Monday, October 31, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Yesterday's 'Independent' reported that Adrian Beecroft, the author of the report proposing the scrapping of unfair dismissal legislation "chairs Dawn Capital, whose portfolio includes Wonga.com which offers short term loans to tide people over until their next pay cheque. A recent probe by the consumer watchdog 'Which?' found it quoted £36.72 interest on a 30 day loan of £100 - equivalent to a 4,394 per cent annual interest rate."
You couldn't make it up - could you?
Wonga.com sponsored the above Blackpool team in last year's Premiership. Which is a pity as there was much to admire about the Blackpool team's season. I saw them play three times.
Hat Tip - David Connolly
Sunday, October 23, 2011
In addition to the three and a half million people who are missing from electoral registers as assessed by the Electoral Commission prior to the last General Election, there are many additional problems about the accuracy of existing registrations - let alone the mass problems that would arise from current Government proposals to make registration a purely voluntary matter.
How accurate are the forms which are currently returned to electoral registration officers? How many people just confirm the information sent to them on the registration forms either in error or to hide the details of all the qualifying residents within a household - a habit which was given a boost by the poll tax and has not died out. There are also shortcomings in the range of people who are entitled to register. Surely anyone who is established as a resident in the UK should be entitled to be enfranchised as they are subject to the nation's legal requirements as established by Parliament, including taxation - what of "no taxation without representation?" The only limits on enfranchisement should be (a) a qualifying age and (b) a carefully monitored exclusion of those with a very serious mental impairment. Yet residents from overseas are only currently entitled to registration if they come from Commonwealth nations or the Republic of Ireland. Why not others?
A proactive electoral registration system needs putting into operation. It would help if the vote was given to 16 year olds. Whilst "attainers" at 15, they could first be registered via their schools. This would make them easier to be tracked for registration purposes later in life. Regular canvassing should also take place by electoral registration officers to gain more accurate registration. Then modern technology could be used by electoral registration officers to help in the compiling of registers and to make effective use of the provisions of the Rolling Registration system - i.e. to see that names are placed on the relevant registers as people move their residence within a mobile society. This would also end the dubious need to allow some people to have their names appearing on more then one register.
Tom Paine and the Chartists (with the important addition of the Suffragettes) knew the significance of the franchise. A full franchise was thought finally to have been achieved in the UK in 1928, but we have allowed it to wither on the vine. Establishing a full franchise should be a priority for all democrats and especially for democratic socialists who have a special belief in the importance of social equality.
When I was an MP I sort to tackle the matter via a Private Members Bill in the 1992-3 session and became involved with a body called "Full Franchise". Then I pushed various Ten Minute Rule Bills and amendments to legislation, especially to what became the 2000 Representation of the People's Act. But the only success I can claim (as the Government took it up) was the initial and perfectly inadequate provisions on Rolling Electoral Registration. Since those times information technology has bounded forth and the hopes contained in my proposals could be considerably polished and advanced.
Labour should be pressed to take these matters on board. Ideologically they don't need even to frighten middle England by saying that it is a socialist measure. If they need a vested interest before they can take up a principle, then a full franchise would lead to a future redrawing of constituency boundaries. This time in Labour's favour. For the Electoral Commission shows that those who are missing from the registers are a high percentage of the poor, ethnic minorities, the young and the highly mobile such as those in bed-sitter land. The only problem for Labour is that it would have to start paying serious attention to the well-being of these categories.
Added 5 November - Professor Iain McLean of Oxford University, told the Guardian in May 2010: “…to move straight to individual registration risks moving straight to mass disenfranchisement of the young, the urban, the mobile and ethnic minority voters. The rot dates back to Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous decision to make the electoral register a source of the poll tax register. It is also a source of jury lists. In the late 1980s, millions of people looked at the costs and benefits of being on the register, and rationally decided to disappear. They are not yet back, nor are their sons and daughters … At worst, a move to immediate individual registration could make Britain in 2011 like Florida in 2000.” Hat Tip - Grahame Morris MP.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Mass Changes Made To The Rules Of The Labour Party.
I was not present at the Labour Party Conference, but it seems to have carried out a mass of changes to its rules on the basis of only one card vote which was carried with a Yes vote of 93.9% (88.3% of CLPs and 99.5% of affiliates). Given the wide ranging complexity of the changes concerned (even though many were mundane), these are percentage votes which are normally associated with totalitarian or whipped structures.
My understanding is that the amendments were made on the back of a last minute report entitled “Refounding Labour to win – a party for the new generation”. This was a 39 page report which appeared in a pack containing a total of some 100 pages which delegates were only first able to collect on the opening day of Conference, when the rule changes were themselves about to be voted upon.
The rule changes were based upon 40 sets of recommendations made in the above “Refounding Labour to win” document. On a rough count, there were no less than 138 separate points contained in the 40 sets of recommendations.
A further key 100 page book entitled “Labour Party rule book – including Refounding Labour amendments” was also made available on the day and in the run up to the vote. Between a fifth and a quarter of what are now the old rules of the Labour Party appeared in red with lines through them. It was being proposed that these should be replaced by lengthy sections which appeared in purple. Perhaps the colouring had an ideological significance. I doubt whether many delegates had the opportunity to digest the relevant documents which had just been made available to them. As they covered some 200 pages, how could anyone engage in an assessment of what was being proposed when they needed also to be in the Conference itself to keep an eye on developments?
Ignoring what seem to me to be minor and repeat changes, I give below a bare-bones summary of the main changes in this new rule book. I have truncated these into 22 items and may well have missed matters of importance – yet unlike delegates needing to vote, I have spent a few days looking at the key documents. At the close of my summary, I also add a three point NEC Statement which was issued to clarify or adjust what was put to the delegates.
It should be noted that (1) although many changes were given justification on the grounds that they arose from a consultation procedure within the Party about “Refounding Labour”, many of the proposals had never appeared in the earlier consultative documents relating to this process and the ordinary membership of the Labour Party had had no means of knowing they were on the cards, (2) as a matter of natural justice and internal party democracy, all the proposed rule changes should have been circulated well in advance of Conference to CLPs and affiliated bodies to enable them to mandate their Conference delegates, and (3) the matters placed before Conference were so huge that they should have been put off to a special Conference; this could also have allowed amendments to the rules changes to have been considered.
I don't object to losing a vote, but I do object to being disenfranchised. It is even worse when I am disenfranchised as part of a procedure that seems to help guarantee my future disenfranchisement.
It should also be noted that we are not at the end of the above “Refounding Labour” procedure. The NEC Statement given at the close of my summary, states that these consultations will now continue until March 2012. We need to push for democratic procedures this time round; including the clearing up of what happened at this Conference. For a start, we need to know exactly what ideas were submitted to the supposed consultation by the much maligned rank and file. For the style of the claims in “Refounding Labour to win” are merely that earlier consultations had given “widespread support” to x, “throughout the submissions” y was clear and “an extensive number of the submissions highlighted” z. Yet none of the x,y and z's came out of any of the six consultative, Party and Labour Discussion Group meetings I attended. So excuse my scepticism. It would be appropriate for us to be provided with hard evidence of what came out of such meetings.
I will not pass judgement at this stage on the nature of the changes which are summarized below. But I do contest their democratic legitimacy. My case is that non-democratic procedures were followed and the rights of the membership were violated.
Addition 21 October : Ann Black of the NEC states " Policy-making seems to have moved not only beyond the NEC but beyond the national policy forum and conference." See the rest of her revealing report here.
p 1. OBJECTIVES - “the party will bring together members and supporters”.
p 2. FINANCIAL SCHEME – this spells out accountancy arrangements for CLPs and others.(See also pp 99-100 below).
p 4. PARTY LEADER – gives the leader additional powers and responsibilities.
p 10. MEMBERSHIP SUBSCRIPTIONS – includes reduced rates for new members from affiliated Trade Unions and a minimum allocation to CLPs of £1.50 per member.
p 12. CONFERENCE DELEGATES – 6 added from the Association of Councillors (ALC) and 2 from Young Labour (YL).
p 14. CONTEMPORARY MOTIONS TO CONFERENCE – can now be up to 250 words. Nominating and voting rights are spelt out.
p 17. LEADER OF THE SCOTTISH LABOUR PARTY – gives the procedure for his or her election.
p 18. PROCEDURE FOR FILLING NEC VACANCIES – this relates to posts which are appointed by Conference on a two yearly basis.
p 19. NATIONAL POLICY FORUM – additions to its membership.(These changes are minor, yet the “Refounding Labour to win” document devotes four pages to the NPF. It is supportive of its role, whilst wishing to develop it. This gives a hint of the shape of things to come.)
pp 21-22. RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF ELECTED MEMBERS – a new clause II relates to all elected representatives. The NEC can introduce candidates contracts and there will be a 2% levy on their salaries and on set personal allowances, including all payments resulting from elected office and on salaried positions in the Lords.
p 23 and pp 69-82. SELECTION OF WESTMINISTER PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES – covers new arrangements arising from the current Boundary Commission's proposals for the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries.
p 26. DISCIPLINARY RULES FOR CLPs – relates to those who operate in a CLP which has no Executive Committee.
pp 29-35 and pp 97-98. CHANGES TO THE RULES OF CLPs – These are wide-ranging and allow CLPs to “adopt any method of organisation currently approved by the NEC” whether delegate structures or all member meetings. The changes available include establishment of workplace branches and forums for interest groups. Whilst "The annual meeting should no normally be held before May in any year" and a “team of officers and coordinators, together with the parliamentary candidate and/or member of Parliament and the campaign co-ordinator, shall provide a strategic lead to the development of the Party in the constituency” (p 33).
p 36. ARRANGEMENTS WHERE CONSTITUENCY AND DISTRICT/COUNTY BOUNDARIES ARE COTERMINOUS – these are deleted. (Some of us were looking forward to the convenience of joint CLP and District Meetings in NE Derbyshire which has arisen under the Boundary Commission's proposals, but now these are ruled out.)
p 37. RULES FOR BRANCHES – This includes “to provide an opportunity for members to participate in the activities of the Labour Party within its area with the approval of the Executive Committee of the CLP and in line with the development action plan; to play their part in the Party's policy-making processes; to work together to run effective election and issue-based campaigns; to maximise the Party's engagement with organisations and individuals in the branch area and join with them in working for social justice. Work to meet these objectives shall always have high priority in the branches plans and meetings.”
p 45-46. YOUNG LABOUR - given Regional Representation and additions to its National Committee.
p 47-50. LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEES – are replaced by “Local Campaign Forums” with the NEC given the role of providing guidance on model structures. The membership of the LCF shall be focused around campaign delivery, the recruitment and selection of candidates and the development of opportunities for wider engagement with council issues.”
p 52. RULES FOR LOCAL LABOUR GROUPS ON PRINCIPAL AUTHORITIES - “Members of the Labour Group shall pay an annual levy to the Labour Party of 2% of their total income from the Council and joint body sources....For the purpose of effective and vibrant electoral organisation , members of the Labour Group shall pay an annual contribution of a recommended minimum of 5% of their total income from council and joint body sources.”
p 60. MODEL STANDING ORDERS FOR PARTY UNITS – in certain circumstances people resident in an area but who are not on the electoral register can be delegates. Plans for campaigning on local issues and strengthening links with members, affiliates, supporters and communal groups will be central to all business.
p 83- 89. PROCEDURES FOR THE SELECTION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT CANDIDATES - “The timetable should be set so that, as far as possible, candidates are selected six months in advance of the election (12 months where the council elects on a two or four yearly cycle)” An LCF may apply to the NEC to pilot new or innovative procedures.”
pp 99-100. MINIMUM GUARANTEE OF SUPPORT TO CLPs - “Every CLP will receive a cash payment based on the number of paid up members in that CLP....A minimum payment to every CLP and no national deductions.”
NEC Statement - Refounding Labour.
(A) Electoral College - Leadership Elections.
1. Registered Supporters.
It is our aspiration to extend the reach of our party by registering people who are Labour supporters as the first step towards turning them into full members. As a sign of our willingness to embrace a wider span of Labour supporters, we will create a new section for Registered Supporters within the Electoral College for electing the leader of the party. In so doing we are clear that the existing sections of the College should retain the primary shares of the College. Hence three key principles will underpin NEC procedural guidelines regarding the leadership election:
1. The Registered Supporters section of the Electoral College shall only come into being when there are more than 50,000 supporters registered with the party;
2. The supporters section shall, subject to point 3, constitute between 3% and 10% of the Electoral College, and shall never constitute more than 10%;
3. A member's vote shall always be worth more than a registered supporter's vote.
So the Electoral College for future leadership elections shall be comprised of:
- Party Members
- Supporters (maximum of 10%)
(B) Multiple Voting.
Clear expressions of concern have been made about the ability of party members to cast multiple votes; particularly in respect of MPs and MEPs who already have the ability to nominate candidates in addition to having their own section in the Electoral College. Other multiple votes exist within the affiliate section and submissions voiced support for the universal application of "one member one vote" in this section. It is therefore proposed that MPs and MEPs should be restricted to just one vote in their own section and not permitted to cast any ballots in any other sections. It is also proposed that affiliated members shall cast no more than one vote in the affiliates section.
(C) Partnership in Power.
Discussions during this consultation have focussed on the need to make a reformed policy making system more accessible and responsive to Party members, with a fresh empowered annual Conference with even greater democracy. We are determined to take a new approach to policy making which meets those objectives and will take more time to develop the details. The NEC therefore agrees to further consult between now and the end of March 2012 on how to make the policy and decision making processes more dynamic, open, and democratic with a view to taking forward proposals to the NEC next spring, ahead of Conference.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Under the title "The Birth Of Easington Colliery", a 6,000 word article of mine has recently been published in the Journal of the North East Labour History Society,Volume 42 (2011). The article covers the period from 1899 when efforts were first made to sink the pit, until 1911 when the local Miners' Lodge was finally established. In that time, the population around the immediate mining area grew from less than 50 people to almost 800. However, the bulk of the newcomers arrived only from 1909, when technical problems in the sinking the pit had been overcome. The first coal was drawn in 1910.
1899-1911 was very much a pioneering period for Easington Colliery. In the following 20 years its territory expanded and its population peaked at around 10,000.
I am now researching a follow-up article for the period 1912-26, which contains a series of dramatic events within a period of rapid growth. These include the Minimum Wage Strike of 1912, unofficial strikes, the impact of the First World War, the 1918-19 Influenza Epidemic, a start of Labour Politics via a local Branch of the Independent Labour Party, a significant Methodist leadership of the Lodge, Jack Lawson being the unsuccessful Labour Candidate in 1918, the impact of the Sankey Commission's Report, the 1921 Lock Out, Sidney Webb as the successful Labour Candidate from 1922, whilst Beatrice Webb organised the local Women's Section, ending with the General Strike and Lock-Out of 1926. It was also in 1912 that my paternal Grandparents and their established family of seven children settled firmly at Easington and were solidly part of the period I am now researching.