Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

Christmas wrapping-up: Goodbye blogging

Friday 24 December 2010

Avid readers of this blog (err, my mum, Jerry Hicks, a few people who used to support Les Bayliss) may have noticed I’ve not updated it much recently. Mainly that’s because I’ve left Tribune magazine and started a new job in financial reporting. Unlike Tribune it’s full time and hard work, so I’ve much les time on my hands to get in touch with trade unionists and blog about industrial stuff and politics.

So I’ve decided/been forced to mothball this blog, at least for the time being. For the next few weeks I won’t even attempt to update it regularly. There isn’t time, I’m afraid. The update I wrote today will be the last one for a while, if not forever.

But before I go, there are a few thing that need saying and can be safely said here. I started this blog in mid-2008 in a desperate attempt to get more reader than the low-circulation pages of Tribune would allow. But if that was selfish, then hopefully the way I have written it hasn’t been entirely so: I have tried, quite hard sometimes, to tell the truth about things which don’t see the light of day often enough. That’s especially the case with trade union politics. The demise of industrial reporting means journalist aren’t reporting and scrutinising trade unions in the way that their members or the public deserve.

I have quite enjoyed writing the blog. I am grateful to everyone who has read it for reading it. And I’m particularly grateful to people who’ve read it and then come forward with information and assistance with my stories. You know who you are. Your generosity is touching, and I offer big thanks. How couldn’t it be? I can’t offer anything in reward, and indeed I shouldn’t, so more often than not I think this has been a selfless act [update – on their part, I meant]. As a journalist I am humbled by people who give those precious nuggets of info with no thought of reward. I won’t try and name names, partly because some people might get into trouble if they were so named. That’s one of the problems with internal trade union politics especially, and politics generally.

Most of the people I’ve met in trade unions and politics have been either okay or nice; some have been exceptionally nice, cheerful, kind, sunny, helpful and so on. They’ve made life more worth living. A small number however have chosen to be hostile, or even malevolent. I mean they’ve tried to get me into trouble for no good reason. The reason, as far as I could make out, was that I was writing things which didn’t agree with the PR line they were trying to enforce and they saw it as their (paid) job to squash anyone who threatened that line. Sometimes this has been actually scary. Again, a problem with internal union politics, though that doesn’t wipe away personal responsibility. But spare a thought for the people who have to deal with that all the time, and not just because of a blog. Not everyone involved worked for a union either.

And I won’t mention the MP who upset me a bit by texting me in fury, called me “disgracefull” [sic] and said “please do not speak to me again” over something I wrote he found unhelpful. (Oh all right, it was Jon Cruddas. To be fair, I’m sure he was under a great deal of stress at the time – but I had not misreported him.)

These people didn’t get, or didn’t want to get, that I am not interested in helping the Labour Party, the TUC, Ed Miliband, or any of those trade union general secretaries through my journalism. That’s the difference between journalism and PR. This may sound obvious to you. I can assure you that it is not obvious to them.

Anyway, that’s a wrap, for now. Diehard fans can check this blog again in mid-February by which time I’ll have hopefully made my mind up what to do with it. I don’t want to abandon industrial affairs: it’s been far too stimulating and fun.

Again thanks to all my readers and those who’ve helped out. I’ll not forget. And since ’tis the season to be jolly, even if you’re out of work or otherwise feeling the pinch, I’ll leave you with Christmas wrapping of a different kind. When not obsessing about unions I obsess about music, and this is one band I like a lot. Merry Christmas! (Even you, Jon).

Update, 21 January: Tribune editor Chris McLaughlin has been in touch to say that some people took the comment above about Tribune being a ‘low circulation’ magazine to signify that it was in financial difficulty, or otherwise in trouble. I’m sorry if anyone took it that way; that wasn’t my intention, nor did I want to put the magazine down, so I’m happy to set the record straight and say so. For the record also, Chris tells me that it’s inaccurate to call Tribune ‘low circulation’. However I stand by what I’ve written.

John Healey for shadow business?

Friday 8 October 2010

One of the highlights of today’s shadow cabinet results is that John Healey, shadow housing minister up to now, has romped home with 192 votes and is now even being talked up as a shadow chancellor. This would mean appointing him over the heads of Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper (who got more votes than anyone – 232, practically the entire Parliamentary Labour party).

A slightly more likely scenario (I would submit) is that Healey receives the business, innovation and skills porfolio held up till now by Pat McFadden (Lord Mandelson’s junior in the business departent when Labour was in government). Why? Because a) Healey has expressed a desire for it and b) McFadden failed to make the shadow cabinet at all. One man’s meat…

Update, 18:42: Okay, I was wrong, and John Healey got Health. Well, my prediction was no worse than several fielded by much better-paid journalists than I. Suggestions that Healey would get Work and Pensions proved equally unreliable.

Unite enters the post-Charlie Whelan age (and what’s next)

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Readers of this blog have got in touch and this week prompted me to return to a well worn subject. This week Unite’s political department enters its first week post-Charlie Whelan since Gordon Brown’s redoubtable ex-spinner joined the union as political director in 2007. It’s likely to remain that way until at least 1 December, when the result of the Unite general secretary election is announced.

“Holding the fort”, as he has described it to those around him, is political adviser John O’Regan. Since he was Whelan’s deputy in the department, and since they both speak with distinctive Cockney vocals, there’ll be continuity for now. O’Regan came up through the GPMU print union which merged into Amicus which in turn merged into Unite. So he’ll be used to managing change, and staying on the right side of new bosses – essential in a union with such complex and sometimes fraught politics.

Who is to be the new political director? It’s been reported (including here) that Joe Irvin, Gordon Brown’s former political secretary at No 10, was likely. Actually, I blogged that he had been chosen, following a Tribune story. This was swiftly denied by Unite.

Truth be told, I was a bit hasty. It’s true that no formal decision has been made. What’s also true, and interesting is that – after the subject came up at Unite’s executive committee three weeks ago – the consensus seems to have shifted towards appointing the new director after the new gen sec is announced.

Which of course makes sense. You wouldn’t want to be appointed and then find, weeks later, that you had a new boss who didn’t have full confidence in you. A view shared within the Unite political department, I’m told.

Both Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint leaders, have been backing Irvin for the job. But some at Unite are unhappy at his record working for Gordon Brown. In his time at No 10, Irvin reportedly helped to block the implementation of the agency workers’ directive, resisted the introduction of one-member-one-vote for the National Policy Forum (a policy supported by almost all Labour’s unions, as I reported here) and, most emotively of all, supported the Hayden Philips review of party funding, which would have capped union donations to Labour and put the party-union link under severe strain.

A new candidate has arisen in the form of form of Byron Taylor, the thirtysomething national officer of the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation. Having been lead officer in negotiations with Labour over policy issues, Taylor enjoys the advantage of having been on the unions’ side of the argument. He’s also a Unite member and former industrial organiser, with widespread respect in the union movement. My understanding is Taylor has been approached.

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)

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.

Why Jon Cruddas has got his hand (slightly) bitten

Thursday 2 September 2010

Jon Cruddas and Sam TarryJon Cruddas, the nearly man in Labour’s 2007 deputy leadership contest and who decided not to run for leader this time, has put a few noses out of joint since he announced he was backing David Miliband last week. Since before his campaign for deputy leader, Cruddas has been the figurehead on which many on the left and centre-left of Labour have pinned their hope, including the membership of Compass.

The latest Cruddas supporter to criticise his decision is Sam Tarry, national chair of the 20,000-strong Young Labour, who writes on The Guardian’s Comment is Free today about why Ed Miliband is the better option. He writes:

“David Miliband’s reluctance to repudiate a single significant policy decision from the New Labour era is indicative of an unwillingness to move to a future beyond it, a future that many in Young Labour and the wider party have already seen. It will not lead to the creation of the “good society”.

It is because of this that I believe that Jon Cruddas, my closest political mentor has called it wrong; it runs counter to his own “Choose change” deputy leadership campaign in 2007 and to the body of work and support in the party he has built.”

Being slagged off by his close ally Jon Trickett was bad enough, but this latest repudiation comes from someone who – as Tarry says – he has politically reared for some time. Tarry has long worked closely with Jon Cruddas – literally in fact; as an organiser for the anti-BNP Hope not Hate, we works out of the same Dagenham office as Cruddas’ constituency HQ. Until now, I haven’t been able to put a cigarette paper between them.

This difference of opinion between Cruddas and his supporters points up three things. Firstly, Jon Cruddas is not a straightforward leftwinger. He did, after all, vote for the Iraq war and 90 days’ detention.  The former deputy political secretary to Tony Blair has often in the past flagged up policies to the left of the last Labour government, but recently he’s sought to do something a bit more sophisticated and work out what sort of shape, structure and character the Labour party should have. To the chagrin of some, he says David Miliband is on the same sort of track.

Secondly, there aren’t many standard bearers on the Labour left. Diane Abbott and John McDonnell have limited appeal to party activists. As such, many turn to Cruddas as a reasonable-sounding alternative to the leadership line. But they can end up frustrated: he didn’t challenge Gordon Brown’s changes to party rules in 2007 which abolished potentially embarrassing votes at conference. “The jury’s out,” he said when I asked him about it at the time for a Tribune interview.

After my interview was published online, several people on the Compass website said it wasn’t very good (check the comments thread). Their anger seemed to boil down to one thing: Cruddas wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear. So instead they had a go at me for not distilling their mentor’s words properly. Fine by me – but I wasn’t going to put words in his mouth.

Thirdly, Cruddas doesn’t really want high office. This year, he canvassed opinion among unions as to whether he should run. The leadership of Unite and the CWU were supportive – and it seems he was actually frightened off by the chance of winning. He preferred to influence the debate than to take the crown – well, that and prepare the ground for becoming an elected party chair, as he has said.

Social housing: the Conservatives go back on their word

Tuesday 3 August 2010

 David Cameron has signalled that secure tenancies in social housing – i.e. a house for life – may be a thing of the past. He says:

“At the moment we have a system very much where, if you get a council house or an affordable house, it is yours forever and in some cases people actually hand them down to their children.

“And actually it ought to be about need. Your need has got greater … and yet there isn’t really the opportunity to move.”

He added that he wanted “people to move through council housing rather than see it as something you get for life.”

Right or wrong, this is a direct contradiction of what the Tories promised before the election – and that was before they teamed up with the moderating influence of the Lib Dems.

In February I wrote a story based on a Labour Party leaflet saying that the Conservatives were interested in the ideas of Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh and his plans to put social housing tenants on two months’ notice. Secure tenanceis, were under threat, it warned. Being a dutiful sort of reporter, I rang  CCHQ and asked for a reply. The speedy reply attributed to (then shadow housing minister) Grant Shapps read:

“These are unfounded and baseless scare tactics by an increasingly desperate Labour Party trying to frighten social tenants in an attempt to get them to vote Labour and shore up its disillusioned core vote.
“Conservatives recognise the importance of social housing and the security it provides. We will protect and respect the rights of social tenants. Many social tenants have great pride in their homes and the neighbourhood in which they live, and deserve to be encouraged.”

Shapps is now housing minister. Unless he distances himself from Cameron’s comments, it rather looks as though he has gone back on his word.

Needless to say, shadow housing minister John Healey (and minister at the time) is now saying he told you so.

Jack Straw’s future and its implications for unions

Friday 30 July 2010

Shadow Justice Secretary (and shadow deputy prime minister, which is why he has a go at Nick Clegg at the despatch box sometimes) Jack Straw will not stand for the Shadow Cabinet this autumn, and will pursue other interests instead, I heard this week. When I asked a friend if he had any jobs lined up, he replied: “Yeah – on the backbenches.” So that’s pretty clear I guess.

This has implications. Jack Straw was one of the obstacles to a cross-party agreement on reform of the funding of political parties, when Labour was in power. The sticking point was donations from trade unions; Straw’s white paper on party funding protected it, and he didn’t budge on it in talks. The Tories wanted the total donation given by a union to be treated as a single donation and capped; Labour wanted it treated as lots of individual donations from union members who were political levy payers. Unions comfortably form the single biggest source of donations to Labour; without them, the party would go broke quite fast. Now Labour is in a minority, that funding model is going to be challenged. Within a year, we could see union donations capped almost out of existence.

Question is – will his successor as shadow justice secretary act the same way when the coalition government comes asking for talks on the very same subject?

Who could be the next in line? A quick scan of Labour MPs with a profile and a background in the law suggests David Lammy, Emily Thornberry, Harriet Harman – could they be relied on to fight to preserve the union link in its current form? (Harman probably yes, seeing as her husband was deputy general secretary of Unite till recently).

Whoever is party leader by then will of course have the final say. All the candidates have said the Labour-union link must be preserved – but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be amended. And of course Labour alone cannot stop a new party funding bill from becoming law. Hence the shadow justice secertary’s crucial role, as constitutional affairs spokesperson, in deciding how much ground to cede.

Both Labour and the unions would lose if union donations were capped; if (as previously suggested) the cap were, say, £50,000 in a year, that would cut the value of the unions’ donations by hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds. The unions would lose influence; Labour would face bankruptcy.

Paul Kenny: New Labour treated me like incontinent relative

Thursday 10 June 2010

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny doesn’t do scripted speeches. No ‘check against delivery’ – the speech is the delivery. And his address to the GMB’s annual congress in Southport yesterday morning was colourful in its spontaneity. Warning that Labour should not treat unions like “elderly relatives who wet themselves”, he added: “That’s how I felt about New Labour. I felt we were almost the aged relatives they didn’t want to admit, but were having to visit every now and again.”

Kenny was speaking the day after the union held Labour Party leadership hustings, where all candidates except David Miliband apologised for one or another policy aspect of the previous 13 years of Labour government. And after Ed Balls had written an article for the Observer backing the GMB demand to subject free movement of EU labour to nationally agreed pay and conditions – the Lindsey Oil Refinery policy, if you will.

On the other hand, the leadership candidate who most vociferously backed GMB policy yesterday – John McDonnell – has now dropped out

(from Tribune blog)