My Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Happy New year to all my readers and I wish you a healthy and prosperous year, one which will be a significant year for British politics. The general election in May is what the pollsters have hailed one of the closest to call elections in decades. Kicking off its election campaign the Labour Party promised to put ‘working people first, deal with the deficit and protect the NHS as top priorities.’ Ed Miliband is set to further outline this today in a speech to launch the party’s campaign.

To answer questions from as many voters as possible, Ed Miliband will attempt to undertake a huge campaign and has promised to hold a weekly question time with voters during the run up to the general election, where he will reach an estimated four million voters.

Over the weekend Miliband criticised the Tories’ rather bleak looking first election poster, which literally ‘depicts a road to nowhere’, as Miliband said. He also calls Cameron a prime minister who simply wants everything to carry on as it is. He criticises the Tories desire and willingness to undertake a plan which doesn’t alter in any way to the original one. He suggests they are pessimists about what’s achievable for Britain.

It’s going to be an incredibly busy five months in the political world and I will fight with colleagues wherever I can to convey Labour’s message, to show voters that there is hope, that the road isn’t bleak, in the way the Tories image would suggest and an alternative plan can work.

Meanwhile, the Tories came under fire from one of Britain’s most respected business leaders and inventor, James Dyson. He criticised the home secretary, Theresa May ,over proposals to force overseas students to leave the country upon graduation.

Sir James Dyson argues this is a mistake because it ‘exports’ potential top talent for the sake of a quick electoral fix.

He ridiculed Theresa May’s idea which would effectively turn the UK’s world class university education into an “export” rather than a magnet for investment.

Just before Christmas the Church of England announced it had appointed its first woman Bishop. The Reverend Libby Lane was announced as the new Bishop of Stockport only a month after a historic change to canon law.

The appointment will end centuries of male leadership of the Church and comes 20 years after women became priests.

I wish her the very best of luck in her new post, and am delighted that the Church has broken another glass ceiling.

Labour should prepare to fight UKIP on Europe

Labour Party

The time has come to revise what is becoming Labour’s conventional wisdom on UKIP, namely that UKIP is to be encouraged because they take Tory votes.

David Cameron’s long awaited speech where he pledged that, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next election, there will be a referendum on a yet to be negotiated re-jigging of our relationship with EU, with rejection of the new deal by the British public resulting in our exit, seems to have calmed some of the problems with his party – for now.  Ed Miliband did the right thing by saying that we would not support an in/out referendum, though a Labour government would retain the law meaning that any future EU treaty changes would be put to the British public for approval.

After this was made clear, Nigel Farage published an article in the Mail on Sunday stating that Ed’s position on Europe meant that UKIP would now be coming after our votes.  He said:

“Perhaps it will please the Conservatives to hear that we are also targeting the Labour vote. For what we represent is the voice of not just disgruntled, disenchanted Conservatives but everyone in Britain affected by the loss of sovereignty and power that comes with being a member of the EU… We will, in the county council elections in May this year and through a national advertising campaign in our major urban centres, target traditional Labour voters in a way UKIP has never done before.”

The aforementioned conventional wisdom, I have to say, backed by recent polling data, says that even with a concerted effort on the part of UKIP against Labour, the Tories will still have more to fear than we do.  On a constituency by constituency basis, the Tories lose seats to us, or fail to gain seats from us and the Lib-Dems, by margins that can be almost solely attribute to an ascendant UKIP.  Current trends suggest that UKIP won’t win any seats, but will do enough in the popular vote to cost the Conservatives.

But there is still no room for complacency, polls can change rapidly and there are still two years to go.  For all its vagueness, Cameron’s speech has meant that the Tories have gained some ground on the issue of Europe. Farage is, I think, recognising that UKIP may find they have less and less to use against the Tories.

We could, therefore, see a drift towards either an official, semi-acknowledged, or completely unofficial electoral pact between the Conservatives and UKIP come the next election.  This would mean UKIP leaving Tory areas and gunning for us.

The best way to combat this is to start tackling the Tories and UKIP on Europe now.  Ed Miliband was right to shun the idea of an in/out referendum, but now our party needs to start talking about why Ed is right, and how much damage Cameron’s proposal, even if it never comes to fruition, could do.  Let’s not wait for a referendum to start talking about why the UK needs to stay in the EU, let’s do it now and show UKIP and the Tories how wrong they are.

I am appalled at the populism of London councils in evicting families of rioters

Labour Party

Having been contacted by constituents and Labour Party members, I have decided to speak out against those councils in London who wish to evict the rioters and their families from local authority accommodation. Labour Party members in the London Borough of Greenwich are, I know, extremely concerned by a press release put out by the Council, as evidenced by this on-line piece written by two members in Greenwich West Branch .

Of course what happened during the riots was terrible but not unprecedented – think of the race riots of the 1980s. Perhaps more to the point, the aftermath of the riots highlighted the strength of the community spirit in London and other parts of the country where people came out in “broom armies” to clear up the damage. This reaffirmation of community solidarity was, sadly, undermined by an appallingly populist and opportunist response by politicians.

Whilst the attitude of referring to the poor communities of Britain where the rioting took place as the “feral underclass” and postulating the solution of “lock them up and throw away the key” might be expected from the Tories, it is very concerning when this attitude is adopted by Labour politicians as well.

This is not to say that those accused of serious crimes during the riots should not be severely punished as of course they should. However, the actions that councils have taken in attempting to evict the families of the rioters is not only totally out of proportion it is counterproductive, futile and vengeful.

There are a variety of reasons why this is a terrible idea. Firstly, it is deeply unfair that simply by sharing the same roof as someone convicted as a criminal offence you should be forced to lose your house. This is in total violation of the values and principles of a civilised society.

Secondly, such action violates the Human Rights Act whereby people have a right to housing.

Thirdly, in many cases these households contain other children and/or vulnerable adults whom the council would be forced by law to re-house. There has been in a noticeable case in Wandsworth where a family who have an eight year old daughter have been served with an eviction notice. As this blog on the issue mentions; “in Britain in the 21st century we do not see eight year olds sleeping in the street. There are reasons for this.”

It is of course within the rights of a council to evict tenants should they pose a danger or a nuisance to their neighbours. The rioters who have been sentenced to jail have de facto been evicted from their council house or flat. To punish the innocent families of the rioters is a violation of everything Britain claims to stand for.

The Tory Right denies Choice to Pregnant Women

Labour Party

I read in the Telegraph earlier this week that private clinics which carry out abortions will be allowed to advertise on television and radio for the first time. I was not surprised to learn that this news has been met with outrage from anti-abortion groups such as Life and the more dogmatic elements of the Conservative Party. As usual, their arguments range from the factually incorrect to those of gymnastic leaps of logic.

Joanna Hill from Life described the proposals as utterly unacceptable because it meant that abortions would be advertised as if they were cars or soap powder. The problem is that no abortion provider advertises their product in such a way. The Marie Stopes advert that caused so much outrage last year didn’t even mention the word abortion or suggest it. It simply said “If you are late, you could be pregnant and Marie Stopes could help you”. It accurately represented that Marie Stopes aims to provide a range of options to women who are undergoing an unexpected pregnancy.

Life also argued that the new rules would allow “money-grabbing abortion providers” to abuse vulnerable women. Firstly, the overwhelming majority of abortion providers such as Marie Stopes and BPAS are charities, run not-for-profit. Secondly, abortion is available on the NHS and that is where the most vulnerable women, such as teenagers who are unlikely to be able to pay for an abortion, are likely to go. Thirdly, the reason many women chose to pay for a private abortion rather than use the NHS is because they believe that such organisations provide a higher quality of care and counselling.

This issue highlights the hypocrisy of the right-wing Tories’ current stance on abortion. Nadine Dorries has demanded that women be forced to undergo compulsory counselling by an organisation that doesn’t itself provide abortion services before being allowed to undergo the procedure. This will actually delay treatment for women but she has justified these proposals on the grounds that women should have the choice to abort but need to have “as much information as possible”. Why then has she denounced these new proposals which are fundamentally about providing women with information about their options? The only possible reason is that Dorries and groups such as Life only want pregnant women to have certain kinds of information, the information and advice that fit in with their own agenda.

Anti-abortion campaigners are blinded by their dogma and prejudice into thinking that those involved in abortions are immoral people who either have no respect for human life or even get pleasure from the taking of it. This is totally and utterly wrong. Those who work for organisations like Marie Stopes are, I believe, motivated primarily by compassion, just like those who work in all other forms of healthcare.

Such organisations are also not simply about providing abortions. Marie Stopes, BPAS and similar bodies  provide a range of fertility, sexual health and counselling services. The mission statement of Marie Stopes sums up their role perfectly; “Children by choice, not by chance” and that includes helping women to have children as well as not to have them. Right wing Tories and the dogmatic elements of our society are trying to prevent women from being able to make that choice for themselves.

Tories vote against Women in Boardrooms

Labour Party

Yesterday the European Parliament took a historic step forward in ensuring women’s leadership in business by urging the Commission to propose legislation including quotas by 2012 for increasing female representation in corporate management bodies of enterprises, if voluntary measures do not manage to increase the number of women.  

Women currently make up 10% of directors and only 3% of CEOs at the largest listed EU companies. The Parliament voted by a very large majority to address this inequality by adopting a resolution that calls for women to make up 30% of top management in the largest listed EU companies by 2015 and 40% by 2020.

Unsurprisingly, Tory MEPs were once again shown to support the extremist ring-wing position in the Parliament, an honour previously reserved for UKIP. The 17 out of 26 Tories that bothered to turn up to the vote voted against any legislation that would ensure women take their rightful place in business leadership. They also voted against the report as a whole, showing that not only do they disagree with legislation to enforce women’s equality but they disagree with encouraging women in business leadership at all.

This just goes to show just how out of touch with real issues the Tories are. Firstly, such legislation would only come into effect when voluntary measures fail, giving businesses an opportunity to change their practices voluntarily. Secondly, not only have several countries, notably Norway, the Netherlands, France and Spain, pioneered this approach already but our own experience in the UK shows that quotas are a necessary tool for breaking down the barriers to women’s access to high power jobs. They are one of the only ways in which the masculine culture of boardrooms and politics can be forced to change. The Tories’ however have shown that they have no interest in such change, nor in having women in positions of power.

I have always been a supporter of the introduction of gender quotas and spoke in their defence on Women’s Hour yesterday morning which you can listen to here:

I wholeheartedly welcome this decision and congratulate the Parliament’s Vice-President Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou who drafted this resolution. I hope that the Parliament’s decision yesterday will lead to real changes for the women of Europe. It is shameful however, to know that so many of the MEPs Britain sends to the European Parliament only seek to block and derail the best of its work.

Tories do not condemn Violence against Women

Labour Party

The Tories in the European Parliament yet again showed that they do not view violence against women in the same way as all reasonable people.

In the European Parliament yesterday we voted on a report on violence against women. The European Conservative and Reformists, dominated by the British Conservatives, asked for recorded votes on a number of issues, presumably to tell the world that they are anti-women and do not condemn domestic violence.

Either whole or the majority of the ECR group voted against the following:

–    a demand that Member States ensure that there is training for officials likely to come into contact with cases of violence against women – including law enforcement, social welfare, child welfare, healthcare and emergency centre staff – in order to detect, identify and properly deal with such cases, with a special focus on the needs and rights of victims

–    the establishment of a European charter setting out a minimum level of assistance services to be offered to victims of violence against women, including: the right to legal aid; the creation of shelters to meet victims’ needs for protection and temporary accommodation; urgent psychological aid services to be provided free of charge by specialists on a decentralised and accessible basis; and financial aid arrangements aimed at promoting victims’ independence and facilitating their return to normal life and the world of work,

–    an increased number of courts specifically handling gender-based violence; more resources and training materials on gender-based violence for judges, public prosecutors and lawyers; and improvements to the specialist units in law enforcement bodies, by increasing their staff numbers and improving their training and equipment

–    a paragraph highlighting that migrant women, including undocumented migrant women, and women asylum-seekers form two subcategories of women that are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence;

–    a paragraph emphasising that Member States should devote appropriate resources to preventing and combating violence against women, including through recourse to the Structural Funds

–    calling on the EU and its Member States to establish a legal framework that gives immigrant women the right to hold their own passport and residence permit and makes it possible to hold a person criminally responsible for taking these documents away;

–    that the European Union, within the new legal framework established by the Treaty of Lisbon, should become a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its optional protocol

Hague full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Labour Party

Wiliam Hague was most interesting at the Conservative Party Conference.  I have watched the Tories’ movements regarding Europe very closely since they formed the Coalition and as a result found his speech very enlightening.

As we all know, the Conservatives had to drop most of their Eurosceptic election promises so that Nick Clegg, who for all his faults is at least pro-European, would be able to justify forming a government with them.  Since then the coalition government, far from standing up to what some Tories might call the encroaching powers of the EU, has accepted many new laws from Brussels, including one which hands some powers over financial transactions to the European Commission.

It is, however, becoming increasingly evident that there are those in the Tory party who are very unhappy with the way things are going with Europe.  And it was such a promising start for the Europsceptics. David Cameron took the Tories out of the EPP, the centre right political grouping in the European Parliament. (Tory MEPs then  formed an alliance with far right elements whom Nick Clegg described as a “bunch of nutters”). Cameron also promised to repatriate various powers to do with employment law.

In an attempt to assuage the Eurosceptics’ doubts, William Hague made an impassioned speech to the Conservative party conference that outlined plans to introduce a sovereignty clause on to the statute books in the United Kingdom asserting that EU law only has primacy in the UK because the government allows it to be that way.  He also made some forceful comments about governments being able to “undo” the things they have done. 

All well and good for playing to the Eurosceptic core in the Tories you might think, but unfortunately, if we believe what the Daily Mail has reported, many of them aren’t buying this entirely superficial gesture.  The Mail has a quotation from a Tory MP, Douglas Carswell, saying ‘This is politicians using clever words to appear to be preventing further European integration when they are not.’ 

Attention has so far focused on the internal strife within the Lib-Dems as a result of their involvment in the Coalition.  William Hague has now shown that Europe is proving, as predicted, a difficult issue for the Tories.  In the not too distant past, European issues almost undid John Major’s government leaving him significantly weakened.  If David Cameron has any political antennae left, he will be desperate not to have Europe anywhere near any agenda. However, the decision doesn’t seem to be down to him but rather his restless grass roots.

Seemingly, Wiliam Hague’s attempts to placate the Eurosceptic wing of their party aren’t working quite as well as they might have hoped, as they can see it for what it is, sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Coalition Goverment says no to EU Anti-Trafficking Measures

Labour Party

As regular readers of my blog will be aware,  I have written before about the EU’s new human trafficking directive and also ran a campaign against the Metropolitan Police Authorities proposed closure of their specialised unit dealing with this matter.  This issue has never seemed to me to be particularly partisan, it being widely accepted that trafficking causes untold misery and ruins the lives of many, especially women and children.  So I could not believe it when I heard about the coalition government’s plan to ‘opt-out’ of the new directive specifically designed to help combat trafficking.

For me,  and I hope everyone else, the most important aspect of the directive is its focus on protecting the victims of trafficking.  Such protection would mean that people who are trafficked into criminal enterprises in the UK, such as the sex trade or cannabis farming, could not be charged over false immigration papers forced on them by the gang responsible for their move. 

The new directive,  still currently in committee, also looks to create a single EU wide definition of trafficking and allow for the law courts to try people who commit trafficking offences in another EU state.  This is crucial to the combating of trafficking since many of the crimes that help sustain the practice, such as document forgery, kidnapping, intimidation and violence will occur in another country before the victim has reached the UK. 

The directive will allow for trafficking crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts, thereby helping to stop the industry of trafficking as well as bring criminals to justice.  The anti-trafficking measures seem right and proper to me.  However,  a Home Office statement in early August said that there were already ample measures in place to combat trafficking in the UK.  An interesting view since, in June this year, an umbrella group of charities and NGOs released a study saying that the anti-trafficking measures in the UK were woefully inadequate.   

I am not alone in my outrage, with leading charities criticising the decision as well as Denis MacShane writing to Nick Clegg, asking him to persuade the Tories to change their mind. 

It is deeply depressing to think that the Conservatives would make a decision that could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our police force in combating human trafficking on the basis of the odious and irrational anti-European stance.  David Cameron and William Hague have said that they will not cede powers to the EU without a referendum (though they have already put the lie to that particular promise), so I can’t help but feel that the rejection of a powerful and necessary tool in the fight against such an egregious crime is all part of some pathetic political posturing. The idea we would even have to ask the (supposedly) pro-European Clegg to persuade the Tories to think again on this crucial issue is very, very worrying.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

nhs

If the budget did one thing, it showed the Coalition Government in its true colours.  Now we know it’s a Tory Government in which the Lib-Dems appear to have very little say, I have decided it would be useful to do a weekly digest of some of the more iniquitous Tory actions during the past seven days plus anything else which seems interesting. 

Amid Wimbledon and World Cup fever, not to mention cricket, Andrew Lansley, the new Health Secretary quietly announced that he would cut patients right to see a family doctor within 48 hours as we all as dropping the 18 week waiting time target for hospital treatment.

Lansley says he is freeing the NHS from bureaucracy and targets that have no clinical justification. This will, it is claimed, help speed up the £850mn cuts that NHS managers are expected to make by 2014.

Monitoring it is essential to ensure that patients get the highest level of care and the earliest available opportunity. With no alternative in place I am concerned that we will return to the days when people waited for months, sometimes years for treatment, an appalling state of affairs which the Labour Government put a stop to.

I also read about Iain Duncan Smith’s announcement he would relocate the long-term unemployed to areas where there is greater opportunity for work. This is a tall order and I cannot see how this will work in reality. Is this just more rhetoric?

The Observer’s poll was an interesting read – it suggested support for the Lib-Dems had slumped because they backed the VAT increase. Surely this can’t be the only reason its voters are uprooting?  Conservative Government obviously does not suit Lib-Dem activists and voters.

David Miliband for Labour Leader

Labour Party

I am supporting David Miliband for Leader of the Labour Party.  As an MEP I can make a supporting nomination and will vote in the MPs section of the electoral college.

David has the right experience to lead the Labour Party at the present time.  As a former Foreign Secretary he understands  government at the highest level.  Since our task is to win the next election so that we can get rid of the Tories (and the Lib-Dems if they last that long) and govern according to Labour values, it is of the utmost importance to have a leader with first-hand knowledge of governing the country.  David is, I believe, the best candidate to take us to victory next time.

As a MEP I have met with the candidates, seen them give speeches, worked with them on policy and have had a chance to assess their qualities (I’m pictured here with David at a Westminster North CLP fundraiser). Labour is fortunate that we have several talented candidates, and for me David Miliand is the most able. We must also not forget that the Labour Party is the selectorate and we need a Leader who can relate to the wider electorate. On the doorsteps from my campaigning experience David is widely admired and respected by people. Of all those standing he is the one who voters have given me the most positive feedback about. I think it is important the Labour Party selects a candidate who relates well to the electorate.

One of the other main reasons I will vote for David is that rights for women is one of the key planks of his campaign.  He is committed to  looking at the issues preventing women from entering politics and break down those barriers so that women see it as a job for them, a job which suits their lifestyle and their ambitions.  He also admits that  the long hours culture of the Commons and the adversarial, combative style of Westminster politics are often off-putting as well as the relentless scrutiny of family circumstances which many women are not prepared to expose to the public glare.

It’s up to the women in the Party to build on David’s clear commitment to women’s rights.  The next Labour Government should put women at the forefront of its policy programme.  We must be aiming for improvements in childcare and maternity and paternity leave and pay, to name but a few key matters, especially since many of the gains made for women will be eroded under the Con-Lib-Dem Coalition.

In the absence of a credible woman who will get the requisite number of nominations to stand as Labour Leader, David Miliband is the candidate who will do the most for women.

As many of you will know, I did not support the war in Iraq and was vocal at the time in my opposition.  However, I believe we should now move on from this stain on our record and look to the future.  David Miliband is the man for the future, the person I believe will be our next leader.

I am pleased that the contest so far appears to be friendly, conducted on the basis of reasoned argument.  This must continue.  We must, at all costs, avoid a return to the internecine strife of the 1980s which kept us out of power for 18 years.  Once the Con-Dems honeymoon is over and their public expenditure cuts realy start to bite, I believe people will return to Labour, a Labour Party with David Miliband at its head.