Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Democracy in action: part II

Yesterday I emailed my prospective Labour Parliamentary Candidates about their platforms. You can read it here.

Today I got a reply from one of them. He misspelled my name and dropped some apostrophes, but as you can see, it's a pretty evasive response to my specific queries: so evasive as to constitute a f••• you, I feel.

Thank you very much for taking the trouble to write. I am looking forward to meeting all members of the CLP soon and engaging in robust face-to-face debate. This will be an excellent opportunity to set out my political stall and answer members questions and concerns. I trust that you will be an active participant in this process and hope we speak soon.
With best wishes Sundar Thavapalasundaram

Update: I got a reply from Mr Marris too (his responses are in red). Compare and contrast, then guess for which one I'm going to vote!

I notice that Mr Marris provides a full Wolverhampton address and landline telephone number.  Don't worry, Rob:  I won't be popping round for a chat!  
Yes:  whilst I had the honour to be WSW MP, my home phone number was always in the telephone directory. 

Personal history
Mr Marris, you stress your long experience in the constituency, though you slightly gloss over losing the previous election, and you don't mention your work as a solicitor. 
There is no “glossing over”.  That I did not get re-elected is a matter of public record, known I believe every member of the CLP; including me, who now has to live in a constituency with a Conservative MP – something I spent a lot of time over many years trying to change. Whilst I am not currently practising as a solicitor, I remain qualified so to do.  I am employed by the National Union of Teaches as a Regional Officer. 

Political Positions
Mr Marris, you provide a long list of political principles, opposing privatisation, making the case for an empowering state, opposing student tuition fees, academies and free schools and deregulation, while supporting the nationalisation of railways, higher taxes for the rich, banking break-ups and so on.  I tend to agree with most of these positions.  However, I was a constituent while you were an MP.  I distinctly remember you voting for most of the things you now oppose.  Time and time again you behaved as lobby fodder for a government which established academy schools, curtailed civil liberties, introduced tuition fees (though you did oppose this), voted for one illegal and two foolish wars, strengthened NHS privatisation, deregulated the finance system, reduced taxation for the rich until very late on (and was 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich', failed to build social housing, oversaw the disastrous railway franchising scheme, and systematically weakened employees’ rights. I distinctly remember Mr Blair boasting about British workers having the least protection in Europe (the 'flexible' workforce).
So my worry is this, Mr Marris:  either you believed in what you did then, or you believed in what you say now.  Which is it?  Or perhaps you simply did what you were told, despite being a member of a massive majority.  If re-elected, will you simply follow the party line once more, or will you vote according to your principles?
I hope you see my quandary.  In Mr Marris we have a good, hard-working former constituency MP who enabled the worst excesses of the previous government and rarely displayed any independent principles, who now promises to oppose most of the things he supported. 
You suggest that “either you believed in what you did then, or you believed in what you say now.  Which is it?”  I am afraid that I do not accept much of the premise.  
Perhaps I may go through the list of policies in my letter to members, seriatim. 
equal opportunities, social inclusion, and co-operation 
The last Labour government passed the Equality Act 2010, the culmination of 13 years of progressive legislation on equal opportunities.  Before 1997, there was no legislation outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or religion.  
quality public services, delivered by workers employed by local/national government. 
The last Labour government did not protect this as they should have.  My position was always clear.  However, that undermining did not require legislation.  
strengthen employment rights 
National Minimum Wage.  Paid holidays.  Strengthened health & safety legislation.  Rights for sufferers of industrial mesothelioma.  Anti-discrimination laws (supra).  I personally (as the minister subsequently confirmed to me) successfully persuaded the government to abandon its plans to introduce a fee (introduced from 01.04.13 by the Coalition) for applications to Employment Tribunals.  
construction of huge numbers of council houses, which will also jump-start the economy 
The Decent Homes programme, costing £13 billion, improved hundreds of thousands of council houses.  About £250 million was spent in Wolverhampton.  Nevertheless, I agree that I did not do enough in this regard.  It was only in 2007 that I urged the government to buy one of the major house-builders, then valued at £2 billion, to get its hands on 100,000 building plots which the company owned.  
boost manufacturing and foster innovation 
The last Labour government introduced major tax breaks for R & D.   
tax the rich, to increase funding for health, education, transport, pensions, social care 
I did argue for higher taxes for the well-off and strongly and vocally supported the 50p tax rate.  I also argued against the abolition of the 10p rate.  
sound public finances 
The key Labour slogan in the 2001 General Election was “An end to boom and bust”.  You will search in vain for that slogan in any of my election material:  I wouldn’t use it, because I knew it is nonsense:  capitalism has been cyclical for 300 years, and nothing had changed. I am very knowledgeable about Canada.  I used to live there, and I still keep very much up-to-date.  The deficit was a major issue there in the mid-1990s.  So, as far as I know, I was the only Labour MP arguing that running a deficit in the good times was a bad idea.   
keep the NHS public 
I did not vote for the foundation hospitals legislation.  I abstained.  I would have voted against it, but I had only one e-mail (no letters or telephone calls) urging me to vote against.New Cross had £13 million of PFI (radiology) before I was elected in 2001; but none whilst I was MP.  Contrary to what some believe, the Heart & Lung Centre is not PFI.  With the other 2 Wolverhampton MPs, I vehemently and successfully opposed PFI at New Cross.  The PCT had entered into a £90 million PFI (for GPs surgeries, and the Phoenix Centre etc.) before they even told the local MPs. At the request of the Labour council, I reluctantly did write a letter in support of the £3 million PFI for the new swimming pool at Bentley Bridge; but that’s locally elected councillors making their own decisions – either one simply mouths support for “localism” and does nothing, or one does something.  Apart from that, I am not aware of any other council PFI. BSF was not entered into whilst I was MP, although it was agreed.  Again:  localism.  
restore powers to local councils, with proper funding 
I did argue at Westminster that, if one says one supports localism, then one must act accordingly (supra).  
return schools to LEAs, abolish academies and “free” schools 
I opposed the introduction of the “Blair academies”, but there was no legislation and so no vote. “Free” schools are a terrible invention of the Coalition.  I did vote for the legislation introducing Trust Schools, but only after uniting with other backbenchers to secure 2 concessions from the government:  a binding, national Admissions Policy, and am agreement on a national pay framework for Teaching Assistants.  
graduate tax, not tuition fees 
Yes, I voted against.  
opposition to privatisation and to PFI 
See above.  With others, I successfully opposed the privatisation of the Forensic Science Service.  
break up the big banks 
I was the only MP to move legislation allowing the government to break up the big banks.  Unfortunately, I could not persuade a Labour government to agree.  
opposition to de-regulation, no “light touch” 
Most of this de-regulation did not require legislation, so there was nothing against which to vote.  I did oppose the very concept in debates on Finance Bills, and spoke at length in the House about it, to the effect that, to me, “regulation” is not a dirty word.  
re-nationalise the railways, by not renewing franchises 
Again, no legislation, but again I called for it in the House.  
combat, and adapt to, climate change 
It is my Private Member’s Bill which led directly to the sections of the Climate Change Act dealing with adaptation; I believe the first such legislation in the world. I did not vote for the 80% cut in CO2 emissions because, although I strongly support massive cuts (and I was probably in the top 10 greenest MPs in the House, in terms of lifestyle), the 80% target was playing games, grandstanding – “pass this, looks good, problem sorted, and we can move on”.  It was and is totally unrealistic; just showboating.  As I pointed out in the House on more than one occasion, CO2 emissions per capita rose under Labour (until the recession, from 2008).   
promote green energy, not subsidise nuclear 
I and others repeatedly pressed the government to promise not to subsidise nuclear, and they publicly stated that they would not do so.  
social justice, here and abroad 
The international development agenda of Labour was magnificent. In the UK, not enough was done to tackle inequality, and I should have pressed harder on this. So, firstly the contradictions which you perceive are not nearly as great as you believe.  Secondly, if I simply stood now for exactly that for which I stood 12 years ago, totally unchanged, then I would be a poor human being and a poor politician. 
As you personally know, I was a pretty good constituency MP as well! 

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