Monday, 28 September 2015

Unite boss attacks Trades Union Bill as unnecessary and illiberal.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference today Len McCluskey leader of the UNITE trades union likened the government's Trades Union Bill to the sort of tactics used against organised labour by the Nazis, as reported by the BBC.

He told delegates the bill was 'an unnecessary, illiberal and spiteful attack on free trades unionism' and went on to say they should 'remember that's what the Nazis did- trades unionists in the concentration camps at Dachau- made to wear armbands with red triangles.'

Mr McCluskey said that he would not be wearing an armband when he supported UNITE members on the picket line.

The bill also doubles the notice period for unions calling strikes from seven to fourteen days and would allow employers to use agency staff to break strikes.

The government has expressed concerns about the legitimacy of strike ballots based on turnouts, Mr McCluskey and UNITE have offered to work with ministers on this issue in return for reform on how votes are carried out.

In his speech he said that if government concerns over strike ballots were genuine they should end the 'archaic and undemocratic reliance on postal votes and give trades unionists the right to secure, secret workplace balloting.'

A Department for Business spokesperson told the BBC today the changes to trades union laws weren't 'about banning strikes' but there was a need to 'get the balance right between the interests of trades unionists and the interests of the majority of people who rely on important public services.'

The Trades Union Bill passed its first parliamentary hurdle earlier this month with a majority of just thirty three votes.

The rhetoric used by Len McCluskey was of a sort that has almost vanished from Labour Party conferences, relegated to fringe meetings for the discontented during the slickly scripted years under Blair and Brown as the conference became a glorified trade show. Now with the advent of Jeremy Corbyn it is suddenly centre stage again as the party tries to reconnect with its roots.

Invoking the Nazis is a somewhat dodgy debating tactic, their methods and the crimes that resulted from them were unique; but look beyond that and it is possible to see that the UNITE leader has a valid point.

The proposed changes to trades union laws could take industrial relations in this country into a dark place that few of us would wish to visit.

Do we want of live in a country where working people exercising one of their democratic rights have to inform the police before doing so? How about one where one group of workers can be drafted in to break a strike by another?

In countries that operate on such a basis trade and most other things are seldom free. Liberty is a delicate organism, exposure to poorly drafted laws can do it fatal harm.

There is a distinct sense that the Trades Union Bill is just such a law, badly thought out and seemingly aimed at fighting battles from the 1980's not addressing the economic problems of the twenty first century. It is certainly an odd position for a Tory party that claims to be on the side of working people to be seeking to dilute some of their most fundamental rights.

If any of the other three candidates had won the Labour leadership contest the party would have made concerned noises about the dismantling of worker's rights; but done precious little to halt the bill's progress. You get the impression that the new, old, Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn intends to fight it every step of the way as a matter of principle.

In the long run that could be a good thing not just for the right of working people to withdraw their labour; but for the freedoms we all enjoy.


Friday, 25 September 2015

Times they are a changing for the party of solutions.

Addressing their party conference in Bournemouth today Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said that there could be no going back to the failed twentieth century solution of perpetual growth.

Politics was, she said, 'heading towards an understanding of social justice' as pressure grows against the 'disastrous' austerity policies of the government.

In a confident and combative speech Natalie Bennett paid tribute to the work done in the commons by Green MP Caroline Lucas and in the Lords by Jenny Jones and also the work of Green Party councillors around the country.

The party had, she said, plans to build on the solid foundations laid during the general election campaign to increase the number of Green councillors at the 2016 local elections.

Throughout her speech Ms Bennett stressed the bottom up nature of the green movement emphasising the role the party has played working with local groups campaigning against austerity and climate change. The Greens were, she said, the 'natural home of the community campaigner.'

She contrasted this with other parties, particularly Labour, in local government who often present as remote and in thrall to vested interests.

Despite being critical of some Labour councillors she welcomed the election of Jeremy Corbyn, citing it along with the success of the SNP as a sign that politics is moving in a more progressive direction.

She also drew attention to the rise of Syrize in Greece and the 'surge' in membership of the Green Party as grounds for optimism that a more people focussed style of politics may be possible.

The biggest change needed though to bring progressive politics into the mainstream in the UK, she suggested, was to the voting system. Ms Bennett called on new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to join with her in campaigning for the introduction of proportional representation, a move that could see the Green representation at Westminster rise to 25 MPs

Ms Bennett attacked the government for its austerity policies and the damage they have done to the lives of vulnerable people, the continued privatisation of public services and its failure to address climate change.

Attracting the biggest round of applause of the whole speech she called on party members to organise public meetings in their communities to highlight the importance of making climate change central to policy making.

The environment also featured prominently when Ms Bennett spoke about what had brought her into politics. A growing feeling based on her training as a scientist that something needed to be done to defend a fragile planet attacked from every side by greed and exploitation.

She spoke about how she was the only leader involved in the election debates who brought environmental issues to the table saying this 'needs to change and change now.'

This was a confident speech delivered by the leader of a party with much to be confident about. Membership is growing and a solid performance in the general election, even if that didn't translate into seats won has brought increased media attention.

The surprising election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader has shifted politics away from spin and towards substance. That is something Natalie Bennett with her no nonsense style and clearly demonstrated convictions has to spare.

The Greens, she told the conference were the 'party of solutions' that believes in a fairer future. As a fresh round of austerity measures hit public services more people could turn to them as an alternative to tired mainstream parties trapped in the past.


Sunday, 20 September 2015

It is never OK to tweet sick jokes about dead refugees.

This is how it used to go back in the day, there would be a horrific disaster somewhere in the world and within a day or so there would be dozens of 'sick' jokes doing the rounds in the playground.

It wasn't big or clever, but we all did it before we grew up and developed some sensitivity. At best you could say it was a case of testing the boundaries of what is acceptable; at worst it was an object lesson in the crass stupidity of youth.

Richard Broughan, Ukip councillor for Abbey Hulton and Townsend is a bit long in the tooth for the playground, but, sadly it seems, not adult enough to have learnt to engage his brain before he tweets.

That would be why he decided it was acceptable to tweet #IsItOk to ask migrants to chill out following the Austrian refrigerated lorry incident, in reference to the death of a party of refugees on their way to Europe.

This spectacularly unfunny 'joke', he told the Sentinel, wasn't racist it was just his contribution to a debate on the TV comedy programme 'The Last Leg.' He went on to tell the paper the tweet had been 'misinterpreted' and that 'social media can be dangerous because there is no real line between a professional profile and a personal opinion.'

Talk about being wise after the event, Mr Broughan's late discovery of common sense hasn't done him any favours, he's been suspended from the council pending an investigation and may face disciplinary action from his party.

As to whether he's a racist only he can answer, he's certainly guilty of being thoughtless and immature, not to say more than a little dumb. Really can there be anyone in politics who hasn't grasped that in cyberspace everyone can hear you prattling on.

I have only encountered Mr Broughan in person once, it was during the election campaign and I wasn't much impressed by what I saw. It was before one of the candidates debates held at Staffordshire University, he was standing in the foyer having 'lunched well' as the sketch writer's euphemism has it and entertaining some friends with the sort of jokes that would have made Bernard Manning blush.

He came over as an almost amiable buffoon trying to validate himself by having others laugh at more than with him. Quite a sad way to behave, but more likely to be the product of insecurity than prejudice.

His antics do though through an unflattering spotlight once again on the ugly truth hidden behind the 'hail fellow well met' front put up by Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Put the words Ukip, scandal and comments into any search engine you like and a list of sordid incidents will fill the screen, each one usually ending in an apology, an expulsion and a pledge that nothing like this will ever happen again; until next time anyway, and there is always a next time.

The party described by its own leader as a collection of crackpots exhibits an unhealthy suspicion of anything that could be remotely seen as being 'other' to a very narrow vision of what it means to be English coupled with a total lack of sensitivity. As evidenced by the inability of many Ukip supporters to tell the difference between a mortal insult and a bit of 'banter.'

Richard Broughan has probably brought the curtain down on his political career before it has really begun, something over which we need shed no tears since he is the author of his own misfortune in 140 characters or less.

There is a saying that the unfortunate thing about political jokes is that they sometimes get elected, Richard Broughan's short and far from glorious tenure as a councillor will probably demonstrate how quick voters are to turn their backs on one when he proves to be painfully unfunny.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Now he's won Jeremy Corbyn must turn a fantasy into a meaningful challenge.

In the end they didn't so much count the votes as weigh them. On Saturday a once unimaginable outcome became an inevitability when Jeremy Corbyn was crowned as the new leader of the Labour Party.

Cue wild celebrations from his supporters, dire warnings from the press that he is about to drag the country back to the dark days of the seventies and a string of high profile resignations from the shadow cabinet. Yvette Cooper, Tristram Hunt and Chukka Umunna all too their respective balls home within hours of the result being announced.

This surprising win for the candidate who was only let into the race to make up the numbers presents both opportunities and pitfalls.

The biggest of these is a potential split between the keepers of the Blairite flame and the newly triumphant left wingers. Jeremy Corbyn promised during the campaign to reach out to all wings of the party, he must honour that promise now; this is no time for settling scores.

Humble pie is going to have to be on the menu at the victory banquet and at the gloomy gathering of New Labour types who think the sky fell in on their heads on Saturday morning. The Blairites have to accept the hand of reconciliation if it is offered to them, along with a portion of the blame for not connecting with the party's core vote or anyone else. For their part the left have to resist the urge to 'get even' with the people who have spent the past twenty years telling them to keep quiet.

Two big political set-pieces also loom for the new Labour leader, the first is his d├ębut at prime minister's questions on Wednesday. Corbyn has expressed a wish to share the duty of attending the weekly shouting match with other shadow cabinet members. Good luck with that, the glacial pace at which parliamentary procedure changes means that even if such an idea were to be implemented Mr Corbyn would probably be long gone.

He needs to play to his strengths, meaning adopting the quietly reasonable approach he has against his opponents in the leadership race. Getting drawn into the playground machismo of the event wouldn't suit Corbyn's style, anyway not responding to his inevitable provocations might just wrong foot citizen Dave.

If PMQ's is a hurdle making his first conference speech as party leader is an assault course daunting enough to scare a commando. Normally leaders spend months preparing to address conference and even then, as the efforts of Ed Milliband demonstrate often get it wrong. Jeremy Corbyn is going to have to deal with the equivalent of an understudy being given ten minutes to scan the text before going on as Hamlet.

Again the best course is for him to stick to the tried and tested routine, namely being himself. What you see is really what you get with Jeremy Corbyn, he is an affable, erudite man for whom 'spin' is just a cycle on the washing machine; trying to out slick David Cameron on the conference platform would be a disaster.

The biggest challenge facing Corbyn though is how to handle the compromises that are an inevitable part of leadership. There is a political naivety to much of his supporter base, they may struggle to tell the difference between sensible expediency and outright betrayal.

On the big decisions like renationalising the railways and ditching Trident he should stand firm since they are either positions taken on points of principle or policies that resonate strongly with the public. Making some smaller concessions early on might be no bad thing though, sensibly handled it would send out a message that he is a reasonable man and may help draw the right of the party back into the fold.

Where there are pitfalls there are also opportunities and the Corbyn camp shouldn't lose sight of these in the tough times to come.

His campaign for the party leadership played, in part, on one of the most potent stories in the British myth kitty, that of the underdog who wins against the odds. Jeremy Corbyn could seek to position Labour as the natural home of all those who oppose entrenched privilege and the complacency of the political elite.

The influx of new members means that Labour's branch and constituency party network is viable for the first time in years. This presents a golden opportunity to revive the party's internal democracy and to demonstrate how a more inclusive form of politics could be made to work in practice, something new deputy leader Tom Watson spoke about during his own campaign.

At the age of sixty six Jeremy Corbyn must realise that his own chance of being prime minister is slim at best, the trust placed in him and the unprecedented energy that has built up behind his campaign mean he could do something remarkable. He could recognise that his role is to prepare the way for whoever comes next.

If he can revitalise the moribund grass-roots of the Labour Party and demonstrate that left doesn't have to be the political irrelevance then even though he may never get into Downing Street someone like Tom Watson or Lisa Nandy just might.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn at leader of the Labour Party could be where it all begins or the moment when everything crashes into the buffers. At this stage of the game there is still everything to play for, but his remarkable campaign suggests that sometimes surprising things happen even in the cynical word of politics.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Stoke Green Party backs Hope Not Hate report on changes to voter registration.

North Staffs Green Party has given its support to a report produced by campaign group Hope Not Hate expressing concerns about government plans to introduce Individual Voter Registration (IER) a year earlier than planned.

Under the current system voters are registered by household, the introduction of IER would mean that voters have to register individually using their National Insurance number.

The government intend to introduce IER a year earlier than planned against advice from the Electoral Commission in time for the preparation of new electoral registers by the Boundary commission, these will be used at the 2016 local elections.

The report 'Britain's Missing Voters' (http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/voter-registration-report/individual-electoral-registration-briefing-2015-09-08.pdf) raises concerns including that changing the way we register to vote will mean that 1.9 million people will 'drop off' the electoral register.

This will result in the under-representation of people who are already living in marginalised and disadvantaged communities, creating a distorted electoral map with an adverse effect on urban areas where there are high numbers of people living in private rented accommodation.

The report recommends that the decision to introduce IER early be annulled and that councils be given a further twelve months in order to register missing voters. It also calls on the government to put a strategy backed by extra resources to increase voter registration, particularly in under represented areas.

The Green Party takes a strong position on electoral reform. Amongst the policies advocated by the party in its 2015 manifesto are the introduction of a written constitution including a Bill of Rights, using proportional representation to make sure every vote cast counts and supporting a fully elected House of Lords.

Campaigns Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party Adam Colclough said ' The government's plans for introducing individual electoral registration are poorly thought out, a fact attested to by the concerns expressed by the Electoral Commission cited in this report. Rushing them into place shows an utter disregard for our democracy.'

He added that: 'Giving political power back to the people is at the heart of everything the Green Party stands for, we support encouraging more people to register to vote and would like to see them doing so in a system that makes every vote cast count.'

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Stoke Labour group need a new leader not another witch-hunt.

The soap opera surrounding the race to be the leader of the national party has distracted attention from the drama being played out within the Labour group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

This week the decision taken by the group to remove the whip from councillors, Alan Dutton and Ruth Rosenau after they voted for City Independent Dave Conway to be council leader following May's election brought the divisions within the party back into focus.

Dutton and Rosenau also gained black marks against their names for being publicly critical of group leader Mohammed Pervez and calling for him to resign.

Casting them into outer darkness for six months a spokesperson for the Labour Party told the Sentinel the whip had been withdrawn following an 'internal decision taken by the Labour group' that had found them to be in 'breach of group rules.' They had, said the spokesperson, 'a right of appeal.'

And, in all probability the likelihood of being told to take a long walk of a short pier for their pains. Yet again justice has been dispensed within the the Labour group with all the reasonableness and sensitivity of an automatic checkout reciting 'unidentified item in bagging area' with mechanical regularity.

Alan Dutton told the Sentinel that he was 'unhappy' with the decision, adding that 'it wasn't as if we voted against Mr Pervez since he wasn't standing', to be council leader, and that before the election he had criticised the Independents, then in opposition, for sitting on the fence 'but as soon as we're in opposition he wanted us to abstain on the leadership vote.'

Ruth Rosenau, also speaking to the Sentinel said she was 'disappointed' about the result and had hoped the group would 'have been more understanding' of the position she had taken. The perceived flaws in the leadership Mr Pervez had provided was, she said, a major cause of voters becoming 'disengaged' from Labour.

Both councillors said they were considering their position and would wait until the national leadership of the party had been decided before taking any further action.

There are few sadder sights than a party struggling to come to terms with finding itself in opposition. One moment they're calling the shots, the next they're stranded on the sidelines scowling Norma Desmond style about how they're still big; it's politics that has gotten small.

Locally and nationally Labour have been the authors of their own misfortune. In Stoke the party gambled big on HS2, Smithfield and paying for a stand at the Chelsea Flower Show only to lose even bigger.

Ed Milliband deservedly lost the general election and did the decent thing by putting his hand up and resigning. The party then went on the drop the ball by spending way too long choosing a new leader; but at least they had the sense to drop one who was a dead man walking.

In Stoke Labour made a mess of things that was entirely predictable to anyone who has watched their antics over the years. First they lost their way, then they lost the election; now they've gone into opposition with the same leader.

Anywhere other than inside the bubble protecting the senior members of the group from reality it would have been unthinkable for Mr Pervez to remain in post. Yet he has and seems to be immune from being challenged.

This highlights a problem Jeremy Corbyn or whoever else might win the Labour leadership next week will have to tackle as a priority. Officials in the party's regional offices have assumed powers that go way beyond their proper remit, side-lining party members and elected councillors in the process.

In Stoke Mr Pervez is very much their man and always has been, he owes his position to their patronage. Even the rather tame opposition shown by Dutton and Rosenau is seen as an existential threat to the established order that must be crushed at all costs.

The butterfly mustn't just be broken on a wheel, it has to be hung, drawn and quartered afterwards just to show everyone else who is in charge.

This matters for two distinct reasons. Locally as the coalition led by Independent Dave Conway gets ready to deliver its first budget good governance demands that it be closely scrutinised, a job that should fall to Labour. To date their performances as an opposition have been lacklustre at best, they are hardly likely to improve while the party simmers with internal tensions and its leader's position grows less tenable by the day.

The talent pool within the group is admittedly shallow, but there are options were Mr Pervez to do the decent thing. Members could support Ruth Rosenau were she to stand for leader again, she was a capable cabinet member and deserves the opportunity to step up. Better still they could prevail upon Olwen Hamer, perhaps the most talented politician representing any group on the council to stand for the leadership. She would almost certainly bring a fresh perspective and spirit of independence to the role.

The sorry story being played out is Stoke shows in miniature a problem that is crippling the Labour Party nationally. Twenty years of obsessive central control by New Labour has crippled its internal democracy, the backlash against this is one of the drivers behind the Corbyn surge, but it could take years to put things right.

Here in Stoke this story has an ending that is as sad as it is predictable. Alan Dutton and Ruth Rosenau will end up joining the marching corps of capable and committed people driven away by a party that seems to prize unthinking loyalty above everything else.

The Labour group will trundle on in the same old way bemused as to why the public don't seem to trust or even like them any more and getting a little less relevant with each passing year. Only by having the courage to ditch a leader who has failed can they bring about a different ending and find a new relevance.