Friday, 26 March 2010

Vote for change

The revelation that three former Labour ministers were bidding for consultancy work by parading their government connections gives further insight into the shabby morality of Westminster politics.

But when politicians can get away with leading this country into wars based on lies, it is hardly surprising that they think they can get away with anything.We need greater transparency and more genuine democracy.

That’s why I am a supporter of Vote for Change. They are a lobby group campaigning for electoral reform. As they state on their excellent website ‘the only way we're going to make politicians understand their responsibilities to the people they represent is to make them more accountable at elections. It's time to kick out the antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system that has allowed them to get away with so much and bring in a new style of elections where every single vote counts.’

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Islamophobia - a threat to democracy

We are concerned by the rise of Islamophobia, the negative coverage of Muslims in the media, the violent street mobilisations of extreme rightwing organisations like the English Defence League, and the rising electoral support for the British National party (The battle for Barking, Weekend, 13 March). Following Channel 4’s recent inflammatory documentary, Britain’s Islamic Republic, which saw concentrated attacks on the East London Mosque, the English Defence League marched through central London with placards including the demand “Close the East London Mosque now”.

The East End of London is not new to having its communities attacked by fascists and the media. The 1930s saw the Battle of Cable Street when Oswald Mosley's blackshirts attempted to march into the Jewish community in the area. We cannot allow this terrible history to repeat itself. Further, the documentary, and articles since, have attacked the participation in politics by the Muslim community. We cannot stand by and watch this continue without remark or action.

In the runup to the general election, all parts of the population should be actively encouraged to exercise their votes. That is democracy. We welcome the work of organisations who work to this end. We call for solidarity and support for those organisations that work to encourage political participation from all sections of society, including Muslims, and condemn those who seek to undermine it.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Enfield's Social Housing Crisis

Shelter, the housing charity, has produced a league table of local authorities. The table ranks councils by how good they are at getting affordable homes built. Enfield ranks 199th out of 323 councils in England and 18th out of 33 councils in the Greater London. The verdict on the Borough has to be that it could do a lot better.

The housing waiting list is approaching 6,258 households and Shelter says that almost 2,916 new affordable homes are needed every year. But in 2008/9 Enfield delivered only 15% of the affordable homes needed and just 423 homes were provided. The total number of lettings made to new social tenants last year was 776. At this rate, according to experts, it will take approximately 8 years to clear the current waiting list.

Shelter says that there are things councils can do, if they make housing a priority. This includes things like selling council land at below market prices to be developed for affordable housing, rather than taking the highest offer.

Housing is a basic human need but our housing system is clearly failing. The average house price in Enfield last year was £228,500. To buy that average home, Shelter calculates that you would need an annual income of £50,622. But the average income was just £24,195 a year.

Most people are simply priced out of the housing market. It is a gap that local councils should be filling. Even within the current failed system there is room for improvement. But there needs to be a radical break at national level with a policy that has put an end to the building of council houses, and gambled everything on the private sector.

Public investment in massive house building programme would go a long way to tackling the housing crisis and at the same time help to stop the economy plunging back into recession.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Live! George vs Jim

George Galloway will be going head to head with Jim Fitzpatrick, who he's challenging for the seat of Poplar and Limehouse at the General Election, on BBC1 London on Sunday 21st any time from 12.10pm - although most likely from around 12.30pm. The programme will be live from London City Hall. Don't miss it and tell your friends.

Those outside London can watch live on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007tjl5

Thursday, 18 March 2010

An alternative to the cuts agenda

On the main issues facing the British people today, there is only the appearance of policy differences between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Take the economy. For years, all three parties have embraced and celebrated the neo-liberal free market dogma responsible for record levels of wealth inequality and the worst recession in over fifty years. They are also united on the necessity of vicious cuts as the solution to the crisis, divided only on the timescale for the implementation of those cuts.

But their consensus is being challenged. The
Robin Hood Tax is one such challenge. It’s originators argue that imposing a 'tiny tax' on bankers 'would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change, here and abroad. This tax on banks – not you or I - has the power to raise hundreds of billions every year. It could give a vital boost to the NHS, our schools, and the fight against child poverty in the UK – as well as tackling poverty and climate change around the world.’ Sounds like a lot of sense to me. Read more here.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Seven policies for a fairer society

Investment NOT cuts
Slashing public spending will only deepen the recession. Instead of the obsession with cuts we need to invest for growth. This will allow Government income to rise and cut unemployment. That is the best way to reduce the national debt.

Fairer Taxation

Too many people on average or low incomes are paying too much tax. Meanwhile the super rich employ an army of accountants to avoid paying their fair share. We cannot afford to allow the richest in our society to get away with tax dodges when services are being cut.

Affordable housing

Our housing waiting lists are a scandal.  We need a massive house building programme to reduce waiting lists and overcrowding.

One Society, Many Cultures

We should be proud of our diverse and vibrant city. Everyone is equal no matter their race, religion or lifestyle. We are different, but we are one society. We should not be divided by racism and intolerance.

Free School Meals

Many parents struggle to find the money for school meals, yet worry about providing a healthy lunch for their children. We could provide free meals for every child for a tiny fraction of the cost of the banking bailout - ensuring every child has a well-cooked, nutritious meal at school every day.

New Green Deal

We need to save the environment and we need to create jobs. The UK could create up to 400,000 jobs in new green industries. Instead of wasting tens of billions of pounds on new Trident nuclear weapons, we should invest in green technology to save our planet.

Troops out of Afghanistan

Too many lives have been lost. Escalating the conflict can only make things worse. We need to find a peaceful solution. We need to bring the troops home now.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Cutting public spending may not reduce debt

The Tory economic case is simple: Britain’s national debt is too high, paying it off is a priority, and the way to do that is to cut public expenditure, and then cut it some more. If we are unlucky enough to be landed with a Tory government at the next election, then that is the medicine we are going to be forced to take.

At first sight it looks like common sense. After all, if we allowed our overdraft to get out of control, the rational thing to do is cut back on some of our spending. But running a national economy is not the same thing at all as running a household budget.

There was a very interesting letter in Wednesday’s Guardian (3 March) from a group of influential economic historians who challenge some of these common-sense myths.

They argue that, “British public debt is not high by the standards of the past 200 years”. There have been long periods when our debt burden has been far higher than today.

They also observe that our debt is low in comparison to many of our competitors; “…only Germany and Canada’s are lower among the larger industrialised powers”.

And they argue that it is economic growth that is the key to paying off debt, which is exactly how Britain paid off previous high debts in the post-war period and earlier.

A strategy for growth does not start with massive cuts in public spending. That would guarantee a slow, sluggish recovery or even risk a new and damaging recession. Cutting investment and taking money out of the economy would be the quickest way to guarantee that a debt problem turned into a real crisis.

When we oppose cuts and support keeping our public services alive we are also promoting a rational economic policy that has the lessons of history in its favour.