national and international issues

The sorry story of Nick Clegg – the un-credible shrinking man!

The government needs to do more to make this a recovery for the many

David Cameron and George Osborne are once again in a jubilant mood. Today’s employment figures reveal a sharp decline in unemployment – another vindication, we are told, for the government’s economic policy. Yet here in the West Midlands, the news is somewhat mixed. On one hand, the region has been fortunate to see the biggest fall in unemployment – 32,000 – of anywhere in the country. On the other hand, at 8.1%, the rate of unemployment, particularly in Birmingham, remains far higher than the national average. The government needs to do more to ensure that cities like ours can get people back into work.

One of the reasons Birmingham and the West Midlands has a high unemployment rate is the large number of young people in the region, who are disproportionately affected by the government’s austerity policies. Nowhere near enough has been done for young people here or elsewhere in the country; the Work Programme has been a catastrophic failure, meaning that young people who could have been helped by the previous government’s Future Jobs Fund are in danger of being left on the scrapheap. Nothing short of Labour’s Jobs Guarantee, ensuring paid work for young people, will address this problem and help bring Birmingham back into line with the rest of the country.

The problem does not end with those still unemployed, however. Across the city, as in the rest of Britain, we see an increasing number of working people finding it harder to make ends meet. While George Osborne has said that he would like to see the minimum wage rise to £7 per hour, a move that would be welcome to many households in Birmingham, it still would not go far enough. Any increase in the statutory minimum wage should come with incentives to businesses to offer a living wage. The government has still failed to act on soaring energy prices, and its attempts to cap rail fares have made little difference to commuters, many of whom have seen the price of their daily journeys increase yet again in the new year. We have a government that is not only not taking enough action to reduce unemployment, but it is also neglecting those who work hard and still struggle at the end of the month. Prices are still rising faster than wages, as they have done for so long under this government – this cannot go on. Life would be different under a Labour government.

Labour is leading the way locally and nationally on employment and living standards. Our own City Council pays all of its employees a living wage. A Labour government would incentivise businesses to pay a living wage, and ensure that energy prices and rail fares are capped, so that work pays and people can afford to live properly. Labour would secure a recovery that worked for everybody: young and old; those on low and middle incomes; those in work and those who want to work. People right across Birmingham are better off under Labour.

George Osborne is desperate to stop talking about the cost-of-living crisis on his watch – Balls

Ed Balls MP, Labour’s shadow chancellor, responding to George Osborne’s speech on the economy, said:

“George Osborne is desperate to stop talking about the cost-of-living crisis on his watch. But that won’t stop working people from doing so as they are on average £1600 a year worse off under the Tories and prices are still rising faster than wages.

“Nor will the Chancellor admit the reason why he is being forced to make more cuts is because his failure on growth and living standards has led to his failure to balance the books by 2015.

“This failure means Labour will have to make cuts and in 2015/16 there will be no more borrowing for day-to-day spending. But we will get the deficit down in a fair way, not give tax cuts to millionaires. And we know that the way to mitigate the scale of the cuts needed is to earn and grow our way to higher living standards for all.

“The social security bill is rising under George Osborne, but the best way to get it down for the long-term is to get people into work and build more homes. The Tories should back our compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed. And in tough times it cannot be a priority to continue paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest five per cent of pensioners.

“What we need is Labour’s plan to earn our way to higher living standards for all, tackle the cost-of-living crisis and get the deficit down in a fairer way.”

Britain and Birmingham can do better with Labour

Ed-Miliband-One-Nation-Mental-Health-speechThe leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, has just delivered his speech to the party’s conference in Brighton. In it, he confirmed a number of policies, in addition to others announced over the last two days by the shadow cabinet, aimed at helping ordinary people in tough times. He proclaimed that ‘Britain can do better than this’; a message that will ring true across Birmingham, so severely punished by the Conservative-led government. In Birmingham we know that it is only under Labour that things can get better.

The Tories will spend next week in Manchester congratulating themselves on what a marvelous job they think they have done on the economy. They think that they have saved the economy and the country; but while they pat each other on the back, life continues to get harder for the majority of people. Wages are falling while prices are rising; a million young people are out of work; childcare is becoming more unaffordable for those who need it most; energy costs are soaring; rents are increasing and young people are finding it harder to find a home; the neediest who are having their benefits cut are being stigmatised by cabinet ministers for using foodbanks. The government thinks it has secured the recovery, yet the majority of people in Birmingham and across Britain feel that the government has done nothing for them. It may be back to business for  those at the top, but the rest of us continue to be squeezed.

This is why Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have set out real help for families. Expanding free childcare for 3-4 year-olds; guaranteeing childcare for primary school children; building 200,000 new homes a year until 2020; capping energy prices; strengthening the minimum wage and encouraging a living wage; a Jobs Guarantee for unemployed young people; repealing the bedroom tax. Despite what the Conservatives will say, these are policies that will  not wreck the recovery, but make life easier for the majority of ordinary people. They say the recovery should protect their interests at the top of society – Labour says it should make life better for all.

Today, we can see what Britain will look like with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. A fairer country, where the economic recovery is made by the majority for the majority, not in the interests of those at the top. A Labour government will improve life for people across Birmingham and across Britain. Our city and our country are better off under Labour.

No real winners in war

David Cameron chairs No 10 meeting 28 August

This morning I wrote to our MP, Roger Godsiff expressing my concerns with regard to Cameron’s apparent  ‘need for speed’ to enter into military intervention in Syria.

If chemical weapons have been used then those responsible must be must be dealt with in an international court. It is imperative that Western intervention must not be the reactive response that Cameron was suggesting. This ‘we must do something response’ that results in purely reactive action, will ultimately be ill thought out. This lesson should have already been learnt with the Iraq war and the heavy price paid.

Intervention yes, but not military intervention. Action needs to be taken into working towards and ensuring the success of a UN-brokered peace process involving all the local and regional players. This is the only solution and this can only come after the inspectors have been in and reported on all of the facts.

I am sure that many of you share my concerns which I have asked Roger to take forward to the debate tomorrow. I also asked him to vote against any calls for immediate military intervention. For the Syrian people their situation will only get worse as their nightmare continues. There are never any real winners in war.

Without Labour’s support, and the support of many of his backbenchers and Lib Dem’s, Cameron’s plans for military action will have been defeated in the Commons tomorrow.  This means that tomorrow’s vote in the House of Commons will no longer be about authorising the use of British military force following the amendment put forward by Labour:

This House expresses its revulsion at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Ghutah, Syria on 21 August 2013; believes that this was a moral outrage; recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons; makes clear that the use of chemical weapons is a grave breach of international law; agrees with the UN Secretary General that the UN weapons inspectors must be able to report to the UN Security Council and that the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians; supports steps to provide humanitarian protection to the people of Syria but will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met:

  1. The UN weapons inspectors, upon the conclusion of their mission in the Eastern Ghutah, being given the necessary opportunity to make a report to the Security Council on the evidence and their findings, and confirmation by them that chemical weapons have been used in Syria;
  2. The production of compelling evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons;
  3. The UN Security Council having considered and voted on this matter in the light of the reports of the weapons inspectors and the evidence submitted;
  4. There being a clear legal basis in international law for taking collective military action to protect the Syrian people on humanitarian grounds;
  5. That such action must have regard to the potential consequences in the region, and must therefore be legal, proportionate, time-limited and have precise and achievable objectives designed to deter the future use of prohibited chemical weapons in Syria; aan
  6. That the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action.

This House further notes that such action relates solely to efforts to deter the use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any wider action in Syria.

The full text of the Government’s motion on Syria can be read here

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Climate change – 30 mths until the critical Paris summit

Climate Change is the most important issue affecting our world and our time to do something about it is rapidly running out.  That’s the message that we must all take on board.
Nations across the world are seeing the impact of climate change in vastly different ways. In the UK that has meant uncertain weather patterns, too much rain and not enough sunshine. In Bangladesh its far more serious where rising sea levels are resulting in large areas of  land being flooded by the sea. Saltwater makes the land useless for agriculture and creates impossible living conditions in an already crowded and poor country.
The UK under Labour lead the world on climate change in Government.  We must continue to to put climate change at the top of the political agenda.
I have copied an e-mail I received from Avaaz below because it sets out the position so clearly.
Cllr Sam Burden
 
Scientist Julienne Stroeve has studied Arctic ice for decades. Every summer she travels to north to measure how much ice has melted. She knows that climate change is melting the ice fast, but on her last trip, she couldn’t believe what she saw. Vast areas of Arctic ice have disappeared, beyond our worst expectations.
This is what the experts warned us about. As the earth warms, it creates many “tipping points” that accelerate the warming out of control. Warming thaws the Arctic sea ice, destroying the giant white ‘mirror’ that reflects heat back into space, which massively heats up the ocean, and melts more ice, and so on. We spin out of control. Already this year — storms, temperatures — everything is off the charts.

We CAN stop this, if we act very fast, and all together. And out of this extinction nightmare, we can pull one of the most inspiring futures for our children and grandchildren. A clean, green future in balance with the earth that gave birth to us.

We have 30 months until the Paris Summit, the meeting that world leaders have decided will determine the fate of our efforts to fight climate change. It might seem like a long time – it’s not. We have 30 months to get the right leaders in power, get them to that meeting, give them a plan, and hold them accountable. And it’s us vs. the oil companies, and fatalism. We can win, we must, but we need to blast out of the starting gate with 40,000 pledges of support — we’ll only process the donations if we hit our goal. For the world we dream of, let’s make it happen:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/30_months_mo/?bTMcccb&v=26082

Fatalism on climate change is not just futile, it’s also incompetent. The hour is late, but it is still absolutely within our power to stop this catastrophe, simply by shifting our economies from oil and coal to other sources of power. And doing so will bring the world together like never before, in a deep commitment and cooperation to protect our planetary home. It’s a beautiful possibility, and the kind of future Avaaz was born to create.

Facing this challenge will take heart, and hope, and also all the smarts we have. Here’s the plan:

1. Go Political: Elect Climate Leaders

        — 5 crucial countries have elections in the next 30 months. Let’s make sure the right people win, and with the right mandate. Avaaz is one of the only major global advocacy organizations that can be political. And since this fight will be won or lost politically, it could be at some points just us vs. the oil companies to decide who our politicians listen to.

2. Make Hollande a Hero

       — French President Francois Hollande will chair the Paris summit – a powerful position. We have to try every tactic and channel — his personal friends and family, his political constituency, his policy advisors — to make him the hero we need him to be to make the summit a success.

3. Take it to the Next Level

       — The scale of this crisis demands action that goes beyond regular campaigning. It’s time for powerful, direct, non-violent action, to capture imagination, convey moral urgency, and inspire people to act. Think Occupy.

4. Out the Spoilers

       — Billionaires like the Koch brothers and their oil companies are the major spoilers in climate change – funding junk science to confuse us and spending millions on misleading PR, while buying politicians wholesale. With investigative journalism and more, we need to expose and counter their horrifically irresponsible actions.

5. Define the Deal

       — Even in the face of planetary catastrophe, 195 governments in a room can be just incompetent. We need to invest in top quality policy advice to develop ingenious strategies, mechanisms, and careful compromises so that when the summit arrives, a critical mass of leaders are already bought in to a large part of the deal, and no one can claim that good solutions don’t exist.

We need 40,000 of us to pledge small donations to blast out of the starting gate on this plan. The amount doesn’t matter as much as much as the choice – to hope, and to act:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/30_months_mo/?bTMcccb&v=26082

At the last major climate summit in Copenhagen 2009, we played a pivotal role in German and Japanese ‘climate’ elections, in shifting Brazilian policy, and in helping win a major global deal on financing, with rich countries promising $100 billion per year to poor countries to help them address climate change. Back then, Avaaz was 3 million people. After Copenhagen, we reflected that we needed to be a lot bigger to meet the challenge posed by climate change. Now, we’re 22 million, and growing by 1 million per month.

Climate change is the ultimate global collective action problem, requiring cooperation from every government in the world. And Avaaz is the ultimate collective action solution, with millions of us united in common vision across every nation. This is our time, to build a world for our children that’s beauty matches our dreams. Let’s get started.

With hope and appreciation for this amazing community,

Ricken and the entire Avaaz team

MORE INFORMATION:

Scientists Close in on the Cause of Arctic Methane Leaks (Climate Central)
http://www.climatecentral.org/news/scientists-close-in-on-the-cause-of-arctic-methane-leaks-15090

NASA warns Arctic thaw could have huge impact on global warming (The Verge)
http://www.theverge.com/2013/6/12/4422078/nasa-arctic-permafrosts-carbon-emissions

Five Reasons We Need a New Global Agreement on Climate Change by 2015 (Switchboard NRDC)
http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jschmidt/five_reasons_we_need_a_new_glo.html

The Doha climate talks were a start, but 2015 will be the moment of truth (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/10/doha-climate-talks-global-warming

Vast methane ‘plumes’ seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats (The Independent)
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/vast-methane-plumes-seen-in-arctic-ocean-as-sea-ice-retreats-6276278.html

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