Tag Archives: David Cameron

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

A paper by Labour in London this week drew attention to the capital’s childcare crisis. The document revealed that there were 35,000 fewer nursery places since the Conservatives took office, and that childcare costs have increased by 30%. Labour have announced they will increase childcare for 3-4 year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week, and will increase funding through a levy on banks. This would create an extra 72,000 places in London alone, where the struggle to keep up with costs is beginning to spiral out of control for many parents.

A report last month by the think tank IPPR drew attention to the present childcare crisis. The study showed the inextricable link between maternal employment levels – on which the UK performs worse than many OECD countries – and the poor childcare provisions Britain has to offer. IPPR said childcare of under-fives was essential to bring about better rates of work and pay for women, and that the ideal proportion of a family’s disposable income spent on childcare should be no more than 10%.

With Sure Start nurseries coming under threat from the government during this parliament – not to mention the TUC’s revelation last year that Britain has Europe’s worst maternity provisions – much more needs to be done. The alternative will be another generation of 50-65 year old women stuck in long-term unemployment or forced to deskill to find work.

I’m therefore delighted to see Labour in London spelling out such a clear direction of travel on this issue. The Tories produce a lot of hot air when it comes to getting women in the boardroom or the debating chamber, but to find sustainable solutions to these problems we need to address the systemic factors that drive women out of the workplace during their early thirties.

Also this week, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon made headlines when he referred to some UKIP members as “literally akin to the Nazis”. Halfon, a comparatively moderate Conservative, said Nigel Farage’s party could be split into two tribes: Godfrey Bloom-style buffoons and more “sinister” nationalists in the mould of Gerard Battern. He ironically thanked UKIP for “cleansing” his party of its lunatic fringe.

Halfon’s words draw attention to a sharp conflict within the Conservative Party, between those who want to remain borderline sane, and a larger faction who see the current state of British politics as an opportunity to drag the centre ground ever further to the right. For the latter group the existence of UKIP provides a convenient excuse; a political imperative to propel their party towards bigotry and knee-jerk populism. As I wrote in my round up last week, the end point in this journey is a type of Tea Party fanaticism which blocks all forms of progress.

So far David Cameron has made a host of concessions, essentially allowing the ultras within his party to dictate policy. One can only hope, for the sake both of British national interests and of democracy per se, that senior Conservative figures start to look beyond the ‘path of least resistance’ solutions they currently seem so keen on.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

This week saw Conservative MEPs vote against a Europe-wide initiative to provide aid for those struggling with food poverty. The £3 billion EU fund, known as ‘European aid to the most deprived’, would have sent £3 million in the direction of Britain. The choice to try and block the fund was made on the grounds that “It is not for the EU to dictate…how to help the needy. Individual countries must be allowed to decide for themselves.” It left the Tories among a tiny rump of MEPs voting against, making the Coalition the only European Government to oppose the fund.

With the Tories under pressure to address the explosion in the number of food bank users since they’ve been in office, their approach to Tuesday’s vote baffled many. It comes at a time when pressure is building on the Coalition to address the food poverty crisis, with religious and third sector organisations condemning the effect welfare cuts are having on UK rates of poverty. This week Richard Howitt, my Labour colleague in the European Parliament, called the Tories’ decision to vote against the fund “heartless and callous”.

Blocking European Aid is just the latest in a string of instances which have seen Conservatives adopting indefensible positions in the name of Euroscepticism. Before Christmas they blocked the Estrela report – a strategy to, among other things, end FGM – and they have also obstructed the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a market-based solution to environmental challenges. They’ve done so on the grounds that endorsing such plans would represent a concession to the EU. This is despite the government’s Balance of Competences review so far finding that the weighting between EU powers and domestic autonomy is roughly right.

David Cameron’s increasingly hostile noises about the EU appear to have been taken by Tory MEPs as a license to indulge their most reactionary instincts. They do this irrespective of morality or the UK’s national interests. As a result we are approaching a state of Tea Party-style fanaticism among some on the British right in Brussels; a new and virulent brand of Euroscepticism. It’s vital that those of us who support the EU do not allow this self-defeating ideology to triumph.

Also this week, UKIP’s Spring Conference was overshadowed by the embarrassing revelation that Nigel Farage’s campaign slogan – “Love Britain: Vote UKIP” – was a rehash of a strapline used by the BNP. Nick Griffin’s far right party campaigned under the same banner in 2010, using the wording “Love Britain: Vote BNP”. The comparisons did not appear to end there, with Farage using his “Love Britain: Vote UKIP”-branded plinth to launch an excoriating attack on immigration, which he claims has made Britain “unrecognisable”. When the BNP link was pointed out Farage argued, bizarrely, that he’d been trying to ‘reclaim’ the slogan.

So far Ukip have resisted calls from the European far right to join ranks. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have both attempted, unsuccessfully thus far, to reach out to Farage, pointing out the common ground their respective parties share with his. But with UKIP MEP Gerard Batten’s ties with the far right attracting increasing controversy – not to mention Farage’s recent admission that he supported the “basic principle” of Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – the overlap between UKIP and the extreme right is becoming hard to disguise.

To avoid a return to the ugly politics and racial tensions of the 1970s Labour must contest UKIP’s narrative every step of the way.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

At the start of this week results came out from Switzerland’s referendum on migration, revealing narrow backing for plans to impose a cap on migrants. The ‘Federal Popular Initiative Against Mass Immigration’, which was passed by 50.3% to 49.7%, represents the effective rejection of freedom of movement pacts negotiated between Switzerland and the EU. The initiative, which was put forward by the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe Swiss People’s Party, was not just opposed by those on the left but by figures across the Swiss the business community. In the aftermath of the vote economists at Credit Suisse wrote that Switzerland would pay “a high price” for its decision, and the Swiss Bankers Association sought to distance itself from the move. One financier told the Financial Times, “The Swiss are delusional to think they can just cherry pick what they want from the EU”.

The wider implications of Switzerland’s decision look to be severe. Despite being a non-EU country Switzerland has historically benefited from many of the trade perks enjoyed by EU member states. Indeed, UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories have pointed at Switzerland as a model of the type of country Britain could supposedly become if we left the EU. However, the result of Monday’s plebiscite has led the European Commission to re-examine Switzerland’s access to the European single market, with all treaties now up for negotiation. EC vice-president Viviane Reding pointed out on Monday that free trade and free movement were inextricable: “You take them all or you leave them all.”

Switzerland’s neighbours voiced similar warnings, with Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, calling the move “worrying” for a small country which “lives off the EU.” His German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said the country had “harmed itself,” and the Luxembourg government were also concerned for Switzerland’s economic prospects, with their foreign minister warning “there will be consequences”.

The response to the Swiss referendum shows the absurdity of the ‘pick ‘n’ choose’ approach to the EU advocated by many on Britain’s political right – especially those, including David Cameron, who plan to limit freedom of movement for migrants. Even Switzerland, a country which has over several hundred years been very successful at negotiating its relationship with the EU, will ultimately struggle to decide things entirely on its own terms.

Being part of Europe is ultimately about maturity. It requires certain sacrifices, but in return we get tremendous rewards. As the Swiss referendum looks set to demonstrate, you cannot shirk your responsibilities without jeopardising your privileges. The present UK government would do well to take note.

On Thursday, meanwhile, it was good to see Labour fend off UKIP at the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election. The run-up to the vote was dominated by headlines about Nigel Farage’s attempts to woo “patriotic, working-class Labour voters”, and Labour frontbenchers including Douglas Alexander – who last week set up Labour’s “anti-Ukip” unit – worked with party members to expose the ‘purple peril’ in the constituency. In the end, despite an aggressive UKIP campaign, Labour extended their share of the vote, and it was the two coalition parties who suffered from UKIP’s poll bounce.

Although the outcome sent a strong signal that Labour can withstand UKIP pressure in Northern communities, the extremely low turnout was a source of concern. It is vital that politicians of all parties reconnect with the electorate, otherwise apathy will translate into votes for UKIP and other parties even further to the right.

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The balance between Westminster and Brussels is broadly correct

Downing Street will, according to the Financial Times, release official reports on Thursday concluding that the balance of powers between Westminster and Brussels in key policy areas is broadly correct.

The assiduously hidden balance of competencies exercise has therefore blown up in David Cameron’s face. Designed to keep the Eurosceptics quiet, the review of the EU’s competences, which the Foreign Secretary launched in July 2012, tells a very different story from what the sceptics and possibly the Prime Minister himself wanted to hear.

An audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK, the review’s official blurb states, “It is important that Britain has a clear sense of how our national interests interact with the EU’s roles, particularly at a time of great change for the EU.” It goes on to say that government departments will consult Parliament and its committees, business, the devolved administrations, and civil society to look in depth at how the EU’s competences (the power to act in particular areas conferred on it by the EU Treaties) work in practice. Moreover, our European partners and the EU institutions will also contribute evidence to the review, and it will examine issues that are of interest across the EU, seeking to improve understanding and engagement.

No-one can say that the review wasn’t thorough. Parliament and its committees, the devolved administrations, business and civil society plus Britain’s European partners add up to a very wide range of opinion. And they conclude that Britain’s relationship with the European Union is just about right. In fact, these studies include a strong endorsement of the commercial advantages of Britain’s EU membership.

Tellingly, Number 10 has ordered low-key release for these reports. There is only one reason for such behaviour, namely that Downing Street fears that the findings of the balance of competencies exercise do not support the case for a radical renegotiation of EU powers. In other words, David Cameron’s gamble that this review would calm the Eurosceptics has utterly failed.

There is something very unseemly about a Prime Minister who will undertake official studies and use taxpayers’ money for Party advantage. It’s not the kind of conduct we expect from our government, and it’s even worse when the instigator wants to conceal the findings of the review he initiated because it came up with the wrong result.

Thankfully for democracy in Great Britain, the Financial Times reported on the studies, allowing people to know what has been going on. Congratulations to that excellent newspaper. What would we do without the FT?

 

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

The Winter Olympics kicked off in Sochi this week, with Russian premier Vladimir Putin declaring them open at a majestic ceremony on Friday. The Games cost £30 billion, making them the most expensive in history, and a large part of Friday’s Opening Ceremony was designed to show how Russia has moved into the modern age.

Yet the country’s social conservativism, particularly when it comes to gay rights, continues to be a source of anger and controversy as the Winter Olympics begin in earnest. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach used his address to the stadium in Sochi to celebrate The Games as an embrace of “human diversity and unity”, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon also condemned Russia’s record. Putin’s speech to the crowd was in the end notable for its brevity, although a section of the ceremony designed around the theme of traditional marriage was seen by some as a show of defiance.

In June of last year Russia’s government introduced laws limiting so-called “propaganda” about homosexuality – supposedly to “protect minors” from exposure – and they have persistently condoned anti-LGBT statements by public officials while banning and breaking up gay pride events. American firm AT&T, who are sponsoring the Winter Olympics, have condemned Russia’s human rights record, but other sponsors – including McDonalds, Visa and Coca-Cola – have thus far refused to follow suit. Michael Cashman MEP, my friend and colleague at the European Parliament and a lifetime campaigner on gay rights, took the radical step of cutting up his Visa card in Strasbourg last week, in protest at this. It was a bold step, showing the strength of his feeling on the issue, and was one which I fully support.

I wish all the UK’s athletes the very best of luck at the Winter Olympics. I hope we’ll see a wonderful competition and a fantastic spectacle, and that in the long term the event will serve to highlight the treatment LBGT people are still subjected to in Russia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, yet another rainy week saw The Thames reach its highest level ever, putting at risk an unprecedented number of homes to the west of London and in Kent. COBRA met regularly throughout the week, and by Sunday the Environment Agency had 175 flood warnings in place across the UK, and the Ministry of Defence had drafted in military personnel to provide support for communities.

As the flooding continued some looked to make political capital out of the situation, with David Cameron suggesting on Friday that “the pause in dredging that took place in the late 90s” was to blame. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles criticised former Labour Minister and head of the Environment Agency Chris Smith, accusing them of lacking humanity and expertise. To give him a modicum of credit, Pickles refused to stoop as low as Ukip, who used the crisis as a means of attacking Britain’s International Aid commitments – “Charity begins at home,” as Nigel Farage put it – yet Pickles’ attack still rankles many trying to deal with the problem at the sharp end. In his response, written for The Guardian, Smith said, “I’ve never in my life seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces”.

With much of the flooding happening close to my own constituency in London, I wish the very best to the people who have been affected. I hope, as the weather gets worse this week, that those in charge start pulling together to help those who are suffering. Chris Smith was 100% right – this is not the time for playing politics.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Europe dominated this week, with Euroscepticism grabbing headlines not just in the UK but across the continent. On Thursday European Commission vice president Viviane Reding accused British leaders of bowing to populism on the European issue, describing many of the supposed threats the EU brings as “the invention of politicians who like to have populist movements in order to win in elections”. She suggested that by succumbing to short-term electoral temptations politicians were potentially “destroying the futures” of their people.

Reding was joined by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, who described Eurosceptics in his own country as “brainless people”. And throughout the week there was criticism of the UK in many quarters, with a journalist writing in the widely read Spanish daily El Pais that “How Great Britain Turned Into Little England could easily be 2014’s bestselling essay”.

None of this dissuaded Eurosceptics, and the week ended with a large bloc of Conservative MPs writing to David Cameron calling for a national veto of EU Laws. Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who led the 95-strong group behind the letter, described the EU’s effect on lawmaking as “acidic and corrosive” and said it undermined British democracy.

While senior Tories were quick to slap down the issue – William Hague called the requirements set out in the letter “unworkable” – they are largely responsible for the increasingly forceful and unrealistic demands made by Eurosceptics. David Cameron’s policy of appeasement has seen he and other frontbenchers deliberately conflate the Europe question with ‘dog whistle’ issues like immigration, in order to try and convince those on the right that he is on their side.

What Cameron underestimates is the inexorable nature of Euroscepticism – the ‘ever greater’ isolation that UKIP and Conservative diehards want from Europe and the rest of the world. Being anti-EU is in essence an irrational position, which ignores economic and industrial arguments in favour of a hazy and parochial utopia. It does not allow for compromise. The more ground the Government concedes to its own party’s ultras, the more they will ask for – and the more unpleasant, distorted and short-term the debate will become.

This week also saw a major victory in the battle against homophobia in sport, with former Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger becoming The Premier League’s first openly gay player. Hitzlsperger, who recently retired, told a German newspaper “I was never ashamed of being who I am,” but admitted that homosexuality is heavily stigmatised in professional football.

The former German international played at centre-back for most of his career, and was renowned for his no nonsense style – comprehensively putting paid to stereotypes about gay sportsmen. There are hopes that, with many of supporters’ prejudices against homosexuality retreating, there will be more openly gay players in future.

Social attitudes have come a long way since 1990, when Justin Fashanu became British football’s first openly gay player. Fashanu’s coming out resulted in abuse and ostracism – he tragically committed suicide in 1998 – but a lot has changed since then. I am delighted that Hitzlsperger has taken such a bold position, and would like to congratulate him on his courage. Hopefully more gay players will follow suit, and we will finally be able to overcome the beautiful game’s biggest taboo.

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Tory MEPs oppose LGBTI and Women’s rights (again)

A version of this piece was originally posted on LabourList last week. It was co-authored by myself and Michael Cashman MEP.

Tory MEPs showed their ugly side again last week – the anti-women, anti-choice, anti-LGBT dimension to the party which David Cameron tries so hard to shield from public view. They packed in behind UKIP to oppose a range of progressive measures on sexual and reproductive rights, health services and education, and the combating of sexual orientation and gender discrimination.

The measures were designed to provide adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services which are in accordance with age, maturity and evolving capacities – and which do not discriminate on grounds of gender, marital status, disability, or sexual orientation. They underlined that sexual education should be non-discriminatory towards LGBTI persons, and stressed that sexuality education must fight against stereotypes and prejudices. In addition, the report said countries should facilitate safe and non-judgemental access to STI treatment, and should have effective inclusive health strategies for HIV prevention, removing laws that penalise and stigmatise those living with HIV.

The proposals also called for access to sexual and reproductive healthcare to be non-discriminatory and for women to have the right to choose the size and spacing of their family. They asked for sex education to “include the fight against stereotypes, prejudices and violence against women”, and to “shed light on and denounce discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation”. They called on national governments to ensure women who become pregnant as a result of rape can have unrestricted access to an abortion with full legal and health safeguards. Moreover, they stressed that coerced sterilisation and female genital mutilation represent breaches of human rights, and called on Member States to abolish any existing laws that allow such medieval practices.

These are measures which most sensible people can surely agree with. They protect women and LGBTI people, and focus on creating healthcare systems which safeguard the needs of young and in some cases vulnerable people in an effective and non-judgemental way.

So, following on from October’s shameful scenes – which saw the Tories siding with far right parties like the BNP – it was vital that  the draft Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights report went through successfully last week.

Yet thanks in part to Tory votes, it was not passed. Instead it was amended and blocked, with nearly 90 recommendations replaced by a watered down resolution. That Conservatives were among those responsible for this shows that the ‘nasty party’ is still alive and well.

At the moment approaches to birth control, contraception, family planning and sex education vary wildly across Europe. This means young LGBTI people and women in many parts of the EU are not given the information or the options necessary to make the best choices. We in the UK have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe – something which has a knock-on effect for our economy and for the wellbeing of our young people – so this is not an issue we can afford to treat lightly.

One need only look at Finland, where sex education and emergency contraception helped drastically reduce unwanted pregnancies, to see the value of giving women control over their bodies. The enlightened, liberal values which lie at the heart of the European Union are the same values which argue in favour of women being able to choose and of LGBTI people have the right to exist in a safe and open-minded world.

David Cameron’s MEPs are, yet again, failing to stand up to discrimination, and are instead reinforcing prejudice and patriarchy. As Edite Estrela, the author of the report pointed out, they have won the battle but not the war. In so doing they have put themselves on the wrong side of the LGBTI and women’s rights debate, and on the wrong side of history.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Tributes this week poured for former South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday evening aged 95. Figures from around the world, from The Queen to Bill Clinton to the Chinese premier Ki Keqiang, praised a man who has become synonymous with integrity and moral courage. Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Mandela had “made us understand that we can change the world”, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu called him “the undisputed icon of forgiveness and reconciliation”.

Mandela has moved, over the course of his life, from a figure of fierce controversy to a Nobel Peace Prize Winner and internationally celebrated figure. Having joined the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League as a young lawyer in the 1940s he fought – sometimes advocating violent methods – against the inequality and bloodshed of the country’s Apartheid system. He was imprisoned for his actions opposing that system in 1964, yet by the time of his release in 1990 had become a tremendously influential campaigner for peace. He went on to be elected the country’s first black President four years later, after Apartheid was finally lifted.

For those who doubt that progress can happen – or who are cynical about the ability of individuals to create change – Mandela’s successes stand as a towering rebuff. His leadership singularly shaped South Africa and help the country overcome obstacles which many thought were insurmountable. Moreover, the changes he brought about were done in a way which sought to deal with and then move beyond past grievances – the country’s Truth and Rehabilitation Commission, perhaps the best case of restorative justice the world has ever seen, being a perfect example.

Some have pointed this week to David Cameron’s attitudes to Nelson Mandela when he was a student. They say that Cameron – who on Friday said a “great light” had gone out in the world – had as a younger man wanted to see Mandela executed. From what I have read, these claims have been seriously overstated, but either way I do not believe that making political capital off Mandela’s death fits with the way in which he lived his life.

Having said that, we must not forget that the universal high esteem in which Mandela is now held in is a comparatively new development. As recently as the 1980s many frontbench British politicians and national newspapers were sceptical and in some cases openly hostile towards him and the ANC. Thatcherite MP Teddy Taylor said Mandela “should be shot” and the News of the World called the ANC a “communist-style black dictatorship”.

There will be many different interpretations of Mandela’s legacy over the coming months, but for me the unqualified praise given to him over the weekend by politicians across parties and in newspapers of all leanings is a legacy in itself. The arguments he was putting forward in the 1960s – for equal rights and an end to racial prejudice – are now indisputable. His great achievement was not just in making them, but in doing so in a way which created unity rather than forging division.

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When it comes to women on boards we must avoid ‘chicken or egg’ thinking

Based on an article originally written for LondonLovesBusiness

In a landmark moment the European Parliament today voted in favour of 40% female representation on boards by 2020. The plans, originally put forward by the European Commission’s Viviane Reding, went through the parliament this afternoon. This represents the biggest step yet in the EU’s drive to get women into economic decision-making positions.

The vote does not just represent a symbolic move, but a potential transformation of the way in which businesses operate. To achieve the kind of ‘cultural changes’ that Conservatives – such as the Equalities Secretary Maria Miller – propose, we surely need women to be at the top of companies making these changes happen. EU endorsement could therefore be the trigger for a sea-change in the way business is done; an effective end to the ‘boys club’ mentality.

Despite the fact that Germany – Britain’s most direct business competitor – this week signalled a commitment to quotas, the UK remains among the rump of EU countries which still favour voluntary or no action. This is a stance which will come under ever more intense scrutiny once the proposals passed on Wednesday go to the Council of Ministers (the body comprising the domestic leaders of the 28 Member States) next year.

With Cameron currently among the seven or so national leaders expected to block the plans, the UK government will have to explain how they expect to achieve gender parity without quotas. In light of the huge success that binding legislation has had in accelerating progress in France, Italy and Holland this will be a difficult case to make. Despite being Europe’s financial capital, Britain could once again find itself swimming against global tides as a Europe-wide consensus on gender equality builds.

The claim the government makes is that getting women onto boards will not change the ‘fundamental’ issue. The Department for Business proposes instead an educational and cultural approach, which they say will get women into executive positions from the ‘bottom up’. When I discussed this with Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis on the Daily Politics yesterday she was keen to distinguish between non-executive positions and “other levels of business”. The Tory strategy is clear: depict female board representation as a sideshow – an impediment to focusing on the lack of women in management.

For me this argument is flawed. It suggests that getting women onto boards must either be the catalyst for a change in business culture or the product of it – that there can only be one, exclusive solution to this problem. This is an example of ‘chicken or egg’ thinking gone mad, and presents a false binary – as though getting women into boardrooms and making businesses more female-friendly lower down somehow contradict one another.

In fact, they are mutually reinforcing; more balance in the boardroom means a company ethos more sympathetic to women, which in turn increases the chances of women rising to board level. A virtuous circle is created. Higher quality part-time or flexible work, for example, is for me one of the best methods of preventing a pay gap opening up while women are in their thirties and forties (and thus approaching boardroom age). But it is something which companies are far less likely to consider if they do not have confident female advocates among their directors.

For Britain to capitalise on today’s vote we must stop the UK government from turning the women on boards issue into an artificial ‘top-down vs bottom up’ choice. To genuinely overcome the glass ceiling we need both: women pushing from below and women pulling them up from above. Gender parity from the tip to the base of the jobs pyramid.

With a Europe-wide consensus now establishing itself on this issue, we must increase pressure on the UK government to be proactive. We can no longer pretend that a fairer workplace will take place in splendid isolation.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

The fallout from Typhoon Hayain continued in the Philippines this week. The huge storm – which is the second largest the area has ever seen – struck on Thursday 7th and raged for several days, stretching into the start of this week. More than 11 million people have been left homeless by the disaster, and the official death toll is now well over 3,000 – although aid workers say the real figure could be three times this.

Located inside the so called Ring of Fire – a hotspot for volcanoes and earthquakes – the Philippines is no stranger to extreme weather. However, as a country comprising over 7,000 islands it remains a place where coordinating infrastructure and communications is difficult. Although the storm has now relented, the crisis is by no means over, with the challenges of tackling diseases and housing displaced people just beginning.

The Philippines’s UN Envoy Naderev Sano, who comes from the devastated city of Tacloban, made a tearful statement at the start of the UN’s two week Warsaw summit, blaming the typhoon on climate change and calling for decisive action. He described it as an “extreme climate event” and said he would not eat until an environmental consensus was reached.

The priority, of course, has got to be dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis in the country. On this front it was good to see international aid donations flooding in, and I was particularly pleased with the EU’s decision on Tuesday to increase its contribution from €3 million to €13 million. However, Sano is right that as once the dust finally settles it will be time to have a more serious discussion about climate change.

At present we are still a long way away from a consensus. In April of this year Tory MEPs voted against the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – even though the proposals had been specifically designed as a free market solution to the problem – and back in 2011 they blocked calls for tougher environmental targets. David Cameron may have spoken on Sunday of the need to “prevent and mitigate” climate change, but on this issue the Conservatives are liable to say one thing and do the opposite.

Speaking of the gap between words and actions, it was interesting to see the Tories attempt this week to remove all pre-2010 speeches from online spaces. Ironically, many passages from the deleted material focused on commitments to transparency, with George Osborne, for example, having pledged (in a speech back in 2007) to end the “asymmetry of information between the individual and the state”.

Aside from being politically counter-productive (the news of course prompted an immediate re-examination of the Tories’ pre-government policies) this ‘year zero’ approach is profoundly undemocratic. It is important to the already fragile relationship between public representatives and the electorate that voters and commentators can compare rhetoric with reality, so the deletion of material like this undermines basic standards of political accountability.

With their liberal pre-government rhetoric having been replaced by harsh and socially divisive policies in office, it is no surprise that the Tory high command want to conceal the promises they made in opposition. I am pleased, on behalf of everyone who believes in politics, that on this occasion they have been caught out.

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