Sunday, 31 March 2013

Why I support the Left Unity initiative

In 2010 I joined the Labour Party, with the naive view that things may change and the party would reposition itself on the left of politics.  I realised I would have to compromise some of my principles, but after 5 years in the Green Party seeing little progress and seeing the party failing to win over voters I felt Labour where the only option to ensure we could remove the Tory/Lib Dem coalition at the next election.

Ed Miliband started by saying the right things by stating the Iraq war was wrong, calling for Palestinian statehood and arguing the gap between rich and poor does matter.  Unfortunately two years later it was clear that little had changed in the Labour Party.  In August 2012 journalist Sonia Poulton wrote an open letter to Ed Miliband calling on him to stand up for the disabled against work capability assessments ( this was followed up by further articles and many activists contacting Ed Miliband calling for him to take a stand, yet the response was silence.  I had to draw the line when it was clear Labour was failing to stand up for the sick and disabled and I cancelled my membership.  Since cancelling my membership I realise definitely made the correct decision as the party lurches to the right on immigration chasing UKIP votes and most recently abstaining on the workfare bill to reverse a judicial voting.

I realise now that it is not good enough to want Labour in power because they are not as bad as the Tories and Lib Dems, it is time to offer a true left alternative to the electorate.  There is some cynicism around that we are just repeating the mistakes of the Socialist Alliance and Respect, and why will it work this time?  I have confidence that the Left Unity shows real promise for the following reasons:

  • We are facing a Tory government and there is strong unity among left groups working on campaigns such as scrap bedroom tax, stop the cuts, save the NHS etc.
  • There is currently a re-alignment of the political spectrum in the UK. A lot of voters are feeling let down by Labour and looking for an alternative, some are falling for the UKIP populist message and it is important to have a genuine alternative on the left, which doesn't scapegoat immigrants and stoke xenophobia.  We need to challenge the lies of the right wing media, and stop the divide and rule tactics of the Tories.
  • The splits in Socialist Alliance/Respect were in part due to disagreements with SWP. Following the recent wave of resignation from the party I don't think the SWP are in a position to dominate a new left initiative.
  • This is a grass roots initiative. Unlike SA/Respect it is not a group of parties on the left getting together to decide a manifesto. It will be built from the bottom up, with many independent socialists at the heart of the discussion.
  • Over 6,000 signatories to Ken Loach's appeal in the space of 2 weeks shows a genuine will on the left to work together and form a genuine left alternative.

In the space of a week over 40 people in York have expressed interest in getting involved in the discussion as to what we want to see in a new party of the left, and we will be meeting in the next few weeks to start this debate.

Sign Ken Loach's appeal at

To become involved in Left Unity York email or join the Facebook group at

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Labour are failing us, help shape the future of the left and sign up to Ken Loach's Left Unity appeal

Last August I wrote an article arguing that Labour must take a strong position against ATOS Work Capability Assessments.  They didn't, Ed Miliband and Labour remained silent whilst the sick and disabled who clearly weren't fit for work were being found found capable for work by ATOS and their benefits cut.  Journalist Sonia Poulton carried out a high profile campaign calling on Ed Miliband to take a stand, yet he remained silent.

Because of this silence I felt I could no longer remain a member of the Labour Party and cancelled my membership.  I had only been a member for a couple of years, I joined after the 2010 general election along with many others from the left  hoping that Labour would change and reposition itself back on the left.  I accept that I was naive and made a mistake.  We were let down, and whilst I agree with some Labour policy and at the moment would vote for them to remove the Tories from power, they are not a genuine alternative to the current government.

The problem is that currently there is no real alternative to the Labour Party.  There are many groups and parties on the left whose policies I agree with, but they are small and don't realistically have much chance of growing beyond their current support base.

The only answer is left unity.  This has been tried in the past with groups like the Socialist Alliance and Respect, but for various reasons have never managed to unite the left.  This is not however a reason not to try again.

I have signed up to Ken Loach's appeal for left unity:

The welfare state is being dismantled by the coalition government, bringing great suffering to the most vulnerable in society and eroding the living conditions of millions of ordinary people. Worse still, the Labour Party is not presenting a strong opposition to austerity and instead appears to have wholeheartedly adopted neo-liberal policy, advocating its own brand of austerity and privatisation. 
Ken Loach's The Spirit of '45 gives us a perspective on the achievements of the post-war generation, transforming the lives of ordinary people by bringing improved health, housing, education and social security to the people of Britain. We need to defend these achievements and continue the tradition of protecting the most vulnerable in society.
Support Ken Loach's appeal to discuss the formation of a new political party of the Left to bring together those who wish to defend the welfare state and present an economic alternative to austerity.

I call on all those on the left to sign the appeal at and help shape the future of the left in Britain.

If you are in York a Facebook group has been set up at

Saturday, 9 March 2013

How will Bedroom Tax affect York?

The National Housing federation has published figures showing how each parliamentary constituency will be affected by the Bedroom tax.  In York it is estimated that 1,151 households in York Central and 992 households in York Outer will be affected by the charges.  These households will pay an extra £556 per year for 1 extra bedroom and £992 per year for 2 or more bedrooms.

The figures are even more shocking for the region.  A report on ITV news shows that 80,000 people will be affected in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, with 50,000 of these people are disabled.

The bedroom tax takes no account of:
  • Foster carers who need a room available to take children in
  • Parents sharing custody of children who need a room available for their child at weekends
  • Disabled people's adapted homes
  • Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation
  • If a family has a member of the armed forced away on service for more than 13 weeks this will also be classed as an unoccupied room.
The government seem to suggest everyone can just do a house swap and the problem is solved, yet in reality there are just not the 1-2 bedroom houses available for people to "downsize" to.  This was demonstrated in a recent article in the Mirror which reported that there are only 50 one bedroom properties in Newcastle to downsize to, yet 7,000 will be stripped of benefits because they have unoccupied rooms.

There will be a network of 50 demonstrations against the bedroom tax across the country on March 16th.  Find your nearest one at

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Why is there a media obsession with the Steenkamp murder?

For the past week there has been nightly coverage of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, which South African spring runner Oscar Pistorius has been charged with.  The question is why is this case getting such high profile coverage, often topping the TV news agenda and getting front page coverage in our newspapers.

To quote the African online newspaper Mail & Guardian:
The South African Institute of Race Relations said an average of 2 488 women had been murdered every year over the past six years.
Before looking up these facts I knew little about murder statistics in South Africa because South African news is rarely covered by the UK media.  This statistics are shocking and deserve a lot more focus than the Steenkamp murder, as tragic as it is.  The fact is that the UK is obsessed with the cult of celebrity.  News is often decided based on how high a celebrity profile the individual has who is being reported on.  What is especially disappointing is that news media which I usually rely on to be professional and non-sensational such as Channel 4 news and the Guardian are both giving more space to this story than it warrants.

Unforuntately for the coming year I see little opportunity to avoid this story, as it is being shaped into the trial of the year, with similar coverage to that we saw of the O.J.Simpson trial.

We can only hope some of our news media will focus on what really counts, such as the high homicide rates across the world.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Sophie Lancaster - Attacked for dressing differently

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Sophie Lancaster. Please share this video and spread the word about the Sophie Lancaster Foundation

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Why Labour must take a strong position against current ATOS Work Capability Assessments

Recently journalist Sonia Poulton wrote an open letter to Ed Miliband on the Mail Online titled 'Will Ed Miliband stand up for the disabled against distressing and unreliable work capability tests?' this was in light of two documentaries recently on Panorama and Dispatches both showing the shocking treatment the disabled face having to go through the Work Capability Assessments which are administered by ATOS.  The documentaries showed cases of individuals clearly incapable of work being found fit for work, with some even dying after going back to work.

The government blame Labour for bringing in this system, but that does not mean we have to stand by it.  The system is clearly not fit for purpose and at its worst inhumane. 

A search of the Labour website does not find one mention of ATOS or WCA.  By being silent we are condoning this practise.  I hope Ed and the Labour leadership takes note of the thousands of signatories to Sonia's letter calling for Labour to take a stand against this, otherwise what do we stand for?

At the end of the statement on my Labour membership card it states
"and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."
If we do not come out against this system we are clearly not living up to the pledge we make and I will return membership card, as I will not be able to stand on doorsteps campaigning for a party which does not stand up for those who are unable to work in our society.

Find out more and watch the Dispatches programme at

Find out more and watch the Panorama programme at

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Petition calling for increased regulation of private rental sector

A recent study by Cambridge University, reported in the Observer says
that if the UK economy stays stagnant 27% of people will be in
"mortgaged home ownership" by 2025, compared to 43% in 1993/94 and 35%
currently. This alarming drop in home ownership will result in a
massive swing to the private rental market in the coming years.

There is nothing wrong with with renting per se, but what is needed is
much greater regulation of what is currently a very loosely regulated
area, particularly compared with other areas of Europe.

Currently tenants face numerous discretionary charges at the start and
throughout the tenancy. Tenants also face insecurity from lack of
tenure and above inflation rent increases.  As more families end up in
rented accommodation it is important that they have assured tenure to
give stability to children who can end up being moved from school to
school if their lease ends and they cannot move within the same
catchment area.

I have started an E-petition on the government website calling for
greater regulation.  If you share my concerns please consider signing

Saturday, 16 June 2012

I don't agree with Progress, but I believe in their right to exist

As reported in today's Guardian, the latest sectarian ruptions in the Labour Party have being triggered by an attempt to ban neo-liberal group Progress, made up of those associated with Blairite thinking in the party.

The Labour Party has always been a broad church, it is only by being a broad church that you can build a large enough member base to be able to campaign effectively to win elections.  Labour are not alone, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Greens all have groups within their parties campaigning for their party to take a particular direction. 

Progress is not the only group or policy forum in Labour, there are others such as the Labour Representation Committee, Labour Left of which I am member, Blue Labour and until recently Compass was a pressure group of Labour members, and I'm sure there are other policy groupings I've failed to mention.

If we try and enforce one view within the party you will end up causing the sort of splits we saw in the 80s which created the 'Gang of four' who left to create the Social Democratic Party or the banning of Militant Tendency which resulted in members leaving to create Militant Labour and eventually the  Socialist Party.

Let us not fall down the Life of Brian route and cause splits within the party encouraging members to leave and campaign elsewhere.  We see that with the parties to the left of Labour who continually split into smaller and smaller factions incapable of affecting any real change.   Let us have sensible debates about policy and not force our opinions on others through censorship.

Drop the word Empire from the honours system, it's long overdue

I read today that at part of the Birthday Honours the British Empire Medal is being reintroduced.  It is bad enough that the current honours retain the word Empire, but to add another to the list is ridiculous.  The introduction of an extra honour would have been the perfect opportunity to move away from our imperial past and think of a title which did not incorporate Empire, even if it is something as simple as British Commonwealth Medal.

Benjamin Zephaniah perfectly summed up why we should not be dishing out these gongs when he declined his OBE stating:

"Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear the word 'empire'; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised." Independent Nov, 2003
 The history of the British Empire is one our country should be deeply ashamed of.  Not just the immorality of colonisation but the brutality and disregard for human rights which followed us across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  Just type in British Empire Atrocities into Google to bring up a catalogue of atrocities carried out in the name of the British Empire.

Millions are not aware of imperialistic history and it is important that we start recognising the crimes we carried out and apologise for them.  A good start would be to drop the word Empire from our honours system.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Enough is Enough - Why I voted to reject my public sector pay offer of 1%

Today I received a consultation email from UCU asking whether our negotiators should reject the "full and final" offer of 1%.  After three years of begrudgingly accepting the miserable pay offers being inflicted on the public sector, well below the level of inflation, I feel that the time has come for public sector unions to say no to the austerity measuring being doled out.  My main reasons for rejecting the offer are as follows:
  • Our union negotiators are recommending we reject the offer saying 
Your negotiators are clear that when set against current RPI of 3.5%, the employers are offering a real-terms pay cut for the fourth year in succession and once again refusing to negotiate at a national level on a range of issues in respect of UCU equality policy. 
  • The austerity being doled out by the ConDem coalition is damaging our economy.  When they came into power in 2010 we were on the road to recovery, in these three years they have turned the recovery around and taken us into another recession.  Millions of public sector workers have seen below inflation pay rises for the past 3 years and have had to reign in their spending, hence less is being spent on the high street and the economy is faltering.
  • Finally, the government insulted millions of low paid workers in the recent budget by reducing the higher rate income tax band from 50p to 45p.  Any illusion that we were "all in this together" finally went up in smoke when Osborne gave the richest in this country a tax break.  As I pointed out in my blog post after the budget the facts and figures were massaged and the 50p tax band not given enough time to work so that the coalition could propagate the fallacy that the 50p tax rate was not bringing in any extra income into the treasury.
I urge my colleagues in UCU and those in all other public sector unions currently balloting on below inflation pay offers to finally say "enough is enough" and reject the government's collective punishment of public sector workers.

Finally I would call on all union activists to build for the 'A Future That Works' mass demonstration on 20th October called by the TUC, further details at

Friday, 1 June 2012

Monarchy Myth #1 - They are good for tourism

When I try and make a case for republicanism the no.1 response I get from supporters of the monarchy is that they are good for tourism.  But is this true, and would it make a huge difference to our economy if we were a republic?  Let's look at the facts:

  • Of the top 20 UK tourist destinations only 1 royal destination makes it to the list, Windsor Castle at No.17
  • Buckingham Palace is closed to the public for the majority of the year.
  • In 2008 Visit Britain surveyed 28,000 tourists about what attracted them to Britain.  The Royals were pretty low on more tourists lists as shown in this Telegraph article

Information taken from the Republic website at

Find out more about Republic and their campaign for an elected alternative to the monarchy at

Monday, 21 May 2012

Free Pussy Riot

Three alleged members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samucevich, charged with "hooliganism", have been remanded in jail, facing up to 7 years criminal punishment for allegedly participating in the punk-prayer Virgin Mary, Send Putin Away that publicly demonstrated for human rights and against the current oppressive regime under Putin. The case illustrates the gross level of violations against human rights in Russia and requires immediate attention. The detained activists now need the support of the world's community.  (From Free Pussy Riot page)
Please sign the following two petitions calling for these political prisoners to be relased:

Amnesty International

Change.Org petition

Read more about the campaign at

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Israel, Iran and the bomb

Reading this week's Time magazine I was quite surprised by the interview with Shimon Peres in the 10 questions segment. [,9171,2109787,00.html]

Question: Remind me, does Israel have nuclear weapons?

Answer: Look, Israel doesn't intend to introduce nuclear weapons, but if people are afraid that we have them, why not?
To me this reads as a claim that Israel does not hold nukes, which is a stronger refutement than usual as usually Israel spokerspersons take a stance of ambiguity.

More surprising is that this contradicts a press conference in Jordan 1998, reported in the Jerusalem Post []  where Peres stated that Israel had:
"built a nuclear option, not in order to have a Hiroshima but an Oslo."
Not many people really believe that Israel does not have a nuclear weapon programme, and it seems rather futile trying to deny it any more.

So why does Israel continue to deny the existence of WMDs.  Could it be that it makes it very difficult to question Iran's nuclear intentions?

I don't like the prospect of Iran holding WMDs but it makes it difficult for any country to take an even handed approach on this if they don't at the same time question Israel's nuclear programme.  And it certainly isn't acceptable for any western country to support an Israeli attack on Iran when both countries are allegedly carrying out nuclear programmes.

Further reading - Israel's weapons of mass destruction - May 2005

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Lies, damned lies, and statistics at the Budget and why Osborne decided to rush the 45p rate in

Ever since the 50p tax rate was introduced the Tories have been obsessed with trying to lower it.  Digging a bit deeper it becomes clear why George Osborne chose this year's budget to remove it, as this would be the only year when the statistics would support his case for scrapping it.

He states in the budget that the rate only raised a third of the expected £1bn originally expected. (BBC News).  When you look into this there is a very clear reason why this is the case.  The HMRC report into The Exchequer effect of the 50 per cent additional rate of income tax states:

The analysis shows that there was a considerable behavioural response to the rate change, including a substantial amount of forestalling: around £16 billion to £18 billion of income is estimated to have been brought forward to 2009-10 to avoid the introduction of the additional rate of tax.  (Page 2 of the report).

The true effectiveness of the 50p rate will not show until the end of the 2011/12 tax year next month, as this will be the first year when it will not have been possible to move income into a year with a lower rate.

And how is he paying for the scheme.  He is lowering the 40p tax rate to £41,450, attacking child credits and pensions.

There is no getting around the fact that this budget was a budget by the rich for the rich,


Someone has set up a petition on the government website calling for the 50p tax rate to be re-introduced.  Sign here