Saturday, June 15, 2013
When Labour took office in 1997, Britain was suffering from what Tony Blair later described as a "progressive deficit". What he meant was that Britain was far from being a modern social democratic nation. The constitution was failing, with Scotland and Wales denied proper government and hereditary privilege still the foundation of the House of Lords. Unlike many of our European neighbours, Britain lacked quality childcare and universal nursery provision or schools and hospitals with proper equipment and enough well-paid staff. In the years up to 1997, Britain was a country that had spent billions of pounds keeping able-bodied people idle because of boom and bust, where unemployment often exceeded three million, and where the absence of a national minimum wage condemned millions to poverty pay.
In its first few years in office Labour made significant headway in addressing this progressive deficit. On the constitution, Britain is now a much more pluralist democracy with devolution for Scotland and Wales, Mayors for London and others cities, House of Lords reform, freedom of information and the Human Rights Act. For working people, Labour delivered progressive rights that many other countries took for granted - a minimum wage, four weeks paid holiday, better maternity and paternity rights, the basic right to join a trade union. For communities and families torn apart by crime, anti-social behaviour, racial intolerance and drugs, Labour established major programmes of inner city regeneration, Sure Start, and additional investment in youth and sport facilities.
The truth is that many of the changes Labour made in 13 years of government - on the constitution, economic policy, the minimum wage and public services - are likely to last. The challenge for Ed Miliband will be to secure a progressive consensus around the further changes and improvements that need to be made whilst at the same time challenging and exposing the Tory party’s obvious, ideologically driven desire to reduce the size of the state which will result in more charging, less investment, good services for the well-off and second-class services for the rest.
The difficulty that Ed Miliband faces however, the real challenge to progressive politics will come not only from the Cameron led, ‘Thatcherite’ dominated Tory party but from some of the pessimists and cynics that exist within the ranks of his own movement. Miliband’s new generation politics needs to frame political debate in terms of progress versus conservatism and the world not in terms of right and left, but right and wrong. Throughout his campaign for the leadership Ed Miliband spoke about how all too often political debate seems irrelevant to the reality of ordinary peoples’ lives. He understands that too many voters feel that politics is too polarised, that parties and politicians portray their opponents as either pro-business or pro-unions, pro-growth or pro-environment, for civil liberties or against them, as progressives or dinosaurs.
History shows that the public trusts leaders who have the courage to lead. It is surely no coincidence that, in recent history, when governments have acted boldly on issues as varied as debt cancellation, the introduction of the congestion charge or smoking bans, public support has quickly crystallised behind it. If Labour is to win next time round then its best prospects lie not in appealing to what it has done, not in defending the status quo but rather in campaigning against ugly realities of health and education inequalities and showing why these warrant further state action.
The politics of optimism, of hope, worked for Obama and touched a chord with the mainstream in the US. Politics that seeks the liberation of people from poverty, injustice and persecution can be a powerful force for change. Ed Miliband is fast approaching the time when, as Leader, he will need to ensure that the Labour party addresses its own progressive deficit, to be clearer about who we are, who we were and whom we want to become
Friday, May 17, 2013
What if a group of like-minded people were to offer to 'donate' their points to a good cause or causes? For example I would be happy for my points/cash to go to Costa's Foundation or perhaps to a local charity linked to my local Costa.
What do you think? Do you want to help me set up such a scheme? Any advice as to how I start?
Thursday, April 05, 2012
The result in Bradford West is an illustration that after an unprecedented 13 straight years in power many of Labour’s own members are not certain what they want. Many want the party to be both passionately principled and sensibly pragmatic; to be a party that proudly honours its past while not neglecting to shape both its and the nation's future; to champion the state while being part of the market; to tackle poverty but also support aspiration. Ed Miliband stood for the leadership of the Labour party on a platform that argued that the renewal that was undertaken in order to gain power in 1997 needs to be repeated if Labour is win at the next election. In the mid-1990s Labour successfully occupied the centre ground, it modernised and reached out beyond its own activists and turned the Tories into a replica of what it itself used to be – a party with a narrow base, a party obsessed about the wrong things and a party seen as old fashioned and out of touch.
Can Labour win under Ed Miliband? Of course it can but I strongly believe - and the failure of the tactics deployed in Bradford West seem to endorse my view - that the best prospects of future success for our party lie not in the puerile tactics of the spin doctor; politics has to be about more than the desire to wrong foot your opponent. The prospects for future success for Labour lies not in defending the status quo of what is still a highly unequal Britain, rather it is in working with the British people to help rid our nation of some ugly realities such as child poverty and the still endemic inequalities in both health and education, inequalities that could well be even further entrenched once some of the savage and unnecessary cuts begin to fully impact. The politics of ambition and optimism must also be the politics of principle - we should attack our opponents for what they espouse, for their policies and not for their personal shortcomings.
In the coming weeks I hope that Ed will put the case that for a politics that seeks the liberation of people from poverty, injustice and persecution. He needs to show that a renewed Labour party will seek to better reflect the aspirations of ordinary people whilst being realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. Ambition, hope and aspiration are far more appealing than a constant reciting of the achievements of the past. Ed has been consistent about the need for the Labour party to be clearer about what we stand for as a movement and for the need for the party to reach out to the communities that it seeks to represent and support. He now needs to show how, under his leadership, our party can set about winning back the trust and confidence of the British people.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Labour took a real kicking in Bradford West not because the electorate there connected with George Galloway or with the Respect Party. It is because many traditional Labour voters are angry with us, disillusioned with our rhetoric and keen to send us a message. The summer offers a period of reflection and for me the areas that we need to urgently address are as follows:
Style and substance - we need to be careful that we don't dismiss one at the expense of the other. Good policies badly presented and badly articulated are as useless and as ineffective as poor policies that have been spun positively.
Trust and confidence - who on Labour's front bench can inspire trust and and come across as fully paid members of the human race? Answer: People like Hilary Benn, Andy Burnham and Rachel Reeves - we need to see and hear more from the likes of these.
If you are not on offence you are on defence - we must get back on the attack and create clear dividing lines between ourselves and our opponents. The Tory front bench is out of touch, aloof and obsessed with an ideology that wants to take us back to the 50s (not sure if it is the 1850s or the 1950s).
I am not ashamed to be in the Labour party and I am proud of what we have achieved when in office but I am also acutely aware that we need to reflect the wider aspirations of the people we seek to serve.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
This is because secondary school admission policies remain the secret scandal of our education system. Gove et al are trapped by the rhetoric of parental choice, locked in by a tabloid league table agenda of what constitutes a `good' school and unwilling to confront the evidence about selective admissions policies.
Current secondary school admissions policies institutionalise inequality. They intensify social, cultural and ethnic divisions. They foster delusions about consumer choice and reinforce outdated perceptions of quality in education. They have produced an educational apartheid that creates vast ghettoes of under achievement which then suck in vast amounts of public money to compensate for structural inequality. They hold back overall levels of achievement.
is there a solution? Well, the Code of Practice on School Admissions already excludes selection by ability as an admission criteria to all primary schools, why not extend it to include secondary schools? A policy focused on parental choice would throw open hundreds of thousands of places in good schools to parents who have previously been excluded from applying. The winners would far outnumber those who would be anxious about loss of privilege.
Thursday, February 02, 2012
In 2009 Conservative Home carried out a survey of Tory PPCs which makes for a sobering re-read. I commented at the time that the questions asked were probably just as interesting as the answers. For example the survey contained not a single question on housing, education or health - apparently the public was more interested in whether Tory candidates supported the right of Catholics or other religious adoption charities to decline to place children with same sex couples. Candidates were asked about Iran but not about Iraq, about nuclear power but not about the need for more renewables.
What happened is that Tory Associations up and down the land selected candidates that reflected their own, traditional - often reactionary – views, having said that Cameron himself has changed. Following the 2007 summer of despair Cameron was warned by his whips that he needed to embrace more "traditional" core Tory issues like Europe, crime and the family. Yet again a newly elected Tory leader was forced (by his own reactionary right wing) to move to the right in an attempt to hang on to the Tory core vote.
Progressive politics? Today’s Tory party is largely Eurosceptic, pretty much pro-nuclear and believes that England does not get a fair deal in terms of the distribution of the nation's finances. What goes around comes around, the hard right is back and we need to expose them for what they are, who they are and what they stand for.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Currently, 16 and 17 year-olds can work, pay taxes, join the armed forces and get married. They are often invited to set up school councils and youth councils, urged to take part in consultations, sit on local government and Ministerial boards, volunteer in their local community, keep out of trouble and work hard at school. Many will have caring responsibilities, a lot will have a job, some will be parents, and a minority will be leaving care or custody but they cannot elect those who govern them.
A few years ago the Electoral Commission carried out a public consultation on the voting age and found that 72% of respondents favoured a lowering of the voting age to 16. Interestingly the consultation attracted huge participation including 8,000 young people which suggests that when made relevant to them, young people are more likely to vote and engage in issues of public importance.
The next general election will be decided in super-marginals like the my own constituency of The Wrekin. Motivating younger voters is therefore both the right thing to do and it could make the difference between Labour winning and losing the next time round. That is why I strongly believe that as a party we must take young voters much more seriously. Rather than young people being uninterested in politics (as opposed to voting), we seem to have become uninterested in them. We bolt on campaigns for young voters rather than build them into what we do. This needs to change, and we now have a once in a generation chance to make that change and listen to what young people are saying.
Young people’s belief in politics could be helped by them knowing that they had a direct influence in choosing who represents them. In Austria - where they recently lowered the voting age to 16 - in local and regional elections the turnout amongst 16and 17 year olds was close to 75%.
The Labour party was founded on principles of fairness and responsibility and out of a desire to look to the future not live in the past. 16 is a progressive number, young people are our future and we should allow them a greater say in how it is shaped.
The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (RSH) collected £751,944 and the Princess Royal £546,776 with £15,315 being collected via fine enforcements. It also reveals that the private company that administers both car parks was paid £526,677 for its services.
I will be writing to the PRH Trust asking for all charges to be capped at £1 per visit until 2013 and for the Trust to bring forward proposals to scrap the charge altogether by 2014.
The founding principle of the NHS was that it would offer free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare. Surely this should apply whether you go to hospital as a patient, as a visitor or a member of staff. For patients attending the PRH for out-patient treatment and visitors concerned with the health of their families, worrying about the cost of parking is the last thing they need, and as hospital procedures are notoriously unpredictable, having to rush out after a couple of hours to move their car will in many cases just not be possible.
The present charges constitute a tax on the sick and I seriously question whether paying a private company over £500,000 to administer both car parks constitutes good value for money.