November 2015 Fabians Newsletter
This is the text of the newsletter that Fabian recently sent to Labour Party members and supporters in the constituency. If you would like to be added to his mailing list, please send an email to this effect to firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter from Fabian Hamilton November 2015.
Leeds North East Constituency
147A Easterly Road
16th November 2015
It is with great sadness that I have no alternative but to begin my newsletter by reflecting on the disaster in Paris in which 129 people have lost their lives and many more have been seriously injured in the murderous attack carried out in the name of the so-called "Islamic State". Paris is a city for which I have a very great affection and I have family and friends who live there. France is the country which holds the ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood as the foundation of its philosophy. An attack on France is an attack on all of us who hold dear the vision of a tolerant, caring, multi-racial, multi-faith state which exists to protect, care for and support the well-being of all its citizens.
It is too early to identify how UK government policy should change. There is a good argument that the state security services MI5, MI6 and GCHQ should be substantially strengthened to counter the threat against the UK. Currently our forces are not active in Syria, the home of Islamic State and whether or not they should be will certainly be an issue for serious debate. I hope that all communities in the UK now realise that "Islamic State" commands no respect as a vision for a society based on a benevolent faith, and that we should all be vigilant to report any threat even if it challenges our personal, ethnic or religious loyalties. Mass indiscriminate and evil terrorism has never produced justice throughout human history.
My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones. We must resolve to ensure that those who have died are remembered and ensure that such an outrage can never happen again.
This rest of this month’s newsletter is based on the report that I gave at the General Committee of Leeds North East Labour Party at the end of October.
Visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping
It was important that the UK hosted a state visit of the Chinese President during the week beginning 19th of October, after all China is now a major world economic and political power. However, like many others, I wish it was a democracy and not still a one-party supposedly communist state. However, I was shocked by some of the policing of the event which culminated in the arrest of two Tibetan protesters acting legally and peacefully as the President’s cavalcade drove past The Mansion House in London. They were just trying to display the Tibetan flag but China, of course, refuses to recognise Tibet as an independent nation. At the same time another arrest was made, that of Dr Shao Jiang, a former Chinese dissident – and veteran of the Tianaman Square protests in 1989. Dr Shao, who is now a British citizen, was trying to display two A4 sized placards protesting against China’s abuse of Human Rights, when he was tackled to the ground by five Metropolitan Police Officers. Whilst the three protestors were being held overnight in the cells in Bishopsgate police station, their homes were searched and their computers, iPads and mobile phones seized.
On Monday 26th of October, I was given the opportunity by the Speaker of the House of Commons to ask an urgent question to the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, Mike Penning. I was supported by other colleagues from different parties who were also concerned about the way that innocent, peaceful and justified protest appeared to have been ruthlessly prevented by the Metropolitan Police. I have put a full account of the proceedings on my web site at http://www.leedsne.co.uk/arrest-of-tibet-protesters which has links both to Hansard and to Parliament TV.
Mike Penning did listen to my questions and the interventions of those who supported me. Whilst he ruled out any direct intervention in the conduct of an individual police investigation he promised that any complaint would be duly considered. On Wednesday 28th October, just two days after my Urgent Question in the Commons, I heard that all charges against the three protesters had been dropped and that all their equipment had been returned to them. I was able to announce the dropping of the charges in a Point of Order on the floor of the House of Commons that evening.
If it was just a question of us enjoying the row between the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, we could just sit and watch – but behind it all is the welfare and security of millions of families. Tax credits top up the wages of those on low incomes with government money. Tax Credits directly encourage people to take jobs as they make working worthwhile, even though rates of pay may be modest. The Conservative Party likes to portray itself as encouraging a ‘work ethic’, but how can this be possible if wages are too low to support workers and their families?
The problem for the Chancellor is that the cost of paying Tax Credits has grown and the bill is now some £30 billion a year. It is argued that the availability of Tax Credits has meant that wages have stayed low and this is partly behind the arguments for the ‘minimum wage’ to become a ‘living wage’ . This is now calculated to be £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 an hour in the rest of the UK. In contrast the current national minimum wages are £6.50 an hour for adults aged 21 and over, and £5.13 for those aged 18 to 20.
It is an entirely reasonable strategy to boost pay as a means of reducing people’s financial dependency on the state, but it's a monumental mistake by George Osborne to seek to engineer a premature slashing of tax credits before there has been any opportunity to bring about the adjustment of wages. Thank goodness for the courage and conviction of those in the unelected House of Lords to use their power to block the changes. When Bishops, including the Archbishop of York stand up and publicly condemn such a measure, breaking normal traditions of balanced impartiality, we all know something must be wrong and I hope the government has learned its lesson. I fear that we have not heard the end of the affair and there are well-founded rumours that Mr Duncan-Smith may have to defend his Universal Credit reform of benefits against a predatory attack from the Treasury. So much, then, for the Conservatives’ claim to be the "natural party of working people"!
Trade Union Bill
This appalling Bill went through its remaining stages in Parliament on Tuesday 10th November and it has profound implications for labour relations and politics in the UK. The ability to take strike action against an employer is, as far as I am concerned, a basic human right. The work of Trade Unions, using strikes as a last resort and as a means to an end, has brought fundamental change and justice to UK society and we interfere with that freedom at our peril. I accept that there has to be a balance, and we have lived with current legislation requiring ballots among the workers affected and restrictions on employers abusing their position, but new government legislation pushes the balance of power much too far in one direction.
Can it be morally right to require absolute majorities through ballots in favour of strike action in the public services, when these are not required in other contexts such as Council and Parliamentary elections?
Is it really going to secure future good industrial relations if, during a dispute, employers are going to be able to bring in agency staff? What will be the safety consequences if outsiders and inexperienced personnel are used in critical positions?
Are we not getting into the realm of being like a police state if those picketing a dispute have to be issued with letters of authorisation and to be supervised by a person identified with a badge whose details have been supplied in advance to the authorities?
Why should it become illegal for unions' subscriptions to be paid via the employers’ pay roll systems? It is surely in the interest of employers to have its employees as members of a trade union.
If employers must be given 14 days notice of a strike, instead of the current 7 days, will this not protract the period of the dispute and give unscrupulous bosses more time to get in agency staff, thus further wrecking prospects of any just resolution?
In the UK we still have some real problems to solve in terms of employer/employee relations. But I believe the price we will pay with this Bill enacted is to see more disputes and more people pushed into intractable positions. The choice between going on strike or going to prison is not one any trade union member should ever have to make.
Political Studies Association
On 21st October, I attended the Political Studies Association Magna Carta Anniversary Event & Book Launch at the Institute for Government in London. The meeting was a discussion on the Magna Carta and its Modern Legacy. Given that society has evolved so much since 1215, the date when King John signed the Magna Carta, it’s now time for an updated version and the meeting took the form of a panel discussion which I was invited to join with David Davis MP, Shirley Williams and Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds.
If you are interested in the work of the Political Studies Association, please go to https://www.psa.ac.uk/
On 2nd November I launched my report, Building Homes for Britain, which I hope will make a useful contribution to the debate on the housing crisis in the UK. Rising population, the failure to identify development land, a desperate shortage of money to build social housing and a property market that targets only wealthy buyers are all conspiring to exclude more and more people from having a decent home. Landlords find they can charge inflated rents, often on poor standard accommodation, and their bills are met by the government through Housing Benefit. Even potential purchasers find their income too low to get a mortgage.
The headlines of my report call for: -
Building more new homes by:
giving councils more freedom to create homes;
establishing Regional Public Housing Authorities;
supporting renovation, bringing empty homes back into use, self-build and community led housing.
Unlocking Investment by:
establishing a National Housing Investment Bank;
encouraging institutional investors and pension funds to invest in residential housing.
Supporting Construction by:
creating support for small and medium sized building firms;
increasing the number of apprenticeships;
closing the skills shortage and the skills gap.
Putting people first:
creating more mixed tenure developments;
creating meaningful and transparent engagement;
ensuring homes are sustainable and energy efficient.
My web site provides a link to download the report as a pdf file. Please go to http://www.leedsne.co.uk/homes-for-britain
If any readers of this newsletters have any contacts for people they know who ought to be aware of this work, please encourage them to visit my web site and obtain a copy.
I want to pay special tribute to my researcher Simon Jose who has done an expert job compiling this report and arranging its publication.
Around the constituency
At the beginning of October, I was very pleased to be invited to visit PATH, the charity organisation located in the constituency that provides training opportunities for Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people. This takes the form of help with literacy, numeracy, work experience, financial advice, how to apply for a job and skills needed for a successful interview.
Current initiatives by PATH include the Second Chance Project, aimed particularly at those aged over 25 years needing support for employability thus tackling poverty and economic disadvantages for over 25s, living in Leeds who are working part-time, with zero hour or 8-hour contracts. A second similar scheme, the Talent Match Programme, is directed at those aged between 18 and 24 years who are completely outside of the benefits, work and training system and facing severe barriers to gaining the skills they need to get into work. PATH also sponsors a scheme where volunteers are trained to help those using English as their second language thus giving further support to the challenge of successful job seeking.
Another of PATH’s projects is called Stonewall and involves teacher training to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in primary and secondary schools. Train the Trainer courses give pastoral, anti-bullying and PSHE leads the knowledge, tools and confidence to train colleagues on tackling HBT bullying and celebrating difference, as well as meeting the requirement of the new OFSTED school inspection framework.
Information on PATH is available at http://www.pathyorkshire.co.uk/
STOP HATE UK
STOP HATE UK is a Leeds-based charity that seeks to offer twenty-four hour telephone help line support to anyone who feels threatened by the circumstances in which they live and work. It was set up originally in the 1995 aftermath of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. In particular it seeks to give advice and guidance to people who are victims of hate crime provoked by disability, gender identity, race / colour / ethnicity, heritage or sexual orientation. I learned at first hand l how such prejudice can result in name calling, verbal abuse, bullying, intimidation, harassment, personal attacks, graffiti, damage and, in extreme circumstances, even murder. Funded by local authorities in the areas it serves, STOP HATE UK is able to offer a vital lifeline to victims who may have nowhere else to turn. Issues raised are referred to the police if the victim agrees but STOP HATE UK always offers the help and support that can make a real difference to the victim.
I also heard about some of the distressing cases where the non-availability of support to hate crime victims had resulted in tragedy and was relieved to learn that my constituents had this organisation to which they could turn should the need arise.
Further information on STOP HATE UK is available at http://www.stophateuk.org/
A Front Room
I want to extend a big welcome and my best wishes to a new venture that has started up in Chapeltown at 307 Roundhay Road. A Frontroom seeks to offer the services of a café restaurant in the ambiance of a West Indian front room. I was invited to the launch of this refreshing new social enterprise on Saturday 17th October and I wish the organisers every success.
Primary School Places
I have had a distressing number of cases this year of parents in the constituency unable to obtain a primary school place for their child. Schools in their neighbourhoods have been considerably oversubscribed. Children able to start school have had to wait until reaching the age where education becomes statutory and allocations of a place have been made at schools in distant or inappropriate parts of the constituency or city. Leeds City Council has had its hands tied in that it is now prevented by law from opening any new schools to accommodate the demand instead encouraging more so-called, ‘Free Schools’ to be set up. Planning and opening of these schools in areas of high demand is not strategic – to say the least – but the policy provides a convenient blindfold for the government which can choose not to see the consequences of their prejudiced and misguided policy.
Local councillors and I have worked with Leeds Council to try and mitigate the worst problems faced by local families. To its credit, the Council has provided extra classrooms at some schools such as Wigton Moor but these have not met all needs. Efforts are continuing in order to try and ensure no similar crisis happens next September but it is very distressing for parents who know their child should start school to be left with no place. I was angry by the decision of then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to commandeer the premises of the former Fir Tree primary school and hand its freehold over at no cost whosoever to a Free School when it could have been used so easily to alleviate local distress. When political dogma overrides real need, there is something very wrong.
The Refugee Crisis
On Saturday 17th October, I was able to attend and speak at a rally in Leeds in support of many who wish the UK to show greater sympathy and hospitality towards those fleeing war, terror and famine. Although the UK is making very considerable contributions to alleviating distress in countries bordering the war zones of Syria and Iraq, we should offer much more direct help by allowing many more families to come to the UK. I was interviewed by the BBC afterwards and was pleased that I had been able to express my strong views on this issue.
Please may I extend my very best wishes to you all.
Labour MP for Leeds North East.