Carlisle City council declare Climate Emergency

On Tuesday, Colin Glover, leader of Carlisle City council, and Labour councillor for Currock tabled a motion to declare a Climate Emergency. The motion, which was backed by the Labour party, passed by 29 votes to 22.

Carlisle as a city is no stranger to climate emergencies. The Border city has had 2 “1 in 100 year” floods already in the 21st Century, yet no action had appeared to be taken.

In 2015 Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called out then Prime Minister David Cameron on making “false promises” and ignoring climate scientists advising him on the scale of the flooding that climate change would cause. Over 3 years on from the floods that devasted Carlisle, adequate flood defences are yet to be produced, and the council decided it was time for action.

However, Carlisle Labour weren’t alone in their bill. They were joined by 6 year-old Emily from neighbouring Brampton, who gave a speech urging councillors to back the motion, and why it is important on both a local and international scale. The speech was a lot more impressive than anything I was doing at that age.

As Part of the motion, the Council aims to have their activities producing net zero carbon by 2030. Carlisle Council are setting a great example by passing this motion, and I firmly believe that all councils, and in extension, parliament, should table bills on making prevention of climate change one of the country’s most important tasks.

The roadblock to such change is the Conservative Party. In this case, the Conservative councillors in Carlisle abstained, as apparently the literal fate of the planet wasn’t important enough to vote on but right wing politicians have been resistant to action that hopes to mitigate climate change.

It wasn’t just Carlisle that declared a climate emergency last night, though. Kingston, a city in Ontario, Canada, also declared a climate emergency, the first of its kind in the Canadian state. Seeing this, partnered with the recent Youth Strikes for Climate, lead by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, fills me with optimism that as grass roots movements, uniting together, we may just be able to save the planet and all of the life upon it.

Parliament security back strike action in row while MPs scheduled for pay rise

Staff who police the entrances and exits to Parliament will walk out for 1 day on the 20th March in a row over workload if no agreement between Parliament and the Public and Commercial Services Union is reached.

This comes 1 day after it was announced MPs will get a 2.7% pay rise from April, taking their salary to £79,468.

More than 240 guards were balloted with 86% voting for strike action with a turnout of 62%. Guards are unhappy with reduced breaks and greater work load being hoisted onto them without a pay rise.

The security guards now have the backing of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn who said the commons “must lead by example when it comes to workers’ rights”.

Union talks are still ongoing and an agreement could be reached that would end the need for industrial action.

Talking about the strike ballot, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“The mandate for action from our members is strong and the House of Commons Commission need to recognise this strength of feeling amongst their security staff and settle this dispute. Hardworking staff are only asking for justice and fairness in the workplace. They are not prepared to put up with a culture of fear.

A spokeperson from Parliament stated:

“We have taken swift action to rectify the issues raised by the PCS Union regarding staff rest breaks and remain committed to finding a way forward that addresses outstanding concerns. Should the strike action proceed, business resilience plans will be put into place to ensure the security of the estate and the continued functioning of Parliament.”

The dispute with guards is another example of MPs pay being out of step with workers in the country, even workers closest to them.

In the recent announcement of future Parliamentary pay MPs got a pay rise of 2.7% while their Parliamentary staff got a rise of 1.5%.

MPs pay has now gone up 4 years in a row and this year’s rise was above the rate of inflation. This is in stark contrast to most public service workers who still face pay caps below that of inflation.

The general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, Mark Serwotka said the rise was

“an outrage… while civil servants, who do some of the most vital jobs in society, are still subject to a cruel 1% de-facto pay cap.”

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has the power to increase MP pay without permission from Parliament so while lots of Labour MPs have spoken out against the rise they have no power to stop it.

Jeremy Corbyn: Independent Splitters Have ‘No Problems With Austerity’

Jeremy Corbyn attended a Labour rally in Anna Soubry’s East-Midlands constituency of Broxtowe this morning. The Labour-Leader made a campaign-esque speech in-front of thousands of Labour voters and members. The constituency of Broxtowe is a marginal one, with a fiery and passionate Labour party hoping to capitalise on Anna Soubry’s split from the Tory party.

Corbyn hit out at the newly formed Independent Group and openly criticised Soubry and his ex-colleagues. He said he was sad some of his MP’s had left the party, but he wouldn’t be changing policy to suit them. Restating his current policies many times.

“I’m disappointed that a small number of Labour MPs have decided to leave our party and join forces with disaffected Tories, who say they have no problem with austerity that has plunged thousands into desperate poverty and insecurity,” he said.

“Our programme for change won huge support in the general election because we offered hope, instead of the same old establishment demand for cuts, privatisation and austerity. That’s why we now back public ownership of the utilities and railways, why we now oppose tuition fees and corporate giveaways, and why we’re no longer afraid to ask the rich to pay their fair share of tax.”

He then went on to discuss the nationwide youth climate strikes,

“They were condemned by Tory ministers because they said they should have been studying … they should be working, they shouldn’t be doing all that,” he said. “All I simply say to them is ‘thank you for educating all of us that day.”

Corbyn was joined at the rally by John McDonnel and Emily Thornberry, among others.

When talking about the antisemitism issues within the party, Corbyn said: “I’m proud to lead a party that was the first ever to introduce race relations legislation and also to pass the equality act and the human rights act into the statute book. Antisemitism is unacceptable in any form and in any way whatsoever, and anywhere in our society.”

He went on to heavily criticise the voting records of Anna Soubry and Chris Leslie, the later defecting from Labour to form The Independent Group. Labour’s candidate for the Broxtowe, Greg Marshall, called for a by-election, claiming Corbyn was in Broxtowe more often than Soubry, she holds a slim majority of 863 votes.

Labour to expand democratic right to recall of MPs

Labour has announced it will  consult on extending the right of constituents to petition to recall their MPs if they change parties.

Labour say this will be part of a radical program to reform British democracy that will culminate in a Constitutional Convention to radically democratise politics and power in our country.

Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, said:

“Power comes from the people but for too long the overwhelming majority have been shut out. That’s why trust in politics and in elites is rightly falling. “Communities should not have to wait for up to five years to act if they feel their MP is not properly representing their interests, especially with the restrictions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act. “This proposed reform has the dramatic potential to empower citizens and will be one of many measures the Labour Party is planning to consult on and announce that will change the way politics in this country is done”.

The issue has come to light as 8 Labour MPs and 3 Tory MPs defected to the centrist Independent group. Many constituents are unhappy that MPs elected on party tickets no longer represent them. These MPs refuse to call by-elections.

Gavin Shuker, who represents Luton, is one of the defectors and the leader of Luton Borough Council has called for a by-election stating:

“As a CLP, we’re very disappointed that a lot of us put aside political differences with Gavin in 2017 to knock on doors and work towards his increased majority – which he only got because of Labour’s 2017 manifesto.”

Cllr Sian Timoney said that by not calling by-elections Shuker was “disrespecting and ignoring the electorate who put you there.”

Many of the defectors, including Leslie, Shuker and Ryan, had lost votes of no confidence in them put forward by their local parties.

This Labour Split Will Achieve Nothing

Less than half a year ago, Chuka Umunna described the prospect of a new political party emerging from the People’s Vote campaign as “utter bollocks”, claiming he would never support a move which would “aid and abet Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage and others”. Today however, Umunna, alongside six other Labour MP’s, have resigned from the Labour Party in protest over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Brexit and anti-Semitism in the party.

Upon hearing this news, I decided to visit the Independent Group’s website to better understand what it was that this new group stood for. I was greeted with a white blank page, learning later that the website had crashed after only a couple of hours;a fitting metaphor for a group of MP’s whose vision for Britain remains vague and ambiguous.

It seems their main purpose is to fix British politics which to them is ostensibly “broken”. Are they right to suggest this? Maybe so, there are a significant group of people who have felt left behind for too long by mainstream party politics. But splitting from the Labour party to fix this issue, quite simply, won’t work.

Centrism is not the answer to this mess. At times of immense social and political unrest centrism has proved inefficient. We have seen this in France, with substantial protest directed towards President Macron and his centrist government. In Britain, the Liberal Democrats, despite having offered a People’s Vote for months, have failed to win over any disaffected voters. The Labour split will only make the politics of this country more fragmented, more convoluted and more divisive by splitting the left-liberal vote.

In splitting the left vote, Umunna and co. have handed the Tories a lifeline. Not only does it drastically increase the prospect of a 1980s style Tory landslide, it also may have inadvertently have scuppered the slim chances of a second referendum. People’s vote campaigners need Labour MP’s like Umunna to endorse a second vote and help win over the Labour frontbench. By defecting the party, Umunna has offered MP’s reluctant to a People’s Vote the chance to frame supporting a second referendum as aligning the Party with a group of rival MP’s. The Independent Group have identified what they stand for, but have offered no answers as to how they are going to change Britain for the better. A second referendum at present time has no chance of getting through Parliament with or without Labour backing.

It cannot be denied that some of the anti-Semitic abuse which MP’s like Luciana Berger has received has been vile. It is also true that the Labour leadership has been too slow in confronting these issues and bringing these Party members to justice. However, we cannot pretend that just by leaving the Party the issue of anti-Semitism on the extreme left will go away. Labour would be best equipped to root out anti-Semitism with the help of MP’s like Berger whose struggle and defiance can be used to champion inclusivity in the face of extremism.  

Ultimately, this split was inevitable. These MP’s are remnants of the New Labour project, whose visions are irreconcilable with those of Corbyn. As much as this split is about Brexit and anti-Semitism, what unites all these MP’s is opposition to the Corbyn project.

Now, more than ever, it is vital that Labour re-affirm its values and unite behind Corbyn. This split offers Labour an opportunity to both rally behind Corbyn’s message of hope but also work harder to deal with issues surrounding anti-Semitism in the party.

We might not like them but the Independent group as a national party could be a danger to the progressive cause

The majority of the Labour Membership will be delighted with the loss of some of its most rebellious MPs. Figures like Leslie and Umunna are strongly disliked by the Labour faithful and members have long spoken openly about the need to replace MPs who clearly do not have the best interests of the party at heart. But beware sometimes in politics it is best to keep your enemies close.

2 of the 7 MPs had already faced votes of no confidence from their local parties but by jumping they now may cause a huge problem to Labour and the progressive cause in general. In a better democracy, they’d have to call by-elections, and Labour would gain 7 real socialist MPs, but now isn’t the time for hypotheticals about alternative realities. Labour need to gauge the damage the could do to the progressive cause if they formed a party to run in national elections.

Left as they are these MPs will achieve little. Their votes in Parliament aren’t going to change and their habit of throwing grenades at Labour in the media may become less effective now they’ve left the party. Alone they are nothing.

However, if the group became a real nationwide party, in a General Election, they could cause problems. For everyone but the Tories.

While it hasn’t been a fantastic “party” launch, Angela Smith kicked it off by saying something racist on the BBC while journalists such as those at TPN exposed the dodgy legal setup of the party, Labour should not dismiss the group. Labour’s own internal polling should make the leadership very aware of the danger that the group could cause if they form a new centrist party.

In recent polling 17% of those who voted Labour in 2017 said they would be “very likely” to support a new centrist party committed to opposing or overturning Brexit. Another 27% said they would be “fairly likely”. Among Labour’s remainer voters this jumps to 23% and 36% respectively. Support for such a party is highest in London. In seats like Putney 47% of Labour remainers would defect to a new party while in seats like Wimbledon, a key target for Labour, it is 37%.

These aren’t majorities for the Independent group, in any general election I would expect them to win anywhere between zero and five seats but that doesn’t matter. This siphoning of Labour votes would have a dramatic effect on what seats Labour could win. Targets such as Wimbledon would become unwinnable, while seats won in 2017 such as Warwick and Leamington would become nightmare defences.

If the general election in 2017 had happened with a new centrist party the political landscape might be very different. Here is a model of the results of the election with 17% of Labour voters voting for a new centrist party as predicted from Labour’s polling.

It is clear that even if Labour loses a small number of its voters the repercussions on national politics will be dramatic. Some may ask if the Tories will bleed votes to the centre as well but I think this is unlikely. 75% of Conservatives voters voted to leave and therefore the Tories are less exposed to a new political party dragging voters to the centre. A new pro-EU party’s target demographic is Labour’s metropolitan liberals though the Liberal Democrats should also be worried.

There are reasons for Labour to be optimistic. Firstly once Brexit occurs the appeal of a party to overturn Brexit will be gone. It is likely that the Independent group will be a flash in the pan nothing more.

Equally, few politicians and donors want to be part of a party that wins less than 7 seats. The reward is just not worth it. The money and support required to run a national campaign could be seen as lacking especially when members will be seeing a pitiful seat return.

First Past the Post could be Labour’s downfall or its greatest defence. It depends on where the Independent group go.

If they remain 7 defectors, their split will be of no significance. However, if this is the start of a new party then Labour should be worried, and the Tories should lick their lips.

Legal status of Newly formed Independent Group means they can flout electoral law

The Independent Group, formed out of a Labour Party split earlier today that led to 7 MPs resigning the Whip, is officially listed as a Private Company and not a political party, it has been found.

The Independent Group is not a UK listed Political Party, nor is it officially listed as a Political Party, and it was found today, hours after the group’s launch, that the website for the Independent Group is based in a Panamanian domain.

Panama is a well-known “tax haven” for private companies who wish to avoid being taxed by the higher tax rates of Western Countries. Private organisations will often set up companies or domains in the nation in an effort to benefit from the more lax policies and laws that the Panamanian government enforces.

It was also found that the Independent Group’s funding is being managed by a subsidiary Company that has a listing within the United Kingdom, called Gemini A Ltd. Gemini A’s sole registered officer, who owns an over 75% stake in the company and full directorial rights over the company, including its finances, is one of the 7 rebel MPs, Gavin Shuker.

Current electoral law requires all Political Parties to provide the full details and the names of all financial backers and donors for public consumption. Private Companies are not required to provide details of their financial backers and theoretically are not required to publish any information on donations they receive.

The Independent Group are not an official Political Party, as all 7 of the MPs who resigned the whip has announced they will remain as Independents, a term used for MPs who have no alignment with a Political Party.

While it is not unheard of for MPs to resign from their political parties to form new parties due to ideological differences, no group  of MPs this large have resigned expressly to reside as Independent MPs with policies reminiscent of those of New Labour in the late 1990s. This means that any donations to the group will actually be donations to The Independent Group as a company, and then subsequently funding into Gemini A Ltd, meaning there is no requirement to provide details on the size or nature of funds going into the Independent Group under electoral law. New Labour had similar issues with transparency when it came to corporate political party funding, after it was only found that Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula 1, had donated £1 million to New Labour during their election campaign after New Labour declared Formula 1 exempt from their campaign manifesto promise to ban tobacco product advertising, sparking media fury. Now that a new enclave of Labour politicians with very similar ideologies of big business support, service privatisation, and free-market renewal fully refuse to disclose their donations being memories reminiscent of new funding scandals in waiting.