Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week was marked by George Osborne’s budget on Wednesday. Osborne announced a host of measures, which included enabling people to withdraw their pension pot more flexibly – rather than buying an annuity at retirement age. As well as this the chancellor announced the creation of a new ‘Pensioner Bond’ for over 65s, the abolition of the 10p tax rate for savers, and the halving to 10% of the tax on BINGO halls. “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you,” Osborne announced.

The budget also included the announcement of a 1p cut on beer duty, the scrapping of a rise on fuel duty in September, reductions in long haul passenger duty, and the creation of a new, twelve-sided £1 coin – measures which were seen as populist gimmicks by many. Ed Miliband mocked the latter in his response to the chancellor, saying “It doesn’t matter if the pound is square, round or oval…You’re worse off under the Tories,” and even comedian Al Murray weighed in, pointing out that the cut on the price of beer would only have made a difference if we were living “in 1902”.

Embarrassingly for the Conservatives, they were forced to defend a mocked-up poster, tweeted by Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, which proclaimed that the government were “Cutting the BINGO tax and beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.” The poster was widely ridiculed as an exemplar of Tory highhandedness, and was dismissed as “condescending” by Labour strategist Stewart Wood.

With the General Election now just over a year off most of the biggest components were aimed at the so-called ‘grey vote’, who are more likely to go to the ballot box. Sweeteners and short-term boons were offered in return for votes next May, speaking volumes of what Polly Toynbee calls a society – and, I would add, a government agenda – where “tomorrow is sacrificed for today.”

The implications of budgets are often hard to gauge, but so far 2014 is not being viewed by the media as an “omnishambles” on quite the scale of 2012. For me though, it’s a budget full of headline-friendly but terrifyingly short-term steps. Almost all of Osborne’s announcements smacked of political and economic manoeuvring. The result of the changes to pensions, for example, is likely to be a medium- to short-term spike in taxes collected for the government, as older people draw down their pensions early – something for which, as with 1980s privatisations and the selling off of council houses, the next generation is likely to find itself footing the bill. As the Telegraph economics commentator Jeremy Warner put it, Osborne is “stealing tax revenue from the future in order to pay for today’s pre-election giveaways.”

As if to underscore the point that it will be the next generation who have to cover the costs, the end of the week saw Universities Minister David Willetts refuse to rule out further increases in tuition fees. Following repeated questioning in a Channel 4 interview he would not be drawn on whether fees – which trebled to £9,000 in the early stages of this parliament – would be pushed up even further after 2015. Willetts finally admitted that they “could be,” prompting speculation that the Conservatives would push the financial burden of higher education ever-further onto the student if they stayed in office.

Young people have been very much between the crosshairs during this parliament. The Conservatives have cut EMA and plan to remove benefits for under-25s, indulging in rhetoric which scapegoats young people as “idle” at a time when, more than ever, they need the government’s support. It is vital that we re-engage the younger generation in the democratic process, so that short-term political electioneering by the Tories does not push them ever-closer to the margins.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Labour Party must be bold not cautious…this was the gist of Andrew Rawnsley’s article in today’s Observer in which he critiques the first year in office not of David Cameron (or his side kick Nick Clegg) but Ed Miliband. ‘The task is big and urgent’ he exclaimed!

Miliband is capable of being bold, and Rawnsley agreed. Let us not forget it was only a couple of months ago he led a controversial march through London to challenge the government over its excessive cuts. He was advised against this but ‘boldly’ pressed on regardless.

So long as Miliband continues making bold statements in this same way then voters will believe that he is capable of being the next Prime Minister.

Rawnsley’s argument can be read in full here.

David Willetts caused something of a stir last week when he announced proposals to create extra places on degree courses that would not be publically funded. He hadn’t considered, clearly, the serious blow this would cause to social mobility as critics were quick to point out. The plan would be to charge some British students who take on the extra places, the same fees as overseas students.

Buying advantage should never be an option. Nevertheless the Government attempted a vague defence by insisteing that off-quota students would still have to meet entry requirements for their course and there is no question of the rich being able to “buy their way” into university.

Willetts says an overall expansion of places would increase social mobility by freeing up more spaces for students from poorer homes. You can read more on the controversial plans here.

This year at Cannes we are celebrating the fact that four women are competing for the main prize at the festival. Why we are excited about this pitiful number I’ve no idea.

Still it’s an improvement on last year when not a single female entered the competition for the Palme d’Or.

I don’t understand the domination of male directors, especially when women are clearly in evidence in other parts of the film industry particularly as producers and funders. In Britain, Film4 is run by Tessa Ross, and BBC Films by Christine Langan. The major public funding body, the BFI, is run by Amanda Nevill, with Tanya Seghatchian head of its film fund. You can read a full investigation here.

We should be proud of our thriving film industry, especially at a time when the coalition government has reduced funding and scrapped the likes of the UK Film Council (merging it with the British Film Institute).

In spite of the cuts the industry is working, but we definitely need to see more women at the forefront.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

I was very sorry to hear of the sudden passing of Sir Simon Milton earlier in the week following a short illness. Milton was the Mayor of London’s Deputy Mayor and arrived at a turbulent time for the administration after a number of Boris’ aides had left City Hall for various reasons. Milton brought stability to City Hall when it couldn’t have been more needed. My thoughts are with his friends, family and colleagues. You can read a tribute to Sir Simon Milton here.

I was concerned to hear that women are bearing the brunt of the job losses in Britain’s labour market. The official figures revealed on Wednesday, that unemployment among women continued to rise, even as more men find their way back into work. Perhaps David Willetts will take note of these statistics after he caused a stir a couple of weeks ago when he claimed feminism was to blame for the lack of jobs for working class men. You can read the full story on the unemployment statistics for women here.

I noticed this week that France is looking to overhaul its prostitution laws. A cross-party commission of French MPs have recommended criminalising all clients of sex workers, and anyone who is found to solicit sex from a prostitute would face prison and a fine. France will join just a handful of countries where clients of prostitutes face prison for this act. In 1999 Sweden became the first, followed by Norway and Iceland. I will follow the debate with interest and keep you informed of any developments. In the mean time you can read the full story, so far, here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round up

education, politics show

This morning I could hear the ringing of “Thatcher Thatcher the Milk snatcher” being recited on blogs, via tweets and on facebook as many of us were aghast at news that the Government planned to cut free milk provisions for nursery school children.

The decision was barmy because it was never going to be something that would save them that much money. Yet no sooner was David Willetts, the University Minister, on the Andrew Marr show this morning defending it than Number 10 had issued a U-turn. In fairness it can’t have been easy for Willetts to defend a policy which was changing as the words left his mouth. Nevertheless it indicates that the Government is in utter chaos and Andy Burnham rightly said: “It is utterly shambolic.

For thePrime Minister to overrule the Department of Health in this way raises serious questions about his confidence in his health minister.” You can watch this mornings interview here about 40 minutes into the show.

Also this week Michael Gove seems unable to shake off the controversy over his school cuts plan. Vincent Moss in today’s Sunday Mirror reports that Gove’s legal experts have warned he could lose a multi million pound legal battle.

A lawyer, according to Moss has told the  Education Secretary that councils have “‘a fairly strong case” if they sue according to details leaked to the Sunday Mirror.You can read Vincent Moss’ report in full here.

I was concerned to learn that a Conservative Council is calling its council house tenants to advise them that if their property is considered to big for their needs they maybe asked to move out, under the coalition governments plans. It doesn’t need me to say this is a dangerous road to go down, senior members in the coalition are actively and openly unhappy about this and have voiced concerns.

Simon Hughes criticised the Government saying his party would “need a lot of persuading” to back it. You can read the report here.

David Willetts’s Claim that University Fees are a Form of Income Tax will exacerbate the Economic Downturn

Labour Party

I am completely with those who know, the lecturers and, dare I say the students, that university charges of up to £7,000 would create a two-tier system where only the rich are able to go to university.  This would be far worse than when I was an undergraduate when grants created a relatively level playing field, even if it was for only 10 percent of the eligible population.  The Tory proposals (they are Tory rather than Coalition) will mean a return to those mercifully far off times when the rich held all the cards and no-one else got much of a look in.

Forget what happens in the United States.  Our culture is different.  There is no reason as far as I can see to think that very high university fees would somehow or other lead to scholarships and other forms of higher education philanthropy.  There are no plans for such changes and they will not happen on their own.   

The EU is at present very concerned with issues to do with young people.  The new EU 20/20 programme puts education at its centre, and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, will launch a new agenda for young people, Youth on the Move, very shortly.

Unless urgent measures are taken to make sure young people have jobs and that youth unemployment is kept down, we will see ever growing numbers of young people who are out of work.  The financial crisis makes it ever more important that we keep you people in jobs.  If we fail to do this, there will, I believe, be a return to the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher’s callous attitude put record numbers of young people on the dole, a personal and a national tragedy.

The EU 2020 uses the fact of the financial crisis as it’s jumping off point.   Its targets are all in some way related back to solving the problems that arise from the downturn or are looking for ways to make our way out it.

The unfortunate truth of this and any financial crisis is that the most vulnerable are usually the worst affected, and the younger generation are part of this group.  People just starting out in life at this time are going to have far more limited opportunities than they would have done even a few years ago.  Youth unemployment has risen dramatically. To further compound this problem, the global economic crisis has led to budget cuts in the education sector in member states across the EU.  This has led to academic staff lay-offs and the increased demands on teachers risk a sharp decline in the standard of teaching in these countries.

 The Commission EU 2020 Strategy and Annual Legislative Programme  sets out five main objectives, two of which are directly related to education and young people as follows: to enhance the performance of education systems, reinforce the attractiveness of Europe’s higher education system, open up more mobility and training programmes for young people, modernise labour markets, boost labour mobility, and develop skills and competences to increase labour market participation.

The Spanish education minister (Spain currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency) Angel Gabilondo has said that education is “at the heart” of the EU 2020 strategy.  These sentiments have been echoed by Androulla  Vassiliou, the Commissioner with responsibility for education.

 The Spring Council, in endorsing the EU 2020 strategy, stated key objectives requiring action at the EU level included: better conditions for research and development; improved education levels; a reduction in early school leavers; and increased participation of young people in the labour market.

In the European Parliament we in the Socialist and Democrat Group are committed to making sure that education is at the forefront of our policy agenda.  We will work to make sure that young people get the help and support they need in these difficult times.

 I find this focus on youth policy very encouraging.  Clearly young people are not seen as a problem, but an incredibly important part of the solution.  The financial crisis has had a disastrous effects but has also made the EU, and I hope, most member state governments, really think about how important education and youth policy is.  I believe we can emerge from this financial crisis with an education and youth policy that gives the younger generation more and better opportunities than they ever had before.  The consequences in increased welfare spending and broken communities will indeed be serious if we do not.