Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

‘Placing an increased amount of pressure on the financial value of degrees undermines the worth of the arts and humanities’. This is the words of the Cambridge Vice Chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.

Cambridge Vice Chancellor

There is increasing pressure to undertake courses that are vocational perhaps because graduates hope this will help them to find a job immediately after university. And of course this is understandable as tuition fees are set to rise an astronomical amount in most institutions.

But we must not forget the value subjects like History, Geography or English bring us.

Studying History, for example, allows us to learn from our past, from others mistakes, we understand how decisions are made, wars are fought and how monarchies realm. It provides us with an understanding we would be without.

Likewise a discipline such as geography is fundamental to our understanding of the planet and its systems. It can teach us about global emergency management, climate change and global warming and different regions of the world.

It’s understandable that students are thinking practically in current circumstances but those pure disciplines will gain them a wealth of knowledge…experience comes later and can’t be taught.

You can read the full interview with the vice chancellor here.

Next week will mark a decisive moment for the Conservative party as at least 100 Tory MPs are expected to defy the whip and vote in favor of a referendum on Europe. The Tories policy on Europe is all over the place. It always has been, it’s one area they can’t be decisive on.

This will be the Prime Minister’s biggest challenge so far and if the rebellion is successful it will have a detrimental impact on him.

Tomorrow I hope to post a debate I did for LBC on Friday with Iain Dale and other guests.

You can read more about the potential rebellion here.

Submitting my Supporting Nomination for David Miliband

Labour Party

I sent my supporting nomination for David Miliband to the Labour Party yesterday afternoon.  Catching up with my blog surfing later in the day, I came across this excellent blog post from Tom Harris MP on why David Miliband is the only Labour leadership candidate the Tories fear.

Tom’s main argument is:

“This isn’t about which candidate we, as party members, feel most comfortable with. It’s not even about which candidate has the best policies; there are processes in place for deciding the party’s programme.

It is not about making us feel good as party members. And it’s certainly not about being comfortable about, or even remotely acquiescent in, choosing someone who will lead us to a noble defeat. That would be a betrayal of our party and our country.

It’s about winning the next election.”

David is the only one of the five candidates who has the credibilty to lead us to victory.  Unlike my younger readers, I remember the 1980s and have very strong memories of opposition.  Not only is opposition, ie not being in power, extremely frustrating as we cannot put our values into practice, it also has the potential to be extremely divisive.

Labour was out of power from 1979 to 1997 to a large extent because we all fell out with each other.  We had the soft left, the Trotskyist left, the Militant Tendency, the Labour Co-ordinating Committee, the right wing, etcetera.  More damaging than the plethora of labels was the poisonous atmosphere of hate, destruction and general lack of trust.

Since my involvement in London Labour politics began in 1976 I was there when all of this took place.  And I never want to go through it again.

It’s for these powerful reasons that I am grateful that this leadership contest has so far been good natured, constructive and conducted in a fair and reasonable fashion.  Let’s keep it that way.  We want to be back in govenment not in 18 years time but at the next general election with David Miliband as our Prime Minister.

On the Road to Fair Votes

Labour Party

Last year at Labour Party Conference, when Gordon Brown promised a referendum on changing the voting system, specifically holding a referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV), I was absolutely delighted.  Today the Guardian provided this very helpful demonstration of how AV would work.

My twenty- five years of struggling to get even the very idea of fair votes for the House of Commons recognised seemed at last to be getting somewhere.  When you’re involved in what is often seen as a minority, not to say geeky, campaign it’s sometimes hard to keep your sprits up.  But we have, and we’re finally winning through.

Going that crucial step further, Gordon’s announcement in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday that the referendum will be held in October 2011, was the next thing electoral reformers wanted to hear.  The Prime Minister has now said he will have a referendum, a pledge he will, I believe, do everything he can to honour.  It is now up to Gordon to find the parliamentary time before the expected Easter dissolution.

I understand that some Conservative co-operation may be required to make such time available.  However, Gordon has to come out on top on this one.  Having made such a public commitment, he really must see it through and get the law setting the date for a referendum passed before the general election in order that his target date for the referendum of October 2011 may be met.

Gordon has made it clear that the referendum would be restricted to whether to stick with first past the post or to move to the alternative vote.  There are, I know, those among electoral reform campaigners who think AV is not proportional enough.  I think we must embrace Gordon Brown’s initiative as the only change we are likely to get in the foreseeable future.  It may not go as far as we would like, but it’s much better than first past the post.

We must also all be aware that our opponents do not like PR.  Since there is little that is fair in Tory social policy, it is hardly surprising they don’t want fair votes.  Quoted in yesterday’s Guardian, William Hague showed his usual lack of imagination: “It’s not the voting system that needs changing, it’s this weak and discredited prime minister. New politics needs a new government.”

Things are very different in the Labour Cabinet.  Ed Balls, the schools secretary, is a supporter of AV, as is Home Secretary Alan Johnson, John Denham, the communities secretary, Peter Hain, Welsh secretary, Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell, and, last but not least, Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary.

Though the introduction of AV is the most important policy demanding immediate action, Gordon’s speech yesterday did not stop there.  He also announced that he wants a written constitution by 2015, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; a right for constituents to recall MPs if found guilty of corruption: a draft bill introducing a mainly elected Lords; and approval for local government reforms, entitled Total Place, that he said could produce £15bn of savings. He also said he supported votes at 16, but gave no commitment to put the proposal in the Labour manifesto.

I believe constitutional reform is important for its own sake.  Britain is the only country in Europe which does not have a proportional electoral system for its upper house.  On the other hand, I remain to be convinced that a package of changes to the way parliament and other representative institutions are elected will achieve very much in restoring people’s trust in politics, except perhaps for the measure to recall corrupt MPs.  Gordon Brown is setting out a vision for a modern democracy.  As the only real modern, progressive Party in Britain, Labour members have, I believe, a profound duty to support our Prime Minister in this crucially important task.