Monday, 23 December 2013

UK has not run out of money - but people may!

To read the emissions of the Government or the right-wing Press, one could think that UK was in line for food bank help, being broke. This is far from the case. We are a nation rich in assets, resources, creditworthiness and revenues. How we choose to use these is what policies and politics are about.

Paying interest on debt is something anyone would elect to avoid unless the rates were insignificant. A highly credit-worthy economy borrows at low rates so this reduces the priority for minimisation of debt unless for other, perhaps doctrinaire or political reasons. Such reasons have, however, caused the Government to inflict on consumers an unnecessary squeeze on income [either earned or welfare] and rise in living costs. Unfortunately, consumers are unable to borrow at the same low levels of interest as nations, so their need to borrow in order to sustain well-being through the austerity results in an increase in their debt and interest liability. In other words, people bear the cost of the Government's decisions and act contrary to their instincts.

How a nation uses its resources is also a political issue. This Government has opted to pay off debt, refinance banks and reduce public expenditure, in the name of economic prudence. It could equally have chosen to prioritise the well-being of the people over that of financial targets; or even just raised taxes to ensure the maintenance of effective public services. It did not do so not because it could not but because it chose not to. It has a clear object, indeed, of destroying the very idea of public services, so little insight does it have into the realities of life form any of its voters and so little altruism.

Do we, the people, want to live in a country devoid of the means to help those who for whatever reason are not able to achieve levels of earnings sufficient for independent living? Do we accept it as our role to bear consequences of the gambles made with our money by others? Should we be in debt so that institutions remain able to function largely unchallenged and unaccountable? Should we have lower well-being whilst a few cream off the communal assets of our country? If not, we must elect a Government with a view of economics as concerned with people as well as with balance sheets. By all means let it reduce debt but let this be done at the expense of those who created it.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Dont look back

Tempting as it is to see the Atlee Government as a golden heyday of radical innovation in social politics, to attempt a replay would seem a counterproductive. The world has changed. There may be - are - parallels in today's UK with the post-war austerity but ours is self-imposed by a doctrinaire Government trying to turn the clock back to the feudal centuries rather than one caused by paying for a war we had to fight. Then unions had millions of members working collectively. Today we have a fragmented workforce lacking cohesion and representation. What Labour must surely offer now is new vision - a description of a country to be desired, with social objectives as well as purely economic; with goals for inclusion, community democracy, transparency and accountability - a better place to live in for everybody. This vision needs fleshing out with a road-map of policies which will take us beyond mere slogans and offer concrete examples of what we can expect when we vote for a Labour Government. Lets have that future painted for us and not hanker after what was.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Climate Change at home; a distinctive position for Labour

The environment is the world in which everyone must function. As it changes [and it surely does] unless people adapt, our ability to function will be affected. Efforts across the globe to reduce or reverse climate change have fallen foul of both the enormity of that task and the impossibility of all nations agreeing and acting in concert. Those who advocate mitigation as the political response to climate change are left with Canute’s task. The parties of the Right have now adopted a laissez faire, non-interventionist approach, based on adaptations after the event and motivated by short-term profit opportunities. Labour has been unfortunately silent, failing to define mid- to long-term objectives for energy supply, population density and location or land use. Your Britain barely has a mention of the subject. This is unsatisfactory not least because it leaves Labour bereft of a counter to Tory policies, such as they may be. With values including long-termism, localism and mutuality, Labour must address this vacuum, which fails those whose needs are explicitly omitted from the thinking of the Right – the majority.

Climate change impacts societies in a variety of aspects to variable degree: drought; wind; flooding; temperature; sea level; disease and social conflict resulting from population pressures.  In this country the greatest impact is likely to centre on housing, which coincidentally brings it into greatest relevance to voters. There is already a need for a huge affordable house-building programme which may be exacerbated by inward migration from countries more severely climatically affected. Sea level rise may affect coastal communities including major cities. Housing will become uninsurable in flood plains. Energy and water usage need mitigating in the housing stock as a whole. These are issues which a failed market model cannot decide, driven purely as it is by building what profits private sector developers, currently sitting on land banks on which thousands of homes could have been built.

Communities [perhaps defined as counties for this purpose] need to determine their own needs informed by national plans. Local government must have the duty and the wherewithal:

·         to prioritise land use, between flood protection, food production, economic development, infrastructure and housing;

·         to obtain, compulsorily if need be, at current use values, the land needed to build energy-efficient houses for people of all income levels and family sizes;

·         to access the capital required to build the resource-efficient homes the future local population will need to buy or rent; 

·         to decide on infrastructure needs according to population plans;

·         to invest in energy generation and water usage consistent with local natural resources.

Managing these pressures will most effectively stifle risks of civil dissent or unrest, whilst engaging local voters in a global issue which may otherwise appear beyond their influence.

In short, Labour should adopt a policy of predictive adaptation to climate change; delegating implementation of an integrated approach to local needs to re-envigoured, democratically accountable and properly financed County/Unitary Councils. National Government should invest in understanding and advising on population and climatic sciences; in financing the Local Authorities; and mandating standards for design and insurance of homes for all.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Rural and coastal deprivation in affluent South-East

It probably sounds like a sob story to speak of deprivation in the well-heeled and desirable East Sussex. But just as it can be very lonely in a crowd, being surrounded by careless wealth can make it even harder to bear poverty than where everyone is suffering together. The strength of community is not there to sustain those who are unfortunate financially. Indeed as a report recently published by the Sussex Community Foundation has illustrated, being poor in rural places can be extreme in its effects. Housing is far more expensive than in less well-appointed areas; and transport is a requirement not always shared by urban poor. When the school my be several miles away; and the shops; and the doctor; and work (if any), life can be hugely difficult and expensive.

East Sussex is shown to include not only areas of deprivation but deprivation in isolation which may be psychologically even more difficult. We in UckfieldLabour think it very important for Labour to find ways to offer support and engagement with people isolated by circumstances about which they can do little. We have already submitted a policy paper proposing a nationwide online forum to enable people deprived of other political engagement to have a say on matters of importance to them and we are now hoping to work with others in rural constituencies to create a Labour rural/coastal network. Our votes may not carry the weight of those in winnable marginal but our values are just the same and our willingness to contribute to debate and improving the lives of others are as strong.
The full report on deprivation in Sussex can be seen here:

Monday, 25 November 2013

Sauce for the Gander

What is it that allows the well-heeled to get away with it so often?
If you or I transcend the traffic code, the tax regulations, or even speak sharply to a Border Agency officer, we will be in trouble faster than you can say "Theresa May". If some overpaid director plunges a million customers into financial mire, do we hear the gaolers keys start to rattle? Do we blazes.

The Companies Act of 2006 made it a duty for all directors of quoted companies to pay heed to the interests of stakeholders such as staff, customers (you and me), suppliers, the community and the environment as well as shareholders. Is the imposition of zero-hours contracting in the interests of staff? Is gambling with deposits in order to swell bonuses in depositors' interests? Is growing the dividend in the interest of communities dependent on energy supplies? Think back over the 5 years since the financial crash and count if you can how many directors of banks, of energy companies, of any FTSE company have had their collars felt for anything, let alone concerning these wider accountabilities. The laws which most people obey exist so that nobody is above them so why is the answer to my question what it is [probably zero]?

Boards have been pathetic but so have Regulators. Look at the Coop/Flowers fiasco - an insider gets the nod from cronies without scrutiny. An employer is obliged these days to give honest references in respect of past employees. Were Fowler's references sought? Were they taken up? Were they honest as to his behaviour? Here too is one rule for the haves and another for the have lesses:  the poor benighted job seeker, having their cv pulled to bits and losing out because they may have some minor misdemeanour on their record from their teens; versus a major directorship with fiduciary responsibilities (let alone customers' money) being nodded through to someone wholly unqualified and unfit.

There is no need to legislate and hold enquiries. All that is needed is for directors to do what they are amply paid to do; for regulators to regulate; and for the laws to be applied as much to the powerful as they do to the rest of us - and a Government with backbone and teeth to ensure that all this is done. If a few directors ended up like Enron's, it might "encourager les autres".

Monday, 18 November 2013

Selling off the nation's assets affects local communities too

There is a "proposal" subject to "consultation" to close a local Post Office, replacing it with some sort of unspecified lesser service at the local W.H. Smith. This may not sound like the end of the world: a sensible reduction in cost of accommodation at least. This is how most outsourcing initiatives are presented: as sensible business options, because to those behind them, business is God and their only yardstick for success is money. So Probation, Royal Mail, NHS services and so much more are redefined as inefficient businesses so that new "owners" can be brought in to run them, with improvement in financial results the goal.

We hear much from workforce, Unions, Opposition and the public objecting to these sell-offs of services which have been in public sector hands for decades; so much so that perhaps the partisan arguments have become almost too well-known to retain their real import. Return if you will to Uckfield High Street and the Crown Post Office. Here work several experienced and skilled people, part of the community, known to and liked by their customers, providing the full service of the Post Office. If the building is closed and the "service" is contracted (note the double entendre) to WHS, what will be the consequences? First, staff will lose jobs with all that can mean to them, their families and the community. Second, the services will be curtailed, as the new "service" will be delivered by less expert and worse remunerated staff and exclude some elements for which WHS is not licensed, such as passport and driving licence applications, meaning that customers will have to go to a main Post Office in another town completely, involving cost and inconvenience. Third, the trust and relationships between customers and staff will be lost as the agenda of the new owner will clearly be different from that of a public service. And I am sure there will be more such deficits of a human kind, all in the name of money.

Money seems to be the only criterion for decision-making understood by this inhuman Coalition, whereas Labour has among its values mutuality, altruism and community. There is nothing wrong with defining performance using wider parameters than just cost and returns. Social cohesion; the needs of people of all means; doing things which may not be efficient; what is wrong with these?

Accepting the closure of Uckfield Crown Post Office is not the small thing it may at first sight appear, for it typifies how the country has been forced to accept the wholesale decimation of public assets and services in the names of money and the ideology of smaller government. I have become ashamed of my initial response to the threat of this closure - that it was not all that important - because it is a local illustration of what is happening all over the country and because I can see the real impact it will have on people in my community. It typifies too how rural needs are disproportionately subject to the models assumed to be effective in urban environments. Shame on those behind it.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Markets vs Planning

Free market capitalism works in silos. Someone sees an opportunity in a particular sector; identifies resources to apply profitably and tries to grow a business in that sector. The enterprise relies on the pre-existence of infrastructure, skills and media which enable their success. The business thrives or fails. The infrastructure remains. Simple.

But the world is more complex than this. Those pre-existing conditions on which the entrepreneur relies; and those resources which may be brought to bear for the enterprise do not just happen. The free market did not create them.

The Industrial Revolution brought people together into conurbations which became the markets of the last 2 centuries. The movers and shakers of those communities invested heavily in roads, rail, schools and communications infrastructures to serve their cities. Those great Town Halls of Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and many other cities are metaphors for that community investment. Trade demanded that these be linked too, so energy, railways, canals and roads were a part of their plans for prosperity. For 200 years or so, these investments, updated and complemented by the welfare state, formed the basis for enterprise to flourish, especially around making things, using the combination of new technologies and mass labour.

But the post-Thatcher, post-manufacturing era saw not only the demise of the great employing businesses but a doctrinaire departure from the idea of planning which had created the means on which enterprises were built. Thousands of businesses failed and their skilled workers were cast aside as industrial waste. Without planning in place to re-use them, whole communities have never been able to recover fully. Yes, today there are more people in work than there were then; but this work is different, as desperate people have been forced to apply themselves to work which may be less skilled and less financially rewarding. The important sectors of the future may be different and not need to be in the conurbations with their ready infrastructure, Care for the growing seniors population; ICT and web-based supply; leisure and retailing are the 21st century equivalents of ship-building, textiles and widgets; and have different needs and locations.

We argue that instead of looking at enterprise as the starting point for recovery, planning is required which prepares the way. Local authorities need to understand how their local economy can thrive in future: what resources they uniquely have or can develop; what skills are inherent in their workforce; what opportunities may exist, This local plan (and local can mean regional) can then lead to a clearer understanding of what skills may be needed and where in order to make for a thriving economy. The mapping of people to training to jobs to housing and transport can then drive that investment that no entrepreneur will make, no matter how clever they may be, for it is beyond their silo. Instead of planning being seen as a dirty word, representing the dead hand of bureaucracy, as portrayed by the Right, let it be embraced as the facilitator of work, community and prosperity, so that the right infrastructure is in the right places for the people of the country; and for the future's entrepreneurs to make us of.

Monday, 4 November 2013

First Class Conference

"Class" is a think-tank for the Left to bring ideas which can form a manifesto for a future Labour Government. It is the first think-tank backed by the Union movement but is open to all left-minded contributors, such as UckfieldLabour. Its first conference was marked by the openness of Union leaders to academic input as well as party, journalistic and activist. Some strands of the content were:

Union strength is less than it used to be but it remains a powerful asset in countering the power wielded so unfairly by the financial elite. The latter may own the assets of the country but it does not own nor serve the people. This ownership has to be challenged, through repatriation of land and social ownership of the strategic utilities: energy; transport; water, healthcare. This will stop the propping up of inefficient private sector corporates which milk the dividends from windfall assets. It will reverse the erosion of services which the State should provide but which cannot be provided once capacity declines below a critical point, as outsourcing cherry picks the most profitable services.

This can be achieved and the neoliberal hegemony challenged. To do so, economics needs redefinition, to include the wellbeing of society and the environment, ie the collective good. We live in a community, where the strong protect the weak and not a market of self-serving individualists. To do so efficiency needs redescription, to show how individual services interact with each other to form an effective organism to achieve a strong society. It has to be shown how the closure of one plant in the name of efficiency may cause inefficiency on a far wider scale by its impact on other functions.This renewed understanding has to be broadcast throughout society to equip people to challenge the "GDP" mentality and enable argument on our own terms.  This will attract brickbats and derision from the bullying Right but this has to be borne because it is right.

How can the collective strength of Unions be brought to bear for sectors which lack Union representation? Unions need to do more to win members and recognition in call centres, food production, the care sector etc but this will not be effective quickly. A new Ministry of Labour with responsibility for the welfare of working people should be established, mandating Joint Industrial Councils to set and maintain fair terms for each sector, with representation of employers and workers in national rather than enterprise-based collective bargaining, as laid down by human rights law.

Lastly, democracy must be reinvigorated. The Coalition has ridden roughshod over its mandate in its selling off of NHS assets, dismissal of decades of understanding of teaching and privatisation of efficient national services such as Royal Mail and East Coast Rail. No wonder voters stay away when their will is totally ignored. A renewed respect for the voice of stakeholders is needed in work, education and local communities to restore the motivation to vote and ensure that decision-making takes account of all interests, not merely that of the fastest buck.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The means of production

Funny how some words can be red rags to bulls. The phrase "the means of production" sometimes prefaced by "Common or "State or "Collective ownership" - can conjour red mist before the eyes of capitalists of any political party. But this stems more from fear of loss of earnings potential for them and their mates than from concern that it may not work. Capitalists know full well that ownership of land, of minerals, of fixed assets is the high ground of their battlefield.

It is time now surely, with the manifestly ideological decision of the Coalition to privatise thoroughly effective public enterprises like Royal Mail and East Coast rail, to revisit the notion of at least State ownership of strategically vital assets. The privatisation of rail was a clear cock-up from the outset, which has delivered nothing for its public stakeholders and everything for its shareholders. Water likewise; energy likewise. Is the private sector so brilliant that its performance shines like a beacon beckoning more assets? Surely not, when the bailing out of banks, the exemplars of private enterprise, via a begging bowl to the State is concerned.

Why wait for the inevitable demand for bail-out when disaster strikes in private hands? Why not put those vital assets which constitute the defence of the realm against cold, illness, starvation and worklessness into the hands of those who most concern themselves with these issues, the people of the country, the people who work in or are served by these industries and their representatives? This has nothing to do with dogma and everything to do with strategic sense.

Politicians seem to have little appreciation of history other than to parrot the failures of the past as reasons not to do things. Better by far to learn from why things failed in the past to get them right in future, if the prize is the right one. Making the management of public enterprises professional but accountable would be a step forward, for example.

Making UK safe from speculator/investors' misuse of the means of production and sure of fairly priced continuity of supply of essential utilities would be the greatest legacy a future government could offer in its manifesto.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Change is driven from inside the tent

I was struck the other day by several tweets about members leaving the Labour Party because they were unhappy at the initial pronouncements of some of Ed M's new cabinet. Friends have taken similar positions too: either saying they would not re-join Labour because they were unsure that Ed had what it takes to be PM; or they would leave because everything was not as they would like it.
I have considerable sympathy for those who left the Party over the Iraq war but this was surely an issue of principle, far greater in magnitude than the party leader's presidential qualifications or Rachel Reeves' pragmatism. Those who want the Party to lean further Left or Right are equally sincere but neither group can help steer the ship if they have jumped overboard. The other day at a seminar of non-Labour, far left interests, despite considerable criticism and even dislike of Labour's policies, there was consensus that come the General Election the priority is to rid the country of this vicious Government and that this can only be achieved by voting Labour, no matter what longer-term aspirations there may have been in the room. If revolutionary socialists, communists and others of the left can take this position, surely Labour supporters should think twice about absenting themselves from the opportunities the Party does offer to influence its direction of travel. Standing outside the tent grumbling about what is going on inside has no impact. Indeed it could be argued that Labour should seek ways of bringing more progressive people into the tent to enrich the debate, one of which we have previously advocated: the creation of a Big Tent online social forum.
Tom Serpell

Monday, 21 October 2013

Accountability - a thing of the past?

It is time we looked more closely at accountability and how it applies [or not] to matters of strategic concern. Energy companies seem to be allowed to create inflation without redress, basing their case on the wholesale prices they control themselves and without reference to any evidence of generating cost inflation. The Government has failed to require transparency, with the result that nobody can argue against the retail pricing. Looking at the rise in Big 6 share values plus dividends may be the best clue as to the destination of the higher prices charged - in other words, the consumer's loss is the investor's gain. This is why Labour's policy is right: we must take time to reset the market, with effective regulation, putting the consumer interest at the top of the priorities. If the energy companies do not like it or comply, then they or generation must be taken into social ownership.

Even more concerning is the accountability in education. Free schools are said to be accountable to their communities. Are they, though? In effect, when they start to fail, they answer to the Secretary of State, who has an  ideological agenda preventing him from being critical but without the capacity to do anything anyway; and all this in the name of decentralisation. Governors who set up free schools may (but probably do not) start with competence in governance but what happens when the initial cohort move on as their children grow up? Where do amateur governors get their expertise in running a school, recruiting teachers, understanding learning? If there are no rules for this, there is no accountability. If governors fail, how can the community have redress when the next level of responsibility is in Whitehall? Local Education Authorities were just the seat of expertise which is now so desperately needed and should be rebuilt as a priority by the next Labour government.

Then there are the probation service, the justice system, the care services - accountability is simply being accepted by Government only for their destruction.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Overcoming disenfranchisement

Throughout the country there are individuals or categories of people whom the current political system fail to engage. Many of these would like to be so engaged but lack the means, whether physical (though infirmity), emotional (through lack of confidence) or geographical (because they live in rural areas, without transport or funds to link them to where things happen. Others, such as the next generation of voters announced by Ed Miliband, 16-17-year-olds-to-be, simply do not find the ways of politics disengaging. Their preferred media even for chatting with friends involve smart-phones, text and online networks.

As the Obama campaigns demonstrated, engagement between voters, rather than merely to voters, can be highly effective, if not essential - . Yet in UK this approach is still dogged by the attitudes of a generation of leaders and managers who simply do not "get" Twitter, FaceBook, SMS etc. Whichever party really grasps this nettle first and effectively will gain huge advantage over others.

We argue that Labour should urgently invest (yes, I know it cost money we do not have - but if it is more cost-effective than what else we may choose to spend on, this is no argument) in social media.

A "Big Tent" forum for progressively minded people, initially populated by inviting all Members to join, free, could at a stroke start to break down the barriers to inclusion referred to above. The ability of like-minded people in Cumbria to share ideas and experience with others in Camber, no matter that both are surrounded by Tories, can strengthen both their commitment to Labour and offer insights based on critical mass to inform Party thinking. The ability of individual members to identify each other (for all I know I may live near another Labour member; but how could I know?) and to collaborate; the ability of all to find out what is going on and where; these are the sort of things which will engage; and which an online forum can facilitate. The current top-down or even bottom-up communications systems are one-way, hierarchical and off-putting. We have submitted policy ideas on Your Britain with no feedback. We have gone to the extent of printing and sending a book of ideas to Ed M without acknowledgement. If we continue to feel that our thoughtful and serious inputs are ignored, even political anoraks like us will lose our will to engage. Where will Labour then be? Instead, it should use modern media to reach out, to allow peer-to-peer engagement and to gain some of the benefits Obama did from putting people of all kinds and anywhere at the heart of politics.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Rural labour

It is a privilege to live in deepest East Sussex. At least it is for some. But just because it is leafily beautiful and peaceful does not make it a privilege for all. Yes, there are landed estates which have been in the same families for generations [why?] but yes too there are unemployed and disadvantaged residents. No doubt on the privileged estates workers have only this year seen the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, offering employers "more flexibility" in the Terms and Conditions they may apply. Read this from the other viewpoint and it equals the removal of rights to paid holidays and sick pay.
Housing is expensive in the affluent South-East, where "commuting" may be by helicopter for some, but cannot even be by public transport for others in hamlets remote from main routes. Jobs are few anyway, so the hunt for them requires travel too.
An enquiry last week of a County Councillor elicited no plans - perhaps no awareness of the Living Wage. Surely this at least is a policy which even his Party could espouse? All over the country, councils are becoming Living Wage employers, to ensure that their staff have decent lives. More than this, Living Wage Councils are ensuring that their procurement requires contractors to adopt this principle too, as a prerequisite for the contract award, even for freelances. This is a start. Can we not put this principle to all Councils; all employers? Its about human decency rather than party politics. For this reason it should be mandatory, nationally; but until it is, lets pressurise our democratic representatives regardless of allegiance to demand payment of decent wages - the Living Wage.
Tom Serpell

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The true purpose of austerity

So let us look at the strange bedfellows of Quantitative Easing - an esoteric macro financial tool which used to be called "printing money" - and austerity - a way of depriving millions of individuals of relatively small but life-saving sums. What do they have in common? There is surely a parallel here with the Thatcher era, where QE's equivalent was North Sea oil revenue; and austerity's was the Poll Tax. In each case, the Government had huge sums it could devote to propping up institutions whilst they forced revolutionary changes on society, which it kept in place, hungry and obedient by empoverishment. QE has fed £375bn into supposedly shoring up the Balance Sheets of irresponsible banks, which are still claimed not to be sound enough. Sound enough for what? The only answer which makes sense must be that they want to revert to risk-taking; otherwise they would not need beefed up Balance Sheets. If they were traditionally risk-averse, they would not require an enlarged asset cushion. We the people are to be kept empoverished whilst this strengthening of the 1% proceeds unchallenged - desperate so that we are forced into low-pay, so that the employers can pay greater dividends and plough more donations into the Tory Party coffers, to guarantee continuity. As if a period of austerity claimed to be necessary to deal with deficits were not enough - lie that it is - Osborne now plans to extend it into a period of surplus, while even greater profits in better times are reaped by the 1%. And still at the expense of the 99%. At the end of Tory rule, there will be no State or the infrastructure to support the needs of unemployed, ill, disabled or elderly people, just a Feudal Society built on near slavery and patronage. Melodramatic? Yes, but this is what will happen if they are elected in 2015 and continue to boost the banks and deprive the people.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Reflections of a Conference virgin

I have attended many conferences in a long business career but never before a political one so had no clear idea of what to expect of the Labour Party Conference 2013, which my wife and I attended as non-delegates. Helped by the leftwards tendency of the Leader's speech and some other policy announcements very much in tune with @uckfieldlabour's thinking, we came away thoroughly inspired - though with some ideas too on things that still need pressing.

First of all, it was a surprise to me after years of halls full of men-in-suits, just how big a part women played as leaders, speakers, candidates. Labour really has got it as far as this issue is concerned.

Secondly, as reported briefly earlier, it was so serious! Every fringe session (apart from the excellent "Stand Up for Labour" evenings) was a working session, aimed at informing the party or sharing expertise. No posing or posturing, no competing for importance or status; not even about how to stuff the other parties in 2015; just genuine focus on issues which could make lives better for people in this country.

The restatement by Ed M of policy being based on values was music to my (and thousands of others') ears. The care worker's plea for time to exercise her skill was inspiring - a no-brainer for anyone who actually cares what happens to needy people. Andy Burnham's passionate advocacy of a public sector integrating care and health services. The plan to build 1m homes for ordinary people. A move towards pay which would reflect workers' skills whilst allowing them to live a decent life with self-respect. These were highlights but the shared, positive energy for seeing through the values of fairness and mutuality into workable policies and services was the overriding memory.

There is more to do: to remove the benefits cap, which is so arbitrary and such nonsense when it applies equally to Kirkwall and Kensington; to prove the efficacy and practicality of the Living Wage so that it can become universal; to take back vital services into social ownership.

Yes, there is voter apathy. Yes, young people feel that politics is irrelevant. But surely these issues will only be countered if people's real life concerns are the agenda, rather than how big a multi-national's dividend pay-out is [aka by Tories "the economy"].

Labour's problem now is that the Press, including the BBC, signally failed to report all of this, choosing only the story about Big Energy. One vehicle yet to be effectively used by Labour, which could be very effective in spreading messages, is social networking. It would be great to be in touch online with like-minded Members, across the country; to share stories and ideas; to find out what works and what does not; and above all to communicate in the way most younger voters do, and recruit more thereby. Bring on a national Labour Network, open, set up but not controlled by the Party.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


I am sitting on the stairs in the Brighton Centre, queuing for Ed M's big speech. I find it difficult to see instant perspective on even what I have heard and seen at Conference so far, so will defer longer comment until after it is all over. Suffice it to say, I have been extremely impressed by the seriousness and working nature of the events, really targeted at improving life for everyone. I wonder how this will compare with next week's event. This one has not been destructive or about image. More soon....

Sent from my Windows Phone

Friday, 20 September 2013


This is a test blog to see if I shall be able to blog from Conference.
Sent from my Windows Phone

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Lewes Festival of Trade Unionism and Socialism

The 3rd incarnation of this festival takes place between Sept 24 and Oct 8th, subtitled Alternatives to Austerity. Must be worth attending at least some of the great-looking events.
Information in Viva Lewes Events listings



Women & Socialism

Anti capitalist roadshow

Comfortable South-East?

Just in case it may be thought that lovely East Sussex is free from the ills affecting other areas and that its political domination by Tories is explained by their usual complacency, let us take note of this finding just put out by Sovereign FM: that one in 6 people in Wealden affected by the Bedroom Tax have fallen behind on their rent since its introduction. I bet there are people around the Home Counties who would be surprised to hear that anyone in East Sussex needs social housing, let alone cannot pay their ill-begotten tax on living space but yes, real people live here too.
It is too easy to list critiques of the Bedroom Tax but as far as Wealden in particular is concerned, a shortage of affordable homes of the sizes needed by those now being taxed into further dependency is a big one, which the Tory get-out clauses allowing house builders to avoid the minimum level of affordable homes in any project will do nothing to overcome. This is no party-partisan comment but factual. It looks unlikely that the incumbent governing party nor their bedfellows in cruelty will pay heed to this situation so I urge anybody of any persuasion to express outrage against the Bedroom Tax - and don't stay quiet just because the noise starts from the Left.
Tom Serpell

Monday, 16 September 2013

Organisation or Network?

I really am concerned at the Labour Party and its organisation. Recent experience, whether it concerns policy engagement or admin, suggests that the Party is still a monolithic, controlling body rather than the sum of its parts. Policy submissions require detective work just to establish where to submit them, covering swathes of issues under abstruse categories. The submissions then disappear into a black hole from which no feedback returns. On admin, the Party/NEC seems to be all about bureaucracy rather than stimulation, expansion or engagement. I recently paid to go to Conference but have still no ticket or programme despite apparently passing muster weeks ago - my money has been taken, of course. Every charity, cinema or festival does better with ticketing than this - because they treat the paying public as customers. On the other hand, as Members, we are still not in the 21st century. Social networks are so simple to create today, so why is the Labour Membership not one social network, engaging with one another, facilitated by the Party, instead of being kept in the dark as to which of our neighbours may be like-minded? Top-down seems to be the order of the day, whether in admin or engagement or policy - this is unhealthy, inefficient and demotivating. If things are this bad with 200,000 members and Ed is hoping for 500,000, it is time surely to loosen the Party's stays and join the new digital world?

Friday, 13 September 2013

This is the first posting on this new blog. It is the mouthpiece for a group of like-minded lefties living in rural East Sussex. We have absolutely no prospect of voting in a candidate in any local or national election, but nonetheless want to feel that our opinions on how the country and our communities are run can be "heard" and shared with others around the country like us may feel less isolated. We know already, just from coming together in our small discussion group, how valuable it is to be aware of the presence of other progressives in places where we are a near- invisible minority. By putting up candidates in recent CC elections we already uncovered hundreds of sympathisers, to our gratified surprise. We are just amazed that everybody does not castigate this frightful government, which is presiding over a return to Poor Law  Britain.

Views on this blog are those of individual members of this discussion group. Comment is welcomed.