Channel 4 News Interview: Labour’s Future

Labour Party

Last week I discussed the future of the Labour Party on Channel 4 News with Michael Crick. You can watch the clip here.


It followed an article I wrote for the New Statesman which you can also read here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round- up

Labour Party

There was an interesting article in this week’s New Statesman in which George Eaton warns that Ukip could thrive following the election. Whoever wins the election, Farage’s party will have no shortage of political ground to exploit Eaton warns.

Support for Ukip is in decline, at least this is what the polls promise. The ‘giddy’ momentum Farage’s party enjoyed following May’s European election last year is unsustainable.

It’s difficult to know for sure if the party has peaked, or as Eaton’s article suggests, the party may enjoy renewed support following the election. Typically the immediate aftermath of an election is exhausting but vigilance of the threat Ukip could pose at this point is essential.

Last week the Fabian Society published a report which laid bare some astonishing statistics relating to poverty, in particular child poverty. It said that some 2.5 million British children would wake up in a home scarred by poverty, stating: “the hidden victims of an economy that is failing to bring prosperity to typical families, and of austerity policies which hit those with least the most. These are the children forced to go without new school shoes, half-term day trips or a healthy evening meal.”

The report warned that while the economy slowly improves overall, for child poverty the story is altogether different. In fact the problem is getting worse. It estimated that 1.2 million children will fall into poverty between 2015 and 2030, this is an increase of almost half. The report predicts that low income families will suffer as a result of further benefit cuts meaning low income families will be just £200 a year better off.

Earning differentials will widen and government policies fail to help low income groups allowing them to keep pace with everyone else.
The Fabian Society has made some conservative calculations too: it projects that 3.6 million more people will slip into poverty by 2030, including 1.3 million disabled people and over half a million lone parent households.

This is not inevitable, politicians could tackle the issue of poverty, however the Tories plan to slash £12bn from the benefit system indicating that it is not in any way dedicated to doing anything about poverty which is particularly concerning considering children are one of the groups who will be most affected by their in action.

Juncker’s Commission still being formed

Labour Party

Jean Claude Juncker, the incoming President of the European Commission, is to meet with the new Slovenian commissioner candidate, Violeta Bulc. As long as she proves herself appointable, Ms Bluc will replace the previous Slovenian nominee Alenka Bratusek.

Bratusek, the former Prime Minister of Slovenia, nominated herself to the position after she lost the country’s general election, but was rejected after failing to impress MEPs at her hearing last week.

The EU Observer claimed that Bluc’s candidacy is also not without controversy. The paper reports: “The new prime minister, Miro Cerar, pushed her name through even though seven members of his cabinet were against and only six in favour. But with three ministers abroad and unable to vote, rules of procedure allow unexpressed votes to be counted as positive.”

It has not emerged which portfolio Juncker would offer the new commissioner designate but there is criticism in Ljubljana that she also lacks experience in the political arena.

Last week I wrote for the New Statesman about the Commissioner hearings and also why I feel Jonathan Hill is well placed to represent the UK as commissioner designate. You can read my piece here.

Vince Cable is not trying hard enough to get more women on the boards of top companies

Labour Party

Vince Cable quietly launched what he called an ‘enhanced’code of conduct for executive search firms to support the appointment of more women on boards this week. It is targeted at the FTSE 350 and recognises those firms who have been most successful in the recruitment of women to the FTSE 350 boards.

The main problem with the idea of a voluntary code is that it isn’t taken seriously. This is evident by the very fact that the new code is actually a re-launch of an original one from 2011 to which just 70 firms signed up to. Whether the lack of support was due to poor marketing by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills or just a general dislike of anything which smacks of regulation, it illustrates that more decisive action is required.

That’s precisely why I advocate a move towards mandatory quotas. I wrote about the issue in 2012 for the New Statesman, and set out my argument then.

My New Statesman article pointed out that mandatory quotas have been successful in parts of Europe. Norway introduced legislation in 2003 when women represented just 9 per cent of executives at board level. Since then female representation has increased to 40 per cent, a great achievement in under a decade. Rather than collapsing, as many reactionary Britons may have expected, businesses in Norway have thrived as more women have taken up senior positions.

Women are just as capable as men. Women perform equally as well as men at university and in the early part of their careers. So they (we) cannot be any less capable when it comes to striving for the next move on the career ladder, namely a senior position. Since women are as capable, we must consider exactly why there is such a large disparity in terms of female representation in senior and executive positions, especially in the FTE 350, and take measures to rectify the position.

If we are to really tackle this disparity then a voluntary code simply won’t do. The business secretary must know this, and should therefore be taking much stronger action.


Farage aligns with far right group to form a new bloc

Labour Party

I have written an article for New Statesman online analysing Nigel Farage’s attempts to set up a new political bloc (Europe of Freedom and Democracy) in the European Parliament.

I explain how he has in the past tried to appear principled about not accepting membership from those who have previously been members of the National Front or BNP, and suggested this was a reason not to align with Le Pen.

Nevertheless he has invited a group founded by white supremacists, the Swedish Democrats, into his new bloc. “Not only is it hugely hypocritical but it also shows the lengths to which Farage is prepared to go in order to ensure he gets to lead a group within the European Parliament,” I said in my piece. You can read the article in full here.

Honeyball’s weekly round-up

Labour Party

Tougher consumer rights, introduced on 13 June, will give more protection to customers making purchases online. The new rules, which come from a European Union directive made in 2011, will also put an end to exorbitant credit card fees set by retailers for those making purchases online. And it will give consumers a 14 day cooling off period after they’ve made a purchase in which they can change their mind. The job for the Commission will be to ensure the new rules are properly enforced.

Consumer groups such as BEUC, the European consumers’ organisation, are hopeful this will spell an end to “many everyday consumer headaches to do with dodgy online business practices,” said BEUC’s Director General Monique Goyens.

The Commission is well aware that it will have to ensure the legislation is properly enforced, as Neven Mimica the Commissioner for consumer affairs said that “enforcement action would be a priority”. You can read more here (N.B. You must register for free to read the article in full.)

Alan Johnson was interviewed for the latest edition of New Statesman. During the interview he talks about Theresa May’s disloyalty, calling some of her most recent actions ‘despicable.’

He also offers views on men who wear cufflinks but not double cuffs: “Never trust them”, he says. Sage advice, perhaps!

But it’s his views on disadvantaged young people that are most striking. He suggests that it’s unlikely that anyone can ‘come in like I did’. Meaning it is unlikely that anyone from a similar background to his own would ever get elected to Parliament today. What a terrible concern to think that Parliament may continue to be dominated by and be the preserve of white, middle class, men.

Johnson was interviewed by the Statesman as his memoirs are published to critical acclaim (he has already won the Orwell Book prize for political writing and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prize.) You can read his interview in the latest issue, more details here.

As the debate over Jean-Claude Juncker continues the Telegraph’s James Kirkup observed a ‘despondent Cameron’ last week. Kirkup said of Cameron: “David Cameron sounded like a man expecting defeat over the fight to stop Jean Claude Juncker becoming head of the European Commission. ‘I will go on thinking its wrong right up until the end,’ he said. Mr Cameron’s despondency follows signs of a change of heart in Berlin. Angela Merkel, previously lukewarm about Mr Juncker, is now said to be fully supportive.

“Failing to block Mr Juncker would be a disappointment for Mr Cameron, as his gloomy demeanour today demonstrated: the PM has staked a lot of capital on blocking the man he regards as a champion of old-school federalism.”

As I’ve stated previously Cameron’s negotiating efforts over the issue of the Commission President have been less than satisfactory. He has comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Juncker and has let us down over this.


Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Russell Brand caused controversy this week when he guest edited the New Statesman. Appearing on Newsnight to promote the magazine Brand boasted that he had never voted “because of the treachery, lies and deceit of the political class”. “Don’t bother”, he told viewers. He was criticised by left-leaning commentators, including Joan Smith and James Bloodworth (who dubbed Brand “the Jeremy Clarkson of the left”).

Although I disagree with Brand’s previous attitudes to women and the sex industry, I have always wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. It seems like his heart is in the right place. However, I found last week’s comments difficult to ignore. There is a lack of integrity, for me, in being as derogatory and dismissive as Brand was when you haven’t thought through even the basics of what the alternative might be.

Revealingly, his friend Noel Gallagher said (in the New Statesman Brand edited) that, despite wanting a fairer world, he would be unwilling to pay more tax – a statement which surely illustrates the paradox against which modern politicians are fighting. Without a sense that wealthy people like Brand or Gallagher are willing to lead the way and make sacrifices is it any wonder change doesn’t happen faster?

Brand inadvertently put his finger on the problem himself when he admitted that the political right “has all the advantages, just as the devil has the best tunes”. He is correct: fighting for a fairer society is a slow and unglamorous process, which lacks the flash-in-the-pan ‘genius’ involved in writing a joke or a pop song. But without it we wouldn’t have, among countless other things, the NHS, equal pay for women, or the minimum wage. Brand himself may not benefit from these advances, but millions of ordinary people do.

The really frustrating thing with Brand’s stance is not its naivety, its narcissism, or its myopia, but how irresponsible it is. Young people I represent in London are often unemployed. They have to do unpaid internships, stump up extortionate rent, and pay through the nose to use transport. They require democracy more than ever, and need celebrities like Brand to be fighting to re-engage them rather than adding to the problem. I therefore urge young people everywhere to do what Bite the Ballot says and ignore Russell Brand.

Moving on to more meaningful forms of dissent, this week also saw Saudi women take to their cars in protest at the driving ban imposed on women. They did so in spite of open, unspecified threats of retaliatory action by the Saudi government. The nature of the threats meant many faced the stark reality of having to risk both their own and their family’s safety to fight for this basic freedom.

So far there have been no publicised incidents of retaliation against the women who participated on Saturday. Many have interpreted this as the strongest signal yet that the mood in the country is changing. Given that the first protest in the 1990s saw arrests and job losses for the women involved, you can see why they are optimistic.

Yet there is still a long way to go. Just a few days before the protest the Gulf state topped a World Bank index of countries for the number of laws in place limiting women’s economic potential – a reminder that the current ban on women driving is just one of many Saudi policies which embed the oppression of women. A long road lies ahead for Saudi women in their quest for parity with men.

Cameron’s New Year’s Resolution

Labour Party

The New Year is a time for resolving to do the things you should have been doing or should have done in the previous year.  For David Cameron, that means making his position on Europe clear in a speech he intends to deliver in the Netherlands later this month.

Douglas Alexander pre-empted the speech in the New Statesman this week, asking Cameron to make a decision that is best for the United Kingdom and not his leadership. You can read it here.

As Douglas Alexander points out; “the timing and content of this speech have little to do with policy and everything to do with politics”.  Cameron has always been in a particularly tight spot when it comes to Europe; with coalition partners that are pro-EU, and his outward support for the UK’s continued membership; he has to contend with a large portion of his party who think of little else but an in/out referendum.

Douglas makes a strong case against a referendum in his article, the most important point being:

“Announcing an in/out referendum halfway through this parliament to take place more than halfway through the next, given the Conservatives’ hostility towards Europe, could risk up to seven years of economic uncertainty, threatening vital investment and effectively playing Roulette with the country’s economic future.”

In fact, Cameron’s own Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has stated in the House of Commons that “It would create additional economic uncertainty in this country at a difficult economic time.”

At this point it is unlikely that Cameron will announce an in/out referendum.  More likely it will be a statement of intent to repatriate a number of powers from the European Union.  I have said many times before that this idea is rather fantastical, as it would mean treaty renegotiations.  Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, has stated recently that “We’re either a union or we’re not… The EU is not an à la carte menu”.

So when Cameron fails to get these powers back from Europe, as he no doubt will, he may find himself backed in to a corner with his party and forced to hold that in/out referendum.

The dangers of this have been pointed out by a number of business leaders who yesterday wrote a letter to the Financial Times stating that his current stance on Europe risked ‘destabalising the British economy’.  The letter is signed by businessmen including Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, Sir Michael Rake of BT, Jan du Plessis of Rio Tinto and Malcolm Sweeting, the senior partner at Clifford Chance, a major law firm.

The letter states that:

“We must be very careful not to call for a wholesale renegotiation of our EU membership which would almost certainly be rejected.  To call for such a move in these circumstances would be to put our membership of the EU at risk and create damaging uncertainty for British business, which are the last things the Prime Minister would want to do.”

When everyone from the business world to people within your own Cabinet are telling you that the path you are on is folly, it might be time to take some notice and stand up to that part of your party leading you down this dangerous road.

This is a time of great change in the United Kingdom, Europe and the world.  The best position we could be in right now is within the EU.  Reforms are needed, but we can be part of making the union work better, but not if Cameron continues to alienate himself from the rest of the EU with unreasonable and impossible demands.

My article for the New Statesman on support for mandatory quotas for women on boards

Labour Party

 Last week I wrote a piece for the New Statesman explaining why planned legislation to introduce mandatory quotas for women on company boards is so importnat.  You can read the article and comments from their readers by clicking on this link, or I have pasted the text below.

 Why I support the 40 per cent quota for women on boards

Kickstarting gender equality.

By Mary Honeyball

The proposed introduction of mandatory European quotas for women on the boards of larger companies has sent a ripple of fear through the business world in the UK. Certain company bosses and politicians always fear change. Change involving women is even more scary.

Setting quotas has, however, worked in other parts of Europe. Norway introduced legislation in 2003 when women represented just 9 per cent of executives at board level. Since then female representation has increased to 40 per cent, a great achievement in under a decade. Rather than collapsing, as many reactionary Britons may have expected, businesses in Norway have thrived as more women have taken up senior positions.

The reality is nobody knows exactly what the European Commission’s legislative proposals stipulate because they have not yet been published. The plans are at present being scrutinised by the Commission’s lawyers. Only when they are happy can Viviane Reding, the Commissioner responsible, announce her plans.

Despite not knowing any of the detail of the draft legislation, the UK’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable, spearheaded opposition to what he assumed Mrs Reding would propose, sending a letter to the European Commission signed by eight other member states. The letter strongly criticised the plans and told Mrs Reding and her colleagues at the Commission that “the UK had no intention of supporting such legislation but thank you very much for the offer.”

I am a member of the European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee where debates on mandatory quotas for women on company boards have been taking place for some time. During our committee meeting last month I expressed anger at the UK government’s publication of the letter to Commissioner Reding, saying it was shameful that the British Government was taking such a reactionary line and jumping the gun.

This is another embarrassing episode for the UK in Europe. A chaotic, ill thought through approach like this undermines Britain’s position in the EU. Far from looking powerful and impressive, taking a position which is both reactionary and rigid sends a very negative message to other member states, making the British look weak and foolish.

Mrs Reding’s response to the letter from the UK Business Secretary demonstrated her indignation in no uncertain terms: “European laws on important topics like this are not made by nine men in dark suits behind closed doors, but rather in a democratic process with a democratically elected European Parliament,” was her uncompromising message to Cable.

Away from the political fallout this has created, it is important to consider why female representation on boards is so low. Women perform as well as men at university and in their early careers, so they are no less capable of doing just as well in more senior positions. There are women qualified women to sit on company boards across Europe, many of whom have already been identified by Commissioner Reding.

This proposed European legislation is not intended to dictate to businesses how they structure companies or force them to appoint token women. Mandatory quotas for women on company boards are required to kick start gender equality at this level. While there has been a small improvement in the last year it is not a significant enough leap.

The Cranfield School of Management reported a slight increase in the percentage of women on the boards of the UK’s 100 largest listed companies. Their statistics revealed that 15.6 per cent, of women sit on company boards today compared with 12.5 per cent last March (2011).

We do not yet know the detail of the draft legislation, but we do know Mrs Reding wants the 40 per cent quota to be operative by 2020. If this is successful it will be a huge improvement and something I will be very proud to have supported.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Last week’s UK news was somewhat dominated by the coalition government’s Budget. We were ‘treated’ to a few leaks before it was announced but it was only following the full reading that the full impact really reached us.

George Osborne announced, as predicted, a cut to the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p, obviously to help those who need it the most- the wealthiest in society. And Labour leader, Ed Miliband addressed this head on and rightly had the front bench ‘squirming’ as Peter McHugh in his political sketch for the New Statesman said.

McHugh said: ‘He was on even better form as he demonstrated that cutting the top rate from 50p to 45p was five times better news for us – and not the rich who would be clobbered anyway by a crackdown on tax dodging.

You can read his full analysis here.

Jackie Ashley predicted the Budget would be bad news for women, and said it had to be closely scrutinised by the usual prisms such as class and gender. Gender is important because, as she rightly pointed out, policy is rarely gender neutral, and if last week’s Budget is anything to go by then we see how detrimental it was to women. You can read her full article here.

Yesterday’s Observer broke down the Budget bit by bit and asked two commentators their views. It’s really worth reading this article as it puts much of last week’s rhetoric into perspective.

On gender, one of the commentators – Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank focusing on low-to-middle earners and former deputy chief of staff to Gordon Brown said that it was important to close the gender pay gap within the next decade.Closing that gap over the next 10 years represents a rare opportunity to spread prosperity.’

He added: ‘This will only happen if there are more quality part-time jobs and a major expansion in affordable and flexible childcare. It will also mean more equal sharing of caring responsibilities between genders. Closing the gap means change for men as well as women.’

You can read the full article here.