Friday, 29 October 2010

Cuts, Cabinet Committees and Carwyn

Okay, so 'Stiflegate' didn't really stick as a label for the issue. But whatever. In case you forgot, this was the name Keir gave to the situation facing Wales given that the new "Welsh" Secretary was only allowed a seat on one Cabinet Committee.

It was Huw Irranca-Davies MP who raised the issue in the Chamber with Mrs. Gillan after Keir sent his open letter to her. The response was typically guarded, defensive and unhelpful; typically Tory.

He didn't let it rest however, raising the issue again at the Welsh Grand Committee.

And the pressure is still on Mrs. Gillan from all over the constitutional framework. First Minister Carwyn Jones is now in on the act. Wales is suffering the consequences of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review because of a lack of "...clout around the Cabinet table," he said. Well, even more simply, it's because of a lack of presence around the Cabinet table.

She doesn't seem to be doing anything about this collective pressure though. Instead, Gillan, seemingly triumphant, declared this week that Wales would only be suffering from a 7.5% budget cut; 2% less than the UK average. Excellent. So Wales is the Koi-Takasu in this Hiroshima of spending cuts.

Every cloud, ay. (Pun intended)


Thursday, 28 October 2010

Labour Must Begin The Fightback In Wales

As we watch painfully whilst our MPs in Westminster sit on the wrong side of the chamber it is easy to think that our party is unable to act. As Osborne, Cameron and the patsies swing their axe through the public finances, our MPs watch in helpless disgust and it is hard to imagine how we can begin our fightback when we look at this scene.

But there is hope. Take a short trip from Westminster, through the West Country and toward the longest river in the country. It will cost you at least £5.50, but as the Severn Bridge becomes Pont Hafren you enter a land where Labour can be reinvigorated again. Travel from the dry, cold ash of Westminster into Wales and you will discover the warm, glowing embers of our party. Far from dead, in Wales we must begin to launch our fightback.

Carwyn Jones, the recently(ish) elected First Minister, is more than prepared to take up the fight to the Conservative government in Westminster. A new, fresh face after the incredible service of Rhodri Morgan, Jones is clearly not fearful of taking Westminster on as his recent reaction to the proposal to close the passport office in Newport shows.

And just this week Welsh Labour chose its new General Secretary. In David Hagendyk, the party in Wales has appointed a young, progressive General Secretary who cares deeply about Wales, her communities and the party's role within them.

And despite the party's dire failure to elect any Welsh MPs to the Shadow Cabinet in Westminster, the Labour benches are littered with Welsh MPs ready and able to take on the Conservative government for every penny they intend to divert from Wales.

Peter Hain will doubtless continue to be a strong voice at the front bench against the English Welsh Secretary.

Huw Irranca-Davies wasted absolutely no time getting stuck into the terrible decision to appoint an English MP as Welsh Secretary. And not only that, but a succinct attack on the lack of air time the said "Welsh" Secretary will get in the Cabinet Committee meetings of this government. He also holds quite an important position considering the potential areas of economic development in Wales. As a Shadow Energy and Climate Minister, it will be part of his job to ensure the government delivers new green industries into Wales. It's not like the Tories will necessarily know where exactly he means though; so Huw may need to provide the likes of Jeremy Hunt with directions. Irranca-Davies is also of a rare breed: a politician with a decent website.

Then there are committed community MPs such as new boy Nick Smith in Blaenau Gwent. Keir was in the area not so long ago to watch David Miliband give the annual speech in his name. Upon speaking to some of the locals, it was clear that Mr. Smith is highly respected in the area and his involvement in the community shows Labour is far from powerless on those streets where Bevan once walked. His participation in the successful "Turn On The Lights" campaign is one example of such action.

Newport East MP Jessica Morden is another seemingly intent on making sure the new government do not leave Wales in the wilderness.

The list goes on: from seasoned veterans like Alun Michael to the newly elected Susan Jones. We've even got the youngest councillor in Wales, with 19-year-old Luke Bouchard recently elected in Treherbert following a 10% swing from Plaid.

And, in true Welsh tradition, a poet! Chris Bryant's poem however, has a very serious point that should not be missed.

Far from navel-gazing, the party in Wales is looking outward and trying to find ways to bring our communities together and engage more people than just the same, committed members who turn out for us in whatever the volatile Welsh elements throw in front of them. Keir has wind of an event in Cardiff as soon as this weekend where members will be discussing how they engage with the people in our communities.

As Keir has commented countless times before, Wales is directly in the firing line of this government. We all know what they are doing is wrong, but we must be clear about one thing. As Mr. Miliband noted in the aforementioned speech, this government is "weak in principle, but sure of purpose."

"Weak in principle, but sure of purpose"

Combined with this, and another thing Keir has pointed out before, is the fact that the public, for now, are going along with these cuts. Some initial signs are good. Polling for next year's Assembly elections shows Labour up 10 percentage points from 2007 and hitting 40%, with Plaid next on 23%. UK polling is also showing Labour creeping up on the Conservatives and even taking the lead with some pollsters.

But we need more. To fight back, Labour cannot look inward, it must use what power it has and it must get back into the communities throughout this country to reignite the flames from the embers left over after May's election and build more of that power.

And that must start in Wales.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Ed's Getting Comfortable

One of the big catchphrases of the leadership campaign was "comfort zone".

David Miliband and his supporters made the veiled suggestion that brother Ed was retreating to the "comfort zone" that Labour always turned to when it lost an election. This was, generally, a "comfort zone" that pandered to the Left and the Unions. Whereas ultimate victor Ed said Labour had to avoid retreating to the New Labour "comfort zone"; something which was perceived as an attack on older brother David due to his big part in the New Labour project and his open pride at the achievements of the past 13 years.

Confused? You're forgiven.

Anyway, all this seems to have changed.

During the leadership campaign, new leader Ed said he would go on marches against the cuts whilst brother David said that whilst he supports marches, he wouldn't guarantee his presence at them. Ed's had a change of heart now. This is a good move. Any potential Prime Minister should not be lending such outward support to this sort of action; like it or not, it just doesn't fit the political climate we live in.

Ed also said New Labour was dead. However today he has told the CBI that he thinks New Labour got it right on wealth creation and business. "...we intend to carry forward all of these New Labour insights".

Keir, for one, is glad that Mr. Miliband has realised the strengths that the party had during the time when we won 3 straight General Elections. We needed to elect a strong leader, and part of good leadership, surely, is being able to change your mind, realise what is best and not be too proud and too stubborn to run with it.

His Shadow Cabinet is a broad church encompassing the New Labour breed as well as the much vaunted "new generation" and it seems as though he is listening and developing the philosophy which our party needs to take forward to win the next election.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Ed's Week Defined

Granted, a week hasn't passed since Keir said this was Ed's Defining Week, but I can't help but worry that we, as a party, have failed.

Dan Hodges at Labour Uncut has started to sum it up.

And then YouGov, in their first poll after the Comprehensive Spending Review, showed that the Tories still had more approval than Labour and that, if you look issue-by-issue, there are very few areas where more people support than oppose Osborne is doing.

I have heard some people say this is just because people aren't feeling it yet (very unprofessionally, I can't reference where I've read this as I simply can't remember where it was), but this is totally besides the point. We can't just complacently wait until bad stuff happens and hope to capitalise on public anger.

I share Dan Hodges' gloom and anger at the lack of Labour response. Alan Johnson's jokes and put-downs were good, but people don't vote for put-downs. The Tories tried put-downs on us for 13 years but ultimately people knew we were the best party for government. The reason we held them in Opposition for 13 years was because we had plans and they didn't.

From Alan Johnson's response, I didn't get the sense we had any idea what our alternative was.

"Expose. Oppose. Propose." Johnson did the first two, but the third is the most important of all if we want to be returned to government. And frankly, I'm not sure the first two were done as well as they could have been anyway. Where was the exposing of the unfair impact that the cuts will have on women? The exposing of the ludicrous 12-month limit on contribution-based benefits for those out of work due to sickness? The exposing of the horrible insecurity that will result from the limit on social housing tenancies?

Every one of the leadership candidates agreed we need to learn from our mistakes of the last 13 years. But more importantly, we should be learning from the mistakes of the party that languished in on the wrong side of the Chamber for 13 years. They are what we don't want to emulate.

I don't think we've quite blown it, but we very nearly have.

We have time and we have talent at the top; there's no doubt about that.

We also have one other powerful tool: us. Tens of thousands of us. Over 40,000 more of us since May.

We can take on the cuts in our own communities even when it seems, on a national level, like the Tories have gained the upper hand. It's being done already. In Norwich, where the Tories were planning cuts to street lighting in an area already affected by poor security, people organised themselves and have delayed the cut for 6 months at least and a public consultation has been opened. Don't expect that cut to ever happen.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Ed's Defining Week

IPSOS released their political summary today. Frankly, it does not make for good reading.

The top-line of voter intention isn't terrible for Labour. Though 36% isn't amazing, we are only 3% behind the Conservatives.

However there is a lot to worry about. As Peter Kellner said recently, YouGov polling has shown that Ed Miliband's election to the leadership has produced little, if any, bounce in popularity for Labour. This is the worst bounce created by a new leader since 1955.

In addition to this, the IPSOS poll shows that Ed himself has 41% approval for the way he is doing his job compared to 45% approval for Nick Clegg. This is quite a stunning statistic. Clegg has been widely discredited for backtracking on LibDem promises on tuition fees as well as a whole host of other policies. Granted, Clegg has a +5% net satisfaction rate compared to Ed's +19%. But it is still worrying. David Cameron, on the other hand, is riding into the sunset with a +15% rate of net satisfaction and 52% approval for how he is doing his job.

More worrying statistics come later in the survey as people were asked about party competence over the economy. From March until October this year, Labour's rating has decreased 1%. Just 25% now see Labour as having the best policies on the economy. What makes this even more alarming is that 38% see the Conservatives as having the best policies on the economy now whereas only 29% said the same thing in March. As an article on ProgressOnline helped to point out earlier this month, economic competency is going to be absolutely critical for Labour over the next few years.

For this reason, tomorrow and the week ahead will make up Ed Miliband's defining week. If Labour does not provide a credible response and alternative to the Comprehensive Spending Review this week, the 25% of people thinking we have the best economic policies will plummet further. As the aforementioned ProgressOnline piece states, people believe the cuts will help us in the long-term. So what will our response be?

Without an alternative, we can forget about Government for a very long time.


Sunday, 17 October 2010

Trident: Is It Time?

In a move that will spark internal warfare here at Keir Hardie Blogs, I think I am becoming open to changing my opinion on Trident. While I have always agreed that we need a nuclear deterrent, and therefore need Trident, I am beginning to change my mind.

This is not some knee-jerk response to being in Opposition, but a reaction in many ways to the axe-wielding government. The more and more I hear of people's lives being affected by things like street lighting cuts, police cuts, Child Benefit cuts and University fee hikes, the more I think we need an alternative to Trident.

Because can we really justify the £34bn that Greenpeace say renewal will cost when people are going to be left homeless by the changes to Housing Benefit that the government is proposing? Some even say it will be more than that. Vince Cable said Trident would cost £70bn from..... Wait a minute; why should we care what he said? Naughty liar.

Anyway, the arguments for are still strong. I do agree that we need a proper defence system that will protect us from the nutjobs that the world throws up from time to time. But then, as a friend pointed out to me recently, where have the threats to the Western world come from over the last decade or more? 9/11, the IRA and it's successors, 7/7, Glasgow, the failed bombings of 21st July 2005, the car bombs found in June 2007; none of these security threats, the real threat to the UK in the modern world, were deterred or defeated by Trident. These are the real dangers we face today much more than any international threats from nations or "rogue states".

I do accept that these threats come along unexpectedly, but surely a cheaper alternative would be much more sensible given the economic, political and military circumstances all over the world? Especially as, with Presidents Obama and Medvedev's leadership, we are trying to move towards a nuclear free world. And the alternatives sound, well, okay. Cruise missiles, with a range of 1,000 miles, are one cheaper alternative. Sure, they wouldn't reach, say, Iran. But is Iran really going to attack Britain? Are we that important? And if we do face the threat of attack, do we really need a stockpile consisting of weapons that are "eight times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb"?

And then there's the possibility of a land-based defence system. I appreciate these can be more vulnerable to attack than Trident subs, but we can sort out the correct security for them at a cheaper cost than we pay to house the missiles underwater.

So whilst I'm still not totally converted, I am definitely beginning to wonder. Is Trident really a T.I.N.A. issue? Or can we find a cheaper, workable and effective alternative that could soften the burden of cuts in other areas?

Open to any thoughts. I think I know who will be first...


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ohhhh Dad!

David Cameron spoke up for embarrassing Dads everywhere today; making even Keir cringe when he said that Calif. Gov. Ahhhnuld Schwarzenegger was going to help him "terminate" the budget deficit...

Ironic really when you consider the fiscal situation California currently finds itself in, and Arnold's inability to solve it...

It's Over

Pitman and President.

Foreman Don Lucho arrives on the surface of the Earth to complete this most incredible of human triumphs; just 22 hours since the first miner surfaced.

"Los 33" are a representation of just how far the working man has come since Cilfynydd and Whitehaven. Let them also be a stimulus for further efforts the world over for greater protection and appreciation of the worker.

This will be a fad for the media. And that is fine. But Keir hopes you will all never forget this epic ordeal and achievement for the human spirit and endeavour.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A Moment of Joy

Workers of the world, unite in joy.

Our brothers have died in the pits for many a year, but today we have reason to celebrate.

Since the days of Whitehaven we have fought, but today we see the fruits of that fight.

A truly life-affirming moment as the first of "Los 33" is free.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Mining: Toil Without Tribute

On 14th May 1910, Marlborough House received the following telegram:

Deeply regret most respectfully to inform his Majesty that the rescuers at Wellington Pit have been driven out by smoke from the fire, and there is no possible chance of saving 136 men who are entombed, and almost certainly dead from suffocation.

And so, into history went the Whitehaven Colliery Disaster.

136 lives ended in employment. The Times of the day reported that one family, named McAlister, had been "practically wiped out" as the father, 3 sons, 3 nephews and a son-in-law were all left to rest in the cavity of one of man's great vices.

The coming weeks and months saw the expeditionary team find the bodies of some of the deceased. In maybe the most moving piece of historical documentation this writer, a writer with a History degree, has ever seen, The Times on 30th September 1910 reported that 25 of the bodies had been found. Forgive me for the extensive extracts, but I feel they should be used verbatim:

The bodies were uninjured, and were in a much better condition than were the two bodies found two days ago...The bodies were lying in attitudes which indicated that the men had died peacefully. Each man had his lamp between his knees, his water bottle full, and his food lying beside him.

The only messages observed were chalked on a door, and were :— "All well, 6,30. — A. McAllister." "All right, 7.30. — William Robinson." The date was not added. Mr. Atkinson, H.M. Inspector of Mines, is of opinion that it may be inferred that the messages were written in the early morning of May 12, the day after the explosion took place. Behind another door was chalked "William OprayJohn Lucas can get no further."

And, perhaps most moving of all:

They had left about 100 tubs filled with coal, representing about three hours' work, a circumstance which gives rise to the assumption that they had worked after the explosion took place at 8 o'clock until about 10 o'clock. They had only two sets of tubs standing empty.

Toil without tribute.

Lest we ever forget these men; men whose tragedy gave birth to our party. It was Keir who represented these men and their communities in the House of Commons at the time. Indeed, Keir ended up in a row with a young Liberal Home Secretary named Winston Churchill over the decision to stop the rescue mission whilst the men were still alive.

This was not to be the last mining accident to which Keir gave publicity and prominence at Westminster.
And these incidents still happen.

On 26th April 1942, there was the immense explosion in the Benxihu Colliery in China. That day, 1,549 men died. It is considered the worst mining accident in human history.

And last year, again in China, just over 100 men died at Heilongjiang in the Xinxing coal mine.

So over the next couple of days, as the men of the San Jose mine ascend to freedom, remember A. McAllister and William Robinson. Remember William Opray John Lucas. Remember what was left of the McAlister family, and the unnamed dead of Benxihu.

The rescue operation in Chile needs to be commended. Far from the days of Whitehaven, the scale of engineering, dedication and solidarity of the rescue team has been a reminder of how far we have come. However, this doesn't detract from the fact that we are still sending men into the depths of the earth, putting their lives and their families' futures at risk, to satisfy our insatiable lust for the minerals that mother earth has to provide. May this truly global story serve as an advert for the need for safer mines and an awakening so we realise that we must think harder, even harder, about how we power our world in the future.


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Labour Stupidity

Keir loves our party, but by Bevan is it stupid sometimes.

Fresh from the ridiculous scenario of a 9% union turnout swinging the leadership election, we have The Labour Party Shadow Cabinet Election.

Bloooody hell.

Keir is fully behind Ed Miliband despite voting for David. And it is for that reason that Keir fully expects Ed to be able to assemble a team of the correct, most able people to sit with him on the front bench. We spent 4 months enduring the slog of the leadership contest to pick the person we thought best equipped to lead our party and then don't even let them pick their Shadow Cabinet!

What we were left with was the embarrassing scenario of not having elected a Welsh MP to shadow the Welsh Secretary who we lambasted for being from an English constituency.

And then there's another layer of idiocy. Yvette Cooper was the clear winner of the election and wasn't even given one of the top two jobs!

Give me strength!!

We may as well have just used this method...

Sort this shambles out.


Saturday, 9 October 2010

Gillan Perks Up

It is at least slightly promising to hear Cheryl Gillan attempting to defend Wales' interests.

The closure of the passport office in Newport would mean hundreds of people going into unemployment as well as the inconvenience and unfairness caused by Wales not having an office.

Let's hope newly re-appointed Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain also puts his bit in. Keir can't help but think Huw Irranca-Davies would have been a much better candidate to oppose Mrs. Gillan over the dispatch box but such is life.

It was somewhat shocking that not one Welsh MP got voted into the Shadow Cabinet. Frankly, the system is bonkers. We all just spent 4 months deciding who we want to lead our party; I'm sure part of the new leader's job should be to appoint the best team he can. Seems as though the party is just using elections to make us seem more democratic. If it's ineffectual, then what's the point? I feel the same about House of Lords reform.

Anyway, Gillan has a huge amount of responsibility to stop these sorts of closures. 300 more unemployed in an area with 9.7% unemployment will not be great to say the least. This will continue. The Tories don't care about Wales, as we can tell from how they treated Welsh voices at party conference. Gillan needs to ensure that lack of care does not manifest itself to the tune of job cuts throughout the country.


Monday, 4 October 2010

Tough but Fair Child Benefit Cut?

(Of which Minstrel Dale thinks "idiotic" and "trusts" it will be sorted out)* Can't imagine his response if Brown/Darling in government, or Mili/AN Other in opposition had trotted out a policy of which it was so clear it was unfair (and of which Ministers backtracked and backtracked all evening). Oh, wait, yes I can.

Gideon Osborne made a speech today, from in front of a extremely hard on the eye green white collage that said something about being together in the national interest. Odd that he chose a setting such as that to say what he did today:
Child benefit is to be axed for higher-rate taxpayers from 2013, Chancellor George Osborne has announced.He told the Conservative conference the "tough but fair" move - affecting couples where one parent earns about £44,000 - would save £1bn a year.
Family One: Mr & Mrs Smith.

Mr Smith is an Auditor and earns £40,000
Mrs Smith is a teacher and earns £40,000

Household income of £80,000 pa.

The Smiths get child benefit.

Family Two: Ms Jones

Ms Jones is a Manager in an Office and earns £44,000

Household income of £44,000 pa.

Ms Jones does not get child benefit.

So, Gidders, "Tough but Fair?"

Keir understands that Osborne is trying to save money, Keir understands that Conservative policy is to deride government as useless and the bureaucratic, leviathan mastabatory fantasy of Daily Mail readers, and Keir understands that we live in a difficult economic climate.

What Keir doesn't understand is why Gideon is making a direct attack on the middle, aspiring classes he claims to represent as well as single parent families and single worker households. Means testing? Fine; an arbitrary limit like this that is patently unfair? All because, as he says, this is the most "straightforward" option. Oh Puhlease.

*Keir is glad that Iain Dale is describing his parties flagship welfare policy in such terms, because, it is. Lets see if he sticks to his word, or just like Cameron and Cleggeron, conveniently forgets his desire to protect child benefits. Its funny, too, because the super mega connected Iain Dale, scourge of Norfolk North, said a year ago after a Fabians meeting that
Ed Balls tried to create some more of his artificial dividing lines by asserting that the Tories would abolish universal child benefit. I responded that this was utter tripe.
HT to Sunder Katwala in the comments section of Daley's post on the policy.

**Oh and it was also a surprise to see Dizzy Think's reaction to this.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

"Welsh" Conservatives Debate Plight Of Wales...Apparently

Keir has already highlighted how Wales is going to be hit a lot harder than most parts of the country by the new Conservative government's cuts.

Since Keir's post, other commentators have agreed. Economists have also added their weight to the argument.

Because of this, there is no more important time for Wales to be represented properly at the front line of politics.

So, the Coalition government appointed Cheryl Gillan as Welsh Secretary. Regular readers will know Keir's thoughts on that. Not the best start.

Hell, but even Mrs. Gillan was bright enough to agree with Keir's analysis.

So now we enter Conference season. A great time for the Welsh Conservatives to meet, discuss Wales and try to push for greater emphasis on protecting Wales from the cuts. An ideal moment for Mrs. Gillan to hear from the Welsh Conservatives who care about the direction in which Wales will be sent. A chance for her to let senior Welsh Tories contribute to a sensible debate where Wales could be shielded from the potential disastrous effects of the coalition.

Oh, wait.... instead, they do this. Failed East of England PPC Iain Dale, chairs the meeting with the English-constituency-MP-cum-Welsh-Secretary and the English leader of the Welsh Conservatives.

Labour's next Shadow Welsh Secretary has one hell of a job because these lot don't have a clue. And we need people like Huw Irranca-Davies on the front bench, fighting this motley crew who will do nothing to stop the axe from coming crashing down on Wales.

The spirit of Glyndwr is going to be needed in the House of Commons.

Wonder if Iain Dale even knows who that is?


Keir Defers To Greater Judgement

Keir had planned a piece on some policy opportunities where Ed Miliband can get one over on the coalition.

But this piece by Left Foot Forward's Rayhan Haque says it a lot better than Keir would have.


Friday, 1 October 2010

PROOF: Tory Bear Is An Imbecile..., not just because of that photo.

Back at the start of the month, Keir commented on this Guido Fawkes article suggesting David Miliband was planning a victory party as his Movement for Change began organising an Assembly at Labour Party Conference. In actual fact, the Movement for Change was organising an Assembly to host whoever the leader of the Labour Party was to get them to commit to carrying on the work of training people in community organising skills.

After making the comment, Keir received an e-mail from Guido-lite blogger Tory Bear. It read:

"Saw your comment on Guido. I was the source of the story.

Had a long chat with the M4C person who called today and I specifically asked about the event. It it a rally and yes that line about whoever the winner may be is a clever bit of spin.

If DM didnt think he was going to win, and he is going to win, then why would he bother organising it?"

Awww...isn't he sweet trying to be all important. Love him. I'm sure Guido gave him a little pat on the head for "sourcing" that "story".

Anyway, it's quite satisfying now that Ed Miliband did attend the event, as the "M4C person" had originally told Tory Bear he would if he won. Not "clever spin" after all then, ay?

And even better that David Miliband, in his resignation letter, committed to developing Movement for Change. So that explains that he allowed the Assembly to be organised simply because he believes in the principles of the campaign.

It's no surprise that Tory Bear has barely commented since. Maybe Guido has told his wannabe that he should stop giving him shit stories and, as a result, he's decided to drop his criticism of M4C.

Unlucky. Maybe next time.