Starmer’s speech on refugees

Starmer’s speech on refugees

A little essay on Natalie Elphick’s defection to Labour and Starmer’s speech in Dover on refugee policy.

Over the last couple of days of the week, the Labour Party stage managed the defection of Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, which allowed Starmer to visit her constituency and make his speech. The speech is reported and analysed in the Guardian, and the full text is posted by Labour List.

I had notice the speech was going to take place, although not the venue, and I and my campaigning colleagues had a fear that the policy would become worse than it currently is. However, the speech reinforced the politics of Labour’s agreed position albeit offering more detail on what an anti-gangs unit would look like.

Labour’s front bench fail to recognise that Refugees are caused by wars and not by people smuggling gangs, the speech also restated that Labour will not be looking to create safe routes for refugees. There are none today.

I summarise the speech and positions as, “No real change as far as I can see, abandon the Rwanda scheme, blame gangs not wars, no safe routes for refugees, and silence on workers and family reunification.”

On a side note, there has been much opposition within the Labour Party and PLP to accepting Elphicke within the Party, and her and Annaliese Dodds statements that there was agreement between her and the Party on immigration and refugee policy is shameful. Elphicke’s statement is also reported by Labour List. …

Brexit, armaments and defence

Brexit, armaments and defence

Reasons that Brexit was a mistake number, well I lost count but the Davis Downside Dossier has the count at 1788. The FT has run an article reporting on the EU’s rejuvenated attempts move towards a defence union. For years now it has been working on common procurement chains and now is seeking to ensure security of supply, which is primarily likely to cause substitution of US weapons with indigenous European weapons but one piece of collateral damage will be the UK’s arms industry ability to supply to EU member states.

The FT article implies that the single market will be extended to defence supply. There are two impacts on this policy. One of them being the exposure of the lack of ambition of Labours plans to ”Fix Brexit”, agriculture, science, touring artists, and a free movement of consultants & professionals won’t be enough and Labour’s plans to trade our defence capability for single market opt-outs will look much less attractive to the European Union.

The second impact will be on BAE’s share price, which has done quite well this year.

The Ukraine War has been good for some businesses.It all goes to show that there’s a need to examine how the UK and Europe defends itself, if there is a sensible role for NATO as opposed to an EU institution or competency and to question whether the global i.e. the non-exclusively European nature of the UK’s warplane procurement plans are actually as effective as we need.

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Reading Labour’s tea leaves

Reading Labour’s tea leaves

I wrote about the possibility of a youth mobility proposal from the EU; I’d say it’s now dead and that may be what the Commission was trying to achieve, to stop the UK cherry picking, stop us levying the NHS fee and high [unreasonable] visa fees, although the Commission may not give up. The bad news is that it has enabled those that oppose freedom of movement to reinforce their arguments.

During the discussion I was pointed at the FT’s comments on David Lammy’s Foreign Affairs article extolling “Progressive Realism (in foreign affairs)”.  On the EU, it is my view that Labour will seek to use enhanced security co-operation to further their cakeist approach to the single market. The FT article on Lammy’s speech https://www.ft.com/content/7a8484d5-3348-4df6-810f-81c1b53dd4ad?shareType=nongift makes it clear that using our military budget as a negotiating tool for single marker opt-outs will not be easy and everyone in the UK is ignoring the fact  that justice co-operation requires a common basic law and that the majority of the UK’s recent case losses at the ECtHR have been on issues of justice. Lammy also repeated/published his views in a Guardian piece. Lammy in his article, and in his speech to Labour Party conference 23 has articulated the need the greater cooperation with both the European Union and its member states. He always adds the mantra of the new red lines, but he clearly sees and speaks for the need for greater cooperation over a range of issues.

I have also been pointed at Martin Kettle, in an article, “Starmer can’t dodge the Europe question for ever. In office, the economy will answer it for him”. He reckons, it’ll be Reeves who’ll break first, I don’t agree. She’s remarkably stubborn and well trained by the high priests of QMT in the Bank & Treasury. I wonder if it might be Lammy. While I gave up trying to read the tea leaves from the speeches of Labour’s front bench, Lammy’s speeches read as if he may want to do something else but adds the red lines because he has too. …

UK politicians say “No” to youth mobility

UK politicians say “No” to youth mobility

The FT ((£ | (-)) and Steve Peers on X report late last week that the EU Commission has sent a request to the Council for a mandate to negotiate a “youth mobility” scheme to allow British and EU under 30’s to freely travel, work and study in each other’s countries.

Cynics suggest this is to hold the Union’s position together as the UK Government has already opened or attempted to open bi-lateral talks with several member states; however, the Commission’s initiative has it seems produced a negative public statement from Labour. (And later by the Government, reported here by the BBC which highlights this government’s disrespectful approach to British and European youth’s interests. )

Labour really seem to be taking a foolishly hard line; I think that agreeing this would make their plan to negotiate a new co-operation agreement easier since their goal seems to be to bargain the UK’s defence capability in exchange for opt-outs from the single market.

The FT reports that Sweden has refused because it wants to act in solidarity with all the member states and the Commission if it gets a mandate will have conditions on visa charges and the NHS surcharge; they will also not permit the UK to discriminate against any member state.

Stella Creasy of the Labour Movement for Europe, welcomes the proposal and the scheme,

Luke Cooper, a colleague on the AEIP national committee comments on X, and also places the issue in the context of Lammy’s recent article on security and defence co-operation with the EU, also reported by the FT, which also reflects on the more frigid end of the EU conversation. It would seem that Luke considers the position of the German Government to be important, as well as the “Report of the committee of Franco/German experts” on the medium term direction of the EU which perceives a multi-tiered commitment to and within the EU on which I comment on my wiki, and on my blog, in an article called, “The (EU) reform train is at the platform”. For a further analysis of this debate on that report and its Federalist alternative see my article, “EU Reform”i. Personally, I think the Franco German report has been lost in a cupboard as the sponsoring governments have new priorities,

It’s a shocking opportunity missed and while I am not surprised at the Government’s reaction; I am bitterly disappointed in Labour’s. …

Slogans aren’t bullets

Slogans aren’t bullets

Last week, Keir Starmer visited BEA systems at Barrow in Furness, the dockyard that builds and maintains the UK nuclear submarine fleet. He promised that a Labour Government’s support for strategic nuclear weapons was absolute and total. Here are the FT and the NWE Mail, the latter being the local news paper for the area. He said,

“My commitment to NATO and the UK’s nuclear deterrent — maintained on behalf of NATO allies — is unshakeable. Absolute. Total. The changed Labour party that I lead knows that our national security always comes first.”

Sir Keir Starmer

Some right-wing commentators have suggested that this is just cynical electioneering, and the FT article links the proposal to increase spending on defence to 2.5% GDP, to recent statements of admiration by Reeves and Starmer of Margaret Thatcher. The NWE article quotes  Labour’s PPC for the seat  but it  finishes with quotes from Greg Hands, the current Tory defence secretary, showing no matter what a Labour leader says, the Tories will never concede any rhetorical grounds on the issue of defence, despite their appalling record.

The Tory record is indeed appalling and while Labour’s front bench is busy trolling its left wing on the issue of nukes, it is ignoring the massively degraded land forces capability, the army’s recruitment crisis and the very real threats to NATO & the EU from both Russia and a possible Trump led [or even influenced] USA. The Tories record, having cut both budgets, personnel and wages, and inclinations, the endemic Russophile sentiments, make them inappropriate guides to solving these problems. Even for those who think that Margaret Thatcher was robust on defence have forgotten that one of the reasons the Argentines invaded the Falklands was due to perceived hints from the defence cuts announced by her government.

Starmer was criticised by elements of the left arguing that it was morally wrong for a Labour leader to spend more on a nuclear deterrent while refusing to consider lifting the benefit cap placed by the Tories on large families, those with more than two children. To these critics who think it is a choice, I say the problem is austerity and Reeves’s “golden fiscal rules”. i.e. it needn’t be a choice and arguing it is, just allows yourself to be painted as unpatriotic, a fool or a pacifist.

This country needs an effective defence policy, as well as being able to offer everyone a decent standard of living. An effective defence policy requires an understanding of an effective military capability; while security of supply is important, possibly critical, jobs and wages in the arms industry are not a key success indicator. Neither is the expenditure level, which simply becomes a slogan.

Despite Sweden and Finland feeling provoked into joining NATO, it is an organisation on the cusp of crisis. It was designed to defend Western Europe albeit against the Soviet Union and was and is overly reliant on US military force. Today we have to ask whether America’s will is there. Starmer’s eulogies in favour of NATO are designed to embarrass elements of the Labour left. We can see the EU’s response as it crawls towards common European defence strategies, a direction mildly echoed in Labour’s alternative European Union cooperation prospectus.

Paul Mason has been writing on his most recent blog site on the need to refactor the defence policy to increase the capability of the Army, in his article, Land: the MOD’s “burning platform”, he quotes Sir Patrick Sanders, from his controversial IAVC speech in January, as saying,

“Modernisation is non-discretionary, and it is urgent – a burning platform. Its absence is felt in our recruitment numbers. The army’s size always generates headlines, but the real story is about capability and modernisation.”

Sir Patrick Sanders
from flickr “defence images” BY-SA 2016

Mason makes a more deeply evidenced argument in ”You only need tanks if you want to win”, in which he argues that it is necessary to rebalance the military defence capability to restore the British Army’s capability, increase the wages of the Army,  plug the budget shortfall for current plans, and increase British aid to Ukraine. He also, rightly in my opinion, hints that the ambition of 1½ expeditionary divisions is insufficient for today’s security threats. The budget gap has been caused by overspends on the nuclear deterrent. An axiom of defence and security policy should be that, a reduction in conventional capability makes nuclear escalation more likely, and as in the case in the Falklands, deterrent is not always the nuclear threat.

But this is not just an argument about iron and treasure, Britain’s reputation as a military nation has been deeply damaged by the isolation that Brexit has brought, and the failings of its Army in Afghanistan most obviously demonstrated by the final evacuation from Kabul and Dominic Raab’s failure to return from holiday, although the Army had been failing there for several years.

In brutal summary, if Labour wants an effective defence policy; don’t start in Barrow, you need to start in Aldershot! …

Keep the red flag flying (on workers rights)

Keep the red flag flying (on workers rights)

In an article entitled, “Keir Starmer seeks to reassure business over Labour’s worker rights pledges”, the FT reports on the pressures being put on Keir Starmer to weaken Labour’s promises made in “A new deal for working people.”

It should be noted that this is what happened to the Blair opposition, which caved on Trade Union rights but held the line on the minimum wage. Sadly the value of the minimum wage became an internal political football within the Labour Party and at the moment the promise in “A new deal …” has been eroded to the point that it is less than the current law (for adults).

Labour summarises its plans as legislating for decent, safe, secure and fair work, critically, re- introducing day one rights for tribunal access, and the abolition of zero hour contracts and fire and rehire. They also plan to update trade union legislation so it’s fit for the modern economy, repealing some of the Tories petty and vicious legislation, strengthening Union’s rights of access to workplaces and workers, and establish a single enforcement body to enforce workers’ rights, which will include national minimum wage violations. Labour also plan to legislate for a structure of fair pay agreements negotiated with the Unions across industry.  

What are employers afraid of?

In order for the economy to be internationally competitive, goods and services need to be better than or cheaper than the alternatives. It’s not possible to have a high wage economy while being cheaper than others, so let’s choose being better. In most companies and public sector organisations value is created by employees. Successful companies need to attract and retain talent. Staff are the collective memory of the organisation. I have met and worked for some shocking managements; day one rights of access to tribunals should be a right, everyone should have access to the law, only bullies need fear this and for equality cases, day one access exists today. The only organisations that would fear this all those who as a matter of policy abuse their staff.

This is only one prerequisite for international competitiveness, the UK needs an immigration policy nice and compassion decency indignity and one that recognises the great talent may be born elsewhere. Another requirement is to minimise barriers to trade;  the simplest way of doing that is to rejoin the EU’s single market.

My experience is primarily in what are considered to be high knowledge industries i.e. Information technology and banking, but it is clear to me, that all organisations require commitment and talent. All organisations should welcome a legislative backing for a floor on decency. Those that want to behave well, if only to attract and retain workers will no longer need to fear being undercut by those that don’t.

The business lobbyists should lay off and welcome “A new deal …” …

Data-driven campaigning: how and why do political parties do it?

Data-driven campaigning: how and why do political parties do it?

I attended a lecture last week, it was advertised by its conveners on twitter. The lecture was videoed and I am expecting the video to be posted on Youtube. I’ve made some notes, some about what the lecturers said and some about the thoughts they provoked.  I try to offer some value on this blog, however much of this article is reporting the views of the three lecturers;

The lectures argue there's little to worry about; I disagree and quote the ICO and the DCMS select committee to back up my thoughts. They suggest that Gen-AI is not yet in use and suggest that Fake News does not have much effect. i suggest that Fake News reinforces prejudice and drives out reasoned policy analysis. I conclude that there are common practices that need better regulation. Regulation's weakness is based on powers and accountability in the case of the Electoral Commission, a lack of will in the case of the ICO and a lack of resources and independence in the case of ONS. I hope there’s enough of what I say to be worth the read. Please use the 'Read More' button to view the complete article which is about four pages long ...

A party with socialists in it

A party with socialists in it

Over a year ago, I read Simon Hannah’s book, “A Party with Socialists in it, a history of the Labour Left.” I found it fascinating, informative, and well-paced. I read the 1st edition, which unlike the later edition is missing the final chapter on the 2019 election and the fall of Corbyn. I made some notes; this article is an effective if personal review and includes some comments from my memories and family diaries. It covers, post-war defence issues and Bevan, Wilson’s National Plan together with his fatal intra-party compromise on the 1st EU referendum, Bennism, his near mysticism and the Falklands War, the influence of Trotskyism, my views on Labour's lost youth, the continued factionalism and the weaponisation of party democracy, and the conflict between workers control of the factories (and offices) and a national plan. I was glad to be reminded that a central demand for socialists is worker's control of industry, and I muse on how to achieve that while also implementing a national plan.

The book reinforces questions of why, if a left winger, we still bother with the Labour Party? This disgraceful catalogue of the behaviour of Labour’s right wing over the decades just reinforces the question as to why we persist.

This article is seven pages long, and wordpress has decided that it won't display the whole article on the front page. To see the whole thing, please use the "read more" button ...

Once upon time, about HE policy

Once upon time, about HE policy

On my way home from labour conference 23, I visited the People's History Museum. It was a bit of a vanity trip as I was looking for any documentation related to NOLS’s adoption of a comprehensive, as in wide ranging, education policy. I was on the national committee for 1977 and held the education portfolio. I led the organisation, with much help from many others, in developing a comprehensive policy which was presented to conference 77.

I found a copy of Labour Student dated Spring 78 reporting on that 77 conference, in which my successor, John Merry wrote a review of the new education policy. The full article, overleaf, I summarise from Merry’s article, the key demands. The article seems to have missed my desire to take sides in the debate around the purpose of Higher Education; whether it was to prepare people for work, or allow them to fulfil their potential.

I conclude by saying, we needed Romer, and Mitchell to establish theoretical frameworks where maximising potential is preparing people to participate in the economy. I was ahead of my time but the focus of Labour’s consideration of education policy turned to primary and secondary education with the introduction of national curriculum, academy schools and league tables. I don't think they helped as they all contributed to the de-professionalisation of teachers and teaching. The lesson I reflect on today is a rule I learnt many years later; the amount of process and measurement doesn’t necessarily bring about good outcomes.

The full article can be read by using the "Read More" button ...

Labour’s macroeconomics

Labour’s macroeconomics

An article reviewing the politics behind the Starmer and Reeves’s speech to #lab23 and pointing at the arguments of some of the critics of their line on macroeconomics. I also look at the supply side initiatives they propose and question if it’ll be enough. I note that even funding these supply side measures will remain difficult while they maintain the harshest aspects of their fiscal responsibility rules and their promises on tax i.e. no increases in VAT, income tax and no new wealth taxes. I comment that the growth target is a necessary goal but they don’t specify a credible means of achieving it. This could easily be corrected even if one thinks that these fiscal rules are necessary. Conference also passed a union backed motion on critical infrastructure calling for the renationalisation of energy and railways. For the full article, use the read more button …