Entries from March 2013 ↓

Ricky Tomlinson writes to Labour movement supporters to ask they sign the Downing Street petition on an historic injustice in the construction industry

Dear Supporter,

I am writing to ask you to sign my Downing Street e-petition. The link is:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/35394

The deadline for signatures is 27 June 2013 so please sign right away. We need 100,000 signatures.

You know me as an actor and performer today but as a young man I was a plasterer working in the building industry and a member of the T&GWU. We were low paid and had some of the worst working conditions of any workers in Britain in the 1970’s. Like any good trade unionists we decided we would take action to change this. We had a national strike in summer 1972. We picketed sites that were not well organised and where union members needed our support. Five months after the strike ended 24 of us were arrested out of the blue and six of us were sent to prison after lengthy trails at Shrewsbury Crown Court.

I was sent to jail for 2 years for carrying out trade union activities. Today you do not hear of trade unionists in Britain being sent to prison but that’s what happened to me and 5 of my colleagues. Others got suspended prison sentences.

Please sign my e-petition to demand the release of Government documents. We believe that they show that there was government interference and manipulation in bringing the prosecutions. The Coalition Government today continues to refuse to release these documents on grounds of “national security”. There’s a lot more information on the Campaign’s website:

www.shrewsbury24campaign.org.uk

Best wishes

Ricky Tomlinson

Economy in nosedive, Cabinet and backbench splits, U-turns on policy. Is this another ‘worst day’ of news for David Cameron?

Stagflation
‘Spectre of stagflation returns to haunt UK’ (FT splash) – ‘Triple-dip looms as sterling hits 3-year low’ (Guard p24) – ‘Britain in line for triple-dip recession amid poor industry figures’ (Tele business p1) – ‘Fears of a triple-dip recession increase as Osborne’s recovery plan fails to bear fruit’ (Ti p4) – ‘Triple-dip fears revived by output slide’ (Indy p51) – The prospect of stagflation has returned to the UK as investors bet on a sharp jump in inflation to its highest level in almost five years, write Keohane/Jones. UK inflation expectations, as measured by the difference between nominal and inflation linked bond yields, ticked up to near 3.3% on Tuesday, levels not seen since September 2008. Investor fears that the UK could be simultaneously hit by stagnant growth and high inflation, as experienced in the 1970s, were exacerbated by poor economic data pointing to the probability of another economic contraction in the first quarter of this year. Sterling, meanwhile, fell 0.5% against the dollar to $1.4832, its lowest level since June 2010. Currency traders were spooked by ONS estimates that manufacturing output fell by 1.5% between December and January – and by 3% in the 12 months to January. Separately, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said the economy continued to flatline in the first two months of 2013. Howard Archer, of IHS Global Insight, said the manufacturing figures were “awful”. Sterling has fallen 8.5% against the dollar since the start of the year. After the yen, it is the second worst performance by a major currency against the greenback. The pound’s fall highlights divergent investor views on UK and US economic prospects. While the US economy is slowly picking up pace, the UK economy remains flat at best and investors are starting to price in the chance of eventual policy tightening by the Federal Reserve. (FT)

U-Turn on bedroom tax
Bedroom tax ‘IDS rows back on bedroom tax’ (Guard p4) – ‘Exemptions for military families and carers leave bedroom tax ‘in chaos’’ (Indy p4) – ‘IDS gives extra ground on ‘bedroom tax’’ (FT p4) – ‘No ‘bedroom tax’ for forces’ (Tele p14) – ‘IDS retreat over bedroom tax’ (Ti p11) – IDS, has denied claims that his controversial bedroom tax policy has descended into “total chaos” after he announced a partial U-turn to exempt foster carers and parents of teenage armed forces personnel from the charge, just three weeks before it is due to come into force, writes Butler. The concessions came in a written ministerial statement after weeks of growing political pressure. The changes will mean that about 5,000 approved foster carers will now be exempted from the bedroom tax, which from April will see people in social housing charged for empty bedrooms. They will be allowed an additional room as long as they have fostered a child or become a registered carer in the past 12 months. Parents whose children live at home but are away on operations with the armed forces will also not be charged for their child’s “spare bedroom”, as long as their offspring intend to return home. IDS said he had also issued guidance to local authorities emphasising that discretionary payments would be available to support “other priority groups” affected, including “people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with long-term medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom”. Byrne: ‘Cameron’s Bedroom Tax has descended into total chaos.

U-Turn on minimum alcohol pricing
Alcohol price ‘Tories force Cameron to abandon alcohol plan’ (Ti p1) – ‘PM forced into a humiliating U-turn on cheap booze by Cabinet revolt’ (Mail p4) – ‘Cameron scraps alcohol pricing plan’ (Tele p1) – ‘Cheap alcohol ban shelved after Cabinet fails to agree’ (Indy p15) – Cameron’s plan to tackle binge drinking by introducing a minimum price for alcohol is to be shelved after a revolt by Conservatives, write Savage/Watson. The PM hoped that forcing retailers to sell beer, wine and spirits for at least 45p per unit would curb antisocial behaviour. But fierce opposition within the Cabinet and on the Tory backbenches has forced ministers to ditch the plan. The U-turn is a blow to Cameron who had personally championed the move as a way of tackling problem drinking, insisting that it would not hit family budgets. Tories warned that the move would unfairly hit Middle England voters and risked falling foul of European law. May is among ministers to have voiced concerns about the plan. Several others in the Cabinet have claimed that it will hit those who drink responsibly. Pickles and Gove, are also understood to have been sceptical. Lansley said that the proposal would be “more likely to have a bigger proportionate impact on responsible drinkers who happen to be low-income households”. Wollaston said she was “very concerned” about the move. Crouch: ‘I really hope rumours of U-turn on minimum unit pricing for alcohol are not true. We must tackle problem of easily accessible cheap alcohol.’ Downing St would not confirm that the proposals had been ditched last night. (Ti)

Backbench splits
Redwood ‘Cameron’s backbenchers demand tax cuts to put confidence back into the economy’ (Tele p14) – Conservative MPs want tax cuts to “stimulate greater confidence” in the UK economy, a leaked email has revealed. The email, sent by Redwood makes clear that Tories also want the Coalition to squeeze public spending further. Email from Redwood: ‘The top running ideas are all proposals to offer tax cuts to stimulate greater confidence, more enterprise, and to relieve some of the squeeze on the private sector.’ Redwood suggested that Osborne should raise the threshold for higher-rate tax, “taking more people out of 40p tax instead of putting more in”. The email also suggests that as Osborne tries to balance the budget, he should do more to curtail spending. Osborne: ‘We are rebalancing the British economy from all the problems of the past.’ (Tele)

Cabinet Splits
‘Gove hits out at May for undermining Cameron’ (Guard p2) – ‘Cameron tells Tories to stop feuding’ (FT p2) – ‘Gove mauls May in leadership dust-up’ (Mail p2) – ‘Stop attacking PM on Twitter, Tory MPs told’ (Mail p18) – ‘Control your cabinet before lecturing us, Tories tell PM’ (Tele p14) – ‘Don’t use twitter to wrote off our election hopes, Tory MPs are told’ (Ti p11) – ‘Angry Cam: Stop slating our failures’ (Mirror p2) – Gove has challenged May to stop undermining Cameron when he spoke out at a meeting of the Conservative political cabinet against prominent Tories who are promoting their leadership credentials, writes Watt. In a sign of Downing Street’s extreme irritation with the home secretary, who set out her political creed in a wide-ranging speech on Saturday, the education secretary made clear that such a high-profile intervention played into the hands of the Tories’ opponents. The move by Gove shows that No 10 believes the growing party indiscipline has spread to the highest levels of the cabinet. It is understood that Gove did not name May but left the political cabinet in no doubt that he had the home secretary in mind after her high-profile speech at the weekend in which she spoke way beyond her formal brief and set out her thoughts on what she called the three pillars of Conservatism. At a meeting of the Conservative parliamentary party, Crosby, who is a famed disciplinarian, said the general election was eminently winnable. But he added that the constant sniping against Cameron on Twitter and the airwaves was unhelpful and playing into the hands of Labour. Wollaston responded by complaining to Cameron that she learned about the warning from the Daily Mail’s website hours earlier. Kris Hopkins was one of the MPs in marginal seats who hit out at the critics. James Forsyth, the political editor of the Spectator, said Hopkins criticised MPs who have been highlighting their leadership credentials as “self indulgent buffoons”. Tory source: ‘These are difficult times but we can be proud that we have achieved a great deal. These were challenges ducked by the last govt in much easier times.’ The decision of Gove, who is one of Cameron’s closest cabinet allies, to confront May shows that the leadership believes that the home secretary is fuelling backbench disloyalty by staking out territory for a future leadership contest. May insists that she is loyal but is being a “realist” in the highly unlikely event of a contest. (Guard) … Dugher: ‘He is reduced to gagging MPs because they might tell it how it is. He is desperately trying to stop his divided party imploding.’ (Mirror)

It looks like Croatia IS arming Syrian rebels and now there are allegations that the UK is involved in a covert operation to assist in weapons shipments

There is a very curious story from a Croatian news source today. It claims there were 75 plane loads of arms flown from Zagreb to Syrian rebels from November to February. The article also claims that Britain was involved in their shipment.

I’ve only been able to read the story using Google translate and I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the allegations nor do I know the authority the news source, so there are some very big “ifs” to be applied to this, but IF true it almost certainly means:

1. Defence Minister Philip Dunne knew about the shipments when he refused to answer my not unreasonable question on 25th February.

2. Foreign Officer Hugo Swire was either aware of the situation when he said he would write to me on 4th March, or his department hadn’t briefed him comprehensively. Either way the situation is reprehensible.

3. More importantly, if the story is true it shows that Britain is part of a covert operation to arm rebel forces. This runs counter to the impression given by William Hague who said earlier in the week:

“I informed the House in January that we would seek to amend EU sanctions on Syria to open up the possibility of further assistance if the situation deteriorated. On Thursday, we finalised with our European partners a specific exemption to the EU sanctions to permit the provision of non-lethal military equipment and all forms of technical assistance to the Syrian National Coalition where it is intended for the protection of civilians.”

His whole contribution in the Syria Statement is here.

The full story can be seen in Google Translate mode at JutarnjiLIST

The key sections (that could really do with proper translation by a Croatian speaker) are here:

In the period from the beginning of November last year to February this year, from Zagreb airport Pleso flew a total of 75 civilian transport aircraft which was carrying weapons for the Syrian rebels, Morning newspaper learned from diplomatic sources. These planes, besides Croatian arms, transported weapons, and from other European countries, whose collection organized United States.

Until recently it was believed that a senior Croatian officer with U.S. counterparts, of which he wrote the New York Times, arranging transport excess Croatian obsolete weapons to Syrian rebels. However, according to reliable diplomatic sources, the plan of arming Syrian rebels had a much broader context.
Specifically, U.S. officials have hired partners – Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey in the operation of arming Syrian regime opponents. The United States organized a collection of weapons, Saudi Arabia has been paid, and Jordan and Turkey were transporting weapons that are then transferred to the Jordanian territory to Syria.
Croatia’s role was twofold. It is part of their surplus weapons – rocket launchers M79 and RPG-22, hand grenade launchers RBG-6 and M60 recoilless guns aside from their warehouse. Unknown quantity of weapons to Syria went in early November last year with the Zagreb Dance Turkish A310 planes. However, the dance was brought by the American organization and weapons from several European countries, including Britain, which then transport planes Jordanian International Cargo shipped to Jordan and then to Syria.
So one could say that the dance was a few months international hub for transporting weapons to Syrian rebels. As the planes used to transport A310 and Ilyushin 76MF, it is estimated that over 75 flights transported about 3000 tons of various weapons and munitions.

I am extremely grateful to the laser beam focus of the blogger Brown Moses for bringing this to my attention.

A quarter of the people affected by David Cameron’s Bedroom Tax are single mums and single dads – Liam Byrne press notice

Liam Byrne has just issued a press release revealing figures buried in the detail of the Government’s Bedroom Tax Impact Assessment show a quarter of the people affected by David Cameron’s Bedroom Tax are single mums and single dads.

It is now clear that of the £480 million it raises, £100 million comes from the pockets of some of the poorest single mums and single dads in Britain, struggling to raise kids on their own.

Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said:

“David Cameron promised to stand up for the family raisers but his Bedroom Tax is a £100million tax bombshell for single mums and dads whilst 13,000 millionaires get a £3 billion tax cut. These aren’t tough choices – they’re the wrong choices.

“The bedroom tax has now been utterly exposed as a chaotic disaster, but it’s not too late for the Prime Minister to do the decent thing, admit he has got this wrong and think again.”

1. Buried in the detail of the Government’s Bedroom Tax Impact Assessment are figures which show that out of the 660,000 people affected, 150,000 (23 per cent) are lone parents under 60.

The average amount taken from them per week is £13, which amounts to £676 a year. Overall, this means a £100 million tax bombshell on some of Britain’s poorest lone parents.

(Source: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/social-sector-housing-under-occupation-wr2011-ia.pdf)