Biofuels Vote This Week in Strasbourg

Labour Party

I have recently been receiving a lot of emails and letters from constituents about a vote in the Strasbourg this week about a piece of legislation to amend the fuel quality directive and renewable energy directive. One of the more important aspects of this legislation is the proposed cap on the amount of biofuels that can be produced in Europe in order to protect food supplies.

On 11 July 2013, the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) voted through this piece of legislation with a large majority. This report will now be voted on this week.

Labour MEPs believe the EU’s climate policies in the transport sector should be based on genuine environmental and social sustainability. This means that biofuels should offer genuine and clear greenhouse gas savings, and that those associated with indirect land use change (ILUC) should be accounted for. It also means that biofuels policy should not have an adverse affect on food prices and food security for vulnerable populations. In addition, advanced (non-food crop-based) biofuels that can provide definitive greenhouse gas savings and be genuinely sustainable will help provide alternative fuel sources for the future. The ENVI committee’s report included specific targets for advanced biofuels, as well as for renewable electricity in rail and automotive transport.

Labour members in the ENVI committee supported a compromise position on a cap of 5.5%, believing this was a good outcome given the differing views and opposition to a low cap from right-wing MEPs. In the upcoming plenary vote, we will push for as a low a cap as possible, and for binding ILUC factors to be retained in the Parliament’s report.

Even after the whole Parliament’s vote this week, this draft legislation will have to be discussed and negotiated with representatives from the national governments across the EU. There is therefore still a long way to go before a final position on this issue will be decided.

I really appreciate hearing from constituents, especially on issues as important as this. I would encourage constituents to also highlight them to their MP and the UK government if  they have not done so already.

I Support Equal Love

Labour Party

I was pleased to hear that a motion to reintroduce the ban on civil partnerships in religious premises, put forward by Tory peer Baroness O’Cathain, was withdrawn yesterday.

The Baroness is known for trying to wreck the Labour Government’s Civil Partnership Bill in 2004. She and her supporters alleged that religious premises would be ‘compelled’ to register civil partnerships against their beliefs.

The law currently says that it is the decision of those in charge of religious premises whether or not to register their building as a place where civil partnerships may take place.

I believe that couples, no matter what their sexual orientation, race or religion should be allowed to celebrate their relationship in the way they choose.

Of course, whilst today was a success for equal rights, as the law stands neither homosexual or heterosexual couples are able to do this. Civil marriages remain open only to opposite sex couples and civil partnerships only to same sex.

This is why I support the Equal Love campaign along with my 12 fellow Labour MEPs.

The Equal Love campaign has been organised by LGBT organisation OutRage!. They argue that bans on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships are an unlawful and unjustified discrimination.

I agree with them, in a democracy gay and straight couples should be equal before the law.

The pitfalls of EU regulations and how UKIP does nothing.

Labour Party

Many constituents have written to me in recent months regarding proposed new EU regulations for motorbikes and motorcyclists. As a result I have taken an especial interest in this issue and have pressed the Commission to reconsider the proposals. I am glad that the Federation of European Motorcyclists felt I was able to help their cause in this way as I firmly believe that the EU should never restrict citizen’s freedoms without genuine justification. I feel that this particular development has actually managed to highlight nearly all of the usual issues that arise while making laws at the EU level, namely, insufficient consultation by the Commission of European citizens, wild misrepresentations of actual legislation within national medias and right wing eurosceptics trying to hop on every unpopular bandwagon without actually doing anything.

The proposals that are going through at the moment are actually very well intentioned, designed to make riding safer and some of them, like insisting that new bikes are fitted with warning systems similar to cars, can only be a good idea. However, others, like the anti-tampering measures, will actually do more harm than good. This is because many motorcyclists within the EU, not least in the UK, have strong traditions of building and modifying their own bikes and are often expert at it. The Commission has failed to convince me that simply because 0.7% of accidents are related to modifications the whole practice is inherently unsafe.

 Of course, much of what is involved in the proposals has been grossly misrepresented. There have been rumours that the EU is forcing all motorcyclists to wear reflective clothing; this is absolutely not the case (although reflective clothing is in itself a good thing). It has also been propagated that the on-board safety alerts will be used as a justification for more police checks. Again, absolutely false. These are just examples of how anti-EU groups not only bend the truth but actively circulate falsehoods about the EU in order to garner support.

Now we come on to the issue of UKIP and how they are pretending to be the only group fighting for the rights of motorcyclists. This is categorically not true. They might have talked a lot about it and offered their “support” but given that they always abstain on every single vote in the Parliament how they plan to do that is not clear. This is the problem with not engaging with the Parliamentary system that pays you – you can’t influence it even when your constituents would want you to. Nor have UKIP tabled any amendments to the bill in order to remove the concerning aspects. Rather, that job has been left to Labour MEPs and our allies in the Socialist and Democrat party. Hopefully we should be able to put paid to the anti-tampering proposals and safeguard the freedom of British motorcyclists.

I am appalled at the populism of London councils in evicting families of rioters

Labour Party

Having been contacted by constituents and Labour Party members, I have decided to speak out against those councils in London who wish to evict the rioters and their families from local authority accommodation. Labour Party members in the London Borough of Greenwich are, I know, extremely concerned by a press release put out by the Council, as evidenced by this on-line piece written by two members in Greenwich West Branch .

Of course what happened during the riots was terrible but not unprecedented – think of the race riots of the 1980s. Perhaps more to the point, the aftermath of the riots highlighted the strength of the community spirit in London and other parts of the country where people came out in “broom armies” to clear up the damage. This reaffirmation of community solidarity was, sadly, undermined by an appallingly populist and opportunist response by politicians.

Whilst the attitude of referring to the poor communities of Britain where the rioting took place as the “feral underclass” and postulating the solution of “lock them up and throw away the key” might be expected from the Tories, it is very concerning when this attitude is adopted by Labour politicians as well.

This is not to say that those accused of serious crimes during the riots should not be severely punished as of course they should. However, the actions that councils have taken in attempting to evict the families of the rioters is not only totally out of proportion it is counterproductive, futile and vengeful.

There are a variety of reasons why this is a terrible idea. Firstly, it is deeply unfair that simply by sharing the same roof as someone convicted as a criminal offence you should be forced to lose your house. This is in total violation of the values and principles of a civilised society.

Secondly, such action violates the Human Rights Act whereby people have a right to housing.

Thirdly, in many cases these households contain other children and/or vulnerable adults whom the council would be forced by law to re-house. There has been in a noticeable case in Wandsworth where a family who have an eight year old daughter have been served with an eviction notice. As this blog on the issue mentions; “in Britain in the 21st century we do not see eight year olds sleeping in the street. There are reasons for this.”

It is of course within the rights of a council to evict tenants should they pose a danger or a nuisance to their neighbours. The rioters who have been sentenced to jail have de facto been evicted from their council house or flat. To punish the innocent families of the rioters is a violation of everything Britain claims to stand for.

British MPs have followed common sense and voted down Nadine Dorries’ amendments

Labour Party

Although I’m back in Brussels I am following the progress of the debate on the Health and Social Care Bll going through the Commons.

In particular  I’ve followed Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP’s, toxic attempts at forcing an amendment on abortion counselling.

I was delighted to learn that not only was Dorries’ amendment defeated but Labour MPs can credit themselves with their elequent opposition to the amendment.

In addition, Dorries managed to expose herself (over the course of 58 solid minutes) as misguided and out of touch.  There were some points I found particularly startiling which I have reproduced below from the Guardian’s Politics Live blog:

“Dorries is still speaking. But MPs are getting restless. Frank Field, the Labour MP supporting her, rises to suggest that she would help her cause if she were to finish now.

But Dorries is still going on. She says she wants to see David Cameron about this. He was supportive, she says. He urged her to include the word “independent” in her amendment.

She says Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP, put pressure on Nick Clegg to oppose the amendment. She accuses Harris of “blackmailing” the prime minister. The health bill is being “held to ransom” by a former Lib Dem MP, she says.

Martin Horwood, a Lib Dem MP, makes a point of order. He asks if Dorries is allowed to accuse a former MP of blackmail. John Bercow says Dorries’s comment was not against the rule.

Dorries says the polls suggest 78% of people support her amendment. Among Lib Dem voters, support is particularly high. That might be because the Lib Dems support choice. And it might be why Harris is a “former Lib Dem MP”.

Dorries says all MPs will be answerable for the way they vote.”

Dorries’ assertion that 78% of people support her amendment cannot be taken seriously, there is not a poll I can find that suggests there is anything like this level of support.

Indeed a poll comissioned a earlier in the week by IPSOS Mori on behalf of BPAS (The British Pregnancy Advisory Service) revealed that 80% of the British public thought the government had no duty to encourage a reduction in the number of abortions and only 37% thought that women didn’t think hard enough before having an abortion.

It revealed the British public believe the decision to have an abortion is fundamentally a private matter, to be reached by the woman alone and that they’re making their own decisions pretty well at the moment.

The closure of NOTW should be the beginning of a media overhaul, not the end.

Labour Party

The shock and horror of the British public over the phone hacking scandal at the News of the    World is palpable. The British public may have had little sympathy with media-courting celebrities who has the boundaries of their privacy broken – but news that murder victims phones were hacked has justly provoked outrage and disgust against the tabloid.

I am not going to delve too deep into condemning the actions of News International, that pool is already murky enough and our Labour Leader is doing a fine job of fronting proper criticism and putting pressure on Mr Cameron to get his act together in dealing with this issue.

I would, however, like to talk about what this indicates of some very worrying trends in the global media market. The Murdoch empire has once again shown that it is fundamentally just too powerful. In controlling so many media outlets Murdoch was able to dictate the outcome of elections, deluge the public consciousness with his opinions and, it is now clear, force all politicians to be beholden to him to the extent where they were afraid even to try to uncover illegal activities within his company.

This situation is not unique to the UK.  Consider for example Italy where Berlusconi not only runs the country but also maintains a national media monopoly. Unsurprisingly, media coverage in Italy is overwhelmingly more Berlusconi-friendly than in the rest of the world. Italian politics now takes place within Berlusconi’s fishbowl, the walls of which distort and dim even the most lurid of the Prime Minister’s activities and those of his associates.

There are a multiplicity of problems incurred by such media monopolies. It means that the public is not afforded the option of a variety of opinions and viewpoints. Public opinion is as much informed by the media as the media is guided by it; restricting the diversity of media opinions leads to a warping of public debate. In the case of news outlets such as Fox this can stray into the territory of the deliberately misleading and the propagation of actual untruths.

The News of the World has closed but this should not be the end of the story. At any rate the closure of the NOTW was as much a market-based decision as a political appeaser: Its mass desertion by advertisers rendered the tabloid unsustainable.  Instead this should initiate a rethink of how the media should be run within the UK and elsewhere. Allowing certain companies to achieve monopolies within the media not only leads to corruption, it is harmful to democracy. A healthy media requires a plurality of voices and opinions, free to report and express but that can also be regulated in order to prevent slander and malpractice. If the News of the World crisis teaches us anything it is that the British media has become divorced from its purpose. We must find a way to get it back on track.

The appalling position of women elsewhere must not blind us to the dire state of our own.

Labour Party

Today the Guardian published an interview piece with Harriet Harman; talking about the state of women’s empowerment and political involvement both within the UK and the democratising countries of North Africa. 

The state of women’s rights in the Arab Spring countries is one of the most salient current topics within women’s politics. It is true that the danger posed to women in that region and the possibility of regression in terms of women’s rights is a major concern at the moment and one which the Women and Equalities Committee in the Parliament is taking seriously. On Monday we have a workshop discussing how the EU can best force the issue of women’s rights and empowerment onto the democratising agendas of Egypt and Tunisia. To this end, I support Harriet’s demands that aid to the region be tied to the observance of women’s rights. This opportunity to change the landscape for women in that region of the world must not be missed. 

However, often by focussing on problems overseas, by which dismal standards the UK does compare favourably, it can often blind us to the very real problems that still exist within our own country. This blindness can often lead us into hypocrisy. This is pointed out by Harriet when she notes that the UK government is sending delegations of men to other countries to lecture about women’s rights since our international development office has no women. 

The right that the Conservative government has to lecture that region on women’s rights is also dubious since, for example, whilst condemning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Africa, it has demolished services set up by the Labour government to prevent FGM occurring on its own soil. This means more women within the UK will now be vulnerable to this abominable practice. We must also remember that this is the same government whose leader still finds it acceptable to make sexist comments to women in Parliament and whose party is so entirely divorced from the reality of most women’s lives that they have almost no idea how unfairly their policies impact upon women in the UK.

The Labour Party and the women within it are rightfully fighting for women in the UK, battling against the return of a fundamentally patriarchal and misogynist political group, even on time-worn battlegrounds such as abortion rights. Our Labour MEPs are also fighting for women in terms of maternity leave, gender pay gaps, preventing violence against women and reminding member states how their policies need to take the effect upon women into consideration. Having said this however, we have still never had a female leader and women remain underrepresented within the party, particularly in Westminster.

I believe Labour is different from the Conservatives. In terms of  gender empowerment the Labour Party is firmly within this century. The Tories, as Harriet Harman said, are still living in the last. But we need to do more. We cannot be complacent simply because the Tories are so much worse. This is why I support Harriet’s demands for a change in our leadership elections to ensure that women are part of the leadership and for a 50-50 gender balance of elected representatives. Our country is half women. Whilst men should also fight for women, women need to be in power to represent women and not just in Africa.

David Miliband – EPLP Leader should sit in the Shadow Cabinet

Labour Party

Speaking to the European Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday, David Miliband, frontrunner in Labour’s leadership contest, told Labour MEPs that he believes the EPLP Leader should sit in the Shadow Cabinet team. 

David wants to bring European matters closer to our politics at home. European issues deserve a strong voice in Brussels inside Labour’s Shadow Cabinet team. Having the EPLP Leader in the Shadow Cabinet also sends a signal to the wider movement – from the shadow cabinet to our CLPs and activists – that Labour is a party that wants to lead in a strong, outward-looking European Union.

David argued strongly that it is important for Labour to listen and engage on Europe. British engagement can see us leading and supporting an agenda of economic reform and social justice at home and hard-headed internationalism abroad.

We need to put to one side institutional squabbles and focus on the substantive issues facing the EU.  With a strong EU we can achieve more on climate change, energy security and international crime. Leading in Europe we can further our foreign policy objectives in the Middle East, on Iran, Pakistan and Russia.  As far as economic policy is concerned, we need a Europe-wide growth strategy not competitive austerity.

It will be no good at all for the British Prime Minister to be sitting in the corridor at the forthcoming European Council while the other heads of Government, all of whom occupy places in the centre of European politics, make the real decisions and invite him in afterwards for the toast.

However, whether the Tories move back to the centre of politics in Europe is ultimately a matter for them.

I am supporting David Miliband principally because I believe he is the best candidate to win the next general election for Labour.  I am also pleased that he is so positive about Europe and about the importance of Labour MEPs.

Excellent Result in Glasgow North-East

Labour Party

The result in Glasgow North-East can only be interpreted as a massive endorsement for the Government – there is quite simply no other way of looking at it.  Just in case you missed it, here is the actual result:

Labour – 12,231 votes (59.39%)

SNP – 4,120 votes (20%)

Tory – 1,075 votes (5.22%)

BNP – 1,013 votes (4.92%)

Solidarity – 794 votes (3.86%)

Lib Dems – 474 votes (2.30%)

Total votes cast – 20,595

Voter turnout – 32.97%

Although I didn’t manage to get to Glasgow, I did do a couple of stints at telephoning canvassing from London.  It always looked as if we would do well, as indeed we have done.

There is, however, one downside – the turnout.  Despite the well documented fact that turnouts in by-elections are notoriously low, 33 per cent is poor.  I gather from BBC Women’s Hour today that the number of women participating was much lower than that for men.

This is deeply troubling.  Our democracy requires engagement and women will only really make inroads in terms of improving their lives if they take part in the political process.  I hope the Labour Party will now undertake a serious analysis as to why the turnout among women in Glasgow North-East was so low.  We need some answers so that women in future are more encouraged to go out and vote. 


Labour Party

Interesting letter from Peter Bazelgette in the Financial Times:

“Sir, John Plender’s thoughtful analysis “Error-laden machine: Investment and Crisis (March 3) might have included one other element of the irrational exuberance we have recently suffered from.

Our shorter business cycles tend to be between 10 and 15 years. That is the time it takes each new generation of over-testosteronised young men to reach positions of influence in markets. They are typically in their late 20s or early 30s and know no fear because, critically, they have not previously experienced a downturn.

The sectors that lead market collapses may differ but the underlying cause remains the same. It makes Gordon Brown’s claim that we’d have an end to boom and bust all the more hubristic. The great helmsman could not and did not change human nature.

Peter Bazalgette, London W11, UK”

I think Peter entirely misses the point in the last sentence. He assumes a world where men are born to rule for eternity, surely some mistake?

Gordon Brown has lead the way in changing Britain socially for the better. Dads now get 2 weeks paternity leave for the first time, maternity leave and pay have been extended and increased. Free nursery places for all 3 and 4 year olds mean more women can be in the workforce, and we have never seen so many women working.

The bigotted macho aspect of society has been challenged by the Scrapping of Section 28 discriminating against gay men and lesbians. When David Cameron first stood for Parliament he opposed Civil Partnerships for people of the same gender. Now he has changed his mind for the better and supports them.

There are more measures the Labour government has taken to change our society for the better. I think when the next crisis comes our best defence will be having as many women as men in senior positions.

Peter calls Gordon hubristic, I call Peter sexist for assuming that men are born to rule forever. With assumptions like these as a leading businessman, he is part of the problem not the solution.