Fabian's June 2015 Newsletter
Letter from Fabian Hamilton following the local and national elections.
My sincere thanks
This is the first opportunity I have had to put together a newsletter since the election and I am sorry it has taken me all this time to compose some thoughts about the outcome and the many events that have taken place in the few weeks since the UK went to the polls. Firstly may I say a big ‘Thank You’ to all of you who put your trust in me again to represent the constituency of Leeds North East. In a scenario that was depressing for the Labour Party, the result in this constituency defied the trend and I was re-elected with a majority of 7250 and with an increase of 5.4% in the Labour Party vote. I am humbled by the trust that voters have placed in me and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of everyone who lives or works in the constituency.
The Labour Party - what next?
Since the general election the (largely) Tory controlled press has had a field day crowing over the election of a majority Conservative government, the almost complete take over of Scotland by the Scottish National Party and the failure of Labour to gain any seats across swathes of southern England. There is, naturally, a consensus that the Labour Party needs to understand what factors led to such a disappointing result but almost straight away we see opposing factions arguing that their philosophy was right and the fault lies with those who did not share their views. In the middle of all this we have an election for a new leader taking place under new voting rules. Many people are probably hoping that the ‘right’ person can magically transform Labour fortunes by capturing a popular sympathy and somehow reconciling those political tensions.
You will not be surprised that I am being lobbied from all sides concerning which candidate I should support as every person who will appear on the ballot forms must have the support of at least 35 MPs. I eventually decided, after much careful consideration, to support Yvette Cooper and I added my name to the minimum 35 MPs she needed to nominate her so she could appear on the ballot paper. As everyone reading this newsletter will now know, four candidates were eventually nominated by the deadline of last Monday, 15th June. They are: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn.
I think that Labour did well in the northern cities like Leeds because voters knew from their direct experience what values their candidates (and sitting MPs) held. Voters had seen at first hand how these values could make a difference at a local level even when councils like our own in Leeds had been emasculated by having so much government funding for their work stripped away. A belief in a society where everyone is helped to achieve success and well-being is clearly at the heart of the way that Labour runs our City Council. When you live elsewhere in places where the appetite for fairness, justice and equality is less well developed, it is easy for decision makers to be tempted by the attraction of small state government (low taxes) and arguments about standing up on one’s own two feet (otherwise translated as every person for themselves). We face some depressing scenarios in the months to come when yet more Tory cuts to welfare start to bite and the state structures we rely on, like the National Health Service are fragmented and privatised, leaving us at the whim of the pressures for profit before service.
This will not be an easy scenario for any new Labour leader to make an impact upon. Even with all likely parliamentary voting alliances, it will not be possible to obstruct Tory government decisions. Our new leader will need to express and communicate a clarity of belief and philosophy that can build consensus support across the whole electorate in the months and years to come. The Labour Dream of being in government once more will not be realised by any leader who might be seen as either a reversion to old fashioned, cloth-cap, trade-union-dominated socialism or one willing to being painted as a person who genuflects in front of Canary Wharf. A new Labour leader who fails to ignite renewed and widespread belief in a vision of a united society with a vibrant economy in country that cares for everyone will, in my view, preside over the permanent disappearance of Labour from any hope of being trusted to govern again - anywhere in the UK.
I have made up my mind on who will get my vote. It’s time that we had a female leader - not as an empty or politically correct gesture - but as a demonstration that there are no glass ceilings in our vision for society. We need a person with passion and one who can communicate it to anyone at any level and who does not need to retreat into meaningless political sound bite phrases. We may have different views about Tony Blair’s politics and decisions but his gift of communication to all members of society is what we need again in a new leader. For this reason and many others I am placing my confidence in Yvette Cooper as I feel she has the commitment, objectivity, compassion, communication and leadership skills that we need at this time. I am thankful that my vote will be just one of many thousands but I hope that everyone who exercises their vote will subject the candidates to some of the criteria that I have outlined.
The crisis rocking FIFA
It might perhaps be safest for me to not venture into the controversy and meltdown that is consuming FIFA. Some people have said to me, “It’s only sport and therefore it does not really matter, and is not within the remit of government anyway.” It is clear that those who express views of this kind do not comprehend just how important sport has become to governments all around the world; do not appreciate the billions of pounds that are generated by each international tournament; and have not measured the boost to the prestige and infrastructure that can come to any country chosen to host a World Cup competition. Thanks to international interest, the enjoyment that football offers, and in the money that competitions generate, we have the strange situation that a game that developed as a sport on the rain-sodden green fields of England now must be transported to countries like Qatar where grass does not normally grow and the climate is too oppressive for daylight games.
If taking part and competing was all that mattered, the football community would never have entertained the absurdity of the battles to host the competition that we see today. It is also unlikely that we would have seen the temptation of corruption becoming felt at the level where it becomes a culture and gets so out of control. Sadly, in an organisation, like FIFA, with members drawn from so many countries world-wide - including many where corruption is endemic at every level - it is perhaps not surprising that we discover these same attitudes and expectations have surfaced.
I suspect that it might prove impossible to unravel the mass of financial transactions surrounding the process that led to Moscow and Qatar being chosen as the next venues for the World Cup. FIFA is a self-regulating organisation operating across all international borders and it could be there are many who have something to hide. I wish it was not just the US government FBI that was seen as the principal investigator as that opens up the way for disingenuous criticism from countries whose politics require them always to suspect American motives. I hope other countries, like the UK, France and Spain, whose football industries are well developed will also deploy their financial investigation skills and look particularly closely at the way that funds have been moved worldwide.
I do not want FIFA to collapse as it would have to be re-invented anyway - such is the appetite for football world-wide. I hope and trust there is a sufficient consensus amongst its members to ensure that anyone who is corrupt is rooted out and prosecuted. I’d also like to see a decision for there to be complete transparency in future with no financial transactions at any level being hidden from public scrutiny.
The referendum on membership of the European Union
I have an instinctive mistrust of referenda. It’s hard to express my reasons without seeming to imply a disrespect for the idea of the general public making decisions, but there are issues that need to be aired.
A referendum question has to be phrased in a way that there is an answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Yet how many ordinary decisions in our own lives, let alone those on national matters affecting millions, admit to a such a simple choice? There are some issues where I believe a referendum has been used appropriately - for example in the way that a change to our ‘first past the post’ system of elections was firmly rejected by an overwhelming majority of the electorate.
However, when it comes to Europe the arguments in favour of and against our membership are many and various. They involve a number of complex legal, trade and governmental issues and changes have consequences that no-one can reliably predict. If I could be persuaded that the overwhelming majority of the electorate was going to study all the issues before reaching a decision then I would be comfortable about a referendum. Instead it is likely that many people would give only cursory attention to the complex arguments. I don’t pretend that MPs can be relied upon to do all their homework before voting but at least they have the time, advice, back up resources and duty to consider matters very carefully. Moreover, how they vote individually is rightly a matter of public knowledge.
But all this is not really relevant because there will be a referendum. The government has decided and we all know what will happen. Some people will become fixated on a particular issue, for example economic migration to the UK from the EU. Others may concentrate on the need to reject any legislation that has come from Strasbourg. Regardless of any other considerations on the economy, jobs, investment, trade, foreign affairs, crime fighting, education, liberalisation of markets and more, many votes will be cast on the basis of either ‘hobby horse issues’ or allegiance to a particular party or leader.
I do not wish to undermine efforts by the Prime Minister to bring realism and modernisation into the way that the EU is run. There is gross misuse of resources diverted, for example to over-subsidise farming in France and Germany to say nothing about where some money ends up in Southern Europe. What I hope is that, following negotiations, there is some substantial change on offer concerning our relationship with Europe which addresses concerns about economic migration and the unnecessary imposition of European Law on issues that our own Parliament should decide. I will then campaign for our continued membership of Europe and I’ll also remind people that the main purpose of the EU was always to secure peace in Europe. Warts and all, it is an idea that has worked now for over 50 years but if we contribute towards fragmenting and dividing Europe, it will be ultimately make us all less secure.
The Nepal Earthquake and its aftermath
Nepal is a country that I know a little and love. I felt especially for its people when the country was recently devastated by the major earthquake it experienced in April and for the suffering inflicted on many thousands of its population. I was especially proud when I learned of the generosity of people in the UK who dug deeply into their pockets to offer support to many in desperate need.
Now there is some disquieting news from Nepal reporting that aid is not being made available fairly to all those who are in need. The country, like India, is still structured socially on a caste system and, according to Amnesty International, those up the hierarchy are being helped more than other groups. I was personally saddened and offended when I learned that for ‘political reasons’ the Nepal government had refused to allow the deployment of three Chinook helicopters that we had provided. These are the very kind of aircraft needed to transport aid to isolated mountain communities cut off without roads or other transport infrastructure.
It's a situation where I am not sure we can do much more than just wring our hands. I wouldn’t want to withdraw aid as then even more people will suffer. We are clearly obliged to let a sovereign government make its own decisions even if we think they are wrong, so we must therefore pile on the diplomatic pressure and reinforce the view that governments exist to promote the safety and well being of all their citizens, not just those in the social strata close to whoever is in power.