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A little boost to British defence spending would go a long way to helping keep the international peace

18/02/2015, 10:13:13 PM

by Karl Johnson

It’s good to know what other countries are thinking about us. I was drawn to a recent article in the American Spectator by Australian lawyer Hal G P Colebatch, entitled Setting the Stage for a Losing Falklands War: Are Britain’s Armed Forces Going Over a Cliff? It mentions our delays in completing our new aircraft carriers, speculative reports in our press that the British army might be cut to 60,000 troops in the near future, and the sale of Russian fast jets and helicopters to Argentina. Colebatch concludes that with a defence budget of less than 2% of national income and a ‘bath-tub Royal Navy’, Britain will be unable to protect its territorial interests against an increasingly nationalistic Argentina, with the inference that we will similarly fail to add our weight against Russian expansionism and the spread of Islamist extremism.

My first impression was that it’s encouraging to know that there are sufficient Anglophiles in America to warrant a concerned piece about the state of our armed forces. Then I considered that the article was quite misleading. Yet I still find myself in broad agreement with its substance.

Colebatch’s argument is one that needs taking down and building up again slightly differently, because it is very nearly right. The truth is that the Falklands are fine. The British armed forces have undergone a painful reduction in the past 25 years, but this is part of a wider trend of demobilisation that has affected most of the world since the end of the cold war. The dissolution of the iron curtain led to an era of globalisation and growth in trade in which large-scale defence expenditure was a hindrance. Britain’s defence cuts have been less stringent than those of most other countries in recent years, and our budget is still one of the largest in the world even at 2.3% of our GDP.

Argentina remains in steep national decline and has not experienced any substantial military engagement since the 1982 conflict. There are mischievous rumours that the Argentine government is reluctant to let its warships visit foreign ports for fear of them being seized by creditors (a result of their policy of using the state’s assets as collateral for debts), and according to the South American Mercopress, a flypast of the air force to mark the country’s bicentenary in 2010 was cancelled due to “the risk of the obsolete aircraft over Buenos Aires.”

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It’s my first time voting and I live in Rotherham. What should I do?

18/02/2015, 09:51:44 AM

by Chloe Staniforth

I’m born and bred in Rotherham, your typical working class Northern town with a Labour council since 1933.

Throw into the mix the fact my family are Labour supporters too and it’s pretty obvious who I’m expected to vote for in this year’s general election.

Yet it seems my first time voting isn’t quite as simple as that.

After all, my home town is receiving a lot of attention at the moment for all the wrong reasons.

Professor Alexis Jay was commissioned in November 2013 to lead an independent inquiry into allegations of child sexual exploitation in the town and the local council’s handling of cases.

Her report last August revealed the hidden scale of the problem in Rotherham over a 16-year period.

Now, a follow-up report from local government inspector, Louise Casey, has concluded that the council is “not fit for purpose” and identified some necessary measures for preventing further cases.

In short, Rotherham has become a by-word for negligence, callousness and incompetence. Labour couldn’t have a worse backdrop for their campaign.

I’ve grown up being educated to vote. I appreciate and thank the Suffragettes for their campaigning all of those years ago which allow me this opportunity to vote.

But, I’m afraid, I’m in an impossible position in a town where well over 1,000 females have been abused and abandoned.

I don’t feel I can trust the Labour party to rectify their awful handling of the situation, nor begin to put things right.

Rotherham has since become a major target for UKIP and a hot bed for the far right. Neither of which I would ever want running Rotherham.

So I’m left with the Conservatives – an unprecedented choice for me considering my upbringing. And a vote for the Tories seems awasted vote and would open the door for UKIP.

I feel my only choice is to act like a sulky teenager and spoil my ballot paper, but I really don’t want to lose my first vote.

What should I do?

Chloe is a first time voter

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Golden Dawn’s neo-Nazis came third and wait in the wings. Europe must remember that when negotiating with Syriza

26/01/2015, 09:36:33 AM

by Ranjit Singh Sidhu

It has been a few years since the great financial crash, which started when the US financial houses saw the products they created out of junk and sold as pure gold turn back to worthless junk. One by one they were either scarified or saved, with a notable survivor being one of the biggest culprits of all: Goldman Sachs.

We can look back and see how the contagion spread across the world leading to government after government instinctively cutting back spending, this in turn leading to an inevitable spiral down first to recession and then to a depression, every area of the globe entering a period of unrest.

In Europe one country, being bound by a financial accord that meant it was dictated economically by others, suffers worst of all.  Unemployment had risen from 8% to 30%, it has also  lost 42% of it’s economic output. With the old political order seen as failing the people turn to alternative radical parties. In just 3 years one party that polled 2.3% now is on the edge of power: It has 1.4 million members and stands on the edge of gaining power with 37% of the vote.

Sound familiar?

The party is the National Socialist Party, the country Germany in 1932 ,the financial crash that of Wall Street 1929 ( and yes, Goldman Sachs was pivotal in selling junk in that crash as well) .

On the 31st of July 1932 the Nazi party received 37.4% of the vote and became the largest party in the Federal Elections.  The German people’s rising anger towards the financial reparations of the Treaty of Versailles had been shown a few years earlier when the referendum calling for the abolition of  the ‘Law against the Enslavement of the German People’ received  94%  of the vote.

As Syriza goes about building a government,  Greece stands with 30% of its economic output gone since 2009, unemployment at 26% and youth unemployment at 50%. We must not be deaf to history and what can arise when economic destruction is imposed on a country.

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Labour’s minority problem

13/01/2015, 03:24:53 PM

by Henry Engler

Just one week after the major political parties launched their General Election campaigns, depressingly little headway has been made to cut through the cynicism of the electorate.

And voters aren’t the ones to blame. Their apathy is reflective of a much wider problem.

Seven years of austerity are taking their toll and none of the major parties have reached out far enough and wide enough to engage with real people in order to deliver their message.

And that’s before you take the ethnic minorities into account. While far from ignored, Labour has rested on its laurels in recent years and seen its traditional voter base eroded.

Bradford and Tower Hamlets should have been the wakeup call that the party needed but sadly the lessons have not been learnt and CLP’s around the UK are either being hollowed out, or failing to take advantage of the significant number of ethnic minority voters in their constituencies.

What’s worse is that this is often happening without the party noticing, especially in Labour-led authorities, or where the majority is superficially large.

Take Edmonton constituency in north London. This is a seat that has delivered large majorities for Labour. And why wouldn’t it, given its “traditional Labour” demographic. However, as recently as 1997 the seat was held by the Conservatives.

Let’s not forget that Clacton (formerly Harwich) was Labour until 2005. And Heywood & Middleton, which only remained Labour by a whisker in October’s by-election.

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England’s coastal towns need Labour. We mustn’t forget about them

09/01/2015, 11:24:01 AM

by Nathan Bennet

The Labour party should aim to represent coastal towns across the whole of Southern and Eastern England.

We hold seats in Southampton and Plymouth. Many of our target seats are there – Brighton, Hastings, Great Yarmouth, to name just a few. But I’d go further and argue that there’s a case for Labour representation well outside of our usual battlegrounds.

First, let’s debunk the general myth some permeate that there isn’t really a case for Labour in southern England outside our target seats. Bin the North-South divide – the real world is far more complicated.

Look at wages: Labour’s Southern Taskforce have mapped data from the ONS’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. We’ve shown that right round the coast of Southern and Eastern England, average wages are below the national average. There are 43 coastal constituencies here where a higher proportion of people earn less than the living wage than the national average.

And it’s not always in the places you’d expect. In Torridge, West Devon average wages are just over £15,000 a year – £7,000 less than the national average. 38.6% of workers don’t earn a living wage. A report by Sheffield Hallam University and CRESR highlighted the dependency of much of the coast on seaside tourism. It employs 140,000 people in the South and East, and towns like Salcombe, Fowey, Southwold, New Quay, and Aldeburgh are heavily dependent on it. Yes they’re jobs, but they’re often seasonal and low paid, meeting few aspirations and offering few chances to get on

Rebalancing these local economies is as important here as in declining former industrial tows. The coalition’s reliance on market forces clearly isn’t delivering. The southern and eastern coastal communities, need an active government, willing to devolve power and resources, reforming the banks to support small business, delivering on real improvements in broadband, and tackling persistent failings in many schools that leave too many children poorly qualified and means that, even in regions of high HE participation, children from the poorer areas are missing out.

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Jim Murphy needs to be radical to revive Labour in Scotland

18/12/2014, 05:27:18 PM

by Daniel Charelston-Downes

Labour, according to the New Statesman, is now 20 points behind the SNP in Westminster voting intentions. This would see an almost virtual wipeout of Scottish seats for Labour and goes some way to explaining why Nicola Sturgeon was so keen to welcome the new Scottish Labour leadership with words of unity and collaboration. It seems SNP are preparing for, even expecting, coalition partnership.

Jim Murphy’s leadership has come at a crucial time for Scottish Labour. When Lamont talked of her despair at Scottish Labour being treated as a branch office, she hit close to home with all Scottish voters. London-centric politics is killing the main parties in Scotland and will take Labour down leaving the SNP the last man standing.

The moment Tony Blair’s name became sacrilegious in my household growing up was when he abandoned Clause IV. With Murphy using the language of the Clause, he is clearly trying to evoke memories of that kind of reform within the party and the wave of electoral success that brought with it. A rehashed statement of intent for Scotland is an attempt to move Labour into a ‘reformer’ platform.

However what Scottish voters liked about Salmond and continue to appreciate in Sturgeon is their lack of political machinery.

Where Murphy will struggle, and where his use of Blairite language displays a complete lack of understanding, is that he is viewed as the worst kind of career politician. He is straight out of Westminster. He has bounced from education, to the National Union of Students presidency, to think tanks and policy groups and now parliament. He has always seen Scotland through Labour eyes.

If Labour is ever to win a majority again they are going to need to gain Scotland back. The SNP are a much greater threat to the Labour party than UKIP are to anyone, they are doing a much more successful job of converting anti-Westminster sentiment into seats than any other British party.

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Osborne’s new austerity will force local government beyond breaking point

09/12/2014, 08:02:33 PM

by Kieran Quinn

December the 12th is one of my favourite days of the year: I attend the pensioner Christmas party in my ward. It’s an opportunity to mark the contribution that many of our senior citizens have made to Tameside in Greater Manchester. It also gives people the chance to celebrate and socialise with other Tameside pensioners.

With further austerity measures being levelled on local government over the next few years, I fear for the future of events like these, and services that residents have taken for granted.

£142 million will have been taken from our budget by 2017, we are currently consulting on the £38 million of cuts imposed upon our borough over the next two years, and we are now at a tipping point. Put simply, with half of our budget taken away we simply cannot fund the same level of services, and our workforce has halved so far. We are beyond the approach of doing more for less, despite a hardworking, innovative and dedicated workforce.

As the 980 residents that have taken part in our budget consultation will know, nearly two thirds of our budget is spent on safeguarding the very young and the very old. These services are statutory, laid down in law by parliament. With no additional resources put into these services our ability to provide for our most vulnerable citizens will come into question.

While any funding ring-fenced for the NHS is welcome(a one-off figure of £2 billion , not year on year) a more holistic approach to public sector funding is needed. If you cut our budget by £142 million, high spend areas such as Adult Services are not immune from this and the pressure on NHS resources goes up. It is both morally and economically sensible to integrate these budgets, the emphasis must be on early help in the home and community.

Enough really is enough. If the Chancellor genuinely believed “we are all in these challenging financial times together”, he would have responded to the cross party call for a fair approach to local government finances and deliver an even bolder approach to devolution.

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We need to raise aspirations in coast and country

07/12/2014, 11:00:43 PM

by Alex McKerrow

It does not take much for figures on social mobility to astound our conscience. Given one in every six children are still in relative poverty, it seems Britain is still a broadly unequal society. This situation underpins any modern progressive: spurring each of us on in finding solutions to tackle these problems.

Under the last Labour government, unquestionable leaps were taken in education. Whether it be our Education Action Zones or the initial academies programme, we got it right by targeting the most disadvantaged parts of our education system. It is from this that we can celebrate the so-called “London effect”, which reflects the immensity of investment undertaken in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the capital.

However, whilst London and other metropolitan areas have surged, the isolation suffered by many parts of the UK has been ignored. David Bell was quick to warn us of this in 2003, noting that some of our greatest areas of educational disadvantage are located “in towns on the coast or tucked away in a corner of [a] local education authority area”.

Worryingly, this trend has not ceased, as these areas have been unable to reap the benefit of national initiatives which have targeted disadvantaged children in urban areas. Although our attitudes seem to be shifting, particularly through the increasing growth of the outstanding TeachFirst program outside of metropolitan areas, we still lack the capacity to inspire children in isolated areas.

It is in the coastal towns of this country – where I grew up – that children feel the greatest disconnect. Isolated from parts of the country geographically and economically, it is easy for schools to fall into a cycle of mediocrity.

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Tristram Hunt is losing teachers’ votes

26/11/2014, 02:32:25 PM

by Daniel Charleston-Downes

In a recent Labour List poll, Tristram Hunt was voted the least popular shadow cabinet member. Other than himself and Ed Balls, all other shadow cabinet members were gifted a positive rating. Dr Hunt’s rating was the only one in negative double figures.

David Cameron moved Michael Gove out of the Education portfolio to protect the Tories approaching an election year. Since then, Nicky Morgan has done all that she can to placate teachers on the verge of further strikes by asking Ofsted to release clear expectations on workload. The Tories have also shifted education debate on to the only thing that they can win on, fear of Islamic extremism.

Teachers are unlikely to flock to the Conservatives at the general election, but parents might. Parents should be angry that their children have been used by Gove as guinea pigs in untested curriculum experiments and have had their futures pulled from under them by shifting goal posts. They should be concerned that 10 years of movement towards an education of inclusion is being abandoned for tighter definitions of special needs and rigorous and inflexible examinations.

But they aren’t because there is silence from the opposition. From a parental perspective, Hunt is nowhere. He has made one statement about curriculum changes, that being that the AS Levels alterations are ‘confusing’. Other than that he has attempted to position himself next to the Conservatives on family values in schools and battling extremism. Both territories that Labour are not perceived as strong on with undecided voters and that the Labour grassroots will feel uncomfortable with.

And when it comes to teachers, Labour really are in trouble. Strike action has been gaining less and less traction with NUT and NASWUT members who are increasingly concerned that unions are losing parents and alienating staff from school leaders. An appetite for further strikes has been lost by the utter contempt displayed by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and the deafening silence from anyone on the Labour front benches.

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Blue Labour could help Labour get back in the game

24/11/2014, 10:17:01 PM

by Michael Merrick

Throughout the country, beyond particular urban strongholds, Labour is in a perilous position. The natural advantages so long enjoyed in certain areas have made it presumptuous, whilst electoral security has rendered safe constituencies the fiefdoms of (often incoming) architects and guardians of the progressive, liberal- left projectAs such, Labour has become sluggish, but also detached – in all too many places it has failed to hold its voice at the heart of the communities from which it originally sprung.

This presents a problem in the face of the new political realities before us. Put simply, Labour is in no position to fight UKIP in its heartlands. Or even to speak with authenticity to that social and cultural angst from which UKIP is siphoning support.  Our initial reaction, to disregard UKIP as a Tory problem, has left us vulnerable as the roots of revolt have crept into lands once occupied by the left – we did not conceive that we might need to build an alternative offer of our own.

Alas, the penny has dropped, and the response has been typical of a party that does not accept the legitimacy of that which it seeks to combat – when we listen, it has been the job of those who are part of the problem to provide diagnosis and solution; when we speak, it has been in tones of that which is being rejected.

Thus Labour has too easily condemned itself as part of the problem it is claiming to solve. Worse, it often does not have the resources or the rootedness to even imagine that there exists a legitimate alternative. For all our talk of reconnecting with the disaffected, one cannot help but wonder how many in the formal organisation of our party have the capacity to recognise the extent of this cultural deficit – the once rich chorus of the Labour tradition has long turned to a shrill, castigating shriek. At root this is a culture clash, and there has been little sign that those with their hands on the levers are willing to budge.

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