Ed Miliband's mission to reform the Labour party took another step forward last night, as the Labour leader signalled the end of the biennial shadow cabinet elections.
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• Ed Miliband’s reform of the Labour Party took another step forward last night, as the Labour leader signalled the end of the biennial shadow cabinet elections.
The proposal, subject to the approval of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Labour’s National Executive Committee, and annual conference this autumn, is one of a number of submissions to the Refounding Labour consultation, which closes tonight ahead of a meeting of the Labour Party National Policy Forum in Wrexham tomorrow.
Mr Miliband believes the party does not need the distraction of internal elections, and should concentrate on its primary role – holding the government to account. He also believes Labour should be preparing itself for the next election, doing all it can to ensure the party’s structures reflect the fact it should be talking to the public, not itself; that it should be looking outward, not inward.
Writing on Left Foot Forward on Wednesday, Goodman, the shadow prisons minister, expressed fears that Blue Labour “will be hijacked by those whose real agenda is to destroy the welfare state on which so many people depend”, and that, while voluntarism and co-operation “have a part to play” in our communities, “the forces and structure in the modern world require far more than this for them to flourish”.
You can download Goodman’s response to Blue Labour, “Tradition and Change: Four People – A Response to the Politics of Paradox”, here.
• For David Cameron, meanwhile, the present and the future were a little less rosy – with a Commons defeat following yet another U-turn from the prime minister.
Yesterday, the Commons overwhelmingly backed a motion, tabled by a backbench Conservative MP, calling for a ban on the use of circus animals – despite the best efforts of Number 10, setting up another reverse from the government. Describing the farce, Cameron spoke about having “been through the hoops”, “walked the tightropes” and “sent in the clowns”, and insisted “there’s not that much difference between the government position and the motion”.
Earlier, the prime minister performed perhaps the biggest U-turn since coming to power – and there have been a few. For a full list, which we will endeavour to continue to update, see here.
“No one comes out of this sorry saga in a particularly good light and all the political parties should be wary of letting tabloid outrage dictate their policies.
“Abandoning the sentencing discount proposal has left the Ministry of Justice with a severe headache in trying to balance its books. If further cuts are made to the probation service then prison numbers will inevitably rise. Sentencers, without community options available in their areas, will rely on short prison sentences, and an overstretched probation service will set more people up to fail and breach their community orders.
“The criminal justice system will be plunged into further meltdown. The headache will return with ever greater ferocity, and who knows what political complexion the government will have when the next prisons crisis strikes?”
While the papers were even more damning, the Indy describing Mr Cameron as “a political coward who prefers being popular to doing what is best for the nation in the balance between protecting the public, deterring criminals and reforming offenders”, and the Mirror saying:
“Experts in good governance will be running courses on this Conservative car crash for decades… It isn’t the first botched reform and it won’t be the last from this incompetent coalition.”
• With all eyes trained on Libya, and the battle for freedom in the wider Middle East and North Africa, it’s easy to forget the plight of Burma, and in particular the heroic Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung delivered this year’s Reith Lectures, recorded in Burma and smuggled out. The lectures will be broadcast over the coming weeks on BBC Radio 4, starting next Tuesday (June 28), with Aung exploring what freedom means – a lecture which was played out to a packed audience at Broadcasting House on Monday, followed by a Q&A with the speaker.
Matt Gwilliam wrote about the lecture for Left Foot Forward; here are some excerpts:
“Aung San Suu Kyi spoke of how during her years of house arrest, it was the BBC that spoke to her and allowed her, despite the communication only being one way, to feel as if minds were connecting, partially exercising what she felt was a fundamental human right. She went on to discuss why people yearn for freedom and the duties of a dissident.
“A number of times, she spoke of a dissident’s “duties” and how the path of dissidence is a chosen one and that liberty is a product of work, not a philosophical concept. It cannot be internalised and must be exercised. Choosing the hard path, she said, was a dissident exercising that fundamental human right to freedom of choice.
“In one of the most moving passages she explained that one of the reasons she and her comrades carried on their struggle was they “don’t’ know how to stop”, asking how could they desert their comrades in prison…
“Despite the unusual format of this year’s lectures, and the speaker being so far removed behind a screen of censorship breached only by a BBC phone line that could go dead at any time, the occasion felt very intimate and Aung San Suu Kyi’s limited presence still brought about incredible reverance from the audience. Her voice was assured and clear. She spoke softly and calmly.
“She was particularly encouraged by the numbers of young supporters her movement has. Speaking of her movement she said “we are still in the first generation” – adding that she hoped the struggle would not require a second.”
Progressive of the week:
Mark Pritchard, Tory MP for The Wrekin, who stood up to David Cameron to force through a debate on a ban on circus animals in Parliament last night, telling the prime minister to stick it when offered a job in exchange for dropping the motion. The government, however, still maintain there are legal obstacles to a full ban – in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
As shadow environment minister Gavin Shuker explained on Left Foot Forward last week:
“The Scottish government are pursuing a ban, and animal welfare organisations universally agree with that approach. The RSPCA highlight scientific evidence confirming the incompatibility of wild animals with travelling circuses, whilst Animal Defenders International (ADI) has received advice confirming the legality of a ban.
“So the legal advice received by ADI and the last Labour government validates a ban. The present government was set to proceed likewise before the prime minister intervened. Clearly the legal case cannot be overwhelming, and the government have refused to publish their advice. What are they trying to hide?”
Back to Mr Pritchard, and as David Hughes in the Telegraph puts it, he is a man who has “committed political hara-kiri”, “sacrificed his political career” and put principle back into politics:
“The whips will never forgive him and he can forget about any advancement under the current regime. Does he care? It doesn’t sound like it.
“He told the House: ‘I may just be a little council house lad from a very poor background but that background gives me a backbone, it gives me a thick skin. And I am not going to be kow-towed (sic) by the whips or even the prime minister of my country on an issue that I feel passionately about, that I have conviction about.’
“How refreshing that sounds in this era of political careerists who would swallow any principle to climb the greasy pole.”
Regressive of the week:
Bono, the embodiment of right-on rock self righteousness, and, like most of those categorised thus, a stinking hypocrite – in his case, tax avoidance, tax shirking, tax dodging. Today at Glastonbury, Art Uncut, a spin-off of UK Uncut, will protest against U2 when they take the stage ,displaying a giant banner with ‘Bono Pay Up’ written across it in lights during tonight’s headline performance.
As Dominic Browne wrote on Left Foot Forward today:
“The U2 tax story started back in 2006 when the band sparked criticism by ‘shifting parts of its business affairs from Ireland to the Netherlands in response to a cap on generous tax breaks for artists in the republic’.
“The line of defence previously given by U2 spokesperson Paul McGuinness is that: ‘U2 is a global business and pays taxes globally… At least 95% of U2′s business… takes place outside of Ireland and as a result the band pays many different kinds of taxes all over the world.’
“However Irish aid groups have accused the group of ‘robbing the world’s poor’. The Debt and Development Coalition Ireland (DDCI), a coalition of 70 organisations including Oxfam and Concern Worldwide, condemned what they called U2′s ‘tax evasion’ and alleged tax shelter in the Netherlands…
“Many will wish Art Uncut every success and hope that U2 are shamed into paying their fair amount of tax, to help the people who made their success possible. But when our elected officials feel confident enough to brazenly avoid tax while telling us ‘we are all in this together’ it’s hard to have much hope.”
Evidence of the week:
The latest Public Sector Finances bulletin (pdf), released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday, that shows public borrowing remains a little ahead of expectations, evidence the chancellor is not making quite as much progress as he hoped in reducing public sector borrowing.
As Tony Dolphin explained on Left Foot Forward:
“The figures show public sector net borrowing (excluding the effects of financial interventions) was £17.4 billion in May, compared to £18.5 billion in May 2010. This decline is good news, but not quite good enough to reverse April’s very bad figures. As a result, borrowing in the first two months of the financial year was £27.4 billion, £1.5 billion higher than in the same two months of 2010/11…
“Some commentators have blamed weak growth in the economy for the overshoot in public borrowing, but this explanation is too simplistic. Both receipts and expenditure appear to be growing more strongly than expected, which would not be the case if growth was the problem. It is more likely that higher than expected inflation has boosted spending a little more than receipts and that this is the main reason for the overshoot.”
It was a week dominated by riots in East Belfast that were blamed on the UVF, leading the Presbyterian minister, Reverend Mervyn Gibson, to declare that he hadn’t “seen trouble like this for maybe 10 years in the area”. The first and deputy first minister acted swiftly to appoint a senior official to identify and draft proposals to address the grievances that led to the disturbances.
First minister, Peter Robinson, condemned the action, saying:
“At this time when many are working hard to build a better and brighter future for all in Northern Ireland it is disappointing and deeply concerning to see this level of violence return to our streets. In May, an overwhelming majority reaffirmed their desire to see a more stable and peaceful Northern Ireland. I would call on all those involved in this violence to desist immediately.”
One local community worker, Jim Wilson, was quoted in the Newsletter as warning:
“This is very serious, and it is a major setback for community relations. This is the worst I have seen in years, at one point they were fighting hand-to-hand. It is a very dangerous situation at the moment.”
And fresh from his victory at the US Open, Rory Mcllroy said on his return home to Northern Ireland:
“It’s sad to see what’s happened the last couple of nights. I know that 99.9 per cent of the population don’t want to see that. And if I can just be a little bit of positivity in the news then that’s great. I think everyone just wants to live in peaceful times, and I think Northern Ireland deserves it.”
As unions prepare for industrial action next week on the issue of public sector pension reforms, Scottish finance secretary, John Swinney, urged against strike action while making clear his opposition to the UK government’s policies.
Speaking to MSPs he argued:
“At a time of a public-sector pay freeze, rising inflation, increases in national insurance contributions, higher VAT and significant rises in fuel prices, and at a time when consumer confidence is low and we need to kick-start the economy, we believe that it is wrong to require employees to increase their pension contributions.
“We think it is a short-term policy primarily geared towards deficit reduction that will have significant and negative implications on the long-term retirement provision of some of the lowest-paid individuals in our society.”
Meanwhile, as the Commons debated the economy, one year on from the government’s first budget, there were predictions of difficulties ahead for Scotland. As the Item Club warned of lower than predicted growth north of the border as a result of squeezed households finances, Shelter Scotland warned that one in ten Scots were living in fear of having their houses repossessed.
The charity’s head of communications and policy north of the border, Gordon MacRae, explained:
“The taxpayer is going to have to foot the bill for thousands of people becoming homeless. We are gearing up for a perfect storm. Wages have been frozen, household bills are up, food is up and mortgages are costing that little bit more.
“More and more people are worried about how they are going to put a roof over their family’s head. This is not just people who have experienced forms of crisis throughout their lives, but a new demographic of potentially homeless people who have never missed a rent or mortgage payment.
“Everything has gone up in price, while the average wage has not increased. Unless something changes soon, more people are facing the very real prospect of losing their home.”
First minister, Carwyn Jones, used a meeting of the British-Irish Council to call for the Welsh government to be given greater powers over planning decisions for energy projects.
Jones told the meeting:
“The future of our energy supply and the durability of our planning system are hugely important issues that will have a major impact on Wales. I find it incomprehensible that decisions on such important issues do not lie with the Welsh government.
“That is why I have again pressed the UK government on this matter and have today called on the deputy prime minister and the Energy minister to remove this anachronism – and give the people of Wales the same say over these important matters as the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
UK Energy minister, Charles Hendry, opposed such requests.
Meanwhile, having sacked all of Wales’s boundary commissioners following a report that concluded that the commission was not fit for purpose, local government minister, Carl Sargent, launched an attack on the “complacency, under-performance and senseless bureaucracy” within local authorities.
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“Too many local authorities in Wales have independently filled chief executive posts over the past year without first looking at all the options. We are missing opportunities not only to make savings, but more importantly, to recruit the best quality people, from within and beyond Wales, who can help us deliver an ambitious change agenda.
“Joint appointments will also serve to further encourage authorities and other public sector organisations to work hand in hand and offer shared services which would best serve the public.
“I am expecting much more progress in this area. If I do not see it, I will have to consider other more directive options to force the pace.”