Underrepresentation of women in the Labour Party

Labour Party

Throughout my 5 decades of activism with the Labour Party women have always been underrepresented. Now though this is more glaring. Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP is First Minister of Scotland. Arlene Foster of the DUP heads the Northern Irish government. Conservative Theresa May is Prime Minister. Caroline Lucas jointly leads the Green Party. Leanne Wood leads Plaid Cymru. Diane James leads UKIP. It was brilliant to see Sadiq Khan elected Mayor of London and Marvin Rees Mayor of Bristol. I was disappointed that our recent Mayoral selections resulted in a full slate of men. Sion Simon in the West Midlands, Steve Rotheram in Liverpool and Andy Burnham have served and will serve Labour well.

The pattern though is clear with  a few notable exceptions. Kezia Dugdale leads Scottish Labour. In Europe we have a majority of female MEPs lead for many years by Glenis Willmott. I am delighted Glenis has been elected Chair of Labour’s National Executive as she will ensure that Labour addresses gender underrepresentation. Her record in this is unsurpassed. Glenis will also be a vital voice on Europe and Brexit at the heart of the Labour Party.

Yesterday I discussed this problem on Sky News with Adam Boulton, Ivana Bartoletti and Sonia Sodha. You can watch our debate below.

The Tory-led Coalition goes against Tory MEPs on food labelling

Labour Party

 The British government today went against their own Tory MEPs and decided to recommend the ‘traffic light’ system for food labelling to retailers and manufacturers in the UK.

It is tragic and to our great shame that obesity rates are higher in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. One of the ways to help tackle this very serious problem is to make sure that consumers have clear and honest nutritional labelling which enables them to make healthier choices when they do their shopping.

The ‘traffic light’ labelling system colour codes the information making it easier for consumers to assess and compare products at a glance. This should help all of us make more informed decisions about what we eat.

Labour Leader in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott, who introduced the new system, commented, “It’s just a shame that the Tory MEPs weren’t so constructive when food labelling laws were being discussed in the European Parliament. I put forward proposals for traffic light labelling to be used on all processed foods, but these were vociferously opposed by Tory MEPs.”

Glenis also made a commitment to continue to push for red, amber and green ‘traffic lights’ on all processed foods sold in the EU.  Glenis is absolutely right in believing that some of the big multi-national food companies will only change their ways when they are told that in order to sell their food in the world’s biggest trading bloc, they have to be honest about what is in it.

Although it is the case that Glenis Willmott was unsuccessful in getting mandatory traffic light labelling for all processed foods agreed by the European Parliament, I understand that the European Commission made a commitment to revisiting the idea in the near future.

Labour MEPs lambast European Parliament funding for the BNP

Labour Party

To their utter shame, the committee which oversees European Parliament business recently agreed that an alliance of seven European extreme right wing political parties (including the British BNP, the French Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik) would qualify for €289,266 of EU money.

The Bureau of the European Parliament took this decision on what they considered to be the appropriate interpretation of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, specifically the activities and legal situation of the political groups. The relevant paragraph states that European Parliament political groups shall carry out their duties as part of the activities of the Union. The political groups shall be provided with a secretariat on the basis of the establishment plan of the Secretariat, with administrative facilities and with the appropriations entered for that purpose in Parliament’s budget.

In what was a very narrow and quite disgraceful reading of the European Parliament rules, the Bureau took the view that the newly formed extreme right group, the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements, qualified for funding in the same way as the other mainstream political groups.

However, the Bureau completely failed to take on board the very essence of the European Union, the values on which the EU is founded. Just to recap, these are respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values are common to the Member States and the societies of the Member States are characterised by pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination.

When the possibility that the European Parliament may fund extreme parties such as the BNP is given just a short moment’s thought, it becomes clear that such funding is a non-starter. The BNP and other extreme parties quite clearly contravene the EU’s fundamental values. Indeed the BNP’s political programme and campaigning is against equality and respect for human rights, to name but two of the values mentioned above while there is no way they respect pluralism, tolerance and non-discrimination.

Labour MEPs never accepted the inevitability of BNP funding. The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) went into action forming alliances with like-minded MEPs to halt the current payment and stop any payments in the future if this was democratically possible.

After a passionate appeal to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament (equivalent of the Speaker), he assured EPLP Leader, Glenis Willmott, last Wednesday that he would check whether any initial payment to this ultra-right alliance could be reimbursed on legal grounds.

Furthermore, agreement has now been reached across the political spectrum of European Parliament political groupings (the Greens, the Liberals, the Centre Right as well as the Socialist and Democrat Group where Labour sits) that a “committee of wise persons from outside the European Parliament” will be set up under the European Parliament’s rules to see whether this new pan-European alliance conforms to European values.

I am sure we all agree with Glenis Willmott when she said, “The BNP cause violence and hatred wherever they go. The tolerant don’t always have to tolerate the intolerant. We’ve worked together so this is not just a socialist alliance against the far right, all parties across the spectrum are agreeing with us. The budgets committee of the European Parliament are not happy for this money to go through either. We’re happy to debate and fight our corner with anyone who disagrees with us, but we can only argue with democrats.”

Everywoman Safe Everywhere

Labour Party

Since the Tory cuts began, women have been seen to bear the greatest impact in every area of life. One area of growing concern for me is the negative effect of the cuts on women’s safety. 

The safety of women across the country is increasingly at risk. It is at risk because of reductions in police numbers, as seen in my London constituency, and it is at risk because councils are cutting back on street lights in an effort to save money.

It is also at risk because organisations which support women to leave abusive relationships or jobs in which they are sexually exploited and abused have lost their funding. These are organisations like the Derby Women’s Centre which is currently under threat of closure as a result of cuts to its funding. My colleague Glenis Willmott, MEP for the East Midlands and Labour’s  Leader in Europe, spoke out against the cuts to its funding yesterday.

A number of women’s refuges and other specialist organisations which offer a safe space for women who have been abused are also suffering as a result of the cuts. Such organisations provide crucial support to victims of domestic violence, women who have been trafficked and the homeless. Last year I spoke a lot about the Poppy Project and the cuts to its funding. The Poppy project is an excellent organisation which provides support to survivors of trafficking.

For some of the most vulnerable women, like those who have recently left abusive relationships, access to a crisis loan can be an important resource. This is especially true if a woman has had to leave behind her possessions when escaping her abuser. This type of emergency loan can assist her in starting to rebuild her life.

Recent welfare reform proposals shift the control of such crisis funds to already stretched local authorities with no checks to ensure the funding is spent on providing crisis support.

They also rather ludicrously suggest that councils could provide support in kind rather than money to people who apply for crisis funds. Women who have taken the brave move of leaving abusive partners should not have to suffer the lack of autonomy and indignity associated with receiving food parcels.

A coalition of 20 charities, including Banardo’s and Women’s Aid, has called for the ring-fencing of funds to provide crisis loans in a letter to the Guardian last weekend. You can read the letter here.

In response to the ever increasing impact of Tory cuts on women’s safety, the Labour Party is carrying out a Public Consultation.

The Consultation was opened shortly before the Christmas break but I felt given the hectic holiday period it might be a good idea to revisit it with you now we are in the New Year.

The findings from the Consultation will be used get a clearer picture of the cumulative impact of tory decision making and to develop legislative measures that could be used to make women safer. It will also be used as an opportunity to consult on Labour’s proposals for a new Personal Safety Bill.

The consultation is chaired by Vera Baird QC who will be supported by Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Equalities) and Stella Creasy MP (Shadow Minister for Crime Prevention).

If you would like to find out more about the consultation or take part, please visit the Everywoman Safe Everywhere website. Together we can make Britain a safer place for women.

British Rebate in Jeopardy thanks to David Cameron

Labour Party

Joseph Daul, leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), has just told the European Parliament that the rebate Britain receives from the EU must be put into question following David Cameron’s veto last week.

David Cameron has certainly not fought for our national interest. Not content with isolating us in Europe thereby endangering Britain’s trade within the EU single market, his actions are threatening our cherished rebate first won by his heroine Margaret Thatcher.

Since Cameron consistently tells us he wants Britain to remain in the EU, the only conclusion to be drawn from his disastrous veto on Friday morning is that, far from being good for our country, it is very much against the national interest.

As EPP Leader Joseph Daul carries a lot of clout. The EPP is the largest political group in the European Parliament. The Tories ignominiously left it to set up shop with what Nick Clegg described at the time as “a bunch of nutters” and in so doing threw away whatever influence in the European Parliament they may have had.

After Mr. Daul had spoken, Guy Verhofstadt, Leader of the EuroParl Liberal Group said in English: “Mr. Cameron, if you do not sit at the table you find yourself on the menu.”

Martin Schulz, Leader of the European Parliament’s socialists, said that it was bankers in the City of London who had caused the crisis.

Britain is now a laughing stock. It is an open secret Cameron failed to properly use the British foreign office during pre-summit negotiations. They are the Rolls Royce of foreign diplomats, they are ours and yet our Prime Minister failed to put their expertise at the disposal of the British Government.

As Glenis Willmott, Leader of the Labour MEPs in the European Parliament said, “Cameron might think he is Churchill. In fact, never in the history of negotiations with our European partners was so much sacrificed for so few by so many.”

Thanks to David Cameron and the feral Eurosceptic Tories on whom he relies to stay in office, if not in power, when British financial interests are discussed by our EU partners, we will not be at the table to defend our national interest.

EPLP Leader addresses Labour Party Conference

Labour Party

Yesterday Glenis Willmott, Leader of the Labour MEPs, gave this inspiring and thoughtful speech to the Labour Party Conference.

Conference, it has not been an easy 12 months in Brussels.

Bad news from Europe has been a constant feature of the daily news bulletins.

First, the deepening financial crisis in Greece.

Then, bailouts for Ireland and Portugal.

And now the wider and still unfolding uncertainty across the entire eurozone.

The implications of this turmoil for the future of the European Union are immense.

And how the EU responds will define the fortunes of our continent for generations to come.

But this is not just an economic and financial crisis.

It is a crisis too for social democracy and a huge challenge for the left, in Britain and across Europe.

I am often asked – does the recent chaos mean that the EU is somehow broken?

Surely, I’m told, this is evidence that the Eurosceptics were right all along?

And Conference, many of these views are increasingly coming from within our own party.

Indeed some of you, here in this hall today, may sympathise with those sentiments.

Well, what is clear is that the EU must change.

There are real and crucial lessons that must be learnt.

Efforts to promote economic cohesion across European economies were just not good enough.

Government financial transparency was pitifully enforced.

Rampant greed was allowed to take precedence over the wider needs of our economy.

But what is also clear is that the supposed remedies to the current turmoil are making things worse, not better.

And friends, this is where the real failure lies.

In the hollow ideology being driven by the European right.

Simply, they say, we must have less;

• less investment in the technologies and industries of the future

• less opportunities for our young people

• less employment

• less power for working people

And not only is the right’s answer to the turmoil not working.

It is also void of any ambition, aspiration or hope for our continent and its people.

So what should our response be to the European crisis?

Conference, the Left across Europe, is at its lowest ebb, since before the Second World War.

As recently as 1999, we were in power, or sharing power, in 12 out of the then 15 EU countries.

Today, despite Helle Thorning Schmidt’s great victory in Denmark that figure is just 8 out of the now 27 countries.

And since the disastrous 2009 elections, the Left in the European Parliament is at its weakest ever.

To paraphrase Harold MacMillan (you see even the quotes are from the right), “We’ve never had it so bad”.

So why are we doing so badly?

Conference, part of the explanation may be that the world our grandparents fought for, has in so many ways, been achieved.

Free health care, universal education, systems of social benefits from cradle to grave, are established across Europe.

Our generation has experienced increased opportunities, wider tolerance and greater freedoms.

Since 1945, social democracy has led the way.

We have achieved great things. But it really doesn’t feel like that.

Partly, because we on the progressive left are never – and must never – be satisfied.

But also because we have failed to move the debate on.

Conference, the social democratic solutions which transformed the last century were forged amid the rubble of European war.

Today we face ruins of a different sort.

But once again, we, as social democrats, must stand together and rise to the new challenges that Europe faces.

It is our duty to meet the growing demand for a different way of organising our societies;

• to rebuild our economies

• to deliver prosperity for the many

• and to address increasing aspirations for fairness and equality

Ed is right to say we have to refound Labour here at home.

But that must be within the broader context of all of us refounding social democracy across Europe.

Answers must come from all parts of our movement and beyond. From trade unions, intellectuals, academics, politicians, activists and single interest groups.

But we also need to learn together with comrades in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and others too.

So as Europe faces its greatest challenge since 1945 let’s not turn our backs.

We must produce a new vision for social democrats, international in scale, since globally produced problems can actually, only be solved, globally.

The answers cannot be for Labour in Britain alone.

In this interconnected world Europe must be part of the solution.

As always the driving force must be our enduring principles, our Labour values, the same values that drove those rebuilding Europe more than 60 years ago, values of


Social justice


The strongest helping the weak

Together, not apart

That is how we will secure the future for generations to come.

Please vote in the Social Europe Journal ‘What are the most influential left-of-centre European Blogs’

Labour Party

I have been nominated for the Social Europe Journal vote on what are the most influential left-of-centre European blogs.

I am, of course, please to be nominated. It’s always good to be recognised.

The other blogs nominated are:

A Fistful of Euros (www.fistfulofeuros.net)
Åsa Westlund (www.asawestlund.se/blogg)
The Cedar Lounge Revolution (www.cedarlounge.wordpress.com)
Coulisses de Bruxelles (www.bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr)
Dear Kitty. Some Blog (www.dearkitty.blogsome.com)
Erkan’s Field Diary (www.erkansaka.net)
Glenis Willmott (gleniswillmott.blogspot.com)
Grahnlaw (www.grahnlaw.blogspot.com)
The Honeyball Buzz (www.thehoneyballbuzz.com)
Irish Left Review (www.irishleftreview.org)
The European Citizen (www.theeuropeancitizen.blogspot.com)
European Tribune (www.eurotrib.com)
Eurosocialist (www.eurosocialist.eu)
Jon Worth’s Euroblog (www.jonworth.eu)
Kreisie (www.kreisie.lv)
Nachdenkseiten (www.nachdenkseiten.de)
PES Re:new (www.pes.org/renew)
Social Europe Journal (www.social-europe.eu)

There is quite a small number of nominations as the European left-of-centre blogosphere is still quite small.

You may vote for up to three blogs and the ballot closes on Friday 12 November at 5 pm. You can vote here

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.

Live blog from Labour Movement for Europe Fringe meeting

Labour Party

lme 001Climate change is the defining issue of the 21st century along with the battle against global poverty.  So it was with a mix of interest in the subject and sadness about the results of the European Elections last June that I went to the Labour Movement for Europe (LME) fringe meeting at the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton this lunchtime.

Chaired by former MEP Richard Corbett, one of the select band who have kept the LME going over the years, we discussed the Copenhagen targets on climate change, including the contribution made by Gordon Brown. Glenys Kinnock spoke first, and was as passionate and lucid as ever; she is an excellent Minister for Europe respected by all of us.

It is regrettable that President Obama has shown very little commitment to climate change and  no firm commitment on levels of finance.  On the other hand the European Union has promised a  20 per cent cut in greenhouse emmisiions by 2020, and the  EU will up this if the Copenhagen discussions come up with higher targets.  The money for this must be new money – Gordon Brown in very clear on this.  Europe must also act together.

Glenis lme2 001Willmott was the second speaker with Richard Howitt with his purple tie taking the fouth slot.  Where else would you fiind a platform of two Richards and two Gleni(y)ses?  Is this a metaphor for Europe hedging its bets or maybe an example of European consensus?

Glenis told us how Labour has taken the lead on climate change  and has worked to persuade the other parties to come on board.  The Heads of EU Governents eventually agreed their targets, including 20 per cent of EU energy coming from renewable sources.  This was no thanks to the Tories who would almost certainly not have pursued the climate change agenda.  The Tories have, as we all know, left the mainstream EPP to join a bizarre group of right-wing misfits, including climate change deniers from the Czech Republic.  Tory MEPs do not support measures to deal with climate change when voting in the European Parliament.

And finally, Richard Howitt.  All of us were with Richard when he siad just how much he misses Richard Corbett in the European Parliament.  Along with Glenis Willmott, Richard paid tribute to Linda MacAvan who led for the Socialist Group on the climate change negotiations, making a real impact on our behalf in working to introduce the EU targets.  As the Labour MEP for the East of England, Richard explained how European money had hepled Lowestoft with its water shortage problems, showing how Europe has a concrete effect at local level.

As EPLP Spokesperson on Foreilme2 003gn Affairs, Richard explained how Foreign Affairs is becoming more and more about climate change.  Conflict now is as much about water as oil or security issues.  The European Global Climate Change Alliance working with developing countries shows the way things are moving.   The EU has come into its own over climate change.  Global problems require international solutions.

Jose-Manuel Barroso causes much consternation

Labour Party

Jose-Manuel Barroso

“They must live on Planet Zog”, a very apt quote from Glenis Willmott, EPLP Leader on the views of some socialist colleagues regarding Mt Barroso’s desire to stand as European Commission President for another term.  While two terms is not without precedent, I think five years is enough time in the job and the oleaginous Barroso should go the way of all politicians and gracefully make his way to pastures new.

In addressing the European Parliament today Barroso was the same as ever – non-committal and not inspiring.  I say this not just because he’s a centre right politician; there are after all plenty of those who will take every opportunity to tell you what they think.  It’s rather that he really does prevaricate.  The current line that it is difficult to take positions prior to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which will probably, but not absolutely definitely, happen if and when the Irish have their referendum.  (Others such as the Czechs could still throw a spanner in the works).  Though he has a point, he would be more convincing if he didn’t always find reasons not to take a stand. 

Barroso’s view has highlighted a very real problem currently facing the EU, namely the paralysis of the Lisbon Treaty.  If it were to go through the Treaty would mean fewer Commissioners, the President of the Council in situ for two and a half years and the appointment of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs.  Clearly it would not be sensible to introduce anything at this moment which would conflict with this.

Yet there is, I believe, the far greater issue of lack of interest in the EU in general, and if it’s not apathy it’s hostility, as shown when France and Holland rejected the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty.  After all, who has heard of Jose-Manuel Barroso?  The Commission President is hardly a household name in the UK, and I understand it’s the same across most of Europe.  Today MEPs have spent almost the whole time listening to Mr B and discussing whether or not to support him, and all in the cause of some relative unknown heading a major part of the EU which itself is becoming more and more disliked and further from the concerns of the vast majority of people.

There are in the European Parliament those who are passionately pro European integration and see the European project as a grand pan-European scheme to which Members States should not only subscribe but positively revere.  This is also the view of most senior staff in the European Commission.  On the other side there are the sceptics who are anti the whole EU concept.  The longer I stay here, the more apparent this division becomes.  It is not just a left-right divide, but transcends party politics.  It is, however, not helpful for the future of the EU.  Both sides are living on Planet Zog; the EU is here to stay and  for the foreseeable future there will be no change to the powers and perceptions of the Member States.

The European Parliament would, I believe, have considerably more credibility if the majority of mainstream MEPs adopted a “Third Way”, being more pragmatic and allowing  reality to enter the debate.  The European Parliament is not the place to carry out a grand political project, or at least not the kind often espoused by my colleagues.  The failure to do this has allowed the sceptics to come to the fore to such an extent that there are now 110 Euro sceptic MEPs.  I believe the European Parliament has an important role to play in ensuring fairness across the internal market, allowing all member states to compete on an equal footing.  There are also vital matters such as climate change which know no borders.  Let’s stick to what we can do and cut the dreams of something bigger, though not necessarily better, down to size.