Monday 30 April 2007

Return of the broad church

Below is a piece I've written in today's Guardian.

As the prime minister leaves office, what could be more natural than Labour party supporters wanting a say in where the party should go next, especially after 10 years in power? Why then do Gordon Brown's supporters appear intent on avoiding a leadership election in which party members and trade unionists can participate? Perhaps it isn't the fear of losing that worries them but anxiety about what a leadership election could bring forth.

Labour leaders up to and including John Smith largely respected the broad church within the party. However, for more than a decade the Blair-Brown New Labour faction has discouraged the voicing of any alternative views. If, in a leadership election, there was a sizeable vote for an alternative vision for the future, Labour's broad church tradition would have been reasserted. Any leader wanting to unite and mobilise the party in the runup to the next general election would have to respect this re-emergence, both in policy formulation and in the construction of government.

In recent weeks I have been canvassing in Wales, Scotland and many local authority areas in England. There is a widespread expectation that the efforts of Labour Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly members and councillors will be overshadowed as voters cast their ballot on the basis of Westminster politics. Yet a vote for Labour on Thursday is a vote against the worst excesses of New Labour in Westminster.

Without even having revenue-raising powers, the Welsh assembly has forged ahead with policies on education and health, resisting the marketisation seen in England: league tables and Sats have been abolished, and there are no city academies or trust schools; there are no foundation hospitals, and prescription charges have been abolished. In Scotland, care charges for the elderly have been abolished and there are no student top-up fees. Many Labour councils have similarly proud achievements. These are policies backed by most Labour members - and on which I am standing.

If we are to prevent the Tories returning to power we need to understand not only how New Labour has failed to live up to the hopes of the country in 1997, but also why. The leadership debate is as much a challenge for the Labour left as it is for New Labour. It provides an opportunity not just to demonstrate that the left has an understanding of the 21st-century globalised economy but also that it has the imagination to excite and mobilise our communities around an alternative vision and set of policies.

New Labour's leaders have adapted enthusiastically to the changes corporate-driven globalisation has effected, bringing the ideas and practices of the market into everyday life. All too often socialists and progressives have ceded ground to New Labour by being too defensive, even backward-looking. We cannot turn the clock back, but that does not mean we should accept the global market economy as the last word.

We need a new approach that deepens the quality of democracy throughout society, while establishing social rights to affordable housing, a citizen's income, free education, childcare and healthcare, as well as care in older age - in essence a new constitutional settlement for the 21st century. Such a debate would re-engage all those who since 1997 have not voted, and many young people.

In deciding not only the next Labour leader but also the next prime minister, the forthcoming contest is an opportunity to re-engage the British public in genuine political debate. That can only happen if there is a contest - and that can only be good for democracy.

Sunday 29 April 2007

YouGov poll puts me in 2nd place behind Brown

I was pleased to see that a YouGov poll of Labour party members published today in The Sunday Times placed me in second place behind Gordon Brown in the upcoming leadership election. Before I'm accused of spinning, here are the figures: Gordon Brown - 80%; John McDonnell - 9%; Michael Meacher - 6%; and Charles Clarke - 5%.

However, bear in mind that this result has been achieved despite the fact that, unlike the other candidates, I was a virtually unknown backbencher when I launched - and despite the fact that this campaign has received very little media coverage. I strongly believe that the reason I've been placed second at this stage is because of the hard work everyone has put into building a real grassroots campaign. I've always made it clear that this campaign was about engaging with Labour party members, supporters and trade unionists - in contrast with the usual approach, which is to confine the campaign to the Westminster Bubble with no consultation with grassroots activists. I think that it is a real achievement to be ahead of two former ministers and second place behind Brown at this stage in the campaign.

This poll shows what could be achieved during the main campaign. The media will have no choice but to start giving us coverage. Labour party members and trade unionists will finally be given the opportunity to hear exactly where I'm coming from. I will be given a platform to advocate Real Labour policies which are supported by the mainstream of our party and millions of ordinary people - whether that be direct investment in council housing, an end to the war in Iraq, publicly owned public services, a green energy policy based on renewable power sources, the restoration of trade union rights and civil liberties, a Real Living Wage of at least £7 an hour, renationalisation of our railways, an all-out war against inequality and child poverty, the restoration of free university education, support for universal comprehensive education, or the immediate restoration of the pensions-earnings link.

The main campaign will put us in a position to advocate socialism that is relevant to the 21st century, put the Left back on the map and reconnect the Labour party with its members and supporters.

Friday 27 April 2007

Workers' Memorial Day

Tomorrow (28th April) I will be speaking at an event in Leicester, organised by the local trades council, to mark International Workers' Memorial Day.

The Government must take serious action to combat deaths at work. Over 200 workers were fatally injured at work in the UK last year, including a 14% increase in the construction sector. In the 30 years since the Health and Safety Work Act, over 10,000 people have died at work, only 11 directors have been convicted and only 5 of those have gone to prison.

The current legislation on Corporate Manslaughter is woefully inadequate and deliberately excludes the prosecution of negligent directors. There is a consensus among the trade unions and health and safety experts that we need new legislation to improve workers' safety. A number of unions including Amicus, TGWU, UCATT and others have fought hard to raise awareness, including at a lobby of Parliament on 28th March which I attended.

Meanwhile, the Government is busy sacking staff from the Health and Safety Executive with over 1000 losing their jobs in the past three years. These workers, members of PCS, had a direct impact on workplace safety through enforcement of regulations and the provision of advice to employers. In sacking these staff, the Government's actions are nothing short of irresponsible.

At Labour Party conference, a motion was passed to toughen corporate manslaughter legislation - sadly the Government ignored this and so we have to continue our campaign to prevent more unnecessary deaths at work.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Meacher Breaks Agreement and Launches Public Attack

I am saddened to see that Michael Meacher has broken his agreement that there would be a comradely discussion within the Left on how a Left candidate would proceed to the ballot paper in the leadership election based upon which candidate had the most nominations. People will recall that he gave a public pledge in the Independent that he would withdraw if if he had less nominations than our campaign. In this morning's Guardian he has launched a public attack on our campaign and come out with some outrageous verging on the delusional statements.

I no longer feel I can just remain silent.

Over the last few weeks extensive discussions have taken place with Michael Meacher. Mike Wood MP - who has acted as our Parliamentary team leader - first of all sought meetings with Alan Simpson MP whom we believed was Meacher's campaign manager. Alan denied he was the campaign manager so we then approached Kelvin Hopkins MP but he also declined to play this role. Meetings then took place with Michael Meacher himself because we couldn't find anyone else who was willing to state they were part of his campaign team or state publicly that they supported him.

Basically the situation is that when Tony Blair declares he is standing down there will only be a few days for MPs to send in their nominations. If an MP has nominated, he or she cannot switch their nomination to another candidate unless that candidate withdraws from the election. The nominating MP has no control over this.

So, as there will be little time to secure a withdrawal of candidature and then switch of nominations, we have been desperate to compare nominations with Michael Meacher so that a decision can be taken early on who should drop out and who should go forward.

The problem is that Michael Meacher will not reveal even in the strictest confidence the list of nominations he claims to have secured. His only known supporters - Alan Simpson, Kelvin Hopkins and even Michael's own personal assistant - have confirmed that they have not seen any list.

We appreciated that some MPs will not want to have their names publicised. We have quite a number like that as well. So what Mike Wood suggested to Michael was that we both set out our first dozen or so nominations and meet with each to verify. Then after that we move on to the next dozen and then the next until the person with the least drops out. In fact we have been publishing some of our nominations on ourv website every week. I think the first dozen have gone up with supporting statements.

However Michael has still refused to give anyone sight or publish any names of MPs nominating him.

We are at a loss what to do.

Over the last month Michael Meacher has claimed 50 nominations secured. This then went down to 40. It is now down to 25. In Saturday's Guardian it suggested what most believe to be accurate that he has only two firm commitments. In the Guardian today he claims to have signed statements from 25 MPs confirming that they will nominate him. Nobody has seen these statements. Last year he did circulate a form asking if MPs were in favour in principle of a challenge from the Left and many signed this but this form did not refer to him as the candidate. He has circulated another form more recently including his own name but most MPs have reported that they have informed him that they are not willing to nominate him.

In his letter to the Guardian he alleges that the reports from Gordon Brown's camp in Saturday's Guardian that he has secured only three nominations were published because Brown is promoting my candidature because he is frightened of facing Michael Meacher.

Just make of this what you will but on the basis of this and other statements about the number of nominations secured many are beginning to worry about Michael's judgement.

I believe that we can demonstrate in this election that there is overwhelming support in our movement for the policies the Left is advocating. We can use this campaign to rebuild the Left both within the party and in the wider movement. We can only do that if people display a commitment to the wider movement than personal motives and above all if people behave with dignity that inspires respect.

If there is anyone who feels they can exert any influence over Michael Meacher at this stage please do all you can to assist. His behaviour may well mean that we run the risk that no Left candidate gets on the ballot paper.

Sunday 22 April 2007

Endorsements update

You can see the latest additions to the endorsements page here.

My thanks to my colleagues Ann Cryer MP and Neil Gerrard MP for their messages.

I was also delighted to hear that the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils voted unanimously to endorse the campaign last week.

I'll let you know when we next update the endorsements page. Once again, my thanks for all of your support.

An Unseemly Atmosphere of Intimidation

I'm just back from Scotland, campaigning for Elaine Smith MSP. Elaine is a principled socialist who has worked tremendously hard in the Scottish Parliament and in her area. She was born and bred in her constituency of Coatbridge and it was strikingly obvious from talking to local people at the meetings I attended and when we were leafletting from a streetstall in the town centre how well she was known and respected for her hard work in her constituency.

Elaine is in the finest tradition of Labour representatives. Someone who is steeped in the community she represents and who clearly loves the area and its people. The New Labour practice of parachuting favourite apparatchiks into safe seats has undermined this once proud tradition of our party and has contributed to alienating our support.

I am sure that Elaine will do well in her election and if there is any vacancy for a Scottish first minister or any senior ministerial post in the future the party would do well to consider supporting Elaiine for this post. She would serve Scotland and our party with talent, sound judgement and commitment.

As we were campaigning I picked up the article in the Guardian reporting that because I was close to securing sufficient nominations to stand for Labour Leader the Brown camp were worried and, to quote, " were intent on stopping a challenge from the party's left wing, most likely from John McDonnell." According to this article from two of the most reliable and respected political journalists in the country, David Hencke and Tania Branigan, Brown and his campaign managers are determined to stop me getting on the ballot paper even to the extent of trying to pressurise some of my supporters to switch allegiances.

Creating this atmosphere of intimidation and this unhealthy climate of bribes and threats is just unseemly and demeaning for those who are involved or who have sanctioned this behaviour. Why can't MPs be left to make up their own minds in an atmosphere free from bullying threats about the implications for their future careers? Why can't they be left to make a judgement on whom to nominate based upon what they believe is best for the party and the country? Many MPs just want to nominate to allow all party members and trade union affiliated members the chance of a vote and say in this leadership election.

Yet again my message to all of those New Labour factions around Blair and Brown is to lighten up and let democracy work. Let's have an open and friendly debate and a democtratic election. An election with a smile on its face. A bit of maturity and dignity wouldn't go amiss.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

More endorsements

Just another quick message to let you know that we've added more endorsements to the website.

I'd like to thank my colleagues Diane Abbott MP and Bob Wareing MP for their messages of support.

I was also delighted to read Kevin Maguire's kind words about the campaign in today's Mirror.

Once again, all of my thanks to everyone who has sent in messages in support of this grassroots campaign. Looking through the list of endorsements, it's clear that we're building a real movement right across the party, the labour movement, and the country. Because of this campaign, huge numbers of people have either joined or rejoined the party in the past few months.

If you want to endorse the campaign, drop us an email and we'll include your message on the website!

Government Blocks Pensions Vote

According to the Government's own figures 2 million pensioners live in poverty in our country. 25,000 died last winter as a result of cold related conditions. In a survey last year 4 out of 10 elderly people arriving at accident and emergency hospitals were found to be malnourished.

A major cause of this suffering is poverty. As Age Concern stated today "the pension is simply not enough to live on". This has largely been caused by Thatcher's policy of cutting the link between rises in earnings and pensions in 1980. Since then a pensioner has lost over £50 a week in pension.

After waging a ten year campaign, pensioners organisations, trade unions and Labour Party members at long last persuaded Gordon Brown to commit to restoring the link with earnings. However he has said that he would only restore the link in 2012 at the earliest based upon his judgement then of its "affordability and the fiscal position" and if necsessary only by 2015. The pensioners groups pointed out to him that 3 million pensioners will have died by then. They need help now!

Today in support of the National Pensioners Convention and many other pensioners campaigning groups I tabled amendments to the Government's Pensions Bill to restore the link with earnings and to increase the basic state pension to the level of the pension credit. The aim was to raise the basic pension and to lift people off means tested benefits. Already nearly 40% of pensioners do not claim the means tested benefits they are entitled to and these benefits are 10 times more expensive to administer.

By guillotining the Pensions Bill debate and having ministers talk at length on other issues the Government made sure that these amendments were not even debated and not voted on. So Gordon Brown got his way and an increase in pensions and the restoration of the earnings link were blocked.

It shouldn't be that after 10 years of a Labour government so many of our pensioners live in poverty. This is not acceptable in the fifth largest economy in the world and when last week it was revealed that the Chief Executives of the top 100 FTSE companies earn an average £6 million a year.

Today we could have helped a large number of our pensioners out of poverty.

New Labour stopped us.

Supporting Labour in the elections on May 3rd

May 3rd presents the biggest electoral challenge for Labour since we came to power in 1997. Despite the hard work and proud record of our Labour representatives, the media are predicting we will continue to haemorrhage seats in Scotland, Wales, and in town halls across Britain.

Local Labour candidates are not responsible for the unpopular policies the government is pursuing. They are doing their best to provide high quality services to their residents within a difficult framework.

Failing to return Labour candidates in Scotland, Wales, and in town halls across Britain will not affect government policy. Liberal Democrats and Greens have been calling on voters to "send a message" to Tony Blair in every election since 1997, and no amount of lost seats has or will change his mind on anything. The way to change Labour party policy is to join our campaign and work within the Labour movement for change.

I have written to local papers across the country, encouraging readers to ignore the distraction of national issues and instead to judge Labour representatives on their local record.

I will be also be travelling up to Scotland and Wales to help Labour candidates in their campaigns. I will be helping Elaine Smith in Scotland (20-21 April), and Sue Lent in Wales (30 April). They are both strong candidates with a fantastic record of standing up for working class people. They are both consistent and vocal opponents of the war in Iraq.

I am delighted to be able to report that a group of young people from the Socialist Youth Network have already organised a group of supporters travelling to Wales on the 30th. If you can, please take a day off work to help in Wales or Scotland . Contact Tim or Jacqui in the campaign office for more details of how you can help.

My key policies for local government include:

  • Direct investment in new and existing council housing - implement the consistent decisions of Labour Party Conference on the 4 th Option.
  • Stop the disreputable Academies programme. Enable local authorities to promote new non-selective community schools.
  • An end to privatisation of local services. Abolish the lucrative secondary market in public/private deals and allow proper public sector funding for capital projects, including new schools, public transport and renewable energy schemes.
  • Restore financial autonomy - replace council tax and non-domestic rates with a locally-set annual Land Value Tax.
  • Give councils a genuine choice of constitutional arrangements.

Thank you for all your hard work so far, and please continue recruiting new members to the party, lobbying your MPs and distributing our leaflets.

Monday 16 April 2007

New endorsements

We've just added a new round of endorsements of the campaign - click on the endorsements page to see them.

I want to thank everybody for their kind words. As we keep saying, this is a grassroots campaign and I hope that the endorsements reflect that.

If you want to send in a message of support for the campaign to go up on the endorsements page, email us at

We'll be adding more endorsements very soon, so keep coming back!

New videos

Just a quite note to let you know we've added more videos, including a few speeches I've made out on the campaign trail which flesh out some of the policies I stand for. See the video section for more details. Why not post a video on your website or blog and get the message out there?

Thursday 12 April 2007

New Labour Leadership Plotting Deteriorates into Farce

I have just read the Guardian report that the Blairite faction around Milburn are still pressing Miliband to stand in the leadership election and intend to nominate him to force his hand. Their fall back stalking horse is Charles Clarke. At the same time David Miliband continues to play the role of the blushing innocent whilst in recent weeks has taken every opportunity to tour round tv studios and lunch with an exhausting list of newspaper editors and politics correspondents.

This puerile plotting within the different New Labour factions is making the Labour Party look ridiculous. The whole leadership election is deteriorating into farce and is beginning to look more like a student union election than a serious democratic process for determining the future leader of our party and our country.

I am calling on all these New Labour playground plotters to start behaving with some dignity and to think about the effect they are having on Labour's election campaigns in Scotland, Wales and local government.

The electorate don't mind a party having a proper political debate, in fact as we saw with the Conservative and Lib Dem leadership elections, they quite enjoy it if it takes place in an open and friendly atmosphere. What people don't like is the behind the scenes backbiting and plotting that New Labour factions around Brown, Milburn and Miliband are subjecting us to at the moment.

Let's demonstrate the political maturity of having an open, friendly and dignified election with a range of candidates representing the breadth of views within the broad church of our party.

Wednesday 11 April 2007

The Red Cross Report on Iraq Confirms our Worst Fears but Questions need to be asked about Britain's Role Elsewhere.

Today's Red Cross report on conditions in Iraq confirmed our worst fears about what Iraqis are experiencing on a daily basis. The report stands in complete contrast to the spin we receive from Ministers. A stark example of how bad it is for ordinary Iraqis is that when asked what would most improve the quality of their lives, Iraqi parents responded by appealing to the authorities to at least remove the dead bodies from outside their homes each day so that their children did not have to continue to see the corpses on the streets decomposing. The consequences of the war initiated by Blair but funded by Brown will live with the Iraqi people and ourselves for generations. And yet Blair and Brown still continue to justify it.

It isn't just in Iraq that Britain's foreign policy is contributing to deaths and lives blighted by physical injury, torture and fear. New Labour's Britain supplies miltary aid to the brutal Columbian regime, whose senior miltary commanders have recently been exposed as having direct links with the drugs trade.

The Justice for Colombia Campaign has revealed that over 500 trade unionists have been killed since the regime of President Uribe came to power in 2002 and this year is set to be even bloodier than the last. The Colombian military continues to work with paramilitary death squads with total impunity and murders, torture and disappearances of opposition leaders, trade unionist students and campaigners are still everyday occurrences.

So when MPs and Trade Union General Secretaries appear on platforms opposing the war and the occupation of Iraq and calling for human rights in places like Colombia, just ask the questions:

How is it that in the election for Labour leader you can advocate support for Gordon Brown, joint leader of the present New Labour administration, that has perpetrated this war and supported with aid the brutal, murderous regime of Uribe?

How can you proclaim your peace and progressive credentials when your aim is to install Brown and his team of courtiers into office, the very people whose actions have brought about this brutality and terror on the populations of Iraq and Colombia?

Monday 9 April 2007

After More Deaths in Iraq How Can Anyone who Voted for the War Think They Can Now be Entrusted with the Future of our Party and Country?

I find it deeply ironic that media commentaries are filled with outrage over the selling of the stories of the military personnel captured by the Iranians and yet in a week when more British soldiers are killed and a new round of suicide bombings claims the lives of more Iraqis there is no outrage being vented at those who took us into this disastrous war.

Quite the reverse in fact, the media is currently gearing the country up to accepting as innevitable as their next Prime Minister not only one of those Members of Parliament who voted for this disaster but someone who also wholeheartedly supported the war by delivering the funds needed to prosecute this military aggression.

It is now widely accepted that the decision to implicate Britain in the invasion of Iraq was the most catastrophic foreign policy mistake since Suez. And yet the media only accepts as serious candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party a series of Ministers and ex Ministers, such as Miliband and Clarke, who voted consistently for the war and still support it.

In the light of the 655,000 Iraqi deaths and over 130 British soldiers killed I find it incredulous that anyone who voted for this dreadful act of brutal folly could even consider putting their name forward to lead our Party and country.

The only hope the rump of the New Labour elite has is that Blair can be blamed solely for the war in Iraq and that on his departure their collective guilt will be lifted.

Blair may well have been the originator of the deal to back up Bush's invasion plans but let's be clear every Member of that Cabinet and every Minister had the same choice as Robin Cook. That was to go along with supporting the war or alternatively to stand up for what was right even if it did mean resigning from office and the loss of career.

Those that put career before principle bear responsibility for the consequences of this war and every tragedy that visits itself on both Iraqi and British families.

How can any of them after their behaviour over this critical issue now think that they should be entrusted with the future of our party and country?

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Gordon Brown's Real Pensions Mistake

Just back from an excellent meeting last night in Mansfield. I thought that in the midst of the continuing media furore over Gordon Brown's pensions policies it is important to understand what Gordon Brown's real mistake over pensions has been over the last ten years.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has come under attack for his early tax hit in his first budget on private pensions. Ed Balls then drops him in it by trying to defend Brown's position by explaining Gordon was only following orders, ie the CBI's orders.

The mistake Brown made was not the removal of an element of tax allowances on private pensions. The real issue is that in implementing a policy which was bound to contribute to the reduction in value of these pensions he failed to improve the basic state pension to compensate.

The pensions con of the last three decades is described very succinctly in an excellent booklet published last year by Professor Prem Sikka and Austin Mitchell, entited "Pensions Crisis:A Failure of Public Policymaking." Throughout this period large numbers of people were persuaded/cajoled into joining private pension schemes, taking out endowment policies and using various other financial instruments to protect them in retirement.

Fortunes were made in the city and employers then got even greedier and increased their profits and share dividends by taking "pensions holidays," ie just not keeping up with their side of the pensions contributions. Tax incentives were provided to drive more and more people into the hands of the pensions industry. As always the bulk of these tax benefits went to the better paid.

This was always going to be a risky business because the eventual pension payouts were at the mercy of the performance of the stock market. When the markets caught a heavy cold from the dot com boom and bust, plus various other market crises, the pension values started to collapse.

The reason for the anger of some pensioners and the media at Brown is that his tax hike made some contribution to the undermmining of the value of the pensions, no matter how insignificant this may have been in the context of the crashing market.

The real criticism we should have of the Chancellor's pensions policy is not that he removed a small element of the preferential tax treatment of private pensions but that whilst he was doing this he did virtually nothing to protect pensioners by increasing the value of the basic state pension and restoring the link with earnings.
The Government can reddress this failure by supporting my amendments to the Pensions Bill on 18th April, which restore the link between pensions and earnings immediately.

The state pension is the most secure and most efficient method of providing security in old age. It is not subject to the vagaries of the market and it pools the resources not just of the country overall but also across generations.

By the way being in Mansfield, in what was one of the biggest coal mining areas in the country, I was remind by retired miners that Gordon Brown is not averse himself to the policy of dipping into people's pension funds. Miners over generations through their contributions built up a significant pension fund in the belief that this money would be used to provide retiring miners with a decent pension. When I worked for the NUM part of my job was to assist in negotiating this pension scheme. Many miners are now very angry that they are not seeing the full benefits of their contributions because the Chancellor has allowed the Government to dilute the fund and in this way restrict the retirement benefits retired miners receive.

Billy Etherington, the Miners' MP, has worked hard with the NUM to raise this issue. He has my support and I will do all I can to obtain retirement justice for the miners.