A jump in the minimum wage/EV4EL/Council plans

Hi all,

Greetings from the Manchester Labour conference! I’ll post a couple of times this week as things develop. For starters:

  1. Proposed minimum wage increase

The minimum wage was introduced under the last Labour government amid widespread predictions of disaster – hundreds of thousands of workers would be sacked, unemployment would soar, and so on. None of that happened, since people paying pathetic wages of £2-3/hour mostly found they could still make money paying the minimum wage. However, it’s been falling in real terms and one in five British workers find themselves struggling on low pay, often relying on benefits or tax credits to top up their wage so they can simply afford the essentials, even when they work long hours. The economic recovery hasn’t benefited this group at all.

The first of Labour’s commitments is to raise it. The proposal is to increase it to £8 by 2020, which will put an extra £3,000 a year in the pockets of Britain’s lowest paid workers. This is an important move that will end the scandal of five million Brits struggling to make ends meet because they are on low pay. But Labour understands that businesses need time to plan for this change. That’s why we will it will be phased in over the five years of the next Parliament so businesses will have enough time to adjust their models to support higher wages. The measure indirectly contributes to deficit reduction as well, since it reduces the need for tax credit at the bottom of the ladder. The main British employers have said in response that “This is the highest that can be afforded”, which seems the level we ought to be at.

This is part of a wider effort by Labour to propose to broaden the benefits of economic recovery – with more to come.

  1. English votes for English laws?

Mr Cameron has proposed, and then dropped, an idea making the promised Scottish devolution conditional on a change in Parliamentary rules, preventing Scottish MPs from voting on laws which relate only to England. He’s still in favour, but has conceded that he promised the Scots devolution without strings so can’t really add strings now.

There is clearly an issue that needs to be debated here, but it’s actually much more complex than a mere change of Parliamentary rules, and in some variants it would completely change how we were governed. Here are the options:

(a)    Status quo.

At present, regions which want lots of devolution (Scotland, and to a lesser extent Wales and Northern Ireland) get it, and everyone else is governed only by the national Parliament. Because regions with devolution only form a small part of the population, it doesn’t actually make a difference most of the time – even if Scotland had declared independence and all Scottish MPs had disappeared, no election in the last 40 years would have produced a different government. However, it’s clearly a fudge, one of several that makes our system of government quite illogical.

(b)   EV4EL

This is Mr Cameron’s idea. Parliament would be entirely unchanged except that Scottish MPs couldn’t vote on laws which someone (the Speaker?) decided were purely English (under his proposals, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs would be unaffected even though they’re partly devolved too).

Contrary to what some papers have suggested, this wouldn’t make it harder for Labour to win, since all MPs would decide the Government, and in any case although Labour scores about 2% higher in Scotland, in practice we either win in both or lose in both. What it would occasionally do is produce a deadlock, with a Labour Government but a blocking majority of Conservative English MPs (this would last have happened in 1974). As in the USA when Mr Obama faces a Republican Congress, the result is that little gets done. Since the Conservative MPs couldn’t effectively introduce legislation themselves, because Parliament only enables the Government to introduce most laws, the effect would be purely negative.

(c)    An English Parliament and Government

To solve that problem, one could have a separate English Parliament and Government. The English Government would be able to make its own laws. Thus, in 1974 we’d have had a British Labour Government and an English Conservative Government. That would be similar to the Scottish situation, with a powerful “national” government. A drawback is that it would double the number of Minister and politicians, and the two governments would have 90% identical electorates, so they’d be certainly constantly battling for power on the rare occasions when they had different party majorities. I think this would only work if the British Government and Parliament were scaled right back to deal with a limited number of national issues.

(d)   Full regionalism

Alternatively, we could go the German route, and devolve most power to regional assemblies, leaving a Federal British Government just looking after truly national things like defence. It works quite well in Germany, where most people do feel a strong attachment to their Federal state. That doesn’t always seem the case in England – for instance, I’m not sure that most people in Broxtowe would necessarily want an East Midlands Government based in, say, Leicester, making most decisions for us. Do we have a sufficiently strong sense that the East Midlands are distinctive and need a separate government and Parliament for it?

The reason the issue has languished with the current fudge is that it rarely makes a difference and all these solutions risk creating new problems. I don’t think it’s being unfair to say that Mr Cameron’s overinght embrace of EV4EL was mainly looking for a way to deflect party criticism over the concessions to Scotland. Both EV4EL and a separate English Government are fudges too unless power is genuinely devolved.

I do think that many voters in England are restless at the current situation, though, and I think that if we’re going to change, we probably do need to lead towards more regional government, perhaps linked with more local referendums as in Switzerland, so that people really get a chance to engage with decisions made in the vicinity. But I’m glad it’s not being instantly decided as an appendix to Scottish devolution. If we’re going to change how we are governed that radically, we need to get it right – and fix the equally anomalous House of Lords as part of the solution.

Feedback welcome – I’m still thinking this through myself and it’d be interesting to know if any of these ideas (or others) has widespread support.

  1. Plan approved

The Council’s development plans were agreed this week, bringing to a close a long battle focused on the building on Green Belt at Field Farm and Toton. The decision was driven by Government guidelines and effectively made certain by when the Government Inspector from the Department of Communities and Local government ruled in favour.

The MP comments in her blog “You would expect me to be able to go to Government and ask them to intervene and protect our Green Belt. I have tried and without success which makes me as frustrated as you.” I don’t doubt that she did exactly that, but there is a difficulty here in the way British Government works under all parties. If you are seeking promotion up the scale of Government, you always have to accept everything that your party does, and that makes you ineffective when you protest, since Ministers know you will always go along with it in the end. As I found with open-casting, you only really get listened to when you threaten to go nuclear and challenge your own government in court if necessary.

The current decision will also be challenged in court, but with both Government and Council ranged against the appellants, I’m not sure there is a realistic chance. My own preference remains more the unfashionable “Continental” solution of more focus on flats in central urban areas. If we don’t build upwards in urban areas, we will sprawl out into rural areas. It’s sadly just a physical fact.

Best regards



Posted in Broxtowe | 8 Comments

Why Scotland matters to us

1000px-Flag_of_Scotland.svgAs I talk to constituents on the doorstep, I’m finding increasingly that they want to talk about Scotland, as the most remarkable constitutional event in living memory looms this week. How often do we seriously contemplate a third of the country splitting off?

Now, I’m clear that the referendum is a matter for the Scots, and they’re entitled to leave if they want to. Nor do I want to get into the bitterness at the fringes of the campaign. If they decide to go their own way, I hope we’ll help it happen in a spirit of friendship, rather than demand the harshest of bargains out of some misplaced sense of rejection. We are geographically linked forever, and it makes no sense to treat each other as rivals or even enemies.

Nonetheless, as the vote nears, I’ve come to feel that it would be a source of genuine grief for both sides. Like even the best of marriages, the partnership has had its difficult moments, but there is so much more that we have in common than divides us. England, Scotland and Wales are all quite small countries in an increasingly globalised world. Torn apart, we will be weaker and more exposed to the pressures of a dangerous world. Opponents of secession have suggested that multinational companies will all flee south, but the truth is surely worse: they will play us off against each other, driving ever-harder bargains for lower taxes and weaker rights. The defence against exploitation is not to divide among ourselves.

And despite the length and intensity of the campaign, the implications have not really been thought through. The currency issue has been raised but not resolved. If Scotland joins the EU as Mr Salmond wishes, it will be expected to adopt both the Euro and the passport-free Schengen agreement, which will in turn necessitate border passport checks north of Berwick. Within the EU and NATO, our voices will be diminished, and our Security Council seat will look increasingly anachronistic.

We do not live in a world where small countries thrive easily. Out on the fringe of Europe, with few natural assets beyond the diminishing oil reserves, Scotland’s future looks unpromising. Is that just their problem? Not really. Countless families in Britain have Scottish links. We share an island, a history and a long-term common outlook: if Scotland falls into decline, it will affect England too.

Isn’t it too generous to let them have home rule within the UK? Not really. They have a tenth of the British population, and more need than we do to have a local government looking after their interests within the Union. I don’t favour an English Parliament, with an electorate 90% identical to the British Parliament and another layer of politicians to squabble with. But we can afford a partnership with the Scots that accepts their need for distinctiveness without insisting that it means a separate country.

I hope they will see it the same way. I think they will, but Thursday could be a long night.


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Rotherham/University plans/Council row/NHS decline

Hi all,

Quite a few things have accumulated, but to start with the most serious:

  1. The Rotherham report

Everyone is being careful what they say about this for obvious reasons (not least so as not to prejudice prosecutions), but we should be clear that it is an absolutely grade A scandal; as many as 1500 children have been sexually abused and in some cases raped with extreme threats of violence, and Rotherham authorities were informed about it and for some years largely shut a blind eye. I understand that the scathing report that has now appeared was commissioned by the current council and that the situation has now improved, so some credit is due for that, but we need to understand and learn from what happened, as well as prosecuting wherever the evidence justifies it.

I think there are at least two important lessons to be learned. First, it appears that a reason that the reports were largely ignored is that they were being pushed by extreme right-wingers. They hated the rapists not because they were rapists but because they were of a different ethnic group. But the hard fact is that it is both racist to discriminate against people because of their ethnic group but also racist to protect criminals because they happen to be in that group.

We should all be treated in exactly the same way. If we commit crimes, we should be prosecuted. If we don’t, we should be left alone to pursue our lives in peace. It’s not rocket science.

Second, we need to look at why the authorities disregarded so much evidence. What appears to have happened is that they accepted as a fact of life that under-16 sex is common in many areas and they then took it upon themselves to reinterpret the law, so that a child as young as 11 was considered able to give consent to prostitution.

There is a reason for the law on consent – it’s not that we believe that nobody under 16 has sexual thoughts, but we think that it is usually best to have some more years to make balanced and informed decisions. The tragic fact that some girls felt that the modest amount of friendliness and gifts given them by their assailants made it an acceptable deal just illustrates why the law is needed.

And there’s a class element too. Do we suppose that if the victims had come from the families or doctors and lawyers, the authorities would have shrugged off the reports? Of course not. If you’re a kid from a chaotic home with poor education and a lack of grammatical verbal fluency, you just don’t always get listened to in the same way. And that’s wrong.

Does that mean that realistically we can expect every child under 16 to report issues with the fluency of a lawyer’s daughter? No. But at the very least we should expect that complaints are actually listened to and acted on when they are made, however working-class or poor the complainant might be. It’s a matter of simple equality before the law.

Each of us hopes to be treated fairly. This case shows there is such a long way to go.

  1. Major university and training proposals

The media don’t bother much with complex policy proposals – which is one reason that many people think that the parties don’t have policies. This one caught my eye:


In some ways, the proposed technical universities resemble the old polytechnics, but with the difference that they are intended to be much more flexible and suit a large variety of lifestyles.

I took an interest in a related idea when I was in Parliament, exploring the idea of having some courses whose content was strongly influenced by employers. The deal would be:

1. An employer X who consistently finds it hard to get the right sort of British graduates would explain what they needed to university Y.
2. Y would develop a course designed to meet X’s needs while retaining sufficient breadth to avoid the student being tied to X (e.g. if it was Microsoft, the course couldn’t be just tied to MS software).
3. X would pay some of the fees and offer a 1-year contract to any graduate with a 2-1 result or better.

What would be in it for the student is reduced fees and a guaranteed job offer – no compulsion to take it, but nice to know it’s there. X would pay some money but solve his recruitment problem. And the university would attract more students, while retaining academic freedom to design and run the courses without outsourcing them to the employers.

The companies I talked to were very interested, as were students. And it’s been done here and there – some nursing courses, some computer game courses, and so on. But so far we’re missing out on a coherent national approach, and if I do get back next year it’s something I’ll hope to pursue.

  1. Kimberley Town Council

A dispute on Kimberley Town Council has flared up. The council co-opted two Green members a while back, but they recently resigned, one of them (Katharina Boettge) saying “Staying would mean colluding with a corrupt system”. Some town councillors (who are unpaid) were incensed by that, and Andy Cooper, who is a Kimberley councillor, wrote what he thought was a private email referring to Ms Boettge as “Eva Braun”. This found its way to the public domain, and Ms Boettge (who is German-born) was understandably infuriated.

Andy Cooper has apologised unreservedly to her; she in turn has clarified that she only meant by “corrupt” a lack of transparency and sharing essential information. I think this relates to whether town council decisions should be taken by the executive or discussed with all members – for instance, there was criticism that they decided to replace the bulletin board as an executive decision, and more substantively there are different views on the level of reserves that the council should hold. The council has limited powers but impressive ambitions for Kimberley. Whether they are discussed enough in full council meetings is something I can’t judge and will no doubt be discussed in future town council elections.

I do think Andy Cooper’s remark was inappropriate and councillors shouldn’t be giving each other unpleasant nicknames: I’m glad he’s apologised without reservations. I don’t personally think it’s a resigning matter, especially as everyone on both town and borough councils will be up for re-election in 8 months – let’s let the voters decide what they think of it all, together with the other issues affecting Kimberley more widely.

Ms Soubry is pursuing the issue with numerous partisan interviews and emails demanding a resignation. One of Andy’s critics was a Labour councillor, Jan Pearce, and Ms Soubry mischievously quotes her approvingly. Jan Pearce responds: “I’ve just received a new edition of Anna’s newsletter in which she quotes me and makes comparisons between myself and Andy. I’d like to categorically state that was done without my knowledge or permission.”

  1. The NHS in decline

Finally, what is actually a political press release. I don’t generally pass on these, since I prefer to give my own views. But this one does sum up succinctly the way in which the NHS is being allowed to slide by the current government. I don’t think it’s what even most Conservative and LibDem voters wanted.








Best wishes




Posted in Broxtowe | 2 Comments

Public meeting on Gaza this Sunday

We are holding a public meeting on the events in Gaza in Beeston on Sunday evening. (“We” is Broxtowe Labour party, but all are welcome regardless of political persuasion.) I’m speaking along with Elizabeth Tsurkov, who is an anti-war and anti-occupation blogger; she will be speaking from Tel Aviv. The meeting is at

7pm Sunday at the Youth and Community Centre on West End, Beeston.

Parking is available. Please pass this on widely if you live in Broxtowe or surrounding areas. They will be a voluntary whip-round to cover costs and any surplus will go to (I suggest) the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal now that it’s been launched.

I am going to be focusing on the immediate issue of the embargo on arms to the region that I feel we should be impiosing on ourselves and urging on others and also on ways beyond the current crisis that we could encourage through the UN, the EU and direct relations with the region for a future where this doesn’t happen again and again and the two peoples can live in peace with a chance of prosperity. What needs to happen and what can we do to make it more likely?

I’m actually in Shanghai for work at the moment and it’s been a long day, but I’d like to thank everyone who sent in the vast feedback, I’m very grateful for the almost unanimous support for the embargo proposal and the real concern that people from all parts of the political spectrum are showing. The majority simply agreed with my comments, and many have forwarded them to friends and urged me to publish them elsewhere. Some disagreed, but always in polite terms and i hope they feel they had reasonable responses in return. (I apologise to one person who wrote specifically about the tunnels and concrete – I’ve lost the email and perhaps he can write again?)

i hope that many of you will join the discussion on Sunday. Thanks to everyone who has written – including those who disagreed – for their active concern. The number of replies saying they didn’t care and hey, it’s a long way away was, in fact, zero. People do care

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Gaza: it’s time to stop the toleration of injustice

I’d like to make a rather lengthy comment on Gaza that goes beyond the “It’s all very worrying” even-handedness adopted by most Western governments, and I’d like to invite you to a meeting organised by Broxtowe Labour Party to discuss my comments and alternative views. I’m not perfectly informed and am open to correction and argument.

Before I do that, I should probably say something about my background, since everyone who expresses an opinion on this is suspected of bad faith. I don’t have any connection to the Middle East; I’m neither Jewish nor Muslim (or indeed religious at all – I should like to believe in a kindly god, but have so far not managed it). My late mother was heavily involved in UNRRA, the relief organisation that helped survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and other refugees, and she felt very strongly about Jewish people needing a safe home. Partly in her memory, I joined the Parliamentary group Labour Friends of Israel, and indeed served on the executive.

Increasingly, however, I felt that the debate in Britain was oversimplified and unbalanced. Because Israel is a multi-party democracy with lots of highly-educated English-speakers, we tend to hear the Israeli side of issues more often. We tend to see other countries like football teams – we pick a side and indulgently back them. And over the years, we have broadly accepted, with mild regret, a situation where Israel is militarily dominant and Palestinians live in a mixture of occupied territories and the hellhole of Gaza, where 1.8 million people live in an area the size of the Isle of Wight, blockaded by Israel on one side and alternately exploited and obstructed by Egypt on the other. So I helped organise a new group, Labour Friends of Palestine, and spoke at its launch. As long as I was in Parliament, I was the only MP who was a member of both groups. It seemed to me that a decent future could only be imagined for both people through peaceful agreement, and there was no contradiction in being a friend of both. I hope, then, that readers will accept that I am neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Muslim.

For those who haven’t followed it closely, I’ll try to give a brief balanced overview. Israel is led by what I’d describe as militant nationalists; the occupied West Bank is run by the largely ineffective and partly corrupt Palestinian Authority; Gaza is run by the autocratic dictatorship of Hamas.

Throughout Israel’s history, they have felt threatened by their neighbours, often with good reason: indeed, Hamas’s constitution still calls for the end of Israel, and Hamas intermittently encourages or tolerates the firing of missiles over the border, which sometimes cause deaths and injuries. Hamas builds tunnels under the borders, partly to get military and other supplies in and partly to try to infiltrate Israel. In retaliation, Israel blocks the import of concrete, which impedes the building of tunnels but also impedes any civilian construction. Gaza has neither a port nor an airport and is totally dependent on what its neighbours allow in – enough to live on, but not enough to live a decent life and develop a better future.

The current operation is in retaliation against some missile attacks which caused several casualties near the border. UN estimates of the death toll from the operation are [source: Evening Standard]:

1,400 adult Palestinians, the majority civilians

Just under 400 Palestinian children

61 Israeli soldiers

3 Israeli civilians.

This is, in my view, so grossly disproportionate as to be an offence to humanity. It is, effectively, collective punishment of thousands of people in the already-suffering population of Gaza for their government allowing small border raids.

And for what? Do we suppose that the operation will encourage compromise and moderation? A glance at history shows the opposite: this is not the first Gazan operation, and as things stand it will not be the last. Is Hamas a dictatorial government? Yes. Do militants sometimes fire rockets from hospitals? Yes, Finnish TV has shown a case where they did. But should nearly 400 children be killed for living there? The Israeli operation is as though we had bombed Dublin or a Catholic province in Northern Ireland every time there was an IRA attack – a response so crazily disproportionate that it was never even considered.

Moderate Muslims are driven into utter despair. A friend in Bramcote writes:

I remember the time when Jews in this country supported us against the extreme right-wing elements because many of them had arrived here 20 to 30 years before us. We knew the Jew was always on our side! I remember the time when hearing some person’s name as Abraham or David or Solomon was a note of familiarity for us in this strange land, that these people are like us Muslims.

“What has happened to us on both sides and why is it out of control? My religion requires me to stand outside a synagogue and stop attacks upon it and defend the right of Jews to enter it freely to worship. Maybe if we did that, it would shame the Israeli government.”


A constituent in Nuthall writes:


It breaks my heart each time I hear of the loss of life in particular of

innocent women and children. How can children playing on the beach and in public parks, and women and children sheltering in UN administered / controlled schools (the closest thing to a safe haven) and patients in recognised hospitals (in many cases already fighting for lives) face consequences of death due to the overwhelming, disproportionate and in many apparent cases indiscriminate use of force by an occupying power?


“If this current and previous one sided wars and the permanent military occupation, imprisonment and human rights violations of an occupied land and it’s people isn’t seen to be inhumane and unjust in the eyes of the so called civilised world then in my opinion there is no hope left for the oppressed people of this world wherever they may be.”


I think they’re correct. And that brings us to Britain and the other Western countries. First, consider that we are making money out of all this. We are long-standing major arms suppliers to Israel; the United States is specifically resupplying Israel for weaponry used in the offensive. A conflict is good business for us. Faced with the slaughter, Mr Cameron has said he will “review” the arms export licences. What does he want to review? Arms exports to Israel should halt immediately and should not be resumed as long as they are used for this type of operation.


Second, our ostentatious neutrality is an insult to the intelligence of everyone concerned. Certainly Israel is a longstanding friend of the West, but if a friend goes berserk it’s our duty to restrain him, not indulge him. Moreover, we are not really neutral at all – we don’t sell arms to Gaza – nor should we – and we rarely attempt a serious dialogue with the Palestinian side.


Is it any business of ours? Yes. It’s a small world, and if we openly tolerate and assist abuses by our supposed allies we are deeply implicated. The European Union has refused to deepen trade links with Israel in view of all this; it should go further and start to reduce them until the policy changes. The Israeli government believes that the West is not really going to do anything except express mild concern and a wish that “both sides sit together”. Of course we hope for a peaceful dialogue, but one of the cornerstones of that is to oppose extremism in all its forms.


And we could play a very different role. Our experience in Northern Ireland has taught us a great deal about resolving conflicts. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness had no doubts about each others’ backgrounds, but with British mediation, cajoling and assistance we eventually brought the conflict of centuries to an end (in my opinion the most important achievement of the last 20 years of British government). Did it mean not prosecuting some extremists? Are there still some nutters trying to cause trouble? Sure. But visit Belfast and you’ll see a community largely at peace.


Gaza, in my view, needs United Nations protection, of the same kind that has kept the peace in Cyprus for two generations. It needs to be allowed peaceful reconstruction and – as in Cyprus – protection by a buffer force against invasion; in return, Israel can reasonably ask that it is not used as a base for attacks. And instead of adopting a pose of detached mock-neutrality, we should work actively to promote the two-state solution that most reasonable politicians on all sides has supported for the last 40 years. Will it be easy? Hell, no. Was the Northern Ireland peace process easy? But is that a reason to sit back and watch, like spectators at a murderous football game.


If I’m elected back to Parliament next year, I hope to promote these arguments, and will rejoin the Parliamentary Labour Friends of Palestine parliamentary group that I helped to found. Until the Israeli government changes, I don’t, sadly, feel able to rejoin its Israeli counterpart.


Our MP appears to suggest in her latest blog that saying that we should criticise the invasion is to play party politics. I think this is a superficial view, but she is welcome to the meeting to put her viewpoint, and I hope she will be heard with respect if she comes. The same applies to you, however right or wrong you may think my comments. It will be held in Sunday August 17 at 7pm (I am away on business in Asia from tomorrow until the 16th), and I’ll post details nearer the time. We shall take a collection to cover the cost of organising it and any surplus will go to the Red Cross and Red Crescent (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Red_Cross_and_Red_Crescent_Movement). No money will go to help any political party’s campaigns and you are welcome whatever your views, as long as you express them peacefully.


Best regards





Posted in Broxtowe | 12 Comments