Sunday 30 March 2008

New Stirrings of a New Action Based and Thought Based Politics Taking Shape

Yesterday I participated in two conferences, the "No One is Illegal/No Borders" conference on asylum and the Socialist Youth Network's annual conference. What struck me was the atmosphere of both conferences. The people who turned up to both were obviously committed activists but neither conference was the usual rally-type event. Instead of rhetoric both conferences were really open and hard nosed in their honest assessments of the current political situation and both concentrated on serious discussions of the potential strategies available to the Labour, trade union and progressive movement.

These conferences demonstrated the virtual irrelevance of the current debates being waged in the pages of the Guardian between the likes of Charles Clarke, Hazell Blears, Polly Toynbee and what's left of the Compass initiative in the form of Neal Lawson and Jon Trickett.

The young people that turned out for the SYN conference demonstrated an astute appreciation of the total disconnect between New Labour and the real world facing the current generation. They displayed a practical idealism which is lost on the remnants of New Labour. The politics they want to pursue aren't the boring and nauseatingly obvious public relations exercises rolled out by the Brown machine or the self serving academicised sophistry of Compass. It came across very clearly that the politics of today and tomorrow for these young people are based upon mobilising for direct action, linking up with a wide variety of social movements, maximising creativity in protest but also engendering undstanding by discussion, study and theory. The word praxis, the combination of theory and practice, was revisited and revitalised in our discussion at the SYN conference.

Literally a hundred yards away at the "No Borders/No One is Illegal" conference the representatives of one of those social movements were coming to the same conclusions. Discussions were focussing on the best methods for linking trade unions with asylum campaigns and bringing trade unions together in support of a high profile nationwide campaign to expose the brutality of the Government's asylum policies.

No matter how depressing traditional politics may be at present there is clear evidence of new stirrings of a new, committed, idealistic, action based but also thought based mobilisation taking shape.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Post Office Closures will Cost the Government Dear

Just back from Parliament where the Government's majority was reduced to 20 votes on the issue of the closure of local post offices. 20 Labour MPs voted against the Government in favour of a motion seeking a review of the closure process. A number of MPs who have lead local campaigns against their local post office closing nevertheless still voted for the Government or went missing.

In my constituency I am faced with the closure of three post offices. I have already lost my main post office, which has been relocated into the back of W H Smiths, reducing both the range of the shop's services and the size and accessability of the post office.

The post office is seen by most of us as an essential element of our local community. Closure of our local post office takes another slice out of the quality of local community life, just as the Tories did when they closed our local cottage hospital. Next under threat is the local job centre.

In 2000 the New Labour Government introduced legislation in Parliament to liberalise Britain's postal services. This was even in advance of European Union's moves to open up postal services across Europe to the market and privatisation.

I attempted to amend the Government's legislation to prevent this liberalisation policy because it was obvious what would happen. Liberalisation would innevitably allow the multi-nationals like TNT and DHL to cream off the lucrative contracts and thus prevent the subsidy of the less profitable community postal services. We predicted then that this would lead to post office closures. The vast majority of Labour MPs refused to support the amendments.

Everything we predicted has come true and this valuable public service is being destroyed bit by bit. Is it any wonder that New Labour's poll ratings are at a 24 year low?

Friday 14 March 2008

Terminal Disaster

The flight test
Airport expansion is fast emerging as the key issue by which the public judges parties' green credentials. I wasn't at the ceremony to open terminal five at Heathrow this morning, although the airport is in my constituency: no matter how stunning the architecture of the building, there is no way I can celebrate this symbol of the collusion between the aviation industry and successive governments to put profits before the future of our planet and the communities I represent.
Heathrow expansion is an object lesson in the dominance of a rapacious sector of industry over government decision-making.
I was at both the fourth and fifth terminal planning inquiries and witnessed the promises given my constituents by the government and the British Airports Authority that if permission were given for the latest expansion proposal, there would be no further expansion of the airport.
On each occasion, literally within months of the commitment being given to no further growth of the airport, I watched government ministers succumb to the lobbying of BAA and the Heathrow aviation companies to announce the next expansion.
The site proposed for Heathrow's third runway is fast becoming the key battleground for the campaign against climate change. Many believe that if the third runway cannot be prevented, there is no hope for the implementation of the major policy shift that is needed across government if we are to have any chance of tackling climate change by cutting carbon emissions.
The government's decision on whether to back a third runway is therefore rapidly becoming the litmus test of whether it is serious about climate change.
After ploughing a fairly lonely furrow over the last 30 years against airport expansion, I am immensely encouraged to see the breadth of opposition there is now to Heathrow growth. Most national newspapers are opposed. All the major London mayoral candidates have joined to declare their opposition. And MPs and councils representing more than 2 million people have come out against.
Nevertheless, the prime minister and Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, have consistently expressed their support for further Heathrow expansion. This reflects the old politics of government decision-making on aviation policy.
For decades, government decisions have been dominated by the aviation industry. Transport ministers are surrounded in office by advisers who have either come from the aviation industry or are then recruited by it. In recent years, this has even applied to officials and advisers in No 10 itself.
Who was it Tony Blair called in to develop his long-term transport policy? Tony Eddington, former chief executive of BA, who - surprise, surprise - recommended further airport expansion.
As we have also seen, in the Department of Transport's recent consultation over Heathrow, BAA has been given licence virtually to dictate government documents.
Many in BAA and the airline companies are beginning to worry that the game is up. Gordon Brown is looking increasingly isolated on this issue.
A substantial broad alliance with elements of the antiwar movement is building against the third runway. It is emerging as a potential general election issue to test the green credentials of the parties. I warn the prime minister that he ignores popular feeling on this issue at his peril.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Budget Defeat over Child Poverty

In 1999 the Government said it would halve child poverty by 2010 - taking 1.7m children out of poverty. To date it has missed its targets and only removed 600,000 children from poverty. In the pre-budget briefings pouring out of Number 10 and the Treasury we were all led to believe that the Chancellor would make a major announcement today to get the Government back on course to meet its target.

Instead, the Chancellor has admitted defeat in the war against child poverty and has confirmed that the Government will not meet its 2010 target - and will leave over 2.5m children still living in poverty in the fifth richest countries in the world.

The measures announced today will only remove at most a further 250,000 children from poverty by 2010. Some of the media and other agencies have grasped at this straw argung that at least the Government's budget proposals aren't as bad as some thought they would be . But on analysis the situation is even more disappointing. In calculating child poverty the Government has massaged the figures by removing housing costs from the calculation. If these costs are put back the real assessment of child poverty confirms that in fact 3.5 million children will remain in poverty in our society. The TUC has rightfully expressed the deep disappointment of the trade union movement at the failure of the Government to prioritise effective action against child poverty.

At the same time the Chancellor has done virtually nothing to tackle the unfairness of our tax system. Big business benefits from the lowest corporation tax in this country in decades, which is to be cut further on 1st April. Proposals to tackle the scandal of non doms, some of whom are paying less tax than their servants, have been watered down and there are no measures to address the £97 to £150 billions the Treasury now admits to losing each year from tax avoidance.

If after eleven years in office, a Labour Government cannot meet such a basic aim of lifting our children out of poverty, many will judge this period of government as the greatest missed opportunity in the history of the Labour party. There is a growing feeling that the Government is running out of both time and ideas.

Saturday 1 March 2008

Another Labour Conference, Another Relaunch for Gordon Brown

Phil Davies, the GMB official who has been a central figure in the campaign to save REMPLOY from being decimated by the Government has resigned from the Labour Party along with several of his colleagues. Phil is the salt of the earth of the Labour and Trade Union movement. He is the sort of bloke you just feel proud to know and to be associated with. He has given his life to working in our movement in support of others. The REMPLOY campaign embodies all that he is about, fighting tirelessly on behalf of some of the most vulnerable workers in our society. The savagery with which New Labour Ministers have cut and slashed REMPLOY, despite all the appeals from our movement, has pushed Phil and his friends over the edge, resulting in their resignation from the party.

At the same time New Labour is holding its Spring conference. Another Labour conference so another relaunch for Gordon Brown. Since he was appointed leader only 9 months ago Gordon Brown has had more relaunches than the Space Shuttle. There was nothing new in his latest relaunch speech today. The rhetoric and policies were part of the same stream of politics which have so alienated loyal supporters like Phil and resulted in the loss of so many members and supporters.

Brown appears to have no understanding of the impact of the corporate driven globalisation which he so ardently promoted in his conference speech. He has opened up our economy to the worst excesses of the speculation and profiteering of the City's financial institutions and when these speculators fail he has used public resources to bail them out. When it comes to investing in the long term support needed by REMPLOY to give workers with disabilities access to the dignity of work, his response is to allow REMPLOY factories to close and vulnerable workers to come under threat.

I can understand why Phil and his fellow union representatives have resigned from the Labour Party but I am urging them to join the Labour Representation Committee, which will enable them to link up with others both within the Labour Party and many like them who have left the party. The LRC provides the ideal vehicle for those who are angry and who want to fight back to secure proper representation for the Labour and trade union movement.