Saturday 30 June 2007

Bring on the Constitution

The new Cabinet has met to discuss proposals for a new constitutional convention to include a Bill of Rights. Brown will make a statement in the House of Commons on Monday to announce the start of a process towards a constitutional convention

This is a welcome step and we should all look forward to constructively engaging in the debate around the new constitutional convention - something for which we have been arguing for some time.

We need to empower people so that they have enforceable social rights to healthcare, housing and welfare provision. This means restoring legal aid so that everyone has access to the courts. It means reversing the authoritarian drift under Blair. It means industrial democracy, and the same rights for British workers that are enjoyed by our European counterparts.

Ultimately this constitutional convention must mean a thorough-going democratisation of our society, leaving behind the tokenistic language of choice, and replacing it with rights.

As I wrote in Another World is Possible:

"We need a new constitutional settlement for the 21st century. This should focus on developing a dynamic and explicit democratic framework of positive civil, social and political rights. These would create the opportunities for people to take more control of their lives and determine the quality of the world they live in."

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Withdrawal from Iraq should be new PM's first act

Last night I tabled an EDM in the House of Commons calling on the new Prime Minister to make the withdrawal of troops from Iraq his first priority.

The loss of life of Iraqis and British soldiers has caused so much heart-rending suffering. It would be a significant start to his period in office if the new Prime Minister set a timetable for withdrawal.

This would be a radical break from the Blair era and reflect the majority opinion of both the Party and the country. It would also demonstrate that he had listened to the views of our people.

I was glad to see that my good comrade Jeremy Corbyn managed to raise Iraq again at Blair's final Prime Minister questions today. Whether he likes it or not this is his legacy, and Brown would be well-advised to make his the withdrawal from this horrific situation.

EDM 1777: Withdrawal of British troops from Iraq

That this House calls upon the new Prime Minister to announce as his first act in office a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Co-ordinated Industrial Action against Pay Cuts, Privatisation and Job Cuts on the Cards.

I have just got back from speaking at the RMT annual conference in Edinburgh. I remember the derisory comments of some in the Labour Party and in the trade unions when Bob Crow was elected RMT General Secretary and his Executive Committee developed the union's campaigning approach to recruitment, training and representation of its members.

The media went to town on personal attacks on Bob and abuse of the union.

There is no doubt that the RMT is a fighting union. It forcefully stands up for its members and is usually the first to come to aid other unions or campaigns in their struggles both in this country and interantionally.

The result is a union that in only a few years has increased its membership by nearly 50% and has secured for its members increases in pay, improved employment conditions and protection of their pensions at a time when all of these have been under attack across industry.

Such anger has built up across the movement over pay cuts and privatisation job cuts that in the coming months a range of other unions will be at the forefront of protecting the jobs and living statndards of their members. This Friday I will be joining the CWU picket lines as postal workers take action tio protect their jobs and our postal service. Through the summer and into an autumn of discontent PCS, Unison, GMB, Unite, NUT and UCU will all be either preparing for or taking action against cuts in their members pay and further rounds of privatisation.

It is becomimg starkly clear that if co-ordinated action could be achieved their individual campaigns would be irresistable. RMT lead the way today by announcing that the planned rail strike could be coincided with a CWU strike day.

The incoming Prime Minister needs to be aware that his imposition of a three year pay cut for public service workers and his contnuing privatisation of their jobs will haunt him all the way up to the next election unless a change in policy takes place. The feel I get from trade union conference after conference is that public sector workers will only be pushed so far.

Monday 25 June 2007

Brown Moves Against Trade Unions

Gordon Brown's first act in his relations with the Labour and trade union movement is to announce that he intends to scrap the trade union vote in policy making at Labour Party conference.

Jon Cruddas and the Compass group initially started this dangerous hare running with their proposals to cut the trade unions' percentage share of the vote at conference. Brown has taken this to its logical conclusion with his proposal of a total removal of the right of trade unions to vote on policy decisions.

This is a real kick in the teeth for all those trade union general secretaries who loyally nominated Brown to the leadership of the party.

Many will now be wondering if this is a the reward for their loyalty what hope is their of exercising any influence on the key issues of public sector pay cuts, privatisation, and trade union rights.

As a complete aside for those media watchers amongst you, you may have noticed that the Guardian editorial team are up to their old tricks again. I appeared on the Guardian Unlimited website last night commenting on the low turnout and outcome of the deputy leadership election, but true to all past form, by this morning the political editors had got to work and any reference to my name was removed.

The lesson - we have to make ouur own media and the web and blogosphere is as good as any. Spread the message.

Sunday 24 June 2007

Leadership Elections: First Reactions

This is the press release we put out this afternoon soon after the announcement of the Brown coronation and deputy leadership election results.

"Low Turnout Demonstrates Members Resentment at Lack of Leadership Election."

"Harman Victory as Deputy Evidences Effectiveness of Brown Machine Politics."

Commenting on the results of the elections for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, former leadership candidate, John McDonnell said "The very low turnout amongst party members and trade unionists is a clear demonstration to Gordon Brown of the scale of resentment amongst our supporters at being denied a vote in a real leadership election. The election of Gordon Brown's own candidate to the deputy leadership evidences little other than the effectiveness of the machine poitics associated with the Brown camp but even Harriet Harman had to posture to the Left on the issues of Iraq, trade union rights and council housing in order to secure victory."

Ronan Bennett's article in today's Observer summed up for many their views on what a real leadership election debate could and should have concentrated on. These real world issues were largely ignored in the Gordon Brown tour and the deputy leadership hustings leading up to today's coronation. However they won't go away and neither will those socialists in our movement who are intent on addressing them.

Saturday 23 June 2007

Brown Intervenes in EU Summit to Protect Neo Liberalism

For all those who still had any illusions about Gordon Brown's accession to the Labour Party throne being a move back to Labour's mainstream, tonight's intervention by Brown into the EU summit should certainly clear matters up.

The Brown spin doctors are briefing that Brown demeaningly ordered Blair back to the summit negotiating table to hold the line on a key issue.

What was this critical issue which so alarmed Brown?

Was it concern over the EU attempting to prevent a Labour government intervening in the economy to protect jobs or protect public services or extend trade union rights?

No, true to his neo liberal philosophy, the reason Brown demanded Blair go back into the negotiating room and dig his heals in was because he was fearful that the French were undemining the free market. He was angry that Sarkozy of all people was seeking to "dilute" the operation of free competition in the EU market.

Many in the Labour Party and trade unions, especially those who nominated him, just don't get it about Brown and where he is coming from.

Brown is deeply ideological and his ideology is solidly neo liberal, with an absolute dedication to the operation of the free market. Hence his obsessions with privatisation, flexible labour, pay restraint for workers, tax cuts for businesses and restrictions on trade union rights.

If Brown's starting point is to the right of Sarkozy, I warn you, we haven't seen anything yet.

Thursday 21 June 2007

Coalition Government

All through the last 6 weeks of hustings and Gordon Brown speeches I can't remember any mention of inviting Lib Dems into the Cabinet and in effect forming a coalition government. I must have missed it somewhere along the line.

Let's be clear Gordon Brown has no mandate whatever for a coalition with the Liberals. Politiccal parties are elected on the basis of their manifestoes being placed before the electorate. If a leader of a party wishes to enter into a coalition with another political party then that proposition should be democratically determined in an election.

Gordon Brown may have mentioned wanting a Government of all the talents but at no stage in his speeches to meetings of party members during the leadership process has he ever suggested a coalition with the Liberals. He should have had the decency to consult his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party on such significant matters of principle. I believe that many would have been more circumspect in giving him their support if they knew these were his plans.

I have tabled today a Early Day Motion in Parliament as follows;

"That this House holds to the view that under the British system of open democracy, Governments are formed after the people have been given the oportunity to express their wishes through the ballot box at a general election; and therefore considers that no form of coalition government should be established without the people being given the right to have a say in a general election."

Attempts at behind the scenes secret deals and ignoring the party and the PLP does not bode well for the style of government we are to expect after Wednesday. This type of old politics will just alienate more of our supporters and put even more people off politics generally.

Wednesday 20 June 2007

The Real World Intruding on Coronation

Over the last week I have been out there speaking at various meetings including Saturday's Morning Star successful conference on "Politics After Blair,", the standing room only "Public Services Not Private Profit" Campaign meeting and the Broad Left fringe meeting at Unison conference, last night's RMT Cuba Solidarity night and today's packed RMT seminar in Parliament on the future of the railways.

What they all had in common was that they reflected the issues and concerns of people living in the real world. At Unison conference the real world means the next wave of privatisation of its members' jobs and this year's pay cut. For the RMT the real world means demonstrating solidarity with the people of Cuba in preventing the US blockade undermining their economy and also for RMT's rail workers the real world means dealing with the chaotic consequences of a privatised railway.

Representatives from PCS spoke at the Unison meetings and explained that the real world for their members meant 100,000 job cuts, a wage round of pay cuts, a continuous process of new privatisations and now the introduction of local pay rates linked to local labour market conditions.

Has the real world permeated into Gordon Brown's speeches at the Labour party hustings or into the Deputy Leadership statements for that matter? In Brown's case of course not. With the Deputy Leader candidates, some real world issues have been raised but it is difficult to take seriously any of them as they have all for last ten years been supporting the very New Labour policies which have privatised services, cuts jobs and undermined wages and conditions in the public sector. I have to say that I smile at the greatest irony which is to listen to the deputy leadership candidates pronounce on the vital need for restoring democracy to the party when they all refused to nominate to allow a democratic leadership election and some actively intervened to prevent nominations securing a leadership election.

Over the coming weeks and months Labour MPs, the media and many others will be falling over themselves to celebrate the glorious first 100 days of the new Prime Minister. However in time the real world will innevitably intrude. For Unison members, no matter how hard the Unison leadership seeks to prevent it, Unison members will want to take action to protect their jobs and living standards. PCS members with the full backing of their union's leadership have already recognised that there is no other way but to stand up and fight. CWU members have clearly taken the same view.

Each of these campaigns deserve our fullest support and I will do all I can to back these trade unionists whether in Parliament or on the picket line. Each campaign could be strengthened greatly if action was co-ordinated across the disputes to maximise their impact and to secure an early settlement.

The secret discovered by the first trade unionists was that their strength came through solidarity. At a time when Gordon Brown has put the whole of the welfare state under threat of privatisation and pay cuts there is no more important time to remember the lesson of solidarity.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

The struggles continue

Yesterday, I took part in a radio debate on private equity following the news that Ford may be selling Jaguar and Land Rover to private equity firms.

The evidence is mounting against Private Equity firms, from the GMB's excellent report at the beginning of the month, to the Work Foundation's report earlier in the year which described private equity as "one of 21st century capitalism's most virulent new forms". There is clear trend when private equity management teams take over there are job cuts averaging 20%, pay rates go down, and as the GMB report showed often leads to companies being debt laden and pension funds going insolvent.

I've seen this first hand with the Gate Gourmet dispute, and earlier this year with NCP workers in Enfield. It is low paid workers who suffer so that obscene profits can be made by these private equity giants. I tabled EDM 1675 to highlight concerns about this potential sale of Jaguar and Land Rover and calling on the Government to intervene so that these workers do not suffer the same fate.

I also spoke today in an adjournment debate on Remploy factory closures, and am a sponsor of Linda Riordan's EDM 1583 opposing the closures. I called on the Minister to bring together the management and unions - who have done excellent work in proposing an alternative strategy, and of keeping MPs informed of their struggle to keep workplaces open for a very vulnerable group of workers.

I offer my solidarity to these campaigns.

Monday 11 June 2007

Next Steps Discussion

Second apology. I haven't blogged for over a week as I took half term off to be with my family and play constant football, tennis, swimming and cricket with my eleven year old.

After that I have had quite a bit of constituency work to be catching up on. I am holding two advice surgeries every week, with additional home visits, individual casework meetings and an intensive round of local community meetings. I describe myself as a community MP and we describe our work as a local party as community socialism. This involves creating an active base of local community democracy and thus engaging people in determining the future of their street, their school, their park, and anything to do with their local area. For example I convene an annual community conference for all local community groups in our constituency and we have promoted the development of an extensive network of local community organisations, and groups representing the wide range of different sections of our community.

It is really important for MPs to be rooted in their local communities if they genuinely want to represent their constituency.

Returning to the question of what next for the Left after the leadership election campaign, I spoke at the Briefing Fringe meeting at the Compass conference with Tony Benn and Christine Shawcroft on Saturday. The fringe meeting was very well attended but it sounds like the overall attendance at the Compass conference wasn't as large as the organisers had hoped for.This may reflect in part the response to the leadership election being prevented.

Nevertheless our fringe was upbeat and people reflected what I have found in most other meetings I have spoken to over the last couple of weeks which is a real determination to get stuck into political debate and campaigning. There is a strange contrast between the way in which party members attending conferences and meetings like Saturdays are addressing events in the real world whilst the Gordon Brown tour and the deputy leadership election seem almost cut off from events like the looming postal strike, Remply closures, job and pay cuts in the civil service provoking large scale industrial action, and tragically another military death in Afghanistan and more civilian deaths in Iraq.

I went on to the meeting of the National Executive Committee of the LRC. This was not a post mortem on the leadership campaign but much more an intensive discussion of the next steps for the Left. What came out of this discussion was an agreement on the need to maintain the momentum created by the campaign. Lots of ideas were thrown into the discussion with a core agreement that we should now launch a fairly extensive campaign tour of meetings around the country to engage people in the Labour and trade union movement but also more importantly the wider community in a discussion based upon my booklet "Another World is Possible - A Manifesto for 21st Century Socialism." Of course this campaigning approach would include the use of the web and blogs and link up with the various campaigns currently taking place or breaking out on a range of issues over the coming period.

The aim is to plan meetings over the next 12 months across England, Scotland and Wales, attracting people into the political debate that they were effectively denied by the prevention of a leadership election. By being as inclusive as possible the objective is to use this campaigning approach not just to discuss the political issues facing us but also to enable people to participate in the activities of the Left in whatever way they find accessible and effective for them. For some this will be through the Labour Party or for others through the Labour Representative Committee or for others by being connected and associated with the Left more generally. The key issue is to use whatever method is best suited to enable people to participate in the activities of the Left and to establish these structures and mechanisms right the way across the country.

We need as many ideas as possible flowing in on the activities people feel should be undertaken over the next period. Let me know what you think and also any ideas on how this campaign could be fully resourced.