Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Michael Gove sparked anger this week when he said increases in the use of food banks were the result of people not being able to “manage their finances”. The comments were roundly criticised by Labour MPs. Ed Miliband called Gove an “absolute disgrace”, and Steve McCabe branded him “out of touch”.

Gove is not the first person to suggest people forced to use food banks have brought their situation upon themselves. Jamie Oliver courted controversy last month when he suggested food poverty was the result of people spending money on the wrong things. Both his comments and Gove’s have been condemned by charities tackling the issue on the frontline. Rather than pointing the finger at the victims they blame low pay and the cost of living for increases in the use of food banks.

Gove’s words proved poorly timed, with a report released two days later showing the impact of food poverty on education standards. The study found that one in seven children now go to school hungry – a figure described as “shocking” by Pete Mountstephen, Chair of the National Primary Headteachers, and one which has a clear knock-on effect for levels of attainment.

According to Oxfam half a million people have come to rely on food parcels. The issue is particularly acute in London, where the cost of living is greatest. Last week food banks in Kingston-upon-Thames – one of the capital’s more affluent boroughs – fed their 5,000th person.

With small signs of economic growth Gove and other Conservatives are indulging in a premature victory lap. In so doing they show themselves to be frighteningly out of step with the lives of ordinary people, many of whom feel under terrible strain. Gove’s comments can be brushed under the carpet as a ‘gaffe’ which will be forgotten by next week. But his choice of words reveals something deeper about him and his party.

Tax on Financial Transactions

Labour Party

Given the recent publicity about the “Robin Hood” tax, it’s perhaps not surprising that it was given an honourable mention at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week.  An amendment to a resolution on the Conference on Climate Change held in Copenhagen in December suggested a tax on financial transactions, the Tobin tax named after the economist James Tobin who first mooted the idea, to support international climate action.

Although the amendment was defeated due to lack of support from the centre-right and right wing groupings in the European Parliament, I was pleased that many, though sadly not a majority, of MEPs joined with those campaigning to make the Tobin tax a reality. 

We know that Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all been strong advocates of  what is becoming known as the “Robin Hood” tax.  You couldn’t find a much better line up than that.  Gordon Brown, in fact, started to lobby for support for the Tobin tax in the City of London in the autumn of last year and I understand the International Monetary Fund is looking at such a plan, despite opposition from the United States.

It is, of course, the international nature of the Tobin tax which it such an ideal tool for raising money for matters which require action in more than one country.  The recently launched campaign in Britain by comedy writer Richard Curtis and popular actor Bill Nighy for such a a “Robin Hood” tax to be levied on banks is rare indeed in that it is popular for its own sake and targeted at an unpopular group – the banks.  Richard Curtis’s proposal to impose a 0.5% tax on international bankers’ transactions could raise up to £250 billion per year, a huge sum half of which would be retained by the country where the deal took place and the other half split between tackling climate change and reducing global poverty.  The plan targets institutions not ordinary people and is set at a level which should not hurt the banks.

You may have thought that even bankers would be hard pushed to oppose a tax which could do so much good at little cost to themselves.  Sadly, this does not appear to be the case as Goldman Sachs apparently orchestrated moves to vote against the “Robin Hood” tax on the campaign’s website.  Fortunately the Goldman Sachs ruse, which showed both the utmost arrogance and disregard for the plight of so many people on our planet, was rumbled.  However, the fact that they tried it on in such a way shows that bankers still have a long way to go before they think the same way as the majority.  

Back in the European Parliament, you will, of course, not be surprised to know that the Tories voted against the Tobin tax amendment.  Although the resolution in question was not legislative and hence only a recommendation to EU member states, European Parliament support for a Tobin tax to fund climate change work would have sent a strong signal.  It would also have put us on the same side as Oxfam, Save the Children, Action Aid, many trade unions, most mainstream churches and celebrities such as Bono who are known for the humanitarian work.  It’s a real tragedy that the right wing in Europe prefers to peddle its reactionary ideology rather than supporting moves to combat climate change and reducing world poverty.


Labour Party
"Saint" Richard Curtis
“Saint” Richard Curtis

There’s a great profile of comedy genius –  a cliche but true – Richard Curtis in the Independent, click here. This paragraph caught my eye:

“Saint Richard, however, isn’t at all religious: he stopped believing in God before going to Oxford. (“I thought, well, either God doesn’t exist or he is thoroughly nasty, in which case I am not interested in worshipping him.”) About those who think this talented, funny, hard-working, money-spinning and amazingly effective man is driven by impulses of image-making or greed, he is equally brisk. “I believe that cynical people believe that everyone else is cynical. They regard non-cynical people as simply ultra-cynical. So cynics who watch Love Actually think it is a cynical attempt to make money. No amount of evidence could prove to them that it ever had anything to do with goodwill.” And anyway, he points out with a touch of asperity, “Cynics Nose Day hasn’t raised any money yet.”

Richard founded Red Nose Day (this Friday 13th March – lucky for many in the world) in 1985. It has raised over £600m. One of the things I love about it, is that it gives money unconditionally. Obama already has a great achievement in lifting the Reagan/Bush global gag rule on charities assisting with abortion. It is good to see a Christian overturning a rule where other Christians sought to impose their religious views on people of other religions and no religion.

I like to donate to charities that to do not discriminate by religion. Oxfam Christian founded has always been clear that the elimination of poverty is its goal and I’ve readily backed that. War On Want is another I like especially with its focus on human rights. It would be invidious to go on, but I must give a mention to One World Action founded by my friends Joan Ruddock MP and Glenys Kinnock MEP.

My point though is that many people wrongly assume that humanists, because we do not believe in a supreme being, we do not believe in anything. We do, we believe we have one life to make the world a better place and Richard Curtis demonstrates admirably what Humanists do.