Recent Westminster Articles
This Friday, Green Party members across the country will face an immense dilemma – the choice between supporting our own minority Green council or hundreds of workers going on strike for a week against proposed pay reductions.
Some of the workrs could lose up to £4000 a year. That’s a choice most Greens would a few years ago have never thought they’d face. In the midst of massive local authority cuts, the Greens are in office but seemingly not in power.
Many local parties and individuals – including the local Brighton & Hove Green Party, Caroline Lucas (who has pledged to join the picket lines), and university branches such as my own – have spoken out against the bin worker pay cuts.
It has thus-far been a shambolic dispute where a noble attempt to equalise pay between male and female staff has turned into idiotic comparisons to the winter of discontent, accusations of potential strike breaking, and outsourcing the pay proposal decision altogether in order for Greens to claim ‘it wasn’t our decision’. Yet the council leader, Jason Kitcat, seems determined not to budge.
Serious internal discussion about this sorry state of affairs has sadly been minimal at best, stifled at worst. The party is coming under attack over this from all other sections of the left, and Labour will exploit this to its fullest unless the Green group in Brighton change tack and handle the situation properly. If Greens don’t tackle the issue head on, other parties will do so.
Neither is it good enough to say, as some have, that since the Greens are a federal party ‘it’s up to Brighton’. Brighton Greens – both the local branch and our only MP – have spoken clearly on this issue. It’s now up to the rest of the party nationally to back them up in this. Brighton is, bar a sizeable number of honourable exceptions in the likes of Alex Phillips and others, a rogue council, refusing to cede to the wishes of its local party, its constituents, and (from what I gather) the rest of the party nationally.
Disappointingly, the Green Party Executive (GPEX) and leader Natalie Bennett have appeared quiet on the issue.
Worthy though bringing in a Living Wage, leading the ‘no evictions’ fight over the bedroom tax, and attempting to equalise pay between male and female workers is, a Green council should never cut the pay of some of the least well off. That should be a given, particularly after enshrining social justice into the party’s Core Values last conference. As a party which has the strongest record on workers’ rights in terms of policy, strike busting should never have even been rumoured, let alone a potential possibility.
There are some hopeful signs however. Leading figures in Brighton & Hove Greens have at last made public statements about the strike action, though still seemingly refusing to back down over the pay proposals. The GMB has agreed to re-enter negotiations. And the candidate for the Hanover & Elm Grove by-election, David Gibson, is a solid trade unionist who opposes the measures to equalise pay down instead of up.
There needs to be a serious discussion about the possibility of setting ‘needs budgets’, and if not, discussing whether we should be in office at all if we are forced to act as a mere smoke-screen for Tory-Lib Dem cuts.
At what point does the party start to consider that to stay in office and continue to implement cuts would be to breach fundamental principles? As the Green Party conference in Brighton approaches, it’s time to get backtracking on the proposed pay cuts, and time to start talking.
Josiah Mortimer is a Green Party activist and student based in York.
The decision by Ed Balls yesterday to ditch Winter Fuel Allowance for the top 5% of pensioners has two major political consequences.
First is the ‘what would you cut?‘ test. In the past, Tories have constantly taunted Labour at PMQs and elsewhere with that question when Labour talk about the economy.
It’s a tricky one for Labour because polls continue to show (despite Labour opposition to austerity) that most voters think they are necessary and more blame Labour than the coalition for them.
If Cameron asks the question now, Labour can turn around and say ‘we would cut benefits for rich pensioners, will you?‘. After all, 74% of Brits support cutting it.
The test is to see if it shuts down that line of questioning or whether the Tories carry on regardless. I suspect the latter.
The second big test is to see if the public respond to Labour’s new position. Here, I’m more sceptical.
Voters rarely pay attention to Westminster debates. Plus, I don’t think Labour’s economic credibility problem is to do with voters wanting the party to make cuts, but to demonstrate they’ve learnt from the financial crisis that happened under their watch.
But lots of other people on the right of the party say that unless Labour promises cuts, voters won’t trust them with the economy.
Well folks, you’ve got a politically massive cut to spending, and one that hits voters most likely to vote. Let’s see if this restores some economic credibility. If it doesn’t then people on the Labour Right may need to assess their assumptions.
A bunch of humus-eating, London-dwelling, middle-class, Masters-holding Guardian-readers. That’s the stereotype of Green members anyway. How true is it though? The answer is – not entirely.
The results of the Green Party Equality and Diversity membership survey are in, and some of the results are fascinating. 1100 members took the survey, a decent proportion of the party (especially for a voluntary questionnaire) and around the sample size of most polling.
Bearing in mind that non-compulsory surveys, especially online ones, generally over-represent wealthier people – those with more spare time on their hands and generally the most politically engaged – the findings are surprising.
Nearly a quarter – 23.4% – of Green Party members earn less than £10,000 a year. This category was by far the plurality – i.e. the largest group. Over 17% live on between £10-15k a year, another 12% between £15-20k and 10% between £20-25k – still below the average income nationally. In total, this means well over 60% of Greens earn below the median income of £26,500.
Since the median income, by definition, means there are around 50% on either side earning more or less, for 60% to be earning less than this in the party means Greens are actually over-representative of people from lower-income background.
Only 9% slotted into the top-rate of tax band of more than £45k a year, probably explaining why we’re so skint all the time. So the stereotype of the Greens as middle-class hippies seems just that: a stereotype.
Yet class is a messy concept, of course, and income isn’t always the best indicator. Occupation, background, housing type, education, culture – all are factors in many definitions of class. Sadly the survey didn’t look into all of these, but the figures for education are less surprising than income.
The proportion of members with a university degree is 57%, far above the national figure of 26%. Within the 57% figure (since you could tick more than one box), 37% of all respondents had a Masters, PhD or other ‘higher’ degree. A pretty huge figure. Given the stats earlier about income, it seems the Greens are becoming a party of the precariat – educated but poor, especially given a higher proportion of members compared to the general public who are private renters (20%) and living with family or friends (nearly 8%).
On the whole, this seems to be borne out by how members described themselves in class terms. 56% responded as ‘lower middle class’, and just under a quarter (23%) identified as ‘working class’ of some form or another.
Shout it loud – the Greens are becoming the true party of the working-class. Even if most of us are humus-eating Guardian readers.
I’ve got no problem with Labour’s plans to means test the Winter Fuel Allowance – it strikes me as a perfectly sensible thing to stop spending £100 million on payments to higher earners which many people value so little that they choose to donate to charity. I think it is vital that the welfare state has a mix of targeted and universal services, and that at times it makes sense to review and make some (such as winter fuel payments) targeted, while extending others (such as childcare) to be universal. Language of priorities and all that.
That said, I’ve read the eloquent arguments from Peter Hain, Owen Jones and others about the evils of means testing. They argue that means testing involves more bureaucracy, misses out lots of needy people, undermines social solidarity and hurts those who are neither rich nor very poor. If this is a principle which applies to the winter fuel allowance, then logically it is one which should apply to the rest of the social security system.
The biggest means tested benefit is housing benefit. Every part of the universalist critique applies to this benefit. The housing benefit assessment system is very bureaucratic. There are lots of needy people who currently suffer with high housing costs, but who are not eligible for housing benefit. The fact that some people get very high housing benefit payments while others pay in and get nothing is definitely a source of resentment which undermines social solidarity (far more so than winter fuel payments).
Yet I have never ever heard any leftie argue that the existence of means tested housing benefit undermines the welfare state, and never seen anyone call for it to be made universal.
I don’t think this is just a matter of pragmatism, focusing on the immediate battles and defending what we have, leaving the longer term goals of a universal housing benefit for another day. I think it is a recognition that different types of problems require different approaches, and that universality is not, ahem, a universal principle for the welfare state.
Labour MP Simon Danzcuk wrote an article recently attacking the ‘Metropolitan liberal wing’ of the Left for their support of the status quo on welfare and their opposition to any kind of welfare reform. Striking a similar tone, Isabel Hardman in the Telegraph noted ‘the Left’s lack of resolve’ on welfare reform, citing the way that Labour ‘scuttled away’ from reforming the assessment of entitlement to disability benefits.
In both cases, the assumption is that opposing one particular daft idea necessarily implies support for the status quo. Those of us on the Metropolitan liberal left have all sorts of ideas for reforming the welfare state. These include:
2. Make work pay by increasing the minimum wage above inflation, expanding the number of employers who pay a living wage, and introducing a Community Allowance, where people can take on ‘mini jobs’ of up to 16 hours per week with community organisations while continuing to receive their benefits.
3. Allow councils to borrow to build hundreds of thousands of new homes, and take on vested interests in the private rented sector.
4. Cancel Atos’ contract and enable disabled people to co-design a reformed Work Capability Assessment which treats people with dignity and reduces the error rate from 17% to under 1%.
5. Introduce a Right to Paid Work, offering socially useful jobs of at least 25 hours per week paid at the minimum wage to all people unemployed for two years or more.
6. Replace the Work Programme with grant funding for charities to support unemployed people to develop their skills and find work.
7. Develop a national strategy to ensure that by 2020 no one has to rely on a foodbank to feed themselves or their family.
8. Introduce new government targets to reduce poverty for pensioners and working age adults as well as children. Set a target that poverty for all three groups should be lower in 2020 than it was in 2010.
10. Delay implementation of universal credit, cancel localisation of Council Tax Benefit, and instead focus on improving and simplifying the current system by reducing the error rate, expanding Social Fund crisis grants and loans, and improving the quality of service offered by Jobcentres to claimants.
The last time that the liberal left had significant influence on welfare policy was between 1997 and roughly 2004, a time which saw record falls in poverty amongst children and pensioners, and increases in employment rates amongst groups such as lone parents and disabled people. The centre right reform agenda, led under successive governments by David Freud over the past few years, has been far less impressive, marked by bold claims about reform combined with remarkable incompetence in delivery.
It might give right wing politicians a thrill to promise yet another biggest shake up since Beveridge or crack down on scroungers, but I think we’ve had quite enough of them overclaiming, underdelivering and then trying to fix the evidence to cover it up. Instead, the liberal left’s approach is focused on achievable solutions to the real problems facing people on low incomes.
by Holly Dustin
A report by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner last week found that children, especially boys, are viewing violent pornography and that this is influencing their behaviour.
This is highly disturbing and comes swiftly after our own report, Deeds or Words? which found that the government is failing in its promise to prevent abuse of women and girls.
So why isn’t this a political priority?
The background to these reports is a growing body of evidence to show that young women and girls are targeted for certain types of abuse by men and boys, some of which is linked to new technology.
Recent research on ‘sexting’ by the NSPCC, which found it to be often coercive and linked to abusive behaviour, was tragically highlighted by the case of 13 year old Chevonea Kendall-Bryan who fell to her death pleading with a boy to delete indecent images of her. Our own polling in 2010 found that one in three girls in the UK said they had been ‘groped’ or experienced other unwanted sexual touching at school.
An Ofsted report found that poor quality Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in over a third of schools was leaving children vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation.
We were delighted when Yvette Cooper MP Labour would make SRE compulsory in order to teach young people about sexual consent, and respectful and equal relationships. But SRE is one part of a much broader package of work that is urgently needed if we genuinely want to prevent abuse before it begins.
So, as Labour’s manifesto work progresses, we want to see concrete commitments to:
1) Run a long-term public campaigns to change abusive attitudes and behaviours (similar to the ongoing drink-driving campaigns which have changed attitudes to seat-belts and drink driving over a number of decades)
2) Make SRE compulsory as part of a ‘whole-school approach’ to tackling violence against women and girls which would include ongoing teacher training so that teachers are equipped and confident to identify and respond to the signs of abuse
3) Tackling misogynistic messages through the media and social media that condone abuse. Hats off to the fantastic campaign targeting rape and domestic violence pages on Facebook. The Children’s Commissioner’s report has highlighted children’s access to violent pornography and the disturbing murders Tia Sharp and April Jones cases reportedly include pornographic images, including images of rape and incest. We are supporting a campaign by Croydon Rape Crisis to make possession of simulated images of rape porn illegal.
4) Funding women’s groups to run innovative prevention projects in the community, and to ensure that all women and girls experiencing abuse, either now or in the past, have access to specialist women’s support services.
We are calling on our political leaders, both men and women, to be aspirational and to say that violence against women and girls is not inevitable, and they will take action to prevent it. A world that is safe and equal for women and girls is possible, and we now need to make the promise a reality.
Holly Dustin is at End Violence Against Women Coaltion
The current mood is that of sombre reflection, calls to ‘carry on as normal’, anger at the killers themselves and a broad understanding that all Muslims should not be blamed for what happened on Wednesday.
This consensus won’t last long. Within a week, maybe even less than that, it will start to break down.
1) ‘Carry on as normal’
The likelihood of this happening is perhaps at zero. There have already been calls by John Reid (and encouraged by Jack Straw yesterday) to revive the Snooper’s Charter. Of course, Reid is the security industry salesman in the House of Lords so his calls is predictable, but what of the Parliamentary Labour Party? This is the time Ed Miliband should flash his pro-civil-liberties credentials, but I suspect he will be thwarted once again by Yvette Cooper’s department.
The Lib Dems may hold their nerve but it’s very likely Theresa May will revive the Snooper’s Charter and claim events like Woolwich justify it.
2) ‘All Muslims are not to blame’
By the weekend and almost certainly by next week, we’ll see a revival of editorials (led by Melanie Phillips) asking a variation of Why Do British Muslims Hate Us? We might even go back to 2005 territory when these sorts of editorials were at their peak. The English Defence League and their demonstrations this weekend will certainly keep the topic in the public eye.
There is a lot of money to be made by sensationalising and blaming all Muslims – and a lot of press commentators will certainly try. Some politicians too will be unable to resist this temptation. It won’t start immediately but will last the longest.
3) ‘Carry on as normal’ – Part 2
It’s been constantly repeated in the press today that the authorities knew of the Woolwich Butcher before Wednesday. Why should this come as a surprise?
I would hope they are tracking ALL the men when attend Anjem Choudhary’s rallies. The question is whether these men should be arrested before they commit a crime, and the answer is clearly no.
I’ve warned before that Al-Muhajiroun were a dangerous group and supported proscribing them, but I don’t believe the authorities should arrest people who haven’t committed any crimes. Neverthless, I expect the government and the press to push for a crackdown on protests anyway.
4) ‘All Muslims are not to blame’ – Part 2
The political implications are harder to ascertain. The English Defence League will gain popularity and will no doubt use this to ramp up their demonstrations.
As UKIP have recently moved away from focusing on Islamist extremism to the EU and immigration, they won’t immediately benefit from any backlash to Muslims. But I suspect UKIP are having discussions now on what outrageous things they could say to take the limelight and start a bandwagon. It’s in their nature. The question then is whether the Conservatives will follow or condemn them for being outrageous.
Obviously I don’t approve of any of this. But I can see it happening in the coming weeks. This is merely the calm before the coming storm.
Given the debate in the House of Commons, I think it’s well worth reflecting on exactly where opposition to equal marriage is coming from and, particularly, how that opposition is being organised.
As far as public opinion is concerned, YouGov President Peter Kellner laid out the actual position with admirable clarity yesterday:
The passions of grass-roots Tories who are bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage are not shared by the wider electorate. Most voters back a change in the law – and very few opponents are willing to switch their votes because of this issue.
So, among the public as a whole, 4% are pro-same-sex marriage AND say this is a vote-deciding issue, while 3% are in the opposite camp. Among those who voted Conservative in 2010, just 6% say this is a vote-deciding issue, and they divide 3-1 against same-sex marriage. So even there, the net effect is tiny.
So, not only do a majority of the public support marriage equality but its also anything but the political hot potato that its (mostly) Tory opponents are trying to make out.
However, one issue not many pick up on is the parallel problem of ‘organisational capture’, i.e. what us lefties used to refer to as ‘entryism‘.
In simple terms, it is not simply a matter of the decline in the mass membership of political parties, and other organisations, leaving them increasingly at the mercy of their residual ‘swivel-eyed’ activist rump. It also leaves them in a position where, starting at the grassroots level, they become increasingly susceptible to capture by organised minority interest groups intent on using the party/organisation as a vehicle to push their own narrow agenda.
Although this is problem that is, historically, most closely associated with the political left, and in the UK particular with the takeover of the Labour Party Young Socialists and Liverpool City Council by Militant, it is an issue that is increasingly coming to bedevil conservative politics, particularly in the United States. For example, one of the more alarming and poignant stories to emerge from the 2010 US election was that of Bob Inglis, a former Republican member of the US House of Representatives who was deselected in 2010 after losing a primary to Tea Party-backed candidate.
You might think this can safely be filed away under ‘only in America’, but don’t be so sure.
Take a good hard look at the following chart which I’ve put together in an attempt to map the many connections that already exist between our own right-wing Christian lobby and both their US counterparts and, more importantly, with a wide range of British conservative political organisations and politicians.
The map, which is far from complete, shows the extent to which our own religious lobby has already forged connections and assumed positions of influence throughout the right-wing/conservative movement in Britain.
It also shows the extent to which political opposition to measures such as equal marriage and legal access to safe abortion services originates with and is tied into a very narrow range of closely connected religious groups.
If you think that the religious right in Britain is no more than a bunch of fringe evangelical groups with few connections and very little political influence, this chart may well persuade you to think again.
A longer version of this post is here.
It’s fair to say George Osborne has never been the Financial Transaction Tax’s biggest fan. As 11 European countries agreed a 0.01%-0.1% tax on shares, bonds and derivatives that will raise an estimated £30bn each year, he made clear that Britain was folding its arms, stamping its foot and refusing to join in.
It’s one thing to dismiss billions in additional revenue, side with your friends in the City and plump instead for the harshest programme of austerity since WWII.
But, clearly feeling his priorities were still not perverse enough, the Chancellor then launched a legal challenge against the European’s proposal, arguing it would be bad for his friends in the City.
George Osborne protested that European’s choosing to tax their financial institutions and their financial products may impact on other countries. Except that is precisely how our own stamp duty on shares works. Of the £3bn this FTT raises the UK Exchequer each year, around 40% of revenue comes from overseas.
In the face of such hypocrisy the Robin Hood Tax campaign launched a petition calling on Osborne to drop the legal challenge.
Over 15,000 people emailed the Treasury, who blocked the emails. We’ll be taking the petition by hand to the Treasury to ensure they get the message.
There have been almost daily attacks against the Financial Transaction Tax in the right of centre press as well, backed up by a slew of ‘reports’ commissioned by the financial sector. We’re taking this as a good sign.
One of the only concrete proposals to emerge post-crisis to ensure ordinary people do not pay for the economic mess is on the verge of becoming reality.
The shame is that Osborne’s opposition means the UK public will miss out on the benefits. Wild-eyed proclamations of the financial sector aside, this proposal is moderate. FTTs already exist not only in the UK, but around the world. Collectively they raise around £25bn a year. They have been implemented by governments of all political hues and in key financial centres such as Hong Kong, South Africa and Brazil.
As the government goes into overdrive to weaken the proposal, so it’s now more than ever they need reminding – the interests of the financial sector do not equate to the interests of society as a whole.
Simon works for the Robin Hood Tax Campaign
You would normally expect an MP who has only just had their party whip reinstated after a six month suspension to lie low for a while but not Nadine Dorries. She wants an alliance with UKIP.
But thy is Dorries even talking about the possibility of running on a joint Tory/UKIP ticket?
Well, the answer almost certainly lies in this recent YouGov poll:
New YouGov research conducted just before her party membership was reinstated reveals that 43% of Tories would have supported the party’s decision to reinstate her, while 45% think she should not be allowed to rejoin the party.
That’s right, more Tory voters would rather have seen Dorries left out in the cold than were happy to see her readmitted to the party and the figures amongst UKIP voters are not that much better:
The poll also suggests many UKIP voters may be relieved the Conservative Party took Dorries back. 35% of UKIP supporters think their party would be less credible if Nadine Dorries were to join it, compared to only 7% who think it would be more credible.
Even allowing for UKIP recent performance in the local elections and expectations that it will perform extremely well in next year’s European elections, one would not normally expect to see a self-styled Eurosceptic MP in a historically very safe Tory seat sweating over the possibility of UKIP running a candidate against them at the next general election.
If nothing else, the majority of incumbent Tory Eurosceptics have a personal vote and a track record to call upon that means that’s unlikely that they local electorate will seek to punish them for what they perceive to be Cameron’s follies but Dorries is not in anything like that position thanks to her own past conduct – and I’m not just talking here about her skipping out her constituents for more than three weeks to appear on “I’m a Celebrity…”.
There’s also the little matter of her using her personal ‘blog’ to mislead her own constituents as to the actual location of her main home, while claiming for her constituency home on expenses, her habitual use of her own parliamentary office as a job creation scheme for her own daughter and, of course, the ongoing investigation by IPSA into expenses claimed since the last general election for the rental of flat in Pimlico that, as I revealed last week, she used overnight for a total of just 25 nights in the whole of 2012 while, at the same time, claiming just over £4,000 to cover the costs of make a daily commute to Westminster from her constituency home, and back, eighty-six times.
The full figures are, I think, well worth repeating:
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out, based on YouGov’s polling and her own track record, why Dorries is talking up the idea of trying run on an joint Tory/UKIP ticket.
It’s not that she fears that a UKIP candidate in her constituency will be able to exploit Tory divisions over Europe but rather that by running on anti-politics ticket, UKIP may very well be in a position to exploit her own personal unpopularity amongst her Tory voters and her dubious track record on expenses to, at the very least, take a sizeable chunk out of her majority, if not pose a serious threat of unseating her.
This is not about confusion amongst members of her own constituency association, it’s purely about trying to keep UKIP out of her constituency in the interests of self-preservation and not losing her main taxpayer-funded meal ticket.
She is, as Margaret Thatcher might have put it, ‘Frit’.
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