Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

There is “no evidence that the EU was interfering excessively in any aspect of British life,” a cross party group of peers from the European Union Committee of the House of Lords has found.

Their report was picked up by Toby Helm and reported in the Guardian, despite a concerted attempt by the government to bury the Lords extensive examination. Helm noted: “In a hugely damaging move for the government, the committee of the House of Lords, chaired by former Tory minister Lord Boswell, comes close to saying that ministers tried to cover up the findings, which do not support David Cameron’s claims that the EU is ‘becoming a state’ and has already accrued excessive powers.”

Lord Boswell also criticised the fact that £5mn was spent producing the report but no effort was made to make the results accessible to the public who want to know the truth about the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Meanwhile, Lord Hannay, a former British ambassador to the EU, who now advises British Influence, said: “The outcome of the government’s meticulous and evidence-based Review of the Balance of Competencies of the EU is one of the best-kept secrets of recent months, largely ignored by the media and seldom mentioned by the government itself. And yet it is a crucial element in the election debate over Britain’s future in the EU.

“The single, clear message from the review is that in none of its 32 chapters is there a compelling case for the repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster and Whitehall. So, while the EU needs reform, our relationship with it does not warrant wholesale dismantling,” he added.

We had the first of the TV (non) debates last week. Hosting was Jeremy Paxman who has since been criticised for his interrogation of Ed Miliband, after hundreds of complaints were lodged with Ofcom as a result.

George Eaton, The New Statesman’s political editor, reviewed the debates and said: “It was Ed Miliband who had the most to gain from tonight’s TV event – and he did. He was better-prepared, more fluent and more inspiring than David Cameron.”

Eaton observed: “The evening started badly for the PM as a forensic Jeremy Paxman pressed him on food banks, zero-hours contracts and his net migration pledge. Faced with the kind of sustained scrutiny he rarely endures, Cameron was nervy and rattled. “That’s not the question,” he helplessly pleaded when asked whether he could live on a zero-hours contract, a slip that provoked guffaws in the press room. He never recovered from these missteps and rarely appeared in control.”

It was a bumper spring issue from the New Statesman this week. One article in particular struck me, Spitalfields Nippers. It was a photographic story of the lives of children living in the East End of London in Spitalfields, before the introduction of the Welfare State.

There is an authenticity to the pictures though, and the article points out the compassion of the photographer: “Although his subjects were some of the poorest people in London, Warner’s compassionate portraits stand up in sharp contrast to the stereo typical images created by other social campaigners of that era, those who portrayed children solely as the victims of their economic circumstances and sometimes degraded them further by their very act of photography.”

The photos are raw but provide an important reminder when trying to convey how vital a welfare state is rather than constantly deriding those who need it.

The New Statesman article doesn’t appear to be online so here is one of the collection of images from the Guardian from 2014.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Yesterday was International Women’s Day (IWD) and Radhika Sanghani, writing in the Telegraph, provided an excellent analysis of why we need to celebrate IWD. “It isn’t just a hashtag,” she writes, “it’s a reminder that women worldwide are subjected to shocking abuse from sexual violence in warzones and female genital mutilation, to forced marriage and becoming child brides.”

In addition to Sanghani’s observation of how women suffer, in many countries across the globe, we must not forget that they face discrimination in even the most subtle forms; women across the world still suffer from a gender pay gap which despite much awareness has yet to close.

The first IWD was held in 1911 and was marked in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Over a million men and women joined rallies where they campaigned for women’s rights to vote, be educated and be able to hold public office.

Since then it has grown significantly and some countries treat the day as a national holiday, even Google joined in the marking of the day with a doodle!

The theme this year is ‘make it happen’ and it aims to encourage effective action for advancing and recognising women.

In other news this week it was also revealed that large firms will have to reveal differences between average pay for male and female workers under a change to a law passing through Parliament.

A BBC article online stated: “Firms with more than 250 employees that don’t comply with the new rules could face fines of up to £5,000.”

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian Labour leader, Ed Miliband promises has the strength of character to be Prime Minister.
It’s a very personal interview and he admits he worries about his role as Father if he does become Prime Minister.

Asked for a defining policy, he said: “On inequality, I’ve moved Labour on from where New Labour would have been. I care about the gap between the rich and the poor.”

He is adamant the gap between rich and poor is very important and it’s not good enough to say if the rich pay their taxes then it’s OK.

He also said that decency shouldn’t be confused for weakness and insists he has strong convictions. “The moment you become arrogant, you stop listening, and when you stop listening, you don’t understand what’s actually happening. If people know me as a decent guy who does things his own way, I think that’s incredibly important.”

You can read the interview here.

Ed Miliband is right to say that a Brexit would endanger lives

Labour Party

The spectre of the UK leaving the EU is, unfortunately, rearing its ugly head again. In a question and answer session last week, Ed Miliband draw attention to the many benefits Britain gained by its membership of the world’s largest trading bloc. Focusing on the downside of a British exit from the EU, Ed stated that “jobs depend on it (the EU), families depend on it, businesses depend on it…I just think we are much, much better working within the EU than not”. Speaking at Stevenage in Hertfordshire, Ed Miliband said that, economics aside, there are other drawbacks. “Just think about countering terrorism. We are much better working across borders to do that”.

In the light of this speech of Ed’s, it is worth reiterating that it appears the Conservative Party has not yet understood that in the 21st century terrorism, along with organised crime and trafficking, is transnational in nature, and shutting ourselves off from our neighbours and allies only serves to encourage the extremists and weaken our position. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the UK had the option to reject all the measures adopted prior to its entry into force.

The Tory-led coalition did, in fact, do this, and then selectively opted back into some of the provisions, meaning that law enforcement can rely on its European counterparts sometimes, and sometimes not. The Tories have determinedly kept us out of Justice and Home Affairs measures, weakening the opportunities of our police forces and security services to effectively neutralise threats. Once more the ideology has trumped the practicality, although this time with potentially fatal consequences.

As if that wasn’t enough, it has also meant that the other Member States are becoming more rigid in their attitude to our picking and choosing; meaning that the era of the UK having its cake and eating it is coming to an end.

As I have stated before on this blog, the almost schizophrenic stance of the Tories leads to unpredictable results, lengthy court cases and difficulties in practical enforcement. It will be interesting indeed to see how they justify this to the British people in the run-up to the general election.

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

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

After weeks of discussion this week saw the release of Royal Mail shares. On Friday, the first day of selling, 225 million were traded at 330p each. 10 million were sold in the first 30 seconds alone, and by close-of-play prices had increased to 455p each – a rise of 38%.

Billy Hayes, head of the Communication Workers Union, called the sale a “tragedy” and it was claimed that the organisation had been put on the market for £700 million too little – something which Friday’s explosion in share prices appeared to corroborate.

The BBC’s Robert Peston framed the privatisation as a short-term boon for the Coalition Government. He conceded that – as a purely political calculation – allowing 690,000 people to profit made sense for both Vince Cable and Michael Fallon’s parties, but wrote that “the government may well in time be found guilty of having privatised the company too cheaply.”

When words like “frenzy” and “stampede” are being used it is usually safe to assume that not everyone is thinking straight. In the 1980s and early 1990s we saw populist privatisations in rail, housing and energy. These decisions were much vaunted at the time, for helping ordinary people ‘get on’. Now though, with consumer prices spiralling and all three sectors characterised by cartels rather than proper competition, privatisation looks to have been badly thought out.

I will therefore be supporting the CWU strike when it happens, and will encourage others to help Save Our Royal Mail. We mustn’t allow a 500 year old organisation to be destroyed for the sake of a quick political buck.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, David Cameron and Ed Miliband both conducted reshuffles. The Conservatives’ aggressive policies towards women and families mean they’re now polling 13% behind Labour among female voters. Much was made of Cameron’s efforts to redress this through personnel changes, with promotions to Minister of State positions for women Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan and Jane Ellison.

Labour’s reshuffle, meanwhile, saw more senior roles for Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds and Gloria de Piero (who becomes the new Shadow Equalities Minister). The changes mean Labour’s Shadow Cabinet is now 44% female – compared to just 18% of the Coalition Cabinet.

For me this is a vindication of Labour’s proactive approach to opening up politics to women. We began the policy of all-women shortlists before the 1997 Election. It was a clear and decisive measure, which allowed the number of Labour women in parliament to increase rapidly compared to Conservatives and Lib Dems. It is now starting to bear fruit at the very top level. The other two main parties – whose laissez-faire philosophies are reflected in their selection processes – have never had the same success.

Cameron is keen to detoxify, and some have criticised his efforts to promote women as purely cosmetic. I myself try not to be too cynical, and welcome the advancement of women across all the political parties. However, to create genuine gender parity among MPs both the Tories and the Lib Dems will have to adopt a more serious, long-term policy – starting at grass roots level. If they do not then both parties’ top teams will, in fifteen or twenty years’ time, be undergoing exactly the same struggle to make themselves look modern.

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.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Michael Gove sparked anger this week when he said increases in the use of food banks were the result of people not being able to “manage their finances”. The comments were roundly criticised by Labour MPs. Ed Miliband called Gove an “absolute disgrace”, and Steve McCabe branded him “out of touch”.

Gove is not the first person to suggest people forced to use food banks have brought their situation upon themselves. Jamie Oliver courted controversy last month when he suggested food poverty was the result of people spending money on the wrong things. Both his comments and Gove’s have been condemned by charities tackling the issue on the frontline. Rather than pointing the finger at the victims they blame low pay and the cost of living for increases in the use of food banks.

Gove’s words proved poorly timed, with a report released two days later showing the impact of food poverty on education standards. The study found that one in seven children now go to school hungry – a figure described as “shocking” by Pete Mountstephen, Chair of the National Primary Headteachers, and one which has a clear knock-on effect for levels of attainment.

According to Oxfam half a million people have come to rely on food parcels. The issue is particularly acute in London, where the cost of living is greatest. Last week food banks in Kingston-upon-Thames – one of the capital’s more affluent boroughs – fed their 5,000th person.

With small signs of economic growth Gove and other Conservatives are indulging in a premature victory lap. In so doing they show themselves to be frighteningly out of step with the lives of ordinary people, many of whom feel under terrible strain. Gove’s comments can be brushed under the carpet as a ‘gaffe’ which will be forgotten by next week. But his choice of words reveals something deeper about him and his party.