Phil Riley: George Osborne wants to take us back to the 1930s

The Autumn Statement is when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives an indication of his long-term economic targets and, in the Autumn Statement released just before Christmas, George Osborne surprised some commentators by saying that his long term aim was to get spending by the state back to levels not seen since the 1930s. Now that’s an interesting target. After the great financial crash of 1929, a major economic depression gripped much of Europe and, indirectly, contributed to the Second World War. Amongst other events, the 1930s is famous for the Jarrow march when unemployed men from the North East of England marched to London to draw attention to their plight. It’s also the time when there was no National Health Service and families had to work out whether they could afford to pay for the doctor before asking for a visit.
The experiences of many ordinary people during that time led to the election of the Labour government in 1945 and to the establishment of what has become known as the welfare state set up to ensure that, when the nation enters a time of economic difficulty, hardship for the individuals and families hardest hit is softened to ensure that there is, at least, some food on the table and some warmth in the house. 
 
Anyone who has been watching the course of events over the last four years will have realised that the coalition government no longer believes that, in times of economic difficulty, hardship should be shared out. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats are quite content for the burden to fall hardest on particular groups whilst other sections of society continue to do very well. That’s why economic inequality is growing at a pace that worries everyone except the rich and their apologists in the government and that’s why bankers are still getting huge bonuses whilst pay rises for ordinary workers are almost non-existent and benefits are being cut.
 
And now, to cap it all, George Osborne tells us that, instead of the 1930s being a decade of shame, they represent an economic target! If you get the chance to talk to a Tory or a Liberal Democrat, ask them which features of the 1930s they would bring back to support the reduction in state spending so desired by the Chancellor – paying for the doctor, maybe? Soup kitchens for the unemployed? Even deeper cuts in benefits?

Kate Hollern: Gearing up for the General Election

In little more than four months’ time, Britain will have the chance to elect a new government. The outcome of the election will not only be critical for Britain but for people in Blackburn who have suffered under the cruel austerity policies of the Tories who are seeking to run the country over the next five years.

From where we live in Blackburn we know that something is deeply wrong in Britain. We have become a country of food banks and bank bonuses, of pay at the top still out of control but a cost of living crisis for everyone else, of tax cuts for millionaires but zero hours contracts for millions. We know that while we must deal with our country’s debts, there is more to a vision for the future than paying down the deficit. We know this election must not be about politicians, or who gets the keys to Number 10. Instead, it is about the chance to turn decisively away from a country run just for a privileged few – and turn towards something better.



As we approach the election the colours of our political opponents will vary more than usual but we will face the usual well-funded onslaught by the Tories supported by the vested interests that own the media.

However, we should focus on the fact that the choice for voters in May is still between two directions:

A bleak vision of Britain where spending on public services is dragged back to the 1930s and the recovery will only ever work for a few.



Or a brighter, Labour vision of Britain that rejects the notion that we cannot afford decent public services when money is tight or that low pay is the only way that we can compete in the world and says that our country only succeeds when working people succeed.


Over the next four months, the Labour Party in Blackburn will ensure Labour’s message reaches voters on every doorstep around the town knowing it will not be easy because people are feeling more cynical about politics than ever before.

We know that as usual we will be outspent by the Tories. We face new and dangerous opponents. But we will not be out-fought by anyone. 


We will set out our vision for a better Britain conversation by conversation, street by street, door by door, and the offer we present will provide concrete answers to people’s concerns.

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.