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.

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

Co-written with Bev Clack and published in the Huffington Post February 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.

Monday, 9 December 2013

My brush with apartheid..

If you expected me to write ‘when I met Nelson Mandela..’ then I’m sorry, you’re going to be disappointed. I’m disappointed too as I would have loved to have met this great man. Words cannot fulfil my admiration for the fight, the stance and the sincere humility of this global statesman that billions of us have witnessed.  

My brushes with apartheid will probably not come across as earth shattering to you - but to me they were.  And I share them just to convey that many small acts can result in something quite magnificent.   

At one point in my career,  I was responsible for organising the undergraduate medical tutorials,  ward teachings etc., at Leeds University and, perhaps surprisingly, this is where my first brush with apartheid occurred.  The University had just taken on it’s first South African Research Fellow in Cardiology and part of his contract was to undertake some clinical teaching duties.  On his first morning with us, during our mid-week meeting, he was offered a coffee.   He left it on the table.  He chose to remain standing.   After the meeting I asked him if he would like some tea, assuming he might prefer that to coffee. He asked me if I was having one and when I said no, he said ‘then I will please’.   That seemed a strange answer..  it’s usually ‘if you’re having one I’ll have one’ !  But not on that occasion and that is because I am white and he was black.  He had difficulty in drinking or eating with other people who were white.  This seemed unbelievable.  Later he asked me where the loo was ‘for people like me’.   I was truly shocked.  Later that day I shared my experience with a colleague.  We could not believe that such laws existed - this was the 70s after all !  We had survived the swinging 60s so surely there was nothing left to battle !  How wrong we were !  We were ignorant and clearly not at all wordly wise. We quickly read up on South Africa !   After some time I’m pleased to say that as a result of many kindnesses shown to him, our Research Fellow settled into his job and shared our lives. He extended his stay and then went on to the USA.  He didn’t think he could settle back in SA under apartheid.  What a loss to that country !

That summer, during a visit to London,  I happened to meet Bishop Trevor Huddleston.  He was very engaging - we shared mutual friends. He’d just returned from South Africa. My ears picked up and I told him of my experience with our Research Fellow. He confirmed how restrictive movement was for the black South African community and gave me further examples - their lives were complicated, often victims of brutality and all in all their lives sounded horrendous.   Trevor then told me about Soweto and the living conditions that black people were subjected to.  I really had no idea.  There was no internet back then !  I remember that instead of going to bed having had a wonderful evening, I went to bed and cried. How could this be allowed to happen.. ?  When I got back to Leeds some of us began an appeal to send medicines and bandages to Soweto.

My next career move was to Leeds City Council.  During the interview I was asked what I knew about LCC.  I said that I’d read they had decided to take a stand against apartheid, which I applauded.  I was successful in my application and during my time there I was asked to draw up a list of  imports from South Africa.  Remember, there was no internet back in the 80s - it was not such an easy task !  But I was determined and drew up a list of mainly foods the UK imported and then presented this to a committee.   This would have a marked effect as there were many schools, nurseries, children’s homes, elderly person’s homes.. etc    The Government of the day had decided not to boycott goods from South Africa and a group called Local Authorities Against Apartheid was established - they actively boycotted South African products.  Much of this went hand in hand with what Labour was doing too and also campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela and for majority rule in SA. Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and we know the rest ! When Nelson Mandela visited the UK in 2001, he visited Leeds.  Thousands turned out.  Unfortunately I was away on holiday - hardly good timing !

So having shockingly discovered apartheid by hearing first hand from those who had lived and worked in South Africa, I had actually been given the opportunity in a very small way to bring it to an end.  I was just a small cog in a very big wheel but I feel privileged to have been given that small piece of work.  I feel I can say ‘I did something’.

We have been lucky - we have witnessed the life and magnificent examples that the irrepressible Nelson Mandela has gifted to us.  One of his strongest beliefs was in equality.  As we look around us, and see what’s happening within our society, I’d like to think that’s something we can all hang onto and try to bring about. Respect and determination can work wonders !

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Top Ten Tips for Labour Tweeters

co-written with Bev Clack and published on the Labour Left website December 2013 

The next election will be the social media election.

Don’t take our word for it: Labour’s Michael Dugher, in charge of communications for the 2015 election campaign made this clear last weekend.

This is exciting – it has the power to take out of the campaign the Tories advantage in terms of a traditional broadcast and print media that is largely hostile to Labour. The influence of big budgets for campaigns is also likely to be less significant in achieving electoral victory in a multimedia age.

But there is also a challenge here to which Labour activists and supporters must rise. As Dugher says, “People have turned off and tuned out of politics. The big challenge for all of us is to change the way we communicate.”

One of the most powerful tools in this changed form of communication will undoubtedly be twitter. Twitter has proved itself to be a power for good and ill, as Labour bloggers like Emma Burnell have pointed out in recent discussions of the way it has been utilised to promote misogyny and bullying


A powerful tool, indeed; and one that for political campaigning can be used effectively and ineffectively.

To this end, Labour activists - and particularly the party’s MPs and the central party machine – need to learn how to use it to the best advantage.

At the moment, the party and its MPs could do with some concerted lessons on how best to use it. There are some MPs who have got it totally: step forward the MP stars of the medium: Tom Watson, Jamie Reed, Stella Creasy, Ed Balls and Teresa Pearce. All of them, in different ways, could run Masterclasses for the rest about how to use it well.

The Labour Press Office, too, has a way to go in learn how to tweet well.

At the risk of sounding like we are moving into consultancy, here are Mags and Bev’s Top Ten Tips for Labour Tweeters:

1 Hashtags matter
This is vital if you are not just to be speaking to yourself and your followers – who, we suspect, are likely to be singing from the same lefty hymn sheet. For example, #bedroomtax #poverty #NHS #EtonSchool #childcare – all hashtags that will connect you to others concerned about these issues.

2 Resist the urge to parrot the party line
It simply confirms the view that most people have of politicians as unimaginative clones. Put things in your own words: after all, it is always better to speak for yourself than mouth the words of others.

3 Keep it real
If you really want to connect with people it is no good coming across as a party hack. People rightly want more from their representatives. We might bemoan the fact that we live in a celebrity age. But – as feminists have known for years – ‘the personal is political’, so express your thoughts and interests from time to time: it reminds others that you are human.

4 Use the speed of Twitter to rebut allegations and to push Labour stories.
Tweet links that show where the government are misleading the public. And here the Labour Press Office must be much more proactive. An idea that emerged after this week’s PMQs was for a fact check of Cameron’s dodgy claims. This should be quickly available for activists and MPs to use before a story gets out of hand.

5 Have a list of sources to combat the government’s misinformation
Information is power, and we are all, doubtless, aware of how the government consistently uses misinformation to spread their message of how successful their policies are. One Labour twitter account has recently been established which provides factual information to assist in challenging the lies and half-truths used by the government: and this is @EvidenceUK. Let’s flood them with something they won’t like - the truth!

6 Hashtag your constituency
This is a good way of getting the message across to those who need to know what you and Labour stand for – in other words, the people who will vote for you and for Labour.

7 Engage in conversations with people
Don’t just ignore every tweet that comes your way. Politics is discursive and in engaging with people it helps to show how Labour is relevant to people’s lives.

8 Don’t feed the trolls
Don’t waste too much time communicating with those who have no interest in a proper conversation. They are out to waste our time and prevent us from doing what we need to do to get Labour elected.

9 Avoid tweeting when tired and emotional
While it is tempting to think that this is precisely the best time to tweet, it probably doesn’t help the party’s cause.   One important thing to remember - perhaps not peddle unsubsantiated claims..   Probably best not to tweet when you’ve had one drink too many, feel hungry, just had a row, or are unhappy with your energy bill…  Let’s be positive - this way we can win!

10 Don’t expect someone else to get Labour’s message out
Cameron might not use this discredited phrase anymore, but when it comes to campaigning in this new world, we are all in this together, and the communication of the party’s message will be down to all of us

Today, Ed Miliband launched his ‘election war room’, setting out the party’s plans to make this a campaign based on social media and the more traditional tools of grassroots campaigning.

And for Labour to win, all of us - MPs, councillors, activists and supporters - have got to get much more savvy about the media tools open to us than we are at present.

NHS Reforms: A Catalogue of Disasters Is Gaining Momentum

co-written with Bev Clack and published in the Huff Post UK 22nd January 2012
Last week, we learned that not only are vast swathes of the general public feeling nervous about the Conservative's Healthcare Reform Bill, but so are healthcare professionals.
Several healthcare unions have started to sharpen their scalpels.
The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives previously said they were willing to work with ministers. This week they expressed their concerns so strongly that they are now saying they want the bill to be dropped entirely .
Back in November the BMA Council passed a motion expressing its "opposition to the whole Health and Social Care Bill" and called for a public campaign of opposition.
The BMA went further in its opposition, announcing that two-thirds of doctors were in favour of striking over pay and pensions. This hasn't happened in 40 years. Dr Hamish Meldum pointed to the unfairness of the government's position, noting that: "Doctors are at the forefront of attempts to save the NHS £20 billion, while trying to protect patient care... and are about to enter a fourth successive year of a pay freeze."
Doctors and paramedics are being asked to work longer for less pay and for changes to their pension scheme. Taken in tandem with the Health Reform Bill, these changes appear to be 'the last straw' for the BMA.
Given this wave of fresh criticism, how did health secretary Andrew Lansley choose to respond? The unions, he said, were simply playing politics, wanting to 'have a go' at the government about pay and pensions.
Really, Mr Lansley?
Two example we were told about personally last week show hospital staff feeling the strain of the cuts imposed by the government.
• Nurses in an outpatient clinic where the clinic over-ran and another clinic was about to begin had worked from 8.30am until almost 6.00pm. They were so busy they had to stand in the corridor to eat their lunch. One nurse confessed that she was feeling "a bit agitated". Who could blame her? Is there a correlation between such working practices and claims that nurses are not so caring anymore?
• An elderly woman requiring help with feeding and other personal care needed her husband to visit her in hospital more often, as nursing staff seemed unable to cope with such duties. Living in a rural area, he could not afford to visit her each day because of high petrol prices and expensive hospital parking charges. Considerable anxiety arose from the struggle to balance these conflicting demands.
No doubt we all could tell similar worrying stories.
But how are we to understand them? Do such tales reflect bad management, or do they come out of £20billion of cuts that the NHS is having to find?
Every day brings new stories that challenge the claim of a free health service safe in Tory hands.
Dame Joan Ruddock MP recently shared her concerns in the House of Commons. She had received information from inside London's King's College Hospital that priority was being given to private cancer patients in both diagnosis and treatment. She asked Andrew Lansley if he could confirm or deny this. He spoke about the legalities before saying, "If the right hon. Lady has information of a particular instance, she might as well give it to me".
Fair point, you might think, but as Dame Joan said in response, Mr Lansley clearly didn't understand that the person with this information is terrified of putting it into the public domain for fear of the repercussions. After all, whistle blowers are not always treated kindly by their organisations.
A further example of the government's apparent obliviousness to this growing crisis in the health service arose at Prime Minister's Question Time last week.
David Cameron was asked about waiting times. He claimed there were no increases; if anything the numbers had decreased. Yet according to a report on Thursday, waiting times have increased by 43% since the coalition came to power. Department of Health data confirmed that three PCTs failed to treat 75% of patients within 18 weeks.
These figures are unlikely to improve when we also learn that 49% of hospital beds will be handed to the private sector. Less NHS beds can only mean longer waiting times.
If all this were not bad enough, late on Friday came a report from Yvette Cooper that a hospital based in her constituency had called for the army to help keep the hospital A & E Department open. Jon Trickett MP, in whose constituency the hospital also falls, said to the BBC. "A brand new hospital... with all the latest facilities... you have to wonder if there is a secret agenda."
Calling in the army is something that only happens in times of crisis.
Examples like this, coupled with public and professional anxieties about the government's plans for the health service suggest there is only one thing that Messrs Cameron & Lansley should do.
Drop the bill!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Labour's Moral Crusade in a Time of Auserity

co-written with Bev Clack and published in the Huff Post UK on 24th January 2012

From time to time, disaffected Labour voters ask what the Labour Party is for.
Even committed Labourites like ourselves feel it is an important question to ask.
It takes on a powerful new form as we slip evermore deeply into the age of austerity. The pressing issue of the day is the economy and how to reduce the deficit. Labour has been forthright in exposing the failure of Osborne's deficit reduction plan and the absence of any meaningful strategy for growth.
But the problem with a focus solely on financial matters is that it can act as a distraction from Labour's historic mission for social justice and the kind of real and lasting social change that will make Britain a country fit for all, not just the well off. Harold Wilson, not immediately remembered for his flights of rhetorical fancy, described Labour's mission well. 'Labour', he said, 'is a moral crusade or it is nothing'.
A moral crusade.
Yet much of our current political debate singularly fails to engage at all with what we might call the ethical aspects of politics and particularly with the ethics of deficit reduction.
Take the discussion on Newsnight that took place after the Lords had pushed through an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill that would exempt child benefit from the cap the government want to place on benefits.
Jeremy Paxman interviewed a Conservative MP, a shadow minister and a Bishop. The difference in language used by the three was staggering.
The Bishop of Leicester expressed concerns for people in his Diocese currently faced with the struggle to keep a roof over their heads as their housing benefit is cut.
Tory MP Margot James spoke about choice. This surprised even Jeremy Paxman - was there really a choice involved in keeping a home or losing it if you no longer had the money to pay the rent?
And how did Labour's Liam Byrne choose to respond? He did not talk about the ethics of promoting a policy that will leave many facing homelessness. He did mention homelessness, but he focused on the cost to the taxpayer of having to pay for emergency accommodation for those made homeless by the cap.
Now, he may well be right to raise this practical issue. But this focus on financial costs rather than morality suggests a peculiar problem for Labour. Obviously our plans have to be credible and costed. We are not flat earthers. But at the same time to talk only in such terms is to lose the vision of Labour's history while running the risk of developing a strategy that fails to acknowledge the stark inequalities that the government's flawed plan is exposing.
It was left to the Bishop to raise the issue of an increasingly unequal society, and he did so in unequivocally ethical language. He argued that the effect on the poorest in society seeing the richest gain at their behest is extremely damaging for a cohesive society.
Perhaps it would take a clergyman to make this connection, but it's disappointing that a shadow minister didn't.
There is something pathologically wrong with our society when we fail to look after poor families at the same time as sales in luxury diaries and letterheads are rocketing.
Reference is often made to the 'filthy rich' but let's make sure that we go after them with the same vigour Iain Duncan Smith is using to go after his undeserving poor. Let's chase them for their taxes and close those loopholes!
To take on the rich is not a sign of being anti-business. It's obviously the case that we need people to have ideas and to be entrepreneurs in order to provide employment and raise revenue. But if the inequality between rich and poor isn't addressed in a better and more systematic way, we will not escape the evils that money can bring.
Is it morally right to chase benefit claimants when the promised growth and jobs are not materialising? The UK desperately needs to see jobs created with the revenue that comes from workers paying taxes. Yet we should never forget that there are tax evaders who owe this country in excess of £40billion. If we need to focus on deficit reduction, presumably the HMRC bill will be looking to increase late payment for taxes too?
Labour should be wary of responding to the government's plans by offering new forms of micromanagement. "We would be better at making cuts" is a dangerous narrative to pursue. Labour's mission has to be more, and it has to involve speaking out for the vulnerable, the poor and the marginalised.
Thank goodness that there are members of the party who are doing just that. For without a message for a more ethical, more equal society, the Party fails in its mission to create a better and more hopeful Britain for all its citizens.

Education for Life in an Age of Auserity

co-written with Bev Clack and publishedin the Huff Post UK on 29th March 2012 
Across Europe, youth unemployment is rising. In Greece it stands at 40%; in Spain, 45%, in the UK, 20%.
Lying behind such statistics are young people struggling, and not just with the economic realities of unemployment but also with an uncomfortable truth.
Over the last 20 or so years, our education policies have focused on education as training for the world of work. The focus has been on attaining qualifications that will enable the student to get a good job. Education has become synonymous with skills training. Behind this model of education is the mantra that is fast being revealed for a lie: work hard, play by the rules, and the kingdom of heaven will be yours - or at least the status and money attending to a good, interesting and well-paid job.
If your education system preaches success and attainment, what do you do when confronted with failure and loss? And, importantly, what do you do when the myth of hard work leading to success is exposed as false?
We need to think again about the importance of considering failure and loss.
Creativity and insight invariably come out of encountering failure. New innovations come to light when things fail to work as we think they should, or when we are prepared to risk things failing in order to try something out. Everyday life teaches us that when something goes wrong, we have to be creative in order to find an alternative.
As we go through life, we continually encounter failure: even if we are not always that good at facing up to our own failings and failures. Some of us deal with this uncomfortable fact of life rather better than others. Failure can be sometimes serious, sometimes not. At some point during a dilemma a spark appears and off we go. And how rewarding it is when we find an answer or a way through!
Real education requires cultivating risk-taking; helping students to try things out that might not actually work. A system that is only interested in achieving high grades will not be able to accommodate the kind of bravery necessary to give something a go, regardless of whether it leads to success or not. The opening up of thoughts and ideas should be encouraged - without fostering such creative thinking an education can be an empty experience. 

An entire generation has been sold a myth about the uses of education. The function of education linked only to the world of employment ignores its richer possibilities. Education enables you to think about the nature of your life and what you want to do with it. It should - at its best - act as the gateway to the rest of your life.
In a time of social and economic upheaval, we need a new approach to education that sees it as the sphere for realising what Liverpool University's Panayiota Vassilopoulou calls the three educational virtues: bravery, creativity and patience. When our young people leave school or University and have only a one in five chance of finding a job, perhaps only part-time work being available, wouldn't it be a good idea to develop an education system based on these principles?
It's time for some creative thinking.
At the outset, we should revisit the idea that attaining qualifications is all that matters and all that schools or universities should address. The league table culture encourages a tick box mentality where all that matters are statistics, not the experience of the young people who are being educated and learning about life for themselves. A different kind of qualification regime - perhaps along the lines of the high school certificate - might enable that richer model of what education can achieve to be advanced.
And then we must turn to the scandal of youth and graduate unemployment.
Should we consider a shorter working week so that all school or University leavers are able to gain some employment? Addressing the fact that some have too much work and some too little or none would enable all to have the space, the ability and permission to address the part of their lives that is not taken up with the working day.
Accepting high levels of youth unemployment fails to address the independence and responsibility for their lives that young people yearn for. Shouldn't we be encouraging those things and activities that enrich young people's lives?
At the other end of the spectrum, older people are being expected to work longer. How realistic is this? Imagine someone nearer the age of 70 teaching young primary school children for almost seven hours a day, five days per week. Individuals should be allowed to have time and energy at that stage in their lives where there priorities will, inevitably, have changed: they might, for example, have a caring role at home. And by allowing for retirement, more jobs would be made available for younger people.
Neither of us pretends to be an economist, and we realise that economically a shift of this kind wouldn't be initially easy, but given the rising unemployment figures perhaps we all need to be realistic about the long term future and what is on offer for the medium term. But such realism is not to be equated with denying that things can be different. These difficult times must act as a source for new thinking about education, work and life itself. For these things are interconnected, and, if balanced in the right way, act as the basis for a better kind of life for all.

Post-Olympic Labour Policy

co-written with Bev Clack and published in the Huff Post UK on 1st August 2012

Almost universal praise has greeted Danny Boyle's Olympic extravaganza. By turns moving, funny, surprising and bonkers, at the heart of his vision of Britain was the history of the British people, their struggles and achievements.
The words projected round the Olympic stadium encapsulated this vision: "this is for everyone."
As Labour develops its policies, the party should pay particular attention to this event and take heart from this bold and ebullient celebration of the collective will.
The acclaim greeting this vision is yet another indication that the self-centred politics of the last 30 odd years is no longer resonating with the majority of people. That a few individuals can live off the fat of the land -and more importantly, the labour of others - is not longer deemed acceptable as trickle down economics are proved - yet again - not to work.
What Boyle celebrated wasn't the odd individual - be they an inventor, a writer, or a monarch. (The notable exception, perhaps, was Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the world wide web whose refusal to patent his invention enabled an amazing gift to the world to transform it.) Boyle celebrated the British people in all their marvellous diversity.
It was a celebration of the collective will, exemplified in the creation of the NHS - a sequence that led to 'NHS' being chanted in pubs.
What Boyle got at was the joy inherent in collective action and community.
Labour needs to build on this sense of joy in developing its policies. The questions we should ask revolve around how we should cultivate that sense of togetherness; how we can best foster an inclusive society. And given that the failure of Osbornomics will leave any incoming Labour govt with massive questions about how to kick-start a failing economy, we need to work on fostering the power of that joint will.
It is often said that the NHS itself was created in the face of post-war debts. True. Austerity is not inevitable. If we have the will we can create a fair Britain.
What Boyle's Greatest Show on Earth showed was the possibilities of taking seriously - and joyfully - Tim Berner-Lee's injunction that "this is for everyone." How better to describe the socialist alternative to Cameron's failed attempt at the drabness and conformity of an austerity culture.