Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

A paper by Labour in London this week drew attention to the capital’s childcare crisis. The document revealed that there were 35,000 fewer nursery places since the Conservatives took office, and that childcare costs have increased by 30%. Labour have announced they will increase childcare for 3-4 year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week, and will increase funding through a levy on banks. This would create an extra 72,000 places in London alone, where the struggle to keep up with costs is beginning to spiral out of control for many parents.

A report last month by the think tank IPPR drew attention to the present childcare crisis. The study showed the inextricable link between maternal employment levels – on which the UK performs worse than many OECD countries – and the poor childcare provisions Britain has to offer. IPPR said childcare of under-fives was essential to bring about better rates of work and pay for women, and that the ideal proportion of a family’s disposable income spent on childcare should be no more than 10%.

With Sure Start nurseries coming under threat from the government during this parliament – not to mention the TUC’s revelation last year that Britain has Europe’s worst maternity provisions – much more needs to be done. The alternative will be another generation of 50-65 year old women stuck in long-term unemployment or forced to deskill to find work.

I’m therefore delighted to see Labour in London spelling out such a clear direction of travel on this issue. The Tories produce a lot of hot air when it comes to getting women in the boardroom or the debating chamber, but to find sustainable solutions to these problems we need to address the systemic factors that drive women out of the workplace during their early thirties.

Also this week, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon made headlines when he referred to some UKIP members as “literally akin to the Nazis”. Halfon, a comparatively moderate Conservative, said Nigel Farage’s party could be split into two tribes: Godfrey Bloom-style buffoons and more “sinister” nationalists in the mould of Gerard Battern. He ironically thanked UKIP for “cleansing” his party of its lunatic fringe.

Halfon’s words draw attention to a sharp conflict within the Conservative Party, between those who want to remain borderline sane, and a larger faction who see the current state of British politics as an opportunity to drag the centre ground ever further to the right. For the latter group the existence of UKIP provides a convenient excuse; a political imperative to propel their party towards bigotry and knee-jerk populism. As I wrote in my round up last week, the end point in this journey is a type of Tea Party fanaticism which blocks all forms of progress.

So far David Cameron has made a host of concessions, essentially allowing the ultras within his party to dictate policy. One can only hope, for the sake both of British national interests and of democracy per se, that senior Conservative figures start to look beyond the ‘path of least resistance’ solutions they currently seem so keen on.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Just one in 10 men do the fair share of household chores a survey revealed last week.

The research was conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research which aimed to explore what 50 years of the feminist movement has done to change attitudes.

Their research revealed an anomaly that while just one in ten married men split familial duties like housework equally, three times as many describe themselves as house husbands than 15 years ago.

The report also explored salaries and found women working full-time born in 1958 were earning 35 per cent less than men by the age of 41-42.

Meanwhile, professional women earned three times as much as those in unskilled jobs born the same year.

So the statics reveal a familiar thought, that while much has been done, there is still a long way to go and much more work to be done before true parity is achieved.

You can read more here.

Tributes rolled in for David Miliband MP last week after he announced his intention to leave Parliament to take up the role of chief executive of the New York based charity, the International Rescue Committee. He has described this as his dream job, and while we are of course delighted for him, he will be missed.

As he made the announcement so fitting tributes rolled in including from former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who said he had hoped it would be time out from politics rather than a permanent decision.

Similarly Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary described Miliband’s “huge” contribution but said it would be wrong to write off his future in British politics.

Mandelson told the World Tonight on Radio 4 last week: “He just combined policy, good judgment, real concern, a knowledge of economics and an ability to tie things together. That is how he will be remembered. And that is why he why he will be a loss. But never say never. I wouldn’t say goodbye to David Miliband forever in British politics.”

Even opponents talked of Miliband in glowing terms. Tim Farron, the president of the Lib Dems, said in a tweet: “If this story is true, it’s a big loss for parliament … David was a big thinker, great politician and a lovely man.”

I also wish David and his family well in his new role in New York.

You can read more here.

Jack Straw’s anti-EU fervour has led him to some wrongheaded conclusions

Labour Party

Jack Straw appears to be the latest prominent politician to jump on the EU for what he perceives as its “democratic deficit”. He even went as far as calling the EU a “system of political elites leading people by the nose that worked when it delivered jobs and welfare” at a seminar organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday, as reported in the “Guardian”.

Much though I respect Jack having worked with him as Shadow and then Home Secretary while I was General Secretary of the Chief Probation Officers’ Association, his views on the EU have always been towards the extreme end of the spectrum.

His main contention at the IPPR seminar was that the European Parliament should be abolished in order to help put right the EU “democratic deficit”. If democracy in the EU structures is not as healthy or as representative as it could be, it strikes me as peculiar to recommend doing away with the only directly elected body.

Straw does not stop there. Once the only truly democratic institution, the European Parliament, has been consigned to the dustbin of history, it will be replaced by an assembly of national parliaments. I defy anyone to make a case for an indirectly elected body over an elected one. Indeed, I truly believe the EU has become much more democratic since the role of the European Parliament has been augmented and the Parliament now has equal decision making powers with the Council of Ministers over a range of legislation.

There is, of course, the problem that people do not believe their voice counts in the EU. As Straw said, only eight per cent of the population think they are heard. No-one can deny this. However, the answer surely is better communication and accountability for the democratic institution, the European Parliament, not its abolition. No-one knows better than me how tough a nut this is to crack, and I fully accept that we are not there yet. But you don’t get rid of something simply because parts of the way it works are not up to scratch. What you do is hang on in there and work to make it better.

Sadly Jack Straw shows woeful lack of knowledge about how the EU functions when he says, “the EU should not be involved in issues like the working time directive, health and safety and so on” while at the same time calling for the completion of the single market. The EU legislates on issues to do with work in order to ensure a level playing field across Europe for the single market. It is about time Labour politicians in the UK understood this basic fact and stopped spouting the Tory rhetoric on employment legislation. The Tories do not like rights at work per se. Labour stands up for fairness and proper working conditions. It’s as simple as that.

Finally, polling evidence at the seminar from YouGov showed people do actually want more EU co-operation on terrorism and national crime, climate change, poverty and immigration. Let’s concentrate on these important issues and stop attacking the EU as an institution and its only directly elected arm, the European Parliament.


On the Road to Fair Votes

Labour Party

Last year at Labour Party Conference, when Gordon Brown promised a referendum on changing the voting system, specifically holding a referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV), I was absolutely delighted.  Today the Guardian provided this very helpful demonstration of how AV would work.

My twenty- five years of struggling to get even the very idea of fair votes for the House of Commons recognised seemed at last to be getting somewhere.  When you’re involved in what is often seen as a minority, not to say geeky, campaign it’s sometimes hard to keep your sprits up.  But we have, and we’re finally winning through.

Going that crucial step further, Gordon’s announcement in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday that the referendum will be held in October 2011, was the next thing electoral reformers wanted to hear.  The Prime Minister has now said he will have a referendum, a pledge he will, I believe, do everything he can to honour.  It is now up to Gordon to find the parliamentary time before the expected Easter dissolution.

I understand that some Conservative co-operation may be required to make such time available.  However, Gordon has to come out on top on this one.  Having made such a public commitment, he really must see it through and get the law setting the date for a referendum passed before the general election in order that his target date for the referendum of October 2011 may be met.

Gordon has made it clear that the referendum would be restricted to whether to stick with first past the post or to move to the alternative vote.  There are, I know, those among electoral reform campaigners who think AV is not proportional enough.  I think we must embrace Gordon Brown’s initiative as the only change we are likely to get in the foreseeable future.  It may not go as far as we would like, but it’s much better than first past the post.

We must also all be aware that our opponents do not like PR.  Since there is little that is fair in Tory social policy, it is hardly surprising they don’t want fair votes.  Quoted in yesterday’s Guardian, William Hague showed his usual lack of imagination: “It’s not the voting system that needs changing, it’s this weak and discredited prime minister. New politics needs a new government.”

Things are very different in the Labour Cabinet.  Ed Balls, the schools secretary, is a supporter of AV, as is Home Secretary Alan Johnson, John Denham, the communities secretary, Peter Hain, Welsh secretary, Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell, and, last but not least, Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary.

Though the introduction of AV is the most important policy demanding immediate action, Gordon’s speech yesterday did not stop there.  He also announced that he wants a written constitution by 2015, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; a right for constituents to recall MPs if found guilty of corruption: a draft bill introducing a mainly elected Lords; and approval for local government reforms, entitled Total Place, that he said could produce £15bn of savings. He also said he supported votes at 16, but gave no commitment to put the proposal in the Labour manifesto.

I believe constitutional reform is important for its own sake.  Britain is the only country in Europe which does not have a proportional electoral system for its upper house.  On the other hand, I remain to be convinced that a package of changes to the way parliament and other representative institutions are elected will achieve very much in restoring people’s trust in politics, except perhaps for the measure to recall corrupt MPs.  Gordon Brown is setting out a vision for a modern democracy.  As the only real modern, progressive Party in Britain, Labour members have, I believe, a profound duty to support our Prime Minister in this crucially important task.