Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

New figures emerged last week which revealed over 1,700 women and girls who have been victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) have been treated by the NHS since April this year.

This is an astonishing figure and shows this disturbing crime has many more victims than was originally understood. The figures provide the first official data on the numbers of FGM cases seen by the NHS in England.

Broken down, the numbers are even more concerning. In September alone 467 previously unknown FGM victims were treated at NHS trusts across the country.

The data has been produced to inform people about the scale and horrific nature of the crime, and is part of a drive to eradicate FGM on British soil. The figures provide a harrowing narrative to what is a vicious crime. You can read more here.

The outgoing president of the European Commission appeared on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, where he made it very clear that the UK would have “zero” influence if it voted to leave the European Union.

Jose Manuel Barroso warned Britain would not be able to negotiate with the US and China “on an equal footing” on its own. Cameron has failed to understand much of the country’s relationship with the EU and it was therefore not surprising that Barroso concluded by spelling out clearly, that the free movement of people within the EU was an “essential” principle that could not be changed.

You can see the interview with Barroso here.

A bizarre story appeared last week when it was revealed that Apple and Facebook will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs.

A ‘perk’ of up to £12,000 is being offered to help women employees freeze their eggs in order to allow them to focus on their career at the Silicon Valley companies. On the face of it may appear to be a good natured offer, but actually there’s a far more cynical twist.

Of course, should women choose to, they have the right to freeze their eggs but the idea that they should do so in order for it not to get in the way of their careers is both bizarre and offensive.

The freelance journalist, Dani Garavelli wrote in the Scotsman on Sunday how the ‘back-slapping’ culture of these companies considered this to be the answer to a ‘problem’ faced by most businesses. However, it remains totally distasteful to be offered as some kind of incentive or reward package.

As Garavelli says, they are mostly white 20-something men: “You can picture the high-fiving and backslapping that greeted the light-bulb moment. Someone had a vision of a brave, new world in which the whole, messy disruptive business of reproduction could be passed by.”

You can read more of Garavelli’s view here.

Sky’s knife-edge poll shows people want a reformed EU but repatriation of powers still remains impossible

Labour Party

Fifty-one per cent would vote to leave the European Union while 49 per cent prefer the status quo. Today’s poll broadcast by Sky News must give us all pause for thought.

 That being said, the results of the survey come with a significant health warning from Survation, the company who carried out the work, who state:

“A great deal of this opinion, however, is subject to change. 61% of ‘OUT’ voters would reconsider if certain key policy areas were renegotiated for the UK. Meanwhile 80% of current ‘IN’ voters would consider leaving if certain aspects of potential future EU integration were forced on the UK, being made to join the Euro chief among them.”

“Part of the uncertainty almost certainly stems from a lack of awareness of the EU and what exactly it means for the UK. Only 17% and 13% of respondents recognised a picture of the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy respectively, compared to 71% who recognised German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Clearly awareness of the EU’s institutions is very low in the UK, when compared with awareness of the politics of other prominent European countries.”

“Similarly only 37% of respondents correctly guessed from 6 options that there were 27 countries in the EU, which suggests only around 25%, actually knew the correct response rather than guessing. 12% of respondents thought that there were as many as 36 countries in the EU. Meanwhile, of people who were not sure how they would vote in a referendum, the most common reason given was that they were “not sure what an ‘out’ vote would actually mean for the UK in terms of our new relationship with Europe”.

The EU debate more than almost anything else I have encountered over many years of political activism suffers from lack of clarity and lack of knowledge. For instance, voters do not really know what powers David Cameron seeks to repatriate. Even the debate on the 130 odd justice and home affairs measures which led the headlines not so long ago seems to have now disappeared into the long grass, possibly a deliberate ploy by Home Secretary Theresa May.

David Cameron is tellingly very quiet on other repatriation possibilities, mainly because they are just that – possibilities. As regular readers of this blog will know, I have long believed that unilateral repatriation is a complete non-starter. Why on earth would the 26 other EU member states agree to something demanded by only one of their number? 26:1 seems to me improbably long odds.

However, we should not rule out meaningful reform of the EU and its institutions. Reform from the inside is the only way Britain can go, though I concede that progress is often painfully slow. However, change does happen. The Common Fisheries Policy has been amended to do away with the ludicrous demand that certain fish be discarded and thrown back into the sea. As far as the European Parliament is concerned, we now have powers to co-legislate along with the EU member states. There is a long list of treaties from Maastrich to Lisbon which have amended the way the EU operates. This is how reform will happen, not by David Cameron having a hissy fit and taking his bat home, and we need to be there to protect our national interest.

The Labour Party is committed to a hard headed and patriotic case for EU reform. First out of the starting blocks will be a call for restraint and reform of the EU budget together with measures to stimulate growth and jobs across the continent. To this end Labour will look for agreement to appoint an EU Commissioner for Growth.

Since immigration is the number one public concern regarding the European Union, Labour will put in train talks to reform the transitional arrangements setting the terms for immigration from the new member states while at the same time seeking to reform the payment of family related benefits to EU migrants. There will also be a demand that the EU collect data on EU migration flows.

And Labour will also work to abolish the Strasbourg circus, whereby MEPs traipse to the Alsatian capital twelve times a year amid much expense and disruption.

The Survation survey shows an extremely low level of knowledge about the EU across the population of the United Kingdom. I passionately believe we as a nation need to address this. Ignorance is never blissful and, whatever your point of view on the EU, I do not believe anyone can defend the current situation whereby people don’t have the tools to actually know what is happening in an institution this country has belonged to for 40 years.

David Cameron’s hypocrisy is utterly shameless as the EU leaders’ letter to Barosso and van Rompuy demonstrates

Labour Party

Along with 11 other European leaders, David Cameron has signed a letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso and European Council President Herman van Rompuy suggesting priority areas for growth in Europe.

Even taking into account David Cameron’s masterful ability to look both ways on Europe and to call a spade a straight banana, the Prime Minister of Great Britain’s split rhetoric takes some beating. It’s one message at home and quite a different one in the EU. 

Cameron’s policy at home, strongly reinforced by Chancellor Osborne, is unwavering austerity even to the extent of rail-roadng through a deeply unpopular NHS Bill.

However, it’s a different story in Europe. There is one particular paragraph in the letter which truly shows up Mr Cameron’s hypocrisy.

“…we [the EU] must act nationally and, respecting national competences, collectively to promote well functioning labour markets which deliver employment opportunities and, crucially, promote higher levels of labour market participation among young people, women and older workers. Special attention should also be given to vulnerable groups that have been absent from the labour market for long periods.  We should foster labour mobility to create a more integrated and open European labour market, for example by advancing the acquisition and preservation of supplementary pension rights for migrating workers, while respecting the role of the social partners.”

Try doing this at home Mr Cameron before you lecture the European Union.

The other six areas outlined in the letter are:

  • We must bring the single market to its next stage of development, by reinforcing governance and raising standards of implementation. 
  • We must step up our efforts to create a truly digital single market by 2015. 
  • We must deliver on our commitment to establish a genuine, efficient and effective internal market in energy by 2014.
  • We must redouble our commitment to innovation by establishing the European Research Area, creating the best possible environment for entrepreneurs and innovators to commercialise their ideas and create jobs, and putting demand-led innovation at the heart of Europe’s research and development strategy.
  • We need decisive action to deliver open global markets. This year we should conclude free trade agreements with India, Canada, countries of the Eastern neighbourhood and a number of ASEAN partners. 
  • We need to sustain and make more ambitious our programme to reduce the burden of EU regulation.
  • We must take steps to build a robust, dynamic and competitive financial services sector that creates jobs and provides vital support to citizens and businesses

The 11 signatories with David Cameron were Mark Rutte, Mario Monti, Andrus Ansip, Valdis Dombrouskis, Jyrki Kataninen, Enda Kenny, Petr Necas, Iveta Raoilova, Mariano Rajoy, Fredrik Reinfeldt and Donald Tusk.

The opportunity to repatriate powers may come sooner rather than later

Labour Party

During the European Parliament plenary session this past week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned that future treaty changes would be needed to strengthen integration, despite opposition from some EU member states, including Britain.

Mr Barroso has previously put forward the view that the Eurozone faces a “systemic crisis” that needs deeper integration to resolve. He told the European Parliament: “Without increased integration, convergence and discipline, we will not be able to sustain a common currency”.

As a concession to the non-Euro members, the Commission President said deeper fiscal integration between Eurozone members should not put the 10 member states not in the single currency at a disadvantage. “Reinforcing the governance of the Euro is also reinforcing our union” were his exact words. However, it soon became clear that he was not really talking about the UK. Referring to the EU countries not in the Eurozone, Mr Barosso said: “Most of them, almost all of them, have a vocation to join the euro.” In other words, I am sympathetic to Eastern Europe but not the other three countries that are not in the Euro -Britain, Sweden and Denmark.

 Mr Barosso made it clear that once Eurozone integration was achieved, it would be natural for the Eurozone countries to issue debt together – what he called “stability bonds”, what the markets call Eurobonds. He told the European Parliament that “Such bonds could, if well designed, strengthen financial stability and fiscal discipline in the euro area.”

However, in order to achieve this he will have to overcome Mrs Merkel. Germany, which has the lowest financing costs in the Eurozone, fiercely opposes any issuing of joint debt. Nevertheless, the European Commission will present a proposal on such bonds later this month.

Watch this space!

Labour MEPs will also be watching David Cameron very closely. Assuming that the proposed treaty change will involve all 27 member states and not just those in the single currency, will the Prime Minister leap on it to get powers back to the UK or will he make excuses and bottle out? If he is as good as his word and seeks to implement his much vaunted repatriation of powers, will he manage to do it or will he fall flat on his face?

As someone once said, we live in interesting times.

David Willetts’s Claim that University Fees are a Form of Income Tax will exacerbate the Economic Downturn

Labour Party

I am completely with those who know, the lecturers and, dare I say the students, that university charges of up to £7,000 would create a two-tier system where only the rich are able to go to university.  This would be far worse than when I was an undergraduate when grants created a relatively level playing field, even if it was for only 10 percent of the eligible population.  The Tory proposals (they are Tory rather than Coalition) will mean a return to those mercifully far off times when the rich held all the cards and no-one else got much of a look in.

Forget what happens in the United States.  Our culture is different.  There is no reason as far as I can see to think that very high university fees would somehow or other lead to scholarships and other forms of higher education philanthropy.  There are no plans for such changes and they will not happen on their own.   

The EU is at present very concerned with issues to do with young people.  The new EU 20/20 programme puts education at its centre, and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, will launch a new agenda for young people, Youth on the Move, very shortly.

Unless urgent measures are taken to make sure young people have jobs and that youth unemployment is kept down, we will see ever growing numbers of young people who are out of work.  The financial crisis makes it ever more important that we keep you people in jobs.  If we fail to do this, there will, I believe, be a return to the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher’s callous attitude put record numbers of young people on the dole, a personal and a national tragedy.

The EU 2020 uses the fact of the financial crisis as it’s jumping off point.   Its targets are all in some way related back to solving the problems that arise from the downturn or are looking for ways to make our way out it.

The unfortunate truth of this and any financial crisis is that the most vulnerable are usually the worst affected, and the younger generation are part of this group.  People just starting out in life at this time are going to have far more limited opportunities than they would have done even a few years ago.  Youth unemployment has risen dramatically. To further compound this problem, the global economic crisis has led to budget cuts in the education sector in member states across the EU.  This has led to academic staff lay-offs and the increased demands on teachers risk a sharp decline in the standard of teaching in these countries.

 The Commission EU 2020 Strategy and Annual Legislative Programme  sets out five main objectives, two of which are directly related to education and young people as follows: to enhance the performance of education systems, reinforce the attractiveness of Europe’s higher education system, open up more mobility and training programmes for young people, modernise labour markets, boost labour mobility, and develop skills and competences to increase labour market participation.

The Spanish education minister (Spain currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency) Angel Gabilondo has said that education is “at the heart” of the EU 2020 strategy.  These sentiments have been echoed by Androulla  Vassiliou, the Commissioner with responsibility for education.

 The Spring Council, in endorsing the EU 2020 strategy, stated key objectives requiring action at the EU level included: better conditions for research and development; improved education levels; a reduction in early school leavers; and increased participation of young people in the labour market.

In the European Parliament we in the Socialist and Democrat Group are committed to making sure that education is at the forefront of our policy agenda.  We will work to make sure that young people get the help and support they need in these difficult times.

 I find this focus on youth policy very encouraging.  Clearly young people are not seen as a problem, but an incredibly important part of the solution.  The financial crisis has had a disastrous effects but has also made the EU, and I hope, most member state governments, really think about how important education and youth policy is.  I believe we can emerge from this financial crisis with an education and youth policy that gives the younger generation more and better opportunities than they ever had before.  The consequences in increased welfare spending and broken communities will indeed be serious if we do not.