Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The website Netmums (not to be confused with Mumsnet) asked their users what their attitudes towards feminism are and the majority felt that it was an old-fashioned word with little relevance to their lives.  This has led to articles in the Observer and the Independent asking whether or not feminism is dead.  Needless to say, both have concluded that it certainly isn’t.

It’s a strange question, especially when it seems every day there is a new story that demonstrates how the fight for gender equality is far from over.

The week began with the news that research conducted by the industry body Women in Journalism has shown that the front pages of British newspapers are dominated by sexist stereotypes, humiliating photographs of women and male bylines.

It transpites that male journalists wrote 78% of all front-page articles and men accounted for 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces, according to analysis of nine national newspapers, Monday to Saturday, over the course of four weeks.

The only females to be regularly pictured in the period were the Duchess of Cambridge; her sister, Pippa Middleton, and the crime victim Madeleine McCann. The three males most likely to be photographed were Simon Cowell, whose biography was published that month; Nicolas Sarkozy, who was fighting an election, and Prince William.

We then were treated to a pretty interesting demonstration of Romeny’s real feelings on gender equality in the second round of presidential debates this week as well.

It says something when a man trying to become the next president of the United States can make such a spectacular gaffe when talking about employing women, but Mitt Romney did just that this week.  As governor of Massachusetts, he explained: “We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”  And this was supposed to show people his feminist credentials.

Instead, he managed to conjure an image confirming every feminist’s worst fears about a Romney presidency; that he views women’s rights in the workplace as so much business admin, to be punched and filed and popped on a shelf. Worse still, it was irrelevant to the question he’d actually been asked, about pay inequality. And, according to several fact-checkers, untrue. He didn’t ask for the binders full of women. The list was compiled before he even took office. It wasn’t just a gaffe: it was a Freudian slip, a filibuster and a falsehood.

It also wasn’t even the daftest part of his answer. That would have to be this bizarre promise: “We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.”

So anxious, they’ll hire women. Subtext: so desperate, they’ll hire anyone. Even women.

Again, not only is it stupid, but it’s addressing a question no one has asked. The problem is that women are paid less for the same jobs, not that the labour market isn’t flooded enough for employers to take a charitable gamble on them.

Romney’s attempt to paint himself as a feminist only proved he doesn’t know what the word means. That’s why whole binders full of women won’t be voting for him.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

There were jubilant celebrations last night in the centre of Paris, as the socialist candidate François Hollande the Socialist candidate ousted incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He became only the second incumbent in half a century to be booted out of the Elysée Palace. Hollande is the first socialist president in a generation, and for Sarkozy the defeat was perhaps made more humiliating as he became only the second incumbent in half a century o be booted out of the Elysée Palace.

Hollande has promised to ‘revive the French dream’. This meant, he said, “fairness to all,” new opportunities for “the young” and “better lives, from one generation to the next”.

This is an exciting time not just for France as it enters a new era of domestic politics but for all of us in Europe.

Hollande has a packed diary already and towards the end of June, He will attend an EU summit in Brussels in which he will discuss his refusal to accept harsh fiscal medicine to save the euro unless it is accompanied by ambitious, EU-wide investments funded by the European Central Bank.

His vision and ambition is clear. Today it is a new dawn in French politics. You can read full coverage here.

Greece also had elections over the weekend, and although it received less coverage it’s result will impact across Europe.

The exit polls suggested that the main parties would receive a drubbing from the electorate. And for the first time since the collapse of military rule, ultra-nationalists were also set to enter parliament with polls showing the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) capturing as much as 8%, The Guardian reported.

Elections are, of course, very important times- but they should also be fun. Yet the Guardian also revealed in its report a different story in this round of Greek elections. ‘Although elections are traditionally seen as a joyous affair, the pinnacle of democracy for a deeply politicised nation, volunteer lawyers working as election monitors in Athens reported voters as being in sombre mood. Many were said to have spent an “inordinately long time” in curtained-off booths before deciding which candidate to back.’

You can read the full article here.

It was a week of mixed emotions last week. On the one hand I was delighted that the Labour Party did so well in the local elections, and Ed Miliband was right to be cautious, telling supporters that there is still more work to do’. And we must not lose sight of this.

Nevertheless it was a good result and we should be encouraged by the result. You can read Patrick Wintour’s reflection on the local elections here.

I was, however, very sorry that Ken Livingstone has announced that he is to step out of politics and will not run again following a narrow defeat at last week’s elections. His final speech in City Hall was dignified and it is a great loss to London.

Cameron admits the UK is dependent on exports to the Eurozone

Labour Party

Wittingly or not, Prime Minister David Cameron admitted Britain is dependent on markets in the Eurozone for our exports on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. In other words, the UK is inherently part of the economic system across the European Union, in spite of strenuous efforts to remain outside not only the single currency but the more recent fiscal pact designed to mitigate the current economic problems.

This is absolutely not a good place to be. To be outside deliberations on the European economy, yet affected in a fundamental way, but with no means of influencing what happens to the majority of your exports is utter folly. In the same way, not being party to economic decisions which will have a profound impact on the British people is somewhere a responsible government should never find itself.

But Cameron, Clegg et al are not responsible. Cameron’s hatred of Europe is not good for Britain. Moreover, Cameron has alienated German Chancellor Angela Merkel who should be a key ally. His recent suggestion that the governance of the Euro is not yet resolved has, apparently, angered her. Taken in conjunction with Merkel’s fury when the British Conservatives left the centre-right European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, this does not bode well. Diplomacy and influence are all about gaining friends, especially significant ones, not annoying them.

The Cameron/Merkel stand-off could become even more unfortunate given the likely victory of Socialist Francois Hollande in the French presidential election on Sunday. Hollande has made it clear he will not go along with the austerity demanded by Angela Merkel and that he will not ratify any austerity deal put forward by Nicolas Sarkozy.

So where does this leave the UK?  Cameron appears to side with Merkel but she will not have much to do with him. France, potentially the EU’s second most important member state after Germany, is likely to elect a President calling for growth to lift Europe out of recession. Cameron, meanwhile, is fretting on the side-lines with nowhere to go.

A victory for Francois Hollande would, of course, be of huge benefit to Europe. We would at last have someone in a position of huge authority against full-on austerity making the case for growth. This would also give a massive boost to the Labour Party. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have been arguing a similar case since the beginning of the crisis; they now will perhaps be heard rather better that they have so far. As Ed Balls said in the Guardian yesterday, “It is no good the prime minister telling us that the Eurozone crisis is going to last a long time. Cameron and George Osborne must accept their share of the blame”.

As, indeed they must. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed that 32% blame the return to recession on UK government policies, 29% on the Eurozone and global factors and only 17% on the last Labour government. Cameron and Osborne should take note of what happens in France on Sunday. The result may tell us a lot about the future direction of Europe and the UK.

L’Exception Francaise and Lessons for Labour

Labour Party

Francois Hollande will more than likely make it. He will, at the same time, make history. Not only is Hollande the first Socialist since Francois Mitterand, elected President in 1981, to come within reach of the French Presidency, his agenda is diametrically opposed to the current European orthodoxy.

As analysed earlier on this blog, Hollande is putting forward a credible plan for resolving the current economic crisis which relies on growth as well as austerity. The 60 proposals out forward by Hollande represent a radical departure from 10 years of conservative government in France. Hollande is also keen to renegotiate the Euro “fiscal pact”. His policies put forward a much needed alternative to the stagnation and lack of vision currently gripping the European Union and beyond.

While Hollande’s success is probably only confined to France, we should not underrate its significance. This is a major change, a defining moment for the centre-left in Europe and therefore the Labour Party in the UK. Even though no two countries or political systems are directly comparable and the French presidential arrangement is a million miles away from our parliamentary process, what happens in France will obviously have an effect in Britain. When one centre left leader comes within reach of the highest office, this obviously has a knock-on effect in other countries. Hollande reaching the top can only be good news for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.  

We are, I believe, beginning to see a revival in support for the centre left. It is true, of course, that Hollande has been helped by Nicolas Sarkozy’s manic flamboyance. However, that could never be the full story. Unpopular leaders only allow the opposition to go so far. The French Socialist success is much more than that. When the votes cast for the fiery left-wing radical Melenchon are taken into account, it becomes very clear that the French electorate has voted in favour of the left.

It is, of course, true that this particular election for a President of France has not generated a high level of enthusiasm. It may indeed be the case that this is the 21st century way in elected politics; people vote out of duty rather than conviction. Yet they do still vote and show their preferences, which are moving again in a leftwards direction in France at least.

While this may be true for the majority, it would be folly to ignore the high vote for Marine le Pen. The Front National may be on an even bigger roll that the French Socialists. Gaining nearly 20 per cent of the vote is tantamount to almost winning a place at the top table. Le Pen may not be in the final run off as her father was in 2002 but the Front National is now a settled force in French politics.

This is, of course, the downside to the French presidential elections. For those of us in the mainstream Labour movement, the strong support for the Front National from blue collar workers is a huge cause for concern. The same phenomenon of ultra-right support coming from white manual workers is taking place in the UK. The real worry is that these voters used to form Labour’s core and they are turning away. The centre left across Europe ignores this at its peril. We must find a way of appealing across the board to white and black, those in work as well as the unemployed and, of course, the better off in addition to those who have less.

So it’s a mixed bag. Centre left success coupled with ultra-right wins. While we await the outcome of the second round on Sunday, I can only hope that we see and hear more analysis of this historic French presidential election than we have so far. We have in the UK been fed far too much about the United States contest with interminable excrescences about the whackiest of Republican hopefuls and very little about what has been happening on our own doorstep. And it’s the French result which will affect us the most.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

The French Presidential elections are getting exciting, and the focus of the UK media has turned to French expats living in the UK. Quite how they will vote is uncertain, with vastly different pieces in both the Guardian and the Telegraph; the latter claims ‘Most French expats support Sarkozy and the Guardian meanwhile says ‘support for Sarkozy looks to be wearing thin.’

There are an estimated 300,000-400,000 people who have hopped across the pond to live in the UK. The Guardian article interviewed a professor of French and European politics, Phillippe Marliere, at UCL who said that the idea the French community is inevitably right wing is out dated, and the picture has changed over the last 18 years.

The Telegraph draws on a survey, for the newspaper Le Petit Journal and TV5 Monde, which showed that 37% of French expats would cast their vote for the conservative Sarkozy in the first round of the presidential election on April 22, while only 27% would vote for the other frontrunner, the left-wing François Hollande.

You can read the Telegraph article here. And the Guardian article is available here.

Last month reduced the top rate of Tax to 45p but there are plans to go further. In a pre-election give away the Chancellor is planning to cut further the top rate for high earners to 40p.

I was left angry but not surprised when it was revealed yesterday that senior Tories have told Vincent Moss, political editor of the British newspaper the Sunday Mirror, that Osborne is determined to abolish the 45p rate before the expected election in 2015.

A Tory source said: ‘Osborne wants to get it down to 40p as soon as possible. That is unlikely to be till 2014. But he wants it in place before the election.

‘The 50p rate was Labour policy and we’re determined to cut it back to 40p.’

I wonder where the Lib Dems will stand on this issue.

You can read the full story here.

Yesterday’s Observer had a great profile of Anna van Heeswijk who has just been appointed CEO of Object, an influential feminist organisation in the UK. She will be tasked with spearheading the fight against the “pornification” of society.

The appointment comes only weeks after Van Heeswijk gave powerful and influential evidence to the Leveson inquiry about the sexist portrayal of women in the press.

This will be a great challenge but as the profile reveals Anna was born in to a strongly political household and she says ‘there was no way I wasn’t going to be a feminist’.

You can read the profile in full here.

David Cameron is on track to subsidise French nuclear power

Labour Party

Senior environmental campaigners have recently reported the UK to the European Commission as they fear the hidden subsidies from the UK to two French nuclear power companies may contravene EU competition law according to the BBC.

The European Commission could, indeed, be a force for good as the full implications of the agreement to boost civil nuclear co-operation signed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy become apparent.

The situation is so bad that four former directors of Friends of the Earth – Jonathon Porritt, Tom Burke, Charles Secrett and Tony Juniper – have told the Prime Minister he is being badly advised.

These four experienced environmentalists are no doubt right. The two main players in the UK’s plans are the energy giants EDF and Areva, both of whom are largely French government owned. David Cameron’s plans for nuclear power therefore risk handing control of the UK’s climate and energy policies to France. In other words David Cameron is preparing to sell the UK down the river once again.

Mr Secrett has gone so far as to state that building new nukes will be a massive rip-off for the British taxpayer, asking, “How on earth can the Prime Minister justify paying billions of pounds of subsidy to French power companies when the chancellor [George Osborne] is slashing welfare budgets for poor people in Britain and there are a million young people unemployed?”           

The situation whereby British energy production could be in French hands stems from a bill currently being finalised by the Department of Energy and Climate Change on reform of the energy market which will effectively offer fixed prices to companies generating low-carbon power. Since the UK Government is relying on French EDF to commission and operate new power stations and Areva to build reactors, the French firms are in a position to bargain hard and secure a strong financial package. The fact that the French Government has a large stake in both companies simply adds less than delicious icing to the cake.

According to the four ex-FoE Directors, the French will only proceed if the large financial risks of the new nuclear build are transferred from France to British households and businesses. The problem lies in the fact that they more than likely will proceed as the Government is not properly considering other options.

While most reasonable people wish to see energy produced with as low a level of carbon emissions as possible, the way forward is surely not to subsidise the French nuclear industry, especially when it’s the British people and British business that will pay these subsidies.

It is also quite extraordinary that a Prime Minister who has been as anti-Europe as David Cameron who leads a party that is becoming ever more Eurosceptic should sell Britain out in such a cack-handed way. From the outside it very much looks as if David Cameron did not really know what he was doing in relation to this whole nuclear energy package. Either that or he is currying favour with fellow right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy at the expense of British taxpayers.

My view is that Cameron has very nearly sleepwalked into the very disadvantageous agreement. His lack of negotiating skills were demonstrated when he walked out of the EU summit in Brussels on December 9 last year. Sadly our Prime Minister just can’t hack it, as has been so eloquently evidenced by Messrs Porritt, Burke, Secrett and Juniper.            


Ed Miliband should follow Merkel’s example and campaign for Hollande in the same way as she is for Sarkozy

Labour Party

The Presidential election in France to be held on 22 April with a further round on 5 May, if necessary, matters hugely to the rest of Europe. Were Francois Hollande to win, there would be one significant voice at the top table in Europe opposed to the current centre-right imposition of continent-wide austerity as the sole solution to the economic crisis. France would provide an alternative policy, and a humane one to boot, which is lacking at present.

Chancellor Merkel has astutely realised the importance of the French election from her point of view, and has already announced that she will campaign for her fellow conservative, Nicolas Sarkozy. Rather sensibly David Cameron, I suspect, realises that his support for M Sarkozy would be a vote loser rather than a winner.

The same does not apply to Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership team. Ed going to France to campaign for Francois Hollande could be combined with a real effort to secure the votes of the 300,000 French nationals living in the UK for M Hollande. Such bold moves would go a long way towards signalling a new era of European co-operation between parties on the centre-left. It may also lead to the emergence of a European centre-left agenda for jobs and growth.

The 60 proposals put forward by Holland in France represent a radical departure from 10 years of conservative government in that country. Hollande is committed to renegotiating the “fiscal pact”. While not rejecting budgetary discipline, the French socialists do not accept austerity without accompanying measures for growth.

What is more, Francois Hollande was selected as the Socialist Presidential candidate by three million socialists in an open primary, the first time such an experiment has been tried in France. This was not some internal political party stitch-up but a democratic election, and as such deserves recognition.

There is also the growing problem of the Front National in France. Its new leader, Marine le Pen, is a more formidable opponent than her openly racist and xenophobic father Jean-Marie. Although she objects to the term “far right”, make no mistake – that is exactly what she is.

It is a matter of huge concern that Le Pen’s opinion poll ratings have been going up, reaching the levels of those of President Nicolas Sarkozy. She even came top in one poll while another said that one in two of those questioned saw the Front National as “a party like the others”.

According to the BBC, commentator Agnes Poirier thinks Mme Le Pen may well “do better than her father in [the presidential elections of] April 2002, that is to say she is very likely to be present at the second round [of voting] and therefore likely to knock Nicolas Sarkozy out of the race… of the elections.”

Despite her softer image, Marine le Pen is the mirror image of her father. The Front National remains a hard, ultra-right party. During a speech in December 2010, Marine le Pen called the regular blocking of public streets for Muslim prayers in French cities an “occupation of parts of the territory”. Marine Le Pen now senses a political opportunity for “a more moderately presented, more middle class, more gently smiling form of extremism, rather than a snarling form of extremism”.

Campaigning in the French Presidential elections would provide Ed Miliband with the opportunity to stand up against racism and the far-right as well as supporting an economic policy with the interests of the people of Europe at its heart. The French campaign to choose their President matters more to us than that in the United States. The Labour leadership has the opportunity to make a bold stand which also has the merit of being the right thing to do.

Marginalised Cameron tries to defend his EU U-turn

Labour Party

“A veto is not for life, it’s just for Christmas.” Congratulations to Ed Miliband on this perfect one-liner. David Cameron was indeed on the back foot in the House of Commons yesterday answering questions on  the Brussels summit.

The reason – Cameron is trying to look both ways and utterly failing. Britain is a member of the European Union but opted out of, not vetoed, changes to the Lisbon Treaty in December last year. (Thanks to Labour MP Chris Bryant for this succinct wording).

Unable to sustain his threat to prevent the 26 EU member states that signed up to the “fiscal pact” in December from using the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to uphold their agreement, David Cameron was forced into an embarrassing U-turn. He now accepts that the “fiscal pact” countries can use the European institutions to make sure the treaty changes are upheld.  

Cameron is, however, trying to detract from the mess he has made of this whole saga by telling us he will jump on the 25 (the Czech Republic now appears to have joined the UK) if they do anything which harms the EU single market. If this happens, Cameron will attempt to take measures against the treaty signers.

This is yet another example of Cameron nonsense. No issues concerning the single market are related to the changes to the Lisbon Treaty put forward in December. They are separate matters.

Cameron is again coming up with smoke and mirrors just as he did over the repatriation of powers idea. It goes like this: Cameron, himself an arch-Eurosceptic, needs to keep his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers on board, not least because they were instrumental in securing his leadership of the Conservative Party. However, David Cameron is now the Prime Minister of Great Britain and has duties and obligations in the European Union, not to mention the need to maintain relationships with key EU players. Moreover, Conservative policy is to stay in the EU.

So Cameron is really in a bit of a fix. He cannot fulfil his obligations to all sides. So he’s doing a bit of both and being mightily unsuccessful in the process. The Eurosceptics are still not happy while Jack Straw echoed the feelings of many when he said yesterday that “outside the (EU) door is not a good place to be.”

Never underestimate the extent of  the UK’s marginalisation in the EU under David Cameron’s leadership. Taking the British Conservative MEPs out of the centre-right European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament massively annoyed Angela Merkel. The opt-out, not veto, in Brussels on December 9 caused French President Sarkozy to refuse to shake Cameron’s hand. Merkel and Sarkozy, always an intriguing double act, are growing ever closer with Merkel pledged to support Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign, according to the Financial Times.

 Being a member of an important organisation but not fully committed to it strikes me as a completely ridiculous position. Would David Cameron and William Hague take the same view on NATO? 

We are in the EU, and have been for nearly 40 years. While it is by no means perfect, Britain is surely better in the European Union than lost in the twilight zone outside, especially since the UK could take a leading role if our leaders wished to do so.

Other European countries see working together as a real advantage and many not yet in the EU are very keen to join.

The British idea that we are better off alone is a myth from a past imperial age. Yet even then, Britain itself was never really alone. Since the 18th century we had a world-wide empire to back us up. Now that is no longer there, our only tenable world role is to be a major player in the EU.

European Youth Forum Campaign

Labour Party

The current crop of European political leaders are in danger of forgetting where they came from – except perhaps David Cameron who hails from the small British cohort of the very rich and extremely privileged.

The European Youth Forum has produced this postcard promoting their new campaign entitled “Where are youth going?” highlighting the plight of young people in the Europe of today

There are similar postcards for Angelea Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi.  

You can find out more on the European Youth Forum website http://www. whereareyouthgoing.eu

Repatriation of powers is looking increasingly less likely

Labour Party

According to the Daily Mail, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy are looking at striking separate arrangements outside the EU Lisbon Treaty to bring about tighter budgetary control in the Eurozone countries. 

It now appears that Germany’s original idea to secure agreement on the future of the Euro from all 27 EU member states is biting the dust. The aim of securing a limited change to the Lisbon Treaty by the end of 2012, making it possible to impose much tighter budget controls over the 17 countries in the Eurozone, is quite simply going nowhere. It is proving impossible to get agreement from all the 27 members of the EU for such a course of action.

An agreement among the 17 Eurozone countries, or even the eight most significant, would well and truly emphasise Britain’s isolation.

It would also put paid to the Tories’ much-vaunted idea that powers from the European Union can be repatriated to Britain. The very basis of such a return of powers was to be an EU treaty change when Cameron would, so the fantasy goes, insist on Britain gaining more control over social and employment policy in return for agreeing changes to the treaty. However, there was one major flaw to this policy, now firmly consigned to cloud cuckoo land, in that there had to be a treaty. No treaty, no go.

Meanwhile our Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is having a rude awakening to the realities of European and global inter-dependence. The Daily Mail quote him on the Eurozone crisis: “It’s having a hugely chilling effect on the British economy at the moment……one in seven pounds we export goes to Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece –  just those countries.”

Precisely Mr Osborne. That’s exactly why the UK should be at the table and not flitting about in the twilight we currently inhabit, watching others taking massive decisions which will hugely affect our future.