Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

News this week was dominated by the feud between the Daily Mail and Labour leader Ed Miliband. It began with the Mail‘s allegation that Ed’s father, socialist academic Ralph Miliband, “hated Britain”. Ed Miliband asked for right of reply so as to defend his father (who died in 1994). The Mail refused to apologise, and a national debate began. Embarrassingly for the paper, the fallout has brought to light their founder Lord Rothermere’s Nazi sympathies.

Suffice to say I am with Ed Miliband every step of the way. There cannot be a politician in the land – certainly not one to the left of Godfrey Bloom – who hasn’t at some point been smeared or misrepresented by the Daily Mail.

One of my most recent run-ins came in 2010, when they wrongly reported that I had “refused to say which way I voted” on the EU’s Pregnant Worker’s Directive. The article was wilfully misleading, aiming to destabilise a measure which supported working women and thus went against the paper’s hard-right ideology. The subsequent retraction – which came 6 months later after 15 letters and the involvement of the Press Complaints Commission – was as disingenuous as it was belated.

More recently, in 2012, the paper published an untrue article claiming the EU were trying to ban certain children’s books, under the headline ‘Now Brussels takes aim at The Famous Five!’ I wrote to them explaining that the story was unfounded. They refused to publish my letter on the puzzling basis that that, even if the original story wasn’t true “in so many words” at the time of reporting, it might one day become so. As they put it, “It may, of course, be something which isn’t legally binding today – but tomorrow? … Forewarned is forearmed.”

The Mail thrives on infamy, and will try to brush off this week’s events. However, my suspicion is that the Ralph Miliband episode – and the things it has drawn to light about the paper’s history and working practices – will damage them in the long run. The British people have a stronger antennae for what ‘Britishness’ is than any newspaper or politician. I feel certain that they will ultimately decide casting slurs, distorting the truth and closing down debate should not be part of it.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, David Cameron used his Conference speech to again put young people between the cross-hairs, this time by arguing that those under 25 should lose their benefits. “There are still over a million young people not in education, employment, or training,” he said. “Today it is possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat…and opt for a life on benefits.”

The proposal, which would hit single mums – who comprise 40% of the group – hardest, shows a staggering disconnect between cause and effect. In an era of austerity and high unemployment, with tuition fees trebled and EMA abolished, young people have been backed into a corner by Conservative policies. To penalise them for then needing to claim benefits is a failure of logic as much as a failure of compassion.

We must fight hard to contest myths about the EU

Labour Party

The Daily Express provoked anger at the start of this week by wrongly claiming that the EU are attempting to bring in compulsory quotas for female Roma MPs at Westminster. The article quoted Ukip’s London MEP Gerard Batten, who called the supposed plans “politically incorrect nonsense”.

Batten is right – at least in his description of the story as ‘nonsense’. There is no truth whatsoever in the claims. I wrote a letter to the paper explaining this, and suggesting that the story was poorly researched and ideologically motivated.

The paper replied with their ‘evidence’ for the article. This turned out to consist of a single recommendation in a 98 page study by an academic. To portray a bullet-point in an academic piece as an impending edict from Brussels is misleading at best. A disclaimer in the report made it clear that the opinions it expressed did not “represent the official position of the European Parliament”, but this was overlooked.

Moreover, as the European Commission’s Mark English pointed out, the EU’s remit “does not include the power to intervene in how candidates for national elections are nominated.” So even if the EU had wanted traveller quotas for domestic governments, it has absolutely no power to legally enforce them.

In a week which has seen Ed Miliband and his father subjected to savage attacks by The Daily Mail, it was sad to see first hand the way the right-wing and Euro-sceptic press are able to bolster myths about the EU. It makes it all the more important, in the run up to the European Elections in May, that we contest these falsehoods and make a clear, positive argument for Europe.

Daily Mail refuses to publish my letter

Labour Party

Last week the Daily Mail published this article, which suggested that the European Parliament could ban certain children’s books which reinforced gender stereotypes from British schools. This is very misleading. I therefore wrote a letter for publication to the Daily Mail to clarify their report.

Below is my  letter to the paper, followed by the response from the letters editor and his explanation for refusing to publish it:

Mary Honeyball MEP
4G Shirland Mews
W9 3DY
7 November 2012


RE: Now Brussels takes aim at the Famous Five! Books portraying ‘traditional’ families could be barred

The article by James Chapman (Mail 7/11/2012) claiming that the EU could be planning to ban books portraying stereo typical family values is misleading in the extreme. It was incorrect to suggest that such books could be barred from schools.

Brussels does not have legal powers to intervene in which books are available in UK schools; it is a matter for the UK government.

The European Parliament committee report to which your article refers does not suggest banning books- and in any case this is certainly not something which would be legally binding.

Even in areas where the report does call for EU level action and where such action would be legislatively possible, it could only be done if the European Commission makes a formal proposal. In addition, the European Parliament as a whole and also a large majority of Member States must then adopt it.

I hope this important point clarifies the inaccuracies I refer to in your report.

Yours Sincerely

Mary Honeyball MEP
Labour spokesperson in Europe on culture media and sport and gender and equality

The Daily Mail responded to my press officer, Sarah Mackinlay, with:

Dear Sarah,

I’m guessing James Chapman knows a bit more about the byzantine workings of the European Parliament and its committees than Mary Honeyball does.


readers’ letters editor

When my office attempted to clarify whether he intended to print the letter he offered the following explanation:

I eventually decided against it on the grounds that it is by no means incorrect that such books could be barred from schools.
Brussels may not have direct legal power to intervene on which books are available in UK schools – but you would have to be very naïve not to appreciate the way in which such a thing might become a matter of no choice for the UK government.
The European Parliament committee looking at this subject definitely exists and has published a report. It may not have suggested in so many words banning books (that might make it look very unpopular) but it has criticised them – and we’re not unfamiliar with the way in which such things begin as criticism and move on towards calls for a ban. After all, to these MEPs, what else are their criticisms for?
It may, of course, be something which isn’t legally binding today – but tomorrow? And that’s all our story warns about.
We’re well aware that this discussion may be at an early stage and ‘EU level action’ would require ‘a European Commission formal proposal’ etc, etc, but we like to warn people well in advance just what those underemployed ‘representatives’ are getting up to in Brussels: forewarned is forearmed.


I am publishing this because I was surprised and annoyed by the response I received to my letter – a response full of prejudice which demonstrates how little the Daily Mail understands the European Parliament and how the EU makes its decisions.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Karina Bryant

Labour Party

One of the great things about the Olympics is the opportunity it provides for sports with lesser media coverage to take top billing. Karina Bryant began practising Judo at the age of 10 in Camberley Judo Club in Surrey.  This was where she earned her black belt and where she continues to train to this day.

Karina enjoyed success in Judo early on taking silver at the Junior European Championships in 1995 before going on to become Junior World Champion in both 1996 and 1998.

Since then, Karina has won over 20 major medals including six at the World Championships and four European Championships golds.

Karina’s success led, in 2003, to inclusion named European Female Judo Player of the Year.  This in turn led to her being named in the Sunday Times’ top ten sportswomen of the year.  She gained further recognition in 2004 when she was named as one of the top 100 unsung inspirational heroines by the Daily Mail.

Karina did not have much success at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, going out in the first round.  Later that same year she suffered a serious neck injury and had to go through a great deal of rehabilitation to recover.

She made her triumphant return during the 2009 World Championships in Rotterdam, claiming the silver medal.  Karina narrowly lost in the final to Chinese fighter and reigning world champion Tong Wen.  What made this even more extraordinary was that it was thought that she would not even be able to compete in the competition due to her injury and only joined the 14-strong British team at the last minute.

Karina was Britain’s only medalist inRotterdam and said at the time:  ‘I feel great. I had a good year because I did not expect to be here. I am very happy.’

Karina Bryant is clearly a favourite to take home a medal at London 2012.  I hope to see her in the final against her old rival Tong Wen, the current Olympic champion in this category, where I’m sure she’ll use her home advantage to turn the tables and take the gold.

Busting a new ‘Euromyth’ – the EU is NOT demanding its logo at sporting events

Labour Party

The European Parliament has just voted through a report called ‘The European Dimension in Sport’, which may be featuring in the rightwing press in the coming days.

When the report went through the Culture and Education Committee in November of last year, the Daily Mail ran two stories which you can read here and here.

The problem seemed to be that the report made a suggestion that the flag of the European Union be worn on the kits of sports men and women and flown at major international sporting events held within the EU.

Now the report has gone through the parliament I expect to see some more stories denouncing Brussels as being interfering and trying to force the EU down everyone’s throat.  I thought I’d take this opportunity to pre-emptively rubbish these new ‘Euromyths’.

The first point to make is that the report is not legislative.  It’s called an ‘Own Initiative Report’ and is basically just a long list of suggestions.  It is only since the Lisbon Treaty came in to force that sport policy has been an EU competence.  These initial stages are basically about deciding what direction the EU is going to with its new authority, but as it stands, sport doesn’t even have a budget.

The second important point is one that even the Daily Mail acknowledges; the recommendation would be purely voluntary.  Here is what the paragraph actually says:

100.     Suggests that the European flag should be flown at major international sports events held on the EU territory and suggests to sports federations to consider the idea of having it displayed on the clothing of athletes from Member States, alongside the national flags; underlines that it should be entirely voluntary and up to Member States and sports organisations to decide whether they will use the aforementioned option;

Now I happen to think this is a rather silly suggestion.  There are number of reasons why displaying or wearing an EU flag at sporting events is not a great idea.  Most sports men and women identify with their home country and wear their flag proudly.  There are no European Union sports teams.  The closest we’ve got is the European team in the Ryder cup, but golf fans from Norway or Switzerland might object to seeing them wear an EU flag.  It’s a not very well thought out idea and that is why I and the rest of the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) voted against that paragraph in today’s vote.

Unfortunately the paragraph had the overwhelming support of almost everyone else, so it remains in the report.  The EPLP voted for the report as a whole because, apart from that one paragraph, we believed it to be a good document.  I believe that the EU can play a crucial role in tackling things like match fixing and corrupt players’ agents.  I didn’t think it was right to vote against a whole report full of good suggestions just because of one duff one.

But if you do hear anyone suggesting that the EU is trying to force their flag on the kit of your favourite football team, you might want to suggest they don’t believe everything they read in the Daily Mail.

The Tories’ atempt to deny prisoners voting rights is about self interest not public interest

Labour Party

The Daily Mail and David Cameron are trying to tell us that the Government’s decision to give MPs a free vote on whether or not long-term prisoners should have the vote is about asserting the supremacy of the British Parliament over the European Court of Human Rights.

It sounds good, doesn’t it, and is music to the ears of Eurosceptic MPs. Good old Blighty taking on those uppity continentals who want to destroy our way of doing things.

However, on closer examination it becomes clear that the European Court of Human Rights is not by any means the matter as a whole. Giving prisoners the vote could potentially upset the electoral arithmetic in some Tory seats.  For instance, Dartmoor Prison in the Tory held Torridge and West Devon constituency has an inmate population of about 1000. Since the current Tory majority is just under 3000, the potential for the prison vote to make a difference is very high.

I believe it is no coincidence that Cameron is seeking to deny prisoners the vote as his plan to reduce the number of House of Commons constituencies is going through the House of Lords, albeit with strong opposition from Labour peers. The move to stop prisoners voting is quite clearly part of the same process – to gerrymander constituencies so that the Tories gain maximum advantage by foul means or fair.

So while we have Cameron behaving extremely cynically in order to maintain Tory MPs in Parliament and dressing up in his best anti-EU rhetoric, his junior coalition partners now have a real problem. Since the Liberal-Democrats before the 2010 general election actively wanted to enfranchise prisoners, I wonder where this leaves them in relation to their coalition responsibilities.

Meanwhile the question of European Court of Human Rights rulings still remains. Quite clearly the UK should not go against the European Court. Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, who was incidentally appointed to the post by Margaret Thatcher, has insisted Britain must recognise its rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and is very clear that politics should be conducted under the rule of law.

This is, indeed, true and I wonder what former Labour Home Secretary was doing in signing a motion with Tory MP David Davies calling on the British Parliament to ignore the European judges.

In conclusion it is worth bearing in mind that the only EU countries with an outright ban on prisoners voting are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania. Were Britain to go down the David Cameron route, we would be among the EU countries that have the least respect for human rights.

Eating Disorder?

Labour Party

I was truly shocked when I saw this article in the Daily Mail today. (And yes, I often read the Daily Mail since I believe it’s a good idea to be familiar with all shades of opinion).

According to this research, “forget finding the right man: what makes women really happy is being the right size”.

Before I go on, I should add the health warning that the article deals with women who are obese rather than those who are within an acceptable range but still feel fat.

However, what’s going on here? Do women really think it’s more important to be thin than to find love and maybe have a family?  Is this really true?

If it is (and research such as that quoted in this article should, I believe, be taken with a large pinch of salt) we all need to think long and hard about our priorities. It would seem that the pressures people are under to conform to some image of the ideal human being – male or female – is seriously skewing our sense of what is important in our lives.

Daily Mail apologises to me for inaccurate reporting

Labour Party

I was pleased to see the following apology on page four of today’s Daily Mail.  It represents the conclusion of a long running dispute 

Mary Honeyball MEP

Further to our front page article “Firms face £2 billion maternity leave bill” (24 February), and another article on 25 February, we have been asked by Labour MEP Mary Honeyball to clarify that she had not ‘refused to say which way she voted’ on the EU Pregnant Workers Directive. We have subsequently learned that Ms Honeyball did not, in fact, attend the vote in the Women’s Committee. We are happy to clarify the situation, and apologise for any confusion caused.

As you can see, this dispute has been running since the end of February when the Pregnant Workers’ Directive was voted in Women’s Committee.  The Directive seeks to improve maternity provision across the EU, including introducing 20 weeks maternity leave at full pay.

Although I accept that in the current economic circumstances we must be cautious about this proposed Directive, I still firmly believe in what it is trying to do.

In Britain Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid at 90% of earnings for the first 6 weeks followed by a flat rate, which is increased by a few pounds every tax year. From April 2010 to April 2011, it is £124.88. Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for the first 39 weeks of maternity leave, so the flat rate mentioned above will be payable for 33 weeks unless the employer offers something better than this. The women concerned is then entitled to further unpaid leave up to a maximum of 12 months.

Given the situation in this country, the proposed EU Directive providing full pay for 20 weeks would improve maternity pay for the poorest women workers – the very people who will be hit hardest by the rise in VAT announced in George Osborne’s first budget.

I felt it was important to get this message across and to rectify the inaccuracies about me published in the Daily Mail. I now hope that the two journalists who got it wrong, Jason Groves, author of  the front page article on 24 February and Kirsty Walker who regurgitated large parts of the same piece on page two the following day, will be more careful in future.   

It took a long time to hammer out the apology from the newspaper.  Following 15 pieces of correspondence directly with the Daily Mail, I referred the matter to the Press Complaints Commission who facilitated the final agreement.  My thanks to them for their prompt attention and helpful attitude.

Lack of Foreign Languages is bad for young Britons

Labour Party

Both the Guardian and the Daily Mail today feature articles about the parlous state of modern language teaching in British schools.

Reading these two pieces you could be forgiven for not knowing that the EU requires all member states to teach two foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue.

There are good reasons for this.  Knowing another language allows you to work in other countries.  If any of our youngsters wish to work abroad outside the English speaking world, they would obviously have to know the language of their preferred destination.  Because so many of our children can’t do this, they potentially lose out.

The main problem is, of course, that English is such a universal tongue.  We can go to the USA, Canada, Australasia, most of the Indian sub-continent and a large part of Africa and speak our native language.  But we can’t hack it in Germany, France and the French speaking countries, Spain and South America, to name but a few.  However, if we upped our game to the required two foreign languages we could go to vastly more places to work, thereby expanding opportunities for our young people.  French and Spanish, for example, in addition to English, would enable Brits to live and work in a significant proportion of Europe, Africa and Asia as well as South America.

Languages have the ability to pay, and it really is about time the UK learnt that.  These two articles today also stress how those young people who are proficient in another language get better jobs at home.  Many employers ask for this qualification for their more senior and fast track jobs.

There is also a cultural dimension.  Languages are fun and teach you about other ways of life, other preoccupations and other views of the world.

Please let’s give our teenagers and young people a chance.  Foreign languages are too important to be consigned to the twilight zone.  They must be a full and important part of the mainstream curriculum.

David Davis puts the Cat among the Pigeons

Labour Party

David Davis

It’s gratifying to be proved right, though rather less gratifying when it’s on such a fundamental subject as Britain in the EU.

Since I posted yesterday, David Cameron has been put in a very invidious position by the ex-Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.  Davis has, in effect, issued a direct challenge to Cameron’s authority on Conservative policy towards Europe.

Writing here in the Daily Mail, Mr. Davis has called on the Tory leader to offer the public a referendum on the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU.  Davis’s challenge is, of course, a direct result of yesterday’s announcement that Cameron has abandoned his “cast iron” pledge that the Tories would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Cameron and the Tories have consistently and constantly argued that the Labour Government should have held a referendum on Lisbon.  What price honesty now, Mr. Cameron?

As we all know, the Conservatives made their U-turn after the Czech government caved in and signed up to the Treaty yesterday, removing the final obstacle to its ratification.  I would have thought Cameron and co might have anticipated this happening and made their policy accordingly.

For David Davis all seems startlingly clear.  He proclaims today:

“What we should do is, in my view, clear. We should have a referendum, not on the treaty, but on the negotiating mandate that the British Government takes to the European Union.

“The question should contain four or five specific strategic aims which clearly summarise our objectives.

“The sort of things we might include are: recovering control over our criminal justice, asylum and immigration policies; a robust opt-out of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; serious exemptions to the seemingly endless flood of European regulations which cost the UK economy billions of pounds each year; a recovery of our rights to negotiate on trade; exemption from European interference into trade in services and foreign direct investment rules; and an exemption from any restrictions on our foreign policy.

“The referendum should be the first piece of legislation in the new parliament, and should be held within three months of the election.

“Some fear this would become an ‘in or out’ referendum, a decision on whether to continue our membership of the European Union. It would be nothing of the sort. Killing this tired old canard is one of the reasons the referendum question has to be absolutely clear in language and intent.

“Of course it is possible that we will not achieve every change we want.

If that is the outcome, we should give the British people the right to accept or reject it in a further referendum.”

So that’s all right then Mr. D.  Hold a referendum which will have no status whatsoever with the EU Council of Ministers, the European Commission or even the European Parliament and then seek to impose Tory Party prejudices on the EU as a whole.  Wow, that’s one hell of a policy.  I’m glad you believe it Mr. Davis because I can assure you no-one in the EU will give it even the smallest chink of the light of day, your referendum notwithstanding.

This David Davis nonsense only serves to highlight Tory wrong headedness on Europe.  The Davis faction, which to an outside observer seems to be the Tory grassroots, most Conservative MPs and the majority of the Shadow Cabinet, are quite honestly living in la la land.  It will simply not be possible to do what they want.  It is not a credible policy.

Since the Lisbon Treaty for the first time allows existing EU member states to withdraw from the European Union, the only referendum which makes any sense at all is the one on whether the UK remains in the EU or comes out.    

 David Davis in his article rejects such a referendum on EU membership, presumably because he thinks the he and the anti-Europeans would lose.

 The views of the Tory Party, as opposed to those of David Cameron, on Europe obviously remain confused to put it mildly.  It will be interesting to see whether my hunch that Cameron will go with his Party turns out to be correct.