BULS Supporting Michael Chessum to be VPHE of NUS

Following careful consideration, BULS has decided to support Michael Chessum’s campaign to be VPHE of NUS and we ask Birmingham delegates and Labour students nationally to do the same. We believe that Michael is the most competent candidate, and will achieve the most for students now, and in the future.

He has been the only candidate to continuously fight against the Tories’ fee regime and its further marketisation of our education system. Michael has been instrumental inthe organising of two national demonstrations, mobilising thousands of students across the country. Such demonstrations proved highly successful, gaining the support of Labour Students, and the general student population, nationally.

As Labour students we should be fighting against the current coalition government’s outrageous, and damaging, policies concerning higher education fees and their on-going commitment to severe austerity measures. Education is a public good and, at Birmingham, we believe that education should be universally accessible and publically funded. Michael Chessum is the only candidate for VPHE who we believe shares our values and will fight to defend them.

Furthermore, Michael is the only candidate committed to opposing Theresa May’s regressive and racist visa changes, which will have a detrimental effect on International Students who contribute so much to our higher education institutions and country as a whole.

Michael’s past record shows that he knows when and how to use direct action tactics, whilst his pivotal role in founding NCAFC proves his dedication to fighting the government’s austerity measures.

We need a VP Higher Education that will offer a robust defence against the coalition’s stark attacks on education. We wholeheartedly believe it is time to put factional divides behind us and unite in our support for Chessum, as the candidate most able to deliver.

Catie, Ed, Ellis, Areeq, Alex, Sam and Dan

A Free Web

@PalaeoNash 

Every so often there is a news story absurd enough to make cliched people ask: “Is it April 1st?” This week there was one, it was April 1st, but the story is depressingly real. I refer to government plans to extend the surveillance of our online lives.

While I believe in a strong state, and I certainly trust a democratic state more so that any private company, this represents another unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of us all. I believe that the internet must be totally free; that is as a true anarchy. A “crime” can only exist on the internet where is co-exists in reality (e.g. fraud). It must be a totally free place where ideas can be exchanged and where speech must be entirely free. While this naturally carries risks, I believe these can be better averted through user education rather than through cumbersome regulation. The internet can never be policed to protect the naïve or the over-sensitive from the troll, nor should it be. I realise that this probably sounds a little woolly or idealistic, but I will always favour the optimism of hope in humanity’s better instincts over the pessimistic urge to control and restrict us.

This isn’t just about our ability the watch daft videos of cats, to pointlessly argue the toss in comment sections, or to create weakly satirical memes. Consider how online communication is used to build campaigning and enable activism. Most organised protests will have Facebook events, with wildly optimistic “attending” lists. Debates over the injustices or otherwise of government policies will rage on page walls, or in twitter feeds. Last year saw the (perhaps over-hyped) power of online protest in deposing dictators. Fear those in positions of power who wish to curtail our online freedoms – they are a threat to democracy itself.

I am not talking only of the specific implications of these more recent proposals. They build gradually on the already extensive powers of our police and security forces. If implemented I imagine they will ultimately be another notch on the ratchet towards an authoritarian state. A future Prime Minister, trying to reduce these powers, would no doubt have their ear bent by senior security figures. They would supposedly be so useful in catching the genuine terrorists (who may in any case have been caught though traditional methods). Never mind the “inconvenience” to the ordinary citizen who by now has normalised having their online activity watched. I argue for a free internet, and against all efforts to regulate it, from a point of principle.

Remember ID cards. New Labour was at its worst in its authoritarian spasms. Remember the Tory manifesto of 2010: “Labour have subjectedBritain’s historic freedoms to unprecedented attack. They have trampled on liberties.” Now see that opportunism exposed as another incumbent government threatens the sacred privacy of the individual. To quote inhuman oxygen thief Chris Grayling in 2009 “Too many parts [of the government] have too many powers to snoop on innocent people and that’s really got to change.” This same creature is now involved in the DWP’s outsourcing of databases to India, with the privacy of millions of innocent people being dependent on the integrity of the lowest bidder.

If the Tories believe in freedom it is merely the freedom for the powerful to enslave the rest of us. Labour have barely shed the worst of our authoritarian Blairite heritage. The Liberal Democrats are making very promising noises, but I don’t fancy placing too much faith in them any time soon. Who then will stand up for our online freedoms?

The Bankers’ Budget

Nobody would expect a fair budget from George Osborne. The Chancellor was never going to give a budget that benefitted the many over the few, or one that put the realities of everyday life above right-wing economic dogma. Expectations suitably adjusted, we can perhaps take small comfort from the 50p tax band “only” being cut to 45p. Ed Miliband gave a sterling speech in response, and I raise a glass to the intern who wrote the jokes. Professional hacks will be casting their own analysis; what follows is my personal take on some of the details.
 
The Chancellor’s big spin on this budget is that it “rewards work”.  We already know that under-18s are to endure a cut in the minimum wage. In the UK it is possible to work a 40-hour week and still live in poverty. The way to make work pay is, surprisingly enough, to actually make work pay, by implementing a proper living wage. Today we heard no commitment on improving the pay of the low paid. It would be naive to ever expect one from a Tory Chancellor. Increasing the income tax threshold seems reasonable, but not when even the poorest are still hit by VAT, and duty on fuel, alcohol and tobacco. What Osborne gives with one hand, he takes several times over with the other.
 
Projections for economic growth and for a fall in unemployment are welcomed.I only hope they hold true. As far as I am aware the budget made no specific commitments relating to the latter. I fear that further cuts to the Department of Work and Pensions will only result in more inhumane box-ticking and the harassment of the vulnerable. The Government – as ever – has put all its faith in the hands of the wonderful private sector.
 
On the 50p rate, the detail most comprehensively leaked, news was always going to be disappointing. Having endured two years of the government chaffing on about deficit reduction, one could at least have assumed that they intended to maximise tax revenue. Basic maths will tell anyone that a 50p rate will raise more by its presence than its absence (“Laffer Curve” / wishful thinking / pseudoscience aside). Osborne himself stated that the rate raised around £1 billion. To me a lot, to him “next to nothing”. Cutting it will cost £100m. That’s a lot of disabled children who will have to go without.
 
The moral case for the 50p rate is even more clear cut – there can be no reason why someone “earning” in excess of £150,000 per year needs a penny more. Greed can be the only motive, and the one which leads to tax evasion and avoidance. It will be argued that such non-payment means that the tax rate might as well be cut. Just apply this same rational to other crimes such as burglary and murder – “You’re never going to catch every criminal, might as well legalise it!” – to see what a fallacy it is.
 
Tax evasion is “morally repugnant” according to Osborne. It is hard to shake off that dirty feeling that comes from agreeing with him – especially given those are often my own words. Tax evasion, and avoidance, are both morally reprehensible. They are as much a theft from the community as your typical off-licence robbery, in scale perhaps more so. The problem is that Osborne is the last person I would expect to do anything about it. I fear that despite pledges to the contrary, he will be all talk and no trousers. Every spending decision taken thus far by the government has convinced me that it is a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.
 
Miliband’s best line came when he challenged the government front bench to admit who among them personally benefit from the budget. Furthermore it is worth considering how many prominent Tory donors will also benefit. Such borderline conflict of interest makes a mockery of democracy – and will certainly not be reported in the Tory press. The headlines will trumpet crumbs from the rich men’s table, and ignore the widening inequality that will be a direct result of Osborne’s decisions.
 
Labour should commit to restoring the 50p band, and to actually getting serious on tax fraud, just as we should commit to renationalising the NHS. Anything less will be to continue to concede to the rightward drift of our national political discourse.
By Chris Nash

The Future of LGBT Labour

I joined the Labour Party in 2008. This was before I was prepared to accept my sexuality. I have now come to realise that it was joining the Labour Party, and learning of all of Labour’s achievements in Government in striving for sexual equality that helped me on my way in accepting myself. Being proudly gay and proudly a member of the Labour Party can and should be mutually reinforcing. I will always be thankful to Labour for this.

Whilst we can look back proudly on all Labour achieved in equality – and there is no need to list these here – ending legislative homophobia is not the same as ending homophobia engrained in society. Top-down measures can only work so far. Greater acceptance of homosexuality as being ‘equal but different’ to heterosexuality can only be achieved through increased exposure of what it is to be gay, i.e., being capable of loving someone of the same sex. At its most basic this can include couples walking down the street holding hands. Unfortunately, we are not yet at a stage where this simple statement of homosexuality is uncontroversial. There is still a need for gay couples to act as pioneers. I can speak from experience that some members of society are not ready to witness such sights.

Labour is at its best when fighting for the rights of minorities within society, championing the fundamental need for equality. However, whilst I am well aware that homophobia remains an issue, the greatest issue of inequality relates to income. The lack of equal opportunity in the world of work adversely affects women, the BME community and disabled people more than it does the LGBT community. With this in mind, the LGBT Labour needs to rally round and support those who also fall under the umbrella term ‘minority’. Liberation Campaigns and caucuses are vital in recognising and celebrating our differences (note the very discourse of the word ‘Pride’ in our annual Pride Marches, and the rightful presence of Labour at these marches), but our shared difficulties and experiences need to be at the forefront of our campaigns.

This is, I believe, should be the next step of LGBT Labour in Britain, standing up for the voiceless in society, speaking for those adversely affected by the Government’s draconian and ill-balanced cuts. Even if we do not self-define as members of a particular caucus, Labour needs to unite and continue the fight for equal opportunity for all.

By Dan Harrison, Outgoing BULS Chair

I’m sorry but “political” reasons?

20.01.12: Martin Rowson on union opposition to the health and social care bill

Andrew Lansley recently showed a prime example of how not win your case by describing the ever growing opposition to his NHS reforms as being motivated by “political” reasons.

I’m sorry but “political” reasons? The British Medical Association (BMA), Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Nurses, the Conservative dominated Commons Health Select Committee and Norman frigging Tebbit all oppose the reforms, which will open up the NHS to EU competition law, for “political” reasons? These are not organisations (with the exception of the latter obviously) that sit from the outside and attempt to vaguely analyse the inner workings of the NHS. No, these are organisations that deal with the inner workings of the NHS every single day. They know how it works. They know what will be detrimental. And they are the ones that will know that these reforms will fundamentally destroy the NHS.

Cameron said it himself, no top down reorganisations of the NHS. Now drop this bill!

Max

Growth and all that jazz

Chris Riddell's Observer comment cartoon 15.08.10

Sorry for the break in blogging, we’re trying to up the ante this year

Probably the most pressing of all news items is the recent dismal growth figures. Over a year ago when Cameron and Osborne claimed we were “Out of the woods” and “Out of the danger zone”. How very wrong they were. With the final quarter of 2011 seeing a contraction of 0.2% this then means that in the last 15 months since Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in October 2010, we’ve had a massive 0.3% of growth. Cameron then has the audacity to blame the recent growth figures on the Euro crisis. Well I’m sorry, the UK economy has been stagnating long before the crisis began to effect.

Cameron you said it yourself, “I take full responsibility for everything that happens in the economy.” then take responsibility and change course!

Max