Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Iraq:reasonable concerns

11 years after the American led invasion of Iraq the Chilcot Inquiry has not been published. The Inquiry was established to learn lessons from the 2003 invasion and the bloody aftermath. They were to look at the way decisions were made and actions taken.

Amongst the questions we can reasonably expect to be explored are; how clearly were the war aims agreed, what was the exit planning like, how effective were the various phases of the war, was there mission creep etc.

In addition have we a policy towards the Kurds? The Kurds appear to be the one coherent group in the territory of Iraq. Is it stills our policy to maintain the borders drawn up by Sykes Picot in the aftermath of the break up of the Ottoman Empire. If we are prepare to contemplate a redrawing of boundaries what do our allies in Turkey think and what impact does it have on the outcome in Syria?

It strikes me very forcibly that General Petraeus had all the combined might of the US armed forces, supplemented by his allies- including ground troops, and they could not suppress the uprising amongst the tribesman that are now supporting Islamic State. What hope is there for air power alone and does dropping bombs on innocent civilians win their hearts and minds? The US led coalition spent recession inducing sums of money equipping and training the Iraqi army. That strategy failed. Why will it work this time?

There are many other examples across the world of vile groups who torture and murder and who have the potential to strike the UK. Why are we not going after them? The insurgent group in Nigeria are clearly as unpleasant as Islamic State. What about the actions of Russia in mainland Europe invading other sovereign states and arming terrorists?

I fear that this comes under the heading of : 'it is so awful something must be done'. If the Chilcot Inquiry had been publish we could have learnt the lessons from the last war and sought to mitigate them-with all the information available we may even have concluded that this was not the best course of action. This war may not being begun with the contempt for international law which was the hall mark of the engagement under the Labour government, but it is hard to be re-assured that the lessons have been learned and that mistakes will not be repeated.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Labour 'lite' and late again on decentralisation

Today were see launched plans for City State devolution within England. These are by their very nature inadequate as a response to what is happening in Scotland with Devo Max. We should remember that Glasgow has the biggest City Deal worth £90billion, it is not an alternative to the Scottish parliament it is as well as. We need to recapture our confidence in Regionalism if we are to have an adequate answer to the challenge, and then we need to make afresh the federalist case.

I was watching John Prescott getting a hard time in Rutherglen on the TV last evening. What a wholly unconvincing advocate of decentralisation he proved to be. There should be no surprise there, it was he who produced the pathetic proposals for NE devolution which were so bad they scuppered devolution within England-even now Labour's proposals on tax powers for a Scottish Parliament if there is a No vote and 'lite' compared even to the Tories let alone Ming Campbell's Commission.

I have for 40 years or more been an un ashamed advocate of federalism both within the UK and on a wider European level. I remember watching Callaghan rejecting the idea of federalism with an evident distaste for a 'foreign' idea.

Back in early July I was arguing for real powers to be devolved-and preferably entrenched in a written constitution.

Just judging by our ruling Labour party in Sefton 'democratic centralism' is part of their DNA. It was always deep in the soul of the Labour party who at every turn have rejected decentralisation in favour of central control and conformity. David Marquand charts the debates in 1945 for a localised Health Service and how that was lost by spurious arguments for uniformity and efficiency. (put in link)

It must be admitted that there are some in the Labour party who raise their heads to argue an alternative case-the late John Mackintosh, Evan Luard amongst others. The present MP Graham Allen is also raising important ideas in his new Magna Carat initiative.

Anyway I thought it was appropriate to reproduce the posting I wrote in early July:

I am mightily unimpressed by the consensus on Northern devolution that is emerging in London. We will face new challenges post the Scottish referendum whether it results in 'Independence' or Devo Max. None of the 'lite' proposals emanating from  the SE-whether from Heseltine, Osborne, Clegg or the Labour Party -adequately take account of the new challenges we face. Let us compare and contrast the proposals.

The Scottish Challenge

  • The Scottish Parliament already has significant powers and now even the Tories are proposing to give them more. Win or loose the referendum the Hollywood Parliament is going to have tax raising powers which may include: 
  • control over income tax, bands and rates,
  • powers over inheritance tax and capital gains tax,
  • existing powers over Stamp Duty,
  • land fill levy,
  • the aggregates levy and air passenger duty
  • corporation tax
  • New powers to borrow to balance the economic cycle and take long term decisions on investment
In addition to that package those of us advocating a federal solution for Britain would wish to see a further diffusion of power to local government and communities. Ming Campbell's Commission recommended;
  • Financial freedoms for local authorities
  • Removal of powers for Ministers to over rule local authorities
  • Power over council tax and business rates to rest with Local Authorities
  • General powers of competence
  • Requiring Councils to raise roughly half their money
The Commission added

'The Commission goes further in recommending new rights for local communities to take over services in their areas and to require the co-operation of councils, national government and quangos to do so. The recommendations also offer the opportunity to local communities to establish new burgh councils or other mechanisms if they want to put in place clear local control of services.
The final recommendation entrenches local government as envisaged by the original (Scottish) constitutional convention. 

Besides this what is the North being offered?

Well Mark Tavernier's chorus from the Liberator Song book may be the appropriate response. The North is paying a heavy price for John Prescott's incompetence when he brought in the pathetic proposals for  Devo Minimums that were rejected by the North East .

What is on offer now is not a lot better. It is based on the current fad for Balkanising the North into warring City States with few real powers. It is the perfect Whitehall solution to decentralisation of power within England-hand over as little as possible, 'nothing you would notice', but behave as if the proposals are truly radical.

Jim Hancock reflected that:....'by contrast the North of England is bought off by City Deals, Combined Authorities, Elected Mayors, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Regional Growth Funds.'. He continues

'Let’s remember that this demand for Scottish independence has been driven since the 1970s by economic grievances, largely centred on North Sea oil. In that it differs from independence movements in Quebec and Catalonia where political and cultural factors are more to the fore.

Then there is the dramatic effect independence would have on British politics. 59 Scottish Labour MPs would be out of Westminster. The party that relies on London, the north and Scotland to form a government would be very lucky ever to see power at Westminster again. The Tories, with their strength in southern England, would be bound to reflect those interests at the expense of the North.

We need to hope for a no vote, but prepare to welcome the headquarters of Scottish based multi nationals relocating in the North after independence rather than London and demand a Council of the North to give northern business and people real strategic and economic power here'

If we are serious about federalism then we need a Council of the North to administer the sort of strategic economic powers that Scotland will achieve post referendum. The present architecture for devolution is simply inadequate.

One key flaw in the proposals that is felt very keenly in vast tracts of the North is simply stated-we do not all live and work in Cities. The systematic way in which the City centric policies are destroying the economic prosperity of market towns, rural areas and even large boroughs within the region should be unacceptable to us

Part of the Federal proposals drawn up by Ming's Commission that I have quoted above is about decentralisation within Regions. Take Southport as an example. The concentration on Liverpool is undermining our economy. There has just been a major report on Rail Strategy for the City region. It ignores Southport. Our great need is to re-open our transport connections to the North and the East-our traditional hinterland. Our economy which is founded on tourism and retail  requires people to be able to get here easily. Since the wretched county of Merseyside has been created we have seen very little investment in those essential links. Everything has been poured into the narrow corridor to the South. Our retail offer is competing with Liverpool One which has had bucket loads of investment and will shortly get enhanced rail links. We regularly have business rates reduced because of the impact of Liverpool One. Our Conference trade is equally impacted. If it is difficult to get here why bother coming? And now our residents are meant to be pleased to see their council tax being spent to further scupper our economy. In significant part the decisions made in the 1970's made this inevitable

The North needs to plan across the whole region. We need real power decentraliseded. And just as Highlanders are seeking devolution in Scotland so those of us outside of the big cities require that our economic needs are catered for.We need the powers of this new constitutional settlement enshrined in a written constitution so that the are truly diffused not merely devolved for a season. From London The North may just be the cities -it is much more than that.

Jim Hancock, who I quoted above, has I think got it right when he writes that even if there is a Lab/Con consensus on the 'lite' form of devolution the civil service will scupper it.

 It is secretive and bitterly opposed to any policy that would take power and influence away from Whitehall. It is the Civil Service. They used to wear bowler hats, now they are less identifiable. Their appearance might change but they’re basic attitude to the North will never change.
They know little about our area. They regard the North as a place populated with people with begging bowls, trying to get money which they haven’t the expertise to spend. They sometimes acknowledge people like Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese, but generally believe northern politicians are Town Hall minnows who can’t be trusted with the cash. ( I would add that Mind you Mark Dowd and his like during the long spell in charge of Merseytravel did there best to conform to that negative stereotype IBB ) At a recent conference I heard one former senior Treasury official bragging that as far as civil servants are concerned there never has been a regional policy.
This situation has prevailed for many decades even when there were civil servants in regional government offices. Some tried to make a difference, most couldn’t wait for a posting back to London.
Tony Blair invaded Iraq but he never had the guts to demand his civil servants implement John Prescott’s vision for well resourced development agencies democratically controlled by assemblies. We elect the politicians and they should tell the civil servants, with the threat of dismissal, to get on with what the elected government propose.
So let’s see what happens after the election. Both parties want to devolve money and power to the North. I forecast the civil service will first of all go slow, then the Treasury will reduce the money available, then the powers will be trimmed.

It is this context that John Pugh, speaking at his adoption meeting in Southport last week, called for a 'Peoples' Convention of the North' rather like the Scottish Convention that ushered in the Holyrood Parliament. We need to get on with the task of creating a Federal constitution which doesn't treat England as a unitary state. If Scotland had been offered a City Deal for Edinburgh and Glasgow instead of a Parliament I can guess their response.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Why have Bootle Labour got such a big problem with women?

Here is a list of Bootle's MP's


We are told that Bootle Labour Party are meeting to select a new candidate to fight the 2015 General
Election having dispensed with Joe Benton.              


1885Thomas Myles SandysConservative
1911 by-electionAndrew Bonar LawConservative
1918Sir Thomas Royden, Bt.Coalition Conservative
1922James BurnieLiberal
1924Vivian Leonard HendersonConservative
1929John KinleyLabour
1931Chichester de Windt CrookshankConservative
1935Eric ErringtonConservative
1945John KinleyLabour
1955Simon MahonLabour
1979Allan RobertsLabour
1990 by-electionMichael CarrLabour
1990 by-electionJoe BentonLabour

Here is another list of all the people who have been Mayor of Bootle:

Nov 1869 William Geves
1870--75-76 Thomas P Danson
1871-72 William Molyneux
1873 William Geves
1874 George Barnes
1877 Louis W Heintz
1878 John Newell
1879 John P McArthur
1880-81 William Poulsom
1882-83 James Webster
1884 James Leslie
1885 Matthew Hill
1886 William Jones
1887 John Howard
1888 John Wells
1889 Benjamin Cain
1890-91 John Vicars
1892 William Thomas
1893-94 Benjamin Sands Johnson
1895-96 Isac Alexander Mack
1897 John McMurray
1898 William Robert Brewster
1899 George Lamb
1900 Peter Ascroft
1901 George Samuel Wild
1902 William Henry Clemmey
1903 James Julius Metcalf
1904 Owen Kendrick Jones
1905 Robert Edward Roberts
1906 Alfred Rutherford
1907 James Person
1908 George Randall
1909 Hugh Carruthers
1910 James Rodger Barbour
1911 John William Edwin Smith
1912 William Henry Clemmey
1913 John Rafter
1914 George Alexander Cassady
1915 James Pearson
1916 Benjamin Edward Bailey
1917 James Pearson
1918-19 Harry Pennington
1920-21 John Henry Johnston
1922 Thomas Alfred Patrick
1923 Robert Turner
1924 Birty Wolfenden
1925 Thomas Harris
1926 Frederick William King
1927-28 Edmund Gardner
1929 Simon Mahon
1930 Donald Samuel Eaton
1931 Arthur Hankey
1932 James Scott
1933 Maurice Stanley Webster
1934 Edwin Smith
1935 John William Clark
1936 James Burnie
1937 James O'Neill
1938 Nicholas Cullen
1939 James Spence
1940-41 Joseph Sylvester Kelly
1941-42 James Stubbs Riley
1942-43 Richard Owen Jones
1943-44 George Alfred Rogers
1944-45 William Keenan
1945-46 John Thomas Hackett
1946-47 Harry Oswald Cullen
1947-48 Thomas Harris
1948-49 Thomas Harris
1949-50 C G Anderson
1950-51 David Berger Black
1951-52 Robert James Rogerson
1952-53 Mark Connolly
1953-54 R J Rainford
1954-55 P Mahon
1955-56 T A Cain JP
1956-57 Dr I Harris JP
1957-58 A S Moore JP
1958-59 Ald J C Hevey
1959-60 Hugh Baird
1960-61 Joseph Samuel Kelly
1961-62 Joseph Sylvester Kelly
1962-63 S Mahon
1963-64 J Morley
1964-65 TE Dooley
1965-66 G Williams
1966-67 J Grimley
1967-68 Mrs Veronica Bray
1968-69 O Ellis
1969-79 H Gee
1970-71 F Morris
1971-72 G Halliwell
1972-73 J Murray
You will notice that since 1869, that is145 years, only ONE women has held either office. Step forward Mrs Veronica Bray, she was Bootle's only ever female Mayor.

Surely, I hear you ask, since 1973 and the inception of Sefton the Labour party has nominated a women. There have been Labour Mayor's a plenty -we have even be treated to the same man THREE times-but no women.

If there is an argument for all women short lists then surely Bootle should be a prime candidate. Left to their own devices I think you can guess the outcome..........

Time to re-think post election strategy?

As we all mull over the scenarios that could arise after an election it is time to debate what the party's approach should be. I fear 'ex cathedra' statement from the Leader's bunker. I have a couple of matter to start the ball rolling.

Way back at the dawn of time when Jeremy Thorpe was Leader and David Steel (to whom we shall return) was Chief Whip, I recall much discussion about under what conditions we would form a coalition and it what circumstances 'supply and confidence' would be the best option. In 2010 we didn't have that discussion. Chris Rennard did try, and Paddy did listen but sadly Clegg did not. Back in the 70's I recally the view was that a small party -even with a big electoral mandate-should not venture into a coalition. Then, as now, it is perfectly possible that we could land up with the balance of power and only have 30 seats. Unlike post '74 the chance of us landing up with 25+% of the vote are diminishingly small.

Having observed the present coalition and the way the party has failed to maintain a separate identity with getting on for double that number of MP's I cannot see it is possible to maintain an idependent party in a coalition with so few MP's. All our reps would need to be involved in the government and nobody could speak for the party. The near wipe out of the party in great swathes of the country would be worse. Thank in large part to Clegg's poor leadership-especially in the early days-it would be hard to justify wielding great influence on a government with only 10% of the vote. We have failed with more than double that.

My conclusion is that we need to look at 'Supply and Confidence' much more carefully as both Chris Rennard and David Howarth have suggested. No Ministerial cars, no Rose garden and no tuition fees, but with a clearer focus on the long term interests of the party-and needless to say I think the Country benifits from the survival of a Liberal Party.

David Steel has made much the same point in his radio interview with Peter Hennessy

Lord Steel was also critical of the way his party handled coalition negotiations after the 2010 general election, suggesting the option of doing a deal with Labour should have been explored a bit more before a deal was struck with the Conservatives. "It was done with unseemly haste," he said of the discussions, which took place over five days.

Steel goes on to discuss the second point that I think we have not debated properly-namely to whom do we speak. Clegg rather bounced us into the imprecise formula of the 'biggest party' first. It raises the issue what if the party with the larger number of MP's has a smaller popular vote than the lead opposition party?

Steel says:

"But it was also done the wrong way round by talking to David Cameron first and, in fact, the incumbent prime minister should have been talked to first. "I think if that had happened, Gordon Brown would have done his statesmanlike thing and come out and said he was resigning as leader of the Labour Party much earlier and the party would have had much more clout with the Conservative Party because they would have been seen to be talking to their more natural allies first."

Now I do understand that Steel is being overtly political here and I agree with him. We should be in politics to achieve political ends. The largest party is a foolish formual. If in the Netherlands the PVV landed up as the largest party (and in 2010 they were not that far away) would we expect D66 to sit down with them? In Brirain 2015 with UKIP forcing the already extreme Tory party further towards a right wing anti immigrant, anti EU, neoliberal poistion surley they would be beyond the pale?