Category Archives: Labour
Labour pays tribute to former member for Glasgow Provan and Glasgow Baillieston, describing him as ‘formidable’
The former MP Jimmy Wray has died following a long illness, Labour has announced.
Wray, who died on Saturday morning aged 78, served as MP for Glasgow Provan and Glasgow Baillieston for 18 years. He stepped down in 2005 after a spell of ill health. He is survived by his four children.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “I remember Jimmy fondly for his personal kindness and generosity but most of all for his love of the Labour party, which he served with distinction for a great many years. Even after he stepped down as an MP, he continued to support the party in any way he could.
“Jimmy was a formidable man, growing up in the Gorbals and known to be a good boxer. He never forgot his roots and used his experience to fight hard for those who needed someone to speak up for them.”
Following Woolwich attack, Labour peers Lord West and Lord Reid call for Nick Clegg to revive ‘snooper’s charter’ bill
Political pressure is mounting to revive the communications data bill in the wake of the Woolwich attack, with Labour peers Lord West and Lord Reid leading calls for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to drop their opposition to the legislation. West said Clegg was putting the country at risk.
Clegg hailed a major political victory when he prevented the draft bill being allowed into the Queen’s speech. The home secretary, Theresa May, had hoped she had changed the bill sufficiently from its original format to win the deputy prime minister’s support, and even when the bill did not feature in the Queen’s speech, she refused to accept that it had been killed off.
Reid, the former Labour home secretary, said such measures were essential to combating terrorism, and warned it could otherwise take “some huge tragedy” to show the decision was wrong.
Lord Carlile, a Liberal Democrat and a former government reviewer of counter-terrorism, reiterated his call for the bill to be revived.
He said on BBC’s Newsnight on Wednesday: “We have to learn proportionate lessons from what has occurred. We mustn’t rush to judgment. But we must ensure that the police and the security services have for the future the tools they need that will enable them to prevent this kind of attack taking place.
“I hope that this will give the government pause for thought about their abandonment, for example, of the communications data bill, and possibly pause for thought about converting control orders into what are now called TPIMs, with a diluted set of powers.”
Lord West, a former first sea lord and security minister under Gordon Brown, said: “The communications data bill is absolutely crucial. We may find the information we need on these mobiles is not there. It was meant to be in the Queen’s speech. David Cameron and the home secretary both quite rightly wanted it, but the deputy prime minister said no and that is putting the country at risk.
“They need to look again at the bill, which has a lot of changes to stop it being a snoopers’ charter. This ability is something that exists now, and will disappear. I have no doubt that if it goes we will be more at risk, so the deputy prime minister is, I believe, putting the country at risk.”
The former Labour home secretary Jack Straw called for the intelligence and security committee to inquire into whether the communications bill was needed in light of the attack.
He said: “We need to know whether it would have made any difference. I don’t know. I don’t think John Reid knows. You have got to make sure that the proposals are proportionate”.
He said the murder was an act of “stone-age savagery”.
Asked whether the government may respond to the Woolwich killing by resurrecting the communications data bill, the faith and communities minister, Baroness Warsi, told BBC Radio 4′s World at One: “I’m sure people will analyse how things could be done better and I’m sure people will have a lessons-learnt exercise.
“But I think the wrong way to make legislation is on the back of a tragedy like this. It isn’t the moment to start looking at the kind of legislation we should or should not have. I’m sure at some point it will play into the debate.”
There was no immediate response from the Liberal Democrats, but Clegg’s officials had previously said they were willing to look at some residual changes to make sure all mobiles were linked to IP addresses. It was not clear whether this required primary legislation.
Currently, police can identify who has made a telephone call or sent an SMS text message, and when and where. However, they cannot do the same for email, internet telephony, instant messaging or other internet-based services because communications service providers don’t retain all of the relevant data.
Notes attached to the Queen’s speech hinted that the security services still had ambitions to extend the willingness of the Liberal Democrats to link mobiles to internet providers. The notes said: “When communicating over the internet, people are allocated an IP address. However, these addresses are generally shared between a number of people.
“In order to know who has actually sent an email or made a Skype call, the police need to know who used a certain IP address at a given point in time. Without this, if a suspect used the internet to communicate instead of making a phone call, it may not be possible for the police to identify them.”
The government said it was looking at ways of addressing the issue with service providers and that this may involve new legislation.
Eric Schmidt rejects Ed Miliband’s criticisms of tax affairs, saying firm fears being ‘double or quadruple taxed’ under any changes
The Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, has told political leaders to sort out a rational and predictable international tax system, as he faced a wave of criticism over the firm’s failure to pay more tax.
Ed Miliband attempted to deliver his rebuke direct to Schmidt when invited to speak at the Google Big Tent conference, although the US executive missed the Labour leader’s address on Wednesday, saying he had to attend a meeting in London.
Nick Clegg disclosed at a press conference he had also criticised Google at a Downing Street meeting earlier in the week at which Schmidt was present. David Cameron’s aides, after earlier denying the prime minister rounded on Schmidt at that meeting, later briefed that Google had been implicitly rebuked in the context of the prime minister’s general call for greater tax transparency as part of his agenda for the G8 summit next month.
Speaking at the annual Big Tent event after Miliband had left, Schmidt said one of his key concerns about changes to the tax structure was that Google might be “doubly or quadruply taxed”.
Asked by Labour MP Stella Creasy how he would reform the tax system, he suggested: “Have a rational system that’s predictable and doesn’t change very much.
“Virtually all the American companies have tax structures like this, and UK companies operating in the US do too. But if we pay more taxes in one area, then we pay less in another.
“Google feels very, very strongly that tax information, tax policy should be done openly. I don’t think companies should decide tax policy, governments should … we’re in a very long-standing tax regime … we need to have a conversation about this, we’re not trying to do the wrong thing, we’re trying to do the right thing.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where we get double or quadruple taxed.”
Asked how he would cope if Miliband were to come to power and, as promised, stop transfer pricing, Schmidt said: “If he does – if he does so, we will follow the rules.” Transfer pricing involves firms shifting profits between countries.
Schmidt also said Google would continue to invest in the UK, no matter what tax regime was in place: “We love you guys too much. We will continue investing in the UK no matter what.”
He rebuffed Miliband’s suggestion there was a distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law. “You’ll have to define the difference,” he said to a barrister who challenged him to say whether Google would comply with the “spirit” of the tax laws, which might then lead to it being taxed more. “We’re governed by US securities laws – in that scenario it might be seen as incompetence,” added Schmidt.
Earlier Miliband told the meeting of the firm’s staff that he was “disappointed” it had paid £6m in corporation tax on UK sales worth £3.2bn in 2011. Most of Google’s profits are routed through Ireland. Miliband said the US company’s employees expected it to do the “right thing”, as its motto was “Don’t be evil.”
He said: “I can’t be the only person who feels deeply disappointed that a great company like Google, with great founding principles, should be reduced to arguing that when it employs thousands of people in Britain, makes billions of pounds in revenue in Britain, it is fair that it should pay just a fraction of 1% of that in tax.
“So when Google does great things, I will praise you … But when Google goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying its taxes, I say it’s wrong.”
Labour rejected Schmidt’s explanation, saying Google has been making sales to UK customers from its UK staff, but pretending the transactions were being made from Ireland so the firm could register the profits as made in Ireland rather than the UK.
Booking those sales in the UK would not mean taxing profits twice – just taxing them in the UK, not Ireland.
Even after profits were shifted to Ireland, Google avoids paying 12.5% corporation tax there by switching the surpluses to tax havens such as Bermuda, according to a Reuters investigation.
This is done by using two Irish firms, (hence the name, “double Irish”) one a tax resident in Bermuda and owning the intellectual property of the company. The offshore firm then charges the onshore one royalties, which shifts the profits out of Ireland and into Bermuda.
By doing so Google would not be taxed on the same profits in different countries; it is shifting profits between tax jurisdictions to avoid paying tax.
Clegg told a press conference in London on Wednesday morning: “My overall approach to tax is the obvious one. I put this directly to Eric Schmidt from Google and other business leaders at a meeting in Downing Street a couple of days ago.
“We are bringing the tax burden on corporations down by lowering the rate of corporation tax but in return people have to pay their fair share.”
He said tax havens were symptoms of the growing pains of globalisation. “You have got tax systems that are national rooted in an old economy, and now we have got these new corporate goliaths that operate in this disembodied way particularly in the digital sector, that quite unsurprisingly think they can exploit the best deal for themselves in the cracks and crevices between the national tax systems.”
Deputy PM reproaches alma mater as MPs urge companies to withdraw work placements from fee-paying school’s auction
Nick Clegg has backed complaints about a prestigious private school’s auction of exclusive work experience placements for its students.
A group of MPs have written to participants including Coutts bank, Fabergé and the high street retail guru Mary Portas asking them to withdraw their placements from an online auction at Westminster school, where Clegg was once a pupil.
The auction, described by one MP as “grotesque”, is expected to raise thousands of pounds for the school, which charges annual fees of more than £21,000.
The letter, signed by seven Labour and Lib Dem MPs including the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, and the former secretary of state Hazel Blears, condemns the 15 organisations offering the placements for “explicitly favouring privilege“.
Clegg also signalled his disapproval at the behaviour of his alma mater. A spokesman for the deputy prime minister told the Guardian: “Nick Clegg believes that internships should be made available on a fair and open basis to talented young people from all backgrounds, not just those who have the right connections.”
Current bids for the placements average hundreds of pounds, with one of the highest at £825 for one or two weeks’ work experience with a criminal defence barrister in London.
In 2011 the Conservative party faced flak for auctioning off internships at its Black and White ball to raise money for party coffers.
In their letter the MPs say: “Many have worked hard and secured a good education, only to find that the jobs market demands lengthy periods of work experience, without which they cannot find a job.
“By offering opportunities solely on the basis of wealth, you are explicitly favouring privilege, and excluding the vast majority of young people who don’t have the financial support or family connections that those at Westminster school already have.”
Portas, a government adviser, has come in for special criticism for offering a week’s work experience at her communications company. The Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, said: “It’s grotesque for Westminster school to be auctioning internships for hundreds of pounds, especially when many young people can only dream of having this sort of opportunity.
“It’s very disappointing that Mary Portas, a government retail adviser, is allowing a one-week placement at her company to be sold to the highest bidder. Young people shouldn’t have to work for free to get on in life. This appalling case shows why we need to ensure interns are always properly paid.”
Gus Baker, of the campaign group Intern Aware, who drafted the letter, said the companies involved should be “absolutely ashamed of what they’re doing”.
“It’s another huge leg up,” he said, for the children of the rich “to be invited into an investment bank, an architects firm, to be part of a small network. These industries will just become the preserve of those who have significant amounts of money.”
The auction, which opened at the start of May, is due to close on Wednesday night. Westminster school was not available for comment but has said the money raised from the auction will go towards its new capital projects and bursary programme.
When Google does great things for the world, I applaud. When it goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying its taxes, it’s wrong
This is the prepared text of a speech delivered at Google’s Big Tent event on the morning of Wednesday 22 May, 2013.
It is great to be here inside the Google Big Tent.
My sons Daniel and Sam think I do a very boring job, so they will be excited when I tell them I appeared along with the “Killer Robots” and the “Captain of the Moonshots” at your sessions.
I’d like to start by showing you four pictures and asking you to decide which is the odd one out, because it’s reveals the theme of my talk: what kind of future we want to build.
The first is my dad. His name was Ralph Miliband. He was a Marxist professor.
The second is Willy Wonka, the genius who owns the factory in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and eventually gives it all away to Charlie’s family.
The third is Margaret Hodge, Labour chair of the public accounts committee, who, as you know, has been very critical of Google in the last few days.
And the fourth is Google, along with your founding slogan: “Don’t be evil”.
So, as they say on “Have I Got News from You?”, I’d like people to tell me who is the odd one out.
Well, I’ll tell you my answer.
My answer is that it is my dad.
Because he’s the only one who thought that the route to a fair society was not through capitalism but through socialism based on public ownership.
It wasn’t just my dad who thought it, of course.
Until 1995 this view was enshrined on the membership card of the party I now lead.
Tony Blair got rid of it and rightly so, because nationalising the major industries is not the route to a fair society.
Nowadays, there are some people who will tell you that because capitalism is here to stay there aren’t really any choices any more about what kind of society we need.
But I don’t believe that either.
So here’s another four people that might tell us why.
First, here’s Richard O’Neill, he’s a small businessman who runs a small company called School Office Services in London and despite it being a highly competitive industry, he prides himself on paying all of his workers a living wage.
The second is Muhammad Yunus, the microfinance genius, who won the Nobel peace prize.
The third is Charlie Mayfield, who is head of Britain’s major employee-owned retail chain, John Lewis, sharing its profits with its workforce.
And, the fourth is Montgomery Burns, who runs the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons.
Now, the odd one out is obvious this time.
It is Mr Burns.
He’s not such a good guy.
He leaves radioactive nuggets lying around.
Of course, he is cartoon character, but I could have substituted him with RBS or some of the other big banks before the financial crash.
He illustrates my case today because there is a choice to make.
A choice between an “irresponsible capitalism” which sees huge gaps between the richest and the poorest, power concentrated in a few hands, and people are just in it for the fast buck whatever the consequences.
And a “responsible capitalism”, and this is an agenda being led by business, where companies pursues profit but we also have a equal society, power is in the hands of the many and where we recognise our responsibilities to each other.
And my case is a “responsible capitalism” isn’t only fairer but we’re more likely to succeed as a country with it.
Now, this is an argument I have made for the last two years, as leader of the Labour party.
And today I want to apply it to the internet and the digital age.
The possibilities of the internet
On the face of it, we have many reasons to believe that digital technology is taking us to a more “responsible capitalism”.
Digital technology has opened up markets to people who used to have no access to them it, from the African farmer to the small business people in my constituency.
From politics to media, it helps break down old hierarchies.
And by making the world more interconnected, the internet creates communities that are more likely to see their responsibilities to each other.
And of course, Google is at forefront of this.
People all over the world rely on you.
And from your search engine, to Gmail, to Google Glass, you have been at the cutting edge of all this revolution.
And I applaud you for your innovation.
Big choices remain
Of course, you are used to politicians coming and saying this sort of thing.
But if that’s all there was to it, there weren’t any big questions that we need to resolve, then frankly I am not sure I should be here.
But there are choices we need to make.
The internet opens up opportunities for millions, but countries and people can be left behind.
The internet breaks down old hierarchies but it can also create new powerful vested interests.
And the internet connects people across the globe, but it can also enable footloose global companies to shirk their responsibilities.
The rules that we set, the behaviour we encourage, and the cultures we reward will all help to determine which future we end up in.
Whether our economy has more Mr Burns or more Charlie Mayfields.
Let me start with how we give every individual an opportunity to benefit from the internet and how we avoid being left behind as a country.
There are still 2.6 million households in Britain without access to basic broadband.
And there are millions of people in Britain who have never used the internet.
That digital divide excludes the potential designers, innovators, entrepreneurs of the future.
We’ve got to turn it around.
It’s bad for them and it is wrong for our country.
But taking advantage of the internet goes far beyond access.
It is about putting creativity at the heart of our education system.
Google has recognised this by distributing Raspberry Pi computers to schools across the country.
But we need to take that insight and use it to transform the way our whole national education system works.
Unfortunately, our education is going in the opposite direction.
Schools are spending 15% less time on art, design and technology in England, compared to only three years ago.
There are over a third fewer teachers being trained in these subjects.
And it is no wonder.
The government’s favoured EBacc simply doesn’t include creative and vocational subjects.
Art, design, technology and creativity have been rendered second class.
But this is precisely the wrong message to be sending out to schools.
Just think about Sir Jony Ive.
As a kid his Christmas present every year was a day in the classroom with his parents who were design teachers.
Sir Jony went on to change the world by designing the iMac and iPad.
We need to make sure the next generation aren’t just good at using Google, Facebook, and YouTube, but are also designing and creating the next phase of the digital world.
That’s why we have to put art, design and technology back at the heart of our education system.
An economy made by the many
The second part of our task is to harness the ability of the internet to transform our economy.
In particular making sure that power isn’t concentrated in a few hands, but we allow the smallest firms to flourish.
Enabling individual creators to work hand-in-hand both with the public sector and with global companies as they design the next generation of technology.
That will only happen if the big firms don’t squeeze out their smaller rivals.
Sometimes markets themselves see off this danger.
Like Google did when it gave Android to the world, open source.
It prevented the smartphone market being monopolised.
But we can’t rely on the private sector alone.
In the public sector the principle should be create more open access.
Think of our great public institutions, like the BBC and the British Library, there is more we can do to open them up, through digital public space.
Think of the old world where you had to go to the British Library, where you had to go and have a membership card to get in.
Then imagine a world where you don’t need to go to the British Library with an exclusive membership card to access to the amazing archives they have.
Helping a whole new generation of small businesses in this country.
We also need to make sure there are proper financial returns to creativity.
So Labour is working with the present government, starting with the Bill currently going through Parliament, to resolve the problems over copyrighting, piracy and intellectual property.
And finally, there needs to be regulation that responds to the complexity of the internet.
Preventing monopolies arising while being careful not to stifle creativity and we should work with the industry to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The case has been made, including in our Small Business Taskforce, that Britain needs a digital ombudsman to track anti-competitive practices as they emerge, and provide information to government as they work with regulation at a European level.
We welcome people’s views about whether this is a sensible way forward.
Above all, if we’re to have a responsible capitalism we need to make sure that the opportunity offered by the internet is spread to a large number of small businesses not restricted to a small number of large ones.
To create a more responsible capitalism, we also need responsible companies.
It is great that the Google Big Tent encourages debate on every issue.
And I want to engage with you on the issue of tax that has been so prominent in the last few days: with Google, Apple and Amazon all in the spotlight.
The first and primary responsibility of government is to get the law right.
I welcome Google’s call for international tax reform.
The government should be putting forward proposals now to make this happen at the G8.
Those proposals should guarantee country by country reporting transparency to show how much profit firms are making and tax they’re paying.
Reform of the rules on transfer pricing to stop companies from shifting profits unfairly.
A crackdown on tax havens as well.
I hope Google will support us in our endeavours.
And, let me say, if we cannot get international agreement, a Labour government will act here at home.
But does the responsible company need to do more than obey the letter of the law?
My answer is yes.
In Google’s 2004 IPO prospectus, it said:
“Don’t be evil. [We will] be stronger in the long term, we will be better served – as shareholders and in all other ways – by a company that does good things for the world, even if we forego some short-term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared in the company.”
So you were saying: Your employees want a culture where they feel they are doing the right thing.
Your customers want it too.
Our society depends on the right messages being sent out from the top.
And the reputation of business depends on the most prominent businesses doing the right thing.
That’s why I spoke out after the Select Committee hearings last week.
I can’t be the only person here who feels disappointed that such a great company as Google, with such great founding principles, will be reduced to arguing that when it employs thousands of people in Britain, makes billions of pounds of revenue in Britain, it’s fair that it should pay just a fraction of one per cent of that in tax.
So when Google does great things for the world, I applaud you.
But when Eric Schmidt says, its current approach to tax is just “capitalism”, I disagree.
And it’s a shame Eric Schmidt isn’t here to hear me say this direct: when Google goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying its taxes, I say it’s wrong.
And it’s not just me that thinks it.
It is crystal clear from your own founding principles.
So these are some of the ways we create a more responsible capitalism.
A society that is more equal not less.
Where power is spread to the many, not concentrated in the hands of the few.
And where we show our responsibilities to each other.
I started with my dad and I will end with him.
He was wrong about public ownership.
But he was right about something else.
He was a refugee here in Britain.
Who came here at the age of 16 in 1940.
And he joined the Royal Navy.
He used to talk about those days in the Navy, where people of all backgrounds, all walks of life, came together for a common purpose.
That’s how Great Britain succeeds.
That’s how great companies succeed.
That’s what responsible capitalism is about.
That’s what I call One Nation.
That’s the future we must build together.
Five grassroots members tell us how they’re treated, following the reported ‘swivel-eyed loons’ remark about Tory party activists
Michael Clarke (Conservative): ‘Grassroots opinion is listened to and translated into policy’
My experience as a constituency chairman is that the Conservative party is good at seeking members’ views and it listens. That is not to say that the view expressed will be reflected in policy decisions taken, because it will depend on whether those views are in a majority or minority of those canvassed. That is the nature of a democratic party.
The Conservative Political Forum is a policy group, which is constituency based and meets regularly to discuss policy proposals. The papers are collated in London and the results communicated to cabinet ranking ministers. A response is then received from that minister. On contentious issues such as policy on Europe, there always will be differences of opinion. Listening to grassroots opinion does not always translate into one particular view prevailing. But the question of whether the Conservative party nationally listens to what its members are saying at grassroots level is a no brainer. It would quickly become detached from reality and lose its grassroots workers if no consideration was given to their views.
Allegations that the Conservative party is “out of touch” needs qualification. That means there is no communication, that we are cut off from high command. I would assert that in the vast majority of policy areas grassroots opinion is listened to – and translated into Conservative policy. The exception is European policy and the speed at which we hold a referendum over whether this country should remain a full member of the EU. Put this issue in its right context of all the other policies and it is one of perhaps a dozen key areas of policy.
The whole same-sex marriage furore is, like capital punishment or abortion, essentially a social rather than a political issue. It is an irritant to many Conservatives, who oppose same sex marriage but hardly an issue which will determine the votes of more than handful of people in May 2015.
• Michael Clarke is chairman of Northampton South Conservative Association
John Burnell (Labour): ‘We have learned to follow our leaders’
Don’t let anyone kid you that there was ever a golden age when party leaders followed every diktat of their members – the memoirs of Labour leaders will tell you that, at best, they vaguely took into account what the party was thinking before turning back to what they could achieve in the Westminster realpolitik bubble.
But the disconnect has grown ever wider since the mass media developed the power and desire to dictate the political agenda rather than just report it. Our leaders know very well that they can ignore the wishes of a few members, while a clanger dropped on Newsnight or an overheard soundbite can cause a scandal. That whole process is exacerbated by a professionalisation of national politics, with its participants moving seamlessly from politics graduate, intern, special adviser to being parachuted into a safe seat.
So we have learned to follow our leaders, not formulate policy for them. Even within the so-called democratic Labour party, that imperative exists, and it’s not helped by the generally poor quality of local members’ contribution to the thought process, concerned as many of them are with making some impact sitting on their council seats with ever-diminishing authority, and with as many personal differences as there are political perspectives. Parliamentarians must breathe a sigh of relief that they’re not in that pond any more – although Labour MPs are wise enough not to call their members swivel-eyed loons.
So why do I carry on, day in and day out, delivering leaflets, attending meetings and banging my head against the nearest wall? Because after 47 years of continuous membership and a merit award for distinguished service signed by Ed Miliband, I still believe that at the margins, small things do make a difference. If 1,000 leaflets delivered in a marginal constituency produce just one extra Labour vote, that might just tip the balance and secure the one extra seat we need to ensure this god-awful government is thrown out and replaced with one that shares at least some of my values.
• John Burnell is a Stevenage constituency Labour party member
Caroline Russell (Green): ‘Policy is developed and decided by members’
I came to the Green party through engagement with community campaigning, in particular speaking out for better streets for walking and cycling. I was impressed by the way that elected Greens, like Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson on the London Assembly, were prepared to stand up for policies that challenge populist assumptions about the role of vehicles in our city, such as a 20mph speed limit on shopping streets.
After joining in 2009, it was striking to discover how the party functions: there are no influential corporate donors, few staff and little spare cash to fund any kind of elaborate party machine. Policy is developed and discussed by members and is decided by members at conference.
This open policy-making process is underpinned by a common understanding that we have a finite set of resources and no spare planet waiting in the background to be plundered when we’ve used everything up.
So, among Green party activists, the answer to the question “do you feel your party listens to you?” has to be yes. But that depends on understanding that the party is its members and its members are the party.
• Caroline Russell is a Green party activist in Islington, north London
Mathew Hulbert (Liberal Democrat): ‘The coalition has caused us to question who owns the party and its message’
From a Liberal Democrat perspective the answer to this question comes in two parts.
Yes, we remain the most democratic political party. Our annual conferences – and, therefore, us, the grassroots members and activists – continue to make party policy and, a good deal of the time, this is is what forms government policy.
However, all is not rosy in the yellow part of the coalition rose garden. Our being listened to is, to say the least, imperfect. Examples include the conference’s refusal to debate the economy, despite many of us feeling we need a plan B or, rather, the Plan C put forward by the Social Liberal Forum. Also, the votes of 11 of our MPs in the equal marriage debate – to allow registrars, public servants paid for by the public purse, to be able to refuse to marry a gay couple on “conscience” grounds. For a party which has done so much on LGBT equality, this was deeply disappointing.
And, if I’m honest, the gap between ordinary members and the party leadership/ministers appears to be growing. The coalition has forced many members to question who really has ownership of the party and its message. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we can be “listened at” but not “listened to”. Ministers are present at a meeting with members and activists but you wonder if they’re actually taking in what you say.
We can have good access, but little actual influence.
For me, one way to help try and gain this influence is being a member of the Social Liberal Forum, a pressure group within the party.
Our leadership must never forget that the party is not them, not our MPs, but, rather, our membership – activists, councillors and members. They must reconnect with us – and soon.
• Mathew Hulbert is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Leicestershire
Star Etheridge (Ukip): ‘I went from member to spokeswoman on disability in 18 months’
I’ve been a member of Ukip since March 2011. I’m just a normal activist like many others. At the autumn conference in 2012 I approached the party chairman, Steve Crowther, to ask what the party proposed for disabled people, like myself.
There were a fair few disabled people at the gala dinner so I thought it was an ideal time to ask the question.
He said the current policies needed updating and that he’d come back to me. I thought that would be the very last I’d hear of it as I am a mere grassroots member and policy is always done by the senior members, or so I thought.
Two months later he emailed me suggesting that I write a proposal for the social policy group, which also covered disability. I was surprised and delighted to be able to use my personal experience to write the proposal.
I duly wrote the proposal and sent it off. I heard nothing for a while. In January I was linked up to the rest of the social policy team and we began discussing my policy ideas.
In March, at our spring conference, I was invited to and gave my first ever public political speech to present my ideas, which was very well received and since then I have been formulating the policy proposal so that the NEC can adopt it. I have been allocated the role of disability spokeswoman.
So yes I do feel my party does listen to me, from member to spokeswoman in 18 months is truly remarkable and I never thought such things could happen.
• Star Etheridge is a Ukip member
Opposition to union-backed MPs is driven by a desire to keep New Labour the preserve of a socially restricted elite
You report that Peter Mandelson is accusing my union, Unite, of “manipulating selection procedures” in the Labour party, which “stores up danger for a future Labour government” (Labour warned on selection panel procedures, 13 May).
This does no service to Labour democracy or the facts. I have no axe to grind with Lord Mandelson. His second stint at the business department under the Labour government was marked by fresh thinking about industrial policy, which I wish he had had the opportunity to develop; and he seems more willing than some to acknowledge that the pre-2008 economic model was flawed.
But now he appears rattled that Blairite true believers are not winning every Labour nomination. Your report does not have him alleging any breach of party rules or procedural abuses, perhaps because there are none. Unite’s aim is simple – to recruit members to the party (welcome, I would have thought) and then encourage them to endorse union-supported candidates in one member-one vote selections. A sinister construction is put on this – “selections are being run by a cabal of union members”, according to your report. This is, to say the least, an irony. Many serving Labour MPs were parachuted into constituencies at the request of leading members of the last Labour cabinet, including Mandelson himself.
Dishing out seats on the basis of personal connections bears a closer resemblance to the rotten borough system before 1832 than it does to modern democratic procedures, and it also helps keep politics as the preserve of a socially restricted elite. Mandelson also appears untroubled that Lord Sainsbury’s vast wealth, channelled through the Progress organisation, has been used to give particular candidates, invariably on the right, an advantage in Labour selections.
Mandelson argues, correctly, that it is “wrong to conflate trade unionists and the working classes”, although the overlap is hard to miss. I don’t conceal that I want to see more Labour MPs supporting the sort of policies developed by Unite and other trade unions, regardless of their personal backgrounds. But Labour MPs look less and less like the people they seek to represent. The big strides made in securing more women Labour MPs have also, unfortunately, been paralleled by a decline in those from working-class backgrounds. Mandelson has no proposals to address this.
This is really an argument about politics, not procedure. Mandelson is probably intensely relaxed about cutting democratic corners if it means more “New Labour” special advisers and the like on the green benches, but utterly opposed to the normal workings of Labour democracy if it means leftwing or trade union candidates being chosen.
Let’s have the political debate instead. I am confident that most potential Labour voters want to see both a more diverse Labour party in parliament, and also a Labour government radically different from the last one.
Finally, I object strongly to his insinuation that union-backed MPs might be loyal not “to the party as a whole”, but “a section of it”. Trade unionists have always been Labour loyalists. Rightwing MPs, not unions, split Labour in 1931 and 1981, just as it was New Labour parliamentarians who fuelled the debilitating Blair-Brown factionalism that so weakened the most recent Labour government, as Mandelson surely knows.
Rebel Tories are defeated in Commons after PM’s last minute plea to Ed Miliband
The government’s gay marriage bill was saved after David Cameron was forced to rely on Ed Miliband to defeat an attempt by his own MPs to derail the measure by trying to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
An 11th-hour plea to the Labour leadership by the Tory chief whip Sir George Young, who warned that the government was in danger of losing the vote, prompted a change of heart by Miliband, who had been planning to abstain on the amendment.
The Labour move meant that the amendment, tabled by the anti-gay marriage Tory and former children’s minister Tim Loughton, was defeated by 375 to 70 votes, a majority of 305.
The decision by the Labour leadership, which has gone from supporting the amendment on civil partnerships to rejecting it within the space of 24 hours, means that the marriage (same-sex couples) bill will now experience a safer journey through parliament.
But the prime minister, who attempted to reach out to his party by emailing a “personal note” to all members saying that he would never work with anyone who “sneered” at them, suffered the humiliation of having to plead with the Labour party for support. He also saw more than 100 Tory MPs, including the cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, vote against him on the first amendment of the day.
The prime minister will understand the dangers of relying on opposition support for a flagship measure after he personally ensured that Tony Blair’s schools reforms survived with Tory support in 2006 three months after he became leader. Within months, supporters of Gordon Brown forced Blair to name the date of his departure the following year.
As the debate was under way in the Commons the prime minister moved to shore up his position amid anger in the party over allegations that Lord Feldman, the Tory co-chairman, described grassroots activists as “mad swivel-eyed loons”. Lord Feldman strenuously denies having made the allegations.
In his email to party members, Cameron wrote: “I am proud to lead this party. I am proud of what you do. And I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise. We are a team, from the parish council to the local association to parliament, and I never forget it.”
But deep divisions in the Tory party were highlighted in the commons when Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, and his long standing ally Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, joined more than 100 Tory MPs to vote against Cameron in favour of an amendment that would allow registrars to opt out of conducting same sex marriage ceremonies. This amendment failed as did an amendment to protect the religious beliefs of a person who believes marriage can only take place between a man and women. All votes were classified as free which meant that MPs could vote according to their consciences.
In one of the most dramatic moments the former defence minister, Sir Gerald Howarth, complained to a lesbian member of the prime minister’s policy board about “the aggressive homosexual community”. Howarth made the remarks after Margot James, the MP for Stourbridge, said that the legislation was part of recent changes that have created a level playing fields for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.
The prime minister came under fire from the anti-gay marriage MP Tim Loughton after his amendment, which would have legalised civil partnerships for heterosexual couples, failed after the deal between Labour and the Tories. Loughton warned of a “grubby deal” between the two frontbenches as he told MPs: “We are in danger to a stitch up, a last minute stitch up between frontbenches.”
The deal was reached after the government had warned earlier in the day that the Loughton amendment would have threatened the entire bill by adding £4bn to the costs and delaying its implementation. The costs would have come from increased pension survivor rates for new civil partners.
The government agreed during the day to a Labour request to amend its own plans by launching an immediate review into extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. The goverment had initially said it would do this no later than five years after the passage of the bill, though the equalities minister Maria Miller said the Labour amendment would make little practical difference.
The deal meant that the government amendment, altered by Labour, was approved by 391 to 57 votes, a majority of 334.
But Miller indicated that the review could end up leading to the abolition of civil partnerships once gay marriage becomes legal. She told MPs of the review: “It is important for us to understand what the demand is among individuals who might wish to embark on such an arrangement.”
Labour sources said that the party, which had announced earlier in the day that it would abstain on the Loughton amendment after overnight warnings from the government about the threat to bill, denied that Miliband had embarked on a double U-turn.
One source said: “We had an eleventh hour appeal from the government that they did not have the numbers to defeat the Tim Loughton amendment. They made repeated approaches to us at ever increasing levels.
“Ed’s overriding priority is to ensure that the bill gets on to the statute book. Ed and Yvette Cooper will therefore be voting against the Tim Loughton amendment. We expect a large number of MPs to join Ed and Yvette. Since there was a genuine threat to the bill Ed decided the best thing to do was to act in this way.”
The leaders of all the main parties offered all their MPs, including ministers and shadow ministers, a free vote on the grounds that marriage is a “conscience” social issue in which the party whips have no official say. But the prime minister devoted government time to the gay marriage legislation in the belief that it would help reach out to centre ground voters who may feel uncomfortable about supporting a party whose leader voted in favour of the retention of section 28 as recently as 10 years ago. A source close to Miller said: “We are pleased that the House has accepted our amendment offering a review of civil partnerships and that our warnings around the potential delay to same sex marriage have been heeded. A review is the right way forward and no changes should be made to civil partnerships, without being fully thought through.” Tory supporters of the bill were scathing about some of their fellow MPs. One said: “You know how to vote when you see who’s in the other division lobby.”
One minister said: “We are such an inclusive party we have our own opposition built in. We generally shoot ourselves in the foot and then rely on the Labour party to finish the job for us. And all the time we seem to have a smile on our face.”
David Cameron forced to look to Labour to save bill as Tory opponents attempt to limit its scope
Deep divisions in the Conservative party were highlighted late on Monday when Tory MPs clashed during a lengthy debate on the gay marriage bill which survived a series of challenges from traditionalists.
Tory reformers expressed exasperation when a former defence minister warned of an “aggressive homosexual community”.
Sir Gerald Howarth, knighted on the advice of the prime minister after losing his ministerial post, made the remarks when Margot James, who was recently appointed to the Conservative policy board, said that the equal marriage legislation would level the playing field after gay people suffered discrimination in the 1980s. James, who is lesbian, said: “I do recall in the 1980s, and even the 1990s, a freezing effect, I would call it, on the lives of gay people and other minorities because at that time the majority were at liberty to discriminate against us in employment and in every other walk of life practically.”
Howarth replied: “I warn you, and MPs on all sides of the house, that I fear that the playing field has not been levelled. I believe that the pendulum is now swinging so far the other way and there are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further.”
The clash between the two Tories came as traditionalists failed in a series of bids to limit the scope of the bill. An amendment to allow registrars to opt out of conducting same sex marriage ceremonies was defeated by 340 to 150, a majority of 190. An amendment to protect the religious beliefs of a person who believes marriage can only take place between a man and women was defeated by 349 to 148, a majority of 201.
An amendment to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, which had prompted government warnings that the bill could be derailed, was also defeated after the Labour party swung behind the government. The amendment, tabled by the anti-gay marriage Tory, former children’s minister Tim Loughton, was defeated by 375 to 70 votes, a majority of 305.
The gulf was so great during the debate that the issue of same sex marriage was a fight as “noble” as the abolition of the slave trade, or but another “stepping stone” for the “aggressive homosexual community”. Passions ran high in the chamber even before the supposed “wrecking amendment” on the extension of civil partnerships reached the Commons. The debate opened on the raft of amendments designed to ensure that the bill did not discriminate against teachers, registrars and others opposed to gay marriage on grounds of principle.
David Burrowes, a Conservative MP who proposed a series of amendments, argued: “This is not a marriage bill, it’s an unfair dismissal bill” (for registrars and others with conscientious and religious objections).
The nation was, he exclaimed, “as divided” as the Conservative parliamentary party on the issue. And legislation was taking the country “into a whole new terrain of legal challenge”. No registrars should be compelled to act against their beliefs or be sacked for adhering to the views held by a majority of Tory MPs and “millions of others in this country”.
Where Burrowes saw potential conflict, the Labour MP Stephen Doughty, (Lab, Cardiff South and Penarth) saw harmony, literally.He said the Commons should “look at the celebrations and happiness in New Zealand”, when they signed their own same-sex marriage bill, which manifested itself in “the singing of love songs”. He hoped for that here, too, “though perhaps not the singing”, he conceded.
The veteran Conservative Edward Leigh called for people who disagreed with gay marriage to be given protection under the Equality Act 2010. This was not, he assured the House, because he was “swivel-eyed”, though he conceded he became a bit cross-eyed late at night when tired. Nor was he “myopic”.
Neither was it to defend those who were being “beastly” or “horrid” to gay people in the workplace. “But I do think actually that same-sex marriage is different. It seems to many of us, if you dare to disagree with the new orthodoxy that gay marriage is the best thing since sliced bread, you are somehow breaking a new social taboo, you are doing something in your workplace, particularly in the public sector, that you should not be doing.”
When there was a clash between gay rights and religious freedom, in law gay rights came first, Leigh said. Citing an example of a housing association worker who was demoted for writing on Facebook that gay marriage was “an equality too far”, he said the government was legislating in a culture that had been “so coloured by political correctness” that “mild-mannered people expressing reasonable beliefs in moderate tones are treated like villains”.
The “outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s” had become “embedded in high places”.
But the former Labour minister David Lammy said there should be an obligation on public servants to teach about gay marriage, as it would the law once the legislation had passed. He spoke of the “Windrush generation”, who arrived in Britain to signs reading “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs”. “That was illegal”, he said, and the Commons had declared it to be wrong.
Referring to the abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century, he said: “There was a split in this house for 20 years on whether black human beings were human or chattel.” “That is why this is a noble fight, “he said.
That Margaret Hodge and Nigel Farage are arousing passions shows how sick we are of the professional political class
Suddenly there are new faces on our television screens, and new, agitated, indignant voices on the airwaves. Some are old or plummy-toned, some have grey hair, some are young and working class, some are anxious suburban commuters. Many of them are women. It is the raging rows over Ukip, gay marriage, Europe and swivel-eyed loons that have given these people a political presence.
They are noticeable because their presence at the centre of political debate is a novelty. We have grown accustomed to seeing almost all the important issues facing the country debated between groups of urbane, Westminster-based, fortysomething men. This month’s eruption of anger over how politics is run has highlighted just how narrow, insulated and unrepresentative our political discussions and our political representation are. It’s no wonder that so many people are feeling angry.
Nigel Farage’s full-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph today , accusing the Tories of being run by a “bunch of college kids who’ve never had a proper job in their lives”, tapped cleverly into a vein of Conservative anger. This isn’t solely a Tory problem. Its activists and defectors are feeling overlooked, but it’s a Labour issue too. “In my time, the Commons has been taken over by the professional political classes,” one long-serving MP said to me. “Where are the working classes? Where are the trade unionists? Where are the George Browns or the Ernie Bevins or the people who’ve had years of experience in other jobs? How does an outsider break in? “
The figures remind us of how startlingly different MPs’ backgrounds are to the rest of the country. Fewer than a third of Labour MPs are women, and the Tories only manage a sixth. The Lib Dems, those famously earnest egalitarians, have a disgracefully tiny proportion: one in eight.
MPs do no better on privilege and class. Seven per cent of the nation attends private school. More than half of all Tory MPs did so, as did 40% of the Lib Dems, and 15% of the Labour party. A third of all Tories are or were company directors or executives, an occupation shared with just 0.2% of the population. And whereas 30% of the population are in blue-collar manual jobs, only 5% of MPs come from such a background, down from 15% when Thatcher came to power.
After sex and class, age is the third discriminator. Politics used to be a profession that valued long memories and varied life experience. American politics still does, with almost half its legislators aged over 60. In Britain, where more than a fifth of the population are of pension age, just 17% of MPs are in the same category.
The trouble with the way the Commons operates now is that once MPs arrive, every single one of those existing differences is amplified. The people chosen by party leaders to sit on the frontbenches are, as a group, male, privileged, and relatively young. A high proportion of them, from the party leaders downwards, have worked in political posts for almost their entire careers. On both sides of the house, having an Oxbridge education is a huge advantage. A third of coalition MPs are Oxbridge graduates, but two thirds of the cabinet went there. In just the same way, a sixth of Labour MPs but more than a third of the shadow cabinet went to those two universities.
The stranglehold that a single demographic has over our politics might have looked defensible if the electorate were confident that this group knew what they were doing. That’s not so now. The polls show support for all three main parties falling sharply as a general, fearful pessimism settles in. Meanwhile, the rise of a couple of unconventional, overlooked political figures demonstrates just what a mistake it is for party leaders to keep assuming that talent, potential and popular appeal can only be found in a narrow group.
The two politicians who are currently doing most to drive the political agenda, create change and arouse passions are Nigel Farage on the right and Margaret Hodge on the left. They couldn’t be more different from the careful, smooth-skinned, smooth-talking male political elite. They are both spirited, fearless, occasionally indiscreet, and engaging. Farage drinks, smokes and charms the Britain that thinks it’s been abandoned; Hodge is almost single-handedly using her ruthless intelligence, curiosity and determination to expose the cosy arrangements that have allowed a great swath of giant companies to escape paying tax.
Characters like these aren’t rated by either of their respective sides. They’re too original, or too old, or the wrong class, or the wrong sex. Margaret Hodge spent the 13 years of Labour government only ever being given junior jobs, because she didn’t fit the younger male mould. It was only when she chose her own path by standing for the chairmanship of the public accounts committee that she had the freedom to shine.
Party leaders don’t want irreverent, troublesome, freethinking mavericks. Otherwise, why have the very able MPs Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadsom not been given jobs? They prefer, as do bosses the world over, the chumocracy; people who will defer to and think like them. But the world’s too complex and uncomfortable a place for that. Groupthink isn’t working, and the electorate can see it. Too many of us look at parliament and feel that people like us are excluded. It’s time the bright, the difficult, the grey-haired and the underprivileged were given a voice, not just on the airwaves or on the net, but at the centre of power.