Tag Archives: Labour Party

Labour MPs must vote against ‘benefit cap’ tomorrow

I have just emailed my MP to urge her to vote against the Tories’ ‘benefit cap’ tomorrow in the House of Commons, despite the shameful support being given by the Labour frontbench. This policy is morally repugnant and economically stupid. By its definition it will transform social security from a needs-based to a cost-based system.

Dear Chi, 

I am writing as a constituent and a member of Newcastle Central CLP regarding the vote in the House of Commons tomorrow on the Government’s proposed ‘benefit cap’. 

I urge you to vote against this proposal, and I am deeply disappointed that our leadership have unilaterally declared that our party will be supporting this policy. I understand that there are already a number of your colleagues (including Diane Abbot, John McDonnell and Ian Lavery) who will be voting against.

I have two reasons for objecting to this policy – the first being a moral issue. The ‘benefit cap’ is another attempt by the Tories, and the Right within our party, to demonise social security recipients and is part of an ideological plan to revert social security back to pre-Second World War ideas of ‘deserving poor’ and ‘undeserving poor’. Our party should be challenging this narrative and highlighting that the majority of social security expenditure goes to pensioners and the working poor. This policy is not compatible with Labour principals of fairness and social justice. For our front bench it forms part of a misguided belief that to stand up for the poor and to defend social security based on the principle of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’ is not an election winning strategy without any regard for the devastating effect this government’s reforms are having on the poorest. For the Tories this is a further part of their ideological drive to dismantle social security.

My second objection is an economic one. If you feel unable to vote against this policy on the basis of the moral argument, please can I urge you to consider the economic idiocy of having an arbitrary cap on social security spending. An arbitrary cap on how much the government can spend on social security take no account of changing circumstances. If unemployment were to rise, or wages fall even further, it is surely reasonable to assume that social security payments will increase. If unemployment falls, wages were to rise, or prices were to fall, then clearly social security spending will fall. It is a ridiculous notion that government can cap social security spending.

This policy, by definition, will mean a fundamental transformation of social security from needs-based to cost-based – and for that reason I politely ask that you vote against it tomorrow.

I am copying this email to several other Labour MPs to urge them to also vote against.

Yours sincerely

Daniel

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Labour North Rally, er Sorry, ‘Conference’!

Part of my report on Labour North regional conference (to which I was Newcastle Central CLP’s delegate), which will be considered by Labour members at the next GC.

After lunch the Regional Policy Forum was held. Despite there being only an hour allocated for what was the only part of the day at which delegates could discuss policy, the first 30 minutes was taken up with contributions/speeches from the various shadow ministers who were leading the round-table discussions. There was no prior indication of which tables would be discussing which policy documents. I ended up on the ‘Stability and Prosperity’ table. There were far too many delegates at the table (perhaps 20 around a table designed for 12) so some contributors went unnoticed or unheard. Nevertheless there were some interesting contributions about the need to challenge the fundamentals of the banking system; and specifically to create a ‘national’ bank either owned by the state or communities. Other contributions included a suggestion about the need to ban ‘payday’ lenders, or at least legislate to limit interest charges. Louise Baldock (PPC, Stockton South) did make the point that, for some, ‘payday’ lenders fulfil a necessary function – to which I suggested we ought to create policies that would ensure the apparent need for such loans was eradicated. Finally, I raised my concerns that we aren’t going far enough on ‘zero hours’ contracts and that they ought to be banned. Catherine McKinnell (MP, Newcastle North) engaged really well on this but was concerned that a ban could have unintended consequences. We continued the discussion after, and agreed that both of us could bring some useful ideas to the table.

I am afraid I did not stay for the final session (speeches from the European candidates). Conference was already over-running, and trains from the venue were only hourly. I shall end on a personal perspective. Over the day I heard from 11 platform speakers, but only had two 15-minute Q&A sessions, and only 30 minutes in the whole day discussing policy. I have been a member long enough to not have huge expectations of a regional conference being able to facilitating debate and discussion on policy and politics, but this was a real disappointment. Of course, speeches from our front bench are interesting, useful and motivating; but 11 in four and a half hours is too much (and, for those who stayed for the last 45 minutes they would have sat through 13 or 14!). That said, I would like to thank the CLP for sending me as delegate, despite the lack of policy discussion and engagement with members, gatherings of the Labour faithful are always interesting. I particularly enjoyed meeting comrades from across the region with their own unique perspectives and experiences (did I commit a major faux pas by having lunch at a table of Sunderland councillors?).

Letter to Tristram Hunt MP on Crossing Picket Lines

Last Thursday, thousands of university workers took part in a further 24-hour strike as part of an on-going dispute about a further year of a real-terms pay cut. The shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt MP, decided to cross a picket line at Queen Mary University of London in order to deliver a lecture (ironically on Marx). Reports from the picket line suggest that he was asked not to cross the picket, and responded that he is not even a member of UCU. I hope that fellow Labour party members will also take a few moments to email or write to Mr Hunt. I have forwarded a copy of my letter (below) to my local Labour MP and also Ed Miliband. There can be no excuse for Labour elected representatives to cross picket lines – especially when many thousands of workers who earn significantly less than a shadow minister are prepared to make the sacrifice.

 

Dear Mr Hunt,

I am writing as a member of the Labour Party and Unite, and am writing to you in your capacity as a fellow party member and as an elected representative of our party. I am not a constituent.

I would like to express my anger at your decision to cross a picket line at Queen Mary University of London last Thursday. One reason for the existence of our party, and I accept it is not the only one, is to provide an electoral voice for organised labour. It is a sad and sorry indictment of our party when one of our MPs decides not to support colleagues who are participating in lawful industrial action. Whatever your personal view of the dispute, this is a lawful industrial dispute and Labour Party representatives should support the right of workers to take collective action. The elected representatives of the labour movement should support the working members of the labour movement.

Last Thursday thousands of university workers felt that their treatment is so unfair that they were prepared to sacrifice a further days pay, many of those workers will earn significantly less than a shadow minister. Your decision to continue ‘business as usual’ is a slap in the face for those thousands of low-paid university staff who are suffering another year of a real-terms pay cut.

That said, perhaps the most concerning revelation from last Thursday is that you are not a member of UCU despite continuing your role as a lecturer. I trust that you are a member of a trade union?

Finally, when lecturers such as yourself choose to go ahead with lectures and seminars during periods of industrial action they ignore the harmful effect on students who do have principles and are not prepared to cross picket lines and consequently miss out on valuable teaching.

I am forwarding a copy of this email to my own MP, Chi Onwurah, and also our party leader as I feel it is important that they know the extent of my anger with your decision.

I look forward to reading your assessment of this issue.

Yours faithfully
Daniel Maguire

Thatcher – One thing to thank her for

I was in two minds whether to contribute to the expected rush of articles and blogs on the death of Mrs Thatcher. I have certainly resisted the temptation of instant tweets or Facebook posts. However, a tweet from Ian Lavery MP (Wansbeck) persuaded me that we should all record our experiences and thoughts about this woman. He ‘tweeted’ that it would be “cowardly” not to comment.

I grew up in the 1980s with parents who were far from political at the start of the decade, but who ended the decade as two of the most active members of the local Labour Party – candidates at every local election, branch and GC officers, conference delegates and so on. It was in this environment of the late 1980s, on a council estate in Tory Harrogate, surrounded by boxes of Labour Links, crumpled rosettes, ‘knocking up’ pads and canvass cards that my own interest in politics and specifically socialism developed. Once of my earliest Labour Party memories is of my sister and I hand-writing thousands of envelopes for the free mailing in the 1987 general election. I was only 6!

It pains me to say it but Mrs Thatcher did have one positive effect on my family and I – she politicised my parents (both of whom used that political passion to read, study, return to college and qualify as teachers), which was instrumental in making my own politics what it is today.

History has a habit of ignoring the facts, as I can see from my Twitter feed or Facebook timeline. I will not be celebrating the death of Mrs Thatcher, not because I look back with rose-tinted glasses like so many do, but because of what she made me. She made me compassionate about fellow humans, something that she was not. Going with my parents on protests and rallies in the late 1980s, seeing the effect the Poll Tax or rising rents and fuel bills had on my family convinced me that this Thatcherism as it was being named did not work. Even at that early age I could see that this wasn’t fair. Watching news reports about the homeless, visiting London in 1988 and seeing (for the first time) rough-sleepers, watching the unending greed in the City, reading about good communities in the north being decimated in the name of Thatcherism; all these things made me realise that what should shape politics is compassion. The reverse of Thatcherism – that there are enough resources in this world for all of us to have a decent standard of living.

Watching John Gummer pay tribute just now on BBC News; he stated that “even more people would have been worse off” if it wasn’t for Thatcherism – thereby accepting that Thatcherism did make SOME people worse off (presumably the millions and their families who lost their jobs in our industries). How can it be that this goes unchallenged? Thatcher taught me that any ideology that makes SOME people worse off is wrong – instead we need an ideology that gives EVERYONE a decent home, a decent job, a decent education and decent protections.

So tonight, I am not celebrating. I have never celebrated the death of anyone, in fact I feel distinctly uncomfortable when the world celebrates the death of ‘terrorists’ or ‘brutal dictators’. Instead, I shall remember the harsh reality of the 1980s and today – the facts of Mrs Thatcher’s legacy; huge inequality. I will be hoping, more than I have hoped for anything, that the true legacy of Mrs Thatcher can be a Labour government in 2015 which is proud of ideology (just as she was), but an ideology that is built on compassion and socialism. As a compassionate human being I have never celebrated the death of anyone no matter how lacking in compassion they were in life.

Shouting down Labour MPs will not stop the Bedroom Tax

Yesterday I joined hundreds of others at the Bedroom Tax protest in Newcastle, at what I was hoping would be a broad based coalition of people who oppose this vicious tax and that could send a message to Westminster (to all political parties) whilst also engage with members of the public who may not be aware of what is being done in their name.

I was delighted that two good Labour MPs, Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central) and Ian Mearns (Gateshead) would be speaking from the platform, along with speakers from a cross-section of socialist groups, tenants groups and people directly affected by the Bedroom Tax.

Sadly, the protest was spoiled for me by two or three vocal anti-Labour campaigners who tried to drown out Chi Onwurah and Ian Mearns and demand that Labour be excluded from the rally.

Those who know me and know my politics, will know that I am a passionate defender of the Labour Party and what we should stand for but at the same time I have been a harsh critic of the direction we have taken in recent years. Indeed I have some sympathy for the frustrations of comrades on the left who despair at the failure of the Labour leadership to come out emphatically and commit to repeal the Bedroom Tax if we form the government after 2015.

However, attacking good socialists like Chi Onwurah and Ian Mearns is not going to help bring down this government. Ian in particular is a champion of the Left within the party. If we had more Labour MPs like Chi and Ian, and other like Grahame Morris, Ian Lavery, Jon Trickett etc, then I am sure a commitment to repeal the Bedroom Tax would have already been made.

Further, there was a much bigger concern yesterday. As anyone who has knocked on doors, spoken to friends and neighbours about the Tax, or discussed it at the local pub or club will know – many people are either not aware or are ignorant of the sheer viciousness and unfairness of the Tax. Events like yesterday in Newcastle are a great way to raise awareness and educate Having speakers shouted at just puts off a lot of people who might otherwise be ‘non-political’.

I acknowledge that there is a need for the Labour leadership to come out tougher on the Bedroom Tax and on social security generally and I accept the argument for councils to pledge not to evict tenants caught in the Tory trap. Shouting demands to good MPs who oppose the Tax will not achieve anything, except to alienate some and divide the left.

Events like yesterday should be open to all who oppose the Bedroom Tax and want to see it repealed. Of course there will be people like me who want to see councils go further in protecting tenants in the face of Tory attacks. There will also be those who want a campaign of non-payment. Whatever our responses to the Tax, we should celebrate that Labour MPs want to nail their colours to the mast and publicly state their opposition to it.

Of course it would help if the Labour Party leadership recognised the inconsistencies of campaigning against the Tax now, but being reluctant to pledge to repeal it. But, the place to make that argument is within the Labour Party – join, get involved and make sure your MP is demanding Labour repeal the Tax.