Thursday, November 6, 2014

Manchester's Mayor - A half baked idea

So Manchester is getting a mayor, and the applause appears near universal. To my mind, however, for socialists, proponents of devolution, Labour supporters and proponents of accountable democracy, this represents not a bright new dawn, but a repetition of the worst elements of devolution which has been experimented with over the last forty years. Hopefully, Labour will wake up and burst this bubble – not through wholesale opposition, but the bold, brave and universal devolution that the whole of the UK needs.

So what’s my opposition, and why? And what’s the response from socialists who want a new constitutional settlement?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I don’t get the cult of Russell Brand...

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m with an awful lot of Russell Brand’s positions. But I don’t get the cult. I don’t get why this man is becoming a poster-boy for direct action and reforming capitalism, and I don’t like it. Why don’t I? Perhaps I’m just unhappy with somebody outside of the normal elite taking on a political role. The normal elite includes me: party political member, elected local politician, PPE graduate. Perhaps I’m part of the problem, but I want to articulate why I feel deeply queasy about the whole thing.

So, let me put the questions I’ve never had answered:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why Labour Won in Southwark

So it’s been quite the 72 hours. At ten to four yesterday, by quirk of the alphabet, I had the pleasure of being the first councillor to be announced as elected in Southwark. I was by no means the last, followed not only by my fantastic comrades Dan Garfield and Lorraine Lauder in Faraday ward, but 47 other councillors across the borough of Southwark.

It was a win that brings together so many different stories.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why UKIP's getting it badly wrong...

Nigel Farrage’s interview where he claimed ‘no British person’ would be his secretary, and so he has to employ his German wife, has rightly been used as evidence of the confusion at the heart of UKIP. Evidently the UKIP leader has little knowledge of how plenty of ordinary British workers do far more unpleasant jobs, with worse hours, and for lower pay, than the good Frau Farrago.

However, the awkward pauses in the Nick Robinson encounter expose another significant hole in UKIP’s ideology and mission; and a hole that Nick Clegg has no interest in pointing out. Farrage did highlight that UKIP was not in favour of preventing immigration for skilled workers, which is why the thrust of their latest dubious election campaign is that Eastern Europeans are taking work from builders, not bankers. But what’s the difference?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tuition Fees versus a Graduate Tax - A False Choice

So the student loans system, of which I was one of the first members, begins to unravel. Who would have thought that the government lending money, with no guarantee of payback, at low rates of interest, and increasing the threshold for repayment, would result in the government losing out? Perhaps somebody with a GCSE in maths? I’m pleased Labour has started to address the problem with today’s announcement that we’re pledging to cut tuition fees to £6,000.

But this isn’t a long term solution to the crisis in funding, and Labour knows it. Now the idea of a ‘graduate tax’ is gaining traction as a way of paying for our world-beating education system, and a real alternative to loaning money on economically obtuse terms. I must confess a layer of bemusement covering my steadfast opposition to this idea – as somebody who is fortunate enough to pay back a significant sum out of his pay packet every month, the current system already feels like a graduate tax to me. Despite the macro-jiggery-pokery of changing a loan to a tax, there does feel to be something deeply unjust about me paying the same amount for a university education I’ve barely finished as O do to a pension that I will likely barely claim, while property-owning baby-boomer colleagues prepare for a well-earned retirement, founded on modest incomes built by university education they’ve never directly paid for. A graduate tax couldn’t practically find every graduate working today, and so its arbitrary start point will simply perpetuate this frustrating and unjust system of taxing those graduates who can afford it least.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Getting HS2 on the Right Track

And so, with the ConDems struggling to fill legislative time, much parliamentary attention is turning to the building of the controversial HS2 rail link, and quite rightly. On the surface, developing a railway network that brings us up, in part, to standards that in the rest of Europe and most developed economies met almost a quarter of a century ago seems like a no-brainer. Indeed, anything that makes the UK smaller, the centralised capital less far away, and invests serious cash into our still struggling economy is certainly a good thing. Much of the debate now centres on the cost, with Labour showing real fiscal credibility on scrutinising promises to keep to the £50bn spending limit (not to mention the fact that our Olympics guru, who delivered 2012 on time and on budget, has been tasked with doing the maths).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Young Workers' Month

March is a big month; Lent begins on Wednesday, Cheltenham races the week after, and the scramble for three birthday presents in between will occupy a lot of my time. However, if I can distract you briefly from your studying form in the Racing Post or daily Holy Hour, there is a brilliant initiative running for the full 31 days – Young Workers’ Month.

Set up by active, young trades union members (from the grassroots, no astro-turf here), the idea is to stop hand-wringing over the problems faced by young workers and start meaningful, innovative organising to fight back and get over them. Of course, much of the effort will be about young people talking, engaging and organising together, and using our shared generational experience to point out the rough deal young workers are getting under this Liberal/Tory government and in the increasingly unchecked free market.

However, let’s remember that the intention of the current government is to set worker against worker, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the generational divide. Tory talk about ‘gold plated pensions’, the tuition fee betrayal of the Lib Dems, the spectre of removing benefits so as to deny independent living from young people on the basis of their age alone can make it feel that the government reserves a special hate for youth. But we can’t have this distract us – it’s past generations who built our NHS, older workers who struggle to find support for training to keep them up-to-date and employable, and older people who are under-represented on our screens and in popular culture. The feeling that your age group’s voice is marginalised and your skills side-lined is one that’s held below 30, over 50 and everywhere in-between.

Young Workers’ Month is our opportunity to reply with one voice to this strategy of division. Young workers don’t get a rough deal because they’re young – they get a rough deal because they’re workers. Young Workers’ Month is as much about building solidarity between all working people, regardless of age, as it is about young people standing together.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sermon - Mansfield College 19th February 2014

So, I've been asked to publish the below on-line... Apologies if it's a little long for a 'blog, or a little rhetorical, but here goes...


‘He does not for man what man can do for himself’

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Floods - The Final Betrayal?

The floods that are ravaging large parts of the south of England at the moment are nothing short of a national tragedy, not to mention a national emergency. Ed Miliband is not understating the case today by talking about the effects of these changes to our temperate climate as a national security issue.

Much of the coverage from the left has been of the outrageous statement from the Prime Minister that ‘money is no object’ and ‘we are a rich country’ when it comes to flood defences. Of course we are, but considering that the PM has been peddling nonsense about how we’re nearly bankrupt for almost six years now it is an absurd statement. Considering that the flooding in working class communities in Yorkshire and Humberside several years ago has still not received proper attention from government, this is a particularly salty ointment. Away from the direct comparisons over flood relief, it is obvious to anyone what an insult this is in a climate of public sector pay depression, the hacking back of benefits of the most vulnerable, and the sale of our welfare state.

However, the rural communities that are suffering through the floods know that their current predicament is as a result of a lack of proper spending, and restraint by the Treasury on the abilities of the Environment Agency to take sensible precautions to defend lives and property. They know that they are victims of savage cuts, and they need a different ideology in Downing Street.
This could mark a watershed (pardon the pun) moment for Labour. For a long time I’ve wondered why predominantly working class communities in rural areas across England have been no-go areas for us. Travel to Bridgewater and Taunton, or Gainsborough and Boston, you meet isolated communities, with poor quality employment, poor education and high rates of child poverty. These are working class communities on a par with any inner city, and with fewer opportunities for regeneration. The popular perception of these places as packed to the gunnels with the landed gentry is just tosh. These are our people, and if we are failing to speak for appeal to them, we’re failing in our basic duty to unite working people.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Taxation and Representation

Last weekend, Ed Balls made an excellent tax announcement ahead of the general election in 2015. This announcement, popular with the public, was a commitment to raise tax – to reintroduce the 50p rate of tax for those individuals who earn £150,000 a year or more. That is, to be clear, to take 50p in every £1 earned OVER £150,000. From the squeals, one might think that it actually meant taking 50% of income as a whole. It doesn’t (more’s the pity). In the debate that’s followed, we’ve missed a discussion about where it sits in Labour’s tax package as a whole – how it measures up to our equally important commitment to reintroduce the 10p tax rate for our lowest earners.

The 50p rate of course has its nay-sayers, like the least convincing (former) Labour minister since Alan Milburn, Lord Jones of Birmingham. Lord Jones believes that: "In the last few months we've got 'if it creates wealth let's kick it', really go for energy companies, really go for housebuilding, bankers – this time it's going to be high earners. Are we talking politics or are we talking what's right to create wealth and jobs in the nation?".

A Briton on the Boss

I’ve had lots of questions from curious Britons about the continuing saga engulfing Chris Christie, Governor of the (great) state of New Jersey. I would not claim to be an expert in American politics by any stretch, but I did, of course, work on the campaign that saw our candidate, Governor Corzine, lose to the then largely unknown, but uncommonly large, Republican.

There is of course a lot of visceral emotion wrapped up in my response to the mess over the myriad of scandals that grow day by day. This was a man who put some of my dearest friends out of work, and defeated a man who, although not whiter than white and by no means a socialist, was a compassionate politician who stood up to established interests. Underneath the grey beard, grandfatherly demeanour and oh so boring ‘sweater-vests’ of Jon Corzine sat the model politician on paper. Polite, unassuming, good with figures, and an ego smaller almost all of his staff, Corzine was (despite everything else) a good governor.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Problem with the Living Wage Foundation

Since the 1970s, the British trade union movement has increasingly used the underpinning of legislation, directives and guidelines to protect working people. This has had numerous advantages – the protection of mostly vulnerable un-unionised workers being the most obvious, such as through the National Minimum Wage Act. It has, in many areas, however, made the movement dependent on state action, rather than action that has liberated workers themselves. In some cases we have become beholden to it – such as the growing panic about what a renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership of the EU would result in. We've lost the confidence, and some might say that ability, to win these basic protections through fighting employers. It’s the deepest wound of the servicing culture which the movement is trying to heal.
Increasingly too, unions have worked with other groups, and built new partnerships not only in the context of changing civil society, but also as a result of the changing expectations of potential members in a neo-capitalist world. There have been great benefits to this, and there is no denying that some corporate responsibility programmes, or working to access hard-to-reach workers through community groups like churches have bought real changes. The negative side of this has been the creation of campaigns which have too narrow a focus, often removed from grass-root issues, or have been driven by values not entirely in line with the principles that (should) drive the movement, like agitation, education and class solidarity.

The Living Wage Foundation and its accreditation is a manifestation of the real pitfalls of this approach in two critical ways: firstly, its narrow focus makes clear the problems in alliances with other groups, particularly apparently friendly employers, secondly its failure to implement those values that should drive our movement is marginalising the true voices of working people.

The London Mayoralty – What’s best for Britain

Those of you who are kind enough to read this and don’t live in London, or even in the UK, please don’t switch off. This really isn't a piece intended to inflate parochial politics that directly affects 10% of the population of our sceptred isle. It’s actually the opposite, why we need to have a serious look at the London Mayor, the whole concept, and the personalities we need to make the changes we want to see – not just for the ‘good’ of London, but for the whole of the UK.

All Women Short-Lists – The Great Unspoken Problem

All women short-lists (AWS) have become a common mechanism across the Labour Party in advance of choosing our prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) for the 2015 general election. And I think they’re a bad idea.

This is hardly revolutionary, and as a white, Oxford educated man in a professional job it probably comes as no surprise that this is my conclusion. I'm not so stupid to think that, however elegant my reasoning, this conclusion is perhaps the result of some unseen sub-conscious bias. This shows why it is important that our elected representatives are actually representative of the society who chooses them – only in that way can these deep-seated sub-conscious decisions be exposed to healthy scrutiny.

But indulge me. By way of atonement, let me start with why I think most of the reasons used in opposition to AWS are a load of claptrap.