Please help ensure a fair fight for Broxtowe

Hi all,

This is partly to invite you to a party, and partly to make a request.

One of the unattractive features of modern politics is the increasing dominance of money. We’re not yet at the American stage, where basically someone who wants to stand for Congress needs to be either a millionaire or the friend of a millionaire. But increasingly survivors in British politics need to compete in the financial arena as well as in the world of policies and argument.

The Observer tells the remarkable story of modern Conservative fund-raising. At one dinner, the paper reports “oligarchs, Middle Eastern businessmen and City financiers vied to bid huge sums at an auction.” “A Russian banker – the wife of a Putin ally – paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron. “ “A Russian businessman with offshore wind interests paid £90,000 for a bust of David Cameron.” And the obscure United and Cecil Club (based at the address of a riding school in Berkshire owned by the former head of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association) have donated £285,000, concentrated on the 10 most marginal seats.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/05/tory-donors-united-and-cecil-club-2015-war-chest

Candidates often get surprising approaches in this climate. I was recently approached by a special interest group pressing the cause of Azerbaijan: the lobbyist asked if I’d like to receive their updates (I said politely that I read anything I’m sent) and if they could have details of my next fund-raiser so they could contribute. I declined. If I win, I want to win with funds that I don’t feel are controversial.

Broxtowe is the 8th most marginal seat In Britain, so many of you are already receiving glossy letters from David Cameron and Anna Soubry – much of it paid for by such donations, some less obviously partisan by you as a taxpayer, because MPs are allowed to write to constituents about local issues and to include invitations to subscribe to their partisan emails. Others will have been telephoned by the central Conservative phone bank, a sophisticated operation run from Birmingham.

It’s generally expected that the Broxtowe election next May will be won by Anna Soubry or me – we are half of one per cent apart. The LibDems are focused elsewhere (and haven’t even chosen a candidate here yet); UKIP are expected to make an effort but realistically just aiming for a good third place; the Greens are expected as in 2010 to get less than 1%. It’s genuinely a two-horse race.

But as things stand, I’ll be wildly outspent and it does make a difference.

So I’d like to ask you if you can contribute towards balancing the scales. You can help in any of SIX ways, depending on whether you’d just like to help with a simple donation, or come to a party or a theatrical performance or a discussion.

  1. By bank transfer to Broxtowe Labour Party, 08-90-74, account 58020100. 100% of your donation will go to my campaign.
  2. By cheque to Broxtowe Labour Party, c/o Dawn Elliott, 12 Linden Grove, Beeston NG9 2AD. Again, 100% will go to the campaign.
  3. By PayPal at the www.broxtowelabour.com website. This is the simplest option for many.
  4. Come to our party next Friday at the Pearson Centre, Beeston (2 Nuart Road NG9 2NH, by the library) starting at 7.30pm. The guest speaker is Dennis Skinner, and there will be a 3-course meal (veggie and vegan options available), music and what we expect to be an exceptionally good time. Tickets are £15: please order from Dawn Elliott at above or let her know by email at dawnwale@googlemail.com. Please let us know by Wednesday if you are coming, so we can make sure the right amount of food is ready for you! The surplus on the night will go to the campaign.
  5. Come to the performance of United We Stand at Chilwell Arts Theatre, Chilwell School, Queens Rd West, Beeston NG9 5AL on Wednesday. This is a national tour by a celebrated national theatre company (who put on The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists recently in Chilwell and Kimberley) who have promised to donate 20% of the proceeds to our campaign. See http://www.townsendproductions.org.uk/productions/united-we-stand

Doors open at 7 for 7.30. You can order tickets from  teresa.c@transformtraining.org.uk .

  1. Come to my next eat’n’debate event on Friday November 21 at 7.30pm. The subject of the discussion: “How should we respond to UKIP’s challenge?” The cost for a fish and chip supper is £20, of which 50% goes to the campaign (the rest goes to the restaurant). The venue is just opening for us that evening, and this one for a change is in ‘All things nice’, 9 Bath Street, Ilkeston, Derbyshire, DE7 8AH. (Parking on South Street or the Albion Centre, East Street). Please let me know if you plan to come to that so we can tell the caterers to have enough fish!

What will you get in return for helping? A tennis match with me? A bust of Mr Miliband? An introduction to influential people?

No. What you’ll get is the satisfaction of having contributed to a fair fight for Broxtowe. A contest where whichever candidate offers the most reasonable, balanced arguments wins – not the candidate whose party has the most connections to oligarchs. I actually don’t mind (much!) losing a fair fight. But I’d like the chance to put my case on equal terms. If you can help, whether it’s with £10 or £100 or £1000, I hope you’ll consider it.

Thank you!

Nick

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Two sad news items/Too many quarrels?/UKIP selection

Hi all,

Two sad news items

Local people were saddened by two tragedies this week. The well-liked and hard-working Conservative councillor Marilyn Hegyi has died, I understand after a long private struggle with cancer. And the hugely popular former vicar of Beeston, Bryan Barrodale has died after a long illness. I was very fond of him (I used to think of him as “Baron Barrodale” a burly champion of goodwill) – he was such a good advertisement for Christianity, combining a mordant sense of humour with a passionate commitment to social justice. I think he would have liked this interview with him among his epitaphs:

http://tinyurl.com/bryanbd

 

Oxjam!

I’m looking forward to helping again in this fantastic music festival for Oxfam at the weekend. As previous attendees will know, essentially it turns Beeston into a galaxy of music, and every single musician performs free in support of the charity. Read more here

 

http://www.oxjambeestontakeover.org/

 

and order your tickets with an online discount by clicking on their “GRAB YOUR TICKETS” link.

 

Too many quarrels?

One of the issues in the forthcoming election is how the candidates see the job. Normally, I try to avoid discussing personal approaches, but recent events have illustrated the important role they play.

Many of you will be familiar with the current controversy, described here:

http://tinyurl.com/neathway

I’m not close enough to it to have special insights, but the basic facts seem to be undisputed. A paratrooper with multiple amputations was bullied; MPs expressed concern but the Minister said the matter was being satisfactorily investigated when it was actually being obstructed; the paratrooper persisted and eventually justice was done.

What is noticeable at the end of the story is first the absence of any apology or statement of regret and second an attempt to shift the blame onto a nameless civil servant.

We have seen this pattern before. When Ms Soubry told the Commons that she’d had no opposition to Royal Mail privatisation and it was pointed out that she’d had dozens of letters, the fault was said to be with the staff and again no convincing apology followed. More recently, a reference of the Field Farm development to the Minister to “call it in” was presented as a success of the MP, but the Minister’s decision this week not to call it in after all was said to be the fault of the council.

The MP seems beset by difficult, inefficient and tiresome people. The local councils are all usually at fault. The non-partisan Civic Society was too slow in inviting her to speak. The non-partisan Beeston Express is actually really hostile. The only local news outlet worth writing for is the Rant Room, where people compete to say how rubbish everything is. The MP’s party is always right, and other parties are always wrong if they disagree.

But here’s the thing. In reality everyone – including the MP herself – is almost certainly doing their best to help our community. Why wouldn’t they? If I’m elected, I expect to work with people across Broxtowe, regardless of whether they’re Tory, LibDem, Labour, UKIP, Green or non-political. And if I make mistakes or anyone who works for me makes them, I’ll take responsibility myself, as I always did in 18 years of management in industry. When people work for me, the buck stops with me.

The job of the MP is to represent the community, get concessions from Ministers and negotiate productively with councils. If one starts from the assumption that one’s dealing with irritating people, it actually isn’t possible to do it very well. One fight after another has been lost: Government funding has been provided for the tram but not for compensation for disruption, Green Belt housing is approved and indeed required by the Government inspector, open-cast mining is going ahead with Ministerial blessing, and the HS2 station seems to be heading for Breaston, giving us the route disruption without the station. Ultimately, a policy of perpetually quarrelling is ineffective for the constituency.

 

UKIP candidate

I see that UKIP has now selected its candidate in Broxtowe, Frank Dunne, who I’ve not yet had the chance to meet. I see suggestions in the press that candidates should swing with the wind and adopt UKIP-friendly policies to respond to their recent upswing. I’m afraid that’s not for me – I understand that many people are fed up with politics but the solution isn’t to pretend to be something I’m not. But I’ve dropped him a note wishing him a fair fight.

That only leaves the LibDems without a candidate here among the main parties. This isn’t a priority Parliamentary seat for them so they’ve delayed it, but I assume they’ll have someone soon.

 

Best wishes

Nick

 

Posted in Broxtowe | 4 Comments

Back to war in Iraq? / Deficits, tax cuts and fairness

Hi all,

There are two serious issues to discuss, so this is going to be quite long – apologies!

  1. Back to war?

The biggest controversy of the last Government was our participation in the intervention in Iraq. I voted for it, and have since, like many others, come to the conclusion that it was the wrong decision. I’ve rethought my assumptions and have come to the conclusion that seeking to intervene to overthrow governments is only justifiable when there is a UN mandate or overwhelming evidence both that the government is extremely oppressive or aggressive and – often harder – that there is a better alternative. For that reason, I opposed intervention last year both in Syria (where my party agreed) and in Libya (where I disagreed with my party and have sadly been proved right by the ensuing chaos there).

Is the attack on ISIL different? In principle, yes. First, it is a response to a request by a democratically elected government. Second, ISIL has committed any number of barbarities with open pleasure, including the beheading of innocent British and other civilian aid workers. They are despised by Britain’s Muslim community (whose leaders in a joint statement called them the Unislamic State for their contempt for religious values) and the Arab world.

But I’d like to see a much clearer picture of what we are signing up to. Are we – as Mr Cameron hinted – prepared to go beyond Iraq to attacking targets in Syria, where we don’t have a request from a democratic government? Might we be drawn back into intervention on the ground, with new British deaths? Defeating ISIS may take a long time – what is our exit strategy, or are we committing ourselves to indefinitely extended conflict? Are we even clear who we are allied to and who we oppose?

Iran?

Assad?

Moderate militants?

The Egyptian regime?

If I was currently an MP, I’d have been one of the “no” voters. We need to learn from experience. Becoming enmeshed in an indefinite war with no clear exit strategy is a mistake, and not something I would support again. I understand that the operation has strong support in the polls as well as from my own party leadership, so many of you may disagree, but really modern politics should involve an honest discussions rather than merely exchanging our official party positions.

  1. The conferences

Media reporting of the Labour conference was dominated by the omission from Miliband’s speech of his section on the deficit. I think that it’s time to end the stunt of both party leaders in speaking for an hour without notes – it’s impressive to do it once, but really it’s more important to get a full speech. That said, the ability to memorise perfectly isn’t really the key issue for an alternative government. So I’d like to talk about some of the key issues.

First, yes – the deficit. On Monday, Mr Osborne reiterated that deficit elimination is his main objective, so that working tax credits for the low-paid need to be frozen (i.e. cut in real terms). Really? Precisely two days later, Mr Cameron promised £7.2 billion of tax cuts, weighted to benefit people most on £50,000. We can have debt reduction, or we can have a whopping tax cut on medium to high incomes. We can’t really have both, and they are trying to have their electoral cake and eat it.

But perhaps it’s because debt reduction is going well? No, debt is continuing to get worse. See the illuminating graphs in this Telegraph article:

http://tinyurl.com/Britdebts

The problem, as the article points out, is the same problem that has been affecting ordinary households – the technical recovery has been accompanied by individuals getting worse off in real terms, so tax revenues are far below expectations. The balance of payments is worse than ever, and investment is near historic lows. In terms of developing a more competitive, better-trained economy, the last four and a half years have been wasted.

Even the much-heralded cuts in government spending have largely been shunted into the next Parliament, where they form such a malignant prospect that serious cuts to education, policing, defence and local services seem likely, and I wonder whether pensioners (not mentioned by Mr Cameron at all) will continue to be protected.

So what would Labour do? A key factor is a 10-year focus. The government has been drifting without any obvious purpose, and a country adrift is a country which will struggle to compete. More specifically:

  • Tax and spending restraint

Labour accepts that this isn’t a time to splurge, but wants to turn the savings into areas that can afford them. We will squeeze dodgy tax evasion (both corporate and personal) , reverse the 5p cut in income tax for people on £150,000/year, introduce a mansion tax on homes worth over £2 million, impose a levy on the cigarette industry, limit child benefit rises to 1% for the first two years, and remove the Winter Allowance from people in the higher tax bracket. At the same time, we will reduce taxation at the bottom end of the scale by reintroducing the 10p rate for the first earnings above the personal allowance. This is the only tax reduction that we’re offering, because we actually do think the deficit needs to be brought down.

The only one of these that really affects most people adversely is the limit on child benefits. I’ve seen Conservative emails suggesting that the mansion tax will cause hardship, since some people live in expensive houses on low incomes. But really, even in London, if you live in a house worth £3 million, you can afford a £10,000/year tax, even if it means downsizing to a £2.5 million/year home (halving the tax and giving yourself the better part of £500,000). Similarly, the Winter Allowance was intended to help pensioners avoid freezing, and really nobody on higher-rate tax is in danger of that. It would be nice not to have to do these things, but it’s fairer than a relentless squeeze on the lower end of the income scale.

For example, the Conservatives propose to deny support altogether to school-leavers for 6 months. This will not be a problem for stable, prosperous families, who will just go on supporting them as long as needed. And some will be able to go straight into work. But what about the rest? They have the choice of borrowing from friends, borrowing from loan sharks, crime or living on the street. Is that a sensible alternative to taxing £3 million mansions?

  • Protecting the NHS

Nobody in touch with the NHS is in any doubt that it is under immense strain, made worse by the ludicrously expensive reorganisation and the quiet transfer of an increasing number of services to private profit-making providers. Every East Midlands NHS Trust bar one is in deficit. Labour will relieve the strain by engaging

  • 20,000 more nurses, getting the basics right with safe staffing.
  • 8,000 more GPs, to help people stay healthy outside hospital.
  • 5,000 new homecare workers and 3,000 more midwives.

and by shifting resources to the overstretched care sector, so that more people can be cared for at home instead of being kept in hospital at vastly greater expense. In particular, the cuts to training will be reversed. Half of all NHS employers say they had to recruit nurses from overseas last year. It is really pointless for the Government to pretend concern about immigration while slashing the training of people already in this country: what are employers supposed to do?

  • Moving to an £8 minimum wage

As I’ve noted before, this has obvious direct benefits, but it also helps deficit reduction, since it reduces the need for Working Tax Credits – effectively it’s transferring some of the cost from taxpayers to employers. The idea of tax credits is to ease the move from unemployment into work – not to offer a permanent subsidy to Burger King, who can perfectly well afford to pay £8/hour if required. The CBI says £8 is “the maximum that can be afforded” – in other words, it’s affordable for employers, so let’s do it.

  • Moving apprenticeships to Continental levels.

Despite lip-service over the years, apprenticeships have been the poor relation of college training compared with our more successful competitors in Germany and elsewhere. The intention is to aim for broadly equal numbers of university and apprenticeship places, so that the two routes out of school are both seen as valued options. The apprenticeships themselves need to be made more training-focused – the current quality is patchy.

  • Other measures

Provide 25 hours of free childcare for 3 to 4 year olds. Freeze electricity bills till 2017. End letting fee rip-offs. Cut Ministerial pay. Ban exploitative zero-hours contracts – essentially those which prevent you from taking other work.

And more to come. There are ideas which I’d like to see in there and I’m sure that not everyone will agree with all of these. But it would be nice to have a Government with a clearer sense of purpose again.

Labour’s objective? A fairer distribution of sacrifices when needed, leading to a country with a stronger educational and investment base for the long term.

The objective of the current Government is… what? Primarily, I think, to be re-elected.

 

Best wishes

 

Nick

Posted in Broxtowe | 4 Comments

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

Nick

 

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.

Nick

Posted in Broxtowe | 4 Comments