Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Should Labour's General Election Manifesto Say? (Part 1)

The above title is the topic for our next discussion meeting as advertised in our right hand column.

In order to shape its General Election Manifesto, the Labour Party has published a consultative document entitled "The Choice For Britain". To help with our own discussions my summary of the document appears below. The full document can be found here.

Your ideas on both the summary and the full document are, of course, welcome in our comment box.


(1). In preparation for its General Election Manifesto, the Labour Party has produced a 38 page consultative document entitled “The Choice For Britain” - see the above link.

(2). It states that “Our proposals are being sent to every constituency party in the country framing thinking for the next manifesto. All responses will be fed into the National Policy Forum and used to shape Labour’s ideas. Every party member can have their say so we have a programme that reflects the aspirations of the British people. We want to know your ideas on the way forward for Britain” (page 7).

(3) The avenue for expressing your ideas is shown here by Ed Miliband.

(4) In summarizing the document below, I draw from the section entitled “Our plan for the future - national ambitions for 2015” and use quotations only (from pages 22 to 35). Whilst most sections have key points which can be drawn from, this is not possible with Extract C as it covers a wide range of areas including crime, immigration, the armed forces, health and pensions.


A. “Building a prosperous Britain : forging a new growth model for the UK economy. …..Labour believes that competitiveness requires sustained investment and support - real help, now - that will help secure future employment and living standards…..We will help people to compete in a globalised world, and retain a diversified economy based on high-value employment, without closing markets or denying the huge benefits of free enterprise …..”.

B. “Building a fairer Britain : breaking down barriers and boosting opportunity. …..There has, until recently, been little of the momentum towards social progress that there was for the sons and daughters of the Second World War generation…..schools will be the engine of social mobility. Education is now more than ever our number one priority for Britain’s future. Our ambition is world class schools offering excellent teaching and personalised support. This is epitomised by our commitment to create over 400 Academy schools in England…..”.

C. “Building a stronger Britain: strengthening family and community life and reinvigorating the public realm and keeping Britain strong abroad......There have been major improvements in public health, with standards rising across the system. The reforms have included stronger incentives for organisations to improve performance, with payment linked to patient outcomes, a revolution in patient choice, and greater freedom for providers, for example, through the establishment of NHS Foundation Trusts in England……We are committed to re-linking the state pension to earnings…..”.

D. “Building a greener Britain : shifting to a low carbon economy and society.. ….. Our Low Carbon Transition Plan…..includes details of our renewable energy strategy through which we will achieve 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, our programme to build new nuclear power stations …and our demonstration programme of carbon capture and storage technology on coal-fired power stations. The global market for low carbon and environmental goods and services is already worth £3 trillion…..Our Low Carbon Industrial Strategy aims to make Britain among the best places in the world to locate and develop a low carbon business…..”.

E. “Building a democratic Britain : restoring trust and revitalising our constitutional settlement.…..Britain needs a new constitutional and political settlement for a new era. The key issues on which we are seeking the views of the British people are reform of the House of Lords; proposals for a written Constitution; stronger powers for local and regional government; options for electoral reform; and improving engagement, especially amongst young people, including votes at 16.….And we will commit to a referendum early in the next Parliament on whether to move to the Alternative Vote system for the House of Commons…..”.



* We will have raised the living standards of those on middle incomes.

* We will have delivered low inflation and kept interest rates as low as possible.

* We will have more than halved the deficit as a proportion of national income.

* We will have helped to create at least one million new skilled jobs.

* We will have built on our record, investing in front line services such as schools, hospitals, and Sure Start Children’s Centres.

* We will have a national social care service with personal care for all.

* We will expand the supply of affordable housing and give more help to first-time buyers.

* We will have reformed our democratic institutions and given people a greater say.

* We will have met our energy emissions targets reducing climate change.

* We will have kept crime down and given communities new powers to improve their quality of life.” (page 36).


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

What Is Parliament For?

On the left is the cover of a Report published by a Commons' Select Committee on 24 November 2009. The full report can be found via the link here.

Natascha Engel (see the photo below) our local MP served on the Select Committee and produced a Minority Report which can be found here. Then when the Report was debated in Westminster Hall in the Commons on 15 December she made the following speech.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) on securing this debate. It takes place not just as a result of the report "Rebuilding the House", by the Select Committee on which I served, but against the backdrop of the MPs' expenses scandal, which is not going away. Part of the reason is that there is a much wider democratic deficit. I had hoped that the report would address it, but it has failed absolutely to do so, which is why I submitted a minority report. I am grateful for this opportunity to explain briefly why I did so.

One main reason why I thought that the report missed the mark slightly is that we never defined at any point what we meant by reform. Unless we have a clear idea of what it is we mean by reform or modernisation-there is lots of talk about modernisation as well-it is perfectly possible that I could be discussing something completely different from any other Member of the House. Also, we must define our purpose. What do we want our Parliament to do, and therefore, what do we see our role to be as Members of this House?

None of those questions was really addressed. Although the report is important-it considers Select Committees, the question of who scrutinises business and how best to do so-those are details. Unless the context is much wider and we consider exactly what we do and why we do it, we could end up making things worse rather than better. One key element of the report that many Members have spoken about today-it has also been discussed in the Committee and elsewhere-is wresting control away from the Executive. We may all agree that the Executive has too much control, but how we wrest it away from them and who we give it to is a key issue not addressed in the report.

The proposal for a House business Committee-not a Back-Bench business Committee, which I support-to determine who controls Government time in the House would give such decisions to a group of seven sensible Back Benchers elected by secret ballot of the whole House, but it could make the situation worse. We did not go into detail about how we would do so and exactly what the outcomes would be, but they could be dangerous.

I will be brief, because I intervened on my hon. Friend many times. I think that we all agree that Select Committees are good. They are the one thing that enhances the reputation of the House. Again, I urge caution. What are we proposing, and why are we proposing it? What are we trying to improve? Gwyneth Dunwoody and Lord Anderson, formerly MP for Swansea, East- I was not a Member of the House at the time, but I remember watching from outside-became members and Chairs of their Select Committees, so even though the system was imperfect, it worked.

I am worried that by saying, "We don't think it works well enough; let's do something completely different, like having an election by secret ballot of the whole House," we might make things worse. We have not thought through the consequences. The only time when we hold a secret ballot of the whole House is to elect the new Speaker, and many Opposition Members felt that, like it or not, somebody whom they found unpalatable was foisted on them by a Government majority. Given that this is a party political institution and that we tend to revert to type, what guarantee is there that we would not do so when electing Select Committee Chairmen?

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I partly agree with my hon. Friend. However, it is not fair that certain Members, who have been democratically elected, are blocked from ever joining a Select Committee because they are independently minded.

Natascha Engel: I do not know the details of individuals who have been blocked. I was elected in 2005, which was quite late in the 12 years of Labour Government.

The current issue with Select Committees is filling the spaces because there is no mad clamour to serve on them. There are four or five big, sexy Select Committees that everyone wants to be on, including the Home Affairs Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Treasury Committee. Members will not put their names down for any number of other Select Committees, and cannot be persuaded to do so for love nor money.

If Select Committee members are elected by the House by secret ballot, how can we ensure that there is an adequate gender balance, the right amount of age and experience, and a regional mix? The Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons considered that in detail and it is not possible. Through the gain of making Select Committees more democratic, something else would be taken away. We must caution against making the situation, which we all agree is not perfect, an awful lot worse because we might not be able to go back to the system that we think works okay. Nothing is perfect.

Finally, I will make a point that I made time and again on the Reform of the House of Commons Committee. It is six months before a general election. As other hon. Members have said, there will be an unprecedented number of new MPs and they will have fresh ideas on what to do. They will have fought an election against the backdrop of the MPs' expenses scandal and will have to have an idea of how Parliament can be reformed. If we go too far down the line of House business committees deciding who controls what bits of time, we risk tying the hands of the future generation, which is not fair. I would welcome the opportunity to debate this in greater detail on the Floor of the House, but I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few brief points today.

The full Westminster Hall debate (including numbers of other contributions by Natascha) can be found here.

The above material formed the background to the talk Natascha gave at the January meeting of our Discussion Group under the title "What Is Parliament For?". We are keen to pursue the matters she raised in our future activities. In the photo below she is addressing the Commons.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why social inequality persists

The next Sheffield Humanist Society meeting on 3rd February will be on "Why social inequality persists" with Prof. Danny Dorling as our speaker.
Among rich countries Britain has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth and income in the world. After a massive increase in inequality in the 80’s the gap is still widening. Many studies have shown that inequality, not just poverty, has adverse effects across the whole of society. To quote the sub-title of the recent book The Spirit Level “more equal societies almost always do better”.
Prof. Dorling’s talk presents the argument that in rich countries injustice as represented by social inequalities is caused less and less by having too few resources to share around fairly, but is increasingly maintained by widespread adherence to beliefs which actually propagate it.
Danny Dorling is Professor of Geography at the University of Sheffield. He is a member of the advisory group for the Equality Trust ( The Equality Trust campaigns “to gain the widest public and political understanding of the harm caused by inequality”. He has recently been on the team that produced a report about inequalities in Sheffield called "A Tale of Two Cities" (
The meeting is at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday 3rd February at the University Arms, 197 Brook Hill, Sheffield, S3 7HG
The University Arms is close to the tram, get off at the Sheffield University stop, and several buses stop nearby including 51 & 52, stopping almost next to the pub, with 94 & 95 a short walk away. Parking is available in the streets behind the pub.You can see a map of the location with this link:
The following meeting in March will be "Is 'Clean Coal' an act of faith." We will have two speakers with different points of view about this and want to explore and discuss this complex subject.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Snow Problem, No Problem

Although it was snowing at the time, the meeting advertised here took place. But it meant that most of the visitors who normally attend from neighbouring areas could not make it. A dozen locals turned up and we had a valuable meeting. A report of what took place will appear on this site soon. We will also be pursuing the important issues raised by Natascha (our local MP) at future meetings.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We Go Ahead

At the moment the following meeting will still take place for members of the Labour Party, members of the Contact Club and for others who have received invitations. If the weather worsens on Friday and the meeting has to be postponed, then emails and phone calls will be sent out to our usual contacts and a notice will be posted on this blog.


SPEAKER..........Natascha Engel MP

TOPIC............What Is Parliament For?

TIME.............7.30 pm to 8.45 pm

DATE.............Friday, 8th January 2010

VENUE............Contact Club, Snape Hill Lane, Dronfield

Natascha Engel is the local Labour MP for North East Derbyshire. In Parliament she recently served on a Select Committee which examined the question of the reform of the House of Commons. The Committee produced a report on 24 November 2009 entitled "Rebuilding The House". As Natascha disagreed with the overall approach of the majority of the members on the Committee, she produced her own Minority Report. The topic of our discussion meeting is central to her approach - "What Is Parliament For?".

On the issue click here to see a relevant article from Natascha which appeared in the Guardian