Tag Archives: UKIP

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Labour Party

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Labour Party

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Tensions ran high this week after Gabor Vona, leader of far-right Hungarian political party Jobbik, came to the UK to speak at a central London rally.  Despite 14,000 signatures being added to a petition to Theresa May calling for Vona to be banned, the leader of Hungary’s third-party was eventually permitted to speak. In a letter to May London Assembly member and former Labour MP Andrew Dismore wrote, “I think it’s very important to send the message that we won’t have hatred spread on our streets”, and as I wrote for Shifting Grounds earlier in the week, I believe we should not have allowed him to come.

Jobbik’s visit to the UK was designed to woo the 50,000 Hungarians currently living here. With elections approaching, Vona – whose party have 43 seats in the parliament there – is looking to win the absentee votes of Hungarian ex-pats. Jobbik’s policies are highly controversial, echoing the language and rhetoric of Fascist movements in the 1930s and 1940s. Travellers and Jewish people come under particular attack: “The integration of gypsies has failed. In most cases, segregation would be the most effective way of educating these people,” Vona is on record as saying.

In the end Vona’s speech, which had been scheduled to be held in Holborn on Sunday, had to be relocated after Unite Against Fascism (UAF) gathered there and prevented his supporters from leaving the station. UAF’s Sabby Dhalu said Jobbik’s views “had no place in a modern society”, adding that “Wherever fascists have a presence, racist, antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks increase”. Vona eventually managed to find a platform in Hyde Park, where he spoke for around an hour, addressing the crowd in his native Hungarian.

It is easy to associate Jobbik with a strain of Fascistic Eastern European politics which has no equivalent here in the UK. The BNP, after all, is a faded force which has never won a single parliamentary seat, let alone 43, and the EDL appear to have lost support. Yet we must not be complacent. The widespread scaremongering over Christmas about a Roma ‘invasion’ is just one illustration of how, in straitened times, dangerous myths can gain traction. With the issue of Europe acting as a lightening rod, those who oppose the EU and want a more insular Britain often play into people’s worst fears.

Vona himself eschews the traditional left-right perspective on politics, saying “The true division is between those who want globalisation and those who do not”. Just as UKIP are seeking electoral success off the back of an unholy coalition of white collar Eurosceptic Tories and blue collar voters worried about immigration, Jobbik have garnered their support from both ends of the political spectrum.

This is not to compare UKIP with Jobbik – although it is worth noting the number of UKIP representatives who have flirted with right-wing politics – but rather to point out the danger of allowing populist narratives to take hold. In a European Election year those of us on the left must engage with voters who feel alienated by globalisation, and make a positive case for why Britain does better by working with its neighbours.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, the trial of footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema began in France. The two players, who are accused of having sex with an Algerian-born prostitute while she was under 18, face prison sentences if found guilty. In a week where my prostitution report (which recommends the Swedish Model) went through the parliament, the Ribery-Benzema case illustrates the need for a change in how we tackle prostitution. The sad fact is that, had the woman in question been a year or so older, it would have been perfectly legal for two multimillionaire footballers in their late twenties to buy her body for sex.

1 Comment

Filed under Labour Party

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

This week began with the news that Michelle Bachelet had beaten Alianza’s Evelyn Matthei to be elected President of Chile. Bachelet, who was running for the New Majority – a coalition of left and centre-left political parties – won 62% of the vote, and will formally take on the role in March 2014. She was previously President between 2006 and 2010, spending the interim period as the head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

Bachelet’s landslide victory means she now has a greater mandate than in her previous term in office. She has promised to increase corporation tax and improve state education. With Chile currently standing bottom of the 34 nation OECD inequality index, there is a strong feeling in the country that fairer policies are required. Widespread frustration with the lack of opportunities for ordinary people – despite a sustained period of growth – was one of the core reasons or the unpopularity of the previous incumbent, the centre-right Sebastián Piñera. “We’ve never been better positioned than now to make reforms,” said one left-leaning Senator.

The election also has a fascinating personal dimension. Matthei and Bachelet were playmates at a military base in the 1970s. However, the two women’s fathers – who supported and opposed General Pinchet respectively – had radically different fates, with Matthei’s promoted but Bachelet’s tortured to death. In spite of this, relations between the two women are said to be amicable.

As an advocate of a bigger role for women of all political colours, it was fantastic to observe an all-female contest. And I was of course delighted to see such an overwhelming endorsement of progressive values by the electorate. For growth to be sustainable social capital must keep pace with economic capital.

The electoral outcome in Chile marks a final closure on the horrors of the Pinochet regime, and a move towards a more open and equal era for the country. It reminds us that, while this may have been a year dominated in Britain by headlines about Ukip, immigration and London’s housing bubble, progressive values still have the capacity to triumph.

As we move into a European Election year we must be sure to remember this. Reports this weekend pointed to a potential collapse in funding for UK charities thanks to the Conservatives’ decision to withdraw from justice and home affairs programmes. Organisations focusing on, among other things, child safety, sexual bullying, and family support are expected to lose vital EU grants, and Jago Russell, head of Fair Trials International, said his charity might have to “relocate to another country”.

This is the just the latest in a string of stories showing the flaws in the Euro-sceptic argument. Pessimism and fear-mongering by those on the right have allowed reactionary arguments to gain traction, but we should not forget that being in Europe allows Britain to be a fairer, safer country. As the debate about the ‘European Question’ builds in the run-up to the elections in May, we must make a positive and progressive case for Europe.

Season’s Greetings to everyone reading this, and I look forwards to writing again in 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Don’t let UKIP take us backwards

It’s truly shameful to see yet another women belittling comment from UKIP at last week’s plenary session in Strasbourg.

Stuart Agnew seems to have taken up where his colleague Godfrey Bloom left off. In a debate on the gender balance among non-executive directors of quoted companies he asserted that “women don’t have the ambition to get to the top … something gets in the way. It’s called a baby”.

You can watch his intervention using the video player above and the response of Tadeusz Zwiefka MEP, and sign the @Action 2014 petition here (Don’t let UKIP take us backwards).

And here you can see a previous blog of mine about a Godfrey Bloom intervention on the same subject last July.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

This week saw the synod, the Church of England’s decision-making body, vote in favour of female bishops. Having at first been narrowly outvoted in November 2012, plans to allow women to rise to the top level of the clergy were passed overwhelmingly on Wednesday, with only a rump of ultra-traditionalists opposing or abstaining.

The outcome was described as “miraculous” by Reverend Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark. It will now go to a second vote in February 2014, at which it must get a two thirds majority. If passed it could come into effect as early as July, with implementation overseen by an independent regulator.

The vote endorses the ‘simplest possible’ model for women becoming bishops. This represents an advance on last year’s proposals, which had included ‘safeguards’ – such as men overseeing women candidates – to placate traditionalists. That the new, more progressive measures were passed this week has been attributed to a more cooperative climate in the church.

Although I am a humanist myself, I welcome wholeheartedly diversity at the top of the Church of England. Hopefully we will start to see women bishops ordained sooner rather than later.

At present the episcopacy lags behind other institutions. Unlike the boardroom and the front bench, which – in theory, at least – are open to women candidates, the so-called ‘stained glass ceiling’ remains legally reinforced. If the Church of England is to have any chance of being relevant to national life it must change this once and for all in February. As the worlds of business and politics have learnt the hard way, you can no longer connect with people unless you shed the ‘male, pale and stale’ outlook which has for so long dominated the British establishment.

This week also marked Silvio Berlusconi’s appeal case and the ongoing fight for political survival of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Berlusconi’s appeal brought to the surface further details of the ‘bunga bunga’ parties at which he is alleged to have had sex with under-age prostitute Karima El Mahroug. The three-time Italian Prime Minister was sentenced to seven years in June, although he has still not surrendered his political position and many remain sceptical about whether he will serve his time.

Ford, meanwhile, continues to hold onto his role despite allegations of sexual harassment and prostitute use, as well as admitting to taking crack. This week he body-checked a woman to the floor while trying to attack a heckler, yet bizarrely his poll ratings have remained steady.

With political disaffection becoming more common in parts of the developed world, dangerous buffoons like Berlusconi and Ford are often able to sidetrack the political process. We must fight robustly in the UK against their way of doing things – starting with more detailed cross-examinations of UKIP, the current clown prince elect of British post-austerity politics.

Finally, this week saw the revelation that three South London women, aged 69, 57 and 30, have finally been released from 30 years of slavery at the hands of a Lambeth couple. Many of the details are yet to come out, but this is clearly a desperately sad case. The sense of wasted life is hard to believe.

Frank Field has called the story the “tip of the iceberg” and Theresa May says prostitution is “all around us”. For me this issue transcends party politics. We must unite to ensure victims are supported and culprits put to justice.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Beware the ultra-right in Europe

As reported in the British press a few days ago, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, and Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, will attempt to launch a pan-European Eurosceptic movement.

This could indeed prove vexatious for Nigel Farage and UKIP, not least because Farage has ruled out joining his fellow ultra-right wingers. (Some would even call them fascists).

Unfortunately for the legitimate democratic parties, recent polling suggests that far-right or populist parties across Europe are threatening to create upsets in next May’s European elections. This is obviously the main reason for Wilders and Le Pen looking to form an anti-European alliance now. Le Pen will, in fact, travel to the Netherlands next month to discuss a joint campaign in the European elections with Mr Wilders’ PVV.

Yet the idea is not catching on across the extreme right in Europe. In addition to UKIP, the Northern League in Italy, Vlaams Belang in Belgium and the Democratic Party in Sweden have reacted coolly to the idea.

Interestingly, part of the problem is that the various populist or far-right parties in Europe are nervous of being associated with one another. I am tempted to ask what they have to fear and why they are so reluctant to be seen as part of the same movement. Maybe they still think that they can better hide their true colours by acting independently of each other. “Our party has not joined the alliance,” said Martin Kinnunen, the spokesman for Sweden’s Eurosceptic Democratic Party: “It is hard to say anything at this stage as we don’t know which parties will participate.”

Farage is the leader of the current Eurosceptic group in the Parliament, one that is dominated by UKIP. The Europe for Freedom and Democracy group (EFD) as it’s called, has been troubled with a good deal of internal conflict recently and it could be the case that a new political group will have to be cobbled together after the European elections.

Social Democrat and centre-left parties in Europe would do well to take note of the activity being undertaken by Le Pen and Wilders. It looks very much as if the extreme right, racist parties are mobilising in a more organised fashion than they have done before.

We need to be prepared to fight this kind of fascism with all our strength and at the same time get rid of the BNP at the European Parliament elections in May next year. Britain is fundamentally a decent country. Let’s make sure it remains just that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Godfrey Bloom’s attitudes are ‘the tip of the UKIP iceberg’

UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom this afternoon prompted outrage when he suggested a room of women were “sluts” for not “cleaning behind the fridge”. Party leader Nigel Farage appeared on television shortly afterwards to announce the withdrawal of the party whip.

As followers of this blog will know, I have been a long-time critic of Bloom. His words today were not an isolated ‘gaffe’ or a one off misjudged joke. Since becoming an MEP he has repeatedly courted controversy, whether it be his ‘Bongo Bongo Land’ remarks, his Nazi jokes in the EU Parliament, or his assertion that no business should hire “a woman of child-bearing age”. His social attitudes are not just old-fashioned – they are prehistoric. There is no place for the likes of Bloom in British or European politics, and there has not been for several centuries.

The condemnation Nigel Farage made of Bloom was carefully calibrated, calling him “beyond the pale” but at the same time referring to his “dad’s army” sense of humour. The intention was to distance Farage and UKIP from Bloom, but simultaneously to pass the whole episode off as a storm in a teacup, blown out of proportion by a politically correct media.

We must not allow either of these things to happen. Bloom’s comments today were not just the words of a marginal buffoon (as Farage wants us to believe). They in fact come far closer to representing the true spirit of UKIP than anyone in the party’s high command would admit. Barely a day goes past without a UKIP candidate somewhere making a racist or sexist comment of some kind, and many of the party’s elected representatives have at points flirted with far right politics.

Many right-of-centre politicians use dog whistle messaging to make clear their position on race or gender. UKIP are particularly guilty of this. Bloom is only unusual in that he routinely breaks ranks and is openly derogatory. Farage and others in UKIP must not be allowed to distance themselves from him. Their language may be more refined, but their actions and voting records tell us what they really think. Bloom is just the tip of the UKIP iceberg.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party