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.

Jack Straw: Whirlwind of change since first conference.

Jack Straw: Whirlwind of change since first conference

First published Thursday 25 September 2014 in Opinion

THIS week’s Labour Party Conference in Manchester was the fortieth I’ve attended. It will be my last as an elected MP.

My first was in Blackpool, in 1972. In between, I’ve missed three, all for family reasons.

So what’s changed?

The smell – stale smoke everywhere. If it wasn’t your own cigarette you’d be inhaling, it would be someone else’s.

The colour – a rather dirty red brown. All the men wore suits and ties (brown ones seemed popular – they went with the nicotine stains).

The atmosphere – often unpleasant. The 1970s were a period of national decline. Factories, shipyards, pits were closing. There were huge tensions inside the movement: should the “struggle” be by Parliamentary means alone, or by general strikes and civil disobedience?

The power. The trades unions called the shots, with their six million block votes. Constituency parties scarcely had a look-in.

The dramas. Nothing was certain. Crucial resolutions could fail, for the most bizarre reasons. It was self-harm on a catastrophic scale.

In 1975, I witnessed the great trade union leader Jack Jones scuffling with a Labour MP on a public platform.

In 1976, Chancellor Denis Healey was given just five minutes, from the floor, to explain his policies – booed and heckled for his pains.

In 1978, a straightforward resolution of support for the Labour Government was defeated by 2.8 million to 3.6 million!

It took heroic efforts, led by Neil Kinnock, and then Tony Blair, to give the party to its members and end the nastiness.

Most memorable conferences? That’s easy. Bournemouth, 1985, when Neil denounced the Trotskyist Militant Tendency.

Best moment for me? That has to be the 1997 Conference, in Brighton, our first in government for 18 years – and there I was as Home Secretary.

Is this the end of Labour conferences for me? Certainly not. But my pass will no longer say “MP – Ex-Officio”.

Lib Dems must act now or face annihilation in 2015

The Liberal Democrat Party must surely be in turmoil after last weeks’ election results.  Whilst the top headline will be the fact that UKIP polled highest the second will surely be the fact that the Lib Dems were behind the Greens and face being completely wiped out in next years’ General Election.

As a Labour supporter I don’t have a great deal of time for Liberal Democrats who in my dealings appear to possess a strange ability to be part of a coalition yet pretend that they are not part of the decisions which that coalition is taking.  Look at our local Lib Dems in Blackburn with Darwen who appear in total agreement with Labour when it comes to being unhappy with the level of cuts imposed on us by the Conservative/Lib Dem Government.

However, from the point of view of healthy democracy, not to mention the historic contribution made by the Liberal Party – which is one of England’s oldest – it would be far better if they did not disintegrate, and offered a more serious challenge against the Conservatives.

So how do the Lib Dems possibly get out of this mess?  Dumping Nick Clegg might help a little – but nowhere near enough.

The answer – in my view – the Lib Dems should resign from the coalition Government.  They should have pulled out of the coalition well before now but there is still time to redeem themselves a little if they are able to say that they’ve withdrawn as they’ve listened to the voters and it’s clear that the voters do not want right wing Conservative policies.

The current void of unhappy Tory voters is clearly being filled by UKIP, and as they grow in success this will inevitably and worryingly lead to a rightward move in British political thought.  And whilst some UKIP representatives have expressed irritation with being accused of being a rightwing extremist party I have no doubt that it is the same ideas that the Nazi Party and more recently the BNP have proclaimed, which are appealing to voters – ideas and policies that rear their head again and again at times of economic hardship – when the public are struggling day to day and immigrants are the easiest people to blame.

We live on an Island.  Everyone in the UK is a migrant or descendent of a migrant; and Europe is our main trading partner.  UKIP’s policies might resonate with people looking for someone to blame for the current mess but the reality is that it’s our Tory Government and its policies of austerity, causing stagnation, that are to blame.  The Lib Dems could be standing in opposition – like Labour – and opposing those policies.  Instead they are a silent voice.

The current debate on Europe and migration is simplistic and ill informed and will continue to be so if the Lib Dems fail to develop a back bone.

As far as I can see UKIP will fizzle out at the General Election as they will not be able to get enough support to win many seats.  However, the consequence is more likely to be an overall Tory majority – which just doesn’t bear thinking about.

This firm aims to ‘up’ production to 75 million envelopes!

‘THIRTY years ago on what is today the M65 between Blackburn and Darwen there were simply fields – and mainly fields either side too.

Now, confounding the ‘environmentalists’ who campaigned so vociferously against connecting East Lancashire to the main motorway network, there’s a host of modern works, providing decent employment for thousands of local people.

I visited one such factory, in Davyfield Road, last Friday – the headquarters of Heritage Envelopes Ltd.

Firms generally get in touch with me because they want my help – which is part of my job. In this case, however, the CEO Mark Sears invited me along simply because he thought I’d be interested to see what they did.

I was. It was a real eye-opener. This modern plant employs about 130 people, round-the-clock, with a turnover of £24m.

Heritage does what it says on the tin: it makes envelopes. I was asked to guess how many they produced each week.

I thought I was wildly exaggerating when I had a stab at one million.

I was way off.

The correct answer is more than 50 million a week; more than two and a half billion each year.

We all keep being told that paper, print, is on the way out.

Indeed it is to some extent. Much physical communication has been replaced by e-mail and the internet.

But just as I believe (on good evidence) that real books, real newspapers, which you can feel as well as see, will survive and prosper, so this firm is sufficiently confident that their intention is, over time, to up their weekly production to 75 million.

Heritage’s envelopes are used for direct mail marketing. What’s really interesting, I was told, is that sending a proper letter remains an excellent and cost-effective means of increasing sales.

While there I presented a 25-year long-service award to Steven Morgan, from Darwen, an ‘envelope machine adjuster’ – a highly-skilled position requiring more than five years’ training.

By good investment, and increasing integration with electronic media, the firm reckon they have a sound future too. They’re right.

Cameron’s Sad Society

My trip to the supermarket last weekend.

Picture this.  At a local low cost supermarket in Blackburn me, my wife and children witnessed a tragically distressing scene.  Whilst waiting at the checkout we see shop security confront a guy who must have weighed no more than 6 stone; dressed in tired old clothing.  They search through his pockets and find that he’s shoplifted some bread and mince meat.  To their credit the security men were pretty sensitive.  They clearly saw no point in calling the police as it was clear that the chap was without any money whatsoever to pay a fine.  And judging by what he’d taken, I doubt very much that the goods were for anything other than personal consumption.

Apart from the distress of having to witness this humiliation of a fellow human being what is more troubling is that these are scenes we are seeing more and more of in our sad society.

You can come to all kinds of conclusions about what this person’s background is but here’s a reasonable guess – benefits sanctioned for six months because he was judged by the Jobcentre to be ‘not looking hard enough for a job’ or not providing the ‘appropriate evidence’, or perhaps not accepting a part time job on minimum wage that would make him no better off as he would lose whatever other subsistence benefits he was receiving – Housing to pay the rent; or perhaps the fact that he couldn’t find a job because he’d been fighting for the same low pay part time work that others recently made redundant from full time work with mortgages to pay are also searching for.  With his benefits sanctioned and zero money coming into the house resulting in empty kitchen cupboards (empty meaning empty – there are plenty of people in this situation).  In these circumstances it’s difficult to see many other options than shoplifting.

Benefit reform may have been needed – but not the way this heartless Government has chosen to do it – if you really want to get people back into work you need to provide the support to help them find work – the schemes previously in place were disbanded by this Government because public spending ‘needed’ to be cut.  It’s clear that this Government’s only motivation is saving money to cut taxes for the better off.  To really tackle unemployment and benefit dependency you need to invest in the people and make sure there are jobs for them to go for – two things that Cameron and Clegg are grandly failing on.  Apparently the economy is picking up.  Not round here it’s not!  But of course towns like Blackburn don’t matter to Cameron and the Eton boys – as long as London and the home counties are doing ok that will do nicely.

After thirteen years of relative prosperity under Labour it saddens me that our country is heading back to the Victorian era.  How long before the workhouse returns?

We cannot and must not allow this to go on.  On Sunday 29th September there is a demonstration at Tory Party conference, opposing the cuts and the Government’s austerity policies.  I’ll be there.  I hope you’ll join me.

The death of Margaret Thatcher

On this significant day in our country’s history it’s clear that lots of people have strong views about Margaret Thatcher.  I certainly do, but I think the most powerful evidence of what people thought about her is the comments of people who lived through her term of office.  Why don’t you let Blackburn Labour Party know what you think.  Please let us know your views.