Labour’s assault on national self-determination

[Monday]

Oh dear. As I wrote on Wednesday, Sir Emyr Jones Parry has been appointed as chair of a commission on holding a referendum on primary law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly.

Now Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain has spoken out, saying a referendum before the next election would return a “no” vote. This despite the timing of the referendum being linked to public opinion. In other words, the agreement between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru was that a vote on primary law-making powers would be taken when there was public support for it. No government ever volunteers a referendum it thinks it will lose – just look at New Labour over the consti-treaty!

Here’s what Lenin Cymru says:

The idea of a referendum on or before May 2011 looked certain, after the Ieuan and Rhodri press conference earlier in the week. I noticed that even the display board in the background had the Plaid-driven terminology “One Wales Cymru’n Un”. Another sign that Plaid’s is providing the government’s direction. Following that conference, what else could regressive London Labour do? Answer: put up their reasonable face, Peter Hain to undermine that certainty.

Peter Hain’s arguments deserve a little dissection. He argues that an “early referendum would be lost” and that “there would not be a consensus in Westminster, most of Welsh Labour would be against an early referendum.” What he is really saying is that Labour MPs in London can’t handle this, the Labour party is too divided. He knows that to retain Labour MPs’ support and maintain the appearance of unity within the party, then he has to talk down the prospects of a referendum. Otherwise, it’ll be a won referendum and a ’99 election result all over again.

This Hain interview is no doubt designed to sure up the fractures growing ever more evident from the comments of the likes of Don Touhig on the unionist wing, the man who says a former UN ambassador is not up to the job of chairing the Welsh constitutional convention. Should Labour party unity, as Hain suggests, be the main criterion deciding when one should hold a referendum? Or should public opinion be the guiding light?

Sexy Plaid socialist Adam Price is pissed off:

Of course, we have been here before – this was the same Peter Hain that famously ruled out a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition. Now that it exists, he seems determined to undermine it. What particularly was the motivation for yesterday’s remarks? Is he soothing furrowed brows among Westminster colleagues piqued at the appointment of Sir Emyr? Is he jostling for position with Rhodri Morgan as the true power-broker within Wales? Or is he as Secretary of State saying that the One Wales agreement only binds Labour in the Assembly not Labour at Westminster?

After all, what he actually said was: “I did not take the Government of Wales bill through, nor did MPs vote for it to be bounced into an early referendum”

To most people that sounds like a threat that the Westminster Goverment may veto a referendum – either directly or indirectly – which would effectively render the One Wales agreement null and void.

Considering that the Scottish Parliament has seen some good reforms for working class people, would voters really reject the Welsh Assembly having similar powers?

Hain also criticised the Tories, who have come out in favour of an English Grand Committees – or at least, Sir Malcolm Rifkind has done so, one never knows what Tory leader David Cameron thinks.

It’s clear that the Tories will try and do something about the West Lothian question – but not about the English question. There is majority support for an English parliament, according to opinion polls.

As for Labour, the only union it cares about these days is the United Kingdom. Harriet Harman, Labour’s Deputy Leader, was speaking out on The Andrew Marr Show this Sunday:

I think it’s right that we’ve devolved power, and this was a decision by the House of Commons to set up a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and also to set up a Greater London Assembly.

So I think it’s right that you look at the constitution from time to time and see where you can devolve power.

But I don’t think it’s right to break up the United Kingdom, and I think that that’s where ultimately the suggestion of the Conservatives would go.

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British govt seeking to legalise internment

[Sunday]

So, the British government is seeking to extend the length of time people suspected by police of involvement in terror offenses beyond the current twenty-eight day limit:

Gordon Brown will push for an extension […] in a bill to be included in next month’s Queen’s Speech.

But Downing Street is playing down reports he wants to double the current time limit to 56 days.

The prime minister wants to head off a potential backbench rebellion by stressing new safeguards to protect civil liberties.

He has promised greater judicial and Parliamentary oversight of detention.

The 28-day limit came into effect in July 2006 after rebel MPs defeated plans for 90-day detention.

Indeed, and since then there has not been one single case of a suspect having to be released without charge because the police had gone over the four week limit…

The Home Secretary has admitted that there has not been one single case since 9/11 when police enquiries would have been aided by holding a terror suspect for more than 28 days.

Despite the admission, as she gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Jacqui Smith insisted the Government will press ahead with plans to increase the period of detention without trial, because the police argue that terrorism cases have become far more complex and international.

Smith’s argument to MPs comes down to this: if there’s a terror attack, it’ll be your fault. Which is a bit rich coming from someone who is part of a government that has done nothing but increase the likelihood and occurrence of terrorist attacks at home and abroad.

But now, to the big story, as The News Line reports:

GOVERNMENTS around the world will be watching the House of Lords proceedings on 29-31 October which will determine whether they can rely on United Nations authority or involvement to escape legal liability for human rights abuses during military engagement. The UK government will argue that the language of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 permits indefinite internment of Iraqi nationals without Britain’s legal responsibility.

The government will also argue that UK forces in post-conflict Iraq are under UN (not UK) control and beyond the reach of UK human rights standards.

Liberty will argue that responsibility for British forces has not been ceded to the UN and therefore our legal standards apply to detainees in British custody.

The right to a fair trial was not displaced or modified by UNSCR 1546, which suggested indefinite detention of suspects in Iraq in 2004.

Alex Gask, Liberty’s Legal Officer who intervened in the case, said: ‘The United Nations was always designed to preserve peace, law and human rights in the world.

‘It would be ironic if British and other forces could wave its flag to avoid liability for human rights abuses.’

The case is being brought on behalf of Mr Al-Jedda, an Iraqi-British dual national with four British children, who has been held by UK forces in Iraq for three years without charge or trial, after he returned to Iraq in 2004 to visit relatives.

Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al Jedda v the Secretary of State for Defence will be heard by the Law Lords on 29 – 31 October 2007.

This case follows the July 2007 House of Lords decision in Al-Skeini v Secretary of State for Defence, in which the Law Lords found that the protections within the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights apply to anyone held in British custody, even overseas.

Referenda, rights, war!

[Thursday]

I thought the whole constitutonal reform agenda was just something to keep Jack Straw busy, but it appears it’s a sideshow to the real constitutional reform which is taking place in Europe:

A referendum would be “inevitable” if plans to give the UK a written constitution go ahead, a minister says.

Justice minister Michael Wills said any “fundamental alteration in the powers of Parliament” was likely to make a vote by the public necessary.

He spoke after the government said a written constitution could be introduced following wide consultation.

The issue of the European Union – a militarised multinational capitalist state in the making – is more pressing. Here’s an example:

The European Union’s highest court has said a German law protecting carmaker Volkswagen from takeovers is illegal.

Under the “Volkswagen Law” any shareholder in VW could not exercise more than 20% of voting rights, even if their stake in the firm was bigger.

The European Court of Justice said the law discouraged foreign investors from taking a stake in Volkswagen.

[…]

The European Court of Justice also rejected the right of the German government to appoint members to the VW board.

The federal government has said that it will move quickly to change the law.

I imagine that if Brown’s “British liberties” get in the way of the free movement of capital, the government will be just as subservient.

For all the talk of parliament getting powers to vote on the deployment of armed forces, Brown was quick to back the latest move towards war with Iran:

Says Brownie: “I will rule nothing out“.

I think what I’m trying to say is that the Brown government is full of shit and Gordon is the biggest turd of them all. A little crude, but true, wouldn’t you say?

But if we’re going to talk about rights, why not start with workers’ rights?

These were not given by the British ruling class, but fought for over centuries, and despite opposing the anti-union laws introduced by the Tories when in opposition, Labour has yet to undo the damage to working people (for obvious reasons).

John McDonnell’s Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill is being read in the Commons for a second time on Friday. It will be interesting to see what John’s reaction to the inevitable will be – he has already admitted that there’s no prospect of “reclaiming” Labour (whatever that means), will he do something a bit risky and split?

Bank of England warns on credit crisis

[Thursday]

From the FT

The UK financial system “remains vulnerable” to new shocks from the global credit squeeze, the Bank of England will warn on Thursday, in an unexpectedly severe assessment of risks still facing banks and financial institutions.

The Bank picks out the commercial property sector, where prices are already falling, for being “particularly prone to further shocks and to rises in the cost of finance”.

There has never been a banking crisis in the UK, such as the one that led to the downfall of Northern Rock last month, without a simultaneous commercial property crisis.

In its latest twice-yearly financial stability review, the Bank adds that equities are also vulnerable to a possible economic slowdown and warns the US dollar might fall sharply “if the change in investor sentiment towards US securities experienced recently were to persist”.

These new concerns, in addition to the credit squeeze, have led the Bank to raise “significantly” its assessment of the chances of a serious increase in the price of credit. Should its fears prove well-founded, it thinks the impact on the economy will be more severe than it would have been six months ago, “given the current fragility of confidence and the continued tightness in wholesale funding markets”.

The report also reveals that the Bank is willing to reconsider its handling of the Northern Rock crisis. In place of the dogged insistence of Mervyn King, the governor, that the blame for the affair lay elsewhere, there is a tentative acknowledgement that the Bank also has some lessons to learn.

A new commitment to “consider carefully” its lending arrangements in the event of a new crisis is included in the report and the Bank also shows some new thinking on the workings of the tripartite arrangements between itself, the Financial Services Authority and the Treasury. While it still thinks it should not take banking supervision back under its wing, the Bank believes it should gather more information about individual banks’ financial circumstances in future to help mitigate a crisis.

The Bank also remains to be convinced by the US “superfund” to prevent a fire sale of assets from banks’ structured investment vehicles. It would support a scheme that established genuine market prices for the asset-backed securities that such a fund would hold but thinks that it would be a bad idea for the so-called Super-SIV to be used to prop-up unjustifiable valuations of assets. The financial stability report makes it clear the Bank does not believe the credit squeeze to be over, since it expects defaults in US subprime mortgages to continue rising; some more ratings downgrades in asset-backed commercial paper; and higher interest rates for risky borrowers in the UK.

But the big new risk it highlights is in commercial real estate where “a sizeable development pipeline has raised the potential for future overcapacity”. Banks’ exposure to commercial property has reached 9 per cent of outstanding loans, more than the previous peak in 1989-90, the report says.

The Bank says the vulnerability to new shocks depends to a large extent on whether banks rein back lending or act as if business has gone back to normal.

The former has worse short-term consequences but would help to reprice risk, while the latter risks a repeat of this summer’s crisis “potentially on an even larger scale”. [Emphasis added.]

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The convention on Welsh self-government and fallout from the SNP reforms

[Wednesday]

Yesterday saw a step forward for Welsh self-government:

A chairman has been appointed to lead a convention to prepare the way for a referendum on establishing a full law-making parliament for Wales.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan and his deputy Ieuan Wyn Jones announced that former UK ambassador to the UN Sir Emyr Jones Parry, 60, was taking on the job.

Plans for a referendum within four years were key to the deal to form a Labour-Plaid assembly government.

Mr Morgan said the poll would be “on or before the next (assembly) election”.

The announcement was made to celebrate one hundred days of the One Wales agreement between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru. It’s worth noting that the convention idea came from Welsh Labour, not Plaid, according to John Osmond.

And with “the great divide” making the news because of reforms by the Scottish government under the Barnett Formula, what hope of English self-government?

From the CEP news blog:

In Scotland, especially amongst the SNP and Scottish Tories, there is strong support for scrapping the Barnett Formula and adopting ‘fiscal autonomy’. In principle there’s nothing wrong with that, but the problem lies in the fact that when you make the devolved nations autonomous in matters of finance you by default, in theory, do the same for England, and it would be unconstitutional for a UK Executive and Parliament containing non-English members to decide how England spends its money; there has to be accountability. In short, fiscal federalism demands political federalism. Or, to put it another way, no Barnett Formula means that EVoEM [English Votes on English Matters] is not enough.

At the moment England is governed and financed as if it were the UK, and money is hived off to the devolved administrations as a proportion of what is spent in England by the UK Government: England is Britain in matters political and financial. Ending the Barnett Formula is the first nail in that coffin of that unionist conflation of Britain and England.

Reports suggest postal dispute is far from over

[Wednesday]

The following highlights the need for CWU members to vote “no” to the leadership’s sell-out deal:

Postal staff are awaiting details of changes to their pension scheme, but there is still disagreement between Royal Mail and unions over the reforms.
Royal Mail says the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has agreed to the closure of its final salary scheme.

But the union says it has only agreed to a consultation on changes, which will then be put to a ballot of all its Royal Mail and Post Office members.

“The final details have not been decided on,” said a CWU spokeswoman.

Since the start of the year, Royal Mail has wanted to cut the cost of its huge final-salary pension scheme, which covers 160,000 staff but has a deficit of £6.5bn.

Along with changes to working practices, the closure of the existing final-salary scheme and its replacement with cheaper alternatives was at the heart of the postal service’s recent industrial dispute.

[…]

For existing staff, the crucial issue will be to what extent the new “career average” scheme is worse than their current final salary version.

Overall it will be less generous, requiring Royal Mail to pay in less each year as a percentage of staff salaries, thus cutting the employer’s overall contribution rate by perhaps five percentage points, according to one union official.

For staff who expect their salaries at the end of their careers to be significantly higher than when they started, such a scheme would undoubtedly be inferior.

For staff who do not expect much by way of promotional pay increases, it will not be so damaging.

Crucial to the calculation will be the rate at which pension is built up each year.

The CWU says the new scheme will maintain the same accrual rates as the current final salary one, either 1/60th or 1/80th of salary each year.

The BBC has also learned that the plan is for each member’s individual pension pot to be revalued each year in line with inflation, up to a ceiling of 5%, rather than being linked to final salary at retirement.

That would expose the members’ pensions to being eroded by inflation if it was running at a rate higher than 5%.

And from this week’s Socialist Worker:

Dave Warren, a member of the CWU postal executive, was one of five executive members who voted against the deal. Socialist Worker spoke to him about the implications of the proposed settlement.

‘Pensions, flexibility and pay remain the key issues of the dispute, and I have strong reservations about what the deal has to say in these areas.

On pensions, after 2010, you will only be able to retire on full benefits at age 65.

For manual workers who do a physically demanding job this is a big issue.

Changing our pension scheme from one that is based on your final average salary to one that is based on career average earnings will almost certainly have the effect of reducing benefits for many.

On flexibility the union has conceded the employers’ position almost completely. Local reps are going to be forced into agreeing “efficiency deals” with managers – that will mean the same amount of work being done in fewer hours.

The trials of new working practices are to be linked to pay. So if the changes are not implemented, 1.5 percent of the agreed pay rise will not be paid.

In addition there could be long and short days, with workers having to work shorter hours on days when it suits the company, and longer hours when mail volumes are ‘higher – something up to now the union has always opposed.

There will also be 30 minutes of flexible extra work. Managers will be able to extend workers’ shifts when it suits them, and give the time back at an unspecified later date.

The aim of these changes is to get everyone to work harder, and to cut overtime payments.

But what will all these changes mean to those who have family lives, lifts to and from work and a host of other arrangements all built around their shift patterns?

On pay, the popularly mentioned figure of 6.9 percent over 18 months is just not true.

The real figure is 5.4 percent over two years.

That is just 2.66 percent a year – and well below inflation.

And in addition to that, we have lost our ESOS bonus scheme, and many opportunities to earn overtime.

Our members have been magnificent and have stood absolutely solid through this strike. We cannot let them down now.

These are the key reasons why I voted against the deal and recorded my dissent.

There needs to be the broadest possible campaign for a no vote in the coming ballot of CWU members.

I would urge all CWU branches and divisions to get behind the meeting to launch that campaign, which is being organised for this weekend.’

Union bureaucracy colludes with management to sell out postal workers

[Tuesday again]

So, it’s probable that Labour won’t be getting any more cash from the postal workers – not after the government sat back and watched the management of a company it owns use the courts to stop a strike. But will Billy Hayes and those on the EC who backed his sell-out deal be dumped along with affiliation to the Labour Party?

Here’s a report from The News Line on the sell-out:

THE CWU (Communications Workers Union) yesterday accepted the Royal Mail offer on pay along with plans to modernise the company and reform the pension scheme.

This came after the CWU Postal Executive Committee ratified by nine votes to five the deal agreed by the CWU general secretary Billy Hayes and deputy general secretary (postal) Dave Ward on 13 October.

Royal Mail said yesterday: ‘The CWU’s acceptance of the proposal means that Royal Mail can now go ahead with essential plans to modernise the business and make it more flexible, efficient and able to compete properly in the marketplace.

Royal Mail Chief Executive Adam Crozier acknowledged ‘the role played by Brendan Barber and the TUC and to thank them for helping to bring these talks to a sensible conclusion’.

[…]

The CWU will shortly ballot its members on the agreement.

‘Postal workers must throw out this sell-out deal’, Rob Bolton, Chairman HP Section, CWU South Central No 1 branch said yesterday.

He said: ‘In my opinion the CWU leadership caved in before the fight had really began.

‘We must reject the deal and replace this leadership of Hayes and Ward, with a leadership that will carry the struggle forward.

‘This leadership has negotiated away our hard won terms and conditions, it is time for it to go.’

CWU Eastern No 6 branch secretary Paul Olden added: ‘Our HQ is in for a rude awakening.

‘If the deal is no better than what we came on strike against, I won’t be recommending it to our branch.

‘We will need a new leadership within the union.

‘Under such a deal HQ might as well pack up and go home, Royal Mail will just push things through by executive action.’