Tuesday, 29 July 2014

What Ed Miliband needs to do

Ed Miliband needs to get over who he is and what he stands for. Edging towards a stance that is just a paler shade of blue regarding things like austerity and benefits cuts will not play well with the electorate. It will simply make the traditional Labour vote more vulnerable to ukip. A clear set of policies outlining things like a living wage, housing provision, keeping the NHS public,, renationalising the railways and other utilities plus a land rent charge will see him enter number 10. Some focus on the welfare cheating of corporations, like tax dodging, paying poverty wages and failing to act for the common good would not go amiss either. - contribution to Evening Standard debate

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Thousands hear call to isolate Israel

Thousands of protesters marched through London to hear a call for Israel to be cast into the international wilderness and declared a rogue state for its recent actions in Gaza.
Addressing a rally of some 20,000 demonstrators gathered in Parliament Square Baroness Jenny Tonge declared that” Israel can no longer be regarded as part of the family of nations, it is a rogue state.”
The thousands of protesters marched from the Israeli embassy in Kensington to a rally in Parliament Square where they heard calls for British arms sales to Israel to be ended. The protesters came from the trade unions, peace movement, and Palestinian groups. Stop the War Coalition, CND,  Palestine Forum in Britain and the Palestinian Solidarity campaign were among the organisers.
“Tell MPs you will not vote for them unless they support the Palestinians,” said Baroness Tonge.
CND vice president Bruce Kent confessed he never thought he would look at a TV screen and see bits of babies being blown apart in a hospital.”It is a disgrace, a crime – what is going on now,” said Mr Kent, who declared that there would not be peace in the area without justice”Bring down the wall, stop the settlements and stop detaining people without trial,”said Kent, who called on David Cameron to stop his hypocrisy. “How can he talk about stopping selling weapons to Russian but say nothing about stopping selling them to Israel.”
Labour MP Diane Abbott approved of the decoration of Nelson Mandela's statue in Palestinian colours. "Nelson Mandela knew what it was to fight for justice," said Ms Abbott, who declared that “ the killing has to stop, the siege lifted and the blockade ended.”
Musician Brian Eno accused Israel of wanting plenty of process but no peace. “As long as the process is going on the Israeli settlers can go on grabbing land and beating up Palestinians,” said Eno, the former Roxy Music member. “It is time for sanctions, they are the only thing that frightens them.”
Poet and writer Michael Rosen told how Israel had banned an advertisement that named the children killed in Gaza. “They say don’t mention the children. No one must know the names of the dead children. People must be protected from the names of the children – this is how they think,” said Rosen.
A message was read out form French international and former West Ham and Spurs footballer Frederic Kanoute who claimed Israel was committing” the genocide of a people.”
“The blockade and siege of Gaza must be lifted now, how many more war crimes must be committed,” said Kanoute.
Sarah Colborne, director  of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign declared that when the BBC refuses to tell the truth, we take the story to the BBC.”
Colborne, called on the government to change its policy of arming Israel. “It is shameful and disgusting that weapons components are still being sold to Israel. We must end the arms trade now, stop companies profiting from Israel’s crimes,”she said.
Former president of the TUC Lesley Mercer retold the statistics of 1000s being displaced from their homes and 1.2 million Gazans being without access to clean water. “How does Israel believe it can bring peace through its present strategy,” said Ms Mercer, who called for pressure to be brought on Israel and for more people to join the boycott of that country. “Our government must do more to put pressure on Israel.”

Monday, 21 July 2014

Conference hears Catholic Church still failing on the environment

Writer and broadcaster Mary Colwell has criticised the Church hierarchy for failing to speak out on the environment.

Addressing the annual National Justice and Peace Network in Swanwick, Derbyshire, Ms Colwell declared that although the Church might be getting to grips with climate change this does not amount to “doing the environment.”

“Doing what we can to get to grips with climate change is not doing the environment, anymore than thinking curing cancer will solve all the health problems of humanity,” said Ms Colwell. “Over fishing isn’t climate change, nor is misuse of fresh water, plastic pollution, destruction of habitats, extinction of species, the pollinator crisis and so on.”

The broadcaster suggested that Catholics could make the world a better place by reducing meat and fish in their diets.

A meat diet produces twice as much carbon dioxide as a vegetarian one, with grazing taking up 26% of the earth’s surface. “To be true to our baptism we should carefully consider not eating meat more than once or twice a week,” said Ms Colwell.

Equally fish stocks are under threat as never before, with the level of white fish caught in the North Sea reducing by 46% over the past century. “Promoting fish on Fridays just exacerbates a problem and highlights how little the church is engaged with what is happening in the world,” said Ms Colwell. “Just by doing something simple, cutting down on meat and fish, will make a big difference. By saying why you are doing it tells the world we care.”

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather claimed that the distrust born of the MPs expenses scandal has bred an atmosphere of fear in politics, which can be most clearly perceived in the immigration debate.
Ms Teather told how trust in the relationship between MPs and the public has broken down, becoming far more combative and contractual.
The Liberal Democrat MP, who is standing down at the next election, claimed that as a result of this distrust in politics, politicians create fears that they then pretend to resolve. This amounts to creating a straw men on themes like immigration and then knocking it down.
She gave examples such as the moves to cut NHS support and benefits for migrants coming to the country. "We don't have the data to back this up," said Ms Teather, who claimed most migrants came to Britain to work and contribute.
She appealed for a fairer hearing for politicians. "Politicians are like everyone else, there are good and bad," said Ms Teather, who called for people to look to build alliances across political divides to really effect change

Clare Dixon, head of Latin America and the Caribbean team at CAFOD, told how Pope Francis had been converted from an orthodox and authoritarian position back in the late 1970s to his present radical stance in favour of a church of the poor. “The prophetic (liberation) church of Latin America is now sitting in the Vatican,” said Ms Dixon, who told how a number of great advocates for the poor including Dom Helda Camra and Archbishop Oscar Romero began on the right before converting to become advocates for the poor as a result of their experiences in Latin America.

Sister of the Congregation of Jesus Gemma Simmonds called for a priesthood of the laity.

She spoke of a sacramental life that was the same for all of God’s children, things should not be compartmentalised away. We are all equal before god.

“Whatever is meant by a priesthood of the laity,it doesn’t mean the clericalisation of the Church – there is enough of that already.

The 36th NJPN conference was the first time that the all speakers and facilitators were women

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Need to rebalance MPs recruitment


There is a growing disillusionment among the electorate with the political class. 
A recent Guardian/ICM poll revealed that 56 per cent of people think the biggest problem with Westminster is politicians breaking promises, while 44 per cent are fed up with careerist MPs who “look and sound the same.”
This disillusionment has been picked up by Ukip and plays a key part in its appeal. Its leader Nigel Farage regularly delivers the line about the self-serving political class because he knows it hits the right note with the electorate. 
The claims about looking and sounding the same, if added to the expenses scandal and the latest revelations about possible paedophile cover-ups, all help create a sense of disillusionment.
There seems little doubt that at the heart of political parties there is a process of replication going on, whereby those related to existing MPs, special advisers and others on the payroll all seem to have a better chance of becoming MPs than ordinary people in the street.
The Guardian research revealed that almost half of Labour candidates selected to fight in marginal seats at the next election have links to Westminster as former special advisers, party workers, researchers, lobbyists or MPs.
In the case of the Labour Party, there seems to be a strange process of disconnection. 
The procedures of the party are incredibly democratic — positions in constituency Labour parties, from ward to the executive committee, are all elected in what can seem a laborious process. People give of their time freely and the rules stipulating equality of the sexes make the whole system seem very much of our time.
Yet at another level people seem to come in from other parts of the country, often foisted on a local party from outside. Individuals seem to be parachuted into seats who are pretty much alien to the community they seek to represent. 
The feeling that there is on one level this excellent accountable democratic process going on yet that this can be put aside at a moment’s notice to bring in some friend or acquaintance of the leadership helps breed resentment. 
There has been some disquiet about the relatives of existing MPs taking up seats. Will Straw, son of Jack, was selected for Rossendale and Darwen, while Stephen Kinnock, son of Neil, is the prospective parliamentary candidate for Aberavon. 
There are also growing storm clouds in Liverpool about the possibility of Euan Blair, son of Tony, being parachuted into Joe Benton’s seat when the veteran MP retires at the next election.
Not that this hereditary advantage is restricted to the Labour Party. A glance at the Tory benches reveals Francis Maude, son of Angus, Nick Hurd, son of Douglas, and Bernard Jenkins, son of Patrick, as just some representatives of political families.
There is no reason why the sons and daughters of existing politicians should not follow in their parents’ footsteps. They will obviously have the advantage that their parents know their way around but this should not be any barrier. Many children follow the profession of their parents but the same names gives a certain value to that sameness of the political class that the electorate so abhors.
The electorate would really like to see people that look, sound, think and live like they do. This is not reflected in a Cabinet of public school Oxbridge millionaires governing a country where more than one million people go to foodbanks.
In past times, Labour MPs were drawn in large numbers from the working class — miners, manufacturing workers, engineers and postal workers made up the ranks of the parliamentary Labour Party. Not any more. Lawyers abound, as do those who many in the electorate claim have not done a proper job of work in their lives.
It is interesting to note the career path of many of this group. They graduate, often having played an active role in student politics and working their way up the greasy pole. Leaving university, they do charity-type jobs by way of a meal ticket while charting a way around the political scene.
Among those organisations that count present and prospective MPs among their number are the IPPR and the Young Foundation. Kendall, Tristran Hunt, Patricia Hewitt and Lib Dem pensions minister Steve Webb have all had past involvement with IPPR, while Will Straw is presently an associate director of it. 
Labour MP for Bethnal Green Rushanara Ali was associate director at the Young Foundation, while Labour MP for Walthamstow.
An important rung on the Westminster ladder though is becoming a researcher to an MP and/or a special adviser to a minister or shadow minister. Throughout this metamorphosis aspirant parliamentarians see very little of how “real people” live. Hence the complaint of a detached political class.
There are efforts being made to address these problems. Trade unions like the CWU and Unite have made real efforts to get working people into Parliament. They help prepare people to know how to tackle the system. However, the path for working people from the trade unions to become prospective parliamentary candidates are often blocked. Some in the party seem often to prefer clones from their own political class. 
Trade union-backed candidates also often find their way blocked by candidates supported by the Blairite Progress group. This conflict has all the potential to bring outright civil war in the party, especially if it fails to win the next election. 
One positive thing that the party has done is to embrace some of the culture of community organising that has proved so effective in London and other parts of the country. 
The model here, initially picked up on by David Milliband with his Movement For Change initiative, was Citizens UK. This aims to really connect with the community, using trained organisers to build clusters of support.
It is the willingness to embrace ideas like community organising that gives hope for the Labour Party of the future. There needs to be a real getting back to grass roots. This must mean working with the unions to get more representative working people into Parliament. 
It should also mean having local people from their area representing that place, wherever possible. There should be an end to the likes of Oxbridge academics and TV presenters being parachuted into working lass constituencies of which they often know little.
Former Labour minister Michael Meacher told the Guardian that unions remained the party’s best hope of helping people from a diverse range of backgrounds into Parliament.
“Irrespective of right and left, there have been too many people who come through the traditional student politics, join the National Union of Students, get themselves a job as an assistant to an MP and the next thing is they are looking for a seat with the protection and support of the MP,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s wrong, it’s a valid route, but it has been overdone. 
“It does mean there are nothing like enough MPs who are working class. Everybody realises we need to rebalance MP recruitment and do that in a way that is proportionate to class background. A lot of people see themselves as working class, expect to be represented as working class and at a time of six years of continuing austerity expect their MPs to be far more conscious of their plight than some of them are. 
“The people most likely to do that are people who come from the same roots.”
In the case of the Labour Party the answer is very simple — stop the double-standard operation. Let those who join the party, work and get involved in the democratic process locally in representing the people in Parliament. This is what the party’s structures mandate to happen. 
It can be achieved if the processes are not overrun by decisions from the centre promoting the favoured few from the political class over and above everyone else.

* morning star - 18/7/2014

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A society that knows the the price of everything and the value of nothing is no place for euthanasia

When Parliamentarians debate the proposed legislation on assisted dying/euthanasia, the position that should be adopted is that of the most vulnerable person in our society. It should not be viewed through the eyes of the millionaire novelist but the elderly person, alone in a hospital bed without friends, family or support. Then add in factors like economic pressure on NHS resources and a growing lack of value for life generally and a more realistic picture emerges.
This society does not measure up well when it comes to how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members. There is the appalling treatment of children at one end of the scale and the warehousing of elderly people for the benefit of an avaricious privately run care sector at the other. 
Prior to any debate on loosening the restrictions on euthanasia, there needs to be a much bigger discussion about what we have become as a society, how we treat the old, young and most vulnerable. If anyone believes that this society is mature enough to handle euthanasia then think again, look at the way the weakest members are treated and the increasing tendency to know the price of everything and the value of nothing

* published Independent - 18/7/2014

Friday, 11 July 2014

Economy needs more trade unions and less tax dodgers

The themes of striking public sector union and tax dodging companies ( Guardian 10/7) nicely summarise a fault line of the British economy. The indicators suggest that the economy is picking up but the mass of people are not feeling any different - wages down, cost of living up.
This is because any improvement in the economy does not get passed onto the workers, It goes instead directly to the bosses who ship their money offshore to avoid tax.
The result of this unjust arrangement is a society where a few billionaires corner the mass of wealth while more than a million go to food banks.
Powerful and effective trade unions are one way to rectify this situation. Unions bring greater equality to our society. People working in unionised workplaces are better paid and have better conditions of work. Only by setting trade unions free can the balance be restored in society that will see more of the wealth flowing to the many rather than the few. The idea that further restricting trade union activities has any value might play well in the Tory shires but in terms of creating a working and just economic system it is total bunkum.

Guardian - 14/7/2014