GMB to disaffiliate from Labour over party funding changes?

From the Guardian:

Labour is facing a fresh party funding row over proposals that would give it control over hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra funds raised from union members.

The plans have so incensed one of the UK’s biggest trade unions that it has threatened to cut its ties with the party, the Guardian has learned. The GMB – the third largest union in Britain and one of the party’s biggest donors – has said it will ballot its members if the new proposal to change the way unions contribute to Labour is included in a white paper on party political funding to be published next month.

The row centres on plans floated by the justice secretary, Jack Straw, said to be backed by Gordon Brown, to insist that all the money raised by 4 million trade unionists affiliated to Labour is paid directly to party headquarters.

The proposal would boost Labour’s coffers at the party’s cash-strapped HQ by millions of pounds and strip union leaders of the power to decide how they allocate the cash to local parties. It would also reduce the unions’ autonomy to spend the money on other campaigning issues, including fighting the BNP. Another of the country’s big unions, Unison, is also understood to be unhappy about the plans.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, said: “The government is going down the wrong road and taking the wrong direction. There is no way we are going to concede the right to allocate their cash to Gordon Brown and the party headquarters when not all our members support everything that the government is doing. Not all our members support the Labour party and they would not stand for their money being used in this way. They would want us to disaffiliate if the government insists on doing this.”

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: “This proposal will be opposed by MPs and rank-and-file members across the Labour party. It gives Labour party headquarters the right to take over control of all trade union money and is unacceptable.”

Returns from the Electoral Commission for last year show that the GMB gave £1.4m to Labour. Some £926,000 was paid directly to party HQ but in addition, the union gave nearly £500,000 to local constituencies or Labour local government campaigns such as in Brighton and Hove. Under the new proposals, that sum would go straight to Labour HQ.

Kenny estimates Labour would stand to gain up to £750,000 a year from the GMB alone. Some of the money the union spends is specifically targeted at campaigns against government policy, such as the closure of Remploy factories.

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Lost England?

Nick Broom’s review of two books – one of which, Real England by Paul Kingsnorth, I can recommend – from the Independent on Friday:

The Lost Village, by Richard Askwith. Real England, by Paul Kingsnorth

England’s ethnic cleansing

Reviewed by Nick Groom
Friday, 11 April 2008

The death knell of rural life in England has long been sounding. The statistics are sobering, too. In 1995, Britain imported 26 per cent of its food; despite an increasing world food shortage, it now imports 40 per cent. Three dairy farmers have, on average, quit farming every day.

But this collapse is not confined to “forgotten rural England”, to quote Richard Askwith’s subtitle: 50 specialist shops closed every week between 1997-2002; 56 pubs close every month, and so on. And when every local farm, or shop, or pub, disappears, a little community dies with it.

What is left? For Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, there remains a carefully cultivated and reinvented indigenous culture, but what of England? In the absence of anything else, is England currently defined by the extinction of the local and its replacement by mega-retailers and superstores, by clone towns and clone countryside? Is the most salient characteristic of England the erosion of identity and reality in totalitarian shopping complexes (what Paul Kingsnorth calls the “Bluewatering of England”), in the homogenisation of the High Street, out-of-town developments and agri-business? The French have their own word for what has happened here: “Londonisation” – the destruction of heritage and character, and the eradication of traditional meeting places. Londonisation is, in other words, the annihilation of community.

The language used by Kingsnorth is extreme: a “virtual holocaust of small, independent and local retailers”. This is happening everywhere, and now. So the politics of these two books is not focused on some big-picture globalisation, but on the high streets and fields at our own doorsteps.

Where global capitalism is involved, Chinatown isn’t that different from the Cambridge countryside: towns and cities are as much victims as villages and hamlets. The country and the city are united as common victims of a government-assisted extermination of local difference, independence and character. Both writers even allude darkly to a more chilling way of describing the new England that is emerging. England is a country that is being “ethnically cleansed”.

Some will denounce this as sensationalism. Askwith is extremely cautious about such terms, but he has noticed them in the air. His book is in the now-familiar tradition of elegiac village portraits, lamenting the loss of voices and stories. He travels across England, impatient to complete his quest, but doesn’t know what he is looking for – or running away from.

Askwith is a sensitive analyst of his moodswings as he drifts from place to place, dissecting the subtle shifts of sympathy and identity he undergoes as he unearths the stories that give place meaning. He admits he is perhaps in the throes of a mid-life crisis whose sole symptom is wanderlust, but he is less a 21st-century Wordsworth than a middle-class liberal who has migrated to a village and sees the limits of his urban ideology. He keeps worrying about right-wing “ruralism” and “rural xenophobia”, pussyfoots around the hunting ban, and fears his project is complacent.

We do end with a predictable conclusion: Askwith has missed his own village, and his own villagers – if not “local” locals, then incomers like himself – are fine. “All was well.” The ending is ironic, but also oddly evasive. The Lost Village to this point is perceptive, nuanced, restlessly melancholic. But all is certainly not well; and something has to be done about it.

Kingsnorth proves the man to offer analysis, arguments and action. Real England, subtitled “the battle against the bland”, is a manifesto against homogenisation, against the ascendant global market, against the almost unstoppable spread of manufactured corporate landscape, against what Ian Nairn in 1957 called the rise of “subtopia”: “the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern”. Real England is a watershed study, a crucially important book; the most significant account of today’s England I have read.

Kingsnorth sees vanishing national identity as a direct consequence of Bluewatering. He is no nostalgic Little Englander, but wants to promote and defend cultural distinctiveness, and “the power of people and communities to define it”. He wants to add the local dimension to the politics of globalisation, giving the country’s citizens a new sense of place. Although Kingsnorth also embarks on the inevitable series of journeys, his is a brisk and pragmatic travelogue, visiting urban environments as well as threatened rural communities, from markets in London to shopping complexes in Liverpool, Oxford’s Jericho boatyard to Sheringham town centre. These are critical cases, affecting the whole cultural fabric of communities.

English pubs are a case in point. They are not just disappearing – many are being converted into “high volume vertical drinking establishments”. In such establishments you can do nothing except drink; not sit down, nor even talk above the deafening music. They are the very dens of binge drinking, but Kingsnorth analyses how recent legislation has encouraged these dreadful places through the creation of profiteering “PubCos” and their unforgiving economics. “A good local pub… is the ultimate antidote to placeless globalisation”, but identikit bars create the very alienation that pub culture used gently to alleviate.

There are more sinister developments. Shopping complexes are appropriating public space and rights-of-way in new forms of enclosure. “The messy, chaotic, ethnic diversity” of markets is wiped out by the monoculture of money and the English sleepwalk towards the “colonisation and corporatisation of their urban public spaces”. This is not nostalgic nimbyism. Rather, Kingsnorth is drawing the battle-lines of a new politics: between those who wish to cower behind the uniform gates of moneyed ghettoes, and those who wish their lives to be embedded in all the richness and diversity created by different human cultures and societies.

If we want to revive England as a real place and not find ourselves existing in a featureless retail park, we need to halt the march of corporate power through the new Sustainable Communities Act and by lobbying for an English Parliament. This really is the last chance…

Nick Groom’s ‘The Union Jack’ is published by Atlantic; he is professor of English at Exeter University

Don’t mention the Queen, we’re parliamentarians!

Oh what a farce…

Cable anger over Queen reprimand

Lib Dem deputy leader Vince Cable has attacked “ridiculous” Commons procedures after he was banned from asking a question about the Queen.

Mr Cable mentioned the Monarch in a question on the economy to Harriet Harman, who was standing in for Gordon Brown at prime ministers questions.

But he was prevented from completing it by Speaker Michael Martin.

Mr Cable said it was “ridiculous” MPs could not mention the Queen in passing “without prior permission”.

In the Commons, Mr Cable was cheered by MPs when he rose to ask the first of his permitted questions to Ms Harman.

He said: “It was reported this week that Her Majesty the Queen had cancelled her diamond wedding celebrations because it was judged to be inappropriate to engage in extravagance at a time of economic gloom and recession.

“Do you share my view that this demonstrates Her Majesty’s unerring instincts for the public mood, or does the Government think she was overreacting?”

‘Constitutional reform’

But Speaker Martin would not let the question be answered.

He ruled: “Order! You shouldn’t discuss Her Majesty the Queen. Perhaps you can try another question. He has used one up. He can try another one.”

I think he made a mistake, but people make mistakes at prime minister’s questions
Sir Menzies Campbell
Former Lib Dem leader

Mr Cable said he was very happy for the Labour deputy leader to “return to the issue of economic gloom and recession and whether you share that assessment.”

Outside the Commons he said: “It is absolutely ridiculous that in a supposedly modern democracy Members of Parliament cannot even mention the Head of State in passing without prior permission.

“This is yet more proof of the major constitutional reform needed to drag Westminster into the 21st century.”

Commenting on Mr Cable’s decision to mention the Queen, former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “I think he made a mistake, but people make mistakes at prime minister’s questions.”

He added: “I’m sure he will be back at his pungent best.”

It is a Commons convention that MPs do not discuss the Queen.

‘Sent to the Tower’

According to Erskine May, the guide to parliamentary practice, “the irregular use of the Queen’s name to influence a decision of the House is unconstitutional in principle and inconsistent with the independence of Parliament”.

It adds: “Any attempt to use her name in debate to influence the judgement of Parliament is immediately checked and censured.”

It says MPs have been reprimanded “or even sent to the Tower” for treasonable or seditious language “or disrespectful use of Her Majesty’s name”.

‘Museum piece’

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has vowed to highlight what he sees as antiquated Parliamentary procedure as part of his campaign for democratic reform.

He has said Parliament “is fast becoming a museum piece – a 19th-century home for our 21st-century political elite”.

For sale: England’s school playing fields

Alan Johnson is currently the Health Minister trying to bring in a voucher sysem for the English NHS and is opening up “choice” between public and private hospitals – the better to channel money to big business and drain the NHS of resources.

When he was Education Secretary he was selling off school playing fields – despite the promise of New Labour when elected in 1997 that they’d end this Tory practice, along with the policies that were destroying the NHS.

He said of the reversal of some neoliberal policies by the Scottish government: ‘I wouldn’t go down the free prescriptions route, as I wouldn’t in a previous life go down the free higher education route.’

Johnson argued that the policy differences on health between the Labour and Scottish governments were not due to financial pressures, but was ideological. He explained that the Labour government disagreed with the approach of the Nationalists, who have established that the elderly must have free personal care, and that the government had much more important things to spend the taxpayers’ money on.

Like bailing out banks, funding illegal wars of occupation, and paying the mortgages of MPs second homes…

Would such a man be allowed anywhere near England’s health or education system if there was a devoluted English parliament with a fair voting system?

Get a load of the editorial of today’s edition of The News Line:

Labour is selling off school playing fields

SCHOOLS Secretary Ed Balls and his predecessor Alan Johnson have given the go-head to the sell-off of 19 school playing fields over the past year and a further 53 school and community playing fields are under threat.

Margaret Morrissey from the National Confederation of Parent Teachers Associations (NCPTA) told a Sunday newspaper: ‘We know they are selling off playing fields. What happened to the commitment in 1997 that they were going to stop the sales? We are doing children a terrible injustice.’

In the past decade, the Labour government has approved the sale of 187 playing fields, despite a pledge made in 1997 that they would ‘bring the (Tory) government’s policy of forcing schools to sell off playing fields to an end’. Between 1979 and 1997 the Tories sold off 10,000 playing fields.

In addition, there have been 1,331 sales of parts of schools’ sites to developers, driven by rocketing house prices.

There are scores of local campaigns. In south-west London, Barn Elms playing fields are threatened with being sold off to a developer who wants to build a private health club on the site.

In west London, there is opposition to Holland Park School’s plans to sell of some of its sports ground to developers in order to modernise this first purpose-built comprehensive school.

Protest actions have taken place recently in Duston, Northamptonshire, Blackpool and Reading, against plans to scrap playing fields and sell off the land.

Balls has attempted to cover up this scandalous record of the Labour government.

At the weekend, the Department of for Children, Schools and Families admitted the sell-offs. However, it added that Balls had announced that £30m would be spent on ‘the network of 422 specialist sports colleges’ and it claimed that money from land sales had been ‘ploughed back into sports or educational facilities’.

Even if the latter claim were true, using land-sale money to build more classrooms, or buy books, cannot compensate for the loss of children’s sports fields. Spending money on ‘specialist sports colleges’ does nothing to help community comprehensive schools that are losing their playing fields.

This is the same type of subterfuge engaged in by the government concerning its academies programme. Community comprehensive schools are starved of funds, while ‘specialist sports colleges’ and academies, owned and controlled by businesses, get generous hand-outs from the government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his ministers, the likes of Balls and Health Secretary Johnson, are handing over assets, like playing fields, and millions from taxpayers, to their big business backers.

Under this government, education, the National Health Service (NHS) and local council services are no longer primarily concerned with providing healthcare, the universal right to education, etc., free for everyone.

Instead, they are regarded as channels through which government funds can be channelled to banks and multinational corporations, to boost their profits.

Parents and teachers are angry about the government’s cuts and its privatisation of education, as NCPTA spokeswoman Morrissey and the teachers’ unions have made clear over the past week.

Last Tuesday, the NASUWT teachers’ union conference offered the union’s backing to strike action by members opposed to being forced to work in academies, when these replace existing local authority schools.

Alongside this, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference backed strike action by its members against pay cuts and heavy workloads, with the first walk-out taking place on April 24.

All the conditions exist to form a public sector alliance of trade unions to fight pay cuts, cuts in services and the privatisation of public services.

Dishonourable members: no charges for Conway the con-man!

Why oh why am I surprised? I never learn…

The BBC reports that

Pressure is growing for a comprehensive overhaul of MPs’ expenses after police said they could not investigate disgraced MP Derek Conway.

Mr Conway was reprimanded by Commons authorities for paying his student son nearly £40,000 to be a researcher.

Scotland Yard said a “lack of systems” for accounting for MPs’ expenses meant it was ruling out an investigation.

Is this “pressure” real or imagined?

I fear that the papers will move on to Cameron breaking cycling laws.

Let’s remind ourselves of MPs’ expenses:

MPs are allowed to claim expenses of up to £10,000 for a new kitchen, £2,000 for furniture and £750 for a TV or stereo for their second homes.

Other claims allowable include £6,335 for a new bathroom, £299.99 for air conditioning units, £300 per rug, £50 for a shredder and £1,000 for a bed.

The figures are in the so-called “John Lewis list” used by Commons officials to list maximum amounts for items.

Most MPs can claim items from the list up to a maximum of £23,000 a year.

The existence of the list – based on prices at the John Lewis store “because it was highly rated by Which magazine” – came to light during a recent information tribunal.

My advice to parliamentarians:

1) Refuse to take more than an average worker’s wage, donate the excess to charitable causes or your party.

2) Work towards the establishment of an English parliament so that all can enjoy the benefits of devolution.

3) Work towards the next general election being conducted using the single transferable vote method of proportional representation to ensure that MPs have broad support amongst their voters.

4) Ensure the next election isn’t called when it’s convenient for the ruling party: introduce fixed terms.

If these modest reforms are not implemented, expect to see a record low turnout at the next election…

Brown gets a coat of red paint from the press

I give you the red-wash:

 1. Gordon Brown’s class war attack on Cameron

2. Gas and electricity bosses told ‘give back profits’, Energy giants told to help poor or face levy

3. Gordon Brown to curb second home ownership

The reality, of course, is somewhat different…

Tensions between Gordon Brown and the trade unions were exposed at the closing session of Labour’s spring conference yesterday when the leader of the affiliated unions rejected the prime minister’s call for a commission on agency workers.

Tony Dubbins, the chairman of Tulo, the group representing unions affiliated to Labour, angered party officials when he demanded talks quickly on a second wave of pro-union reforms and said unions should oppose attempts to cap their donations. [Emphasis added]

Second wave? Whatever happened to the first wave? We are hardly witnessing a tsunami of socialist measures…

Look who lunch with, and donate to, New Labour:

Lord Sainsbury, 67, Labour’s most generous donor, giving more than £8 million since 2002.

Still large stockholder in supermarket chain that bears his name. Junior Minister for Science under Tony Blair, resigned in November 2006 to spend more time working on charitable causes. Questioned by police over the cash for peerages

Jon Aisbitt, 50, director of Man Group, Britain’s largest hedge fund firm, thought to be worth more than £100 million. Has donated £250,000 annually to Labour over past three years.

Also gave £250,000 to Mr Blair’s 2005 election campaign and pledged £2 million for city academy in Brighton

Martin Littler, 59, chairman and CEO of Oldham-based Inclusive Technologies, said he had given around £15,000 to Labour and was “flattered” to be invited to dinner

M T Rainey, or Mary Rainey, 52, former advertising executive, close to Mr Brown. Set up mentoring networking website, horsesmouth.co.uk, launched last year at No 10 reception.

Non-executive director at Scottish Media Group and WH Smith, founded Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe. Says she has given small amounts but not enough to register with Electoral Commission

Sonny Leong, 55, from Chiltern, Oxfordshire, chairman of airline chartering service One Charter plc, has given £56,755 to Labour since 2004.

Came to prominence last month after Alan Johnson was criticised for registering late donations, including £2,000 from Mr Leong. Previously involved in successful publishing ventures

Bill Bottriell, 50, from North London, founded online recruitment company SThree which floated in 2005. Has given £48,000 to Labour’s HQ since then, but came to attention last year when Mr Hain failed to declare donations including £5,000 from Mr Bottriell towards deputy leadership campaign.

Reportedly a Tottenham Hotspur shareholder, once paid £1,700 for tour of No 10, auctioned by Cherie Blair to raise funds for sons’ school, the London Oratory

Stefanos Stefanou, 66, chairman of Hertfordshire construction company John Doyle Group plc, has given £40,000 to Labour. Donated to Harriet Harman’s successful mdeputy leadership campaign.

Appointed OBE last January for services to construction industry.

Hain resigns as cops investigate – it’s no frame-up this time!

Bye-bye Hain.

He’s resigned. Why? Well, the Electoral Commission has called in the police – meaning New Labour is being investigated over two separate funding scandals – Haingate and Abrahamsgate (as I am, rather awkwardly, calling them).

Neil Clark brilliantly summarises Hain thusly:

He supported the illegal bombing of Yugoslavia. He defended the genocidal sanctions on Iraq. He supported the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003: and even had the nerve to try and blame the French government for the war.

All of which has blotted out his previous career as a fearless fighter of apartheid

So the cute-ish James Purnell (who has always struck me as a Tory boy) takes over at the DWP, sacking disabled workers and cutting benefits.

As Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy returns to the job, demonstrating, perhaps, that Brown didn’t sack Brown because he couldn’t find a replacement for Wales.

Also, Brown feared a domino effect forcing out wee Wendy Alexander, leader of the Scottish Labour party. She accepted a dodgy donation of her own, back when she was running for the leadership job, and is now fending off calls to quit. (No let up for Brown, though, Lord Levy plans to publish his memoirs this autumn…)

As for the benefits of devolution… Wales has said “no” to ID cards. This comes with the news that the UK-wide scheme is being delayed (until after the next election).

So, again I say devolution would be good for working people in England! Do you imagine an English parliament would lead to the database state?

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