Thursday 30 August 2007

New web address

This is just a quick note to let you know that the web address of this blog is now: If you've got a website, I hope that you'll consider linking to the website.

If you want to get in touch with me, my email address is

I'm looking forward to reading your comments and contributions!

Brown's Pay Policy: "Pay Discipline" for Public Sector Workers, Bonuses for Financiers and Chief Executives.

The Prison Officers have led the way in expressing the frustration of public sector workers at the way they have been treated by the Brown administration on pay, working conditions and privatiastion. The Government's pay policy has been dictated by Gordon Brown throughout the last ten years. Brown has based the latest pay round on effective pay cuts for public sector workers wiith below inflation pay awards whilst at the same time turning a blind eye to the excesses of gigantic pay rises and bonuses for chief executives, directors and city speculators.

This morning as the strike by prison officers forces pay talks with Jack Straw, Gordon Brown has demanded "pay discipline" by public sector workers. At the same time the Guardian earnings survey exposes the huge gap between the income of chief executives and the wages of their workers which has opened up under Brown's supervision of the economy.

Take just a few examples: Giles Thorley, chief executive of Punch Taverns, now has a salary package of £11,276,000 which is 1,148 times the average wages of his workers of £9,821. How about Tesco's chief executive whose salary is £4.6 million which is 415 times his average worker earning £11,000.

The Brown pay strategy for the coming period is fairly obvious. The aim is to control any inflationary pressures in the economy by restricting public sector pay overall and where there is union resistance to buy off individual unions with minute concessions, particularly to unions where Brown sees soft leaderships or where a strike would be impossible for the Government to withstand.

Above all else Brown sees that he must prevent a united front from building across the unions on pay because this could demonstrate what co-ordinated action could do on other issues such as privatisation and trade union rights. That is why everything is being done both to work with the UNISON leadership to deter UNISON members from supporting industrial action and also to prevent a policy of effective co-ordinated action across the public sector being achieved at the TUC in a fortnight. It is a classic divide and rule strategy, with the added objective of seeking to isolate PCS, the largest civil servants union.

The lessons for the trade union movement are obvious. The POA has shown the way. Strength, determination and solidarity are what is needed now.

John McDonnell MP

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Prison Officers' Dispute is Tip of Iceberg of Public Sector Workers' Discontent.

The industrial action taken by members of the Prison Officers Association should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the dire straits of industrial relations in the prison service. The trigger for today's dispute is the Government's decision to refuse to honour the Pay Review Body's pay award of 2.5% and instead to insist that the payment be staged resulting in prison officers receiving less than the rate of inflation and significantly less than other assessments of the real rise in the cost of living.

The depth of anger amongst POA members can be gauged by the 87% vote in favour of the industrial action in its recent ballot. It is completely understandable why are they angry.

In 1993 the the Tory Government took away the POA's right to strike. Despite commitments from Labour in opposition that this issue would be addressed, the New Labour Government refused to restore the right to take industrial action to the POA and instead established the Pay Review Body process to determine future pay awards. Any attempt by the POA to take industrial action remains outlawed under this Government and the President and General Secretary of the POA have regularly found themselves being threatened with legal action for what in other sectors of public service would be seen as normal trade union activities.

Hounded by further rounds of privatisation, under pressure from a dramatic increase in the prison population and with a £60 million savings exercise threatening less staff to cope, morale amongst prison officers is reported to be at rock bottom. Warnings are being made that the prison service is under the same pressure that resulted in the riots that saw prisons burning in 1990.

The Government has refused to meet with the POA to discuss its concerns and to resolve this dispute. As Secretary of the Justice Unions'Parliamentary Group I have emailed Jack Straw's (Secretary of State for the Ministry for Justice) office today to urge him to meet the POA to listen to their worries and seek a settlement to this dispute. The POA just want justice for its members.

The POA's dispute is just the tip of the iceberg of the discontent that there is amongst public sector workers at the way they have been treated on pay, pensions, and privatisation by a Government most of them voted into office.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

The Brown Bounce:The Rich Get Richer and Vietnam Style Retreat in Iraq.

There should be an outpouring of anger within the Labour Party and trade union movement at next month's TUC and Labour Party conference and within our wider society at the headlines in our papers this week.

It was revealed today that city bonuses have hit a record £14 billion, an increase of 30%. Most will go to a small number of City speculators, with one group of hedge fund managers receiving £200 million to £250 million each. To ensure that the super rich can maximise their incomes Gordon Brown cut corporation tax in his last budget and still refuses to tackle tax avoidance by the so-called non domiciles.

Under Brown's tax regime the Tax Justice Campaign estimates that every year between £90 billion and £150 billion is not collected as a result of tax avoidance and new figures published today report that nearly one third of companies are not paying any corporation tax at all.

Is it any wonder that under the financial management of our economy by Gordon Brown inequality has increased and social mobility has ground to a halt?

Whilst in London the financial speculators are able to pursue a life style of obscene conspicuous spending, working class young men and women continue to lose their lives and shed their blood in a Vietnam style retreat on the roads of Iraq simply to save the faces of the politicians and generals who placed them in this danger.

I was asked the other day why I was so angry at the political situation when we were experiencing such a Brown bounce in the polls. Angry, yes, I am angry. Angry at every death in Iraq and Afghanistan. Angry at the super rich getting richer when we still have 100,000 of our families homeless, when 3 million of our children and 2 million of our pensioners still live in poverty and furious that the Government denies treatment costing £2.50 a day to Alzheimers sufferers when we learn that city bonuses have meant that there is a 5 year waiting list for Rolls Royces and the super rich are experiencing the trauma of not being able to recruit sufficient crew for their yachts.

It is about time more of us got angry.

Saturday 25 August 2007

Brown Economics:Highest Profits but Lowest Pay Settlements

Inequality not only disfigures our society but also produces the insecurity, consumerism, alienation, crime and antisocial behaviour that are now endemic in 21st century Britain. It is produced by Government policies which allow the market to let rip whilst restraining the ability of workers to increase their incomes by denyimg them effective trade union rights and by imposing pay cuts in the public sector.

Today's Office for National Statistics survey of economic activity confirms that whilst profits in British companies are increasing at the fastest rate since Labour was elected in 1997 the wages of workers are rising at their slowest pace since 2002. The ONS demonstrates that profits have grown by 16.2%, in the latest quarter of the year, the best since 1994, whilst wages rose by only 3.6%, the worst in 5 years.

It is predicted that the annual excecutive pay survey will show this week that company directors' pay continues to soar, increasing the gap between executive pay and the wages of ordinary employees. This confirms the trend that has seen executive pay rise by nearly 300% since 1993, seven times the rate of the average workers pay.

Since he became leader Gordon Brown's public relations strategy has been based upon the same old Blairite New Labour process of triangulation. Take an issue on which you have failed or are being attacked, create a fanfare around change to seize the critics' territory and undermine any criticism whilst actually barely moving and in fact staying on your original underlying course.

I am never surprised that this strategy works with large sections of the media, as their politics are largely New Labour/Tory and will naturally swing behind their best bet to retain the status quo. I am amazed at times though at the gullibility of elements within the Labour and Trade Union Movement who consistently fall for it. In their desperation to see the back of Blair many in our movement so hoped for change that the slightest nod by Brown in the direction of change is seen as evidence of a radical break with the past. It is becoming increasingly like a version of "The Life of Brian" as people desperately chase for evidence of miracles to prove the arrival of the new messiah.

Today's statistics on the widening gap in pay between many of the already super rich and the average wages of workers, most of whom are struggling with high debt, demonstrate the realities of Gordon Brown's neo liberalism. This is the society his economic policies over the last 10 years have created, a society more unequal than at any time since the second world war, our public services increasingly privatised to facilitate profiteering and a dog eat dog market ethos so inherent that many believe community cohesion is strained to breaking point.

There is an alternative and over the coming period it is our responsibility on the Left to bring together all those who are interested in undertaking the detailed work of developing in all their complexity the detailed policies to create that alternative

Thursday 23 August 2007

We Have Failed to Respond Effectively to The Violence in Our Society.

Like any parent my biggest fear is of anything happening to my children. The news of the shooting of that poor little 11 year boy old killed in Liverpool last night was heartrending.

No matter what the statistics may say about falling crime, tragedies like this and all the other young deaths over this last year bring home the reality of the violence and harshness that can be encountered by children in the society we now live in.

Leading politicians, the media and many commentators appear perplexed at the scale of violence that exists within our community and have been seizing on a wide variety of causes ranging from family breakdown, the accessibility and cheapness of alcohol,the expansion of drug use, the growth of gang culture to the lack of role models for young people.

Over the last five years policy analysis and policy development seem to be trapped in a circular debate which includes at the same time both largely failing attempts at social policy interventions and an overwhelmingly failing penal policy.

And yet all the research evidence from experts such as Richard Wilkinson, Danny Dorling and many others is clearly pointing to the association between increasing inequality, increasing breakdown of social cohesion and subsequently increasing violent crime and social harm.

In virtually every opinion poll over the last decade crime has been placed in the top three of people's concerns. Fear of crime is across all social classes but it is the poorest who suffer from crime the most.

People earnestly want solutions.

It is our responsibility now to set the tenure of the debate that will now follow this week's tragedy. A debate that needs to be about the society we want to live in and how we tackle the causal factors of inequality, the loss of power in communities to effect change and the loss of a sense of social solidarity which contribute to violence in our society.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

We Must Mobilise like The Climate Change Camp to Demand British Withdrawal from Iraq Now.

As the Climate Change Campers pack up and leave my constituency I just want to say thank you to them for the immense contribution they have made to our campaign against the expansion of Heathrow. More importantly I want to thank them not just for increasing our awareness of the link between the expansion of aviation and climate change but also for raising our consciousness about how social movements can be brought into existence and how they can mobilise effectively.

For one of the key lessons of the Climate Change Camp is that when the political system is ignoring us and failing to represent us, social movements, widespread coalition forming, creative protest and direct action are once again the effective tools for change for the committed but disenfranchised.

As we hear of another British soldier dieing in Iraq and large numbers of Iraqis themselves being killed in almost daily barbarity surely now is the time to demand the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq now.

Every rational person from senior generals to the squaddie in Basra now knows that the military adventure of Iraq has been a bloody, life-devasting, disastrous mistake. British soldiers are now under such attack that they are largely pinned down in their fortified bases serving as sitting targets for attack by insurgents. Even where areas are handed over to the Iraqis we can't even guarantee the safety of the Governor of the province as exemplified by the recent assasination.

Gordon Brown must know the game is up. Having supported, argued for and funded the war he is impicated fully in this fiasco. The least he can do is accept that the situation is irretrievable and order the withdrawal of British troops. At present he is either dithering or is for waiting for the best public relations opportunity to move withdrawal forward without appearing to lose face.

Too many lives are being lost and too much suffering is taking place to wait for a face saving public relations strategy to be rolled out.

British forces should be withdrawn now and if we have to take to the streets again to achieve this let's start organising the demonstrations now.

Monday 20 August 2007

Heathrow Climate Camp Success

Yesterday's Climate Change demonstrations against the expansion of Heathrow airport were an overwhelming success. For years in my area, which includes Heathrow, we have undertaken the hard slog of using all the usual means possible to prevent airport expansion and draw attention to the implications for our community, including petitions to Parliament, delegations to Ministers and Number 10, and a number of demonstrations.

Over the last decade there has been an awakening amongst local campaigners that airport expansion has a much wider impact on our environnment than on just a local neighbourhood and that the very future of our planet is being put at risk. The Climate Camp was the embodiment of the concept of acting locally but thinking globally.

The Camp and its demonstrations yesterday have put our issue on the world's media map. For virtually a month this issue has dominated the headlines in way our past campaigning has never before been able to achieve. The debate on the environmental impact of aviation has at long last begun in earnest. We are at that point in the debate that was reached over the car twenty years ago. The debate has begun and for that we should be grateful for the contribution made over the last week by the Climate Change Camp protestors.

The next stage in that debate will be the introduction of the forthcoming Climate Change Bill into Parliament in the next Parliamentary session. From the statements by Gordon Brown and various ministers there is little confidence that the Bill will be sufficiently radical to meet the urgency of the threat of climate change. The recent attempts by the Government not only to cover up its failure on promoting renewable energy but to undermine the limited measures introduced by local councils do not bode well for the seriousness of the Government's approach.

Over the coming weeks I will be doing all I can to assist in bringing together the broad based lobby that will be needed if we are to achieve amendments to the Climate Change Bill that reflect the urgency of our environmental crisis. No further expansion of Heathrow would be a simple and effective amendment.

More generally the Climate Camp protest has been just a further example of direct action and political activity which is based upon individuals and groups reasserting their ability to effect change and gain a voice beyond what many believe are discredited and increasingly undemmocractic traditional politics. There appears to be a social movement of protest asserting its coming into existence.

Traditional political structures are not seen as working for people and so activity is breaking out in a wide range of different forms ranging from a resurgence of industrial disputes to an increasing willingness to take direct action to have one's voice heard. Often ignored or sneered at by the traditional media direct and unfettered forms of communication are rapidly being developed and used freely and effectively. On issue by issue people can now judge whether and how to support a particular campaign in solidarity. Fluctuating coalitions are therefore being formed on an issue by issue basis.

The Left needs to recognise what's happening and get in the debate.

Sunday 19 August 2007

What a Day! Climate Camp Day Of Action and the Scottish Left Decides on Leadership Challenge

This looks like being quite a day.

I am off to join my constituents and supporters of the Climate Camp on a walk to mark out the length of the new runway at Heathrow which BAA and the Government are proposing. Our aim is to demonstrate just what local devastation will be caused to our local community. There will be a wide range of activities and protests over the next 24 hours. I have explained why I support the Climate Camp in an article on the Guardian's Comment is Free website. The Climate Camp has been committed throughout to peaceful and non violent action. BAA and elements within the media are desperate to sideline the issue of the impact of airport expansion with lurid headlines of protest violence, etc. Whatever happens today by way of activities and protests it is absolutely critical that the central message of the impact of airport expansion on local communities and on climate change is not lost.

In Scotland the Campaign for Socialism is meeting to discuss the leadership election in Scotland and whether the Left should seek to field a candidate. Some have referred to this as the "McDonnell moment" for the Scottish Left. As I explained in my last blog I believe the political circumstances in Scotland are significantly different from in England and the Labour Party overall.

This may be a "McDonnell moment" but it also smacks of being a "Rhodri Morgan moment." In Wales, people will recall, Alan Michael was imposed as the favoured candidate of Number 10 to lead the new Welsh Assembly; a puppet leader who was seen as being readily controllable by Westminster and someone who would not only would give the Prime Minister no problems but would enthusiatically follow the political line dictated in London. Labour Party members and trade unions reacted against this dictat by Number 10 and the rest is history.

The imposition of Wendy Alexander by Gordon Brown without a democratic election would be seen in exactly the same light as the Alan Michael fiasco and would be a political and electoral disaster for Labour in Scotland, offering Alec Salmond an open goal and alianating many of our supporters who want a say in the party's future. The Left fielding a candidate opens up a significant opportunity for socialists in Scotland not only to lead the policy debate but also potentially to lead the party.

Friday 17 August 2007

Nippon Express Dispute: Gate Gourmet All Over Again?

Two years on from the summer when the Gate Gourmet dispute broke out in my constituency a similar industrial dispute has been provoked at Nippon Express.

Just like Gate Gourmet Nippon Express is seeking to impose effectively a new contract of employment on a group of its workers.

The company is demanding that the workers work 44 days a year extra a year, overtime rates on Sunday are cut by 25%, shift pay is cut by £326 on day shifts and £512 night shifts, and the introduction of new working rosters resulting in wage cuts with some losing £1265 in shift pay.

On top of this the company is proposing an annual less than inflation wage settlement of 1.7%.

Another similarity with Gate Gourmet is that the union involved is the TGWU.

More interestingly and I suppose less of a coincidence is that the management involved in the chain of events leading to this dispute have come from Gate Gourmet!

The TGWU are urging the company to join it in an approach to ACAS to seek arbitration. I have written to the Managing Director of Nippon Express calling upon the company to agree to arbitration.

Neither the Labour and Trade Union movement nor the Government will want to see another Gate Gourmet but unless pressure is brought to bear on the company now to seek a negotiated settlement, that is exactly what is in prospect.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Left Must Challenge for the Leadership of Scottish Labour Party

On Sunday the Campaign for Socialism, the organised Labour and Trade Union Left in Scotland, meets to discuss whether there should be a Left candidate in the leadership election in Scotland now that Jack McConnell has announced he is off to a foreign posting in sunnier climes. The media have already taken it for granted that the election of Gordon Brown's candidate, Wendy Alexander, will be a virtual Brown-like coronation. In fact Alexander is using the same "clunking fist" strategy as Brown did himself by trying to sweep up as many nominations as soon as possible to prevent any opportunity for another candidate to secure sufficient nominations to stand.

It is clearly for the Scottish Left to decide whether to field a candidate and having failed to secure sufficient nominations to even get onto the Labour Party ballot paper against Brown I render advice with some trepidation. Nevertheless I urge the Left in Scotland to do all it can to secure an election and to promote a Left candidate.

The reasons are pretty straightforward. A Left leadership challenge would not only be in the interests of democracy within the Labour Party by giving rank and file members a say over the party's future it would also enable the Left to articulate an alternative political analysis and policy agenda to the programme developed by Alexander and New Labour in Scotland, which has so recently lost Labour control of the Scottish Executive.

The potential for success for the Left in Scotland is considerably greater than within the Labour Party in England. The argument that Gordon Brown controls Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party like some fiefdom no longer carries the same weight given the poor results of Scottish UK Parliamentary byelections whose campaigns he controlled and the party's performance in the Scottish Parliamentary elections which his people also ran.

There is also a real danger for the Labour party in Scotland if it is seen by the electorate that Brown is installing in effect a puppet regime in place, led by a puppet leader readily controlled from Number 10. You can see now the way Alex Salmond would ruthlessly exploit the installation of Brown's candidate, Wendy Alexnader, in position, especially without a deocratic election within the party.

In a Scottish leadership election the Left would have the added advantages that the trade unions are significantly more independent than in England, exemplified by the formal support from UNISON in Scotland for my own candidature; something that was rendered impossible in England by the UNISON leadership's close relationship to Brown.

The Labour Left centred around the Campaign for Socialism is well organised and has been successful in stimulating a broad based discussion around what socialism means in the modern Scottish setting. Members of CfS played a key role in the publication of "The Red Paper on Scotland" which is a quality piece of work setting out an interesting and hard nosed assessment of progress since the original Red Paper 30 years on, edited then by of all people a self proclaimed radical socialist called Gordon Brown.

The general political climate in Scotland is also sinficantly more radical and progressive than in England. The wider political and cultural debate in even the mainsteam media has a sharper radical edge than anything identifiable in the English media. Access to the broader media for the Left is also much easier which would enable a Left candidate much more effectively to articulate a Left analysis and policy agenda.

For all these reasons and many more I urge the Labour Left in Scotland to field a candidate in the forthcoming leadership election.

Naturally it will be for the Scottish comrades to decide who that candidate should be but this election will have a much wider significance for all the left in the UK and in the Labour Party overall. So very humbly I offer my own thoughts.

I can think of no better socialist, no better articulator of the socialist cause and nobody more principled and selflessly committed to our movement than Elaine Smith MSP. Elaine is one of those people who never thrust themselves forward for position and she will not thank me for suggesting her name but in some ways that is a real strength. We need candidates who can argue and campaign effectively and professionally for our cause and who do so out of sheer dedication with no thought for personal advantage. Elaine is that sort of refreshing, principled socialist.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Back Blogging and Supporting The Climate Change Camp at Heathrow

It is good to be back blogging again. I haven't blogged for the last few weeks because I have had to devote my time to my family. Both my mother and my stepfather have been seriously ill. We are coming through it but we wouldn't have without the superb care, dedication and professionalism of the health workers at James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, the social workers and support staff from Norfolk Social Services and the residential care workers in the Salisbury Care Home which provided my parents with such wonderful respite care. I can't thank them enough for the support they all gave us.

I am back in action now and down at the Climate Change Camp in my constituency supporting this protest against the threatened third runway at Heathrow. Let me explain why I support the camp.

With a group of friends I organised the first public meeting and set up the first anti third runway group way back in 1985. Our aim was to expose the incremental growth of Heathrow airport beyond the scale and all the boundaries originally set for this airport. The British Airports Authority and successive Governments had promised my constituents time and again that the airport had reached its limits and would grow no further. This happened after permission was given for a fourth terminal at Heathrow and at the fifth terminal Inquiry BAA wrote to me and all my constituents promising that if a fifth terminal was allowed there would be no third runway.

Within six months of this promise BAA and the Government came forward with plans not only for a third runway but also a sixth terminal. In addition, this week it was leaked that the threatened third runway is not a short take off runway as promised but a full length runway requiring even more homes to be demolished.

BAA and the Government have quite frankly lied about the implications of a third runway for local communities around Heathrow. In an independent study commissioned by the Department of Transport in the early 1990s the true extent of the impact of a third runway was exposed. Up to 4000 homes would have to be demolished or rendered unliveable by air and noise pollution. Three schools, community centres, churches and a series of villages would be demolished and destroyed. Up to 10,000 local people would have to be forcibly removed from their homes and communities, the biggest forced migration in this country's history since the Scottish clearances.

This is a working class, multi cultural community with a high density of population. It appears that the Government has made the calculation therefore that we are expendable in order to continue to maintain BAA's high profit margins. The Government's policy is that the third runway and sixth terminal can go ahead if the environmental problems, particularly air pollution can be overcome. Gordon Brown has already indicated that he is in favour of expanding Heathrow. We are now fearful that in September the Government will bring forward a "dodgy dossier" of doctored estimates of measures suggesting falsely that the environmental issues can be addressed and thus a third runway can be permitted.

The argument that BAA and Brown always put forward is that expanding Heathrow is essential for our economy and for jobs. Even on their own rationale this ignores the fact that developing more sustainable alternatives such as rail network expansion would provide the same economic benefits and just as many, if not more, jobs. Because the Government's aviation policy making is dominated by the interests of the private sector corporates of the aviation industry the search for short term profits is placed continuously before long term planning in the interests of our community and the environment. Even for my local economy the growth of the airport has had mixed benefits in terms of jobs. Whilst the airport has brought jobs to the area, its growth has forced up land prices and industry has moved out to be replaced by wharehousing. Large numbers of skilled jobs have been replaced by much fewer unskilled work. Our local economy is now so unbalanced that it is largely dependent on the airport which makes the whole area dependent on the fluctuations in the fortunes of the aviation industry.

Over the years of campaigning for a sustainable aviation policy I, like many others, have gained a much greater understanding of the environmental impact of the growth of airports and flying. Already in my community there are people living in an environment whose air by European standards is poisoned by air pollution from Heathrow airport and its surrounding road network. Globally we now have a fuller understanding of the impact that aviation growth is having on climate change. Even the Government's Stern report was forced to recognise that aviation is the fastest growing contributor to pollution and climate change in this country.

Action is needed and if Governments aren't listening and are even colluding in placing the interests of the aviation industry before our long term futures then direct action is needed. That is why I am supporting the Climate Change Camp and why I am there each day participating in this protest.

This type of protest is in the long standing democratic traditions of this country and our movement, going back to Winstanley and the Diggers. The Camp protesters are committeed to a peaceful, non violent strategy. There may be some who want to go further and the media and BAA would love to divert attention from the real issue of the environment and onto any violence of any demonstrations but it is critical that we do not allow our central message to be drowned out from any side.

Our message is that our planet is being plundered for profit. The third runway decision is the most important environmental policy decision in Western Europe today because it will set the standard for future aviation policy making. Stopping the third runway could be the first step in a new, sustainable environmental transport policy for Britain and Europe. It is so significant, that is why I am supporting the Camp and urge others to join us.