Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

As we are all aware a shocking murder dominated the news this week. Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was killed in a wicked attack as he went about his daily business. It soon became apparent it was a terror attack.

The Prime Minister condemned the attack and said “we will never give into terrorism in any of its forms”. Parties on all sides offered support following this atrocious attack.

The country is still suffering the shock of of this awful attack and our thoughts are of course with his family, loved ones and colleagues at this time. You can read more on the story of those who went to help in the immediate aftermath showing selflessness and compassion for the young soldier, here.

Meanwhile, politically there is trouble for the Prime Minister, “David Cameron isn’t even among friends in his own cabinet now”, said Andrew Rawnsley in his latest piece for the Observer this weekend. Rawnsley described the Prime Minister as “the tattered chieftain of a fractured tribe.” He suffered two revolts in as many weeks first over Europe and then over the gay marriage vote.

However, it is the spending review for the next financial year, which the Chancellor George Osborne is due to announce on 26 June, that is causing significant problems within the party.

The Treasury had been looking to cut spending by another £10bn but exactly where the next round of Whitehall cuts should come from is being met with significant resistance reveals Rawnsley. Even the ‘bluest’ of Tories are not sure where to go next. And Rawnsley writes: “It is an irony that the ministers who are resisting the chancellor most fiercely are nearly all concentrated on the bluest end of the Conservative party: Theresa May, the home secretary, Eric Pickles at communities and local government; Chris Grayling, the justice secretary; and Philip Hammond, the defence secretary. The most right-wing member of the cabinet – Owen Paterson, the environment secretary – is being the most stubborn of all. While none of his colleagues has agreed everything that the Treasury wants, and most have offered far less, they have come up with some cuts. Mr Paterson is point-blank refusing to surrender anything from his budget.”

You can read Andrew Rawnsley’s full article here.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported that the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, believes more should be spent on defence and policing and has offered to lop another £3 billion off his department’s annual budget to help in this.

He is understood to have suggested restricting housing benefit for the under-25s, and to limit benefit payments to families with more than two children. So there is set to be more trouble ahead for the Coalition Government, as the Lib Dems have said they will block any further cuts to working age benefits. You can read more on this here.

DWP ruling slams practice which is little short of slavery

Labour Party

Government work schemes were dealt a big blow yesterday following a ruling that the Department for Work and Pensions had exceeded its powers in its use of unpaid work schemes. The ruling found that this was legally flawed and means there is now the opportunity for thousands of others who had been on the scheme to also seek compensation.

The Guardian gives full coverage of the case, which had initially been brought by a 24-year old, Cait Reilly, a geology graduate, who was made to work in Poundland, while on a scheme.

She argued that working in Poundland had not had not helped her find a full time position, that she was unable to carry out valuable voluntary work and that the only ones to benefit from the scheme was Poundland itself.

The panel of Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton ruled unanimously that Duncan Smith had exceeded his powers as secretary of state. In the ruling, Burnton said: “I emphasise that this case is not about the social, economic, political or other merits.”

Burnton said parliament was “entitled to encourage participation in such schemes by imposing sanctions”. “However,” he said, “any scheme must be such as has been authorised by parliament.”

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This blows a big hole through the government’s workfare policies. Of course voluntary work experience can help the jobless, and it is right to expect the unemployed to seek work. But it is pointless to force people to work for no pay in jobs that do nothing to help them while putting others at risk of unemployment. “This policy is about blaming the jobless, not helping them.”

The PCS union said that its members who staff jobcentres and advice centres would “offer guidance and support to all those affected by the ruling, including those who have been unjustly sanctioned.”

Matthew Oakley, head of economics and social policy at Policy Exchange, said the ruling “should not be seen as some sort of body blow to the government’s welfare plans.

“The main problem in this particular instance was miscommunication of the requirements and penalties for not complying, rather than the policy itself.”

Having worked in the voluntary sector for many years before becoming an MEP, including holding the chief executive position in two national organisations, I have had first-hand experience of the value of work carried out on a voluntary basis. I have, indeed, done this myself on occasion. However, what the DWP attempted to do is not acceptable voluntary work; it is little short of slavery.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Parity in the content and quality of sex education across Europe continues to vary widely. And as Dave Keating reveals in the latest issue of European Voice, it doesn’t just vary from country to country but also can vary widely within them.

I was surprised to read that there remains such a great divide between those countries which do educate their young people and those who still don’t.

The report found, unsurprisingly, that Nordic and Benelux countries have the highest levels of education while eastern and southern countries (with the exception of Spain and Portugal where there has been vast improvement) hardly touch on the subject.

The responsible teaching of sex education is so important because, as the report finds, there is a direct correlation between the education and rates of HIV infection. You can read more on the report and the full article in the latest issue of European Voice here.

Meanwhile back in the UK it’s another week and yet more confusion of the coalition governments position on Europe.

In two separate interviews today, Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, contradicted themselves once again- it did at least provide an indication of how deep the fracture is running.

First the Work and Pensions Secretary said: ‘that a significant EU treaty change should trigger a referendum’. At the same time Nick Clegg said that a single change, even if significant, did not require voters to be consulted.

German chancellor Angela Merkel will meet French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on tomorrow (Monday) to ‘thrash out a plan to save the euro ahead of the EU summit on Thursday,’

As the fracture continues to gather pace so Duncan Smith continue to make ridiculous and sweeping statements which only serve to reveal a greater lack of understanding than we could ever have given him or his party credit for.

He even suggested that if the summit leads to a treaty renegotiation, the prime minister should use it to demand repatriation of powers to Britain from Brussels… and we know that’s almost impossible to achieve.

You can read the full story in the Guardian online here.


Britain has the most undemocratic Government since the 1950s

Labour Party

I was very struck by the article We’re Not All in This Together by Mehdi Hassan in the New Statesman.

Hassan informs us that 22 out of 29 cabinet ministers (76 per cent) are millionaires: Philip Hammond’s net worth is £7.5 million, George Osborne £4.6m, Jeremy Hunt £4.5m and Iain Duncan Smith £1 million.

The pattern is replicated throughout the present government. The Topshop boss Philip Green (£4.4bn), whose wife lives in the tax haven of Monaco, has been put in charge of cutting government “waste”. The former BP chief executive Lord Browne (£45m) has been appointed as the lead non-executive on the Cabinet Office board while the banker Stephen Green (pension pot: £19.1m), outgoing chairman of HSBC, is to join the coalition as a trade minister in December.

In fact, Britain has not been governed by politicians representing such a narrow social base since Harold Macmillan’s administration in the late 1950s.

This matters. It matters not because 66 percent of Cabinet ministers were educated at private schools or because over three quarters of the Cabinet are extremely rich per se. It matters because extremely wealthy Conservatives know nothing of life as it is lived by the overwhelming majority of the British people.

With the average wage at just under £25,000 a year and an estimated 288,000 people paid below the minimum wage of £5.93 an hour, most people are a million miles away from the millionaire lifestyle.

Self evidently we are not governed by men (and a few women) who share our worries and concerns and possibly have no idea about what makes us happy and what makes us sad.

And this is even more true for Conservative MPs who are millionaires for the very simple reason that many safe Tory seats are prosperous, reflecting the lifestyle of their MPs. Yes, of course there are pockets of poverty and deprivation in Runnymede (Philip Hammond) and Chingford (Iain Duncan Smith), but such deprivation is limited and unlikely to affect Conservative majorities.

This is very different from Labour MPs seats. Safe Labour constituencies are never well off, constituents face unemployment and welfare benefits are essential for many of those represented by Labour MPs. Moreover Labour MPs see all of this at their surgeries.  This means that even though MPs are in the top 10 percent of national earnings and some Labour MPs had privileged upbringings, those representing the vast majority of safe Labour seats see with their own eyes what life for most people in Britain is really like.

The importance of this first-hand experience should never be underestimated. I first became fully aware of what poverty means when I was Chief Executive of the lone parent charity Gingerbread. Contrary to the pervasive stereotype, the overwhelming majority of single parents are not feckless teenage girls getting pregnant to secure a Council flat, but women in their 20s, 30s and 40s bringing up children on their own as a result of divorce, desertion or death. Most Gingerbread members lived on benefits, many were unable to afford even a telephone and almost all bought their children second hand clothes.

Although I had never lived on benefits I came to realise what poverty is about.  Somehow I doubt whether Messrs Osborne and Hunt have done the same kind of thing.

Millionaires truly lack any idea of life outside the very small circle of the very rich and since 76 percent of the Cabinet are millionaires they are utterly unrepresentative.  This is extremely bad news for a democracy.

I truly believe our Parliament should be made up of a representative sample of the British people, including proportionate numbers of women and ethnic minorities. The Cabinet should also be representative and its members know what life is like for the majority of those they govern.  The Cameron-Clegg (both of whom are also very rich) government self-evidently does not meet the representative test. It is therefore not truly democratic.

I believe the reason why George Osborne has felt free and able to cut back so drastically on welfare and social housing is that his government quite simply does not understand lives other than their own and can therefore make ideological cuts with no constraints of compassion or empathy. Lack of proper representation at the highest level is consigning more and more people to poverty, ghettoised housing with the very real danger of the kind of crime and anti-social behaviour that goes with what used to be called “social ills”.

Over 80,000 Families to leave London if Coalition’s Housing Cuts get through Parliament

Labour Party

Simon Hughes was clear that the Coalition’s housing benefit cuts will not get through parliament when he spoke on Channel 4 News yesterday evening.  The Liberal -Democrat Deputy Leader is clearly no lightweight and his warning should be taken seriously.

Hughes has obviously taken on board the reports that London local authorities have block-booked bed and breakfasts and other private accommodation outside London – in Reading, Luton, Hastings and other places – to house those who will be priced out of the London market. According to yesterday’s Observer Councils in the capital warned that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes..

The Coalition is set to drive poor people out of wealthy inner cities and London councils are preparing a mass exodus of low-income families from the capital because of the cuts in  benefits.

Housing is as important to our welfare as a city and a country as health and education. I therefore find it puzzling that while the Coalition has ring-fenced NHS spending and agreed the £1billion education premium for disadvantaged children, housing is up for grabs. While I would never deny the importance of health and education, welfare and housing are equally important.

The statistics are very telling. According to Shelter nationally more than two million people find their rent or mortgage a constant struggle or are falling behind with payments. Over 1.7 million households are currently waiting for social housing. Some homeless households – many with dependent children – wait for years in temporary accommodation.

Furthermore 1.4 million children in England live in bad housing. 7.7 million homes in England fail to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard and in 2008/09, more than 79,500 households were found to be homeless by local authorities.

Given these figures, and never forget the statistics represent real people, families living in appalling conditions, Shelter is absolutely right when they say: “The UK is now more polarised by housing wealth than at any time since the Victorian era.”

And the Coalition is determined to polarise it even further. Housing Associations will now charge new tenants 80% of the market rent as opposed to the one third previously in place. The additional money is supposed to be used for new build, the target for which is 150,000 homes nationally in the next four years. While new homes are badly needed, this is not the way to do it.

George Osborne is meanwhile capping housing benefit from April next year at £400 a week for a four-bedroom house, £340 for a three-bedroom property, £290 for two bedrooms and £250 for a one-bedroom property. From October 2011 payments will be capped at 30% of average local rents.

At a meeting of the Commons work and pensions select committee last Wednesday, the day Osborne announced £81bn of cuts in the spending review, MPs were told by London council chiefs that the housing benefit cuts could have devastating results.

According to the Observer Nigel Minto, head of sustainable communities at London Councils, who works closely with the capital’s housing directors, told the committee that since June London councils had been “procuring bed and breakfast accommodation” in outer London and beyond. Jeremy Swain, chief executive of the homelessness charity Thames Reach, said he was particularly worried about the impact on numbers sleeping rough in London. “We have reduced rough sleeping dramatically and we have a target of zero rough sleeping in London by 2012. For the first time I’m thinking that we will not achieve that,” he said.

Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North and shadow work and pensions minister said: “The sheer scale and extremity of the coalition proposals means almost a million households are affected across the country.”

Karen also appeared on the BBC Politics Show London yesterday along with Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon and three very angry Londoners about to lose their homes. While Karen made the excellent point that the Coalition is indulging in “government by anecdote” and making huge cuts to deal with the problem of relatively few excessive claims in areas with high housing costs, Mr. Hammond tried to deny that the IFS claim that the spending review would hit the poorest the hardest. Meanwhile Mayor Boris Johnson appeared to deny there was a problem at all.

The Coalition’s true colours were  well and truly nailed to the mast last week when Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said the unemployed should “get on the bus” and look for work. Reminiscent of Norman Tebbit’s infamous “get on your bike and look for work” exhortation, Duncan Smith’s comment takes us fairly and squarely back to Thatcher, another demonstration that their cuts are ideologically driven.  

Dagenham and Rainham Labour MP John Cruddas, put it very well:”It [benefit cuts] is an exercise in social and economic cleansing”…”It is tantamount to cleansing the poor out of rich areas – a brutal and shocking piece of social engineering,”

A Lurch to the Left would be disastrous for Labour

Labour Party

MPs are, as we all know, in the middle of Shadow Cabinet elections. I am most certainly not going to make any predictions about the outcome or encourage support for any particular candidates. I do, however, think this is an appropriate time to consider the issue of leadership in political parties, particularly the Labour Party.

I hope and trust that by electing Ed Miliband we have avoided the worst of the mistakes of the past.  Our real problem following Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979 was, of course, to lurch to the left in opposition. Michael Foot, elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1980 was a wonderful man and a great orator, but far too left-wing and without any real leadership ability.  Neil Kinnock proved to be in the same mould, though a far better leader. It was not until the Labour Party woke up and chose the charismatic and centrist Tony Blair that we stood any chance of becoming the government of the country.

A similar “lurch to the left” also occurred in the years following election defeats in 1931, 1951 and 1970.

The Conservative story after 1997 is uncannily similar to that of the Labour Party: William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and finally some kind of power with David Cameron. The Tories’ big difficulty was not being able to find a Tony Blair equivalent who could detoxify the brand sufficiently to bring about a Conservative victory in 2009. The Tories still have their equivalent of the Militant Tendency in their off the wall Eurosceptics, many of whom I see every day in the European Parliament.

Some of my fears that Labour will, now that we are in opposition, move leftwards to the point of unelectability were eased when I read Luke Akehurst’s blog last Friday.  Only 7.3% of the votes were cast for Diane Abbott, the only candidate explicitly on the left of the Party. We would assume that some of Ed Miliband’s 29.8% first preferences were from the left, but obviously not the Diane Abbott wing.

Yet, maybe all this shows is that at present there is no real hard left active in the Labour Party. 

While I am strongly of the view that we must all unite behind our new Leader, I also believe we should absolutely resist the temptation to move leftwards. The genius of Tony Blair was to make Labour electable.  He did this by steering a middle course, by quite simply being a Leader people could and would vote for.

Ed Miliband should do the same in his own way.  This does not mean giving up on Labour values. It does not mean giving up our belief in a better world, equality of opportunity, the very best health care and education for all, equality between men and women and an end to racial discrimination.  We can still believe in all these things, and more, and win a general election. Never forget that we need to win to implement our policies.

And there is one final consideration.  The idea of coalition governments in the UK will not, I believe, go away.  The increase in minority party MPs make some form of joint working between the leading parties ever more likely. Any move leftwards by the Labour Party may make a coalition agreement with us more difficult and possibly less likely.

If Labour does not achieve government it is nothing, a fringe party putting forward its own sectarian agenda.  It often felt like this during the 1980s when I was very active, being a councillor and a parliamentary candidate on two occasions. I don’t want to go back to that and I am sure the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members agree with me wholeheartedly.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party, Women in Power

I can only imagine what a tense morning it must have been for A-level students awaiting their exam results last Thursday.  I still remember my own results day, more years ago than I care to think.  It was great to read about all kinds of achievements, especially those who had obtained such impressive results, sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances.

It was all very admirable. And it is precisely because of this that I was so angry to read the front page story in the Guardian yesterday: ‘top universities secretly list “banned” A-levels’.

The report said that the Russell Group of universities, which represents the 20 leading UK universities that are committed to maintaining the very teaching and learning and research experience, had drawn up an unofficial list of  ‘banned’  A-level subjects.

If this is true it will be responsible for shattering the dreams of tens of thousands of  state school pupils.

On a different topic, I was intrigued to see that the coalition government, still in its infancy, is already cracking. Rows between cabinet ministers were reported in today’s Mail on Sunday. But this was not between Lib Dem and Conservative ministers but two Tory grandees, none other than Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

The ‘blazing row’, reported the Mail on Sunday, concerned the Treasury showing a lack of respect towards Duncan Smith’s department.

The Mail reported that “According to one source, the frustrated former Tory leader told the Chancellor: ‘I am not prepared to tolerate the appalling way you treat my department. Your officials must show more respect to my staff. They do not deserve to be treated in such an arrogant and rude way.’”

The Mail on Sunday continued by saying, “Mr Osborne is understood to have defended his officials, hitting back: ‘If you come up with proposals that work, they will be treated with respect.’” You can read the detail here

Caroline Flint writing in the latest issue of the New Statesman, talks of the difficulty female politicians still have in reaching the top and why the election Julia Gillard in Australia will be no different despite its good history of democratic credentials ( it gave women the vote before the UK and was also the first country in the British empire to allow women to stand for Parliament.)

She rightly argues that many decisions are dominated by ‘power politics’, and that male networks are still pervasive and powerful.  

Although I agree with much of her article, she failed to mention how different things are in Europe where we have a relatively healthy gender balance. Of course, nothing’s perfect, but by comparison the European Parliament and the European Commission are streets ahead of many EU member states and other counties around the world.

I was surprised by Caroline Flints’s failure to mention the EU.  She is, after all, a former Europe Minister. You can read her article here.