Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Another flight tax?

A tax was introduced on flights across European airspace in the hope of cutting carbon emissions, in a bid at tackling climate change at the beginning of the year, which amounts to an extra 2-10 Euros on a flight.  The tax applies to the whole flight, not just the portion that operates within European airspace, although only 15% of the carbon emitted is charged.  Environmentalists rejoice, however a spanner has been thrown in the works.  USA, Russia and China are leading the way in claiming that this tax goes against previous laws and treaties, with China in particular declaring the scheme illegal and refusing to follow it, which they claim will cost them $130 million in revenue.  

 The US seems sure to follow China’s actions.  26 countries called “the coalition of the unwilling” in will be meeting in Moscow last week, to share their outrage at the EU taxing carriers from outside the EU and discuss how they could protect their national interests.  The EU currently stands firm, with an ECJ ruling in its favour and may go as far as banning airlines from landing at it’s airports of they do not comply.
The levy is a small price for Europeans to pay as long as the airlines do not hike their fees way above the 15% charge.  It would be ideal if a global solution could be found for cutting carbon emissions in air travel, as there could be tit for tat retaliation from some very powerful opponents of the scheme, which could mean that European carriers face extra charges.

How far the EU will go in tackling the political issues that have arisen with the introduction this tax remains to be seen, although it will inevitably have a negative impact on air travel.  As monies for the tax do not need to be paid until June 2013, there is still time to come up with an amicable solution.  We need to start thinking about how use the resources in this planet, sensibly and responsibly, so that future generations will have an earth to enjoy. 

Le Pen may gain youth vote

With the French presidential elections getting ever closer, Marine Le Pen seems to be attracting the youth to the higher echelons’ of her party, in a bid to gain the important youth vote.  The Front National’s departmental secretary is a young bright thing called Laurent Price.  What’s even more interesting is that his family, who are from a working class background, have always voted for the Socialist’s.  Price recently claimed that young people were joining Front National in their droves, proud to be associated with a party that promises them jobs and patriotism, perhaps blissfully unaware of their divisive tactics.

The Front National  claim that they are not a racist party, yet this week in a bid to create controversy, Marine claimed that all meat prepared in the Paris region were done so using Islamic halal traditions, where it may be more like 2.5%.  This claim was of course denied by the authorities and meat producers.  Islam is second to Christianity in France and the country has tried to deal with this in different ways, notably banning the wearing of the niqap in public.

The Front National like the BNP carefully to prey on the working class discontentment with rising unemployment, the Euro and religion.  Like the BNP, Le Pen aligns herself as a candidate of the people in contrast to Sarkozy’s association with the rich and powerful.  Le Pen’s campaign also gained a boost when Brigitte Bardot a former screen star, endorsed her campaign.  If Le Pen is to get officially onto the presidential ballot, she will need more open supporters like Bardot as she recently lost a constitutional battle to keep the names of her supporters anonymous.  Now that her supporters in secret must reluctantly come out in the open, hopefully Le Pen will not gain the 500 names needed to get onto the ballot.  However if Marine loses the French presidential election, which she is likely to, it is likely she made stand in the parliamentary elections that follow shortly after.

Mr Hollande is currently riding high in the polls and so there would be no need for Le Pen’s rising popularity with the youth to push Hollande into anti-immigration rhetoric.  Hollande will also be visiting London soon to help promote the new Northern Europe candidate Axelle Lemaire among French expats and inevitably boost his own campaign.  There is a large French community within the UK, with many of them registered to vote. If Hollande can capitalise on their vote, we will see a socialist president in May 2012.  Mr Hollande is currently riding high in the polls.  

This article was also published on the blog left foot forward click here to read http://www.leftfootforward.org/category/clean-politics/

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The French socialists have it!

As President Sarkozy launched his presidential campaign last week, he thankfully faces an uphill struggle against the leader of the Socialists party Mr Hollande.  All of the polls in France are currently putting Mr Hollande in the lead both in the first and second run offs.  This demonstrates that Mr Hollande is seen as a credible alternative to the current right wing government and President Sarkozy is in real danger of losing his position.  This would be a welcome change for France who has not had a socialist president since 1988, over two decades ago.

However Mr Hollande cannot rest on his laurels just yet.  How would he appeal to Front National party supporters without losing the left ground?  How will he assure voters that he will be financially responsible and get a grip on debt, without being over-burdensome on the banks?  Angela Merkel sees the threat and has pledged to help campaign against Mr Hollande.  This may prove for a turbulent relationship with Mr Hollande if (and when) he wins, especially as Mr Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European Union fiscal compact, which President Sarkozy will not be able to seal before the election as well as emphasise jobs and growth, a welcome change for France.  Mr Hollande as president could start to see a change in direction across the whole EU, with less austerity and more growth.

Has Greece suffered enough?

As the Greek parliament passed measures for more austerity and reform, the Greek public took to the streets to show their displeasure with this ensuing policy.  The new financial measures are designed to aid Greece’s private sector debt restructuring and bring down the amount they owe from 160-120% of GDP.  However just as in the UK, the politics of austerity is not working and the private sector jobs that were set to replace the public sector job cuts haven’t materialised in the magnitude expected. The economy continues to shrink, whist unemployment rises.   This lack of growth will no doubt play out in the election in April, as Greece citizens become increasingly frustrated with the lack of prospects for jobs and growth as Greece implements over 3 billion Euros worth of cuts.  It is the ordinary citizen that will suffer as jobs, wages and pensions are cut.  This is turn will lead to a decrease in spending by those people affected, which will in turn perpetuate the cycle of low growth.  However the reality is Greece has little choice in the matter.

Nationalist’s parties gain EU funding

An announcement from the European Parliament recently had political parties like the UK’s BNP and France’s Front National party, rubbing their hands in glee.  Their positions have been strengthened by gaining monies of 289,266 Euros for 2012 funded by the European Parliament.  They have gained this money from a 30 million euro fund, because the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements of which the BNP and Front National are members has been officially recognised by the European Parliament for the first time.  Other parties such as the European Socialists have been receiving this money for some time and their funding could now be reduced because of this development.  More likely than not the Nationalists funding will increase year on year. This now serves to strengthen their position and campaigns within the European Parliament.  This is worrying given their stance on immigration including the free movement within the EU.

Having campaigned against the BNP in the 2010 local elections in Barking and Dagenham, I have experienced firsthand how nasty the BNP and parties like them can be.  Although the BNP have been losing credibility recently with their leadership debacle, this announcement may now give them a boost to get their house in order.  It may also strengthen the political campaign of the Front National’s leader Marie Le Pen, in her bid to become the next French president.

 This also has implications for the 2014 European elections.  As well as votes being cast for national parties such as Labour, there will also be a second ballot paper, on which voters will back pan-European alliances fighting for at least twenty.  These alliances will have to be from national parties from at least seven different nation states, which may give minority parties such as the BNP an increase in European seats. Now that the Nationalist Alliance is funded only makes this a potential reality in their future campaigns.

Can we learn about maternity provision from Denmark?

The Labour party this week are looking at maternity and childcare provision in Denmark to see if any good practice can be used here. This is timely as the UK has one of the highest costs of childcare in the EU.  It is not uncommon for people to spend up to ¾ of their income on childcare.  In Denmark however people pay 25% of the cost of childcare and the government subsidises the rest.  Is this a policy that could be translated in the UK?  Could the government even afford it?
In Denmark it makes financial sense for mothers to return to work.  Here in the UK the opposite is true.  This means that the UK could be losing out on a lot of talent, skills and knowledge.  My work within the NHS as a diversity manager has seen many women within the profession leave to have their children, with the optimism of returning back to work within a few months.  The reality is that many of them, due to the cost of childcare are forced to reduce their hours or leave work entirely.  This cannot be good for the NHS or the economy as a whole, when such talented people are leaving the workforce.  Once women leave the workforce, it can be difficult for them to come back in at the same level and many take jobs at lower levels than they are competent for.  The cost is compounded if women have two or three children.
Conversely, I have watched some mothers return to work, much sooner than they wanted too, in the main to earn enough to pay the childcare bill.  The provision in Denmark also allows for the partner to be involved in the upbringing of their child and most men there take three months paternity leave as opposed to two weeks here. Although the government has extended the maternity and paternity provisions to allow the time to be shared between couples, in reality as most of the time is unpaid, most partners will be unable to afford to take more than two weeks off.
Having just revised my Trust’s flexible working policy, I know the issue of flexible working for new mums is a difficult one to balance for companies.  Some mums after having their children would like to spend two or three days a week with their child and work on the other days, however the company needs certain roles to be done full time.  The UK has slowly begun to embrace the concept of flexible working, but there is still a long way to go in terms of allowing home working, term time working and part time work.
The Labour party would do well to look into the crisis of childcare costs within Britain and how best the money spent to help alleviate financial pressure in this area is best channelled.

The credit crunch deepens

The credit crunch deepens 29.1.2012
The week ended with the announcement that the last quarter performance of the UK was a 0.2% contraction.  This coupled with the fact that
The UK’s debt has been increasing year on year since 2008 and now stands at approximately 492% of GDP, almost five times the value of everything we produce in a year.  The UK ended 2011 with public sector net debt at £1,004 trillion, the debt would have been even worse if the previous Labour government had not continued to spend.   The economic downturn risks pushing the UK even further into recession in 2012
There is currently little room for economic expansion.  The job creation promised within the private sector have not materialised or at a very limited rate such as part time working.  With UK unemployment currently standing at 2.685 million, the highest level since summer 1994 and youth unemployment standing at 1.043 million, the government is spending more on benefits like Job Seekers Allowance.
The governments rise in VAT is hampering economic growth and therefore hamper attempts to improve tax revenues.  However this current government seem hell bent on sticking to their dangerous path, even as the euro zone crisis deepens.  Banks are still not lending to small business.
European leaders at the next summit will also start to talk about growth and job creation.  They are beginning to realise that the austerity programmes will only lead to long term damage in the end, as world markets begin to lose their hope in Europe.
The Tory led government have an opportunity in the nearing budget to change tack.  However it is only Labour’s five point plan for jobs and growth is the only credible way forward to bring the UK back from the brink.  Let’s hope in 2015, the voters give Labour the chance to implement it.

The French Socialist revival

The French Socialist revival 29.1.12
Mr Sarkozy is in trouble and he knows it, as he begins to talk of life after politics.  The socialist revival in France led by Francois Hollande can provide inspiration to the Labour opposition.  Hollande’s rally injected life into his previously fledging campaign, with Hollande set to win the next presidential election.  So what can the Labour party take from this?
Hollande chimes that the banks need to be accountable and this chimes well with the public – the occupy movement currently at St Pauls, has received thousands of pounds of donations in the past few weeks.  The fact that the Tory led government approved the payment of 60% of the publicly bailed out, RBS chief executive bonus, is not in step with the current thinking of the general public. Ed Miliband's attack on David Cameron on why he did nothing to stop Stephen Hester’s bonus and this sends a signal to the public that we understand their concerns about the banking sector.  Hollande is also calling for a 45% tax rate for those earning above 150,000 Euros, which chimes with Labour’s view that the tax rate should be higher for those earning above £150,000.
Hollande also announced a new programme to recruit 60,000 new teachers, emphasising the importance of education.  The previous Labour governments Building School’s for the future programme recognised that crumbling architecture, can only hinder a child’s progress.
If Hollande wins the French presidential elections, this could be the boost for Labour to reignite a campaign that would appeal to the public, for a fairer Britain.

The Euro crisis lingers on

The Euro crisis lingers on 22nd January 2012
The first month of 2012 has seen the Euro Zone take a battering, beginning with a leading debt rating agency, Standard and Poor’s downgrading the French triple A rating.  The Euro crisis, lingers on.  Several of the countries within the Euro zone are in huge amounts of debt.  The end of January sees these countries coming together at a summit to decide of Angela Merkel’s fiscal compact of which Britain through David Cameron has exited.  Italy and Greece are the countries to watch, to see how their debt will be restructured, symptoms of a right wing fiscal policy that is starving off the potential for growth.  Italy for example is going deeper into recession because both public and private spending is being cut.  Spending from the public falls as they face ever growing bills and the austerity measures not delivering real benefits.
The view that a rigid focus on austerity is not the answer was echoed by Standard and Poor’s analysis of the reason why they had downgraded many EU countries.  S&P one of the most respected credit agencies, speaks an inconvenient truth, when it criticized European leaders for focusing too much on cutting debts and not sufficiently on competitiveness and growth.  The fact that many of the European countries are still in deep recession demonstrate that strict budgetary measures, without economic activity does not result in growth.
However Germany shows no sign of pushing for anything other than self defeating deficit cuts.  Labour’s five point plan for jobs and growth is a credible alternative, which provides real stimulus for growth, alongside facing the realities of measured budget cuts.  It is only progressive values, such as this plan, which will allow Europe to turn the tide on the recessions throughout many of its member states.

A ticking time bomb

A ticking time bomb?
Quietly bubbling away under the surface is the potential withdrawal of Britain from the European Justice and Policing laws.  Tory MPs are already incensed that a UK judge ruled that Abu Qatada will not be deported back to Jordan due to torture concerns, although that anger was directed towards the European Court of Human Rights.  The coalition partners are currently keeping the pressure to stay within the ECHR in the near future and Mr Qatada may yet be deported.
However the real danger was the Conservative attack on the ECJ, which has gone largely unnoticed, but would be more catastrophic if Britain left it.  The European Arrest Warrant, which Britain has to make a decision on in 2014, had an "opt" clause out for us due to previous Labour minister concerns.  However on the 6th February, 102 Tory MPs wrote an open letter to the government to opt out of European justice and policing laws.  These measures bring benefits such as sharing of national crime registers, cross border policing and quick extradition.
Therefore a vote has been promised in the House of Commons on whether Britain should opt out of the justice and policing laws.  It is difficult to say which way the vote would go and whether the Lib Dems would be able to sway the Tory vote.  Given the Tory rebellion in 2011 and how euro sceptic they are at the moment, it does not look hopeful. If Britain did opt out it may not be able to easily just “opt” back in as and when it liked.
As the 2014 opt out deadlines looms, we wait to see whether the time bomb will be activated.

Why we should should worry about the poison of Le Pen

Why we should we worried about Le Pen
There is a real possibility that in the French presidential elections, later this year that the far right National Front could increase their support.  Marine Le Pen, currently set to come in third out of the potential 15 candidates
Having campaigned against the London Regional organiser of the BNP, Robert William Bailey a sitting councillor at the time in the May 2010 local council elections and taking back his council seat for Labour, I know only too well the dangers of the far right gaining political ground and the nasty vicious campaigns they run.  Nick Griffin was a real threat to Margaret Hodge MP and campaigning against the BNP and speaking to some of their supporters on the door step was not always a pleasant experience.
Although the BNP have lost political power in Barking and Dagenham, they still have a lot of support from residents there.   An increase in the share of the vote for Marine Le Pen, may serve to strengthen their political nonce, giving them credence to maintain their seat in the upcoming London Assembly elections.
Le Pen has so far not made race and ethnicity an overt part of her campaign although the anti European stance is clearer.  This clever tactic demonstrates the sophistication with which this far right party is operating, which seeks to appeal to the ordinary working class citizen, who can be discontent with the status quo, where most of her ground is currently being gained.  Her father in 2002 came second place to the former French president Jacques Chirac.
So the Labour party ought to keep a close eye on the share of the vote that Marine Le Pen gets and hope that it goes down.  Year on year the BNP share of the vote has reduced from 14.5% in 2007 to 8.3% last year and this is a downtrend we should wish to sustain.

This article was also published on left foot forward.  Click here to see the article on the Left Foot forward website