English football – is the future co-operative?

Andy Burnham, minister for Culture, Media, and Sport in the British government, gave a speech to the Co-operative Party (which is affiliated to Labour) on the question of ownership of English football clubs.

I’ve always thought Burnham to be a New Labour clone, but credit where it’s due, he’s always held these views – though the timing of is dubious (party leadership bid? am I too cynical?). Good to see some debate on English sport, but how about politics – something on an English parliament?

The Politics for People blog reports on Burnham’s appearance at the Co-op Party conference:

Andy questioned whether the big money in football is having a positive effect and called for more fan ownership in football as well as rugby league and other sports.

Football grew out of community and workplace organisations, he reminded us, and that spirit needs to be retained and rebuilt. Of the rich owners now taking over the Premiership, Andy said, “We should not delude ourselves that the reason England is attracting so much interest is solely because of the quality of football. It is also because other countries, such as Germany and Spain, have football clubs which are mutually owned by their supporters, democratic and not for sale. I believe English football is at a crossroads and if it follows the same path in the next 10 years, there is a risk that it will lose touch with its core support.”

Recent protests by fans over the departure of manager Kevin Keegan from Newcastle United have led the club’s billionaire owner to announce he’s selling up.

Mike Ashley, whose empire includes JJB Sports (see here for the poor record on workers’ rights) is apparently going to offer fans the chance to buy out the club. The News of the World quotes a friend of Ashley:

“They say there are 400,000 Newcastle fans in the area. If they all put in £1,000 they can buy the club and run it themselves.

“They can have a website and vote for the manager. They can pick the team and choose the players they buy and sell. They can do it all.”

This is similar to an idea of fans who want to Share Liverpool FC, who have already been given some ministerial backing…

Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, Andy Burnham, endorsed the prospect of fans taking ownership of their clubs at a meeting to launch the next phase of ShareLiverpoolFC’s bid to takeover Liverpool FC.

The meeting took place before the second leg of Liverpool’s Champions League qualifier on Wednesday 27 August, at the Liverpool Lighthouse in Anfield with a high profile list of speakers, and was covered by local, national and international press, radio and TV.

Lifelong Everton fan and MP for Leigh, Mr Burnham put aside his personal allegiance to back a principle that he championed in his former role as Chairman of Supporters Direct.

Mr Burnham said: “I think it would be good for any football club. I think the principle is a good one, that the people who have built up these clubs over the generations and have invested millions of their money should control their future.”

The minister spoke passionately about how clubs belonged to their communities, and that the prospect of the Premiership becoming simply a financial league table of the world’s richest billionaires would render football a pointless and ultimately soulless exercise.

The minister gave encouragement to the audience, saying that over 140 Supporters Trusts had been set up since Supporters Direct was launched in 2000, and that 14 clubs, including Notts County, the oldest club in the league, were now run by their fans. “If we all believe, then this is achievable” he concluded.

Now it’s worth noting the money involved – a thousand quid being offered to each Newcastle fan for a share, five thousand for each Liverpool fan. This makes participation exclusive to those who are able to invest that kind of money at a time when money’s tight with rising food, fuel, and mortgages/rents.

So we could be looking at a kind of footie fan capitalism – but with the idealism perhaps trumping the profit motive.

But if anything comes of it, I am sure it will be an inspiration to working people that big clubs can be controlled by their supporters. And if big clubs, why not the biggest monopolies?

David Lindsay has a better idea for the Magpies:

With Newcastle United on the market, the owner of its sponsor, Northern Rock, should step in any buy it. In other words, nationalise it. And by no means only Newcastle United.

The nationalisation, leading to mutualisation and municipalisation as above, of these important focal points of local patriotism is incomparably preferable to their purchase by sovereign wealth funds, which are in fact foreign states. And it would set a very high-profile example, both of the new patterns of ownership and control in the post-capitalist world, and of the accompanying new regime of pay restraint at the very top.

A quick word on the Co-operative Party’s role – it is a sister party to Labour and also an affiliate to the bigger party. Recent motions to the Cooperative conference signal a shift away from New Labour.

I’ve no idea which of these motions passed and which didn’t, but here they are:

The attack on the Government’s foreign policy is led the Co-operative Group’s North London Party. A motion tabled by the party demands the removal of nuclear weapons from Britain; withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan; no war against Iran; an early solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and an enhanced role for the United Nations as the world’s peace-keepers.

The motion says US and British aggression has destabilised Iraq and claims that both countries are part of the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution. On Afghanistan, the motion calls on conference to demand that UK troops be confined to barracks and withdrawn as quickly as possible.

In a separate motion on energy, Midlands Society Leicestershire Party urges conference to encourage more investment in renewable energy sources as opposed to the nuclear option, while an amendment tabled by the Co-op Group’s North West & North Wales Party urges the Co-operative Parliamentary Group to oppose the building of nuclear power stations.

A pithy 12-word motion from the Co-op Group Bristol Party calls for an end to the monarchy in its current form by asking conference to endorse the view that the next head of state should be elected (as opposed to the current hereditary principle which automatically hands the role to a member of the royal family).

An amendment to one of the motions on education tabled by Hertfordshire & Home Counties Co-op Party asks conference to press for the removal of the requirement for a daily act of worship in state schools and says the Government should consider phasing out faith schools.

Midlands Society Leicestershire Party has called on the Party’s NEC to conduct an inquiry into the NHS Foundation Trusts to establish how effectively co-operative values and principles are applied while a composite motion on the Northern Rock saga supported by four Party branches calls for the troubled Bank to be converted into an Industrial Provident Society once the organisation’s current position has stabilised.

Preston’s local solution to the energy crisis

Ah, municipal socialism…

A press release from the Left Alternative:

Preston City Council passes significant climate change motion

Preston City Council voted yesterday to recognise trade union “environmental representatives” to help the council set and meet stringent carbon emission targets.

The TUC and its affiliate unions have been actively working towards establishing such reps as part of their Green Workplaces Project.

The motion was part of a radical package proposed by Left Alternative councillor Michael Lavalette and actively supported by left-wing Labour councillors in the city.

The motion also proposes that the council should commit to the principle of establishing a local power company, under local authority control, which will provide cheap, carbon neutral energy to the local population.

Cllr Lavalette, who proposed the motion, said: “This is an incredibly significant motion. When it is implemented – alongside other motions we have passed on public transport systems – it will make Preston one of the greenest cities in Britain.

“But the motion also puts us in line to be the first significant employer to recognise trade union environmental reps. The unions will be important players if we are to tackle climate change; it is only right that they and their members are given a recognised role in setting and implementing carbon emission targets.”

Labour Deputy Leader Matthew Brown added: “Setting up a local power company is a realistic possibility. It allows us to deal with issues associated with climate change and carbon emissions, and, at the same time, allows us to provide cheap fuel for the people of Preston, some of whom are amongst the poorest in the country.”

Both councillors said they hoped that the Preston motion would become a model that other councils would follow. The full motion is as follows:

Preston City Council notes:

1. The continuing threat from abrupt climate change.

2. The world’s leading scientists and recognised climate change authorities note that if action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent emissions) within 30 years there is likely to be an irreversible effect on the Global Climate.

3. The Government’s Royal Commission on Environment Pollution has predicted that the target reduction in greenhouse gases, expressed as CO2 equivalent emissions, should be 60% by 2050 and 80% by 2100.

Preston City Council further notes:

1. The efforts made by Woking Council to adopt a comprehensive Climate Change Strategy on a scale that is likely to meet The Royal Commission on Environment Pollution targets of 60% reductions of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2050 and 80% by 2100.

2. That Derby Council have a five year strategy to achieve a 25% reduction in carbon emissions and Norwich council have an annual reduction target of 6%.

3. That the TUC (via its Green Workplaces Project) and its affiliate unions are actively campaigning for employers to recognise ‘environmental representatives’ with a role in setting CO2 reduction targets, initiating workplace environmental audits and educating members on green and sustainability issues.

Preston City Council resolves:

1. To use solar panels on the Town Hall as a means of meeting energy needs and reducing CO2 emissions
2. To commit to the principle of establishing a local power company within Preston, in local authority ownership, to generate power for the area and investigate how this can be implemented.
3. To use sustainable combine heat and power sources of energy in the City Council buildings – discouraging the production of CO2 type gasses.
4. To increase use of photovoltaic and renewable energy
5. To investigate improvements to insulation in all council buildings and workplaces.
6. To incorporate planning policies which will ensure that new developments in the City reduces CO2 equivalent emissions of greenhouse gases.
7. To establish a carbon neutral approach to the future of services and activities within the City
8. To make progress as speedily as possible on the long-delayed City Council travel plan, aimed at reducing car use for travel to work and staff (and member) travel on business.
9. To enter negotiations with all local authority trade unions to recognise environmental representatives, and to establish with the unions the active role of the representatives in achieving the council’s carbon emission targets.

Hungarian rights!

Last September I blogged on the prosecution of the leadership of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party (known as Munkaspart).

It was on grounds of “committing libel in a public place” that seven of the party’s leaders faced two years in jail.

As Neil Clark noted at the time,

the real reason the Munkaspart leaders are on trial (and the reason why the youth wing of the Czech Communist Party has also been banned) is because of their implacable opposition to their governments’ aggressively neo-liberal agenda.

It’s red-bashing, yes, but there were important reasons for it happening – Munkaspart had helped initiate a referendum on the privatisation of Hungary’s healthcare system and the prosecution was an act of revenge by the state.

(The supposed libel of the party leadership, if you’re interested, was their condemnation of a 2005 ruling by the Budapest City Court which interfered in the internal affairs of Munkaspart to the benefit of those wanting to split the party and to side with the unpopular governing party.)

The good news, reported in The Morning Star, is that he immediate threat of imprisonment no longer remains – an appeal court has overturned the guilty verdict of last November, but state prosecutors might take the case to the high court. So it’s not over yet…

Though the 2004 referendum failed to defeat the government’s privatisation agenda, the recent referendum that took place on March 9 saw plans to introduce user fees in the health service and universities rejected overwhelmingly. And though it was triggered by the right-wing Fidesz opposition party, Munkaspart had a hand in campaigning against these neoliberal measures.

If we can turn our attention to England, would it not be beneficial to working people here if referenda on contentious legislation could be triggered by petition? I’m thinking here of the McDonaldisation of the NHS, the recent wave of post office closures, and the deployment of the armed forces to Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s to say nothing of the vote on the EU referendum that we were promised and later denied…

Solidarity with Shelter workers!

Staff at Shelter, the homelessness charity, are to take industrial action today in an attempt to hault management plans to force them to sign inferior contracts:

Their dispute arises directly from the government’s policy of commissioning out public services to the “Third” or voluntary sector – Shelter management says it has to cut staff wages and conditions in order to win government contracts for projects previously provided by public sector workers.

According to the UNITE union, “Shelter’s management has intentions not to work in partnership with other agencies in the voluntary sector such as advice agencies and Law centres, but to work in competition with these agencies.

“They intend to expand into other areas of law, with vastly lower pay and terms of service to win contracts and hence put competitors out of business where terms and conditions are higher and so far members have avoided changes.

“If Shelter’s management win this dispute and slash terms and conditions it will be a beachhead for other employers to attack terms and conditions in all voluntary sector bodies who are situated in much smaller workplace units than Shelter and less able to fight such cuts and an rely on other agencies to help defend themselves.”

This is a serious attack on the working conditions of workers at the sharp end of New Labour’s policies.

Ken Loach, a member of Respect’s National Council and director of the famous film “Cathy Come Home”, which highlighted the issue of homelessness, has said that people should stop donating money to Shelter until it stops its attacks on workers.

“I think Shelter’s behaviour is outrageous, telling workers to accept a deal or face redundancy,” he said. “I won’t be able to support Shelter and I don’t think others should. Shelter has always been campaigning and critical of government but it has become corporate and had its teeth drawn.”

The union got a 65.8 per cent turn out for the ballot, and a 76 per cent vote for industrial action — so they will be taking a series of strike days over the next few weeks.

Tommy Sheridan and family charged but suspected war criminals can go free!?

The war criminal in question is not Bliar, but one Major General Doron Almog, who in September 2005 was allowed to flee the UK because police supposedly feared an armed confrontation…

I wonder how many other suspects are allowed to flee because police have such fears?

To add insult to injury, the suspect in question recieved an apology for being inconvenienced from the then Foreign Minister Jack Straw.

It’s all a very different story for Tommy Sheridan. He was charged in December, and now his wife has been charged, over perjury claims stemming from the infamous News of The World defamation trial – in which a jury sided with Sheridan against the Murdoch media empire.

It’s a wonder the police weren’t afraid that investigating Sheridan and co. would lead to a whopping great bill for the public, all for the benefit of a puffed-up plutocrat and his media monopoly.

God knows how many hours of police work has already gone into this witch-hunt. I has assumed that murder, rape, and other violent crimes did not take place within the domain of the Lothian and Borders police force – but then I checked their website…

In the last week, they have issued press releases on the following violent crimes that they are investigating in which they appeal for help from the public: a woman has been indecently assaulted, another has been violently assualted; a man threatened off-license staff with a knife during a robbery; three young men have been violently assualted, two needing hospital treatment.

From the Defend Tommy Sheridan website:

Solidarity maintains that the ongoing perjury investigation into Tommy Sheridan and others who’ve been questioned and subsequently charged this week, is part of a political witch-hunt being carried out at the behest of Rupert Murdoch’s News International Corporation and a Scottish legal establishment left reeling by Sheridan’s victory in his High Court defamation case in the summer of 2006.

The only crime that Tommy Sheridan is guilty of is the crime of speaking truth to power. His is a political reputation built upon an unwavering commitment to speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable and oppressed in society. He has and continues to speak out against the scourges of low pay, poverty, racism, war and inequality in all its forms – in short, against everything Rupert Murdoch and his vast media empire represents.

The resources allocated to this investigation thus far, both in terms of public money and police manpower, constitutes grounds for a public inquiry. Reports have suggested that over £1million pounds will have been spent by the time this investigation reaches its end. This is an amount that far exceeds the £750,000 spent on the recent ‘cash for peerages’ investigation into corruption at the heart of the British Government. As for manpower, recent news reports have stated that over twenty officers have been working on this investigation full time for over a year. Given that Lothian and Borders Police currently holds the onerous distinction of the worst record of any police force in the country when it comes to successfully investigating cases involving rape, the public has a right to know how they can afford such an allocation of manpower into matters arising from a civil defamation case.

Further, in 2006, whilst Tommy Sheridan was still a sitting MSP, a listening device was found in his car. Surely a public which has been kept fully informed of developments in relation to the ongoing investigation of Tommy Sheridan for perjury should likewise be informed as to why no such developments have taken place with regard to the investigation of a listening device being planted in the car of a sitting MSP?

Questions need to be asked. For example: has the police investigation into the listening device involved Sweeney-style arrests with unmarked police cars skidding into car parks at high speed, as Tommy Sheridan was subjected to? Has it involved home invasions involving nine police officers holding a woman and her infant child hostage while they ransacked her home, as Tommy Sheridan’s wife and child were forced to endure?

Has anyone been questioned in relation to this matter? More specifically, has the editor of the News of The World, Bob Bird, been questioned? After all, this is the editor of the newspaper that was successfully sued for defamation by Tommy Sheridan in 2006. Moreover, last year a high ranking journalist working for this particular newspaper was sent to prison for illegally bugging the private phone conversations of various members of the so-called Royal Family.

Tommy Sheridan and his witnesses have absolutely nothing to fear from any investigation into matters arising from his original defamation case. Throughout they have conducted themselves with integrity and scrupulous honesty. We do, however, question the basis upon which this investigation has been initiated and conducted.

Rupert Murdoch already wields, through his various newspapers and media outlets, an egregious and corrupting influence over the body politic in this country. We demand a public inquiry into the possibility that this influence has now stretched to the workings of our police and legal establishment.

Rock to be nationalised – but why not something of worth to us, like the energy companies?

Yeah, the inevitable has happened.

Nationalised in all but name a few months ago, the final act of consummation will take place tomorrow…

Temporary public ownership was how the poor Darling Chancellor was left spinning it today, Prime Minister Brown doing his Macavity schtick.

Here’s something I never thought I’d see NuLieBore doing:

Nationalisation will be pushed though parliament with emergency legislation on Monday.

But hey – gotta save the capitalist system! It’s a different story when it comes to rescuing the productive economy – think of those million manufacturing jobs lost since 2001, the companies that move overseas in search of cheaper labour…

As Neil Clark has said, remarking on today’s news and the first month of The Campaign For Public Ownership:

now that the rubicon has been crossed, why can’t the government also announce that it is renationalising the railways and the other public utilities and assets flogged off in the last 29 years? Nationalisation ought to be an integral part of the government’s industrial and economic strategy not a ‘last resort’

Earlier, the PM had spoken in support of Scottish Labour’s munchkin-like leader, Wendy Alexander, and her stance towards a review of Scotland’s devolved powers. Which means: Brownie came out for more devolved powers for Scotland and more devolved powers for Wales. (What’s missing here, folks?)

“There is an issue about the financial responsibility of an executive or an administration that has £30bn to spend but doesn’t have any responsibility for raising [that].

“In any other devolved administration in the world, there is usually a financial responsibility that requires not only the spending of money by the administration but also its responsibility to take seriously how it raises money.”

Ironic that he said this after letting the Treasury bail-out the financial sector, massively adding to public borrowing…

On devolution, at least, his move was clever – the awkwardness over his Scottishness, his “Britishness” drive, and his support for the Union (of Scotland and England, and no other…) – all swept aside by what was to follow…

The Tories are gunning against nationalisation of the ailing bank – despite the fact that just about every establishment institution has said it’d be the best thing to do, from the Economist to the Liberal party…

The bad news is that this is nationalisation in a state capitalist style – jobs will be cut under the rule of Ron Sandler, the Lloyd’s man appointed boss of the Rock by Brown. Will Unite put up a fight? I’m sure the workers of Northern Rock will – they’ve kept the bank going, soldiering on in these uncertain times.

Other bad news is for all those small shareholders – many current and former NR workers and customers from when the bank was a mutual – who might get little out of it. Now, I am inclined to say, tough shit – why haven’t you sold them by now?

But that would be cruel, after all, the government had been signalling that a private deal was on the cards. And after all, socialists believe that small shareholders should be compensated fairly. The big shareholders (other City institutions) should be told to go take a flying fuck at the moon… (I understand there aren’t too many in the case of Northern Rock.)

To finish, I quote in full tonight’s post by John McDonnell, leader of the Socialist Campaign Group of backbench Labour MPs, in which he comments on the Agency Workers Bill and future union support for New Labour:

Next Friday we reach the crunch date in Parliament on the Agency Workers Bill. For years New Labour has blocked every attempt so far through European legislation and in the UK Parliament to introduce legislation to give agency workers the same protections in law as other workers. This has meant not only that agency workers have become the victims of often grotesque exploitation but also that they have been used by ruthless employers to undercut the wages and conditions of other workers.

Last year Government ministers blocked my Trade Union Freedom Bill which would have given all workers basic trade union rights. This week the Government is attempting to undermine the Agency Workers Bill which is scheduled for debate as a private members bill on Friday. This time the Government is trying to prevent a vote on the Bill by offering a sop of a deal it has cooked up with the employers’ CBI, proposing to set up a commission of inquiry “to review the rights of temporary and agency workers.”

This is a typical New Labour grubby tactic aimed at stalling, preventing or at the last ditch watering down the effectiveness of any legislation. We have had years to study the rights of agency and temporary workers and years of exposing the exploitation they face.

In the Labour anad Trade Union movement we have been waiting over a decade for the Government to introduce basic trade union rights for these vulnerable workers who are mostly women and migrant workers. Addressing this issue was a core commitment in the famous Warwick agreement between the unions and New Labour.

To renege on this commitment once again will call into question in the minds of many trade unionists why their trade union remains affiliated to New Labour. For many Labour Party members the creation of the alliance between the New Labour leadership of Gordon Brown and unscrupulous employers to undermine this legislation begs the question why Brown and his followers are in the Labour Party. If they want to serve as the electoral voice of big business they should have the honesty to leave Labour and set up their own pro business party.

The debate over the Agency Workers Bill has become critical not only to the future of these vulnerable workers but also potentially is becoming a critically important test for the future of trade unions within New Labour and for the future of the Labour Party itself.

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.”