Labour’s best local election result since 1995 and the Tories’ worst since 1996, yeah, we’ll take that

Labour leader Ed Miliband with Labour Group leader Sir Albert Bore

Ed Miliband in Birmingham yesterday with Birmingham Council Labour Group leader, Sir Albert Bore

That’s right, throughout Friday Labour saw it’s best performance in a local election since 1995 (all in proportion to how many Council elections were up for grabs as last year we gained more but far more were up for grabs). And similarly the Tories saw their worst local election result since 1996 and the Lib Dems now have dropped down below 3,000 councillors for the first time in the party’s existence.

This was a result that exceeded everyone’s expectations on all fronts. With most Tories attempting to spin the result to say we needed around 450 councillor gains to be seen as a success, we only smashed that with 823! When everyone expected Scottish Labour to lose Glasgow City Council we not only fought off a SNP challenge but took control of the council at the expense of the Lib Dems and Tories. When everyone said Labour would only win a slight majority in our very own Birmingham City Council, we smashed all expectations by gaining 20 councillors and winning a 34 seat majority. When it was expected Welsh Labour would fail in taking Cardiff City Council, we defied all predictions by gaining 33 councillors and winning a majority of 17! And we’re very proud of very nearly almost gaining control of the Greater London Assembly, falling short by 1 Assembly member.

This election wasn’t without its disappointments though. BULS’s very own Honourary life Member, Dennis Minnis, was unsuccessful in taking Edgbaston. And biggest of all, huge disappointment at Ken’s defeat. We are all glad Ken did defy most  (but not all, sadly) odds by not letting Boris have a shoe-in election by pushing the margin on the second round to a close 3%. Many Tories see Boris as the next leader and Prime Minister in waiting. “Wiff-waff” may well have edged it in London, don’t expect the country to do the same.

Of course, the results did see successes close to our hearts in BULS. Obviously there was turning Birmingham City Council red, but BULS saw former student of the University of Birmingham, Karen McCarthy, join former BULS Secretary, Brigid Jones, as a Councillor for Selly Oak. Quinton ward, where Grandee Nash played a large hand in, was also successful in electing Caroline Bradley.

All in all, while this was a brilliant result for Labour nationally we have to remember this has happened to opposition parties in the past. Hague, Howard and Kinnock all saw similar successes at mid-term local elections in their time in opposition. This was a much needed boost, not a prelude for the general election. Though it is safe to say, that the media, politicians and the wider public can no longer claim Miliband has no chance at 2015. There’s still a hell of a lot of work to be done, but we now know that we still do have a shot at 2015.

Max

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

Ich bin ein Trot

In the past week the “progressive” mask of the Tory party has all but disintegrated. Once again, boggle-eyed theories of “the enemy within” have been aired. By now most people in the country will be aware of the morally repulsive government scheme that is workfare. Anyone with a heart and a social conscience will be opposing it.

According to Grayling and IDS though, we opponents are just a tiny “unrepresentative” bunch of extremist “trots”. Ah yes, “trots”, meaning trotskyists; because if you can’t counter an argument with logic, reason and facts, then why not descend into slurs, name-calling and ad homninum? I have used the term “trots” in the past to refer to left-wing opponents. It was wrong of me then, being both ignorant and a lazy and knee-jerk form of argument. All in all its use by the government signifies an intellectual unwillingness to engage in the issues.

Yet what can we expect from men who so clearly do not know the difference between right and wrong? Already they have lied through their teeth about the “voluntary” nature of workfare. Government documents are, even now, being fabricated or hidden from official websites. The DWP, as always, peddles its Orwellian propaganda. Everyone who has first hand experience of the Job Centre and these schemes knows that Grayling and IDS are open liars. When brave individuals like Cait Reilly have dared to stand up against workfare, they have been mercilessly slurred and slandered in the Tory press. Now there are threats of a heavy police presence at future workfare protests – presumably to intimidate the vulnerable into compliance.

I am against workfare because I believe in a fair days pay for a fair days work. I oppose businesses exploiting the free labour of the unemployed. I oppose the unemployed being punished for economic circumstances beyond their control. I oppose undermining the wages of paid employees by working for free. I oppose already rich individuals and shareholders profiting from forced and unpaid labour.

According to Grayling and IDS, all this makes me an “extremist” and a “trot”. This being so, all hail Comrade Trotsky!

By Chris Nash

An Englishman’s Home is… beyond his wildest dreams

For some reason, going back into the mists of time, the British people have an obsession with private home ownership, even though most of us should technically never be able to afford one without borrowing. In Continental Europe, people are far more satisfied to rent, either from private landlords or more ‘trustworthy’ institutions – maybe there is some correlation between these statistics and the lower levels of stress and dissatisfaction there compared to the UK.

Nevertheless, we are where we are, and there is no going back on the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1981 however much we might want to reverse it (indeed, many of us may actually agree with it, being as it was extremely popular with the low paid, who for the first time had a stake in their council homes and some sense of freedom, however delusional). What we have now is a housing crisis coming at the worst possible time, during a dire economic climate caused by sub-prime mortgages themselves.

Tensions over housing and its’ availability have an effect on many areas of life, including levels of antagonism towards immigrants, the environment, growth, inequality in our cities, personal debt, and of course the Daily Mail and Daily Express front pages. We need to deal with this timebomb if we are to stem a rise in far-right politics and avoid a lost generation of young people. However, worryingly this government is going about it completely the wrong way.

Not only has it made squatting illegal when there are more empty properties than there are homeless people in this country, but it has appallingly placed a cap on housing benefit, effectively pricing the poor out of our capital city and entire swathes of the country – those parts of the country which have job vacancies. The government is slashing the public sector and saddling young people who go to university with ever higher debt, meaning their chances of even being able to look forward to putting down a deposit are negligible.

What our housing market needs is a Keynesian-style investment in house building and construction; not only would this lower house prices for first-time buyers, but it would also ease tensions in the community and increase demand in the economy generally, leading to growth and the beginning of the end of the deficit that the ConDems love to remind us about so much. As a bonus, it would even lead to a return of Location Location Location to our TV screens. Gordon Brown’s plan before the proverbial shit hit the fan in 2007 was to build 3 million new homes – we need this sort of commitment now, coupled with a healthy proliferation of 1940s-inspired New Towns (hopefully better designed than the likes of Milton Keynes) and more social housing. Today’s announcement from Cameron and Clegg about guaranteeing 95% mortgages may look like a repetition of exactly what went wrong in the first place, but should not be dismissed entirely, as it is the taxpayer, not the banks, helping first-time buyers, and there is real potential for an increase in demand as a result.

However it goes nowhere near far enough. If we can’t get people to fall out of love with the owner-occupier dream, then we need to build, build, build, spending more money in the short term to get us out of the mess in the long term.

That Old Chestnut

David Cameron has a nerve. Not only has he U-turned over his pledge in opposition to hold a referendum over the UK’s terms of membership of the European Union, but today he had the temerity to force Nicolas Sarkozy to back down and accept his presence at key Eurozone talks to try to deal with the Greek debt crisis on Wednesday.

Once again, only one year into the new government, a Conservative prime minister is becoming about as stable on Europe as Edwina Currie is on her feet. We all know deep down he is a staunch Euro-sceptic, so why doesn’t he have the guts to come out and be frank with the British people, and say that he would love us to turn our backs on our continental partners, but that he also loves us to lecture and patronise them on economic policy, despite the fact that UK growth is anaemic at best, and backwards at worst, thanks to his policies.

A referendum on EU membership now would of course be absurd, but having called for one in opposition, the PM should stick to his guns and create a disunited and discredited government, and do us all a favour by breaking up the coalition and triggering a general election. You can’t have your bun and eat it, and you can’t be half in, half out, of the EU – leaving the Eurozone (or more accurately, Germany) to do all the hard work and then turning up to talks this week to act as one of the key players while facing a referendum proposal at home from your own backbenchers is hypocritical and downright embarrassing for Britain.

It was Ed Miliband, incidentally, who called on Cameron to give up his trip Down Under and attend the meeting, therefore whether or not you agree that Cameron has a right to be there, it is clear that the Labour leader is ahead of the curve on this one, as he was on phone hacking and as he was at PMQs this week.

It might sound like a cheap shot from the comforts of opposition – and we all know Blair and Brown disagreed over the Euro – however it is clear that yet again the Tories are divided over Europe. Europhile or Europhobe, this is one of the few reliable constants of the European project.

Sex is not the enemy

David Cameron is set to announce a new set of proposals for child-proofing the internet. A new opt-in scheme to be unveiled today would have internet providers blocking access to pornographic material to all but those users who request it. Clearly children, some teenagers and even adults can be shocked and upset by explicit imagery.

I don’t think we should run (seek to understand exotic acts and complex power games) before we can walk (understand a basic ideal of sex between adults who respect each other). But wouldn’t it be nice if the government were to replace one (misleading, fantasy-based) source of sex information with another (safe, inclusive) source?

The classically repressed British are living proof that ignoring sex does not make STIs or unwanted pregnancy go away. Only proper education, support networks and open adult discussion can do that.

I think we have some things to learn from our friends down under: http://www.sexparty.org.au/index.php/policies

Suzy