Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

The election is gathering pace as we head into the last few weeks and now the manifestos are being introduced. Today the Labour Party has published its manifesto which you can read here.

One of its most important pledges is its economic promise. The Labour Party guarantees that each of its policies will be fully funded and require no additional borrowing.

The party manifesto also promises:
 A £2.5bn fund for the NHS paid for largely by a mansion tax on properties valued at over £2m
 Twenty-five hours of childcare for working parents of three and four-year olds, paid for by increasing the banking levy by £800m
 Freezing gas and electricity bills until 2017, so they can only fall not rise
 Banning zero-hour contracts and raising the minimum wage to £8
 Scrapping winter fuel payments for the richest pensioners, capping child benefit rises and cutting ministers’ pay by five per cent
 A 50p tax rate on incomes over £150,000 a year and abolishing non-dom status

In an interview with Andrew Marr yesterday the party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, brilliantly set out Labour’s plan.

During the interview with Marr she said, Labour is not talking to the Liberal Democrats behind the scenes about a partnership after the election and stated the Tory NHS funding pledge is ‘illusory’. She also criticised the Conservatives’ negative campaigning which she said was undermining the economy and “it just turns people off”.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Zoe Williams popped down to South Thanet to follow the campaign which Nigel Farage is fighting.

Among the many observations she made concerned Ukip’s local polices which she described as “disjointed and petty.”

“Its three main promises are first, the compulsory purchase of Manston airport to protect its aviation use, even though pretty much nobody round here has their own plane. Secondly, it wants to redraft the local housing plan to stop new houses being built, while at the same time offering “jobs for local people” (how a construction freeze will achieve this is unclear). Thirdly, Ukip will introduce an on-the-spot fine if you let your dog foul a path. Come on: dog shit? It’s come to something when the new politics makes the old stuff look ambitious,” she wrote.

Just a week ago, Williams points out that Ukip was accused of burying a poll it commissioned that showed its support dropping off rapidly in Thanet.

The reality is that there are two simple choices people can make in this election. They can choose to vote for a Conservative government which protects the interests of the few. A Conservative government will make further cuts and has already announced unfunded policy pledges such as its £8 billion promise for the NHS…where the funding is coming from is anyone’s guess.

The alternative is a Labour government, a progressive party which is fair, protects the most vulnerable but which creates opportunity and encourages business to flourish.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Stars of the theatre penned an open letter to culture minister, Ed Vaizey, last week following the publication of a report which revealed what damaging cuts are doing to British theatre. They urged him to “take seriously” the damage these cuts are causing to London’s important theatre heritage.

They said, and I agree, that new playwrights must be supported, nurtured and taken seriously; if they aren’t then British output will undoubtedly suffer in a short period of time.

The letter was in response to a report called In Battalions, published in February which showed how that theatre and the arts have been hurt by aggressive cuts as well as local authority arts grants which have also been cut.

Vaizey said he had no immediate comment. He will, he promised, respond formally. You can read more on this here.

David Cameron and his family visited Angela Merkel last weekend at the German Chancellor’s guest residence, Schloss Meseberg.

They discussed the need for reform of the single market and both reportedly called for, “urgent action to make the European Union more competitive and flexible.” Downing Street reported that Cameron set out his plans for the future with Europe, yet there was no indication how this was received. It’s well documented that she is concerned about his plans for a referendum, but we have no firm knowledge of how this part of the discussion progressed.

What remains clear is that the German Chancellor is anxious that the UK remains at the heart of Europe. Merkel also urged Cameron to tackle tax evasion and tax avoidance schemes and the two agreed to show ‘global leadership’ on the issue.  Read in full here.

Timed to coincide with Cameron’s visit, the euro sceptics in the Conservative party said they would be open to compromise on reforms, said leading member of the Fresh Start Campaign, Andrea Leadsom MP. Leadsom changed her tone somewhat from earlier statements and has toned down her firm stance. Still the headache for Cameron remains and he’s yet to heal the rift within his own party on the issue of Europe. You can read more on this here.

“I’m lucky to be alive” said Andrew Marr as he made his first appearance back on his own show since his stroke four months ago. He received many good wishes following his short appearance in which he explained he is still undergoing rigorous physiotherapy treatment and he will return to our screens in the near future. I would also like to wish him well and look forward to seeing him returning to our screens shortly. You can see his short interview here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

More than a million better-off families will lose some or all of their child benefit, under changes which came into force at midnight.

Over a million UK families are set to be hit by one of the most significant changes to the amount of child benefit they will receive. The new rules, introduced by the coalition government mean that where one parent earns more than £50,000 per year they will lose part of their child benefit with incremental reductions up to those who earn £60,000 when it will be completely cut.

Quite rightly Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the government should tax the richest, rather than make changes that affect those on middle incomes, and described the changes as a “complete shambles”. Families where both parents earn £49,000 a year will be completely unaffected by the cut and will be able to keep their benefit.

You can read more on this here.

Tory Prime Minister David Cameron appeared on the Andrew Marr show yesterday. Questioned on relation to Europe he agreed that being in the single market gives us ‘a seat at the table’ and means we have far greater negotiating powers.

But Marr masterfully tackled Cameron further and suggested he wished to cherry pick certain things that Britain could be part of, and repatriate powers over the things he didn’t. “The problem” Marr said, “is that you need every other member of the EU to agree, and that’s not going to happen is it?” Showing he has still failed to understand properly how the EU works, Cameron responded; “it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.”

Marr insisted that any form of repatriation or re negotiation of powers would be an extremely difficult and long process. Cameron refused to be drawn on the specifics and simply said he’ll reveal further details during his ‘big Europe speech’ which he will deliver later in the month. So watch this space for his big plan…

You can watch his interview in full here for the next six days.

Hilary Clinton has left hospital having suffered a cranial blood clot. The next presidential election will not be held until 2016, by which time she will be fully recovered, of course.

Yet commentators are already raising questions-as she left hospital-regarding her ability to stand as the Democratic Presidential candidate for the 2016 election, even though her doctors confirmed she will make a full recovery.

She has consistently denied that she intends to stand but that hasn’t stopped speculation. The Daily Mail reported that at “67, detractors have claimed Clinton’s advancing age and health make her too old to realistically serve as a two-term president were she elected in 2016.” You can read this here.

I don’t recall such intense scrutiny over the age of John McCain who was a Republican Presidential nominee for the 2008 Presidential election at the age of 71, or Ronald Regan who was 70 years of age when he first took office.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Ed Miliband being interviewed by the BBC's Andrew Marr

Ed Miliband has made a good start. He performed well on today’s Andrew Marr show, you can see the interview here (approx 31:30 minutes into the show.) But the party still has a long way to go. A new survey by the polling firm ComRes for today’s Sunday Mirror revealed that if there was a general election called tomorrow the Lib Dems would be left with just 14 seats in Westminster (currently they hold 57). 

The article reveals that this is the lowest figure for the Lib Dems in any ComeRes study since it began doing them in 2004.

Its regular poll revealed that 22% of voters found that Ed Miliband is turning out to be the best leader, this is a significant increase from the December 2010 figure of 17%. David Cameron remains on 38%, no change from December. You can read the full report here and the full survey results here.

In addition to these promising figures, Labour secured a victory and Thursdays by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth, well yes, opposition parties usually do pretty well in by-elections but it was promising to see the new Labour MP received such a high share of the vote (42.1%) and with a 5% swing to Labour from the Lib Dems.

Unite for a Labour Victory

Labour Party

So it’s Ed M by less than a whisker – 1.3% to be precise.

However, as Polly Toynbee has just said on the Andrew Marr show, this was no Denis Healey/Tony Benn election.  There quite simply was no big political difference between Miliband E and Miliband D.

Given this, I truly believe there will no difficulty in the Labour Party uniting behind the new Leader. While commiserating for David, I feel strongly we should, and will, now all get on with the business of opposition, pulling together and avoiding even the merest hint of factionalism.    

I arrived at Labour Party Conference on Friday evening and joined the queue to get into the Leadership announcement yesterday afternoon. Before the announcement of the ballot result we were treated to the inevitable speeches.

 Gordon Brown has undergone a transformation since stepping down.  Witty and relaxed, he returned to his old form.  Two video tributes showed just how much we owe Gordon, especially as the longest serving and most radical Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Harriet will, fortunately, still be with us as our elected Deputy Leader.

 What is so important now that we all pull together for a Labour victory.  Ed and the soon to be elected Shadow Cabinet, not to mention Labour MEPs, can now get on with the job of defeating the Coalition and returning Labour to government.

Same old Cameron, same old Tories

Labour Party

As I returned to Brussels with the worst of the snow seemingly clearing, the 11.04 Eurostar was, somewhat remarkably, on time leaving though slightly late arriving in Brussels.  It was, however, crowded; I suppose only to be expected in the circumstances.

There will be a lot more EU news this week as the European Parliament Committees are interviewing prospective Commissioners, a serious business which, as in the case of Rocco Buttiglione, has led to the withdrawal of a candidature.

As of now, I am still mulling over David Cameron’s interview with Andrew Marr yesterday.  Before going further, I have to admit, Mr Cameron on television bores me witless.  He drones on about really very little in his really well modulated tones to really negligible effect.  Speaking personally, I have no doubt that Gordon Brown would beat David Cameron hands down in a TV debate.

Cameron is also continuing his Euro nonsense.  Speaking to Andrew Marr, Cameron again told the British people he would renegotiate parts of the treaties Britain has already agreed with the EU.  As I have said many times before, this is rather more than a hollow promise – it’s a downright lie.  It will simply not be possible to renegotiate anything without the agreement of a majority of EU member states and that majority is simply not there.

In addition to his blatant misleading of the people of this country, Cameron reiterated his old chestnut that the Tories would withdraw from the European Social Chapter.  Even if this were possible, the fact that Cameron puts this forward as a flagship policy tells us a lot about him and his Conservative Party.  If it were to happen, withdrawal from the Social Chapter would mean fewer rights at work, less job security and higher levels of poverty.  Cameron is in some ways being quite clever by clothing his agenda in EU speak.  But make no mistake as to what he and his Conservatives are about – cuts in public spending are only one aspect of a programme designed to further the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor.

There are, and always have been, clear dividing lines between Labour and the Conservatives.  I joined the Labour Party over 30 years ago to campaign for the many, not the few, to make Britain a fairer and more equal place, to encourage aspiration while at the same time allowing everyone to lead fulfilling lives.  This is absolutely not what the Tories are about.  They haven’t changed since Margaret Thatcher, and please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Cameron’s Tories are between a Rock and a Hard Place

Labour Party

I’m not going to pretend that I am anything other than ecstatic to see the Tories fall so dramatically in the Ipsos MORI poll in yesterday’s Observer.  Only six points behind Labour on 37 % as opposed to our 31%, this is surely a blow for Cameron and his Conservatives.  Some have claimed it is a rogue poll, but that has yet to be seen.  As of now, I am prepared to believe the findings of a respected polling organisation.

All of this begs the question why.  Why are the Tories going down and why is Labour recovering?  The Glasgow North-East result is clearly in the frame as a by-election win traditionally boosts the winning party’s standing.  There is also the excellent news about the economy, and this Ipsos MORI poll shows that 46% of the public now believe the economy will perform better over the next year compared to 23% who think it will deteriorate and 28% who believe it will stay the same.

So we have two powerful reasons for people to go away from the Tories and come to Labour.  The other, I believe, is the disarray shown by Cameron, Hague et al on Europe and their policies relating to the EU.  The Tories’ EU policies quite simply lack credibility .  As a veteran of Labour in the 1980s, please believe me when I know an impossible and unworkable policy when I see one.

Having watched Cameron on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday and reflected on what he said during the past day, I am absolutely convinced that Europe is the Tories’ achilles heel.  It is the 2010 Tory version of Labour’s 1987 idea that nuclear disarmament coupled with an increase in ground troops was a viable option for the UK, a policy which would also allow us to fulfil our international commitments.

The voters twigged Labour then just as, I believe, they are twigging the Tories now.  Just in case you missed it or found the rhetoric got in the way of what they are actually saying, David Cameron and William Hague state that in the absence of their being able to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty they will:

1)  Introduce legislation to require a referendum whenever there is a treaty change in the EU


2)  Renegotiate those parts of the existing treaties and agreements the Tories don’t like

I don’t think 1) is much of an issue.  After all, should the Tories ever be in a position to negotiate changes to EU treaties they, as the governing party, would have a vested interest in the referendum going through.  This is, therefore, a fundamentally dishonest piece of rhetoric in that the Tories are only promising referendums on their own laws and agreements.

2) This is where the Tory policy becomes very difficult, if not downright impossible.  It is this which is not credible and unworkable.  It is not a credible policy for the very real reason that treaties and other EU agreements are negotiated very strongly down to the last detail by all the member states before agreement.  Every member state is therefore irrevocably committed to the final version.  Since all member states have been through the process, every single one of them is in the same position.  In most instances a change of government in a member state would not be enough to make that country wish to overturn such a treaty or agreement   

So I am truly baffled by exactly how the Tories feel they can change those aspects of the EU treaties they don’t like.  Even if there were one or two other member states who wished to make amendments to existing agreements that would not be enough to change things across 27 member states.

Changing the EU treaties amounts to constitutional change, something which generally requires significant momentum and a large measure of consensus.  I would simply like to draw your attention to the campaign for proportional representation for the  House of Commons.  It ‘s been a long haul and we are only just beginning to see some movement.  Another example may be the challenge the Labour Party faced in getting rid of Clause Four.  These are by no means frivolous examples; constitutional change at whatever level is tough and it requires a significant groundswell to get off the ground.  

As someone involved in European politics, I see no chance of the Tories achieving the promises they are currently making to the British people regarding treaty change in the EU.  They are peddling policies which, since they are not credible, amount to being dishonest.

The one thing David Cameron was very clear about on the Andrew Marr show was that the Conservatives will not take Britain out of the European Union, something they now could do under the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.  The Tories really have put themselves between a rock and a hard place – in the EU which they detest yet  not at all able to change those things they don’t like – a vulnerable achilles heel indeed.