The Queen’s Speech. Running out of steam before they’ve even started. 

So the Government’s legislative plans for the coming two-year parliamentary session have been announced. The Queen’s Speech outlined 27 bills, of which 8 relate to Brexit. Of course, without an overall majority, it remains to be seen whether the Tories will stay the course.

As for the overall tone of the Queen’s speech, this what Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party said:

“This hollowed out Government has produced a stunningly unambitious Queen’s speech at a time when Britain desperately needs a change of direction. Failing to propose any meaningful plans to tackle climate change is a near-criminal act of political vandalism, and refusing to give our hard pressed NHS workers the pay rise they deserve reveals a Government utterly out of touch. The proposed immigration clampdown sees an increasingly hardline Government doubling down on plans they know will wreck our economy.

“Though climate-deniers in the DUP might be celebrating this Queen’s Speech, it simply isn’t a serious programme of Government. This speech should have included an Environmental Protection Act and a guarantee for EU Nationals that their rights would be protected, but these basic Brexit laws were nowhere to be seen.

“While some proposals in the Queen’s speech deserve praise – in particular plans to help people suffering from mental health problems – the overall picture is one of a Government which has run out of steam, and a Prime Minister who has lost authority.”

For most people, the Government’s programme will be judged by its impact on themselves their communities. On this theme, here is what Neil Cleeveley, Chief Executive of NAVCA had to say about the Queen’s Speech:

“Many in the local voluntary sector will be concerned about what is missing from the Queen’s speech rather than what’s in it. As a society we have major issues to address around inequality and community cohesion. We also face an unprecedented squeeze on the services that local communities rely on such as health and education. Many of our public services are at breaking point and it is local charities that are rooted in local communities to which people turn. There is nothing in this Queen’s speech for them, it is a wasted the opportunity to confront the real issues facing communities across the country.”

“Many warned that Brexit would all consuming for the Government, and so it is proving. It appears the interests local charities and the people and local communities they serve are being pushed into the background.”

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We should all become political; and social media must be our platform

A great article, re-blogged from Green Pepper…

 

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The general election campaign opened with Theresa May heading for a greatly increased majority in the Commons. Two weeks in, and nothing much has changed. So unless the unexpected happens, we must prepare for five more Tory years.

For civil society, the prospect of continued austerity, and a hard Brexit, is unlikely to receive a gracious welcome.

But as polling day approaches, I doubt that the many serious problems facing us will receive much coverage. There will be little mention of charity, social value, cooperation or collective action. Nor will we see, for example, policy debates on disability, civil liberties or employment rights; while issues like rough sleeping, social care and the environment will not receive the attention they deserve. No, sadly the election will be decided by headlines; and the respective personalities of the party leaders. It will mean surely, an abundance of soundbites and vox-pops from a seemingly…

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Under first past the post, it is swing voters in marginal seats that shape policy

In the referendum aftermath, we seem a more divided, more intolerant country.

Worse, we have seen Brexit legitimising and empowering anti-immigrant views, leading to a massive jump in hate crime across the country. We face an uncertain future, with more demons being unleashed once Brexit has failed to deliver a new era of well funded public services.

Yet just when a clear political response on the way forwards is needed, we learn that neither side in the referendum had any meaningful plan for a Leave win. Cameron, who history will blame for calling this referendum, has neatly passed the Brexit buck to whichever hard right Tory succeeds him. Meanwhile, the victorious Boris, out-manoeuvred by his supposed ally Michael Gove, has quit the Tory leadership race altogether.

So a golden opportunity for Labour you might think. But just when the Tories are at their most divided, so most of the PLP turn on their leader in what seems like a well-organised coup. Scared of their electoral chances, they believe that a principled socialist and experienced politician is not what a democratic socialist party needs for a leader.

But surely a successful coup outcome is unlikely. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) must recognise the support Corbyn has within the party membership; and if he wins another leadership contest – then what? That said, the tone of the dispute between Corbyn supporters and the MPs is turning nasty. I don’t agree with what the PLP are doing, but using Twitter to describe these MPs as vermin, scabs and traitors is not helping.

Perhaps the real problem for Labour, is that to win, they have to appeal to a smallish number of swing voters in some 145 constituencies. So the problems facing this country, as well as the democratic wishes of the Labour Party membership, come second to the interests of this small group of voters in marginal constituencies.

And this of course is a symptom of our out-dated and undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system. If the only votes that matter are those from a small part of the electorate, then it is their interests that will shape policy. This, I believe, is why Labour will always revert to centrist policies in order to appear electable.

Of course in the referendum every vote counted. And while some people are looking at a possible legal challenge on whether or not the outcome is binding, it would be a brave parliament that ignored the wishes of the people. Indeed, only a general election, or another referendum on the actual terms of Brexit could morally overturn the result. Either way it will probably need a change of government to bring this about.

But with an electoral system against us, the odds of a don’t look promising. Caroline Lucas has advocated some type of progressive alliance to topple the Tories, something the Green Party leadership is now promoting. It could work but would take some organising. But getting a squabbling Labour party to agree is always going to be a tall order.

if the tories wanted workers to have a fairer share, then they wouldn’t undermine trade unions

Osborne really is a nasty little man. He has that annoying habit of winding me up, simply by opening his mouth.

He said today that he still wants to press ahead with cuts to tax credits. No surprise there, but his justification was just poppycock.

First he blames unelected Labour and Lib Dem peers for the government’s defeat in the Lords, completely missing the point that all those Lords are unelected.

Then he bleats on about the government’s mandate to push through his tax credit cuts, conveniently ignoring the fact that two thirds of those who went to the polls in May didn’t actually vote Tory.

Next he says, rather smugly, that he wants a low tax, low welfare, high wage society. All very well, but if he and Cameron really wanted ordinary people to have a fairer share of our country’s wealth, they would encourage trade unions and collective bargaining. Instead, everything the Tories have done since the days of Thatcher has undermined effective union organisation. And they’re not finished yet.

Sadly, this government is only six months old. Just imagine life with another four and a half years of Osborne speak, let alone Osborne policy….

osborne’s “living” wage: not all he cracks it up to be

As yesterday’s emergency budget was being delivered, it was pretty much as I expected. Tax cuts to benefit the better off, and further cuts to welfare that will hit the poorest sections of society. Osborne was even trumpeting it as a low tax low, low welfare budget. Then he ended with his announcement of a living wage, suddenly grabbing my attention.

Had I heard him correctly? Was a Tory government really giving us a statutory living wage?

Apparently I wasn’t hearing things. Osborne was taunting the Labour benches, Tory MPs were baying loudly, and I was left thinking there must be a catch.

A  little while later and I realised that there was quite a big catch. For Osborne’s living wage is nothing like what it’s cracked up to be. Indeed, it isn’t even a living wage.

With the current, albeit voluntary, living wage set at £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 elsewhere, Osborne’s’ wage of £7.20 across the board falls well short of this. But whereas the current living wage is based on a minimum income standard that takes account of the tax and benefits system. In contrast, Osborne’s budget means cuts to welfare. So for a low paid worker, any increase in wages will be offset by cuts to tax credits and other benefits.

Another very significant problem is that Osborne’s wage will not apply to anyone under 25 years old. This disregard of the contribution some 2 million young people make to society is frankly shameful; and I fear it is only going to trap more families in poverty and lead to further disengagement from the political process.

In addition,  Osborne is expecting his wage to be raised according to what the Low Pay Commission considers affordable, rather than the actual cost of living. So unless there is some change to the Commission’s terms of reference, this will surely result in Osborne’s wage failing to rise to the levels needed, particularly when the benefits cuts are factored into the equation.

Finally, what about the 1600 employers who are recognised by the Living Wage Foundation as current living wage employers? With rates already above that of Osborne’s wage, will we now see these employers freezing their living wage rates or worse, cutting them back to Osborne levels?

Clearly when making his announcement, overlooking the small print was deliberate. Sure, at face value Osborne’s wage is a step in the right direction; and it is only right that employers pay more and the state pays less. But as it currently stands, today’s living wage is calculated alongside today’s benefit system. So we still have a very long way to go before employers are paying the sort of wage rates that someone can live on without the need to claim any state benefits. Whats more, there is a real danger that today’s announcement will do very little to raise families above the poverty line; and that, I’m sure you’ll agree, is unacceptable.

the year is 2024. this is our future history….

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m still shocked at what they’ve done to this country. It’s as if we’ve learnt nothing, even now, almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century.

Of course we new it could happen. After their election in 2015 the Tory government went on a rampage. Their first 100 days saw them put into place the powers needed to control the electorate and marginalise any opposition. First it was their snoopers charter, enabling electronic surveillance on a scale never before envisaged. Fear of terrorist attacks made it a popular move, and dissenting voices were ridiculed as soft, wishy washy, left-wing and unpatriotic. Of course this extra surveillance gave the government early warning of proposed campaigns and any unfavourable media reports against their agenda; enabling them to pre-empt and counter with tremendous effect.

Next came the anti-union legislation, coupled with new measures to speed up the privatisation of our NHS, social services, prisons, schools and colleges. Legal strikes proved almost impossible to organise; and new laws were brought in making it a criminal offence to organise unofficial action. Selling off the BBC was hailed as a golden moment by the Government and the media, all but wiping out any serious analysis of the government’s programme by the broadcast media.

Then we had further restrictions on what charities could say despite their rapidly growing role providing services that were once the job of the public sector; and in filling the gaps left by a series of severe welfare cuts.

The referendum that took us out of Europe the following year proved pivotal. Laws from Europe protecting workers and the environment were soon repealed, while a new British Rights Act was brought in based on so-called British values. This was big on rights to create wealth and own property; but proved totally ineffective at protecting civil liberty. Indeed, the right to protest was curtailed with limits on, among other things, the number of people that constituted a legal demonstration. Immigration was effectively halted; and many recent migrants chose to leave due to a climate of discrimination and hate that flourished in the post European era.

Alarmingly, the expected popular backlash against the government  never really materialised. A sympathetic media were very quick to undermine opposition leaders. labelling them as anti-British, against progress, and of course, left-wing. Their private lives were disrupted and some even criminalised for daring to organise protests. This soon become the establishment response; and sadly it gained traction in our increasingly divided society.

Most of us had pinned our hopes on the election of 2020, but the disappointment that night proved worse than in 2015. Despite securing an even smaller share of the popular vote than before, the Tories held on to power with a majority of two. Once again the first-past-the-post electoral system proved their saviour. The rebranded right-wing Labour party failed to make any headway, losing seats to the Lib Dems and to a confident Green party that secured over 7 million votes. 

For many of us the prospect of another five years of conservative policy was too much. By summer 2021 the Labour party had imploded. Three of its MPs joined the Tories, and a sizeable group refused the party whip. Many  activists simply resigned from the party. The only real opposition inside parliament was coming from a rump of whip-less Labour traditionalists, and an alliance of Green, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Paid Cymru MPs. Outside of parliament there were sporadic and sometimes violent protests, unofficial strikes and occupations at a number of universities.

But despite this period of unrest, the division between the haves and the have-nots meant that for the better-off half of the population, the country was a happy place. It was perhaps this fact, plus the relentless media messages and police harassment, that led eventually to the end of the unrest. People had grown weary and despondent. No doubt just what the government wanted.

Home owners, who by now were almost all aged over 40, were enjoying a surge in house prices; and landlords were exploiting their wealthier tenants like never before. Gated communities were proving popular; and a whole new service sector was springing up to cater just for their needs. Indeed the haves rarely needed to go far, with almost everything they needed being delivered to their secure and nicely painted doors.

But for those who could not afford to buy or rent anything decent, daily life was far from happy. Before the 2020 election there had been a growth in the number families sharing with others, pooling resources in order to get by. Housing co-operatives were now common, as was squatting. And in some cities whole areas were rapidly being dubbed the new shanty towns as homeless people improvised their own housing with boxes, tents, sheds, and caravans. Unsurprisingly with this hardship came poorer health, and reduced participation in education and civil society.

So with a year until the next election, Britain is a grossly unequal country. Social mobility is for much of the country, a thing of the past. But while the poor and vulnerable suffer and die, the better-off thrive and the wealthy propser. If you have money and property in 2024, you are well looked after.  

Personally I’ve been lucky. A reasonable occupational pension and a job with a charity means I don’t struggle. But I have no health insurance so the threat of serious illness always haunts me. Today I am joining some fellow activists. I expect we’ll be turned back a good mile from the fracking rig. But this ritual is being repeated by environmental campaigners all over the country on an almost weekly basis. If we are lucky the police will be expecting the protest at another fracking site, so we may get through. If we succeed, the plan is to stay until we are arrested.

a constitutional convention is a good place to start

Reflecting on the referendum result, historians might conclude it remarkable that 45% of Scots felt strongly enough to vote “yes” in the face of some considerable opposition. This included the entire Westminster establishment, the media, the banks, the UK oil industry, retailers like Asda and John Lewis, a host of other major corporations, a plethora of “celebrities” and even the US government and the Pope.

But from where I was sitting in the English Midlands (as opposed to middle England), it was the level of political engagement, and the involvement of so many young voters in particular that really stood out, even if it wasn’t always pretty ( e.g. Salmond v Darling debates).

Indeed, what really struck me, if the Yes supporters I follow on Twitter were anything to go by, was that for many, choosing Yes was not a vote for nationalism, but rather a vote for autonomy and change – for a break from the failures of Westminster.

In the face of what many Yes supporters may see as a self-serving coalition government, hell bent on promoting austerity, out of touch with ordinary people, and elected by an unfair electoral system, I felt slightly envious that I wasn’t getting a vote myself.

Of course part of the deal, now the result is known, is for Westminster to deliver further devolved powers to Scotland. But Cameron has also been forced to recognise that change can not simply stop at the border. So today he promised a devolution revolution across Great Britain. But quite what he has in mind is not clear. Nor is it clear what Labour or the Lib Dems are proposing. So far we have just had vague statements and a few ideas bounced around by pundits on the BBC. But that, I fear, is a real problem…because it shouldn’t be what the Westminster politicians want.

Some half-baked plan to give votes on English issues to only English MPs isn’t a devolution revolution, its a tactical move to keep the Tory backbench’s happy. It’s not devolving anything, but simply leaving the power in the hands of the Westminster elite.

No, instead we should be looking at wholesale constitutional change, bringing in a system that is more engaging, more democratic, and more inclusive. The Scottish referendum has led the way by reaching out to so many and involving a new generation in political debate. We therefore have a great opportunity to take the initiative and build something new. We need ideas to come from the grassroots as well as the establishment. So I was impressed when I heard that Caroline Lucas MP has already called for a People’s Constitutional Convention. It’s a good place to start; and we should be backing her call.