Opt in – Ed Miliband needs to think again

Ed MilibandIt is well worth reading Pete Murphy’s article over at Union News about the trade union political funds. Apparently, figures from the Trade Union Certification Officer show a sharp rise in spending on political campaigning work, which includes major demonstrations such as TUC-led protests in March 2011 and October 2012. The full report is available on the Certification Office website: www.certoffice.org

It is important to understand the distinction that the maintenance of seperate political funds by trade unions is a legislative requirement, as is the statutory provision for individuals to be able to opt out of paying into that fund; but the decision whether or not to donate money to the Labour Party is a voluntary arrangement governed only by the rule books of individual unions and the Labour Party itself

[Correction, the calculations in Pete Murphy’s article are incorrect – the right figures are as follows] The most interesting statistic is that although UNISON has the largest political fund, a hefty 35.3% of their members have opted out of paying into the political fund. By comparison, only 4.1% of GMB members opt out and just 4.7% of USDAW members.
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Labour’s 1929 Election Poster


I am no fan of David Miliband, but during the Commons debate on the Tory Welfare Reform Bill, he used the example of a Labour Party poster from 1929 to illustrate the mindset of the Tories, both yellow and blue, when it comes to equality and making sacrifices during a recession.

It is a very effective poster, which speaks more powerfully than words, and Labour could do worse than produce an up to date version now.

David Miliband’s speech is worth listening to. He spoke powerfully and landed some telling blows on the Tories and their Lib-Dem bag carriers.

They really are the scum of the Earth.




Ed Miliband Gets It Wrong on Immigration

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech on immigration to the Institute for Public Policy Research on 22 June was both ill conceived and ill advised, pandering to the most regressive and simplistic logic regarding unemployment and social relations in Britain today. It comes on the back of his recent speech on Britishness, another ill conceived and ill advised intervention, which suggests either a political compass skewed to the right on both issues, or a concerted attempt to win support from a white working class which views its interests threatened by immigrants and the supposed alien cultural values they uphold. Perhaps it is both.

Regardless, for a Labour leader to pander to such reductionist views during the worst economic crisis this country has faced since the 1930s bespeaks a staggering lack of judgment not to mention analysis. In the process Miliband has left immigrants politically defenceless by all the mainstream parties, bolstering the narrative of the far right and distracting from the real causes of unemployment, low pay, pressure on public services, and the crisis in social housing.

On inequality towards the end of Labour’s period in office, Miliband said

‘At least by the end of our time in office, we were too dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price.

By focusing too much on globalization and migration’s impact on growth, we lost sight of who was benefiting from that growth – and the people who were being squeezed’.

Here it should be recalled that it was under Labour that the 1000 wealthiest people in Britain saw their combined wealth increase a staggering 204 percent in ten years, from £97 billion to just over £300 billion. This was the demographic which benefited from growth during the boom years of globalization, the result of a conscious decision by the then Labour Party leadership to embrace globalization, privatization, and deregulation without addressing the sharp increase in inequality that took place as a direct result.

According to The Poverty Site, in 2008/09, during New Labour’s third consecutive term in office, 13½ million people in the UK were living in households below the 60% low-income threshold after deducting housing costs. This is around a fifth (22%) of the population. This 13½ million figure for 2008/09 was unchanged from 2007/08, and was 1½ million more than the low point in 2004/05. Moreover, it followed six uninterrupted years of decreases from 1998/1999 to 2004/05 and were the first increases since 1996/97.

In effect, poverty initially decreased during New Labour’s first two terms in power before increasing during its last.

A comprehensive report on inequality commissioned by the Brown government in 2010 provides further evidence of New Labour’s atrocious record on inequality. Titled An Anatomy of Inequality in the UK, and compiled by the National Equality Panel led by Prof John Mills of the London School of Economics, the report includes the finding that ‘by 2007-8 Britain had reached the highest level of income inequality since soon after the Second World War’.

The report includes research by Save the Children which revealed that 13 percent of children in Britain were living in severe poverty, and more crucially that ‘efforts to reduce child poverty had been stalling even before the recession began in 2008’.

Significantly, nowhere in the 460-page report does there appear the suggestion that immigration played a role in exacerbating income inequality during the period concerned. On the contrary, the report finds that

‘Compared with a white British Christian man with similar qualifications, age and occupation, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim men and Black African Christian men have an income that is 13-21% lower. Nearly half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households are in poverty’.

Research carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, who released its findings in January of this year (reported in The Independent), throws up even more significant conclusions. In contradistinction to the commonly held belief by anti-immigration groups and the right, the research found that

“the interaction between migrant inflows and GDP emerges as positive, indicating that during periods of lower growth, migrant inflows are associated with … slower [dole] claimant growth than would otherwise have occurred.”

Further, Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, argued that most of the rise in youth unemployment took place in 2008 and 2009, a period when the number of Eastern European workers entering the UK declined.

It is simply untrue that immigration leads to an increase in unemployment or inequality. What has led to both, and disgracefully under Labour’s last period in office given the party’s founding principles, has been a failure of government to curb the excesses of the rich and big business, whose unfettered and reckless greed has blighted social cohesion and led to the economic meltdown we are currently experiencing.

When it comes to housing, Ed Miliband said in his speech

‘rapid changes in population led to pressures on scarce resources such as housing and schools’.

This claim is contradicted by a 2009 report compiled by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into Social Housing Allocation and Immigrant Communities. Its authors, Jill Rutter and Maria Latorre, write in the report’s Executive Summary that

‘New migrants to the UK over the last five years make up less than two per cent of the total of those in social housing. Some 90 per cent of those who live in social housing are UK born. Most of the newly-arrived migrant group who occupy social tenancies are refugees who have been granted permission to remain in the UK. This group is numerically small in relation to the total of social tenants in the UK. For example, LFS analysis estimates that 19,200 Afghanistan-born persons were social tenants in the third quarter of 2007, out of 10,337,300 total social tenants in the UK’.

Further on the authors state

‘Analysis of social housing allocation policies showed no evidence that social housing allocation favours foreign migrants over UK citizens. But there is a small amount of evidence which suggests that they [social housing allocation policies] may, unintentionally, discriminate against ethnic minority communities who may also have less understanding than white groups, of their housing rights and housing allocation’.

Crucially, the authors provide an analysis as to the reasons for the mistaken perception that immigrants receive preferential treatment when it comes to the allocation of social housing.

‘Media reporting of issues around migration and social housing migration has great potential to set the public agenda. Anti-migration messages are more consistent than pro-migration messages and are often ‘common sense’ – for example, migrants put pressure on social housing. Myth-busting exercises about social housing allocation, conducted by local authorities or other interested parties, are unlikely to change public misconceptions about housing allocation’.

Ed Miliband’s speech on immigration reveals that he himself has fallen foul of this common misconception. Either that or he is guilty of rank opportunism in jumping on this particular bandwagon in order to increase support among its victims. Both or either of the aforementioned explanations are unacceptable when it comes to the leader of the Labour Party.

Rather than pander to these regressive views and common misconceptions that clearly exist among many ordinary working people, the Labour Party has a duty to defend immigrants by offering an analysis that is shorn of falsehood and urban myth. As leader of the party, Ed Miliband in particular is tasked with imparting a progressive vision which challenges the received truths of the right, including the right wing media, regardless of the traction these received truths have gained within working class communities.

Making matters worse when it comes to Ed Miliband’s analysis of the crisis in social housing in Britain is that by now there is no doubt whatsoever as to its underlying cause. The  Thatcher government’s Right-To-Buy legislation of the 1980s decimated council housing stocks throughout the country, with no government taking meaningful steps to replenish it since. Instead, the failure of successive governments to ensure adequate supply has consistently been blamed on excessive demand. New Labour’s role in this regard again stands as an indictment of the values which the Labour Party was initially founded to represent.

Ultimately, if the Labour Party under Ed Miliband’s stewardship is to offer a progressive alternative to the Tory-led coalition government, it must break decisively with Blairism. There is no evidence to suggest that immigration threatens the welfare and livelihoods of working people in Britain. There is however a plethora of evidence, both empirical and historical, that an economy skewed in favour of the rich and big business does.

“party Within a Party”, a Structural Obstacle to Labour’s Revival

by Jon Lansman from Left Futures

In the face of defeat in Bradford, Ed Miliband has recognised that Labour needs “real, deep, genuine change” to reconnect with the 5 million voters lost under New Labour. At the same time, Labour right-wingers like Luke Akehurst express “disgustthat other Labour members can put aside loyalty to their party to express solidarity not only with the voters of Bradford West who rejected Labour but even with Respect leader Salma Yaqoob. They fail to recognise that what prevents others feeling the tribal loyalty they espouse is the very same barrier that is preventing Labour breaking through to regain the support of its lost core voters. And it is Blairism.

At the heart of the ideology which is the legacy of Blair (and underpins the party-within-a-party, Progress, which he created to sustain it) is a rejection of the politics of class and equality, and of the organisations of labour that created Labour to promote them. Blairism has no interest in the redistribution of wealth and power; the removal of reference to redistribution in Clause IV was not symbolic. Its loyalty is to those who own and manage business, and its practice is managerial.

The only equality to which Blairism pays lipservice is equality of opportunity, that false hope that cannot be delivered without a much deeper equality. Blairism offers the politics of the American dream, the politics of “I want to be a Millionaire“.

This is not true of the traditional Labour right. They share the Centre-Left’s understanding of class inequality. They support the redistribution of wealth and power. They understand the need for trade unions and solidarity, for collective decision-making and action.

The division between the traditional Labour right and the Blairites is roughly the division between Labour First and Progress, though many individuals operate in denial of the underlying differences. New Labour habits die hard. And many traditional right-wingers undoubtedly see the alliance of Labour First and Progress as necessary to restrain the party from a shift to the Left.

What all those who share social democratic values, left and right, should understand is that demonstrating a commitment to class equality and to solidarity, and to making a total break with Blairism, is absolutely essential to winning back those 5 million voters. It may be hard for those who remain grateful to Blair for the victories over which he presided as leader, or who suffer the cognitive dissonance resulting from their own involvement in his government. But unless we make that break, we will not breakthrough to win.

And they should also understand that the reason so many of those who have social democratic values are so unsympathetic towards Progress is not so much the money and the influence bought, not the lack of openness, internal democracy and transparency — we have grown used to these things under New Labour — it is that they see the values of Blairism, and Blair himself, as alien to social democracy.

Miliband on Party Funding: Right Direction but Devil is in the Detail

by Jon Lansman from Left Futures

For the Labour Left, the critical issue about party funding has been protecting the Labour-Union link. The trade unions founded Labour to represent the interests of working people, who at the time were disenfranchised and without a voice. Unique amongst European social democratic parties, Labour’s link isn’t just about money, it remain’s crucial to its politics and many on the Labour right think so too:

I value the contribution of the unions to Labour now. Not just the hard cash, without which we would be bankrupt with no staff and no ability to campaign. But also the practical campaign support at a grassroots level. The policy input bringing bread-and-butter workplace issues to the table. The level-headed trade unionists on our NEC and regional boards who bring measured common sense to our deliberations. The ability to involve hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people in our democracy, not least in our leadership elections.

So said Luke Akehurst earlier this year. But Blair was different. He was actively hostile to the union link, the key difference between New Labour and the traditional Labour right-wing. Although the devil is in the detail of any party funding proposals, Ed Miliband seems to have moved well away from Blair’s position in two key respects:

Firstly, he wants to protect union affiliation in its present form:

The other thing we get form trade unions is the £3 that each individual trade union levy payer pays, people who affiliate to the Labour party, three million people around this country – nurses, shop workers, engineers…

At a time when people say politics is too detached from working people I value the link with the trade union movements, that link stays and I believe in that link and one of the reasons I believe in that link is because of the link it provides us to working people around this country. It’s not just hat working people founded the Labour party, it’s that they keep us rooted in our communities now and I don’t want them disenfranchised, so they continue to be part of this process.

And secondly he is putting considerably emphasis on cutting expenditure rather than income:

I think it’s currently towards £20m – £18m, £19m –  over the course of a general election, I think that’s too high, that’s a matter for negotiations but I think it should be substantially less. If parties can’t spend the money, they’re less likely to try and raise the money.”

The latter point is crucial if we are to avoid fuelling demands for more state funding. The public are in no mood to back giving yet more funding to political parties — Labour already receives over £6.5m a year. And more state funding woud be a barrier to change — it reinforces the power of  party leaders through whom the funds pass, and funding is on the basis of past not current or future support (though the smaller parties have opposing positions, UKIP against state funding, the Greens in favour provided its allocated based on votes not seats won).

There is no reason why national expenditure should not be significantly reduced. There is already access to free TV airtime for party political broadcasts, and legal restrictions ensure a measure of balance in news coverage and formal debates. Do we really need billboard posters which are so easily lampooned on the internet, and which are inappropriately targeted at marginals anyway?

This is a crucial issue for the Labour left and the trade unions. We all need to keep a close watch on developments. But whilst we would not go as far as Labour List (“Ed Miliband saves the union link“), we should recognise that Ed Miliband has moved significantly in the right direction.

Real Londoners Not Actors: Yes We Ken

You may have seen that Labour’s opponents now claim that the people shown in our election broadcast were actors.

Today Ken’s campaign is releasing this video of some of the people in the broadcast. They answer for themselves how they are the real deal, and how London will be better of with Ken. In its own quiet way it says more than a thousand hysterical Tory attacks: real Londoners explaining why they chose to back Labour in this election.