Govt asks, nuclear power – yes or yes?

[Thursday]

What does this tell us about Brown’s citizen juries that we hadn’t already worked out?

Here’s how it works: government presents the corporations’ line, and the jurors approve it. Meanwhile, the whole process of doing whatever (nuclear power, nuclear weapons, ID cards, NHS privatisation, you name it) has already been put into place. Simple, really.

Not a great leap forward from a “consultation”, but it’s good to know they’re trying…

In nine day-long meetings across Britain two weekends ago, nearly a thousand people were shown a series of videos, presentations and handouts – and their opinion on building new nuclear power stations canvassed.

The government got the result it wanted – 44 per cent said power companies should have option of building nuclear, 36 per cent said no.

But day before, the environmental group, Greenpeace, along with other green groups, had pulled out, alleging the questions were loaded and the information biased, partial and factually inaccurate.

Greenpeace would say that, you could argue. But, independently, 20 senior academics too have come forward and will be writing to government with similar reservations.

They say the consultations were deliberately skewed by linking nuclear to fears about climate change – because the government knew past research had shown it’s the only way to get people to accept nuclear, albeit reluctantly.

And they say the participants were misled. An inconvenient truth about nuclear – that it can only make a small contribution to reducing the UK’s overall CO2 emissions – was buried.

Similar concerns have come from some members of the public who attended, on web sites and in unsolicited emails to Greenpeace:

“In the videos – alternative viewpoints had doom-ridden music in the background. The government’s view was then given against calm, relaxing music. I feel I have been mugged.”

“Not at all a consultation, merely a sleek marketing ploy.”

“I went in with an open mind… myself and others felt we were being misled and manipulated.”

The events and the materials were prepared by Opinion Leader Research – one of New Labour’s more favoured market research companies.

Greenpeace has now made a formal complaint to the Market Research Standards Board alleging it broke the code of conduct of the trade’s professional body.

Channel 4 News also spoken to someone involved in the events. They want to remain anonymous but told us “…repeating the government view, on page after page, on videos and in handouts, acted to almost bludgeon it into their heads.”

[…]

The government says no decision will be made until the consultation is over – but, from the response to their latest efforts it seems many are not convinced.

Gee, I wonder what the result will be…

Control freakery, local govt strike ballot, and defending the NHS

[Thursday]

As if orchestrating the ousting of a principled socialist MP wasn’t enough for New Labour, now they have set about silencing dissent within the party:

Gordon Brown has been accused of “closing down debate” in the Labour Party after motions submitted for its conference were ruled out of order.

Some Labour MPs, constituency parties and unions are set to appeal to the party to reinstate the motions that were due for discussion next week.

It is understood some 96 of 120 contemporary motions were ruled out by the Conference Arrangements Committee.

And what doesn’t Brown want to talk about this year?

Labour MP Austin Mitchell said it was “crazy” that motions on housing had been ruled out of order when the issue was so topical.

He has written to union general secretaries calling on them to make a case for the reinstatement of many of the contemporary motions, that are submitted by constituency parties and the unions.

Some motions ruled out of order called for support of the so-called “fourth option” of allowing local authorities to build more council housing, which Mr Mitchell claimed had the support of many rank and file party members.

Labour MP John McDonnell, who failed to gain enough support to challenge Mr Brown to succeed Tony Blair, said: “This closing down of debate within the Labour Party by Brown’s imposition of such centralised control is cutting him off from the debates of party members and the concerns of the population at large.

“If Labour Party members are denied a say in this way, they will increasingly be asking: what is the point of going to conference or even of being a party member?”

(Or even an MP? Go on John, you know it makes sense.)

Brown wants to scrap these “contemporary motions” so that in future the unions cannot even have a token victory against the leadership:

Tony Blair suffered a number of defeats in recent years when contemporary resolutions put forward by trade unions were backed by delegates.

And this year’s discontent within the labour movement isn’t over:

UNISON is to ask its 850,000 local government members whether they’re prepared to take action over this year’s low pay offer.

The ballot was given the go ahead by the union’s industrial action committee at a meeting today. Papers will be sent out in October.

Earlier this month local government representatives rejected the employers’ revised offer of 2.475% and a new minimum rate on scale point 4 of £8 an hour.

The deal is below inflation, despite being a slight improvement on the original offer. The Retail Price Index figures were recorded at 4.1% in August.

That’s up from the previous month, by the way. News reports were of a fall in the rate of inflation (prices rising still, but not so fast). However, this fall is in the Consumer Price Index, which does not include mortgages…

And for those of you tempted to dismiss local government workers as Sir Humphrey types with cushy jobs, get this:

Council workers covered by the pay claim include care home and home care assistants, housing and environmental health officers, refuse collectors, librarians and school cooks. Almost two thirds of them, 75% of whom are women, earn £15,825 or under a year — £8,000 less than the national average. [Emphasis added.]

And as for our NHS, it’s worth celebrating and defending, especially since big business is lobbyingto be allowed to run GP services. This isn’t enough to save the NHS, though:

Trafalgar Square has been confirmed as the venue for the national demonstration to celebrate the NHS on 3 November.

UNISON has issued a rallying call to NHS supporters throughout the UK to turn out in force and make the day one to remember.

“The aim is to celebrate the fact that, after almost 60 years, the NHS is still largely owned and run by the public sector — and send a strong message to the government that we want to keep it that way,” said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis.

He added: “We believe that this event will send a clear message to the new health secretary, Alan Johnson, and we hope that he will seize this golden opportunity to listen much more to the real experts in the NHS – the staff and patients.”