Corby Bi-Election: Nowhere is home to me.

Nora Connolly 

Image © knowhimonline

Corby, the Scottish enclave on the M1, is currently the centre of UK political activity after the announcement by Conservative MP, Louise Mensch to resign her seat with a majority of 1,951. A poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft in August suggests that Labour are currently in a commanding position with 52% of the vote, the Conservatives on 37% and the Lib/Dems flat lining on 7%.

The actual result in 2010 is illuminating, particularly as the BNP collected 2,525 votes. Labour lost on a 69% turnout. Given that the November by-election may depend on the resilience of the BNP vote if it holds then it could be close.

The anticipated decline of the Lib Dem vote alters the framework; disgruntled Lib Dems are hardly about to vote Tory, so at least 7,834 votes are going begging. But there is a racial dynamic to this by-election due to demographic changes in Corby which have been stoked up by the tabloid press.

Corby, the main urban area in the constituency nestles in countryside reminiscent of the Cotswolds. A former centre for steel production which dominated the local landscape, in the 1930s many thousands of Scottish migrants came to the town to work in the steel industry and to set up home – a sleepy hamlet morphed into `Little Scotland`. Corby has profound cultural and emotional links to Scotland such as the local dialect, a testament to this heritage.

Among the Scottish migrants was an immigrant population from the Irish Republic, many laboured in the steel works and in the 1950s they dominated the construction industry building the council houses which now populate the town. Some of those Irish immigrants remained among a strongly identifiably working class Scottish/Irish Celtic community that was often stereotyped and belittled in the locale. Perpetrating myths linked to ethnicity and class, a subtle form of racism.  Read more of this post

Save St. Heliers

Georgia Lewis 

Image © lydia_shiningbrightly

I feel like a parent with two incessantly fighting children. I just want to yell at them both: “I don’t care who started it, I just want you to work it all out, get along and stop blaming each other!”

Except I am not yelling at kids. I am yelling at the Conservative and Labour parties in my London borough of Merton. And the wrangling is not over a toy or who pulled whose hair first. It is about the now-very-likely closure of the accident and emergency and maternity units at St Helier’s Hospital in south-west London.

The curiously named “Better Service, Better Value” (BSBV) team has been brought in to find ways to improve health services in south-west London. This is a team of doctors from clinics and hospitals in the area as well as “patient representatives”. People started to sit up
and take notice when it came to everyone’s attention that they were looking to close a maternity and A&E unit in either St Heliers,
Kingston, Tooting or Croydon University hospital. And now the recommendation has come out – St Heliers should lose these services.
This is in an area where A&E admissions are up 3% and 6% more babies were born there last year and this figure is not dropping any time soon. There might be a “planned care centre” for either St Heliers or Croydon University hospital.

Never mind that the maternity unit has just spent £3 million on an upgrade or that St Heliers has a further £219 million of ringfenced
funding introduced under Labour and maintained under the Conservatives, it looks like that money may now be spent on
downgrading services. Although given the vagueness of the information provided by BSV, we can’t be sure how much that will cost. Or whether there will be job losses. And if so, how many?  Read more of this post

Draft Data Communications Bill: Interview with Jim Killock

Left Central’s John Curran 

Image © utnapistimC

The following interview was conducted with Jim Killock Executive Director of Open Rights Group in which he outlines the approach his pressure group are taking in resisting Home Office proposals to introduce a draft data communications bill aka snooper’s charter.

  • If you could highlight the most important features of your campaign what would they be?

Open Rights Group’s campaign is primarily about public engagement – in order to show that the draft Data Communications Bill is an unpopular and highly intrusive breach of UK citizen’s human rights. What we have learnt by talking to Parliamentarians is that many people across the political spectrum share our views and object to these proposals and are concerned about this intrusion into our civil liberties. The big push for this legislation is coming from the narrow confines of the Home Office. We have to counter the information coming from this direction and educate both the politicians and public that the Home Office is wrong.

  • So the Home Office are exclusively responsible for this draft proposal?

The Home Office claims their ability to get hold of data is declining and that they are struggling to keep up. That is how the issue is portrayed, although such a view is in reality difficult to sustain. The trouble is, certain sections of government want to find more out more and more about its citizens. This can cascade into a very significant intrusion and breach UK citizens civil liberties.

Online data is a honey pot for the Home Office and for the Police. They see the draft measure as an opportunity to get hold of more information and the criminal justice angle is a convenient prop for government to hang on to. It is easy to claim that crime can only be solved in this way when they want to sell this type of legislation to the public.

  • The draft Communications Data Bill seems unstoppable what can be done to halt this legislation?

Well I don’t necessarily agree with the premise of your question. Yes, there is a very strong push for this legislation but as I have said it is coming from one government department, the Home Office. There is no overall political consensus operating behind the scenes. One government department has made its case but that is all.

Remember we are talking about a coalition government and many Liberal Democrats do not want this draft bill, and there are significant sections of the Conservative Party that are against it also. It is possible to defeat this government on this issue in a vote. When a government operates with a slim majority individual MPs have significant influence and their views matter. This is not like the days when New Labour had a massive majority and the executive was largely unrestrained. Even a relatively small rebellion could stop this draft proposal, so the Coalition must listen to its backbenchers.  Read more of this post

Labour: From Constitutional Reform to Shameless Opportunism

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © Christian Guthier

Upon Ed Miliband’s joining of forces with those Tory Rebels who opposed Lords reform, one may be tempted to invoke the old idiom that “politics makes strange bed fellows.” Indeed, Labour’s vigorous support (in the form of a three-line whip no less) of the band of rebellious Conservatives who rejected House of Lords reform plans does seem very odd indeed. After all, wasn’t Labour the party of constitutional reform? Wasn’t this the party that at one time in government had begun the biggest constitutional upheaval since the Reform Act of 1832? Wasn’t this the party who talked about the need for reform in manifesto after manifesto?

Of course, when pressed, Labour insisted that they were actually in favour of the Reform Bill – it just wanted more time for it and in fact would have supported the Bill at the second reading. This is frankly hard to believe; Labour cannot be ignorant of the fact that the rejection of the motion would have killed off the Bill in the way that it did. Besides, Labour had no problem in getting to work with devolution and other reforms without any delay after the 1997 election. So how does one explain Labour’s attack on Lords reform? The answer comes down to Ed Miliband and his trademark opportunistic and cynical tendencies.

Ed probably thinks he’s been quite clever. By opposing the programme motion he thinks he can claim that he hadn’t reneged on his and Labour’s reformist principles whilst at the same time inflicting a considerable blow on the Coalition. When one looks at Miliband’s track record, can anyone be really surprised when he jumps into bed with a bunch of rebellious Tories? For instance, on AV, rather than pull out three-line whip levels of party discipline, he quietly tolerated those in his own camp who gave vigorous support to the ‘No’ campaign. On government cuts he opposes or supports depending on what the opportunistic climate dictates. On public sector strikes he quietly sat on the fence until he was sure that he would gain most from coming down on the side of the strikers. Read more of this post

Interview with Paul Burstow MP

Mathew Hulbert @HulbertMathew 

Image © Department of Health

Paul Burstow MP has one of the hardest jobs in UK politics, as Minister of State at the Department of Health…and a Lib Dem one at that!

He had to try and sell the largely hated (certainly among Lib Dems) NHS Bill to a sceptical public.

As a visceral opponent of the aforementioned Bill, I wasn’t, it has to be said, Mr Burstow’s biggest fan.

Whilst I continue to disagree with the Health and Social Care Bill-I still believe it is, at least in part, privatisation by the back door-I think maybe I was a little harsh on Mr Burstow himself.

At the recent Social Liberal Forum Conference, held at the Waterloo Campus of King’s College in London, I along with three other bloggers got to interview Mr Burstow.

We had meant to be speaking to Lib Dem Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes MP, but he failed to show and so we were very fortunate that Mr Burstow agreed to stand in at the last minute.

He was very generous with his time.

A colleague started by asking him about Social Care.

“About 90% of what was announced on Wednesday didn’t get any (media) coverage and about 90% will make 100% of the difference,” said Mr Burstow.

“What’s the 90%? The 90% is that we’re completely overturning the principle of the poor law that still applies to social care. We’re establishing, for the first time, that social care in England has a universal aspect to its character, that anyone who has care needs or may need care needs in the future, should have access to reliable and trusted information and advice to plan and prepare’’.

He went on, “That there should be a universal offer of preventative services to stop people needing care in the first place, to help them age healthily. That there should be a responsibility on the Council to ensure there’s a sufficiency and quality of care available in their community, just not the ones that the Government will pay for, but for everyone.”

“Also, Councils do need to work in partnership with the NHS but also with housing. You can’t actually have wellbeing if you only fix the health and the care needs, you’ve got to address the housing needs as well as part of that. So, that’s the big revolutionary sort of change in what we’re proposing.”  Read more of this post

The Irrelevance of the Lords Reform Bill

Eddie Hodgson 

Image © UK Parliament

Reform of the House of Lords has been taking up much of the headlines in the newspapers over the last few days. It must be the silly season when such an irrelevant subject grabs the attention of the leader writers.

Most of the (mainly) pro Tory newspapers are accusing the Lib Dems of blackmailing the Conservative Party by threatening to oppose boundary changes (that favour the Tories) if they oppose Nick Clegg’s proposals for Lords reform.

It is hard to see why anyone should care about this. The only significant facts in the proposals are that:

  • The aim is to have 300 members of the reformed House of Lords
  • The term of office for each member will be 3 parliamentary terms (15 years)
  • Members will be paid a salary

The reasons why this proposal is unnecessary and irrelevant are:

  • Assuming a salary of £75,000 per year, this will cost the taxpayer £22.5m a year. The Government should be looking at better ways to spend this considerable sum of money.
  • The present system is not perfect but it ‘ain’t broke’ so there is no need to fix it.
  • The proposed reforms would mean simply that parties nominate individuals who would vote along party lines, hardly much change from having a second House of Commons. We already have a parliament voted in along party lines and we don’t need another one.
  • The proposals are merely Nick Clegg’s attempt to show that he is trying to get Lib Dem policy enacted. This is one of the dregs left in the Lib Dem manifesto, the most important parts of the manifesto now either abandoned by Clegg for a taste of power (such as abolition of tuition fees) and others having been roundly rejected by the electorate (AV).

The main reason, however that the proposals are irrelevant is that there are much more urgent priorities for this Government than reforming the Lords.

People generally care about four main things: health, jobs, homes and friends. The Government has failed the electorate on at least two of these issues, jobs and homes. Ask any young person and they will tell you that all they want is an opportunity to work, not an internship or work experience stacking shelves at Tesco, but a real job. Usually one can rely on the market to create jobs but the market is essentially self interested and will not create opportunity unless it is in the market’s interest.

Governments on the other hand exist to carry out a duty towards the electorate. The duty is to take responsibility, where the market won’t, to ensure that the people have the opportunity to find work. That means creating jobs or incentivising the market to create opportunities. With jobs people become bigger consumers and the market itself benefits. People can afford to take out mortgages or pay rent again. But this won`t happen while the market is in ‘stall’ mode.  Read more of this post

Will we see Clegg’s new economic tone? Expect more of the same

Tom Bailey 

Image © Liberal Democrats

For those who believe that the coalition has profoundly misjudged its economic strategy, good news would appear to have come in the form of Nick Clegg promising a ‘massive amplification’ of state investment. This would appear to suggest support for the measures that Labour has been advocating for some time. Credit easing and state investment of the funds that bond purchasers are begging the UK to take could give a boost to the economy which we have just heard has sunk into a double dip recession. When Cameron’s economic record has struggled such that Eurozone leaders are telling him where to take his advice on account of their record on growth exceeding Britain’s, something somewhere has evidently gone desperately wrong. Ed Balls’s August 2010 Bloomberg speech seems vindicated by every new piece of economic news. His argument that the country needed a ‘credible and medium-term plan to reduce the deficit and to reduce our level of national debt, but only once growth is fully secured and over a markedly longer period than George Osborne is currently planning’, seems borne out by events. As Jonathan Freedland wrote, ‘Ed Balls is steadily acquiring the rare right to deploy one of the most powerful sentences in politics: I told you so.’ Robert Skidelsky, Keynes’ biographer, has unsurprisingly welcomed Clegg’s statement, stating that ‘drop austerity, go for growth and the debt will start to come down’. However, unfortunately, I think there is good cause to be sceptical of any major economic policy change. This is not just because I don’t trust Nick ‘No More Broken Promises, I pledge to vote against any increase in fees’ Clegg. Nor is it because he cannot leverage such a change in strategy from the Conservatives (he does not have Cable’s nuclear option)  on account of being the minor partner in a coalition government from which he cannot escape to any realistic prospect of electoral success given his party’s abysmal poll ratings. Instead, the reason for why change seems so unlikely is both how the coalition set out its plan and how the economic crash was defined. For the coalition government, this is a problem of path dependency. Having defined their rapid deficit reduction as essential to economic recovery, a change would be an enormous admission of failure for both political parties.

To change economic policy would demonstrate that the Lib Dems made the wrong judgement in signing up to the Conservative’s pace of deficit reduction. When the coalition was formed, the Lib Dems performed a volte-face on economic strategy. Their manifesto had stated that ‘if spending is cut too soon, it would undermine the much-needed recovery and cost jobs. We will base the timing of cuts on an objective assessment of economic conditions, not political dogma.’ Whilst before the election they had supported a ‘one-year economic stimulus’ through to 2011, by mid-May 2010 Clegg and Cable had become advocates of immediate austerity. In 2009, Cable wrote that ‘the apocalyptic cries of “national bankruptcy” are unhelpful scaremongering’. By June 2010, he had of course come to support rapid deficit reduction, explaining his change was made because he had been ‘persuaded that early action is absolutely necessary’. Lib Dems fell over themselves supporting Osborne’s claim that ‘Labour brought Britain to the edge of bankruptcy’, statements for which he was justly slapped down by the Treasury Select Committee. All this was further justified with recourse to that moronic note left by Liam Byrne. It would be a major U-turn to take a more Keynesian approach to economic policy.

A change in strategy would also be incredibly difficult because it would undermine the narrative that the Conservatives have propagated about the economic crash. The choice was made by the Conservatives to present the Great Recession commencing in 2008 as primarily a crisis of state debt rather than as a crisis triggered by enormous systemic financial sector failures that then resulted in the large deficit. This choice was likely made because this seemed the best way to attack Labour. A mess resulting from overspending by a Labour government is a much easier message for a Conservative party leader to make than a more nuanced recognition that state finances had been more prudent than the private sectors’ before the crash despite the treasury’s dependence on unsustainable finance sector revenues. Cameron and Osborne certainly never trumpeted any foresight of the crash nor offered any serious alternative economic policy paradigm before the crash. In 2007 they pledged to match Labour spending plans while in 2006 Osborne wrote that Ireland, even more of a credit fuelled unsustainable boom than the UK, represented ‘a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking’. Having made the choice then to define the crisis as one of state debt, the Conservatives have limited their options now. They are the original proponents of the view now repeated in every right wing paper that state spending cannot contribute to recovery. Simon Heffer’s statement, that ‘borrowing money, or printing more of it, would simply hasten Britain’s progress to Greek-style bankruptcy and financial implosion, wrecking living standards of Britons for a generation, and quite possibly longer’, could have come out of Cameron, Cable or Clegg’s lips at any point in the last two years. It is far easier for the coalition to muddle through blaming the eurozone, the weather or the Royal Wedding for the economic slowdown rather than their measures. A serious change of economic policy would go against everything that they had said since 2009 and would be an admission of the failure of plan A. Read more of this post

Gay marriage takes one more step forward

Dominic Turner

Image © Fritz Leiss

When President Obama yesterday announced his support for gay marriage he made an important and symbolic gesture, not merely of his own ‘evolution‘ on the issue, but of the Western world. It goes without saying that Obama, in trademark timidity, waited until the polls indicated that gay marriage was supported by a majority of Americans, and that even whilst he is personally comfortable with gay marriage, he is bringing forth no legislation to make it a reality. Nevertheless, yesterday marked a historic moment in the Gay rights movement.

I am not gay, and neither are any members of my immediate family. I have many friends and members of my extended family who are, but the issue of gay rights has never affected me personally. But the struggle for equality of all peoples is not a cause to be fought by only those who are affected. Good white men and women marched with their black brothers and sisters to end segregation and apartheid in the 20th Century. Gay rights are fundamentally civil rights and another articulation of the cause for equality.

Here in Britain we have come a long way since the 1980’s and the despicable s.28 Local Government Act, which outlawed the supposed “promotion” (and by that they meant discussion) of homosexuality in schools. Civil Partnerships now allow gay couples to enter into the legal equivalent of mariage. The Human Rights act has been used to allow the same rights of succession in housing for gay couples. One of the most encouraging aspects of the last decade is the leadership of the Conservative Party’s support Civil Parternships, and gay rights. But the hesitation from the lunatic fringe of the Tory Party to recognize gay marriage reveals, at its heart, a regressive and dogmatic conservatism. Civil Partnerships but not Marriage? Those who hold this counter intuitive position march under the same ideological banner that sustained segregation. Seperate but equal. Read more of this post

Guest Blog: The third of May will be a decisive day


Image © Matt Hobbs

Tom Vine

The week did not begin well for the mayoral contest. After a debate on radio channel LBC, Boris distastefully called Ken Livingstone a “f***ing liar” after Livingstone accused him of using similar tax arrangements as have been causing much controversy over Livingstone’s candidacy. Livingstone was quoted afterwards saying he and Boris are in “exactly the same situation” concerning their earnings.

Yet, what is frightening about this whole situation is not the fact that these men are choosing to pay corporation tax on their earnings over income tax but that our current Mayor of London feels he has the right to call Livingstone, let alone anyone, a “f***ing liar.” What’s also coincidentally convenient for Boris is the way in which the contest has been transformed into criticising Livingstone over taxation on his earnings. Admittedly, I felt as though Livingstone had, in a way, betrayed the left. But as I began to doubt the security of my Ken Livingstone vote, I realised how puny this issue is compared to what really matters for Londoners: housing, crime levels and the amount it costs you to get to school or work each day.

These are the very issues the mayoral candidates (of which a full list can be found here) have been debating for the past few weeks in an attempt to win our votes. These are issues which effect us Londoners directly. Knowledge of Ken and Boris’ tax arrangements isn’t going to reduce my tube or bus fares, so why should I care?

Read more of this post

Winter of Discontent: Labour isn’t working

Dominic Turner

Image © Murdo Macleod

As we enter 2012, we have a Government perceived as out of touch and elitist, ramming through a failing, unpopular, and treacherous economic agenda. The government has been mired in phone hacking scandals, rising unemployment, outbreaks of riots in the capital, and the likely prospect of another recession in the new year. The very least that one expects in the midst of such a storm is that the sails of the opposition might be filled. But as we enter 2012, the Tory Party has once again regained the lead in most opinion polls. Because of the media’s pathetic obsession with the intrigues of party political gamesmanship, this coalition is not judged by the ideal but by the alternative and the established alternative, the Labour Party, is proving woefully feeble at standing up to coalition.

The public remember that 13 years of Labour weren’t substantially different than what came before or after it. People remember Peter Mandelson proclaiming that Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” They remember Blair and Brown praying at the altar of Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the right wing, corporatist ilk that is laughably called the ‘free press.’ They remember the butchery of Basra, the folly of Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister of this country following a neo-con cowboy into wars of oil and treasure. The killing abroad was coupled with the repression of civil liberties at home, with the government attempting to impose mandatory ID cards on the population, and the eradication of ‘habeas corpus.’ They remember PFI, tuition fees, the introduction of the profit motive into the NHS, all of which lay the groundwork for the Coalition’s malevolent schemes. But most of all, they remember it was a Labour government who increased the gap between the rich and poor and instituted the biggest transfer of wealth from the needy to the greedy with the bank bailout, to be paid off by cuts to public services.

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