Archive for April, 2012

Mothers who have babies through surrogates deserve equal rights

17/04/2012, 01:38:20 PM

by John Healey

Today I’m bringing a Ten Minute Rule Bill as a first step towards closing a legal loophole meaning mums who have babies through surrogates aren’t entitled to any maternity leave or pay.

I’m doing so on behalf of two Rotherham women who came to see me at one of my constituency advice surgeries in January.

Amy Bellamy was seven months pregnant with twins for her cousin Jane Kassim. Jane had been told at 15 she could never carry children and Amy had selflessly offered to be a surrogate.

When Amy became pregnant it was the news Jane and her husband had longed for. Implntation of Jane’s fertilised eggs had failed twice, so they were elated when the third attempt was a success. Then they found out they were expecting twin girls!

Like any other mother Jane started to prepare for the birth.

She asked her employer for maternity leave, but was stunned to find out that she had no legal right to maternity leave or pay. She had fully expected to take up to 52 weeks off and get 39 weeks’ pay, just as mothers who have their own babies or adopt are able to do.

I was also astonished to find this gap in the law when I checked the facts.

Maternity rights are to help mothers and their newly born babies through the earliest months of the child’s life, when time together is most needed.

Mums like Jane need this support just like any other new mother. They nearly always start to care for their baby full-time soon after the birth. It’s unfair and unreasonable to deny mothers whose babies are born through surrogates the rights that those giving birth themselves or adopting automatically have.


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What Lord Ahmed’s suspension reveals about Labour’s relationship with minorities

17/04/2012, 11:36:15 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The Lord Ahmed affair neatly encapsulates Labour’s problem with minority communities. It illustrates the dangers of a decades old neo-colonial deal that the central party has concluded with several so-called community leaders.

This isn’t just an issue for the Muslim community, a trip to Leicester, Southall or Harrow would reveal similar arrangements with the Hindu and Sikh communities.

The key to the deal is votes. This is what the community leader brings to the table.

Ahmed has long been one of Labour’s gatekeepers to the Pakistani community in the north. His position in the early 1990s as one of Labour’s leading Muslim councillors combined with his links to Mirpur in Pakistan (where the vast majority of Pakistani migrants to the northern mill towns originally came from) made him a kingmaker across northern parliamentary seats with large Pakistani communities, particularly when it came to Labour candidate selections.

He sat atop the pyramid of biraderi or clan based community politics which traditionally delivered result-swinging vote banks, happily doing the bidding of the central machine for several years.

In return for these votes, the party bestows two privileges on the community leader: establishment legitimacy that distinguishes them from other local leaders and a free hand within their community to do what they will – as long as nothing bad leaks out into the national news.

In Ahmed’s case, Tony Blair elevated him to the peerage. Lord Ahmed was the nation’s first Muslim peer. The party coddled and respected him and asked few questions about what he said or did within the community.

Until of course news of his offer of a “bounty” on President Obama’s head surfaced. Within hours of the story hitting the news, as per the deal, he was in trouble.

But the reality is that Ahmed has held and espoused similar views for several years. In this particular instance, whether he did or did not say what is claimed about Obama is irrelevant. He should have been suspended and potentially expelled because he was sharing a platform with and supporting Hafeez Saeed: an international terrorist who heads Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group which killed over 150 people in the terror attack on Mumbai.


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Did we get Blair and Brown in the wrong order?

16/04/2012, 02:37:34 PM

by Kevin Meagher

When it came to public services there were always two New Labours: Tony’s and Gordon’s.

In Tony’s, public services needed “reform”. This meant structural change, private sector involvement and tough performance management. Convincing his reluctant party this was necessary gave him those famous “scars on his back”.

In Gordon’s version, the paramount consideration was pumping in extra “resources”. “Prudence with a purpose” would deliver catch-up investment.  The water of public finance would be liberally sprinkled over parched schools and hospitals. More would lead to better. A lot more would lead to a lot better.

Throughout their decade-long rule, these discrete emphases of the Romulus and Remus of New Labour became intertwined; two narratives wrapped around each other. Twin approaches to governing.

But what would have happened if they had developed sequentially rather than simultaneously? What if Labour had explored the limits of investment first before embarking on reform? Would we have ended up with a better sense of how to govern and an understanding of the limitations of public spending?

Conversely, we might also have recognised that reform cannot be a perpetual condition – and should be a reluctant expedient – followed by a decent period of consolidation – rather than a panacea, or even worse: a test of a minister’s modernising credentials.

Instead, reform and resources got bundled up together. We were spending money on things we were also changing at the same time. We kept pressing the buttons on the dashboard harder and faster in order to get a response. As we thudded away, we over-governed and under-evaluated.


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Ed’s funding proposals: Nearly but not quite

16/04/2012, 07:00:55 AM

by Peter Watt

Yesterday morning Ed Miliband used his slot on the Andrew Marr show to outline some eye-catching new proposals on funding political parties.  It sounded good and it almost was, but it could end up being a disaster.

First let’s expose some myths.

The Labour party does not receive the majority of its income from the trade unions.  In an average, non-general election year, income comes roughly from the following sources:

  • £8  million in affiliation fees from trade unions;
  • £7 million from the tax payer in Short money and so on;
  • £5 million from individual membership subscriptions.

This gives a “definite” income of about £20 million per year.  In addition the Labour party gets:

  • £2 – 5 million in donations from individuals, companies and trade unions; and
  • £5 million from other things like commercial income, legacies and dinners.

This gives a potential income of £27 – £30 million per year.  Clearly in the run up to an election you would expect an increase in donations.  So Ed’s cap of £5000 per year will hurt. Under his proposal this will impact between £2 and £5 million per year and more in the year before an election.


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The Sunday review: “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt

15/04/2012, 08:00:19 AM

by Anthony Painter

The other day a bus passed by me adorned with an ad from the campaign group, Stonewall. On a bold red background, white writing declared: “Some people are gay. Get over it.” The “get over it” was in black lettering. I thought “uh-oh, that’s dumb”.

To understand why I thought that, you need to read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

For many years, Haidt has deployed the tools and insights of psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and economic theory to understand the nature of human morality. He essentially breaks our moral instincts down into categories: harm; fairness (which is actually about reciprocity); respect for authority; commitment to an in-group; sanctity and purity which is associated with religious and tribal ceremony; and, for this book, he has added a sixth – liberty/oppression.

Those who believe in equality for homosexuals are generally motivated by reducing harm and liberty from oppression. Cards on the table – I happen to be one of the people with this instinctive moral sense. I am closer to a left-wing (liberal in Haidt’s terms) than a conservative morality. The problem is that there are different moral senses too. Those who are adamantly against homosexuality – a minority in recent years in our society – may feel that they threaten their group which may be a church, for example, or there is something impure about homosexuality. They may also feel that legal changes to advance equality oppress their liberty to reject homosexuality.

And this is why I felt discomfort at the “get over it” message. Presumably, the objective of a campaign is to persuade. This slogan almost seemed designed to mock, belittle and entrench positions against it. It seemed likely that there would be a reaction.

On Thursday, the reaction came. A group promoting “gay cure” therapies bought ad space and mimicking the original ad, deployed the slogan: “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” The entire notion of “gay cure” is harmful and oppressive.


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Class war? No thanks

13/04/2012, 03:54:13 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

The Labour Party should be seen as heroes not villains when it comes to the economy. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently. Having Labour leaders that understood economics with Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling at the helm, meant the global financial crisis of 2008 did not turn into a depression as might otherwise have happened.

Can you imagine U-turn Dave, multi-million pound wallpaper trust fund beneficiary George Osborne or calamity Clegg running the show then?

“We don’t live in isolation, as the crash of 2008-09 illustrates as do the riots of last year. These events highlight our mutual dependence,” Chuka Umunna, shadow business, innovation and skills secretary told a group of Labour supporters this week.

“The key is active government strategy, to create more productive capitalism, working in partnership with business. It’s incredibly important to get the policy framework right. The progressive offer should be a common sense approach and then people will vote for us.

“Not in terms of being left or right, but you’re either right or you’re wrong. Giving a tax break to 14,000 millionaires, that’s just wrong.”

In the wake of a global banking-led crisis, the backlash against wealth and privilege aimed at bonus-rich bankers and the UK’s cabinet of millionaires, is understandable.

Class war has always been a factor in British politics, but as a narrative is not the canvass with which to paint our policies to win us government again. The politics of fairness and efficiency is where Labour will win.

With such a huge middle class in this country, traditional working class and also large non-working class on benefits or with caring responsibilities or disabilities, the politics of class is a minefield in its complexity and as divisive as the politics of elitism or envy.

Who gets up in the morning thinking about class?

The issues that matter most to voters are anti-social behaviour, the economy and jobs. The issues that come up time and time again on the doorstep in Bristol South, even in areas that are seemingly peaceful and quiet residential areas. Our policies need to clearly demonstrate that our solutions are interlinked.


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Livingstone’s scripted tears

13/04/2012, 08:00:54 AM

by Atul Hatwal

16/04/12 10.30 Update: Fair’s fair: it looks like the party press officer who told the Guardian that the PEB used actors, was wrong. We know that some weren’t and the Guardian piece was at least partially incorrect.

So the record needs to be set straight for this article. It looks likely that the people featured in the PEB weren’t professional actors, they were supporters. It is certainly the case that no-one has contradicted the Livingstone team’s contention that they were supporters.

But whether these were actors or carefully selected supporters, the central point of the piece remains the same: to cry in response to a video montage of your own supporters, reading your script , about how much they want you to be mayor, that you have already seen, is more Pyongyang than London.

13/04/12 10:51 Update: Well, there’s been quite the flap following this piece. The Livingstone campaign are resolutely denying that any of the people in the PEB are actors. This is the relevant section from the Guardian on which the article is based:

On Wednesday Ken Livingstone revealed his emotional side, sniffling at a launch of his new party political broadcast. “The people you saw on the screen represent hundreds of thousands of Londoners who desperately want a mayor who is going to make their life easier in this city,” Ken said, as Ed Miliband patted him on the back. For sure, the broadcast is slicker than anything his team has previously produced; it features a boxer, a groundsman, one posh woman and an extremely cute baby. But who exactly are they? The Labour party confessed yesterday that the Londoners are all actors – but actors who support Ken. Of the crying, it said: “It was very genuine. It really was.”

Clearly there has been some form of breakdown in communication between the Livingstone campaign and the Labour party press office. The issue at the heart of this article is authenticity. The key question is: were  the people in the PEB were scripted?

If their words were drafted by the campaign team then it is disingenuous to claim these are the authentic responses of ordinary Londoners that prompted a heartfelt reaction from Livingstone. If their words were their own, then patently that is more powerful.

At the moment it looks like team Ken are saying that people were scripted. We will update as we receive more information.


Another week, another new depth plumbed in the mayoral campaign.

In yesterday’s Guardian diary, there was a little snippet about Labour’s latest party election broadcast (PEB).

For those who haven’t seen it, the PEB is very effective. Engaging and well-paced, above all it shows rather than tells. It features Londoners speaking about their issues, directly into camera, edited tightly together. The climax at the end where they each ask Ken to win for them carries some real emotional weight.

I’m no fan of Labour’s candidate but even I was impressed.

Until, that is, I read the Guardian diary. This told me that the plaintive and persuasive Londoners were in fact all actors. Not a boxer, a mother, a groundsman or a businessman. Just actors, hired to do a job.  “Labour supporting actors” is how the party press office described them, as if this somehow helped.

This mini-revelation robs the PEB of its authenticity. It remains a very good piece of political communication, but watching the broadcast again, knowing that these folk were shipped in from London’s version of central casting, drains the emotion out of the piece.

Oh well. “Disappointing” was my take. And then I thought, “hang on.”

Most people will have seen this photo of Ken Livingstone, overcome by emotion, crying at the screening of his election broadcast.

At the time the explanation given to reporters was that Ken was moved by the genuine words of Londoners and the responsibility he felt to win the election for them.

Stirring stuff. Shame it was rubbish.

The actual situation in the room was this: Livingstone was crying after watching a series of actors that had been carefully selected by his team, read out lines that his writers had penned, in a style directed by his staff. He knew that these were not typical Londoners. He knew that this was his script.

But still the tears flowed.


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The April shadow cabinet league

12/04/2012, 08:30:36 AM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s become a tedious holiday tradition: MPs tweeting about their various constituency appointments and local campaign meetings, furiously reassuring voters and party members that they are busy at work, despite the long parliamentary recess.

The world really doesn’t need another tweet telling us yet again about a “good reaction on the #Labour doorstep” and for Labour’s shadow cabinet, many (though not all) should just take their break with good grace – they have earned it.

The first three months of this year have seen an unprecedented work rate: over 400 press releases, nearly 1000 written questions and almost 50 speeches from the despatch box.

Compared to last year, at this stage in the parliament, the shadow cabinet’s total score indicates a 54% hike in effort. In every category, the shadow cabinet has done more and worked harder.

While doubts will persist on the effectiveness of the party’s overall strategy, and Bradford West might be a prologue to greater disappointments in the May elections, it is hard to criticise the work ethic of many at Labour’s top table.

Since the last league in early February there has been a minor shuffling of the pack with three shadow cabinet members posting notable performances: Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna and Andy Burnham.


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Time to put away the needle and thread and stop stitching up selections

11/04/2012, 08:30:59 AM

by Peter Watt

If I was sat in Labour party HQ in Victoria Street right now, staring down the barrel of further financial strife, then I would be tempted to do everything I could to minimise unnecessary expenditure.  And I would be right to do so.  If the reports are true that the party overspent last year by £1.7 million then it is quite a big gun after all!

But if it really is financial strife that has apparently lead to a proposal to ban sitting MPs from standing for election to directly elected mayors or police and crime commissioners later this year, then that is a terrible error.

It is however an error that merely highlights a serious malaise at the heart of our politics, and to be fair, the politics of all of the major parties.

On the face of it, the argument for the decision to ban ambitious MP’s from standing is persuasive.  Each by-election will cost £70 – £100,000 or so.  We might lose to another (popular) candidate.  Why take the risk?

But these reasons are all predicated on an out-of-date thought process.

The assumption is that the only way to win is for the party to impose the “right” candidate. That the campaign must be run using the central party machine which imposes the will of the “experts” on the locals.  And finally that the campaign must then spend on staff, hotels, travel, campaign HQ and lots of flash literature.  All spending money that the party doesn’t actually have.

To be fair, for many years this model served the party pretty well.  As I know well because I have worked on, planned, set budgets for and managed selections (read into that what you will) for more by-elections than I care to remember.  But it is a model that is simply no longer fit for purpose.


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Proxy voting to be allowed in Manchester Central selection

11/04/2012, 07:00:34 AM

Party bosses in the Manchester Central parliamentary selection have been forced to back down and allow proxy voting, following the threat of legal action.

The party had originally taken the highly unusual step of banning postal voting on the grounds that the process was being run on a tight timescale.

However Labour Uncut learns that Anna Hutchinson, the party’s regional director in the north west, who is acting as procedures secretary, has now written to candidates confirming that proxy voting will be allowed during the selection meeting next Monday (16 April).

This followed complaints by at least two of the four candidates – Manchester councillors Mike Amesbury and Rosa Battle – together with constituency party officers, local councillors and several party members who feared many elderly and disabled members would effectively have been disenfranchised by the ban on postal voting.

It is believed one of the members who complained sought legal advice on the basis that the party’s draconian ruling infringed the Disability Discrimination Act.

As well as Amesbury and Battle, the nomination is being contested by Ed Miliband’s deputy chief of staff, Lucy Powell, and Patrick Vernon who runs a health charity in London.

The Manchester Central selection is caused by the decision of sitting MP Tony Lloyd to contest the new role as Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner. He held the seat at the last election with a majority of 10,430.

The by-election is scheduled to be held on 15 November, the same day as elections for the 41 police commissioners.

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