Sixteen and Seventeen Year Olds should vote in the EU Referendum

Labour Party

I was gratified to see that the Prime Minister has conceded that the House of Commons should vote on whether 16 and 17 year olds should be eligible to vote in the referendum on EU membership.

He is, of course, personally opposed to extending the franchise for the EU vote, notwithstanding the fact that this group voted in the referendum on whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom.

As we know, Cameron’s argument is that the vote on EU membership should be done on the same basis as that used for general elections. Although such an arrangement would clearly favour the Conservatives, it is difficult to understand his logic, particularly in the light of the extension of the franchise for Scotland. The EU referendum is not a political party contest as such. It is rather a vote by the British people about an issue of vital importance to them.

Research published today examining the potential voting patterns of 16-17 year olds in Scotland, revealed that two thirds would have voted in the general election had they had the opportunity to do so. Young people are engaged in politics. The fact that turn out in the 18 – 25 year old group is low in general elections says more about traditional politics in our country than young people’s attitudes towards their lives, how they are governed and what they care about.

Many 16 and 17-year-olds are entering the world of work whether it is part time or full time; they are expected to pay taxes, contribute to national insurance, they are allowed to start a family, fight for their country live independently and get a mortgage. In other words they are allowed to participate in almost all areas of civic social and economic life and are treated as, and have the same responsibilities as, adults yet they are not allowed to participate in political life beyond supporting a political party.

The referendum in Scotland generated immense enthusiasm, the like of which has not been seen for a long time in elected politics. If the EU vote generates anything like the liveliness seen in Scotland that, in itself, will be a victory.

Britain outside the EU would be much diminished. We rely on the European Parliament for not only our trade but also our place in the world.

Let’s be truly democratic and give 16 and 17 years olds a vote on their future.


Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

A cardiologist, Dr Carl Brookes, has warned that the NHS is under unprecedented pressure. Dr Brookes also happens to be the Prime Minister’s brother-in-law.

Hospitals such as his, Dr Brookes told his local newspaper in Hampshire, “face extraordinary challenges.”

He told the Basingstoke Gazette: “I think it is important that people understand that this is unprecedented. There is no doubt that we, and other hospitals around the country, are facing extraordinary challenges.

“Patients who come to the emergency department are being seen, but they are not being seen as quickly as we would like. Priority is given according to clinical need – if someone is critically ill, they will, of course, be seen first.”

This is an extremely challenging time for the NHS and Dr Brookes is far from a lone voice in his concern with how far services and departments are being stretched-particularly accident and emergency services.

Labour have tackled David Cameron on his broken promise to protect the NHS after research found half of the A&E and maternity units he pledged to save have been closed or are now under threat.

Cameron promised a ‘bare knuckle fight’ to protect the NHS back in 2007 and produced a list of 29 hospitals, whose A&E and maternity units were at risk of closure, and vowed to save them. Since then, the Labour Party has found that 14 of the hospitals have seen A&E and maternity units either close, downgraded or under threat of closure.

The NHS is an institution that must be protected, not stretched to breaking point forcing closures and sending units and departments into special measures because government fails to support it or help it find a way through the problems it currently faces. You can read more here.

This week we celebrate the 800th anniversary of a document which lay the foundations for democracy and the rule of law, the Magna Carta. It established the principle that nobody is above the law, not even the monarchy, and it provides the roots to our justice system.
The British Library has the four remaining Magna Carta manuscripts on display for the first time (the first time they have been presented together) as part of its 800 year anniversary.

The precious document, seen as the foundation of the notion of liberty and the principle of law, were written on parchment and so have maintained the perils of time and are in amazingly good condition.

Professor Guy Standing writes about this historic document for the Guardian and corrects some myths that surround one of the world’s most famous documents.

We are witnessing the most significant decline in British influence in Europe for a generation

Labour Party

Today, our Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, will tell the Parti Socialiste, our sister party in France, that over the period of this Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, we have witnessed “the most significant decline in British influence in Europe for a generation”.

He stressed that “no country that seeks to play a leading part in the modern world could contemplate walking away from the world’s largest single market, or to cut itself off from some of its closest allies”. He will also say that “our place at Europe’s top table has made the UK stronger, more secure, and more prosperous”, and that “Labour believes that the UK will stand taller in Washington, Beijing, Moscow and Delhi – when we stand firmly at the heart of the EU”.

This is exactly the kind of engagement the UK really needs in Brussels, not the kind of intransigence that has caused grumblings of discontent from our European partners. Continued opt-outs from cross-border criminal prosecutions and investigations, opposing capping banker’s bonuses, failing to condemn rape in marriage, have made even the normally stoic Angela Merkel despair of David Cameron. We need instead a government with a policy to be an integral part of the European Union, to represent the UK’s best interests not by simply throwing the toys out of the pram when a proposal is made and refusing to play, but constructively negotiating to find a better solution for everyone.

The Labour Party has a clear plan to review, repair and reset our relations with our neighbours. We must take our advice from those in the field; the ambassadors, experts and civil servants, and not be held hostage by the irrational ideologies of a Eurosceptic fringe in the Conservative Party and UKIP.


Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

You know it’s serious when the EU Commission President contemplates a British exit from the EU. Jean-Claude Juncker did exactly this when he suggested, in a speech to French delegates last weekend, that if the conditions aren’t right then it is time for Britain to consider a “divorce.”

He also steadfastly refused to “get down on his hands and knees and beg Britain to stay,” comparing the relationship to a doomed romance, stating that he is against “ all forms of grovelling”.

With his constantly negative rhetoric and irrational behaviour (a style which doesn’t work well in European politics), Cameron is leading the UK on a dangerous path of which there will be no return. I have said for some time that senior EU representatives are losing patience with Cameron’s approach and this latest announcement from Juncker is designed to be a stark warning to Cameron, but will he listen?

Meanwhile plans to introduce new rules which would oblige health professionals to report cases of female genital mutilation have been attacked by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

It has intervened in the proposals arguing there is “no credible or conclusive evidence that the move would better protect children.”

In fact, the body says that mandatory reporting of FGM cases could deter families seeking medical advice.

All those who are involved in the debate regarding FGM appreciate its sensitive nature; however, we should be unapologetic about our need to protect vulnerable young girls from this barbaric, invasive and painful procedure.

Mandatory reporting is necessary because the poor statistics indicate how under reported this crime is. For example, since 1985 there have been just two prosecutions. Yet there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls who have experienced FGM, born in countries where FGM is practised who are permanent residence in the UK.

Last week Ed Miliband took David Cameron to task for saying he would refuse to participate in a leader’s debate if the Green Party was not invited to the podium. If this hadn’t rattled Cameron enough then perhaps Lord Patten’s warning to Cameron concerning the threat the Labour leader poses to him, will.

In an appearance on BBC radio 4’s the Week in Westminster the former Conservative Party Chair, Lord Patten, described Mr Miliband as “highly intelligent” and a “good debater”, and went on to warn: “the Tories should be much more worried about Ed Miliband than Ukip’s Nigel Farage.”

My Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Happy New year to all my readers and I wish you a healthy and prosperous year, one which will be a significant year for British politics. The general election in May is what the pollsters have hailed one of the closest to call elections in decades. Kicking off its election campaign the Labour Party promised to put ‘working people first, deal with the deficit and protect the NHS as top priorities.’ Ed Miliband is set to further outline this today in a speech to launch the party’s campaign.

To answer questions from as many voters as possible, Ed Miliband will attempt to undertake a huge campaign and has promised to hold a weekly question time with voters during the run up to the general election, where he will reach an estimated four million voters.

Over the weekend Miliband criticised the Tories’ rather bleak looking first election poster, which literally ‘depicts a road to nowhere’, as Miliband said. He also calls Cameron a prime minister who simply wants everything to carry on as it is. He criticises the Tories desire and willingness to undertake a plan which doesn’t alter in any way to the original one. He suggests they are pessimists about what’s achievable for Britain.

It’s going to be an incredibly busy five months in the political world and I will fight with colleagues wherever I can to convey Labour’s message, to show voters that there is hope, that the road isn’t bleak, in the way the Tories image would suggest and an alternative plan can work.

Meanwhile, the Tories came under fire from one of Britain’s most respected business leaders and inventor, James Dyson. He criticised the home secretary, Theresa May ,over proposals to force overseas students to leave the country upon graduation.

Sir James Dyson argues this is a mistake because it ‘exports’ potential top talent for the sake of a quick electoral fix.

He ridiculed Theresa May’s idea which would effectively turn the UK’s world class university education into an “export” rather than a magnet for investment.

Just before Christmas the Church of England announced it had appointed its first woman Bishop. The Reverend Libby Lane was announced as the new Bishop of Stockport only a month after a historic change to canon law.

The appointment will end centuries of male leadership of the Church and comes 20 years after women became priests.

I wish her the very best of luck in her new post, and am delighted that the Church has broken another glass ceiling.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

UKIP’s second by-election win should give us all pause for thought. They have now demonstrated the level of their support and have provided clues about what they would do if they were ever to gain any kind of power. Nigel Farage has, for instance, said he would like an insurance based private health care system.

Unfortunately the media, in particular the BBC, has been full of ‘fun’ footage of Nigel Farage enjoying a friendly pint of ale, seemingly harmless enough-only it isn’t. Perhaps now, as Andrew Rawnsley so brilliantly suggested, there will be fewer images of ‘Nigel down the pub and a lot more questions about what he would do with power.

David Cameron has underestimated the party’s threat. He promised to ‘kick his fat arse’, referring to Mark Reckless, of course, who won last weeks by-election in Rochester and Strood. Reckless is now Ukip’s second MP. Despite promises to ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at the election- which he did by visiting the constituency no less than five times, the Tories still lost.

It is true, as Rawnsley points out, that by-elections are a very unreliable predictor of what will happen at a general election. However, the Labour Party also has to focus its efforts and be very mindful of the threat Ukip poses.

Although the England women’s football team lost to Germany yesterday (3-0, to those of you who are interested), congratulations none-the-less to the women’s team who attracted record numbers of spectators at their first match held at Wembley. They drew huge crowds, 45,619 to be precise- more than for the last men’s game played there. So, now the campaign must begin in earnest to get them the recognition they deserve, as the Telegraphs Wonder Women section writes.

An inspired campaign started by Belinda Parmar, CEO of Little Miss Geek, focuses on changing the perception of children. The playground trading of football cards is big business. Match Attax cards are bought by 1.5 million children each year. Yet none of those cards circulated by millions of kids display women players.

Parmar’s petition hopes to achieve just that – ‘to ensure school children know the names of female footballers as well as they know their male counterparts. This is one step to starting to change the male dominated face of football.’

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.

‘Calm down dear’

Labour Party

“Calm down Dear”- the now infamous quote David Cameron snarled at Angela Eagle back in 2011, and which was done in patronising tones. And today Lord Hill, Britain’s EU Commissioner, called for ‘calm’ following Cameron’s hysterical response to finding out the UK owed £1.7bn to the EU.

Speaking in measured tones Lord Hill’s said the right response to the situation was to calmly find a solution.

Cameron reacted angrily last month on learning of the bill and has further infuriated our European partners by saying he won’t pay what is owed by the 1 December deadline.

Addressing the issue, however, Hill outlined how he intended to resolve it. Somewhat diplomatically he said it was a technical matter which a ‘group of people’ (translated as the government) have let become political.

Thankfully Hill has a better understanding than Cameron of how the business of politics works in the EU and understands that ranting and stomping about simply doesn’t work.

Asked by John Humphrey’s on the Today Programme his thoughts on his new role he said that he viewed his job was to act as a translator between his old friends in the UK and his new friends in the EU.

Again indicating he has a better understanding of Britain’s position in the European Union than many of his UK colleagues, Hill said he was required to act in the interests of all the EU’s 28 states, not just promote UK views.




Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

A government adviser and founding architect of the School Food programme has urged ministers to tackle what he calls ‘holiday hunger’, in the week most schools are on half term. Hundreds of thousands of children from low income families will struggle to eat healthy meals outside of term-time.

There is also evidence to suggest that children who do not receive full meals fall behind their peers when they return to school.

Carmel McConnell, the founder of the magic breakfast, a charity which works to provide more than 440 school breakfast schemes told the Guardian: “We have a lot of kids who survive [in the holidays] on the £1 chicken box and who live on crisps or anything they can get.

“Teachers tell me it takes about a month to get them back to where they were before the school holidays in terms of their digestive system, their hair, their skin, and their teeth.”

How terrible that so many children, possibly in the hundreds of thousands, aren’t getting enough of the right food to sustain a healthy lifestyle and to set them up for the future. The government must tackle this crisis urgently- it really should be a priority.

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian over the weekend that: “In his anger, Cameron has made Britain a toxic brand.” He couldn’t have made a finer point in his editorial in which he goes on to say that: “Our European partners are not deaf”. In other words they can hear the debate going on in the UK, and they must be pretty fed up that the British Prime Minister doesn’t have a good word to say about the EU.

Cameron had the opportunity to take a different approach, to not alienate the UK from the rest of Europe who are tired of our stance.

As I have said before European politics is very much about negotiation. Discussing issues and resolving them in an amicable way. Freedland says: “Cameron could have played this differently. He could have dispensed with the macho language of threat and talked instead like a man seeking a deal.”

He goes on to say: “He has put party management first and the future of the country second. He has chosen to fight in such a way that he’s now likely to lose a battle he could have won. And it will be Britain that pays the price.”

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

David Cameron re shuffled his cabinet this week and in doing so increased the number of women in it from three to… five. In 2011 the number of women in his cabinet was five so there is no improvement in real terms. And even if you include those who can attend cabinet that figure has only increased from five to eight. We are just a few months away from a general election so Cameron placed a couple of women in some prominent positions to appease those who would criticise the lack of women in his cabinet in previous years.

As I said in a post from my blog earlier in the week, “it was not a good day for women…He [David Cameron] illustrated that he is in no way committed to any form of gender parity…”

Andrew Rawnsley wrote a powerful article in this weekend’s Observer in which he said that you can tell a lot from the appointments Prime Ministers make when they form a cabinet.

So what does Cameron’s decision tell us about him? He doesn’t have a particularly high regard for women if the choice words Downing Street used to describe the new women ministers are true. Rawnsley explains: “Getting the promoted women to parade up the Downing Street ‘catwalk’, as Number 10 spin had incited the hacks to call it, diminished both them and the claim that the prime minister is an equal opportunities employer. It strongly suggests that for all his rhetoric about valuing women for their abilities, he really believes, in Melissa Kite’s acute phrase, that “a woman’s place is in the PR strategy.”

I also reminded people in my blog that “what is particularly disappointing (but not very surprising) is that back in 2009 before Cameron was in power he had promised to ensure a third of his cabinet would be women by the end of his first parliament.”

Meanwhile the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has urged the UK to stay in the European Union, hours after UKIP’S Nigel Farage promised the UK was “close to exiting.”

Renzi was addressing the European parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, as Italy started its six month presidency of the European Union, when he said: “Europe without the UK would not only be less rich, but less Europe and less itself.”

Meanwhile, what Farage meant by “Britain is close to exiting” is anybody’s guess, since that’s so obviously not the case.

And last but by no means least, congratulations to Emily Benn on being selected to contest Croydon South for Labour. If elected Emily will be the fifth generation of her family to sit in the Commons; Stephen and Nita must be very proud. On a more mundane note, I was pleased to chat to her uncle Hilary at the National Policy Forum on Saturday.