Wednesday, 5 November 2014

“Time to ‘Consider Your Careers’, ‘Nameless’ Labour Briefers” by @MagsNews& BevClack

Appeared on the Labour Left website October 2014 

It’s rare for us to blog twice in a week, but, hey – a week is a long time in politics, and even more so in the current climate.

Our recent blog hit Twitter and Facebook around the same time as another article, rather different from ours. It suggested that Labour MPs were “in despair” under Ed Miliband’s leadership. It told of briefings by ‘nameless MPs’: a theme that we keep hearing and reading about. No, we’re not going to post a link to that piece, or any other such piece, because they won’t be good for your blood pressure; nor, in our humble opinion, do they deserve further exposure. But boy, our blog received more retweets and mentions than we’ve had in the whole time we’ve been writing together.  It struck a nerve and we’ve decided to oblige again!
We have been reliably informed that these ‘un-named MPs’ – who have been happy to utter their messages of discontent to the usual journalists always on the look out for such negative stories – amount to less than a handful.
Yes, that’s right: less than a handful!!

So few making so much noise. Why don’t they just pick up the ‘phone and have a chat with Ed?
Hardly likely, as we gather that their aim is to bring down Ed Miliband! Fair enough: political parties always have their malcontents. Well, we have news for you – you might think you are speaking for ‘The Party’ but you don’t!
We’ve both received messages from party activists who are concerned at the detrimental effect these few individuals are having on the party in general.
For the purpose of this blog, let’s refer to these un-named MPs as ‘strangers’ as this is what they appear to be and, indeed, clearly wish to be. 

We doubt that they are in touch with the grassroots members of our party. If they were, they would recognise the importance of Labour winning at the next election. Bev is a councillor and knows just how destructive Tory cuts have been for local communities and the hard work that so many Labour councils are doing to try to protect people from the affects of these cuts. If these strangers were sure of their ground they would speak out publicly. Instead, they hide and choose to speak ‘off the record,’ wishing to remain anonymous. Perhaps they should have the courage of their convictions and go on the record; maybe they should take to Twitter?
To counter these negative messages, we need to hear from other MPs. Party activists look to them to speak out, and they need to do so again, again and again. Knocking on doors and telephone canvassing can be a weary task. It’s always good to know that our elected members are supporting us!  We read of disenchantment with politics: again in light of the by-election results in Clacton and Heywood which show people turning to UKIP.  Silence in the face of this threat is not an answer.
We gather that the strangers are ‘worried about their careers’.
Oh dear. Poor them.
We’d like to think that they’re shouting loud and clear for those who try to exist on low wages or benefits, who have no food and/or no heating, who live on the edge possibly in poor housing, who pay high rents, who have trouble finding money to pay the mortgage, who are fearful of losing the roof over their heads, who are struggling to keep their families together. All of these people are victims in one way or another of policies advanced by this Tory-led coalition government.
After all, we all are in it one way or another!
How often we hear members, former members, those who are considering becoming members of the party acknowledge that Labour could and must be the party to form a government. We’re all so tired of the current rotten government that has no trouble advancing their policies to support the rich and powerful that they represent.
Some voters are just unsure: unsure about whether Labour really speaks for them, or shares their concerns about what’s happening in their daily lives.
They need to know that Labour is with them.
These are the young graduates trying to find employment apart from stacking shelves;  the young folk who haven’t a clue what the future holds for them;  the one parent families;  families who have extended families;  carers – sometimes carers are children and teenagers; the disabled and chronically sick;  those professionals who work in the public sector whose jobs are disappearing and find they have to start bidding for work due to the privatisation agenda of this Tory led coalition government. And the squeezed middle. The fact of the matter is that we are all being squeezed!
This brings us to the general election.
As Labour, we need to step up and attack this Tory-led government as well as taking every opportunity to talk about the repeal of the NHS Bill, the end of the Bedroom Tax, additional childcare  – just three Labour policies that will make differences to people’s lives. We hear very little of taking the fight to the Tories. The tax breaks they are offering if they are – god forbid – returned at the next election may sound attractive but no-one has said yet how these are going to be paid for.  Do the Tories even know?  And then there’s UKIP – they’d certainly continue NHS privatisation!
Again, the silence from too many of our MPs is deafening. We need them to confront the Tories and to push our policies in as robust a manner as we would expect.  
Most importantly, Labour must stop being brow-beaten over the economy. The economy was growing when the coalition walked into No 10 – keep reminding people of that simple fact. The debt is now growing beyond anyone’s imagination – remind people that that is the case. Billions of pounds of our public money has been paid into NHS privatisation: remind people of that. And once again we see Tory privatisations putting money going into the pockets of Tory donors: remind people of that. And keep reminding them. Again, again and again!
We are furious that the attacks from those strangers, those anonymous briefers, these ‘less than a handful’ of un-named MPs, are silencing the debate that we need to be having. This can’t be allowed to happen.
These cowardly strangers who won’t go on the record must be reminded that they don’t speak for us.
We have a message for these strangers:  it’s time to support the party and to speak up for the country. We’re seven months away from the general election. This really isn’t about you: it’s about the rest of us – all of us who stand to lose so much if the Tories are elected in 2015. There’s a Big Picture that you should be looking at and it’s called ‘the United Kingdom’.
Oh. Sorry. We forgot. It’s your *careers* that you’re really bothered about!  Maybe time to consider that and to consider whether the Labour Party is really the best place for you.

Ed Miliband’s Leadership: Or, What Do YOU Really Want? by @bevclack & @MagsNews

Appeared on the Labour Left website 9 October 2014

We’re 7 months away from the General Election and it’s time to get serious. We are way beyond the Silly Season and fast approaching Make Your Mind Up Time.
And it comes down to this simple choice:
What government do you want to be living under this time next year?
Do you want a Tory government (possibly propped up by Nigel Farage’s UKIP) and led by David Cameron; or do you want a Labour government led by Ed Miliband?
The mainstream media have spent the last few months following the agenda set by Cameron’s new campaign advisor Lynton Crosby: attack Miliband and smear him at all costs. The aim of this exercise? To make sure that you don’t take a Miliband-led Labour Party seriously.
This campaign of smear and misinformation has reached new heights following Labour’s conference.
It says volumes that this campaign is so lame in its focus. The best they’ve come up with so far is Ed ‘forgetting’ a section of his conference speech (given, remember, without notes), and a series of pathetic schoolboy attacks on his looks (yeah, right) and his inability to eat a bacon sandwich with decorum (who in practice can?).
Why is the focus on pitiful things like this? Because that’s all they can come up with when attempting to smear a clever, decent, thoughtful man like Ed.
It’s not difficult to see why members of the press are so keen to attack him. They are employed by the very people whose cosy lives would be upset by a genuinely radical Labour government. We are talking here of the Murdochs, the Dacres and the Beaverbrooks of this media world.
But the attacks on Ed are also meant to do something much more straightforward. They are meant to divert attention from anyone examining too closely the failings of David Cameron, the man who couldn’t win an election first time, and is hoping to do it second time round.
Let’s buck the trend and look at Cameron’s failings, for he seems to have got away from Tory Party meltdown with a conference speech well-received by the press. (Surprisingly little attention was given to his Freudian slip about ‘resenting the poor’; but hey! Who cares! Anyone can make a slip while giving a speech. Oh.)
If only Cameron’s failings were as insignificant as how he looks or howhe eats a bacon butty.
What we have in David Cameron is a man without a sense of judgement.
The most glaring example of this was undoubtedly when his Director of Communications Andy Coulson was sent to prison this summer.
What we expect from our politicians, what we demand of our political leaders, should be that they have at the very least a good sense of judgement.
Whatever way you cut it, Cameron’s failure to address Coulson’s past life in relation to the phone hacking scandal shows a startling lack of that quality.
If only this lack of judgement was in relation to one individual’s appointment.
Cameron’s lack of judgement was also on display over the presidency of the European Union. The marginalisation of the UK that he has pursued since the start of his premiership means we have no voice in shaping the future of the EU.
And closer to home we have the disastrous top-down reorganisation of the NHS that has wasted £2bn and that has left the NHS with a massive financial blackhole.
Let’s not forget that the National Statistics Authority has called him out  – again -  on quoting dodgy stats in relation to the deficit!  This is the serious stuff.  This is the stuff that ‘misleading the electorate’ is made of!  But hey!  Let’s not bother too much about that.  Bacon butties are far more important!
Do you really want another five years of the same lack of judgement and mismanagement?
What could you have instead?
It’s time to look beyond the desperate attempts to deflect attention from a failing Prime Minister and his government, to the man who is waiting in the wings.
Carefully, patiently, Ed Miliband has put in place the pieces for a radical Labour government.
Diagnosing the problem of a society defined by growing inequality, his Labour party is putting forward policies that will address the gap between rich and poor and the struggles of the majority – not just the city men in sharp grey suits – to live well. We already know something of what this offering will look like: a living wage, repealing the NHS Act that put the Health Service up for sale, votes at 16, a commitment to real jobs and training for 18-21 year olds, reducing student fees, a national care service, a mansion tax, 1 million new homes over the next five years, more powers for local authorities.  A more equal society.
And Ed has shown that he has the character necessary to make this happen.
He has shown himself prepared to take on the energy companies, the banks, Murdoch, and the right-wing press. He also has the humility to admit when he has made a mistake: he did this with his immediate and full apology after posing with the Sun’s World Cup edition.
When it comes down to it, in 2015 the choice will be stark. More of Cameron and Crew or a chance for a different, a better, a more equal Britain.
Put like that, the choice is really quite simple, isn’t it?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Ed Miliband - Or, When A Bad Press Means You Are Getting Your Policies Right

by @BevClack and @MagsNews   May 2014  Posted on Labour Left

Terrible isn’t it?

Seems Ed Miliband just can’t put a foot right.

Or that’s what the vast majority of the press would have you believe. Some of us absorb that info like a sponge and because it’s written in the papers, repeated on TV, mulled over on the radio, then it must be right.


Think again.

If, like us, you have more than a couple of decades under your belt, you will know from past experience that the British press has never been kind to the Labour party – with one exception – enter Mr Tony Blair. But we’ll come back to Tony later.

The first time we noticed this negative campaigning by the press was in ‘92 when Neil Kinnock led the Labour Party into the general election. The morning of the general election one newspaper (you know? the one that’s banned from being sold in Liverpool due to its despicable reporting of the Hillsborough tragedy) ran the headline ‘will the last person to leave Britain, please turn out the lights?’
Kinnock lost.

We’re certainly not giving the trophy to that paper or saying that Labour held no responsibility for defeat but it’s generally accepted that the headline fed into the minds of many.

Was this a significant moment when the press realised it might hold some power over the minds of the British people?  Had we really come to the point when we couldn’t add things up and judge for ourselves?

Back in 1994, Tony Blair began to court the media, along with Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell: understandably so. Like us, they had seen the media ruin Neil Kinnock. And Tony became the press’ darling for some time.  New Labour loved the positive news about itself.   Rupert Murdoch decided his papers would support Tony Blair for the general election 1997. The Mail followed suit.  Tony – and Labour – had it made!  To those who asked about the wisdom of courting the press, Tony replied: “It is better to ride the tiger’s back than let it rip your throat out.”

But that was then.  And a lot of water has gone under the bridge.

We saw how the media treated Gordon Brown.  It got very personal and cruel.  What wasall that about?  Even after he left Number 10 it continued, with the press making untrue statements about his financial affairs in the face of the huge amounts he gives to charity.  They say Gordon’s to blame for the crash. Take a moment here. Gordon was to blame for a GLOBAL crash: hardly likely. And note how this mirrors the Tories’ mantra. By way of contrast, note the real facts of the current economy: an economy that was growing when the coalition took over is now in such a bad state that George Osborne will have borrowed more in three years than Labour did in thirteen.

But you won’t hear about any of that on the airwaves or in the papers.

So much for the history. What’s happening now? And here we come to Ed Miliband and reports that he is on the slide. What’s the backdrop to this
Remember the personal attack by The Mail on Ed Miliband’s father? All the political parties felt uncomfortable with it. It was cruel. It was callous. It was personal. But the conscience of the nation was stirred!  Over 70% of the population disagreed with it.  It was timed after Labour’s conference; apparently to inflict maximum damage. Yet people saw through it. Didn’t stop the Mail though, with a reporter intruding at a private memorial service for Ed’s uncle.The Mail was forced to apologise: but note the personal nature of these attacks.

And now they are back ahead of the local elections this week, with both Newsnight and Channel 4 News ‘discussing’ Ed’s ‘image problem’

Is this really the BIG issue for Britain? We have people being forcibly moved out of their homes, or having to move as they are unable to pay for the bedroom tax. They are having to move away from family and their support networks. Families are being referred by professional health and social care agencies to collect food from foodbanks. Yesterday Ed launched his vision for tackling low pay. Hardly mentioned.  Isn’t this an insult to all those people who work for a pittance, experiencing a daily struggle to pay their way?  We have a government that is regularly castigated for providing false statistics. And all these issues go largely unreported.

One of those invited to pick over Ed’s image on Newsnight was Lorraine Candy, acting editor of Elle magazine. While she agreed that there is some importance in image, she went on to say that – surely – policies are more important. And it took a fashion editor to make the most important comment in the whole item:

‘I don’t want to go to the pub with the man who’s going to run the country, I want someone incredibly clever to run this country and to make me feel safe’.

We know that there are still people in the Labour Party who would prefer ‘the other Miliband’.  They are like the Tories are still hark back to the halcyon days of Margaret Thatcher.

Well, here’s a message for those who seem to enjoy mulling over what could have been: times have changed. Lessons have been learnt. It’s time to move on, guys. It’s not 1997. We’ve moved on almost 20 years ! It’s fast approaching 2015 and a General Election. And the issues the country faces are not – surprisingly – about you and your wounded egos. We know what that’s like – we’ve felt it before too.  But we are facing very different problems and we need policies for today not yesterday!  Ed Miliband has led the political agenda since Conference last September.  The Tories and the Lib Dems have been scurrying around playing ‘catch up’!  And no, Ed is not courting the media. As with the banks, he recognised that the press needs a new form of regulation. Maybe this recognition is one reason for the hostility towards him by some parts of the media.

But sometimes one has to stand up for what is right.

So what have the press got against the direction in which Ed is taking the Labour Party?

Perhaps it’s his commitment to scrapping the bedroom tax, or providing extra funding for childcare, or offering an integrated health and social care programme. The latest policy to reach us is that he’s committed to tackling low pay.  Perhaps these aren’t issues of interest to those who work for the Beeb or The Times?

Is it that simple or is there more to it? Is it that Ed didn’t go to the same school? That he isn’t a member of the Carlton Club? That he doesn’t offer the kind of privileged access available to an attendee at one of David Cameron’s £50,000 a go supper clubs? That he isn’t ‘one of them’?  Tax breaks for millionaires will not be offered while others go without food, heat and – for some -even a roof over their heads.

But guess what? There is a world outside the London and Westminster bubbles; a world where the majority of British people didn’t go to public school, where they have never heard of the Carlton Club. Is our media so completely out of touch; out of touch in a way that mirrors the privileged outlook of the politicians who are currently running the country?

The discussion in recent weeks has become seriously silly. We need to get back to what really matters.

Image does not change people’s lives – policies do!

Politics is simply a game to many in the media. The focus is on selling papers or viewing figures. Whether the reporting is true or whether it’s cruel doesn’t appear to matter.

Remember Hackgate? Well, the phone hacking trial might not be in the press but it is still taking place.Take a look at the pressreform website – it’ll keep you updated on something that, strangely, the press don’t seem that interested in…

Of course,as Ed pointed out during his speech in the summer of 2011,  there are many journalists who work within an ethical boundary, bringing us the information that they and we feel the public has a right to know. But when you are watching TV or reading the newspapers, it’s worth asking ‘who benefits’ from an agenda designed to distract us from the real debate about policies for the future that this country needs.

We need a government that speaks for the many not the few, that challenges vested interests and the power of the rich. And there is the possibility of that under the leadership of Ed Miliband who knows what the problem is in Britain and – crucially – what to do to fix it.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Gove has squandered £millions! Labour can and must do better!

Mags Waterhouse published on Labour Left website May 2014

Late on Friday evening I watched the Rolling Stones’ concert from last year.  They might not be as young as they were but they were as raw and as exciting as ever.   How have they endured their enthusiasm, their level of energy and determination to put on such an outstanding performance ?

It made me think of the level of determination and enthusiasm so many of our teachers and headteachers give to the education of our children day in, day out.  After all a classroom is a theatre of sorts - teachers learn and rehearse the points they need to get across.   At the end of the school day teachers are on hand to talk to parents who might need to ‘have a word’.  Then prep starts for the next day.  Not to mention marking and/or writing up pupil bookets.  All this goes on day in, day out,  with very few accolades thrown their way.  School commenced us all on a journey of learning.  Let’s face it, life is a learning experience.  But for some, learning is better for some than for others.

Late on Saturday night I looked at the papers to learn that Mr. Gove has been taking money from local authority schools to fund one of his educational pet projects - Free Schools.   And was informed that the sum taken turns out to be  £440million !!   To further disgruntle us, we discover that after two years 70% of free schools are not full and about a third were opened in areas where they were not  needed.   Cameron has today been forced to defend Michael Gove and Labour has hit out describing 'ideological vandalsim'.  Sounds about right!  

Made me wonder what the success rate is for free schools in comparison to LA schools - and here we are given some insight.    I would have hoped for much better because I want the best for our children in school - this is clearly not good news.  I would have expected better too after all the bluster and hype from the Secretary of State for Education.

After some research my attention was drawn to the Conservative chair of the House of Commons education select committee, Graham Stuart, who said  “we have ministers trying to run schools from a desk in Whitehall".  It seems that more than half of secondary schools are now being run centrally.  Where is the local accountability ?  There is none for the Free Schools programme.   Here is a Hansard Report from January this year when MPs were asking questions of Michael Gove about schools in their constituencies trying to elucidate facts about schools which their constituents’ children attend. As you cursor down the page you will see that Debbie Abrahams requests information about Oldham Six Form College where funding is being cut by 17.5% without any consultation.  There lay a clue !  Doubtless there are others. £440m worth !

We cannot be against change for change’s sake but clearly there are problems.  The education of our children is of paramount importance which is one reason why I decided to write this blog.  One thing I learned as a Governor, and later as Chair of Governors where more involvement is required, is that whilst we may need to keep addressing the way education is delivered, changes should only be made for very good reason - for the sake of children’s learning experience and achievement.  Change can be very good but is often extremely disruptive and recently parents have indicated that they are concerned too.  It’s always good to see success !  However, if an idea proves to be unsuccessful then Ministers should be brave enough to accept that.  Education is not about them - it’s about our children and their futures!

Then there are the other issues of accountability eg where funds have been misappropriated.  

As if all this isn’t enough, we have recently learned that 25 schools in Birmingham are  under investigation following 200 complaints received by the council in relation to allegations of Islamist 'takeovers' with similar concerns in Bradford and I gather, other cities.  So problems exist in schools that are not free schools but there is a level of transparency and in those circumstances there are already plans in place to investigate. Local people look at local issues. They understand their locality, their population and communities - and will take these issues into account when resolving any problems that occur.

The whole episode about free schools appears to have drawn the most serious split that we have seen in the coalition so far so this is not to be taken lightly.  Although let’s not forget that Nick Clegg and colleagues were happy to vote Michael Gove’s education policies through.
Labour has given some indication of where it is going with education. I would love to be able to embrace but I have not received any positive comments.    It has even been described as merely Gove’s policy with frills!  Ouch.

Michael Rosen, Professor of Children's Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, has put together some thoughts which take us into other issues and lead us to ask 'where are the deeds?' and ‘who gave permission for publicly owned land and assets to be seized?’   Serious questions and one further question -  who is scrutinising ?

If Labour is elected in 2015,  I feel we should make Free Schools accountable in some local way eg within the Local Authority - there is such a wealth of experience there and such action would fit in with Ed Miliband’s devolution programme. The Free School project is an experiment of this coalition government.   All children should benefit from public funding of education.   Only then will we really know what is happening in our schools.   Almost by accident we learn more about free schools each day.  Even MPs do not receive straightforward answers from Ministers so how are the rest of us to fare ?
I am not convinced by Mr. Gove’s model.   And I am not alone in this thinking.  Hopefully this gives me, and others, some hope that Tristram Hunt is going in the right direction.

So what can David Axelrod do for us ?

by Mags Waterhouse  published on Labour Left website April 2014

Clearly we’re a different kettle of fish to the US..  we’re not electing a President for one thing but I’m certainly hoping that we’ll be electing a Prime Minister.    I’m sure that some of what happened there can be modified to suit our Labour campaign here in the UK. One thing for sure - David Axelrod is one big fish !  

From before Obama was first elected, I became a British Friend of Obama.  David Axelrod was the strategist and his name became very familiar to me.   I received many emails, keeping me informed of the campaign, telling me the difference that Obama could make to the lives of ordinary Americans.  The campaign was vibrant to say the least - equating to the campaigns that we normally run in the UK it was a shock not just a surprise.  But it worked.  Remember how many people became involved?  But I won’t say too much about the nature of that campaign as similarities will start to unwind here and become very real.  There could be treats in store too ?!   (Don’t you disappoint me David !!)  

And I don’t think this will be just about the election - important though this clearly is - it will be about our futures.  Following the Collins Report we are looking at the future of the Labour Party and how it will develop.  We are also looking at the future of Britain and how that will develop!  We need to build a movement and I think David Axelrod’s campaign will also help us to do that.  He’s the expert !

If you’re not already involved this is the time to get involved.   I don’t need to tell you that the last thing that Britain needs is a Tory govt with more goodies and tax breaks for the millionaires at the top whilst many others struggle with their lives.  There really isn’t any option but to get involved - unless you want to wake up on 8th May and discover that we have a Tory govt who really are not interested in people like us !  This last four years has been a testament to that - you don’t need any more proof do you ?!   

I present Mr David Axelrod :

‘This is the Leadership Britain Needs’; or Why We Picked the Right Miliband

co-authored with Bev Clack and published in the Huffington Post and on Labour Left website Feb 2014
At one point in his 2013 speech to Labour conference, Ed Miliband made the claim that his was the leadership that Britain needs.

At the time, this sounded a tad optimistic. After all, Miliband had struggled to find his footing as Labour leader, with some peaks and troughs as he sought to find his voice.

To say that the months since that conference last September have seen him take massive steps towards realising that claim would be an understatement. In the same speech, Ed focused on ‘the cost of living crisis,’ drawing attention to the struggles that accompany the experience of falling wages and rising prices. It is this crisis that continues to dominate the political agenda and which hasn’t gone away, despite Tory hopes that better economic forecasts would lead people to ignore their own struggling finances.

Drawing attention to the cost of living was only the start.

Ed’s speech on what a One Nation Economy would look like focused on the paucity of an old economic model that has failed. In place of trickle down economics, he mapped out an industrial policy fit for the 21st century. Forget a Labour government that just fiddles at the margins of things: this was a strategy for shaping a new economy and a responsive banking system.

Last week, in his Hugo Young lecture he turned his attention to public services. This did far more than set out an agenda for public sector reform: the focus was on a 21st century socialism that takes the humanity of each person seriously, and that through deferring power to local communities enables the humanising of state systems of support.

And now, in the wake of yet more devastating floods, Ed’s taking the lead on the environmental crisis we are facing. Not enough just to stare at floods or to offer measures that will cope with the current crisis but which fail to address the root causes of such events: Ed is showing how Labour will offer policies that address urgently the challenges of climate change.

If this isn’t the leadership Britain needs, what is? Does anyone seriously think David Miliband would have been as bold and creative in his direction of travel for the party? Come off it. Triangulation and the old arts of the Blairite dinosaurs are no longer relevant for shaping a Labour government of the future. Times have changed. Out of necessity we have moved on. This is what happens. If a political party is not to die on its feet, it has to respond to changing circumstances. And this is what Ed has done brilliantly through an agenda for root and branch change which addresses the challenges we face from the financial crisis, the ecological crisis and, importantly, the crisis of trust in politics.

So what about the next steps for his leadership?

It is wonderful to see Ed become the leader that not just Labour needs, but the leader that this country needs. And, as we’re sure Ed would agree, he – and Labour – need to go further.

Labour’s Education policies are still not good enough. While it would be harsh to call them ‘Gove-lite’, the emphasis remains on the bureaucracy of registering teachers and the blind belief in parent power. And while it is great to see Liam Byrne challenging the Government’s handling of Higher Education, his emphasis is still on education as a driver for the economy, rather than a good in and of itself.

Our education policies at present are too technical with too little vision about the difference education can make to the richness of people’s lives. Our children and young people deserve a creative strategy that will take them forward, not back to Victorian days which is where Michael Gove’s agenda is taking them. Decades ago we discovered that his preferred model didn’t work. Why repeat the failures of the past? We live in a fast moving world and therefore need an education model for today which will prepare our children and young people for tomorrow.

It is essential at this point to mention Tristram Hunt crossing that picket line of UCU, Unison and Unite members, who were striking for Fair Pay in Higher Education.  Hunt must understand that this dispute matters because it is about a fundamental unfairness in pay. When those at the top award themselves – as Vice Chancellors have done – with pay rises in the region of 8%, and expect the rest to show pay restraint by settling for 1%, that cannot be right. We know that the discrepancy between the wages of those at the top and those at the bottom are at their widest for a very long time. Hunt’s failure to engage with this particular dispute flies in the face of Ed’s commitment to take on inequality, as well as his commitment to tackling the lack of responsibility shown by those at the top.

For Hunt not to get how important a show of solidarity is in the wake of these commitments is, frankly, staggering.

Given that in two weeks time the party meets at a Special Conference in London on Party Reform, Hunt’s actions could not have come at a worse time. If Labour is to show its commitment to include union members in the decision making of the party, shadow ministers must show that they are on the side of rank and file trade unionists and that they share their struggle for better working conditions. This is perhaps the most elementary lesson of our socialism.

That Hunt doesn’t get these struggles raises the problem of accommodating what we might call the neo-liberal wing of the party: those who still believe in the old diktats of Blairism (where the private is good and the public bad; where bankers are to be courted and favours bestowed: a strategy that has resulted in Labour failing to challenge the vested interest of corporate business;
where the appeal to the aspirational middle class is made at the expense of all else).

Eventually, for Ed’s mission to change Britain to succeed, he will have to take on the money Lord Sainsbury has spent at promoting this old agenda. If this is not done, the voice of a small part of the party will continue to have a disproportionate influence on party policy which distorts the clarity of Ed’s agenda for change. Instead of concentrating on exclusivity, we need to concentrate on inclusivity - a Labour Party where all voices count, regardless of income or status.

As Ed takes Labour forward there will be other steps to take along the way.

The issue of how policy is made is vital. Ed has been extremely vocal in raising the issue of what makes for a more representative politics, promoting the need for diversity in our elected representatives that reflects the diverse nature of 21st century Britain. His comments on the need for gender parity in parliament reflect this concern. His style of leadership is particularly attractive to women: less macho, more consensual. His commitment to more women MPs is excellent.

But how many women are there in Ed’s circle of advisors? Certainly, too few of the key figures heading up our policy reviews are women. If the commitment to a more representative Labour party is to be real, this discrepancy must be addressed in order that our policies reflect the interests of a broad range of people, not just a few. This broadening out of the party base and, crucially, the hearing of all voices, will undoubtedly be part of the journey that Labour takes in the months ahead.

In making these critical comments, we are concerned only to push that Milibandite agenda forward. We believe that the path Ed has set out is a good one, and that it is one that will take him to Number 10 in 2015.

And that Government promises much, for with this kind of leadership, Ed’s government can rival 1945 in terms of its legacy.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Harriet Harman, the NCCL & Liberty, the times..

Published on the Labour Left website 25th February 2014 Some thoughts..

In the 70s the NCCL was a libertarian organisation, in the best sense. It became a vehicle for free speech for everyone - and those who had been silenced by ‘The Establishment’ especially during and after the heady 60s welcomed this stance and the opportunies presented.

I remember some of the issues being tackled even though I was in my mid-late teens.  You might not be surprised to learn that I was interested in the changing times!  The BBC had treated us tothe daring spectacle of That Was the Day That Was - the first televised satirical challenge to 'The Establishment'.   We discovered we had an organisation, albeit appearing to be somewhat casual, that would formally attempt to challenge long held views and encourage free speech. I say casual as we must bear in mind that this was a whole new era.  There was no example to follow.  This was ground breaking stuff.

They were experimental times. Some were often shocked by what was happening around them -  I know my parents certainly were in the early days even the music and performance of the Rolling Stones in the late 60s early 70s was considered daring!  So when views were expressed that they did not agree with, but sometimes did, they felt confused.  Some issues appeared fair, some not so good and some they could not sign up to at all!

The NCCL evolved into Liberty, Shami Chakraborti being it’s present CEO.  We should be proud of the stance that this organisation has taken on many issues.  NCCL asked questions that previously hadn't seen the light of day.  I believe that without this organisation we would be a less tolerant society and although we would have probably have arrived at similar conclusions that we have, they would certainly have taken longer.   The gay community would have struggled far longer without it's assistance and courage.  I say courage because during those days courage was required to dare to be even a little bit different to the majority.   Many reading this will have little such understanding - merely accepting and enjoying the rights and freedoms they enjoy today.  Somewhat like the trade unions, those rights had to be fought for. NCCL was at the forefront of all that. It took risks, it was bold.   
Some examples of those times - in the US the rights of black people to travel on the same buses as white people were being challenged.  Civil rights = civil liberties.  We had our own problems in the UK - Enoch Powell had given his famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech. It disturbed many of us whilst similtaneously pleasing others. It had consequences - some immigrants feared for their lives.  Now we see vans telling immigrants to go home! Those were the early days of tackling inequaity as well as racism.  Bras were being burned and girls were reading Simone de Beauvoir - one of the first women authors to write about feminism.   Inequality between men and women still requires challenging.  I guess some issues are tough nuts to crack.. .. Old intolerances live on.

The contraceptive pill had become available and parents were no longer nervous of unwanted pregnancies but of  the sexual behaviour of their offspring, especially daughters.   CND - Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches had taken place on city streets across the UK.  Some agreed with them, some did not.  Abortion rights was another fight.  Increasingly our society was crying out for change at different levels within our lives.
Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey and Patricia Hewitt were young and intelligent.  Perhaps, like myself,  the first people within their families to go to University.   More new ground!  It must have been an exciting time to work at the NCCL. Questioning everything.  Don’t they all look young?

And a young newly qualified lawyer would certainly not have the voice nor the power to expel any organisation that had legally sought affiliation. Like many of us, questioning or not, she had a job to do and she had to get on with it !  Harriet Harman has made it quite clear that PIE had been pushed to the margins before she even went to the NCCL.  The campaign referred to took place in 1976.  Harriet Harman didn’t join NCCL until two years later.

In her interview Harriet Harman said that allegations by the Daily Mail are a smear. "They have accused me of being an apologist for child sex abuse, of supporting a vile paedophile organisation, of having a relaxed attitude to paedophilia and of watering down child pornography laws," she said. "These are horrific allegations and I strongly deny them all of them".  It is documented in several articles that Jack Dromey took on PIE in the late 70s when he was Chair of NCCL.  But it took five years for that organisation to finally expel them.  Were other forces at work ?  Did PIE have friends in high places - we are now aware of the Savile influence. Were they part of the same network ?   I doubt neither Harriet Harman nor Jack Dromey would have a clue. Like me they probably had no idea that such networks existed.  They were probably as naieve as the rest of us at that age and in those times.  We need some context here.
The Daily Mail says it is defiant.  It was defiant over Ed Miliband's father too !
Why bring this into the public domain now..   ?  I’ve seen this stuff before but it has never made the headlines.