Johnson’s between rock and a hard place on NHS and trade

Johnson’s between rock and a hard place on NHS and trade

You can't trust the Tories with the NHS

Boris Johnson has painted himself into a corner between the spectre of NHS privatisation and Brexit’s 'sunlit uplands' of a potential UK-US trade deal.

Here's the conundrum. When it comes to it the public simply won't wear 'selling the NHS'. However, the US, whatever has been said, will definitely expect “everything on the table” in trade negotiations. Trump put it out there and his backtracking has no value – it's the insurance, health business and pharma lobbyists who will hold sway in the real world. Boris Johnson keeping his promises to the British people (a stretch, I know) means we'll end up with the limited deal with the US we have now – while losing the high value one we have as EU members. But if he abandons his pledges then he might win a 'meaningful deal' with the US – but one which will still insist on degraded standards for agri-products and a free-for-all pop at the NHS for big pharma et al. There would be public uproar. Either case is a no-win for the UK and will be a drop in the bucket against the value of the trade deal we have now as EU members.

Boris Johnson doesn't mind breaking promises (or downright lying) as we all know and he couldn’t care less what the voters think once the election is over. Held hostage in the middle of this dispiriting scenario is our National Health Service. The slide towards privatisation has been moving steadily forward. You can read about it here  . Anyone who thinks there will be no renewed design on the future of the NHS under a Tory administration is deluded.

The self-serving, right-wing crowd who populated Johnson's Cabinet until the election are at the front of the charge to secure NHS privatisation. Raab, Patel, Truss, Kwarteng - all have their grasping fingers round its neck. See here in their own words. Their 147-page publication “After The Coalition” said the “current monolith” of the NHS should be “broken up”, adding:

“Hospitals should be given their independence ... New non-profit and private operators should be allowed into the service, and, indeed should compete on price.”

It added: “Across the world, countries with more competition, such as Germany and Switzerland, tend to be more efficient. Two-thirds of German hospitals are run privately or not-for-profit.”

In fact the NHS has suffered from lowered state spending, fewer hospital beds, and fewer doctors and nurses than other European countries according to a report from the London School of Economics and Harvard School of Public Health.

Raab’s righteous protestations of innocence since the document came to light should persuade people further they cannot trust these Tories. These are the ones that will be up there on the front bench if we don't stop them, and our National Health Service and the public will pay a severe price.

They have to be stopped. Get the word out. You can't trust the Tories.

Posted by John Howarth
Ten reasons why the Johnson ‘deal’ is even worse than Theresa May’s

Ten reasons why the Johnson ‘deal’ is even worse than Theresa May’s

The Brexit settlement which now forms part of the Conservative’s General Election programme is substantially the same agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s administration. The few changes agreed with the EU27, however, make this version of the deal substantially worse for the great majority of people in the UK.

Here are ten reasons why:

  1. It prolongs the risk of a ‘no deal’ situation. After a short transition period to the end of 2020 the UK faces another cliff edge and the spectre of a ‘no deal exit’ after 2020.
  2. The UK would be outside the customs union with no prospect of any form of new arrangements in which manufacturing and other cross border production can easily take place.
  3. The commitment to a ‘level playing field’ on matters such as rights at work is curtailed at the end of the transition making way for the possibility of the deregulated, low wage, low tax, low standards future that will accelerate the ‘race to the bottom’.
  4. The ambition to take part in EU programmes is even more limited, raising questions over future involvement in Erasmus+ and Creative Europe to name just two well established programmes.
  5. The UK will be even further outside the regulatory framework of the Single Market with no prospect of taking part in a single market for service – financial or otherwise. Services make up the bulk of UK exports.
  6. The UK has a large trade surplus with the EU27 in services which far outweighs the trade deficit for goods.
  7. The agreement drives apart the nations of the UK, with Northern Ireland effectively remaining in the EU without representation while Mr Johnson lies about the reality of the intended customs border in the Irish Sea.
  8. There is no improvement in the situation of EU citizens in the UK nor, shamefully, in that of UK citizens in the EU whose interests have been effectively abandoned.
  9. It makes the UK less safe. As things stand not only will the UK be outside the European Arrest Warrant and locked out of Europol and security databases, British defence industries will lose access to European markets.
  10. It is still a disaster for the NHS. A more distant relationship will make matters such a mutual recognition of qualifications much harder to resolve. It will NOT ‘Get Brexit Done’. Quite the reverse. It will simply be the beginning of a long and difficult process of the next phase of negotiations. In those negotiations the will be at a massive disadvantage and the position of the EU27 considerably stronger. The UK would no longer have a seat at the table nor any MEPs to make the UK’s case.

For all these reasons and many more, Labour was right to oppose the new agreement and argue that the decision should be returned to the people.

Posted by John Howarth
Labour pledges compensation for WASPIs

Labour pledges compensation for WASPIs

Millions of women saw their retirement plans shattered when they found out - belatedly – a change in state pension law had robbed them of up to six years' income, John writes.

Labour's pledge to settle an 'historical debt of honour' by compensating them has been welcomed by the many who had received little or no notice of the changes which brought retirement age for women into line with men.

How unlike the response from the arch-deceiver himself. In July, Boris Johnson assured those who'd lost out he would tackle pension inequality “with fresh vigour and new eyes.” By November he'd gone blind. In the BBC's Question Time debate he 'sympathised' but couldn’t see how he could 'magic up the money'.

Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaigners say their members are telling them they could not believe their retirement age had increased by four, five or six years and they did not know about it.

They add with no other source of income (until the 1990s many women weren’t allowed to join company pension schemes many are in poor health) securing work is proving impossible for and zero contract hours or Job Seekers’ Allowance are the only alternatives for many.

Let's remember, billions of pounds have been 'spaffed' up the wall over Brexit. But there's little Tory consideration for women who have borne the brunt of inequality in their pockets and on their health historically.

Women who owing to the gender pay gap earn on average hundreds of thousands of pounds less than men over a lifetime.

Who are usually the carers of our world, often supporting sick parents and, as grandparents, sometimes also providing childcare for their grandchildren at the same time. And who save the Exchequer billions for taking on that carer role.

They were easy targets. Some have lost tens of thousands of pounds. Compensation will go some way to redressing the wrongs.

Posted by John Howarth
Eliminating violence against women – 25 November

Eliminating violence against women – 25 November

Monday marked the anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Reclaim the Night marches were held around the UK on Saturday – and Marble Arch in London was illuminated in bright orange to mark the day. Profile and awareness raising is so important and marking these days with events and acts of solidarity helps. But concerted action by government is the only thing that will affect any real change.

The World Health Organisation says that as many as one in three women globally will experience violence of a physical or sexual nature in their lifetime. In the UK funding for women’s services has fallen by 50%. Local Authority spending on refuges for victims fell from 31m in 2010 to £23m in 2017.

Conversely levels of sexual violence, domestic violence and femicides has risen by 23-25 per cent a year since the Brexit vote and police-recorded sex offences rose 25%.

And the decline in funding won’t improve if Brexit happens. Cuts to grants and EU initiatives will, obviously, cease. Leading charities such as Women’s Aid warn services are already operating on a shoe strong and others cite an inability to cope with the overwhelming demand and of being forced to turn away.

Last month my colleague Rosie Duffield, who is currently seeking re-election to Parliament delivered a moving speech in which she described the impact and experience of domestic violence; revealing her very personal story. The Domestic Abuse Bill provides a legal definition for all forms of domestic abuse for the first time including financial and controlling, manipulative and other forms of non-physical behaviour. It would place a legal duty on councils to offer secure homes to those fleeing violence.

However, the Bill which was transitioning through Parliament when the election was called, is lost a as result of the election being called. Regardless, a delay in the legislation being implemented successfully will likely continue even if it does pass successfully through Parliament if the infrastructure, and investment in services which will support the legislation is required.

Similarly, The Istanbul Convention has yet to be ratified by the British Government. Labour has pledged to sign the international convention which sets a standard of care and support for domestic abuse victims. The treaty is a historic international effort which has been in place since 2011. The UK Government has signed the convention but not ratified it. It is one of only seven EU member states not to do so.

Failure to ratify the convention is illustrative of a government which is neither progressive or prepared to invest in this area of social inequality or willing to address the very real and significant problem of domestic violence. Meanwhile the Labour manifesto pledges to appoint a Commissioner for Violence Against Women and Girls and promises to establish a national refuge fund to ensure financial stability for rape crisis centres and to hold an independent review into reasons for alarmingly low rape prosecution rates. It’s only efforts like this which will make any significant impact.


Posted by John Howarth
Conservative disinformation and fake news

Conservative disinformation and fake news

The war to win the attention of the voters in this election is being fought in the world of digital black ops.

In one well-publicised foray, the Twitter account of the Conservative campaign headquarters press office was rebranded ‘factcheckUK’ during the ITV leaders debate (19 Nov) in a cynical bid to deceive people. The account declared Johnson the winner of the face-off with Jeremy Corbyn after tweeting pro-Tory 'wins' and dubbing them Fact. The popular term for this deception is ‘fake news'.

It's not the only stunt the Tories have pulled. They've edited videos of Keir Starmer and Jess Phillips to distort the truth and even built a false Labour manifesto site to promote disinformation. The misleading digital campaign is said to be the work of two 'young guns' - New Zealanders who are not yet out of their 20s but are credited with helping to re-elect the Liberal party in Australia in May.

One would hope their efforts would backfire but it seems not. Twitter simply issued a promise to  take  “decisive corrective action” if the Conservatives pulled a similar stunt again. But, as I wrote in a letter which The Guardian published, an abuse of this scale, whereby party propaganda is presented as fact, is a serious breach of both the spirit and letter of the law.

To purport to be a politically neutral fact-checking service using a fake Twitter handle at the very moment the Prime Minister is answering questions on integrity indicates an astonishing lack of political judgment. The Foreign Secretary's response on BBC Breakfast Show  last week  (20 Nov) that 'no-one gives a toss' indicates just how much scorn the Tory party have for both the concerns of the people of this country and the rule of law. The Twitter stunt was a deliberate attempt by the national campaign HQ of a political party to mislead the public and a clear breach of electoral law.

I wrote to the regulatory body the Electoral Commission to remind them the action clearly breaches section 143 of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and asked they seek an assurance from the Tory Party they would not repeat their behaviour. The Commission's letter in reply, though swift, was disappointing in that they did not acknowledge the legal breach. They called on all parties to support campaigning transparency  and asked UK Governments to progress legislation in line with a report they submitted last year.

Not surprisingly I've had no reply at all from James Cleverly, chairman of the Tory Party, after asking him to institute an inquiry into the incident, particularly into who sanctioned this deception. The Tories don't care if they are found out and their leader, when confronted on TV, mumbles and mutters about not understanding the Twittersphere.

Just proves once again you just can't trust Johnson or his henchmen.


Posted by John Howarth
LibDem election strategy flops

LibDem election strategy flops

While at the time of writing the outcome of the 2019 General Election remains in doubt one thing is already clear: the Liberal Democrat strategy for the election is a catastrophic failure.

It is worth remembering that the main reason we are having this election in December is that the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists thought they spotted an opportunity to strengthen their representation and forward their own agenda. True that there would have been an election soon enough, but there was a strong argument that seeking to resolve Brexit and deliver a referendum on the withdrawal agreement before the 2017 Parliament was dissolved would have been a better course to resolving Brexit. Whether the SNP strategy will succeed is hard to predict but it seems the Liberal Democrat plans have come a cropper.

There are three reasons for this failure:


Carried away on their limited success in the European Elections in May, the LibDems sought to position themselves as the most pro-European of the UK political parties. Having carried out a leadership election to replace the retiring Vince Cable, they had chosen the little-known Scottish MP, Jo Swinson, as their leader. At their conference in September they backed a policy of ‘cancelling Brexit’ by revoking Article 50 after a general election. The policy meant that the LibDems broke the unity that had built up across pro-remain politicians around the proposition that any Brexit deal, being at odds with many of the promises made by ‘leave’ advocates during the 2016 referendum, should be put back to the people. This policy had been regarded as democratically unsustainable by Cable, but was backed by Swinson as a continuation of the ‘clear message’ of ‘stopping Brexit’ peddled in the European Elections that had won a 19% share - 3.3 million votes. The ‘revoke’ position was patently all about winning LibDem votes and nothing to do with the practicalities of ‘stopping Brexit’ while the election is clearly about more than Brexit - however some might wish otherwise.


The second reason; the ludicrous claim made by Ms Swinson that she was likely to become the next Prime Minister. The Liberal Party and their LidDem successors have made similar claims from time to time and every time it has failed to come about - it’s a claim that, under the UK’s manifestly unfair first past the post system, is utterly ridiculous. Rolling it out did damage in several ways. Ms Swinson made herself look silly; the policy itself was further undermined as it was contingent on a LibDem majority that just wasn’t happening; and the LibDems looked to be putting party before country. This was all underlined in the far-fetched pre-election talk of ‘caretaker governments’ when Ms Swinson’s refused to countenance even a temporary administration led by the Leader of the Opposition, acting as a timely reminder of her own role as a junior minister in propping up the Cameron government in its first term.


Finally, whatever the failings of LibDem strategy, the elements of which have either been promoted or endorsed by their leader, Ms Swinson also appears to be unpopular with much of the electorate. To get into a long discussion Ms Swinson’s persona would be subjective and unfair. Besides the reasons behind her failures are political. While little succeeds like success, the LibDems recent successes have not really been hers. The judgement behind policy changes and their presentation certainly were. Her assertions have been seen as implausible, opportunist and partisan; at odds with the notion of the LibDems as a somehow ‘non party political’ (while this is something those in politics have always found at odds with reality, it was undeniably an inexplicable element of their wider appeal as ‘not the other two’). Her presentation has been flawed and on policy, shallow. Combined with the manifest dissembling behind the LibDem presentation of ‘selective’ figures and dubious polls all too painfully exposed by a media for which she was ill prepared, Ms Swinson was fatally undermined even before her unconvincing indications on the options in a hung Parliament.

These errors of judgement don’t inspire confidence. One has to conclude from this that the LibDems haven’t learned very much from their time in government nor from what happened next. They have exposed the LibDems for what they are and are likely to remain - a mid-term protest vote.

Posted by John Howarth
How rights at work are best protected

How rights at work are best protected

Much of the debate on the left around rights at work, how they were won and how they are best protected and the role of the EU has been dangerously lacking in any real world analysis. Talking of a conflict between the role of the EU and that of the Labour movement in the UK simply a false dichotomy. However, I’m in little doubt that defending rights at work is easier in the context of the UK retaining its membership of the European Union.

Rights at work were not ‘gifted’ to people in the UK by the European Union. Nobody serious has ever suggested that were the case. These rights were hard fought for through many different struggles in workplaces and in wider society but they finally came about through positive legislation by Government’s in Parliament - significantly, but not entirely, Labour Governments elected to do so.

It is equally true to say that rights won in other European Union member states were also won in this way: progressive change argued for by the wider movement and legislated by Social Democratic governments or by winning a broader consensus for social change. The European Union was largely incidental to much of this process until in the context of its broadening role and the creation of the single market ‘level playing field’ socialists and democrats with other progressive forces organised to ensure the ‘level playing field’ also applied to rights at work. The result of that successful co-operation was a consensus to legislate rights at work into the protocols of the Maastricht Treaty. In fact you can trace the Conservative anti-European ideological shift to the reactionary response to these victories. The John Major Government, which now seems like a period of centre right moderation, negotiated opt-outs from the Maastricht Social Protocol based on their objections to protections to the rights of employees at work.

In a recurring and self-defeating lapse of memory it is rarely highlighted that the UK’s opting in to the Maastricht Social Protocol came about as a direct result of the landslide victory achieved by Labour under Tony Blair in 1997. It was never ‘forced on the UK’ by the EU. The signing the protocol was one of the first acts of the Labour government, carried out in the first week after the election. It was the first real advance in rights at work since the 1970s.

The Conservatives, with a few exceptions, from their election in 2010 would have loved to trash the rights of people at work and in some areas they succeeded. They were prevented from doing so on a wholesale basis by the practical internationalism of socialists and democrats working with the unions that had written the protection of rights into the binding international treaties that constitute the European Union. The protection of the treaties made for the best protection we had. It did, however, renew the zeal of many in the Conservative Party who wished to accelerate the race to the bottom in an ‘offshore’ Britain.

Progress for working people and the winning of rights, collective and individual protections is the stuff of practical politics and depends of winning and defending legislative gains through every mechanism available. It is also for some the stuff of romantic illusions. The Labour movement, despite sacrifice and heroism, singularly failed to defend the rights of working people against the prolonged assault of state Thatcherism. In 2019 the Labour movement is historically weak. Most strikes and industrial actions fail. In the modern economy battles will be even harder to win.

Recognising this reality is fundamental otherwise repeated defeats are the probable future.

There is a plain and simple fact. Without elected socialist government and legislated rights it is down to one simple question: without the protection of the European Union treaties do you trust Boris Johnson?

Posted by John Howarth
Thomas Cook : Call for UK to Help staff through EU fund

Thomas Cook : Call for UK to Help staff through EU fund

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution which calls on its 'civil service', the European Commission, to devise comprehensive legislation that would guarantee workers' and consumer rights and avoids tens of thousands of travellers being left stranded.

John is also calling on the UK Secretary of State to apply for EU funding which would help UK staff affected by the tour operator's insolvency in retraining and job-finding.

He told the European Parliament today (Thursday, October 24):

“The collapse of Thomas Cook has had a serious effect on consumers, employees and businesses across Europe. Across South-East England an estimated 21,000 customers are waiting for refunds for their trips, protected by ATOL and EU legislation.”

In his constituency, he said, was Gatwick, the UK’s largest charter airport, and the biggest employer in and around Crawley. More than 500 jobs at the airport were dependent on Thomas Cook.

The resolution highlighted the possibilities provided by the Globalisation Adjustment Fund to assist people who have lost their jobs.

The UK Government should make use of this facility to offer training and assistance to those seeking new jobs. I am writing to the Secretary of State to urge them to do so at the earliest opportunity.”

The resolution was supported by the Socialists and Democrats Groups of which John is a member.

The group's spokeswoman on the internal market Christel Schaldemose said: 

“The bankruptcy of Thomas Cook is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. We need a coherent and comprehensive approach, which protects all consumers equally. Why does a passenger who booked a whole travel package receive compensation and is repatriated while a traveller who only booked a flight is left behind? Our priority now is ensuring that none of the affected travellers is left without compensation and workers receive their earned wages and pension benefits.

She added: “The financial incapacity of a company the size of Thomas Cook affects self-employed individuals and SMEs, as well as providers of services and goods. They need to be supported as well. It is crucial that the consequences of this bankruptcy are contained."

Posted by John Howarth
Portsmouth estate singled out by EU pressure group

Portsmouth estate singled out by EU pressure group

Head: Portsmouth housing project is a 'leading example' of energy-efficient renovation in exhibition at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The Wilmcote House estate in Somerstown has had its energy use reduced by a staggering 90% following an extensive renovation project. The success led the energy-efficiency group Rennovate Europe to select the project as a leading example of what can be achieved through renovation.

Before the work was done residents regularly complained of mould, damp and condensation which adversely affected their health. Tenants also reported high heating bills.

John Howarth, Labour MEP for the South East, who attended the exhibition said:

“Portsmouth City Council should be proud of their achievement with this project. Local authorities should take note of the work conducted at Wilmcote House to see how dramatic changes can be made. Labour made it clear in its conference last month in Brighton that it plans to retrofit zero carbon measures on social and council housing and public buildings. This project shows ambitious targets can be met.”

The exhibition was produced by Renovate Europe, a Europe-wide campaign which aims to reduce energy demand in building stock in the European Union by 80% by 2050.Renovate Europe said to meet such an ambitious target it would be necessary to “rapidly increase the energy renovation rate of buildings in the EU to an annual rate of three per cent and to maintain that rate until 2050”.

John added:

“This exhibition and specifically the work that’s been done, with minimal disruption to residents who were able to stay in their homes while the work was conducted, provides evidence that highly energy efficient homes are possible. It’s a fantastic achievement.”

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit: Labour’s second chance

Brexit: Labour’s second chance

Despite the ‘untidy’ edges, Labour has emerged from its conference with an essential element of its Brexit policy now firmly in place. The commitment to put whatever a withdrawal agreement might be to a public vote is the right approach to the current crisis. Late to the party Labour may be, but still better than not getting there at all.

The facts are clear: the experience and outcomes of the Brexit negotiating process has been at odds with the promises made by the Brexiteers - both during and after the 2016 referendum. Theresa May declared Article 50 with no plan to speak of. She sought a mandate for her ‘hard Brexit’ strategy and the electorate denied her. A politician with antenna for the public mood would have sought consensus. Head she done so there is little doubt that the UK would, by now, have left the Union. Instead Mrs May sought to placate her right flank coalescing with the DUP’s minority view in the north of Ireland. The outcome, given the self-imposed UK Government ‘red lines’, was inevitable, the hunt for unicorns and probable retreat to a ‘single market’ solution buried in the political declaration - or not. An exercise in walking the plank blindfold awaited.

The collapse of Mrs May’s administration took the process even further into the Europhobic vortex with the ludicrous notion that the only ‘true Brexit’ is the complet severing of ties with the EU. No mandate for ‘no deal’ exists. The suggestion that this was the true intent of those supporting the ‘leave’ option in 2016 is absurd in the extreme.

At present these two options are the only outcomes on offer short of cancelling Brexit altogether. As none of the fundamentals have changed any ‘deal’ presented by Mr Johnson’s administration can only be Theresa May’s ‘deal’ in a blonde wig. The notion of revoking Article 50, as espoused by the Liberal Democrats, is seriously problematic. It may make great petition material and it may suit the personal view of a substantial cross-section of the country but it is simply not sustainable as a public policy. The Liberal Democrat’s would contend that they would Revoke Article 50 if they  were to achieve a majority at a General Election - somewhat unlikely. Their real objective is a repeat of their European Election strategy - the harvesting of the firmest supporters of remaining in the EU to their banner. Critically, this divides supporters of remaining in the European Union and dilutes support for putting the real Brexit outcomes to the test. You have seriously to ask yourself whether or not the Liberal Democrats are remotely serious about ‘stopping Brexit’ or whether their real agenda is simply to rebuild their vote.

Mr Johnson for his part would love to exploit this division. The not exactly subtle plan of the shadow PM, Dominic Cummings, was to lose in the Commons and seek a General Election believing that the opposition parties had no option but to follow. Their attempts to bring on a General Election were rightly turned down by Parliament. The priority for Mr Johnson is to squeeze support from the Brexit Party and thus benefit from first past the post to defeat a divided opposition despite diminished Conservative support. While they rightly see their best option as an election following a UK exit, their next best choice is to present to the electorate as the ‘no deal’ party promising to ‘deliver Brexit’. Either way, understand Mr Johnson’s strategy as being about salvaging an electorally viable Conservative Party from the ruins of Brexit - whatever it takes. The problem is that elections are inexact, while a ‘Brexit election’ is all very well it would inevitably become mixed up with issues of leadership, policy and fitness to govern. It is highly debatable if an election will produce a clear mandate.

The question now facing Labour MPs is how to act. The distant prospects of public votes and caretaker governments are less unlikely than before Mr Johnson’s assent and declared intent once again to break the law over a crash out exit in defiance of the will of Parliament. The UK’s constitution of precedent and legal safeguard is being seriously tested. Mr Johnson has been shown too willing to put that settlement at risk. It is almost certain that his removal will be a necessary step.

Though far from ideal, in these circumstances the best tactic for Labour and for the country is a public vote on the Brexit settlement. Messy as this might be there is simply no other way to reconcile the country to accepting the outcome. Even were such a vote to result in another vote to leave it would be better than the present situation where either half the country or before long all of the country will be utterly unreconciled to the outcome. There are risks but the balance leans heavily in favour of injecting accountability into the Brexit process and determining what ‘the will of the people’ might be in 2020.

Nonetheless, desirable as a second vote may be, it may prove democratically impossible to deliver in any satisfactory way. Labour may face an election very soon, before Brexit is resolved and will need to deal with the reality that Brexit will distort all possible outcomes. In those circumstances clarity will matter. To repeat the mistakes of the European Election would be seriously damaging to Labour and disastrous for the country.

Posted by John Howarth