Archive for July, 2012

In honour of Bradley Wiggins…

22/07/2012, 07:00:33 AM

The Style Council – My Ever Changing Moods by UniversalMusicUK

The premier music video of cycling mods for the world’s number one mod on a bike. From 1984, the peerless Style Council with their ever changing moods: bringing together competitive cycling with a biting excoriation of American militarism in Vietnam. Seriously. Watch the video.

No, we don’t know how they make the connection either, but somehow it all works thanks to the magic of Paul Weller, “Merton” Mick Talbot, Steve White and Dee C Lee.


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Labour gears up for the Bristol mayoral election

20/07/2012, 02:24:19 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

Bristol’s city governance will look very different from November onwards. This week Labour launched the “City Conversation” around what should be the priorities for the first directly elected mayor for the city. Despite big Labour gains in both 2010 and 2011 local elections, at the moment the city council has a Lib Dem leader running a minority administration.

Marvin Rees is Labour’s hopeful to be Bristol mayor. He launched a series of roundtable discussions this week, kicking-off the process with an all member meeting on Wednesday of Bristol Labour Party. Transport was the topic of last night’s roundtable meeting chaired by Lord Andrew Adonis, with experts from across the city. Next week is the health and well-being forum.

Members of Labour’s shadow cabinet including Stephen Twigg, Chuka Umunna and Hilary Benn will be chairing roundtables over the coming weeks on key policy areas such as children and young people, families and communities, the Bristol economy and housing.

Developing a stronger city identity is the name of the game for Labour and Marvin is very much in listening mode with high aspirations for taking Bristol forward: “From higher education to green technology to the creative industries to finance, Bristol is home to world class activity. It is a creative hotbed and an economic powerhouse, but we punch below our weight in too many ways for too many people living here.”

One of the challenges facing campaigners though is the background to all of this. Many Bristolians had reservations, at best, about moving to a system of governance by an elected mayor in the first place. Turn-out in the mayoral referendum was very low, as indeed it was in the other nine English cities with referenda last May.


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Revealed: Unite boss’s plan to turn clock back to 1983 for Labour

20/07/2012, 07:00:45 AM

by Atul Hatwal

A few weeks ago Uncut revealed Unite’s political strategy. How the union intends to take control of local Labour constituency parties, influence parliamentary selections and extract maximum political return for their funding largesse.

The focus of the strategy was on the acquisition and retention of power within the Labour party. Now, one of the most senior officials in the union lays bare what Unite intends to do with that power.

Dave Quayle is chair of Unite’s national political committee. This is the body that is responsible for the management and delivery of the union’s political campaign, from national activity down to Unite’s constituency level plans.

Critically, it is the body that determines how Labour’s biggest donor spends its money in the party.

Comrade Quayle recently gave an interview to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) website. This would be the AWL that defines itself as an organisation committed to the ideas of “Marxism and revolutionary socialism”.

He clearly felt among friends as he held forth on how Unite plans to change the Labour party,

“We want a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign in 2015. We’ve got to say that Labour is the party of and for workers, not for neo-liberals, bankers, and the free market. That might alienate some people, but that’s tough.”

It’s an extraordinary statement for someone like Quayle to make. Unite’s plans for Labour, backed by the millions of pounds at their disposal, can be summarised: yes to class conflict; no to the free market; and forget about the votes of businessmen, Tory switchers or the centre ground. Anyone in the party disagree? Lump it.

Quayle’s vision genuinely involves turning the clock back to 1983 for Labour.


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Sunday review on Thursday: The Labour Movement in Westmorland by Dr David Clark, Lord Clark of Windermere

19/07/2012, 12:00:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Emily Thornberry, who cut her teeth as a Labour parliamentary candidate on the challenging terrain of Canterbury, finds that her computer seeks to autocorrect the word “unwinnable” to “unsinkable”, which she considers apt. David Clark – the long serving MP for South Shields turned Lord of Windermere – has written a history of the Labour movement in Westmorland that supports this view.

“This was only a start”, said Reginald Burnett upon his defeat as the first person to contest the parliamentary seat of Westmorland for Labour in 1924, “but they were going on until they had made Westmorland a safe Labour seat”. Sadly, notwithstanding Burnett’s confused tenses, this has not come to pass.

The hills and lakes of Westmorland are epically beautiful but hardly the Big Meeting, Durham. Still, just as the beach is beneath the paving stones, so too some of Labour’s proudest and most evocative roots have been cultivated in the most unexpected of circumstances. Everything the movement has achieved in Westmorland has been achieved in the face of indifference or hostility, which makes these achievements all the more admirable.

The year after Burnett’s defeat Frank Parrott, a headmaster at a school in Westmorland, received an unexpected visit from “two well-dressed ladies in large hats”. They indicated that they had come to collect their subscription. As he was recently appointed and an “offcomer”, this was perplexing to Parrott, who enquired to what he was supposed to subscribe. When told “the Westmorland Conservative Association” Parrott demurred to offer his subscription or his support. He was rebuked: “But you must Mr Parrott, all headmasters in Westmorland subscribe to the Conservative Association”.

This gives some sense of the entrenched conservatism that has always confronted the Labour in Westmorland. But Parrott went on to be a long-standing Labour councillor. In so doing he was following a trail blazed by Rev Herbert V Mills, who had become the first Labour member of Westmorland County Council in 1892.

Around this time Mills also established a “colony” in Westmorland whose basic purpose was to show that it was possible to rehabilitate individuals who had fallen on difficult times by introducing them to work on the land. This venture received the endorsement of John Ruskin, an early socialist, pioneer of the arts and crafts movement and resident of nearby Coniston.


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Labour needs to be honest about tough spending choices in the NHS

19/07/2012, 07:00:28 AM

by Peter Watt

It has been a particularly tough few months in the NHS.  Setting aside the impact of the NHS and Social Care Act (2012), the impact of the freezing of budgets is being well and truly felt.  Every week sees another story of a hospital or a patient group in crisis or expressing concern.

July seems to have been particularly difficult.  Early in the month we saw the South London Healthcare NHS Trust being put into administration.  The Trust consists of three hospitals – Princess Royal in Orpington, Queen Mary’s in Sidcup and the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich and serves more than one million people.

And then this week the South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium, a group of 19 hospitals in the south west, were shown to be planning to cut the pay and conditions of up to 60,000 staff in order to balance tight budgets.  The headlines all warned of doctors and nurses being sacked and of pay and conditions being cut.  I had a special interest as one of the hospitals in the consortium, Poole, was where I nursed and I still have friends there.

According to their project initiation document, the consortium has come together in order to:

“…assist Trusts across the South West in modernising  pay, terms and conditions to ensure that they  are ‘fit for purpose’ going forward.”

In other words they are hoping to challenge national pay and conditions for their staff as a way of bearing down on their staffing costs.  Specifically they are exploring a number of options such as reducing anti-social hour’s payments, some degree of reward for performance for incremental progression, reducing holiday entitlement, increasing hours and reductions in pay for staff on over £21,000.


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Is Batman really a conservative?

18/07/2012, 01:55:56 PM

by Anthony Painter

Robert Colville argues zestfully that Batman is a conservative in this morning’s Telegraph. My first reaction was that it’s a strange type of conservative that so flagrantly disregards the rule of law. The whole point of the vigilante, Batman, is that the law cannot protect itself. Therefore, it needs shadowy figures who operate outside of it to save society from itself. It trashes the whole notion of rule of law – it’s difficult to think of anything less conservative than that.

It might well be that Batman seeks conservative ends – order, hierarchy, defined social relations, rule by status. But the means are distinctly non-conservative.

In the Dark Knight he establishes a private panopticon in order to defeat the terrorist, the Joker. Sure, he hands over the access to this system to Lucius Fox, his wise and principled technologist. Access is given not to prevent its use but to facilitate its use – he just doesn’t entirely trust himself. Fox ultimately destroys the system but that’s not at Batman’s instruction.

There are definite signs in the same film that Batman aspires to conservative means as well as ends – he just can’t quite trust them. He wishes to get out of the game and hand over safeguarding of the city’s welfare to Harvey Dent, Gotham’s energetic District Attorney. We are not sure whether he’s thinking straight as this has the advantage of clearing the way to him re-opening his pursuit of Rachel Dawes (who refuses to countenance a marriage to Bruce Wayne while he is still playing at Batman.) Nonetheless, he enthusiastically embraces Dent as a figure who can restore the rule of law.

It all goes terribly wrong as Dent is turned by the Joker into the gruesome Two-Face. In a Michael Corleone fashion, just when he hoped he might be out, Batman is pulled back in. Dent is the greatest hope for the law being able to take care of itself. It fails and so the vigilante is needed once again. Upon, Dent’s death, Batman conspires with Commissioner Gordon to take the blame for murders perpetrated by Two-Face (Dent) as the people of Gotham would not be able to cope with the crimes of their latest saviour, Dent. Propaganda is not beyond our conservative super-hero.

So our Batman is a conservative who doesn’t believe in the rule of law. He is a protector of liberty who wants to turn every mobile phone into a recording, imaging and tracking device. He upholds a people’s values by manufacturing reality. If he is a conservative then it would appear that he’s a conservative in the George W Bush mould.


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We must keep the Post public

18/07/2012, 11:56:15 AM

by Amanda Ramsay

Yesterday the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee published Post Office Network Transformation: a progress report, scrutinising controversial plans to change post office services. It makes stark reading for users of postal services and postal workers alike.

From this summer, many consumers across the UK will see a new model of post office in their area known as a Post Office Local, moving services to within existing retail premises, such as shops and garages. The so called “Local model” will not offer the full product range of traditional sub-post offices, leaving hundreds of postmasters and their communities facing the loss of core post office services.

Billy Hayes, Communication Workers Union (CWU) general secretary, is calling for a moratorium on any formal rollout of the Locals model and says: “If this programme marches ahead, post offices close and then services fail, it will either be costly to re-open a post office or will leave communities without these services.”

The Locals model would have simply been rolled out, had it not been for the work of the MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee and the CWU, who asked the committee to carry out this review.

This Tory-led government wasted no time in getting to work on privatising postal services. Something even Margaret Thatcher hesitated to do. The Postal Services Act (2011) allows the government to privatise the Royal Mail. The Post Office is already operating as an independent company as of this year, with little noticeable political discussion or dissent. There needs to be a high profile public campaign to protect this valued institution.

Right-wing calls for these changes to post office services date back to 2010 when the government made a policy announcement: “Securing the Post Office Network in the Digital Age”. One of the arguments advanced at the time was that the rise of e-mail correspondence had reduced the need for post office services. But, the huge rise of internet shopping says otherwise, as parcel traffic is at a high.


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It’s time for a “victims law” where the state recognises its obligation to homicide victims

18/07/2012, 07:00:41 AM

Last week David Hines won the “top of the policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s justice/constitutional reform event, chaired by Sadiq Khan MP, shadow justice secretary. The winning proposal was for a “victims’ law”

Almost twenty years ago, my wife Kathy and I fought a painful 3 year court battle to adopt our infant grandson.

The boy had been left parentless when his mother was killed and his father was sent to prison… for committing the murder.

Three years seems like an eternity for people trying to rescue a victimized child from the social services system.  The ordeal seemed even more unnecessarily lengthy (and outrageously expensive) since we were the boy’s blood relatives; his murdered mother was our own daughter.

The victims of murder live a lifetime of pain and anguish. At the corner pub, people whisper about them from the next table over.  Neighbours drop off flowers and then look away.  Lifelong friends, never sure what to say or afraid to seem happy in front of people in perpetual mourning, fade away.

We were extremely hurt by how the system us down – not only through the painstaking adoption process but also during the trial and criminal conviction process.

My anger grew when I saw my daughter’s murderer benefiting from the social service system (appointed counsel, fed, clothed, housed, and treated humanely). That’s where the tax payer’s money is going. The granting of legal aid to a murderer and the refusal of aid to the victims’ family was an injustice and insult.

The system’s betrayal was particularly pointed for me, because, as an elected magistrate, I had been a proud part of the mechanism of justice.  I was supposed to be the knowledgeable one. I was working in the system.

It made me feel that everything in this awful situation was geared for the criminal not the victims.

That’s why I founded the National Victim’s Association and why I went to the Pragmatic Radicalism “top of the policies” event to propose a new policy for Labour: a “victims law”

This would create a legal and statutory obligation to care for the victims of homicide that raise children resulting from a murder or manslaughter.


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Promoting gesture candidates should be none of Labour’s business

17/07/2012, 02:19:52 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It seems gesture politics is alive and well, although the latest outbreak has popped up in an unexpected place.

We learn today that the Labour party wants more candidates for elected office to come from a business background. It wants to extend the future candidates programme and get sitting MPs to mentor potential applicants from business. They won’t even need to be party members, just sympathetic to Labour’s ‘values’.

Of course the days when Labour candidates overwhelmingly came from trade unions, local government, universities or public sector management are disappearing. The last decade has shown that people who support Labour now work everywhere.

We should embrace that plurality. It is a success for Labour’s ambition to be a true ‘one nation’ party. And ‘business’ covers everything from executives of blue chip companies through to one-man band start-ups.

All oppositions have to reach out to build goodwill and support and it is right to do so. And Labour’s business reception in the City tonight is a good and useful thing to do.

But the announcement about candidates feels like a piece of crude brand positioning – an attempt to counter the charge that Labour is somehow anti-business. If that’s the real motive then there are better ways of going about responding to it.

If we need a concrete message for tonight’s business reception, how about promising that missives from HM Revenue and Customs will be written in plain English? That would be greeted with hosannas from every small business in the land. Or perhaps reverse the closure of HMRC front counter offices? Or how about a dedicated account manager for each small business?

Meet, talk and discuss with business by all means, but offering special access into the party’s selection processes is as abasing as it is pointless. Abasing because it sends the signal ‘we don’t – cannot – understand business without you’ and pointless because the take-up will be so low.

Do we really think there will be a rush from the executive corridors of Britain to spend evenings in residents’ association meetings or to take pay cuts to serve as MPs?


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Why aren’t home office civil servants in the dock along with G4S?

17/07/2012, 07:00:04 AM

by Atul Hatwal

At midday today Nick Buckles, chief executive of G4S will begin some of the most uncomfortable minutes of his life.

His questioning by MPs on the home affairs select committee will lead the news bulletins. The management double talk, where simple failure becomes “complex human resource supply chain capacity challenges” or some similar corporate confection, will be boringly familiar.

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, Bob Diamond, and now, Nick Buckles; a nation’s heads will shake in bewilderment across the country, as the news plays out.

But, for all the justified anger and rolled eyeballs at yet another example of egregious corporate malfeasance, something will be missing from proceedings.

Buckles’ pain and squirming will satiate some of the desire for public retribution yet this disaster, as with all government procurement catastrophes, was not the sole responsibility of the private sector.

This contract was allowed to careen horrendously off the rails by civil servants.

In a past life I spent years working projects like this when they used to be called public private partnerships. For all the anger that is directed at the private sector, in one sense, the old title of these projects was right.

They are partnerships.

For every bad contractor spectacularly failing to deliver, there will inevitably have been shoddy, amateurish management by the civil servants running the contract. Never one without the other.

The numbers of checks, committee approvals and monitoring reports that need to be completed in any public contract mean that it should be impossible for something like the G4S scandal to suddenly erupt across our TV screens.

Should be.

At each turn, G4S will undoubtedly have failed to meet the required standard but a brigade of home office civil servants will have been sufficiently incompetent not to notice or do anything about it if they did.


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