MEPs give assent to the Marrakech Treaty

Labour Party

MEP’s today gave assent to the Marrakech Treaty which gives copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible formats of copyrighted work to blind and visually impaired people.

Although today’s vote went through comfortably, UKIP members chose to abstain. It’s so important to ensure the rights of blind and visually impaired people are placed on an equal footing by ensuring they have greater access to books and other copyrighted works.

It’s therefore astonishing that UKIP members decided to abstain on this. As a member of the Legal Affairs Committee which heard representations and received evidence from those who are affected I can only imagine how disappointed, angry and let down they would feel by those who chose to abstain. Access to such material is vital and there is no reason why those who require such accessibility would not be granted this.

Although the vote gives consent for the Council of Ministers to sign the treaty, it remains unclear if the UK will drop out of the treaty if it leaves the EU.

I am concerned that the government may choose to water-down the treaty, and implement it with the condition of commercial availability checks (which would be a huge task for librarians and others who have a similar responsibility to be expected to undertake), or even fail to implement it at all.

The UK government must confirm that it will indeed seek to remain a signatory, and enable print-disabled people in Britain to enjoy the benefits of the treaty – the full benefits, and not a weakened version.

The Marrakesh Treaty will not only benefit European citizens who require such formats, but also many people in developing countries that are signatories. The “book famine” of accessible books for visually impaired persons is extremely grave in developing countries; currently only five per cent of books are available in accessible formats in richer countries, and this drops to less than 1% in poorer countries.

People who are blind or visually impaired face major hurdles in accessing literature and all printed material. The Marrakesh Treaty makes it easier for people in Europe and around the world to access braille and large print books; it would be a travesty if people in Britain fail to benefit from it.

 

It’s more important than ever to ensure broadcasting is balanced and fair

Labour Party

I received a letter from a member of the public during the Easter break in which he stated concerns over the way in which broadcasters cover European politics and the European Union.

He noted that the EU is often used as a punch bag, featuring negative stories and ignoring much of the positive work the EU is responsible for. It’s interesting that someone outside of the political arena has noticed this and also the disproportionate amount of air time given to UKIP.

I would never quibble with the view that media outlets, both broadcast and print, must be able to set out their stall and express a wide range of views. Even though I may not agree with the content, I do understand that in the interests of balance alternative views must be shared and aired, however this must not be disproportionate in relation to the amount of coverage other parties receive.

While I’m not accusing any broadcaster of deliberately behaving in such a way as to favour one political party, it is interesting to me that someone, not directly involved in broadcasting or politics has noticed and felt compelled enough to write to me about their concern.

As the referendum approaches it couldn’t be more important to ensure fair, balanced and proportionate coverage of all parties is given.

Below are the words of the gentleman who wrote to me:

“In the EU referendum debate, how on earth is the general public to make head or tail of the plethora of fictions, nonsense and just occasionally the odd fact coming from campaigners left and right, leave and remain?

“Whatever your point of view on the pros and cons of the EU, it seems to me that the media do an extremely poor job of reporting what the EU actually does, how it’s organised and what our elected MEPs do.

“In fact I’ve started noting down how often our MEPs appear on BBC News programmes. I regularly see the BBC 6 o’clock News, the local BBC TV news at 6.30, BBC 2‘s Newsnight and BBC 1’s Question Time. On the radio, I regularly tune into the Radio 4 Today programme and also PM at 5pm – so I would count myself as fairly well informed about what the BBC chooses to report.

“It only takes a couple of days to relies that the EU is often only featured as a punch-bag, a bureaucratic quagmire or as a source for stories like the ‘tampon tax’.

“A particular problem seems to be that if you’re one of the UK’s 73 elected MEPs from all parts of the United Kingdom and representing all political parties, you only get invited to give your views on national news programmes if you’re a UKIP MEP.

“In fact, if you start counting up the appearances, you very soon find out that anti EU MEPs Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Louise Bours, Patrick O’Flynn and Roger Helmer are regularly asked to air their views, and whereas since the beginning of 2016 these five UKIP MEPs have all appeared on BBC’s Question Time, of the other 49 MEPs from other political parties who represent us in the European Parliament one hasn’t been able to hear a single word.

“Personally I think this is unacceptable, and given the referendum on EU membership on the 23rd June it’s high time the issue of bias was raised.

“You can find out for yourself of course who your MEP is – in fact it couldn’t be easier as MEPs’ contact offices, EU emails, Twitter and website details are just a couple of clicks away at http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/your-meps.html Which committees do our MEPs sit on ? How often do they vote? What topics are under discussion in the EU Parliament at the moment?

“I’d love the BBC to tell me from time to time, but in the meantime, I think I’ll use their official complaint form and tell them what I think of their skewing of the EU news.”

Honeyball’s Weekly Round- up

Labour Party

There was an interesting article in this week’s New Statesman in which George Eaton warns that Ukip could thrive following the election. Whoever wins the election, Farage’s party will have no shortage of political ground to exploit Eaton warns.

Support for Ukip is in decline, at least this is what the polls promise. The ‘giddy’ momentum Farage’s party enjoyed following May’s European election last year is unsustainable.

It’s difficult to know for sure if the party has peaked, or as Eaton’s article suggests, the party may enjoy renewed support following the election. Typically the immediate aftermath of an election is exhausting but vigilance of the threat Ukip could pose at this point is essential.

Last week the Fabian Society published a report which laid bare some astonishing statistics relating to poverty, in particular child poverty. It said that some 2.5 million British children would wake up in a home scarred by poverty, stating: “the hidden victims of an economy that is failing to bring prosperity to typical families, and of austerity policies which hit those with least the most. These are the children forced to go without new school shoes, half-term day trips or a healthy evening meal.”

The report warned that while the economy slowly improves overall, for child poverty the story is altogether different. In fact the problem is getting worse. It estimated that 1.2 million children will fall into poverty between 2015 and 2030, this is an increase of almost half. The report predicts that low income families will suffer as a result of further benefit cuts meaning low income families will be just £200 a year better off.

Earning differentials will widen and government policies fail to help low income groups allowing them to keep pace with everyone else.
The Fabian Society has made some conservative calculations too: it projects that 3.6 million more people will slip into poverty by 2030, including 1.3 million disabled people and over half a million lone parent households.

This is not inevitable, politicians could tackle the issue of poverty, however the Tories plan to slash £12bn from the benefit system indicating that it is not in any way dedicated to doing anything about poverty which is particularly concerning considering children are one of the groups who will be most affected by their in action.

We are witnessing the most significant decline in British influence in Europe for a generation

Labour Party

Today, our Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, will tell the Parti Socialiste, our sister party in France, that over the period of this Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, we have witnessed “the most significant decline in British influence in Europe for a generation”.

He stressed that “no country that seeks to play a leading part in the modern world could contemplate walking away from the world’s largest single market, or to cut itself off from some of its closest allies”. He will also say that “our place at Europe’s top table has made the UK stronger, more secure, and more prosperous”, and that “Labour believes that the UK will stand taller in Washington, Beijing, Moscow and Delhi – when we stand firmly at the heart of the EU”.

This is exactly the kind of engagement the UK really needs in Brussels, not the kind of intransigence that has caused grumblings of discontent from our European partners. Continued opt-outs from cross-border criminal prosecutions and investigations, opposing capping banker’s bonuses, failing to condemn rape in marriage, have made even the normally stoic Angela Merkel despair of David Cameron. We need instead a government with a policy to be an integral part of the European Union, to represent the UK’s best interests not by simply throwing the toys out of the pram when a proposal is made and refusing to play, but constructively negotiating to find a better solution for everyone.

The Labour Party has a clear plan to review, repair and reset our relations with our neighbours. We must take our advice from those in the field; the ambassadors, experts and civil servants, and not be held hostage by the irrational ideologies of a Eurosceptic fringe in the Conservative Party and UKIP.

 

Farage’s shameful response to the Charlie Hebdo victims

Labour Party

 

First thing yesterday morning the European Parliament paid tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

It proved a very moving session during which one speaker from each of the political groups in the Parliament condemned the violence and remembered those who had been killed.

Unfortunately there  was one exception, one person who used his speaking time for purely political ends. That individual was Nigel Farage, who made a shameful and disgraceful intervention.

‘The poor can’t cook” says Tory Peer

Labour Party

If last week was dominated by offensive comments made by Ukip leader Nigel Farage regarding breast feeding women and the heavy traffic of the M4 being the fault of immigrants, then this week’s offering of offensive and regrettable comments is delivered by the Tory party.

On the day an important report looking at ways to tackle food poverty in the UK was launched, a Tory peer who had been involved with the report was quoted as saying that the poor can’t cook.

Baroness Jenkin was part of a panel that has written a report exploring ways address the problem of the number of Britons who are struggling to feed themselves. Yet this important reports launch was over shadowed by the Baroness’ remarks.

It was a foolish thing to say and hurtful, especially to those who are struggling to feed themselves and their families each night. Indeed for some there might be a trade-off of paying your rent, keeping your house heated and warm or feeding yourself. That’s a really difficult decision some families have to make so comments like that are totally unacceptable, even if they were said off the cuff, it is revealing nevertheless.

Meanwhile the London Mayor made some very peculiar remarks on LBC responding to a caller who asked him what he thought about Nigel Farage blaming the bad traffic jams on Britain’s motorways as being the fault of immigrants.

Although Boris Johnson didn’t condone Farage’s remarks initially he went onto claim that xenophobia was natural. He said xenophobia was a “natural concomitant of the human condition” that came from a suspicion of “the other” and which must be dealt with in a systematic way rather than “freaking out about traffic jams”.

Again, another unhelpful set of remarks made by a senior Tory figure.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

UKIP’s second by-election win should give us all pause for thought. They have now demonstrated the level of their support and have provided clues about what they would do if they were ever to gain any kind of power. Nigel Farage has, for instance, said he would like an insurance based private health care system.

Unfortunately the media, in particular the BBC, has been full of ‘fun’ footage of Nigel Farage enjoying a friendly pint of ale, seemingly harmless enough-only it isn’t. Perhaps now, as Andrew Rawnsley so brilliantly suggested, there will be fewer images of ‘Nigel down the pub and a lot more questions about what he would do with power.

David Cameron has underestimated the party’s threat. He promised to ‘kick his fat arse’, referring to Mark Reckless, of course, who won last weeks by-election in Rochester and Strood. Reckless is now Ukip’s second MP. Despite promises to ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at the election- which he did by visiting the constituency no less than five times, the Tories still lost.

It is true, as Rawnsley points out, that by-elections are a very unreliable predictor of what will happen at a general election. However, the Labour Party also has to focus its efforts and be very mindful of the threat Ukip poses.

Although the England women’s football team lost to Germany yesterday (3-0, to those of you who are interested), congratulations none-the-less to the women’s team who attracted record numbers of spectators at their first match held at Wembley. They drew huge crowds, 45,619 to be precise- more than for the last men’s game played there. So, now the campaign must begin in earnest to get them the recognition they deserve, as the Telegraphs Wonder Women section writes.

An inspired campaign started by Belinda Parmar, CEO of Little Miss Geek, focuses on changing the perception of children. The playground trading of football cards is big business. Match Attax cards are bought by 1.5 million children each year. Yet none of those cards circulated by millions of kids display women players.

Parmar’s Change.org petition hopes to achieve just that – ‘to ensure school children know the names of female footballers as well as they know their male counterparts. This is one step to starting to change the male dominated face of football.’

More regulation, less regulation, or better regulation?

Labour Party

There are those who believe the EU is a legislative behemoth, producing vast reams of paper designed to swamp business. Certainly UKIP and their political allies love to make capital out of it, trotting out the statistic that 75% of laws applicable in the UK come from Brussels. The reality, as ever, is not quite so simple. Much EU regulation concerns the protection of workers, ensuring a host of rights and safeguards are in place to protect them from less than scrupulous employers. Less regulation isn’t better for them.

Ask any small business in any EU Member State, and they worry about the burden placed on them by rules, when all they want to do is get on with what they’re good at. Reflecting this, the new Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has in fact designated his right-hand man, Frans Timmermans, as First Vice-President and Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights. Juncker’s message is clear: the EU needs neither less nor more regulation, but better regulation. Timmermans, during his hearing before the Parliament prior to his confirmation as Commissioner, pledged to conclude an agreement between the EU’s institutions on better law-making, and also setting out a list of legislative proposals which should be withdrawn. The new decentralised structure of the Commission also reflects this desire to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, allowing the seven Vice-Presidents to scrap any proposal coming from Commissioners in their brief.

However, the financial crash has shown us the danger of under-regulation. With increasingly interconnected sectors, if we don’t build in safeguards, the risk that one company extended into several markets finds itself in the position of being ‘too big to fail’ is a real one. With so many people still feeling the effects of the crisis in the UK and across Europe, it is difficult to justify regulation simply being dismissed not on its merits, but because there is already a lot of regulation in the field.

There is therefore a trade-off. Sometimes we need to accept that certain areas, in particular the financial sector, should and will be subject to regulation. Added to that, complex subjects, like the environment or chemicals, require a great deal of complex regulation. On the other hand, European law-makers must be aware that too much complex regulation risks making starting a business or hiring an extra employee seem less attractive. Given that small and medium enterprises represent 99.8% of European business, and are now responsible for 85% of new jobs in the private sector, the new Commissioners will have their work cut out in ensuring that this balance is struck.

Hitler-defenders and misogynists – UKIP’s new allies

Labour Party

Nigel Farage has struck a deal with a far right MEP in order to save his political group the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) in European Parliament.

The Polish MEP, which Farage has invited into his political grouping to save it from collapsing, belongs to the Congress of the New Right and its leader, also an MEP but who is not joining the EFDD, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, has questioned the Holocaust and made offensive remarks about the right to vote being taken away from women.

He has also made some terrible remarks about the difference between rape and consensual sex, claiming that “the difference is very subtle”. On the issue of the Holocaust he claimed that Adolf Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated”.

Korwin-Mikke even made remarks about the British national minimum wage claiming it should be abolished. And when he refused to withdraw and apologise for racist remarks he made he was fined 10 days allowance by The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.

President Schulz said of the incident, in a statement: “As Members of the European Parliament, we are particularly obliged to respect and protect the fundamental values of the European Union. This includes the principle of non-discrimination and respect for human dignity.”

The EFDD would have disintegrated had Farage not invited the Polish MEP, this is because any group wishing to form must have a minimum of 25 MEPs across seven different countries in order to be considered. Farage lost the support of Latvia MEP, Iveta Grigule, who quit the group meaning Farage lost the minimum number of people required to form the group.

The EPLP referred to the party as: “Hitler-defenders and misogynists” and called them “UKIP’s sickening new allies”. Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in Europe, said: “Nigel Farage’s desperate attempt to resurrect his group has seen him sink to an all-time low. The views expressed by his new allies are sickening even by UKIP standards.

Farage was clearly so desperate not to lose the kudos, power, prestige, extra funding and speaking rights that he has taken this drastic and very worrying step of aligning with a far-right party whose leader has made these dreadful remarks.

Even Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Front National, refused to form an alliance which included Korwin-Mikke on the basis that his political views are “contrary to our values.” It says rather a lot about Farage and his morals if he is willing to align with a member of a party who has such disturbing views, and which even other far- right politicians refuse to have anything to do with.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Clacton in Essex, Heywood and Middleton and soon to be Rochester have all become symbols of what Patrick Wintour, in last week’s Guardian, called “Farageland”.

As the conference season ended the parties faced an almighty challenge little more than 200 days before a general election that even the most experienced pollsters are hesitant to call.

The message from the two by election’s held last week is that UKIP are a real threat to all parties and, as I have said many times, Labour is also be affected and must take action to address concerns.

“Hurrah for Malala Yousafzai,” wrote Radhika Sanghani, in the Telegraph. “Her tireless work for girls’ rights to an education all over the world have just been awarded with the highest accolade imaginable: The Nobel Peace Prize.”

Malala is an inspirational young woman who wrote about the importance of education for girls. She was targeted and shot by the Taliban when she was 15.

Despite almost losing her life she continued to campaign relentlessly and her birthday, 12 July, is recognised by the United Nations which calls this day ‘Malala Day’. The purpose of the day is to campaign globally and recognise a child’s right to receive an education.

You can watch the Daily Telegraphs top ‘Malala moments,’ which show just inspirational she is.

Last week was the International Day of the Girl and Tanya Barron, head of Plan UK, wrote an article for the Telegraph explaining why it’s time for Britain to wake up to the plight of girls both at home and abroad. This was the third year of the International day of the Girls and the aim is to promote girls rights and to highlight gender inequality. This year’s theme concerned ’empowering adolescent girls: Ending the cycle of violence’.

Barron wrote in her article: “Millions of girls in the developing world don’t attend school and, instead, are handed a curriculum of chores at home. They’re denied the chance to live in good health because of violent abuses such as female genital mutilation (FGM).”

The International Day of the Girl reminds us of how many girls across the globe are denied the basic human right of an education while others are abused in the most abhorrent way such as FGM. It provides an opportunity to really challenge the behaviour of those who seek to undermine or abuse girls and young women. You can read Tanya’s article here.