General Election Blog Archive

Below is a copy of the blog I maintained during the 2010 election – 15,000 words!

Because it is historic, some of the links may no longer work.

I hope you find it interesting!

Please click here to see my current blog.

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Britain Deserves Better Than An Economic Chancer Like Cameron

23rd September 2009

The Conservatives economic policy is, at last, becoming clearer. In a time of unprecedented, global recession, the Tories number one priority is
reducing government debt. For them, this issue now trumps all others.

Let us put aside the fact that David Cameron’s priority is completely out of step with the rest of the developed world, including other centre-right leaders such as Sarcozy and Merkel, who have both instigated significant stimulus packages. Even the most rabid US Republicans have accepted that government deficits increase during recessions, as tax receipts fall and spending on welfare rises.

The real concern this situation causes is the palpable glee the Conservatives are demonstrating: For the last three general elections, they have pledged to reduce the size of the “nannying and bloated state”. This course of action was firmly rejected by the British people, who rightly recognised the need for increased and then sustained public expenditure.

The Tories are gambling: They think that if they can convince the public that government debt is a crisis, the public will accept the spending cuts they have always been ideologically committed to. There are two immediate reasons for concern at the glee with which the Tories approach this issue:

Firstly, the last thing the country needs now is a gutted public sector; Labour has no’t invested heavily in our infrastructure and public services just to have this all this work undone at the stroke of a Tory minister’s pen. Forging a new economy and building Britain’s future will take time and investment. Labour will not cut and run and abandon a generation of young people, like the Tories did.

Secondly, anyone aspiring to be Prime Minister must be able to lead. David Cameron has never taken on any of the interests within his own party. In their own ways, and for better or for worse, Tony Blair, John Major, Neil Kinnock and Margaret Thatcher all confronted their parties’ inner demons and led some Holy Cows to the slaughter. David Cameron shows no sign he is capable of this; the Conservatives are firmly entrenched and unchallenged within their right-wing comfort zones. As a result, David Cameron himself is destined to live in the thrall of the most right-wing elements of the Conservative Party. Britain deserves a better leader than that.

Labour Should Stand Tall And Proud, Eager To Defend One Of Its Greatest Achievements

24th September 2013

On 1st October, the minimum wage rises to £5.80. Since it was first introduced in the teeth of Conservative opposition, the minimum wage has risen by 81.25%, far outstripping a decade of low inflation. 
Since its introduction, Labour has also legislated to ensure tips do not count towards the minimum wage and that there are the toughest powers in Europe for rogue employers who break the law.
The Conservatives voted against the introduction of the minimum wage and its strengthening, which went through Parliament last year. In addition, David Cameron opposed longer maternity and paternity leave and flexible working – so much for Cameron’s compassionate conservatism. Only a Labour government can truly protect workers’ rights.

The minimum wage remains one of Labour’s most powerful expressions of our values in action. I am immensely proud of the difference it makes to the lives of the UK’s million lowest paid workers.

But as thoughts turn towards a general election, I am also clear that the minimum wage is far from safe.
The Tories’ opposition to the support that Labour is giving to people during the recession shows how out of touch they are. It seems that Cameron has decided the targets for his myopic and siren calls for an “Age of Austerity”. Not the bankers with huge bonuses, or the millionaire estate owners, or the lucky few who earn over £100,000 a year. All of them will be safe if there is a Conservative government. Instead, Cameron has called for the abolition of the Low Pay Commission, calling it a “useless quango” he was going to put on the “bonfire”.
In addition to setting the minimum wage, the Low Pay Commission also advises on enforcement against rogue employers: Rogue employers need to be exposed – enforcement of the minimum wage is a vital component of fair competition (an issue which Cameron waxes lyrical about): proper enforcement is in the interests of reputable businesses who pay the minimum wage and don’t want to see themselves undercut by rogue employers who don’t.
This is yet another example of how Cameron’s hands-off, devil-take-the-hindmost economic obsession actually damages British competitiveness.

Only Labour is committed, heart and soul, to defending the minimum wage. The Liberal Democrats initially opposed the minimum wage, calling it “misconceived” . Vince Cable, who the Liberal Democrats wheel out at every opportunity as their economic sage said: increasing the minimum wage above the rate of inflation set a “dangerous precedent”

How is it possible to oppose increasing the minimum wage above the rate of inflation on Tuesday, and then tell us you want to see greater equality on Wednesday? The Lib Dems cannot be trusted to protect and strengthen the minimum wage.

If you think a rogue employer is not paying up then get in touch with the national minimum wage helpline on 0845 6000 678. And don’t worry, you don’t have to give your name or details to them if you don’t want to.

 

How Labour Can Turn Things Around At Conference

29th September 2013

 

How Labour can turn things around at conference: Shut up, Buck up and Gear up

There is a palpable sense of anticipation as the Labour conference starts. This week, Labour has an unparalleled opportunity to put forward our case for re-election. Yet the same attention that enables us to convey our vision with unity and clarity to the public can also highlight a party’s divisions and pettiness (as the Lib Dems found to their cost last week); the conference stakes have never been higher for Labour.

I want to highlight three crucial themes that should guide every one of us who want to see Gordon Brown walk over the threshold of 10 Downing Street at the start of the next chapter of progressive Labour government.

Shut Up 
The time to discuss the leadership has gone (if it was ever here at all). Gordon Brown is undeniably a towering intellectual and political figure, capable of immense strategic foresight and empathy. Anyone who doubts this should watch his speech to TEDGlobal (in its entirety) herehttp://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/gordon_brown.html
This week, Gordon Brown was awarded the Global Statesman of the Year award. Never contemplating for a moment that they (rather than the entire international community) might be wrong, the right-wing press and blogosphere could barely contain their sarcastic scoffing. Never mind, a prophet is never loved in his own country, but on the doorsteps, I can count on one hand the people who have said they are not voting Labour because of Gordon Brown. The public want us to tackle the challenges the country is facing, not turn inwards.
None of that is to say Gordon Brown’s premiership has been faultless, or that he himself is absolved of responsibility for where the Government has
fallen short, but he and the cabinet have made it clear that they are fighting on and so for the good of the party and the people we represent we must fight on with them; Hang together or hang separately.

Buck Up 
Alistair Darling was absolutely right in his interview this morning (even if he stole some of the analogies I wanted to use in this post!) Far too many people are acting as if we have already lost and are just talking about surviving. This is exactly where our opponents want. A united, solid, proud, ambitious and determined Labour Party is a sight to see and terrifies the Conservatives and their allies, as well it should.
Many of the activists my age have only been to Labour conferences when we have been ahead. To some extent, we were lulled in to a false sense of security by the shambles of the Tories from 1995 to 2006. But we should remember that in 1991, the Labour party was regularly in the
low to mid forties and we went on to lose. The average support for Labour during September 1996 was 53.5% – the Tories are nowhere near that. Their supporters’ talk of a landslide is premature and unsubstantiated and demonstrates their belief that power is theirs by right.
The election is not over; it has barely begun.

Gear Up 
But this election is going to be tough. It is a tough time for the left across Europe. It is a tough time for parties in power across the world. Because we have been in office for over a decade the double challenge is to show that not only are we proud and determined to defend our achievements but also that we have even more energy, imagination and tenacity to make Britain better than we did on 2nd May 1997. I know we can do this, but if you find it difficult, just remember the Tories weekly attacks on single mothers, or Hestletine defending employing someone for £1.20 an hour (moderate that he was!), or people dying on hospital waiting lists or the crumbling schools with outside toilets. The press are calling this “this fight of our lives”, but really, it is the fight for other peoples’ lives.
We have made Britain so much better than it was. We need to be proud of that. But we can make it even better still and we need to be much more confident of that.

So, my blunt advice is to shut up, buck up and gear up. We can win the next election and if we do, we will destroy the Tories as a force in British politics forever. But we have to stand tall and fight back and there will be no better opportunity to do that than this week.

Slowly, Very Slowly, The Economy Starts To Move Forward Again

11th October 2013

The worst is over. There… I said it. This isn’t hyperbole or rhetoric and it certainly isn’t complacency: but I believe we have averted a complete financial and monetary breakdown; the economy has already reached its low point and we are embarking upon the upturn, although we may not know that for sure for some time. Unemployment may well continue to rise even after the wheels of the economy start to turn again: we need to do more, not less.

I have written previously about my thoughts on the origins of the economic crisis. Briefly put, the last British recession came about because there was an imbalance in the economy and too much liquidity. This caused inflation. Interest rates rose. The high inflation had three terrible effects: unemployment rose, spending power decreased and the higher mortgage interest rates meant that even people who had kept their jobs found repayments difficult. People who had lost their jobs had no support to help with mortgage repayments. The only tool the government had was to raise interest rates to try and curb inflation.

This recession is much more complicated. Inflation is actually at a 70-year low. Interest rates have hardly ever been lower. Unemployment is rising because there is a drop-off in demand (ie empty order books), rather than because there is an over-supply of labour or capital. A crucial difference with previous recessions is that Britain is not the “sick man” – every G20 nation has experienced negative growth over the last two years.

Dealing with under-demand requires much more government action than dealing with over-supply, as the video below sets out. Only neo-liberal purists suggest that government shouldn’t use its unique faculties in this situation.

Other government action includes:

  1. Extra mortgage protection to help families stay in their homes
  2. Giving a £145 tax cut for 22 million basic rate taxpayers
  3. Cutting VAT this year worth an average of £275 off household bills
  4. Guaranteed work or training for 18-24 year olds unemployed for twelve months
  5. Increasing child benefit and child tax credit
  6. An extra £60 payment to pensioners on top of a rise in the state pension
  7. Increasing the Pension Credit to a minimum of £130 a week
  8. A Winter Fuel Payment of £400 for over 80s households and £250 to the over 60s
  9. Allowing businesses facing difficulties to spread their tax payments on a timetable they can afford

10.Extra cash to encourage employers to recruit people without jobs

11.Stepping up the training and support people need to get back to work

12.Helping savers by increasing the threshold of Individual Savings Accounts to over £10,000

13.Increasing statutory redundancy pay to £380 a week

14.Extending the Stamp Duty holiday for properties under £175,000

15.Supporting the automotive industry with a car scrappage scheme

The Tories and Lib Dems completely misread the causes and character of this recession. Labour got the diagnosis right: Government action was and is required to kick-start demand and return Britain to growth. Albeit achingly slowly, the results of that investment are starting to come through.

Jack Scott – It’s Time To Get Fair

3rd October 2009

I want Britain to be a fairer country. It is one of the things that drives me – it is in my political DNA.

I am really proud to be associated with a Labour government that has done so much to reduce poverty and tackle inequality (although I accept this depends on the calculations and methodology used). I would suggest that since 1997, Labour has done more than any other previous government in Britain’s history to open up opportunity and eradicate intrenched disadvantage. Introducing the National Minimum Wage and raising it by 81%, doubling child benefit and introducing the Tax Credits system to make sure people are always better off in work are three of the most poignant expressions of the progress that we have made. But I also recognise that progress is achingly slow and vulnerable during the recession.

Today I met with Sarah Baker, from Church Action on Poverty, which is co-ordinating a campaign to end poverty in the UK by 2020.

I was delighted to sign the Get Fair pledge. I will be undertaking a sponsored walk on 17th October, called the Sheffield Pilgrimage Against Poverty and I am hoping to attend the Church Action on Poverty national conference in Sheffield in November. I have also written to Ed Miliband, who is co-ordinating Labour’s General Election manifesto; it is vital that we include policies that move us towards the Get Fair vision (details of which can be found here).

You can read more about my thoughts on the economy and social justice here

The pledge itself says:

  1. We hold that it is wholly unacceptable that 12.8 million people, or 1 in 5 of the population, are living in poverty in the UK today.
  2. We believe that the shared objective of Government and political parties must be to protect the poorest in our society who are badly hit by the impact of the recession.
  3. We believe that an increase in levels of income will be essential to achieve a major reduction in poverty, together with affordable housing and fair access to public services, without discrimination.

The Get Fair campaign is calling on MPs and party leaders to commit to a Poverty Pledge:

“I undertake to use, or support the use, of all policy powers available to Parliament to meet poverty targets and include concrete measures in my party manifesto to achieve a lasting reduction in poverty in the UK.”

Abbeydale Grange: Support Not Sabotage

3rd October 2009

Abbeydale Grange is a challenging school, operating in a unique environment. Despite currently being a school that is not performing adequately, it is making progress. You can find a list of all Abbeydale Grange inspection reports here, including the most recent report which was only made available in September.

Abbeydale Grange is not in Sheffield Hallam constituency, but I feel I should comment on the situation because Dobcroft Infant and Juniors are within Sheffield Hallam and feed in to Abbeydale Grange. Other feeder schools (such as Holt House and Carterknowle) are not actually within the constituency, but cater for families who do live in Sheffield Hallam. The future of Abbeydale Grange also has an impact on the other schools in Sheffield Hallam, especially King Teds and High Storrs. More broadly, how this issue is dealt with has a fundamental effect on peoples’ sense of fairness. (My colleague Paul Blomfield, who is standing for Labour in Sheffield Central has more on Abbeydale Grange).

So far, little clarity has come forward from the Local Authority. The people of Sheffield deserve better. Abbeydale Grange was given only four-weeks to find a hard federation partner – one of the biggest decisions a school can make. As a result, the Liberal Democrats have undertaken an absolutely sham consultation from start to finish. Closing a school is one of the biggest decisions a Local Authority can make – every avenue should be explored. To not include the option of a soft federation makes people cynical about the whole process. There has been no adequate explanation for why the option of a soft federation was omitted. Similarly, the length of the consultation simply did not enable a full discussion of the issues.

It is difficult to escape the idea that the Liberal Democrats are just going through the motions of consultation and setting Abbeydale Grange challenges which they know it cannot meet. The school should be supported and not undermined as it makes the best possible attempt to improve.

Nationally, the Lib Dems have been consistently inconsistent on education. They voted against the Education and Inspection Bill, but Nick Clegg then called for profit-making, private sector organisations to be able to become partners with Trust schools, which is currently illegal. The Liberal Democrats veer wildly from supporting additional investment to create smaller class sizes, to undertaking savage cost-cutting measures that remove support staff from schools and require teacher redundancies. Perhaps it should come as now surprise that there is no coherence to their local actions?

For my part, I urge everyone involved with Abbeydale Grange to download the consultation document and view the Council’s Abbeydale Grange section.

 

The Choice For Britain: The Choice For Sheffield

11th October 2009

During conference, the Labour party launched its pre-manifesto.  This document sets out in stark terms the choice for the British people at the next general election.

Knocking on doors in Sheffield Hallam and elsewhere, it is not that uncommon for people to say that “all parties are the same”. This is nearly always a quick reaction and a way to express frustration at our political system, (which I have written about in greater detail here) rather than people actually believing that Britain’s politicians have the same values and priorities.

The recession in particular has made absolutely clear that the Tories’ haven’t changed at all; they are still resolutely Thatcherite. David Cameron’s outrageously muddled conference speech (“I love the NHS… I hate Big Government”. “We must tackle the deficit and share the pain … I want to introduce a £3bn tax give away for millionaires”) only served to highlight their unshakeable belief in “Markets”.
The choice in Britain is becoming starker by the day. On the biggest judgement of this decade, David Cameron and the Tories got it wrong: They would not have responded to the recession at all. They would have stuck to a blatantly failing ideology and used the disaster as a cover to pursue their cut-and=burn agenda.
Labour’s alternative is spelt out in our pre-manifesto: Real help now, laying the ground work for the future and keeping a focus on social justice. To my mind, there is no contest.

NB: You can read my more detailed thoughts on the economic situationhere.

Mythologising The BNP As The Gruffalo Of British Politics Will Get Us Nowhere

26th October 2009

I have two daughters – aged 23 months and 6 months. They are very sweet together and love being read to. Their favourite book is the Gruffalo. For those of you not lucky enough to encounter this book on a twice-daily basis, I heartily recommend it, not least because of what it has to say about the power of reputation and fear.

The BNP seem to have become the Gruffalo of British politics: exceptionally thick, feared by many, seldom actually seen but universally recognised. To read the newspapers this week, you would think Britain was on the cusp of a fascist overthrow or Nazi landslide. It’s not. The British people have never been taken in by the false siren calls of fascism. We should remember that the BNP secured 0.7% of the vote in 2005, holding their deposit in only 34 seats. They secured over 5% in only 5% of seats. They contested 119 seats, including my own of Sheffield Hallam, where they achieved a princely 469 votes for their troubles. For all their money, free publicity, emotive language, members and machinery, the BNP remain a small-fry and useless party of unorganised thugs.

N None of this is to encourage complacency, but we need to have a genuine understanding of their position. Even in the midst of a globalised recession, they are unable to achieve a real breakthrough. We can’t ignore them but at the same time we shouldn’t over-talk their impact.  They simply don’t deserve it.

I have always believed that no platform is no solution. It is not bold or rational to ignore the parties that you don’t like; if you are constantly on the defensive, you can’t win the war.

The former Labour voters who vote BNP expect better; and we will have to give them more if we are serious about winning them back. But name-calling and demonisation is not enough. Nobody expects highlighting David Cameron’s privileged background will be enough to beat the Tories; similarly highlighting Nick Griffin’s arrests, conviction and old quotes will not be enough to beat the BNP.

Every vote for UKIP tells us that we have not made the case for positive European integration. Every vote for the BNP tells us that we have not made the case for the controlled, skilled immigration system we have introduced. We have got to get as good at talking about the issues as we at talking about the individuals. This means coming out of our comfort zones and talking much more bravely and bluntly about immigration, law and order, Europe and the global economy. To address these issues, the party should provide more literature and training for members.

Finally, we also need to find ways to work better with younger people. I suspect many of us will have been campaigning in strong Labour areas and had a group of young people start shouting about their support for the BNP. I know that most of the reason for doing this is to get a reaction – but another part is probably also about rebelling against their parents.

I wonder if at the root of this there is a deeper suspicion about the way traditional political parties operate which we are not fully tackling at the moment.

 

Is This Really The Best You Can Do, Mr. Cameron?

11th November 2009

On Saturday, The Sheffield Conservatives Picked Their Candidates For The General Election (Five Men – One Woman!) The Results Show Just How Much Further The Conservatives Have To Go.

Sheffield is the fifth largest City in England. Like Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle it has not a single Conservative councillor.  Frankly, it doesn’t need any, given the economic lasisez-faire attitude of the Sheffield Lib Dems, epitomised by Nick Clegg, who has never shown the slightest bit of interest in Sheffield. Proof for this comes from Nick Clegg’s own website : it has only one entry concerning Sheffield, from July this year.

But before 1997, Sheffield Hallam had only ever been Conservative; it is the second most affluent constituency outside of London. A higher proportion of Sheffield Hallam’s young people go on to University than anywhere else in Britain. Coupled with some of the highest property prices in Britain, the lack of Tory councillors raises important questions for Project Dave and its inability, even now, to generate any affection.

Unsurprisingly, the Tories want to start making progress here. Indeed, they have to: according to UK Polling Report, Sheffield Hallam is Tory target 157. This means that if the Tories are to have an overall majority of above about 30 or more, they need to win Sheffield Hallam and finish off Nick Clegg. Electoral Calculus also has the seat down as non-safe.

You would think that in this scenario – a vulnerable party leader, ripe for decapitation and the need to regain a traditionally safe Tory seat would mean Sheffield Hallam attracted an ‘A –list’ candidate or equivalent.

But nothing could be further from the truth: Sheffield Conservatives have decided that residents of Sheffield Hallam are to be offered the chance to send Daniel Gage to Parliament. Mr Gage was previously a member of Dronfield Town Council, but has now been automatically expelled for non-attendance. Mr Gage is said to be “heartbroken” that he has been ejected from his seat. He doesn’t have anything to say to the residents he failed during his six months of non-attendance or hint at any contrition for the fact that he didn’t turn up: he calls this an “administrative error”, but gives no indication as to what the error actually is.

According to the minutes, the last council meeting Gage attended was 5th May. It is not yet clear whether he has claimed any allowances or expenses since then. Mr. Gage gave his apologies for one meeting, but failed to do so for five others. This begs the question: Why did Mr. Gage not check the minutes of the meetings he hadn’t attended? Did he not think it was important to see what had happened at those Council meetings? If he had checked them, he would have been able to correct his own “administrative errors”.

There is a broader point to be made here: What confidence can people in Sheffield Hallam have that someone who can’t even check these details will be able to effectively scrutinise legislation? Does David Cameron really want to have an MP who can’t follow a very simple law and who appears to think that turning up for meetings and votes is unworthy of him? Nick Clegg has been AWOL in Sheffield Hallam since he got elected in 2005. The last thing we need is another person who thinks the hard slog of a diligent constituency MP is beneath him.

This coming election presents the clearest choice in a generation: Labour or Tory, with radically different perspectives, diagnoses and prescriptions. The people of Sheffield Hallam deserve a half-decent Tory candidate who can articulate those differences, not someone who appears to have fallen foul of the simplest and easiest requirements of being a Councillor: turn up once every six months. They are entitled to ask if this is the best David Cameron and his Conservatives can do.

If it really is the best they can do, I think that the phrase “disgraced former Dronfield councillor Daniel Gage” has a certain ring to it. I suspect that this is one of the very few areas where Nick Clegg and I agree.

 

+++ BREAKING NEWS +++

18th November 2009

 

I have been told that the Daniel Gage, the disgraced former Dronfield Councillor and Tory candidate for Sheffield Hallam has been sacked as their candidate… Will bring you more as it develops.  

Jack’s Tory Opponent Sacked

18th November 2009

 

Quick update on the previous post:

It appears that Mr Gage has now been sacked as the candidate for Sheffield Hallam: Star Article here.

At the end of the article, he says that he is going to fight to remain the candidate for Hallam, “preferably as a Tory but, if not, as an independent.” Quite what this bizarre threat means is beyond me!

I have made the following comments to our local media:

“The Tory party in Yorkshire has descended into further chaos today. On the day Labour is announcing policies to create a National Care Service, ensure responsibility from bankers and secure financial stability, the Conservative Party is yet again focused on internal disputes.

Not a day goes past when Tory party bosses aren’t interfering in the decisions of their local parties. Yesterday, it was the high profile wrangling over Elizabeth Truss; today, it’s forcing Daniel Gage to resign. They are a shambles.

People in Sheffield Hallam need an MP who works full-time for Sheffield Hallam. The Lib Dems aren’t doing this and the Tories now don’t even have a candidate.”

I don’t like this sort of thing actually, and certainly take no joy in Mr. Gage’s very public humiliation – he clearly had a lot of plans for his campaign; but at the same time, I cannot see how there was any other possible outcome, given that he was so recently expelled from the only public office he has held. As I said at the time, Hallam deserves better

Anyway, I am looking forward to discussing the Queen’s speech later this evening!

 

Mr. Clegg Is Wrong – This Queen’s Speech Will Improve Peoples’ Lives

23rd November 2009

 

Lib Dems should back National Care Service and action to make banks more responsible.

Jack Scott, Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Sheffield Hallam has challenged Nick Clegg MP over his call for the scrapping of the Queen’s Speech. He said:

“It is a shame that Nick Clegg is saying this week’s Queen’s Speech will be a waste of time.

“Rather than this kind of cheap headline grabbing, the Lib Dems should back the real action that we will set out this week.

“For example, action to lay the foundations for a National Care Service, to make the banks more responsible, to secure Britain’s economic growth, to tackle climate change and to raise standards still further in our schools.”

Harriet Harman MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader said:

“Nick Clegg is wrong to say it’s “a waste of everyone’s time” to help carers, make the banks more responsible, and secure Britain’s economic growth and jobs.

“Instead of this pointless political posturing, the Liberal Democrats should back our plans for a National Care Service in this week’s Queen’s Speech.

“Now is a time for optimism, not pessimism.

“Just as we built the NHS after the Second World War, so today, we can lay the foundations for a new National Care Service; raise standards still further in our schools; and renew our politics – true, as always, to the values of fairness and responsibility for which our party stands.

“Of course it’s right that we should rebuild public trust and confidence after the concern about expenses but Nick Clegg seems to be somewhat behind the curve here.

“We’ve already passed legislation which became an act of parliament in the summer which will make sure that MPs no longer set our allowance system or run it and there’s a payback system which is already happening.”

 

 

Brilliant News For Sheffield!

23rd November 2009

 

The number of services on the busy train route between Sheffield and London is to double next month, potentially boosting the city’s economy by millions of pounds.

East Midlands Trains, which runs the line from Sheffield to London via Chesterfield, is to put on two trains each hour – up from the current hourly service. Development chiefs say the changes, which come into operation on Monday December 14, could generate an annual £3 million for the economy.

Jack Scott, Labour’s Candidate for Sheffield Hallam said “This is absolutely fantastic news. This will generate millions of pounds for our economy. Not before time, we will shortly have some of the best links to London of any core city. Since 1997, we have almost doubled investment in transport; but nobody should be in any doubt: this tremendous achievement is at risk from a Tory government committed to cuts at any price.”

Tom Riordan, chief executive of Yorkshire Forward, said the new trains would bring new jobs and business to the city. He said: “Sheffield will now be able to compete on a level playing field with other cities in the UK. As well as the obvious financial benefit of twice as many Sheffield to London passengers using Sheffield station, we also expect to see an additional £2m to £3m being generated annually in the local economy in jobs and investment.”

David Young, of South Yorkshire Transport Executive, said: “These new train services follow a number of years’ lobbying and prioritising funds. Despite being the country’s fourth largest city, Sheffield has lagged behind other major urban centres in having good links to London

Tim Shoveller, managing director of the train operator, said: “We know good connections to our capital are a key priority for any major city, and we have been determined to improve Sheffield’s train service to London. We are proud that through genuine partnership-working with South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and Yorkshire Forward, we are collectively able to deliver this further major improvement for passengers.”

East Midlands Trains will run an additional 11 services from Sheffield to St Pancras station in London, and 13 additional services from St Pancras to Sheffield.

All services will stop at Derby and most will stop at Chesterfield. In addition, the number of trains between Sheffield and Derby will increase from three per hour to four.

 

 

Clegg: I Would Back Tories In Hung Parliament

23rd November 2009

 

Nick Clegg is ready to make a deal to put the Tories in to power if the next election results in a stalemate.

According to reports, Nick Clegg has “vowed to support David Cameron if the Tories win the most seats in a hung parliament”.

Those of us who have been following Nick Clegg’s actions closely aren’t surprised by this at all. Clegg joined the Tories at University. His early career was spent working for a Tory. He then inherited a traditionally Tory seat. His later career has been spent helping them in any way he can.

The Lib Dems under Nick Clegg are completely different to the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy. They have jettisoned their progressive policies and become a party of economic liberalism, promising “savage cuts” in public expenditure. Nick Clegg wants to return Britain to a low tax, low investment, low skill, low value economy, which would make it almost impossible for Britain to compete internationally. This is the last thing the country needs and would put at risk our very fragile economic recovery.

It is becoming increasingly clear that I am the only candidate for Sheffield Hallam that is committed to preventing the disaster of a Tory government.

 

“You Should Have Slept With The Mayor’s Wife Instead”!

24th November 2009

 

I want to talk about policy. Really, I do. Honest. I want to talk about my vision for Britain and for Sheffield and how I think we can overcome the challenges we are facing.

But these Tories make it so darn hard. Every time I write what I feel to be an insightful or interesting article, the Tories in Hallam do something to bring us crashing back down trivia. This puts me in a really difficult position: I don’t want to “go negative”, but at the same time the implosion of the Sheffield Conservatives tells us a lot about them.

So I have given in to temptation again. A top Tory has told Mr. Gage, (my former Tory opponent), that he could have remained the Tory candidate for Hallam if he had “slept with the mayor’s wife” instead of of being expelled from Dronfield Council.

Alan Ryder, deputy chairman of Sheffield Hallam Conservatives, emailed barman Daniel Gage, aged 24, after he stood down as the party’s candidate against Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg at the general election. Mr Ryder told Mr Gage: “The fact is that once your council record became public knowledge your position as candidate became untenable. If you had done anything else – such as ‘sleeping with the mayor’s wife’ or whatever – then we could have got round it.”

I agree with local Labour MP Angela Smith who said “The remarks are unbelievably flippant and an insult to the current mayor. Clearly David Cameron’s makeover of the Tory Party has yet to reach South Yorkshire. It was quite right to challenge their candidate because of his non-attendance as an elected councillor, but you would have thought any party worth its salt would have checked out his record before selecting him.

Mr. Gage has now been suspended from the parliamentary candidates list and has threatened to stand as an Independent. The full article can be found at The Star

No more distracting nonsense – back to the important stuff now, I promise!

Let’s Talk About Tax

2nd December 2009

 

On Friday I attended a “Tax Manifesto Forum”, courtesy of Grant Thornton, with Lynda Donaldson, the Tory PPC for Rother Valley. Paul Scriven, Lib Dem leader of Sheffield City Council was supposed to attend but he was on holiday (again!) and the Lib Dems couldn’t find another PPC to put up.

I was fully prepared for a really hard time – Grant Thornton had invited a number of their partners, associates and big private sector clients. As if that wasn’t enough, Lynda Donaldson is an Independent Financial Adviser… As a result I now have a better understanding of how Christians felt when they learnt they would be up against the Lions!

In the event, I thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot from a perspective which it is often difficult to fully appreciate. I actually felt that Lynda got a harder time of things than I did – the people assembled were very wary of the Tories deficit-hysteria and seemed to agree that the most important issue was about stimulating demand. The discussion focussed around theTax Manifesto which Grant Thornton has written. The document has some really good ideas, some interesting ideas and, frankly, some pretty wacky notions.

I challenged head on the notion that the 50% rate of tax will make Britain less competitive or internationally attractive: Britain is attractive to the super-rich because of cosmopolitan London living, our culture, history and society, not because we have low tax rates. I don’t think this went down too well on the whole, but it’s an important point.

One of the discussions was about pensions and how we deal with a burgeoning deficit and the fact we are all living longer but contributing less. There was a really interesting idea put forward that the pension age should be linked to life expectancy. I have sent this idea to the Labour Party nationally.

I made a slightly partisan point which I think it is worth emphasising here: If we had not nationalised Northern Rock and saved the banking system, we would not be talking about “preparing for the upturn” but rather “can capitalism survive?” The Tories opposed nationalising Northern Rock. The consequences of this would have been catastrophic for Britain: the recession would have become a depression. On the biggest economic question this century they got it completely wrong and still do.

Perhaps it was this final point which had so many of these highly-paid private sector people coming up to me at the end of the event to say that, for the first time, they would be voting Labour?

 

For Fox Sake, Don’t Vote Tory

4th December 2009

 

 

After David Cameron announced that he would carve out Government time to repeal fox hunting, a number of people from the Back the Ban campaignhave emailed me recently to ask my position, so I thought I would set it out here.

I grew up in a rural community – I am a convert to city life. I have seen numerous fox hunts take place – I am not speaking out of ignorance on this issue and certainly not out of any vindictiveness or grudge to do with rural or rich people. I have no issue at all with drag hunting.

For me, the issue is very simple and about basic principles: people should not be allowed to torture animals for pleasure. Being chased for hours and hours until you are exhausted and then being ripped to pieces is one of the least humane ways to be killed. I can think of only two comparable ways to be killed: boiling and burning – these are far quicker ways to die, yet they are, quite rightly, still illegal.

Foxes are pests – and cause a lot of damage to famers’ livelihoods. The fox population needs controlling but hunts are neither an effective nor humane way of doing this.

There are legitimate questions about whether the Act is enforceable and whether it is strong enough. The Countryside Alliance say it is useless, and a waste of time – well, they would say that wouldn’t they? Besides, if that was really the case then why do they demand so vocally that it be repealed? If it was toothless and useless, why would they care? Some independent estimates suggest that there are up to 95% fewer hunts taking place now than in 2003: the writing is on the wall; I’m not sure extra legislation will help hasten its decline – especially because the law itself is actually pretty black and white.

I am very proud that to be associated with a government that banned fox hunting, in the teeth of Tory opposition. The Lib Dems split all over the shop on this issue: Nick Clegg has deliberately never commented on where he stands. David Cameron and a majority of Tories are in favour of a repeal; Nick Clegg may well be too. As MP for Sheffield Hallam, I will never vote to weaken the Hunting Act. If given the opportunity, I will vote to strengthen it to ensure that this barbaric practice is confined to the history books once and for all.

You can add your support to the Back the Ban campaign here.

 

Abbeydale Grange: Support Not Sabotage – Part II

13th December 2009

I blogged a couple of months ago on the future of Abbeydale Grange.

I spent much of Monday with David Smith, who is the head at Abbeydale Grange. David is a very impressive individual, with a penchant for both the detail and big picture of the challenges the school faces. We are lucky to have him in Sheffield.

I am determined that we keep Abbeydale Grange open. Abbeydale Grange has too much going for it to close: it is the definition of an inclusive school and has tremendous support within the community.

Of course there are big challenges (show me a school with AGS’s composition that doesn’t have challenges) but in my estimation (and that of the Government and local community) the school is making strides forward.

We need to support Abbeydale Grange in its efforts to improve further, not undermine it by talking about closure.

Since Monday, we have seen the Lib Dem cabinet report, which recommends closure. I am still angry with the consultation process, which was a complete sham, and the process by which the Local Authority asked other schools if they were able to form a hard federation. Unsurprisingly, given the heavy leaning they received from the Council, they all said no.

The Governor’s position and response to the consultation has set out a clear alternative strategy in the guise of a Co-Operative Trust school, which would be the first of its type, build on the school’s ethos and set out a clear plan for further improvements in attainment.

I am outraged by the Lib Dem decision to close Abbeydale Grange, even though it’s been clear for a long time that the Lib Dems were planning to close the school regardless of what anyone might say.

The Labour group has called the decision in for scrutiny which is where the next battle will take place. I am determined to do everything I can to keep the school open. 

 

 

Nick Clegg: Part-Time Hours, Full-Time Pay

13th December 2009

 

I have today taken the decision to criticise Nick Clegg as being “part-time”. I don’t like being negative, but I can’t find another way to sum up the fact that, bluntly, he is making a mockery of all of us.

Recently published figures show how often MPs vote on crucial bills. The Yorkshire and Humberside average was 64%, but Nick Clegg voted in only 34% of divisions, meaning he was absent for two-thirds of votes – the worst attendance of any South Yorkshire MP.

Meg Munn, Clive Betts, Richard Caborn and Angela Smith all have voting records more than DOUBLE Nick Clegg’s.

We have known for a long time that being a good constituency MP is not a priority for Nick Clegg. He has always been more interested in cosying up to the Tories. Now we also know that voting on crucial new laws is not a priority for him either. Quite frankly, it is amazing that he has the cheek to claim all his expenses and take an MP’s full salary despite only bothering to turn up for a third of votes.

Nick Clegg represents terrible value for money for Hallam tax-payers. It is time we had an MP who will put Hallam first, rather than his own ambitions.

 

Post At LabourList: No Ifs, No Buts: Gordon Is Here To Stay

13th January 2010

 

[[[ This post appeared on LabourList on 31st Dec 2009, after Charles Clarke’s pronouncements, but before Pat Hewitt and Charles Clarke’s contributions ]]].

I want to start this post with a confession sure to rile most (if not all): I actually quite like Charles Clarke. He is a good communicator and an able strategist who played a key role in modernising the Labour Party, firstly as Neil Kinnock’s Chief of Staff and then as Chair of the Party. By all accounts, he has also been a good MP for Norwich South. It is because I like him that I wince when I see him making such a fool out of himself, as he did yesterday.
Reading Clarke’s letter, it is striking how much of Clarke’s actual analysis is correct: we have missed key opportunities for Labour to set out a coherent and clear-cut vision; we haven’t taken the fight to the Tories sufficiently or exposed their economic illiteracy and the polls are not narrowing quickly, decisively or consistently enough to provide very much comfort. He is also right that many people are sitting still and keeping quiet, waiting to see what happens.

But Clarke’s poignant and challenging diagnosis prescribes a medicine worse than the malady. He is far too quick to attribute our problems to Gordon Brown when the reality is that the entire Government, PLP and Labour movement must shoulder portions of responsibility. “Gordon’s got to change or we’ve got to change Gordon” may be a catchy soundbite to smugly leak to a journalist, but it doesn’t actually help Labour move forward. The public do not forgive parties which spend more time talking to themselves than the voters: we cannot go into a general election opposing each other rather than the Tories.

Strikingly, there is still nothing in Clarke’s diatribe about actual policy at all. The letter does not nail a flag to anything whatsoever. Here, Clarke starts to sound dangerously like the Tories: blustering, outraged and personality-obsessed, lacking any sort of policy alternatives or radical thinking.

The reality is that, like 95% of the PLP, Clarke doesn’t have major problems with the steps that have been taken to rescue and rejuvenate the British economy. If Clarke had a problem with areas of policy he would set them out, as Tony Blair’s and Charles Clarke’s own critics would always do. So the fact that he doesn’t mention it at all suggests that this is more about Clarke’s vendetta against Gordon Brown than the starting gun for a serious or credible debate on the Party’s direction. His energy and skills would be much better spent identifying how Labour can engage the British public in a conversation about a new economic settlement.

Clarke is right when he says that “from the beginning of 2010 we need a renewed Labour Party which can offer the people of Britain a genuine and positive choice at the ballot box”. He is right because we are preparing for the fight of our movement’s life. The prize is absolutely immense, beyond our wildest dreams in 1997: a fourth term, with the Tories (the oldest and meanest political party in the world) vanquished as a political force in Britain, Cameron almost certainly dumped, a referendum on electoral reform, and the illusion of the Sun and Murdoch as kingmakers smashed forever.

To win this prize, we all need to talk positively, energetically and honestly about our past achievements and our plans for the future. Changing the leader doesn’t make it any easier to change our country.

 

 

Nick Clegg Challenged Over Silence On Abbeydale Grange

13th January 2010

I wrote to Nick Clegg shortly before Christmas.

Here is the text of what I said. Below that, you can find the press release I sent out.

Dear Nick, I am sure that you will have been informed of the Lib Dem decision to close Abbeydale Grange School. I am very disappointed by this decision – it will take Sheffield in entirely the wrong direction. Schools in challenging circumstances require support to improve, rather than sham consultations and undermining the significant improvements that are being made.

Furthermore, I am also disappointed by your complete lack of engagement with this issue. A large number of families within Sheffield Hallam will be affected by the proposed closure and the dispersal of children to other schools across the south west of Sheffield – this is a major issue for our community. A single letter to local newspapers is not showing the leadership that both the school and the people of Hallam deserve.

I am also interested to note your recent pronouncements on education, especially concerning the promotion of private-sector, profit-making providers in running schools and your commitment to “savage cuts” across vital public services. Exactly how will these help to raise attainment in our local schools? You have also talked about the importance of parental choice and “parent power”. So why have you supported a Local Authority decision which removes a unique option for parents and set out to destroy a school community which commands tremendous parental support?

In order to properly examine and discuss the issues concerning the closure of Abbeydale Grange, I would like to request that you take part in a debate with myself and the other confirmed parliamentary candidates for Sheffield Hallam. I know how rarely you spend any significant time in Sheffield – as such, I would be grateful if you could provide me with a range of convenient dates and times when you can turn your attention to this vital local issue. I am confident that the school would be eager to host the event. I have released a copy of this letter to the local media.

Yours sincerely,

Jack Scott
Labour’s Candidate for Sheffield Hallam

*** Press Release *** *** Press Release *** *** Press Release *** *** Press Release ***

NICK CLEGG CHALLENGED TO PUBLIC DEBATE

Nick Clegg has been challenged to a public debate on the future of a local school in his constituency.

On Wednesday, Sheffield Lib Dems voted to close Abbeydale Grange School, in the teeth of local opposition.

Mr. Clegg has previously said that parents should be able to run schools without any local authority involvement at all. He has also said he hopes to see private-sector, profit-making companies running schools in the near future. Controversially, he has backed the local Lib Dems in their determination to close the school, despite the impact the closure will have on other schools in the constituency.

Jack Scott, who is hoping to win Mr. Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat for Labour, has opposed the school’s closure from the start.

Jack said “I have invited Mr. Clegg to participate in a public debate because this is a crucial issue for our community. Having spoken to a large number of affected parents, I know that they are extremely disappointed by Mr. Clegg’s total lack of engagement. Many people do not even know he is our MP. I have not met anyone who thinks he is doing the right thing by staying as silent as possible.”

“Mr. Clegg cannot duck the difficult issues, especially as the Lib Dems run Sheffield City Council. Parents in Sheffield Hallam deserve better than this. I believe that they have the right to hear from the people who hope to represent them – so I have invited Mr Clegg to participate in a public meeting with parents, local residents and parliamentary candidates for Sheffield Hallam. ”

“I hope he accepts the invitation to debate this crucial issue. “

ENDS

The press release was picked up in a number of places.

 

Hallam School Report : A* And Still Improving

17th January 2010

As regular readers will know (as will anyone who has ever met me!) I am a bit of a stats anorak. It’s a bad habit and I’ve tried to kick it, but once in a while I break my own rule and indulge in a bit of gobbledegook and management consultant speak.  This post is going to be one of those times.

The above picture is an artist’s impression of the new Forge Valley school which is being built in Stannington / Malin Bridge. This is the latest in a long line of refurbishments and new builds in Hallam. In living memory, Sheffield has not seen so much investment or so many new buildings in education.

It is worth reminding ourselves that this new school (which has just received planning permission) would not have been built if the Lib Dems had their way. The played a very petty political game with all our childrens’ futures.  

Sheffield Hallam has some of the best primary and secondary schools in the country. This isn’t necessarily new: Hallam has always had good schools. The difference is the sheer frequency of outstanding performance.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has introduced a new tool, called “In Your Area”, which allows you to see how different measures have changed in your ward or constituency. It’s well worth a quick look. I have pulled out some of the most striking information:

  • In 1997, 76% of 11 year-olds achieved Level 4 in their SATs. In 2008, 91% achieved this standard.
  • In 1997, 59% of students gained 5 A*- C grade GCSEs. In 2008, 69% achieved this level. Across Sheffield, there has been a 19% increase in the number of students who achieve this level.
  • Perhaps most impressive is the unprecedented increase in teaching assistants: In 1997, there were just 60 Teaching Assistants in Hallam’s schools. In 2008, there were 280. That’s 220 extra Teaching Assistants just in one constituency. That’s a 367% increase! There are an extra 1300 Teaching Assistants across Sheffield.
  • In 1997, the average salary for a full-time, regular, qualified Sheffield teacher was £23,440. It is now £33,310. So average teacher pay in Sheffield has risen by £9870. That is a pay rise of 40%. No wonder that even before the recession, we had more people than ever applying to be teachers and more people staying in the profession.
  • In 1997, the Government invested just £1200 in addressing each Sheffield child’s IT needs. Recently, that has increased to £5229 per child, per year, local enabling children to have opportunities and access to technology that was never imagined possible a few years ago.

Thanks for sticking with me through the stats – I won’t do it too often. There is far more to education than numbers and percentages, which I will blog about in due course.

But for the moment, I just wanted to reiterate that these unimaginable improvements didn’t just happen or fall from the sky. They didn’t happen before we had a Labour government and they wouldn’t have happened without one. They happened, at least in some part, because we have a Labour Government committed to education and resourcing it properly.

It’s The Final Countdown… Nearly.

19th January 2010

 

If the election is on 6th May, there is not long to go.

I have always thought that the election would be on 6th May. A lot of the speculation about a March poll was simply Tory trouble-making; so that when there wasn’t an election on that day they could turn around and call Gordon cowardly etc.

Nevertheless, 6th May remains the most likely date for a number of reasons; it is certainly the date I am working towards. 6th May 2010 is sixteen weeks away today. This means that there are 115 days of campaigning and,  potentially of course, only 115 days left of a Labour Government.

I am sure we will be inundated with analyses of Labour’s record since 1997 and 2005. I am also sure that I will indulge in my fair share of crowing about the Government’s achievements, not least in the revolution we have seen in our public services. Who wouldn’t, given all that we have done?

Sheffield Hallam has done particularly well since 1997: consistently low interest and inflation, some of the best schools in Britain, the massive investment in Sheffield’s universities and hospitals and a relentless reduction in crime have all played their part, coupled with a renewal of civic life, such as the rebuilt Crucible and Lyceum and the arts and the protection of our countryside and Peak District.

The Independent has today reported that we are to produce a pledge card, similar to those from previous elections. I have mixed feelings about using these: I like that they convey clear plans over which we can be held account, but I dislike how they boil down crucially difficult issues and choices. It is sometimes hard to see the bigger vision in a list of five things.

I am pleased by the content though. In particular, the gurantee of a job for every young person is the best tool we have in preventing wasting the talents of a generation. The commitment  to free personal care for the elderly and vulnerable is also really important.

Both issues also highlight crucial differences between Labour and the Con-Dems (This is my new phrase for the Tories and Liberals – as I genuinely can’t tell them apart on economic issues anymore!) For example, in April 2008, Nick Clegg said that “if we were in power, we would provide funding to all older people assessed as being in “substantial” or “critical” need, to cover the great majority of care they require”. Fair enough, you might think. The Government has already done this for people in critical need and the National Care Service will do this for people in “substantial” need and, unlike in his proposals, it will be free.

But since the middle of last year, the Lib Dems have focussed relentlessly on out-Torying the Tories. Starting with his “savage cuts” speech and quickly followed by his weasel words concerning backing the Tories in a hung parliament, the Lib Dems seem determined to prove they have the sharpest knife with which to set about gleefully cutting at public investment. So we have gone from care for the elderly being a “stain on Britain’s conscience” to being an “unaffordable shopping list” item. Unbelievable.

This is one of the reasons I am so looking forward to the impending election: David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s rhetoric will not stand the scrutiny of a long campaign, but I am sure that the Labour’s policies will.

Roll on 6th May!

How, Exactly, Have They Changed?

19th January 2010

 

If I was a Tory, I would be really worried by now.

There is something quite striking happening at the moment. On doorsteps and on telephones, voters are starting to make Labour’s arguments back to us: “The Tories haven’t changed” ; “Cameron is shifty” ; “They will stop us getting out of the recession” ; “They will cut vital public services”. Perhaps only the last one isn’t surprising – given that that remains their stated position, unique as it is within Europe.

Cameron in particular isn’t proving as popular as he should be. In the run up to 1997, nobody could doubt that although Tony Blair led the party, he had a strong team around him. That demonstrably isn’t the case now. William Hague is a distant memory and George Osborne is unpopular with a massive chunk of the public.

Cameron’s lack of popularity is going to prove a problem as the election gets closer. The Tories have made it very clear that they plan on making him the centrepiece of their campaign, but buying massive billboards with his air-brushed face on them only serves to remind the public of their distrust about him. It is also reminds the public about their unease about the Tories more generally – why aren’t they there?What is he hiding? etc.

That’s why the recent mock-ups of his posters have caught on so fiercely – (I have included many of my personal favourites below). This simply wouldn’t have worked for Labour in 1992 or 1997. The case for change had been made: New Labour was different.

The public aren’t buying the Tories stories at the moment. Not least because their remedy for the recession is exactly the same as their remedy for the good times: lower public spending. This is what the Tories did for 18 years in power and for 12 years since losing power. Are we supposed to believe that it is just a happy coincidence that their stated aim and undiluted passion just happens to coincide with the cure to the recession? This is before we even look at their proposals for a married-man’s tax allowance.

Can’t Change, Won’t Change. 

Supporting The Third Sector: What Next?

20th January 2010

 

A thriving, assertive and secure third sector is crucial to Labour’s vision for Britain of stronger, fairer and more cohesive communities.

Regular readers will know that I have a big interest in the sector, as I run a Social Enterprise and sit on the Board of a number of other social enterprises and charities – the largest of which is the Citizens Advice national Board. There is no doubt in my mind that the voluntary and social enterprise sectors represent Britain at its very best – pulling out all the stops in communities across the country to meet new demands for services, providing support to the most excluded and challenging local and national Government where it gets it wrong.

Given its reach in communities, it is not surprising that the Third Sector organisations in the poorest communities are facing the biggest increases in demand. The sector needs extra help now. Government can and should and is providing some of this, but Local Authorities have to play their part in providing additional support as well. Locally as well as nationally, now is the worst possible time to cut back.

I don’t think you can separate out Labour’s action on the economy to its support for the sector. If we had not saved the banks the sector would have been devastated. And without the doubling of funding for the sector by this Government – from £5 billion in 1997 to over £11 billion today – the sector would not face the downturn with unprecedented strength. The Tories cuts to the Cabinet Office would slice £100M off third sector budgets. Their spokesman says he wants to ‘wean charities off’ public support. Putting aside for a moment the appallingly patronising implication that the sector is currently suckling at the breast of the Government, the Tories are providing no alternative nutrition to compensate for this weaning.

I am very clear that the third sector can and should do more; but this requires by stepping up our support, not cutting it back. The Government has invested an additional £42m in supporting the sector through the recession, but I think there is even more that can be done.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rt. Hon Liam Byrne MP, visited Sheffield shortly before Christmas. As well as setting out some of the successes which the Government’s schemes have had, I wanted to talk about how we could improve future investment. For example, to qualify for the Modernisation Fund, which helped Third Sector groups to merge and share back-office functions, an organisation had to have a turnover greater than £150,000. This was intended to deter very small organisations from applying just to get the money, where only relatively modest efficiencies could be achieved. However, the unintended consequence of this was that two groups with incomes of, say, £110,000 and £130,000 each could not apply either on their own or jointly. As a result, we may need to see if there are additional support products needed for organisations who are too big for Grassroots Grants but too small for Modernisation Fund or investment support.

I appreciate that to the vast majority of people, these will sound like technical and minute points – and to some extent they are – the scheme overall remains far better than anything that happened in previous recessions when the sector was left to deal with falling donations and rising demand completely on its own, but there is always room for improvement.What more do you think we need to do?

Unfortunately, our riveting discussion and campaign session was cut short by the snow. There was just time to talk about the Local Action Network. I want to give more proper thought to this – I actually find it very exciting. I think that there are tremendous opportunities to harness the power of Labour party activists to solve social problems and embedding an enterprising streak in all our members. This would require some very big changes, but how fantastic would it be if every local Labour party was a powerhouse of energy and action – a sort of “Think and Do Tank” for the community, making your local Labour Party the natural place to go if you had a practical local problem.

It could make Labour not just a party FOR social entrepreneurs , but also a party OF social entrepreneurs, which would in turn have tremendously positive knock-on effects concerning the mindset and determination of our activists, councillors and future MPs.

 

Two Developments

19th February 2010

75 days to go. (It helps maintain sanity if you count down regularly)…

Two important things have happened today.Firstly, two separate letters have been published in the Financial Times slamming Conservative and Lib Dem proposals that government spending should be cut immediately.

The letter is worth quoting substantially:

“There is no disagreement that fiscal consolidation will be necessary to put UK public finances back on a sustainable basis. But the timing of the measures should depend on the strength of the recovery. The Treasury has committed itself to more than halving the budget deficit by 2013-14, with most of the consolidation taking place when recovery is firmly established. In urging a faster pace of deficit reduction to reassure the financial markets, the signatories of the Sunday Times letter implicitly accept as binding the views of the same financial markets whose mistakes precipitated the crisis in the first place!

They seek to frighten us with the present level of the deficit but mention neither the automatic reduction that will be achieved as and when growth is resumed nor the effects of growth on investor confidence. How do the letter’s signatories imagine foreign creditors will react if implementing fierce spending cuts tips the economy back into recession? To ask – as they do – for independent appraisal of fiscal policy forecasts is sensible. But for the good of the British people – and for fiscal sustainability – the first priority must be to restore robust economic growth. The wealth of the nation lies in what its citizens can produce.”

This letter is signed by 60 leading economists. A second letter makes the point further, albeit in less storng language:

“Second, Britain’s level of government debt is not out of control. The net debt relative to GDP is lower than the Group of Seven average, and on present government plans it will peak at 78 per cent of annual GDP in 2014-15, and then fall. Even at its peak, the debt ratio will be lower than in the majority of peacetime years since 1815. Moreover British debt has a longer maturity than most other countries, and current interest rates on government debt at 4 per cent are also low by recent standards.

A sharp shock now would not remove the need for a sustained medium-term programme of deficit reduction. But it would be positively dangerous. If next year the government spent less and saved more than it currently plans, this would not “make a sustainable recovery more likely”. The weight of evidence points in the opposite direction.”

Amongst the list of signatories are two Nobel laureates – Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Solow – and five former members of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, including Sir Andrew Large and Rachel Lomax, two former deputy governors. Alan Blinder, a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, is also a signatory. It is clear that the consensus amongst economists is . It begs the question of how mainstream Tory opinion really is: Even US Republicans are signed up to Presiden’t Obama’s stimulus plan.


Secondly, and perhaps not entirely unrelated, a YouGov poll (whose methodology actually tends to underestimate Labour support) has the Tories on 39%, Labour on 32% and the Lib Dems on a very poor 18%. This 7% Tory lead is well and truly within hung parliament territory with the Tories 20 short of an overall majority.

I have a confession: I look at polls. I am, in fact, a pollaholic. I don’t think it’s credible for politicians to say they don’t look at them
– we need to treat the public with more respect and not insult their intelligence; Nick Clegg’s assertion that he doesn’t think about a hung parliament just isn’t credible.

Although I look at them and I talk about them, I also know that one swallow doesn’t make a summer: we are still behind. If I were a Tory, I would be very very worried by this closing. It seems that the more the Tories talk to the public, the less the public like what they hear. On doorsteps, there is no love for the Tories at all. People are angry at Labour and want us to change how things happen, but there is no enthusiasm for the Tories or David Cameron like there was for Labour in 1997 and 2001. The electoral mountain they have to climb to win looks steeper by the day.

This analysis doesn’t contain a jot of complacency: We have got to do better. But with just under 75 days to go, Tory strategies are falling apart and Labour is closing the gap. It’s going to require a mammoth effort, and so it should, but I remain convinced that Labour can win.

 

No Time For Putting Your Feet Up…

19th February 2010

I had to have a minor operation yesterday. I attended the brand new Jordanthorpe Health Centre. I have given it some thought and I genuinely do not know how my care or treatment could possibly have been better.The staff were brilliant. The facilities were amazing – it was like a spaceship. The operating theatre was clean. I had to wait about a minute before being called in. I was out within the hour with clean instructions and an appointment for next week.

I had had to ring up to try and change my appointment time, as I was attending the launch of the Sheffield Disability Network in the morning. I was anticipating that I would lose my slot and have to wait another week. It was no problem for me to change it to the afternoon. I saw three other patients who were all as pleased with their experience as I was.

We must never forget how truly fantastic the NHS is, nor how many people in most countries across the world would give their hind teeth (sometimes literally) for a service half as good as ours. I love the NHS!

I have to rest up for a few days – it’s going to be hell. But this is no time to put your feet up – I have already been out and about a bit today, (don’t tell those nice NHS staff) – there’s an election to win, you know!

 

House Of Lords Reform

15th March 2010

Jack Straw has today confirmed that the life-peerage and bishopric elements of the House of Lords are to be abolished.

In its place, Labour will introduce a second chamber with 300 peers, who are elected by PR on the basis of an “open list” (that is to say, people vote for individuals, rather than party lists).

Unfortunately, I think it’s unlikely that we will lose the pomp and nonsense of calling people by noble titles. Still, an elected Lord is much better than an unelected one.

Jack Straw has also said the the manifesto will contain a strong commitment to a fully elected House of Lords. I’m sure that there will be a fair amount of cynicism on the back of this – we will have to see what alternative the Tories come up with for fixing the situation of a House of Lords which is fully appointed. I suspect that it will not be as bold or as clear as our 100% elected commitment.

 

 

The Devil’s In The Detail

27th March 2010

 

Since the Budget, I have spent a lot of time ploughing through the red book (I’ve done other things too, which I’ll blog about later!). For anyone fortunate enough not to be fluent in political-geekery, the Red Book is the White Paper the Government publishes alongside the Budget. The Red Book is about 200 pages long – with another 15 or so appendices on top of that, so I have had my work cut out.

Actually, reading it is the easy bit – the difficulty is in translating the numbers and economist-speak in to something that means anything to ordinary, non-politically obsessed, people. You can get your own copy here. I’ll try and digest it over the next few days.

The Tories and Lib Dems, true to form, quickly dismissed what was actually a string of good news items, certainly compared to where we could have been: Less borrowing, fewer job losses, fewer repossessions and employment (slowly) on the rise. Given that capitalism very nearly fell off the edge of a cliff 36 months ago, this is news to be welcomed. It is also not at all surprising that Labour are more trusted than the Tories to fix the economy.

This budget – quite rightly – was never going to be a giveaway or slashing budget. Fickle people who called it “boring” (mostly in the Daily Mail) have clearly not weighed up the alternatives. There was a clearly social-demoratic strand throughout the entire the entire budget:

– The removal of tax allowances for those earning over £100,000.
– Freezing of inheritance tax.
– The clampdown on tax avoidance forecast to raise £500 Million
– Winter fuel allowance for pensioners extended for a further year.
– £2bn invested in The Green Investment Bank
– £4 weekly rise in child tax credit for parents with young children from 2012
– Increasing stamp duty to 5% for £1 Million properties.

The Tories are fond of saying that when it comes to the Budget, the Devil is in the detail. Well, they have Labour’s details in the Red Book. So can we have their details now?

What Women Want: The Sheffield FEMs Hustings

27th March 2010

Last week, I was really privileged to be asked to represent Labour at a historic hustings event.

Sheffield FEMs organised the first hustings event in Britain to specifically look at different parties’ views on women’s issues – flyer here . Candidates were given 15 minutes to speak and then answered questions for a further hour and a bit.

I’m told that Sheffield Fems are putting together a report of the event to capture all our speeches and questions – I’ll put a link up here when it’s published. In the meantime, look my speech is below. It’s quite long so hang in there – as always, thoughts and comments are welcome.

*** CHECK AGAINST ACTUAL DELIVERY ***

I‘m just going to talk very briefly – I would much rather speak with you than speak at you. However, this is not a license to other candidates that they can talk more!
Thanks for having me tonight… So you know where I’m coming from, I was raised by my mum in a single parent household, I’m the middle of foursisters – no brothers. I now have two very young daughters, so I have never been short of female influence in my life.

In fact it’s part of the reason I got in to politics. I remember coming home one day from school – I was probably about 10. Mum was crying. “What’s wrong”, I asked. She’d been watching a Tory conference on TV and was very upset by some of the appalling attacks on single mothers. I think I decided there and then that we should have a Government that was on our side and that I wanted to get rid of this lot.
So these are subjects very close to my heart. In fact, they categorise Labour’s approach to women’s issues. In 1979, 83, 87 and 92 I think we had the best explicit policies for women. Yet Labour lost the woman’s vote on every occasion.

So that shaped our approach in 1997, 2001, 2005 and will this time: You can’t put womens issues in a box and label it. Solutions have got to be mainstreamed and to be pursued with the grain of other measures.
So how does this actually look? I want to discuss quite bluntly and assertively about Labour’s successesfailures and then briefly touch onchallenges for the future.
Successes. My proposition here is that despite the failures that I will come to, this has been the best government for Women in Britain, ever. I’m going to focus on domestic not international issues, for reason of brevity rather than focus.
There is a long list of achievements, many of which are obvious. On theeconomy:

In 1997, Maternity pay was £55 at today’s prices. It is now £123.

In 1997, maternity leave was 18 weeks. It is now 52 weeks, with 39 weeks pay. We have legislated to raise it to 52 weeks paid – opposed by the Tories who have said that they will not raise it.

We have more than doubled child-benefit, which is so successful because it goes to mothers.

We have reduced child poverty by over 700,000 – I know there’s such a lot more to do. We have introduced free childcare for 3 and 4 year-olds. We are currently introducing free care for two year olds.

Every year, 2 million people benefit from the minimum wage. 2/3 of these people are women. We have raised it above inflation every year and have committed to doing that for the course of the next Parliament. Unsurprisingly, I’m really keen to hear if the other parties will follow suit.

We have radically reformed pensions for women: We’ve reduced the number of qualifying years, abolished the need for initial contributions and introduced new weekly national insurance credits. Depending on your age and circumstances, you can buy up to five years worth of contributions at half price: Clearly there is still a lot more to do here.

Parents and Carers now have the right to request flexible working.
On society:

Polly Toynbee has called SureStart the jewel in our crown. If I think about where I live near Arbourthorne, we have a fantastic SureStart centre, providing tremendous support and encouragement and advice for new mums, especially young mums, that just didn’t happen before. There is support about eating, talking and reassurance. Fundamentally, SureStart is about trying to make it easier to be a mum. There are now almost 3500 SureStarts across Britain – it really is one of our best achievements. The Tories have said that they will cut these to about 500, and that they will only exist in most deprived areas. We know why: if only the very poorest people access them, it will be very easy to cut what remains.

We have introduced a whole raft of other things too: like civil partnerships for gay women and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) to act as a strong, independent champion to tackle discrimination and promote equality. Again, this will be one of the first cuts in a Tory government.

There are a whole range of issues within the Equality Bill. I’d just like to touch on the most. We are the first country in the world to bring in Dual Discrimination cases – so if a woman is discriminated against because she’s a woman and because she’s black, she now only has to bring one combined discrimination case. The Equality Bill also makes it illegal for women to be asked or told to stop breasfeeding.

The Equality Bill introduces Pay Audits for all private sector organisations if there is insufficient progress on the pay gap by 2013. It also outlaws all gagging orders which prevent people discussing how much they earn. Transparency is a tremendous weapon in this fight. Again, this was opposed by the Tories.
One success is that since 1997, we have defended a woman’s right to choose from nearly 40 attacks from Tories, in both houses, to reduce it. All bar one of the Tory front bench voted to reduce the abortion limit. Those men should be ashamed of themselves.

I will never ever vote to restrict a woman’s access to an abortion. The reality is that if a Tory government is elected, the abortion limit will almost certainly be slashed indiscriminately.
On representation:

Nationally, the UK is joint 58th for representation in the world – joint with Cambodia.

I can only really take responsibility for Labour’s representations of candidates, and actually it’s clear that we lead the way on women’s representation. Labour has more than three times as many women MPs as all the opposition parties combined.

Before 1997, only 9% of MPs were women. After 1997, the figure rose to 20%, mainly because of our use of All Women Shortlists.
But, since women won the vote, there have been 4650 MPs of these, 291 have been women… This absolutely beggers belief. Of these 291 women MPs, 60% have been Labour. We are only party to use All Women Shortlists, which arestill opposed by the Tories, despite Cameron saying he’d “think about it”. Clearly he is still thinking. Other parties are worse still: there are 7 Lib Dem MPs standing down, only 2 women chosen.

Let’s look locally in Sheffield: 29% of Lib Dem councillors are women. For the Greens, it’s the same, 1 out of 3… The Greens have two target seats locally, and in both of these they have picked white middle age, middle class men, which I find very disappointing.

But 42% of Sheffield Labour councillors are women. This is the highest percentage of all mcc’s in country.

Labour is the only party to put our money where our mouth is and use All Women Shortlists either locally or nationally. Words and commitments are all very good but other parties’ need to show some positive action and leadership if they mean it. And sometimes that’s tough and it stops “good” men getting on, but frankly that’s the price we men pay for the discrimination women still face. Currently that is a price no other party is even contemplating paying.

We need more women in Parliament. Labour have made that a priority for the last 15 years. We now have more women candidates in strong seats than ever before – this didn’t happen by accident and it’s not something that we should throw away.
Failures:

Domestic violence still accounts for 18% of all violent crime. Our Six Acts have increased the successful prosecution rate for domestic violence from 46% in 2003 to 73% by December 2008. This is still far too low, but the biggest failure has been in having a court system that encourages and supports women to come forward and press charges. More needed here.
There has been a big failure in rape conviction. There are 100,000 rapes per year, yet there is conviction rate of just 6%. Survivors are blamed and far too often, perpetrators escape justice. I’m really not convinced that adversarial trials with all their innuendo and smearing are the way to go here. We desperately need new thinking on this: I would like to see the contempt of court rules changed, so that any defence solicitor or barrister who insinuated anything about a rape survivor was held in contempt of court.
The Pay Gap is still too wide. We have narrowed the gap between men and women’s pay from 32.5% in 1997 to 22.0% today. Whoop-de-doo. About 30% of the drop is a result of the minimum wage. This has actually fallen by more most recently because of the recession.

We have introduced much tougher penalties for rogue employers. If we win the election, we will expect employers in the private sector with over 250 employees to report on their gender pay gap. We will require them to do this if there is not sufficient progress by 2013. We are introducing compulsory pay audits for the public sector now.

Within the NHS, the Agenda for Change has required about £3bn investment to redress historic pay gaps.
There has been a big failure concerning the Image of Women: There is currently an Epidemic of body hatred in Britain: 1.5m people have an eating disorder and 90% of them are women. The BechDale Test highlights the problems we still have with women. 92% of films don’t have a single occasion.

The sex industry has never been more profitable or acceptable than it is today. Men in control, women are biddable commodoties. This has huge impact on women across the piece. We also haven’t addressed our very macho style of politics.
Challenges for the future:

These are just a few quick things to think about to kick off the conversation we’re going to have:

Half the women in part-time work are working below their skill levels. We need to address the quality of part-time work. After the division of labour and blatant discrimination, the quality of part-time work is probably the biggest single contributing factor in the gender pay gap.
If you look at where the UK has skills gaps, they are exactly the same places where women are under-represented in the work place. E.g. 70% of women with Science, Engineering and Technology qualifications aren’t working in those areas, yet this is exactly the area we need to enhance.
Public spending: The Tories like to talk about the bloated public sector and the jobs people do on left-wing pet causes, like teaching people to read and curing disease.

There are now 1m more people delivering vital services than in 1997. 2/3 of these extra million people are women. So in terms of public spending, the“savage” cuts that Nick Clegg wants and the “immediate and drastic”cuts the Tories want will harm women far more than they harm men. Women also use Public Services more than men. Public spending is a gender issue in a way it has never been before.
There is a particular issue concerning carers and what I call the “Double Bubble Trouble”. Because we are all living longer and having children later, we are seeing an explosion in the number of people who care for their children and their parents at the same time. Almost 85% of these people are women, so there is a tremendous challenge in properly recognising the case of carers and the value they represent to the economy.
I think it’s worth reflecting for a moment:

In only 1977 became illegal for women to be sacked for being pregnant! Labour did that. Every single piece of equality legislation in this country was passed by a Labour Government and opposed by a Tory opposition. So I am totally up for this election.
Just one final thing to think about: My mum doesn’t get upset when Government ministers talk about family and single mothers anymore…

Because actually, this flawed but progressive Labour government is moving in the right direction. Improvements are achingly slow and far too many women are still unaffected by change. But I would hate, for the frustrations we all feel to obscure and endanger some of the tremendous successes we have achieved together.

Thanks a lot.

 

The Choice

6th April 2010

 

You may have noticed that Gordon Brown called the election today. I think I saw it on the news once or twice.

We have been preparing the Sheffield campaign for months. Every day between now and May 6th is assigned, colour coded and labelled in a way that would make Arnold Rimmer proud. We spent today outside the Town Hall handing out “Flying Start” leaflets and talking to people. It was a really positive response – I know the most recent polls (which are all over the place) may not pick this up but in Sheffield there has been a definite move towards us and away from other parties over the last week or so. The prospect of a Tory government is focussing minds in a sharper way than any number of leaflets or phonecalls could: people know we’ve tried hard and they know we’re on their side and want to do even more. They also know that the Tories have never done anything positive for them and never will.

On a personal level, I am very excited; the next 30 days will be the culmination of years of hard work. Even when not a candidate, I love elections.

Despite all the nonsense and process stories and trivia that put people off politics, they are inspiring occasions that can call the best out of us. This election especially so: the difference between the parties is stark.

The competing directions we want to take the country in could not conflict more.

Nobody can now seriously claim that Britain after a further 5 years of Labour Government will look the same as Britain in 2015 under the Tories.

I am fired up and ready to go. I have a fantastic (and growing!) team supporting me. The choice facing Britain is clear. 

Together, we can forge the new economy that we need, reform our political system and build a future fair for all.

Let’s get to work.

 

Less On Bigotry, More On Big Issue

29th April 2010

In almost exactly seven days time, Britain will go to the polls. The scale of economic, political and environmental challenges that we face cannot be underestimated. Nor can the choice facing Britain. Two distinct visions are being presented by three parties (two economic liberalism, one socially democratic). One of these will shape Britain for the next generation.

There was a shocking revelation yesterday: Gordon Brown doesn’t go out of his way to find differences with the public during a very close election. When he does find differences, he doesn’t proclaim them widely. Oh the humanity!

I am sure that everyone who has ever knocked on a door or called a voter will know that in the course of the conversation you talk about points of agreement rather than areas where you disagree. This is normal human behaviour; consider the alternative.

This is a complete non-story and yet the front pages this morning are talking of it as a game changer. With a small number of noble exceptions, they all place one unguarded, perfectly understandable comment in bigger prominence than they gave Britain’s continued ecnomic recovery or the rise in development aid, even though far more people are affected.

In the last week or so, I have had over 40 calls from national media outlets, basically wanting some dirt on Nick Clegg. There is no understanding or interest in policy or the issues that affect normal people – it is all about the cheap headline.

On one level, “Bigot-Gate” was fairly amusing, in that tragic-comedy way that is usually reserved for errant E-mails. On another, it was completely and utterly mundane. It certainly isn’t going to affect how the vast majority of people vote and nor should it.

With 7 days to go, there really are far more important issues at stake here.

The Result

19th May 2010

 

Now that a short time has passed, I wanted to write a comment on the result.

Perhaps not shockingly, we didn’t win Sheffield Hallam.

The results were:

Party Candidate Votes %
  Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg

27,324

53.4

  Conservative Nicola Bates

12,040

23.5

  Labour Jack Scott

8,228

16.1

  UKIP Nigel James

1,195

2.3

  Green Steve Barnard

919

1.8

  English Democrats David Wildgoose

586

1.1

  Independent Martin FitzPatrick

429

0.8

  Christian Ray Green

250

0.5

  Monster Raving Loony Mark Adshead

164

0.3

My 16.1% means that the Labour share of the vote increased by 3.5%. Given “Cleggmania” and a pretty tough year for Labour overall, I think that this is a really good result for us. There aren’t many seats where Labour gained an extra 3118 votes compared to 2005!

The Tory vote didn’t grow at all – gaining an extra 12 votes on the 2005 result. Nick Clegg’s share of the vote was actually less than it was in 2001.

I am going to write about the ConDem coalition and the fallout from this in Hallam in particular. Sufficed to say that many people (including Lib Dem members) have contacted me to say how disgusted they are with Nick Clegg’s back-stabbing of the centre-left people who voted for him.

Above all, I am very grateful to the 8228 of you who voted for me to represent our community.

Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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