Tuesday 22 March 2011

The Portsmouth South Conundrum

I've long been a supporter of using Single Transferable Vote for UK elections but I'm going to vote No to AV. When I was thinking of writing this blogpost there were lots of little reasons why, but one seemed more important than anything else. I call it the Portsmouth South Conundrum.

Let's look at Portsmouth South in May 2010

Liberal Democrats 45.9%
Conservatives 33.3%
Labour 13.7%
Others 7.2%

Now let's fast forward to an AV election in 2015. Imagine that the Tories are moderately popular, they got they are up to 35% support. Meanwhile a third of Lib Dem support has deserted to Labour, bringing Lib Dems down to 30% and Labour up to 29%. That might be typical of a string of southern seats.

Now imagine that you're a Tory voter who wants to elect a Tory MP. It might increase the chance of a Tory getting elected if that Tory votes Labour. How's that? We'd assume that Labour 2nd preferences would tend to flow to the Lib Dems, the remaining Lib Dems 2nd preferences would flow towards the Tories (because a lot of the Lib Dems who preferred Labour would now vote Labour). So if the Lib Dems get eliminated then the Tory is likely to win, a Labour elimination would lead to a Lib Dem victory.

How can any AV supporter think that AV will end tactical voting? It'll just get rid of one kind of understandable tactics (if you don't think your 1st choice will win, you can vote for someone you wouldn't mind winning) with this kind of cerebral gymnastics.

Monday 14 March 2011

Union Street on Hutton

They say that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. Well, I've not been mugged and I'm not going to be donning a Tory-blue rosette this side of hell freezing over, but there has been a nasty blast of realism from the Hutton Report hitting my rose-coloured view of the world.

Once upon a time there was barely any such thing as a public sector employer. But even then employers such as Titus Salt and later the Liberal William Lever made sure that their employees were well-housed, well-paid and looked after if they became too ill to work. At one time every large employer in the country provided generous sick leave and a final salary pension scheme. That's at the heart of this whole issue, employees make employers money during their productive years, if they didn't then the employers would soon get rid of them. In turn employers made sure that their employees were saved from an impoverished old age.

Why don't private sector employers provide final salary schemes anymore? It's not because of life expectancy because you could fix that by increasing the retirement age as the public sector has already done. It's because the government provides a safety net equivalent to someone working full time in a minimum wage job. The Government are in effect subsidising private sector employers to increase profits by reducing pensions to their workers. And because public sector workers are properly looked after we become a political football.

Well, no longer, at least not for me. I've already wasted 14 years paying 6-6.5% of my salary to the government on the promise that they'll look after me. I trusted Major, Blair and Brown, but Cameron took only a couple of months to show that he couldn't be trusted. Even if the coming changes aren't that bad, my money will be at risk of any government in the next 30 years. I'm just young enough to chalk off the money I've wasted to experience and start again trying to provide for my own comfortable retirement. So for now I'm in my own boat same as most private sector workers. It's going to be harder doing the sailing on my own, but at least I've got hold of the rudder.

Thursday 8 July 2010

TUC's Own Goal

Good to see that the semi-official UNISON Active blog has come out in opposition to David Cameron's invite to address TUC Congress.

The decision was taken at a meeting of General Council when no UNISON members were in attendance due to our National Delegate Conference happening at the same time, according to UNISON Active. If true it's a disgraceful act by the General Council and we should get some sort of apology from the TUC to UNISON for that.

It is important to talk to your opponents and if the General Council want to meet Cameron it makes sense for them to do so. But an invitation to address any annual conference is a mark of respect, a mark of approval. Only a month before what's likely to be the most savage and ill-timed Spending Review statement in our history, Cameron will deserve no applause from the TUC.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

TUC General Council asked to think again

Read an excellent article by my friend Jon Rogers on the madness that is the invitation for David Cameron to address the TUC Congress in September. There's still time to reconsider and on Saturday, South West TUC asked the TUC General Council to do just that by passing this emergency motion.

"The South West Region TUC deplores the recent decision of the TUC General Council to invite David Cameron to address TUC Congress 2010, and asks the General Council, in the urgent interests of trade union unity against this Government's austerity measures, to reverse this invitation."

I call on the General Council and in particular the nine members of UNISON on that body to heed the call. Inviting Cameron to address us has no upside that I can see but plenty of downside.

Public Sector Redundancy Payments

News comes from the Guardian about a spiteful bit of work by the Government to unilaterally reduce the amount of redundancy pay, if (when) they are made redundant.

The Civil Service scheme is generous, even compared to the rest of the public sector, but the government's not even attempted to negotiate over this, just sent the unions a letter that in Francis Maude's own words is non-negotiable. Frankly that's disgusting behaviour from this government.

Monday 5 July 2010

Tax Havens

Here's my speech on Motion 2 at the National Labour Link Forum. The excellent motion from Eastern Region passed unanimously and commits the Labour Link to push for more information sharing and tax harmonisation to stop the rich getting away without paying their fair share.

Vice-Chair, Forum, Andy Dowland, National Labour Link Committee pleased to express the National Committee’s full support of this motion and thanking the Eastern Region for submitting it.

It is said that “Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilised society”. Multinational corporations reap the benefits of our civilised society. We educate their future employees, provide healthcare to them when they are sick, build infrastructure that they can use and have established a rule of law to protect their assets. But some corporations do not wish to pay the price to sustain that society.

To give just one example: Over the last two years, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation reported an operating loss of 270 million US Dollars, but by moving money here, money there, claiming rebates where they could and paying taxes only when it was absolutely necessary, they turned that loss into a 2 billion dollar profit.
I don’t think David Cameron’s going to bother changing that cosy arrangement.

Now it’s not just multinationals that can play this game – While it might be difficult to tell where News Corporation are based, our football clubs are clearly based out of one town or city. Not really. Tottenham aren’t based in London, the company’s are based in the Bahamas, Rangers aren’t based in Glasgow, their home is Jersey. Our host city’s own team Leeds United. Possibly based in the Cayman Islands but no-one’s quite sure, least of all their Chairman, who had to tell a court that he didn’t have the foggiest idea who owns the club.

14 members of the Premier League not paying their fair share of tax in the country were they do all their business. Leaving it to their fans and the rest of us to pay for the civilised society that they benefit from.

Do the Tax Havens benefit? No, they get into the position of being dependent on a few rich men. When the Belize authorities investigated Lord Ashcroft’s bank for alleged money-laundering, they halted the case for fear that he might withdraw from Belize and wreck their economy. The likes of Lord Ashcroft don’t want tax havens like Belize to develop economically because then their power would be ended.

As the motion says a multilateral approach is needed. The last Labour Government made some steps in that direction. Now we must shame the Coalition into continuing that work.

More information

More transparency

More tax paid by the rich so the poor don’t have to subsidise them.

Please support this motion.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Originally posted by me on Digital Spy's Politics Forum in response to an Opening Poster (OP) ranting about our "gold plated pensions":

I've come late to this thread because I'm busy working at UNISON's national delegate conference. Yes, I'm one of the nasty public sector union people that the OP was complaining about. During yesterday's proceedings, Paul Moist of the Canadian Union of Public Employees gave us a speech where he pointed out that the real pensions scandal is that Private Sector workers have had their decent pensions stolen from them by their employers.

Most large private sector employers used to offer Defined Benefit pension schemes were the employee would contribute a small amount of their wages and the employer would put money into the pot too. The reasons why they have been closed have been variously put as "we can't afford it any more" and "people are living much longer now". Neither of those are true, the real reason is that employers prefer to have the money to add to their profit rather than provide for their employees' old age.

In 1981 (I chose the year because we were in a recession that year too) Defined Benefit schemes were almost universal in private as well as public sector. The country earned £256bn that year. In 2009 the country earned £1.396trn, but as the pound now is worth only 31.6% of a 1981 pound that is equivalent to £441bn in 1981 prices. Britain now is 72% richer than it was 28 years ago and we could afford decent pensions then.

Is it because we're living longer, again, that doesn't stack up. In 1981 if you lived till 60 (the usual retirement age then) you could expect on average to live to 75. Now if you live till 65 (again, the usual retirement age) you can expect on average to live to 81. That's 1 more year of post retirement life. Considering the increase in wealth, we can easily afford that, and if we can't we could increase employees contributions (as the NHS recently did, my contribution went up from 6% to 6.5%).

Ironically as many more private sector workers will have to rely on means-tested benefits to have a basic retirement income, taxpayers are funding their pensions more than they are funding the public sector pensions.

Now that the private sector workers have had their pockets pinched, this government are pointing to the public sector workers and saying "it's not fair, they've got more than you". We're not the enemy though, the bosses, the rich, they have your money. If the government succeed in making public sector retirees poorer, it won't make the private sector retirees any richer.

I do think that it's not fair that the public sector have decent pensions and the private sector doesn't. But my solution is that the private sector should have decent pensions too. If you want to fight for that, the unions want to help.