Conservative policies today: against the public interest

Hi all,

As you know, I’m being sparing in my comments at the moment, but I’d like to make a few specific criticisms of where Government and Broxtowe’s local representation is taking us.

  1. Local hardline policies

Loyalty to Conservative hard-liners is now consistently trumping the public interest. The Conservatives on the County Council voted solidly against Nottinghamshire being one of the counties asking for greater help for social care, even though there is an obvious crisis and plenty of Conservatives elsewhere are among those pressing for action. Instead, the Government is cutting corporation tax on dividends, which is clearly nice for shareholders but not an obvious priority, since we already have one of the lowest rates in the developed world and we really need companies to be investing, not paying out fat dividends.

Meanwhile, Anna Soubry manages in her latest email to write over 500 words on the current crisis in hospitals without addressing the basic issue that under Government policy the NHS is not seen as a sufficient priority. She suggests that more people should go to GPs (following Mrs May’s argument that GPs need to work harder), that it’s our own fault for being too fat (hardly a new phenomenon), that it’s because we’re living longer, and because “systems can be improved”. Sorry, Ms Soubry, the basic new problem is that the Government is not funding the service adequately.

Don’t take my word for it: this is what the people responsible say:

The BMA: “conditions in hospitals across the country are reaching a dangerous level”

The Royal College of Nursing: “NHS conditions are the worst ever”

The Royal College of Physicians:”The NHS is underfunded, under doctored and overstretched”.

We understand that Government funding is tight. But do we think that dividends or health are more important? Dividends, apparently.

Going to the local level, even with something as basic as allowing Stapleford to get a good supermarket is being blocked: the Conservative council won’t allow Aldi to go ahead until they get 10 houses built. Aldi is not a housebuilder so it’s not actually in their power to ensure that the houses are built quickly, but Ms Soubry blandly implies that it’s Aldi’s fault: “With some quick and clever thinking, Aldi can deliver both a great new store and 10 much needed homes. Time to get on with it!” I understand her instinct to be loyal to the Conservative council, however obstructionist, but surely the need for the entire Stapleford community should take first priority over a handful of new houses?

  1. The Brexit deal and national priorities

There is a fairly clear choice on how to do Brexit – in a limited way that removes us from the EU but keeps our access to the single market, or a zealot way that pulls us out at any cost. Hostage to the most militant Tory backbenchers, Ms May is adopting a set of policies that involves lower public spending, more cuts to corporation tax, reduced employment rights, lower environmental standards, slower wages growth, higher prices and later retirement. This is not in the national interest, and it doesn’t reflect either the small Tory majority in Parliament or a Brexit vote which was as close as 52-48.

The underlying problem here is that the Conservatives feel comfortable with their 10% polling lead and think they can indulge themselves with extreme policies and still win. Labour has a responsibility here to pull itself together, and the last few months have been an improvement on that front though there is still some way to go. But I’d also encourage voters not to create monolithic Conservative representation in the County elections in May: if we are governed by one party at national, county and borough level, we will simply not get sensible, balanced policies. I have an interest here, as I’m standing for Labour in Eastwood, but it’s a point that goes well beyond sheer party allegiance. One-party states do not work well, and we need local representation prepared to challenge the Government.

 

Best regards

 

Nick

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Happy Christmas!

Hi all,

This is to wish everyone a happy Christmas and a merry New Year (it’s usually that way round, isn’t it?). As usual, it’s important that we all take the time to think whether we know anyone who feels lonely or isolated, as the general festivities make it an especially hard time for them – looking in for a friendly visit can make a big difference.

Politically, let’s hope for a rather less exciting 2017. We have to live with both Trump and Brexit, whatever our personal views, and it’s possible that 2017 will see Trump turning out less appalling than some of his statements implied and a serious Brexit negotiation which makes the best of the situation. It would be helpful if Britain actually had a negotiating position, rather than a series of contradictory off-the-cuff offerings from Boris Johnson and his colleagues in Mrs May’s team, but by March I hope that something coherent will emerge. From the Labour viewpoint, I think the priority is to challenge any attempt to make Britain the free-market nightmare that some in the Cabinet might like: a low-wage, low-regulation offshore tax haven with minimal environmental protection. If we’re to make Brexit work for our future and our children, it needs to be on the basis of giving us the chance to forge a better path, not merely a haven for speculators and polluters.

Further afield, perhaps the Syrian conflict will finally wind down. If so, the refugee pressures will lessen, and I hope that will allow our essential decency to come to the fore. At present, we are taking in children, but with the explicit threat to throw them out as soon as they reach 18. I don’t think that makes sense – if someone lives here from when they’re 10 years old after the Syrian nightmare, sending them back to Syria (which isn’t likely to be a stable, healthy society for many years) after 8 years growing up in Britain seems to me both cruel and a waste of opportunity. We shouldn’t confuse a widespread wish for migration controls with a wish to stamp on any chance of a decent future for those refugees whom we do take in.

At a personal level, I’m now settled back in the area, and enjoying seeing so many old friends. Even in Eastwood, which isn’t part of my former constituency, I’m meeting as lot of people who I know personally, and it’s good to be back in local politics.

With all good wishes for the holiday and 2017,

Nick

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Brexit judges…Trump…County elections

Hi all,

I’m settled back in the area now – it’s nice to be home!

Eastwood candidacy

I’ve plunged straight back into politics – I was selected recently as Labour’s County Council candidate for Eastwood. The BBC say it’s fairly unusual for a former MP to want to stand for the Council, as they 2see it as a demotion”, but I think it’s simply different – you have a much stronger focus on a much smaller area, and experience in one helps make you effective in the other.

As always, I look forward to fighting a positive campaign, helped by the fact that I like the sitting councillor (Keith Longden), who has served Eastwood for seven years, and have no intention of attacking him personally. Where i think I could contribute more is in raising Eastwood’s profile with the same energy and commitment that I applied in 13 years as an MP. Because it’s in Broxtowe, which is one of the most prosperous parts of Nottinghamshire, it tends to get overlooked by comparison with similar areas in the north of the county, but the needs are similar and the decline in services in the area is a serious issue. I look forward to a constructive campaign, and have also been out helping colleagues – yesterday in Awsworth working for our candidates Lisa Clarke and John McGrath.

Brexit passions

Like Anna Soubry and many others, I’ve been concerned by the intensity of the passions still surrounding the Brexit vote, most recently displayed by the Mail targeting the High Court judges as “Enemies of the People” and now highlighting the individual Supreme Court judges. I understand that Mr Farage hopes to organise a mass lobby of the Supreme Court with 100,000 people. Conversely, some of my friends on the Remain side are utterly furious with the outcome and keen to reverse it at the first opportunity. We all need to calm down – this is going to be a long haul and we are all in the same boat.

Some fundamental points:

First, when we have a referendum, we should respect the result, in exactly the same way as we respect a General Election result, even if we don’t like it. We’ve voted to leave, so we must work on that assumption and talk of an instant “Did you really mean that?” referendum is ineffective silliness.

Second, accepting a result doesn’t mean that everyone who disagreed has to shut up. There is nothing undemocratic in regretting a referendum or election result and hoping it will eventually be reconsidered.

Third, it is not reasonable to argue that the negotiations should be conducted on the basis of a secret agenda. Even the keenest of Brexit supporters has an interest in ensuring that it’s negotiated on a basis of getting what they want. Supporters of both Brexit and Remain have different ideas on what we should now prioritise (Free trade? Immigration controls? Workers’ rights?) and if Parliament is not involved in the discussion of our priorities then it really is not being allowed to do its job. That doesn’t mean that we need to know every detail of how we will tackle the negotiations. But we need to know the general plan, and at present the suspicion is that there isn’t actually a coherent plan at all. As one of the EU leaders said recently, “We’d be glad to negotiate with the British Government, but at present they just seem to be negotiating with themselves.”

Fourth, global examples of what happens when one tries to make the courts bend to the Government of the day or to mass demonstrations are all negative, without exception. If we don’t like the state of law – for instance, if we believe that all referendums should be mandatory, or we think that Parliament should not be consulted on negotiations – then we should elect politicians who promise to change it. That’s the democratic way. Pressuring judges to do anything other than interpret the current law on the facts really is undemocratic and extremely dangerous. The Government’s failure to defend the courts immediately is pathetic.

And finally, what happens if the package eventually negotiated is one that most people dislike? Do we press ahead anyway, on the basis of a general mandate from years earlier? Or do we at that stage have an election fought on the issue of whether to press ahead? We should, I think, keep our options open.

The US election

The intensity of the American elections and the rise to near-success of a demagogic populist who is willing to lie, to exalt in the use of power for sexual abuse, to attack the courts and to pander to racist views of entire ethnic populations should be a warning to us all. Mr Trump is close to success – even though I think he will fail at the final hurdle – because too many people feel they have been neglected and taken for granted.

I think there is a parallel to Brexit here, and we need to pay attention to people who feel left out much more actively than we’ve done in recent years. That doesn’t mean Trump-like pandering to prejudice. It means accepting that there are many people for whom our society doesn’t give a decent chance, and working to do something about it. It’s one reason I joined the Labour party, and also a reason why I remain active: we neglect our society at our own peril.

 

Best regards

Nick

PS Toton and Chilwell readers have a new website to follow and discuss local issues! See https://tcmneighbourhoodforum.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

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Brexit – what next?/Full Corbyn speech link/animal welfare package launched/Red Cross viola request

Hi all,

Returning from the Labour conference, I mainly want in the next blogs to look at what happens next for Britain, starting with Brexit. First, a few small notes:

  1. Full Corbyn speech

The media reports on Corbyn’s speech were reasonably friendly, apart from the Mail and other usual suspects, but not really representative of the very detailed set of proposals that he was setting out. Proposals on investment, education, retraining, the self-employed and housing are important even if you don’t vote Labour, because democracy only really works if people are aware of both sides of the arguments. If you’d like to see it, the BBC link is here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/live/bbcone

If you want to skip the introductory pleasantries (thanks to staff etc.), I suggest starting at 8 minutes in. If you only have time for a quick glance, this isn’t bad:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/28/corbyns-conference-speech-the-key-points

2. Animal welfare package launched

I had a satisfying launch of the 14-page animal welfare policy package that I co-authored – this consultation was announced by the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment in the Conference and launched to 100 delegates at a special event. We based it on consultation with 11 animal welfare groups from the RSPCA and Animal Aid to Cats Protection and it’s the most comprehensive set of proposals on the political scene for the last 30 years. If you’d like to see an electronic copy, let me know.

3. Red Cross viola request

Aside from the political disputes about refugees and the emergency work around the world, one of the things the Red Cross does is the practical job of trying to help those who come here to integrate and develop their talents: being a refugee is traumatic, and getting past it isn’t just a matter of tents and rations. I’ve been asked to highlight an unusual request in case any of you have musical links:

“As you may know, the Red Cross’ Young Refugee Service ran a project for young refugees this summer in association with Music Action International, an organisation which aims to transform lives destroyed by conflict, and connect communities through music.  We had an incredible response, and it enabled many young people to learn how to sing, play instruments and find new ways of creative expression. We also had a successful performance at the Southbank Centre.

One of our participants, Ahmed, learned to play the viola, showing particular musical talent.  Unfortunately, Ahmed can no longer practice as he doesn’t have his own instrument.  So… we were hoping that you or any of your friends or family, or friends of friends, (or anyone really!) may have a viola at home, that they would be willing to donate.”

If you can help (I don’t suppose they’d refuse a contribution to the cost if you don’t actually have a viola), please get in touch with Valeria Ragni on 07538641255 or vragni@redcross.org.uk

4. Brexit – what next?

One of the most curious aspects of this turbulent year is that we had an extraordinarily intense debate and referendum on a complete change in Britain’s position, since when we’ve heard almost nothing about what will the Government would like to happen next. Theresa May made the tactically clever move of appointing three Brexit supporters to negotiate the deal, but they appear neither to agree with each other nor with her on what we should be negotiating. One of the most-debated subjects at the Labour conference was what we should as a country be concentrating on.

The best-known elements of this are the trade-off between free movement and free access to the EU market. There isn’t any doubt that worries about free movement were an important part of the Brexit vote, and equally no doubt that it will be a serious blow to the economy if we don’t have unhampered access to the EU market.

The latter isn’t going to be a problem for manufacturing – access for goods is already pretty easy even for non-members. The difficulty is access to the service market, which is absolutely crucial for the financial sector. The EU position is basically that we have to choose – we can’t block free movement of people and demand free movement for services.

It would be self-defeating if we really tried to block migration – the NHS, for one, is very heavily dependent on recruiting specialist, doctors, nurses and other staff internationally. But I don’t think that we can just shrug off the concerns about free movement – as Corbyn said, we can’t patronise and neglect people who voted for Brexit. An important part of Labour’s position is to address the non-racist worries, by restoring the Impact Fund for high-migration areas that the Government bafflingly abolished, with ring-fencing visa fees and an increase in citizenship fees to increase funding for it. A second element is to reduce the dependence on low-wage agency work (which is very strongly based on low-cost migrant labour). A third element is to link benefits more strongly to length of contributions. That isn’t in reality a big driver of migration (most people come here to fill jobs) but it’s a major factor in what people worry about. If we can successfully attack the worries about migration, we have a reasonable chance of a deal that isn’t centred on blocking off the staff that we actually need.

We should, however, be careful that the Government doesn’t take the opportunity of Brexit to undermine the positive guarantees for individuals in an increasingly corporate world. From equal pay for equal work to guaranteed holidays to protection in the workplace, it’s not generally recognised that many of the things we take for granted originate in European legislation, and it would be possible for a Conservative government to chip away at them as part of the Brexit deal. Where possible, we should take the opportunity to improve our society beyond what the need for EU unanimity made possible. I wasn’t in favour of withdrawal, but if we’re withdrawing we need to maximise the positive opportunities, and not treat it only as a defensive minimisation of damage.

5. Personal update

I’ve been writing more for Labour blogs (notably Labour List) on policy and after moving back up to Nottingham in a couple of weeks I hope to be more involved again locally as well. Thank you to everyone who has been encouraging me – it’ll be good to be back.

Best wishes

Nick

 

 

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How will the boundary review affect us?/Grammar schools/some personal news

Hi all,

 

The proposals from the Boundary commissioners have come out, and they carve Broxtowe in half. The southern half hops over the City boundary to merge with Nottingham South, the northern have extend northwards into Ashfield. No account is taken of either traditional communities or country/city boundaries, though one can make a case that Beeston is more like Wollaton than it’s like Awsworth, and Awsworth is more like Hucknall than it’s like Toton. The details are here:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32695546

 

The changes are controversial because they are based on how many people in each area have recently registered, rather than on actual estimated population. This practice tilts the system towards rural and older (and hence more Conservative) representation, since in urban areas people (especially the young) move around move and are far more likely not to be on the latest register. Apparently the system would be unconstitutional in the USA – attempts by some Southern states to introduce a similar approach failed because they were seen as an attempt to disenfranchise the less heavily registered black voters.

 

Whether it will actually happen is hard to be sure. There are quite a few Conservative MPs whose seats will be at risk as well, and whether they’ll vote for it remains to be seen. If it happens, then the independent blog UK Polling Report estimates that it will make Broxtowe and Hucknall (the part omitting Beeston to Toton) a marginal Tory seat (by 2700 votes on 2015 figures) and Nottingham South and South a fairly safe Labour seat (by nearly 5000 votes).

 

Meanwhile, we’ve seen the return of the long-dormant grammar school debate, with David Cameron apparently privately citing the decision to open new grammar schools as a reason for standing down. This isn’t really an especially complex issue. There isn’t much doubt that if you are fortunate enough to pass the 11+ then you will get a school which is more likely to have lots of academically-minded kids, so people who’ve actually been to grammars and are keen on academic success tend to like them. The problem is partly the general question of whether it makes sense to divide society at age 11 into “academics” and “everyone else”, but mainly the specific point that it puts enormous weight on how well you do on a particular day at age 11 – it quite literally decides the course of much of the rest of your life. You’re a bit nervous, not feeling too well, or just a slightly later developer? Bang! – that’s probably decided your career. However the Government tweaks the system to give kids from poor households a better chance, the bottom line – given that there are fewer grammar schools than others – is that most kids will be deemed to have failed.

 

That might matter less if we didn’t as a society tend to underrate technical skill, so that “failing your 11+” is seen as a stigma, not a signpost to a more practical career as it night be in Germany with their good apprentice system, and the non-grammar secondaries were often really not good.

 

The sensible compromise is surely the method that’s common in most parts of Britain – have comprehensives but “set” pupils according to ability in each subject, so that you can move up at an appropriate speed. And it’s a great pity that the reason this has popped up seems to be not a matter of conviction but a side-effect of Brexit – Mrs May is thought to  feel that by pleasing the Right of her party on this, she can get greater acceptance of necessary compromises over migration in Europe.My experience of politics is that this sort of apparently wily calculation doesn’t work – the faction you’re trying to appease pocket your concession, smile briefly, and then resume attacking you on the other things they care about.

 

By the way, I’m returning to the area from October – I’ve taken a house just outside the (current!) constituency, in Bulwell. This isn’t especially for political reasons – rather that now I’m mostly working freelance it makes sense to do it from a less expensive base than central London. But I do hope to contribute to local politics again, one way or another.

 

Best wishes

 

Nick

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