Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Judging Labour's Manifesto.




At the Labour Party Conference in 2014 a document entitled "National Policy Forum Report 2014" was adopted. My own summary of its contents appeared earlier on this blog and covered 16 separate items. They can be accessed via this link.

The Report was endorsed in the expectation that it would shape Labour's General Election Manifesto, which was finally published yesterday. The Manifesto can be found here.

How close is the Manifesto to the Report? I feel that the two publications are as close to each other as could reasonably be expected. This is especially the case as we have had to wait for a period of over six months between the emergence of the two documents. And as everyone knows even "a week is a long time in politics".  I have persistently argued that the Manifesto should have been issued and used much earlier than it has been - especially as a version of it could have had an impact during the Scottish Referendum Campaign. If this had been done, then we may have stemmed the rise of the SNP.

The Labour Party did, however, published a version of its programme in December. This was entitled "Changing Britain Together" and it can be found here. Unfortunately, this document was never effectively pushed amongst Labour Party members, nor in the media. 

The big difference between the original National Policy Forum Report and the Electoral Manifesto is that the latter is placed in a key and new framework which is missing from the former. The framework appears at the start of the Manifesto and (as was intended) has grabbed the immediate attention of the media. It states that Labour's plans are to be pursued in ways that in budgetary terms are said to be highly responsible. So that given a wide range of Labour commitments, none will require any additional borrowing. Yet also in the Manifesto Labour says it "will cut the deficit each year". This commitment then shapes each of its proposals, which in general terms list where the funding for the positive aspects of its programme will all come from.

Unfortunately, a fall-back proposal for financing services seems to have disappeared. In the original  National Policy Forum Document it said that "Labour will continue to support a progressive taxation system and ensure that the wealthiest individuals and businesses contribute to the economy". But perhaps it is felt that this is a hidden codicil that can always be turned to, but there was no need to feed this idea to a hungry media.

There is, however. at least one clear and unfortunate adjustment in the Manifesto compared to the Forum Document for those worried about TTIP. It now states that "We support the principles behind the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty (TTIP)." This is, however, followed by the past proposal that TTIP should not apply to the NHS and other public services.

Then all that is mentioned about co-operative principles is  "Our charities, mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises are pioneering new models of production that enhance social value, promote financial inclusion, and give individuals and communities power and control. We will continue to support and help develop the social economy by improving access for co-operative and mutual organisations to growth finance through the new British Investment Bank. And we will consider how to support employee buy-outs when businesses are being sold." Although this paragraph is very small compared to the Co-op Party's own Manifesto which expands such proposals (as seen here), much depends upon whether Labour's words are just a highly condensed version of the same agenda. 

Unfortunately references to providing a quality professional youth service, lifelong learning options,  recarbonising the power sector by 2030 and calling for a Financial Transaction Tax are key matters which have disappeared since the time of the Forum Document. But a great deal of progressive material remains. If Labour forms the next Government it will be for activists to push to overcome the types of shortcomings which I have indicated. For the Manifesto does show that we have moved beyond the clear days of New Labour and that the door may have opened slightly for carefully crafted initiatives from democratic socialists.

We now seek the proof of the pudding.



 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"The Need For A Balanced Economy" by Ken Curran





In spite of the economic evidence and some sort of acknowledgement that the United Kingdom needs a more balanced economy if we are to avoid the pitfalls of boom and bust, there have been no specific proposals made through Labour's Policy Forums as to why a more balanced economy is essential for the future wellbeing of the United Kingdom. Nor has the Labour Party argued elsewhere why a more balanced economy is essential. Indeed by not making the need to create a balanced economy an electoral issue, this only serves to strengthen the SNP argument for the need to leave the Union. Indeed the renewed interest in devolution for the English regions is also in part driven by economic failure.

In reality, the British Economy is in a worse state than it was at the end of the Second World War. We ended the war with a far more skilled workforce in comparative terms than is the case today.

Another issue that should be used by Labour is to dispute the frequent claim that the number of apprentices is higher than ever in the UK. I was an apprentice in 1946 and can speak with knowledge of our past. Which is a good deal more than Clegg, Cameron or Ed Miliband can. It is far too easy for today’s Politicians to make general statements about how much better off we are today than we were say 50 years ago. While materially that claim has some merit, working people have much less security of employment. Here again we end up talking about the economy. Until we can return to having a balanced economy, we shall be unable to provide either decent pensions nor a decent health service.

The above is from Ken Curran

10 Years Ago - exactly

 Harry Barnes
At 5pm on 12th April 2005 after a period of some 18 years, I ceased to be an MP.  That is exactly ten years prior to my posting this short item. Later and below, I will add a summary of mainly politically related matters which I have been involved with over the past decade.

Added 15th April. Today is the 10th birthday of our first grandchild, Joseph. He was, therefore, born only three days after I ceased to be an MP.  As he was born in London, it meant that my wife and I remained in town when I ceased to be an MP and regularly visited our son and daughter-in-law whilst awaiting the birth and then for a time afterwards. It was a perfect way to switch off from 18 years of parliamentary activity.  My rediscovery of my family life was added to by the birth of Joseph's sister Amy just two years afterwards. I had firmly rediscovered that I had a solid family life.  This was added to by a number of visits we made to stay with our daughter who was then working in Majorca. Then she finally moved to Bournemouth and is now settled there with her partner, Andy. So family interchanges have become much more of a relaxing norm than they were during my 18 years as an MP.  That certainly can't be a bad thing.

My political activities in the past decade have mainly been centered in the area of "political education".  For it is an activity which has dominated much of my life. I have been attending and then organising political discussion meetings ever since I returned from undertaking my National Service in Iraq in 1956, where I had purchased the "New Statesman" on rice paper and borrowed books by GDH Cole from the camp Library. It was the place where I had most clearly started to be politicised. Afterwards I started out by running discussion sessions for the local Labour Party at Easington Colliery in County Durham, then as secretary of the newly founded Peterlee and District Fabian Society. I went on to pursue such interests full time, first studying politics and economics as an adult at Ruskin College and then pursuing  politics and philosophy at Hull University. To cap all this I then taught industrial relations and politics (with diversions into philosophy) for 21 years mainly on trade union day release classes organised through Sheffield University. Wearing my party political hat, I ran discussion meetings for the  Dronfield Labour Party, a local Fabian Society and our branch of Independent Labour (ILP) - a body I had joined in the mid 1970s. I was also involved with the ILP nationally.

Then after an 18 year stint in parliament (pursuing their own peculiar brand of political discourse) it was natural for me to return to my past ways. Shortly after retiring from parliament and with a group called Labour Friends of Iraq, I visited Iraqi Kurdistan to meet with trade unionists from across the whole of the country. So I later gave talks about Iraq to ex-students at Coleg Harlech and Ruskin College and at other venues. But although I have given occasional talks on a variety of topics to bodies such as the Durham WEA, the ILP at Leeds and our local Labour History Society; I have mainly settled down to arranging for others to do the speaking. Then I can join in the discussions.

For the past nine years in the role of Political Education Officer of the Dronfield Branch of the Labour Party I have organised some 100 discussion meetings. These have been held at the supportive Contact Club in Dronfield, normally running from 8pm to 9.15pm on Sundays on a monthly basis. Numbers of Labour MPs have been amongst our speakers. The last one being John Healey who gave us his reason's for pushing TTIP and nobly faced criticisms from everyone else who then joined in the discussion. I seldom address such meetings myself - the last time being when I had to fill in because the speaker did not turn up.

I then look out for other discussion opportunities. In nearby Sheffield to the north, these come in a variety of forms - including its School For Democratic Socialism, the local Fabian Society, an annual festival of town events and meetings hosted at the University. Recently, there have even been two visits from Parliamentary Select Committees. Chesterfield to the south has a vibrant May Day Rally for which I have organised discussion meetings in the past. Their Labour Club also hosts political discussion meetings. Then my own Constituency Labour Party of North East Derbyshire runs its own all member discussion meetings either in Chesterfield or nearby North Wingfield.

Aligned to looking for opportunities to discuss political issues, run openings to write about such matters. Here again, I am a bits and pieces person. I don't write books, but turn my hand to making passing comments. An ideal form for this has been this blog which is called "Three Score Years and Ten". The title arises from the fact that it was given to me by my son on my 70th birthday over eight years  ago - before I got down to sitting in front of a computer all that much. Although young Amy will still say - "No Grandad, not like that - like this". My blog currently contains over 750 entries, most of which are on political issues. I am also the main contributor to a blog entitled "Dronfield Blather", which is run in conjunction with our Sunday evening Labour Party Discussion Group. Then I comment on other people's blogs and their web-sites. Recently turning to "Labour List". I also contribute articles and comments for the ILP's web-site. And there is a history of the Labour Party in the North East Derbyshire area, which appears on its Constituency Labour Party web-site. 

There are numbers of more fully researched and published pieces. In the 2011 to 2013 issues of the annual publication "North East History" (published by the North East Labour History Society) I  provided articles about the development of the then mining community at Easington Colliery, from the sinking of its pit in 1899 to just before I was born there in 1936. This work required regular visits up to the Durham County Record Office to undertake the research.  In the Autumn 2012 issue of "Labour Heritage" I wrote an article entitled "The Twin Pillars Of The Derbyshire Miners" about James Haslam and William Harvey who were the main figures in initially founding and running the Derbyshire Miners Assocation (DMA), which started out back in 1880. A shorter item on these has just appeared in Chesterfield Trade Council's May Day Brochure. This is because we will soon be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of two statues in remembrance of Haslam and Harvey, which took place in front of the then DMA offices. So I am back to speech-making on this, during celebrations that are due to be held in the Chesterfield Library and also next to the statues themselves.

Another piece appeared in the local "Dronfield Miscellany" a Local History Journal in Autumn/Winter 2007 on one of the miners' leader mentioned above - William Harvey. For he was also the local NE Derbyshire MP from 1907 to 1914, as James Haslam had been in Chesterfield from 1906 to 1913. The Miscellany is published by the Old Dronfield Society to whom I then gave a talk entitled "From the Cavendishes to Coal Miners, Dronfield MPs 1832-1950" - the Cavendishes being aristocratic land owners. Amongst other bits I have come up with have been a couple of items for "Post-16 Educator".  In May-June it was "What now for adult education?  Lessons from Derbyshire's miners" and in January-March 2012 it was "The politics of education". My efforts do at times deviate from political concerns. Football items have appeared. One in the Sunderland AFC Fanzine "A Love Supreme" in the 2006-7 season. Part 1 being entitled "The Beano Years" and Part 2 "The Keano Years". Then in the first issue of a magazine called "First Eleven" in 2010, I wrote about the match that is recognised by FIFA as being the first soccer contest ever between two different clubs - Hallam FC v Sheffield FC. Non-League Sheffield FC's current ground is just a quarter of a mile from my home. And it is in Derbyshire, not Yorkshire. I would not normally admit to having anything to do with the Daily Mail, but they also ran a response from me in 2007 around the same issue under the title "How football kicked off".

There are other items, but you get the idea. I did start to write an autobiography and got up to 30,000 words in just covering the first 18 years of my life - before my political interests had then fully kicked in. Currently, I can think of three projects that are in the way before returning to the work I packed in several years ago. I wonder how many other bits and pieces will also get in the way? After some 58 years of political bits and pieces (with my 18 years in parliament being ideal for a person who hops from item to item) I don't think I am now likely to change. Nor have I had any regrets about retiring at the age of 68 - for there have always been plenty political bits and pieces to pursue outside of Westminster.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Reason For Hope?

On Saturday, I addressed a session of a day school run by Independent Labour Publication (ILP) at the Leeds Beckett University. This was part of a series it is running entitled "Unbalanced Britain". It was followed by a lively discussion. What I had to say was basically drawn from the past 20 items which I have placed on this blog. These items go back to last November. The basis of my contribution at Leeds can be found here on the ILP web-site.

In the short time before the General Election, why not join in their debate?

This about the ILP

"Independent Labour Publications (ILP) is an educational trust, publishing house and pressure group committed to democratic socialism and the success of a democratic socialist Labour Party.

The ILP was formed in 1893 as the Independent Labour Party, which became a co-founder of the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century. Today we remain committed to Labour's aim of creating 'a society for the many, not the few' and seek to engage with others in discussing how this vision can be turned into reality." 


Here is the tradition

Image result for ILP cartoons

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yet Another Missed Opportunity



Image result for "One Nation" Labour

Labour have recently sent a new 32 page edition of its "One Nation" magazine in the post to its members.  It was an expensive and time consuming exercise; although it is also being used as a fund raising mechanism. In fact, fund raising may be seen as its key purpose.


It is a glossy publication containing 35 coloured photographs and a variety of coloured diagrams. It includes a message from Harriet Harman, an interview with Ed Miliband and a piece by Douglas Alexander in his capacity as Chair of Labour's General Election Strategy - in which he actually manages to come up with just over a hundred words on "Labour's Plan For Britain's Recovery". There are snippets with photos from some new Labour Parliamentary Candidates, something similar from a number of rank and file activists, a fuller interview with a Labour supporter who is said to be a celebrity, an interview with a "tireless campaigner" from the House of Lords, plus many other similar bits and pieces. All this is mainly trivia. But those with advertising expertise may say that it is effective.

But what a glorious opportunity has been missed. Why was it not used to spread the word amongst Labour's membership as to what its policies are for the coming General Election? After all, these are the ground troops we are depending upon. They need to be given the tools to do the job.

What could have been achieved is shown on pages 14 and 15 of the document. It is the document's saving grace. But I hope that as members flip through the glossy bits and pieces, that they do not miss or skim this single isolated item.  It shows four key areas of the Coalition Government's failings and then lists Labour's alternative proposals. In all it offers 13 bullet points on Labour policies.

If this just happens to wet the reader's appetite, they are then asked to undertake some research of their own to find what else Labour is promising. Whether they are into computers or not, they are asked to turn to labour.org.uk/issues; where they will then find that they need skills to be able to jump from one category of interest to another. Many might just find it easier to turn to Labour's document "Changing Britain Together" which can be found on Labour's alternative web-site "Your Britain" at http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/  This document extends the 13 policy points in the "One Nation" booklet into no-less than 114 items.

Labour's policies might not all be perfect, but it would help if at least its members knew what they are. Labour misses opportunity after opportunity to tell its members where it stands. In January, new membership cards were sent out to those who had paid by standing orders, whilst renewal reminders were sent out to others. But the opportunity to included a key selection of policy proposals was completely missed.  Then emails fly around from my own Regional Office for members to send them donations or to buy expensive tickets to attend dinners with the high and mighty. Why not add a few policy proposals to these? They might even help to whet our appetites.