Archives for category: Democracy

The West Midlands New Economics blog draws attention to a message from Nancy Platts, a Labour Party councillor, who has worked for London Fire Brigade, Daycare Trust and Consumer Focus. 

She points out that under the proposed new boundaries, the problem of ‘electoral bias’ means the Conservatives will only need a lead of 1.6% per cent to win a majority (less than they won by in 2017) – while Labour will need a lead of more than 8%.

One of the main reasons for this is a total lack of proportionality: under first-past-the-post, seats do not match votes – it is where those votes are cast that really matters. Huge Labour majorities do not equal more representation: instead, millions of votes are thrown on the electoral scrapheap. ‘Losing big and winning small’ is rewarded.

Westminster’s voting system splits the left vote, but projections by the Electoral Reform Society show Labour would now be Westminster’s largest party under the preferential STV system (used for local elections in Scotland).

A new report on the benefits of the case for fair votes makes clear that the experience of councils in Scotland as well as governments across Europe shows that proportional voting systems – where every vote counts – help to foster ‘consensual’ politics, where unions and civil society are included as key players.

Democracies with more consensual structures are more progressive, with larger welfare states and lower rates of prison incarceration and lower economic equality.

EU countries which have proportional representation have embedded trade union rights, high union density and extensive collective bargaining coverage use proportional electoral systems.

Nancy ends “There is increasing momentum for change both in unions and the Labour Party. It’s time to replace Westminster’s broken set-up and extend the progressive voting systems we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Westminster.

“When every vote counts – with seats matching how people really vote – parties don’t just pander to wealthier swing seats and a handful of influential voters. They have to win support across the board”.

 

 

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The rational case against metro mayors ably set out by local commentators, Richard Hatcher, George Morran and Steve Beauchampé, has been shattered for the writer by the media-feeding chaotic, emotion-led, vicious, counterproductive squabbling in the Labour & Conservative ranks.

Still, evidently, a tribal people, we appear to need the ‘high-profile leadership’ extolled by Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities , largest funders Gatsby Charitable Foundation (Lord Sainsbury) and  Catapult network, established by Innovate UK, a government agency. (see report cover right)

As yet, the announcements made by the West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street, respected even by most opponents of the post, with a business record seen as a guarantee of efficiency, are provoking little dissension.

Dan Jarvis, who is expected to win the Sheffield election becoming Britain’s seventh metro mayor, intends to continue to sit in the House of Commons to work for a better devolution deal and speak for the whole county. (map, regions in 2017)

His desire to stay in parliament while serving as a mayor is thought, by the author of FT View to reflect a recognition that the real authority and power of these positions is limited:

  • The six mayors have no say on how taxes are raised and spent.
  • Outside Greater Manchester, the mayors have little control over health policy.
  • Major spending decisions on transport policy are still taken by central government.

Days after taking office in Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s announcement of a new fund to tackle the region’s homelessness problem was backed by ‘a chunk’ of his own mayoral salary.

Andrew Carter points out that England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent, compared with their counterparts in other countries.

FT View describes this extra layer of government as yet merely creating cheerleaders, adding:

“Voices alone will not be enough to shift economic and political power to the regions. England’s mayors need more control. If the government is serious about devolution, the mayors need the powers to match that ambition”.

 

Could well-endowed, unsuborned metro mayors out-perform successive corporate-bound national governments?

 

 

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Planning for the Future: 1948 – Reflections on What Happened and Why is a paper written for the Black Countryman, the quarterly magazine of the Black Country Society.

*George Morran (right) has been reflecting on the Conurbation Report published in 1948 (Vol.51, No.1, 2017. His account is summarised below and published in full here.

The work on conurbation was supported financially and in kind by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, whose chair, Paul Cadbury, acted as Secretary. Conurbation was non-governmental and purely advisory.

It was produced by a group led by Dr. Raymond Priestley Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University, supported by a steering committee and advisory groups including businessmen, academics and local authority officials from across the West Midlands Region including the shires, Birmingham and the Black Country.

Thousands of new houses were built in the 50s and 60s. In the inner areas a large proportion of the new housing was built by the local district and borough councils for rent. They had the basic amenities which the older housing lacked. In the 60s a high proportion of this new-build was high rise especially around older town centres. The newer housing in the outer areas of the Black Country was in the main built by private developers at lower densities for sale with a greater emphasis on the visual appearance and environment. New single storey industrial estates appeared replacing older multi storey workshops. New industries anticipated by Conurbation did not materialise

1947: central government controls were introduced over new manufacturing development in the Black Country and other prosperous regions – repealed in 1984

They were intended to steer new development to the less well-developed areas. They discouraged new investment and modernisation of the existing industrial infrastructure and the replacement of obsolescent buildings; they hindered enterprise and strangled new ideas in red tape. The profitability of many companies was undermined leading to closures and takeovers.

David Smith – Something Will Turn Up: Britain’s Economy, Past, Present and Future (cover below)

During the 1950s and 60s the flight of residents, businesses, wealth and influence to the fringes and beyond from the inner areas continued. The owners of businesses who had previously lived locally no longer did so.

Conurbation had proposed that the railways be expanded but they were run down and lines closed. The proposed M6 and M5 motorways were well on the way to being built but little was done to improve regional and local roads. Much development along main roads had been blighted by the existence of improvement lines which would never be implemented.

By 1971 80% of the derelict land in the Black Country and most of the open space that existed in 1948 had been developed for housing and industry; the canals which were to have anchored much of the open space were closed, abandoned or left to decay, open to vandalism and abuse. Much of the traditional heavy industries had gone or were soon to close.

The so-called slums in and around the old townships had been cleared and replaced by new housing. Many historic cottages and other housing which were structurally sound or could have been upgraded were demolished because of their lack of modern amenities.

1948: The West Midlands Plan

The West Midlands Plan was produced by a team of town planners and academics led by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Professor of Town and Country Planning at University College, London University. The political and business elites were directly or indirectly involved; residents were not. There was very little if any public involvement – and an absence of any regional or local civic forums and pressure groups to challenge the established way of doing business and to offer any alternatives. Although it related to the whole of the West Midlands conurbation, it focused on the Black Country which the Plan identified as having the most challenges. Central to its proposals for the Black Country were the maintenance and further intensification of industry in the inner areas; the location of new housing in the peripheral areas and beyond, outside a statutory Green Belt including towns and villages in South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire.

1955: the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee

In 1955 the shire and urban local authorities set up the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee to produce, deliver and keep up-to-date an agreed regional plan to manage overspill from the urban to shire areas consistent with approved Development Plans with formal agreements for overspill to particular locations within and beyond the Green Belt. The agreements focused on new housing to be allocated for occupation by families moving from the Black Country and Birmingham. The Shire Counties also argued for the relocation of industry from the conurbation to balance the increase in population in the shires. Pressure for the peripheral development of the urban areas onto Green Belt land continued into the 1960s

1965: The Government set up a West Midlands Regional Planning Council

The Regional Council was supported by a Regional Board of Civil Servants and representatives of central and local government and business to make recommendations to Government on the economic and physical development of the whole West Midlands Region including the shire and conurbation areas. It identified substantial economic and population growth that needed to be accommodated in the region and proposed that New Towns should be developed based on Redditch and Dawley and that New Town Commissions be established responsible to the Government for bringing forward and delivering detailed plans. The Government accepted these recommendations.

1962: report issued by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England

It made proposals for the future of local government in the West Midlands Region abolishing the system of boroughs, county and district authorities and replacing it with five all-purpose county boroughs. This new system came into force on the first April 1966. The Royal Commission and the government thought that the new arrangement would strengthen the Black Country’s ability to respond to the challenges it faced. Less importance was attached to the local community identity or the social and economic links which existed between the Black Country and the adjoining areas of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

1966: a further Royal Commission was established to make recommendations on the future of local government across the West Midlands

It reported in 1969, proposing that a directly elected provincial council be established for the whole of the West Midlands Region to deal with strategic planning. In the Black Country the Commission proposed four all-purpose local authorities responsible for all planning matters together with responsibility for major services in particular education, and social services. The Commission also proposed that local community councils be established but district councils consistently blocked local campaigns for powers and representation to be made more local and took little or no action to encourage their establishment.

The Black Country Society responded to the Royal Commission

In its 1971 pamphlet it proposed that local government in the Black Country and the wider West Midlands region be built on directly elected community or town councils responsible for local services and providing a voice for local communities. It accepted that some public services needed to be provided across a larger area and proposed the establishment of a directly elected West Midlands Region body – a strong political voice which could engage with Westminster and Whitehall.

1974: The establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority

In 1973 the Conservative Government agreed a new round of reorganisation which led in April 1974 to the establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and including seven all purpose District Councils for Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

In the last 50 years many new challenges and opportunities have come along which have shaped what has happened to the Black Country more recently and its future prospects. That is another story.

*George Morran: BCS Member 1968 to Present and Committee member 1968-76. Formerly Director the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities and Assistant Chief Executive, Dudley MBC.

 

 

 

 

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 “The West Midlands is beginning to get its act together under its new metro mayor”: Will Hutton Observer 18th February

George Morran, Director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention and former Assistant Chief Executive of Dudley Metropolitan. Borough Council, comments: “Will Hutton’s praise for the West Midlands elected mayor and the Midlands Engine is misplaced”. He continues: “The mayor is constantly seeking publicity for policy developments for which he has no or limited responsibility. His budget proposals have not been supported and his capacity to make any real difference is compromised by the WM Combined Authority and District Councils”.

Deborah Cadman, the new Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, appears to have similar misgivings “I can’t deliver the half a million new jobs we are trying to do and that massive investment. I can’t do that directly, I have to do that through local government.” (WMCA)

Morran points out that, despite so called devolution deals, the real power remains with Government Ministers and Whitehall:

“The Mayor’s democratic accountability is very questionable given that his election was based on a very low turnout, combined with the media and business support. The geographical focus of the West Midlands Mayor and Combined Authority is an area which divides the West Midlands Metro from the adjoining shires, urban and rural, town and country which together make up the West Midlands Economic Region.

“The “Midlands Engine” is as important a symbolic rallying cry as the “northern powerhouse” but it is a totally anonymous entity. It lacks any local or regional democratic accountability. It is totally dependent on Government, Whitehall and big business. It does not reflect the very different traditions, economic and political focus of the West and the East. Its focus does make life simpler for Whitehall than having to deal with two regions. What we need is a focus on the local and the region rather than what suits Whitehall. We need radical reform as part of a new constitutional settlement for the West Midlands and the other English regions. This settlement must focus on improving economic prosperity, the wellbeing of residents, business, civic society and democratic representative government in the West Midlands and the other Regions.

“This new settlement must include the transfer of real power and democratically accountable government from London to the local and the region; the downsizing and refocusing of Westminster and Whitehall. The new local has to be really local and not based on the existing large local authorities imposed on us in the past by Westminster and Whitehall.” 

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, focuses on the limited powers and resources at the metro mayors’ disposal:

“As highlighted in the recent international mayoral summit organised by Centre for Cities (in partnership with Citi and Boston University’s Initiative on Cities), England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent compared to their counterparts in other countries. They have also faced delays in gaining the powers already promised to them by the government in their initial devolution deals. For example, Street has criticised the Department for Education for postponing the devolution of the adult education budget to the mayors, a key policy area they need control of to improve the economic performance of their city regions”.

Richard Hatcher (BATC) is campaigning for the reform of the WMCA based on the following three principles:

  • A critical challenge to the claims for the economic strategy of the WMCA, and for an alternative primed by government investment and based on meeting social priorities and the promotion of the green economy.
  • Defence and improvement of public services, the protection and improvement of jobs and conditions and the involvement of workers and service users in policy decisions.
  • A radical democratisation of the WMCA with the full participation of citizens, communities and employees at every level of policy making and implementation so that it is genuinely democratically accountable.

As George Morran wrote last year: The needs of the West Midlands and the other English Regions will only be realised if there is a real transfer of power and elected representation from Westminster to the regions and a far more localised local government underpinned by a more proportional voting system to ensure cross party and geographical support.

 

 

 

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7pm at Wylde Green United Reformed Church, Britwell Road, B73 5SW

Global Justice Now

formerly known as the World Development Movement (WDM),

Click on the image to enlarge 

The decision to leave the European Union is the biggest political choice the UK has made in a generation.

It has had serious knock-on effects for the UK’s political landscape, and has the potential to fundamentally change the future shape of the country’s politics.

Unfortunately, some are looking to use the new situation to further roll back human rights, even threatening some of the key victories achieved by social justice campaigners in the twentieth century.

Even the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK has been part of since 1953, has been called into question.

 

Read more about Global Justice Now here: http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/

 

 

 

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WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

Date: Thursday 22nd February, 5pm-7pm

John Nightingale, who will be chairing this session, intends to do a brief introduction. He sent a background  paper to members of the group to avoid having to share the information at the meeting. The question posed is:

What values and priorities do we wish to see retained and/or developed through the Brexit process (whatever the result), and what mechanisms do we suggest for expressing them? 

Venue: The Community Hub room, Level 4, John Lewis, Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station. The John Lewis Community Hub is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over the station (lift and escalator), immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

Newcomers who wish to receive John’s paper beforehand should contact  Comments on the WMNEG website.

 

 

 

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On November 25 the Conservative Party held a convention in Birmingham attended by 100 invited people, which rewrote sections of the party’s constitution.

The Campaign for Conservative Democracy mounted a campaign: Last Chance to save the Conservative Party, prompted by a document sent out by Rob Semple chairman of the Conservative Convention and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Board (above, with Theresa May).

The Draft Proposed Rule Changes for discussion at a meeting of the National Conservative Convention on 25 November 2017 included plans to:

  • rewrite the party constitution to remove references to constituencies altogether;
  • limit the right of local associations to choose their own candidates;
  • scrap the annual meeting of the Conservative Convention where people could listen and vote for candidates for top posts and
  • use on-line voting for all top posts in the party.

Reporting this, David Hencke asks if final approval will be given for these changes in the Conservative Party constitution at a meeting of the 1922 Committee (the Commons parliamentary group of the Conservative Party) at the March 2018 meeting of the Conservative Convention in Westminster?

If so, as David Hencke comments, “the contrast could not be much starker. Labour will go into the next general election as a mass movement with a mass membership who can influence policy and decide on who stands for Parliament, the police and the local council”.

Apparently oblivious of this Conservative development, The Times’ Lucy Fisher alleges Labour are forcing out so-called ‘moderates’ (aka New Labour Blairites) in a ‘purge’.

Times reader James comments: “We seem to be living in a parallel universe where the party that is open to all to join and all members have a vote to choose local candidates and party leader is being regularly criticised for being oppressive”.

Gary Younge writes: “Corbyn emerged in the wake of a global financial crisis, in a country rocked by the phone hacking scandal, the MPs’ expenses scandal and Operation Yewtree. His ascendancy represents a desire for a more participatory, bottom-up kind of politics that takes on not only the Tories in parliament, but inequality in the economy, unfairness in society and power where it has not previously been held to account”.

 

 

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The city has at last gained a council leader who really cares for the 99% (search housing blogs) – the only one since Theresa Stewart was elected.  

Measures taken (2016-17) include:

Clancy also works effectively to maintain and increase economic prosperity for the city’s business community:

Does ‘Sir Humphrey’ resent his success?

Howard Beckett (Unite) points out: “Let no one lose focus here that this is a cuts agenda being forced through by a paid officer, Stella Manzie, who takes home £180,000 a year and in her last year at Rotherham claimed over £160,000 in expenses”. He stated:

“The Council have agreement with the unions for changes in a working week, shift patterns, increased waste revenue. The Labour Cabinet needs now to honour the Acas deal and in doing so do the right thing by workers and the people of Birmingham . . . the council needs to admit it did ratify it and stand by it – and if it doesn’t, it needs to be honest and admit it’s going back on its decision. This is a fair deal and the equal pay issues are made up”.

Is the civil service attempting to undermine the elected leader of the council? Technically no officers, including the interim chief executive, have the authority to overturn a cabinet vote  seven for three against according to a ‘senior Labour source’ at a council meeting on 17 August called to discuss the deal

Clancy’s ‘crime’: addressing a major overspend on the bins department which relied heavily on costly agency staff and overtime payments to fulfil its basic service and a potential equal pay liability that the Labour leadership inherited from the former Tory-Lib Dem council which oversaw the 2011 bin strike.

There will be a full council meeting on Tuesday, September 11 when two councillors with a minimal track record of achievement will table their vote of no confidence in the leader.

It should be overwhelmingly defeated.

 

 

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Thursday 14th September, 5.30 for 6pm start.

UNISON Regional Office, 24 Livery Street, B32PA (next to the Old Contemptibles and opposite Snow Hill Station)

Lucy Seymour-Smith writes:

In times of austerity, services, organisations and communities are being starved of the funds needed to survive and grow.

We cannot regenerate or communities by relying on large organisations who can, and do relocate according to their own financially driven agenda.

Instead we need a new approach to regeneration framed around co-operative values of self-help, participation, social responsibility and democratic accountability that is led by organisations that have a genuine long-term stake in our communities.

In celebration of the Co-op Party centenary this event is an absolute must for all those interested in transforming the West Midlands region by reorganising local economies and supporting communities to help themselves.

First outing at the 2017 Durham Miners’ Gala

Panel speakers include:

Liam Byrne MP

Claire Campbell, UNISON Head of Local Government

Anna Birley, Coop party policy officer and Labour/Coop Party Cabinet Member in Lambeth

 *Spaces limited so sign up quickly*

nibbles and networking

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-can-west-midlands-councils-build-community-wealth-tickets-37093770466

 

 

 

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A scientist recently asked in a private email message: “Just how much of a scientific rationalist is Jeremy Corbyn? As far as I know he has never distanced himself publicly from his climate-denialist brother Piers”. He was recommended to read Corbyn’s reports Protecting our Planet & Environment and Energy and to see his video (snapshot right):

It has welcome input from the excellent Alan Simpson, a former Nottingham MP, about the Robin Hood energy co-operative.

More recently Kate Aronoff in the Guardian sees hope for real progress on climate change lying in its appeal to the interests of the 99% (our term, replacing her use of ‘populism’).  

It’s one of history’s greatest “us v them” scenarios, pitting a handful of oligarchs and profit-hungry fossil fuel CEOs against the rest of humanity”.

She continues: “The brand of climate denial that informs Trump and the Republican party line is the result of one of the global elite’s most effective projects yet. It’s been multinational corporations funding the campaign to cast doubt on scientific consensus. ExxonMobil, for instance, has poured at least $33m into such efforts since the Kyoto protocol was launched in 1997”.

Despite this long-running disinformation campaign, Kate notes that the majority of voters in every state support the United States’ participation in the agreement” and today we read about the critical response from some major industrialists and about several US states deciding to ‘go it alone’ after the president refused to be part of the Paris accord. Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. The group (to date) includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses. Read more in the New York Times.

Kate points out – as Hines, Green New Deal convenor has long asserted, that any reasonable solution to climate change will require massive amounts of job creation, putting people to work doing everything from installing solar panels to insulating houses to updating the country’s electric grid to nursing and teaching, jobs in two of the country’s already low-carbon sectors.

She quotes climate scientist Kevin Anderson, who said earlier this year that shifting to a low-carbon society within the timeframe we have is an absolute agenda for jobs, “You are guaranteeing full employment for 30 years if we think climate change is a serious issue. If we don’t, we can carry on with structural unemployment.”

Her tactical advice: “Don’t chide Trump and the rest of his party for denying climate change when they pull out of the Paris agreement. Chide them for denying millions of Americans the well-paying jobs and stable future they deserve”.

Corbyn summarises: “A Labour government, under my leadership, will deliver an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies, championing community-owned renewable energy”.