Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Parity in the content and quality of sex education across Europe continues to vary widely. And as Dave Keating reveals in the latest issue of European Voice, it doesn’t just vary from country to country but also can vary widely within them.

I was surprised to read that there remains such a great divide between those countries which do educate their young people and those who still don’t.

The report found, unsurprisingly, that Nordic and Benelux countries have the highest levels of education while eastern and southern countries (with the exception of Spain and Portugal where there has been vast improvement) hardly touch on the subject.

The responsible teaching of sex education is so important because, as the report finds, there is a direct correlation between the education and rates of HIV infection. You can read more on the report and the full article in the latest issue of European Voice here.

Meanwhile back in the UK it’s another week and yet more confusion of the coalition governments position on Europe.

In two separate interviews today, Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, contradicted themselves once again- it did at least provide an indication of how deep the fracture is running.

First the Work and Pensions Secretary said: ‘that a significant EU treaty change should trigger a referendum’. At the same time Nick Clegg said that a single change, even if significant, did not require voters to be consulted.

German chancellor Angela Merkel will meet French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on tomorrow (Monday) to ‘thrash out a plan to save the euro ahead of the EU summit on Thursday,’

As the fracture continues to gather pace so Duncan Smith continue to make ridiculous and sweeping statements which only serve to reveal a greater lack of understanding than we could ever have given him or his party credit for.

He even suggested that if the summit leads to a treaty renegotiation, the prime minister should use it to demand repatriation of powers to Britain from Brussels… and we know that’s almost impossible to achieve.

You can read the full story in the Guardian online here.


David Cameron is becoming Isolated in Europe

Labour Party

David Cameron is about to head to Europe to discuss the growing crisis in the Eurozone.  He is planning on meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and Angela Merkel.

I can see this being an uncomfortable trip for Cameron; people from Merkel’s cabinet are already speaking out at against what they see as Cameron’s selfish and short-sighted thinking.

He also has to contend with his deputy Prime Minister ridiculing him in the most forthright terms for his stance towards the EU.

But what is Cameron’s stance on the Eurozone crisis, not to mention the EU itself?  His response to date has been less than clear.  Cameron recently stated he would like to see the European Union become more of a network, as opposed to becoming more integrated as Merkel is proposing.  The problem with this is Merkel’s proposals, whether you agree with them or not, are clear and understandable, where as for the life of me I don’t know what Cameron is talking about.  He waffles on about a less integrated Europe at a time when everyone else is saying that, if we want to avoid an even more serious financial collapse, the Eurozone countries are going to need to work more closely together.

It’s pretty obvious why Cameron is having such difficulties getting his point across.  Timothy Garton Ash made the astute observation that Cameron is working in a tri-partite coalition; Conservatives, Lib-Dems, and Euro-sceptics.  This has bound him to the fantasy of ‘repatriation of powers’, which has earned him the opprobrium of Europe’s heads of state.

It may turn out that treaties will need to be renegotiated, perhaps just within the Eurozone, so probably not affecting the United Kingdom.  It is clear, however, to me that Britain needs to be involved in these discussions.  What I’m certain of is that David Cameron is in no position to adequately represent British interests at the EU level.  He’s not only too confused, he’s also too much of a pariah.

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.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Today’s Sunday Mirror revealed Labour Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman is hoping to change the party’s rules so that the party’s leader must always be a woman.

The new rule would mean a big change to the party’s constitution and would undoubtedly ruffle feathers. The paper quoted a labour back bencher as saying ‘we should be electing the best two people – regardless of their sex.’
I’ve not heard any rumours on this so am not sure how much of it is true but I’ll keep readers informed as I hear more.
Another claim in today’s Mirror is reported by Vincent Moss who claimed Nick Clegg ‘boasted he had forced David Cameron to ditch plans to bring more private firms into the NHS.’ The Lib Dem leader’s allies are claiming the victory for the deputy PM. I’m sure this will divide the coalition further and it will humiliate the health secretary.
To claim this is Clegg’s victory is an interesting move to say the least…the words ‘clutching at straws’ springs to mind. You can read the full story here.
Unsurprisingly ministers have underestimated the number of universities which will charge the maximum £9000 in fees and as a result the spiralling numbers may be cut to cover the cost of loans. Ministers will have to fund the huge bill in student loans a committee of MPs has warned.

As has always been the concern with the new system of fees it will mean, as feared, university will become the preserve of the wealthiest, and some of the poorest who are lucky enough to get scholarships. Everyone in the middle…we just don’t know what will happen to them, but it continues to be a great concern.

You can read the full story here.

Reform of the House of Lords is about modernising Britain not bashing Nick Clegg

Labour Party

So Nick Clegg’s attempt to bring about the hundred year old demand to reform of the House of Lords is getting mixed reviews. While I agree Clegg is a man who looks increasingly desperate, badly needing to deliver a constitutional proposition, I deeply disagree with those who tell us reform of the outmoded way we govern ourselves in this country is not important and at the bottom of the political agenda.

The way a country runs its government is profoundly important in the way that government uses its power. The British system is deeply divided, not only encouraging, but positively demanding, tribal loyalty. This tribal loyalty, in turn, leads in turn to massive recriminations when governments cannot deliver what tribal loyalty demands.

It is this, I believe, which is to some extent responsible for Labour’s lacklustre performance at the present time in that  Labour tribalism is seen to have failed. The recent local election results were not as good as they should have been, while Scotland, once Labour’s strongest heartland, was a total disaster.

What is more, tribalism suits the Tories far more than it suits Labour; the Conservatives are tribalists by their very nature. This is hardly surprising since the basis of our current system of government was laid down in the 19th century by Tories and Whigs, the latter being little different from the Tories at the time. When the Conservative and Liberal Parties emerged later, nothing changed in any profound way. Both Parties were upper class bastions of the rich until well after the First World War.

This is the system under which Britain is still ruled – tribal, confrontational and designed by and for the wealthy. With so many old Etonians and millionaires – Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Hague,  Huhne (for now) and others – in the current Cabinet, you would be justified in wondering how much we have actually progressed.

It’s also a system which does Labour no favours. This, more than anything else, is why I think constitutional reform is so important. If we want a fair and equal society where social mobility is the norm, where state education is given priority and social cohesion is an accepted part of the political agenda, we need a broad-based and inclusive government. Of course there will be political differences and differing views on what needs to be done, and there will still be Labour, Conservative and Liberal-Democrats. We should, however, have a fairer and more open system so that we all work for the public good, not for our own tribal ends.

Most other European countries have achieved this. All or nothing, shout at your opponents until they give in rather than look for intelligent compromise is not the way other EU member states do business. Most also have better state social security and pensions systems, shorter working hours and arguably better education up to the statutory school leaving age.

Back to Britain. As far as the House of Lords is concerned, I find the idea that the second chamber of the Mother of Parliaments is appointed by the Prime Minister little short of abhorrent. This is patronage and is therefore open to less than honourable dealings. I will say no more, but I’m sure you know what I mean.   

Given this, I am always pleased to see new thinking. Democracies, even, may be especially, one so in need of reform as ours, need thinkers, people who can see beyond the box and come up with new ideas.

I am therefore glad to see Ed  Miliband has endorsed Blue Labour. The recent election results show Labour needs to listen and Blue Labour is, I believe, part of this process. However, In do have one word of warning. Labour should aim to appeal across the board and get away from tribalism. It is only by leading the way that we may achieve this. Britain will be better if, and when, we all become more open and less obsessed by narrow party interest.

Calamity Clegg Closes Down Electoral Reform

Labour Party

I’ve left commenting on the result of the AV referendum so late because, to be honest, I haven’t had the heart to put pen to paper, or should I say fingers to keyboard.

As regular readers of this blog will know, electoral reform is a cause I have campaigned for over many years. It now looks to have been stopped for in its tracks for many more years to come. I take no joy in pointing out how appalling Nick Clegg’s judgment has been on this matter.

I wrote a post here in September 2009 which is a little prescient looking back now. Gordon Brown had just committed the Labour Party to AV and this became part of Labour’s subsequent manifesto. I argued then that the way to secure electoral reform would be for the Liberal Democrats to work with another party which had the same objective. Quite why Nick Clegg and others thought the Conservatives would not fight a hard campaign against AV is beyond me. There is a touching naivety in their complaints about lies and negative campaigning. Can these Lib-Dem politicians be the very ones who used to put flakey bar charts on their election leaflets inflating Liberal Democrat chances of winning, not to mention their penchant for dirty campaigns when necessary? I have experienced negative Liberal and Liberal Democrat campaigns for 30 years.  Now they’re on the receiving end of criticism they seem quite unable to take it on board.

I remember saying in 2009 that almost every seat the Liberal Democrats won in 2005 from Labour had a substantial student population who voted for them as a result of the cocktail of Iraq and university tuition fees, which, of course, no longer exists. How true this proved.  In the 2010 General Election Liberal Democrats gained two seats from Labour – Redcar and Burnley. Both of these gains were based on local issues and campaigns.

What is more, the shattering Scottish and Welsh results last week show that any Liberal Democrat in a seat with a large student population should immediately start looking for alternative career prospects. Now with first past the post re-established the only question surely is whether the Liberal Democrats lose a half, two-thirds or maybe even more of their current seats. Nick Clegg in the 12 months before the 2010 General Election fantasised that the Liberal Democrats would make considerable gains from Labour. In the end Labour gained one seat overall from the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg’s strategic mistake was of monumental proportions. He could have seized an opportunity to work with Labour to secure AV. Labour made a manifesto commitment that would have seen Liberal Democrats at the next election hold perhaps 80 seats, now it is likely to be 20. That’s a massive blow to any party. I am unconcerned about Liberal Democrat prospects but I did want to secure a fairer voting system. So like many Liberal Democrat activists I am very disappointed at how badly Nick Clegg misjudged matters.

The AV Referendum is about more than Nick Clegg

Labour Party

I am feeling increasingly angry that the AV referendum campaign seems to be coming down to a question of personalities. Yes, it’s good it’s hotting up and there is now some real passion in what, until the last few days, looked like a mere distraction. But changing our antiquated voting system which is out of step with most of the rest of the world should not come down to Nick Clegg, or, for that matter, David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Vince Cable.

I, of course, hold no brief for Nick Clegg who, I agree, has proved a pretty useless Deputy Prime Minister. There is no doubt Clegg is now a toxic commodity, a far cry from the heady days of the pre-general election TV debates.

However, we mustn’t let our views on Clegg cloud the issue. The AV referendum is far more important than one individual.

Not only is it right that Britain changes its voting system to something fairer and more democratic, but we also need to be aware of what the Tories have done to our parliamentary constituencies. As Jackie Ashley pointed out in the “Guardian” yesterday, the Act allowing the referendum on AV also cut the number of constituencies to 600 and made them all more or less the same size. The combination of keeping first past the post and the new gerrymandered constituencies will give the Tories a massive boost.

David Cameron could be on the verge of pulling off a master-stroke if the Yes Campaign loses its momentum and allows the Nos to get a foothold, even, dare I say it, winning. If Britain votes to keep first past the post there is a very real danger that the Tories may be in power for a very long time. It could mean a return to the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher style government.

Just in case you need reminding, Margaret Thatcher presided over unemployment topping one million for more than 10 years, decimated the trade union movement, laid waste large tracts of our industrial heartlands, waged war on Labour in local government, introduced of the poll tax, amongst other horrendous policies which struck at the core of the well-being of our country.

And in each of the general elections which returned Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives only gained a minority of the votes cast – 43.9 percent in 1979, 42.4 percent in 1983 and 42.4 percent in 1987, due to the undemocratic nature of first past the post and the geographical distribution of the Tory and Labour voters. As I once heard the excellent former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was a great supporter of proportional representation, say: “Under PR we would not have had Margaret Thatcher.”

I do not believe that the majority of the British people want a return to Thatcher, clothed this time as Cameron, or similar if Dave doesn’t go the distance.

When our electorate did not give any political party a clear majority in the 2010 election, they were telling the political class that they did not want either of the two main parties to govern. This can and does happen. We have, in fact, had a number of hung parliaments since the Second World War, including 1964, twice in 1974 as well as 2010. It seems that British politicians just cannot accept that sometimes it will be like this and that not every general election will produce a clear mandate for one particular party. Our continental counterparts take a much more mature view and are not afraid to form coalition governments when their electorate wishes this to happen. 

Strong government does not always equate to good government the “of the people, by the people, for the people” variety. Voting yes to AV will make the way we choose our representatives fairer and provide a bulwark against governments who seek to impose their own misguided ideology no matter what the consequences may be for the majority of those who live in our country.

Ed Miliband says Yes to AV

Labour Party

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear I am absolutely delighted that Ed Miliband has given his unequivocal support for the Alternative Vote.

Ed is due to address a Labour “Yes” rally today, giving his first major speech on AV.  He will stress that “the time is ripe for change”.

This is indeed true.  First past the post effectively disenfranchises huge numbers of people. In a general election if you do not live in a seat which may change party, you’re vote is essentially worthless. It’s because of this that people try and vote tactically. The best that can be said for this is that it’s a hit and miss method of choosing your MP and doesn’t really work as a large number of people are required to vote tactically for it to have any discernible effect.

AV, however, would allow voters to rank candidates with preferences being transferred until one candidate receives over half the votes cast. Since this was the system used to elect Ed Miliband as Labour’s leader, I would have thought Labour Party members would be used to it and agree that it is, in fact, much fairer than the current majoritarian method used for the House of Commons.

Ed will today also urge Labour supporters to ignore the temptation to vote “no” in order to damage Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, saying, “We can’t reduce the second referendum in British political history to the betrayal of one man. I supported the inclusion of an AV referendum in our manifesto. If it was right then, it is right now.”

Labour Party members should back our Leader on AV and campaign for a yes vote. We are the only country in the EU which elects its national parliament by first past the post. It’s high time Britain moved into the modern world.

Europe Causes More Trouble for the Coalition Government

Labour Party

David Cameron faces problems within his own party as Nick Clegg insists that the UK will not withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Conservative led Coalition Government is establishing a commission of enquiry to investigate the possibility of establishing a British Bill of Rights, but Clegg has won the battle to ensure that withdrawal from the ECHR will not feature in the parameters of the investigation.  This means that any Bill of Rights will have to fit around the already existing European legislation.

The rightwing, EU-sceptic, elements of the Tory party have been incensed recently by certain rulings by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, most notably that Britain must allow prisoners the right to vote.  They believe that total withdrawal from the convention is the only way to avoid such decisions in the future.

But this is short-sighted of them as the ECRH as most certainly been a force for good in the UK and the rest of the EU.  Decisions such as the Guardian/Observer vs. The UK Government back in the 80s show how effective it can be in protecting our rights and liberties.

Never the less, David Cameron is going to have to answer to his increasingly frustrated and angry party over this decision.  It is becoming more and more obvious that it is not just Lib-Dem back benchers who are finding the Coalition Government an uncomfortable arrangement.  Nick Clegg’s intractable pro-EU stance is creating even further dividing lines and you can’t help but think that either leader is going to have problems keeping their party ‘on song’ up till the next election.

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.