Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Intermission



Taking a break from blogging for a few days.

Apologies in advance to anyone who has posted a comment for the late response.

Cheers!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Equal Pay Matters in UNISON

Quick report back on the London region UNISON briefing on Equal Pay that I attended on Thursday. The meeting was chaired by Gloria Hanson, Regional Convener and addressed by Mike Hayes, lay chair of the UNISON NEC Finance Committee as well as UNISON Finance staff.

This meeting is one of a series of regional briefings that are being held across the UK. UNISON is taking and contemplating legal action against a number of employers for unlawful discrimination over equal pay. It also has to defend itself in a small number of cases from “no win no pay” solicitors who are suing UNISON and other trade unions.

Check out trade union solicitors Thompson’s web site on “equal pay”. Taking such legal action against employers is potentially very expensive and legal costs in employment tribunals cannot be claimed back even if a member wins. UNISON has to decide how these costs will be funded.

The meeting was well attended by branch treasurers and secretaries. We had a really mature and sensible discussion. This is a not only a big issue for UNISON and employers.

The 1970 Equal Pay Act has been “in force” for over 26 years. It is appalling that after all this time there is still a 17% gap between male and female full time employees and a staggering 38% gap for part time workers!

The question surely is why should we face these huge legal bills for simply trying to enforce the law of the land?

(Photo: check out Belgium trade union campaign - "its not the hormonal rages")

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Oh Mr Porter, what shall I do?

WIPE OUT”; “Tories Hammer New Labour”; “Gordon is a moron” as well as being given a “bloody nose” and a “severe kicking” - these are some of the headlines following the Conservative victory in Crewe and (traditional Tory) Nantwich. Some humility in defeat should now be expected. But while we have lost this particular battle and admittedly the local council/ Assembly elections, it doesn’t mean that we will lose the war. However, what to do about all this?

The electorate is clearly very volatile. It was after all not that long ago that I posted “Success in Ealing & Sedgefield”. I don’t believe that the political make up of the nation has changed radically right wing in such a short period. What I do believe is that it is more to do with the Clinton argument that “it’s the economy, stupid”. I’ve just received notification that my monthly direct debit for gas and electricity has gone up by £20, I never used to think twice about the cost of filling up with diesel, now I watch with horrified fascination how the £’s symbols on the fuel pumps spin faster than the litres. Bread and milk does cost more and the local off-licence has now finally increased the cost of 6 cans of 5% lager from £5 to £5.50.

If you had a slight panic earlier this year about the safety of your salary or savings if your bank went bust and now also believe (wrongly in the vast majority of cases) that you are paying more income tax this year, then you can see some powerful reasons why people deserted Labour for bright shiny New Tories.

While I think we need more policies like “fairness for agency workers” that will attract and mobilise our core vote, I don’t think that there is any evidence that moving significantly to “the Left” is the answer. Not least, because it is the centre that decides elections and power in this country. It just doesn’t make any sense to say that people vote Tory because Labour isn’t lefty enough. Others may point to 1945 and 1979 as examples of where Political Parties adopted radical politics and won elections. In 1945 following 6 years of collectivisation and total war, a free health service, secondary education and nationalisation was “centre” politics. While Thatcher in the 1979 election did not portray herself, in any way, as any sort of radical conservative.

It is the economy that will save us or bury us. This means there is room for optimism despite the gloom. There are two schools of thought: one, either the economic fundamentals are in good shape, the economy will survive the downturn and the commodity/energy price hike is a speculative bubble and will soon collapse. Or two, we will move into recession.

Talking of 1979, on Thursday evening I went to a “meeting” and bought a badge for 50p from a dear comrade. The badge logo said “Don’t blame me I Voted Labour”. I remember going to a TUC unemployment march organised in Liverpool in 1980 helping to carry a banner saying the same thing. At the time male unemployment levels in my part of Wales was about 30%. I was actually too young to have voted in the election, but never mind. One of the things I do remember is how confident many of my fellow marchers were that Thatcher was only going to be a one hit wonder and obviously Labour would get in next time. Some prediction that one turned out to be...

The “New Labour Coalition” may well be faltering, battered and bruised but it is not dead. There is still everything to play for. Surely for no other reason, than the price of failure is just too much to bear.

(Poster of famous musical hall star Marie Lloyd singing “Oh Mr Porter” – click on link and you can hear a version of the song!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

$1,243,255 for 1 meal, 2 beers & 1 mineral water.

My cousin’s husband sent this scan of a café bill from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in March of this year. Due to continued hyperinflation I hate to think what the price will be today.

It cost nearly 1.25 million Zimbabwe dollars for a snack.

Surely Mugabe’s horrible regime will not last. Never mind the morality of his quasi -fascist dictatorship, surely the economic incompetence and corruption of his government must surely mean that his end is nigh?

Previous posts here and here.

Fingers and toes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

UNISON London Europe & International Committee – Appeal for Cuba

A quick report back on my first meeting of this regional lay committee. It took place on Monday at the Chancellors Room, Hughes Parry Hall, London WC1. Just around the corner from UNISON national HQ at Mabledon Place. I had been elected as a delegate from the London Regional Committee.

I had been meaning to stand as a member of this committee for a while since I thought that it made sense since it compliments the work I am trying to do for the UNISON Capital stewardship programme (with member nominated representatives on funded pension schemes).

In fact several years ago this committee with help from the campaigning charity Oxfam helped kick off the “London UNISON Pension Network” (now London Capital Stewardship Forum) which I convene (next meeting to be confirmed but probably before the CWU meeting on 8 July) .

This was also the AGM, but there was a slight hick up since the previous secretary to the committee had retired and no-one could find a constitution. So national rules and guidance was adopted.

Ruby Cox from Tower Hamlets (Local Gov. Branch) was re-elected unopposed as Chair. There was an election for vice chair, which was comfortably won (hard luck this time to Jackie) by Ray Mouratsing (Health Committee).

The first real item was to register committee members “interests” in the topics/areas that the committee were concerned about (or to suggest new areas). This was a pretty vast field since we all had particular areas of interest. It was based on affiliation and budget headings agreed by the previous committee. I “expressed interest” (in being involved and informed) on Europe; Southern Africa (Zimbabwe); Iraq; Bangladesh; Trade/TU human rights/Core Labour standards; Burma and Cuba Solidarity.

A major item of business was the Greater London appeal to raise funds to rebuild the Havana (Cuba) City’s Ambulance Control Room. The campaign is to raise £50k. So far it is one of the regions most successful appeals. About £40k had been raised. Contributions from UNISON branches range from £25 to £6,000. This appeal has also been adopted by those who wish to remember former Unison activist and official, John Kelly-Chandler.

Next, was a depressing but topical debate on the decision by the new Nicaragua Sandinistas government (unbelievable) decision to support the law introduced by the previous conservative government that that all abortions are illegal. Regardless of the fact that they may have been necessary to save the life of the mother. Only 3 countries in the world adopt such a repressive policy.

Members of the committee were rightly absolutely furious at this decision. I think that it is fair to say that international support for progressive politics in Nicaragua has been dealt a really serious blow. Unless this measure is appealed then I think that Nicaragua will become a pariah state. Quite right too.

I had to go before the end of the meeting but listened to Nick Crook (UNISON International Officer) who gave a presentation which was a pretty convincing argument on the benefits to the union. from internationalism. Not only do we believe in solidarity but for example by promoting quality public services in the developing world and defending trade union rights we are actually also reinforcing the case for such services and rights in Britain.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A step forward for agency workers

By co-incidence last night I was having a bit of a rant about an attempt to promote agency working amongst social housing workers. Today, it was announced that a deal with the TUC, CBI and government has been made over “fairness” for agency workers! I think that this is a result for the TUC and affiliated Labour Party trade unions.

It’s very good news, not brilliant (no parity over pensions and sick pay) however, this should improve the terms and conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. Locally in the East End of London I am aware of a number of long term agency workers who will be lifted out of minimum wage rates. UNISON Labour Link used this information to lobby the government.

It should also encourage permanent contracts for vulnerable workers since it will make increase agency fees.

The TUC and Dave Prentis think it is a move in the right direction. The CBI have obviously been pushed into the deal calling it the “least worse option” while the Federation of Small businesses call it “Disastrous”. No surprise there.

I do not see this measure surviving any future Tory government. Some “clear red water” to build upon for the General Election?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Agency workers leap into the Abyss

On the train this morning to the UNISON London International Committee, I read a feature in “Inside Housing” (I can’t find an to the article on the site) 9 May 2008 by a Recruitment consultant on the attractions of working as a “professional social housing contractor” e.g. agency temp.

The title of the article was “Leap of faith”. This really rattled my cage.

While the consultant did point out that “temping” could be risky if you cannot find any suitable assignments, it completely failed to point out all the other, arguable more serious problems with casual employment compared to permanent work.

For example there was no mention at all of the risk if you became sick or had an accident. Most agencies only pay statutory sick pay (SSP). This will pay you the grand sum of £74.40 per week if you have paid sufficient national insurance contributions (and you get nothing for the first 3 days of each claim). While most permanent jobs in social housing will pay at least 3-6 months full pay if you are sick.

There was also no mention that you will only get statutory holiday leave (20 days per year) and even now you will not get paid full leave for all bank holidays. Many organisations will give much longer annual leave especially with long service.

Company pensions, life assurance and PHI/disability protection was also ignored. In organisations that offer a company pension, up to 10-15% of your salary could be additionally paid into a pension for you.

Also, one of the hardest things for me to deal with as a trade union steward, is with members who become disabled or the families of those who have died in service who were not also members of a company pension scheme. Think about how awful this is.

There are huge number of other problems with "casualisation", not least the almost complete and utter lack of any employment protection for agency workers. Thankfully, the government is now making noises about extending “fairness” to agency workers (better late than never but I would not hold your breath). Agency workers are also rarely if ever recruited via equality proofed mechanisms.

I simply don’t believe that for the vast of agency workers they are “better off” than working for a permanent employer who pays company benefits. I also think that organisations who employ agency staff rather than actively recruit permanent staff also suffer, not least because they have to pay VAT on those staff and also the agency costs and profits.

Finally, I recognise that there is a role for agency workers to cover short term sickness or special one off tasks, however, for the vast majority of the social housing workforce to be a contractor rather than a permanent employee, it is not so much a “Leap of faith” as for many a “Leap into the Abyss”.

Picture of East London “Professional Docker contractors” queuing for the chance to work.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eliminating Pensioner Poverty

This is a little bit teckie but it likely to be of even greater long term significance to real people, than the current fuss over the improvement to personal tax allowances for low and middle income Brits.

The EU has allowed the government to extend the scope of auto-enrolment into contract pension schemes as well as trust schemes. The government will amend the 2007 Pension bill to allow for auto-enrolment from 2012. It was previously thought that this compulsion was illegal under EU regulations. This alone will affect some 4.7 million employees.

Okay, what this means is that in 2012, the government can now introduce a nation wide auto-enrolment scheme for all employed workers. If someone works for a company that has its own pension scheme they will be automatically enrolled in that scheme. All other firms that do not offer a pension scheme will have to auto-enrol employees into a Government sponsored Pension Personal account. Employees can pull out of the scheme but every year they will be enrolled back into it again.

The above paragraph is possibly amongst the most boring I have ever written. Co-incidentally I was just distracted by a sketch on TV from the show “Smack the Pony” where 2 women fell asleep as soon as their accountant started talking about pensions and tax allowances.

Bear with me as I think this issue is important. For the first time potentially all workers will end up with a lifelong private and state pension scheme. As always there is lots to moan about for example: – it should be compulsory for all workers and self employed, the contributions paid by employers is too low, investment risk is not shared, carer pensions etc.

However, nowadays, even in companies with pucker Final Salary schemes, up to a third of employees are not members of the company pension scheme. Losing the equivalent of at least 10-15% of their wages each year.

A little while ago I helped a union member go through her pension options with a company which only offered a group personal pension plan. The company will pay into a pension if the employee also contributes. She was horrified how many £1,000’s she had lost out in company contributions by not taking out the pension sooner. She had never "got around" to setting it up. She would have far preferred being enrolled when she first joined the company. The industry has a saying that pensions are "sold not bought".

For the first time ever in the history of this country, with cross party support, we could be just about to introduce a sustainable arrangement for a national pension scheme that covers all workers. This could (fingers & toes crossed) eventually get rid of the rotten stench that poverty in old age, has for far too long, besmirched our country.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Union Trustees take on Global Capitalism

Okay, okay, Tom P and I are trying to use the most attention seeking headlines possible in order to publicise the meeting of the "Fourth International" of lead union trustees that will take place in London on 8th-10th July.

I was lucky enough to go to last year’s conference in Geneva, Switzerland at the ILO (see picture of participants above). It was an excellent and inspiring event and I hope that as many trade union pension reps as possible can participate in this years event.

It seems that the possible British Local Government strike over pay will not take place that week, but the week after.

This is from the TUC press release. “The event is being organized by the Global Unions Committee on Workers' Capital (CWC - www.workerscapital.org) to facilitate international dialogue and information exchange between union trustees.

Key themes for discussion include the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, Burma, private equity, labour issues in an investment context, and capital stewardship campaigns. The July 9 meeting will be chaired by John Maitland (ACTU, Australia) and hosted by the TUC. On July 10, trustees will be meeting with a number of London-based campaigning, corporate social responsibility and investment organisations.

If you would like to attend, please let the CWC Secretariat know by emailing workercapital@share.ca Attendance is free, but please note that CWC is unable to assist with travel or accommodation costs for the meeting”.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Give the Bill Some Balls



Excellent clip posted on YouTube by UNISON Young members on the Climate Change Bill after their conference in Glasgow early this month.

Despite my youthful good looks obviously many will be surprised that I am no longer eligible to be a UNISON young member. But the future of the union seems in good hands.

There are 75,000 young members in UNISON (out of 1.4 million). They think that the Climate Change Bill currently going through Parliament is a good thing but want the government to be bolder and increase the target for the reductions in emissions from 60 to 80% by 2050.

The target should also include air and shipping interests.

They ask for this link to be passed on to MP’s, friends, relatives and work colleagues.

Check out also I Count - Stop Climate Chaos

I noticed in the clip top London regional Young member convener Sarah Lewis and NEC member James Anthony

Thursday, May 15, 2008

London UNISON Regional Committee: The Health Brigade & the Forgotten Brigade

This morning was the quarterly meeting of the lay regional committee in central London. I was there in my capacity as regional finance convener and had to present the finance report.

Main picture is of the new banner for the UNISON Health Brigade (dedicated to the memory of John Kelly Chandler). On the left is Bromley Health branch secretary, Micky Crouch, and on right Deputy regional convener, Conroy Lawrence.

There were a number of important items on the agenda. However, I will concentrate on just two issues. The first was the prospect of national strike action over the 2008 local government pay offer. Recently there was a consultative ballot of the “final” offer by the employers of a below inflation and average earnings offer of 2.45% (3.3% for the most low paid). This is a sensitive issue and it is possible that we may have strike action in the near future. So, I will just say that sometime soon I will post some ideas on the future direction of the union with regard to such industrial action. We need to have a Plan B.

The second issue was the likelihood of the Labour Government and Labour Councils being re-elected in the next election. While I am largely indifferent to declared Trotskyite revolutionaries banging on about the ‘orrible quasi-fascist Labour government and how it deserves defeat.

I was somewhat “fed up” (to say the least) to hear a Labour Party member and UNISON NEC member openly rejoicing and gloating at the prospect of a Labour Party defeat at the next election (on the lines of “I told them so”) and looking “forward” to the prospect of rowing with a future Conservative government. He claimed that Labour had done “practically nothing” for working people while in power. Thankfully, apart from a couple of sneering acolytes, most were shocked at this out burst even if they were very critical of Labour.

Now, apart from the fact that this analysis is simply wrong and there is nothing inevitable about the prospect of a Tory victory and it is certainly nothing to celebrate. I think that such comments expose the banality of the extremist left with the Party. They would rather be in opposition than compromise “their politics”.

What is wrong with these people? Don’t they understand the difference that Labour has made to poor pensioners whose lives have been transformed by pension credits? How the minimum wage has put money in the pockets of the lowest paid. The huge amounts of money poured into Schools and hospitals. Yes, the government has made mistakes; yes they have not always been as bold and brave as we would have wanted. Yes, you have the right to criticise the government and work for change.

However, to dismiss everything that the Labour government has done and seemingly welcome future decades of divisive Tory misrule in council, assembly and government is simply and completely unforgivable.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gordon and Cabinet listen to Bermondsey Voices

Another more recent picture of Gordon (see last post).

Coincidentally, last night I received a call from a Newham contact who asked me if I could attend an important consultation “meeting” today in Bermondsey, South East London. I asked him who was attending and he gave me the usual cryptic answer that he could not tell me for security purposes (or of course he would have to shoot me).

Fair enough I thought. This morning I was texted the address “Beormund Community Centre, Abbey Street, SE1”. At the community centre we were directed into what appeared to be the sports hall which had a number of round tables and chairs. It was pretty full of people and press/media.

Beormund is a pucker inner city community centre. While queuing to get in you could see “tea dances” taking place in a far hall. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

After booking in with my passport I was directed to a table in the corner of the sports hall. In another coincidence I was seated next to friendly Tower Hamlets people. Also on our table was a local housing c0-op member and representatives of a number of local and national organisations.

The official purpose of the meeting was to consult on the Government’s draft legislative programme 2008/9 (Your Voice). The Prime Minister and a number of cabinet ministers including Harriet Harman, Jackie Smith, Alan Johnson, Ed Balls and Hazel Blears turned up and were allocated tables in the room to chair meetings on the legislative programme.

We had Hazel on our table. She was as usual “on form” and led a lively discussion on the 10 most important issues that our table thought important. Many of us around that table had strong views on government policy and legislation however we were kept well in line by Hazel.

Gordon was supposed to sit on our table to discuss things but was waylaid on route. Shame.

At the end Gordon gave a pretty powerful speech to us all. While I didn’t agree with everything (diversity in NHS supply being a good thing?), most of his stuff was very positive. Excellent news on fairness for agency workers

Neither he nor his cabinet ministers seemed down or beaten. Business as usual I think. But I hope that the Bermondsey voices will still be heard.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fill the pockets and purses of basic rate Britain

I’ll join the chorus of approval for Chancellor Alistair Darling’s decision to increase tax allowances for basic rate taxpayers. I suppose the Mrs and I should declare an interest (or rather 240 of them). But I do genuinely think that this is good news for low and middle income Britain. It is also progressive and even (mildly) redistributive in a gentle “don’t scare the horses” New Labour way.

I don’t think that there has been any conversion on the road to Damascus, but the government has been given a bloody nose by normally loyal backbench MPs not the “usual suspects”. What does this mean? Gordon Brown is not stupid. I think he will take account of his backbench MPs and realise a mistake was made over the abolition of the 10p rate and learn from it.

Mike Ion talked a lot of sense on Monday about how folk have short memories. Less than 12 months ago the Tories were disintegrating over academic selection and Labour was 14% ahead in the polls. Two years is a long time in politics. This was before today’s announcement on basic rate tax.

One positive consequence could be that in the in the face of a resurgent (for now) Tory Party, is that the Government has realised that it needs to capture low and middle income Britain. Now, I would argue that this would also involve delivering on rights for agency workers, public sector pay and financial security for the self-employed etc.

While the Government may have realised in a period of low wage growth and relatively high inflation for fuel and food that they need to concentrate on making sure that low and middle income Britain release that the Labour Party has their interests at heart. They must find ways to put real money into their pockets and purses before 2010.

Will higher rate Britain (not all of course) vote for the Tories anyway now they appear to have a “respectable” One Nation toff as leader?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Don’t Give Rich Lawyers 30% of your Compensation.

I was pleased to see that UNISON and the GMB are fighting back against so-called no-win no-fee solicitors, who have been touting for “equal pay” business in East London by running adverts in the local press.

This joint trade union advert (right) put out in response, points out that these solicitors can take up to 30% of any compensation they might win. While UNISON and GMB members get free representation.

People should be very, very careful about all no-win no-fee companies. I have come across cases in the past where claimants are told they will not be charged any fees. Then later they had to pay upfront for an insurance policy to cover legal costs if they lose, or where they have been charged for specialist medical reports or even extra for the cost of a barrister. UNISON will pay all these costs.

Often you are “locked” in when you use a no-win or no-fee solicitor and you have to pay them if you want to switch to other legal advisers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

“Come on the Bolsheviks” - The First British Soviet?

If you have ever been on the A55 while on holiday in North Wales or driving to catch the ferry to Dublin you would have passed the famous “Marble Church” (St. Margaret's), in Bodelwyddan. The A55 is now a fast dual carriageway for much of the way, but when I was a lad, the road used to pass much closer to the church and you could clearly see lines of White British Military crosses in the graveyard.

On route to visit relatives in Conwy, my father would occasionally mention these graves and would tell me the local rumour that these graves were of Canadian Servicemen who mutinied shortly after the First World War and tried to form the first ever communist Soviet (workers Council) in the UK.

This “Soviet” was crushed by the British Army high command that feared that a “Revolution” was taking place and many of the mutineers were “shot”. There was supposed to be a cover up and it was pretended that the mutineers actually died from the flu epidemic instead of the firing squad.

I only found out a few years ago that the truth is actually less romantic and perhaps even more brutal. There was a military camp at Bodelwyddan (Kinmel Camp), across the road from the Marble Church. Even today it is still I think a military training ground. In 1919 it was a “holding camp” for 20,000 troops, including many Canadians waiting to be sent home after the end of the war. There was a riot on the 4&5th March 1919 by many of these soldiers because ships that were supposed to have carried them home to Canada had been diverted or cancelled. Conditions at the camp were thought to be “rough” with shortages of food and overcrowding.

The report by the London Times does mention that the ring leaders were “not true Canadians, but men with Russian blood” and that the Standard bearer (who waved a “red flag”) was “of Russian extraction”.

A local historian records that a William Tarasevitch was vilified as a 'leader of the mutineers'. On 4th March, a meeting was called by the soldiers of Camp Montreal (part of the camp). A strike committee was formed with Tarasevitch who was a member.

Tarasevitch was one of the mutineers who was later killed, bayoneted in the stomach.

Check out this “bolshie” account of the Kimnal Park “Soviet” (in the true sense of the word). This report claims that the cry “Come on the Bolsheviks” was heard.

5 soldiers died during the “disturbances”. One was probably shot by mistake by the mutineers, while 4 mutineers were bayoneted to death in desperate hand to hand combat with “loyal” units.

Please stop off at the Marble Church (look out for the sign for the nearby Bodelwyddan hospital). The site is incredibly peaceful despite the noise of the nearby duel carriageway. It is difficult to imagine the violence and horror that took place nearby 90 odd years ago. In the grave yard there is also the final resting place of a Welsh guardsman, L/Cpl Burke, who died in Buff Cove during the Falkland War in 1982.

I think that there was actually no “revolution” in Kemnal Park in 1919. It was no doubt horrible, but the dispute was mainly over camp living conditions and the timetable over the return home to Canada. The soldiers were obviously aware of what had happen in Russia (so was the authorities!).

This incident never seemed to affect the attitude of Canada to the “home country”. In the Second World War arguable we would never have defeated Hitler and fascism without the sacrifice of the Canadians Navy, Air Force and Army. The Navy in particular saved us from starvation due to Nazi U-Boat’s while the Army proved themselves in the invasion of France.

Something which I do not think we properly recognize in this country at all. We are not very good at saying "thank you".

Saturday, May 10, 2008

TUC SAFETY REPS' SURVEY 2008

Safety reps should have their say” Every year the TUC carries out a survey of trade union safety reps. This year will be the 7th. The survey provides the TUC and individual unions with pretty vital information about safety reps.

'We need this information so that the TUC and unions can do more to help safety reps, and so that safety reps' views and experiences are better reflected in public policy debates and the work of the Health and Safety Executive,' said TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. 'We will publish the results, and use them to campaign for better safety standards at work - including more rights for safety reps.'

I received the paper version a few day’s ago and it still amongst the pile of union/Labour Party/Pension stuff waiting to be read/responded to on the kitchen chair. The TUC e-newsletter Risks this morning reminded me that I haven’t done it. So a few clicks and 10 minutes later it was done.

So, if you are a trade union safety rep please complete the survey.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Dog Whistle Politics Win Out in London?

Okay, life moves on. Boris is Mayor and is giving conciliating interviews and patting Ken on the back at today’s assembly meeting. However ....while at the risk of making this post sound like sour grapes, please always remember this is my blog, my view, my interpretation of events.

In January I posted on a speech that City & East Assembly member, John Biggs, gave to West Ham Labour Party GC. In this speech, John spoke about his fears that the Tories have resorted to “dog whistle politics” in their political campaigning for the London Assembly elections.

“Dog whistle” politics were perfected by conservative politicians in Australia who used “coded” language in political campaigning, which appears to mean one thing to the general population but in reality is directed and targeted to a specific audience. Like dog whistles which humans cannot hear but dogs can.

To be absolutely clear – what I think went on during the recent election was a deliberate and prolonged attempt by certain Tories supporters and the media to make malicious and sensational allegations against mainly black advisers to Ken Livingstone, in order to polarise white voters and frighten them into not voting for Labour (and therefore encouraging them to vote Tory).

Former adviser to Ken on Equalities (I assume soon also to be made redundant from the GLA) Jasper Lee may well have acted inappropriately with regard to his personal life. However, there is no evidence that he was ever corrupt. The drip, drip lies, innuendo, slurs and sensationalistic reporting were to my mind a deliberate attempt to plant racist messages in the mind of white London voters.

Okay, while I am personally convinced that “dog whistle” politics was practiced during this campaign, I do not think that this was the only reason for Ken’s defeat. There were a number of other reasons. But, let’s face it “dog whistle” stuff helped.

(Heard something? - Picture of "Little Miss Muffet" and her pups circa 1971-ish)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

London UNISON Labour Link – Boris, Barnbrook and winning next time.


By co-incidence this morning was the quarterly regional meeting of London UNISON Labour Link Committee (or APF - the voluntary political levy that many UNISON members pay that promotes members views and UNISON policies within the Labour Party).

It was a good opportunity to meet up with comrades from across London and different parts of UNISON to discuss the recent campaign and election results. I think that everyone was “disappointed” (to say the least) with Ken losing the mayoralty and the BNP gaining a seat. Despite the current circumstances it was a very positive, thoughtful and forward thinking meeting. An extra Labour seat was won and we did increase the Labour vote in London

This was the first meeting since the re-election of the committee; the first item was election of officers. Louise Couling and Bill Beekoo were elected Co- Chair’s while Gloria Hanson and I were elected Co-Vice Chairs.

The Greater London Assembly report was by newly re-elected Assembly member for Enfield and Haringey, Joanne McCarthy (see picture).

Joanne is a UNISON member and has been a regular visitor to London Labour Link meetings. The committee congratulated Joanne on winning her seat. It had been a key Tory target. She gave a short verbal report then answered questions.

Joanne started off by admitting that the loss of Ken had been a disaster not only for London but also for the Unions. Ken had an “open door” to the unions which Boris is not expected to follow. She thanked UNISON and the other affiliated trade unions for their work in the election. If the unions had not rallied around Labour in London in the way they did then the results could have been far worse.

There is a problem that since the Tories now control more than 8 seats in the Assembly, then Boris’s budget proposals cannot be blocked. But, since the Assembly Chairs of Committees are decided by a simple majority of members, then it is likely (not confirmed until the Assembly AGM) that a coalition of the minority Parties may be able to control the all important committees. These “Scrutiny committees should be able to monitor what Boris is up to and try to stop him from damaging London too much. Boris can also be held to account to a degree by formal “questions” to the Mayor.

Labour Link had tabled a special report analysing the overall BNP vote in the 2008 elections. We discussed this and Joanne reassured committee members that the BNP will not get the GLA money and resources that some have claimed following the election of Barnbrook. To be recognised as a “Party” in the GLA you need at least 2 seats. So it is likely that he will only get enough to employ one paid member of staff (too many). There was as we say a "wide ranging discussion" on means to combat the BNP while ensuring that GLA staff are protected. We need to careful, since Barnbrook will be using his position as a platform for the European elections next year and will thrive on confrontation and publicly. Apparently, if he does something stupid (as elected BNP councillors are prone to do) and is kicked out, then the BNP can replace him with another list candidate.

If in London we could have raised the turnout from 45.3% to 49% then the BNP would have not been elected. They only increased their total vote by just over 0.5% from 2004.

After Joanne left there was a general debate about the election, lessons learnt and planning ahead for the European elections in 2009, Council elections in 2010 and of course at some time in the next few years there will be a general election. The Tories clearly mobilised their supporters to come out and vote better than Labour. National political sentiments did not help Labour in London. However, a capable and experienced progressive candidate on the left of the Labour Party was clearly defeated by a centre right wing Tory.

There was widespread agreement by committee members over the desperate need to defeat the Tories and the vital role that trade unions can play in the coming battles. We need to remind our members of what happens when Conservatives are in power, locally and nationally.

We need to organise between now and next time to win.

Ken Says Thank You

Late last night I received this email from kenlivingstone.com on behalf of Ken thanking all his supporters.

Well done City & East for the 2.9% swing.

Someone has made a comment on a previous post that if there had been a general election in London last week, Labour would have increased its number of MP's?

Interesting that the BNP assembly vote was much higher that their Mayoral vote? Not sure that I share his conclusion that this is because they voted for Boris?

So close, but not close enough. Roll on 2012.

"I am writing to thank you for your contribution to the Mayoral election campaign.

Obviously we did not win, but what was achieved in a very difficult national context was remarkable.


Overall my first preference vote increased by 208,239 - 30 per cent, over 2004 - increasing in every GLA constituency except Bexley and Bromley. In the context of Labour's lowest national vote for some decades that was a remarkable achievement.

In the London Assembly Labour actually won an additional seat and performed better than the national average. In the Mayoral context, I polled nearly 14 per cent more than the Labour vote nationally and nine per cent more than Labour in the London Assembly who themselves polled above Labour nationally.

That achievement of our campaign could not overcome the scale of the swing to the Tories throughout the country and in some London constituencies, notably Bexley and Bromley, Havering and Redbridge and West Central.

The swing to the Conservatives was assisted by the collapse of the Liberal Democrats in London, in part due to the conservative nature of their London Mayoral campaign.

It is noteworthy that a number of parties to the right of the Tories notably the BNP polled much higher in the Assembly list than in the Mayoral vote, suggesting that some of their voters voted tactically for Boris Johnson. The BNP got 61,004 votes more in the Assembly list than in the Mayoral election, for example.

In the City and East division there was actually a 2.9 per cent swing to me in the Mayoral election.

Overall, with more than a million votes the election showed a powerful progressive alliance in London.

There is no doubt that the new Mayoralty will inaugurate decline and division.

I hope you will therefore share my view that progressive London should remain organised and ready to face the challenges to come - including a general election.

Yours sincerely

Ken Livingstone"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

TUC Member Trustee Network annual conference

Plug for “Taking the long view - Effective pension trusteeship in uncertain times”. You can say that again.

This is the annual conference organised by the TUC for members of its pension trustees network. I missed last year due to a clash with UNISON conference. But in previous years they have always been very good and informative events.

Keynote addresses from James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; Robert Peston, BBC Business Editor; and Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, will look at the UK and global context.

Workshop sessions will provide an opportunity for more detailed discussion of key issues, including scheme funding, DC governance, responsible investment and alternative investment strategies”.

You can get a booking form here

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Catch the Flame

This evening I had a look at the TUC website and clicked on the Catch the Flame site which is “an initiative of Play Fair 2008, supported by a global alliance of trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), labour groups and concerned individuals, working together to draw attention to the maltreatment and exploitation of workers in the merchandise industry of the Olympic Games in Beijing (2008), Vancouver (Winter 2010) and London (2012)”.

I must admit that I am not entirely clear how it intends to work, but you add your name and location to the site and by doing so lend your support to this very worth while campaign. It does not seem to have anything to do with the “Free Tibet” Olympic torch?

UK Workers capital activists need to get their heads around "Play Fair" issues and the 2012 London Olympics.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Home Front

Enough of politics and elections for a while. Let’s go a little off message. In last night’s post I used a picture of the cast from the TV sitcom "Dad's Army" to try and illustrate my point that the Labour Party should not “panic” over the electoral defeats we suffered last week. In that photo was Corporal Jones (played by the great actor Clive Dunn) whose catch phrase was of course “Don’t Panic, don’t panic” (while he panicked like a good 'un).

Even though the programme did poke gentle fun at the real Dad's Army (the home defence force set up to save us from Nazi invasion during the second World War) I think that it was accepted that had the Germans actually invaded, the “Home Guard” (to give them their proper name) would have sacrificed their lives to defend their country against the Nazi invaders.

My father was actually a teenage member of the Home Guard in Edinburgh (a young Pike?). He was a bicycle messenger and remembered seeing German bombers attacking Leith Docks in daylight raids. My Father also always told the story that that it was while he was in the war time Army cadets, that he got his first pair ever of long trousers at age 13. The norm was for boys to wear shorts, winter and summer!

The picture above is of beautiful and peaceful Paignton in Devon. Last month we rented a cottage and spent a few days there. The last time we visited the area, I am ashamed to admit that we went on a “The Sun” Holiday (£9 I think) in a caravan park a few miles out of town.

This time we walked from Paignton to Torquay along the shore. Not the greatest of walks since you have to go along a busy road for much of the way. On route we stopped off at a very pretty headland called Corbyn Head, where there was a National War Memorial to the Home Guard. 1,206 of them were killed due to enemy action during the Second World War. A sobering figure. The memorial also recorded that on this very spot in 1944, that 5 Home guard soldiers were killed while on active service.

(I won’t go on about Nazis now being elected to the London Assembly.)

Main picture is from Roundham Head which also had coastal gun defences built on it during the Second World War. Of interest to me is that the construction of the famous Roundham Cliff gardens and paths was carried out by unemployed Welsh miners in the 1920’s, paid for by a Government work scheme during the Great Depression.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Don’t Panic - Organise and Change.

Okay, by now the awful realisation that Boris is the elected Mayor of London, the BNP have a seat on the Assembly and also that the Labour Party nationally lost hundreds of seats last Thursday has sunk in and it was not just some horrible nightmare.

While I think that the Party needs to recognise that it was well beaten on Thursday, I think we need to stand back a little and think things through before we do anything too daft. Things do need to change. But we need to recognise that it was not that long ago that Labour was ahead in the polls, Gordon walked on water and Cameron was facing plots against his leadership. How things change. Such is politics.

The Tories are trying to recapture the centre ground. In London and elsewhere we need to find a way of drawing back those voters who backed Boris while re-engaging with that core Labour vote who just either didn’t vote or instead voted for extremists. The 10p income tax debacle, below inflation public sector pay and the failure to protect agency workers are to my mind fairly obvious home goals. There is also the issue that the Tory machine appears to be able to organise a higher turnout in the suburbs of their supporters than we can. If we could have matched their turnout in the inner city what would have been the result?

I think that one of the positive things about the modern day Labour Party and Government is that it is interested in retaining power. It will gauge its strengths and weaknesses and is rightly willing to change tactics and policies to keep itself in government. Okay, we might have taken a nasty beating and change is difficult. We need not only to listen but to act. However, it will be a difficult balancing trick since we must not jettison everything. While we need to retain a mixed economy there does need to be a different emphasis. The goal of social justice must be an objective not just an aspiration. The present day threat from of a "One Nation" Cameron Britain, will surely push this process. However, we must not panic and let them dictate the path we must take.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Final Countdown




Above is a video of John Biggs, London Assembly member for City & East acceptance speech. John was re-elected with an increased majority. He thanks East London for its support and promises to tackle the racist and fascist BNP.

The count at the Excel Centre of four London Assembly constituencies (City & East, Havering & Redbridge, Bexley & Bromley and Greenwich & Lewisham) started at 8am and went on until midnight. I left the count at about 9.30pm yesterday evening, just after the City & East declaration. Swift couple of pints with agent and activists then I took DLR home.

This (Saturday) morning: got up late, went for run, and came home out of condition and knackered. Put off cutting the hedge until tomorrow. Life goes on.

I’ll post on the overall Labour result when things calm down a little. I think it is helpful for people to remember it wasn’t all that long ago that Labour was in the lead and Gordon Brown walked on water.

I was a counting agent for Labour. Which meant checking that tellers and verification officers didn’t make any mistakes. The staff did an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. Many of the ballot papers were not filled out correctly and it was a long, long day. It seems to my surprise that there were more correctly filled out forms than last time.

Some highlights of a not particularly brilliant day was the ballot paper which was up for scrutiny because it had “P. Rick” written next to the name of the BNP Candidate, Richard Barnsbrook. Normally if there is a “signature” on a ballot paper it is not accepted because that could identify who the particular voter is. However, sensibly the officer accepted that this was not a signature and since there was a correctly filled out X on the ballot paper the vote was accepted (think about it).

Increase in the majority of the Labour Candidate for Greenwich & Lewisham Len Duvall (UNISON member and former NUPE Branch secretary).

The “Respect” Counting agent who tried to have “a pop” on how “bad” Labour was doing? People in glass houses....

Alex Heslop, UNISON member and Tower Hamlets Councillor who as the Labour candidate for Bexley & Bromley came 2nd when in 2004 Labour had been 4th.

The BNP counting agent who sat engrossed reading (I kid you not) a copy of “The Socialist Worker” left behind by the Left List agents. He failed to question or object to any decisions made about rejecting ballot papers which may have benefited the BNP. I didn’t see personally any BNP agents challenge any decisions. I think that they did not understand the process. What was the point of them being there?

The rumours (subsequently found to be true) that Labour had gained an Assembly seat from the Tories at Brent and Harrow. Also that Joanne McCarthy (good friend of London UNISON Labour link) was ahead at the Enfield & Haringey marginal (she won as well).

The low points are fairly obvious; the massive turnout in the Tory boroughs meant only one thing. The rumour that the BNP would get a seat (later proved true despite only increasing their vote by a lousily 0.16%).

Finally, a little light relief was from a suggestion from a long standing Labour Party member (who will remain forever anonymous) that if Ken loses he should be “parachuted in” by the Party to be the Labour Parliamentary candidate for Nantwich and Crew by-election. He thought that we should contact Labour HQ on this matter. This was of course a non-starter.... Ken would never leave his beloved London.

Friday, May 02, 2008

“On the Knocker”

Picture of Forest Gate North canvass (“knocking up”) team at about 7pm last night. Other members and local Councillors were outside some of the ward polling stations.

Early on in the day we had to dodge rain and even hail. I finished off in Stratford at 9.30pm with a hastily arranged final knock up from the tele canvassing teams in the Party rooms at 306 High Street.

Personally, I thought we did very well. In the rest of the country Labour doesn’t seem to have done that "great". Mid-term third term blues? No doubt everyone will have an opinion. West Ham is a “safe” seat for Labour, but did we get enough people voting to out sway Boris in the Tory heartlands? Off now to the Excel centre as a counting agent to find out. Result due anytime from 2pm to 8pm.