2007 over 30 years after the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act there remains a significant pay gap between the wages of men and women and 2 million women pensioners do not even qualify for the basic state pension. In twenty first century Britain women are more likely to be in low paid employment than men, less likely to be in employment covered by a collective agreement and more likely to have had their jobs transfered from the public to the private sector. Women are much more likely to be carers and struggle to balance caring responsibilities with employment. Their caring role is largely unrecognised by Government and violence against women is endemic in our society.

Our women's manifesto sets out a number of key policy demands including:

Tackling women's poverty by challenging for equal pay and securing access to a decent pension for all women,

Improving childcare provision, maternity/paternity rights and financial support for home carers,

Repealing anti-trade union laws and introducing compulsory pay audits,

Ensuring a women's right to chose a free and safe abortion, maintaining the current time limit, and promoting women's health and enabling free access to IVF and safe childbirth,

Tackling violence against women, improving services and support for women who have suffered violence and rape,

Recognising formally the contribution women make to our economy in the wide variety of roles they play in our community.

If you would like to obtain a copy of the "Women's Manifesto" and participate in this policy dialogue contact our campaign by email on or by post at John4Leader Campaign PO Box 2378, London E5 9QU.

Saturday 3 March 2007

Brown Sets Private Sector on Attack on Unemployed

Gordon Brown will announce with John Hutton on Monday yet another review of welfare benefits to the unemployed. One of Brown's investment banker friends is to undertake the review. Clearly the Chancellor believes that an investment banker has so much more experience of welfare benefits than the unemployed themselves or the people who actually administer the systenm or give claimants advice.

Just an idea, why can't we have a review of the system undertaken by the claimants themselves for a change?

The main proposal being promoted by Brown is privatisation of the administration of welfare benefits. Private companies are to be given the responsibility for getting people into work. An incentive arrangement is to be introduced. The private company will be able to retain as profits a part of the unemployment and other benefits of the people they force into work.

This is a recipe for the intimidation and harassment of the unemployed to make profits for private companies. It appears that the Chancellor is vying with the Tories on who can be more brutal to the poor in our society.

If this is a taste of the policies planned for his fabled first hundred days as Prime Minister it stands as a stark warning to those party members, trade union general secretaries and Labour MPs who are considering backing him for leader.

If Brown even before entering Number 10 is capable of setting the wolves of private sector companies on the poorest in society there is no limit to how far he could go if he ever achieved prime ministerial office in undermining the principles upon which our movement founded the welfare state.

I salute the health workers and campaigners who today demonstrated all over the country against the job cuts, unit closures, privatisations and pay cuts inflicted upon our NHS by the Chancellor. Brown's welfare review demonstrates that the attack on the NHS today is merely a foretaste of what could follow across the whole of our public services and welfare state if we allow it.

Defend Women's Right to Choose

Today women and men will be demonstrating and campaigning for better abortion provision. Abortion Rights are launching the Campaign for a Modern Abortion Law 12.30 outside the QEII Conference Centre; and the March for Abortion Rights begins at 6.30pm at ULU, Malet Street.

In a political climate where the anti-choice lobby is sadly growing with several parliamentary attempts to cut back the time limit occurring in the last year, it is important that we strongly assert the principle of a woman’s right to control if and when she has children. We should not only defend the current limit, but we must look to ensure that all women really do have the option of a free and safe abortion.

The link between abortion provision and the privatization of the NHS is a crucial one, given that NHS waiting lists can delay women waiting for an abortion by up to eight weeks and there are still wide variations throughout the country of the percentage of publicly funded abortions, ranging from more than 90 per cent in some areas to less than 60 per cent in others.

We should also seek to ensure that there is detailed sex education in schools, better choice with regards to contraception, and better childcare support and a living wage so that financial hardship is never a factor in choosing not have children.

I am committed to supporting a woman‘s right to choose - and wholeheartedly support today's actions.

Friday 2 March 2007

Brown's Attack on Pay and Trade Union Rights

As you may have read on the front page of the Daily Mirror today, I issued a statement yesterday about Brown's pay cut for millions of our public sector workers:

"This pay cut from the Chancellor for public service workers will further alienate millions of Labour's natural supporters.
"If we want good public services, those who work in them must have decent levels of pay which properly reflects their contribution.
"People will fail to understand how we can spend billions of pounds on Trident whilst cutting public sector pay."

Yesterday I was at a packed rally in Parliament marking the publication of the Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill which I have been taking through the House of Commons as a Private Members Bill. Those speaking at the rally included Tony Benn, Tony Woodley, Katy Clark MP, Bob Crow, Matt Wrack, Roger Klein and John Hendy QC. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and determination to support a bill which is, after all, supported by Labour Party Conference and the TUC.

The Bill was due to be introduced today, along with Paul Farrelly's superb Bill extending the rights of agency and temporary workers. Like the Trade Union Freedom Bill, this piece of legislation has already received massive support from Labour backbenchers.

You can imagine how angry I was today at the tactics used by the Government to prevent both Bills progressing. Deliberate filibustering has been used in order to ensure that no vote was taken on either Bill. The passage of both Bills would be a major step forwards for millions of workers in this country - and would provide a major boost for the Labour party at a time when there is such massive disillusionment among our supporters.

We'll be taking both Bills back to Parliament in October. Between now and then, we'll continue to mobilise for these campaigns and press the Government to accept these legislative proposals.

UPDATE: We've uploaded a video clip of me setting out my commitment to restoring trade union rights - keep checking back for new clips.