Gordon Brown Launches Labour Manifesto

(Telegraph) – GORDON BROWN unveiled Labour’s manifesto for the election, describing it as ”a realistic and radical plan for Britain”.

Under the slogan ”A Future Fair For All”, the Labour manifesto promises to rebuild the economy, renew society and restore faith in politics.

Ahead of the May 6 General Election, it sets out plans to give citizens a greater voice in public services and allow the takeover or merger of under-performing schools, hospitals and even police forces.

As expected, Labour promises not to raise the basic, higher or top rates of income tax over the life of the next Parliament. There is no such commitment on VAT, though Labour does pledge not to extend it to food, children’s clothes, books, newspapers and public transport.

Launching the document at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Mr Brown said the manifesto was ”a realistic and radical plan for Britain that starts with securing the recovery and renews Britain as a fairer, greener, more accountable and more prosperous country for the future”.

Flanked by his Cabinet, Mr Brown insisted new Labour was “ready and equipped to answer the call of the future”.

He said: “The road to recovery that we have been travelling is also the road to a better and fairer Britain for all.

“Leave it to our opponents to try to build the present in the image of the past.

“The manifesto is written not in the past tense. It is written in the future tense because even in the darkest days of the crisis we never stopped thinking and planning for tomorrow.”

Mr Brown said: “We are in the future business and under my leadership we will always be in the future business. Building a future fair for all.”

The PM said Labour’s policies matter because Britain was “in a new world now”.

Just as September 11 had brought about a change in countries’ attitudes to terrorism and security, so the credit crunch had changed economic attitudes, he said.

“This is the first post-crisis vote for our country and it is the most important vote for a generation,” he insisted. “Get the big decisions right now, make the right choices now and we not only renew our economy but we renew our society, and renew our politics too.”

Mr Brown went on: “Labour will be restless and relentless reformers. Reformers of the market and reformers of the state.”

Mr Brown pledged to “give every citizen real choice and voice and put you in charge of the service you receive”.

He also promised to replace “discredited and distrusted politics with one where you the people are the boss”, saying the manifesto contained a “plan for national renewal”.

In a dig at the Conservatives, the Prime Minister said: “In its pages and online you will find a programme not setting out empty slogans of change, but setting out who is best for the NHS, who is best for schools, who is best for young people, who is best for jobs, who is best for our pensioners – for dignity and security in retirement with our new National Care Service.”

The priority was to secure the recovery but then move to a “fairer” recovery and economy.

“As long as we see this through – our plan for the future – you, the British people will be better off,” Mr Brown promised.

Business would be backed with high-speed rail, a green investment bank and wider access to broadband.

New standards in the boardroom would be demanded, and finance would take into account the “long-term interests of British business and industry”.

“It’s a Britain where banks serve the people and not the other way round, where banks pay their fair share to society through an international banking tax,” Mr Brown said – drawing applause from the crowd.

Industries where Britain “leads the world” would receive investment and small businesses would be supported, the Prime Minister said.

Plans for apprenticeships and jobs would result in a Britain where “everyone has a chance to get on”.

A minimum wage rising with earnings would help support families and first-time buyers would get more assistance.

Setting out his vision, Mr Brown said: “It’s a Britain where we have more homeowners, more students, more apprentices, more professionals, more businesses and a bigger middle class than ever before.”

In a question and answer session, Mr Brown insisted that the Government had been clear about its four-year plan to cut the deficit.

“We’ve done more than any other country to set out our plans in detail – the tax changes, the public spending reductions and the growth we will achieve to make that possible.

“We said very clearly: £11 billion from efficiency savings, £4 billion from public sector pay and pensions and £5 billion from non-priority areas.

“I don’t think any party could have been clearer.”

In a pointed jibe at the Tories, he added: “Our promises for the future are not based on a flimsy four-page document that does not add up.”

On the question of trust in politicians after the expenses scandal, Mr Brown said all politicians must apologise for letting the public down and stressed: “We can build a more open, fairer and democratic politics for the future.”

Labour was prepared to learn from “past mistakes” and bring forward bold new proposals.

“I’d rather be standing on a manifesto that said here is what we are going to do for the future, than on a manifesto like the Conservatives, who will defend, tomorrow, hereditary peers and no change in the House of Commons.”

Asked if Labour would raise VAT if they won on May 6, Mr Brown said: “We haven’t raised VAT since 1997. The only party that has raised VAT in the last 25 years is the Conservative Party.

“Our deficit reduction plans add up without having to put up VAT. The Conservative Party plans do not add up without assuming they will put up VAT.”

Mr Brown rejected the suggestion that it was inappropriate to be holding Labour’s manifesto launch in a taxpayer-funded hospital.

He said the Tories were merely “complaining” because the party had “found a wonderful building” in which to stage the event.

“This is a building that is held by the construction firm, that will be passed on to the NHS in the next few weeks,” he added.

Mr Brown dismissed questions over why there is no commitment in the manifesto to keep VAT at the same rate, insisting Labour’s record was “not to raise VAT when there have been difficulties”.

He said the Government had instead chosen to increase National Insurance to help tackle the deficit because it was fairer.

“That is the decision we have taken and I repeat our plans are costed on the basis of not raising VAT.”

Asked how people could trust Labour’s pledges after it created a new top rate income tax, having promised in 2005 that the levy would not increase, Mr Brown said the move had become “necessary” due to the financial crisis.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “Labour’s manifesto sets out serious plans for supporting the economy and dealing with the deficit through steady economic growth and fair taxation, and is in stark contrast to Tory gimmicks and draconian cuts.

“There are commitments to protect funding for key public services like the NHS, schools, Sure Start and policing. This funding will be critical for supporting jobs, underpinning the economic recovery and improving life for working families.

“The manifesto gives real hope to the unemployed, the low-paid, and young people, through its Future Jobs Fund, apprenticeship schemes, Living Wage policies and guaranteed increases to the national minimum wage.”

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BNP Joins UKIP In Providing Spink Parties Their Votes

CASTLE POINT RESIDENTS will be unable to vote for United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) or British National Party (BNP) candidates in the local Borough Council elections on May 6th. Both parties have decided to leave the field clear for Spink’s Independent Save Our Green Belt Party on the mainland – and Spink’s Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) on the island.

Local nominations closed on the 8th April.

Canvey Island wards are all three horse races between CIIP, Conservative and Labour candidates.

Those standing on the island are as follows (asterisked candidates are seeking re-election):-

Canvey Island Central Ward

  • Daniel Curtis (Labour)
  • *Peter James May (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Stewart Topley (Conservative)

Canvey Island East Ward

  • Alan Curtis (Labour)
  • James Lee Parkin (Conservative)
  • John Albert Payne (Canvey Island Independent Party)

Canvey Island North Ward

  • *Nick Harvey (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Pat Haunts (Conservative)
  • John Payne (Labour)

Canvey Island South Ward

  • Katie Curtis (Labour)
  • Mark John Howard (Conservative)
  • *Joan Margaret Elizabeth Liddiard (Canvey Island Independent Party)

Canvey Island West Ward

  • Bill Deal (Labour)
  • Jane Elizabeth King (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Colin Alan MacLean (Conservative)

Canvey Island Winter Gardens Ward

  • Richard Bender (Conservative)
  • *Peter Greig (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Maggie McArthur-Curtis (Labour)

Watchdog Criticises PM Over Immigration Figures

(Independent) – PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN was criticised by the national statistics watchdog today for misusing immigration statistics.

Sir Michael Scholar said the PM used data that was "not comparable" in a podcast last week.

The podcast prompted complaints from opposition politicians, who accused Mr Brown of misleading the public on migrant numbers.

In a letter published today, Sir Michael pointed to two errors in the Downing Street internet broadcast.

Mr Brown claimed net inward migration – the number of arrivals minus those leaving – had fallen from 237,000 in 2007 to 163,000 in 2008 and 147,000 last year.

But Sir Michael said the correct figure for 2007 was 233,000. More seriously, he said the 147,000 figure used by Mr Brown was wrong because it was taken from a different data set which has not yet been adjusted.

It was taken from the International Passenger Survey, while the figures Mr Brown used for 2007 and 2008 were Long Term International Migration figures.

In previous years the final LTIM number has been up to 34,000 higher than the IPS data.

Sir Michael wrote that he hoped the political parties would be "careful" in their use of statistics in coming weeks.

He wrote: "I have received representations from several sources about your recent podcast on migration.

"I attach a note, prepared by the ONS, on these statistics. You will see that the note points out that the podcast did not use comparable data series for 2007 to 2009, and that it did not take account of the revised estimate of long-term net immigration for 2007.

"I note that in your speech today you correctly referred to the statistics in respect of migration for the period 2007 to 2009.

"The Statistics Authority hopes that, in the political debate over the coming weeks, all parties will be careful in their use of statistics, to protect the integrity of official statistics."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "Gordon Brown is turning into a serial offender in misleading the British people in the run-up to the election.

"He gave false information to the Chilcot inquiry, his advertising campaign about policing was banned, and now he has given an inaccurate picture of his record on immigration. Britain should expect better from its Prime Minister. No wonder we need change."

Julian Says…

Dear Rebecca,

Thanks for your full response, and I already see some agreement. There are also some areas where our views differ.

Clearly you and I are immune from the accusations surrounding MPs’ expenses, but not immune from the fall-out. I suspect that you, like I, have had some frank discussions on this issue on the doorstep.

You correctly pointed out that the immediate response on expenses dealt with the over-claims. However, I do not believe it fully dealt with the issue of confidence, and it does nothing to address the issue of accountability.

You have misrepresented my argument for change to the House of Commons voting system. I think you have come to the mistaken view that what I and the Government are advocating is the Jenkins formula, that is AV plus. Please be assured that I, too, believe in the importance of the constituency link and am also concerned about having two types of MP – hence my support for the Alternative Vote. This, I remind you, is the system where each candidate is ranked in order of preference, and where every MP will be able to claim that the majority of their constituents have voted for them.

The Alternative Vote is not truly proportional, and arguably leads to stronger government.

As to having some appointees in the second chamber – sorry, but as a passionate champion for democracy I can accept nothing less than a fully-elected body. Those wise heads you referred to should be able to secure nomination and election.

As for reducing the number of MPs – I confess to being happy to look into this. I worry that this will make each MP a little more remote, I would also like to examine the detail on your proposal regarding transfer of powers to MPs, which strikes me as an argument for more, not less MPs.

I am not a fan of hair-shirt politics, and want our MPs and ministers to receive proper pay. It may make a good headline to advocate ministerial pay cuts, but I do not see how it delivers better government.

As to referendums and your accusations of cynicism: I do not think this is the proper place for a discussion on the pros and cons of the Lisbon Treaty, but I do remind you that Conservative governments so far have given the British no referendums, ever.

Those with a passing knowledge of the origins of the American War of Independence will be aware of the rallying cry “no taxation without representation”. As sixteen-year olds can work and be taxed I subscribe to this two-hundred year old argument.

Sincerely

Julian Ware-Lane

Leaked Email Shows How BA Strike Union Is Campaigning For Labour

Charlie Whelan

(Telegraph) – THE UNION behind the British Airways strike is actively coordinating attempts to secure Gordon Brown another term as Prime Minister, a leaked email reveals.

The email, seen by the Daily Telegraph, is from Charlie Whelan, a long-time friend and ally of the Prime Minister, and it reveals the degree to which the union is helping Labour’s election campaign.

In the memo, which was sent last month, Unite regional officers are instructed on how they should rally Labour support in the workplaces and get supporters to make 10 calls a day to Unite members encouraging them to vote.

Mr Whelan boasts that the union – which claims to have 2 million members – has been active in key marginal constituencies for the last year.

He also urges his army of regional secretaries to get members to vote by post to ensure Labour’s vote is got out.

The disclosure of the way Unite is attempting to mobilise party support comes as the row over the BA strike escalates.

The airline last night said that four out of 10 flights would have to be cancelled for the first three days of the walk-out – due to start on Saturday.

Gordon Brown yesterday condemned the industrial action as “deplorable”. But he still did not directly criticise the union as Lord Adonis, the Secretary of State for Transport, had done at the weekend.

Mr Whelan is the political director of the super-union that is orchestrating the looming strike action that threatens to cripple BA services over Easter.

The former spin doctor is now back at the heart of Labour’s operation and regularly speaks to the Prime Minister.

He writes: “With many of our members working shifts we’re also asking you to make sure as many of our members register for a postal vote.”

It is also clear – that like Lord Ashcroft with the Conservatives – Unite is heavily involved in the fight for votes in crucial marginal constituencies.

In the leaked memo Mr Whelan confirms: “We’ve been in touch for the last year or so with Unite members in the key parliamentary marginals. We’ve asked them their voting intentions and what issues matters to them.

“That has led to a dialogue to firm up Labour support.”

And he issues a rallying cry about what the Conservatives would do if they won the election.

Mr Whelan said: “Under the Tories deep, draconian ideologically driven cuts putting a million public sector workers and tens of thousands in the private sector on the dole.”

The spin doctor has admitted that Unite is actively taking part in the election fight in ways that previously unions – despite donating millions to the party – would not have done.

He said at the weekend: “Unions traditionally had a policy of bunging money to the party and saying ‘get on with it’, but we have taken a different approach.”

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, told the Daily Telegraph that Mr Brown should immediately stop taking money from Unite.

He said: “This is a test of Gordon Brown and he is ducking that test. You cannot on the one hand condemn the strike while at the same time accepting money from the union orchestrating it.

“The Unite union is becoming a party within a party. It is selecting candidates and running the campaign in the marginal seats.

“Its political director has open pass to Downing Street and, as this email shows, he is directing Labour’s campaign and boasting about it. This is Labour’s new militant tendency.”

It comes as Gordon Brown finally condemned the planned BA strike as “unjustified.”

The Daily Telegraph has also established that Unite is using its multi-million pound political operation to “reclaim the Labour Party for the workers”.

A union document has disclosed that Unite has given Labour £11 million since it was created in 2007 by the merger of the Amicus and Transport and General Workers union.

Those two unions donated another £15 million in the six years before that. Amicus donated a total of £9.5 million and the TGWU gave £6.1 million.

The combined total of £26 million of donations makes Unite and its component unions the biggest financial players in British politics.

The Conservatives say the union is using its financial muscle to influence Labour policy. A report on the combined union’s financial strategy, prepared last summer, shows that Unite plans to use its money to enhance its political clout.

The document, drawn up by Unite leaders Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, says they are adopting “a policy of enhancing Unite’s influence politically.”

Mr Woodley and Mr Simpson oversaw the decision to install Mr Whelan as Unite’s political director.

The Unite operation includes a “virtual call centre” where union members canvass for Labour. Several Unite officials and allies have been selected for safe Labour seats at the general election, causing alarm among Blairite MPs.

In the strategy paper, Mr Woodley and Mr Simpson, make clear that Unite is seeking to expand its sway over Labour.

They say: “While a fair amount has been achieved already in terms of influence with the current Government, the upcoming General Election and the revival of the Conservative Party mean that the process of reclaiming the Labour Party for workers needs to be accelerated.”

They add: “If nothing else, the recession has proven that New Labour’s wholesale adoption of laissez faire, unrestrained free market policies was simply wrong.”

In the wake of the financial crisis, the report says Unite will “make sure that the Labour Party stands for fundamental re-regulation of the financial sector”.

Julian Says…

Dear Rebecca,

The Canvey Beat has kindly allowed us to debate some key issues on their forum, and I have been asked to kick this off. I shall begin with a subject that ought to be non-partisan, and we may even agree.

Last year’s furore over MPs’ expenses raised a number of concerns over the integrity of our democracy. The Government set in motion a number of measures to address the misuse of expenses and allowances, and have committed to some fundamental change and discussions on modernising Parliament.

Ours is the most ancient of Parliaments; a good look at how it works and how the voters engage is long overdue. Some, myself included, have argued that the MPs’ expenses row highlighted the lack of accountability in the vast majority of constituencies. The remedy is a voting system where all votes matter.

I am no Johnny-come-lately on electoral reform – this has been a concern of mine for some thirty-five years. I am a member of the Electoral Reform Society and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform. If elected I will be pushing for change.

I accept that change cannot be rushed, and that change must have the buy-in of the electorate; hence my approval of plans for a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. The result of the referendum will be a voting system that has the approval of the majority of the electorate, in my view a good way of not only achieving change, but also key in re-establishing trust.

Specifically, I favour the following three changes:

  1. A fully elected second chamber (House of Lords)
  2. The introduction of the Alternative Vote to replace the current first past the posts system for electing MPs.
  3. The voting age lowered to 16.

Do you agree that change is needed?..

Sincerely,

Julian Ware-Lane
Labour, Castle Point

… (Rebecca Harris, 17/03/2010) – Rebecca Replies…

… (15/03/2010) – Soap-box 2010

Brown Bids For Women’s Votes With Legal Right To Home Birth

(Independent) – GORDON BROWN wooed female voters yesterday by promising a new legal right for mothers to choose where they have their babies, including home births for those who want them.

The Prime Minister previewed a Government plan to improve maternity services to be published tomorrow during an online chat on the Netmums website. Women could hold the key to the general election, as many have moved away from Labour since 1997, and the party has identified 53 seats where mothers could make all the difference.

Mr Brown told Netmums members the Government would provide a hospital bed for new fathers so they could stay overnight after their babies are born. He also promised an extra 4,000 midwives by 2012. “Our maternity services have got better over the last 10 years, but sometimes I think we haven’t done enough to make sure they provide a really personal service for mums and dads,” he said.

If mothers were denied the proposed “entitlement” to have their baby where they want, they could be allowed to go private with the cost met by the NHS. No price tag was announced, but Labour said it would implement the plan “as quickly as possible” after the election.

The Mother’s Day web chat was part of Mr Brown’s election strategy of talking directly to as many people as possible without having his message filtered by an often hostile media.

Earlier, he faced some searching questions when he came face-to-face with 16 undecided voters in the marginal seat of Stourbridge in the West Midlands, where Labour has a majority of just 407. The debate was staged by the BBC’s Politics Show.

Aides denied the Prime Minister was repeating the “masochism strategy” used by Tony Blair at the 2005 election to allow voters to vent their anger over the Iraq war. “Gordon comes over well talking to ordinary people,” one said.

But the strategy has risks. Saturday’s audience included Ann Probyn, whose soldier son Daniel was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2007. She asked Mr Brown pointedly: “Would you like your son to go out on night patrol with no equipment?”

One disaffected Labour voter compared Mr Brown to James Callaghan, who also became Prime Minister in mid-term, dithered about calling an election and then lost power, while another told him his “performance” at the Iraq inquiry “deserved an Oscar”. He also faced searching questions about NHS bureaucracy, jobs and adult education. But his questioners were mostly respectful and his answers calm.