Author Archive

Migrant army

April 19, 2015 Leave a comment

700 or so people have drowned in the Mediterranean, as they traveled either in search of a less bad life, or because they had no other option. A lot more have died or will die in this way.  There are millions who want or have to make the same trip.

At the same time, Western and Middle-Eastern states are engaged, to differing degrees, in a battle against a large group of well-armed thugs who may or may not be motivated by religion, and are killing, raping or generally oppressing millions of people cross the Middle East.  Given their level of savagery, no armies other than a Kurdish one and a Iran-backed militia/Iraqi army coalition is willing to take them on.  This is insufficient given both their military strength and their grasp of propaganda, which enables them to expand their operations into other ‘theatres’.

Let’s put two and two together and, just once, make four.

Rather than let migrants drown or subject crossing survivors either to unfair asylum processes or lives of illegality, let’s invite those younger, able-bodied ones to join a new international migrant army, whose job it is is to defeat IS/Al Quaeida/Taliban military.  Here are the terms:

If you end up as a trans-Sahara migrant in Libya or Morocco, and want to ‘earn your passage’ to Europe, you can join a highly-disciplined UN-controlled army, where you will be fed, clothed, and equipped for battle;

If you serve two one year training and two years of service honourably, you will be entitled to residence in a EU country, and after a further year , in recognition of your military service and settlement, your close family may join you.

That’s it.  There’s  a need for people to fight IS et al.  There are people. They are currently being drowned. They could fight for their freedom, with pretty good odds, and decent reward.  The Bangladesh Army, which has a great record in UN Peacekeeping missions, could be in charge.

Of course it’s not ideologically sound, but I’m pretty sure both sides stand to gain from the bargain.


Categories: General Politics

Some simple questions about the childcare pledges

April 14, 2015 Leave a comment

In some ways the childcare arms race – with the Tories promising 30 hours a week free for 3 7 4 year olds to Labour’s 25 hours.

But the announcements raise more questions than they answer at the moment.  Here are some:

1) Both announcements restrict the 25/30 hours to working parents.  What is a working parent? How many hours?  Do they have to be regular?  Who provides and checks the evidence?  What happens if circumstances change?  Who’s going to fund this new bureaucracy?

2) Is this restricted eligibility meant to take in the existing 15 hours, which is open to all children, meaning that children of workless parents will be cut out of provision entirely?  Or will all parents be entitled to 15 hours, then just the working ones to the 10/15 hours? What about the risk of stigmatisation of the parents who must pick up at 3.30pm on the dot because they don’t qualify for the 25/30 hours? Is pre-school provision a good thing in itself in terms of socialisation/school readiness?  If so, why discriminate in this way against non-working parents?  What about the needs of children who are whipped away from new friends because a parent’s job ends?

3) Is this a year round commitment, or just for the current 38 weeks?  If it’s year round, how will current pre-school providers who only provide the service term-time be helped to gear up?  If it’s just 38 weeks, will fees soar for the other 12 weeks (most providers shit for Christmas) and will there be protection against that?

As I’ve said, I’m glad overall these questions need answering because childcare has made it into both manifestos, but as usual the devil is in the detail, and it’s be much easier to implement universal provision than be getting into yet more means-testing-of-a-sort.




Categories: General Politics

Is this the worst local journalism ever?

April 13, 2015 Leave a comment

There’s a mind-bogglingly bad bit of local journalism round my way today.  It goes thus:

Jack Sen will not be attending hustings in Ormskirk after being threatened by Standing up to UKIP

The West Lancashire UKIP candidate has pulled out of hustings after being threatened by Standing up to UKIP.

Jack Sen was due to attend the hustings at Ormskirk Civic Hall on Tuesday but has decided not to go to the event after receiving a threatening letter.

Stand up to UKIP “Call on all those who reject racism, scapegoating and xenophobic nationalism to join us in campaigning against UKIP.”

The Ormskirk Advertiser and Southport Visiter have also received the same letter, which states that “If Sen appears at the hustings the event will go tragically for all involved.”

Yes, that’s right.

We’re expected, as loyal readers of the local rag, to believe that the organisation backed at its launch by luminaries such as Diane Abbott, Ava Vidal, Owen Jones, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingtone. have been sending poorly spelled, handwritten death threats to local papers and others, in a constituency few people have heard of, and then signing it off as their work, though making a small mistake as to what they’re called (Standing up to UKIP vs. Stand Up to UKIP).

The journalist has even gone to the trouble of checking Stand Up to UKIP’s twitter bio to see what the felons are about*, thus deliberately making the link between these notes and the organisation.

There are three possible explanations my local paper/journalist apparently taking leave of her senses:

1) She’s taken leave of her senses

2) This is actually just a straight, hurried copy and paste from a UKIP press release.   This is supported by the inclusion of the long and incoherent ramblings of the UKIP candidate, but is contradicted by the wording about local papers receiving the same note, which presumably UKIP wouldn’t have known.

3) There’s something even crazier going on.

Whatever, the explanation, this is a very bizarre article.   I think the paper would do well to take it down as soon as possible, as I’m not certain people like Len McCluskey will want to be associated with the sending of death threats, even in a small circulation local paper.


*I should add I have little time for Stand Up to UKIP itself,which I think is a showy irrelevance.

Categories: General Politics

How Labour should respond to the Tories’ £8bn NHS pledge

April 12, 2015 1 comment

It is quite an achievement for Labour’s rebuttal specialists to have Labour coming out on the wrong side of the argument about the Tories’ pledge to invest £8bn a year in the NHS, but they appear to be managing it.

What the “but it’s all unfunded” Labour plaints sound like from deepest Lancashire is “we’re against this £8bn annual investment, even though we’re the party of the NHS”.  And if it sound like that in my Labour loyalist kitchen, expect the Tories to make a big thing of it at the launch of their manifesto.

There are two issues here.

First, how the hell did Labour’s top team not see this coming?  Even I, who know sod all about election strategy (apart from the bit about winning them), said two and a half years ago the Tory game plan would go as follows if it looked like all was lost:

the importance of the national deficit [will be] set to one side in the pursuit of the wider goal of national salvation – we may even see some form of Modern Monetary Theory brought to bear, though it is unlikely to be termed such.

So it should hardly be a surprise that the Tories are throwing ‘unfunded’ commitments at the electorate.  It seems to me that the fiscal conservatives who’ve had such an influence on Labour’s economic-credibility-at-all-costs strategy have become so convinced of the success of that strategy that they’ve forgotten other economic arguments – like the one being set out by the Tories now – actually exist.   So, while it should have been Labour arguing the case for investment in the NHS on the basis both that short term deficit is easily dealt with in a context of wage-led economic growth and that public investment in health is itself part of that, it’s the Tories who are now able to call the shots, and attack Labour for presumed failure to promise investment.

In other words, Labour’s is being strung by its own fiscal conservative petard; it can’t now celebrate the Tories’ proposals as an admission by the Tories that their previous line was wrong, because rhetorically (though not substantively) it chose to toe that previous line.

Second, there’s the question of how Labour should deal with the Tory proposals, now that its fiscal conservatives have backed the party into the corner.   Clearly, they’ve not thought that through just yet.

The solution for Labour is to argue that the Tories £8bn investment promise is a lie, and that it won’t happen.

The easiest way to evidence this is to point to the fact that, even in 2015-16 if they win, the Tories are proposing to cut £3.8bn from the NHS by quietly allocating it to local authorities, under the provisions of sections 75 and 256 of the National Health Service Act, which effectively allow ministers to ‘fund’ the NHS, but then direct any percentage of that funding its wants to be transferred elsewhere.  In 2014-15, just for reference, the ‘NHS transfer funding’, as it is generally called, was around £1.1bn to local authorities.

The £3.8bn transfer is explained by government as investment in ‘integrated’ social care, but this investment is needed primarily because of the effects of austerity on local authorities.  Projecting forward, it’s not hard to foresee that most or all of any supposed new investment in the NHS will actually taken straight out again to fund social care, especially as the savings which are supposed to accrue magically through integration fail to do so to any extent planned and hope for (pdf).


*The £2bn that Jeremy Hunt says has already been promised  to ‘frontline services’ in Osborne’s final budget,  and which he says is over and above the £8bn, may or may not be the same £2bn budget line which now appears as part of the £3.8bn transfer to local government above.  Either way, it’s £2bn which was to be spent by the NHS frontline, but which now isn’t.   Of course, only £.3bn of that £2bn was actually new money anyway, so it may be that this is the second bit of double counting.





Letter to the papers

Please comment below or reply to me on twitter (@bickerrecord) if you’d like to be a co-signator.  We need 100 people, and I’ll be the sole judge of who makes the final list becaue, well, yeah, what you gonna do about it?

Please say a bit about who you are, where you live, and what makes you a top 100 kind of person, but not so much as I get bored.  The more ridiculous the better, but we will need at a minimum a popstar, a children’s author, someone who works in a fish and chip shop in Halifax, a crofter, someone recently released from jail for forging letter, an itinerant saleperson,  a pigeon fancier and someone with a doctorate in something chemical.

I’ve no idea who we’ll send it to, but I hope we’ll get on the telly.

Dear Sir/Madam

We are a group of people from all walks of life, all similarly horrified that political discourse has descended to a level where mainstream parties believe they might win the forthcoming election if they get a letter in the paper signed by famous people or, by way of contrast, not famous people.   This is the political equivalent of “my dad’ll batter yours” playground taunt.

For the remainder of the campaign, we ask that the parties tell us what they’ll do if they form a government, just like in the olden days.

Yours faithfully


Categories: General Politics

Zero hour contract legislation: let’s be careful what we wish for

Today Ed Miliband has made a key promise:

We have to end the epidemic of zero hours contracts.

So today I can announce that in our first year of government after the election, Labour will pass a law that says:

If you are working regular hours, you will get a regular contract.

A legal right that will apply to all workers after 12 weeks.

This sounds great, except that it does very little to end the exploitation of people on zero hour contracts.

You see, the people most exploited by zero hour contracting are not those on regular hours, but those on irregular hours.

Ensuring that people already working regular hours get a contract that reflects that fact may be nice enough, and clarity on contractual terms is welcome (though it may come at the cost of inflexibility which is bad for employees too).   ACAS, for example, finds that most of its helpline calls related to zero hour contracting are about lack of clarity/understanding, and that many problems e.g. around holiday pay calculations are less to do with overt exploitation than poor communication.

But those most exploited under zero hour contracting are those who are called into work at short notice and must be ready to go into work, meaning that they can’t work elsewhere, and must have care arrangements in place.  As it stands – and of course we haven’t seen any legislation wording – the number of people on irregular hours may actually increase, as less scrupulous employers seek loopholes around does and what doesn’t constitute regular hours.   Even at best, today’s commitment from Miliband don’t seem to do anything to protect people on irregular hours.

As I’ve said previously, zero hour contracts are not of themselves exploitative, and many employers (including me) have used them for years while retaining perfectly good relations with employees; indeed, at my place I’d say they even enhance relationships, because staff can and do shift their hours by informal ‘just get on with it’ agreement.   Rather, it is the way they are used by certain employers that is exploitative, and the best way to tackle that is not by legislation, but by increasing worker bargaining power through unionisation (though tackling the employer incentive to employ people part-time in order to avoid national insurance contributions would also help).

I fear that Labour, by moving down the legislation route in an understandable pre-election bid to look tough on labour market injustice, may not only be creating for a rod for its own back when it comes to implementation.   It may also be doing a long-term disservice to low-paid workers by acting as what the Economist has called (in relation to minimum wage legislation) a “proxy union”.

What I mean by this is that, while the introduction of minimum wage a) did not create unemployment (as claimed by the right); b) may have pushed other non-minimum wages up (pdf), it also removed at one fell swoop a key raison d’etre of trade unions, arguably contributing to decline in membership.*  In turn, this has arguably fed into less active trade union representation in the workplace, and greater worker vulnerability in the face of those employers who are deliberately exploitative around contractual terms (I’m differentiating here from exploitation as an essential feature of capitalism).

Would Sports Direct have introduced its zero hour contracting in the first place if there had been stronger workplace representation?

As we look forward to another round of legislative protection from a new Labour-led government, we should be careful what we wished for.


* Until 1985, the British trade union movement opposed (pdf, section 2.3) the introduction of a statutory minimum wage.  What remains under-researched is whether they were right to do so.





Categories: Labour Party News, Law

Community organizing: five years on

March 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Back in the early 2010s, community organisation was all the rage.   Now, you have to look quite hard for the traces.

On the Conservative side,  the back of a fag packet promise by Cameron, five years ago today, of 5,000 full-time, professional organizers, quickly became  500 paid organizers and 4,500 volunteers.  This month, the interim evaluation by the consultancy arm of New Economics Foundation and IPSOS-Mori quietly released what is probably one of the worst pieces of evaluation work I have ever seen*, suggesting strongly that they know no-one is going to take much notice of their findings now, and that they may as well just get a junior staff member to batter out some rubbish and send the invoice.  I don’t imagine the full evaluation in June will be much better, given that all the primary data collection has been done.

On the Labour side too, it’s as though we’d never had Movement for Change.  Over at Labourlist, the editor Mark Ferguson’s calls for a “return to – and full embrace of – the model pioneered by Arnie Graf”.   That someone at the heart of the Labour party machine should be saying we’ve left community organising behind may come as something of an embarrassment to the directors and high profile national steering committee of Movement for Change Ltd, including one David Miliband, who according to their most recent accounts (to March 2014) spent getting on for £0.5 million on  trying to organize change in communities.

So what went wrong?

As far as the Tory plans are concerned, it’s fairly straightforward.  The whole project became null and void the moment, in 2011, that they passed the delivery contract to Locality rather than to Citizens UK (previously London Citizens).  Locality, a merger of the Development Trust Association and the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres, were seen as a safe pair of hands, who could be trusted to steer clear of anything that might vaguely resemble challenge to existing power structures.

Thus it has proved.  Locality’s delivery programme has involved getting existing Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) second tier organisations (e.g. Councils for Voluntary Service) to host the appointed community organizers, and as a result organizers have tended to slip into the ‘facilitation’ model already used by these organisations, and the community organizer funding has largely simply replaced, or part replaced, streams of funding that have been cut since 2010 (notably from local authorities cutting their grant)**.

When it comes to Movement for Change, things have been better, but results are still disappointing.   The model adopted eschews the formal structures of the VCS in favour of a more overt campaign & challenge focus, and there have been some isolated but very worthy successes, although the question of whether these local victories would have happened anyway in the absence of a support organisation is valid.  £0.5m a year on the company infrastructure looks like a lot of deadweight, and arguably the money might have been better spent on other party activity.

For Movement for Change, the problem seems to be opposite one from the one faced by the Tories; while the Cameron model has failed because resources were simply sucked into existing, staus quo-preserving structures, Labour-style community organization is not taking off at scale because it doesn’t draw on or feed into existing structures in the Labour party, or more importantly, in the labour movement.   This isn’t surprising when its key UK instigator is Arnie Graf, who promotes the power of enhanced consumerism within capitalism, rather than greater direct control over what is (co-)produced in the way of public services, and whose key role within the Labour party is to develop ‘community organisation’ as a clever marketing and voter ID add-on, rather than a good thing of itself.

As a result, there is no sense that the Movement for Change will ever punch bigger than its weight and begin to have anything other than occassional, isolated success driven by people would probably have driven it anyway.

So where from here for Labour?

For myself, I roundly reject Mark Ferguson’s call for a return top the Graf model of community organization.  To do so is to ignore why its failed to date.  Instead, the labour movement needs to start re-thinking what exactly its organising focus and power is – and that’s around delivery of services and products rather than their receipt – and then start to re-engage with existing party and union structures, especially Trades Councils but also through newer insitutions such as NHS Foundation Trusts, to ensure that the correct kind of change is pushed through at both local and wider level.  Lots more of that coming up on this blog.


* There isn’t space here for a full review of how bad this evaluation is, but  from the first wholly incorrect paragraph onwards it is almost laughably poorly written.   My favourite laughable bit is the juxtaposition between page 3 and page 5.  At page 3 we are told, a little surprisingly:

Community organisers have no agenda, and do not lead or do things on behalf of people.

By pages 4-5, we are told that ‘leading other people’ is a key skill of community organisation, and that evidence of the programme’s success lies in the fact that community organizers were 10% more confident of this skill after their residential course.   (It is impossible to say what the “% Confident (8-10 out of 10 )” applied to the bar chart at fig 1.1 may mean).

**  This is pretty well what I predicted five years ago today:

So it’s almost certain, if this programme were to ahead, that it would be calling to a great extent on funds already disbursed by central and local authorities to provide all the staff who already have a role  very similar to the one now envisaged as utterly new and innovative by Cameron.  Has he never heard of Councils for Voluntary Service, for example, or enquired as to what they might do?


More specifically in terms on what the community organizers will or won’t do, there is the question of just how combative and challenging to existing structures will they be permitted to be under their new contracts.  The concept of hidden state power through the depoliticization of the notion of community will not, of course, be unfamiliar to most readers of this blog.









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