Saturday, 8 March 2014
8 of 30
Today is International Women's day and The Independent newspaper contains a series of inspirational quotes from and about influential women - here's my favourite from Rebecca West, now dead, but an important writer and thinker in her day.
"I myself have never been able to find out precisely what a feminist is. I only know that people call me a feminist when I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."
I had a look to see what the Scottish Labour Party had to say about International Women's Day which is not a lot although the UK party website is banging on about women being £26 a week worse off, allegedly, under the present Coalition Government.
Well all I would say is that women lost out to an even greater extent over Equal Pay when the last Labour Government was in power - I would say by around £5,000 a year or £100 a week when you compare the pay differentials between traditional male and female council jobs.
And that was allowed to happen under a Labour Government's watch - a government that was in power for 13 long years with an overall majority at Westminster, of course.
The nonsense of Labour's 'transformed' relations with the trade unions is exposed by the sudden 50% cut in the number of members affiliated to the Labour Party by Unite.
Len McCluskey has decided virtually overnight that he can no longer defend affiliating 100% of Unite's members to the Labour Party because it's as plain as the nose on his face that most of Unite's members don't vote Labour.
In fact, in Scotland the majority of trade union members support the SNP and in England there are bound to be lots of Unite members who vote for UKIP.
Now the GMB union has cut its affiliation to the Labour Party by 90%, but how can there be such a big difference between the two trade unions - neither 90% or 50% really makes any sense to any reasonable person at least.
The whole desperate business is about maintaining the influence of a handful of union bosses in Labour's internal affairs - on the pretext that they are representing and reflecting the views of ordinary union members.
Which is patently absurd, if you ask me.
Unite union cuts Labour funding by £1.5m
Ed Miliband says funding changes will transform Labour into a mass movement
The Unite union is to cut the amount it pays Labour in affiliation fees by half to £1.5m, its executive has decided.
The move follows Ed Miliband's reforms to the Labour-union funding link, agreed at a conference last weekend.
Unite said it would still try to "maximise" the number of its supporters backing the party ahead of the next general election.
Labour said it had always acknowledged that its "ambitious" changes would have "financial consequences".
The GMB union decided last year to cut its affiliation fees by 90%.
Historically, millions of union members have been automatically affiliated to Labour, but Mr Miliband has argued that few take part in campaigning activities or even vote in general elections.
In future by allowing union members to actively opt in to be a supporter, for a £3 fee, Mr Miliband says Labour can be transformed into a genuine "mass movement".
The new opt-in arrangements will apply immediately for new union members, and within five years for existing members.
Following a meeting on Wednesday, Unite - the UK's biggest union - said it would affiliate 500,000 members to the party in 2014 and would review the number annually.
The union had affiliated one million members, worth £3m a year to Labour, so the move will effectively cut funding by about £1.5m.
In a statement, it said: "The union will rapidly prepare a plan to ensure that we maximise the number of our political levy-paying members who express support for our continuing collective affiliation, and who take advantage of the possibility of becoming associated members of the party."
It added: "When the leader of the party announced his intention to seek changes in the Labour-union relationship in summer 2013, he made it clear that he did not think it appropriate that the party continue to accept affiliation fees from those who had not actively assented to such payments. Unite accepted that principle at the time."
'Same old Labour'
Unite's executive also authorised general secretary Len McCluskey to respond to any requests for additional financial assistance from Labour, with a general election just over a year away.
A Labour spokesman said: "We have always acknowledged that the ambitious reforms to change the Labour Party and the way politics is done in this country would have financial consequences."
He added: "Our members and small donors already give us more money than the trade unions, and the introduction of affiliated supporters and the growth of registered supporters gives us new opportunities to change our funding base in favour of many small donors rather than a few big ones."
Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party, argued the move by Unite demonstrated that Mr Miliband's reforms were "another short-term gimmick that's unravelling as soon as it's been announced".
He added: "Len McCluskey is deeper in the driving seat than ever, controlling the Labour Party's purse strings going into the general election.
"Labour policy will continue to be dictated by union barons rather than the long term interests of Britain. It means more borrowing, more spending and more taxes - hitting families across the country and making us all less secure. It's the same old Labour Party."
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Catalonia is part of the sovereign Spanish state and at the moment the central government in Madrid takes the view that referendum on independence for Catalonia would be unconstitutional - and could not proceed without the agreement of the rest of Spain.
Now this is quite different to the situation in the UK where a referendum on Scottish independence is being held on 18 September 2014 - the difference being that the UK government has agreed that a referendum should take place although the only people who will get to vote are those living in Scotland.
The rest of the UK does not have a veto and this all seems pretty reasonable and democratic - the rules having been worked out by politicians without resorting to violence or force, which is as it should be of course.
Yet in Crimea, a foreign country in the shape of Russia is clearly interfering in the affairs of Ukraine which is a bit like France invading the north eastern part of Spain (Catalonia) and inviting its people to vote on tearing up the Spanish constitution - because of its historical and cultural links with France which date back to the Middle Ages.
Makes you think about what Russia is all about under President Putin who has effectively encouraged the invasion of a neighbouring country without even trying to resolve issues in Ukraine by diplomacy and with the assistance of the United Nations.
I enjoyed this blog by Dan Hodges in The Telegraph which highlights the unresolved and schizophrenic nature of the Labour Party - just what does it stand for these days?
Dan illustrates his point by reference to a special party conference which cheered Ed Miliband to the rafters, only to do the very same thing when Len McCluskey followed the Labour leader to the rostrum - to deliver a very different, if not diametrically, opposed message.
Now the Labour Party has always regarded itself as a 'board church' with a wide spectrum of views to the left and right.
But I agree with Dan that this complicates what Labour is trying to say to the electorate does the party really believe that in the 21st century trade union members need to have their views communicated through a handful of union bosses?
I think not.
Labour doesn't need Tony Blair's cash. It needs to work out what it stands for
By Dan Hodges
Tony Blair is in talks with Labour about making a 'large donation'. (Photo: Andrew Crowley)
On Saturday I attended Labour’s special conference at the Excel centre in London’s Docklands. In about 30 or 40 years' time, as I sit in my rocking chair, pipe in hand, wide-eyed children may look up at me, and in breathless voices say “Really Grandad? You were actually at Labour’s 2014 special conference? The one where Labour showed it had the courage to change, to think about the people we all meet in our daily lives, and not fall for the myth that they don’t care?”
But somehow I doubt it. Not least because it would imply I had grandchildren recruited directly from the ranks of some 21st-century version of the young communist pioneers.
There’s been lots of spin about how Saturday marked a seismic shift in the nature of the “historic link” between Labour and the unions. It doesn’t, but it won’t be until we’ve seen the forthcoming Labour election manifesto and the next Labour leadership contest has been conducted, (not to mention the publication of the final report of the shadowy Implementation Group that’s been tasked with ironing out the details of the new “reforms”) before this truth becomes apparent.
But although the gathering at the Excel won’t prove to be historic, it was interesting in what it revealed about the current psychology of the Labour movement.
There were two key moments. The first was when Ed Miliband stood up and made his pitch for change. “Today, we won’t just be voting to open our doors. We’ll be voting for the biggest transfer of power in the history of our party to our members and supporters,” he said. He was cheered to the rafters.
The second significant moment came a few minutes later, when Unite leader Len McCluskey walked to the podium. Now, as you’ll recall Miliband’s reforms were a direct response to Unite’s actions in Falkirk. In fact, the entire conference was a direct response to Unite’s actions in Falkirk. And though heavily coded, Miliband’s speech – the one that had just been cheered to the rafters by the Labour delegates – was a direct response to Unite’s actions in Falkirk.
“Let me make one thing clear,” McCluskey proclaimed. “The party has said it. The police – who should never have been involved – have said it, and I am saying it again today: my union did nothing wrong [in Falkirk] … let me finally say to those elements outside the party who seek to edge us out. This is our party – and we’re going nowhere!” And Len McCluskey was cheered to the rafters as well.
Miliband presented himself as the man who was diluting the power of the unions. Len McCluskey presented himself as the man who wanted to defend their power. And the Labour Party embraced both of them.
This contradiction has been presented as “discipline”. It’s not discipline. It’s political schizophrenia.
Before Saturday I’d come to the view that the Left had won the battle for control of Labour. I was wrong. No one has control of Labour. This is one of the fundamental problems facing Miliband’s party. Unlike in 1981 (the Bennites) and 1985 (the Kinnockites) and 1994, (the Blairites) there has been no definitive political settlement.
This morning it’s just been announced that Tony Blair is preparing to make a “big contribution” to Labour’s coffers, to offset predicted loss of income from the unions. What the hell is that all about?
Ever since Miliband was elected, we’ve been told his entire political plan revolved around moving Labour beyond the Blair/Brown years. You may agree with that plan, you may disagree with that plan. But it sent a clear signal about Labour’s direction of political travel. As did Miliband’s stated desire at Saturday’s conference to open politics up to “ordinary people”. How does that fit with the news that Blair is about to become Miliband’s sugar daddy?
Some people will claim this is evidence Labour is a “broad church”. It doesn’t. It shows Labour isn’t a church at all. It’s just a large room with lots of people shouting wholly contradictory things at one another, while people huddle around saying “Hell yes, I agree with that! Oh, wait, hang on a minute. What did he just say?”
Ideology can be the mortal enemy of good politics and good governance. And while pragmatism may be unfashionable, it remains the most valuable of political virtues.
But all political parties – particularly parties of opposition – have to have some basic philosophical core. That’s because if they don’t, they simply wander around aimlessly trying out every passing political fad, and entertaining every passing political snake-oil salesman, when they should instead be settling on a clear path to power.
At present Labour is pursuing what’s called the 35 per cent strategy. That involves appealing to disillusioned Lib Dems and former Labour supporters who left the party over Iraq. I think it’s a daft strategy, but it does at least have the virtue of being a strategy. The problem is it also involves reaching out to people who basically think Blair is the Antichrist.
Now it may well be Miliband has suddenly seen the light, and realised he needs to broaden his appeal. He may also feel Blair will be a valuable asset in defining his One Nation brand. Fine. But in that case he needs to get out and say to his party: “Look, I know some of you may not like Tony, but he’s an important part of what I’m trying to do politically. And if I gave you the impression its time to dump him, that was wrong. Here’s why.”
Make the case. Have the fight. Secure the settlement.
But as things stand, Miliband’s political philosophy – so far as it has been articulated since he became Labour leader – is simply not compatible with Blair’s political philosophy. Nor, in truth, is it compatible with McCluskey’s political philosophy. And don’t even try to start finding the common ground between the philosophies of Blair and McCluskey themselves.
Sooner or later the Labour party is going to have to stop shouting contradictory thinks at itself and make a choice. Is it Miliband’s party? Is McCluskey’s party? Or is it Blair’s party?
Labour doesn't need Blair’s cash. It needs a settlement.
I watched the BBC's Daily Politics programme the other day which included an interview with Margaret Prosser, now Baroness or Lady Prosser, a former deputy general secretary of Unite, the trade union, if I remember correctly.
Now setting aside for the moment the business of senior trade union figures accepting seats in the unelected House of Lords, my ears pricked up when I heard Margaret say that something had to be done about the trend towards ever bigger trade unions.
Which I've been banging on about for years, of course.
But it's good to hear that other people share my point of view because 'super sized' trade unions are bad for ordinary union members if you ask me, because they tend to become increasingly remote and unrepresentative of their members.
And if these unions recruit staff at senior levels who are drawn from a very narrow band of party politics, then the results are all too predictable - you end up with a chum club instead of a body which reflects and represents the views of the wider union membership.
Supersize Me (21 January 2012)
Britain's union bosses (the Bubs) are always banging on about the need for healthy competition on the high street - and the benefits of cutting the big banks down to size.
But the unions are allowed to play by very different rules themselves - seems like they just keep on getting bigger and bigger - and growing in size.
The latest union merger on the cards is one between Unite and PCS (the civil service union) - both of whom are on a collision course with the government over public sector pensions.
A new union would have a combined membership of 1.8 million members - in effect a new super union would be created - which would dwarf second placed Unison with only 1.3 million members.
But of course Unison and GMB have already been in merger talks for some time - and if they agree to tie the knot - then only two unions would represent 3.6 million people - the bulk of the UK's union membership.
At a time when big monopoly suppliers of services - generally speaking - have acquired a pretty bad name for being able to dictate terms to their customers - because of the lack of choice and inability to take their business elsewhere.
The creation of these ever-bigger 'super-size' unions also has big implications for the Labour party.
Because as everyone knows the trade unions effectively decided the outcome of the recent Labour leadership elections - both Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont owe their positions to union votes - from GMB, Unison and Unite.
So in future only two Bubs may have this level of influence and if the trend continues, who knows - maybe there will be just one.
Now there are some arguments to be made for 'big is best' - including the usual ones about economies of scale and so forth.
But the problem with the trade union sector is that it is almost entirely unregulated - ordinary union members have nowhere to go if they have a complaint - in terms of an independent outside body at least.
If these mergers were taking place in the private sector - they would be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission - which happened recently when News International trying to buy Sky TV.
In addition other parts of society - both public and private - what goes on is regulated by a whole host of public watchdogs - and while you can argue about their effectiveness in some cases - at least they exist.
Here's what I had to say on the subject back in November 2009.
Smaller Banks, Bigger Unions (November 6th 2009)
Much has been said - and written - this week about cutting the big high street banks down to size.
Apparently everyone now believes that smaller banks are good for us. Because smaller banks means more banks - that have to compete with one another - and the resulting competition is good for customers.
The big guy always finds it much harder to beat up on the little guy - if the little guy can just take his or her business elsewhere.
So far, so good - sounds reasonable enough.
But isn't it interesting that while the big banks are being forced to become smaller - to get closer to their customers - that trade unions in the UK are becoming ever larger and more remote from their members.
The latest move towards another super union - see post dated 16 September 2009 - is the planned merger between GMB and Unison - which would create a union of around 2 million members.
But Unison itself is the product of an arranged marriage of what used to be three separate unions - COSHE, NALGO and NUPE - which tied the knot to become Unison in 1993.
And this latest giant union is all about keeping up with the Joneses, in the shape of Unite - currently the largest union in the land with 1.5 million members - and itself the product of a previous merger between Amicus and the old transport union, TGWU.
The fact is that these new super unions are run just like giant businesses - except that they are not as well regulated as businesses - arguably they are subject to less scrutiny than your average corner shop.
In terms of service standards - ordinary union members do not have an independent body to turn to for support, if they have a problem or complaint - there is no equivalent of the Financial Services Ombudsman, for example.
In future, union members will get even less choice from these mega unions - which all give huge sums of money to the Labour Party - despite the fact that the great majority of union members support other parties - or no party at all.
The present government has no interest in making the union more accountable to their members - because the Labour Party is so heavily dependent on the trade unions for financial support.
But it will be interesting to see what happens after the next general election - maybe the unions will be forced to move with the times. A healthy dose of external and independent scrutiny - would certainly help the unions become more accountable to their members.
I am getting a bit confused over the pro-union parties attitude towards the possibility of Scotland voting for independence and standing on its own two feet.
Now, in principle, all the other parties concede that this is perfectly feasible, that Scotland is a highly educated country with a successful economy and an embarrassment of natural riches - in other words perfectly able to find its own way in the world.
I presume this is said because the Westminster based parties wish to avoid getting people's backs up by labelling the Scots 'subsidy junkies', so the positive message is that we are 'Better Together' rather than - 'Without the rest of the UK Scotland is a real basket case'.
So far so good which means it's not a case of you can't, rather that we're all better sticking together because we're such great friends with years of history in common.
But when the Scottish Government says that it favours keeping the pound and a monetary union, if the Scottish people a vote Yes vote in September's independence referendum, the answer is 'No, you can't' - because the Westminster parties (Tory, Labour and Lib Dem) all say that they won't play ball.
Which seems a bit odd and un-neighbourly to me.
Yet even when Plan B is put on the table - an informal monetary union in which the Scottish pound shadows the 'rest of the UK' pound, the Better Together team says 'No, you can't do that either'.
And to add insult to injury Better Together campaigners also say that they will do everything they possibly can to block Scotland's continuing membership of the European Union which would prevent Scotland from joining the Euro at some future date.
All I can say is that with friends like Better Together, who needs enemies?