Monday, 24 February 2014

Mutiny against injustice

In September 1931 the crews of the Royal Navy Atlantic Fleet mutinied. So serious was this that the Cabinet of the National [Coalition] Government even considered shelling the moored ships. So damaging to the country's reputation was this that Britain was forced off the Gold Standard; yet this episode, a capital offence, was settled and hushed up without even a Court Martial or Commission of Enquiry. How could this come about?

In May of that year there was a worldwide banking crisis, which led to large-scale selling of sterling. To defend the pound, foreign banks demanded that UK's budget deficit be eliminated, meaning a saving of £120m in the coming year, equal to more than half of Government civil spending; and more than the budgets for the police and armed forces combined. It was decided by Chancellor Snowden [Lab!] that tax rises should account for £24m of this sum; and expenditure cuts for the balance, £64m from cutting unemployment pay. In other words, the poorest were to pay. The Admiralty, led by Austen Chamberlain [Con], would bear its share too, by a series of cuts, again affecting most seriously the lowest paid ratings most. Cuts of £1 per day were to be made with immediate effect, across all non-commissioned ranks. This had the effect of a 25% cut for the lowest paid. As the Daily Herald described affairs: "This is not patriotism but acceptance of the dictatorship not even of a British bank but of international finance..... It is not a people's Government but a bankers' Government.... part of the price for saving the pound is to be paid by the very poorest people in this country."

As word of this spread from ship to ship gathered for exercises in Invergordon Bay, crews refused to work. The officers aboard had some sympathy for the men but "the sudden realisation that discipline and authority depended on consent had shattered and cracked the solid ground on which they stood." The mutiny shocked and left paralysed the Government and even the King, who was very Navy-minded.  Instead of resorting to the historic model for treatment of mutineers - capital punishment - or to force, to overcome it, they crumbled. "The mutiny ended with the Government agreeing that sympathetic treatment should be given to hardship cases" - in other words, it backed down in face of withdrawal of labour.

This story is rarely retold but can be read in full in the source for these quotations, "The Invergordon Mutiny" by Alan Ereira, [1981 Routledge & Keegan Paul] It is surely worth reading today. Need I say more?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Migration as economics

Say “immigration” and the conversation will be about “how many?” Say “migration” and a natural ebb and flow of humanity is depicted, within as well as to and from a country. Say “economics” and immigration falls into its proper place as a cog in the machine, creating and responding to economic and social conditions.

Without injection of new capacity, skills and diversity to our economy, our home-grown demographics will lack the ability to grow the economy, to service pension commitments and to fulfil functions essential to the smooth running of the economy. How would today’s UK function without the contributions of care and health professional, independent retailers and agricultural workers, to say nothing of academics and entrepreneurs of first and second generation immigrant origin? UK needs to look an attractive destination where skills can be employed.

Labour should never be the party to demonise this transfusion; but it can and should ensure that the right parameters apply. Labour’s value of long-termism should be applied to a vision of what sort of country we want, in terms of population size, diversity and qualifications. The demise of trade and industry councils on whose advice sectoral skills requirements could be identified has left the recruitment of the skills needed for our future economy, be these from home-grown or imported talent rudderless. Whilst we must continue to welcome incomers on humanitarian grounds, we should set out our recruitment stall in the EU in particular, and help those who may consider migration to decide if they may expect find a welcome and a job here. UK should not seek the skills of those whose capabilities are more important to their country of origin. This may suggest that working in and with source countries to educate and develop a future workforce meeting UK as well as domestic needs could become an important role for DFID/FCO.

We do not need money launderers or the mega-rich who merely extract wealth from our nation. All incomers should expect to pay taxes just as any indigenous citizen would, including on assets which are not working for the economy. We have to form a view on the demand for lower wage workers in sectors such as agriculture; and how this draws migrants in. Raising and policing minimum wages may encourage more uptake of such work by indigenous workers but equally attract more incomers.

How can this formula be implemented, though? Free movement within Europe, including UK, surely offers the best market for recruiting the skills we need. Sounder borders and internal implementation of regulations for employment throughout Europe, including UK, will enable any unwarranted inward migration to be managed. UK’s libertarian attitude to identity documentation may be a barrier to such a policy and should be revisited, pragmatically.

Above all, Labour needs to address the agenda, language and prejudices which drive the public perception of this topic. Only by leading with a language which is more strategic, factual, positive and inclusive will we be able to pull away from the sterile, xenophobic arguments about how many “others” we find it acceptable to live with.
Tom for UckfieldLabour

Monday, 10 February 2014

Rural idyll or rustic isolation

The lanes and woods of this rural constituency paint a picture of tranquil beauty and a high quality of life. For many this is exactly what makes living here so attractive. In fact the tranquillity disguises what is a hive of activity. Quite apart from the obvious roots of a rural economy - agriculture; horsiculture; hospitality - behind many a hedge lurks energetic enterprise quite unexpected in these surroundings. Within walking distance of my home are a pie factory,  a soap manufacturer exporting all over the World; in Internet retailer and a state-of-the-art print works, let alone our local brewer, jeweller and artists.

But even in such an enterprising culture there are few jobs and accessing workplaces can be convoluted and expensive where public transport is scarce. Many of those wishing or needing (for family or economic reasons, for example) to remain here seek to find a living through self-employment. These will no doubt be celebrated by current political spinners as evidence of a dynamic economy, contributors to record numbers of start-ups and sole traders. But let us look deeper beneath our green canopy:

Self-employment through inability to find or access work may be very different to entrepreneurship. Anyone forced into looking for piecework may be ill-equipped to handle the running of even a sole trader-ship. This requires not just a skill to sell but the skill of selling. It demands equipping one's business to compete with all the others in the same trade who will not let go lightly of any potential business; and to avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous clients. It requires rigorous understanding and management of cash-flow, whilst often bringing in far less income than is needed. How many coming out of employed status or unemployment are really equipped to deal with these alien functions; and where can they access such skills in scantily populated rural areas?

Hidden in this rural idyll are people facing deprivation, isolation and lack of hope, without the means to overcome these. The Tory Shires and Home Counties may be the playgrounds of the wealthy and comfortably off but they are others' homes too, who need the means to be seen, helped and represented.

Tom Serpell

Monday, 3 February 2014

Cameron is the great divider

Britain is increasingly divided under this Government. Quite apart from the potential departure of Scotland, which is not of his making, Cameron is presiding over a worsening North:South (or more precisely South-East vs the Rest) divide and record inequality, as his plutocratic allies line their pockets at the expense of the vast majority. Consider, though, another divide: that between urban and rural economies. As public services, which have been the major source of jobs, are withdrawn to a starved rump; and "infrastructure investment" means glamour projects handed to yet more party-funding mates, those who live in out-of-sight areas are ignored.
For rural families the journey to work or school can be lengthy, complex and costly. Shops, banks and the library (if there is one still) are not round the well-lit street corner. Affordable housing has not been built for years and house-prices and rents are soaring, straining further squeezed household budgets. We now learn that poverty demonstrably inhibits learning and even access to a computer, which is today a sine qua non for students. Superfast broadband comes last to rural areas which need them all the more because of the dearth of other means to access affordable sources of goods and services.
Many rural constituencies are safe Tory seats needing no special attention to sustain allegiance. New houses must not be allowed to spoil the view from the Manor house, so rural poor are faced with having to leave their roots in favour of grotty urban estates.
Labour may have few chances to win seats in rural England but its values are just as needed as in populous towns and cities. We must find ways of joining isolated Labour voices into one loud one so that our issues are understood and we too are part of our One Nation, even without electoral propsects.