Posts Tagged ‘Peter Hain’

The two big myths about Labour’s leadership crisis

07/11/2014, 12:45:18 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s all beginning to feel very 2009. A weakened leader, panicking backbenchers and a febrile media have combined to generate the biggest Labour leadership crisis since the fag end of Gordon Brown’s ailing premiership.

Now, as then, the loyalist response is to perpetuate some easy “myths.” Though that’s the polite term. Here are the two biggest whoppers:

1. This is all the media’s fault

This was the line peddled on morning news shows and has been widespread across Labour’s Twittervist base.

But, as several journalists have pointed out, from the Guardian’s Rafael Behr to the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman, the reason this is being written up as a crisis is that Labour MPs have been privately complaining about Ed Miliband’s leadership to the journalists for months. In some cases, years.

MPs that have been on air in the last 24 hours, mouthing supportive platitudes, are among some of the most well-known serial lobby complainers.

The reality is that putative leadership campaigns have been organising for months. Leadership contenders have been positioning themselves, ready for the expected Labour defeat. Those rumours of an accommodation between Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham on a joint leadership ticket, or some commitment on second preference votes, have been circulating for over a year.

Anyone saying that this is purely a confection by the media, or froth, is being economical with the actualité.

Here’s a test: how many shadow cabinet members have made a specific point of going on air to defend the leader? Not as part of a pre-planned photo-opp where they have no choice but to field questions on the leader, but have sought out the media, even when they had no press events planned, to stand up for Ed Miliband?

By my count, the answer is a big fat zero.

On the Today programme this morning, the best that the loyalists could field was Peter Hain. Not only an ex-cabinet minister, but someone who is standing down at the next election. This tells us all we need to know about the esteem in which the shadow cabinet and shadow ministerial ranks hold their leader.

2. Ed can turn this around, he just needs time

In the last parliament, when a crisis approached the point of no return, Gordon Brown would meet backbenchers and play the listening card.

He’d talk about how he understood their concerns about his leadership, how he valued their opinion and how he would take on board their suggestions. He’d thank them “for all that they did” and commit to being a better Gordon.


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The Tories who failed to support Mandela’s “long walk to freedom” were not bad, merely wrong

11/12/2013, 11:24:54 AM

by Rob Marchant

With the thousands of pieces being written around the world about the death of a political giant, this is not about the great man himself – there are plenty of people better-qualified to write that one.

But it’s worth pausing to think about Mandela’s relationship with Labour.

Like many, I grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s constantly hearing about some or other horrific injustice from apartheid South Africa on the 6 o’clock news. We were too young for the Sharpeville massacre or the imprisonment of Mandela himself, but not too young to learn of the death of Steve Biko in police custody. In fact, you had only to listen to switch on Radio One – Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, Little Steven’s “I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” or The Specials’ “Free Nelson Mandela” – to be aware of what was going on.

It’s probably fair to say that one of the things which made me realise that it was Labour, and not the Tories, that would be my party of choice was the fact that the Tories seemed perfectly content with tolerating a regime where black people were not valued the same as white people. In 1985, Margaret Thatcher was rather dragged kicking and screaming into agreeing limited sanctions against the all-white Botha regime, whilst black citizens were still not eligible to vote. Others in her party continued to resist even that token action.

Different reasons appealed to the Tories for why it was best not to upset the applecart with Pretoria. There was, of course, the odd not-very-nice Tory who had business interests to protect, or simply a quasi-identification with the idea of blacks as second-class citizens. But more common were those who had not yet experienced the fall of communism and genuinely thought that “engagement” was the way to gradually improve things; or – a little less forgivably – that we should not interfere in “foreign cultures” which we didn’t understand.


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The British left has forgotten Zimbabwe and as a result, today, Mugabe will profit

18/02/2013, 01:29:36 PM

by Pete Bowyer

Later today, William Hague will acquiesce in an EU decision to ease sanctions against Zimbabwe. It will be reflective of Britain’s waning influence in Europe, as much as a lack of concern for continuing human rights abuses in the country.

This decision should concern us greatly. Zimbabwe has become one of the forgotten stories of southern Africa now the horrors of the political violence around the last elections in 2008 have dimmed.

But the truth is little has changed on the ground. The country, once known as the bread basket of Africa, is now reliant of foreign food aid, and Mugabe’s grip on power remains as tight as ever.

Take the case of opposition MDC politician, Roy Bennett. In 2009, he was designated Deputy Minister for Agriculture by Morgan Tsvangirai, but Robert Mugabe refused to swear him in. Bennett was later arrested on trumped up charges of treason.

When a magistrate ordered Bennett to be released on remand, the magistrate himself was arrested because “he passed a judgment that is not popular with the state.” This is the state of justice in Zimbabwe today.

The EU attempts to justify its decision on the grounds that Zimbabwe is due to hold a constitutional referendum on 16 March, and this is a sign of progress. A carrot and stick approach is all very well, but the EU should be erring on the side of the stick, not the carrot.

Rather than caving in to Mugabe, we should be standing up to him. For Zimbabwe to have a bright future, it needs serious and strictly implemented reforms. EU policy should be determined on the basis of concrete actions, not Mugabe’s empty promises.

So, a precautionary approach should have been taken, based on three conditions being met.

Firstly, the decision to review EU sanctions should have been taken only after free and fair elections without violence had been held. True, the constitutional referendum is an important benchmark, but it’s the forthcoming elections that will really determine the future for the people of Zimbabwe.

These are due in the summer, and the EU will end up with egg on its face if it decides to ease sanctions now only having to re-introduce them a couple of months later if the elections descend into chaos like they have done so often in the past.


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Stop taking liberties

03/04/2012, 07:00:31 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Last week we learned that the government, in its benign munificence, wants to have access to all our emails “on demand”. We are, it seems, all now assumed to be terrorists or master criminals until proven innocent. Our calls, texts, internet searches and other electronic messages will be fair game for the prying eyes of our securocrats.

A one-off sortie across the demarcation that separates personal liberty from an ever-encroaching state? Were that it were so. The past week has been an utterly dreadful one for Lady Liberty.

Take into consideration, if you will, the case of 21 year-old Liam Stacey. He was jailed for 56 days last week for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter following the collapse of Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba. No need to recite his vile ramblings, but let’s say he stood out from the crowd in not wishing the footballer a swift recovery.

Sentencing him at Swansea Magistrates’ Court, District Judge John Charles told Stacey: “In my view, there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence.” Wow, really? No other means of punishing this stupid, half-pissed student for tweeting his brainless racist tirade without locking him up and ruining his life?

His university was no less draconian. He faces being booted off his course, despite being in the third year of a biology degree, at the whim of some po-faced university commissar. Will his own parents be obliged to disown him next?

When we hurtle past “reaction” and crash headlong into “over-reaction”, nothing should come as a surprise. Like any other sentient human being, I abhor racism and as a Wanderers fan was doubly aggrieved at what Stacey posted. But when did boorishness come with an automatic jail sentence?


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November Shadow Cabinet League

02/12/2011, 09:06:45 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Have they put something in the tea at shadow cabinet meetings?

Because they seem to be a team transformed – in work ethic at least.

Despite doubts about Labour’s strategic positioning on the big issues, Ed Miliband’s new shadow secretaries of state have set about their task with a vigour not seen for months.

The days when Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander gazed down on their colleagues from a distant summit appear to be past. Instead there is a genuine competition across the top ten with any and all capable of mounting a challenge for top spot.


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A statue of Peter Hain?

07/09/2011, 10:02:59 AM

by Dan Hodges

Can’t we just build Peter Hain a statue? Whack up a giant bronze monument to him slap bang in the centre of Neath and be done with it.

Refounding Labour started life as a good old fashioned vanity project. Peter’s reward for services rendered to Ed Miliband during the Labour leadership campaign. No more, no less.

Fair enough. Such baubles are handed out regularly. Part of the currency of politics.

But then things started to get out of hand. First the process, which was supposedly being driven by Labour party members, was outsourced to private contractors. Then some strange rumors began to circulate about what was emerging behind the closed doors of this open and inclusive consultation.

Non party members were to be given some say in superficial areas of the party’s activity. Like deciding its leader and its policies. At the same time, the role of the trade unions was going to be diluted.  The collegiate nature of this part of the  conversation was underlined by the “insider” who told the papers, “the union leaders are playing hard ball but they need to wake up”.

Members of the PLP were informed that plans for an elected party chair had been dumped. Calls for the refounding Labour submissions to be published were, in keeping with the transparency of the exercise, repeatedly rebuffed. It emerged that party conference was going to be ordered to either endorse the recommendations in their entirety, or reject them.

Then on Monday, via that traditional form of internal communication  – a leak to the Guardian – Labour members learned how they’re planning to transform their own movement. According to the report, the  party’s traditional aim, “to maintain elected office”, is now deemed outdated. Instead Clause 1 of the constitution will be re-written to “explicitly put the principles of community organising at its heart”.  An army of 2,000 “community organisers are to be recruited before the next election, and movement for change affiliated as a socialist society. At the heart of all this is the radical idea of “making formal [the Labour party’s desire] to be attractive to a far greater range of people”.


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Monday News Review

27/06/2011, 06:33:48 AM

Tory tragedy

Christopher Shale, David Cameron‘s constituency chairman, was warned by Downing Street officials that a sensitive memo written by him had been leaked to a Sunday newspaper shortly before he died at the Glastonbury festival. The prime minister said that he was “devastated” by the news that Shale, aged 56, had been found dead in a portable toilet at the festival, after apparently suffering from a heart attack. Early rumours that he may have committed suicide were rejected by police. It has emerged that two Downing Street officials tried to reach Shale around lunchtime on Saturday to warn him about the note, in which he described parts of his local party as crass and grasping and said that it offered people no reason to join, had been passed to the Mail on Sunday. One official contacted him by text just after 12.30pm to advise him not to speak to reporters; another suggested he get in touch with Conservative headquarters. Shale subsequently contacted the Witney constituency agent Barry Norton, a West Oxfordshire councillor, who said that Shale had been aware of the Mail article but was “quite confident that this was not really an issue”. – the Guardian

That politics is a tough game is a much-used cliche, but it’s true. Like Harold Wilson’s phrase about a week being a long time in politics or Enoch Powell’s observation that all political careers end in failure, the old saying is accurate. The riddle of the untimely death in a Glastonbury VIP toilet of Cameron’s right-hand man, Christopher Shale, is a moment to reflect on the ­pressures of political life. Avon and Somerset Police are investigating and an inquest could be held. Conspiracy theorists have jumped to ­conclusions and will refuse to budge, as they did with Iraq weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. Mr Shale’s death is first and foremost a tragedy for his family. So out of respect to them we should avoid instant verdicts, although police suspect a heart attack. A senior figure in any ­political party would feel under pressure should a damning private assessment receive a public airing. That Mr Shale died after Downing Street rang him may well prove a coincidence, the call and his death hours later two unconnected events. Mr Shale’s conclusions – Tories come across as graceless and always on the take – were uncontroversial to anyone who sees the modern Conservatives up close. What made them controversial was his position as a ­prominent Tory in the PM’s backyard – a close friend. Did telling the truth have tragic consequences for a respected local politician? – Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror

Trade over rights as Wen Jiabao visits number 10

Mr Wen, who is on a three-day visit to the UK, has already said he wants to welcome more UK products to China. On Sunday he visited the Longbridge MG car plant, where he faced a small human rights protest. Downing Street said there was potential to create more jobs and investment opportunities for British businesses. The two leaders are expected to sign an agreement to help UK companies work with China’s regional cities, in architecture, civil engineering and research and development. British poultry farmers are being allowed to export to China and the visit is expected to see agreements reached for the supply of pigs. Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague are due to join Mr Cameron for the talks and Mr Wen is accompanied by other senior members of the Chinese government. They are also likely to discuss improving cultural and educational relationships between China and the UK and global issues such as international security and climate change. A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “China’s rapid economic rise is good news for the UK. It means more money flowing into our economies and has the potential to create more jobs and investment opportunities for British business at home and in China.” – BBC News

Whitehall officials are firmly focused on improving Britain’s trade links with China as Wen Jiabao visits London – to the frustration of human rights campaigners. The Chinese premier and other senior officials are meeting David Cameron and other coalition figures in a summit this morning, as British officials seek to further their goal of securing $100 billion of bilateral trade with China by 2015. Deals worth over £1 billion are expected to be signed later, following up the $1.2 billion Rolls-Royce deal made when a UK delegation led by Mr Cameron visited China last November. The UK will raise human rights issues, but is not prepared to compromise its trade interests by souring relations with Beijing. “Our support for freedom of expression, development of independent civil society and our conviction that the transparent and consistent application of human rights under the rule of law, are essential prerequisites for China’s long term prosperity and stability,” No 10 said. China has released artist Ai Weiwei and dissident Hu Jia in the last eight days, but a strong police presence outside the latter’s home has kept journalists away from his home. –

The talks before the strike

Crucial talks aimed at averting autumn strikes will be held today between the Government and unions – with one official admitting the negotiations are “fraught with difficulties”. The meeting follows weeks of an increasingly bitter war of words over pay and pensions reform and ahead of Thursday’s industrial action involving 750,000 public sector workers. Unison leader Dave Prentis has already warned that his union will ballot over a million workers for industrial action if the dispute is not resolved. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, sparked anger earlier this month when he made it clear the Government would press ahead with plans for public sector workers to pay more into pensions and work longer. We have rigorous contingency plans in place to ensure that essential services are maintained during the strike action on Thursday. Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “What we are looking for is some sign that the Government is prepared to move on the three central issues – paying more, working longer and getting less.” The Government has based its proposals on a report earlier this year by former Labour minister Lord Hutton, which recommended increased payments, a switch from final salary schemes to those based on career-average earnings, and rises in the pension age. But in a speech last week, Lord Hutton warned that people could be forced out of pension schemes if government reforms were too punitive. – Sky News

This week the Coalition government faces its first great trial of strength with the unions as about 750,000 teachers, lecturers and civil servants prepare to walk out over reforms to public pensions. No one can describe the forthcoming battle as unexpected. David Cameron may not espouse the same shrilly ideological grudge against unions in principle that Margaret Thatcher appeared to evince in the 1980s. But the whole thrust of Mr Cameron’s and George Osborne’s agenda, which strives towards a grand rebalancing of the economy, away from the public sector and towards private enterprise and the voluntary sector, necessarily implies a clash with the unions. When the Government talks of “the country” bearing the weight of cuts in spending, this is shorthand for cuts to the numbers, wages and pensions of civil servants. So, neither side is sleepwalking into combat; it was a question of where and when. Each side is banking on public support swinging gradually if not immediately behind it. The unions hope that this week’s industrial action will be start of rolling strikes that gather strength as summer shades into autumn, tapping into a deep vein of public discontent with the handling of the economy that has hitherto struggled to find expression. With any luck, they may calculate, the strikes will expose new strains in the Coalition, adding to the unhappiness already felt by many Liberal Democrats with Government policies and so precipitating the collapse of the Coalition. – the Independent

Hain hails to the chief

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain yesterday said Labour is on course for the biggest changes in “living memory” as the party prepares for major reforms. UK leader Ed Miliband pressed for sweeping changes when he addressed the National Policy Forum in North Wales on Saturday and called for the creation of a mass “movement”. Mr Hain, who has chaired the National Policy Forum, said: “What we are embarking on here is a really serious transformation of a political party , the biggest one undertaken in living memory, because politics has changed and we are a party – like the others are – that is stuck in the past.” A key proposal is to throw open annual conferences to non-affiliated charities and community organisations in an attempt to build a wider movement. Support for reform also came from former prime minister Tony Blair. He said: “Parties that succeed do so by constantly modernising.” – Western Mail

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Refounding Labour: Will Straw’s Labour loves and loathes

15/05/2011, 07:07:53 PM

by Will Straw

Peter Hain’s Refounding Labour review moves to the next level this week with the launch of its website. The new site has been set up to provide a place for members to “critically review and assess the current structures and processes of the Labour party”. Members are being encouraged to set out what they love and want to change about the party.

The thing I love most about the Labour party is how it is arguably the most diverse organisation in any local community. Wherever I have lived I have been struck by how Labour party meetings, social events, and campaigning sessions bring together men and women from different age groups, social classes, ethnicities, and religions. In my CLP, for example, we bring together people from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. That might not seem unusual in London when we all share public transport, doctors’ waiting rooms, and supermarkets with people from a variety of backgrounds. But the Labour party must be unique in bringing such a range of people together for a common cause.

The main thing I would change about the Labour party is the excess of interminable meetings. These can be new members’ first experience of the party, since meetings often outnumber campaigning events. The fixed agendas and arcane rules may provide comfort to party stalwarts, but too often our meetings resemble a Monty Python sketch.

The annual votes for specific positions – often held year on year by the same people – can also mean that energetic new recruits are put off getting more involved. Our structures would work much better if meetings were aimed either at political education by bringing in expert speakers for a discussion and debate, or used to update on campaigning activity and outline the next set of action points. Some CLPs seem to manage this, but it would be good if the rule book were updated to reflect the organising norms of the twenty-first century.

You can have your say on what you love and what you’d change about the party from tomorrow at

Will Straw is associate director for strategic development at the IPPR.

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Saturday News Review

30/04/2011, 06:51:12 AM

A nation celebrates

David Cameron, still in his morning suit, tucked into cake and posed for pictures at the No10 celebration. Guests included actress Barbara Windsor, schoolchildren and charity fundraisers, young and old. The PM said: “It’s been an amazing day.” In Anglesey, North Wales, where Prince William serves at the RAF base, thousands partied in a showground. One reveller said: “I expect William won’t be at the pub’s quiz night with his friends as often now he’s married.” Coronation Street star William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow, joined 300 friends and neighbours in Wilmslow, Cheshire. In ­Southampton, Michaela Coutakis, 45, dressed in patriotic colours, said: “We’re not royalists but it’s bringing the ­country together. We will remember this when we’re old and grey. She looked absolutely stunning.” Outside the royal residence of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, people enjoyed picnics and drank bubbly on the lawn where six large TVs showed the wedding. Mother Amanda Mann, 40, said: “You can’t put a price on memories like today.” – Daily Express

While the nation readies itself for mass jubilation tomorrow as Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the knot, Downing Street too has got in on the act – with a little bit of bunting. Perhaps the Government didn’t want to give the wrong impression in these times of austerity as the bunting budget clearly didn’t stretch very far. There may have been no signs of Union Flags or George Crosses outside – but it was a different matter inside. Larry the cat – brought in to deal with a rodent problem – was seen sporting a very patriotic bow tie ahead of the No.10 street party. Sitting on the Cabinet table, wearing his little Union Flag number, he looked as happy as, well, Larry – but let’s hope he won’t be called on for his official rat-catching duties tomorrow. The usually cordoned-off street will host a party for 100 revellers to celebrate the Royal Wedding. Guests for the do are mostly pensioners chosen by local charities and Save The Children. As well as tucking into home-made cupcakes – which Samantha Cameron helped to bake – they will be entertained with games. To get in the mood for the big day, David Cameron took a stroll along The Mall this evening and met well-wishers. He also re-visited the spot where he camped out at for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. – Daily Mail

Dave says “They have no right to stop you having fun”

An unofficial street party in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park was descending into violence tonight as police stuggled to cope with a crowd of thousands of revellers. Hundreds of thugs threw missiles at officers and at least three cops were injured. Two teenagers had organised the rave in on Facebook on the back of a pledge from PM David Cameron, who hit out at spoilsport councils for blocking parties with red tape. However trouble flared after the plug was pulled more than three hours early on the unofficial event, amid rising tensions and scuffles inside and outside the park. Many of the 4000-strong crowd at the bash were boozing heavily and attacked officers as they tried to split up a fight. The event was organised after David Cameron attacked “pen pushers and busybodies” for thwarting royal wedding celebrations. The PM said : “They have no right to stop you from having fun. I am the Prime Minister and I am telling you if you want to have a street party, you go ahead and have one.” – Daily Record

Police condemned “irresponsible” drunkenness after arresting 21 people when violence broke out at an unauthorised Glasgow park rave to coincide with the royal wedding. One officer was taken to hospital with a head injury after police moved in to break up the unofficial party in Kelvingrove Park, and police say more arrests could be made as they study video footage. More than 4000 revellers, mostly in their teens and early-twenties, converged on the beauty spot yesterday and the majority were drinking. Glasgow City Council, which now has to mount a huge clean- up operation, had warned against the unofficial party and urged people to find a “safer alternative” way to celebrate. JJ Gardner, 19, one of two students who organised the event, spreading the word through social networking sites, said: “David Cameron said people wanting to organise street parties should forget the red tape. That’s what we’re doing.” – Daily Herald

Hain has a howler

Crude politics has intruded on the Royal Wedding after all, and all courtesy of Peter Hain. The Shadow Welsh Secretary has complained — on Twitter, naturally — that the BBC’s coverage of the event dwelt too long on David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and ignored Ed Miliband. “BBC airbrushing Labour like the Palace?” he asked leadingly. The Tory minister David Jones has since admonished him, “time, place, Peter.” If Labour have much sense they’ll play this down as efficiently as possible. Miliband, it is true, barely featured in the television coverage — but that’s really beside the point. It is rarely smart politics to take on the Palace at any time. Yet on the day of the Royal Wedding it’s just downright foolish. Hain’s outburst may not have been the official party line, but he is still a shadow cabinet member, and his leader could have lived without this embarrassment. – the Spectator

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain was rebuked by Labour bosses yesterday after accusing the BBC of political bias in its coverage of the royal wedding. He also appeared to attack the royal family when he took to social networking site Twitter to complain there had been far fewer television shots of Labour leader Ed Miliband during the course of the coverage than of Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg. Mr Hain tweeted: “Loads of TV coverage of Cameron and Clegg at wedding but none of Ed. BBC airbrushing Labour like the palace?” The second line is a reference to former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown not being invited to the wedding, unlike other living former premiers Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major. Responding to Mr Hain’s comments, a senior Labour source said: “The last thing Ed and Justine [Thornton, Mr Miliband’s fiancee] are worried about is getting on television on William and Kate’s big day. It should just be about them. No-one should be trying to make a political row on this day of celebration.” – Western Mail

A day to bury bad news

Labour has accused health bosses of burying bad news on royal wedding day when it emerged that the health regulator Monitor had predicted hospitals would have to make efficiency savings up to 50% higher than previously envisaged. Monitor, in a letter to NHS foundation trusts dated 27 April and released on Thursday, said the higher efficiency savings were partly due to inflation rising above predicted levels. Monitor oversees NHS foundation trusts and assesses applications for foundation status. It is due to become the overall regulator for the whole of the NHS under the government shakeup. It suggested average savings of up to 7% a year may be required in the acute sector over the next five years, compared with the 4% called for by the Department of Health as part of efforts to slash £20bn from running costs. – the Guardian

John Healey, the shadow health secretary, raised questions over the timing of an official announcement that hospitals may need to make savings far greater than those already planned. He said the statement by Monitor, that leading hospitals must make savings of up to 7 per cent a year, proved that the reorganisation of the NHS and cost-cutting plans are putting the system under “huge strain”. Mr Healey said: “With all eyes on the Royal Wedding, the Government is trying to bury bad news on the NHS. This confirms the combination of broken promises on NHS funding and reorganisation is putting a huge strain on hospitals. David Cameron must halt his high-risk, high cost overhaul of the NHS. The Prime Minister promised to protect the NHS but his health policies are piling extra pressure on health services, and patients are starting to see the NHS going backwards again under the Tories.” In plans established under Labour, the NHS must make efficiency savings of 4 per cent of its budget by 2015, totaling £20billion. Many trusts have already announced job cuts and service reductions, although ministers want them to concentrate on reducing waste. But Monitor, which oversees the 137 leading hospitals known as Foundation Trusts, has warned them that they may need to make savings of at least 50 per cent more than initially thought.  – Daily Telegraph

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We must reach out: An NEC member reports from Gillingham

28/11/2010, 05:03:32 PM

by Johanna Baxter

One of the main reasons I stood for the NEC was to try to ensure that members have a bigger voice in our policy making structures.  So, having taken up my seat after Oona’s elevation to the Lords, I was pleased that I hadn’t missed the first meeting of the National Policy Forum since conference.

I would have preferred the opportunity to have consulted members about the key topics for discussion prior to attending but, being a newcomer to the NEC, I didn’t receive my paperwork until Friday afternoon which left no meaningful opportunity for me to be able to do so.

Feeling somewhat underprepared I braved the freezing weather and headed out to Gillingham early yesterday morning.    My nerves were calmed slightly after bumping into the NEC’s Vice-Chair, Michael Cashman MEP, at Gillingham station who, even in our brief discussion, couldn’t have been more welcoming.

I had been struck by how little time was devoted in the agenda to debating policy – just two hours out of a seven hour day.  There were five workshops in all – constitutional reform, the economy, the funding of higher education, the NHS and welfare reform – with representatives invited to attend up to two.  I selected to attend the discussions on the economy and welfare reform.

The business plenary, introduced by NEC chair, Norma Stephenson, kicked off the day.  This short five minutes was devoted to the election of the NPF Chair (Peter Hain) and Vice Chairs (Affiliates; Billy Hayes, CLP & Regions; Simon Burgess, Elected Reps; Kate Green).

In his opening speech Peter said the agenda was more reflective of what representatives wanted: fewer plenary sessions and more workshops than in the past.  Peter also acknowledged that there needed to be more resources for NPF representatives (he was considering an NPF intranet on which information could be shared and policy positions discussed), and more information, and responsibility, for party members.  He announced that fellow NEC member, Ellie Reeves, had been appointed Vice Chair of the review into our policy making process, confirmed that there was no pre-set agenda for the review and that all contributions would be considered.

Next up Harriet Harman introduced Ed Miliband and spoke of the 45,803 new members who have joined the party since the general election. (more…)

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