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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The Labour leadership election: my view

Hi all,

I’ve deliberately kept updates limited for a while, partly to give more space to others and partly as post-Brexit I’ve been busy myself with some non-political projects. But a number of Broxtowe Labour members have asked for input on the Labour leadership election, and some who aren’t currently members may be interested.

First, as usual, I’d like to discuss it amicably – with all that’s happened in the last few months, feelings have been getting heated. My views are simply my personal opinion, and naturally anyone is free to disagree.

There is a reasonably broad consensus on two things:

Jeremy Corbyn has a number of likeable personal qualities: he is entirely focused on improving Britain’s policies rather than personal glory or amassing wealth; he avoids personal abuse, even of people he strongly disagrees with; he maintains a steady, even temper despite sometimes considerable provocation. I’ve known him on and off for 40 years: he’s just the same equable, civil figure in private.

Labour is not at present successfully challenging Theresa May’s honeymoon, even though she has yet to actually do anything very much and the policies which worry many about the Conservatives have continued unchanged, while the post-Brexit economic outlook continues to look bleak.

The question is how far the problems relate to Corbyn personally and how far it’s due to the intensive barrage from many nominally on his own side that he’s endured since taking the leadership last year. The impression given is that the party is massively divided, and in my view the main responsibility for that are the disparate forces who have been briefing against him – first anonymously, then in public – since day 1. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t need to shoulder some of the responsibility, but he’s not actually been given a fair chance.

The reason he was elected is that his opponents last year seemed not to be offering a coherent policy programme. The sardonic comment of an adviser that our 2010 programme sounded like “Vote Labour and win a toaster” stung because it was partly true. After a range of genuinely good reforms introduced under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown which tend now to be forgotten (the Northern Ireland settlement, the minimum wage, the massive improvement in NHS and education funding, much greater attention to social reform and humans rights) and the twin disasters of Iraq and the world banking crisis, the party seemed to have lost its way. Corbyn offered a new focus on developing an alternative to austerity – which by 2016 even its architects like Georg Osborne were admitting had proved ineffective in dealing with the debt issue – and a new focus on industrial and services growth.

The challenge this year is curious, in that Owen Smith is arguing that he broadly supports the new direction; he simply feels he’d do it better. The problem with that is threefold:

  1. It’s not been evident up to now that he was particularly engaged with that: if we are following Corbyn’s policies, doesn’t it make more sense to have Corbyn putting them forward?
  2. The evidence that Labour would do significantly better under his leadership is scanty
  3. Many of his backers clearly see him as an interim solution to be replaced by someone else down the line, once Corbyn was defeated. In pursuing that, frankly undemocratic measures have been taken, first trying to prevent Corbyn from standing at all and then preventing over 20% of the membership from taking part because they’d mostly joined as they were attracted by the new approach.

If Owen is elected on that basis, I think he’ll struggle to be accepted by members as legitimate, and we’ll extend the internal feuding for a further year until another round 12 months from now. Meanwhile, the people whom we represent are looking on the perplexity at the internal battle, which is leaving Britain without an effective opposition.

Bottom line: I’ve always wanted in politics to argue for a progressive agenda with civility and reason rather than ranting and abuse. Jeremy Corbyn epitomises that spirit of “positive politics”, and I would like to stand by it.

I’m therefore voting to give Corbyn a decent chance, and I hope other members will do the same.

Best regards

 

Nick

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Britain leaves! What now?

Hi all,

First those of us who opposed Leave need to acknowledge the democratic verdict – in Broxtowe against the recommendations from both Anna Soubry and me, and in Britain against the recommendations from nearly the whole of the political leadership. I won’t pretend I suddenly think it’s a good idea, but it’s a democratic decision and we need to make the best of it. There is no point in insulting the voters! – that’s the kind of political arrogance that has got us to the present position.

I’m not going to get into Tory or other leadership questions here, but rather look at the policy consequences.

  1. EEA or total split?

The fundamental question is going to be which of the two Brexit models we decide to follow. If we join Norway in the EEA, everyday life will continue much as before – we will have free access to the common market, but free immigration will continue. We will have a little more freedom to develop distinctive policies, at the price of a little less influence on European policies which we’ll be nonetheless required by EEA rules to follow. But I don’t think it would lead to massive trade consequences, and it’s probably the policy that business and “continuity” candidates for PM like Theresa May will recommend.

If we decide that curbing immigration is the priority, then the EEA isn’t a solution, and a separate deal will be needed. That seems actually more likely – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage have all said it’s what they want. In that case, we must be prepared for a long and difficult negotiation, with significant curb on British exports of services in particular. That’s the reason why banking shares have collapsed this morning – down 30% overnight in some cases – and it will have a significant impact on GDP, with knock-on effects on personal economics.

  1. How might we curb immigration?

While I’m not interested in responding to racist attitudes, we need to accept that the sense of lack of control of migration is a worry that plenty of people have without any racist considerations, and that it was the major driver of the result. So what can we do to listen to that?

My personal view is that the government will need to do something to head off concern about this. It was undeniably true that free movement was and is a condition of both EU and EEA membership, and I don’t think that we can simply shrug off voters’ clear concerns and say tough, you’re going to have to accept it anyway.

The obvious solution is the points system which we introduced under the last government and is already largely used for non-EU immigration: broadly speaking, immigrants will need to show there’s a job waiting and that an effort to find UK-based people to fill it has failed. This hasn’t noticeably curbed immigration in practice, because a lot of it does in fact pass this test.

The obvious example is NHS recruitment. The Government has (weirdly) been cutting back on British nursing training and worsening UK doctors’ contracts, so the supply of UK-based doctors and nurses is very limited. The NHS has been dealing with that by recruiting in Eastern Europe, India and Pakistan, and we’ll need to decide whether they can go on doing that (which means that such immigration flows will continue) or curb it (which will mean longer waiting times and declining service, at least for some years until the training cuts are reversed). Less highly-skilled examples are areas like construction and restaurants – the choice here may simply be to put up wages in order to attract more British staff, and the cost of that will simply be higher prices.

An arguable way forward is probably to insist that immigration is necessary where we simply don’t have the skills (as in the NHS) and to curb low-skilled migration: if it means higher prices, that’s a consequence of withdrawal and people accepted there would be costs.

  1. Labour’s position

I’m not a policy decision-maker so the following are suggestions for consideration.

If we do accept some migration curbs, the quid pro quo needs to be really vigorous action to prevent illegal cheap labour being smuggled in, to protect workers against exploitation and to crack down on the massive tax avoidance which blights our economy: it simply isn’t acceptable that we enter a period of serious economic difficulty while people with the right City connections cheerfully avoid sharing the burden by locating offshore.

Being outside the EU will give us some scope to be proactive in this, and I think that Labour needs to seize the opportunity to take the lead in this area. Nobody seriously supposes that the right-wing Conservative leadership that is on the way will have any interest in doing any such thing.

We also need to protect minorities and people already here from any spillover from understandable concerns about free movement into racism and xenophobia. Labour is an anti-racist party and it’s a fundamental principle that we will not compromise on. In particular, people who are already here under policies up to now have a right to be here, and talk of “sending people back” is a far-right fantasy which has little support and we should oppose outright.

It’s quite likely that we will see an election within a year, when the new Tory leader attempts to get a mandate. It’s important that Labour is in a position to offer a distinctive programme of what we will do with the new situation, maximising the opportunities and minimising the economic pain.

People have voted to withdraw in order to give the UK Government greater freedom of action, and we need to accept that – talk of forcing a fresh referendum to have another think is really for the birds. But the vote to leave does not mean that voters want a recklessly reactionary government, and we need to be in a position to say “Yes, we accept the result, and here is the progressive case for a Government that makes the very best of Britain separate from the EU.” We owe it to ourselves to offer that positive alternative, and we owe it to the people who we represent and to British democracy.

The work to develop that programme starts right now. We may have less time than we think.

Best wishes

Nick

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