Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Tory- led coalition has helped the rich to get richer and it is the poor who’ve paid for it, according to a new study. The report published last week was produced jointly by Essex University and the London School of Economics.

The study found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne-who famously said “we’re all in this together”-has been engaged in a significant transfer of income form the least well off half of the population to the ore affluent in the past four years.

The government had always insisted that the burden of austerity should be shared fairly and equally, but the research found startling evidence indicating that the poorest have been hit hardest. In many ways it’s not surprising of course. But this independent study provides some startling evidence to support, what has been, theory.

The researchers revealed, among other things, that with the exception of the top 5% of the country who lost a total of 1% of their potential income, the more well off half of the country has gained financially from benefit and income tax changes, seeing increases of between 1.2% and 2% in their disposable income.

The top 1% income earners have seen net gains following changes introduced by the coalition government which include a cut in the top rate of income tax.

Meanwhile, lone parents lost much more through cuts to benefits and tax credits while being faced with higher income tax allowances. Also a quarter of those on the lowest pay have shouldered a particularly heavy burden losing more than 5% of what would have been their income without the coalition’s reforms, the report found.

Labour is right to assert that neither the pain of austerity nor the rewards of the economic recovery have been equitably shared. Indeed, the Guardian reported on Saturday that Ed Miliband told a meeting of party members in the West Midlands: “This country is too unequal and we need to change it.”

The Trussel Trust, which runs emergency food banks in the UK predicts an increase in attendance over the next few months. Its chairman, Chris Mould, told the Observer: “It is not true to say that we have all been in this together. It is time we were honest about that and made a decision about whether we are happy with that.”

While Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, responded to the report by stating: “This important analysis offers further evidence that children in low-income families are among the groups losing the most as a result of cuts to benefits and tax credits.”

Lord Sugar, has urged David Cameron to offer more support to the growing numbers of self-employed workers after official figures revealed their pay has plummeted under the Tory- led coalition government.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed self-employed incomes have fallen 14% since 2010 when Cameron came eto office.
Meanwhile a separate analysis from the Office for National Statistics revealed the average real income of the self-employed fell by 9%, from £24,000 to £22,000 a year.

Lord Sugar called for the Prime Minister to: “Clear the path for hard-working self-employed people to concentrate on what they do best”.

The actress Imelda Staunton has made an interesting observation. She said that while older women are celebrated in this country in film and television at least, pressure is applied in the form of impossible images which younger women are expected to uphold which she described as “wrong’ and “revolting”.

She was speaking at a Telegraph Wonder Women event.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

More than a million spectators converged on the Thames yesterday to watch the diamond jubilee river pageant, despite worsening weather that forced the cancellation of a flypast.

As the Queen and other members of the royal family joined 20,000 participants in the 1,000-strong flotilla, millions of people across Britain joined in the celebrations at street parties, though many were hastily relocated indoors.

Understandably the media has been very focussed on the Jubilee, especially in the last few days, so there hasn’t been much discussion of the referendum vote in Ireland, despite it being a highly significant moment, especially for us in the UK.

In Britain, hostility to the EU is growing, with an array of political forces clamouring for a break-up of the euro and even of the European Union.  The main trouble with the British anti-EU argument is that Europe’s voters keep letting them down. The Irish referendum is a case in point. In spite of the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, they did not endorse the policies of the current Dublin government. Instead, they remain firmly pro-EU.

Similarly, in Greece the leftist Syriza party is carrying the hopes of those struggling against the economic depression and is both pro-EU and anti-austerity, as is the majority of the Greek population.

It is also true in France, where the pro-EU, anti-cuts Front de Gauche performed so well in the first round of the presidential election. The same applies to the emerging anti-cuts movement in Spain.

Sadly in the UK we are out of touch with the rest of Europe.  The leader of the formerly euro-fanatic Lib Dems has joined the anti-EU chorus, even Ed Balls has suggested a European referendum to “rebuild trust” with the electorate. Reversing the coalition’s cuts might achieve that more directly. Bending to Euro hostility will benefit only the Tories and UKIP.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Last week the wash-up of the local elections continued as the nation prepared for the Queens speech in which the coalition government would reveal what it had in store for us in the second half of its term.

Martin Kettle’s analysis of the speech summed it up well, when he suggested that Cameron’s struggling to send a clear message to the nation about the coalition is for.

It’s true, his narrative is unclear and to an extent it is imbued with his Lib Dem partners, a stage he would rather not share.

Kettle’s analysis, which you can read here, suggested that the coalition is now at loggerheads. He wrote: ‘As a consequence the larger liberal conservative project that arguably framed the first year of the coalition is far harder to discern now. Indeed it would be difficult to say that the coalition now has any distinct project beyond economic stability and the government’s survival. Not that these are unimportant. But all the coalition’s eggs are suddenly in this one frayed basket – a far cry from the earlier strong sense that it had a vision of the kind of Britain it sought to build.’

Last week Cameron and Clegg hot footed it to Basildon to tell us what they had planned for us going forward. It was designed to reassure a nation which, as the election results the previous week indicated is resolutely unsure of this coalition.

But their meeting in a factory seemed strained and tired. There was no banter and the bonhomie had disappeared.

Body language expert, Peter Collett wrote a brilliant piece pointing out the body language between the two men. Cameron using strong hand gestures to signal to the nation he is in control.

Clegg also revealed more than he realised. Collett writes: ‘While he gave Cameron lots of attention and nodded in all the right places, a look at his feet showed his weight was often on the foot furthest from the PM. Consciously, he was being supportive, but his body was secretly trying to distance him from Cameron.’

As politicians this is something we must be constantly aware of, our every move is scrutinised; one wrong move can have significant consequences. And make no mistake- it will always be noted. Read Collett’s article in full here.

Yesterday Toby Helm wrote in the Observer that ‘Ed Miliband is in a strong position to secure an outright majority at the next election, according to a new opinion poll that analyses the views and voting intentions of recent converts to Labour.’

Helm wrote: ‘The YouGov survey for the Fabian Society shows that “Ed’s converts” – people who didn’t vote Labour in 2010 but currently back the party – are made up mostly of disgruntled left-wing Liberal Democrats, many so disillusioned that they are very unlikely to vote for Nick Clegg‘s party again.

‘About 75% of the converts – who have helped Miliband and Labour open an eight-point lead over the Tories in the poll – are former Lib Dems, 18% are ex-Tory supporters, and 7% are former supporters of other parties or people who did not vote in 2010.’

As always Miliband, rightly, remains cautious but optimistic. He believes we must build, among other things, a deep allegiance and he is right, and as he says there’s still lots of work to be done.

Coalition government in trouble following local election results

Labour Party

The headlines speak for themselves, ‘Labour on course to gain more than 700 council seats’ says the BBC, and further indications that it’s beginning to fall apart for the coalition with headlines and results such as ‘the Lib Dems have lost more than 125 seats’ and ‘the Conservatives have lost control of some 11 town Halls’.

Meanwhile, Labour had a significant gain in Harlow and Southampton, among other councils, where Labour won control. Well done to all of them!

Yes- the turnout was low but nevertheless the electorate is sending a clear message to the coalition government. And it was a particularly bad night for Cameron and Clegg, in fact the Lib Dem President Tim Farron was moved to apologise on this morning’s Today programme to Lib Dem councillors who lost their seats in the local election.

But will this apology be enough? Their members will undoubtedly feel aggrieved about the results and questions will arise about what the grass root members will do about it and the action they may seek to take.

For the first time the Lib Dems are experiencing the mid-term blues, which many of us know is a difficult position to be in.  It’s often far more difficult than standing and shouting form the side-lines as the Lib Dems have had the relative luxury to do in the past.

While these results give an indication of the mood of the nation, and hopefully will serve to send a message back to the coalition government, the London mayoral elections are not nearly as easy to judge in the same way.

We will get the result later today. We will also get the result of the London Assembly where it looks hopeful that Labour will make significant gains.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Towards the end of last week I read a something which concerned me greatly. The use of force in some young offender instituions has increased, in some cases nine fold. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, says the nine-fold rise in the use of force in the past year at the Serco-run Ashfield young offender institution from an average of 17 times a month to 150 times a month is “extremely high”. Yes it is extremely high, and I am concerned that other examples will emerge, especially from privately run institutions.

Force may only be used as a last result, and it troubled me that some important recommendations in relation to safety have not been met and young people report feeling less safe and less well supported. Indeed the article, which you can read in full here, also revealed that Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said he accepted that further work needed to be done to create a safer environment.

I would support this view firmly. There is much work to be done as our prisons continue to be over crowded, despite this they must be fit for purpose, and this is especially the case in young offender institutions.

On Wednesday the UKs unemployment figures were revealed. Unemployment among women is at a 25 year high. Unsurprisingly women are starting to question what Cameron can and will do to show he supports this large group of voters. He’ll need to move fast as twice as many women as men lost their jobs in the final quarter of 2011, and this only serves to reinforce that argument that the coalition government is in fact doing very little for women-and let’s not forget his “Calm down dear” quip a further illustration of the regard he has for women.

In this regard the Guardian last week debated: ‘Can David Cameron be made to understand women?’ A roundtable panel of prominent women discussed what the PM’s ‘adviser for female voters’ Laura Trott should say to her boss. Trott is currently chief of staff to the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, and has been appointed to ensure that government plans appeal to female voters; her appointment is a clear attempt to address the concern regarding the fall in support for the coalition among women..

Trott will take on her role in the Spring and the Guardian’s debate examined how Trott should use her influence. You can hear the podcast here.


Europe Causes More Trouble for the Coalition Government

Labour Party

David Cameron faces problems within his own party as Nick Clegg insists that the UK will not withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Conservative led Coalition Government is establishing a commission of enquiry to investigate the possibility of establishing a British Bill of Rights, but Clegg has won the battle to ensure that withdrawal from the ECHR will not feature in the parameters of the investigation.  This means that any Bill of Rights will have to fit around the already existing European legislation.

The rightwing, EU-sceptic, elements of the Tory party have been incensed recently by certain rulings by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, most notably that Britain must allow prisoners the right to vote.  They believe that total withdrawal from the convention is the only way to avoid such decisions in the future.

But this is short-sighted of them as the ECRH as most certainly been a force for good in the UK and the rest of the EU.  Decisions such as the Guardian/Observer vs. The UK Government back in the 80s show how effective it can be in protecting our rights and liberties.

Never the less, David Cameron is going to have to answer to his increasingly frustrated and angry party over this decision.  It is becoming more and more obvious that it is not just Lib-Dem back benchers who are finding the Coalition Government an uncomfortable arrangement.  Nick Clegg’s intractable pro-EU stance is creating even further dividing lines and you can’t help but think that either leader is going to have problems keeping their party ‘on song’ up till the next election.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

I couldn’t help but think that the Coalition Government is somewhat nervous of the new shadow chancellor appointment. Ed Balls is a brilliant economist but it didn’t stop Nick Clegg on the Andrew Marr show this morning raising some very odd questions about Ball’s experience. “I think we are entitled to ask questions about Ed Balls’ record.

Ed Balls the new Shadow Chancellor

“If you ask yourself ‘Who was in charge of the City when they were gorging themselves on bonuses and lending irresponsibly, who allowed the housing market to let rip, to become a casino and put thousands of families into debt?’

“Who was whispering in Gordon Brown’s ear budget after budget creating a huge fiscal deficit? The answer to all those questions is Ed Balls.” Asked Clegg. This kind of rhetorical questioning would suggest a party (coalition) whose leaders and senior figures are clearly nervous of how well Osborne can perform against the experienced and capable Balls.

Harriet Harman spoke very well, I thought, this morning on Dermot Murnaghan programme about Balls’ appointment (you can see her interview here).

She insisted that it is right to reduce the deficit over a period of four years. There is no split over the party’s economic policy she said.

Also this week education secretary Michael Gove said we had to go ‘back to basics’ with regard to History and Geography lessons. He believes we need to teach more facts and figures to our school children.

But what will we achieve exactly by going back to a 1950s style of education where you learn on rote and without question?

Another review of the curriculum will not solve the issue of children not learning enough key fats. Instead it is likely to create an extra burden for teachers who are already stretched to breaking point.

Another review will further knock their confidence. You can read more on the story here.

I will be speaking about this in my very first vlog which I shall post here on my website early next week.

Europe Proves Tricky Again for Cameron

Labour Party

Last week the coalition government’s Europe Bill was voted through the first stage of the parliamentary process.  The bill is the result of Cameron’s promise to the eurosceptic wing of his party to hold a referendum in the instance of any further treaty changes and to ‘enshrine the primacy of parliamentary sovereignty’.

I have followed the progress of this particular policy with interest as it seems an area where the Tory party and coalition government are liable to run in to difficulties.  And I was proved right when the eurosceptic wing, whom the bill was trying to appease, stated loudly and clearly that the bill did not go far enough.

In the end the rebellion was neither strong enough nor large enough to defeat the bill, but I doubt very much that this is the last of Cameron and Hagues’ problems.  The most vocal of the rebels, Bill Cash MP, is unlikely to ever be truly satisfied unless we have a retrospective referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which is impossible, or withdraw from the EU altogether.

It is worth noting that the Lib Dems, a broadly pro-EU party, also voted for the bill.  This is almost certainly because they recognised it as largely meaningless.  It is unlikely to have any real effect the UK’s relationship with EU.  I guess that means that in a way I agree with Bill Cash and his ilk, not something you’re going to hear me say very often.

British Council Language Cuts U-Turn

Labour Party

Four weeks ago I blogged against the Coalition government´s proposal to cut the British Council Assistantship scheme in which young Britons travel abroad to undertake teaching in a foreign school.

With radically improved language skills, a taste of foreign culture, and the chance to try teaching all on offer, it is not hard to see why thousands seek a place on the programme each year.

I´m delighted to read in today´s Independent that this decision has been overturned. It shows how important it is to campaign against, and protest about the government´s unthinking ideologically driven cuts. As the Independent lists there´s a talented list of graduates….

“The programme’s alumni include the Harry Potter author JK Rowling, and the broadcasters Fiona Bruce and Angus Deayton. The BBC journalist Reeta Chakrabarti , writer Stephen Clarke and impressionist Rory Bremner also taught in foreign classrooms, while Aston Villa manager Gérard Houllier worked as foreign language assistant in England.”

The LSE considers going private

Labour Party

The London School of Economics has presented plans about going private to its governing body in the wake the coalition’s cuts to higher education.  Apparently, along with Cambridge University, they feel there may comes a point after which it is simply not worth them staying in the state sector, even if they charge the proposed top rate of fee of ₤7,000 a year. 

The 40% cuts that the coalition is proposing for the higher education sector is going to disproportionately hit arts and humanities subjects, and LSE, being a world leader in social and political sciences, will feel the brunt more than most.

A letter signed by the chairman and director of the LSE, sent to Vince Cable regarding his statements on the Browne Report, strongly criticises his emphasis on subjects which provide specific skills, such as science and technology, over others.  The letter states that:

“No case is made in the report to suggest that the teaching of the social sciences, or indeed the humanities, are incapable of providing these skills or providing public benefit.  In fact, the social sciences provide students with many of the high-level and flexible skills desired by employers, including training in rigorous policy analysis, oral and written communication, and problem solving.”

As a history graduate myself, I find the idea that the coalition can have so little regard for subjects such as history, politics, social science and philosophy, deeply troubling, especially since many of members of the government have degrees in just these subjects.  The LSE does not offer any science or technology based courses, but is an institution of world renown that attracts the highest quality of student from the UK and abroad.  They go there because they know that the skills they can learn will be invaluable.

Furthermore, as a Labour representative, I am acutely aware of the role that the London School of Economics and its founders Sydney and Beatrice Webb, played in the early years of my party’s history.  That an institution built on the principles of social democracy and equality is considering becoming a private institution is disturbing, to put it mildly. 

A spokesperson for the LSE made it clear that they had to consider all available options in the light of the spending review.  The coalition is running the risk of putting too much strain on the institutions that make Britain a world leader in higher education. It would certainly not be in the national interest to undermine the excellent standing in which our best universities are held. Britain stands to lose a lot by falling behind in higher education, both at national level where our own students would not have the option of the highest level of learning and internationally where Britain is at the very top of the tree.