Jack Straw: We need to get on track and campaign for extra rail links

THERE is less traffic on the roads today than there was eight years ago.

Few will believe me. But it’s true.

Across the country, total traffic (measured by ‘vehicle miles’) is down about two per cent in this period. But the regional differences are striking.

In the North West there’s been a three per cent reduction.

In London the drop has been almost nine per cent.

It’s so great that it’s really tangible. One main road between my London home and the Commons used often to be clogged up. Now there are many more people travelling along it by bus or bike than by car.

The reason? A virtuous circle has been created. Car commuting in central London has been discouraged by a £10.50 per day ‘Congestion Charge’. That money has gone on huge improvements to the bus service. London and the South East have taken the lion’s share of the billions of public spending on rail. In turn this investment has helped London’s economy grow faster than anywhere else in the UK.

Meanwhile, as I know from constituents’ complaints, and my own experience as a regular traveller on local services to Preston and Manchester, we in East Lancashire have to put up with less reliable, less frequent, often overcrowded services, and on thirty year old ‘Pacer’ trains – a Leyland bus body on a coal wagon chassis.

Improvements are in hand, it’s true. The Todmorden curve, to link Burnley direct to Manchester is already installed. Track doubling between Blackburn and Bolton should be completed by 2016, to allow for a regular half hour service all day.

But, despite these improvements, I worry that East Lancashire will be left behind. Elsewhere in the North West – Manchester/Bolton/Blackpool for example – electrification is already under way. There are still questions whether we’ll get additional trains (they won’t be new, for sure) to run extra services on our local lines.

My conclusion: we need to campaign now for electrification to be extended east from Preston to Colne, north from Bolton to Clitheroe. It would greatly help our economy – and cut those traffic jams.

Kate Hollern: Tackling fuel poverty under Labour

Tackling Fuel Poverty under Labour

In the past four years the average energy bill has gone up by a staggering £300 – that’s twice as fast as inflation and four times faster than wages. So it’s no surprise that millions of households now struggle to meet the cost of keeping their homes warm.

That’s why Ed Milliband at last year’s Labour Party Conference set out radical plans to freeze energy prices until 2017, saving the average household £120, and pledged to overhaul the energy market, with a tough new regulator to curb rip-off bills – which will go a long way to towards cutting prices and bringing fairness to the market.

But to keep bills down permanently we need to reduce the amount of energy we consume – and that’s why Labour have now declared war on cold homes with a comprehensive package of energy efficiency measures to keep homes warm.

Homes that lose most heat cost more to keep warm, and there is a strong correlation between a property’s energy efficiency rating and the likelihood of a household being in fuel poverty. Britain has some of the least energy efficient housing stock anywhere in Europe – and that means even consumers in colder countries with higher energy prices can have lower bills.

In Blackburn alone, there are currently 6,236 people living in fuel poverty, the highest percentage inLancashire which is an absolute disgrace and has to be urgently addressed.

Under Labour plans, households in fuel poverty – and those at most at risk of falling into it – would receive a ‘whole house’ energy efficiency retrofit – upgrading their energy rating to band C and cutting bills by an estimated £273 a year on average. This is a huge difference to the present system, where not all the funds raised for energy efficiency go to the most in need. In addition, rather than just install a particular measure in a home, we will for the first time be improving the whole property. This is how we will make serious inroads into fuel poverty.

For those in the rented sector, we will go further by working to ensure there is a decency standard to improve housing quality and cut energy bills by 2027.

In Government, Labour will act quickly to address the inequalities and profiteering within the energy market by reforming the market and introducing a price freeze. But we will also go further to keep bills low by cutting the amount of energy we use and therefore tackling the roots of fuel poverty in the years ahead.

 

Jack Straw:Bringing people back to face justice was right step

IN July 1995 a gas bottle exploded at a Paris Metro station, killing eight and wounding 80.

A key suspect was Rachid Ramda. He was arrested in London in November 1995, on an extradition warrant from the French, accused of funding, and part-organising the plots. He denied any involvement (as he has continued to do).

Mr Ramda was not finally transferred to France until December 2005, ten years after his arrest.

He and his lawyers spent the intervening period making every conceivable legal argument as to why he would never get a fair trial in France. As Home Secretary, the case landed on my desk more than once.

I did everything I could – as my successors did too – to ensure that he did get sent back to France, and he stayed in jail meanwhile in England. We managed this in the end – though at times it was touch and go whether British judges would set Mr Ramda free.

Despite his continued denials, Mr Ramda was convicted by a French court, receiving the maximum 10 year sentence. I thought it was ludicrous that we could allow such challenges to the fairness, not of some banana republic’s legal system, but that of a country – France – at least as advanced as ours. These days, such nonsense couldn’t happen. We have the European Arrest Warrant (EWA), which means that extradition for serious offences in the European Union is now a straightforward matter.

It cuts both ways. Many criminals wanted in the UK have been brought back to face justice – including some in East Lancashire. Before the EWA, some of these could sit it out, for example in the “Costa del Crime”, in Spain, living it up on the proceeds of crime, mocking their victims.

There have inevitably been some problems with the EWA – especially where it has been used for relatively minor offences. They can, and are being sorted out. But they are no reason for turning the clock back to the days when terrorist suspects, or drug barons could avoid paying the penalties for their crimes.

Kate Hollern: A snapshot of Cameron’s NHS in Blackburn

A snapshot of Cameron’s NHS in Blackburn

I spent an hour and a half in Barbara Castle Health Centreyesterday waiting for treatment. As I sat in the busy waiting room a number of patients came over and said hello. The stories I heard from fellow patients were awful and put into context what is happening on the ground as a result of the Tories top-down re-organisation of the NHS.

One case in point was Jean who is 75, riddled with arthritis, needs her leg dressing twice a week after hurting it months ago. She has to carry the dressings to the Health Centre and struggles due to the arthritis in her hands.  She used to have a district nurse call at her home but it was stopped and she was told she had to make her own way to the Health Centre, at £ 7 for taxi’s each time she is struggling.

I asked her why the home visits stopped. She told me that sherecently had to open a bank account so got a taxi to town. When she told the nurse that she had been in town she was told that if she could get to town she could get to the Health Centre. Surely this is wrong, for a lady who has worked hard all her life to be treated this way. I am sure the stress emotionally and physically cannot be good for her.

There was another lady, with both legs heavily bandaged and on two walking sticks, she was obviously in a lot of pain. She had a similar story, only she had to go to her father when he died. Subsequently she was told that she obviously was not housebound so could get to the health centre. She says not only was it expensive to get to the health centre but also very painful.

 

I am organising an event at King Georges Hall in November and inviting older people for a cup of tea, cake and some entertainment. The idea is to tackle social isolation and help people have some enjoyment and make friends they have yet to meet. I am now worried that I will be encouraging people into a situation that could cause them to lose medical services they currently receive.

Surely people should be helped to leave their home occasionally and not be worried they will lose support they need.

 

Kate Hollern:Now is the time for fairness in the Middle East

Now is the time for fairness in the Middle East

If you believe in a two state solution in the Middle East we need to support the recognition of a Palestinian state. If you want the UK to recognise the state of Palestine, then vote for Labour at the next General Election. This isn’t a mere pitch for votes but a factual statement that has become all the more obvious in recent weeks.

On 13th October, British MPs got the first opportunity in five years to discuss Palestinian statehood. The debate was significant not just because it came in the aftermath of the horrific attacks on Gaza this summer, and after Swedenbecame the first major European country to recognise Palestine, but because MPs were able to vote that the UKGovernment should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as part of a two state solution.

In 2012 the Tory-led government shamefully abstained at the UN General Assembly where countries overwhelmingly voted to give Palestine a non-member observer status. As theShadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said at the time: “Palestinian statehood is not a gift to be given, but a right to be recognised.”

This view is shared by Ed Milliband who called on Israel to recognise the Palestinian right to statehood in his first speech after being elected leader in 2010. He also said he would “strain every sinew” to push for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. So the landmark vote gave Labour an opportunity to hold the government to account for its unwillingness to adequately condemn Israel for the slaughter of hundreds ofPalestinian civilians just a few months ago.

If Britain fully recognises Palestine, it would spur other major countries across Europe to do the same. The EU could then act as a broker for peace in the Israel-Palestine dispute with much more legitimacy. It would also send an important signal that democratic and peaceful political process is important and can deliver without resorting to violence.

Britain needs to take leadership in the Israel-Palestine conflict because the United States has failed to do so. And if we don’t, then we give legitimacy to extremists who say Palestinians can only achieve justice through violence. The rise of ISIS illustrates this point to brutal effect.

Although the recent parliamentary vote was largely symbolic, the Labour Party used the opportunity to send a signal to the world and provide the necessary leadership to end the grave injustice in the Middle East. From the reaction within Israel it was a significant move and a sign that it is time we stated unequivocally that Britain is also on the verge of recognising Palestinian statehood.

Jack Straw: It is time the international community did not just mouth words

 

There was an historic vote in the House of Commons on Monday.

By 274 votes to just 12 against, the Commons resolved “that this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.”

The last section was added by me, with the agreement of the mover of the motion. As well as the overwhelming vote, the debate was significant for wide cross-party support.

The fact that the Israeli Embassy invested so much abortive effort to see the motion kicked into touch underlines its importance.

When I first became interested in the Middle East, in the 60s, international sympathy lay very much on the side of Israel. The left, especially, was on Israel’s side in the 1967 “six-day” war.

The events of the last 40 years have, changed that basic assumption and Monday’s debate was illustrative of that fact.

Much of the international community is now, bluntly, fed up of Israel saying one thing about a so-called “two-state solution” (by which both a state of Israel and Palestine is established and recognised) and then proceeding illegally to annex more Palestinian land. Each time they do so making the chances of a settlement along those lines ever more unlikely.

On top of that, the conflict in Gaza over the summer, in which Israel employed disproportionate force, leading to the deaths of over 2000 Palestinians, compared to around 70 Israelis, has damaged the international respect for the Netanyahu Administration still further.

Of course Israel retains a strong ally in the US. All who spoke in the Commons on Monday fully support an Israeli state – but within agreed borders. It is time that the international community did not just mouth words about a state of Palestine, and took action to ensure a two state solution remains possible. That, in my judgement, was the purpose and effect of Monday’s debate. While the vote does not bind the UK Government it does, however, send a powerful message.

Kate Hollern:The truth is that working people cannot afford five more years of David Cameron.

 

 

Listening to David Cameron  last Wednesday you might be left with the impression that the economy has been fixed and that life is getting easier for most people. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth

Under the Tories and Liberals working people are £1,600 a year worse off. Just think about it – when did you last get a pay-rise? The Tories are now trying to con people into another five years of misery by unfunded pie in the sky pre-election tax cuts promised for six years time..

David Cameron in 2008 said “You can’t talk about tax reduction unless you can show how it is paid for, the public aren’t stupid”. But’s that’s exactly what he did on  Wednesday.

These “tax cuts” are an unfunded spending commitment of over £7billion, hardly spare cash.

How are the Tories going to pay for it?  We can only assume that they will yet again hit the poorest hardest, we are sure to see yet further attacks on public services, Fire, Police Health and Councils.

The only thing we have learnt for sure this week from the Tories is that they’re going to cut tax credits for millions of hard working people. This announcement on Monday means that a one earner family with two children on £25,000 a year will lose £495 by 2017/18.

So while working families see their incomes decrease, Wednesday’s announcements means that the Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister will see their incomes increase by 2020/21. And let’s not forget that the richest one per cent will keep a £3billion tax cut. This doesn’t look like “we’re all in this together” to me.

And if there is one decision taken by the Tories that tells us all we need to know about their priorities and who they stand for, then their tax cut for millionaires is it.

Labour will balance the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament, but we will make fairer choices. A Labour Government would cut taxes for millions on middle and low incomes with a lower 10p starting rate of tax and reintroduce a top rate of 50p for those earning over £150,000.

The truth is that the Tories will never build a better future for working people because they stand up only for a privileged few.

The truth is that working people cannot afford five more years of David Cameron.

 

Kate Hollern:A few snippets from the Liberal Conference

 

Nick Clegg says a Tory majority next year would see Britaindiminished and divided. Vince Cable says the Tories are planning punitive and unnecessary cuts to the working poor that go far beyond what is needed to cut the deficit. Both accept that the freeze on benefits would hit  millions of poorly paid working families.

Workers would fear for their jobs because Conservatives would allow bosses to “ fire them at will” while young and old would suffer time and time again  as Osborne  takes his axe to the welfare budget with no regard for the impact on people’s lives.

Schools would be run in the interest of profit for shareholders rather than the life chances of pupils

But, wait a minute. Are these the same Liberal Democrats who have supported the  Tories in implementing unfair cuts for the last four years?  Remember the Tories don’t have a majority in Parliament and every action that they have taken has needed Liberal Democrat support to become law. And now, with a  General Election round the corner, the Liberals start attacking the Tories because  their proposals are unfair. What hypocrisy!!

You can’t believe a word that Clegg and his cronies say!

The only way to avoid the scary predictions of Tory policies after 2015 is to vote Labour.

 

Kate Hollern:Lib Dem’s broken promises!

Where does Nick Clegg think we have all been over the last four years as he has kept in power one of the most ruthless right-wing government’s that has been relentless in attacking working families and those in society unable to defend themselves!

Today he is due to attack his Tory coalition partners and ask the public to trust him – but the truth is that he has backed the Tories all the way, and broken the promises he made at the last election. You can’t trust Nick Clegg, and you can’t trust the Lib Dems.

They broke their promises.
• They promised to scrap tuition fees and then trebled them.
• They promised not to increase VAT, warned against a “Tory VAT bombshell”, but then voted through a VAT rise on everyday working families.
• They promised a fair tax system with the wealthiest paying more, but they cut taxes for millionaires while most families are worse off.
• They promised to be on the side of working people, but working people are £1,600 a year worse off since the Lib Dems joined the Tories in government.

Any promises they make now and in the run up to the General Election are worthless and should be ignored.

Cameron’s Tories don’t care about our NHS – why would they?

It’s becoming clear that the focus of next years’ General Election – and the key policy issue which highlights the difference between what the Labour Party stands for and what the Conservatives are all about – is the way we look after our NHS.

The Tories have delighted in negative stories about the NHS.  They’ve said it needs reform.

The fact of the matter is we all know that the NHS isn’t perfect but what it does guarantee is that every person in this country receives whatever medical treatment they require no matter what background they come from and at no charge.

It’s the most basic moral offer of a civilised society – that we’re all born equal human beings and health or medical problems are not in our control and should not require payment.  The rich should have no more right to medical treatment than a person living off benefits having been in a road accident that has prevented them from working.

No matter how hard the Tories try to tell us they care about the NHS, deep down we all know the truth.  They don’t care because, firstly those at the top of the Conservative Party have no problem in paying for their own healthcare and secondly, basically they know that those most likely to need healthcare are from more deprived areas and most definitely not likely to vote Conservative.

The Tories opposed the creation of the NHS – fact.  And in every Tory government since then they’ve tried to dismantle it.  We cannot afford to let them get another five years or it will without a shadow of a doubt be too late.