Friday, June 18, 2021
Yesterday Labour launched a roadmap to “bring Britain together for a fairer, more secure future”. Keir Starmer and Anneliese Dodds unveiled the policy-building project ‘Stronger Together: A Better Future for Britain’. Dodds explained that the party wants to “harness that spirit of togetherness” seen during the pandemic, working with the labour movement, academics and communities to “meet the challenges and opportunities of the coming decade”. Six key themes have been identified for the roadmap: better jobs and better work; a green and digital future; safe and secure communities; public services; a future where families come first; and Britain in the world. The party said the project will champion new technologies, “show how world-class public services can create new opportunities across the country” and “take on the battle of the climate crisis”. Whilst this is an important development to deal with some key issues, it is important that the leadership should indicate to us where we stand on these matters at the moment. Party members can then seek to nudge and expand on such proposals if they feel there are current shortcomings. And the electorate will know where we currenly stand on major issues.
Thursday, February 25, 2021
An item of mine which at its close shows where to click into my lengthy threads on "Easington" (County Durham) appears somewhat below here - dated 8 May 2020. I have placed other items here since then about Easington, but as I am having technical problems with this site I have been unable to add further such links. I, have, however, just come across a valuable link to Easington which those of us interested in its past can fruitfully click into. See here - https://wearsideonline.com/easington-county-durham/
Monday, November 09, 2020
I still have technical presentational problems as explained in my last item. So my paragraphs are divided by dots. And it was only published on 2nd December ! .................. When I was an eight year old (over three quarters of a century ago) I first became aware of something of the depth and scope of the mass atrocities which Hitler's regime had conducted against Jewish people. A local cinema was showing a Pathe News item about the liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camp at Belsin. It was the talk of the local mining colliery of Easington in County Durham where I lived. So as I was an only child my parents took me with them to a local cinema, so they could see the Pathe News item that everyone was talking about. But when it came to the news item itself (as a young child) I was made to duck down behind the seat in front of me to avoid seeing the horrors. However, I could still hear the commentary and have come across that terrible coverage many times since then...................................... I finally joined the Labour Party at the age of 21 as a result of a public initiative taken by Manny Shinwell our local Labour M.P. who was of Jewish descent. Two years later I acted as one of his local Election Agents in the 1959 General Election and the following year he gave me a reference which helped me obtain a life-changing place as an adult student at Ruskin College in Oxford. Whilst my parents were still alive my wife and I finally settled in Derbyshire, but we retained good links with Easington and the neighbouring mining Colliery of Shotton where my wife's father also worked as a coal miner. Yet never once in the Labour Party nor in our localities did I ever come across anyone making anti-semitic remarks................................. Many years later when I was an MP, my wife and I visited Poland. Shortly after we landed we made a short train journey. I felt distictly uncomfortable wondering if the train line we travelled on had been used by the Nazis to tranship Jews to concentration camps. We visited the area in Warsaw where Jews had been placed in the Getto and then the former concentration camps at Birkenau and Auschwitz. Harrowing experiences never to be forgotten.............................. I, therefore, recently made a copy of the 130 page report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's "Investigation into Anti-semitism in the Labour Party" and have read it twice and since closely examined my underlineings and comments. The findings are very difficult to follow as the points made in its main text need to be checked against items it then covers in seven annexes appearing between pages 102 and 128. Yet many of its claims of anti-semitism in the Labour Party are unsubstaniated and we are just expected to accept them because of their authoritive source. Otherwise the reader needs to pursue further relevant and detailed research of their own. So in practice most readers have just to accept the report's claims as being ex-cathedra statements.................................... I can fully appreciate why many people of Jewish decent (but by no means all of them) tend to see criticisms of Isreal as being rather offensive. However, there are also many people of Jewish decent who are strong critics of various actions of the Isreali Government, such as the invasion of Eqypt in 1956 and the occupation of Western Bank. ........................................... It is prefectly reasonable that people should criticise the Isreali Government for its above shortcomings and press for a two state solution which gives a significant role for a Palestinian State - whilst clearly avoiding language that is in any way anti-semitic and being conscious of the sensibiities of many people of Jewish decent, especially those who have family and other links with those who were exterminated by the Nazis.............................................. Unfortunately in recent years with the growth of the social media some people now use its faciities to blow ill thought out raspberrys at each other - trying to score cheap points. This has also seemingly fed its way through to a small minority of Labour Party members. So with what was never a significant anti-semitic problem in the past, matters may now have surfaced in a small minority of ill thought out avenues. Such as the following case involving an active member of my former Easington Labour Party, see - https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/labour-activist-who-escaped-expulsion-over-throat-cuttinng-threat-made-other-antisemitic-statement-1.473479.................................................... These shortcomings are new to me, for in the 63 years since I joined the Labour Party I have never ever face-to-face come cross a single internal anti-semitic utterance. Then as an MP myself from 1987 to 2005 when I often mixed alongside Jeremy Corbyn and others, I never heard any such utterances in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Yet the middle east was at times on the agenda. In fact, Jeremy's stance has always been a clear opposition to anti-semitism, whilst looking for help to the Palestinians. I also shared an office with Ken Livingstone for a few years and found that he was the same................................................... What they have both been accused of since then was no more than their passing clumsyness and should now be dismissed with them both being allowed to clarify their stance. I have dealt with one of the problems which Ken expressed badly here - http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.com/2018/05/ . Whilst unfortuneately Jeremy working for a two state solution tended not to criticise some of the extreme views expressed by Hamas, but he cearly did not share these. .......................... Jeremy should be back into the Parliamentary Party. I say this even although I never voted for him to be leader. For I believed that the best tactic for the left was not to grab theoretical control, but to seek to gradually move onto the Labour Front Bench and build for the future - whilst still recognising the urgency of tackling climate change and pursing the needs of many, including our former working class supporters.............................................. In the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Executive Summary on page 5 of their report they claim to have "carried out an in-depth analysis of a sample of 70 complaint investigation files. We selected 58 of these files out of over 200 complaints indentified in different sources. The remaining 12 were put forward by the Labour Party". But why they decided to examine some of the complaints and not others is not clarified. 18 of the cases they dismiss as only being borderine harassment cases................................................... In fact the only cases they examined which they refer to by name are those of Ken Livingstone, Pam Bromley, Naz Shah, Chistine Shawcroft, Chris Williamson and Jeremy Corbyn. Then apart from them dealing with Jeremy at greater length on internal Labour proceedural matters, the reader will still need to turn to outside sources to see just what claims have been made against these people. They are not spelt out in the report. Nor is specific information given about the other 58 individual files they refer to, nor why they were selected out of some 200 complaints. What was the criteria for the Commissions private studies ? ................................. I appreciate, however, that the Commission would not wish to quote from what it claims are expression of anti-semitism, for this would spread obnoxius language. But this also places their readers in difficuties. Without at least references to such claims, the Commission's analysis can not be subject to our scrutiny so we can then judge its full significance. Yet we need to assess the situation soundly.
Sunday, August 09, 2020
Apologies : At the moment I am experiencing technical problems and I am unable to add photos nor links to click into, nor can I present material in separate paragraphs so I have added rows of dots at what should be the gaps between such paragraphs. ...............,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,........... In Chapter 2 of Steve Rayson's important book “The Fall of the Red Wall” (see https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fall-Red-Wall-Labour-represents-ebook/dp/B08C37JNKF)he points out that it is estimated that “about one million Labour voters backed the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election. The majority of these were in traditional Labour seats where an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 transferred their votes directly to the Conservatives”. He goes on to point out that (1) ” the single biggest category of people switching directly from Labour to Conservatives were retired people” no less than 38.8% of them, (2) “ 94% of the people who switched from Labour to Conservative identified as White British”, (3) “79.5 % of Labour to Conservative switchers identified with the Leave side of the EU referendum”,(4) 35 traditional Labour seats such as Bolsover were won by the Conservatives at the last election, (5) yet “Labour had been losing socially conservative, anti-immigration votes for some time...forty percent of this group of voters were lost before Brexit or the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader...between 2005 and 2015 Labour votes declined by 14% in Bolsover...the two regions where Labour support fell the most were the North East and East Midlands”, (6) “There has been a lot of discussion about the dramatic falls in the Labour vote in 2019 and these were undoubtedly significant. However, if we look back over a longer period, we can see that equally significant was the fall in Labour’s vote and the increase in the Conservative vote share over the previous eighteen years. .................................................................... Steve Rayson's book builds upon these important themes and is well worth studying by those with interests in the material I list above. Below I offer a few thoughts of my own............................................................................. Even as late as 1997 Labour was still able to draw significantly from its past working class support, even though the structure of the working class had by then been subject to dramatic changes with the decline of traditional industries such as coal, steel and cotton which hit their communal cohesion. For still in Labour's substanial electoral victory of 1997 these people came out mainly to vote Labour and often in a dramatic way. Travelling around North East Derbyshire where I was the Labour candidate I came across the longest queue of voters I have ever seen – and I have been involved in electoral activity way back since I first obtained the vote in 1957. It was at a solid working class section of Clay Cross early in the morning and was mainly made up of women, often with young children in prams and pushchairs. They could not wait to get rid of a Conservative Government which had come out of the Thatcherite tradition..................................... But Blair's large victory at that election rested also on the fact that he made his appeal to many middle class values. For instance,Dronfield where I live having by then become a rather middle class commuter territory yet it voted roughly 50 % Labour, 25% Liberal and only 25% Tory, But the turnout at the subsequent General Election then fell dramatically mainly due to disillusionment with Blairite practices by a still deprived working class................................. From 1997 Labour (apart from bits and pieces) had no substantial programmes to tackle the wide-ranging problems of job insecurity, no avenues for the provision of accessible decent homes for the needy nor a program for improved access to life-long learning and the opportunities it provides................................ Without generally linking in with working class people and seeking to improve the quality of their lives, Labour allowed others to exploit harmful alternatives....... So rather than directing working class people's attention to the need to reform the European Union via democratic and social improvements, we left the door open for the advocates of Brexit. Then when no credible viewpoint was put forward by Labour on how to tackle working class deprivation many (especially older) white working class people came to believe that it was immigrants and temporary summer workers from the EU who had stolen their job opportunities from them. A view that is now at its strongest in working class areas where there are actually few from immigrants backgrounds. These make-up many of the Labour seats we lost at the last General Election, often for the first time since before 1945................................. Labour requires programmes which meet the needs of working class people from whatever their ethnic, regional or industrial backgrounds. Then there are universal interests which should be used to draw us all together - such as the tackling of climate change, overcoming Covid 19 and helping to tackle wide scale international disasters........................................................................... Structuring a Labour Party which will act in ways to seek to tackle such problems is our biggest and most immediate task. At one time we had a Parliamentary Labour Party with a substantial number of people who emerged from Trade Unions and when initially selected as candidates already lived in or near the Constituencies they came to represent. And many Branch and Constituency meetings were full of working class activists. That is a bit different from today's pattern. Yet we need to build out from where we currently stand. But we need to appreciate the depth of the task which confronts us. A united parliamentary party directing its attention to tackling peoples basic national and international needs is essential. It would help if this is firmly on Starmer's agenda.
Monday, July 20, 2020
There are widely different patterns covering the parliamentary and governmental avenues which MPs can pursue to further the interests of their party, their voters, their ideologies or just themselves. Some MPs are experienced front benchers, others hold only minor supportive roles such as those of Private Parliamentary Secretaries to Government Ministers. Then numbers have only ever been back-benchers - which was my experience for 18 years. Others have outside interests which can shape their parliamentary activities. I will concentrate below on the avenues I knew the best - those for a back-bench MP. But there will be a big difference in the back door avenues available to different back-benchers. Teresa May as an ex Prime Minister will still be able to make use of her past contacts much better than a new back-bench MP who has only emerged at the last General Election. Below I cover various standard avenues which a normal back-bench MP can pursue. But as I retired from being an MP 15 years ago, some of what I say may now be dated and others might have emerged.
(1) Subject to the luck of the draw a back-bench MP can submit a question for oral answer at differing Question Times and then follow up the Minister's initial verbal answer to them with a related verbal question of their own. Then there is something of a free shot each week at Business Questions, when MPs without giving prior notice can seek a debate on a topic of their concern. The Government may reject such proposals, but this avenue allows issues to be raised that can be part of the MPs wider political campaigning. Many questions can also be asked for written answers only. But the answers will be restricted to no more than what has been asked (at the most) and can't be used to trawl on an issue. But such answers can be pursued by follow-up questions.
(2) There are two main traditinal avenues where back-bench MPs can seek their own debates. Towards the end of each day's business in the Commons there is an Adjournment Debate normally totalling 30 Minutes in all. Back Benchers can put in for such debates, submitting their topic. Thursday's topic is selected by the Speaker, the others are drawn by lot. Front-bench spokespersons will respond, with short contributions coming from others if the MP who has obtained the debate agrees. But there is no vote on the issue. There is also an avenue for similar debates over longer periods which are held in Westminster Hall. The back-bencher who has obtained the debate normally concludes it also, after the Minister has replied. More MPs can participate in such debates than in the time available for Adjournment Debates.
(3) MPs can also present petitions to the Commons and make a few remarks about them.
(4) Back bench MPs can also seek to introduce a 10 Minute Rule Bill. If they draw lucky and obtain one, they then get 10 Minutes to put their case. Someone can then speak against their proposal and force a division on it. But if the mover carries the measure they can then announce who its sponsoring MPs are and then get the Bill itself printed. Governments can normally block further progress on such matters by their influence over the parliamentary time-table, but I once pursued a Civil Rights Disabled Persons Bill which was only stopped at its Third Reading and helped force the Conservative Government into carrying its own weak alternative version of the proposal. It helped in that I had a Conservative backer of my Bill - the current Father of the House.
(5) Back bench MPs can seek the Speaker's permission to hold a question and answers session on a matter of their choice and other MPs can seek to join in This is known as an Urgent Question.
(6) There are also annual lotteries for back-bench Bills covered on seven or so Friday's. These Bills are formally unwhipped. But Governments (and others) will seek to talk these out if they don't like them. But once they have been subject to a lengthy discussion the mover of such a Bill can then call for a vote to end the debate and if successful move on to seek a further vote to carry its Second Reading. But to succeed in ending the debate the mover needs 100 people in their lobby. On an early version of my Civil Service Disabled Persons Bill I followed this avenue, but was blocked as I only won by 78-0 although I had John Smith our then leader voting with me.
(7) When a Bill passes its Second Reading it moves to its Committee Stage. On major issues the whole House of Commons will participate in this stage. This then gives MPs the opportunity to introduce amendments. But most Bills move to a separate Committee Stage built pro-rata on the strength of the relevant Parties in the Commons. Whether a specific back-bencher will make it onto this stage will essentially be in the hands of their front bench, especially the Whips.
(8) Along with relevant front-benchers, back-bench MPs can also get appointed to Select Committees. Most of these bodies shadow the areas covered by Government Departments. What it is that these Committees then investigate and recommend is of importance and can get fed back into the Commons. Their members can seek to influence the enquiries these bodies will pursue and question those called to face their investigations. When their Select Committee produce a report on an investigation, members have the authority to have their own alternative minority report or suggested amendments published. There are also Select Committes who cover areas beyond those of shadowing specific Government Departments. For a period I served on a Members Interests Select Committee which could investigate matters such as whether an MP had violated parliamentary procedures.
(9) Early Day Motions are an avenue whose use is mainly resticted to back-bench MPs only. I have explained how these can be used - click here.
(10) Labour runs numbers of internal committees of its own, most of which shadow the territory covered by differing Government Departments. In my time, back-benchers were expected to join three of these.
(11) The Parliamentary Labour Party meets weekly or so when parliament is sitting, with the opportunity for back-benchers to contribute to debates and to pursue relevant proposals of their own. Although in my experiences it was normally dominated by the leadership.
(13) MPs can also form their own groups. I helped organise a cross-party group for all Derbyshire MPs and another for just Derbyshire Labour MPs. Then I chaired a group mainly attended by non-MPs, who were dedicated to pursuing avenues for peace and reconciliation across the island of Ireland.
(14) MPs can also pursue matters outside of governmental and parliamentary avenues. For instance, problems brought to an MP's attention by constituents might need to be pursued via local councils, other non-parliamentary areas of officialdom, private firms and even overseas contacts. On the later, links might be sort through our Foreign Office and then via direct contact with our relevant overseas officials in the Foreign Country concerned. Also a foreign nation's Embassy in this country can be directly contacted, as well as the oversea's Government concerned.
(15) In pursuing concerns which go beyond those which are restricted to our internal bounderies, back-bench MPs have a number of avenues open to them. I served on British-Irish Parliamentry Body for MPs from the UK and the Irish Republic, who met in each others nations and also undertook Committee work on a variety of issues. Then there are bodies such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which MPs can then draw from in pursuing relevant matters in parliament and with relevant Government Ministers. Of course, it depends on how seriously the MPs concerned pursue these and all the above avenues.
(16) As a back-bench MP I found the services of the House of Common's Library to be invaluable. They produce a telling variety of publications covering what are key measures being dealt with by parlianment, these can be discovered here - https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/services/ But then an MP has the extra advantage of being able to obtain information from the Library's specialists. Whenever I was faced with a fresh problem to deal with, I would phone the appropriate expert at the library to discover what the situation was and how I could seek to pursue the matter. Losing this specialist information was the biggest loss I experienced when I packed in as an MP.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Me as an MP in the Commons
There is a parliamentary avenue open to Members of Parliament known as Early Day Motions (EDMs) which are normally only made use of by back-bench MPs. They are for seeking a parliamentary debate upon a proposal at an early date. Yet although very few of these proposals are then ever scheduled for a parliamentary debate, they can still be used by MPs for a number of helpful purposes.
An MP (along with those they have initially arranged to support their proposal) can see which other MPs add their signatures in support of their measure. There can be strength in numbers. If a measure gains support from MPs from differing political parties, this can be particularly helpful in seeking parliamentary avenues for the pursuit of a proposal.
A proposal can also gain support from outside of the Commons from local, regional or national avenues. This can add to the campaigning for a measure.
Click here for a parliamentary explanation on what EDMs are about.
The MPs behind an EDM can also use it as the start of a parliamentary campaign of their own. These include (a) putting down an appropriate amendment to a passing piece of legislation and (b) seeking a Ten Minute Rule Bill on the matter, which if carried can open up a legislative avenue for the measure. Then short of legislative avenues the issue can be raised in the Commons by (c) seeking an Adjournment Debate at the close of a parliamentary day, (d) obtaining a debate in Westminster Hall, (e) referring to the EDM during appropriate parliamentary question times - including the weekly opportunity at Business Questions with the Leader of the House where what you wish to see as coming business can be raised.
When I first became an MP in 1987 the Commons programme started with the Queen's Speech on 25 June. I had then to put my name in five times to the Speaker before I was called to make my maiden speech on 13 July. So I had in the meantime only limited avenues open to me, such as writing letters to Conservative Government Ministers on matters such as dealing with their need for help over the consequences of an Underground Fire at Callywhite Lane in Dronfield.
On the 6th July I, therefore, submitted my first EDM which gained the support of 46 fellow MPs mainly from South Yorkshire and the North Midlands and was entitled "Underground Fire in Derbyshire". It said "That this House calls on the Secretary of State for the Environment to take immediate arrangements to meet a deputation from the firms, councils and trade unions directly effected by the underground fire burning on Callywhite Lane Industrial Estate in Dronfield, Derbyshire to discuss ways and means by which his Department will assist in overcoming this emergency, and to report to this House on the outcome of these discussions."
Whilst the EDM needed my back-up via other avenues, the meeting I proposed eventually took place. Without achieving everything we were looking for it opened up some avenues of Government assistance. The parliamentary pressures I added to the EDM included an Adjournment Debate on the topic and a 10 Minute "Underground Fires Bill" which was started in the Commons and then published, but whose further progress was then blocked by the Government.
Unfortuneately, I hold no full record of all the EDMs I submitted or supported in my first two years in parliament. But details of those EDMs I submitted and supported in my next 16 years can be found by clicking here. It shows that over that time I proposed 503 EDMs of my own and supported 12,010 submitted by fellow MPs.
The seat I represented in parliament was North East Derbyshire. It now has a Conservative MP called Lee Rowley who has represented us for 3 years. In that time he has not submitted a single EDM of his own. Then in total he has only ever signed a single EDM submitted by another MP. This is an extreme pro-Brexit proposal (click here) submitted by a Tory MP Bill Cash whom I opposed year in and year out when I was an MP.
At one time Cash chaired the European Union Select Committee which I served upon. He was my least favourite Tory MP and that is saying something.
Why except during a divide in the Parliamentary Conservative Party over Brexit has Lee Rowley not ever made use of the EDM proceedure ? For whilst it is not the most telling of parliamentary avenues on its own, it is very easy for MPs to pursue. When they turn up in a morning they can collect the day's Parliamentary documents. They can easily then look at any new EDMs which are included. Signing those they agree with. Then writing any amendments they would like and drafting any new EDM they wish. Then they merely need to pop down a corridor to hand material into the Speakers Office for future publications. All an MP needs are ideas, concerns and principles. We then know much more about them - where we agree and disagree.
Lee Rowley MP in the Commons
Thursday, June 18, 2020
The area from which I first saw Shinwell's election poster in 1945. The posters I refer to were, however, then behind the photographer's position.
After the end of the war against Germany, Parliament was dissolved on 15th June 1945 in preparation for the 1945 General Election which took place on 5th July. The count and the declaration of the result did not, however, occur until 26th July as the armed forces vote had to be collected in and distributed to their appropriate constituencies. At the time we were still at war with Japan.
On what I judge to be Monday 18th June of that year (exactly 75 years ago today) I gained my first understanding that something rather special was taking place. For as an 8 year old leaving for home from my Junior School, I ran up a side street when I suddenly stopped on seeing a poster stuck on a wooden lamp post ahead of me on the other side of Easington's main road called Seaside Lane. It was unusual to see posters in those days apart from those outside the local cinemas.
The poster which gained my attention said "Vote for Shinwell" who was the local Labour parliamentary candidate. It was printed in green, which were Labours colours at that time in the North East. As I next walked home along Seaside Lane most of the lamposts had the same poster stuck on them. Then there was a single larger poster on a board attached to railings. It did not merely say "Vote for Shinwell" but it warned us of the dangers of Winston Churchill, Brenden Bracken (the First Lord of the Admiralty) and other Tories being returned to office.
I had come across something that was unthinkable and exciting. Our war-time hero who had seemingly led us to Victory in Europe and a wonderful street party to celebrate the achievement, was now under attack.
More drama followed. Shinwell's election address was delivered - again when I was then at school. When I got home every house on our Council Estate seemed to have a copy placed in its front window. Including our house and where my Grandmother and Uncle Bill lived four doors away.
It was time for me to start reading our Daily Herald and Reynolds News to see what was going on. Then on a radio political broadcast Churchill claimed that our mild Labour Leader Clem Attlee would preside over a new form of Gestapo. I was offended, Churchill seemed to be saying that places such as Easington were full of Nazis; rather than pigeon fanciers, methodists and fathers in flat caps making their way to Workingmens ' Clubs. Did he not know that Dennis Donnini whose father ran the ice-cream shop on Seaside Lane had just been given a posthumous Victoria Cross ?
In the General Election, Shinwell obtained a massive 32,257 majority and everyone I came across seemed to be Labour. So was I. Initially it was mainly tribal loyalty. But this came to be deepened by some of the initial achievements of the 1945 Labour Government, then by developing socialist concerns about the needs to transcend Gaitskellism.
But the siting of that 1945 poster was the start of my commitment to socialism.
The above is an adjusted version of the start of an article I wrote for the Journal of the North East Labour History Society in its Volume 48 2017. I have, however, corrected what I then said about Churchill claiming that Labour would have Gestapo-type tendancies. He made the claim in a radio and not a cinema presentation.