Price rises in transport and energy = more inflation

So, to start the Bank of England is sounding gloomy about consumers getting loans as a survey shows more people are being refused credit. The Old Lady is predicting that an increased number of households will default on mortgage repayments in coming months.

This will mean more people will be cutting back on spending in an effort to keep up with the mortgage, hence the worries about the retail sector, with big names on the high-street issuing profit warnings and experiencing drops in share prices – with bad economic news from the US adding to the market’s unease.

Add to this the news that energy bills are to rise sharply, along with the cost of transport – rail in particular will become more expensive.

(Note that the recent travel chaos, blamed on Network Rail, was caused by underfunding and the unreliability of private contractors. Rail union RMT is again making the case for renationalisation: ‘The solution is simple. Rail operations, infrastructure and rolling stock should be re-united under a single, publicly owned body, answerable directly to the Department for Transport. The economy and the environment are crying out for an efficient and affordable railway, and every penny going into the industry should be spent on achieving that’.)

Average pay rises in the private sector are now running at 4%, and will challenge the government’s policy of imposing a 2% cap on public sector pay increases. If there was no “public sector alliance” this year, chances are the union bureaucrats will be forced to cobble something together next year as Brown stubbornly holds the line.

If anything is certain it is that prices will rise in 2008. And so it follows that industrial disputes will increase – but what of the representation of Labour?

Here’s some interesting news from Wales:

Plaid has welcomed an “historic” donation from the fire fighters’ union to three of its campaigning Assembly Members.

Plaid Cymru AMs Jocelyn Davies, Janet Ryder and Leanne Wood each received cheques from the Fire Brigades Union for their campaigning work. In a letter from the FBU, executive council member Mike Smith said: “Janet, Jocelyn and Leanne in various ways have, during the past four years of the Assembly, assisted us in our lobbying and campaigning on various fire service issues.”

Plaid’s North Wales AM Janet Ryder said: “Plaid has been a consistent supporter of fire fighters and other public sector workers over the years. We’ve seen them face attack after attack from the Labour government in London and the FBU has been at the forefront of attempts to maintain the fire service here in Wales.

“This donation from the FBU is very welcome and marks a historic decision for such a campaigning trade union. I hope more unions realise that Gordon Brown’s Labour government is cutting public services and doesn’t represent the interests of working people.

“Plaid has forged close links with many trade unions over the years and we look forward to strengthening those ties to continue our fight for all working people.”

On the Price of migration, capitalism, and England

An MP has accused some employment agencies of scouring Eastern Europe for cheap labour at the expense of the poorest Welsh communities.

That MP is Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price who serves Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, and is a socialist and supporter of national self-determination.

Adam is right to raise this issue – what he says is correct and we can’t allow the public discourse on migration to be devoid of a class perspective. That is to say, the question of class must not be left out of the debate.

Obviously, migrant workers in any country are disadvantaged because they are not in their settled environment. The labour movement is right to assist migrant workers, but there’s no point in being uncritical about why the ruling class wants to move workers from one part of the world to another.

The reason migrant workers matter so much to the capitalist economy in the UK is because they can be more profitably expoited than settled workers. Those migrants of the recent wave who stay and become settled may find themselves in a similar position to today’s settled workers. So it goes, and it goes for a reason – profits. In this situation, migrant workers are often blamed for being victims of circumstance; if any one group of people is to blame it is not migrant workers. The blame lies with the capitalist class which exists at the expense of workers, both settled and migrant; it is the capitalist system, which subordinates the needs of humanity to the accumulation of surplus value.

I wrote as much in an essay “On migration, racism, and identity” which I wrote in July of this year:

Sudden demographic changes can lead working people to believe that migrant workers are their enemy, and the bourgeoisie is keen to promote this rationale. I am not suggesting that this was planned, rather that, for the capitalists, it is an added bonus that mass migration disorients settled workers.

Working conditions for migrant workers are often worse than those of settled workers: cases of bonded labour have been exposed. Despite the subjective differences, the objective fact is that workers of all nationalities must struggle together against their common enemy if they are to improve their living conditions.

The piece is worth reading, as it compliments what I have to say here an is of a higher quality – certainly, it’s more polished than this hurried post!

As Adam says, we a seeing a return to nineteenth (and twentieth!) century working practices with bosses pitting one group of workers against another. Another example of this Islamophobia, which divides the working class on grounds of religion and race; in the current climate, Islamophobia legitimises discriminatory practices and fuel racist abuse against people of colour, thus allowing the ruling class to bring in police state measures and send the armed forces to fight wars of occupation in the Middle East.

I get the feeling that if Adam Price was an MP for an English constituency, he’d have gotten some stick from the three Brit parties. As it stands, Adam is a keen supporter of devolution for England but were he was English, his comments on migration would would have been misrepresented in the mainstream media, and politicians would again make a false connection between supporters of a devolved parliament for England and assorted far-right tendencies.

The problem is that aside from the patriotism of sports like cricket, rugby, and football, there is no reflection in the mass media of the inclusive Englishness with which most people in England now identify. Mainstream media outlets in the UK – both state and corporate – regurgitate the muddled British “national” identity pushed by the ruling elite. The ostensible purpose is inclusion, the real reason is to undermine the civic English conciousness which threatens the future of the British state.

So I was upset for more than one reasonn when England were beaten by Croatia last week – it was bad enough that the Croatian team ran rings around England, with our national team out of next years European tournament, there would be no opportunity to discuss enclusive Englishness and articulate the case for a devolved national parliament for England.

As there are no English polticians making a forceful case for devolution, it is left to Welsh nationalists like Adam Price and Scottish nationalists like Alex Salmond. Of course, there is a reason for their support of an English parliament – it would end the Union, result in Scotland and Wales becoming independent nation states.

Perhaps it won’t be too long before there prominent MPs who stridently make the case and highlight the civic national identity that already exists without state sponsorship – merely complaining about the Barnet Formula and the underfunding of English regions is not good enough. But until that time, the work of Price and Salmond in raising the English Question is to be welcomed.

An answer for Adam

[Wednesday]

Comrade Price has some words on the English Question:

Of the 23 bills announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday 4 apply to England and Wales, 13 are UK-wide and six are England-only. So for a quarter of this session, Westminster will be an English Parliament to all intents and purposes – but for the presence of a phalanx of Celtic MPs.

Should we as Plaid MPs vote on these England-only bills? The SNP do not vote on England-only legislation as a matter of principle.

Which is cool, especially when SNP parliamentarians can rattle the Prime Minister over his own West Lothian question. (Gordon Brown did not answer a question on the issue during the Queen’s Speech Debate yesterday, merely rambling on about the “separatist” Scottish nationalists.)

But, Adam asks,

Should we abstain on English legislation – or use our votes to defeat ideas like ‘foundation hospitals’ that we oppose?

I’d say in the case of NHS privatisation, extra opposition would be welcomed by the popular masses of England – it should be viewed as an act of solidarity.

The “phalanx of Celtic MPs” that Adam refers to are not all as principled as he is – for the most part they are New Liebour scumbags who have no concern for national self-determination or the class struggle.

Like Gordon Brown.

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.

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.

Internment again; snap Gordon; clear blue water

[Wednesday]

The so-called “balancing act” begins again:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said the time has come to look again at extending the 28-day limit on holding terrorism suspects.

She told a fringe meeting at Labour’s party conference prevention of terrorism outweighed any potential damage to community relations.

But Ms Smith ruled out extending the controversial period to 90 days.

Why’s that then? Is it because it reminds people of the lobbying by police chiefs, only for the Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair to admit the figure was arbitrary? What happens if the police say that evidence suggests 90 is the number of days needed?

I predict another doubling of the time limit, but only after the election. This is Smith getting us used to the idea of more intrusive and arbitrary policing, and at the same time she’s sending out a signal to the Tories that Labour plans to fight the next election on “toughness”.

When will Brown make the call? Word is, pretty soon.

A snap election could give New Labour a victory, but only if Brown can deal with the EU consti-treaty, perhaps by caving into demands for a referendum on the issue, and he will face embarrassment in Scotland and Wales, where the Labour parties are starting to accept the realities of devolution, though their Westminster MPs can not.

New Labour’s moves against the leadership of the Welsh party are getting more blatant:

An MEP says Welsh Labour must change its strategy of putting “clear red water” between itself and the UK party.

Eluned Morgan made the call at a fringe meeting at the Labour conference while beside the policy’s architect, First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

She said the assembly election showed it was not enough to win key marginals and urged Labour to look past its core vote and appeal to the middle ground.

Morgan is staring power with Plaid Cymru is a decidedly centre-left coalition. Not to the liking of the neoliberal extremists and the “Britain, Britain, Britain” brigade of New Labour. The hostility of Welsh Labour MPs and MEPs to the coalition has been open from the start but there is a risk (for New Labour) that a snap election will push the Welsh party to be more independent-minded and compete/co-operate more with the nationalists.

My bet is that there will be a poll early next year and that this will be announced by Brown as Labour’s conference comes to an end.

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Plaid’s hopes for a hung parliament

A rather odd thing happened the other day.

Adam Price, the most handsome socialist in Wales, suggested at Plaid Cymru’s conference that Brown contact the Welsh nationalists over a possible coalition at Westminster in the event of a hung parliament.

Huh?

No really…

On the last day of Plaid’s conference in Llandudno Adam Price MP delivered a speech outlining its position for the forthcoming general election.

Plaid strategists believe that an increasing polarisation between the Tories and Labour is likely.

They believe this raises the distinct possibility of a hung Parliament following the next general election.

In the closing speech of the conference, Mr Price, Plaid’s director of elections, warned that we could well see the kind of coalition politics that occurred here in Wales following the assembly elections.

If this is the case he wants the Prime Minister Gordon Brown to get in touch to discuss a potential deal which will keep Labour in power.

Mr Price said that despite Mr Brown saying that he wants a government of all talents and open politics he is yet to get in touch with Plaid.

“There have been olive branches strewn across the political spectrum, offers of Cabinet seats to Ming Campbell, Tory grandees leading Government reviews.

“But so far nationalists need not apply. What is he afraid of?

“I’ve got a message for Gordon, pick up the phone.

“If you don’t call us now you’ll have to call us later if you don’t want a Tory government”.

He will also warn the prime minister that he cannot take Wales or Plaid for granted, and that Plaid will not hesitate to talk to other parties if Labour refuses to listen to their key demands.

Plaid is likely to base its Westminster election campaign on key policies similar to the pledges made during the assembly election campaign.

If Plaid comes to an agreement with Gordon Brown, it will expect a number of concessions for Wales.

These will include a cut in corporation tax, £1bn to eradicate child and pensioner poverty and a transfer of justice and policing matters to Wales.

Further key pledges will be for the assembly government to have a lead role on agricultural matters within the Council of Ministers in Europe, a high speed rail link between Wales and Europe and a fair share for Wales of £10bn Olympic investment.

Now, realise that Price’s media strategy is to say outlandish things – how else to get attention? – but this makes a lot of sense from the perspective of getting independence for Wales, as well as the electoral ambitions of Plaid.

Though of course it could backfire if it looks like Plaid is attempting to rescue a floundering New Labour.

I wouldn’t expect Gordon to be getting in contact any time soon, however…

The Welsh Secretary says Labour will still treat Plaid Cymru as “enemies” in forthcoming elections.

Peter Hain was responding to a Plaid Cymru call for Gordon Brown to consider a partnership between the parties in the UK parliament.

Mr Hain said that Plaid had to demonstrate it could govern responsibly in the new coalition at the assembly.

He said Labour still intends to “fight” Plaid in the 2008 local elections and the next general election.

[…]

Mr Hain also said that he does not expect the Welsh assembly to gain full lawmaking powers “for some years to come.”

The Neath MP said Labour had been at the forefront of devolution campaigning but the existing powers had still not been fully explored by the assembly and the time was not right for full powers.

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