Local dictators …


Many people have criticised the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party for their decision to suspend all UK branches of the Labour Party. Indeed, it has frequently been referred to as indicative of a dictatorship that is undermining democracy and human rights (Article 11 of the ECHR – Freedom of Association).

optionalWhile this NEC suspension of branches prevails, we should be worried about the impact this is having at grass roots level.  This freezing of democracy at the grass roots level is extremely worrying since it has the potential of enabling control by ‘Executive Officers’ – some of whom are enjoying the freedom to operate as ‘local dictators’.

For example, in one local Branch – over recent months – we have seen the old fashioned centralism of the Labour Party at play. First, over the past six months we have had what I would call a coup. We have a Chair who has been a stalwart of the Labour Party, having served for well over 50 years. As Chair of her branch she has almost single hand-idly, kept the Party alive for decades. She deserves a medal for her services to the local Party. Sadly, while she was ill and in a hospital bed for months, some newish members were plotting to have her replaced as Chair. There was even an attempt to bring forward the AGM so that they could replace her as Chair while she lay in hospital. The Secretary, at the time, successfully fought off this early AGM attempt. Though he conceded that the AGM should take place in May 2016. Then, in order to provide legitimacy to their actions, the leader of the coup wanted the Secretary to give up his post and stand against the Chair. The Secretary agreed to stand for a vacant post of Chair, but made it clear that he would not stand against the existing Chair. Indeed, the idea of pushing out a 75 year-old wheelchair bound party stalwart seemed an affront to decency. Eventually, the Secretary agreed to stand as Chair provided that the Chair was standing down voluntarily (which she did).

In due course (in May 2016) the Secretary was elected as Chair, but within a few minutes withdrew from the position when the Secretary was elected (essentially on the grounds that he did not feel that he could work with him). At that May meeting it was decided that all existing Officers should remain in their pre-meeting posts until the next meeting in July 2016 – when new officers would be elected.

In the period between May and July 2016 the life of the Secretary became problematic. Firstly, the coup had grown in support and they were refusing to recognise the continuance of the wheelchair restricted Chair. Indeed, suddenly an ‘Acting Chair’ appeared on the scene and he, and the coup Leader, were asserting that the Chair had been replaced by the Vice-Chair – who was now ‘Acting Chair’. The Secretary disagreed and referred to the minutes of the May AGM, which made no reference to the appointment of an ‘Acting Chair’. Such assertions led to the coup turning on the Secretary and intimidation started. Suddenly, the coup Leaders could live with the Chair remaining in post until a July EGM – but the Secretary was called an “hypocrite” and was sent what has been described as a “threatening” email. On receiving this email, the Secretary decided to quit as an Officer of the local Labour Party. He could no longer work, as an Officer, with people who had a tendency to display such militant actions.

Since quitting as Secretary, the individual has been attending regular and weekly “Coffee Meetings” of the branch. He has been doing this since he retains total respect for the local party members. His disagreement may be with the new Chair and Secretary of the Branch, but he is content to share coffee and chat with the party members.

That being said, the suspension of branch meetings by the NEC has led to the new Officers wielding executive powers that undermine the principles of local democracy. For example, at the branches July EGM the minutes reflect a brief discussion on the branch website. This site was set up with three moderators/administrators. The minutes of the last meeting do not signify that any changes were made to those posts (members present at the meeting have confirmed that no such discussion took place). However, the Chair of the branch has confirmed in writing that “executive” powers have been used to remove elected Party members from their web site moderators role. This happening despite the fact that all three elected moderators have equal editing rights in relation to the web site. With any unacceptable posting being easily edited by any one of the members (obviously the Chair of the Branch – who is himself a moderator/administrator – would have a major say).

What this signifies to me is that decision-making no longer involves ordinary party members. Yes, they can give a view over a cup of tea or coffee, but the local branch executive officers have assumed control. In doing so, they display a tendency to pursue their own personal political agenda.

If the Labour Party is to have any hope for the future it needs to promote the expansion of democracy. To have any electoral credibility in doing so, it is vitally important that this NEC suspension of its own internal democracy is ended asap.

We need localised democracy in the Labour Party – not executive officers operating like local dictators.

Dr Peter Jepson.

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Labour needs a Westminster Leader.

JCWe all know that Nicola Sturgeon is the Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party. However, the SNP also have a Westminster Leader in Angus Robertson MP. Logically, the reason for this is because Nicola leads in the Scottish Parliament and does not have a seat in the Westminster Parliament.

Currently, the Labour Party is facing constitutional chaos with the popular elected Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, having faced a vote of no confidence undertaken by Labour Members of the Westminster Parliament. There is also a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, with an unpredictable outcome should he win the contest (i.e. will the Parliamentary Labour Party accept the result and support Jeremy Corbyn should he win). This article suggests that the Labour Party could take a lead from the SNP and have a Labour Party Leader and also a Westminster Leader.

There is no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is a popular Labour Party Leader. His 2015 Party Leadership victory was overwhelming and the membership of the Labour Party has risen significantly due to his political message and campaigning.

While that is the case, it is also true that his campaigning style has never been popular within the Parliamentary Party. Indeed, in the 2015 Leadership contest he managed to scrape home with 36 nominations (with just minutes to spare) so that he could be considered as a validly nominated candidate. The irony being that some of those who nominated Jeremy, did so in order to enable a balanced political ticket – with the expectation that Jeremy Corbyn would simply make up the numbers and face early defeat.

Recently, the Labour MPs voted 172-40 in a vote of no confidence against Jeremy. Many claim that the Labour Party Leader lacks the charisma to lead them to a General Election victory. Despite such claims, no candidates have yet come forward to challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Party.

Perhaps a better approach may be for the Labour Group of Westminster MP’s to elect their own Westminster Leader. Somebody that they have trust and confidence to lead them at Westminster. This ballot amongst Labour MP’s could be held (after the inaugural appointment) on the day of the state opening of parliament each year. In this way, the Westminster Leader would be elected annually and not expected to be permanently in office or subject to sporadic votes of no confidence.

The obvious weakness in such a proposal is that we could see differences of opinion between the Labour Westminster Leader and the duly elected Labour Party Leader (currently Jeremy Corbyn). So what if we do, is that bad for democracy? If we take a topical and controversial topic like Iraq. Would it be so bad if the Westminster Leader openly disagreed with the Labour Party Leader (or vice versa)? In a democracy, we should welcome differences of opinion over policy issues.

Another perceived problem could arise when the Labour Party win a General Election. Who sits in Number 10 – the Westminster Leader or the Labour Party Leader? While I would prefer the Labour Party Leader to become Prime Minister, in reality any Prime Minister must be able to command majority support for policies being pursued in the House of Commons. Thus, logically, the decision of who should become PM must rest with the Westminster MP’s.

By splitting up Labour Party leadership powers in this way, we could see a strengthening of the Labour Party. Indeed, it could free up Jeremy Corbyn to campaign within the community/country and on issues that promote the Labour Party message.

At the same time, the Westminster Leader would be free to focus on activities in parliament. While doing that job, he or she will be looking over their shoulder in the Commons for the voice, conscience, and Leader of the Labour Party.

First published in Great British Politics.GBP

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A cautious welcome to Drake Park …

Image 24-07-2016 at 19.27

There is no doubt that the proposals to build 1024 homes on land adjacent to Fieldcommon Lane, Walton-On-Thames, is a significant development (Planning number 2016/2217 – written submissions/objections by the 10th August 2016) Initially, one must have concerns that it is to be built on what can be described as ‘green belt land’. However, it can also be described as a ‘former quarry site’ that does not readily provide public access.

As somebody who lives close by, on Fieldcommon Estate, I do understand the reservations that many people may have. That being said, I also recognise that there is a massive shortage of housing and we need to see more houses being built in order to met that housing need. It is also the case that more house building will help improve the economy of our country.

The Drake Park Fieldcommon Development (as per Drake Park Consultation documents and/or www.drakepark.co.uk – amended formal plans were submitted in July 2916) does provide variety in terms of the provision of housing. Of the 1024  properties proposed, 512 can be expected to be “affordable homes” – with around 150 available under a shared ownership scheme and around 350 will be available for rent from a registered affordable homes provider (discussions have been taking place with Paragon). It is claimed that the scheme will deliver 512 “affordable homes” – which is well over half of Elmbridge Council’s waiting list. What is not clear is the provision for compliance with ecological housing. For example: Will all properties be fully compliant with ecological/climate change requirements? 

While clearly we can all argue for a different composition of housing, the proposals do provide a balance of variety, which should be applauded. It is also welcoming to see proposals for a new primary school provision, and a significant contribution towards the expansion of Esher High School. I welcome a 70 acre park proposal, a small supermarket, Doctor’s and Pharmacy, but I am less enthusiastic about a possible new pub.

What must be addressed is the need to protect the development from the potential of flash flooding. There is a small lake within the development and the nearby Queen Elizabeth Reservoir. Great care needs to be taken to ensure that there is complete flooding protection.  Likewise, with regard to traffic problems. some people have expressed concerns about traffic flow for those entering and leaving the site.  One proposal to help mitigate this is the establishment of a roundabout near Fieldcommon Lane, Rydens Road and Molesey Road.

All such concerns, including many others, are inevitable when such a significant development is proposed. Indeed, it is the job of planners and engineers to come up with affordable solutions to help mitigate against such concerns.

That being said, it is my view that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Thus, subject to the mitigation of concerns, I welcome the development.

I welcome the development because society needs more housing, and the argument ‘not in my back yard’ does not provide a solution to societies needs.

Dr Peter Jepson

PS. Elmbridge Council fail to meet statutory requirements for the provision of Traveller sites. This Drake Park development (adjacent to Fieldcommon which has a renowned history associated with travellers) could provide a suitable venue/funding for a Traveller site on land between Fieldcommon and the Drake Park village. What is more, the capital  cost of this Traveller site could be met by the Drake Park Village developers – i.e. as a gesture towards the wider community.

Footnote: I was the Labour Candidate for Walton North (2014 and 2015) and Hersham Village in 2016. However, my limited and provisional support for this development is personal – it does not signify a policy view of the local Labour Party.

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‘Labour Yes’ should promote a post-austerity message for Europe.

euAs a pro-European I welcome the formation of a ‘Labour Yes’ campaign group. However, I note that it is being:

“… jointly chaired by Pat Glass, Labour MP for North West Durham, and Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield. The group will co-ordinate Labour MPs to speak up in European debates in parliament, make the case in constituencies and reach out to businesses, trade unionists, universities and other organisations who have an interest in Britain’s future position in Europe (Source: The Guardian 14/6/2015) .”

Those limited words are sounding alarm bells in my head. They read like a top-down promotion and seem to imply that ordinary day-to-day members and activists within the Labour Party are going to be peripheral to its activities. They imply that business leaders matter more than party activists.

This is worrying, because we all have an interest in Britain’s future position in Europe. The pro-EU argument needs to be taken into the communities. The Labour Party needs its activists to be speaking at the local church, in the local community centre. In discussions in the workplace, in the canteen, and in the trade unions. They need to debate on the internet, Twitter etc. Party activists need to go into sixth form classes. Labour need to take the debate to the people of the United Kingdom.

The Labour Party has an e-list of its own political activists and the ‘Labour Yes’ campaign should be communicating its message to those foot soldiers.

The ‘Labour Yes’ message will need to be distinctive from any ‘Conservative Yes’ campaign. They need to explain how Labour intend to work within the European Parliament to challenge the austerity message of the right. Indeed, ‘Labour Yes’ needs to look beyond the needs of today and talk about what is needed in Europe tomorrow. They do need to discuss the negative impact leaving the EU will have on the UK. However, they also need to promote some of the benefits that the EU has brought to workers in the UK. How the discrimination laws have helped make the UK a better place.  How the Transfer of Undertaking regulations have helped save jobs.

‘Labour Yes’ also need to start looking forward to 2020 and the fact that the austerity policies of today will not be relevant in 2020 (the Tories say the deficit will be clear by 2018). Austerity is in the DNA of Conservatives – it is not in the DNA of socialists.  ‘Labour Yes’ need to make a clear and pro-European message to people living and working in our communities. That should be a distinct and socialist post-austerity message over Europe.

Also published in GrearBritishPolitics GBP.

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Let’s make a tenants ‘right to buy’ a human right.


Let’s make a tenants ‘right to buy’ a human right.

The Government seem intent on drafting a British Bill of Rights. Obviously, such a Bill must include freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination etc. Indeed, it seems inevitable that all of the civil rights currently included in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) can be expected to be included in the British Bill of Rights.

 For my part, I would like to see political parties campaigning for an expansion of human rights. The ECHR was drafted 65 years ago and it is now old hat. What we need is a new Civil Rights charter that reflects British rights and values, and expands into economic and social rights. We need to look to the future, not to the distant past. So, for example, I would like to see the British values of free NHS care and welfare included. I would also like to see a right to food, to water, and to housing.

 I would also like the much-heralded Conservative tenants ‘right to buy’ his/her home included. That being said, the libertarian conservative right to buy was/is designed to erode a citizen’s dependency on state provision. It is all about turning people into independent citizens who operate as a form of mini capitalist – operating within the limited boundaries of asset owning.

 For me, the right to buy does not go far enough. As a libertarian socialist, I would like to see that right extended equally to all tenants. Indeed, I would argue that all tenants – irrespective of whether they are Council, Housing Association, or Private, tenants – should have the same equal right to buy the homes that they live in. If a discount of up to 70% is to be provided for one form of tenant – it should equally be applied for the others! Such an approach may worry some private landlords, but that is the price they must pay for a property owning democracy. Obviously, accompanying such an extension of a right to buy must be some significant legal protections against eviction – with only non-payment of rent being a basis for eviction. There would also need to be a firm control on rents, in order to ensure that any increases were consistent with inflation etc.

 Yes, some capitalist landlords will squeal at the prospect of giving their tenants such a right to buy. But, for me, the position is clear – we should see all tenants treated respectfully and equally. Indeed, data for a English Housing Survey for 2011-12 showed that the rising number of private tenants, 3.84 million, outnumbered the 3.8 million in social housing (source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21357841 ).

 Let the Conservative Government openly disagree – i.e. if they wish to upset the 4 million or so private sector tenants. This ‘right to buy in the private sector’ proposal would not impact upon the Chancellors finances, since the private sector discounts would not be deriving from public funds.

Let’s stand up and argue for the rights of private tenants. Let’s make a tenants right to buy a human right.

Also published in GrearBritishPolitics GBP.

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Is the PM trying to hoodwink the electorate?

  EU       Is the PM trying to ‘hoodwink’ the electorate?

The Prime Minister David Cameron is to “get tough on immigration”. That, at least, is his claim. In reality, net immigration is at 318,000, of which a significant proportion derive from the free movement of EU workers.

The problem for the government is that in order to reach the PM’s promise of lowering immigration to the “tens of thousands”, they may need to somehow limit the number of EU citizens migrating to the UK. To do that, there will need to be a change to the free movement of workers rules that are central to the EU Treaty. Continue reading

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A quote worth thinking about …


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Please sign the petition …


The government wants to meddle with our human rights. Sign the petition to save the Human Rights Act: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/human-rights-petition

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One ‘United Kingdom’…

From left, the Union Jack, St George's Cross and the Saltire fly at Adderstone, England, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. The British government plans to offer Scotland more financial autonomy in the coming days as polls predict a very close vote in the September 18 on Scottish independence. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)A major problem for the Labour Party is the split evident between Scotland and England/Wales. Indeed, in the General Election it was clear that the anti-austerity message of the SNP had appeal to the more left leaning Scottish electorate. At the same time, the electorate of England and Wales were evidently more prepared to accept a government that wanted to utilise austerity as a means of tackling the deficit.

Such an inconsistency created no problems for the Conservatives. The electorate of Scotland had turned its back on them decades ago. For the Labour Party, however, it was a major problem due to the rise of an SNP that could promise the earth – while knowing that they could never have enough seats to establish a Westminster government. In effect, the SNP could promise anything, and then blame others if they could not deliver.

A major problem for the Labour Party was its election banner of ‘One Nation’. Indeed, that description was also used by David Cameron in his ‘we won’ speech after the 2015 General Election.

To my mind therein lies the problem. We are not one nation. We are four nations of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Instead of an aim of one nation. our political leaders should be striving for an acceptance of ‘four nations’ in one ‘United Kingdom’.

By taking such a constitutional approach, the Labour Party could/should accede autonomy to the Scottish Labour Party. Indeed, they could accept the freedom of the SLP to establish an entirely distinct political programme that responds to the more left leaning demands of the people of the Scottish Nation.  Obviously, the national parties of Labour would need to unite under the banner of a ‘United Kingdom’ for the purposes of government in the House of Commons. In a sense, that would mean the different nation divisions of the Labour Party would then need to operate as a grand coalition of national labour interests.

Over the next few months the Labour Party will be looking within itself, as it seeks to find and unite behind a new leader. In my view, before they start such a process, they should look at changing the constitution of their party to one that recognises the independence of the different nations that make up the ‘United Kingdom’.  By taking such an approach, each division of the Labour Party could produce policies and a political message that is tailored to address the differing political demands of the electorate that live in each of the four nations.

Labour needs to move from a ‘One Nation’ party, to a coalition style party that fully accepts the autonomy of the four nations of the ‘United Kingdom’.

Also published in GBP GBP.

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A voting lottery …

ballotWith opinion polls suggesting that the General Election is too close to call, there is a real possibility that the election could be decided by the Russell Brand’s of this world. Indeed, people failing to vote could help determine whether David Cameron or Ed Milliband will get into Number 10.

Davis Winnick MP called for voting in elections to be made a “civic duty’. He introduced a bill before the House of Commons and argued that: “The right to vote is the most fundamental tenet of democracy and yet millions do not exercise it.”

In Australia, where a similar law exists, 93% of the public voted in the last General Election. This compares to just 65% in the UK – when 16 million registered voters did not vote.

Personally, I do not favour making it illegal to fail to vote. I would give everyone who votes five lottery tickets – with a chance to win a million pounds. Such an approach would encourage voting.

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