New deal from local Greens

Before the Warwick policy forum there was talk that New Labour would concede a “New Green Deal” to the unions. No sign of such a development as yet.

Might unions in England be funding the wrong party? I only ask because…

Green councillors pledge ‘new deal’ for local economies
29th Jul 2008

Councillors will use new legal powers to create regeneration and jobs

A conference of Green councillors from across the country has pledged to use new legal powers to create thousands of jobs through green regeneration projects.

The Association of Green Councillors was responding to the new Sustainable Communities Act, which gives local authorities the right to request new powers from central government to promote local economies. The councillors were meeting on July 25th and 26th in Norwich Town Hall, where the Greens are the second party, just three seats behind Labour.

More than 100 Greens sit on principal authorities across England and Wales. They plan to use the new powers in the Act to push through a wide range of regeneration schemes in local areas as part of a wider ‘Green New Deal’ to stimulate the economy at the same time as reducing carbon emissions.

Similar schemes already being implemented by Greens on local councils aim to:

* provide free insulation to reduce fuel bills
* renew small and local businesses
* increase food production in towns and cities
* help raise finance for local energy generation

Jon Barry, who was elected chair of the Association of Green Councillors at the meeting, said:

“Green councillors backed the introduction of the Sustainable Communities Act, and now we plan to use it to make a real difference in our local areas. The schemes we will be proposing will build stronger local economies, create jobs, reduce money spent on energy bills and cut food costs. This weekend has given Green councillors plenty of inspiring ideas to keep us the most effective in the country.”

Two jumpers or a windfall tax

That’s the choice.

Say, public sector workers are being asked to take a cut in a supposed effort to curb inflation – why aren’t the shareholders of the energy giants doing the same?

Tax the energy giants and cut fuel bills
Corporations make billions while our fuel prices rise over 20 percent, writes Sadie Robinson

Millions of people across Britain are struggling with soaring household energy bills. The government could act to ease the pain by taxing oil and gas firms, or imposing a limit on price rises. Instead it refuses to do anything that would harm profits.

EDF Energy raised its prices again last week – by 22 percent for gas and 17 percent for electricity. On average EDF customers have seen their bills rise by over 33 percent since the start of the year. British Gas customers have seen their gas bills rise by 77 percent and electricity bills by 74 percent since 2003.

These energy companies claim that rising costs are forcing them to raise prices. But in fact they are using rising commodity prices as an excuse to rake in the profits.

This week oil giant BP reported that its profits for the first six months of the year had increased by 23 percent to £6.7 billion.

British Gas, due to announce its profits on Thursday, expects profits of between £100 and £200 million. In 2007 it raised prices to boost its profits by an obscene 500 percent.

Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, expects to announce pre-tax profits of £880 million for the first half of this year.

In sharp contrast to these riches, over 4.5 million people in Britain are already living in “fuel poverty” – spending more than 10 percent of their income on energy. This figure is set to rise by a staggering 50 percent as energy companies keep raising prices.

Ordinary people also face rising debt just to stay on top of the price rises. Around 6.8 million households in Britain are in debt to their energy supplier. Total personal debt is now rising by an average of £1 million every five minutes.

It may be the height of summer, but already people are worrying about how they will survive the coming winter.

Fuel poverty leads to the deaths of between 20,000 and 50,000 people in Britain each winter. Over one in three pensioner households are expected to be in fuel poverty by the end of the year.

Centrica’s managing director Jake Ulrich – who receives a salary of £1,033,000 a year – admits that fuel price rises are “going to hit people hard”. Fortunately he has advice for how people can soften the blow – they should wear “two jumpers instead of one”.

The bosses and the government are completely removed from the reality of life for ordinary people.

The government votes to keep lavish expenses for MPs – but it refuses to implement even the most minor measures that could limit the hardship faced by ordinary people.

The parliamentary business and enterprise committee has investigated the energy market in light of the current crisis.

But its conclusion is that the market is not functioning efficiently enough and that we need more “liberalisation”.

In the face of the massive political crisis that Gordon Brown now faces, some argue that he is simply a victim of a global economic recession that is pushing up the cost of living.

The massive unpopularity of New Labour following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its constant neoliberal attacks on working people is conveniently forgotten. Brown is portrayed as powerless in the face of the global economy.

Response

It is true that energy and food price rises are fuelling anger with the government. But what people are really angry about is the government’s response.

Brown is not powerless. There are many things he could do to ease the burden on working class people. He could implement a windfall tax on the energy companies. He could increase corporation tax. He could impose a limit on the amount that firms can raise energy prices.

But instead of this New Labour has repeatedly cut corporation tax, which currently stands at just 28 percent.

The People Before Profit Charter puts forward demands that would stop ordinary people sinking deeper into poverty.

As well as the demands to tax corporate profits, the charter calls for an end to Brown’s 2 percent pay limit on public sector workers, the abolition of tax on fuel and energy for old people and the poor, and the restoration of the link between state pensions and average earnings.

New Labour is doing none of these things because it defends the interests of the rich and business.

Making sure that workers don’t pay for the crisis means building resistance on the ground. The People Before Profit Charter can help mobilise that resistance.

John4Leader 2008?

Rumours abound that senior Labour figures are plotting to topple the PM. Ministers are briefing journalists, MPs are calling on Brown to resign.

A re-run of last year’s Labour leadership election does not appear likely. If you recall, Brown succeeded Blair unopposed: an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs backed Brown, preventing a leadership contest and, more importantly, a chance to debate Labour’s policy direction.

It’s hard to imagine that the trade unions would repeat their backing for Brown now that he’s doubled the income tax paid by the poorest workers and imposed a public sector wage freeze in the face of growing inflation. Certainly, General Secretary of the GMB Paul Kenny has already called for a leadership election.

Backbench MP John McDonnell, who attempted to challenge Brown in a leadership contest, is being urged to stand again. I urge you, dear reader, to join the Facebook group or email your name to o.p.jones@gmail.com. Here’s the text of the letter doing the rounds:

As a range of Labour party members, supporters, councillors, NEC representatives, trade unionists, activists, community workers and campaigners, we are concerned that the Labour party currently faces a crisis from which it may not recover for a generation or more.

We believe that the current disastrous situation has been caused by the continuation of unpopular New Labour policies that have alienated millions of our supporters right across the country.

When Gordon Brown became leader of the Labour party, we were denied a democratic debate on the future direction of the party. We believe that, if a leadership contest is to take place, there must be a range of candidates representing all wings of the party. So far all the potential successors mentioned have supported the very policies that have landed the party in its current predicament – such as the Iraq war, privatisation of our public services, pay cuts for public sector workers, attacks on civil liberties, and failures to tackle a growing housing crisis and increasing inequality. We believe the current crisis is about policies, not personalities.

We desperately need a candidate to stand who will promote policies supported by millions of our supporters across the country – such as fair pay for public sector workers, public ownership of our services, a progressive tax system, an emergency council housing programme and an independent foreign policy. We need someone who is not compromised by voting for the very policies that have alienated our supporters.

John McDonnell is the only potential candidate with a consistent record, who has opposed all of New Labour’s unpopular policies, who has a coherent alternative policy vision, and who has widespread support across the labour movement. We therefore urge John McDonnell to stand when there is a vacancy and for MPs to nominate him in order for party members and trade unionists to have a genuine debate and choice about the future of our party.

No Warwick 2

The trade unions which fund the Labour Party have failed to get their shopping list of demands taken up as policy at Labour’s National Policy Forum.

As the FT said “If this is a union victory I would hate to see them lose“. Here’s what they didn’t get:

* A change in the ballot process to make industrial action less prone to end up in the courts

* A windfall tax on fuel companies

* A change in the law to make secondary action easier

* A rise in the National Insurance ceiling

* An end to the privatisation of the welfare state

* Free meals in primary schools [in England]

Well, the first Warwick Agreement resulted in the unions continuing to back Labour on the basis of promises which haven’t been kept. So, it’s not as if agreed changes in policy would have been adhered to by ministers…

But as the News Line comments, union leaders failed to put up a fight:

The policy conference treated the trade unions and the working class like dirt. There was not even an attempt to disguise the fact that it was full steam ahead for three year wage cutting deals, privatisation, and the ending of all workers final salary pension schemes.

The joint union-party statement that emerged is truly pathetic since it does not deal with a single policy.

It states: ‘The Labour Party today announced it had agreed a comprehensive policy programme looking ahead to a fourth-term Labour Government.

‘Representatives for the local Labour parties (CLPs) and trade unions joined government ministers to welcome the deal, following a three-year process of consultation and discussion. The policies will go forward to feed in to Labour’s manifesto.

‘Simon Burgess, Vice Chair of the National Policy Forum, said: “This has been a comprehensive policy process unique in British politics. We have spent three years in close conversation with the British people, the trade unions, business and voluntary organisations”. . .’ And business has won hands down.

The statement continued that ‘Tony Dubbins Chair of the Trade Union Liaison Organisation (TULO) said: “After three years of discussions, culminating in an intensive weekend of keenly debated issues, the unions are pleased to join the CLPs and ministers in welcoming a set of policies which we believe positively address this agenda for the future of the British people. We have worked together co-operatively and effectively in the finest traditions of the Labour movement”.’

Dubbins was unable to name or laud a single policy decision that had been reached.

No wonder Brown was able to quit the conference – the trade union leaders were in the bag and were determined to do nothing that would rock Brown’s boat.

Gordon Brown? Lock ‘im up!

Mark Thomas explains in Red Pepper:

Such is the state of democracy in Britain that you could be forgiven for thinking that there are two types of MPs: those who have been in prison and those who should be. There are many reasons to sling the blighters behind bars, not least of which is the fact that they are an MP, crime enough in most folk’s books. However, there is now an even more compelling legal and moral reason to call in the police to deal with our honourable members. Put simply – we have them bang to rights. They have broken the law and there is a way we might get these elected miscreants in the dock. This is how we can do it.

MPs have a curious habit of passing laws and then believing they don’t really apply to them. No more so than the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, sometimes referred to as the ‘Brian Haw law’ as it was framed specifically to kick out the veteran peace protestor Haw from Parliament Square. Socpa, as it’s fondly known, requires us to get permission from the police should we wish to demonstrate in an area of London that spans from Tate Britain to the Mall and over Westminster Bridge to the South Bank of the Thames.

This is the law that Maya Evans was arrested under for reading out the names of the Iraqi and British war dead at the Cenotaph. She did not have permission and was convicted of taking part in an illegal demonstration.

But this is just the start of the Kafkaesque madness of this law. One person with one banner counts as a demonstration and must get permission from the police six days in advance of holding said banner. I have had to apply for, and have been given permission, to wear a red nose on Red Nose Day in Parliament Square as this is classed as a demonstration. I have got permission to stand holding a small banner saying ‘Support the Poppy Appeal’, as this too is deemed to be a demonstration.

This law is not just idiotic, it is totemic. Nowhere is the relationship of the citizen to the state so clearly defined as here. We have to account for ourselves to the state, while the state becomes less accountable to us. This is not the way things work in democracy.

However, MPs who rushed this law through parliament with little heed to what it really meant could now find themselves on the receiving end of it. On 29 August 2007, when Gordon Brown, along with Ken Livingstone and Nelson Mandela, unveiled the Mandela statue in Parliament Square, they took part in a political demonstration. They celebrated the life of a man who ran the armed wing of the ANC, dedicated his life to the collapse of apartheid and made political speeches.

Did they have permission from the police under Socpa? No. They have broken the law.

Wrexham MP Ian Lucas spoke about the need to redesign the Union Jack flag to include the Welsh dragon on 6 November 2008. He was then photographed holding said flag in Parliament Square. Did he have permission under Socpa? I think not. And if I need the police to say I can wear a red nose, then he needs them to say he can wave a politically contentious flag.

As there is no definition of what constitutes a demonstration you have to turn to the Oxford English Dictionary, which states a demo can be ‘an expression of opinion’. Thus each time an MP speaks to the TV cameras on College Green they could be breaking the very law they blithely rushed through parliament. They are, after all, expressing an opinion, vocally and intended for public consumption, in an area where they need to write to the police six days in advance for permission.

Just before Christmas my lawyers wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking them to investigate MPs, including the prime minister, for breaches of Socpa. The DPP insisted that the police should judge if there was a case to answer and the matter is now in the hands of D/Supt Peter Newman of Westminster South Division.

Will the police bring charges against Mr Brown and Mr Lucas and a host of other offenders? I doubt it, which is why I am preparing a legal fund to challenge any decision not to prosecute.

Here is how you can help dear reader. You can buy a badge – I put Gordon Brown in the dock – online at http://www.markthomasinfo.com for £2. All monies not used in the legal case will go to Index on Censorship.

You can also go to http://www.shopanmp.com and report any MPs you see on the news giving interviews on College Green or Parliament Square, so we can constantly update D/Supt Newman with a list of fresh offenders. If luck is with us, Jack Straw won’t be picking a shit-kicking fight with prison officers over no strike agreements – they could be locking his cell door if he is not too careful.

It’ll never workfare

Since I did not comment on the announced measures to undercut the wages of council staff and treat the unemployed like criminals by the Tories sorry, I mean “New Labour”, let me reproduce the following from the Tribune:

Tories cheer Purnell as union calls welfare plan ‘worse than Thatcher’
by René Lavanchy

GOVERNMENT plans to abolish incapacity benefit and income support will stigmatise the unemployed and not help them back to work, unions warned this week.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell’s green paper on welfare reform, which he hopes will enable the Government to take one million people off incapacity benefitby using the private and voluntary sectors, has been warmly welcomed by business leaders and the Conservatives.

But the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents the Jobcentre Plus staff that would have to implement much of the plan, said the proposals were “draconian” and go “further than even Margaret Thatcher dared”, while the TUC warned that proposals to make benefit claimants do community work could threaten the jobs of those already in employment.

The green paper, which Mr Purnell promised MPs would “make sure a life on benefits is not an option”, fulfils the Government’s long-stated aim to accept the recommendations of welfare adviser David Freud, who says that private companies can be paid up to £61,000 a head to help people back into work.

It would require all those claiming jobseeker’s allowance for over a year to be handed over to an “outside provider” – a private or voluntary contractor – paid by results. After two years, claimants would have to perform full-time work, such as community service, while looking for a job.

Incapacity benefit claimants would be forced onto the jobseeker’s allowance if a medical examination found that they were ready to work. However, benefits for the most incapacitated would rise from £86 to £102.

The green paper also plans to progressively cut the maximum age for a child whose parent can claim income support, from 16 currently to seven by 2010.

The Conservatives have promised their support for the plans and told Mr Purnell – who denies that the Government “triangulates” to occupy Tory policy ground – that they proposed many similar measures in a green paper this year. Peter Lilley, Social Security Secretary under John Major, said: “I welcome him announcing policies that I originally enunciated ahead of the 1997 election”.

Responding to the paper, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber criticised the plans to make long-term claimants work: “Workfare policies do nothing to benefit wider society. The economy needs more people in real jobs with real wages to spend, boosting the economy and creating more jobs. And workers in low paid jobs could well be replaced by workfare claimants leading them to lose their jobs in turn.”

Kate Green, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “The green paper gives great attention to increasing individual responsibility but ignores the responsibilities of employers to open up access to decent jobs. Bad employers must now be the urgent target for welfare reform.”

Manchester road-pricing plans will be put to public vote

Road charging is a form of indirect taxation which hits working people the hardest. At a time of high inflation, plans to add to people’s cost of living won’t be well recieved.

I’m sure that a majority will reject the proposals, even if the local authorities spend millions of pounds of public money to campaign for their plans, and even if the wording of the referendum is such that people are encouraged to think that it’s all or nothing.

Let’s hope that the use of referenda will be extended in both local and national government across England. It’s not enough to vote in elections for legislators, we must also be able to vote on the legislation itself.

From the BBC website:

The people of Greater Manchester are to decide whether a congestion charge is to be introduced in the region.

The leaders of all 10 authorities met on Friday and unanimously agreed to a public referendum on the issue, likely to be held in December.

If seven out of the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs vote yes the scheme will go ahead.

Government funding for £2.8bn of public transport investment depends on the charge’s introduction in 2013.

Motorists would be charged for crossing the M60 and a second ring around the city centre at peak times.

The decision was reached by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) on Friday.

Residents of all 10 boroughs will vote yes or no to one question, it was confirmed, although the wording is yet to be agreed.

Lord Peter Smith, leader of AGMA said: “Today’s news is an important step forward for the people of Greater Manchester who now have an opportunity to vote on one of the most important decisions this city region has seen for decades.

“People will have their say on whether they want to say yes to a transformed public transport system in Greater Manchester including a congestion charge to ensure their region can continue to prosper.

“It is all or nothing.”

Although welcoming the poll, campaign group National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT) said it had doubts about the fairness of the campaign.

“Any sort of vote is considerably better than the scheme being bulldozed through by the authorities,” said spokesman John McGoldrick.

Tram expansion

But he said the resulting vote was likely to be held under section 116 of the Local Government Act 2003, which he argued would not be a true referendum.

“These polls are not subject to any rules and it means that the authorities can continue to spend millions on their promotion campaign,” added Mr McGoldrick.

Transport bosses said the investment would be split across 30 different public transport schemes across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs.

They have pledged to have at least 80% of the improvements in place before the charge is introduced in 2013.

These will include the Metrolink extension to Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester Airport, Rochdale town centre and Oldham town centre.

Extra trains and buses and improved stations have also been promised.

A consultation on the scheme is currently taking place and feedback from the public will shape the final package that will be put to a vote, AGMA said.