On LGBT+ Rights in Chechnya

In today’s article, Rachel Megan Barker, London Young Labour’s LGBT+ officer, discusses the horrendous situation for LGBT people in Chechnya.

Yesterday, London Young Labour and LGBT Labour members stood alongside other activists from across London outside the Russian embassy, protesting against what is happening in Chechnya.

Right now, authorities in the Northern Caucuses had been detaining dozens of men in what are effectively concentration camps “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”

The details of what is happening in these camps are horrific; with people being taken outside and beaten several times a day, having their hands electrocuted and being forced to sit on bottles.

In these kind of situations it’s easy to feel paralyzed. But the fact that attention is being drawn to this issue, and that that has led to international condemnation is a step forward. While not enough, I was pleased that Boris Johnson spoke out against what’s happening.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the Russian LGBT network is currently ready to evacuate people and anyone in Russia can call their hotline for free on 8 800 555 73 74.

There are no obvious solutions for how we can stop what is happening right now. But we need to keep paying attention, listening to LGBT people in Russia and support however we can. This is one of the most horrific attacks on LGBT rights in the Western world in recent history and we cannot just let it happen.

You can read the Russian LGBT networks full statement here: https://lgbtnet.org/en/content/statement-russian-lgbt-networks-board-regarding-information-kidnappings-and-murders-lgbt

The Progressive Alliance- a Debate

Today’s article is a debate between our regular contributor Dan Oliver of Stockport Young Labour and newcomer Benj Eckford. Benj has lived in North West Durham constituency all his life. He comes from a family of coal miners and teachers. He joined the party at the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala when he was 16 after seeing Ed Miliband and Tom Watson speak to the Gala. He is on North West Durham CLP exec, Secretary of Newcastle University Labour Society, on the executive of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and is a Labour council candidate on 4 May. Benj will argue in favour of a progressive alliance and Dan against.

Benj– In 2015, the Tories got 36.9% of the vote, 51% of the seats and 100% of the power. That led to Brexit and goodness knows what else. In 1979, 1983 and 1987 more people voted against Thatcher than voted for her. From the Liberal landslide in 1906, it was 39 years before another majority anti-Tory government was formed. First past the post allowed the Tories to rule Britain for longer in the 20th century than the Communists ruled Russia. The only argument against first past the post within the Labour movement is that proportional representation would always result in a hung parliament, meaning Labour would never form a majority again. I make no apology for preferring a Labour-Liberal coalition to a Tory majority. I urge you to read ‘Realignment of the left? A history of the relationship between the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties’ by Peter Joyce, detailing how our two parties can and should work together. All it would take in 2020 is a one-off alliance. A pro-PR majority in the Commons can change the voting system, give us a fresh election in which alliances and tactical voting are no longer necessary. All indications are that this would lead to a near-permanent Labour-Liberal coalition, which I would prefer to a Tory majority.

Dan– Whilst I understand the sound rationale behind using a progressive alliance as a vehicle for electoral reform, I strongly believe that this is more theoretical than practical. For me, such an alliance would only work in the form of a coalition that was negotiated in the case of a hung Parliament – not where an agreement is made prior to a General Election. As we saw in 2015 with the marketed threat of an SNP ‘kingmaker’ situation, there can be a public hesitance around handing power to smaller organisations who seek to benefit from such situations – a progressive alliance has far more benefits for smaller parties than it does for the Labour Party.

In my opinion a progressive alliance would not only limit our chances of electoral success but it would also actively harm those chances and our reputation. The logistics of such an alliance are not as simple as adding up all non-Tory votes to find an outcome, for example in Stockport I know many Labour voters who would not vote Lib Dem, and vice versa. Whilst I am in favour of electoral reform, I would much rather see a Labour Party fighting for an outright victory in a general election with a manifesto built on our own strengths – rather than marketing various hypothetical policies that a progressive alliance or coalition would implement.

Benj- Dan is certainly right that the SNP are a bogeyman for English voters, and I would not include the SNP or Scottish Greens in an alliance. Labour only needs to work with the Liberals, once, to get electoral reform. Something that any advocate of the progressive alliance should always emphasise is that it is not an excuse for Labour to be lackadaisical. We must still be the strongest party in the minds of the British people and gain their trust. A progressive alliance is not a substitute for winning the arguments. Strong leadership, the best policies, organisation on the ground by our thousands of activists, and a convincing narrative of the future to win hearts and minds are still absolutely necessary. It is simply common sense to say that we can help ourselves by not splitting our resources. Let the Liberals take on the Tories in their heartlands (the West Country, the rural areas with no Labour traditions where we always come third), and in return the Liberals will not stand in our safe seats or in Labour/Tory marginals. While not all Liberal/Labour voters are transferable, I believe enough are to deny the Tories a majority and give us electoral reform.

Dan- Whilst I would not look to include the SNP in any alliance, the chances of Labour winning a general election without regaining seats in Scotland are extremely slim. From the results of the 2015 election it is clear that Labour would not have won many more seats if the Liberal Democrats hadn’t stood, or vice versa. The chances of working with the Liberals are subjective at best in terms of local Parties, as there are areas where members of both sides will not contemplate defeat to enable victory for the other Party. I think we should also be wary of disenfranchising the members and activists that we have in areas where we wouldn’t field a candidate – we would be pretty much telling those people that they can’t campaign for their own Party. We also need to remember what the perception of a progressive alliance would be from an ordinary member of the public, rather than from our informed and politically-biased position. For me we have a choice here, between standing on an electoral platform of our own strengths and gaining our own mandate, or opening ourselves up to the risks involved in working with other Parties who do not share our values and interests.

Benj Eckford and Dan Oliver

Do you think there’s something they missed? Want to write your own response? Let us know by emailing labour.lyon@gmail.com.

Repeating Parliamentary Scrutiny does not make it so

In today’s article, Nathan Kelly gives his take on Labour’s red lines for Brexit.

Early Fabian writings, of the Webbs, Shaw, et al., was littered with references to ‘science’. From the flirtation with eugenics, to the belief that an elite group of social scientists could help install British socialism by infiltrating the bureaucracy, to the notion that science could be used as a means to persuade people towards socialist thinking. The magic notion of ‘science’ was ever present. Contesting such ideas now is not purposeful, what is prescient, however, is W. H. Greenleaf’s remark on the early Fabian’s use of the word ‘science’. None of the early Fabians had any scientific training, nor were any scientifically literate, Greenleaf contended: “constant repetition [of ‘science’] was intended to inspire confidence”. In repeating a term over and over again, the Fabians sought to legitimise it and make reality of their ideas via its use – when Labour says ‘Parliamentary Scrutiny’ of Brexit, it feels eerily similar.

Alas, how I do feel sorry for Keir Starmer, stuck between a rock and a hard Brexit. His six red lines are noble. Ensuring a strong and collaborative future with the EU is vital to British security interests, climate change policy and many other future challenges – hurrah! Delivering the exact same benefits as we currently in the Single Market, wonderful for minimising the economic damage Brexit looks to bring – great! Fair migration and a defence of worker’s rights – the liberal within is weeping with tears of joy. Deliverance for all regions of the UK- with the Northern powerhouse not just dead rhetoric but a decaying idea to Theresa May, this is necessary.

These red lines play into the Brexiteers hand’s. Starmer has promised Labour will vote against the Brexit deal if such demands are not met by the negotiating-maestros of May, Fox, Davies and Johnson. I wouldn’t ever – even for a moment – doubt that Liam Fox isn’t the best negotiator to set up trade talks, but regardless of the negotiating skill Britain has to offer, Starmer’s red lines will not be met. I doubt even Donald ‘Art of the Deal’ Trump could make them.

Back in June 2016, just after the Brexit vote, Angela Merkel issued a statement saying Britain could not expect any special treatment or expect to the keep the privileges of the EU without the obligations. May’s rhetoric surrounding Brexit has already made it perfectly clear that, in order to remove ourselves from the bondage of free movement, we shall be leaving both the single market and the customs union. In doing so we are risking, at least in the short-term before a concrete trade agreement, tariffs with the EU on items such as financial services, cars and cheese. It is impossible to somehow be in a position where we manage to retain the “exact same benefits” as we currently have with the EU by removing ourselves from the institutions which grant those benefits.

Labour’s refusal to vote for a Brexit that doesn’t meet its red lines plays into the Brexiteer’s hands. As already illustrated by the large fuss made over a potential divorce bill – of the money we’re obliged to pay – the hard-line Brexiteers are practically salivating to walk away from the EU negotiating table with no deal to rid themselves of the organisation. Refusal to vote for a final-deal on Brexit plays into their hands, if they rebel with Labour then we walk away – with no deal.

Simply repeatedly saying Labour will scrutinise and hold the government to account in accordance with their red lines does not make this a reality. The red lines make a hard Brexit more, not less, likely. True scrutiny would be to divert the government’s hands towards a Brexit that does deliver the same benefits, fair immigration and regional support. But in voting for a hard Brexit and rejecting the Lord’s amendments beforehand, Labour’s six lines trying to force the government are useless.

They render Labour in a position where we now face a May hard Brexit or a Farage harder Brexit. Repeating otherwise is woefully hopeful thinking.

Nathan Kelly

Free School Meals for all, and why it matters

In today’s article, Ellie Clarke gives her take on Labour’s recent announcement that it will provide Free School Meals for all primary school children.

Last week I switched on the news, and once again the Labour party was in the headlines. This time however, I’m glad to say, it wasn’t anything to do with Ken Livingstone, or some disastrous new polling figures. It was to announce one of Labour’s new flagship policies: Free school meals for all primary school children.

Now this really excited me, but not as much as when I heard how it was going to be paid for.  The money is going to come from introducing VAT on private schools, which I personally think is a fantastic idea. It appeals to my socialist principles of taxing the very rich to help provide a social good for everyone. And free school meals for primary children really is a social good. Research from the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that offering free school meals to everyone improves pupils’ performance, allowing them to advance by around two months on average. This shows just how important it is that every child can have a decent meal. Although those in financial need do already have access to free lunches, the stigma around it (for both pupils and parents) means take-up isn’t nearly as good as it should be, and many children don’t get the help they are entitled to. Making it available to all will end this stigma.

Some people are not keen on this universal approach though, saying it is subsidy for middle class children who can easily afford these meals. But to those people I say you are missing the point. It is available to all, because that is how it should be. I believe that vital things in our society such as health care, public services, and decent meals for children should be available to everyone, free at the point of use/consumption. Trying to means test it makes the system more complicated (and often more expensive), and means that some who really are in need are bound to miss out. Regardless of the fact that school meals are often healthier and more nutritious than packed lunches, if this new policy means that just one less child has to go hungry, then that to me makes it all worth it.

The other argument I have come across is that it is not just the super rich that go to private school, and that many hardworking families will now struggle. 80% of families that send their children to private school have a household income of more than £50,000 per year. And you’ll forgive me if I don’t get too upset about the remaining 20%. If they can no longer afford to go private, and decide to send their children to a state school instead, then good. I believe that’s a better place for them to be. And at least, if they’re of primary age, they’ll be guaranteed a decent, free lunch.

Ellie Clarke

Could The Younger Generation Rejoin The European Union?

In today’s article, Stockport Young Labour’s Sam Johnson questions the permanency of the Leave result in last year’s EU referendum and asks the question: could the younger generation rejoin the EU?

Is it time for the “lost generation” to make their stamp on history? A controversial idea in the title however an important question non the less.

Firstly, could the United Kingdom rejoin the European Union after it leaves in 2 years time. Well in theory yes, there are no clauses to join the EU that says you can’t have previously been a member. The question really is whether or not the EU would allow us to re-enter, which really is something else which I cannot answer because we are not talking about in three years time that we can just casually rejoin like it’s a gym membership that we’re going to use once, it is a long term application. In this made-up situation in my head, it would also be with the conditions that the British public would want to rejoin the EU only a year after exiting it, something that I don’t see happening. But let me run with this…

A country before join the European Union must adhere to the ‘Copenhagen Criteria’, which is the following:

  • “Stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • A functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU.
  • The ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.”
  • (Taken from the Europa website.)

A country also seems like it must be able to integrate into the European Union geographically too. As a previous member we would most likely be abiding by this criteria so that is one stage complete. Then there will be a negotiation period in which we will set out things such as the UK contribution to the EU budget and how much we get back, as well as how the UK will adhere to EU law and policies. Now this once again will take a long time, not only that but there will lots of backwards and forward negotiations and the outcome may be that our membership is not like the position we are currently in.

The current Conservative government seems to be going for what is considered as a ‘hard brexit’ where we will leave most if not all institutions associated with the European Union, not staying with the European single-market, and not allowing freedom of movement. But others, including the official opposition respect the will of the 52% however want to remain a part of the single market, which even some leave campaigners said that we could still do. So would it be possible to re-enter the single-market, which may be easier? Well once again theoretically yes because Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are all members of the European Economic Area (EEA) allowing freedom of goods between them and other EU countries, even though those countries specified are not members. However one of the main reasons for people voting to leave the European Union was suggested to be the freedom of movement of people, which members of the EEA currently have to abide by. Would the UK be able to get a different deal? Probably not.

So public opinion would have a massive impact on whether or not we would rejoin the European Union… I know Captain Obvious. But as I stated in the title, will it be our generation, the young ones, that brings us back towards European unity? Well short answer is an obvious yes, of course we could rejoin the EU, the things to consider are the timeline of events and the viewpoints of our generation. Due to the voting patterns between age groups during the EU referendum then most likely to rejoin this generation will either have to become a lot more politically active in voting or will have to wait for our older counterparts to pass away (I know, morbid!).

One other point about whether it would be our generation to take us back into the EU is that viewpoints can change, if the Conservative government create an absolute mess of Brexit then yes most likely we will feel insecure and want to rejoin the EU for the “good old glory days” feel. However if it turns out well, we will find members of our generation changing priorities because by the time it would be possible to rejoin the EU, what was the younger people will have started families and be wanting to stay in a secure position.

All this is based upon “what ifs” we don’t know what is going to happen. So really I think now we have to accept that Brexit is happening, how our generation makes best of that, how we develop better relations with the rest of the commonwealth, and how to create a different yet still effective relationship with the European Union.

Sam Johnson

On the Maximum Wage and Aspiration

In today’s article, Jack James responds to Oliver Simpkin’s article ‘On the Maximum Wage aka how to lose an election in one idea’. Jack studied Politics and Philosophy at Manchester University and is currently Secretary at Blackpool and Fylde Young Labour. He blogs personally at thefatiguingclimb.blogspot.co.uk

I’ve seen many arguments against the proposed Maximum Wage policy floated by Jeremy Corbyn recently, some are more reasonable than others, but the idea that it attacks aspiration is ridiculous. While it was presented poorly, it has the potential to be not only a good idea but a big vote winner and has consistently been shown to be so.

In a 2015 survey by the High Pay Centre, 66% of people were in favour of a Maximum Pay gap so that bosses would only earn a fixed amount more than an average employee. In research done by Oxfam in 2016, 64% of people favoured legislation that would mean bosses could only earn 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, 74% also said that business has a responsibility to reduce poverty and inequality.

It would be great if we could rely on Businesses to help tackle inequality by paying fairly, making sure all of their employees earned enough to live a decent life, but we simply cannot. In many cases, one of the very reasons unscrupulous bosses are able to line their pockets is exactly because employees are being exploited and underpaid. Average real earnings in Britain have declined by 10% since 2007, joint lowest in the OECD along with Greece. Meanwhile, the salaries of FTSE 100 CEO’s rose by 10% last year alone.

It’s ludicrous to think that by proposing to introduce a pay ratio we are attacking aspiration, taking the example from Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, if a ratio is set at 20 :1 and the lowest paid employee is earning the living wage at £16,000 per year, this would permit an executive to earn nearly £350,000. Most of us can never hope to earn that much in a year. What really crushes aspiration is a lack of opportunity. We want people to aspire to have successful careers and lead happy lives, to do this we need to make firms invest more in education and training. We need to make sure that people, no matter what age, have access to education so that they can retrain and switch careers if they want or need to.

Oliver says wage limiting policies will lose us votes in the de-industrialised north, I say that’s nonsense, people in the north don’t need high earning executives to aspire to be. They need opportunity, they need to be able to believe that working hard in school won’t be a waste of time. That when they leave school there will be jobs available to them. This year, over half of all graduates will go into non-graduate roles and if you want a graduate job, you’d better be willing to move to London or another city because elsewhere high skilled professional jobs are few and far between.

Finally, Oliver goes wrong when he says that by introducing a wage limit we lock out millions of taxable funds and therefore the state will crumble. He forgets that the UK’s richest people have access to tax loopholes that the poorest do not, the poorest 5% of people paid more tax than the richest 5% in 2015. The Panama Paper’s also showed how the country’s richest are able to hide money overseas in Tax Havens.

He’s right to say that progressive taxation is a fundamental left wing value but if we are to be truly progressive we should be concentrating less on income tax, as it could be said to to reduce the incentive to work (or perhaps that it limits peoples aspiration to succeed) and more on taxing unearned income such as introducing a Land Value Tax, that would not only force wealthy owners of Land to pay a share of the profits made on it but it could also encourage a more productive use of that land and discourage dodgy practices like land banking.

Labour is building a progressive but credible economic plan, stopping bosses from earning obscene amounts of money at the expense of everyone else can be a key part of that plan.

Jack James

Why it’s important for young members to have older mentors

In today’s article, Andrew Bettridge tells us why it’s so important for young members to have older mentors and pays tribute to two of his own mentors. Andrew is a member of Burton Labour Party in the West Midlands. He works for a Labour Member of Parliament working on Communications, Campaigns and Events after he graduated from Staffordshire University in 2012.

Joining the Labour Party and going to your first meeting can sometimes be a daunting experience, especially for younger members. It was just a few months after the party’s defeat in 2010, I walked into a meeting at the Burton Caribbean Club for the first time and not knowing a single person – what have I let myself in for I thought?

One of the first people to introduce themselves to me was Councillor Ron Clarke, who served on the Borough Council and was also a former union rep from the car industry. I remember him putting me on the spot in the meeting asking what I thought the Labour Party should do for young people – stumbling to get my words out because of my nerves, I said something about “Votes at 16” being important.

The next event I went to was the Constituency Party’s Christmas Party, where I was reunited with my old ICT teacher Julian Mott, who again like Ron served on the Borough Council. There I also met County Councillor Peter Davies, who’s nursery I attended I think from around the age of three or four.

I talk about Peter, Ron (both in now in their late 70s) and Julian (in his mid-60s) fondly because without them three I probably wouldn’t be where I am now – working as a Communications and Campaigns Assistant to a Labour MP and Shadow Minister.

Not living at university and coming from an area that didn’t have a specific group for young labour members meant I didn’t have the same access as some do to Young Labour or Labour Students groups. But that didn’t matter because of the way I was welcomed into my local constituency party. I didn’t feel like I was missing out by not going to events like the Young Labour Conference in 2013 and other events for young members because I had my party friends in Burton.

This coming May both Julian and Peter, will draw a close on their time in local politics with them both stepping down from their respective council positions. Ron, also now a County Councillor isn’t stepping down but who knows how long he will decide to continue on for.

The reason I wanted to write this piece was to say thank you to each of them. In many ways the three of them have become like mentors to me, who have given me the best political education a young party member could have asked for and putting me in good stead for what I do now as a job.

Ron, I’d often have a drink with at the Pub and from him learnt the important lessons of “playing the political game”. “It’s not what you do but it’s the way you do it” was another of his line.

Julian who taught me the skills of becoming an effective political organiser – teaching me how to use programmes like the Party’s Contact Creator system and how to operate a RISO machine without wanting to throw something at it.

And finally Peter, who educated me about all the different mechanics of how local government operated and told me about the work he was doing on various council committees. He also held the best fish and chip suppers.

At the end of 2013 I left Burton for Blackpool to do what I do now, working for a Labour MP. A couple of weeks after the election in 2015 I returned home for the weekend, still on a high from the election success I had enjoyed as the Campaign Coordinator for the Labour Party in Blackpool South.

I met with Ron, Peter and Julian at a local curry house, and whilst they didn’t get the results they wanted in Burton, it was good to chat with them about the last five years and reflect on the influence they had made on me – from when I first joined as a shy young party member to what I am now doing.

So when Julian and Peter step down later this year, and also whenever Ron chooses to I will be very sad. But at the same time I will also be extremely thankful to these three party stalwarts for their mentoring and friendship and making me the person I am today.

Andrew Bettridge

Connecting Passions: Lessons from uniting Young Labour Campaigners

In today’s article, Injy Johnstone talks about how important it is to make connections with Young Labour members worldwide to share best practice and help left and centre left parties win elections all over the globe.  Injy Johnstone is the International Secretary for New Zealand Young Labour, a delegate to the International Union of Socialist Youth and has campaigned in elections in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Door knocking, leafleting, constituent clinics. These could be agenda items for a UK Young Labour meeting sure but did you know they could just as easily be agenda items for Young Labour meetings in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere in the world? The only difference being our accents and perhaps the weather outside.

The Labour movement is about campaigning for a fairer go for people, decent work, housing and education. This doesn’t change across borders. Unsurprisingly therefore as Young Labour campaigners we share common successes and difficulties in these tumultuous political times. We stand a lot to gain from international collaboration.

Practically this means the ability to share campaigning best practice. With the roll out of new technologies alongside our tried and true pavement pounding; there is room now more than ever to share the successes of our campaign innovations. To illustrate this, in April 2016 I was sitting in a Starbucks in Vancouver with some Young Liberal Campaign Leaders and they told me how their election was won on the doorstep. Not only that, but they simply couldn’t have done it without embracing smartphone canvassing. Having never heard about that until then, I was able to bring that back to New Zealand Labour and I’ve now been promised a smartphone-friendly canvassing solution for use on our doorsteps too.

Developing international best practice campaigns also means sharing training resources and strategies for recruiting and retaining volunteers. Techniques to sign members at student union days or how to lobby the senior party on issues. Best practice campaigning also has an international camaraderie aspect. Which means that, should you want it, through a quick email or facebook message to New Zealand you have a fresh sounding board for your ideas.Two heads are better than one, and it’s even better if those two heads have had a diversity of campaign experiences between them.

International collaboration also means learning lessons from each other. In terms of accessing the effectiveness of different types of campaigning, winning elections, losing elections, they all tell a story about the Labour movement in the modern world and that’s a story all Labour campaigners need to have the latest on. Will NZ see another Trump/Brexit type shock result in our election? Although hard to tell, after the lessons learnt from this, we now know all the rules of the game have changed. We have to make more of an effort than ever to get engaged with and listen to our communities and collaborate with the best and brightest campaigners from around the world. So we can start to see the real difference that having Labour Governments all around the world would make.

LYON are currently in the process of organising for a group of UK Young Labour members to go to New Zealand and help them help Labour win their general election on the 23rd September. If this is something you’re interested in then email labour.lyon@gmail.com to find out more!

Injy Johnstone