Sunday, 28 February 2010
Saturday, 27 February 2010
Friday, 26 February 2010
The financial markets were let off the leash, bankers and shareholders greedily pursued super profits, and we were landed with the worst financial crisis in history. But still these people live in a world far removed from most of us. The Royal Bank of Scotland, 84% state owned, and on course for a £4bn loss this year, is about to dish out £1.3bn in bonuses. This is rewarding failure on an obscene scale.
But the consensus among our political parties is that the public sector must pay for an economic crisis it did not cause. People who have worked hard to provide vital services, often for low wages, face attacks on jobs, wages and pensions. This consensus has to be challenged. The public sector cannot be the scapegoat for a private sector that has failed us abysmally. We need to value public service above private profits.
With an election just weeks away we really need to shift the terms of debate towards a much more positive view of public services and public servants. I was pleased to endorse two initiatives today that aim to do just that.
The PCS union – representing civil servants and public sector workers – is asking all parliamentary candidates to sign up to five pledges. And they are asking all their members to ‘Make Your Vote Count’.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Monday, 22 February 2010
Sunday, 21 February 2010
“Thank you so much for your invitation to this wonderful packed conference where so much has been discussed in a passionate and sophisticated manner.
I have come down here today from Birmingham where the conflict in Northern Ireland has left a deep scar in the psyche of my city.
The impact of the pub bombings of November 21st 1974 still reverberate to this day. 21 completely innocent people lost their lives. Nearly 200 were injured. This was an awful, indefensible act, the consequences of which have been dramatic and long lasting. The suffering of the families of those killed and injured still continues. Time cannot be turned back for the Birmingham 6 who were framed and jailed for a crime they did not commit. Politically the cause of Irish unity was set back.
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Friday, 19 February 2010
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
The parallels with the ‘war on terror’, corporate greed, and environmental destruction will not be lost on many of those watching. The film is also unusual in that it portrayed the consequences of the cold unleashing of destructive power on those on the receiving end. Even more unusual for a blockbuster was that it crossed into the subversive by emotionally tracking the journey of those facing injustice - the fear, terror, hurt, pain and then resistance. The film does this without resorting to crude stereotypes, and encompasses subtlety and beauty instead, makes it even more powerful - and worth watching again!
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
“For Muslim women, the first decade of the 21st century ended pretty much as it started. Much was done in our name, little of which we had asked for. The century began with one of the poorest countries in the world being subjected to a deadly, multibillion-dollar onslaught from a coalition of the most powerful countries. The liberation of Afghan women was just one of the justifications used for a war that now extends ever further into the future.” More here.
Monday, 15 February 2010
Sunday, 14 February 2010
Saturday, 13 February 2010
Friday, 12 February 2010
Thursday, 11 February 2010
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Monday, 8 February 2010
Sunday, 7 February 2010
With climate change looming over us, one thing we must achieve is to shift our transport system from private and polluting to public and green. I am not alone in valuing the freedom and flexibility I get from owning a car. But there are plenty of occasions when I would rather let the 'train take the strain', and other occasions when would if I could.
To have the freedom to jump onto any weekday Virgin train from Birmingham to London will cost an eye-watering £140 return! Avoiding the rush hour used to be a way of getting the cost down to something that didn't require a second mortgage. But not only have the prices gone up, the 'peak' hours have been extended.
As a society, we need more people to swap their car for the train. But we then hand over our train network to private companies whose first concern is getting a return for their shareholders. The end result is a pricing system that seems to be deliberately designed to force us onto the roads.
The first off-peak Virgin train from Birmingham New Street to London is now as late as 10.10am – not getting into Euston until 11.34. A short day trip isn't so easy either – to get a reasonable fare you'll have to hang around until 19.03 and won't be home until 20.27. And when you do get on a Virgin train, it is not uncommon to find the standard carriages packed and the first class ones practically empty. They always give you the option of upgrading to first class of course – for an extra £15.
When my children ask to visit their cousins in London, I'll be counting the cost before giving my answer. Surely, any rational approach to transport should be based on making it as easy as possible for all of us to use less polluting alternatives? Tell that to Virgin Trains.
Saturday, 6 February 2010
The people of Gaza have been subjected to a brutal economic blockade. The situation is so bad Israel's actions were described in the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone report as a form of ‘collective punishment’ against the entire population.
The recent Viva Palestina convoy successfully broke that blockade last month. And I am proud of them for doing so. They brought over 500 people from 17 countries and 250 trucks and ambulances full of humanitarian supplies like generators, baby milk and medicine to the besieged Gaza strip. In the process they incurred the wrath of the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, who have a long history of collusion in the oppression of the Palestinians. Egyptian police brutally attacked the convoy, the Egyptian government expelled its leader, George Galloway, who has been banned from the country, and they have announced they will not allow any more aid convoys travel on their soil either.
Well, as Tony Blair discovered, George is not a man easily silenced or intimidated. His response to the ban was to say he will be back to celebrate in the streets of Cairo with the Egyptian people when Mubarak and his torturers are gone! And already he has put in motion plans for the next convoy. This time it will be by sea. Viva Palestina has huge support in Turkey and negotiations are underway for a flotilla of ships from all over the world to sail from Turkey, with the support of the Turkish government, and under its flag. I fully intend to be going with them.
See you there.
Protest at Council Cuts, Tuesday 23 February, 4pm – 6pm, Birmingham Council House, Victoria Square. Called by UNISON, UNITE, GMB, UCATT, AMICUS.
Photo: Balsall Heath dinner ladies
Friday, 5 February 2010
Thursday, 4 February 2010
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
The meeting is at 6.45pm on Wednesday at Sparkhill Social and Cultural Centre on Stratford Rd, next to the swimming baths.
Like millions of people around the world, I get angry at the injustice the Palestinians have to endure. The question is: what to do with that anger?
Ben White provides some answers. I was lucky enough to meet him on his recent trip to Birmingham. His book ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide’ (Pluto Press 2009) is an invaluable resource. Meticulously researched, yet succinctly and accessibly written, it makes the charge that while there are differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa, the similarities are such that both belong in the same infamous racist category.
Ben argues that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, the evictions of Palestinians from their land, and the settler privilege maintained by military oppression, recall apartheid South Africa’s pass laws, Bantustans, and brutal white supremacy. And just as apartheid South Africa was the subject of international sanctions for its racism, Ben argues so too should Israel.
The international anti-apartheid movement played a pivotal role in turning apartheid South Africa into a pariah state in the eyes of the world. We must do likewise in the case of Israel. A new generation are entering into Palestinian solidarity - the recent Gaza protests were the largest of its kind in this country. Following the historic success of the Viva Palestina convoy in temporarily breaking the siege, and the decision of the TUC to support the boycott Israel call, this handbook does not only educate; it points to how people can channel their anger into effective and peaceful political strategies.
Buy it, read it, and tell your friends about it!
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
This is, in large part, an indictment of Labour’s own record. It came to power promising a fairer society. And it is likely to leave power having seen the rich get richer. It took important steps forward, such as the introduction of the minimum wage, but ultimately failed to put an end to the most obvious areas of unfairness.
Decades after women won the right to equal pay, women are still paid up to 20% an hour less than men, despite frequently having better educational qualifications. And while there have been real improvements in the educational performance of black and Asian children the continuing inequality in the workplace has not been reversed.
An obsession with individualism and the expansion of individual wealth seems to be squeezing out concerns about advancing society as a whole. The dog-eat-dog approach hasn’t led to a better, more harmonious society. The more unequal our society, the less we feel connected to each other.
The cause of equality may not be as popular as it once was. But we would do well to remember that there is a wealth of evidence to show that more equal societies are happier societies.
I find it morally objectionable that the wealthiest 1% own 21% of the nation's wealth. And for all the Daily Mail headlines about asylum seekers defrauding the welfare state, it remains the case that ‘15 times as much money is lost through tax avoidance at the top than is lost to benefit fraud at the bottom’.
British politics needs a renewed commitment to making society more fair and equal.