Syriza, Podemos, and now Labour?

Syriza, Podemos, and now Labour? The U.K.’s main opposition party is on track to elect its most socialist leader in 30 years as support continues to surge for anti-austerity, pro-nationalization candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn presents pupils with certificates after they perform in a play on their last day of school at Duncombe Primary School on July 16, 2015 in London.

Corbyn, 66, has the most indications of support from Labour’s constituency groups, backing from the U.K.’s two biggest trade unions, Unite and Unison, and topped a YouGov Plc opinion poll last week on the four leadership candidates. Three U.K. bookmakers slashed Corbyn’s odds Wednesday to make him favorite ahead of Andy Burnham.

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Ed Miliband’s tuition fees pledge: is it any good?

Labour leader Ed Miliband pledges to cut tuition fees in higher education from £9,000 to £6,000 a year if his party wins the May general election.

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He wants to free young people from the ‘scourge of debt’ imposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and save the government £20 billion by 2030.

Universities Minister Greg Clark calls the proposal ‘incompetent and cobbled-together’ and money saving expert Martin Lewis says the plan is ‘financially illiterate’.

Who’s right? Is this a more pragmatic system for funding higher education that would help students and save money? Or is this just populism, a cheap shot at the government that aims to woo the student vote without helping the neediest?

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Keeping the radical flame alive

Nestled in the heart of Durham City, The People’s Bookshop is an independent, radical bookshop that is fast becoming a focal point for progressive politics in the county.

Ben Sellers

Run by Ben Sellers, a former trade unionist and Waterstones employee, its walls overflow with classics of socialist political thought, intermingled with local history and rare books.

’This space is an alternative to the mainstream,’ Ben explains. ‘It seemed like a crazy idea to start with but I wanted to create a place in Durham which could be a hub for political activity and campaigning. I wanted to create a community space for people, a place where they could have a voice.’

Surrounded by volumes of Marx and Engels, Ben speaks passionately about the progress of radical left-wing politics in Durham.

‘It’s been very quiet for a long time. We don’t get frequent protests and campaigns around here but things are changing. For example, the People’s Assembly held a meeting in the Miners’ Hall in July that drew hundreds of people.

Radical

‘The Trades Union Council of Durham also meets every month in my shop and I’ve set up a group called ‘Red Labour’ which stresses the core values of the party.’

Ben is critical of New Labour and the party’s recent history but through The People’s Bookshop he is taking action. ’I think our leaders need a kick and some pressure from below. I don’t sit back and think “I hope Ed Miliband turns out alright”. I’m doing something about it.’

Labour’s new generation

Meet Thomas Nearney and Katie Corrigan, the fresh faces of the Labour Party in Durham.

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Elected to the County Council in May earlier this year, they are Durham’s youngest political representatives and are already hard at work serving the local community.

Fresh from meetings at County Hall that day, we sit together drinking coffee in Chapters Tearoom as glorious autumnal sunshine bathes Elvet Bridge outside.

We chat about politics and Thomas, who went to St Bede’s School in Lanchester and is now entering his 2nd year studying Law at St Mary’s College, starts animatedly on his work as a councillor in his ward, Annfield Plain.

‘You never find yourself doing the same job twice,’ he says grinning, ‘which has its benefits and its drawbacks.

‘It is so varied but sometimes you have so many issues to deal with that you have to learn to delegate. It’s a skill you have to learn quickly.’

Katie, who studied at St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham and has just finished a degree in Sociology and Politics at Sunderland University, represents the Belmont ward and nods in agreement.

‘The work can be about anything,’ she says, ‘ranging from pavements to potholes. There are lots of individual issues to deal with and each day can be completely different.’

But what inspired them to go into politics in the first place? And why Labour? Katie needs no time to think. ‘I’m Labour because my family has always been Labour.

‘My father was a miner so obviously I come from a strong Labour background. I’ve always been interested in politics and I wanted to get more involved in the community.’

Thomas takes up the theme. ‘For me, my values are Labour values. I believe wholeheartedly in people working together and in fairness.

‘Once you step out of Durham City, which is a lovely place, there are some really tough areas that need help and need work to get better. ‘

He also speaks passionately about the educational opportunities he feels he received as a result of his party’s work. ‘To be honest,’ he confides, ‘I’m the first person in my family to go to university.’ Katie nods too.

‘I feel like if it hadn’t been for a Labour government investing in my school, a good school in the past but one that you could feel was improving because of the investment, then that wouldn’t have happened.’

Working for Durham County Council puts Thomas and Katie at the heart of an organisation that has annual revenues of over £1 billion and employs around 18,500 people.

Yet they have come into power at a difficult financial time for the Council, a reality Thomas sees every day in his work.

‘The financial pressures we’re under now are enormous,’ he explains. ‘£200 million is being cut from the budget by 2015 due to the reduction in funding from central government.

‘‘This is the one big downside of our work. It’s fantastic to be able to make a difference in your community, but we also have to make savings whilst fulfilling our statutory duties.

‘When you’re looking at whether or not a vulnerable woman can have a home care service, that’s not nice. That’s not what I came into government to do.’

Despite the difficult decisions they need to make, Thomas says he can still take heart from the actions of the Labour Party in County Durham.

‘We still manage to pay a living wage to all our employees and we have no zero hour contracts. Although we don’t have much money, we’re trying to set an example of how things should be done.’

Our conversation turns to Labour on the national stage. What do they think of Ed Miliband? Katie’s response is qualified. ‘I think he’s good, but I think he could do with some work.’

‘I think he could be stronger in terms of how he presents himself. The public want to hear a strong voice and know that they’ve got someone who’s going to represent them.’

Locally, Labour will have control of the Council until 2017, but there’s certainly no mood of complacency in the party ranks.

Katie and Thomas already have their eyes set on campaigning for the elections to the European Parliament next year and the general election in 2015.

‘Sometimes in the North-East people think,“It’s a Labour safe seat, there’s no point in campaigning there”, but I don’t think we take anything for granted,’ Thomas says.

‘In 2010 the Liberal Democrats came close in Durham City,’ Katie adds, ‘and were only a couple of thousand votes behind the Labour candidate, so everyone was quite worried. We’ll start campaigning for the general election soon.’

Such campaigning will look to draw upon the energies of young people in Durham City. How politically engaged are the youth in this region?

Katie is optimistic. ‘I think Durham has got good youth participation. I’m involved with County Durham Labour and we campaign everywhere.

‘Durham University also has its own Labour club that is doing well. They’ve done a lot of work for the living wage.’

With politics clearly in the blood, my final question is about long-term plans. Is this the career for them?

The answers are mixed. ‘I don’t want to be a councillor forever,’ Katie admits, ‘and I think I’d like to work in Social Research.’

Thomas is different. ‘Up until 2017, because the people have put their faith in me, I’m obviously sticking with the council. I’ve got to work for them. They’re the people that matter.’

‘But long-term, who knows? I’ve got to get the law degree out of the way, maybe train as a barrister, and then I’m always going to have an interest in politics. Whether I pursue that as an MP or stay with the Council, I don’t know.’

Whatever they choose to do, Councillors Corrigan and Nearney clearly have bright political futures ahead of them and the constituents of County Durham are in safe hands. Watch this space.

Labour reveals shortlist for Euro elections

LABOUR has announced its shortlist of candidates to contest the European Parliament elections in the North-East next year.

Four candidates have been included on the shortlist to contest the three seats available in the region.

They include Coun Nick Wallis, who has been a Darlington Borough Councillor since 1991 and is currently the authority’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Local Environment.

Jayne Shotton, from North Shields, has previously served as a Labour Councillor in North Tyneside for six years for the Camperdown ward.

Judith Kirton-Darling, who comes from Middlesborough, is the Confederal Secretary of the European TUC. She has worked within the trade union movement on European issues during the last ten years.

Paul Brannen is a former Councillor for the Westerhope Ward of Newcastle City Council and contested the Berwick-upon-Tweed seat for Labour in the 1997 General Election.

A ballot of local party members will be held to decide the ordering of the candidates on the party list, with a vote expected in June.

The North-East currently has three MEPs, one from each of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

However Labour’s incumbent MEP, Stephen Hughes, is standing down after 20 years in the position.

Meet the candidate: Ron Hogg

Ron Hogg, the Labour Party candidate for the upcoming police and crime commissioner (PCC) election on November 15th, met with student activists from the Durham University Labour Club last week.

Ron-Hogg-1-Mr Hogg used the opportunity to explain the role of the PCC and to field questions on issues such as potential privatisation and politicisation of the police force.

He told the meeting that he would act responsibly if elected and would not unnecessarily raise fears about crime. Mr Hogg also pledged to protect the operational independence of the police and improve links with the public.

After the meeting I asked Mr Hogg the following questions:

Q. Why do you want to be a PCC?

A. I’ve worked for all of my life in the public sector providing a service to our community and I see this as a real opportunity to use the skills that I’ve gathered in my thirty years of policing to give a further service to communities. I will help to re-engage them with the police and improve the service to them.

Q. What do you think are the key crime issues in County Durham?

A. I’ve been out campaigning and talking to people on their doorsteps and the main issues are around anti-social behaviour, around behaviour caused by drunkness and drug-taking etc. Those are the key things that cause uncertainty in our communities. And another thing which often comes up is speeding. These are the areas we need to work on and that’s what I’d want to develop in consultation with our communities.

Q. What areas of Durham police provision would you like to see improved?

A. I think we need to improve our service to victims and witnesses of crime. I know our force already does a tremendous amount on that but again what I’m picking up on the doorstep is that it isn’t quite what it should be. But what I find to be very positive is that when I pick up issues and feed them into the force they get back to me and they deal with them. So there’s a sign that the force is really committed to taking things forward which is very encouraging.

Q. What is your philosophy on law and order and preventing crime?

A. I think it has to be a mixed economy. If you commit a crime you have to accept there’ll be an element of punishment but, fundamentally, unless we allow criminals to be rehabilitated, unless we assist criminals to stop them from re-offending, then we’re never actually going to beat crime at all. So it’s about working with partners in and around the community to help those who would commit crime to move out of that chaotic lifestyle and to remove the drivers of crime.

Q. So it’s tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime?

A. Absolutely, and David Cameron appears to be getting the message at last.

Information on all the candidates standing in the PCC election on November 15th can be found here.

Published in Palatinate Online, Durham’s Official Student Newspaper, 30th October 2012 – http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=28529

Is a Lib-Lab coalition on the cards?

I’m not a gambling man but, like our Prime Minister, I enjoy following political odds. Like public polls, I think they give a good snapshot of the state of the nation and indicate where we could be heading.

I particularly like following the odds for Britain’s next government. Paddy Power currently offers Labour as favourites to secure a majority at the next general election, closely followed by the Conservatives. No surprises there. But of most interest, in my view, is what the bookies see to be the equal third most likely outcome: a Lib-Lab coalition.

Could this really happen? In the event of a hung parliament, could Labour and the Liberal Democrats forget the acrimony of the last few years and form a progressive coalition to lead Britain? Like I said, I’m not one to place bets. But if I did, this one might just tempt me.

The odds have been shortening and here’s why. The Daily Telegraph revealed over the weekend that senior Liberal Democrats such as Vince Cable and Sir Menzies Campbell have allegedly been in regular contact with Labour leader Ed Miliband and his inner circle to discuss issues on which they have ‘common ground’. In the event of another hung parliament, it would seem, the two parties want to be ready to seize power.

And reports of such discussions don’t sound unreasonable. Cable has been a persistent grumbling presence in the current Coalition – criticising Clegg and Cameron whilst being viewed by one Tory donor as a ‘socialist’ – and the two parties share ideological sympathies on matters such as House of Lords reform and social justice.

Meanwhile, Miliband recently appointed Lord Adonis as his industrial strategy advisor, an influential peer who has strong links with the Liberal Democrats and who would be a good facilitator of talks between the two parties.

So the stars seem to be aligning. As in 1997, Labour and the Lib Dems appear to be making the strategic calculation that an alliance of sorts might be the only way of keeping out the Tories at the next election. But the difference back then was that Tony Blair went on to secure a landslide majority for Labour and so had no need for Lib Dem support when in government, a landslide that currently looks beyond Milliband’s reach. A coalition may be the only route to power.

And – whisper it – we might not even have to wait until 2015 for such an outcome. With the Liberal Democrats floundering at 9% according to the latest Yougov poll and Britain’s economy in double-dip recession, Cable and his key supporters might decide to take a risk and call for a radical change in the government’s economic policy. Plan A of fiscal consolidation has failed, they could argue, and it’s now time to switch to a bold Keynesian stimulus approach to lift Britain out of the doldrums.

Whether the Lib Dems would be brave enough to do this now is another question. Uncertainty is rife in the Eurozone and the Olympics are almost upon us, so the time doesn’t seem right to break up the Coalition. But the seeds have certainly been sown. Could we see a Lib-Lab coalition in the near future? These are early days, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

Published in Palatinate, Official Durham Student Newspaper – 6th June 2012

http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=24073