The world economy needs growth not austerity

Labour Party

Throughout sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone, British commentators and, unfortunately, politicians as well, have failed to understand the nature of the beast. Unless and until the British accept that the Euro is a political as much as an economic project we will continue to talk in terms of Euro failure and eventual break-up.

Much though the feral Tory Eurosceptics who sit on the right-wing of their already right-wing party would love to see the Euro collapse, the more sensible among us should get real, knowing that this will quite simply not happen. The Euro is here to stay. David Cameron, hectoring the Eurozone countries to put their house in order while the UK flounders in a double-dip recession, admits as much.

Both the political nature of the Euro as a unifying force and its ultimate durability were demonstrated in the result of Sunday’s election in Greece. The Greek people voted, albeit narrowly, for stability, choosing in New Democracy a party that, while demanding some let-up, will broadly follow the Eurozone’s demands. The Euro, despite the crippling demands for austerity, is popular in Greece. In fact, the idea of a single currency is generally hailed across the EU as the way forward and a force for good. It is Britain, Sweden and Denmark who are out on a limb, not the other way round.

The new Greek Leader, Antonis Samaras, meanwhile, does not want to go down the harsh austerity route outlined again by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Samaras is right to seek some slack for Greece. While there is much Greece needs to do to put its own house in order by way of fighting corruption and making the population pay their taxes, further austerity will only make things worse.

In a welcome development, the French people have well and truly understood the ant-austerity message. Francois Hollande now has a clear majority in the National Assembly, ensuring that his growth plans will be approved. It is not only the French socialists who believe in action to stimulate economic growth and employment. President Obama is saying the very same things. At the start of the crucial G20 summit in Mexico there are two clear blocs – the right-wing pedlars of austerity and those who are more enlightened demanding an agenda for growth.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls argued in yesterday’s London Evening Standard that we need a global growth plan and that every national leader should support Presidents Obama and Hollande as they seek to get the world economy moving. Given that the India’s massive economy is slowing down, such action is more urgent than ever.

If there is one overriding conclusion to come out of the Los Cabos G20 summit it is surely that “we are all in it together” as separate nation states linked by an ever more global economy. This is exactly the reason why the Euro will survive. We are increasingly living in a world where large power blocs hold sway – the United States of America, India, China. The European Union is on its way to achieving power bloc status.

Where, you may ask, is Britain? My answer is that the United Kingdom is at present moored precariously in no man’s land. I would also contend that although no-man’s land is not an ideal place to be, going it alone outside a power bloc would be disastrous. In today’s world, nation states are always stronger together than apart.

Tax on Financial Transactions

Labour Party

The European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution to develop a tax on financial transactions this Wednesday in Strasbourg.

Speaking during the debate, the European Commission representative made a point we would all do well to take account of – that without a well-defined redistributive mechanism, the revenue generated could well end up in those few countries with large financial centres. I hope this will be noted back home, since we, as the largest financial centre in Europe, obviously have a special responsibility.

I am also pleased that the resolution urges the European Commission and Council of Ministers to look at how the tax could be used to finance development co-operation and help developing countries to combat climate change.

I also support the part of the resoluton which says that any tax on financial transactions must not harm the banking system’s ability to perform its vital role of financing real economy investments, and must not encourage the migration of capital.   This is linked to the need to avoid negative repercussions on small businesses and individual investors, who surely must be protected from any adverse effects this tax could have on them.

 In order to discourage excessive risk-taking by financial institutions and ensure that the financial industry pays for the damage caused by the financial crisis, the Parliament is asking for pans to be prepared for a global tax. Should a worldwide tax prove unachievable, the EU could consider the option of going it alone.

Parliament is further asking the European Commission to develop the transaction tax plan on a short timetable to be ready to present to the G20 in June. The timing is important as we must not lose the momentum already achieved to introduce this tax.

The Commission is also asked to assess how such a tax could help stabilise financial markets and prevent a similar crisis by targeting “undesirable” transactions. Such transactions would, in the first instance, be identified by the Commission. While preferring a global approach through the G20, the European Parliament also believes that the pros and cons of introducing a purely EU-wide tax should be weighed up.

In its reply to the debate in the European Parliament, the European Commission, who are in favour of the tax and actively considering regulating the financial industry by this means, said it believed the issue is best tackled at global level, since this is the only way to prevent capital flight.

All in all this is a well though out and comprehensive resolution and one which I was happy to vote for.  It’s now up to us as MEPs to keep the momentum going and do all we can to ensure this resolution is put into practice.

President Van Rompuy Proves he is a Man of Vision

Labour Party

You may be forgiven for all the misconceptions you probably have about Herman Van Rompuy, the newish President of the European Council.  He didn’t get much coverage in the UK when he was Prime Minister of Belgium, and most of that written and said about him since becoming President has been negative, sometimes even insulting. 

 President Van Rompuy spoke to the Socialist and Democrat Group this morning, and believe me he is far from lightweight.  His knowledge of economics is outstanding.  What is more, he is capable of strategic thinking and has a genuine vision for Europe, a vision much more in line with British views than you may expect.  President Van Rompuy sees the EU as a grouping of sovereign states with certain common objectives.  I’d certainly buy into that, as I’m sure would the vast majority of people in the UK, except perhaps those on the extreme margins of politics.

 The President showed a rare degree of radicalism this morning, all the more surprising as he is from the centre-right EPP family.  It was his support for the tax on financial transactions which finally convinced me that he is a man we could do business with.  When answering a question from fellow Belgian, Marc Tarabella, it became clear that President Van Rompuy not only supports the “Tobin” tax in principle, but as Belgian Prime Minister he implemented it on a national basis.  You may also be interested to know that the G20 is looking at such a tax and the IMF is preparing a report.    

 The economic issues obviouly revolved around the current downturn.  The President was unrepentant about the EU’s policy of protecting the internal market and the euro and the pursuit of inflationary measures.  He was, on the other hand, clear that we all need to return to balanced budgets in order to pursue social goals such as sustainable pensions and improved health care.  While I would not necessarily support his contention that we need balanced budgets to carry out a social programme, the President does, at least, believe in the social dimension of Europe.  He was also clear that the EU needs to ensure that the new EU 20:20 strategy is successful, unlike the previous Lisbon Strategy which did not achieve anything very much.

 Climate change was the other big topic.  Since Copenhagen has not moved anything forward, Europe needs to keep on working at this agenda.  There were several calls, including one from EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott, for green, sustainable jobs which President Van Rompuy supported wholeheartedly.     

Herman Van Rompuy is an engaging speaker, though like many Europeans he lacks some of the rhetorical flourish so beloved by the British. He gave his presentation in English, he then answered questions in French and understood German as well as his native Dutch.  I wonder how many of us are fluent in at least four languages.  He also listens and made a promise that he would take seriously all the points raised at the Group meeting.

 It’s a real tragedy for us that both President Van Rompuy and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, our own Baroness Ashton, get such a bad press in Britain.  They are both excellent at their jobs.  One socialist MEP said today that Herman Van Rompuy is the right person in the right place.  The same is true of Cathy Ashton, and we would do well to take a leaf out of the books of many other countries in the European Union and support our national appointees.  

 And finally… it was good to see former Labour MEP Richard Corbett sitting at the top table with President Van Rompuy.  Richard is now head of the President’s Cabinet.  Congratulatons Richard.  You deserve your success and we all know you will do exceptional work  for Herman Van Rompuy and, by extension, for all of us involved in the EU.


Labour Party, Police

On the day that RBS announce they are suing a female teenager for £40,000, for damages to their London City branch, my fears and upsets around the policing of the G20 summit are renewed.

RBS pursues G20 teenager for £40,000 damages

Whilst I do not condone criminal activity of any kind, I have been a campaigner all my life and fully support the right to protest.

I was shocked and saddened to receive this letter from one of my London constituents Luna Glucksberg earlier this week. The scenes she describes are those of upset and fear from both sides of protesters and police. Methods of kettling and battoning protestors seem archaic in the extreme. I support Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O’Connor’s opinions on the event. He told MPs last week that the violence at the G20 event was “unacceptable”.

New media – Youtube especially – has really come up trumps in raising justice during this G20 event. Without it, Ian Tomlinson would be an unknown name. Just a man who had a heart attack up a quiet side street during the time of the protests. Instead, we now know that he was a man who was recorded, by numerous people, being repeatedly beaten by police officers, whilst he tried to make his way home.

The story of what happened, on all sides, is being revealed from all angles – phone cameras, personal video camera and professional cameras – so that this time, more so than at any other large scale political protest, the public can decide who is to blame themselves.

Given this, I would like to know, what are your opinions on the policing in this event?


Human Rights, violence

I was appalled to see yet more evidence of police officers who think that people exercising their legitimate right to protest is an opportunity for them to go around beating people up and using unncessary violence. Here is the video:

I agree with Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, that it is very difficult to understand what justified “a gargantuan police officer assaulting a smaller woman for having the audacity to complain.”

And if, as seems likely, no explanation is forthcoming, then this officer must face a criminal charge of assault. In addition, action must be taken against the officers, at least two who seem to be of a more senoir rank, who stood idly by and watched a crime being committed.


Human Trafficking, Labour Party, Police, prostitution, Sex Trade

While I agree with Iain Dale that today’s story is undoubtedly police behaviour at the G20 demonstration, the apparent kick in the back given by one of the police to a demonstrator and the demonstrator’s subsequent death, there is another story today which rings alarm bells regarding police attitudes.

The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, Tim Brain, lead officer for the Association of Chief Police Officers, thinks new laws to  make it a criminal offence to have sex with prostitutes controlled by pimps, which is due to come into force later this year, may be too complex to work in practice.  The legislation is designed to protect women forced into prostitution by traffickers and pimps – surely something we all support.  I have campaigned for a number of years against the trafficking of women and children and have heard the most appalling stories of what these poor women have to go through.

I therefore passionately believe that we must do all we can to stamp out the vile trade in human trafficking, which is nothing less than a modern form of slavery.  The police who say they will not be able to collect enough evidence from women who are forced to work as prostitutes against their traffickers are some of the worst apologists I have heard for a long time.  It is their duty to collect this evidence.  It is also their duty to protect vulnerable people from crime and the effects of crime.