Category Archives: Labour Party

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Millions of pounds may have to be paid back to some of the UK’s biggest supermarket employees, the vast majority of which are women, following an equal pay claim against one of the country’s leading retailers.

The claims echo the £1bn  landmark ruling by the Supreme court two years ago, which found in favour of thousands of female workers who claimed Birmingham City Council had paid them less than other workers, mainly men, for doing equivalent work.

If the case against the supermarket is proved then it could mean other supermarkets and retailers face similar claims.

While reading the report it was a surprise to learn that well over 100,000 equal pay cases had been brought between 2009 and 2012.  

Cases like these will continue for many years to come, I dare say, because women are frequently still paid differently for equivalent work to their male colleagues.

Equal pay cases are, unsurprisingly, complex and therefore take many years to complete, as it did for two home care workers featured in Saturday’s Guardian. Joan Clulow and Pamela Saunders’ case wasn’t settled for six years following a tough battle after they found they had been underpaid in their roles.

Meanwhile there is just six weeks to go until the European Elections, and the Brussels based newspaper European Voice, asks: “The European Parliament, 2014-2019- what’s at Stake?” Its special report explores what kind of European Parliament will emerge following the election and examines different scenarios.

In another ‘special report’ the same paper  compares access to healthcare across member states and reveals that equality to access for all is far from reality. Exclusion or insufficient access is largely determined by socio economic factors, it says.

However, the report includes a survey which finds gender to be a significant factor in determining access and shows that women suffer more significantly than men in this regard; and this was the case across all the EU countries surveyed.

Although member states largely take responsibility for their own healthcare provision the Commission has a level of scrutiny over national healthcare decisions. For example, the Commission has started to examine national healthcare spending and an important task is to ensure that healthcare funding is not only spent wisely but that it is accessible. 

Of course better provision for vulnerable groups must be addressed, such as those affected by socio economic factors- but also the significant gender inequality must also be examined.

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My Profile on the Sunday Politics

This weekend I was featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, who are doing a series of profiles on MEPs in the run up to the election. I discuss the great work Labour has done for British citizens at the European level. You can watch the profile using the media player above.

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CNN Interview on my Prostitution Report

I was recently interviewed by CNN on the subject of prostitution, discussing my recent report on the subject.  I was joined by Laura Lee, a sex workers’ rights advocate for what was a very interesting debate.  You can watch the full interview using the media player above.

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Battle of the Pygmies

Nigel ‘the European Union has blood on its hands over Ukraine’ Farage appears to have done it again. An instant poll showed that Farage triumphed in the second television showdown on Europe by 69 per cent to 31 per cent, a higher margin than the one following last week’s LBC pioneering Europe debate.

It seems incredible to me that Farage again praised Vladimir Putin, the man who has, among other things, annexed Crimea, vetoed United Nations action to end the war in Syria, and sent troops into Georgia. It is, of course, deeply worrying that anyone holding views such as those evident during Farage’s appearance should come out on top in any television discussion, let alone one on a subject as important as Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Having said that, the Europe debate itself is to be welcomed. Whatever else, Farage and the United Kingdom Independence party have put the EU on the agenda. We have never before had such coverage of the EU on mainstream television. Now both the BBC and the LBC leaders’ debate-style format have allowed us to engage with each other’s thoughts on Europe. Although Nick Clegg and Farage lead minor parties, each around 11 per cent in current national opinion polls, pygmies indeed compared to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, they, together with LBC and the BBC, have raised the nation’s game on Europe.

And it was a real debate with hugely differing ideas and perceptions on the EU with a dialogue which at times became heated. It was good television and fascinating politics. My enduring hope is that Britain will continue its evident interest in the EU with an increased turnout in the elections to the European parliament on 22 May. It is high time this country participated in EU matters in more than a superficial semi-detached fashion.

Even though Farage chooses not to recognise it, the EU is, in fact, a democratic institution. The British people elect members of the European parliament which co-legislates with the council of ministers, made up of the elected governments of all EU countries. We do not, as Farage claims, have a massive number of laws forced on us from Brussels. It is the British prime minister and government together with elected representatives such as me who make this legislation.

This means, of course, that the EU is a political institution, not the out-of-touch bureaucracy of Farage and wider Eurosceptic myth. The EU is currently controlled by the political right. One of Farage’s problems with it is that it is not rightwing enough; cherished EU values – free movement of labour, protection at work and health and safety not to mention gender equality – are all anathema to him. The real reason Ukip wishes to return to little England is that it wants everyone to know their place – working people should put up and shut up, women should stay tucked away in the kitchen and non-British people should never darken our shores.

Neither Farage nor Clegg is your average man on the Clapham omnibus. Despite Farage’s claim, made more than once last night, that he is not a career politician, his life before Ukip as a public school (Dulwich College)-educated stockbroker was hardly ordinary. Likewise Nick Clegg, Westminster School and Cambridge University, followed by a stint in the EU. They may both be pygmies on the national stage, but it would appear that in 21st century Britain that even the pygmies come from privileged backgrounds. While some may see the EU as unrepresentative, the same could definitely be said about these two party leaders.

This was originally published on Progress Online.  To see the original please follow the link here.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

LBC’s EU debate between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Ukip leader Nigel Farage this week acted as a curtain-raiser of sorts for the European Elections on May 22nd. Clegg, a former MEP and committed Europhile, originally proposed the idea of a debate on the issue earlier this year. The result was a fascinating clash between the leaders of British politics’ two smaller parties.

In the course of the evening Farage’s use of statistics, and in particular his suggestion that there were 485 million people looking to enter the UK – an aggregation of the EU’s entire non-British population – led to accusations that he was being deliberately misleading. Moreover his claim, made in the final minutes, that the EU had “blood on its hands” in relation to the Ukraine, caused deep anger among experts on the subject. Jan Techau of the Carnegie Europe think tank said afterwards it “completely disqualified” Farage from making any kind of foreign policy judgements.

I myself appeared on LBC later in the evening to provide analysis, and as I suggested then, I think it was an evening which exposed the very worst of Ukip. Farage set out an insular and closed-minded vision for Britain – a future where the UK becomes petty, self-interested and internationally irrelevant.

Although snap surveys conducted immediately afterwards declared Farage the ‘winner’, I believe the more telling poll is the one by YouGov earlier this month, which showed that the British people now narrowly favour staying in the EU – and that they have become significantly more pro-European since Cameron’s proposed referendum started to make an EU departure look like a serious possibility. I hope and believe that the proof will be in the pudding if the public vote on the so-called ‘Europe question’, and that when it comes down to it people will see through the smoke-signals and hot air created by Nigel Farage on Wednesday. As Clegg himself knows all too well, when it comes to political debates one swallow does not make a summer.

On Thursday, meanwhile, the Turkish government prompted anger by banning citizens from using YouTube. TIB, the telecommunications regulator there, reportedly decided to block access after a leaked video about possible military action in Syria was said to pose a “national security issue”. It follows previous recordings, released on the video-sharing site, which appeared to implicate Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in corruption and attempts to influence the media. Last week micro-blogging site Twitter was also blocked by the TIB and this weekend, after declaring victory for his party in the local elections, Erdogan said those who had accused him of corruption would “pay the price”.

It is difficult to know or understand completely the motives and intentions of the Turkish government from the outside. However, as a part of the world which has tremendous influence over what happens in Syria and the Middle East – not to mention a number of recent problems of its own – I would urge leaders there not to fall further into the trap of trying to suppress social media. Restricting freedom of speech is a dangerous path to go down, and is one which rarely ends well.

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Commenting on the Farage-Clegg debate for LBC

On Wednesday night I appeared on LBC’s Duncan Barkes Show to provide analysis and response to the debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage about Europe. It was a pleasure to join Bill Cash, Nick de Bois and Steve Pound in providing analysis.

This was clearly a dispute between the two smaller British political parties, with Ukip looking to join the mainstream and the Lib Dems keen to find an area where they can distinguish themselves from the Tories to protect their vote. Nevertheless it provided an interesting taster of a discussion which is going to grow in the months running up to the European Elections this May. Farage suggested, among other things, that 485 million migrants are queueing up to come to Britain, demonstrating the dangerous way in which Eurosceptics use emotive language and figures of obscure the many sound economic reasons for being in Europe. With a recent YouGov poll showing that a narrow majority now support us staying in Europe, I hope people are beginning to see through this and recognise the benefits of the EU.

You can listen to clips from the show below:





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Speaking to ITV News about women on boards

This week I appeared on ITV’s lunchtime news, alongside Jacey Graham and Joanna Fielding, to discuss the issue of women on boards. This followed the release of the latest figures on the issue, which showed that at present 20.7% of board members are women. The numbers prompted Denise Wilson, chief executive of the report’s steering group, to voice fears that the UK will not hit the 25% target for 2015 set by Lord Davies. She advocated all-women shortlists for some board positions – an idea first put forwards by Charlotte Sweeney. The UK must continue to work hard to keep pace with the rest of Europe, and if we begin to fall back then I think we should not be afraid of more proactive measures.

You can watch the item again below:

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Discussing prostitution on Channel 4 News

Last night I appeared on Channel 4 News alongside Melissa Gira Grant to discuss the issue of prostitution. It was an interesting feature on a subject which always tends to generate a wide range of opinions. It’s important this debate takes place, and I sincerely hope, following recent signs from Gavin Shuker and other MPs from across the political spectrum, that the UK will move towards a Swedish approach to the issue.

You can watch the footage again below:

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

This week was marked by George Osborne’s budget on Wednesday. Osborne announced a host of measures, which included enabling people to withdraw their pension pot more flexibly – rather than buying an annuity at retirement age. As well as this the chancellor announced the creation of a new ‘Pensioner Bond’ for over 65s, the abolition of the 10p tax rate for savers, and the halving to 10% of the tax on BINGO halls. “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you,” Osborne announced.

The budget also included the announcement of a 1p cut on beer duty, the scrapping of a rise on fuel duty in September, reductions in long haul passenger duty, and the creation of a new, twelve-sided £1 coin – measures which were seen as populist gimmicks by many. Ed Miliband mocked the latter in his response to the chancellor, saying “It doesn’t matter if the pound is square, round or oval…You’re worse off under the Tories,” and even comedian Al Murray weighed in, pointing out that the cut on the price of beer would only have made a difference if we were living “in 1902”.

Embarrassingly for the Conservatives, they were forced to defend a mocked-up poster, tweeted by Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, which proclaimed that the government were “Cutting the BINGO tax and beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.” The poster was widely ridiculed as an exemplar of Tory highhandedness, and was dismissed as “condescending” by Labour strategist Stewart Wood.

With the General Election now just over a year off most of the biggest components were aimed at the so-called ‘grey vote’, who are more likely to go to the ballot box. Sweeteners and short-term boons were offered in return for votes next May, speaking volumes of what Polly Toynbee calls a society – and, I would add, a government agenda – where “tomorrow is sacrificed for today.”

The implications of budgets are often hard to gauge, but so far 2014 is not being viewed by the media as an “omnishambles” on quite the scale of 2012. For me though, it’s a budget full of headline-friendly but terrifyingly short-term steps. Almost all of Osborne’s announcements smacked of political and economic manoeuvring. The result of the changes to pensions, for example, is likely to be a medium- to short-term spike in taxes collected for the government, as older people draw down their pensions early – something for which, as with 1980s privatisations and the selling off of council houses, the next generation is likely to find itself footing the bill. As the Telegraph economics commentator Jeremy Warner put it, Osborne is “stealing tax revenue from the future in order to pay for today’s pre-election giveaways.”

As if to underscore the point that it will be the next generation who have to cover the costs, the end of the week saw Universities Minister David Willetts refuse to rule out further increases in tuition fees. Following repeated questioning in a Channel 4 interview he would not be drawn on whether fees – which trebled to £9,000 in the early stages of this parliament – would be pushed up even further after 2015. Willetts finally admitted that they “could be,” prompting speculation that the Conservatives would push the financial burden of higher education ever-further onto the student if they stayed in office.

Young people have been very much between the crosshairs during this parliament. The Conservatives have cut EMA and plan to remove benefits for under-25s, indulging in rhetoric which scapegoats young people as “idle” at a time when, more than ever, they need the government’s support. It is vital that we re-engage the younger generation in the democratic process, so that short-term political electioneering by the Tories does not push them ever-closer to the margins.

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Party of European Socialists Manifesto for the European Elections, final instalment

This is the third and final instalment of the Party of European Socialists manifesto for the European Elections to be held on 22 May.  I believe it is a strong document providing clear policies on jobs and growth and Europe’s economic problems. This last section talks about gender equality, and I’m certainly very pleased that the PES is showing such a commitment to this extremely important matter.

The PES Manifesto

II. A Union that protects

5. A Union of equality and women’s rights
The principle of equality must be at the heart of what it means to be a European citizen. We all benefit from living in a more equal society. Ensuring, promoting and enhancing women’s rights and gender equality remains one of our highest priorities. We need a binding commitment to end the gender pay and pension gap. Violence against women must be ended. Reconciling professional and family life must mean promoting balance not sacrifice, and promoting women’s free choice and access to sexual and reproductive rights, must be urgently and vigorously protected in the face of a conservative backlash. We will be relentless in our fight against all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and intolerance. We stand for the values of equality and of non-discrimination and promote that women and men must equally share work, share power, share time and share roles, both in the public and in the private realms. We will safeguard the rights and well-being of children, and ensure that no person is denied a job, a position, a future or any other fundamental right because of the colour of their skin, sexual orientation, identity, religion, age, gender, disability, political opinion or any form of discrimination.

6. A Union of diversity
Against rising extremism, we will fight for a Europe that respects everybody’s rights and obligations, not one that is based on prejudice, hate and division. Everybody must have a real opportunity to participate and contribute to the societies they are living in. Freedom of movement is a right and a founding principle of the EU. The rights of citizens and their legally recognised families must be respected, while we must fight against fraud and abuse. True solidarity among all EU member states has to be shown in migration and asylum policy to avoid more human tragedies, and sufficient resources allocated. In order to save lives, Europe and its Member States must act in solidarity and have the right mechanisms to share the responsibilities. We want effective integration and participation policies, assistance to the countries migrants have left. The fight against human trafficking must be reinforced.

7. A Safe and Healthy life for all
European citizens deserve to live a safe and healthy life. We want stronger rules that give consumers power. We will protect Europeans’ right to enjoy safe food, safe products and a safe living environment. We recognize the strategic role of agriculture and fisheries for our societies, and want to promote a sustainable and thriving rural development. The EU must adapt to new challenges, especially the digital agenda and guarantee broad access to the internet. We need solid EU legislation on the protection of citizens’ personal data and access to information. Striking the right balance between privacy, freedom, and security is vital. The EU should guarantee citizens’ right to security by promoting cooperation in the fight against organised and crossborder crime.

III. A Union that performs

8. More democracy and participation
For the first time in EU history, you will have a direct say to designate the President of the European Commission. We are proud to lead this real step towards a more democratic Europe, and to have paved the way that other political parties now also follow. The European Union is a political union which ensures the equality of its citizens, and the equality of its states. European citizens, civil society, and social actors must have full democratic participation and control in European Union decisions. We will promote a
prominent role for the European Parliament that has legislative, budgetary and control powers, as the EU institution representing its citizens. Decisions must be taken at the most appropriate level, be it local, regional, national or European, in the interest of European citizens. All policies must be efficient, respect democratic values, fight corruption and serve citizens in an open and transparent way. We will put in place effective European responses to breaches of fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law.

9. A Green Europe
The EU must regain global leadership on the protection of nature and natural resources and the fight against pollution and climate change. This requires both close cooperation with our global partners and leading by example. We will support clean technology and environmentally friendly production. As we approach the 2020 deadline, we will therefore support further binding targets on the reduction of carbon emissions, the increased use of renewable energy and improved energy efficiency. We will promote the implementation of Project Bonds to finance good investments in the green economy, renewable energy and technology. Production, consumption and mobility patterns must change and the use of recycling must improve. This way we will reduce pressure on scarce natural resources and help citizens to reduce their energy bills and their ecological footprint. We will fight energy poverty and will guarantee minimum access to energy for everyone.

10. Promoting Europe’s influence in the world
The European Union must carry the universal principles of democracy, peace and respect for human rights, including women’s and children’s rights. In a globalised and changing world, with conflicts and growing inequalities, Europe must be a global player. We must build strong alliances to respond to common challenges. We want Europe to have a strong voice and the proper tools to lead in promoting peace, democracy, and shared prosperity throughout the world. Europe combines defence, development, trade and diplomacy efforts to maximize the positive effects in its foreign policy. The EU must be an effective agent of peace abroad and an efficient promoter of defence cooperation. We must support the people struggling for democracy, social justice, non-discrimination and freedom against any form of occupation everywhere in the world. We will support the Eastern Partnership as an important instrument to bring countries closer to EU and will promote strong relations with the Mediterranean region. We must maintain support for European enlargement. Fundamental rights and European values must continue to be respected unequivocally in any future accession. We must fight global imbalances and poverty by promoting policy coherence for development and making the Millennium Development Goals and the UN post 2015 agenda a success.

With these 10 projects we, Socialists, Social Democrats, Labour, Democrats and Progressives, will change Europe over the next 5 years. We count on your vote and we will act tirelessly on your behalf. Together, we will change Europe.

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March 20, 2014 · 11:27 am