Dear Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP


Watching Socialist and Social Democratic Party leaders from across all EU member states, at the Party of European Socialists Council in Madrid, stand up to condemn the way neo liberal policies had lead to the unleashing of the worst economic crisis in decades and demand a new social Europe be forged - with the first ever joint manifesto for the European Elections being launched as a basis for doing that, a palpable sense of history being made rippled through the applauding crowd of hundreds of PES Activists and international leaders.

Socialists have long believed that socialism cannot ever be built in one country, that international solidarity is a cornerstone of progressive politics, and that in a time of global uncertainty where the transition of capital and labour forces sees no borders that the social democratic solutions to those problems must be transnational. The launch of a joint platform, born out of a grassroots, international consultation process, involving socialist party members from all 27 EU Member States that gives European-wide policies to build a new social Europe, is the first time in history that this level of cooperation between social democratic and socialist party's has ever taken place.

The process that lead to the production of this manifesto is possibly the biggest, most transnational consultation process that has ever taken place. Each party that is a sister party of the PES and PES Group in the European Parliament was invited to hold debates, seminars, discussions for activists, and to submit proposals for the manifesto under six key themes. A special internet portal was set up, called Your space where proposals could be uploaded in formats such as video, and the debate was continued by PES Activists logging in to joining the blog debate. The consultation was a big success: 300,000 visitors, 500 posts, 100 videos, 1,350 members on the Facebook group, more than 60 written contributions from PES member parties, NGOs, Foundations and activists. During that process over 3,000 activists became PES Activists during the process meaning that the PES now has over 13,000 international activists drawn from sister parties across the EU. A draft manifesto was drawn up on the basis of that consultation, and discussions within the PES between member parties took place to modify the manifesto before it was adopted by the PES Council - a mini-Congress with voting representatives from all member parties at the start of December. The PES manifesto was adopted in Madrid by over 232 delegates from 33 PES member parties, and over 300 grassroots activists from all over Europe.

The manifesto was put to a symbolic vote at the PES Council as each sister party's representative gave a short speech of support, many hailing the possibility of rebuilding social Europe and implementing the radical new manifesto, including Zapatero, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) twice elected to govern on a progressive manifesto in Spain and George Papandreou leader of the Socialist International, who both talked of the need for more Europe, but more social Europe, and how the strength of the manifesto showed the strength of social democratic thinking as the only answer for a socially just and ‘people first' answer to the global economic crisis. Socialist Party leaders from former Eastern bloc countries were visibly moved as they gave their speeches; for whom membership of a truly European wide party fighting for social democracy within the European Union and based on genuine international solidarity, but also on consensus and partnership working in which they are full democratic partners means so much given that next year will be the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.

The PES manifesto features over 60 concrete proposals including: A European strategy for smart green growth to create 10 million new jobs by 2020, new financial market regulation including hedge funds and private equity, Climate-changing emission reductions for industries such as transport and construction, a European Pact on Wages for decent minimum wages in all EU member states and initiatives to step up the fight against the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, the creation of a European Women's Rights Charter, extended childcare entitlement rights, a European Common Energy Policy based on sustainability, energy security and independence, diversity of energy sources and solidarity between member states in the event of energy crises, a strengthening of anti-discrimination legislation to ensure equal treatment on grounds of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and proposal to strengthen Trades Union rights by developing "a European framework for cross-border collective bargaining and collective agreements. In addition, we will work to promote decent working time, meeting health and safety standards, and a fair work-life balance", are all just some of the radical examples from the manifesto.

So in June 2009 each sister party, including the Labour Party, which, despite allegedly trying to water down many of the more radically progressive parts of the manifesto, will be standing on a common social democratic platform to fight the European elections. So often in the UK the European Union is denounced by both the left and the right - for either its bureaucracy and supposed encroachment on national decision making, or for the expansion of neo liberal policies and marketisation in even more of the public realm, most recently proposals on health and railnetworks have been identified as new areas for the failed dogma of marketisation - yet few socialists in the UK realise that the reason the EU has been so relentlessly right wing in many policy areas is because the European Parliament has had a right wing majority - there is no reason why socialists and social democrats cannot have a majority if successful in the European Elections and enact their manifesto. Having now a common radical platform including sixty concrete policy proposals gives an exciting new dimension to those elections and has the potential for PES member parties to start to fight those elections on European issues rather then warping the debate to national issues that have little bearing on the work and legislation that comes out of the EU.

In this vein PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said "The conservatives have had a majority in Europe for the last four years. What have they done to make a fairer society? They have ignored the interests of ordinary hard-working families. We want to take Europe in a new direction creating a fairer society and putting people first."

"Our manifesto gives voters a clear choice between the PES and our opponents. A clear choice between a progressive European Union in which member states work together to tackle the economic and climate crisis for the benefit of all the people of Europe, or a conservative European Union which places our future in the hands of the market."

As neo liberalism has gone global the fight for socialist solutions has gone global - or at least Europe wide, this manifesto is one in which every social democrat in every sister party can be proud - but also one that has seen the beginnings of a truly international party taking place, one that is and will unite social democrats and socialists from across Europe more closely then ever before and believes firmly in the process of grassroots participation to move towards common goals and to design common policies to ensure that Europe is a force for social progress in which people really are put first, not the market, and that can act as a bulwark against neo-liberal entrenchment and deepen workers rights and decent work for all right across the EU.

Samuel Tarry is the Chair of Compass Youth and on the NEC of Young Labour.

PES Manifesto can be downloaded here


The energy companies are at it again! Refusing to pass on cost cuts, despite crude oil being $100 cheaper than the summer - down from $146 in July to just $46 a barrel. Given the economic situation it's right that cuts are passed on immediately to bill payers.

So yesterday we re-launched the windfall tax campaign with a letter to The Observer and Fabian Hamilton MP has tabled Early Day Motion 268 'Windfall Tax On Energy Companies'. We urge you to write to your MP today and urge them to support EDM 268 and write to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

As 6 million people face fuel poverty and as millions of us struggle to make ends meet in tough economic times, the energy companies continue to struggle with a very different dilemma: what to do with all their windfall profits. We continue to get record bills, whilst they continue to make record profits.

This is a call to action: please use our template letters to lobby your MP today and write to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Encourage your friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues to do the same.

Just as the government has been prepared to intervene to ensure people get a fair deal from the banks, so government should intervene to ensure people get a fair deal from energy providers, that's why the government should now be prepared to levy a sensible one-off windfall tax. Let's not force people to heat or eat this Christmas.

We're glad that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change recently refused to rule out a windfall tax. In the US President-Elect Barack Obama has promised a 5 year windfall tax on energy and oil firms to fund a $1000 rebate to every American, so why not do it here?

Lobby your MP now and let's keep up the pressure for a windfall tax and ensure people get a fair deal this winter.

Photo by Jason Skinner under the Creative Commons License.


Robert Peston certainly thinks so in his excellent new article on the BBC website. This article reinforces many people's thinking on the economy; it gives people an understanding as to why, where and how the crisis has taken place. Peston remarks on the nature of the crisis, it is the first truly global economic downturn and he relates globalisation to our (the West's) unfettered consumption.

Peston perhaps inadvertently echoes Gordon Brown's call for a new Bretton Woods-style international agreement adding that we are entering a new age where now the negative effects of globalisation are being felt on a major scale and the benefits of the global open economy will be forgotten. The BBC have provided commentaries from people such as Norman Lamont and Irwin Stelzer, rigorously defending the free-market ideology but it is Peston's proclamations that I'm sure will begin to strike accord with many people. For too long now, the follies of global capitalism in different corners of the globe have not been considered important enough to stop people spending and consuming.

With 2009 upon us and a year-long (at least) recession these commentaries are more welcomed than ever. That the BBC's business editor is providing them is even more significant, not least because it will encourage people who may not normally choose to pay a great deal attention to matters relating to the (global) economy to think about alternatives. An edifying piece, we need more of these articles and less studio appearances from the defenders of free-market capitalism such as messrs Lamont and Stelzer.

Marcus Shukla

Photo by barabeke under Creative Commons License



While the progressive flames have been rekindled, we cannot ignore that for those who are being made redundant or repossessed, it's going to be a bitterly cold winter. After binging on the roulette of consumerism to “keep up with the Jones”, people are now struggling to stay even just above water, teetering on the brink of financial and emotional crisis.

The welfare reforms proposed by the government not only proposes to make people work under the minimum wage for income benefits, but the consequences of the reforms will push over the brink many of the people it penalises - parents with young children, carers, disabled people and other vulnerable people.

Credit crunch, social stigma and emotional distress – mixing up a toxic trinity

We make the assumption that focusing on getting people into work helps take people out of poverty – whether it's using the incentive of tax credits and the minimum wage or the threat of cutting welfare payments. But when we look at what's going on the ground, many people find it difficult to find the money or the time to look for jobs. Even when they have found work, many families still face poverty, having to get high cost sub-prime loans because they are refused better value loans. Let's get this straight – the more disadvantaged people are, the harder they're going to be it by the credit crunch.

Many people aspire to be “good families”, but face the constant threat of the windfall companies charging them ever more for their basic needs, with benefits agencies telling them to cut corners when they are no more corners to cut and society labelling them “bad parents”. This all creates a social crisis of of deteriorating mental health and self exclusion.

Income inequality doesn't only affect spending power, it exacerbates everything else – indeed there is a direct correlation between the rates of emotional distress and income inequality. We may be able to reboot the banks at the touch of a Treasury button, but rebooting people's livelihoods requires a far more radical approach.

Start with the soul not with the handbag

It's not because Ken Livingstone isn't Mayor of London any more that we should stop fighting for free public transport, more social housing or the living wage. But we also need to shift mindsets, we need to look at what people themselves can bring to the table, not just as consumers but as citizens. We need to start with people not with savings, providing the stimulus that revitalises their wellbeing, not just their spending power.

We also need to start changing the arguments. It's not about who is deserving of help or not. It's neither only about defining who is poor or not. It's also about understanding how that poverty is experienced, how people's social and cultural relationships define what they see as their material needs and what they see as socially acceptable - “hard working families” - or not - “benefit scroungers”.

Why do you think so many people want to define themselves as anything other than “working class”? Whatever people think Blair meant by “we are all middle class now”, many people took this to heart because they felt it could take away the social stigma that had lived with them for so long.

People don't want to feel either deserving of fear or pity. Which is why many try and hide away from the helping hand of the state. Which is they become labelled as “hard to reach” or “seldom heard”. Which is why even some of the best services like Sure Start don't reach them as well as they could.

Respect, dignity and hope – nurturing a sense of collective belonging

Recognition and respect are just as important as redistribution. A school which nurtures relationship building is just as valuable as one which nurtures exam success, depending on whether we want to create good little consumers or good citizens.

Recognition that services can be improved by the mutual interests of staff and users working together, not by cutting services. Public services that treat people with dignity, values their contributions and develops a sense of collective belonging.

Although many people find it hard to imagine the possibility of escaping from poverty and social exclusion, that doesn't mean they don't hope. When Obama talks about “being the change we can believe in”, it internalises this paradox very well. Their hopes nevertheless constantly battle against the unpredictability of their lives and the fear it generates.

This is why involving users in co-producing public services doesn't only offer greater hope, it allows people to use this hope and energy to work with staff to develop the services that matter to them.

From consumerist havens to safe spaces – from the customer to the carer

People often look back to a golden age where there was a sense of neighbourliness and people took pride in where they lived. But for some people, when they look at where they live, it's little wonder that they escape to the consumerist haven of the Westfield shopping mall or the virtual meritocracy of the X Factor.

We escape the reality of our neighbourhoods and we escape who we know. We feel we've lost our sense of belonging and our sense of trust. We may feel less trustworthy of our neighbours, less attached to our extended or even immediate families, and yet friendship and trust are even more critical in our increasingly atomised society.

We need to create safe spaces for people to talk and look out for one another through better access to mutual support networks and cheaper relationship counselling. Supporting caring, not penalising it.

Outsourced relationships and hidden assets – towards a “reassuring state”

If what we mean by an “active state” is a state that's reassuring, a state that makes us feel more valued and trusted - as citizens and as public servants - then we need to strengthen the intrinsic values that define the relationship between the state and the people it serves.

Yet through how the the state defines its “services”, public servants can only engage in specific moments in people's lives which ignore the complexities of the rest of their daily life. This creates assumptions by the “state” which are reinforced by people themselves.

Indeed, for many people there is an antagonistic relationship with the state. They feel assessed and judged from all corners – from their neighbours, the media and the state itself. This fuels a vicious circle of avoiding the state to avoid accusations made by others, about whom they make accusations themselves, that they are somehow “cheating the system”. It's not they feel ungrateful, but they feel that the institutions don't understand the realities they live in.

For public servants too, that antagonistic relationship exists, they feel they can't be trusted to serve the public efficiently. The unhealthy compulsion to performance manage, to privatise and to personalise drives them even further away from being able to understand the people they serve.

Rather than continuing to outsource our welfare services with our citizens to companies who we may have to bail out as the recession strikes deeper, we need to re-invest in the emotional and social resources for staff and service users to make the “tough choices” on issues like community cohesion, chronic conditions or climate change. They can work out the tensions between different people's needs and their capacity to participate. Only then can the state show its citizens it is not only “on their side” but working with them “on the same side”.

We need to unlock these “hidden assets” of reciprocity and trust and refashion social capital that values these assets as much as more recognised forms of engagement. Of course we need to get people into work. But that means nothing to the communities we serve if we don't help people help themselves by supporting each other, rewarding care rather than penalising it.

Noel Hatch

Print some flyers now and hand them out today. Put a poster up in the canteen. Spread the word online straightaway!

Support our "welfare for all" campaign

Click on this link now to add your name to the statement.

We urge you to write a letter to your MP asking them to support our campaign and write a letter to the Work & Pensions Secretary calling for an urgent rethink of the proposals. You can also write in support of the campaign to The Guardian letters page and The Observer letters page.

Images by unusualimage and marcus341 under the Creative Commons license.


After telling us how it could even be better news that Obama has won, Alex Higgins reminds us where Obama might still go wrong.

30 years of gross misrule has left an aftermath of social inequality, decaying infrastructure, debt, corruption, dysfunctional political institutions and environmental damage that would be hard for enough for any reform-minded president to deal with. In addition, Obama gets the added bonuses of artificial global warming which must be slowed under his watch, two wars which cannot be won, dangerous stand-offs with foreign powers, and global economic collapse.

With the best will in the world, that would be a challenge beyond any single US administration to address satisfactorily. And for all his virtues as a candidate and a human being, it is a stretch to argue that Obama has the best will in the world. There is a lot that could go wrong, and we may see Obama making Blair-like compromises which seem politically savvy at the time but will fail to prevent certain realities from blowing up in his, and everybody else’s, faces.

Here are just a few cases where events might destroy an Obama honeymoon, or he might make serious misjudgements:

  • Obama should be a major improvement on environmental issues, but if action is not taken quickly enough and does not go far enough, it may be impossible to prevent global average temperatures rising by 2 degrees centigrade on 1990 levels. Global warming may then become an irreversible process, no longer within our capacity to prevent. Then we are in a world of trouble.
  • Obama should withdraw from Iraq – but if he delays this he may find that the present lull in violence from the apocalyptic levels of 2005-7 to the merely horrendous present level may end. Shi’ite rebels currently on ceasefire and Sunni insurgents currently being paid not to fight might feel compelled to finally drive US forces out.
  • Obama is committed to the war in Afghanistan. He has – to his credit – complained about a reliance on air strikes which is taking a very heavy toll on Afghan civilians (killing more than the Taliban) and would be prepared to negotiate with rebel Afghan tribes as General Petraeus recommends, but his proposal to increase US forces there and allow them to cross the border into Pakistan may be the beginning of an extremely dangerous, escalating conflict that runs out of anyone’s control.
  • During the election campaign, Obama set aside his previous stated concern for Palestinian suffering in favour of indifference and support for the politics of Israeli hardliners. This stance would make it hard to resolve the Middle East conflict even partially and prevent this long-running sore exploding into a wider Israeli-Arab war.
  • His Vice President, Joe Biden, is committed to expanding NATO along Russia’s border which would almost certainly mean a renewed Cold War and the increased long-term risk of a US-Russia war – the ultimate disaster. During the Russia-Georgia war in the summer, Obama’s suitably measured response gave way to Biden’s bellicose rhetoric.
  • With a colossal, world-historical national debt and a disintegrating economy, Obama will struggle to provide the jobs and economic security he has pledged to working and middle-class people facing hard times that could undercut support for his administration. Economic policy could fall under sway of those like Robert Rubin who previously advised Clinton to – among other things – deregulate the banking sector.
  • The election of a black, liberal president could spark an American anti-government insurgency - ultra-right paramilitarism of the kind that bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people with a truck bomb placed outside its nursery school. There will certainly be attempts to kill Obama (people have already been arrested for planning these), and possibly worse.
  • Obama is committed to producing bio-fuels on the bogus grounds that they are environmentally friendly, which they are not. It also means burning up corn to keep cars moving at a time when this is driving up food prices and hunger around the world.

Just some of the problems Obama could be about to face or make worse for himself. It is up to those who supported his campaign to remain active in politics, keep building their movement – an independent movement, not an Obama movement - to make sure their voices are heard in the White House.

The next few years will not be easy for anyone, but they have so much potential.

Pictures by tjscenes and SqueakyMarmot under the Creative Commons Attribution License.


What a fanstastic video. Blogs have really gone a long way in furthering the cause of human freedom over their few short years in existence.

Iran: A Nation of Bloggers - Vancouver Film School (VFS)


After arguing why Obama's victory was so desperately needed, Alex Higgins now tells us why it could be even better news now.

For starters:
  • Obama will probably end the Iraq War. Committed to a withdrawal in 16 months, he rejected a private entreaty from the leading military figure in US-Iraq strategy, General Petraeus, for the US to remain Iraq’s occupier. A major source of international tension, terrible blood-letter and drain on the US economy is about to end. Iraq will not recover for generations from the carnage wrought, the conflict there will not end anytime soon, and the US must now pay hundreds of billions of dollars for decades to come to care for tens of thousands of horrifically injured veterans. But here it starts.
  • Obama promises a massive investment in alternative energy and an 80% cut on 1990 levels in CO2 emissions by 2050. If that remains his intention, the US will be transformed from the leading obstacle to international action to prevent catastrophic global warming to the most environmentally conscious nation on Earth. It’s hard to overstate what fantastic news that is.
  • An Obama administration won’t be ideologically opposed to the kind of regulatory regime that can shift power from unelected banks and corporations, back to elected governments. Not only can that mean amelioration of the global recession we now face, but it also provides scope for governments to take action to reduce poverty and protect workers, consumers and the environment without the effective veto of business.
  • He supports the Employee Free Choice Act – a piece of legislation that will allow American workers to unionise without management being able to squash them. Many employees will finally have the opportunity and the right to say something about their stagnating wages, poverty incomes and harsh conditions.
  • For US citizens only – an Obama administration is likely to do what Harry Truman and Hillary Clinton could not and finally reform a health care system that treats sick people who can’t afford tens of thousands of dollars to pay for their treatment, where insurance companies refuse to provide cover for people with chronic illnesses and seek excuses not to pay up at every opportunity.
  • Supreme Court Justices sit for life, until they choose to retire or die. The Justices they appoint are any presidency’s most enduring legacies. George Bush I and II have furnished the court with the kinds of men who defend torture and suspended vote counts in Florida in 2000 to put their preferred candidate in the White House. The next appointments will be made by Obama.
Pictures by LolliPop and ProgressOhio under the Creative Commons Attribution License


After commenting how Obama's victory is good news, Alex Higgins recalls how the victory was also desperately needed.

The Democratic victory has served a much needed defeat to one of the most destructive political movements in the West – the American conservative movement, a fractured alliance of corporate self-interest, racial resentment, neo-conservatism, and Christian fundamentalism.

After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the US came to be governed by an awkward consensus between an expansive American capitalism, a liberal establishment in the North,and an apartheid settlement in the South, all under the aegis of the Democratic Party. That lasted until the end of the 1960s. Lyndon Johnson’s overwhelming victory against the Republicans in 1964 (like George Bush’s victory in 2004) belied the major changes that were about to transform American politics.

The atrocious Vietnam War and the white backlash against the civil rights crippled the Democrats. With the American Left too small to replace a floundering liberal establishment, the Right had its opportunity.

Their new movement combined resentment toward black people, bitterness at a lost war in Vietnam and especially those who opposed it, opposition to taxation, and from the 1980s, wedded to Evangelical fundamentalism. They became the dominant force in American politics, succeeding in putting presidents who accepted their world view in the White House - Ronald Reagan, and to an even greater extent, George W. Bush.

Their ideology demands massive cuts in spending on services for the less well-off. It insists on cutting taxation for the rich and removing legal restrictions on the conduct of corporations. It vehemently rejects any questions about the value, application - or even limits - of American power overseas and allows absolutely no ethical obstacle to stand in the way of destroying its chosen enemies.

These positions are couched in moral terms – the commitment of America to promote liberty throughout the world, and a commitment to encouraging self-reliance, giving individuals freedom to pursue happiness in their own way with as little government interference as possible.

The reality of what that movement has wrought has been spectacularly different. The idealism in practice acted as poor cover for the outright self-interest of the rich. Both Reagan and Bush II enormously expanded the role of government at its authoritarian worst, while massively increasing the spending they claimed to be against, much of it in the form of corruptly allowing corporations to use the treasury as a teat. Their anti-tax philosophy demanded that this be paid for by creating a debt so huge that even if the Republicans lost power, it would be near impossible for the Democrats to find money for much-needed social spending, a side-effect that was not unintentional.

Like Nixon’s, both the Reagan and Bush II administrations have been marked by massive corruption and the criminal prosecution of its members. Their removal of necessary regulations on financial institutions permitted the rise of corporate criminality and recklessness. Ultimately, that led to the institutional collapses that cost many ordinary people hundreds of millions of dollars – the Savings and Loans scandals of the ‘80s (in which Senator John McCain was heavily implicated) and the huge crisis in the mortgage and banking sector we have faced in the last few weeks.

Representing the short-term profit interest of business allows no space for long-term decision-making or environmental concerns. Faced with the reality of environmental catastrophe, the conservative movement in the US (unlike the Right in Europe) simply opted for denial – pretending the problem does not exist and attacking the integrity of any independent source of expertise saying otherwise.

Governor Sarah Palin, who has yet to learn that Africa is not a country and proudly defended by the Republican Party base, represented the logical extension of an ideology that encouraged resentment of anyone with the expertise to expose its flaws – scientists, economists, academics, even school teachers. This is tediously presented as a courageous stand for the little guy of the American heartland with patriotic, good-hearted instincts against the supposed snobbery and contempt of East Coast intellectuals and bureaucrats.

These purposefully mindless instincts fired belief in the near-invulnerability of US military power and the virtue of war. It allowed strategists with the barest knowledge of the outside world to take the US into a situation where it now occupies a disintegrating Iraq, is losing ground in a war in Afghanistan, is entering into a war in northern Pakistan and still considers attacking Iran and facing off Russia in the Caucasus. Over a million Iraqis have died and the US army stretched to breaking point in a war of choice launched on a bogus prospectus.

The response of the American public is regret for a war they once supported and now see as a mistake. The response of the American conservative movement is to urge tired armies on to much, much more of the same. A position also taken by the supposedly moderate John McCain who sang, grinning, to Beach Boys’ tunes about bombing Iran.

The anti-Communism of and liberty-celebrating rhetoric of Reagan – and later Bush – was always part of a justification of a US policy of dominating the Third World through client states and force, supporting mass murderers from the twisted death squads of Central America to Apartheid South Africa (and even Pol Pot – US anti-Communism can be surprisingly flexible in its choice of allies). US attempts to dominate the political and economic life of poorer countries through ugly means will not cease under Democratic rule – the problems with US foreign policy go deeper than one party - but Democrats are less indifferent to human rights.

Finally, Hurricane Katrina brutally exposed decades of neglect in public infrastructure, a government uninterested in the role of rescuing its own citizens, and the reality of poverty and racism in the USA. The conservative movement responded by demanding greater self-reliance on the part of possession-less, homeless flood victims.

Obama has displaced a movement that destructive, that heartless and that unable to address any of the problems faced by the people of this world - and not a moment too soon.

Pictures by Nromagna and Orange Acid under the Creative Commons Attribution License.


Today Alistair Darling has an opportunity to radically alter Labour's tax policy. I hope it's an opportunity he grasps with both hands.

Reports over the weekend suggest that the two key tax changes in the Chancellor's pre-budget report will be a 2.5% cut in VAT combined with a new top rate of tax set at 45% for earnings over £150,000. Both these changes should be warmly welcomed by progressives. Some have complained that these proposals do not go far enough, but we must not underestimate the significance of what is being proposed: these policies, if implemented, will finally represent the start of a journey away from Thatcherite taxation policy. If the Government stays firm, we could be witnessing the beginning of the end of neo-liberal tax orthodoxy, if not in Britain then certainly within the Labour leadership.

To understand why these changes are so important, we need to look at the history of taxation in this country since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. A key part of her economic policy was the transference of taxation away from income and on to spending. In her first budget in 1979 she cut the top and basic rates of income tax whilst increasing VAT from two rates of 8% and 12.5% to a unified rate of 15%. This put money in the pockets of the rich whilst punishing the poorest who would see little reduction in their tax bills whilst facing increasing prices. Indirect taxes, favoured by Thatcher, always hit the poor hardest.

Ever since 1979 we have seen income tax cuts, most recently by Gordon Brown in 2007. At the same time, VAT has been increased (it was raised to the present level of 17.5% in 1991), although Gordon Brown did cut the Reduced Rate of VAT to 5% in 2001.

If Alistair Darling goes ahead with these proposals, modest though they may seem, he is effectively tearing up the rules that have governed tax policy in Britain for decades.

The political significance is also huge: Labour's last three manifestos have explicitly stated that Labour will not increase income tax. One of the "gospel truths" of the new Labour project was that we could not win if the public thought we would increase income tax. Alistair Darling may be about to slay one of new Labour's sacred cows. For many in the Labour Party, myself included, it's about time.

It may be too late, of course. Because of our manifesto commitment not to raise income tax, no tax rise for top earners would come into effect until after the next election. If the Tories win it will be lost. However, although still ahead in the polls the likelihood of a Tory victory is getting slimmer by the day. My belief is that Alistair Darlings proposals in the pre-budget report will erode that Tory lead further. The new Labour spin machine that once told us income tax rises for the rich would never be popular will now be charged with selling this very idea to the public. I don't think people will need much persuading. The 10% tax debacle earlier in the year showed that most people do have a social conscience when it comes to taxation. The disgust felt towards rich City bankers, who many rightly feel are responsible for the credit crunch, has only galvanised opinion in favour of the rich paying a little more for the benefit of everyone.

We will also need to look carefully at what else Alistair Darling proposes today. I hope to see action taken to close tax loopholes - not always as simple to do as the Lib Dems like to claim but vital for fairness.

No doubt all the media's attention will be focussed on the Chancellor's income tax and VAT proposals. If he goes ahead, then economically it will be the end of "new" Labour. But it is not a return to "old" Labour, as the Tories may cry. What I hope it will mark is the beginning of real Labour. Better late than never.

Tom Copley, Chair, London Young Labour

* Money shot photo by (c)


We asked our members what they felt about Obama's election as next President of the US. Alex Higgins, teacher by day and journalist by night gives a unique four series piece on why Obama's victory is good news.

Children, canteen staff, supermarket shelf stackers, random people in the street, I’ve heard them all discussing politics with excitement and hope. Something which just a few days ago so many people were claiming could never, ever happen – just did.

I’ve heard so many people say they thought white Americans were too racist to ever vote for a Black candidate let alone one pushing for progressive social change. That the American power structure would never tolerate such a thing. That it just could not happen. Now everyone has had their conception of what is possible in this world expanded. A bleak, shoulder-shrugging cynicism seems a little out of place.

We all just saw that the son of a Kenyan goatherd – once flogged by Kenya’s white rulers - become the elected leader of a mostly white country, the most powerful on Earth. In a world where power and wealth has overwhelmingly been in the hands of rich, white people for 2 centuries and in a country where black people were brought there forcibly as slaves, and even now cannot expect justice or voting rights in parts of the South and have a life expectancy below that of peasants in India. For African-Americans, knowing that the highest office in the country is not beyond reach is a powerful thing.

And consider – there has never been a black, Asian or even Irish Prime Minister of Britain. Or a Moroccan President of France, a Turkish Chancellor of Germany, a Roma Prime Minister of Italy, an Aboriginal Prime Minister of Australia, a Chechen President of Russia, A Muslim Prime Minister of India or – how about it? – an Arab Prime Minister of Israel.

European politics now looks rather uninspiring by comparison - see France’s embarrassing Nicolas Sarkozy and Italy’s flamboyantly corrupt and bigoted Silvio Berlsuconi. Our more impressive leaders are a prudent German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and a flailing, uninspired Gordon Brown.

Around the world, people are looking at the United States with higher expectations and goodwill. Possibly naively, but suddenly the prospect of democratic change in the heart of the superpower which has acted as if the rest of the world is irrelevant seems real, and it could be.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was among those who declared that there could be no such thing as a black US president, particularly one running on a war-sceptic platform. It is harder for him now to act as if what elements of liberal democracy the US has are quite so feeble, and harder for him to put it the desire for political change back home.

Pictures by Jetheriot and Blakespot under the Creative Commons Attribution License.


The Compass Youth Organising Committee 2008/2009 has now been elected. Ballots were cast a few weeks ago and yesterday the votes were counted. The count was conducted by Michael Calderbank form the ERS in a voluntary capacity, using professional software to process the results. The following 11 people WERE ELECTED:

  • Katy Dillon
  • Daniel Elton
  • Amisha Ghadiali
  • Noel Hatch
  • Tom Marley
  • Tom Miller
  • Luke Pearce
  • Joe Riches
  • Cat Smith
  • Samuel Tarry
  • Ruth Walker-Grice

There were 12 positions available. Because there was a quota applied of at least 5 women and 5 men, all the women places were filled leaving one place vacant (as only 4 women stood for election), this means a woman needs to be co-opted to that position in order to fulfill the quota requirement for this election.

The new CYOC will also be making a number of co-options in addition to the mandatory womens place. If you would like to put yourself forward for co-option the please contact Samuel Tarry for further details:


Earlier this year Cllr. Kris Brown; one of the youngest Councillors in the UK, and a Compass Youth activist went to the US of A to help Barack Obama in his Primary Election's bid. Here he asked us to publish the letter he has written to President Elect Obama following his historic victory last week:

"Dear Senator Obama,
Although I know I am not the first nor will be the last to do this, I am writing to congratulate you on your historic election win to become the 44th President of the United States of America.

I was elected to my role as a Councillor on the London Borough of Enfield in 2006 at the age of 21. I am often being praised for getting elected so young. Sadly, my story is not reflective amongst the majority of my generation. So many young people care deeply about political issues – like the many millions who marched against the war in Iraq, against climate change or joined the Make Poverty History campaign. However, they feel the vehicle of our democracy, through voting or standing for public office is no longer a force for change while politicians continue to move towards the centre ground and continue with the status quo.

The area I represent is called Edmonton Green – a place I have lived all my life. It is an area of high social deprivation with unemployment and worklessness above the average of the UK. Edmonton is also a place of great and rich diversity, with Afro-Caribbean, Turkish, Greek, Irish and Bengali communities living and working together. I think our diversity gives us character and makes us stronger as a community. Sadly again, there are people in Edmonton that do not see politics as a power to change things. But despite this I never lose heart and will continue to fight to make my constituents lives better. It is because I still believe in politics as a force of change that lead me to support your campaign.

Up until March of this year, I had never travelled the United States before – in fact, I had never left Europe. But for a couple of weeks in that month, I journeyed to your office in Chicago to work on the campaign. Despite the cold, I worked tirelessly calling voters on using phones, working on the internet and more, determined to win you the Texas primary. Sadly, you lost to Senator Clinton (who I have very much respect for) but I was still immensely proud to work with such brilliant people. Previous to that you had something around eight straight victories. When I returned home friends jokingly mocked me that it was I who broke your chain of success. I seriously hope not.

Many people from the UK went to help you during the actual Presidential race against Senator McCain. As much as would have liked to have done so too, I felt it was incredibly important to help you during the nomination period. Through my own personal experience with the Labour Party, sometimes securing the support of party members is the hardest part.

Whilst in Chicago, I was amazed by how many ordinary people were working on your campaign, particularly those who had never voted before, or the many young people I met who were not at an age to vote in these elections but still wanted to help. It is a real testament to a campaign that was grass root led and empowered millions of people under the common cause of “Yes we can”.

I was equally amazed at all the innovative new ways of campaigning, particularly using personalised social networking media like Facebook and Recently, I bought an Apple iPhone and was excited to see an application to connect with voters through it. There is much my party can learn from this style of campaigning to help us with our efforts in the future.

More recently I have been working with Democrats Abroad to help register Americans in the UK to vote in the election. We registered a record amount of people and the voting numbers reflected that. The determination of your campaign to reach out to Americans abroad as well as at home is to be commended. Your campaign understood Americans abroad love and care about their country and should have an equal influence on its future.

I will never forget 2008. I hope this year will remain in history books for centuries to come, as it will teach generation after generation, that the politics of hope is very much alive, that nobody can tell you something is impossible. When things are bad there’s nothing to suggest they cannot get better.

I am not going to pretend, and I believe you will not either, that your Presidency will make everything perfect, the same way I do not believe being a Councillor will make everything perfect. It is not our job to do that. It’s our job to be the building blocks for people to decide their own fate so they can live long, healthy and happy lives.

We face huge challenges in the world. I am now a bit more confident we can see through them.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Kris Brown
Labour Party Councillor for Edmonton Green


Got something to say about progressive ideas and campaigns? Get in touch - see the contact tab above.


It is with interest that Compass Youth note this post from Aberdeen University Labour Students. Not only are they an excellent barometer of the American electoral college, they also have this:


At the Pin the Pits screening, I met Matty C Roche, a cultural activist from Liverpool involved in the campaign. We may swoon about how well Obama's speeches manage to capture the fears and hopes of a generation, but there are young people over here who can unlock our imagination and turn the pressure up on the way we live our lifes and treat each other. In the latest chapter of our "Born free and equal" stories, here comes another, over to you Matty:

There are many who constitute today’s youth who have a voice but who choose not to use it. Materialism and the pursuit of ‘quick fixes’ to one’s personal political awareness and a desire for change, both on a local community level and on a national level.

I would quote Nicky Alt, a Liverpool playwright, who in an interview complained:

“Where the angry young people these days… They all seem happy with their material possessions and no-one wants to climb any ladders. There is so much apathy about – people want change, but they want someone to do it for them”

In a society where values are being constantly eroded and many youth choose irresponsibility, escapism and selfish pursuits instead of looking at problems and trying to address issues, instead of finding cohesive long-term solutions; I think the problem of youth is greed, a lack of empathy and a culture that has been bred of materialism that promotes instant gratification.

The youth have been given a voice, and many schemes are in place in communities to hear their voice, but it seems nobody wants to speak. The youth have lost their ability to connect with politics and the stubborn self-centred lot even choose not to listen. People have closed their ears to the world around them only to become introverted and concentrate only on their own existence, building on superficialities instead of focusing on core personal development or their humanity – that is to be able to reflect on and develop one’s self but to also appreciate the self as a part of a whole, a neighbourhood, a community, a family, a people.

Community breakdown stems from the ethos “You get out of it what you put in” and people are putting everything into themselves, and little into the community. Helping yourself - instead of helping others for the greater good - has become our institutionalised way of life. Even in the home, the family unit is broken up more increasingly, sacrificing familial bonding and sharing experiences at the dinner table for the wisdom and allure of the god with the plasma flashing face and the four corners, be it the television or the monitor of a computer screen.

A lack of discipline, morals and understanding of where you’ve come from, the value of how hard those who before us have worked so we can own and enjoy what we have now had caused us to lose our connection with the previous generations. There is a lack of respect for parents, teachers, employers and no real interest or connection with our roots or the struggles that were faced, the values of the older generations and why these values are so important. Youth and the pursuit of never-ending youth is deified in the media and nobody wants to grow old, nor the responsibility that this comes with. Role models and the people that the youth aspire to be these days are not the wise or experienced; talent, wisdom and experience has given way to glamour, glitz and sex appeal.

We can talk about poverty and the lack of opportunities for the young, but materially we are much better off, much less deprived than the children of our parents’ and their parents’ generation. People had to work hard and fight to earn things in the past, and so people understood the value of what they spent their money on.

Poverty still exists now, but for many of us, poverty is a relative concept, one in which you perceive you need more than you have, and that your life suffers if this desire or want exists.

A person and their success today is measured on what we have, what we own, how we are entertained, as opposed to their values or morals or to forge your own sense of belonging and to be accepted.

And even to be accepted to belong, a child has to be seen to be conforming to these trends and outward displays of material possession. If, as a parent, you try to exercise restraint and oppose these trends and try to instill morals over materialism, often the child will stick out like a sore thumb and begin to think they are deprived, suffering with their peers and at school. All too often, the parent will give in to the child’s whims, where to some unenlightened parents, they think providing materially for their kids is more important than tackling education and values.

Throwing money at these problems creates yet again another ‘quick fix’ and so the child is conditioned to become self-centred and greedy. This accepted trend leads to a mentality of “If I don’t get what I want, I’ll cause trouble”. So in homes, there is a lack of respect for the parents who can’t control them, these same parents who admonish teachers who try and discipline the kids, so by secondary school, youths have no respect for teachers whatsoever. This is not always the case, this is not what I’m saying – but many of the disaffected youth who present us with so many of these problems will fall into this category.

There is an increasing lack of boundaries and morality – such as seen by the recent popular phenomenon of ‘happy slapping’, casual and pointless violence, and the recent atrocity in Derby on the 17th of September, where a flash mob of youngsters and shockingly even middle aged people were baying for a suicidal man to jump. One witness described the scene: "People were filming… we could hear people shouting "jump you…" followed by a stream of expletives. They weren't all just young people, some were middle-aged. To be honest with you I was sickened." The mob ‘successfully’ encouraged the young man to leap to his death, against the work police negotiators were trying to do.

How did these breakaway and disaffected youth become so feral? How has such amorality permeated to even the supposedly more mature people who should know better, who should be acting as role models to the youngsters, and what kind of example of hope does this bring us? Why is youth violence and disorder on the rise so much?

Some would say the solution to these problems would be an iron fist and the jack boot – and I might agree. But this would still not help in raising political, social or independent moral awareness, or a change from within, such as through inspiration.

There is no one solution – I would say more police powers, more power to teachers, heavier penal sentences and punishments that reflect the crime and so there is fear of recrimination, even conscription for national service, but in a strictly enforced non-combat role for 12 – 18 months, where mandatory training, discipline and personal development would be the focus, where we could instill values and a common thread of unity throughout the classes – where abilities and achievements could be recognized and funneled through training schemes instead of this futile pursuit of higher education for all, where people with abilities not suited for academia are not allowed to express themselves and are stifled and so lose sense of purpose and thus become “the disaffected”.

All at least would have a sense of responsibility, and even if one might loathe the experience, upon leaving service they would make their own choices, or one might feel they have learned something valuable. There would be no fear of losing our youth or missing out, as we would all be in the same boat, working towards a common thread - and at the very least, everyone would have an opportunity to make something of themselves, to enter work upon leaving service, and the core problem, which is apathy, would be a very rare thing indeed.

But these are but ideas – no doubt exceptionally difficult to implement, and I’m sure a great proportion of the public, many of you reading this would cry out against such measures. I’m sure that this is a topic that would ignite fierce debate and opinion from all sides. And we, as the public cannot make these decisions anyway, these are made by those whom we elect, or by the lords who are appointed by those we elect.

Empathy, anger management, a lack of individual and social conscience and few constructive vents for the energy of youth of all major issues which now face us.

In Liverpool, during the 80’s unemployment was at an all-time high. People had little or nothing – but they all had nothing together. Few prospects, poverty, and dead-end jobs made people want to fight for a better existence. Workers would be politicized and made aware of issues by their trade unions and there would be a cohesive and constructive vent for their anger and frustrations.

Now, the youth choose hedonism, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, violence and escapism as their vents. Occasionally politically minded people might meet by chance through these pursuits of escapism, but there is no magnet, no common thread with youngsters to unite under one banner and turn their collective voices into a solidarity, a piece by which to make our voices into a megaphone.

A breakdown in families, religion and trade union action; the class divides, apathy and materialism have caused a rupture in society, fuelled more and more by our consumer culture and our desire to be entertained.

But therein lies the key! Many youth shy away from politics because they see it as ‘boring’ or that there is no point in listening or participating because it will make no difference – the politicians never listen. Some are blissfully unaware of the existence of politics and social thought as they will see no further than the horizons of their own immediate life.

But we can all make a change without being dependant on decisions from Whitehall. By using expression and by using this consumer culture and the desire for entertainment, indulgence and spectacle, we can politically motivate or inspire the youth. We just need to know how to sow the seeds.

By using the arts – via displays, exhibitions, installations, theatre, music, film, literature – with even the most subtle of social and political agendas can its audiences be inspired. Art which is accessible and interactive for all, can reach the places the voices of politicians cannot.

Art brings people out of their own lives and unites people in a common interest or admiration, or even disgust. It can serve as a banner, where we can forget our differences and individual pursuits and where our eyes and ears are fully open. Sometimes it can also make you aware of your individual pursuits and differences encourage analysis and independent thought, perhaps to realization of the futility of one’s path, or how to assess, question or strengthen one’s own views on life and the action that we should be taking.

People should realize that “The Arts” are not a commodity for the elite, and the snobbery that can be applied to viewing the arts should be forgotten. Art is simply about expression and communication, and anybody can get involved. People with little interest in “The Arts” will still engage in large-scale projects out of curiosity and to follow the masses which do so.

By providing a spectacle, a stimulus, displays of artwork or creativity, this will provoke interest from curiosity and wonder, and again, possibly even admiration or disgust.

Art can move us in many ways – it can stir emotions, evoke conscious analysis and elicit self-reflection, it can show us our hopes and fears and these are all key in the seeds to social awareness and activism.

Even art in its most abstract form can unite seemingly unconnected people who might share similar realizations, views or aspirations or it might even give a realization to viewers and participants that they are part of a whole, instilling a sense of community and pride.

One recent example of this is the “La Machine” project in Liverpool, a giant mobile exhibition of a huge walking mechanical spider, roaming the streets of Liverpool, complete with interactive special effects, a storyline to evoke a fairytale-like magic and a full live soundtrack from a multi-piece orchestra. Many people in Liverpool decried this as a waste of public finance and grants given by the EU for Liverpool’s nomination as “Capital of European Culture 2008”. It was seen as a gimmick, purely for show, temporarily masking the real and vast problems Liverpool has. The money could have been used elsewhere, they said – and myself being one of them.

However, public schemes and throwing money at problems does not always offer solutions. Thousands came out en masse to unite and marvel at this exhibition, putting aside their pre-ordained views of the spectacle, thinking “what the heck, it’s here, we might as well get involved” and everyone decided to participate, and for the first time in a long time, I experienced and felt a universal sense of pride and togetherness amongst the people of Liverpool and also from those outside Merseyside who’d travelled to see this beast, which albeit a piece of art, felt alive.

To change the problems in society, you first need to change the people in it.

After this three day exhibition, the atmosphere among the locals was still buzzing.

The life in the artwork seemed to have infected the very people who had come to see it, and the city felt more alive, more positive as a result. The spider had gone, but something had changed. Scousers had a sense of pride, a sense of hope that was not apparently there before. Scousers felt united, and violence and disorder over the days the exhibition was on was virtually none-existent.

And seeing that this could be achieved, and feeling a sense of responsibility to prove that pride and seeing that perhaps Liverpool could be on the improve and be worthy of being a world-class city, the people became ambassadors to their city. I have no statistics on the event, I only go on what I could feel and my personal experience and the feedback I have received from locals, but given a sense of pride, purpose and identity, I felt a genuine change in attitudes and vibes, whereas but months ago, I would decry Liverpool as a hostile, aggressive and deprived place.

Sometimes, all people need is a banner or a symbol to unite them, and their humanity can do the rest. But imagine all that interest, all that involvement in such a project, and then imagine the creators gave it a personal or political slant or a social agenda or dedicated the exhibition to a particular cause? Think how many people would be influenced. Think of how many people would have lit a spark inside them to become a light to open their eyes in the darkness?

That is the essence of the “Pin The Pits” campaign, and how I feel that it is an important and powerful example of how art can be used to reach and touch people.

In April 2006, Rachel Horne -the founder of the “Pin The Pits” campaign- put on a project called “The Out Of Darkness Light” project; dedicated to the miners and to those who’d lost their lives in Cadeby colliery during the 150 years the mining complex was open, with a series of light installations, each light representing one life that was lost in that time. Previous PR had informed those present of the purpose of the exhibition, what it was about and what it was trying to achieve – and no doubt those present would have spread the word. Alas though, through lack of resources, the installation was only up for one day and night, and advertisement via flyers for houses, which was initially in the proposal for the project could not be done due to the limited manpower and again, the lack of funding.

But I have no doubts in my mind that those who would have seen the display from near or afar and who would have had no information on what it was or why it stood, or where it had come from would have been asking these questions to themselves.

Our desire to know has been replaced by a demand to be entertained. So why not combine the two? Entertainment which provides insight and learning, education and provokes thought.

People mistrust politicians due to their lies, spin and propaganda – but art allows those to form their own opinions and feelings and to make their own mind up. When before, I said that where art connects, it is also a place where a person’s mind is open.

If a person hears a speech, wherein the political agenda is not to a person’s liking or in opposition to a person’s beliefs, the person can choose not to listen or to walk away from what they are hearing, regardless of how valid or impassioned the piece may be. The content might offend them, and so you close your ears and close your mind to it. You won’t even question it, or allow yourself to question why you are so fundamentally opposed to it.

With a speech, you are taken wherever the speaker wants you to go – you have to follow hurriedly after their footsteps lest you miss a beat. But with art, you can pause, sit, observe, examine, ponder and reflect. Even if you oppose with all your soul the principles or ideas behind a piece of art, you would still find yourself questioning what it represents to you, why it makes you feel the way you do, and refining your sense of self and identity in the process.

The disaffected feel they have no path, not do they feel they need one. The wander aimlessly looking for their own fruitless pursuits, and as they wander, boundaries become less and less clear.

But if artwork can bring someone to examine their roots, then it might instill a sense of connection and cultural authenticity, and then pride. As the great Bob Marley once said: “If you know your history, then you would know where you’re coming from”.

And if you can draw a line from where you’ve come to where you are today, then you can see the events that have led up to this day in your life and with that you can find a direction. And by examining this direction, you can look at which way you’re facing, and find out if you’re going in the right way. If you can give meaning and value to what’s happened before you and what is happening now, and encourage someone to understand this, then there is hope in unlocking empathy for today’s youngsters.

It is projects like “Pin The Pits” and projects which Compass Youth seek to actively support and promote that can bring people like us together, each with their own political voice, to listen and to be heard, like with the “Pin The Pits” campaign which united people under one roof, in the very place where to be heard, there is every hope of real change, where politics, expression and opinion have so much power in this country, where dreams can become real and change can become possible.

But let us not forget, in such projects, many of the people involved are primarily artists – trying to use their passions to live, but also to touch others, to inspire and to educate.

If art can do so much to bring people together in such a manner, and motivate people in such a way that artwork can become a campaign, and then from a campaign – real change – then surely more should be done to credit these artists.

I’m not saying art alone can change the world – I’ve already established I don’t believe in quick fixes or singular solutions to today’s complex challenges. But art which plants or awakens the seeds within us can cause subtle changes from within to instigate movement and realization and can inspire these people individually to come together and become a collective and want to change society as a whole.

Sometimes it takes a symbol for people to examine the reality of their situations and to focus their energies.

People can’t be changed by pushing them form the back, nor can you drag along an unwilling dog and expect him not to dig in his heels. But if you can kindle something inside and show people their past, present and future, if you can give people recognition, if you can awaken awareness and open someone’s mind – then therein lies the key to social change.

Do you want to share your experience of being involved in campaigning, your thoughts on an issue that matters to you? Get in touch at