progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

a green & mutual budget

In yesterday's budget it was announced that a £2bn Green Investment Bank would be established by the government to close the "equity gap" facing projects to build low-carbon infrastructure.

Friends of the Earth, which has been campaigning for the measure since the start of 2009, has welcomed the news. Andy Atkins, FoE's Executive Director said:
"This bank will provide crucial funds for major green developments, such as off-shore wind projects, which will slash emissions, increase our energy security and create thousands of new jobs.

"We must do much more to build a low carbon economy - but today's announcement is a massive stride in the right direction."

Elsewhere FoE were more critical, particularly on the issue of sustainable transport.

Alongside the budget, the initial findings of the Energy Market Assessment have been published. A single-buyer agency has been ruled out, but the government has said the concentration in the market cannot continue. The government will work with the financial services industry to develop Pay As You Save, allowing householders to pay the upfront costs for micro-renewables using the savings they make on their energy bills.

Ed Miliband, the Energy minister, is also the man responsible for Labour's election manifesto. He has expressed support for the Collective Power model, put forward by the Co-operative Party - in which communities collectively-purchase gas and electricity through consumer co-operatives. Miliband has said that the policy will be included in Labour's manifesto.

The Chancellor expressed his support for the establishment of a People's Bank using the postal network when he said the government would ensure that bank accounts were available to everyone. The "Post Bank"policy has been championed by the New Economics Foundation, the Small Business Federation, and the Communications Workers Union - it could be a way for the government to ensure that everyone has access to a bank account and other financial services.

The government's plans to reduce the structural deficit are bound to include measures to divest state-owned assets - in the past, this has typically by way of creating for-profit organisations which have swiftly become the property of transnational corporations. So it's good news that the UK government is to turn British Waterways, England & Wales’ 200-year old canal network, into a mutual.

This will allow users of the waterways to have a greater say, and will enable BW to borrow against its assets for the purposes of maintaining the network. However, staff do have concerns that greater usage of volunteers will displace paid workers, and it would be regretable if management neglect to involve employees and their union representatives in decision-making on the future of the network.

I think that mutuality should be the basis for other routes of public transport, such as bus and railway networks. Since privatisation, the railways have required significant public investment, passengers have experienced increased ticket prices, whilst shareholders have continued to benefit. The government's take-over of the East Coast line, prompted by the failure of National Express, provides an opportunity for co-operative solutions to be used to increase rail usage.

good news day

I give you:
US unions lauded the passage of health-care legislation on Monday that will provide coverage to 32 million of the poorest residents in the country as a "momentous step forward" after the law finally passed through the US Congress on Sunday.

A century-long quest for universal health-care coverage moved one step closer, the 219-212 vote handing President Barack Obama a huge victory with the passing of the most progressive social legislation in the US since the civil rights laws of the 1960s.

Republicans had hoped that by blocking the legislation they would be able to thwart the president's ambitious domestic agenda, including immigration reform and climate change legislation, but now Mr Obama's health-care success is set to reshape US politics in the run-up to mid-term elections in November.

"I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health-care reform a reality," Mr Obama declared. [1]
 In France:
Final results released on Monday from France's local elections on Sunday revealed a decisive win for the centre-left as voters delivered President Nicolas Sarkozy one of the worst defeats of his political career.

The opposition Socialists and their allies received 56 per cent of the vote, compared to only 37 per cent for Mr Sarkozy's UMP.


Although the Socialists fell short of their goal of taking every one of France's 22 metropolitan regions, leaving just the eastern department of Alsace in conservative hands, vote totals for the opposition soared across the country compared to the last elections held four years ago.

The results represent one of the largest victories for the centre-left in modern French history, and could propel Socialist Party head Martine Aubry into the front ranks of candidates for the 2012 presidential elections.

Ms Aubry said that the results amounted to a public repudiation of Mr Sarkozy's government by voters who wanted "no more of these ineffective and unfair policies."

In her victory speech, she emphasised that the Socialists would continue to campaign against the president on the issues of unemployment, the cost of living, pensions and housing - issues that she insisted had caused the conservatives' rout. [2]
 Here in the UK:

Gordon Brown set out plans on Monday to ensure super-fast broadband for every home - a development he claimed could slash billions from public-service costs and create more than 250,000 jobs.

The Prime Minister pledged a "radical" package of internet-led measures - coupled with funding to be announced in Wednesday's Budget - to transform Britain by 2020.

Some £30 million would be allocated to create an Institute of Web Science, headed by internet inventor Sir Tim Berners Lee and leading scientist Professor Nigel Shadbolt. [3]
 Says the Labour leader:
We have the courage to invest in that future and secure the growth and jobs it offers not just today but for generations to come.

We have the determination to harness the new digital technology to shake up Whitehall and drive a radical reshaping of government - focused on giving people a greater say over the policies that affect their lives and the services on which they depend.

And above all - we have the resolve to make sure that the immense opportunities that Britain’s digital future offers us are available to all - not just to some. [4]

low budget politics

The Tory leadership has recently allowed Shadow Schools secretary Michael Gove to launch a bizzare attack on Britain's largest trade union, a sign that the failure of the Tories to secure a commanding lead in opinion polls is making CCHQ turn to desperate measures. Gove can hardly proclaim his party's policy on schools - as they involve cuts to many school budgets for the sake of subsidising new private schools.

The trade union link is obvious in the name of the Labour Party. It was Britain's trade union movement that established the party and many - but not all - trade unions give financial support to all levels of the party. In a democratic society, there is nothing illegitimate about members of a trade union deciding to pay into their union's political fund.

Gove invokes the Militant Tendency, which was a Trotskyist party that practiced "entryism" in the Labour Party for decades until the early nineties when, its leadership having been expelled, it took an "open turn" and now exists as the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

Unite, on the other hand, is a trade union which exists to support its members and working people in general. Since the Tories introduced laws aimed at weaking the bargaining power of workers, trade unions have been the most regulated organisations at work in the UK economy. If only the strict rules that apply to unions had been applied to MPs and banks!

So, it is absurd to suggest - like Theresa Villiers, shadow transport secretary - that Unite's members at British Airways want to wreck the company or cause misery for the travelling public. The overwhelming vote for strike action reflects discontent amongst BA's staff - and should be an indication as to Willie Walsh's bullying style of management. The vote for strike action was actually the second - the first was stopped by BA going to the courts to get an injunction on technical grounds.

Willie Walsh and the BA management could have put their original offer back on the negotiating table and allowed Unite to postpone further action until staff have been balloted on a settlement. Instead of going to Acas to try and resolve the dispute, BA have decided to use the public backing of the Tories - and their newspapers - to launch an all-out attack on the union. Instead of treating BA staff and customers with care, he has behaved irresponsibly, spending money on a strike-breaking force that would undermine the airline's safety - his goal is to push the pay, conditions, and safety standards at BA down to the low level of the budget airlines.

Getting back to the Labour Party, Unite's organisational support in campaigning for Labour is annoying the Tories. Despite the millions that tax-dodging businessmen like Lord Ashcroft are giving to help Tory efforts in marginal constituencies, the outcome of the election is not expected to be a Tory landslide.

Labour's general election campaign is based on a "word of mouth" strategy, encouraging members to raise awareness both of the importance of stopping the Tories from winning control of Parliament, and of the need to keep up support for the economic recovery, create jobs in new industries and protect frontline services.

Far from shying away from the issue, Labour's leadership should be vocal in condemning the Tories for taking sides in this dispute. It shows not only their desperation but that they haven't changed, they are the same old Tories, determined to help out their friends in big business at the expense of ordinary people. The mask has come off David Cameron - he has given backing to a company attempting to slash the wages of staff in a race to the bottom.

industrial strategy will reduce deficit

There should be a law to ensure that whenever anyone talks about deficit reduction, they first of all mention why the deficit ballooned in the first place - namely the bail-out of the banking sector. This would be my one infringement on the freedom of the press (unless you would call breaking up the Murdoch monopoly an infringement of press freedom...)

Oddly for the Tories, now a party almost entirely Eurosceptic, there has been a warning by the European Commission that the UK government must do more to reduce it's budget deficit. Which stance for the Tories to take? Cheer on the Eurocrats for meddling in UK affairs...? It is a tricky one.

The assumption that you can cut your way out of a crisis is dangerous - this is something that the Liberal Democrats have now followed Labour in acknowledging:
"If any Government tries to cut back too soon, it will aggravate unemployment, making the deficit worse and compounding the country’s problems," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor.
Only by securing investment in the transition to a low-carbon economy will public finances be stabilised - so the tax revenue from workers and enterprises in a growing manufacturing sector will make up for the slump in financial services.

If anything comes out of the Tories attempt to politicise an industrial dispute at British Airways, it might be the reminder that while the Tory party is funded by billionaires and bankers, Labour is funded by members of affiliated trade unions who decide to pay the political levy, and by party members - people who have more of an interest in ensuring that the economy recovers than people who keep threatening to move to Switzerland if we try and make them obey the law...

The Strategic Investment Fund, announced at the last budget in April '09, demonstrates Labour's commitment to an industrial strategy to help create good jobs in the UK. This is how debts will be repaid:

The government's much-vaunted "low-carbon industrial strategy" is set to receive a boost on Wednesday with the announcement of a long-awaited £170m funding package for the British nuclear manufacturer, Sheffield Forgemasters.

The company, which has been in funding negotiations for more than six months, has secured the last remaining £20m from bank loans, the Guardian has learnt.

It means Sheffield Forgemasters will be able to build a 15,000-tonne press to make large forgings used in modern reactors being built in the UK and overseas.

The business secretary, Lord Mandelson, and the energy secretary, Ed Miliband, will travel to Sheffield, along with the business minister, Pat McFadden, to make the announcement on Wednesday.
Boosting the hi-tech industrial economy in the UK will become a key political battleground in the run-up to the general election after the credit crunch exposed the dangers of becoming over-reliant on financial services. Official data recently showed that in its first decade in power Labour had allowed the manufacturing sector to shrink at a quicker rate than under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
In response, Mandelson, who has been heavily involved in the complex negotiations, has been championing a new policy of "industrial activism". Ministers say that without more government support for industry, the tens of billions of pounds of new reactors and wind turbines planned to reduce carbon emissions would have to be imported. British manufacturers and workers would miss out.

To secure the funding, the government has pledged £65m in soft loans, with £35m from the European Investment Bank. The nuclear reactor firm Westinghouse is paying £50m upfront for its orders.

The deal also provides a much-needed boost to the north-east, where traditional manufacturers such as Corus have been hammered by the recession and which has one of the highest UK jobless rates. Mandelson wants to create a hub of low-carbon manufacturers in the region with ties to Sheffield University. He recently opened a new £25m research facility in Rotherham for Britain's civil nuclear industry where Sheffield Forgemasters can work with other UK firms in the supply chain.

Dougie Rooney, of the Unite union, said: "The only hope for the nation in terms of being able to pay off its debts is for the UK's engineering industry to become a global supply-chain player supplying components and equipment for new energy projects."

The Sheffield firm is one of only a few around the world that can make the special forgings for reactors. There is increasing political pressure on nuclear companies to source as many components as possible from the UK. The deal will create 150 jobs directly, but thousands more could be created in the wider nuclear supply chain as a result, according to Unite.

jobs not cuts?

Yesterdays new data from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the Office of National Statistics shows that the recovery is still fragile and that there's been a slight fall in industrial production due to the bad weather in January.

Today's letter in The Guardian - signed by a number of Labour MPs, trade unionists and economists - calls for a second stimulus. The word "stimulus" is problematic, as Hopi Sen has noted (not once, but twice) because the letter is not calling for the government to boost short-term consumer demand, but to secure investment for the medium- to long-term objective of a green economy.

Rather than "savage cuts" as proposed by the Tories and Liberals, we need sustained support for the economy, with the priority being jobs. However, there is a particular constituency that stands in the way. Paul Myners, the City Minister spoke out about the risk of further financial turmoil, and the failure of free-market fundamentalism, earlier this week:
"One of the injustices of the crisis is that the story did not end with the swimmer being taken out to sea. That swimmer, the financial industry, did not get pulled out on its own. It dragged with it the savings of our families; the jobs of our workers; the viability of millions of small businesses. And faced then with unprecedented, sweeping and irreparable damage to the real economy, governments around the world had no choice but to send out the most expensive flotilla of lifeboats ever assembled to save the system."

The bailout for the financial system, Myners added, had been the most expensive public subsidy in UK history, dwarfing anything paid to farmers or the defence industry.

"But in the process of saving it, we protected those very market fundamentalists who caused the crisis from the consequence of their actions. The risk is now that their confidence has not been sufficiently dented; that they have not truly learned their lesson. And the danger is that they could put us all at risk again."
Indeed, the speculators have been circling around Greece and the other so-called PIGS, with the Party of European Socialists pushing for a transaction tax to stem the tide...

things to make and do

The news that there has been a sharp fall in exports, as recorded by the Office of National Statistics, appears quite worrying. Hopi Sen has pointed out that there's difficulty in accurately measuring economic activity, but though as Tony Dolphin notes, the growth in the trade gap has much to do with the weak demand in Europe, the UK's main export market.

Chris Dillow has rightly taken issue with George Osbourne's attitude towards export-led growth, pointing out that for economic growth to return to pre-crisis levels, consumer demand will have to increase.

The Tories have been insisting - despite all evidence to the contrary - that an immediate Age of Austerity would be in the best interests of the UK economy. This would not only make it impossible to have a just transition to a more sustainable economy and further depress consumer demand, it would result in a weakening of the UK's export capacity.

The Tories have committed to cutting tax for all corporations paid for by abolishing incentives for manufacturing firms to invest in the UK. The Tories are showing as much disregard for the growth of new industries that create jobs for workers here in the UK as they did for declining industries in the 80s.

the road-runner effect

The biggest electoral grouping is anti-Tory. People who would otherwise stay home, or vote for parties as varied as the Lib-Dems, UKIP, the Greens, or the BNP, will be wondering what will happen if the Tories are in office again - just as we are getting out of what was almost a slide into deep and long recession of the kind not seen since the 1930s.

Like many Labour voters, this wider grouping won't respond to the argument that things have got better if phrased like that, because there are many things worrying people - their job or lack of one, the cost of living, etc.

These people will want to know that Labour will be on their side, not on the side of the privileged few like the Tories are. That's why the campaign slogan, a future fair for all, should be effective in making the choice clear on election day.

Financial experts have said that after the British government nationalised banks to stop them going under, the worst ravages of the crisis in financial markets came to a stop. Governments around the world knew that the best approach was to intervene, not let the chaos unfold.

The Tories have made a great deal about the national debt and cutting it. But they are committed to expensive privatisation policies in education and also reducing revenue by giving immediate tax breaks their wealthy backers. And people know who will pay the most from the immediate cuts the Tories are proposing.

So it is not surprising that the latest YouGov poll for Channel 4 News shows that in the 60 constituencies the Tories need to win from Labour to secure an over-all majority in parliament, their lead in the polls has fallen to 2%:
The poll shows the gap between the two main parties has narrowed to its closest since shortly after Gordon Brown became prime minster in the autumn of 2007. 39 per cent of voters said they would vote Conservative and 37 per cent said they would vote Labour. In February last year, when we last did a poll in these marginal seats, the Tories had a seven point lead. Now it is just two points, a swing of 2.5 per cent to Labour.
Left Foot Forward's analysis of 37 polls this year show that if  trends continue, there could be a Labour victory....