Sunday 31 January 2010

Blair wasn't a Bliar

I've got a lot of time for John McDermott, my comrade in UNISON's Yorkshire and Humberside region who was cheated out of a seat on our NEC and now being disciplined for protesting about being cheated.

I have got a different view on Iraq than him, I supported it at the time, with hindsight I think the opportunity cost was too great, but unlike the Tories, I don't pretend that I wasn't in favour originally. John's got a different view and that's okay. What's not okay is him repeating the Tony Bliar misspelling in his latest blogpost. Blair made clear that he made the decision in good faith, Chilcot's unlikely to report otherwise (if there was a conspiracy, someone would have spilled the beans long before now). Blair was Prime Minister to make tough decisions like that.

There's good people on both sides of the argument and it's rather juvenile for John to demean Blair for making what he thinks was the wrong decision.

UNISON Regional Labour Link Forum 30th January 2010

Jackie Fleming's already blogged on the Labour Link Forum here but here's my report too.

We rattled through the business of the day, including my report on the work of National Labour Link, ably assisted by Rachel Voller, one of the committee's vice-chairs.

The main course of the day was a Question and Answer session with local Labour MPs Dawn Primarolo (Bristol South), Jim Knight (South Dorset) and David Drew (Stroud). Later we were joined by Alison Seabeck (Plymouth Devonport) for a mini Q&A at the end of the meeting.

Jim focused on the choice in the General Election between Labour and the Tories. As Employment Minister he was glad that unemployment appears to have peaked (as February is usually the worst month for employment, the figures could go up slightly before falling). Unemployment here is better than the EU and G7 averages precisely because we have kept our public services going. Jobcentre Plus has done great work, getting half of all newly unemployed back to work within 3 months and 70% within 6 months.

Management of the economy is good too. Despite being ridiculed at the time, Alastair Darling's predictions are still bang on target. We're going to repay the deficit, but when the country can afford it. According to David Blanchflower, George Osborne's policies would double unemployment and send us into a depression.

Dawn said that we'd repaid debt caused by Tory mismanagement at the start of this Labour Government. But debt itself isn't bad if it's keeping people in work. There will be developments shifted back or cancelled due to less tax money coming in but that's nothing compared to what the Tories would do. You need public services more in recession. Investing in schools throughout this government's term has resulted in the gap in achievement being narrowed, more disadvantaged children get to university now, up from 1 in 9 to 1 in 5.

But Tory policies, ending Tax Credits, closing Children's Centres, would damage that. To have tax credits and children's centres only for the very poorest would stigmatise people away from using those services. It isn't true that Britain is broken. The Tories would end secured tenancies for council tenants, breaking up communities. Dawn also referred to the Equality Bill, confident that it would be passed before the wash up at the end of the Parliament.

David didn't have much to add to that, but explained that we can already see what the Tories are like in the way they have run local councils where they have got in. Things are a lot better now than in 1997 and we need to get the message out.

Alison did cover some ground that the others did but she emphasised that we need to actually get out there and talk to people, the Tories have got lots of glossy posters and letters but we are more real and that can work for us. She was asked about the Ham by-election where Labour increased it's majority from 49 to 567 just by working hard and meeting as many voters as possible. She answered my question about the Hoon/Hewitt coup attempt by saying that it had "lanced the boil" before there were still some mutterings, but now the PLP is united in support of Brown.

Thanks to all four MPs for travelling to Taunton to meet us and we'll be doing all we can to support them and all Labour MPs and PPCs in the coming election.