Thursday, 27 December 2012

More Staff Not Less!

Once again, the Public and Commercial Union have sent me a ballot paper.

On this occasion, it is over the issue of the DWP entering initial negotiations to make people compulsory redundant.

These affected 46 Administrative Assistants in a variety of locations across the DWP.

In a previous job, I line managed at various times, between 3-6 people at this grade level. They had to barcode and send to Capita various items of post and forms for different benefits. It so happened that at another two locations, there were some "surplus" staff awaiting redeployment within the department and every so often, we sent them work. Boxes of post from claimants.

I do know more than one of my colleagues worked hard with them to identify suitable redeployment opportunities. But failing to get a promotion and, what is boiled down to, is a can't or won't attitude to moving to where the work is. A 30 minute trip on the train.

Such a person claiming JSA is expected to travel within 90 minutes of their home using any means of transport appropriate.

Much as I have a sympathy for anyone under threat of redundancy, sometimes you reach a position where you cannot do anymore for that person to help them redeploy within the department.

I can see both sides. There is plenty of work for them to do. But, they do need to be where the work is.

I will not be voting in the ballot this time round. I find the issues are far more nuanced then the union with their seventies concept of Industrial Muscle might like it to be.  

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Morality and ethics in War

When you take men and turn them into killers, history shows massacres, abuses and war crimes are inevitable.

Oliver Cromwell sacked Drogheda and Wexford; soldiers carried out the killings of the McDonalds at Glencoe in 1692; William Calley was convicted of the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. There is even an ongoing debate in historical circles about whether the bombing of Dresden in 1945 was justifiable within the context of the war. And lets not forget more recently Lynddie England at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War.

Five Royal Marines were arrested and charged with murder in Afghanistan.

Details are thus far sketchy. But it appears that they were involved in some way with the death of an insurgent.

There are events in the UK today in support of the 5.

I will not be adding my name to this.

Soldiers have rules of engagements. For very good reasons. Yes, we are at war in Afghanistan, but we still have to uphold the rule of law. For if we start to make exceptions in how we treat other people, we will find ourselves slipping down a moral abyss. The kind of dark hole that Japan slipped into, for example, during the Second World War.

Soldiers should not be above the law and should not be treated as a special case. The MOD has done the right thing, there is an "incident" that requires investigation. If nothing comes of it, fine. If there is something there, then we can nip the slow descent in the bud and soldiers who are psychologically prone to commit abuses will be leaving the army. For the betterment of all.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

A Future That Works

Today, Trade Unionists from around the country gather in London for "A Future that Works" march ending in Hyde Park.

There are three things guaranteed to happen today. Firebrand TU leaders such as Mark Serwotka will call for a general strike. The police will kettle some protestors and other groups will damage or occupy central London shops such as Topshop or Vodafone.

This unfortunately will distract from the crucial message. That there is a genuine debate to be had over the extent, impact, speed and depth of cuts in the government spending programme.

A year ago, I would have attended and indeed, I did march in London on 26 March 2011. However, in that time, I have come to the conclusion that my union is equally damaging the debate with its own ideological rhetoric. An irony considering the lead the PCS takes in criticising the Coalition for its ideological opposition to the "state".

The PCS has singularly failed to grasp that this is not the seventies. We cannot conduct Industrial Relations or disputes based on an old outdated model that got overturned by Margaret Thatcher.

Instead I will be attending the East Of England Liberal Democrats Regional Conference. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Osbourne's Employee Share Ownership Scheme

As a signatory to this open letter to Vince Cable, I am republishing the letter as published on Lib Dem Voice this morning.

We, the undersigned, are extremely concerned by the employee share ownership policy. We call for this bill to be amended to remove the part where workers have to give up their rights for share-ownership and, rather, for the proposal to mirror that agreed by the Liberal Democrat conference in this document.

The proposal appears to allow for workers to give up their rights in return for company shares, as detailed on the HM Treasury website:
Under the new type of contract, employees will be given between £2,000 and £50,000 of shares that are exempt from capital gains tax. In exchange, they will give up their UK rights on unfair dismissal, redundancy, and the right to request flexible working and time off for training, and will be required provide 16 weeks’ notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave, instead of the usual eight.
From this we understand that as few as £2,000-worth of shares will potentially give employers the ability to fire workers at will, where the worker has absolutely no rights and has to sell the shares back to the company when they leave, and where the company can determine the value of those shares.

The model is recommended for start-ups and small companies. Their shares are unlikely to be traded and, so, have no clear value. How is an employee to judge the fairness of the offer, let alone be able to dispose of them with confidence in the value? It seems that the workers would give up significant rights, whereas the employer has nothing to lose – they get rid of an employee they don’t want without any comeback or legal challenge, and also get their shares back at a price they can determine. 

We have been told that employee owner status will be optional. However, it seems that this could be made compulsory for future employees in current and new businesses.
The HM Treasury website continues:
Employee-owner status will be optional for existing employees, but both established companies and new start-ups can choose to offer only this new type of contract for new hires.
The power of an employer, with a job market such as we have today, should not be dismissed lightly. Potential employees do not have the luxury of a wide choice of potential vacancies.

The Liberal Democrat Party Constitution states:
Liberal Democrats are committed to fostering a strong and sustainable economy which encourages the necessary wealth creating processes, develops and uses the skills of the people and works to the benefit of all, with a just distribution of the rewards of success. We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce…
We believe this policy goes against not only Liberal Democrat principles, but principles of decency and honesty in the workplace. 

With a loss of rights, the employee will be in a more unstable employment situation, which can only decrease confidence and spending, which our economy desperately needs if it is to grow successfully.

This bill appears to be the Conservative party’s way of getting “fire at will” through the back door. After the work to stop this going through via the Beecroft recommendations, isn’t it hypocritical to allow the potential for it in this bill?

There is no doubt that some unscrupulous companies will abuse this and employees will lose hard won rights. What employee would want, voluntarily, to give up these rights, for any amount of money? Please either pull or amend this proposal.

Paul Wild, Walsall, Membership and Communications Officer.
Tracy Connell, Newcastle City Party, Regional Officer and local part Exec.
Kevin White, Liverpool Wavertree. Footsoldier and former Constituency Chair.
Gareth Jones, Maidenhead
Penny Burgess, Cotswold
John Richardson, Newark
Councillor Alasdair Christie, Inverness
Malcolm D Gardner, St Austell & Newquay (formerly Twickenham!)
Natasha Chapman, Lincoln, Chair of Lincoln Liberal Youth
Cllr. Michelle Pearce, Calne, Wiltshire
Gareth Loveridge, West Bromwich and Warley
Joshua Dixon, Hillingdon and London Liberal Youth Vice Chair.
Adam Gillett, Tower Hamlets. Former Chair of London Liberal Youth.
John L Oakes, Former Haringey Councillor, Founder, LibDem Friends of Poland; activist.
Alan Webb , Amber Valley , activist.
Gemma Roulston, Reigate member and also membership secretary of LDDA
Ian Wallace South East Cambs
Fiona White, Guildford Constituency, Deputy Leader Surrey County Council Lib Dem Group.
Richard Hudson, executive member of Derby City
Matt Downey, Cambridge
James King, Southport.
David Parkes, Local Party: Brussels / Treasurer Lib Dems in Spain.
Peter Reisdorf, Wirral West.
Linda Jack, Chair Liberal Left, FPC, PCC Candidate Bedfordshire
James Testro, Derby City.Rory Roberson, Worcester
William Jones, chair of Wythenshawe and Sale East
Andrew Page, Inverclyde
Gareth Epps, Reading
Stephen Glenn, Membership Development Officer Northern Ireland
Kat Dadswell, Liverpool Wavertree
Dimitri Seirlis, Worthing West
Michael Mullaney Cllr and Executive Member for Housing Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council
Alexis Saliou Diouf Alexis S Diouf, Cllr Chesterfield Borough Council
Ian Morton, High Wycombe, Regional Secretary
Cllr Martin Hunt, Deputy Leader, Colchester Borough Council
Dave Harris, Sutton, Surrey
James Moore, Greater Reading
George Potter, Guildford, LDDA Executive
Alex Wasyliw, South Cambridgeshire
Elaine Bagshaw, Chair of Tower Hamlets and Federal Executive member
Nigel Quinton, Chair, Welwyn Hatfield Libdems
Julian Tisi, Windsor
Maria Pretzler, Swansea and Gower
Chris Roberts, London Borough of Havering
Chris Randall Hull and Hessle
Andrew Waller, York Central
Simon Wilson, Broadland
Robert Pitt, Leeds Liberal Youth Secretary
Hannah Bettsworth, Aberdeen Donside, Liberal Youth Scotland Ordinary Executive Member
Aubrey Williams, Thirsk and Malton/Aberystwyth University
Penny Goodman, Leeds North West
Olly Loosemore, Chair of Orpington Liberal Democrats
Louise Shaw, Stockport
James Hackett, Chair of Rhondda Cynon Taff Welsh Liberal Democrats
Leon Duveen, Treasurer Bassetlaw & Sherwood
Marie Jenkins Town Councillor in Devon, Leadership Programme candidate
Jennie Coggles, Exec. Member Nottingham City
Phil Ling, Merton Borough, Exec member, on Leadership Programme
Chris Lucas, Councillor, Three Rivers District Council, Leadership Programme Candidate, South West Herts
Jason J Hunter, Sutton
Angharad Bethan Jones Membership Officer Rhondda Cynon Taff Welsh Liberal Democrats
Daisy Cooper, Parliamentary Candidate (Suffolk Coastal 2010), Lewes
Andrew Hart, Theale
Mario Grana, Theale
Sandra Taylor Altrincham and Sale West with Stretford and Urmston Lib Dems Membership Officer
Dr John Cordwell, County Councillor, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire CC
Alan Marshall, Rotherham & Barnsley
Greg Judge, Coventry, Leadership Candidate Programme
Geoffrey G J Payne, Hackney, events organiserCatherine Wanless, slough
Sarah Durkin, Wolverhampton East, Secretary
Luke Bosman, Preston
Cllr Nigel Ashton, Southport
Rob Parsons, Lewes, foot soldier
Chris Richards, Vice-Chair Camden Lib Dems, Leadership Programme Candidate
Christina Shaw Leeds NW
Suzanne Fletcher, Stockton local party
Tom Snowdon, Amber Valley Lib Dems
Owen Roberts, Swansea and Gower
Max Wilkinson, Cheltenham
Janet King, Chair, Bromsgrove
Martin Horwood, Member of Parliament, Cheltenham
Adam Janiczek Bradford
Stuart Wheatcroft, Carlisle
Scott Collins, South Northamptonshire
Cllr Jon Ball, Ealing local party and FCC member
Cllr Stephen Knight AMLondon Assembly MemberGroup Leader, Richmond upon Thames Council
Mark Blackburn, Westminster Borough
David Grace, Cambridge City
Cllr Lloyd Harris, Regional Secretary – East of England Lib Dems
Cllr Ruth Skelton, Derby City
Nicola Prigg, Ayrshire
Paul Walter, Newbury – Liberal Democrat Voice editorial team
Luke Chapman, Social Liberal Forum – Membership Officer
Cllr Ros Kayes, Dep Leader, Lib Dem Group, West Dorset District Council
Sadie Smith, West Bromwich and Warley
Cllr Hilary Jones, Leader of Derby Liberal Democrats
Cllr Eric Ashburner, Derby City
Cllr Ajit Atwal, Derby City
Clive Lloyd, Cheltenham
Cllr Joe Naitta, Derby City
Cllr Judith Woodman, Leader of Cardiff Liberal Democrats
Cllr Joe Boyle, Cardiff
Ald. Peter Tyzack, Chair Filton & Bradley Stoke LP
Cllr Mike Carr, Derby City
Jonathan McCree, Haringey Lib Dem
C Gordon, Mole Valley
Rae Holmes, Chesterfield
Phil Stevens, Islington – exec member
Caron Lindsay, Treasurer, Scottish Liberal Democrats
Ruth Hopwood, vice chair Wythenshawe and Sale East Liberal Democrats

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Former Archbishop of Canterbury and Godwin's Law

Lord Carey Has Spoken!

Shamefully though, it is to compare supporters of gay marriage with the Third Reich on the rather dubious basis that "Let us remember the Jews in Nazi Germany, what started against them was when they started to be called names. And that was the first stage towards that totalitarian state."

Leaving aside the playground taunt of invoking Godwin's Law and Mister Carey automatically losing the argument, I have yet to find a supporter that will advocate Christians wearing a triangle to mark them out as "The Other"; packing them off en-mass to concentration camps; depriving them of their livelihoods or experimenting on them medically.

Further more, the Church of England, its leaders and members really do not have the moral authority to commentate on the religious/state contribution towards the definition of marriage due to the acquiescence of the church in Henry VIII's manoeuvrings to obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon which I have blogged on previously.

Perhaps if I ever were to meet Lord Carey, I would ask him: "Who is a better advert for a loving relationship and commitment to each other? Is it Elton John and David Furnish? Or take your pick from any of these..."

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Honours System - Contrasting approaches

The MP for South East Cambridgeshire James Paice has been given a knighthood. The eye-catching headline was Honours for Cabinet Reshuffle Casualties.

Poor poor people. How terrible for them to lose out to younger, fresher faces. They have done their jobs and to lessen the pain, heres a gong or two.

A snarky post comparing these people with the likes of people who also just did their jobs such as Bradley Wiggins; Dave Brailsford; Jessica Ennis; Mo Farah; Eleanor Simmonds; Sarah Storey; David Weir and Lee Pearson would have followed if it was not for the surprising news that Dave Cameron has announced a separate honours list for the Olympians and Paralympians.

I feel a bit sorry about the timing. Gongs for the MPs was clearly a bad news story in light of the Public Administration Select Committee's damning report into the "opaque" and "mysterious" honours system and the separate honours list have now clearly buried the much needed debate required about the honours system, the point of it, who it is for and how it is decided who gets what gong.

Much as the Olympians and Paralympians are deserving of recognition by this country, this debacle does not improve the image of the honours system one little bit and overdue reform is still very much needed.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Tale of Four Legal Cases

There's a fascinating court case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Four Christians who have claimed discrimination in their jobs applied separately but they are being heard together.

I look forward to the result of this case. The fact that we have the court to resolve these issues, setting a precedent for the future, can only help not hinder.

Nadia Eweida refused to remove a cross whilst working for British Airways
Shirley Chaplin refused to remove a cross and was moved to a desk job at Royal Devon and Exeter Trust
Gary McFarlane was dismissed from his job with Relate for refusing to counsel gay couples
Lilian Ladele was disciplined after refusing to perform Civil Partnership ceremonies during her job as a Registrar.

Nadia Eweida's lawyer said that "She was working alongside colleagues who were able to wear religious symbols and attire including the Sikh turban, the Sikh bracelet, the Muslim hijab, and the Jewish skull cap.
"It was indisputable that wearing the cross visibly did not have any detrimental effect on Miss Eweida's ability to do her job."

I can accept that argument.  But if you were to apply the principle to Shirley Chaplin's case, it is slightly different. I understand that there was a health and safety issue. The test is not comparing a cross with an item of clothing, the items of clothing referred to are generally religious requirements. There is no requirement within the Christian tradition to wear a cross. This is a display of faith not an article of faith. It is an item of jewelry.

Lets therefore compare like with like. A Kara is a steel bracelet worn by a Sikh, although its an article of faith, it is also an item of jewelry. Therefore the true question is: Would a Kara be an acceptable item to wear in a hospital? If it is yes, then we must also accept a cross. If it is no, then there is no discrimination as items of jewelry are banned irregardless of religious, cultural or sentimental value.

The other two cases are significant. They involve working for secular companies and Local Authorities and being asked to carry out duties as part of the role for which they are employed.

It is reasonable in these circumstances to expect people to put their personal beliefs to one side and get on with their jobs.

Lets put it another way. You have employed a Catholic, their belief is in the stability of the family. Would a Catholic refuse to teach a child of a single parent? Would a Catholic refuse to marry two people who were previously cohabiting. Or using birth control?

Gay people are legally allowed to take a Civil Partnership under the law. Lilian Ladele is expected to do her job as per what the law recognise as a valid Marriage or Civil Partnership. If she does not do that job, that is insubordination. That is not following a reasonable management instruction.

Whatever happens as a result of this case, companies in future will have to take a long hard look at their clothing policies and we may well see a defining moment in the struggle for gay rights.

A failure to recognise that gay people can enter a Civil Partnership under the law and that persons appointed to do so, must do so, would set the battle back years.

Friday, 24 August 2012

A Tale of Two Men and Press Freedom

Two contrasting stories this week tells the tale of how we might approach the ever thorny issue of Press Freedom post-Leveson.

We have Julian Assange using his soapbox on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to rally his troops that he is defending freedom of the press, i.e. his own Wikileaks website. Which is ironic considering Ecuador's record in its treatment of journalists and an independent press.

We have The Sun boldly going forth and publishing photos of Prince Harry in Las Vegas.

Julian Assange is wanted under the European Arrest Warrant to respond to allegations regarding rape. I do not have a problem with the concept of wikileaks. It is in fact not illegal to embarrass governments of all stripes around the world. And it is a bit of a co-incidence that the allegations surfaced after making fools of the US government.

However, Justice must run its course. Assange must go to Sweden and face the music. If, as he contends, theres no grounds in the allegations, then all well and good, he will be found innocent. If there are grounds, then he will serve his sentence. But he must stop hiding behind the fig-leaf of freedom of the press to prevent his extradition to Sweden. Freedom of the press was never intended as a means to an end to avoid justice. Wikileaks will go on, it may not have Assange as its figurehead, but it will go on.

The Sun published the photo of a young single male soldier enjoying himself. They decided not to pass a moral judgement on his behaviour. I would take that statement seriously if The Sun was not implicated (through News International) in years of skulduggery, phone hacking and promotion of celebrities out of all proportion to actual talent.

To be fair, it was never illegal to publish those photos. The Palace asked nicely and The Sun can cite "public interest" til the cows come home, its possible that there is an issue of reasonable expectation of privacy but under the IPCC code, the subject of the intrusion has to make the complaint before they can issue a judgement.

The Sun though, has thrown down the gauntlet. Its testing the waters ahead of any recommendations arising out of the Leveson Inquiry. Either that or its the last hurrah for the traditional red-top style of reporting before the definition of press freedom is changed for the better or for the worst.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Tales of the Unexpected - Home Office Strike Called Off!!

Regular Readers will remember my blog post from last week - Crying Wolf? It's Another Civil Service Strike!

I had argued that the demands were so wide-ranging it was unlikely that the government would make sufficient concessions that would satisfy a ideological driven union.

To my delight and surprise, the Home Office strike has been called off at such short notice and I had started to plan a piece following up how the tanker dispute shows the way forward for a modern industrial dispute. But this time, using the Home Office as the example.

Then, this was swiftly followed by Damien Green (he must have been delighted!) saying that he did not recognise the 1,100 new jobs that was suggested by PCS as the explanation for the strike being called off.

To find out what is really going on, I found that the PCS have helpfully linked to the job advert on their website. (PDF reader needed.)

The small print says:

"Applications from surplus staff applying on level transfer will be considered before applications from other level transfer staff/promotion staff and in line with the usual process. 

Redeployees applying on promotion will not be given priority status."

What this is saying is that these jobs are at the moment only open to existing Civil Servants at risk of redundancy within the Home Office and elsewhere in the Civil Service.

These are not new jobs.

This advert was available from the 20 July 2012, two days after the strike was called.

This same advert is the reason why the strike was called off at the eleventh hour on the 25 July 2012

If these jobs were to satisfy the "win condition" I alluded to in my post of the 19 July, then the strike should have been called off on the 20 July.

The PCS stared down the barrel of a PR disaster of their own making and blinked first. Despite all the desperate efforts to spin the other way, of which Malcolm Tucker would be proud, I simply do not believe the PCS version of events.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Crying Wolf? Its Another Civil Service Strike!

The Home Office Group of the PCS has announced a one day strike just the day before the opening ceremony of the  Olympics. The Home Office includes Identity and Passport Services, The Criminal Records Bureau and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

When a strike is called, there needs to be a clearly defined "win condition" - what it will take for the union to gain the concessions required to call off the strike and resolve the dispute and there needs to be sympathy from the public at large to show that the union are on the right side of the argument.

Lets look at the first issue - The article from the BBC states: "The PCS is in dispute with the Home Office on several issues, including plans to cut 8,500 jobs and the threat of compulsory redundancies in the passport office in Newport, South Wales.
There are also disagreements over pay rises capped at 1% following a two-year wage freeze, privatisation of services, and alleged victimisation of union reps."

What is clear is that the dispute is so broad, there is no "win condition". The first time I went on strike, it was over the issue of safety screens within the Social Security Offices. The "win" was obvious - to get the DWP to agree that some security screen were necessary and needed in customer facing offices. And the management did agree which led to the strike being called off.

For the sake of argument, lets say that the government withdraw their threat of compulsory redundancy in Newport. OK, a concession for the union, but they will argue that the government has not gone far enough to meet their demands. So, what would it take? Is it even achievable? Or have the PCS decided to go on strike irregardless of whether some or any concessions be agreed between now and then?

With the UKBA being involved, it will only go one of two ways at places like Heathrow, Gatwick and Dover.

Long queues to get through Immigration and sympathy draining away with each minute in the queue. Or a well-rehearsed contingency arrangement in place that will mean no disruption at all and the PCS singularly and completely failing in their aim of making a statement.

Ironically, the PCS regularly accuse the Coalition Government of ideologically driven cuts. And yet the PCS leadership are just as ideological and dogmatic in the way they conduct their industrial relations. Ultimately, it is counter-productive, the Government will not back down, it will further entrench its negotiation position and they will not want to be blackmailed by a union in the same way Heath was.

The 20% turnout will only strengthen the hand of those who regularly call for a minimum turnout in a strike ballot making a strike even less likely in future perhaps when it might be needed more than ever. The story of the boy who cried Wolf comes to mind.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Civil Service Unions and Facility Time

The Government has announced a consultation into the provision of Facility Time within the Civil Service.

I declare interest as a member and former rep for DWP Eastern, DWP Cambridgeshire and DWP Norfolk and Suffolk within the PCS.

The role of a union rep is vitally important. In my brief time as a rep, I found that the majority of my work was related to helping staff with their problems. It might have been a bullying and harassment case; a grievance against a warning wrongly given or just sitting with a member talking to a manager about their sick absences.

The work of a union rep is vitally important to making sure that people are treated fairly and properly, upholding the principle of natural justice.

What we have to differentiate between, and the consultation makes this absolutely clear, is Trade Union Duties and Trade Union Activities.

TU Duties including representing members and TU Activities include branch meetings.

Both of these are proper legitimate reasons for a rep to take time off. The consultation is looking at whether it is appropriate to pay reps for the time off they take when they take part in their TU Activities. The consultation goes so far as to say that paid time for Duties will still continue. And rightly so.

The Civil Service code states that paid Civil Servants must be impartial and serve the government of the day whoever it might be.

It also gives rules and restrictions on who can take part in political activities for political parties such as the Liberal Democrats. If you are a Senior Executive Officer or higher, then you are barred from taking part in campaigning or standing for election to a local authorities. If you are below that grade, you must ask permission and do it in your own time. If you are adopted as a candidate for a parliamentary election, you must resign your post and apply for reinstatement.

This question of impartiality has already meant that I have objected to paying the political levy part of my monthly sub.

Other unions use their political levy as a membership of the Labour Party. PCS is not in anyway affiliated, however, in a recent ballot, PCS has agreed to fund candidates at an election who are opposed to the Coalition Government's cuts, which could include funding MPs such as John McDonnell but also Socialists. Despite assurances that it would only happen rarely, there is sufficient lack of transparency in the decision making process that it is a matter of when, not if.

I would therefore be funding candidates who would be in direct opposition to candidates from the party of which I belong to.

It is clear that the PCS as a whole have set themselves down the path of active campaigning opposition to Government policy through branch meetings and conference. As you should be doing that in your own time, it is indeed time to reconsider paying reps for their Trade Union Activities time.

*edited 18 July 2012 @ 18:29 with thanks to Howard for his constructive commentary on this post*

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Bunch of Bankers

Not before time, David Cameron has announced an parliamentary inquiry into the morals and ethics of the banking sector.

Considering that by all accounts, it appears that there has been widespread illegality and dubious sharp practises for some years, the comparison with the media inquiry as run by Lord Leveson makes the argument for a similar setup for the banking side just as compelling.

Lets be fair - the BBC reports that "This committee will be able to take evidence under oath, it will have full access to papers and officials and ministers including ministers and special advisers from the last government" which is good going for a Parliamentary Select Committee.

I am sure that as the head of the Treasury Committee, Andrew Tyrie has the relevant experience (being advisor to the then Chancellors of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson and John Major; and as an economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), but the perception it creates about the relative importance of fully investigating the banking sector compared to the media means that an independent Judge led inquiry is crucial.

What is clear that all through the economic downturn and in the last few years, the Tories have argued for our European partners to be mindful of the status of the City and its contributions to the global economy when discussing the Fiscal Compact Treaty. It is clear now that the City does not suffer from a surfeit of red-tape but a lack of it.

Damn the cost of any inquiry. The banking sector has been growing fat at our expenses for years, time to call their bluff, investigate the sector fully and let anyone who whines go and find a job elsewhere.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Energy - The Next Generation

Living in Cambridgeshire, it is very flat. I am lucky to be living up in what passes for "them thar hills" so I can indulge in long strolls along relatively flat ground with the occasional rolling bits.

Today I decided to walk out from Balsham along to the Fleam Dyke, and then take a right turn back to Balsham along part of the Harcamlow Way. I did have an ulterior method. I wanted to check out the Wadlow Wind Farm that is being built as we speak.

Up to now, I had only seen the turbines from the road whilst commuting. And yet, after today, I realised the sheer scale and size of them makes them appear closer than they really are, this makes them pretty imposing on the landscape.

They are though, aesthetically pleasing to look at. Ive seen worse designs round here. A horrid mobile phone mast on the road leading up to Balsham. A monstrous carbuncle of a hotel on Hills Road in Cambridge.

But as I approached the site, it did lead me to reflect on where we go from here in terms of how we generate the energy needed for future generations, especially as coal and gas is a finite resource. The last thing we need is to be energy dependent on the Middle East. With the Arab Spring still to play out its long term consequences, we could still find ourselves with unsympathetic governments in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other places.

The obvious start would be to legislate for all new developments and re-developments incorporate the latest in home insulation and solar panels on the roof.

This micro-generation would be part of a mix with bigger solar and wind farms and nuclear plants, suitably located, replacing existing coal and gas plants.

(And before you comment on my reference to nuclear plants, I consider nuclear to be a useful, near unlimited power generation facility that would fill in the gaps left by solar and wind power. The question of the waste is another issue.)

I am however, not getting the impression that successive Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change have been brave enough to grasp the mettle. Fine words about Green Bank and investing in infrastructure are all very well but without action, any delay will mean no power plants in place to replace the aging ones and could lead to a very real risk of the lights going out in years ahead.

Pull your finger out and get on with it!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Marriage as a Credible Institution

So, the Church of England has suggested that the extension of the right to marry to gay couples will undermine the concept of marriage.

Lets have a little history lesson, Henry VIII establised the Church of England to nod through his divorce to Catherine of Aragon and sanction a marriage to Anne Boleyn, his mistress.

Where was the concern about undermining the institution of marriage then?

This is a clear precedent that the control of the validity of any such marriage is at the discretion of the State and that the Church has acquiesced in these political manoeuvrings for nearly 600 years.

Furthermore, the 1949 Marriage Act also defines how the Church of England can hold their ceremonies as well as allowing for Registry Offices to conduct marriages. Gyles Brandeth's private member bill in 1994 extends the right to conduct marriages in other approved locations.

Where was the concern about undermining the institution of marriage then?

It is clear that the State has the preeminent right to define how a marriage is valid. Not the Church. By history, by convention and by practise.

The Church can already lay down its own rules about who can marry in a Church. Henry VIII's Great (many times) Nephew - Charles Philip Arthur Windsor (aka Prince of Wales) faced controversy when marrying Camilla Parker Bowles. Although technically a widower as Diana has died, Camilla's ex-husband was still alive.

There is absolutely no reason whatsover, why the Church cannot set its own rules about who can or cannot get married within its premises.

But I do have to consider. What makes the bigger mockery of marriage? 

Britney Spears marrying Jason Alexander which was annuled 55 hours later?

Or two people of the same sex, who love each other very much and want to demonstrate that commitment the same as any other couple.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Doctor on Strike

The Independent gave a pithy headline to the issue of public sector pensions for Doctors today.

Lets be clear at the outset. Doctors have every right to ballot on Industrial Action and Striking and they have every right to take part in any action that is called by the union they belong to. They are already sensitive to the issue of "abandoning patients" but they are only withdrawing non-urgent care. This is a world of difference from standing outside surgery or hospitals round the brazier. This attitude is similar to how the Fire Brigades Union conducts their disputes and even they are usually replaced with Green Goddesses and the Army. I am sure that pulling in a few Army medics just in case is not beyond the wit of the government. But crucially, the lie about the unsustainability of public sector pensions have been nailed. There is a £2bn surplus in the pension scheme which is not to sneezed at.

The government were quick as always to bleat about lack of a mandate (which makes the position of many councillors elected just as dubious) and that the public would not understand their position. The government need to change the record and look into why unions that have historically been slow to anger and slow to take action have suddenly had an outbreak of militancy. The doctors taking action for the first time since 1975. Prospect and National Association of Head Teachers taking part in N30 last year to name but a few.

But I can't get over this naggy feeling about this action from the Doctors.

Reading about the strike from 1975, it appears it happened as a result of being asked to withdraw from private practise and has given the casual observer born long after the event the impression that the BMA is a deeply conservative self-interested organisation only looking out for themselves.

With the Doctors now being amongst the best paid in the public sector and having the added bonus of a pension scheme that pays anywhere from £53,000 to £63,000 per year, it is instructive that the equivalent in the private sector would require a pot of at least £1 million pounds. When I think about the average public sector pension being anywhere from £4-8,000 depending on your source, it has the unfortunately perception of being greedy rather than being a necessary course of action.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Calling for a General Strike - a different perspective

Walking through Cambridge today, I spotted the regular Socialist Worker Party stall near the Grafton Centre. The stall had posters of David Cameron with the tagline He must Go (well, its not up to the SWP but the electorate) and a poster with the inevitable cry out to the TUC to call a General Strike.

Leaving aside the fact that to call a strike requires an industrial dispute and a secret ballot of members. Yes, PCS, NUT and others have an existing mandate to strike. But to get the likes of the British Dietician Association and United Shops Distributive and Allied Workers involved would be a different kettle of fish. There would be no point in the TUC calling a general strike if all the affiliates are not taking part.

Is such a call realistic? Would the revolution win out?

For it to work, it has to be one hundred percent legal and without reproach. The slightest mistake in a ballot or to proceed without reference to law, no matter how tempting, will alienate the public, lead to injunctions and employers will be perfectly justifiable to dismiss for breach of contract and harsher rules introduced on calling a strike.

Your standard socialist as you might find in a Trade Council up and down the country has a theory that when taking this course of action, two million workers would walk out, Dave Cameron go "D'oh! Of course, its obvious! I must resign as a prime minister, dissolve parliament, call an election" out of which the Unions channel the spirit of 1973 and win through with a socialist government elected.

The socialists are fond of their history. But no so fond as to leave out the inconvenient bits that disrupts their narrative. The glaring omissions from the average socialist who harkens back to the glory days of 1973 are Wapping and the 1984 Miners Strike. Even Owen Jones missed this in his article for The Independent newspaper when discussing the use of the word socialist as an insult.

History is not on the Unions' side. The 1926 General Strike was a failure and more recently, Wapping and the 1984 Miners Strike have given Employers carte blanche to ride out an industrial dispute. The Government will do no less. They can't afford not to.

Even if by some miracle, the Left achieve their aims and the government falls, the Conservatives will do a re-run of Heath's "Who Runs Britain?". The only two winners out of this scenario will be the Tories, perhaps with an overall majority, or Labour who promises £8 in cuts for every £9 proposed by the coalition government and are certainly in no rush to overturn decades of anti-union laws.

The Unions are no longer in a position to hold a government or a country to ransom. A General Strike will fail and people who lose a days pay will lose it for nothing.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Vince Cable - Right as Always

Vince Cable called it correctly over the housing bubble that destroyed the boom of the early 21st Century; on Northern Rock and on Rupert Murdoch.

Surely its therefore prudent to listen to him before it goes wrong rather than a long time afterwards. I refer of course, to his description of the Beecroft Report as complete nonsense.

The challenge for the government is stimulating growth. Labour attempted to spend until they ran out of money. The Coalition government are trying another tack by austerity measures.

But to stimulate growth, you need spending. If the government does not want to do it, then it will have to be up to those in work. But a person who is at fear of losing their job will not want to spend except on the bare necessities. Depressing demand and entrenching stagnation in the economy. . Vince Cable has also said that there is a very flexible labour force already. He's right. It is easy to sack under-performing staff. It is easy to sack staff for misconduct. But employers have to do it properly, fairly, according to the law and natural justice.

Its not just employer's livelihoods at stake. Its employees as well. Both sides are entitled to a stake in a business, it is in both interests to ensure the business succeeds. Treat staff fairly and they will be motivated to work hard for you and be productive. Treat them badly, and they will return that in spades if your business run into trouble.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Industrial Disputes - A 21st Century Model

Good News as tanker drivers in the Unite union vote to accept the deal on their dispute over terms and conditions.

In stark contrast to the unyielding and unbending stance of both sides in the public sector pension row, there are lessons to learn from how the tanker drivers approached their dispute and the willingness of the employers to seek a resolution.

The easiest course of action was to call the union's bluff, allow strikes to go ahead and then utilise public anger over queues and petrol shortages to force agreement, imposed or otherwise.

Instead, both sides went down the hardest course of action. To sit together at ACAS and thrash out the issues, to collaboratively cobble together a final deal and persuade the workers to accept it.

Post Wapping and the Miners '84, it is no longer feasible to work through an industrial dispute within the context of a class struggle. More than any anti-trade union law Thatcher introduced, these two events emboldened the employer side making them willing to stare down the unions. This is very clear from Francis Maude's approach towards the pensions dispute and because of this, I cannot see a situation in which a Prime Minister in a position similar to Edward Heath would countenance going to the country over an industrial dispute like he did in 1974.

Instead, these days, industrial disputes are, and should be resolved by negotiation first and working towards the best deal available. This does mean compromise and it really is not a dirty word.

However, it is right that strike action (or the threat of) can and should be used. Changing terms and conditions of a contract, whether written or implied is a breach of contract by the employer. The employees can therefore be justified in responding accordingly, they do not have another recourse in law.

But it has to be a last resort after all else failed. Its obvious that if the tanker drivers had in the end gone on strike, they would have done so if there was no alternative. Instead, we had a grown-up conversation, a grown-up deal and a grown-up resolution to the dispute.

Such a shame that this approach completely by-passed the collective wisdom of Francis Maude and the PCS.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Link: Civil Service Strike - The Follow Up.

Today, I had a piece published over on the Lib Democrat Voice blog. You can read the full piece.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Tyranny of the Employers?

Once again, the siren voices call out for reform of employment law. And without too much surprise, plans to reform the employment tribunal system has been included in today's Queen's Speech.

The preamble to the constitution states that we exist to build a fair society.

Employment Tribunals on the whole deal with Discrimination cases and unfair dismissal cases.

I heard Lorely Burt MP at last year's Lib Dem East of England Regional Conference speaking of vexatious and malicious applications but offered no facts and figures to support this.

As the TUC says: "The clue is in the name. Employers already have plenty of powers to make fair dismissals."

On the whole, employers do treat employees fairly already under existing law. But where employers do not treat employees fairly, then it is right for the employee to have recourse. This measure creates a problem to be solved rather than being a solution to a problem and by its very nature illiberal.

The liberal approach is to be fair to employer and employees, tilting the balance one way or another does not fulfill this aim.

Just as much as there are rights and responsibilities on both side in a employer/employee relationship under existing relationships, we must be just as careful not to create a tyranny of the employers as a tyranny of the workers.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"There is an Alternative" But is there a Plan B?

Shortly after the formation of the Coalition Government, PCS reps across the country worked with local Trade Councils and other unions to set up campaigning organisations such as Cambridgeshire Against The Cuts. The aim is to campaign against cuts in vital services both locally and nationally such as supporting the Judicial Review into the stopping of bus subsidies locally and the March for the Alternative.

Supporting this, the PCS produced a booklet. There is an Alternative. As far as I can tell, the only cuts they are in favour of, is that of Trident, government consultants and withdrawal from Afghanistan. But it makes the case that to reduce the deficit (but not necessarily the national debt) between revenues and spending is to close the loopholes leading to tax avoidance and evasion and a Robin Hood tax. Revenue raising rather than cutting spending.

It seems the time has now come to test out these ideas for real.

The most prominent elections over the weekend of the 4-6 May 2012, have not been the local elections in the UK, but in France and Greece. France elected their first socialist President since 1981, Francois Hollande, on a platform of raising corporation tax; raising tax on earnings over £1m euros; hire more teachers; raise minimum wage; and reducing pension ages along with renegotiating the Treaty on Fiscal Discipline.

Greece on the other hand, facing even more stringent austerity measures threw out the New Democracy/Pasok coalition and now it appears Syrizia want to form a coalition on the basis of tearing up the bailout agreement.

Will both succeed in their aims? The pressures of the market can ruin even the best laid plans especially when the rest of the eurozone and UK will be wanting their money back.

Hollande's policies are not new, it did not work for Francois Mitterand in 1981 who had to make successive U-turns on his policies and in these times of fiscal discipline, it's nothing more than an experiment on a patient where the doctors do not know how to cure the disease, then after that, whats left for the Left in Europe?

They have made the running with all the arguments not to cut, but at a time when the Left did not run an European country. Now they do. Lets see whats come of it, but if it goes wrong and Greece continues to be the sick man of Europe and France gets dragged down too, never mind George Osborne, do the PCS and their fellow Left groupings across Europe have a plan B?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Zombie Politics

The papers are full of the usual "tensions in the coalition" again.

These days, are par for the course. Normally, just rolling my eyes and moving on, I was very struck this time by the focus of the right-wards lurching demonstrated by the likes of Nadine Dorris and Bernard Jenkins focusing on gay marriage legislation and House of Lords Reform.

Both of these are the right thing to do.

To remove patronage in the make-up of the legislature; and lets be honest, it is patronage. Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt secretly recorded suggesting they could be lobbied by the highest bidders and then using their positions within parliament to take forward lobbyist's concerns and being promptly told by Labour they would never get a peerage.

And gay marriage is nothing more and nothing less than full equality under the law for whoever you might fall in love with. The 1947 Marriage Act is a state definition of marriage. Religions can carry out their own variations within their ideology. The Catholics prohibits divorcees from marrying within the Church. Thats fine, thats up to them. But that is not the same as saying that that marriage is only for a man and a woman, which state is well within its right to legislate.

The New Statesman reports a Gallup poll showing 43% in favour of gay marriage.

PCS voted to take strike action over public sector pensions on a 61% majority on a 32.4% turnout.

The Conservatives polled 31% in the local elections on 3 May 2012 on a turnout of 32%.

Who here has the bigger mandate?

Lynne Featherstone is right when she says its not an either/or; that the coalition are more than capable of multitasking.

Thats the nature of coalition, it requires compromise. The Tories have yet to grasp this basic concept.

Compromises in a Coalition is the grown up version of "Show me yours and I'll show you mine."

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Why am I a Liberal Democrat?

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity

Taken from the preamble to the constitution of the party and it a fair reflection of my own views. I come from a family that would always discuss and challenge ideas, thoughts and comments. Occasionally I would say bone-headed stuff and then laughed out of the room. I learnt from this, and quickly.

Looking at my background, one set of grandparents were conservative and the other set were socialists. I was encouraged to develop my own thinking and I suppose I found a happy middle-ground. Many of my views took a good twenty years to develop. After a flirtation with the Orange Book wing, I consider myself to be part of the social democratic wing which I interpret as being free market where it is needed and the state where it is needed because the free market profit motive does not work in those spheres.

I am a republican (as the monarchy is not meritocratic); in favour of rights to combat discrimination and to protect employees, whether they want to work, in an industrial dispute or to protect from unscrupulous employers; in favour of media plurality and anti-authoritarianism/extremism. I am pro-european, though not in favour of joining the Euro. I believe that people need to demonstrate responsibility as well as having rights afforded to them. Although I have been a trade union rep in the past, the policies adopted by trade unions as a whole are narrow and do not fully represent my political thinking.

My earliest political awaking was when I was at my grandparents, and my grandmother said to me "Don't be a liberal in my house". I did research into the Lib Dems and liked what I read. The stand out policy for me in those days was a penny on income tax for education, in those days, designed to have raised about an extra 2 billion pounds. Although I can barely remember other policies from those days, I do find the 1992 General Election manifesto still to be true to my political beliefs after all these years with their emphasis on education, environment, Europe and development of infrastructure along Keynesian economic theory long before it was fashionable again.

In that way, the party that I joined in 1995 is still very much the party that I still belong to. I do remember reading Emma Nicholson's autobiography from around 1997 where she writes about the tory party leaving her rather than she leaving the party, this is not a stage I have reached even after the start of the Coalition Government.

My old friend Stephen, who I met at sixth form in Newbury, wrote me a letter of introduction and packed me off with directions to the Newbury constituency office. Knocked on the door, and David Rendal answered. With a sudden attack of nerves, I said "Can I talk to Gerald Vernon Jackson?" David showed me through, bemused that I would rather see Gerald than him. And Gerald signed me up.

I did the usual right of passage of new members - to stick double sided tape on window posters. From there, I helped in General Election 97; Winchester bye-election 1997 which Mark Oaten won handsomely; various council elections and then into the local party committees and executives via an attempt, with Adrian, to set up a Lib Dem group where I studied at the University of Glamorgan.

Due to the tuition fees issues, University of Glamorgan Lib Dems, in the middle of the traditional Labour controlled Welsh valleys of Rhondda Cynon Taff, had a bigger membership than Labour Students for the time I was there.

I cut my teeth on NUS politics, which stood me in good stead for later involvement within PCS, learning from Stephen, Jon and Rene.

Later on, I worked on the South East Cambridgeshire General Election campaigns in 2001, 2005 and 2010 with Sal Brinton and Jonathan Chatfield.

These days, I am very aware that I joined the party to get Lib Dem councillors and MPs elected and into national and local government with genuine influence, that ambition has been met with varying degrees of success over the years and will continue to be an ambition of mine.

I am, on reflection, proud to be a member and getting policies that I campaigned for over the years implemented in government - triple lock on pensions; pupil premium; incremently raising the threshold of the basic rate of tax to £10,000; rolling back the authoritarian database state; reforming casino banking and setting up the Green Investment Bank; working towards recognition of gay marriage; working towards reform of the House of Lords. Policies that are the right thing to do but not always the popular thing to do.


Hello, welcome to this new blog. I am Ian, a member of the Liberal Democrats and a PCS member. I plan to talk about about the Lib Dems, trade union issues and anything else that takes my fancy.