Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Roberts’

Why I’ve left Unite

01/11/2013, 10:11:35 AM

by Jonathan Roberts

It was early in 2006 when I first joined Unite the Union (or Amicus, as it was then known).  I was active in my constituency Labour party, was running a blog and was ambitious to learn, grow and participate as fully as I could.

Soon afterwards I was encouraged to attend a residential course run by Unite to ‘educate’ those they felt may one day become a politician – as mad as the idea of my participation now sounds.  The surroundings seemed a little odd for a trade union HQ.  The huge mansion in Esher (“modelled on a French Chateau” as the Unite website describes it) was set amidst acres of sprawling Surrey countryside, slap bang in the middle of the banker belt.   It was so posh I swear it took me a week to shower off the smell of quinoa.  I don’t say that disparagingly – I’d love to live somewhere just like it.

It was a fascinating experience.  It started with a debate with German trade unionists, and moved through mock Newsnight-style grillings, writing and delivering a speech bestowing the virtues of the Labour-Union link and concluding with an interview conducted by two Labour MPs who questioned me on my ‘labourness’.

Everyone was very nice to me.  And as I was the youngest in attendance, I was genuinely grateful for the experience, not least because it prepared me for the unexpected media attention given to Thirsk and Malton at the general election in 2010, for which I was the candidate.

It was a few years later that I first publicly criticised union behaviour.  I was promptly told off by one of my fellow Esher students – didn’t I remember that a union had put me up in a mansion?  I should show some gratitude and toe the line.

That was the beginning of a journey that concluded last night when I resigned from Unite.


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Staying in carries as much risk as leaving – that’s why we need an EU referendum

14/05/2013, 11:32:10 AM

by Jonathan Roberts

“There is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty,” said the white paper of 1971 that began our entry into the European Economic Community.

It was the start of a debate on the future of the UK and its place in the modern world, but one that paid little attention to what part of our sovereignty should be defined as ‘essential’.

“In the modern world, no country can go it alone,” read the government pamphlet issued during the referendum of 1975. Amidst rising unemployment and persistent recession, joining a free trade agreement with our closest trading partners was seen as a welcome opportunity to turn the economy around.  We needed jobs and prosperity in a rapidly changing world, and the Common Market was sure to deliver it.  This, twinned with assurances on national sovereignty, was the argument that persuaded the electorate to ratify the UK’s entry 2 years earlier.

And in many ways, it worked.  When international trade forms such a fundamental part of UK GDP, easy access to a market of 500 million people has immense value.  Within a few years of the Common Market coming into force, airlines, as an example, had increased their flights to European destinations by 60%, and new opportunities for trade, business and tourism flourished.  The freedom of movement, in many ways a libertarian principle, was matched by new protections for working people that prevented exploitation at home and abroad.

But as an electorate, our agreement to join the Community was on the condition of protection of sovereignty and the preservation of democracy.  And it is here that, as the EEC became the European Union, the ‘project’ started its road to democratic illegitimacy.

Our ability to protect British sovereignty was then, and continues to be, on the decline.  In 1975 we were told, in the same government pamphlet, that “No important new law can be decided in Brussels without the consent of a British Minister, answerable to a British Government and a British Parliament…the British Minister can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax.” It provided reassurance to an uneasy electorate. But whilst this claim may have been true at the time, that time was long ago.


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Thatcher’s legacy and the politics of blame

10/04/2013, 03:17:33 PM

by Jonathan Roberts

The past couple of days have been absurd.  As a centrist, I have looked on with quiet respect, but also with head in hands as ideologue after ideologue lined up to offer their views on Lady Thatcher’s legacy.

I say at the outset that, for those so inclined, the time to celebrate was not this week, it was in 1990 or 1997.  Ed Miliband, Neil Kinnock and others have rightly offered generous and respectful words on Mrs Thatcher’s passing, and it is my view that anyone who has expressed joy at the death of this frail old lady cannot realistically claim moral superiority, nor can they claim to be a particularly nice person – regardless of the anger they may still feel.

Like many other commentators, I was merely a child when Thatcher left Number Ten for the last time.  Being the son of two council workers I was not one of those who directly benefited from the Thatcher years, nor was I one of those who directly suffered.  So it is with that relative impartiality that I offer these thoughts.

The fundamental position of the left is that Thatcher destroyed the concept of society and abandoned countless decent, hardworking people to the scrapheap.  The position of the right is that she rescued the country from militant trade unionism and gave people the opportunity to be free from state reliance.

Both of these positions are true.


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After the London mayoral election, Labour has a new campaign rule book

04/05/2012, 07:00:47 AM

by Jonathan Roberts

In March I wrote an open letter to Ken Livingstone – where I promised to abstain from the mayoral election.  It is a promise I kept, but for the avoidance of doubt, I proudly voted Labour for the London Assembly.

Now, the 2012 election campaign has drawn to a close.  As a consequence of the hard work of countless Labour activists, we have seen hundreds of new Labour councillors elected as a sign that Labour is back, its reputation making good progress down the road of recovery.  From Plymouth to Birmingham, new Labour councils will help make a difference across the country.

It is a physical manifestation not just of the unpopularity of this Government, but also of Ed Miliband’s improving leadership – a vindication of the belief that Labour is most in touch with the needs of ordinary people in difficult times.

But there is a moral threat already placed upon this welcome return to Labour’s electoral competitiveness, because the London mayoral election has changed the game of political campaigning forever.

There was once an unwritten rule book, a code of conduct that governed Labour activity to ensure high standards of integrity and consistency were met.  Labour activists have always claimed a higher moral standard, and revelled in holding the supposed immorality of our opponents to account.  But we now have a hypocrisy problem.

It is truly dreadful that we have a Conservative prime minister willing to make discriminatory attacks on the basis of age.  But apparently it is righteous and just to support discriminatory “posh-boy” attacks on the basis of class.

It is disgraceful that Conservative policies attack the disabled. But apparently it is fair and appropriate for Labour to mock a Conservative MP because of his cerebral palsy.

Hypocrisy can be seen by all but those who choose to be blind.


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Let knowledge, not politics, rule the Lords

25/04/2012, 01:30:53 PM

by Jonathan Roberts

For a hundred years discussion of the reform of the House of Lords has provided intrigue, gossip and occasional melodrama.  The outrage at new proposals coming from the government backbenches rightly highlights how ‘out of touch’ this diversion from more pressing matters is (like, you know, the economy), but the depth of feeling some Parliamentarians have gives an indication as to why meaningful reform has never happened.

The most significant improvement in modern times came early in the Labour Government with the removal of the vast majority of hereditary peers.  Even this change, which was so obviously appropriate, caused Tony Blair a huge headache.  To impose genuinely radical reform will result in something closer to a debilitating migraine.

It is easy to forget that the current make up of the House of Lords was specifically argued against in the Parliament Act itself – where it is described that the current regime should be only a temporary measure until peer elections were fought.  Bearing in mind that income tax, introduced by William Pitt the Younger, was supposed to be a temporary measure, one could be left with the impression that there is nothing more permanent in government than a system originally labelled as ‘temporary’.

But the parties should not race towards House of Lords elections.  The UK is not suffering from an absence of democracy – quite the opposite, with parish, district and county elections every four years, European and parliamentary every five.  Soon we will be adding mayoral and police elections to the mix and I have a sneaking suspicion American-style school boards won’t be far behind.  This voting business is really rather regular – and with turnouts being as dire as they are, one has to question whether the public really is crying out for yet another dreary Thursday morning trip to the village hall.


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An open letter to Ken Livingstone

08/03/2012, 01:00:47 PM

by Jonathan Roberts

Dear Ken,

I write as a Labour party and trade union member.  I have spent many evenings in dusty, cold community centres with left of centre colleagues arguing over the minutes of last month’s branch meetings.  I have walked more miles than I care to remember on the Labour doorstep.  I have stuffed so many envelopes that I feel as though I’ve single-handedly kept my postman in employment.

I do it because I believe Labour values can help people.  But I am not, now, doing any of these things for you.

Your supporters will say I’m disloyal to the Labour Party, but don’t seem to mind you campaigning against our candidate in Tower Hamlets.

Your supporters cheered you when you called tax avoiders “rich bastards”, but they don’t seem to mind the £50,000 you have allegedly avoided yourself.

Your supporters criticise Boris Johnson as a “part time Mayor” for churning out a weekly article for the Telegraph, but they don’t seem to mind that you were an MP and a writer for the Independent during substantial parts of your own Mayoral tenure.

Your supporters sing about how you speak the truth, but don’t seem to mind how independent fact-checking organisations regularly describe your claims as “fiction”.

Your supporters were delighted when you announced you would reintroduce the EMA for London, giving hope to thousands of kids, but they don’t seem to mind that the Mayor has no power to reintroduce EMA at all.  Nor do they seem to mind you making a promise you knew full well you would be unlikely to deliver on.

But do you know what Ken?  I mind.  I do.  Your relentless cynicism and negativity is matched only by your hypocrisy.  And I mind all three.


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