Archive for September, 2010

Royal Mail, Labour conference and the CWU hit list

Sunday 26 September 2010

Tomorrow the Labour party conference will debate a motion from the Communication Workers Union attacking Business Secretary Vince Cable’s plans to fully privatise Royal Mail, and committing Labour to keeping Royal Mail entirely in the public sector.

Meanwhile, the CWU has drawn up a plan of action for campaigning on the ground against the coalition and its MPs. As general secretary Billy Hayes explained at the TUC Congress recently:

“We’ll be going into 71 marginals where the coalition has a majority of less than five per cent. In these marginals we only need to win over five of every hundred to make progress on defeating privatisation.

“We know it’s a big task but we’re helped that all candidates have come out against privatisation.”

Two Lib Dem MPs and one conservative, the maverick Daniel Kawczynski, signed an early day motion against privatisation before the election. But the union is hoping to put more MPs with slim majorities under pressure by linking up with community groups and making the issue about public services under threat.

(On the subject of Royal Mail, Ed Miliband told Labour’s affiliated unions: “I believe that we need to show as a party, including in the case of Royal Mail, that we can modernise and improve public services without resorting to privatisation”.)

(from Tribune blog)

Ed, cuts and the union agenda

Sunday 26 September 2010

Perhaps the biggest policy issue for Ed Miliband’s Labour is how they respond to the coalition’s cuts programme and present their alternative economic strategy.

Right here – in Manchester – and right now, that means deciding what stance to take at party conference. There isn’t much time for deliberation.

Labour’s affiliated unions have mostly decided to go for cuts and the economy in choosing their motions for debate this year.

The GMB and train drivers’ union ASLEF are pushing for a motion on tax avoidance, keen to argue that billions can be raised by collecting more tax. Unison is demanding an alternative to attacks on public services and a review of the effects of privatisation, with a view to reversing the New Labour privatisation trend, while Unite and Community want to get conference to agree to an alternative economic and industrial strategy. Community, in particular, will seek to get in a mention of Sheffield Forgemasters, the plant denied an £80 million loan by the coalition government. This should go in, given that the Labour frontbench have been trying to make merry hell for Sheffield MP Nick Clegg.

Everyone at this conference agrees that the coalition’s cuts are wrong. The question is: how wrong? And what would you do instead? Will Ed Miliband agree with wannabe Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls that this is the time or investment, not cuts (contrary to Labour’s pre-election plan to start cutting the deficit this year)? And will he welcome motions calling on him to agree to that?

On the one hand, he risks being seen as a hard-left deficit denier by the media and public. On the other, he risks failing to put blue water between Labour and the coalition, and sounding too much like his brother.

Union and constituency reps are sitting down today to agree composite motions on the economy, taxation and other issues. Ed M and his team will be watching, at very least.

(from Tribune blog)

How Unite members swung behind Ed Miliband

Saturday 25 September 2010

Much will be made in coming weeks and months of the fact that Ed Miliband only beat his brother David for the Labour leadership because of the votes of affiliates – mostly, but not exclusively, trade union members. And it’s true that Unite, the biggest union and Ed M supporter, pulled out all the stops for him, even printing pictures of him on some of the envelopes containing the ballot papers they sent out.

That aside, what looks set to emerge in the union-by-union voting figures is that Unite members must have taken the hint.

A few weeks ago, Team Ed M visited Unite’s co-headquarters in London’s Covent Garden to do some telephone canvassing. They contacted 850 Unite members – over 5 per cent 0.05 per cent of the total membership, not a bad sample size by opinion poll standards.

Of the 850, over 500 said they’d vote for the younger Miliband. The second most popular choice was ‘don’t know’ and the third most popular ‘not voting’. The remaining candidates did pretty badly in the sample’s estimation.

Update: I should point out, not all the membership were balloted, as they’re not all political levy payers. So the ‘sample’ was actually bigger than 0.0005 per cent. The point stands. However the figures now show that Unite members didn’t vote quite as uniformly as the phone poll suggests – although a majority of Unite voters did vote for Ed Miliband.

(from Tribune blog)

A thank you note

Friday 24 September 2010

I don’t normally do blogs of a personal nature, but a word of thanks is called for. I absent-mindedly left my (work) netbook in the security tent at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool on Tuesday evening. After some enquiries, it turned out that the Lib Dem conference staff had found it and taken it back to their Cowley Street HQ.

Cowley Street is about twenty minutes from where I live on my bike. Liverpool is not. So I’m very grateful to the Lib Dem staff for taking it back – and to responding very swiftly and efficiently to my query. Lost property is hardly a core activity for a political party.

Big thanks to Emma, Sophie and Sonia at Lib Dem HQ for their help, and also thanks to Lorraine and Jason at the ACC Liverpool for putting me in touch with them in the first place.

P.S. Amusingly, the message board at Cowley Street reads more like the coat pegs at an old English public school. Next to signs under sliding covers indicating ‘in’ and ‘out’ are the names in last name and first initial format – including ‘Clegg N’ and ‘Alexander A’ (who is still listed as working in the leader’s office, despite having stopped being his chief of staff some time ago.

Unite election: Len McCluskey way ahead, Cartmail kicks Bayliss’ van

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Unite’s executive council yesterday received the first official figures for nominations of candidates in their general secretary election. As the man himself predicted, assistant general secertary Len McCluskey is streets ahead of his nearest rival, Les Bayliss, with 829 workplace and branch nominations to Bayliss’ 214.

It certainly puts the remarks of Bayliss supporters last week – who, as I reported, said that McCluskey’s talk of having over 500 nominations more than Bayliss was “bollocks” – into context. However, it also bears out their counter-cliam that Bayliss’ branches and workplaces have more members. Despite having nearly eight times more nominations, McCluskey’s represent less than three times as many members.

Captain Sensible below points out that Ken Jackson was ahead on nominations before losing the AEEU union general secretary election to a certain Derek Simpson.

Gail Cartmail is pleased with her lot, given that people had suggested in the past that she wouldn’t even qualify to make it onto the ballot paper (the minimum number of nominations needed is 50). On her blog, Gail has mocked Bayliss’ use of a van plastered with pictures of his head, calling it a “mini-van for a mini-man” (miaow) and sconred his call for no strikes at Christmas (“What about Easter, Eid or Yom Kippur, the Solstice or Equinox?”) She also criticises McCluskey for attacking Bayliss in his platform speech at the TUC (as I reported here earlier; his none-too-subtle reference to “pandering to the Murdoch press”).

Those nominations in full:

  1. Len McCluskey, 829 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 368,986 members
  2. Les Bayliss, 214 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 137,942 members
  3. Jerry Hicks, 137 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 109,088 members
  4. Gail Cartmail, 97 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 37,836 members

Hat-tip: Ian Allinson

Lib Dem conference: could it reform the OBR?

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Yesterday’s Lib Dem conference rebellion over free schools and academies – apparently regarded by the media as the major headache for Nick Clegg – is unlikely to stop Michael Gove and the Department for Education in their tracks. Academies and free schools will continue to be rolled out in some shape or form, even if not as fast as the government likes.

However, the result of today’s conference vote over “ensuring fairness in a time of austerity” could – with an emphasis on could – affect the workings of the Office of Budget Responsibility. Critics in the past have said the OBR, supposed to be an independent scrutineer of the Treasury’s fiscal policy, isn’t independent enough.

The motion in its final form says that the OBR, a Conservative rather than a Lib Dem brainchild, should be “genuinely independent of government by having its committee appointed directly by Parliament” and have its remit expanded “to include assessing the socio-economic impact of Treasury policy, as stipulated in the Equality Act 2010.” In other words, make sure that cuts don’t discriminate against women, minorities etc.

I understand – and the Lib Dem press office has yet to respond to this – that Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander (whom I have already reported as having intervened in the motion before conference) asked for the bit about Parliament appointing the OBR head to be cut out. Which rather suggests that the motion is not considered a dead letter in Cowley Street.

The motion might be just hot air were it not for three factors:

1) Lib Dem conference motions feed into party policy – not the same as coalition policy, of course, but still policy that the party is meant to press for

2) There is a movement on the left wing of the Lib Dems to see this motion through (which may or may not be effective enough to actually achieve that), and

3) Legislation setting out the OBR’s structure and terms of reference in statute is on its way to Parliament.

(from Tribune blog)

Is Danny Alexander trying to stamp on a pesky motion?

Sunday 19 September 2010

On BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend today, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander was asked if he would “feel bound” by the decisions of his party’s conference. Under party rules, Lib Dem conference decisions are fed into the party’s manifesto.

His reply was pretty close to a no:

“What we’re doing is what the party agreed back in May, which is to deliver on that coalition agreement. So that’s what we have to do and that’s where I will take my source of authority from, if you like, and of course the party conference debates are important but they don’t necessarily make policy for the government”

While it’s understandable that Alexander wants to underline the importance of sticking to the coalition agreement in the face of Lib Dem jitters about getting into bed with the Tories, it may also be that he wants to head off attempts to enforce a tricky motion calling on the government to be more progressive in its cuts to public spending. It’s a motion whose wording he’s already intervened in, as I reported here last month.

The motion, which will be debated on Tuesday, calls on the coalition to:

“continue to work to ensure that the most vulnerable in society are not disproportionately affected by the government’s austerity measures and to ensure that the wealth and inequality gap does not widen.”

and to:

“Insist that Liberal Democrat ministers are given the freedom and resources to commission research to fully assess the viability and practicalities of increasing taxation on wealth – including land values.”

Some might argue that this contradicts George Osborne’s slashing of welfare budgets, and it seems unlikely that he would smile on plans to increase taxation on wealth beyond the still-in-place 50p top tax rate.

Alexander’s announcement of a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion also looks like a way of assuaging those who want to see more redistribution of wealth from the wealthy (e.g. billionaire non-doms) to the poor.

Is a shadow cabinet minister going to quit? and other stories

Thursday 16 September 2010

Word at Westminster is that one of Labour’s incumbent shadow cabinet is on the brink of deciding his efforts would be better expended on the backbenches.

Who could it be? We can probably discount the leadership contenders, as well as those who have already declared they want to run for the Shad Cab. That leaves Liam Byrne, Pat McFadden, Hilary Benn, Douglas Alexander,  Shaun Woodward, Jim Murphy and Peter Hain – all of whom, it must be emphasised, could run all together.

One reason for dropping out could be the sheer competitiveness and the fear of losing. As Labour Uncut points out, at least two incumbent members of the shadow cabinet are bound to lose their seats.

Shadow housing minister John Healey (pictured) is determined that won’t be him. His words to Tribune on the “squeezed middle” Labour should do more to look after have been picked up by the Evening Standard’s Paul Waugh in a curiously glowing tribute to his “dark horse” status.

Prominent backbenchers Jon Cruddas and Tom Watson are among Healey’s supporters, as well as new boys and girls Rachel Reeves, Lisa Nandy, John Woodcock and Chuka Ummuna – a broad church of Labour opinion indeed.

Expect one of Healey’s letters to MPs to surface shortly alongside the others. Unlike other contenders, Healey has been tailoring his correspondence to its recipients.

Revealed: the new Charlie Whelan

Thursday 16 September 2010

Unite union leaders have, it seems, chosen Charlie Whelan’s successor as political director after Whelan announced on Twitter that he was leaving the job. Hi successor is to be Joe Irvin, former political secretary to Gordon Brown when he was prime minister.

As someone who took over from Damian McBride, Irvin will be used to filling the shoes of combative and rather divisive political staffers. He also has a solid background within one of Unite’s parent unions, the T&G, where he was director of policy for many years.

Nobody, it seems, has got round to telling the Unite political department yet.

The story, as they say, is developing…

Update: I told you it was developing. This appeared earlier as a comment on the original story by the editor and myself on the Tribune website:

“This story is untrue – no consideration has been given to a replacement for Charlie as yet

Andrew Murray, Unite Director of Communications”

(from Tribune blog)

Meanwhile, back at the Unite election…

Thursday 16 September 2010

Two fiercely competitive frontrunners, disputed figures, cries of “bollocks” – the election for the next leader of the Unite union has it all. And reports back from the TUC Congress suggest that rivalry and policy are being doled out in roughly equal measure. Here, behind the News of the World headlines, is what is going on.

Les Bayliss predictably caused a slight sensation on the eve of Congress when a newspaper article appeared quoting him as criticising British Airways cabin crew for their planned 12-day strike over Christmas, saying: “If I am general secretary of Unite there will NEVER be any strikes called over Christmas”, and “Public sector strikes will only deprive the vulnerable of services the Tories want to cut. We’ll be doing the bad guy’s job for him. Strikes will also turn the real victims, our members, into the villains.”

And yes, he did actually say all that. Not to the News of the World, but in a speech – the full version is on his website. Bayliss’ argument is that strikes in the 1980s were counter-productive, lost sympathy for unions and encouraged the introduction of laws to curb their power.

Unfortunately for Bayliss, some Unite members assumed that he had given an interview to the NoW. “You’re kidding me!” a senior source said when told of the article, adding: “To use News International as a mouthpiece, whose owner sacked six thousand members in the move to Wapping, is quite a disgrace”. Fair or not, it’s the impression some have got.

However, the line peddled by the NoW’s David Wooding – “He appealed to the moderate majority to stand up to hardliners hell-bent on leading them over the cliff edge” – is a fair summary of Bayliss’ pitch to Unite members, particularly the skilled professionals that he is targeting. Many of these are far from dyed-in the-wool lefties; nearly a third of Unite members intend to vote Conservative.

Rival Len McCluskey’s rhetoric is scarcely less colourful. The day after the NoW article, speaking to a plenary Congress session on employment rights, and calling for resistance to the restrictive use of union laws, he said – no, he shouted: “Let me be clear again, especially to anyone in Unite who understands the cuts won’t be stopped by pandering to the Murdoch press. In the words of Henry V, he that hath no stomach for this fight, let him depart.” “Not  too over the top, then,” sniggered a Unite official next to me as he spoke.

So, anyway – now that nominations have closed, and the ballot begins next month, who is ahead?

According to McCluskey’s website, it’s him, and according to a Financial Times piece too – except that the piece’s author, Brian Groom, didn’t actually want it published; he thought the figures weren’t solid. McCluskey is claiming over 650 nominations from branches compared to (he says) Bayliss and Jerry Hicks, who are unlikely to get more than 100 nominations apiece. Nominations don’t count as votes, but they do help influence members and allow candidates to receive funding from branches.

Word among McCluskey’s supporters is that he does indeed have well over 600 nominations. Meanwhile, friends of Bayliss dismiss the figures as “bollocks”. They aren’t official – true enough – and they’re two weeks out of date. the complaint goes. Since then, Bayliss has picked up nominations, I am told. I took this rebuttal back to camp McCluskey. “Bollocks”, I was told. Hmm.

Jerry Hicks, however, does agree with McCluskey’s analysis: he is telling supporters that he has won 102 branch nominations, as well as 35 workplaces, and he thinks he is close to Bayliss, ahead of Gail Cartmail and behind McCluskey. Go figure.

Official figures for nominations will be released soon. Watch this space…