It is Sturgeon who wanted to take Scotland out of the EU, not Cameron

The Scottish TV leader debates have been revealing. Where the SNP have had to defend their actual government record, Nicola Sturgeon has come over as tetchy, and the audience skeptical.

However, the point that gripped me was that Scotland’s First Minister talked of a London Tory government taking Scotland out of the EU, against the will of the Scottish people. It is my belief that during last year’s referrendum, YES campaigners seemingly sought to hoodwink the electorate about the potential risks; and thus inhibit people from making an informed decision.

The half-truths about currency and expected North Sea Oil revenue revealed a tendency to adopt the most optimistic outcome as not only likely, but almost inevitable. The issue of EU membership is another area where the Scottish government, the SNP, and the official YES campaign sought to pour sand in the eyes of the electorate, and the SNP keep on doing so.

Scotland has been a member of the EU, and its predecessor organizations, for 40 years; but it has been so as a member of the United Kingdom, and should Scotland become independent, then it will be rUk that is the successor state that inherits the existing membership, and terms of membership, including the opt-outs negotiated by previous UK governments, over, for example, rebates, and Schengen.

If the UK seeks to leave the EU, then the whole of the UK would leave the EU, and any part of the UK subsequently seeking to re-enter the EU would need to apply anew.

There is no provision in the existing law and treaties for deciding whether Scotland would be permitted to continue with EU membership without interruption, and on the same terms as the UK, or to allow Scotland to stay in the EU if rUK leaves.

The YES campaign took a very bullish approach to this:

As explained in its “independence roadmap” and in its white paper “Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”, the Scottish Government proposes to agree the terms of Scotland’s continued membership of the EU between the date of the referendum, and the proposed date of independence on 24th March 2016.

In that way questions relating to our ongoing EU membership can be settled before we become independent. Scotland already is part of the EU – so there is no doubt that we meet all the requirements for membership, and with our energy and fishing resources it is clearly common sense, and in the interests of the EU, that Scotland’s place in the EU continues seamlessly.

Even the UK government’s expert European legal adviser has accepted that this timetable is “realistic”. So Scotland’s EU membership will be secure by the time we are independent.

However, in a letter from Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission sent to Christina McKelvie, Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee this March, her official view spelt out that:

The Treaties apply to the Member States. When part of the territory of a Member State ceases to be a part of that State, e.g. because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a new independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the Treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply anymore on its territory.

Under Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, any European state which respects the principles set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union may apply to become a member of the EU. If the application is accepted by the Council acting unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, an agreement is then negotiated between the applicant state and the Member States on the conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties which such admission entails.

This agreement is subject to ratification by all Member States and the applicant state.

In the event of independence the Scottish government would therefore need to negotiate, and seek agreement from all 28 existing members. Many of these member countries may favour the approach advocated by the Scottish Government, but it is reasonable to suppose, as Ruairi Quinn, former president of EU’s finance council has predicted, that, for example, Spain and Belgium might ‘veto an independent Scotland’s EU membership’

Certainly, the continuity of Scotland’s EU membership cannot be guaranteed, and the terms of its future accession would need to be negotiated. Any negotiations may well also reveal that Scotland, divorced from the UK, does not have a strong bargaining position; and some areas might be highly problematic, and – for example – commitments to keep an open border with England may conflict with requirements that other EU states might seek relating to Scotland joining the Schengen area.

Of course for those committed to independence, any risk, and almost any cost, will be justifiable. This is also true of the SNP’s claim that it would be possible for Labour to be routed in Scotland, and yet the SNP still be able to wave a magic wand to keep the Conservatives out of office. Despite some previous precedents, if the Conservatives are the largest party,the current constitutional convention would give them the momentum to form a minority government. The SNP seem to be weeping crocodile tears about how dreadful a future Conservative government in Westminster would be, while their supporters wage a shrill and aggressive campaign demonising Scottish Labour as “the Red Tories”, and promising to “drive them out”, creating the conditions for Conservative victory at the UK government level.

Without a number of victories for the Scottish Labour Party, then it is highly likely that it will be David Cameron and not Ed Miliband who forms the next government. If Scottish voters want a Labour government, they are going to have to vote for one.

Who Can Speak For The People In The Leaders’ Debate

By Ian Drummond

It seems the main drama of the run-up to the election is going out more with a whimper than a bang tonight, a debate less of the Magnificent Seven than the Seven Dwarves. And what a pantomime it’s been, from the interminable debates about debates to the final dog’s breakfast of a resolution. The Presidential debate was fudged and thus dodged last week, substituting robust ideological debate between the only possible Prime Ministers with what almost seemed a bad marriage, in which they passed through the same rooms without saying a word to each other, on a day where Richard III of all people emerged as the most sympathetic character on live, event television. Now there seems to be no logic or fairness to which leaders and parties are and are not represented in the only proper national debate.

The primary blame must lie with Cameron, whose hypocritical cowardice and attempt to dodge scrutiny came across as plainly as the plum in his voice. That he fought off a head to head with Milliband to the bitter end, rather than grabbing it with both hands as a solution to the dilemma of Nigel Farage’s eclipsing of Nick Clegg, either gives the lie to his main campaign theme of denigrating the Labour leader as an incapable figure of fun, or else speaks to an extreme lack of confidence in his own case. Instead he demanded the inclusion of the Greens, then the broadcasters, as if in a game of poker, called his bluff then raised both of them the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

So tonight we’re left with a hodgepodge of parties of varying size and significance, some national to Britain and others nationalists wanting to leave Britain, with other parties both nationalist and national of equivalent size and significance left out. And crucially, at a time when politics has never been crying out for it more, no one to speak out clearly and decisively against the Westminster elite and its various iron clad consensuses from austerity to war, not because no such party or leader exists but because they have been excluded.

Of course Cameron’s Green manoeuvre could be seen as an attempt to give Labour a UKIP problem of its own and outflank it to its left, but to imagine Cameron was ever happy to see his record subjected to the kind of forensic scrutiny a serious left representative could bring to bear is to give him too much credit, given his attitude even to debating Ed Milliband. In fact it may have just been a stalling technique, but another, deeply cynical explanation surely became apparent to many after Natalie Bennett’s infamous “brain freeze” moment, or in the interview where she implied membership ISIS and al-Qaeda should be legal as long as the members didn’t break the laws against violence. A distinction without a difference if ever there was one, catnip to the anti-“PC gone mad” bigots, and the most asinine argument imaginable in defence the beleaguered Muslim community, almost 100% of whom have no interest in joining ISIS, while the handful that do have no interest in setting up a legal organisation even if given the chance. And a gaffe that could now be used against her whenever she makes a sensible and potentially very popular point against austerity. So while the Greens are to the left of the Labour leadership on a range of issues, and have been having a successful few months’ recruitment, to imagine they’re about to emerge as a British Syriza or Podemos is pretty far-fetched, and to be blunt the fact they replaced the very talented Caroline Lucas with Bennett as leader, so soon after a bloody battle inside the party just to establish the leader role, is symptomatic of why that is. On a side note the Greens aren’t even a national party but officially the Green Party of England and Wales, and instead of taking a principled position either way on the monumental issue of the Scottish referendum deferred to the Scottish Greens who joined most of the trendy left in an unprincipled tailing of Scottish nationalism.

Which neatly brings us to the broadcasters first addition to the field, and there’s no doubt that the Scottish National Party are newsworthy these days. In fact they fit the bill for “Labour’s UKIP” better than the Greens, and in fact will most likely do far more damage to Labour than UKIP will to the Tories. The irony is that just a few months ago one of their main arguments for leaving Britain was the inferiority of first past the post to the Scottish Parliament’s proportional electoral system, but now that same hated Westminster system looks set to give them almost every seat in Scotland for 45%of the vote and of course they don’t seem to mind but rather pretend to speak for all Scots. It’s true that their new leader is to the left of her predecessor, though she’s shown this more so far by dropping his Thatcherite policy of cutting corporation tax than by any great initiative of her own, and it’s also true the SNP leadership is to the left of the Blairite leader of Scottish Labour but then so is Ed Milliband, which seems to be the main reason Jim Murphy returned to tics in the first place. So despite adopting ferocious rhetoric on austerity, and being a far slicker political machine than the Greens, the SNP can at best be seen as temporary and slippery allies by those they are now courting south of the border.

A look at their now 8 years in government in Scotland, with barely a redistributive measure in sight, zero money put aside to fight austerity in the coming year, Tory cuts including the vile bedroom tax passed on (until they were forced reluctantly to use the powers of devolution against it) and friendly relations with the likes of Donald Trump and even Rupert Murdoch after the hacking scandal, shows that whatever else the SNP are they are no socialists. And on the iconic red line of Trident Sturgeon has both ruled out and left open the possibility of backing down more than once; it may yet be that Trident will be to the SNP as fees were to the LibDems. In any case any attempt to reform Britain as a whole will always be a poor second for them to the true aim of splitting it and leaving the English working people to fend for themselves, if against a strengthened Conservative Party then so be it. Ominously for the future of the country the Tories and SNP are already feeding off each other to get support in the election, and the Scottish-English chasm this is opening up will always be more of a prize for the nationalists than any progressive policy or even power at a British level.

That the SNP, given the post-referendum political earthquake in Scotland, were included may be understandable. That the broadcasters then included Plaid Cymru, and nobody else, is inexplicable. While Scottish politics has been transformed by nationalism in recent times, Welsh nationalism remains stagnant, with devolution and a brief coalition with Plaid having actually strengthened Welsh Labour. Wales is now one of the most stable, least decisive battlegrounds of this whole unstable and unpredictable election. The Plaid leader Leanne Wood is an estimable person, a self described socialist, but isn’t even a legend in her own manor of Wales let alone in the country as a whole. There has been no surge in Plaid membership, and they’re about as unlikely to differ from the SNP at this point, given the affinity and imbalance, as the Scottish Greens would have been to add anything genuinely different and significant had Patrick Harvie been included alongside Natalie Bennett. That Plaid have been included while none of the Northern Ireland parties have been is one of the biggest examples of why the debate is such a mess. The Republicans and Unionists in Norhtern Ireland may agree about very little, but the DUP and Sinn Fein, at the very least, would both be right to see themselves as more significant than Plaid, both in size and by being in government. And most importantly of all perhaps in the size of their Westminster contingents, especially as the DUP may yet prop up a Tory government just short of a majority and almost did last time, had Cameron not come too far short. The rest of Britain might like to see who would be calling the shots in that most reactionary of several possible outcomes, in fact it may well affect some people’s votes.

The broadcasters’ final gaping omission is even more serious, in that an all-Britain party and leader that met all the criteria so inconsistently applied elsewhere is not appearing, despite being the only one who could truly hold Cameron and the Westminster elite to account, without the complications of the Greens and the not so hidden agendas of the nationalists. George Galloway is the greatest orator of his generation, his every appearance on Question Time an event; it’s a point of consensus even by those who don’t like him that no-one else could have done what he did at the US Senate, and Alex Salmond paid him a backhanded compliment in the Scottish referendum by refusing to debate him. More importantly for this debate, his party Respect has exactly the same amount of MPs as the Greens and until the defection of two Tories had far more than UKIP. Unlike Plaid it is currently going through a surge, with councillors defecting from Labour and all ex-Respect councillors returning (a feat no other party has managed on such a scale as far as I know, not that UKIP for one would want to given the way it usually parts company with its councillors!), new bases being set up such as in Halifax and George’s own re-election against a shambolic Labour party looking more assured by the day. The real reason the Westminster bubble apes the Scottish separatist in refusing to debate him looks suspiciously like fear and bias, but that doesn’t look like it will be able to stop a second Bradford Spring.

What it will stop, regrettably, is the debate audience hearing a coherent and incisive alternative to the discredited mainstream, on a raft of issues now set to be overlooked or reduced to an almost parodic false dichotomy. On domestic politics and the national question on this island this will perhaps be easiest of all to see, with the SNP (and Plaid), and Cameron and Farage, creating an impression of Thatcherite Britain/England versus left wing Celtic separatism. The case Labour should make and used to be good at making about class solidarity across medieval imaginary borders may yet be namechecked by Milliband, but however well he puts it his party is now hamstrung in Scotland by the disastrous decision to fight the referendum jointly with the Tories. Scotland and England, and working people the world over, really are better together, but Labour and the Tories really were not. George Galloway on the other hand played a decisive role in the campaign to save Britian, independently of the sclerotic and disastrous official No campaign. His Just Say Naw tour reached tens of thousands of working class and left wing Scots, pointing out the practical holes in the SNP’s vision of independence, the Thatcherite nature of Salmond’s key pledges, the ugliness that petty nationalism was creating and the wider labourite case for workers’ unite across this small island. Although Gordon Brown’s late intervention was definitely also significant, the semi-official history that makes him the sole saviour of the union, let alone gives credit to the Better Together campaign which perhaps did more than the effective Yes campaign to turn a 70/30 initial split against separation into 55/45, is self defeatingly wrong to airbrush out both Galloway’s contribution and the politics it represents. While the working class, anti-establishment nature of his battle for Britain may preclude being offered a knighthood for his role in saving the country, he certainly deserves better than to have the Labour candidate of all people use his campaign to keep Scotland in the union and not doom the north of England to perpetual Tory governments as a reason to vote him out in Bradford.

On his speciality of foreign affairs, far from making the anti-war movement look silly by talk of legalising ISIS and al-Qaeda if only they’d be non-violent, George Galloway was until very recently the only person in frontline British politics warning against ISIS at a time when the Cameron government wanted to bomb Syria in an effective military alliance with them. Respect’s position in defence of minorities sees it often crudely labelled a Muslim party, yet it was for a time Respect almost alone in British politics that stood up for the minorities, including Christian minorities in the lands where Christ himself lived, now threatened with annihilation by jihadis funded mainly by the West’s allies in the Gulf, such friends of liberty as Saudi Arabia. While Churchill was feted as “the man who was right”, put in the Cabinet and shortly became Prime Minister when his warnings about the Nazis turned out to be true, Galloway’s prescience on ISIS was airbrushed from the political narrative when our leaders belatedly came round to the understanding that they were seriously bad news. When he tried to bring his experience to bear by warning against playing into the hands of ISIS again by giving them the bombing campaign they were effectively asking for, he was heckled by both sides of the House of Commons, one MP even saying they “didn’t want a history lesson”, while Jacqui Smith on This Week acknowledged his point that the Iraq War had killed a million people by saying it was a different issue, and so presumably didn’t matter!

In fact it seems like a theme in George Galloway’s political life that his prescience, because it upsets the establishment, ends up being held against him. On Iraq there are now few people who would argue against his main point that it was an illegal immoral unwinnable war, yet his ferocious opposition to Tony Blair’s warmongering still sees him treated as persona non grata by much of the political mainstream, even as Blair himself becomes more and more of a liability to Labour. On Palestine his campaigning of now 40 years standing for the rights of the Palestinian people has never seemed more obviously correct, as Netanyahu wins an election in Israel on an openly racist campaign and increasingly cuts ties with almost all international players bar the rabid wing of the US Republican Party. Yet instead of being hailed for being right all along, Galloway is first brutally beaten in the streets by an extreme Israel supporter without a single public condolence from any mainstream politician, then attacked on Question Time as an anti-semite by a loaded audience, with the chair and other panellists complicit. This despite his being, as on ISIS Syria, pretty much the only British politician to call out the fascist nature of many of the west’s allies in the Ukraine, final solution nostalgics now in the government coalition of a land where much of the final solution took place. Even his robust defence of Julian Assange, the issue that proved most controversial for him on the left, and saw him traduced by the Scottish Green leader without context or decency as a rape denier in front of thousands of schoolchildren in the biggest debate of the independence referendum, has recently become far harder to fault him for as the new Swedish government has itself backed down and agreed to question Assange in London after all, as they could and should have at any time since 2010.

Given all of this it’s no wonder the establishment, both political and media, would never willingly invite him to their party, as he is so very well placed and inclined to spoil it. And to do so on behalf of working people, of all colours, creeds and all parts of this small island. That real labour, socialist and anti-imperialist tradition, not separatist nationalism dressed up as old labour, is the alternative Britain needs, and in excluding the former while over-representing the latter the broadcasters put our fragile union more at risk. Just as well then that big media companies are trusted about as much as politicians these days…

Public Inquiry needed – was blacklisting extended into the NHS?

GMB is calling for a public inquiry to investigate the evidence that has now come to light that there was a plan to extend blacklisting into NHS in 2005.

Blacklisting in the construction industry came to light when in 2009 the ICO seized The Consulting Association (TCA) database of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep out of employment trade union and health and safety activists. TCA was run by Ian Kerr based in Worcestershire.

In new evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on blacklisting there is a private and confidential letter on TCA headed paper from Ian Kerr dated 22nd February 2005 entitled Healthcare – Facilities Management. It was sent to John Conner, Amec: Liz Keats, Carillion; Iain Coates, Emcor Drake & Scull; Don Walker, Haden Building Management; Danny O’Sullivan, Kier, Alf Lucas, John Mowlem; and Allison Wilkins and Stephen Quant, Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil.

The letter from Ian Kerr states

“Following last year’s meeting to consider a facilities management meeting I am now able to offer the following dates for a further meeting to cover the healthcare sector.

Please circle ALL dates convenient for you to attend a meeting at Skanska’s offices
Fleet Street, London, commencing 10.30am.

MARCH 2005

Tues 22nd Thurs 24th Wed 30th Thurs 31st”

The Liz Keates referred to had responsibility for HR at Carillion facilities management contracts in the Health service. She was involved as HR at Swindon PFI Hospital where 51 GMB members are pursuing claims at an ET to hold Carillion to account for race discrimination, bullying and harassment and victimisation that she failed to deal with at the hospital, leading to 21 days of strike action in 2012.

Liz Keates (LK), as Head of Employee Relations at Carillion plc was named by Ian Kerr as the main contact for Carillion / Crown House Engineering and Tarmac. She joined Crown House Engineering, which was part of Tarmac, in 1998. The initials LK appear 92 times against 75 different individuals in the blacklist files while working for the company 3271/81, the code used for Crown House Engineering, Carillion and Tarmac. 64 separate workers have been refused work after Liz Keates checked their records with The Consulting Association. 11 of these were refused work twice and 2 workers refused work three times. Carillion, and associated companies, have been described by Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd as ‘heavy users of the Consulting Association in terms of the amount of information provided by the Carillion Third Parties on workers. Further, the number of occasions on which the Carillion Third Parties are recorded as refusing employment to workers is particularly high compared to other members of the Consulting Association.’

There will be a hearing in the High Court in London on 14th May seeking compensation for 122 GMB members blacklisted by Carillion and other construction employers. The claims were served on 27th November 2013. GMB’s claims were joined with a further 449 claims by other unions and parties at a High Court Hearing in July 2014.

Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer, said

“We know that construction workers and environmentalists were blacklisted.

Private and confidential papers belonging to Ian Kerr show Liz Keates from Carillion as one of eight invitees to a meeting to cover issues in the healthcare sector.
It is quite clear that Ian Kerr and The Consulting Association saw a role for their services in the NHS and questions should be asked whether Carillion and Liz Keates did so as well. The British public has the right to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the full extent of blacklisting; only a full Public Inquiry will do this.

These papers give the lie to Carillion’s claims that they had no involvement with TCA from 2004 onwards.”

Copy of letter from Ian Kerr dated 22nd Feb 2005.

THE CONSULTING ASSOCIATION
——————————————————————————————————————–

PO Box No. 246, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, B60 4AB

22nd February 2005

PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL

Dear

Healthcare – Facilities Management

Following last year’s meeting to consider a facilities management meeting
am now able to offer the following dates for a further meeting to cover the healthcare sector.

I will be grateful if you can return this letter to me indicating which dates ar

Please circle ALL dates convenient for you to attend a meeting at Skanska’s offices
Fleet Street, London, commencing 10.30am.

MARCH 2005

Tues 22nd Thurs 24th Wed 30th Thurs 31st

As soon as a date is agreed I will write to confirm with an outline agenda an
directions.

As mentioned before please indicate if you wish to introduce a colleague fro
company.

Yours sincerely

Ian Kerr

To:

John Conner Amec
Liz Keats Carillion
Iain Coates Emcor Drake & Scull
Don Walker Haden Building Management
Danny O’Sullivan Kier
Alf Lucas John Mowlem
Allison Wilkins Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil
Stephen Quant Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil

Labour’s immigration mug will be a collector’s item for racists up and down the country

election_Labour_im_3249627bLabour’s immigration mug constitutes a white flag of surrender (no pun intended) to the Tories, UKIP, the Daily Mail, and the forces of the right. The mug, the message it embraces, reeks of cynicism and opportunism, reminding us that Labour still has a distance to travel before its base can feel entirely comfortable in returning to the fold after years spent in a Blairite wilderness. Here it is worth recalling that in the course of three elections, Labour under Blair shed five million votes on lower and lower turnouts, while the membership went into steep decline. The reason why is precisely the departure from real Labour values represented by this utterly crass and offensive mug.

It is not racist to advocate controls on immigration, supporters of clamping down on immigration never tire of repeating. Perhaps, but it’s certainly not anti-racist to do so either. Immigration is a euphemism for the politics of race, however you want to cut it, offering safe terrain for every swivel-eyed racist seeking legitimacy and a mainstream audience.

The best that can be said for the focus on controlling immigration is that it is a diversion from the real cause of the iniquities of society after five years of that mass experiment in human despair otherwise known as austerity. The savage cuts to welfare that have been implemented, the wholesale sucking of demand out of the economy, with its concomitant anchoring of poverty pay, zero hours contracts, and food banks as the norm for millions of people in Britain in 2015, this is the product of an offensive unleashed against working people and the poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. It has been done using the global economic crisis as a pretext for effecting the transference of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Immigration is but a smokescreen, a classic case of dog whistle politics obscuring the only divide that matters in any society between those who have wealth and power and those who do not. It’s not as if this divide is completely hidden either. All we need do is take a look at the annual Sunday Times Rich List to view what amounts to a rogue’s gallery of the beneficiaries of a system built and maintained on the bones of the poor.

Labour’s pledge to control immigration is, furthermore, incompatible with its support for Britain’s continuing membership of the EU, within which the free movement of labour and people is enshrined. This means that what the Labour Party strategists behind this transparent chase for UKIP votes in marginal seats are doing is doubly offensive – not only an insult to immigrants and their families, effectively marginalising them, but also to our collective intelligence.

Currently there are strict controls on immigration to Britain. Just try telling any non-British citizen who’s had the experience of coming through Heathrow that Britain’s immigration controls are lax. They would likely laugh in your face at the same time as breaking out into a rash with the memory of the stress involved.

Migration is as old as humanity itself, and attempting to impede the natural right of people to escape poverty, war, and social convulsion is both futile and cruel. And applying words such as ‘quality’ when it comes to categorising human beings with the same fears, needs, and hopes we all possess is simply grotesque.

Every economic indicator proves that immigration has been a net benefit to the UK economy. Yes, many have not felt or experienced this benefit; but this is an argument about wealth redistribution rather than immigration, the very political terrain that Labour should be occupying.

The five million British citizens working and living overseas are the other side of an argument that invites us to view the world through the narrow and distorting prism of ‘ourselves alone’ rather than the broader and enlightening prism of interconnectedness.

Ever since Labour capitulated to Thatcherite nostrums and took its place alongside the Tories at the altar of the market and the rich, general elections in this country have presented the electorate with a choice between the political equivalent of a heart attack or cancer – i.e. between bad and worse than bad. The political desert we are now living in is the result, a place so inhospitable and barren that anti-politics-as-normal has emerged as the new driving force of political expression, fuelling the emergence of UKIP in England and in Scotland that meteoric rise of the SNP. The politics of identity, of which the issue of immigration is central, offers the illusion of an escape hatch from reality.

That said the huge upsurge in support for the SNP in Scotland, and with it the collapse of Labour north of the border, has been fuelled more by the desire to reclaim the terrain of social and economic justice abandoned by Labour as it has nationalism. The SNP under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership is flying the flag of anti-austerity and anti-poverty, attracting huge support as a consequence. In this regard it is not people in Scotland who’ve changed, it is Labour that has changed, to the point where in Scotland Labour is reviled in communities where it was once so dominant it used to weigh its vote rather than count it.

Ed Miliband appears uncomfortable whenever he’s forced to discuss immigration. His recent performance as the leaders’ Q and A with Kay Burley and Jeremy Paxman proved there are marked and clear difference between his vision of Britain and David Cameron’s. But within Labour there remains an influential nucleus of Blairites who believe that the party’s priority should be doing whatever it takes to avoid the wrath of the Daily Mail, even if it means acquiescing in the demonisation of those deemed unworthy of a place at society’s table – i.e. immigrants and, as Labour’s shadow works and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves recently revealed, people on benefits.

Labour’s immigration mug symbolises the extent to which the right is dominating the battle of ideas in Britain. It will be a collector’s item for racists up and down the country.

What the general election will mean for education

I recently attended the AGM of Wiltshire branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at the Angel Hotel in Chippenham, which was an opportunity for a constructive dialogue about the Labour Party’s education policy. Education is a devolved matter, and my remarks refer to policy in England.

The basic facts behind Labour’s commitment to education are impressive. Between 1997 and 2010 there were 36000 more teachers, 172000 more teaching assistants, and 1100 new schools built. Results improved, with 12% more pupils achieving five good GCSE grades, and 20% more 11 year old achieving expected standards in English and maths. The further education sector saw £4.2 billion investment, and Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) of up to £30 per week allowed tens of thousands of young people from poorer families to stay in education until 18.

Outside of schools, the last Labour government invested £50 million into the Union Learning Fund, supporting 490 projects in 3000 workplaces, helping 100000 workers improve their skills, and therefore benefiting both themselves and their employers. In addition, over 3000 new Childrens’ Centres were established, to support parents, on the understanding that early years’ intervention has a lasting benefit, particularly for children from disadvantaged families.

Under Labour, the education budget soared, rising 60% between 1998 and 2008. Total annual spending was £30 billion in 1997, and £64 billion in 2005, on top of which capital investment jumped from £680 million in 1997 to an estimated £5 billion in 2005.

These are powerful arguments in favour of a Labour vote in the coming general election.

In contrast, the Lib-Dem / Conservative coalition government has attacked the pensions and pay of teachers and school support staff. In 2010 they cut 700 planned “Schools for the Future” projects, and current school building programmes are at only 5% of the level under the last Labour government. They cut the EMA and have reduced standards in FE colleges, where lecturers no longer need teaching qualifications. In schools the government has allowed permanent contracts for unqualified teachers, this has led to a 16% rise in unqualified teachers in all schools and a 49% rise of unqualified teachers in Free Schools. The Free Schools themselves are often opened where there is no requirement for them, and a third have been judged inadequate, or in need of improvement.

Nevertheless, the record of the last Labour government remains controversial, and there was an unprecedented amount of legislative activity, including 9 separate education acts. These encountered sustained opposition both within the party, and from educationalists. Labour extended performance management, parent choice, competition, and the role of the private sector.

This stood in stark contrast to the position of John Smith, who as party leader had pledged to restore the powers of Local Education Authorities, and denounced the “false and inadequate theory of choice”.

It is worth saying that the driving motivation for the Blair government’s education agenda was to tackle educational inequality. Research by the Social Exclusion Unit showed that around 2.5% of the population – drawn from less than 1 in 20 families – is locked into deeply entrenched social exclusion; and it became perceived government wisdom that institutional conservatism and complacency in the education sector was a contributory factor, and schools needed shaking up.

The policies were not without some success. During the course of the Labour government, funding per pupil rose 50%, the schools were better funded and staffing levels and pay improved. In 1997 a third of pupils left primary schools without basic English and maths skills, by 2005 that had fallen to a quarter, and the improvement in deprived areas was better than the national average. A range of measures in pre-school education, such as Sure Start centres, made a real difference.

So the record in social exclusion was one of good progress. However this sat uneasily with the expansion of parent choice and diversity, which favoured the already advantaged families; academic studies showed that the “quasi-market” increased rather than decreased the concentration of pupils from lower income families in failing schools. The regime of metrics and inspection arguably distorted teaching towards what could be measured, and increased both teacher workloads and stress.

There is no doubt that the commitments from Labour for the next parliament will improve the lives of millions. The next Labour government will extend free childcare for parents with 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 25 hours, and guarantee “wraparound” childcare for primary school children, allowing access to childcare from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, to help working parent. Labour will also reinvigorate Sure Start.

Labour will guarantee that all teachers in state schools are qualified, and ensure that schools are locally accountable. Labour will also increase the number and quality of apprenticeships.

However, it must be a priority for the party to place itself at the centre of a coalition of consensus about education policy, with meaningful engagement with the teaching and education unions. This requires addressing staffing problems, such as excessive workload; but it must also address the concerns that the last Labour government rolled out educational reforms without adequate consultation, and committed to them before evidence based evaluation had established their merits. We need a renewed commitment towards the comprehensive principle and the objective towards greater equality of educational outcomes, and that may require us to draw a line under some of the policies of the last Labour government.

Benefit sanctions and Jeremy Clarkson – the hell of Thatcher’s creation

Unite the Union have organised a national day of action against benefit sanctions on 19 March. They deserve great credit for doing so, though given the suffering and despair this particularly vile practice inflicts on some of the most vulnerable in society, it is disappointing that this is not considered important enough to warrant a TUC demonstration with the full participation of every trade union in the country.

I have written about this issue before and make no apologies for doing so again when it involves, on a daily basis in Jobcentres up and down the country, human beings having the paltry amount of money they receive to feed, clothe, and heat themselves taken away for often the flimsiest of reasons at the instigation of a man or woman sitting across the other side of a desk.

With foodbanks creaking at the seams, largely in response the spike in demand placed on them by the increased use of benefit sanctions – amounting to a brutal and callous attack on the poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich – there is no conceivable reason or justification available to exculpate those sitting across the other side of that desk delivering people into a pit of despair for infractions that include being minutes late for an interview, or cancelling a scheduled meeting in order to attend a funeral. In life you have a choice between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. Either choice has consequences, both personal and social, and every Jobseekers Adviser who sanctions already desperate and poverty-stricken people, and can do so without being ripped apart with torment and anguish, is a person who has had their humanity surgically removed.

Making this choice even more inexplicable, in the context of the government’s brutal and punitive benefits regime, is the fact that many of those who are tasked with implementing it are members of a trade union, the PCS, which up to now has distinguished itself in wringing its hands, offering next to no resistance and thereby confounding the fundamental principle and ethos of solidarity that lies at the very heart of trade unionism.

An added layer of grotesque is added when we consider that this same union is currently campaigning for a wage rise for its members, including those who are engaged in delivering said benefit claimants into the arms of destitution on a regular basis. It is proof that Thatcher’s objective of turning working people against each other has been well and truly met. All that can be said, with this in mind, is that if the word ‘solidarity’ does appear on PCS campaign leaflets, it does so as parody rather than principle

One man who will never see the inside of a Jobcentre, despite his recent quip to the media to the contrary, is of course Jeremy Clarkson. The looks-to-be-former Top Gear presenter is on suspension by the BBC for allegedly assaulting a producer on the show over a peppercorn steak – or lack thereof.

Controversy follows Clarkson around like an old and faithful friend. When he isn’t bandying racist, homophobic, and sexist doggerel about the place, he’s being chased out of countries like Argentina for engaging in jingoistic acts of provocation. The four million people who’ve signed a petition calling for the presenter to be reinstated by the BBC, not to mention a Prime Minister who felt minded to voice his public support for his fellow Tory and friend, reveal a propensity for living vicariously through the exploits and schtick of an unreconstructed wanker in a Barbour jacket.

Clearly we are living in an age when being in possession of a reactionary worldview is enough to warrant fame and fortune. The image of Jeremy Clarkson spending his evenings working his way through the Life On Mars Box Set in a pair of Al Garnett underpants is hard to escape. He is the nation’s poster boy for Tory values, the hero of every white middle aged bloke with a paunch, a fake Rolex, and a year’s supply of moody viagra. What’s more, it is a position and status he quite obviously relishes.

Benefit sanctions and Jeremy Clarkson. What more evidence do we need that Britain in 2015 is the hell of Thatcher’s creation? As she lies a-mouldering in her grave, the Iron Lady can take satisfaction in the knowledge she did her job well.