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One Nation Labour Party

I have enjoyed Labour Party Conference in Manchester, apart from its famous daily rain. I failed to bring an umbrella so many thanks to everybody who has kindly shared an umbrella with me. The highlight clearly was Ed Miliband’s outstanding speech. At yesterday’s Question and Answer session people around me commented how Ed from a distance (this photo shows how far back I was) looked like Tony Blair as he came on stage. Today Martin Kettle in the Guardian makes a more political comparison, and if you are pressed for time skip to his last paragraph summary.

Ed is not another Tony Blair and as his commanding comprehensive Leader’s speech demonstrated he has his own history.  What they do share are the ability to win elections and the ability to unify the Labour Party. Looking back now with the divisions with Gordon Brown more known, it gives a false view of what life was like in the Labour Party when Tony Blair was Leader.

On the ground in 1997, 2001 and 2005 the Labour Party was never more unified and committed to winning so that we could introduce a minimum wage, lift children and pensioners out of poverty, ban fox hunting and make a difference to people’s lives. Never more unified than until possibly now. I sensed in Manchester the same commitment that Labour has previously had, perhaps even more so.

Labour Party members believe that if you earn £1,000,000 a year then £523,495 after tax should be more than enough to get by on. David Cameron and George Osborne supported by the Liberal Democrats believe that is not enough and that £565,790 is more appropriate. I think this is wrong and I think the overwhelming majority of British people agree that an extra £42,295 to the wealthiest people in society at a time of austerity is unfair. Plan A for most of us, Plan B if you are a millionaire!

I note also that Ed Miliband’s £40,000 figure in his speech shrewdly rounds down from £42,295 by £2,295 the money that will be taken from sure start centres, womens refuges and rape crisis centres and given to each millionaire tax payer.

Coming away from Manchester I am inspired and determined with other Labour members to change this. Bring on the plebiscite!

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Labour Women Pioneers into Power Liverpool 2011 Part 3

 Here is the third part of the fringe meeting I chaired at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.  In this part Harriet Harman talks about how important female representation is for international politics.  As you would imagine, she spoke very eloquently about how having more women involved in elected politics in the UK is beneficial for women in other countries, like Kenya, who need our support. 

I have posted the video below.  Please enjoy.

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We should change the way we elect the Labour Leader

It’s time, I think, for some reflections on Labour Party Conference other than talking about my fringe meeting Blogging for Labour. As I’m now back in Brussels wrestling with the harrowing and appalling subject of child pornography on the internet as well and judging a European journalism prize, now seemed as good as any to put my thoughts on paper.

First and foremost, we must unite behind Ed Miliband.  I say this as a committed David supporter, and I would not be telling the whole truth if I said I wasn’t upset that David didn’t make it.  David is, in my opinion, one of the most able, most intellectually capable and most sincere of our MPs.  He was one of the best Foreign Secretaries this country has ever had with a deep understanding of foreign affairs and the international stage. (Since I am posting this blog before David has made a statement on his future, I won’t say any more at present).

Yet, we all have to move on.  The overriding task now is to fight the coalition and win the general election.  It’s not a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, it’s a Tory Government. This should be our message.  Those who voted Clegg got Cameron while those who voted Cameron got exactly what it said on the tin.

Having attended almost every Labour Party Conference since 1978, I am far from being one of the new generation. However, I completely agree with Ed that Labour must now look forward. There’s nothing to be gained in harking back to the past, and I for one now hope that all references to the Iraq war are well and truly laid to rest.  Yes, I opposed the war publicly as an MEP. But now, I truly believe it is not only unhelpful but utterly damaging to rake this one over any more.  Both Labour and Great Britain have to move on.

The Conference was more than aware of the awesome nature of the events as they unfolded.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, a subdued and expectant atmosphere amid the thronging delegates and myriad exhibition stands.

In my conference lifetime, I have been a Party member under seven leaders, including Miliband E – James Callaghan, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Of these, Callaghan and Foot were chosen before the electoral college was introduced and were elected only by MPs.  Kinnock, Smith and Blair faced little serious opposition and Brown was crowned without a contest.  Step up Ed Miliband who won by just over one percent.

It’s been a long 30 years and much has changed.

From the election of the left wing Michael Foot as Labour Leader in 1980 there was a battle royal between the Left, represented initially by Foot but later metamorphosing into the Militant Tendency and other Trotskyite factions (the Hard Left), and the Labour Party’s right wing, ironically during this period led by a number of influential trade unions. The exception among the trade unions was the then largest, the Transport and General Workers’ Union, who held a more left wing position.

Neil Kinnock, himself from the left stable, to his credit moved decisively away from the Foot legacy  as did John Smith his short period as Leader of the Opposition.

Crucially, however, it was not until Tony Blair and New Labour arrived, subsequently winning the 1997 general election, that the Hard Left was seen off as a force to be reckoned with. Although no longer influential, the Left as such never went away.  Moreover, there remained a significant number of Labour Party members who felt New Labour had sold out.

Yet this was nothing compared to the trade unions, who are by and large now to the left of the Party.  The affiliated trade unions, now mainly representing public sector workers, were never really on side with New Labour, and their evolution from right to left is, perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the 2010 Leadership contest.

So where does this leave us?  I have to say, I have difficulty with a system whereby victory can be gained without either a majority of MEPs and MPs or of local Party members.  The electoral college was, ironically, set up in the 1980s to give the right wing unions power on the basis their vote would marginalise the Hard Left. Since we no longer have a Hard Left, merely a Left, the time has, I believe, come to reform the way the ballot is held.  One member one vote would obviously be more democratic.  Even the Tory Party has OMOV for the two candidates selected by the 1922 Committee.

The new generation have to prove themselves.  What better way than reforming the way our Leader is elected to bring our outdated system into line with today’s Labour Party? To take this bold step would be to send a strong signal that things really had changed and that Labour is continuing its modernising agenda.

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Blogging for Labour

Some first quick thoughts on tonight’s “Blogging for Labour” fringe meeting. I was delighted almost 100 people attended even without the prospect of a free meal! Many thanks to all the panel members. John Gray for giving an insight into the perils of libel actions and the need for more guidance on legal issues.

Jessica Asato talked about how Twitter had brought more activists and importantly advocates to David Miliband’s campaign for Labour Leader. With many present tweeting (note the heads down in the photo) a hashtag would have brought everybody on Twitter together online. Next time!

Mark Ferguson talked about how many people had sat through less than riveting General Committee meetings, and highlighted how some Labour supporters found more interesting debate on sites like Labour List which he edits.

Kerry McCarthy turns to twitter first thing in the morning (I still go for Radio 4). She explained how she could debate with and at times advise members of the public on Parliamentary procedure through tweeting. As the photo shows she won the award for most demonstrative hand movements!

In the audience were bloggers Political Scrapbook, Cllr. Stephen (Cowan report), Jon Worth (Euroblog), Tracey Cheetham (A View from the Public Gallery), Mark Nottingham (From One End of Kent), Colin Ellar (Mayor of Hounslow) and several more bloggers.

I will write some more thoughts tomorrow when I have more time. Thank you to everybody who came and to Cllr. John Paschoud from Lewisham for his technical support.

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Glenis, David and Alistair

It’s been quite a morning at Labour Party Conference.  Although the talk of the town has been David Miliband’s gracious and heartfelt speech as Shadow Foreign Secretary, my interest also lay with EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott.

Speaking to conference delegates, Glenis pointed to the work being done by Labour’s team in the European Parliament: “Day in, day out, Labour MEPs are still making laws for the whole of the UK.”

Focussing on examples of recent wins, covering civil liberties, social protections and banking regulation, she told the conference that even when Labour is out of power in Westminster it can still make a real difference by acting in Brussels.

She went on to say: “The political battles we fight are not with Europe. They are with the right – in Brussels, at home and elsewhere.

“And in this battle Europe can be our ally.”

“It’s wrong that within our own party, we still regard the European Parliament as being over there. We still see the EU as merely a branch of foreign policy. Don’t forget: over there is also over here.

“Conference, up until now Labour hasn’t quite “got it” on Europe. “But I’m delighted to say that Ed (Miliband)”get’s it”.”

Next on stage was David Miliband who, eloquent as ever, gave us a passionate but thoughtful   speech.

Appealing for party unity, David declared: “no more cliques, no more factions, no more soap opera.” He even went as far as to quote Labour’s fourth leader, John Robert Clynes, who said Labour politicians went into politics “not to practice class war, but to end it”.

At the heart of the speech was what David called “hard-headed internationalism”. On Afghanistan, he said: “we’re not an occupying army, we’re trying to prevent an occupation.” He also reminded delegates that foreign armies never end civil wars. In addition, in what looks like an unaccustomed outbreak of consensus, he promised to support David Cameron if he did the right thing. “When he takes risks for peace, we will be the first to congratulate him every step of the way.”

David looked very inch the statesman. Those of us who supported David for the Leadership of the Labour Party must now unite behind his brother to take us to victory and a Labour government.

The final big speech of the morning was Alistair Darling, not as he himself lamented ever the “darling” of conference, but an excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer and a likeable, understated politician.

In his last weighty conference speech Alistair said that Labour should be proud of its record in power, “Proud in the way we changed Britain for the better, in ways big and small.”

He  accused the coalition government of gambling with the economic upturn kickstarted by the previous Labour administration.

Although Alistair had himself planned spending cuts to bring down the deficit, it would have been done at a lower and slower rate while continuing to invest in public services.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that there is no difference between us and the coalition …we never have been, and never will be the same,” he told us in no uncertain terms.

“The Tories are using the need to reduce borrowing as a way of dismantling the support millions depend on,” and their Liberal Democrat partners are passively going along with cuts targeted on the poor and needy.

Alistair also said that to abandon Labour’s balanced approach will put tens of thousands of jobs at risk and hit the living standards of millions of people.

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On the Road to Fair Votes

Last year at Labour Party Conference, when Gordon Brown promised a referendum on changing the voting system, specifically holding a referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV), I was absolutely delighted.  Today the Guardian provided this very helpful demonstration of how AV would work.

My twenty- five years of struggling to get even the very idea of fair votes for the House of Commons recognised seemed at last to be getting somewhere.  When you’re involved in what is often seen as a minority, not to say geeky, campaign it’s sometimes hard to keep your sprits up.  But we have, and we’re finally winning through.

Going that crucial step further, Gordon’s announcement in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday that the referendum will be held in October 2011, was the next thing electoral reformers wanted to hear.  The Prime Minister has now said he will have a referendum, a pledge he will, I believe, do everything he can to honour.  It is now up to Gordon to find the parliamentary time before the expected Easter dissolution.

I understand that some Conservative co-operation may be required to make such time available.  However, Gordon has to come out on top on this one.  Having made such a public commitment, he really must see it through and get the law setting the date for a referendum passed before the general election in order that his target date for the referendum of October 2011 may be met.

Gordon has made it clear that the referendum would be restricted to whether to stick with first past the post or to move to the alternative vote.  There are, I know, those among electoral reform campaigners who think AV is not proportional enough.  I think we must embrace Gordon Brown’s initiative as the only change we are likely to get in the foreseeable future.  It may not go as far as we would like, but it’s much better than first past the post.

We must also all be aware that our opponents do not like PR.  Since there is little that is fair in Tory social policy, it is hardly surprising they don’t want fair votes.  Quoted in yesterday’s Guardian, William Hague showed his usual lack of imagination: “It’s not the voting system that needs changing, it’s this weak and discredited prime minister. New politics needs a new government.”

Things are very different in the Labour Cabinet.  Ed Balls, the schools secretary, is a supporter of AV, as is Home Secretary Alan Johnson, John Denham, the communities secretary, Peter Hain, Welsh secretary, Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell, and, last but not least, Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary.

Though the introduction of AV is the most important policy demanding immediate action, Gordon’s speech yesterday did not stop there.  He also announced that he wants a written constitution by 2015, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; a right for constituents to recall MPs if found guilty of corruption: a draft bill introducing a mainly elected Lords; and approval for local government reforms, entitled Total Place, that he said could produce £15bn of savings. He also said he supported votes at 16, but gave no commitment to put the proposal in the Labour manifesto.

I believe constitutional reform is important for its own sake.  Britain is the only country in Europe which does not have a proportional electoral system for its upper house.  On the other hand, I remain to be convinced that a package of changes to the way parliament and other representative institutions are elected will achieve very much in restoring people’s trust in politics, except perhaps for the measure to recall corrupt MPs.  Gordon Brown is setting out a vision for a modern democracy.  As the only real modern, progressive Party in Britain, Labour members have, I believe, a profound duty to support our Prime Minister in this crucially important task.

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Let’s Hold Our Party Conference in London, the Green Alternative

Excel Centre East London

Possible Venue for a London Labour Party Conference

 I have had a good week at Brighton – a guest house that has been a delight with attentive service from the owners, wonderful sunny weather, a chance to meet friends old and new, plus time for constructive work.

Labour Party  Conference at Brighton always has the best attendance from London, partly because a lot of Labour Party members can come down by car or train for just a day or two.  I met day trippers from Hounslow, Newham and Southwark during this week.  Conversely next year in Manchester attendance from London will not be quite so good, whereas Scottish representation will be higher. That’s, of course, the advantage of taking Conference around the country.

Yet this rotation does not include all the potential venues, places with enough hotel accommodation and high level conference facilities.   There is an obvious city that is discriminated against: London.    I don’t just say that because I represent the greatest city in the world.  Holding Labour Party Conference in London, probably at the Excel centre in East London, would have many benefits.

London wins hands down on environmental grounds, a matter of concern to the Labour Party on which the Labour Government has taken positive action.  

London is the nation’s transport hub so it could be accessed far more easily than any of the current venues.  It is within commuting distance for more than half the population of the country.  Since London has the best transport links of any UK town or city, far fewer people would travel by car or plane.  Also as the national media is based in London, there would be no need for them to travel, no extra payments for employees staying away from home, fewer hotel bills.

London’s transport system is often criticised, yet it has superb infrastructure and would cope easily with the influx of people arriving for Labour Party Conference – fewer than go to a match at Arsenal each week.

We’d still be a fair way away from having a carbon neutral Conference, but having it in London would be a big step in the right direction.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, London would be cheaper for many delegates.  London, South East, and East Anglian delegates could commute on a daily basis. Many people from the Midlands and some from Wales and even as far away as Yorkshire could commute. A weekly season ticket would be cheaper than five nights’ accommodation in the vast majority of cases.

For women the ability to commute and still be able to be home in the evening for childcare, would be another valuable option and would help increase attendance.

There’s another plus though. Many, many more people have friends or family in or around London they could stay with.  Few of us have family near Bournemouth for example.  Probably half the population of the country know somebody they could stay with in London.  London also has far more  hotels than Labour’s traditional venues, so people would be spared the need to commute in as they did this week from Eastbourne, Seaford, Crawley and elsewhere.

 We would also be in a better position to encourage extra visitors to attend the Conference. Many visitors, whether they be from charities, embassies or industry, come for only one day and try to pack in lots of meetings. Given that many organisations in both the public and private sectors have their headquarters in London, the Labour Party Conference may well receive more visitors. It would also be a lot easier for members of the public to come to the Conference should they so wish.

I must of course declare an interest.  I am all in favour of holding Conference where I can pop there in half an hour on the Central Line. There are those who oppose more events in London. I ask them to argue why once every three or four years Labour should not have its annual conference in the city with the best green credentials – London.

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Nick Clegg needs to find a Reverse Gear

Richard Howitt & Ben Bradshaw

Richard Howitt & Ben Bradshaw

One of the things Gordon Brown got right in his excellent speech yesterday was his promise on the alternative vote system for Westminster elections. As many of you will know, I am a supporter of Electoral Reform and spoke this evening at the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform’s fringe meeting at Party Conference, along with fellow MEP Richard Howitt and Ben Bradshaw MP Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. As a long standing campaigner for electoral reform I have always viewed Liberal Democrats as allies in this endeavour, if not anything else. I have, therefore, been frankly surprised by what appears to be the Lib Dems white flag to the Conservatives in direct contrast to Labour’s fight back. They have positioned themselves to try and take Labour seats, but clearly hope at best to just limit losses to the Conservatives. Where, you may ask, are they running hard campaigns to win seats from the Conservatives?

Strategically the holy grail for Liberals and now Liberal Democrats has been a hung Parliament. Now they have a potential double whammy. A Labour government or a hung parliament offer prospects of real electoral reform. A Conservative majority slams fair voting prospects shut for a generation. Nick Clegg has a chance that Thorpe, Ashdown, or Kennedy would have given their right arm for. Will he reach out and seize it? Tactically and strategically the tantalising prospect of real electoral reform only comes about by Labour winning or staying the largest party. The Lib Dems seem to think they can build on successes often based on protest votes in cities to win Labour seats in the coming general election.

Yet their calculations are muddled tactically, and crass strategically. Almost every seat they won last time from Labour had a substantial student population. The cocktail of Iraq and university tuiLCER09 030tion fees is no longer available. So tactically what is it they think they can work on? ID cards? Gordon ruled that out too. Millionaire properties? Those are far more in Conservative and Liberal seats. There aren’t many millionaire properties in Kilmarnock, Keighley and Caerphilly. Let’s just consider the fleeting and highly unlikely possibility of the Conservatives with an overall majority.

Will a Labour Opposition put electoral reform at the top of its list when it gets back into government? Much as I think electoral reform is important, the first task will be to repair the schools, hospitals and other public services that will have been damaged by the Conservatives. So Nick Clegg, who had a dire conference, now has to put his hand up and fess up to another error.

He should, of course, divert resources from Labour target seats and put them into taking Conservative seats. He should instruct no hope candidates to tell their supporters that only a Labour win can help the Liberal Democrats.

I have got a slogan for them……. Liberal Democrats you can’t win here!

The Conservatives need to win 131 seats for an overall majority. They expect to win 30 seats or so from the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg needs to come out and welcome Gordon’s announcement.

He needs to commit to supporting electoral reform.

Most importantly Clegg needs to divert all possible Liberal Democrat resources to achieving a result at the next election that allows electoral reform to be delivered. In short he needs a reverse gear/U-turn/mea culpa.

Make your mind up Nick, I am committed to campaigning for electoral reform, are you?

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Dinner with London Constituency Delegates

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Every year at Labour Party Conference I host a dinner for London Labour Party delegates. It gives me a  chance to provide a small measure of hospitality to say thank you for all the hard work that Party activists do. I can also have more detailed conversations, report on my work, answer questions and as you will see from the pictures I gave a brief speech too.  Fellow Labour blogger John Gray from West Ham was accompanied by Rachel Tripp and Charlene McLean.

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From my own Holborn and St. Pancras constituency were Sabrina Francis and Ciaran Henderson. Councillors Lily Bath from Hounslow, Nana Asante from Harrow and John Fahy from Greenwich kept me up to date with plans for next years London Borough elections. I knew Alan Griffiths from when I worked in Newham. Impressively he is commuting down from East London each day, I also now know that when I take the Eurostar I travel in a tunnel under his house. He never hears a thing. My thanks to everybody who came and I look forward to working with many of you in your constituencies between now and the elections next year.

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London Labour Party at Brighton

 LondonLabour 039Wonderfully sunny weather in Brighton – surely a good omen for Labour’s future!

Having met the Southwark cyclists as they arrived yesterday, I went on to the London Labour Party reception, as lively an event as ever.

I was particularly pleased to be able to talk to Guy Nicholson, Cabinet member on Hackney Council for Regeneration and the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, about Socialist MEPs coming to London.  We discussed visiting the Olympic site  and also doing work on the Cultural Olympiad.  GLA Member John Biggs will also be involved in this, as will John Fahy, Greenwich Cabinet Member for Culture and Olympics.

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Also good to see former London Labour Party General Secretary Terry Ashton and talk to Alison Moore, PPC for Finchley and Golders Green and GLA Member Joanne McCartney.

Following a speech by Deputy Leader Harriet Harman,  the highlight of the evening was, of course, the Prime Minister.  He was on form and received both a rousing welcome and an enthusiastic ovation – all set for a fourth term.

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