Monday, 3 June 2013

Poverty of Ambition

It is hard not to come to the inescapable conclusion that the strongest weapon in the Referendum campaign for a YES vote is the performance, and utterances from the official opposition at Westminster.

Today's statement from Ed Balls demonstrates that things won't change anytime soon, if Scotland retains its place in the UK.  The statement that only a Labour Westminster Government can deliver social justice and so wait till 2015 is now a fanciful and risible notion.

The attack on universalism is a dangerous course, -  how far does mean testing go, if we start with winter fuel payments, then what is next?  Surely Peter Hain is correct when he says " if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through some of the few universal benefits that are left, how can we convince them to fund the larger part of that budget through their taxes?”

Surely providing some universal benefits for everyone is a matter that encourages citizenship and electors to fund the welfare budget through taxation?

And how much does means testing cost?

Curiously, Peter Mandelson outlined in his book The Third Man, the debates which took place in 2010, where he persuaded Gordon Brown that cuts had to made rather than grow the economy out of the crisis.  This being the case then, Brown was correct and Mandelson was wrong.

If Labour do support a continuance of austerity where does that leave them with their European colleagues?

In my recent visit to Brussels I listened to the former Minister for the National Economy for Greece, who advocated massive cuts to the public sector, including cutting jobs, wages and welfare payments. (perhaps a good reason why he was the former minister).  This proposed medicine would only make the Greek situation worse.

As the European Union realises that austerity measures aren't working, why are Labour going down the same road as the Conservatives?  What is noticeable is the tired and dreary vision being recycled by a shadow cabinet led by former policy advisers who are stuck in a 1990's timewarp, convinced that what won the election in 1997 was "iron discipline"  i.e. sticking to Tory spending limits - and that this bitter medicine should be prescribed again. Once again proving that Labour are a party with a past, and not much of a future.

It is a grave error indeed to suggest that demonstrating you can be trusted to run the economy means more cuts and more restraint.  The answer to austerity is to grow the economy and invest.

An Evening with Denis Goldberg

In an age when the phrase "modern day hero" is often overused, It was a privilege and a pleasure to meet on Friday night, a man who certainly qualifies as one to many people not only in South Africa but across the world.....Denis Goldberg.

At a fundraiser in the City Chambers for his charity, Community Heart, a packed room listened intently to his recollection of the ANC's struggle to overcome apartheid, and the challenges facing South Africa to transform a society and how this can be a long and slow process.

Denis demonstrated his love of poetry and in particular, Rabbie Burns reciting A Mans a man for a' that (one of my favourites).

The discrimination faced by black South Africans in schooling, medical care and housing was highlighted, as well as the campaign called African claims - a forerunner to the UN Human Rights charter.

Denis thanked those around the world for the support and international pressure, which he believes kept him and other ANC leaders alive during the Rivonia Trail - the 50th anniversary of which is this year.  Denis survived 22 years in jail, which he believes was worth it to see the end of apartheid.

He made a statement which has stuck with me since Friday night - Dreams become reality when you mobilise people.

Although he accepts that South Africa faces many challenges, he correctly in my view articulated the advances that have been made in that 90% of South African children go to school (half didn't under apartheid), that universities are now populated by people who under apartheid were denied the choice, the millions of South Africans who now have access to running water, and the massive house building to accommodate its people.  These are huge advances in the lives of South Africans.

He also spoke about the complexity of transforming a country into a functioning democracy and that this would be a long slow process.

The night would not have been complete of course without highlighting the excellent work undertaken by Community Heart, and his encouragement of children to read and to take up music.

I am delighted that Glasgow City UNISON continues to fund these projects, and that the Scottish Government has provided support.

A very serious man, who reminded us all that the roots of injustice and poverty lie in the unequal distribution of reward for those who labour and those who own - and that struggle is universal and not confined to one country.