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.

Labour should prepare to fight UKIP on Europe

Labour Party

The time has come to revise what is becoming Labour’s conventional wisdom on UKIP, namely that UKIP is to be encouraged because they take Tory votes.

David Cameron’s long awaited speech where he pledged that, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next election, there will be a referendum on a yet to be negotiated re-jigging of our relationship with EU, with rejection of the new deal by the British public resulting in our exit, seems to have calmed some of the problems with his party – for now.  Ed Miliband did the right thing by saying that we would not support an in/out referendum, though a Labour government would retain the law meaning that any future EU treaty changes would be put to the British public for approval.

After this was made clear, Nigel Farage published an article in the Mail on Sunday stating that Ed’s position on Europe meant that UKIP would now be coming after our votes.  He said:

“Perhaps it will please the Conservatives to hear that we are also targeting the Labour vote. For what we represent is the voice of not just disgruntled, disenchanted Conservatives but everyone in Britain affected by the loss of sovereignty and power that comes with being a member of the EU… We will, in the county council elections in May this year and through a national advertising campaign in our major urban centres, target traditional Labour voters in a way UKIP has never done before.”

The aforementioned conventional wisdom, I have to say, backed by recent polling data, says that even with a concerted effort on the part of UKIP against Labour, the Tories will still have more to fear than we do.  On a constituency by constituency basis, the Tories lose seats to us, or fail to gain seats from us and the Lib-Dems, by margins that can be almost solely attribute to an ascendant UKIP.  Current trends suggest that UKIP won’t win any seats, but will do enough in the popular vote to cost the Conservatives.

But there is still no room for complacency, polls can change rapidly and there are still two years to go.  For all its vagueness, Cameron’s speech has meant that the Tories have gained some ground on the issue of Europe. Farage is, I think, recognising that UKIP may find they have less and less to use against the Tories.

We could, therefore, see a drift towards either an official, semi-acknowledged, or completely unofficial electoral pact between the Conservatives and UKIP come the next election.  This would mean UKIP leaving Tory areas and gunning for us.

The best way to combat this is to start tackling the Tories and UKIP on Europe now.  Ed Miliband was right to shun the idea of an in/out referendum, but now our party needs to start talking about why Ed is right, and how much damage Cameron’s proposal, even if it never comes to fruition, could do.  Let’s not wait for a referendum to start talking about why the UK needs to stay in the EU, let’s do it now and show UKIP and the Tories how wrong they are.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Chaotic economic policies have caused a split among the coalition, Sunday Mirror’s Vincent Moss revealed yesterday. The revelations followed news from earlier in the week when it was announced Britain is now in a double dip recession.

A source revealed to the Sunday Mirror that ‘Mr Osborne was becoming ­increasingly isolated as he faced a torrent of criticism from both Tory ministers and senior Lib Dems.’

The source added: ‘Things are so bad right now; George could even get the blame for the rain.’ You can read the article in full here.

It was a bad week for the coalition in other areas too. The Leveson Inquiry dominated many of the headlines mid week when Rupert Murdoch gave his evidence to the inquiry and during this time questions arose over whether the  culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, may have broken the ministerial code in his handling of the News Corp bid for BSkyB.

If the story alone isn’t embarrassing enough for David Cameron then added to that embarrassment was the refusal by Lord Justice Leveson who made it clear to the government that the purpose of his inquiry was not to rule if the culture secretary had indeed breached his ministerial code.

 

This came after Cameron had suggested on Wednesday last week that the Leveson inquiry was the best forum in which to determine whether Hunt had handled the bid in a partisan manner.

There were also denials that the deputy prime minister had meddled in the inquiry and that he had asked the inquiry to bring forward the date of Hunts appearance so his case could be ‘fast tracked’. Leveson’s spokesman said that Hunt’s request to bring his evidence session forward had been turned down “in the interests of fairness to all”. You can read the full story here.

Marina Hyde offered insight into the historic week in which Rupert Murdoch spent a day and a half giving evidence to the inquiry. She suggested that Murdoch’s contempt for politicians was borne of the embarrassing ease with which he is able to persuade them to fawn over him. She recalls that he said: ‘”I wish they’d leave me alone,” he lamented of a succession of prime ministers during last year’s select committee testimony.’

Perhaps senior politicians have been guilty of this. But as we are now finding everyone gets held to account. Eventually.

 

 

Not enacting equality legislation and no female candidates for the GLA – the shameful Tory record on women

Labour Party

Interesting to see in today’s Guardian that Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May has asked firms to publish information on the gender pay gap – the discrepancy in pay between men and women – and male/female promotion rates. The Tories are obviously getting worried, evidenced by Theresa May’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and David Cameron’s suggestion in the House of Commons that the coalition government will look at female representation in boardrooms and at Westminster.

We should take the Tory attempt to improve the position of women for the cynical move that it really is. The Conservative Party still has no real commitment towards women. The most damning piece of evidence is the fact that all, yes all, of their candidates selected so far for the Greater London Assembly election next year are men. Not one woman, unbelievable in this day and age.

I find it hard to accept that a political party which cannot field any female candidates for an important regional body is at all serious about women. According to a policy memo, commissioned by the Lib-Dems and leaked to the Guardian, the coalition is very worried about their poor showing with women voters. Yet the government has still not enacted existing laws that would make gender auditing mandatory. May’s response to a question about this on Woman’s Hour was telling, exposing the Tories’ utter lack of commitment to equality for women: “The mandatory power is still available in the Act but I think if you make something mandatory they do it but only to the point at which they have to do it. We’re encouraging companies to look more widely at their equality issues in their workplace.”

So that’s all right then. The Tories will cozy up to their friends and supporters in business and hope that it will somehow all become OK for women because the Home Secretary thinks it should be. Women deserve better. We deserve equality legislation to be implemented and we deserve a government which will actually work for women not merely spout warm words in the hope of electoral advantage.   

It looks to me as if the Tories are being pushed by their Lib-Dem coalition “partners”. Maybe the Liberal-Democrats are feeling the need to stretch their wings following the unhappy outcomes of the two constitutional measures they wanted. Both the result of the referendum on the alternative vote and the recently published review to cut the number of seats in the House of Commons to 600 have been disastrous for the coalition’s very junior partner. Maybe the Lib-Dems have moved on to gender equality. If so, let’s hope the curse of Clegg doesn’t hit women’s rights as well as constitutional issues.

The Tories’ atempt to deny prisoners voting rights is about self interest not public interest

Labour Party

The Daily Mail and David Cameron are trying to tell us that the Government’s decision to give MPs a free vote on whether or not long-term prisoners should have the vote is about asserting the supremacy of the British Parliament over the European Court of Human Rights.

It sounds good, doesn’t it, and is music to the ears of Eurosceptic MPs. Good old Blighty taking on those uppity continentals who want to destroy our way of doing things.

However, on closer examination it becomes clear that the European Court of Human Rights is not by any means the matter as a whole. Giving prisoners the vote could potentially upset the electoral arithmetic in some Tory seats.  For instance, Dartmoor Prison in the Tory held Torridge and West Devon constituency has an inmate population of about 1000. Since the current Tory majority is just under 3000, the potential for the prison vote to make a difference is very high.

I believe it is no coincidence that Cameron is seeking to deny prisoners the vote as his plan to reduce the number of House of Commons constituencies is going through the House of Lords, albeit with strong opposition from Labour peers. The move to stop prisoners voting is quite clearly part of the same process – to gerrymander constituencies so that the Tories gain maximum advantage by foul means or fair.

So while we have Cameron behaving extremely cynically in order to maintain Tory MPs in Parliament and dressing up in his best anti-EU rhetoric, his junior coalition partners now have a real problem. Since the Liberal-Democrats before the 2010 general election actively wanted to enfranchise prisoners, I wonder where this leaves them in relation to their coalition responsibilities.

Meanwhile the question of European Court of Human Rights rulings still remains. Quite clearly the UK should not go against the European Court. Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, who was incidentally appointed to the post by Margaret Thatcher, has insisted Britain must recognise its rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and is very clear that politics should be conducted under the rule of law.

This is, indeed, true and I wonder what former Labour Home Secretary was doing in signing a motion with Tory MP David Davies calling on the British Parliament to ignore the European judges.

In conclusion it is worth bearing in mind that the only EU countries with an outright ban on prisoners voting are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania. Were Britain to go down the David Cameron route, we would be among the EU countries that have the least respect for human rights.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

I can’t, in all honesty, say  that I was shocked to read the revelation in Saturday’s Guardian that the Lib Dems had drawn up plans to drop their flagship student pledge before the general election.

The revelation came in a new book about the coalition negotiations by the former Tory whip, Rob Wilson.

The secret document written by Danny Alexander revealed they would have to forego their pledge to abolish the fees within six years.

This is what Alexander wrote on 16 March:

‘On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.

Despite this Nick Clegg recorded a YouTube video for the NUS in which he stuck by his abolition pledge. In the video, on the 13 April, he said: ‘We will resist, vote against, campaign against any lifting of that cap.’

Although circumstances change and economic or social climates can mean that policies have to adapt, but what angers me about this revelation is that the party never intended to follow the policy it was flaunting.

It used this argument to secure the student vote, to entice those who were unsure by convincing them that they would support growing concern over tuition fees. But this article shows how so many voters were mislead by the party they voted for.

You can read the full article here.

In other news I read that designer shoe maker, Tamara Mellon, (among others) was appointed a global trade envoy for Britain, by David Cameron. Mellon and the other ‘ambassadors’ will be expected to promote and represent the country overseas by participating in foreign visits, meet foreign ministers and deliver speeches.

The other ambassadors are: handbag designer Anya Hindmarch and JCB boss Sir Anthony Bamford, a Tory donor who has contributed almost £1m in recent years, reported the Daily Mail.

Although the appointed ambassadors will not be paid for their work, I am still uncomfortable that the Prime Minister is relying on close allies such as Bamford and Hindmarch, the latter of which the Daily Mail claims is a close friend of the Prime Minister’s wife, to work on the international stage and represent Britain and British trade and industry.

Finally I couldn’t do a round up without mentioning the release of Aung San Suu Ki, the Burmease pro democracy leader and Nobel Peace prize winner. Suu Ki is a modern day symbol of peaceful resistance. She is a remarkable woman who has shown dignity and bravery in equal measure.

Despite being under house arrest for much of the last 20 years she refused, when interviewed by the BBC World Affairs editor, John Simpson, to show any bitterness towards the regime which had kept her captive for so long. Instead she simply said that she had been treated well.

 Her resolve, dignity and strength of character struck a chord, as did the reaction of her supporters, who were risking their own lives just by being so vocal in their joy at her release.

It reminded me how lucky we are to have much freedom which we should never take for granted.

You can read a profile of the peaceful protestor in the Telegraph here.

European Voice is wrong about the Con-Dem coalition

Labour Party

“The decision by the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat parties to form a coalition government freed Cameron from his Eurosceptic right-wing and put the UK in step with the norm in Europe.”

You may wonder where to find this completely accurate if rather bald statement.

And it’s probably not where you think.

Every year at about this time the European Union/European Parliament indulges in a prize giving fest – awards for the best MEP on each committee, for films and journalism and several for young people.

Not to be outdone, European Voice, Europe’s very own and only newspaper, makes its own contribution to the merry go round with awards for National Politician, European Commissioner, MEP, EU Official and intriguingly Inspiration.

One the five entries put forward for the national politician category this year is David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the UK’s prime minister and deputy prime minister because, yes, you’ve guessed it, they formed a coalition government to put the brakes on the eurosceptics and “put the UK in step with the norm in Europe.”.

I am not at all sure that a supreme act of political expediency, such as forming a coalition to neutralise a strand of opinion is worthy of a what claims to be a serious political award.

I’m also not sure that Cameron and Clegg formed a coalition to bring the UK in step with the norm in Europe.

While the happy outcome, for David Cameron at least, is that being in coalition with the Lib-Dems has made his eurosceptic wing shut up for the time being, I really don’t think it was uppermost in his mind when going into government with them.  The Tories joined up with Clegg’s outfit because they wanted power and hadn’t received enough votes at the general election to form a majority government.

So come off it, European Voice. Please don’t even try to make out the Cameron and Clegg acted out of principle.  It simply won’t wash.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

nhs

If the budget did one thing, it showed the Coalition Government in its true colours.  Now we know it’s a Tory Government in which the Lib-Dems appear to have very little say, I have decided it would be useful to do a weekly digest of some of the more iniquitous Tory actions during the past seven days plus anything else which seems interesting. 

Amid Wimbledon and World Cup fever, not to mention cricket, Andrew Lansley, the new Health Secretary quietly announced that he would cut patients right to see a family doctor within 48 hours as we all as dropping the 18 week waiting time target for hospital treatment.

Lansley says he is freeing the NHS from bureaucracy and targets that have no clinical justification. This will, it is claimed, help speed up the £850mn cuts that NHS managers are expected to make by 2014.

Monitoring it is essential to ensure that patients get the highest level of care and the earliest available opportunity. With no alternative in place I am concerned that we will return to the days when people waited for months, sometimes years for treatment, an appalling state of affairs which the Labour Government put a stop to.

I also read about Iain Duncan Smith’s announcement he would relocate the long-term unemployed to areas where there is greater opportunity for work. This is a tall order and I cannot see how this will work in reality. Is this just more rhetoric?

The Observer’s poll was an interesting read – it suggested support for the Lib-Dems had slumped because they backed the VAT increase. Surely this can’t be the only reason its voters are uprooting?  Conservative Government obviously does not suit Lib-Dem activists and voters.

More Tory than Reform

Labour Party

While not on the same scale as the MPs’ expenses disk, the Sunday Telegraph didn’t do badly in getting hold of the Queen’s Speech prior to the event.  (As an aside, I’m not at all sure I approve of leaking matters of such importance in advance – it diminishes the Queen’s Speech itself almost to the point of mockery.  We either have this major event or we don’t).

The economy and Con-Dem cuts are obviously the big issues, made bigger, I suspect, by the disgraceful sidelining of Vince Cable, one of the most able, not to say likeable, members of the Coalition Cabinet.  I am, I have to say, puzzled as to why Vince signed up for what is essentially a hard right Government.

However, my own interest lies, as many of you will know, with the proposed constitutional reform.  And what a package!  The Tories have given away little and got what they wanted.    Although Nick Clegg and the Liberal-Democrats may feels they have of some of what they were looking for, the Tories have, sadly, gained much more.

Reducing the number of constituencies and making them all the same size is Tory gerrymandering of the worst sort.  It will disproportionately benefit the Conservatives. 

It is simply not fair to view hard pressed urban seats with multiple deprivation and the resulting high MP caseloads with leafy suburbs and quiet rural idylls.  Having lived most of my political life in inner London, I do know what I’m talking about.   The Tories are pretending to be fair for their own ends.  My hope now is that the Boundary Commission will stop the worst of the Conservative con.

The Lib-Dems treasured referendum on AV may not be all it’s cracked up to be.  As a supporter of proportional representation, I view AV as very much second best.          

I assume that under the new AV system the constituency boundaries would be those gerrymandered by this Government.  Voters would elect one person to represent them in parliament, ranking their candidates in an order of preference, putting ‘1’ next to their favourite, a ‘2’ by their second choice and so on.  If no single candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the second choices for the candidate at the bottom are redistributed. The process is repeated until one candidate gets an absolute majority

 The alternative vote is not therefore a proportional system, but a majoritarian one. The only advantage is that each MP would be elected with more than half of the votes in their constituency.

 The only real conclusion to be drawn from these two proposals in Queen’s Speech is that is that the Lib-Dems have sold out on PR, their most treasured and long held policy.  The constitutional reform is purely and simply Tory reform.

Having said all of that, the other three of the five proposals are excellent: 

  • Five year fixed term parliaments
  • Reform of the House of Lords to make it wholly or largely elected
  • Giving voters the right to recall their MPs

Taking away the power of the Prime Minister to call elections will bring Britain into the modern world and end an outdated privilege.

Building on the Labour Government’s abolition of hereditary peers, I am pleased to see reform of the House of Lords to introduce a wholly or largely elected upper house.     

Recalling MPs seems absolutely right and a welcome innovation following all the problems with expenses.

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.