Devolution for England, a modest proposal

Here’s my submission to Compass’s How To Live In The 21st Century project:

Devolution for England

“It’s worked in Scotland and Wales!”

Contrary to the opponents, an English parliament would provide constitutional balance within the UK; an English parliament would have a progressive majority.

2. How does it fit with Compass’ core beliefs of equality, solidarity, democracy, freedom, sustainability and well being?

An English parliament would give England the same kind of representation that Scotland and Wales were granted in the late nineties and put an end to the anomaly of England-only laws being voted on by MPs whose constituencies lie in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

It would allow the articulation of a civic conception of English national identity – based not on race and exclusion, but on place and participation – as has happened to some extent in Scotland and Wales.

The arguments against: it would make no difference to ordinary people; it would encourage the break-up of the UK; and it would reduce England to Tory domination.

3. How does it build the institutions of social democracy, like social groups and collective and cooperative forms of ownership and control?

An English parliament will provide a focus for those issues that are currently decided by the British government – which is comprised of MPs from across the nations of the UK – issues such as healthcare and education.

The establishment of devolution involved referenda in both Scotland and Wales; there is every reason to expect that there would be a public vote within England on the question of a national parliament and this will reinvigorate a sense of popular soverieignty, perhaps leading to more decisions being made through the use of plebisites.

4. How much will it cost or raise and where will any cost come from?

An English parliament could sit in the Commons at no extra cost.

5. Which groups in the electorate are likely to support or oppose this measure? Is there any polling evidence you have on this?

In November 2006, an Ipsos Mori poll for the Sunday Telegraph found 68% support. In January 2007, a telephone survey conducted by ORB (Opinion Research Business) for the BBC last year found that 61% of people in England were in favour. In April 2007, an opinion poll conducted by ICM for the Campaign for an English Parliament found 67% in favour.

Opponents have long suggested that an English parliament would lead to the break-up of the UK, but polling suggests greater support in Scotland and Wales for an English parliament than for either nation’s idependence!

6. Is there a place or country where it’s worked? Please provide some information.

As above, it has worked in both Scotland and Wales.

7. What are the three main arguments in favour/against it?

The arguments in favour: it’s popular amongst the general public who have seen the benefits in Scotland and Wales; it would allow decision-making on issues specific to England; and it would lead to the transformation of the UK into a federal republic.

Dutch courage? Anti-capitalism and mass migration

Blogging comrade Neil Clark has an interesting article in The First Post on the success of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands, which opposes mass migration on anti-capitalist grounds:

Anyone who argues that, as a political force, socialism is dead, ought to visit the Netherlands. The Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP) is the fastest growing political group in the country.

They won 25 seats in the last general election – an increase of 16 seats – and made huge gains in last year’s local elections. They are now the third largest party in Holland in terms of members and could well replace the Dutch Labour Party as the main alternative to the Christian Democrats.

Why are they so successful? I would suggest that it is because they are a socialist party that actually has socialist policies. They oppose the privatisation of public services, advocate higher taxes on the very wealthy and have condemned the “the culture of greed” caused by “a capitalism based on inflated bonuses and easy money”. They oppose war and Nato and the nascent European superstate. They were the only left-wing Dutch party in Parliament to oppose the new EU Constitution in the 2005 referendum.

Of course the fact that they have one of the most charismatic – and photogenic – of all of European political leaders in the 41-year-old epidemiologist Agnes Kant (pictured above) does them no harm.

Part of its popularity with the voters lies in one particular policy which differentiates it from British or other European parties of the left: they oppose large scale immigration. The SP see the ‘free movement of labour’ as part of the neoliberal globalist package – something which benefits big business but not ordinary people. Their opposition to immigration is not based on racism – as tends to be the case with the BNP and other far-right parties in Europe – but on their socialist ideology.

A recent publication by the SP asserted that labour migration in the EU was making “more acute the contrasts between rich and poor and competition between different groups of workers within the EU”. Instead of lauding the free movement of labour as other parties on the left do, the SP calls for policies “to make migration unnecessary” and for the EU funds to be used to enable poorer regions of the continent to be self-supporting.

The SP’s opposition to large-scale immigration is not a recent development. In the 1980s, the party’s booklet Gastarbeid en Kapitaal (Migrant Labour and Capital), denounced the migration of foreign workers into the Netherlands as a capitalist ploy to drive down wages and destroy working class solidarity.

This is a far cry from the traditional position of the British left – which despite overwhelming evidence that large-scale immigration does reduce wages – still clings to an the ideology of open borders. In doing so, they are not only complying with the wishes of big business, who for obvious reasons welcome the influx of large numbers of people from low-wage economies onto their labour market; they are also espousing a policy which is unpopular with large swathes of the electorate and which is likely to become even more unpopular as unemployment grows.

The success of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands shows that there are lots of votes to be won by an unequivocally left-wing party which has the courage and sense to oppose large-scale immigration on non-racist, anti-capitalist grounds.

It’s like a fascist state, fascists complain

Okay, so it’s illegal. It’s leading to people having their privacy invaded.

I’m talking, of course, about the leaking of the personal details (including home addresses as well as hobbies) of members of the white supremacist British National Party.

But putting people’s personal details online – this is the kind of thing fascists do, isn’t it?

Well, a former employee of the BNP (and so, one assumes, a racist sympathiser) is said to have uploaded the information.

As Jeremy Dear, the general secretary of the journalists’ union, blogs:

I’ve had neo-nazis threaten me at home, publish my details on Redwatch, the right-wing website designed to target and intimidate journalists and trade unionists, and was once physically assaulted by them and had to go to hospital. The BNP have staged demonstrations outside the NUJ’s head office and have issued threats to dozens of our members – particularly in Yorkshire. How sickening to hear Nick Griffin on Five Live this morning say he would use the Human Rights Act against to protect privacy when he stands for abolishing the act.

The fascists have also taken the opportunity to do some Muslim-bashing while they are busy insisting that they are being victimised.

If nothing else good comes of this exposure, perhaps it will help a few racists understand what it’s like being bullied – some might even empathise with ethnic minorities facing abuse and discrimination.

BBC dishonours armed forces – fails to report majority opinion against Afghan war

Talk about state television…

Each week, more young men are coming home from the Middle East in coffins or with missing limbs and mental scars.

The BBC’s idea of a debate on the role of UK forces in occupied Afghanistan is a feeble one-sided radio “debate”.

This is the most readable part of the story on Auntie’s website:

More than two-thirds of Britons think UK troops should leave Afghanistan within a year, a BBC poll has found.

Of 1,013 people polled, 68% said troops should withdraw within 12 months, with 59% of men agreeing and 75% of women.

One assumes that the Stop the War Coalition were not even asked to put someone up, as the only panelist expressing doubts is Simon Jenkins:

“I think the government should always pay attention to public opinion, particularly in matters of war and peace. It has never received a popular mandate for this war in any realistic sense.

“It was done at the bidding of the Americans – there’s a new American president we might be able to capture something from that but he’s equally in favour of it. I just think we should pull out.”

The rest of the article is just lies about the threat of international terrorism increasing. If anything, I imagine it would decrease.

As far as I see it, only good can come of troop withdrawals.

If it were not for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and the occupation of six counties in Ireland):

* There would be a quicker response to floods and other natural disasters as the armed forces could be deployed for civil defence. More people would be saved, fewer homes would be damaged.

* Muslim people would be more willing to give information to the police on terrorist activities.

* The corporate newspapers would be less inclined to print Islamophobic drivel. Although, the capitalists would still use religious and ethnic differences in an attempt to divide working people…

* In both Iraq and Afghanistan, reconstruction and development could start in earnest.

It’s typical of the BBC to deny an open debate on the merits of the Afghan war – it’s the state broadcaster and was given something of a punishment beating over the Kelly affair.

The survey it conducted delivered no surprise verdict. The poll result was similar to others that have already been taken.

What’s galling is that the BBC has been through days of Remembrance broadcasting and a special season of programmes on the First World War, but has kept quiet about the pro-peace majority.

If only it would keep quiet about John fucking Hutton.

New Labour and Tories unite against workers rights

First, the honorable men and women who voted to strenghen the rights of working people:

Richard Burden, Ronnie Campbell, Mick Clapham, Katy Clark, Frank Cook, Jeremy Corbyn, Jim Cousins, Jon Cruddas, John Cummings, Dai Davies, David Drew, Bill Etherington, Mark Fisher, Paul Flynn, George Galloway, Neil Gerrard, Ian Gibson, Roger Godsiff, Dai Havard, Kate Hoey, Paul Holmes, Brian Iddon, Eric Illsley, Glenda Jackson, Brian Jenkins, Lynne Jones, John Leech, Elfyn Llwyd, Andrew Mackinlay, Gordon Marsden, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Chris McCafferty, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Andrew Miller, Austin Mitchell, Doug Naysmith, Dr Nick Palmer, Andrew Pelling, Adam Price, Gwyn Prosser, Linda Riordan, Jim Sheridan, Alan Simpson, Marsha Singh, Dennis Skinner, Ian Stewart, Richard Taylor, Paul Truswell, Bob Wareing, Hywel Williams, David Winnick, Tony Wright, Andrew Dismore, David Taylor

Second, René Lavanchy reports on the shameful affair in the Tribune:

GORDON BROWN faced down the biggest backbench revolt of his premiership this week as 44 MPs voted against the Government in support of an amendment to the Employment Bill that would boost trade union rights.

Ministers also faced down a challenge to the bill that would strengthen unions’ powers to expel members of the British National Party and other extremist political parties.

Labour’s John McDonnell put forward an amendment, supported by the TUC and all its member unions, which would have made it easier for unions to ballot their members for industrial action by requiring employers to help them collect the contact details of their members.

But opposition from ministers and the Tories – together with a three-line Labour whip – meant he was heavily defeated.

Mr McDonnell said afterwards: “This is a huge rebellion in a by-election week and sends out the clearest possible signal to the Government that we are not doing enough on trade union rights.

“Our supporters will not understand why the Government is prepared to fall over backwards to rescue the bankers but will do nothing to protect workers as the recession begins to bite.”

The Conservatives vigorously opposed the amendment, with shadow business minister Jonathan Djanogly saying: “Here the true face and belief of the hard left of the Labour party is exposed and it is not a pretty sight for business.”

This is the third time Mr McDonnell has sought to overturn restrictions on trade union activity. Last year, his trade union freedom bill was twice talked out of Parliament.

In debate, Mr McDonnell and his supporters were at pains to argue that unions are unfairly hamstrung because industrial action can be thwarted on legal technicalities, such as failing to ballot every single member.

Labour MP Andrew Dismore said: “When people change their address, they almost always notify their employer, but nearly always forget to tell their trade union. In these days of postal ballots, how on earth is the union to get the ballot papers to the members if they do not register their addresses?”

Employment minister Pat McFadden said that current legislation allowed courts to overlook “small accidental failures” by a union to follow balloting rules. But Andrew Miller replied that in several court cases, judges had not used that option.

Mr McDonnell withdrew his other amendments, which would have restricted employers’ powers to sack striking workers and banned them from using agency staff to replace them.

Immediately afterwards, MPs debated another amendment which sought to write into law a European Court of Human Rights judgment, which said that trade unions have the right to choose their own members. The case was brought by train drivers’ union ASLEF in 2005 against BNP member Jay Lee, whom they had expelled.

But Tony Lloyd, the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party who brought the amendment, withdrew it in the face of insufficient support.

The Government insists that the bill as it stands does implement the court ruling, but ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman called their refusal to change the bill “plain daft”.

No, Minister: why Yvette Cooper and Phil Woolas are hypocrites

First, Yvette Cooper:

Banks will face new curbs on home repossessions to prevent families from being evicted when they fall into financial difficulties, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has promised. […]

‘We need a more responsible approach to repossessions,’ Cooper said in the interview. ‘What we are looking at is something looking much more widely at all of the banks, because I think repossession needs to be lot rarer. We need to do everything that we can to keep people in their own homes.’

But what is the publicly-owned but privately controlled Northern Rock doing?

Credit Action said that the nationalised bank was twice as likely as other lenders to repossess a home if borrowers fell behind with their mortgage repayments. Chris Tapp, director of the charity, said its eagerness to repay the government meant it was treating struggling customers harshly.

More than 19,000 homes were repossessed in the first half of this year, 4,000 of which were seized by Northern Rock.

That’s saying nothing of the 1500 workers sacked by the Rock…

Onto Phil Woolas:

In his first public statement in his new position, Phil Woolas conceded that immigration became an “extremely thorny” issue during an economic downturn when people already living in this country were losing their jobs. He also pledged the Government would respond by making it even harder for non-European Union nationals to come to Britain to work and live.

Let’s decode this. Non-EU nationals will be limited; EU nationals will not…

So we can see this is not about limiting immigration at all, but about Woolas trying to boost his career with some prejudice. A quota for migrants from outside the EU (largely people of colour) but not for those within the single labour market of the EU (who are mostly white).

Migration controls as such are not racist – but these are clearly racist. Woolas has form, remember.

NuLieBore comes out in support of police harassment & the bosses’ blacklist

NuLieBore. New Labour. Geddit?

Ahem. I’ll start again…

How low can you go?

Jacqui Smith gives us this act of desperation:

I now want the Action Squad to co-ordinate a new drive against the hard core of ‘hard nut’ cases.

That car of theirs – is the tax up to date? Is it insured? Let’s find out

And have they a TV licence for their plasma screen? As the advert says, “it’s all on the database.”

As for their council tax, it shouldn’t be difficult to see if that’s been paid

And what about benefit fraud? Can we run a check?

The police, she says, should harass young people who persistently offend. In tabloid-speak this is “get tough on young thugs” – but some of those young people may not have actually been convicted of anything.

Is it a productive use of police time to have officers partaking in… anti-social behaviour? And might such intrusive policing be met with a violent response, endangering police officers and members of the public?

It used to be that politicians would call for more police on the beat, which is fair enough, but Smith’s speech was spun almost as a call for police brutality – which tells you how bad things are for New Labour…

The blurring of boundaries between suspect and convict may continue in the workplace if the bosses (and the New Labour) are able to get away with this:

A government-backed database of ‘workplace offenders’ will be launched later this month to combat the annual loss of half a billion pounds through staff theft and fraud.

The National Staff Dismissal Register will allow employers to share and access details of staff that have been dismissed or have left employment while under investigation for dishonest actions.

Such actions include theft, fraud, forgery, falsification of documents and causing damage to company property. An employee need not have a criminal conviction for their details to be added to the database.

Ah, my emphasis there – and emphasis that’s needed. It continues…

The register is an initiative by Action Against Business Crime, a partnership between the Home Office and the British Retail Consortium, and is allowable under the regulation of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Funny how that Data Protection Act always fails to protect your data…

Big names to have thrown their weight behind the register, include retailers Harrods, HMV, Mothercare and Selfridges and outsourcing agency Reed Managed Services.

Yes, it’s a blacklist ladies and gentlemen. As Ian explains,

A shop worker can be dismissed if the employer reasonably believes that the employee has had his/her hand in the till or had pinched some stock. The give away in the article is that no criminal conviction is needed to be on the register just the fact that the employee has been dismissed.

Just think of it. A Trade Union/ Health and Safety rep can be alone in a warehouse. He/she is later invited to a meeting to account for missing stock. This quickly moves to a disciplinary and on the basis of reasonable belief the worker is sacked. The balance of proof needed is very low. The explanation the worker gives is inadequate. The TU activist is out the door and even though there is no criminal conviction the worker ends up on this register.

By the way, JimJay has an excellent post on this subject which links to the National Staff Dismissal Register. As he rightly says,

Employers can take against employees for a whole number of reasons. Whilst some are legitimate there are a whole raft of others that are not. An employer may dislike someone because they refuse to work unpaid overtime, for being an effective trade unionist or because they are gay. An employer may resent someone who objects to being bullied and knows their legal rights, who holds different political views to them or who is simply better at their job than they are. […]

If I’m caught stealing a tenner from the till I don’t deserve to keep my job, but I don’t deserve to be made permanently unemployed at the tax payers expense either. It isn’t helpful and there are few non-criminal charges where this would be anything like a fair and reasonable response.

All this scheme does is to give further leverage to employers to make unreasonable demands of their workforce. One ex-employer’s unsubstantiated whim should never be enough to blacken someone’s name or ruin their livelihood, yet this is precisely the aim of this site. This system isn’t simply open to abuse – it’s designed for it.

Some good news to finish. Karen’s struggle has reached parliament, where it seems there are Labour MPs supporting working people in their struggles:

More than 200 health workers, trade unionists, service users and MPs packed into a room in the House of Commons yesterday to show their support for Karen Reissmann, the Manchester psychiatric nurse and leading union member who was sacked for speaking out against cuts and privatisation.

The meeting, which was organised by Karen’s Unison union and chaired by her MP, Tony Lloyd, aimed to raise support for Early Day Motion 443, which calls for Karen’s reinstatement.

Addressing the meeting, Tony Lloyd praised Karen’s two decades of service to the NHS and said that trade unionists must be given greater protection. He said, “There is a real issue of principle at stake here. Health workers have a right and a duty to tell the truth about what happens at work.

“I have a long experience with the Manchester Mental Health Trust. If services there are not being provided properly, we need to know so that we can get improvements made.”

During the meeting health workers from Manchester and from across Britain spoke of their fear that Karen’s sacking is an attempt by management to silence trade unionists and opponents of cuts to services. Many of those attending were Karen’s workmates who had taken several weeks of strike action in an effort to see their colleague returned to work.

Parliamentarians – including Gerald Kaufman, Kelvin Hopkins, Katy Clark, John Leech, and Jeremy Corbyn – heard workers and carers describe the way mental health services are at breaking point in many parts of the country.

Unison vice-president Gerry Gallagher spoke of the tremendous wave of solidarity that the Manchester strikers had received and pledged the continuing support of the union, both for the continuing campaign and for Karen’s employment tribunal that is due to commence in the autumn.

“We must maintain the profile and the pressure in support of Karen,” he said.

From the floor John Mcloughlin from Tower Hamlets Unison talked about the way that emloyment law is stacked against trade unionists. To loud applause he pointed out that even when employment tribunals find against the employers, they cannot force them to reinstate staff who have been wrongly sacked.

Closing the speeches Karen Reissmann said, “This is not a dictatorship. This is Britain under a Labour government in 2008.

“Obviously I want my job back. But I also want protection for all trade unionists.”

The meeting urged everyone to contact their local MPs to ask them to sign the Early Day Motion, and continue to raise Karen’s case wherever possible.