Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Democratic deficit demands move to Proportional Representation

One of the first moves made by a rampant Conservative government, following its election victory, was to announce more restrictions on the operations of trade unions.

New Business Secretary Sajid Javid wasted no time in announcing that the government would legislate to force unions representing members in essential public services to obtain 40% of those eligible to vote on a minimum 50% turn out of all the workers. The government is also to relax existing regulations, thereby permitting agency workers to replace striking workers.

The attack on trade unions is no doubt the latest move from a fundamentalist neo-liberal government set on seeking to remove any encumbrance remaining to the operation of the market.

The move is made all the more audacious given that the government itself was only elected by 24% of the 46 million people eligible to vote.

Indeed, the moves to outlaw strikes have focused attention on the undemocratic and unrepresentative nature of the electoral system as it now operates. The last election saw smaller parties like UKIP (12.6%) and the Greens (3.8%) take a combined total of 5 million (16.1%) of the votes, yet receive just one seat each. The Conservatives took 36.9% of the total votes cast (11,334,576). The SNP took 56 seats but only stood in Scotland, thereby gaining a disproportionate say on the affairs of the whole UK.

The question of the overall democratic deficit is underlined by the fact that on a 66.6% turnout, one in three people did not vote at all. When the number of votes, effectively counting very little under the present first past the post system are taken into account, the existence of a democratic deficit becomes all the more obvious.

Since the election result there have been growing calls from across the spectrum for electoral reform. The need for change has been on the agenda for some years, the closest that the country ever came was when there was a referendum in 2011 on the possibility of replacing first past the post with the Alternative Vote (AV) – a form of proportional representation.

The AV system proposed required the winning candidate to have more than 50% of the vote. If on the initial count this was not the case then the second preference votes of the bottom candidate were allocated. This process continued until one candidate had 50% of the vote. The idea though was soundly rejected in the 2011 referendum, with 68% voting against compared to 32% in favour, on a 41% turnout (19.1 million).

The more radical version of proportional representation would see the number of votes a party receives nationally reflected in the number of seats it finishes up with in Parliament. Under a PR system, the results of the last election would have seen the Conservatives with 240 rather than 331 seats and Labour 198 instead of 232 seats. The smaller parties would have profited, with UKIP getting 81 seats for its 3.8 million votes rather than the present one. The Greens would have got 32 seats instead of the one they have now. The Liberal Democrats would have 51 seats instead of 8. The nationalist parties would have faired slightly worse, with the SNP taking 47 as opposed to 56 seats for its 1.45 million votes in Scotland.   

One of the concerns over the introduction of PR is that it would not provide the stable (if often unrepresentative) form of government that first past the post does. Coalitions would become more commonplace. Given that such coalitions would likely be made up of more than two parties, the basis for instability is obvious.

A little more crystal ball gazing in terms of the result from the last election – had it been on PR lines – certainly gives some food for thought. The Conservatives would have to combine with UKIP and one of the other smaller parties – probably the Liberal Democrats - to get the 326 seats required to form a government. Labour would likely have had to put together a coalition involving the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens.

One of the democratic failings of PR is that it can cut the relationship between constituents and their individual MP. Some PR elections are held in multiple member districts.

There are two main forms of PR – party list PR and the single transferable vote (STV).

Under the list system, the parties put forward candidates with the electorate voting by party. The number of representatives emerging is then allocated according to the percentage of the vote that each party attains. The weakness of this system is that it totally destroys the link between the MP and his or her constituents. It gives almost total power to the party machines to decide who the representatives are for a particular area. The opportunities for patronage and abuse are obvious.

The STV is a bit like AV, allowing the preferences of an eliminated candidate to be transferred to the others, until the winner or winners reach the threshold set to get elected.

Mixed member proportional representation (MMP), also known as the additional member system (AMS), is a hybrid allowing one winner on the largest take of the vote with the balance being made up via the list system. The voter has two votes, one for the individual and another for the party list. This system preserves to some degree the individual link between MP and constituents.

Some form of PR is used in 94 countries, the list system being the most popular format (85). MMP is used in seven countries while only Ireland and Malta use the STV. MMP was first used in Germany, post second world war and spread to Lesotho, Mexico, Bolivia and New Zealand. The AMS form has been used in the London, Welsh and Scottish assembly elections. 

The list system of PR is used in elections to the European Parliament, with parties putting forward candidates in order of preference. They are then elected according to the overall vote for the party in that regional area. It is perhaps a sobering thought to remember that in the European elections last year UKIP came out as the largest party with 24 seats, compared to 20 for Labour and 19 for the Conservatives.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has called for electoral reform. “My own sense is that this is an idea whose time has come. Our two-party system – with an occasional walk-on part for a Lib Dem protest vote – may have worked in the postwar decades, but is now irretrievably broken,” said Frances.” For those of us whose main commitment to civil society is not through party politics, the chance of a more serious national conversation can only be an opportunity for a more open and fair society.”

Something certainly has to change, with parties winning four million votes and only getting one seat in return, whilst one in every three people don’t vote at all. Recent elections have shown growing support for the smaller parties , so the first past the post system that favoured the two party system is becoming increasingly unfit for purpose. The way forward would seem to dictate a need to move to a more proportional form of representation, though this will only make up part of what is required if the democratic deficit is to be filled in the UK.

*It has to be time at last for PR - see - Tribune - 10/7/2015

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Susan George highlights how austerity con has been used to transfer wealth from poor to rich

Susan George, author and member of Transnational Institute, has attacked the great con that has seen the promulgation of austerity as a means to increase the flow of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Addressing the General Federation of Trade Unions conference in Leicester, George pointed out that a crisis is something that happens and is over one way or the other – win or lose.”You don’t stay in a crisis from 2008 to 2015 – austerity has prolonged the crisis,” said George, who underlined how well those in the financial markets have been doing with the rise in foreign exchange contracts from 3.3 to 5.3 trillion between 2007 and 2013. Derivatives rose from 508 trillion in 2007 to 693 trillion in 2010.

She quoted the Tax Justice network figures suggesting there are between £21 and £32 trillion stuffed away in tax havens.”If we could tax some of this at a small rate it would clear up most of the problems in the world,” said George.

George criticised the transfer of wealth from labour to capital over the past 35 years, from the moment Margaret Thatcher came to power. The ratios have gone from 70% going to labour and 30% to capital in the 1970s to 60% versus 40% today.

George suggested that the concentration and interdependency of huge corporations at the centre of capitalism make another financial crisis of 2008 proportions more likely, indeed it will probably be worse.

The academic explained how the neo-liberal economic system made no sense in capitalist or socialist terms. The ideas have been sold as a result of an intellectual offensive by the apostles of the neo-liberal creed who have infiltrated media worldwide with the orthodoxy.

George called for unions to look outward to build broad coalitions with others involved in the anti-capital movement, whether grass root or non-governmental organisations like Friends of the Earth. “I dream of a European general strike,” said George. “We need a coalition of the willing. Unless what is left of the left get together it will be a sad future for all of us.”

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

GFTU moving forward with plan to create federation of small unions

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes led the call to form a federation of small unions.
Addressing the General Federation of Trade Unions Cortes called for the unions to reach out to those workers not in unions. “The politics of hope will triumph over fear,” said Cortes, who urged support for moves for unions to “pool resources” including the possibility of building a multi-union HQ and sharing office space.

Ben Marshall of Prospect supported the motion pointing out the sense of sharing facilities. “It is a federation of small unions being proposed, an alternative to the rush to merger. Sharing premises makes massive sense,” said Marshall.

The motion passed mandating a summit in November to take the proposal forward.

GFTU general secretary calls for labour movement's history to be put on school curriculums

General secretary of the GFTU Doug Nicholls has called on the trade union movement to prepare the leaders of tomorrow and force the history of the labour movement onto school curriculums.
Addressing the GFTU annual conference, Mr Nicholls called on “teachers to defy the official curriculum and teach every young person about unions.”
Mr Nicholls called for a focus on trade union education, declaring that the Tories teach “arrogance” via the private schools and Oxbridge education.
He called for a more serious approach being taken to teaching about trade unions.  
The GFTU has signed a partnership agreement with the University of Wolverhampton, as a first step on this route, working with progressive academics to spread the word. “We are well placed too over the next five years to focus on the remaining priority in the movement, the engagement of young leaders. I will challenge any trade unionist or affiliate that is not seriously developing the youth manifesto we have created and anyone who is blocking the rise of young members in our ranks. Quite simply we need to develop thousands of young workers this year to ensure that we never feel as bad as we did on the day after the election this year, said Mr Nicholls.
Motions passed calling for support of the White Ribbon campaign outlawing domestic violence worldwide, support for migrant workers and highlighting the housing crisis.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

General Federation of Trade Unions president warns of drift to Tory dictatorship

President of the GFTU John Fray has claimed that Britain is on the drift to a dictatorship under the present Conservative Government.

The GFTU president warned that the Tories wou"now be full of confidence, feeling free once again to target trade unions with deliberate intention to legally restrict our member's rights to take actions to protect and improve their terms and conditions."
He added that "the Tories also intend to weaken our human rights and gerrymander the constituencies to make sure even more seats fall to the Tories in 2020."
Fray outlined what had gone wrong for the Labour Party in the general election, with UKIP biting into the core vote. “We must get rid of the anti-trade union Tories,” said Fray, who called for trade unions to stop being marginalised and make their voices heard. “The GFTU must make sure we’re on the platform. Trade unions big or small have a right to a voice and a vision,” said Fray, who called for the trade unions to train up future leaders.

Adrian Weir, assistant national secretary of Unite, warned of the dangers represented by the proposed TTIP agreement.

Weir quoted Joseph Stiglitz, nobel laureate, claiming that negotiators “will almost surely push for the lowest standard, levelling downward rather than upward.”

He illustrated this point with concerns of the US trade unions that could see their rights downgraded to south east Asian levels under the same type of agreements as TTIP, rather than pushed up to European standards. European workers equally have the concern of their rights being reduced to US levels.

Weir hit an optimistic note, claiming that the battle can be won just as it had been back in the 1990s, when the corporate inspired Multilateral Agreement on Investment was defeated. Already, the agreement has hit troubles in the US Congress.
“There are 2 million signed up to a petition in opposition to TTIP – we can and must win,” said Weir.
Robert Mooney of Community gave an impassioned account of a trade union visit to Bhopal on the 30th anniversary of the Union Carbide accident.

Mooney recalled how 8,000 died at the time, with a further 25,000 dying since. “At best this was culpable homicide,” said Mooney, who recalled that children are still being forced to drink contaminated water.

Roberto Calzadilla, Bolivian ambassador to Britain, told how under the presidency of Eva Morales wages had increased fourfold and everyone over 60 has the right to a pension.
Calzadilla outlined President Eva Morales vision of living a life that was in balance with the community and planet. “We consider water a human right. The leader’s vision is to live well, in balance, sleep, eat well, care about your neighbour-it is about getting into balance,” said Calzadilla, who recalled how the role of the state in Bolivia is redistributing wealth

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady believes Labour Party remains best bet for working people

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady declared that the Labour Party remains the best bet for working people and now is no time to be talking about setting up a new party of the left.

Addressing the GFTU conference, O’Grady surveyed the ruins of the election campaign which saw a move to the SNP north of the border and the English nationalism of UKIP bite into Labour’s core vote in England.

“My view is that workers have more in common with each other across borders than they do with a London stock broker or Edinburgh banker,” said O’Grady, who did though concede that the Labour Party gave too much ground to the economics of austerity.

On the positive side, O’Grady believes that it will not be all plain sailing for David Cameron with potential problems coming from the SNP and his own backbenchers. “Some of those backbenchers are for hug a hoody, others make Norman Tebbit look like a bleeding heart liberal,” said O’Grady, who also saw potential problems of division coming for the Tories over EU referendum and their own internal leadership battle to succeed Cameron.

The TUC GS called for “unity and discipline” in opposing the attacks of the Tories on trade union rights.

“This is a crucial time for our movement and the people we represent,” said O’Grady, who declared that “the TUC will always stand on the side of the worker taking strike action.”

The TUC leader called for the movement to put more effort into organising, particularly in the private sector. “These are tough times for our movement, we must get out and organise, then together we will win.”

John Hendy, QC, told the conference that the Tory Government government is determined to destroy the trade unions as the next stage toward the fulfilment of the neo-liberal capitalist agenda.

Hendy highlighted how there were 80% of workers under collective bargaining agreements in 1979 but that this was now down to 20%.

He warned that after the government’s initial efforts to raise voting thresholds required to get a strike and making it possible for agency workers to be used as strike breakers, would be followed by efforts to remove check off, facility time and political funding.

Hendy called for the trade union movement to put collective bargaining at the top of their industrial and political agenda. “Collective bargaining is the only way workers voices can be heard at work. It is an argument for social justice,” said Hendy, who credited much of the growing inequality in society to the demise of collective bargaining.

The lawyer called for any future commitment to the Labour Party to be conditional on it supporting the restoration of collective bargaining and the right to strike. “Unless the Labour Party support those two points they do not deserve the support of the trade union movement,” said Hendy.
Other motions passed calling for the outlawing of zero hours contract and the implementation of a £10 minimum wage

Monday, 18 May 2015

Is Sam Allardyce off to Hawaii - after Everton defeat?

The big question dominating all events at West Ham these days is whether manager Sam Allardyce is going or staying.
There was little in this match to confirm the matter either way. Allardyce himself appears to remain in the dark, lamenting that “everyone in football has very short memories” only remembering things that happened a week or two ago, not three or four months previously.
The manager set out his philosophy as being to entertain and win, not as was the case in this match to entertain and lose.
The game was played at a good tempo throughout with some good passing movements from both sides. The first half saw Leon Osman force a smart save from Adrian away to his right, whilst Stewart Downing broke through for the Hammers to see his rasping shot similarly dealt with by Tim Howard.
The tempo increased in the second half, when West Ham took the lead, with Alex Song slipping a ball through for the advancing Stewart Downing to sweep home.
The home side only held on though for six minutes before Romelu Lukaku got away on the right to cross over for Osman to finish expertly turning to lash the ball home.
It looked as though spoils would be even, until the curse of West Ham’s season struck once again in the final minute of injury time. A cross game over, letting West Ham’s bogey man Lukaku get inbetween defenders to head home.
Both teams remain in contention for the Europa League under the fair play rules, though it was Roberto Martinez who was the happier of the two managers, confirming he was happier to have won 2-1, despite having four players booked. In turn Allardyce declared he would have preferred to have had four, instead of one player, booked and come away with the three points.
The fans remain in the dark, as to who will be manager next season, the only clue being an interview Allardyce in the match day programme, where to the question: “if there was one place on earth you could visit where would it be,” he replied Hawaii. Strange then that as the players came out for their lap of honour after the defeat the tune theme tune Hawaii Five O rang out – is the club trying to tell us something?

Friday, 15 May 2015

Chiefs of Bank of England, Ofsted and GCHQ head Tablet list of leading 100 Catholics

The Tablet magazine believes the leading lay Catholic in British life is Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

Carney heads the list of the leading 100 lay Catholics, with Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshire taking the runner up spot followed by Robert Hannigan, the director of GCHQ.

The criterion used to come up with this list is difficult to define, with Catholics from many walks of public life being highlighted. So there are those two old corporate favourites of the Catholic Church, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever (8) and Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone (26).

Many will be disturbed to see the former Prime Minister Tony Blair coming in at 17th, just pipping Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (18).

The favourite Catholic news reader Julie Etchingham comes in at 35, with Spectator editor Frazer Nelson at 56.

Football pops up in the middle ranks, with Wayne Rooney and wife Coleen coming in at 46, just ahead of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who shares 48th place with player Didier Droghba.

The arts are represented with Frank Cottrell Boyce (53) and Danny Boyle (63). Though while they seem to win just about any TV award going Ant and Dec can only muster 78th on the Tablet list.

The workers don’t seem rate very highly, with TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady being the sole representative coming in at 81st –   six behind the Duke of Norfolk.

Bringing up the rear on the Tablet list are its own old timers Austen Ivereigh, former deputy editor of the Tablet and Catholic Voices co-founder, (99) and columnist Clifford Longley (100).

The list will no doubt stir debate, though perhaps the most interesting discussion should be about how much this says about Catholics in public life and how much it is an indication of tastes at the Tablet?   
*Full list see www.thetablet.co.uk

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Labour Party needs to get back to core values and democratise its structures

There are certainly many questions arising for the Labour Party from the disasterous election result.

Deputy leader Harriet Harman has announced that analysis is now ongoing as to what happened. The analysis will be interesting and maybe should be made public before voting on the new leader takes place.

What was clear from this election has been the slide toward X factor come US presidential politics. Almost the entire media coverage-particularly broadcast-focused on the leaders.

The media coverage was one sided, playing a sizeable role in securing another term for the Conservatives. The constant sniping at Ed Miliband - in an often personal way - no doubt took its toll with the electorate. Miliband on the whole had a good campaign, though the tablets of stone debacle three days before people went out to vote was something that Labour could have done without.

The two areas where the Conservatives seemed to score over Labour was on management of the economy and the danger of having the SNP in government.

The economy question went back to the old claim that Labour was entirely responsible for the deficit, so could not be trusted with the economy again.

The party failed to get over the line that the global banking crisis was the major reason for the deficit. Indeed, it could have gone further, arguing that the previous Labour government actually managed the economy very well.

The ten years from 1997 to 2007 saw a booming economy, though there was a failure to redistribute wealth among the mass of people who created it. Then, when the crisis hit, the actions taken by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling did save the situation not only here but Europe wide. Yes the banks should have been regulated more tightly but as Miliband did point out a few times, the Tories wanted even lighter regulation, so it was a bit rich their arguing things would have been different had they been in power.

The Labour team failed in the leader debates to sufficiently diffuse the economy slurs. For some reason Miliband did not have the stats available to expose the Tory lies. Stats like that the Coalition borrowed more in 5 years than Labour did in 13 years.

With hindsight Labour should also have fought the Tory lie over the economy meltdown over the past five years. Instead it was accepted because for much of that time Miliband and co were trying to put some distance between themselves and Blair and Brown’s new labour. The result a perfect storm, which enabled the Tories with the help of the compliant right wing press to make the lie stick.

On the SNP, the Labour Party stance about not doing deals and attacking the nationalists no doubt hacked off the few Scots still prepared to support the party. The message clearly seemed to be that England was more important than Scotland.

Moving forward Labour has problems. The claims of the likes of David Miliband and would be leader Chuka Umuna that the party must move more to appeal to the aspirations of middle England – the old Blairite mantra – are totally wrong. It has been this approach that has lost Labour so much of its core vote, particularly in Scotland.
How does going after the aspiring Middle England vote halt the inroads of UKIP into the core vote in places like Sunderland, Dagenham and Barking, where the far right party came second to Labour?

Labour has to win back its core vote, increasingly from UKIP in England and the SNP in Scotland. What is the strategy of Umuna to win back Labour votes where the nationalists are biting into them?

The question that Umuna and Miliband do raise in a way is how do the Labour Party deal with a media that is so blatantly right wing. The coverage of the elections shows that the media seems only likely to accept a blue or a lighter shade of blue Labour Party as a possible alternative government to the Tories in Britain.

New labour did master the media because what was being offered was a lighter shade of blue. Ed Miliband’s Labour sort to move off slightly to the left, without ever ditching the austerity element that infuriated so many people especially in Scotland.

The Labour Party needs to reform. It must re-democratise itself, giving members the power to make policy via the conference. Conference must be restored as the supreme policy making body of the party.

At present thousands of party members across the land, run around working for the election of Labour Mps. Many of the candidates come from a careerist group who have trod the path of university, researcher and/or special advisor or in popular parlance: people who have never had a proper job in their lives.

The grassroots work is accompanied by a regular email assault from the party’s organsation, generally patronising people telling them they can do more and often asking for a donation. One of the most annoying of these communicaes came in the heat of the election campaign reading Paul we’ve noticed you haven’t donated – why is this? Another in the name of Justine Miliband, the day before election day, no doubt intended for a three year old, on how she was going to vote and I should do the same thing.

Treating people like children, expecting them to give of their time, then asking for money the whole time, whilst offering no input to the policy making processes of the party, which are reserved for the elite, is no way to be running a party seriously seeking power in the 21st century.

The Party really does need to grow up regarding the way in which it treats members and their roles for the future.

So yes there are many challenges facing the party moving forward. The new leader must have a clear vision but also be able to appeal to the X factor style media circus that erupts at election time.

The Party must get back to its roots or die. How many votes did the austerity light policy cost in the final analysis? The party must also democratise itself, stop treating members like imbeciles and start listening to what they have to say.

It must stand with the trade unions, particularly in the upcoming onslaught over rights to strike etc. The days of attacking the unions in order to gain brownie points with the bosses and right wing media must be put well and truly into the past. If the Labour Party does not stand for the rights of working people then it stands for nothing.

Monday, 4 May 2015

When people don't vote the worst elements take control

There has been a growing debate in the run-up to the general election on the validity of voting.
The debate was sparked by comedian Russell Brand, who caused a stir when he declared: “It is not that I am not voting out of apathy. I am not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations.”
He suggested that politicians were only interested in “serving the needs of corporations” and that an administrative system based on the “massive redistribution of wealth” should replace the status quo.
Brand’s argument chimes with those who declare that the parties are all the same and out of touch with ordinary people.
The seeming disillusionment with voting has come about over the past couple of decades. Voting levels in general elections stayed in the 70 to 80 per cent range pretty much from 1918 to 1997. There were highs and lows. The highest turnout for a general election came in 1950 when Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government was re-elected on an 83.9 per cent turnout. The lowest turnout came in 1918, when just 57.2 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote in war-torn Britain.
Turnouts though do seem to have been on a steady decline since 1992, when there was a 77.7 per cent turnout to return John Major to Downing Street. Some 71 per cent voted to secure Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997. It was then that the disillusion seemed to set in with turnouts of 59.4 per cent (2001) and 61.4 per cent (2005).
There was a bit of recovery in 2010 with a 65.1 per cent turnout.A survey by Survation in September 2013 took a detailed look at the attitudes of non-voters. When asked: “What would you say were your main reasons for not voting in the last the election?” over half of respondents expressed disillusionment with contemporary politics.
Some 27 percent of those polled said they “don’t believe my vote will make any difference,” while 25 per cent said the “parties/candidates are all the same.”
There is though also a distinct difference in voting tendencies down the generations. So in the last election, just 44 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted compared to 76 per cent of over-65s.
This tendency of older people to vote while the young don’t has helped fuel the intergenerational argument in the media. The coalition government, it is argued, has recognised that older people are more likely to vote, so they have responded accordingly, seeking to serve this group of people.
On the other side, the tendency of youth not to participate gives them less traction, so they have been hit harder by austerity-based policies. There is some truth in this view, which of course offers a powerful argument for voting.
The question as to why so many people feel so disillusioned with politicians and government no doubt has its roots in much of what has gone on over recent years. We have seen a decade of disillusionment with public institutions generally. There was the financial crisis, police corruption, the phone-hacking scandal and most pertinently, the MPs’ expenses scandal.
It has been these developments over the past couple of decades, coupled with a coming together of the mainstream parties around the basic neoliberal economic agenda, that has bred disillusionment with the political system and voting.
There is another unhealthy development on the right, which has flourished when people are disillusioned with voting and the democratic process — the favouring of “good governance” over democracy. This is an authoritarian market-driven viewpoint.
The most obvious manifestation of this has been seen in Italy, where in the wake of the financial crisis the democratically elected government was replaced by a technocratic alternative that was to the liking of the markets.
It was an obvious example of “governance” taking precedence over democracy or, perhaps more accurately, of markets deciding what sort of democracy they are prepared to permit.
The opposite side of this coin was seen in Greece, where the people revolted against the austerity policies demanded by the markets and elected Syriza. This was a case of democracy striking back. The people were infuriated at being forced into poverty at the behest of the corporations and neoliberal European governments.
How things work out in Greece will have significance for the battle between democracy and governance. If the markets don’t like what a democratically elected government does then they have huge powers to destabilise that country, cutting off credit, destabilising currencies and so on. Equally, though, in the final analysis, if people’s votes don’t count the only route left is revolt.
Developments in Italy and other countries in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 show that the calls for good governance, rather than healthy democracy, have grown louder.
It is wise to remember at these times the populist governance pledges of the fascists of the last century. The vote has been a right long fought for by working people. It was not easy to force the ruling classes to yield this very basic right. Now is not the time to be offering it up on the altar of technocratic market-based economic efficiency.
As John McDonnell MP has said: “Each time a person says they don’t vote, the rich and powerful corporations celebrate. It means that they are that bit freer to do whatever they like because there is nobody to hold them to account. When people don’t vote the worst elements take control.”

*morning star - 4/5/2015

Friday, 1 May 2015

Shadow international development spokesperson Mary Creagh tackles inequality, foodbanks, climate change and the NHS

Labour shadow International Development spokesperson Mary Creagh has expressed her concerns over the growing inequality in the UK. Her concerns were voiced against a background context of the Trussell Trust declaring that 1,087,000 people had visited its foodbanks in the last year, whilst the Sunday Times rich list reported that there are now 117 billionaires living in the UK (up 17 on last year.) The rich list also confirmed that the richest 1,000 had doubled their wealth over the past six years, going from £258 billion to £547 billion.
“We know in Britain that over one million people used foodbanks in the last year– people should not have to work for their own poverty,” said Creagh. “There is no reason to have this level of hunger in the seventh richest country in the world.”
Trussell Trust statistics show low pay and the administration of benefits, particularly the application of sanctions, have been major causes of people going to foodbanks.
Creagh believes that implementation of a living wage as championed by the churches and regulating zero hours contracts would be two good ways of combatting the sort of low pay that leads people to go to food banks. “We want more employers to promote the living wage and sign ‘make work pay contracts’,” said Creagh, who also promoted how the Labour government intend to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2019 and push for more prosecutions of those who fail to pay the minimum wage. There have been just two prosecutions in recent years.
“We would also ban exploitative zero hours contracts, so when someone has worked 12 weeks they would get a contract with the hours set out,” said Creagh, who told how zero hours contracts had risen to 1.8 million over recent years.
The Labour Party also plans to get rid of the sanction targets being set at job centres.
The Labour Party has made a big play of its commitment to improve the NHS, pledging to cap private company’s profits and cut waiting times. It has though been coyer about the role played by the Private Finance Initiative deals, which were deployed during the previous Labour administration and continued under the Coalition Government. Critics claim the burden of debt to private sector companies under these contracts are also impacting on health care.
Creagh was keen to push Labour’s commitment to cut waiting times both at Accident and Emergency in hospitals and for appointments at GPs surgeries. The party also intends to employ more doctors and nurses. She defended PFIs though, declaring that they “transferred the risk from the public to the private sector” with the responsibility for maintaining the facility over 30 years being undertaken by the private company. The shadow spokesperson did though admit that her party had got some things wrong in the early days on PFIs.
Creagh is keen for the battle against climate change to be given a much higher profile under a future government. Speaking from an overseas aid viewpoint she echoed CAFOD claims about the amount of poverty being brought on by the failure to truly tackle climate change. “Then at home there we have seen the effects of climate change in the form of things like the terrible floods of recent years,” said Creagh, who stressed that combatting climate change cannot be seen as an add on but a key central part of the government’s agenda.
The shadow development spokesperson stressed that the Catholic Social Teaching concepts of “dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity” lie at the heart of the  Labour Party’s approach to government.
She condemned the nationalism of UKIP and the SNP as not providing the type of approach needed to tackle the problems that the country faces today.
- see Universe - 1/5/2015