Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It emerged over the weekend that David Cameron will be teaming up with Kenneth Clarke this week to make the case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

In a speech ahead of next week’s G8 meeting of world leaders in Northern Ireland, Cameron is planning to say that the country faces a battle for its economic future, involving major domestic reforms and greater foreign ambition.

He’s planning to support Britain’s membership of the EU, describing it as part of a “desire to shape the world” by sitting at the “top table” of major international institutions. And he will urge the country to nurture a “sense of opportunity” that was “lacking for too long”.

Cameron’s staunch defence of Britain’s EU membership, a month after Michael Gove and Philip Hammond said they would vote to leave now, will be reinforced by Clarke who will warn that Britain will be “reduced to watching from the sidelines” if it leaves the EU.

The prime minister will indicate his sympathies lie with Clarke and not with his friend Gove when he outlines how Britain can improve its standing in the world.

The prime minister plans on saying: “Membership of these organisations is not national vanity – it is in our national interest. The fact is that it is in international institutions that many of the rules of the game are set on trade, tax and regulation. When a country like ours is affected profoundly by those rules, I want us to have a say on them.”

It’s hard not to feel that Cameron has let this issue completely run away from him within his own party.  I agree with his assessment of the importance of continued membership of the EU, so I have to ask him why he and his party have put it in such jeopardy.

Last week there was much discussion of the state of gender equality as people marked the 100 year anniversary of the tragic death of Emily Wilding Davison.  A lot of the discussion centered on our failure as a nation to properly venerate important and influential women from our past.  In the Observer yesterday people wrote in with their observations about the lack of Blue Plaques to women, including the extraordinary revelation that the plaque on the house of Millicent Garrett Fawcett reads “Henry Fawcett … lived here with his wife and daughter, 1874-1884.”

Recognising the Benefit to Britain of European Union membership

Labour Party

First it was Tory Grandee and former Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe. He was  closely followed by leading business figures including Richard Branson and Martin Sorrell. The voice of reason on the European Union is at last being heard, emerging from the muffled clouds where it has hidden for so long while the sceptics gained ground.

The EU question is far bigger than David Cameron, and it’s unfortunate if predictable that our hapless Prime Minister David Cameron has become the centre of the story. Lord Howe was, of course, preceded by Nigel Lawson, another grandee from a past age, whose comments were, of course, diametrically opposed to Lord Howe. Meanwhile Cabinet Ministers Michael Gove and Philip Hammond pursue their own ambition. The Tories are indeed aping the Labour Party of the 1980s; we have even seen similar insults, swivel- eyed loons being the most public, being thrown around in 1980s Labour fashion.

Labour too was anti-Europe, opposing the Common Market as it was known during the 80s. It is certainly convenient to centre discontent on the EU, an often opaque organisation whose many good points are obscured by certain rabidly Eurosceptic British newspapers.

 The tragedy of reducing the European Union to a political party squabble, admittedly a large one, is that is obscures what is really at stake. Geoffrey Howe was absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that the UK is unlikely to hold anything like the position of power to which it aspires without the vehicle of the EU, unless the country was to join the United States, stating, “Leaving the union would, by contrast in my view, be a tragic expression of our shrinking influence and role in the world – and the humbling of our ambitions, already sorely tested by the current crisis, to remain a serious political or economic player on the global stage.”

Most of us in the UK do not take easily to the idea that Britain can no longer go it alone. I, along with millions of others, attended primary school in the late 1950s and early 1960s when much of the world map was still pink, a constant reminder of the empire on which the sun never sets. I too love England’s green and pleasant land, often spending time with my family in the Gloucestershire countryside. And to add icing to the cake, I also truly believe London is the greatest city in the world (and I’ve seen a few others in my time).

We must not let such sentimentality cloud our judgement. Britain is no longer the world leader. The inevitable shifts in global power to the United States of America and now China, India and possibly Brazil and other South American countries have ended British dominance. Though still near the top, we are no longer “it”. Britain therefore has to make painful adjustments.

Many of us thought such adjustments were well under way when we joined the EU in 1973, 40 years ago. Yet this appears not to be the case. Certain backwards-looking elements particularly in the Conservative Party have continued the anti-EU fight, gaining ground as the benefits of EU membership have been progressively downplayed.

Yet those benefits are essential for our very well being. The seat at the top table is hugely important. As a nation used to international influence and respect, Britain has much to offer in terms of long experience and extensive knowledge of defence and diplomacy. To be cut ourselves off from a meaningful role on the international stage would be sheer folly. To remain at the top table Britain must accept that the only realistic choice is to do this as a member of the European Union. We should also remember that neither Norway nor Switzerland, those two countries held up as examples of survival outside the European Union, has any real power in the world.

There are also massive economic benefits from European Union membership. The EU is the UK’s biggest trading partner. Everyone, most Eurosceptics included, agree that the EU internal market matters to the UK as the majority of our exports go to the single market. Leaving the EU would mean throwing away this trading advantage, which is obviously the main reason prominent business leaders want to stay in the EU. Make no mistake, if we left the EU we would not be able to stay in the single market. It really is all or nothing. The kind of cherry-picking talked about by some Eurosceptics is quite simply not on the table.

The reality is that Britain is in the EU. We have been there for 40 years and it’s our only viable future. The British people have no choice but to move forward and embrace the European Union. There is quite simply no alternative.

Britain has the most undemocratic Government since the 1950s

Labour Party

I was very struck by the article We’re Not All in This Together by Mehdi Hassan in the New Statesman.

Hassan informs us that 22 out of 29 cabinet ministers (76 per cent) are millionaires: Philip Hammond’s net worth is £7.5 million, George Osborne £4.6m, Jeremy Hunt £4.5m and Iain Duncan Smith £1 million.

The pattern is replicated throughout the present government. The Topshop boss Philip Green (£4.4bn), whose wife lives in the tax haven of Monaco, has been put in charge of cutting government “waste”. The former BP chief executive Lord Browne (£45m) has been appointed as the lead non-executive on the Cabinet Office board while the banker Stephen Green (pension pot: £19.1m), outgoing chairman of HSBC, is to join the coalition as a trade minister in December.

In fact, Britain has not been governed by politicians representing such a narrow social base since Harold Macmillan’s administration in the late 1950s.

This matters. It matters not because 66 percent of Cabinet ministers were educated at private schools or because over three quarters of the Cabinet are extremely rich per se. It matters because extremely wealthy Conservatives know nothing of life as it is lived by the overwhelming majority of the British people.

With the average wage at just under £25,000 a year and an estimated 288,000 people paid below the minimum wage of £5.93 an hour, most people are a million miles away from the millionaire lifestyle.

Self evidently we are not governed by men (and a few women) who share our worries and concerns and possibly have no idea about what makes us happy and what makes us sad.

And this is even more true for Conservative MPs who are millionaires for the very simple reason that many safe Tory seats are prosperous, reflecting the lifestyle of their MPs. Yes, of course there are pockets of poverty and deprivation in Runnymede (Philip Hammond) and Chingford (Iain Duncan Smith), but such deprivation is limited and unlikely to affect Conservative majorities.

This is very different from Labour MPs seats. Safe Labour constituencies are never well off, constituents face unemployment and welfare benefits are essential for many of those represented by Labour MPs. Moreover Labour MPs see all of this at their surgeries.  This means that even though MPs are in the top 10 percent of national earnings and some Labour MPs had privileged upbringings, those representing the vast majority of safe Labour seats see with their own eyes what life for most people in Britain is really like.

The importance of this first-hand experience should never be underestimated. I first became fully aware of what poverty means when I was Chief Executive of the lone parent charity Gingerbread. Contrary to the pervasive stereotype, the overwhelming majority of single parents are not feckless teenage girls getting pregnant to secure a Council flat, but women in their 20s, 30s and 40s bringing up children on their own as a result of divorce, desertion or death. Most Gingerbread members lived on benefits, many were unable to afford even a telephone and almost all bought their children second hand clothes.

Although I had never lived on benefits I came to realise what poverty is about.  Somehow I doubt whether Messrs Osborne and Hunt have done the same kind of thing.

Millionaires truly lack any idea of life outside the very small circle of the very rich and since 76 percent of the Cabinet are millionaires they are utterly unrepresentative.  This is extremely bad news for a democracy.

I truly believe our Parliament should be made up of a representative sample of the British people, including proportionate numbers of women and ethnic minorities. The Cabinet should also be representative and its members know what life is like for the majority of those they govern.  The Cameron-Clegg (both of whom are also very rich) government self-evidently does not meet the representative test. It is therefore not truly democratic.

I believe the reason why George Osborne has felt free and able to cut back so drastically on welfare and social housing is that his government quite simply does not understand lives other than their own and can therefore make ideological cuts with no constraints of compassion or empathy. Lack of proper representation at the highest level is consigning more and more people to poverty, ghettoised housing with the very real danger of the kind of crime and anti-social behaviour that goes with what used to be called “social ills”.