‘Labour’s contempt of the working classes’

Article by Michael Collins, published in the 21st November 2014 edition of the Independent – supplied by Worcester Lib Dem Chairman, Mike Mullins

What is striking about the Emily Thornberry affair is not that a Labour minister has “shown contempt for the working class”, as has been suggested, but that this should be a surprise.

This contempt wasn’t a clause in the party’s constitution, but increasingly it came close to being a policy within the past fifty years – finally becoming official in the 1990s when the Labour government embraced an open-door approach to immigration, fully aware that it would be opposed by the masses. And so – it didn’t tell them. It kept the news within its ranks in the hallowed halls of Westminster, and at north London dinner parties far from the postcodes where white vans are parked and the flag of St George flies. Well, it certainly smelt like contempt.

Part of the Labour party story – beyond the fleeting triumphs and the false dawns – has been that of championing an image of the working class, while showing contempt for the working class that fails to fit this image.  Way back, this was anyone who wanted to own their own home, run their own business, watch ITV, send their kids to grammar school, or live next door to people they felt they had something in common with. This changed over time, thankfully. The party realised that the multitude didn’t exist in some folksy, prelapsarian, mythical north somewhere in the 1930s.

The perennials of unemployment, housing lists and the north-south divide persisted, but essentially the outlook and the aspirations of the working class changed.  What didn’t was the party’s failure to address concerns among the multitude – immigration, multiculturalism, Europe –  that didn’t fit with the image in which it had cast the average bloke, whoever he was. (As a cub reporter the late Gilbert Harding charged into a pub and bellowed: “Where will I find the average man?” Only to discover that every example was the exception to the rule).

From the off, those early supporters of the Labour party, the Fabians Beatrice and Sidney Webb,  showed contempt for the leisure of the working class. Those steeped in the internationalism of the hard left, and the self-loathing of the soft-centre, never understood the patriotism of the British working class – something that was an extension of the neighbourhood, as surely as this was an extension of the street, and the street an extension of the home, for those that had little else to align themselves with. Along with  this came an insularity, localism, collectivism (that was celebrated), but equally, a negative reaction to outsiders arriving en masse and changing the cultural landscape (which was condemned).

Seeing the image tweeted by Labour’s now former shadow attorney general, it’s as though this concept of the working class is being held up to ridicule. The absence of an accompanying comment appears to underline this. Thornberry’s fatal faux pas has been compared with that of Gordon Brown’s almighty  slip-up, when he was heard to refer to Labour voter Gillian Duffy as a bigot for daring to raise the taboo of immigration. Chances are this might have a similar impact.

Emily Thornberry claims there was no malice aforethought in her eagerness to keep her Twitter followers updated on her day out. It was simply that she never comes across such sights on the Islington street in which she lives. But we all live in a culture where such cries of innocuousness and innocence are redundant. It’s a culture that the Labour party itself has created – a false triumph you could argue – and now it has come along and bitten one of its own on the rear. Before, and certainly beyond the era of the Macpherson Report and its thought crime of “unwitting prejudice”, we had to be seen to be offended, and often on the behalf of others; of being guilty until proven innocent; of giving interpretation precedence over intention. How ironic, that it should now be a character so much part of that culture who has been condemned and forced to apologise and resign – the very stereotype and caricature, no less: a multi-millionaire, Islington-living, Labour minister who married well, and created her riches in the nebulous but lucrative field of human rights law.

The stereotypical white van man with his St George flag, must be absolutely relishing this as he prepares to give his vote to another party. Just like so many of his number in Rochester, Clacton, and Heywood and Middleton.

For more info on the Worcester Liberal Democrats, follow us on Twitter @worcesterlibs

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Fox Hunting : Tories Show Their True Colours

Once again the Tories prove themselves to be a party for the few and not the many. Fox hunting was outlawed in 2004, following a Private Members Bill from the then Labour MP for Worcester, Mike Foster.

Despite the majority of the population feeling that the hunting and killing of foxes for leisure is inappropriate and antiquated, many Tory backbenches feel that the ban should be repealed. In fact, the only reason a free vote in the Commons on the issue has not taken place during this parliament, is because of Liberal Democrat pressure.

As Lib Dems we believe in libertarianism and freedom, however this does include the liberty to be cruel. Similar ‘animal sports’ such as dog and cock fighting were outlawed, and rightly so, and it is hard to imagine the Tories supporting the reinstatement of these. The only reason they support the reintroduction of fox hunting is because of pressure from certain backbenchers with links to pressure groups, such as the Countryside Alliance. This, along with the far right euro-sceptic wing, shows a party divided and more interested in fighting each other than the problems this country faces.

The Conservatives will try to lift the fox hunting ban if the party wins May’s general election.

The party will offer a free vote in the next Parliament to legalise hunting if the party wins in May, The Telegraph can disclose.

The news has emerged on Boxing Day, traditionally the biggest day of the hunting calendar when thousands of supporters turn out to watch their local hunts.

The party’s manifesto is set to say that the Hunting Act is wrong-headed and a future Tory government would try to repeal it.

The decision will be on a free vote of MPs in the House of Commons, echoing the manifesto commitments in 2005 and 2010, and has been agreed with Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister who is drawing up the manifesto.

The Hunting Act 2004, which prohibits the pursuit with hounds of various wild mammals in England and Wales, came into force under Labour in February 2005. The pursuit of foxes with hounds was banned in Scotland in 2003.

Simon Hart, a Tory MP and chief executive of the Countryside Alliance between 2004 and 2010, said: “All the indications are that a commitment will be just as robust as it always has been and there is no reason to believe any changes are intended or planned.”

The wording is likely to be the same as the 2010 party manifesto, which said: “The Hunting Act has proved unworkable. A Conservative government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the hunting act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”

The Coalition agreement then committed to “bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act”.

However the pledge was not delivered on, and few Westminster watchers now expect there to be a vote before May’s general election.

Nick Parrish, parliamentary researcher for the Conservative Rural Action Group, said the party wanted to pledge to bring hunting legislation in line with the law in Scotland.

He said: “What we need is an overall majority to enable the Conservatives to deliver this otherwise we will not. This is something that I and many people in the countryside believe in. It is a matter of freedom and livelihood and should be put right.”

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “We fully expect the Conservative manifesto commitment to repeal of the Hunting Act to be retained in 2015 and repeal or replacement of the Act is matter of trust between the countryside and the Conservatives. If there is a Conservatve majority, or a Conservative led coalition, there must be action on hunting.”

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, was an enthusiastic supporter of hunting before he became Tory leader, riding to hounds with the Heythrop Hunt.

Tory MPs have been left frustrated that one of the final commitments from the 2010 Coalition agreement – for a free vote on hunting – is unlikely to be honoured by the Government before May.

Labour has sought to use the hunting issue to portray the Conservatives, and the Prime Minister personally, as preoccupied with the concerns of a privileged elite, and out of touch with wider public opinion.

In the past, Lynton Crosby, Mr Cameron’s election adviser, is said to have warned ministers that raising the hunting issue would be a damaging distraction from the party’s core election message, which focuses on the economy, welfare and immigration.

A Conservative party spokesman said: “We are still deciding what will be in our manifesto and will outline its contents in due course.”

Article from the Daily Telegraph.

GE2015: The Choice Could Not Be Clearer

The upcoming General Election is set to be one of the most closely fought in a generation. The UK’s two-party system has been blown out if the water and many parties, who for years could only dream of getting elected, are now relishing the prospect of having the balance of power in what is looking like an inevitable hung parliament. The choice you make will have a huge impact on the country. The following article should help you make your decision.

There are 6 parties who could realistically be in government, in one way or another, after the 2015 election. These are the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP and the SNP. You probably already know which one I will be voting for (Look at the web address!). This article is designed to help you, the voter, make an informed choice.

Conservatives – A party who seem to be hell-bent on making life worse for most people whilst maintaining the wealth of the rich. They claim to be making ‘difficult decisions’ which include, incidentally, changing the highest band of tax from 50% to 45% whilst cutting sure start centres and welfare payments for the most vulnerable. George Osborne recently set out what he would do if he were allowed to set his own budgets without a Lib Dem influence which includes a further £50 billion of ideological cuts which would see the state shrink to a size last seen in the 1930’s. A chunk of this would come out of local government, effecting local services such as buses and walk-in health centres.

Recent revelations also suggest a party in complete disarray with Home Secretary, Theresa May reportedly ignoring orders from Cameron after he fired two of her special advisers. It has resulted in a stand-off with May trying to gather support for a leadership challenge, should the Tories lose the election. Can we trust these people to govern us?

Labour – A party trying to distance themselves from the previous Labour regime, but oddly containing many of the same members – Miliband, Harman, Balls, Burnham, Alexander and Benn were all part of the Cabinet that lead the country into the deepest recession in living memory. Do you want to go back to those dark days? More worryingly, the party seems void of new, innovative ideas. On the economy, they have no credible plan to balance the books, only the current account. There is no doubt, that under Labour, borrowing would increase and the UK’s economic recovery put at risk.

They also claim to be the guardians of the NHS, saying that they are the only party that can be trusted with it. Seems very strange considering that the first privatised hospital was Hinchingbrooke in 2007, under the Labour government. They also gave sweeteners to private firms looking to invest in the NHS, something reversed as a result of Lib Dem policy in the current government.

UKIP – A party beautifully described as ‘angry men in suits’ this week by Nick Clegg. Everything seems to be the fault of Eastern European, congestion, housing shortages, unemployment (which is falling!) among other things. On top of this they do seem to attract a wide variety of ‘interesting’ candidates with antiquated views including Roger Helmer, an elected MEP who once supported gay conversion therapy and is against same-sex marriage, along with Kerry Smith, a PPC who was recorded using offensive language towards Asians and homosexuals. Whilst these views are not necessarily the views of the party, the prospect of being governed by people like this is a worrying one indeed.

Greens – A party that has taken over the far-left, abandoned by Labour in the late 1980’s. They make big promises which upon further inspection are unachievable, At council level, they pledge to install cavity wall insulation in ALL houses, without suggesting how to pay for it. They promise to make the ‘living wage’ legislation, against the advice of the independent Low Pay Commission, thus effecting employment numbers. Whilst in principle, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have quite a lot in common, we recognize that the economy and reducing public expenditure is as vital as maintaining public services.

SNP – A one cause party in denial. Their dream of Scottish independence appeared to over for another generation, but Alex Salmond has other ideas. Even though Scotland voted against independence, he is willing to jeopardise the prospects of businesses again by pushing for greater autonomy, through Westminster, pushing Scotland further away from the UK. No does not mean no to this party and voters should be aware that every move they make is geared towards one thing; independence.

So this leaves only one party…..the Lib Dems. Whilst mistakes have been made, largely due to only having 1/6 of the power in the cabinet, many of the policies set out in the 2010 manifesto have been carried out. The pupil premium, free school meals, taking 26 million out of tax the list goes on. When a pledge was broken, Clegg offered an unreserved apology – when have you ever seen a politician do that! In addition, Lib Dems ensured that average monthly repayments for graduates fell! So if you want a government that works for a stronger economy and a fairer desire without the ideological austerity of the Conservatives or the irresponsibility of Labour then voting Lib Dem is the way to go.

For more news on the Worcester Lib Dems follow our Twitter page, @worcesterlibs

Clegg: Bite The Ballot Review

On Tuesday evening, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, appeared on Leaders Live – a programme supported by the youth organisation Bite the Ballot; that hopes to raise awareness of politics and political issues amongst young people. Clegg answered questions from a studio audience and from people on Twitter. Below are the main points that were raised.

Introduction : Clegg urged the audience to get involved in politics and to stand up against the ‘politics of fear’ currently dominating British politics (A reference to UKIP? We couldn’t possibly say) He then went on to reference his proudest achievements in government ; the pupil premium and free school meals.

Jobs – Clegg emphasized the need of a strong economy to provide jobs and referenced the drop in youth unemployment and increase in apprenticeships to emphasize how the government has increased opportunities for young people. He went on to say that if involved in the next government he would take more low paid workers out of income tax and make it easier for people to move up the career ladder.

Zero Hours Contracts – Said that exclusive zero hours contracts were ‘deeply exploitative’ and should be outlawed. Also said apprenticeship minimum wage (£2.73) should be abolished and that apprenticeships should be put on the age related minimum wage (£3.71)

Unpaid Internships – Said internships should be about ‘what you know and not who you know’ and should be completely meritocratic. He went on to say that companies that offer work masked as an internship should be clamped down on. In government he has quadrupled the penalties companies can receive for such an offence and increased the number of inspections they have to undergo. He also noted that it is now much easier for the public to report abuses.

Unequal Pay and Gender Discrimination – He noted that the gender pay gap has almost been eliminated for under 40s. For over 40s where gap is still wide, he suggested that all companies should have to publish what their pay back is, thus increasing scrutiny. He also spoke of the increase of women on the boards of FTSE100 companies.

Living Wage – He paid tribute to those who have implemented a living wage, including Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and several councils. However, he stopped short of saying it should be implemented as legislation due to the findings of the low pay commission, an independent body which sets the minimum wage based on maximum job creation. He said disregarding this would be foolish.

(58% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Education – Emphasized the need to help children early – ‘before they’ve hung up their coat on the first day of school’. Referenced policies that help children from disadvantaged backgrounds from the age of 2 and universal childcare and pre-school support for 3-4 year olds. Spoke of the pupil premium that has pumped £2.5bn into schools for disadvantaged children. He added that vocational courses should not be seen as less worthwhile than academic courses – calling the current perception as ‘snobbery’.

Tuition Fees – Explained the reason for his well publicized u-turn, saying that scrapping fees would have been impossible due to economic restraints and a Labour-Conservative consensus against it. He went on to say that he’s ‘learnt his lesson’ and will not make a promise he can’t keep again. He went on to say how the rise actually makes the majority of graduates better off as nothing is paid until they are earning £21,000, up from £15,000 and that no up-front payment is required. Stated that more people from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds are attending university than ever before. When asked about the Scottish paying no tuition fees he said that the system was ‘unsustainable’.

Political Studies in UK – He said that citizenship and sex education should be taught in all schools, including free schools and academies. He also said that he was trying to secure money to publicize the new electoral registration system.

Age of Compulsory Education – Said that he supports the rise from 16 to 18. Went on to say that a 2/3 reduction in bus fares for all 16-21 year olds would be included on the front page on the 2015 general election manifesto.

Gender Equality in School – He said that the best way of promoting this is to have successful women in schools that the girls want to emulate.

(45% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Health – He said that we should ‘cherish, defend, promote and protect’ the NHS.

Mental Health – He said we should end the ‘dickensian’ treatment of mental health in the UK and that it should be put on an equal footing with physical health. NHS constitution has been changed to reflect this and £120 million has been put in to improving waiting times for mental health patients. He added that funding for mental health clinics is now on a par with physical health clinics. He then spoke of the mental health taskforce that he founded and currently chairs. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is the vice-chair. A report is currently due on how to get treatment for children with mental health issues more quickly.

Governance – He said that getting involved locally is the best way. From this people can get involved nationwide. Noted the current trend of decentralisation of power.

NHS Privatisation – Noted that it was actually Labour who introduced private companies into the NHS and that privatisation has slowed under the current government. He said that he has outlawed the practice of giving sweetners to the private sector and that £1 billion extra should be put into the NHS pot, paid for by taxing the rich on their dividends, shares and assets at the same rate as their income. He finished by saying that ‘people should come before profit’.

(60% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Immigration – He said that Britain needs to ‘fair but firm’. He noted the contribution of immigrants to Britain, 1 in 7 companies in Britain set up by foreigners, and that without immigration the NHS would disintegrate. He added the immigrants should be counted in and out as one of the biggest problems regarding immigration is people staying in the UK on expired visas. Illegal immigration needs to be clamped down on and exploitative companies paying migrants less than minimum wage should be reprimanded.

EU – He said the EU is very beneficial as issues such as climate change and cross-boarder crime must be done collectively.He also added that 3 million jobs directly depend on EU membership. He said leaving the EU would be ‘economically self-defeating’.

Benefits – Said that freedom of movement is not the same as freedom to claim and that immigrants should not be entitled to take benefits that they haven’t paid into. He said that the issue was not about race but principle.

Integration – Agreed that immigrants should learn English and that there is greater focus on this at job centres than under the last government.

(61% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Do you agree with Nick? Comment you thoughts below. For more info on the work of Worcester Liberal Democrats follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs.

Tuition Fees : The Truth

Despite widespread criticism, the rise in tuition fees HAS NOT led to a decrease in the number of people applying to university.

Back in 2010, there was outrage when Nick Clegg broke his election promise by voting in favour of trebling tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year. The student body, largely responsible for getting the Liberal Democrats into government, felt cheated and misled and took to the streets in protest. However, recently published figures suggest that the legislation has not led to people being unable to go into further education, in fact quite the contrary. More people from disadvantaged backgrounds are applying and attending than ever, partly down to conditions put in the legislation by the Liberal Democrats.

  1. People pay less in monthly repayments than under Labour.

Despite the rise in overall fees, repayment levels are lower. This is because of Lib Dem negotiations which resulted in a change in the amount graduates have to be earning before they make any repayments. Under Labour, repayments started if you were earning £15,000 a year, now it’s £21,000. As the image below shows, at almost every wage level, monthly repayments are down, making graduates better off. In addition, the poorest 30% of graduates actually pay less overall than under the old system.

Student_finance_table.jpg

2. New incentives for the most disadvantaged and talented students

Liberal Democrats made sure the new system came with fee waivers, bursaries, a £50m National Scholarship programme and higher maintenance grants for people whose parents earn less than about £42,000.

3. University applications are up!

Despite the initial fall in applications directly after the increase in fees, in 2013 applications were up by 2.8% and are set to increase again in 2014. This shows that people have not been put off attending university and more people are trying to better themselves through further education.

4. If your salary goes above £21,000 and then drops below it, you pay nothing until it goes back up.

The new system is effectively a 30-year graduate tax, in that graduates repay 9% of their income over £21,000. If they lose their job or their income falls below £21,000, they will not pay anything. We did look at a full graduate tax, but we discovered foreign students or people who move abroad after university would be able to avoid repaying the cost of their tuition.

So there you have it, the facts on tuition fees. Graduates are actually better off as a result of the reform.

Of course, critics will say ‘But you broke your promise!’, and whilst they are not wrong it was not something that was taken lightly. You only need to see Clegg’s apology to see how seriously he took the decision. It can be viewed on youtube, along with the very amusing parody song. Have the Conservatives or Labour ever apologized for their broken promises? Whist we cannot condone the breaking of promises, the very fact we entered a coalition with a party that has such different views to ourselves, meant that their were going to have to be compromises. Without supporting the Tories with their legislation we wouldn’t have got any of ours through, including taking 26 million of the lowest earners out of tax, something David Cameron told us was impossible, and delivering hot, healthy free school meals to primary school children. We have not done everything we would’ve had we won a majority but we have put through important legislation that has reduced the effect of the Conservative’s ideological austerity measures whilst stabilising the economy and creating jobs and apprenticeships.

Welcome to our New Website/Blog!!!!

Welcome to the brand new website of the Worcester branch of the Liberal Democrats.

This is the place for all things Lib Dem; from campaigns, petitions and local events, to opinion pieces and national issues.

We are ably represented by Sue Askin (Worcs County Council) and Elizabeth Smith (Worcester City Council).

2015 offers new, exciting challenges with our city council seat up for election and of course the general election!

As we are about you, the people of Worcester, if there is anything you feel is not receiving the attention it deserves, get in touch, either by e-mail at worcesterlibdems@yahoo.co.uk or on twitter @worcesterlibs. We will also be setting up a new facebook page in the near future, so watch this space!

If you want to get involved with the party locally, or contribute to this blog, please send me an e-mail.

We look forward to serving you.