Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Newham Deselection Was A Sign Of Democratic Change – Not A Power Grab"

Very good article on LabourList by Newham resident Maya Goodfellow

"Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, a narrative has endured regardless of how well the party’s done at the ballot box or how many new membership cards are issued: he’s capturing the party and his supporters are slowly taking over branches and CLPs.

This makes it sound like a hostile and importantly undemocratic takeover. And pundits say, almost on autopilot, that it spells the end of the Labour party. When Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol announced he would be standing down, one standard response was riven with this thinking; it was a sign the party “takeover” by Jeremy Corbyn was “almost total”. And when Labour members in East London chose Rokhsana Fiaz as their mayoral candidate over incumbent Robin Wales, one journalist described it as a “coup”. Flip the narrative on its head, and you might find another story altogether.

To understand exactly what I mean, take a closer look where I live, Newham – the site of an ongoing struggle for change. In May, this part of East London will choose who will be its next mayor. Though no position is guaranteed, Labour stand a good chance of winning because this borough, one of the country’s most diverse, is solidly red. Last time around, all sixty of its councillors and its mayor were Labour.

But choosing a mayoral candidate isn’t a straightforward affair. Instead of a process where anyone can run to be Labour’s contender, the party’s internal rule book dictates that there has to be a ballot deciding who can run: wards and affiliates vote on whether there should be an open selection or if the incumbent is automatically the candidate. At the end of 2016 Newham went through this process and, by a slim margin, an open selection was voted down – making Robin Wales, the current mayor who has effectively been in charge for over twenty years, the candidate once again.

All didn’t run smoothly. A group of Labour members got together to question the way the process was run; they claimed procedural rules were “breached” because they were applied differently to different affiliated organisations. Some trade unions with several branches had voted more than once while others with more than one branch believed they only had one vote, which potentially tipped the vote in Wales’ favour.

Opposed by Wales and brushed to one side by officials, up to 30 local party members fought to make their voices heard. After a sustained grassroots campaign and threatening to take the party to court, they were finally successful; the party decided to run another trigger ballot. This wasn’t a Labour party taken over undemocratically by the left, but local members launching sustained resistance for months to get basic democracy.

The rerun decided it: members wanted Wales to be challenged. And the outcome of the trigger ballot saw Rokhsana Fiaz – who promised, among other things, to have a referendum on the mayoral position itself – win with 63 per cent of the vote. It shouldn’t have taken so long to get to this point. Labour has long been, to some extent, a top-down machine. This only got worse in the Blair years, when power-hoarding and leader-led politics were the norm. Newham is a prime example of that; as the Focus E15 grassroots group has shown, Wales has operated a top-down hierarchical operation for years, which appeared to show little regard for some of the borough’s poorest residents.

This should bust the myth that deselection is always some shadowy, unfair process. Fiaz has not become Labour candidate through an undemocratic takeover – quite the opposite. In much the same way, it takes a catastrophic misreading of the past few years to see increased democratic engagement with Labour while it moves to the left as Corbyn surreptitiously taking over the party. Change that involves contestation doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of democracy.

Labour is the biggest left-wing party in Europe. Its members and supporters are not just there to deliver the party’s message on the doorstep or turnout to vote every five years; they are people who can shape those messages and the party itself. After decades of managerial politics being parroted as the only pragmatic way to win elections, the last election showed creating more space for bottom-up politics is both a matter of justice and expediency. What’s happened in Newham is a sign that focussing on the changes in Labour as a Corbyn power grab is not only incorrect, it ignores an interesting, productive struggle over change that’s taking place at the party’s grassroots".

Monday, March 19, 2018

"United Utilities workers are on strike to defend their right to a fair pension"

"UNISON members at United Utilities are on strike to defend their right to a fair pension. It’s not a decision they’ve taken lightly, but the staff of the UK’s largest listed water company face being hammered by pension proposals that could leave some as much as £10,000 a year worse off.

These attacks are completely unwarranted. In the past five full financial years, United Utilities has earned £1.6 billion in profits, whilst over a billion was paid out in shareholder dividends over the same period. In 2016/17 their two most senior staff – CEO Steve Mogford and CFO Russ Holden – were paid more than £4 million between them.

Clearly then, this is not a company that’s short of cash. It’s a company that chooses to prioritise massive dividends over their obligations to long-serving staff.

In fact, the pension scheme will be in surplus by 2020 according to current projections – this is a healthy scheme, where (due to changes made in 2010) members are already paying more for less. This isn’t about saving the pension scheme, it’s about cutting pension costs at a highly profitable business.

The impact on individual United Utilities workers will be devastating. A 60 year old employee, who has worked there since leaving school and earns £30,000 a year will lose £2,500 a year on retirement. A 40 year old in the same position stands to lose even more – a whopping £9,200 a year.

That’s why United Utilities members are taking action today, and on Monday, to defend the pensions they’ve spent years paying into. Every one of UNISON’s members stands by them as they fight for a fair pension and the decent retirements they’ve worked so hard for".

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Newham Labour Mayoral Candidate Rokhsana Fiaz "Thank You" Party

This is a really lovely picture from Roksana's "thank you" party for supporters which took place last night at our campaign HQ in Canning Town.

Despite the cold and the snow the venue was packed out with happy and enthusiastic supporters from all parts of the Newham Labour movement family.  Rokhsana gave a well received speech on unity, determination and wanting not only a different style of politics in Newham but policies that make a difference. She had her Mum and Dad either side of her as well as nieces and nephews.

It was great to meet up and celebrate with the many colleagues and comrades who have long argued and campaigned for change in Newham politics and have now finally achieved their goal.

The overriding emphasis is now on getting Rokhsana and our Newham Labour Party Councillor candidates (I declare an interest) elected on May 3rd.

An an entirely unintended consequence of this whole Mayoral selection contest is that we will unite (99%) as a Party around Rokshana and now in Newham we are one step ahead since we have so many experienced and "battle hardened" campaigners.

It is going to be an interesting 6 weeks (until May 3 election)

Hat tip photo Muhammed Ravat (Colour splash added)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The role of pensions in building Community Wealth

Professional Pensions: John Gray says we should think about investing more locally, but there are a number of serious practical investment problems to overcome

As austerity bites and local authorities up and down the country struggle to provide services following cuts in central government expenditure and grants, communities are looking for alternative sources of investment.
The £250bn Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) is being eyed as one possible source. In the recent past it was the Conservative chancellor, George Osborne, who wanted to turn the LGPS into a "British sovereign wealth fund" and direct it to invest in local infrastructure projects. That big idea fell away due to opposition from councils, which dislike being told what to do and also demanded that the government guarantee the money if it all goes horribly wrong.
This time, the interest in the LGPS (and other pension funds) is from the Left. The community wealth movement championed in the UK by Preston City Council wants the LGPS and banks to provide local financing for investment. The idea that workers should invest their savings to not only secure their retirement but also to improve their local economy is on the face of things attractive. Who wouldn't want to help provide jobs for their children and better local infrastructure?
On a wider point, finance activist Joel Benjamin has noted that 30 years ago 60% of the LGPS was invested in the UK while now it is only 30%. He argues that this makes pension funds vulnerable to currency speculation and political risk.
However, there is the inevitable 'but'. The primary purpose of all pension funds is to pay pensions and by law a pension fund must be run solely in the interests of its beneficiaries. The LGPS is a statutory scheme but there is no Crown Promise and no Pension Protection Fund. While on one level it is unthinkable that pensions would not be paid, we now have a number of large councils showing signs of financial stress, and in February Northamptonshire County Council declared effective bankruptcy. The history of direct council investment in local projects has not been great, with too much money wasted on ill-thought-out 'vanity' projects.
The Carillion and Capita private finance initiative disasters also remind us that it is far cheaper and safer in the long run for government to borrow money and invest, but all this doesn't mean  there is no role for pension funds to invest locally.
On the positive side, the LGPS is being effectively merged and scaled up in size into large £25bn plus 'pools'. This should mean  they can widen their asset allocation, spread risk and acquire greater investment expertise.
There is also a possible window of opportunity with the growth of the campaign to divest in fossil fuels and reinvest in new 'low carbon' green industries. There is currently around £14bn in the LGPS invested in fossil fuels. Some councils have already decided to disinvest within five years.
So we should be thinking about investing more 'locally' as long as we deal with a number of serious practical investment problems to overcome such as the lack of accountability to beneficiaries (hardly any of the pools have employee representation) costs, risk, volatility, conflicts etc.
Meanwhile, there is nothing stopping pension funds actively engaging with the companies they own and getting them to support other community wealth building measures, such as making sure  they are responsible lenders or pay all their workers (including agency) the real national living wage, decent sickness and pension benefits; insource services; use local suppliers (especially mutual and other co-operatives); train and upskill their workers. In a landmark report by the Law Commission last year, it said: "There are no legal or regulatory barriers to pension schemes making social investments." Hopefully the time has come for pensions to play its part in community wealth building. 
John Gray is a member of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Pension Board, and is speaking in a personal capacity

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rokhsana Fiaz Wins - She is the Newham Directly Elected Labour Mayoral Candidate 2018

Fantastic news. Rokhsana beats Robin Wales by a staggering 861 to 503 votes in huge turnout. Will blog further when I can stop the uncontrollable laughing and smiling. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Just 12 hours to go - Vote Rokhsana as your Labour Mayor candidate #NewhamRokhs

"It's time. Just under 24 hrs to go before voting ends at 12 noon tomorrow (Friday 16/3/18), Labour members can still vote for me as their #NewhamMayor candidate.

If elected in May, I will put people at the heart of everything we do as a council & show what Labour can achieve for the many at local level.You can read more about my vision and plans for Newham via www.rokhsana.org.

Elect me to be your Mayoral candidate and I give you my word that I will deliver for you and all our residents if elected as the Mayor of Newham". #VoteRokhs

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It's time for a fresh start. Vote Rokhsana Fiaz as your Labour candidate for Mayor of Newham

It's time. To vote Rokhsana as your Labour candidate for Newham Mayor

Dear Member,

With less than 2 days to go there’s not much time left to vote for me as your Labour candidate for Mayor of Newham. Voting closes at 12:00 noon this coming Friday, 16th March.

Every vote will count in this election so please remember to cast your vote for me if you haven't already to deliver a fresh start, a new vision and a new way of doing things for the residents of Newham. Because it’s time for change. 
  • It’s time for a Labour Mayor that brings our party and our residents together to fight for fairness in tough times.
  • It's time for a determined Labour Newham Mayor to protect local services. Yesterday's Spring Budget won't alleviate pressures on families or our public services which are at breaking point. Ending the financial crisis facing local councils, who are facing a £5.8 billion funding gap, can only be delivered by a Labour government; and with me as your Labour Mayor to protect our most vulnerable and local services for our residents.
  • It’s time to put people at the heart of everything we do as a Labour Council through democratising how we do things for and with our people.
And it’s time to be truly radical again - so that we can show what Labour can achieve for the many at local level.
Read my pledges here which will deliver more homes for social rent, decent jobs, cleaner air and genuine life chances for all our children and young people. You can also read more about my vision and plans for Newham via www.rokhsana.org.

I’m delighted to have the support of the two largest trade unions in the county, UNISON and UNITE, as well the CWU union and Lyn Brown MP for West Ham. They believe in my ability to deliver the best for Newham. They know that as your Mayor I will deliver on my promises on genuinely affordable housing, including many at social rent levels; and protect the land we own so that we can build housing for the people of Newham.  

Elect me to be your Mayoral candidate and I give you my word that I will deliver for you and all Newham residents.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Statement by Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz on plans by the current Newham Mayor to set up a private development company & give it £3 billion of our assets


My statement on plans by the current Newham Mayor to set up a private development company & then give it our assets, value = £3bn. They could be our libraries, community centres, leisure centres and the council's own office & stop me building homes for our residents

*Alert to Labour Party members in Newham* 

"Earlier this week (on Monday 5th March), I received an email notifying councillors of a new agenda item for inclusion at the Mayoral Proceedings and Cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday 22nd March. 

The agenda Item was titled: ‘Agreement to Proposed Structure to Hold & Manage Newham’s Property Interests and drive affordable housing delivery’

See attached screen shots of the agenda item, which have now been withdrawn from the Council's website. 

I raised this concerning issue on Tuesday night in my role as a Chair of Scrutiny at a Overview & Scrutiny meeting. I'm extremely alarmed that the current Mayor plans to set up a private development company and then give it our assets, valued at some £3 billion. 

They could be our libraries, community centres, allotments, leisure centres and the council's own office. 

I want to know who would be appointed onto the board of this company and why the current Mayor is trying to do this just weeks before he may no longer be Mayor of Newham. 

There has been no consultation with Cllrs or residents, no democratic oversight and this is all during an ongoing QC's inquiry into how a private company Newham set up lost £52m on the Olympic stadium. 

If this went ahead it would stop a future Mayor of Newham using our own land to build council homes and other facilities for our residents".

(John Gray - The Mayor has repeated that if he is re-selected and then re-elected he will continue to create this private company development company. See my Councillor report on the first we knew about this http://www.johnslabourblog.org/2018/01/councillor-report-3117-could-we-become.html)

Monday, March 12, 2018

"Newham mayoral hopeful calls for vote on scrapping role" Guardian

Rokhsana Fiaz is challenging Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of the London borough since 2002

"A referendum should be held on scrapping the directly elected mayoral system used in the London borough where the Olympics was held, according the woman challenging the capital’s longest-serving council leader for the top job.
Rokhsana Fiaz accused Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Labour-dominated Newham, of presiding over an administration that makes decisions in a restricted circle and excludes community participation in formal council meetings that in some cases have lasted less than 20 minutes.
Two thousand Labour members in Newham have until Friday to vote on the party’s mayoral candidate for an election in May. Wales has been the mayor since 2002 and was the council leader from 1995 in a borough where Labour has 59 out of 60 council seats.
Fiaz said she would ask residents to vote on whether they wanted to continue with the mayoral system by the end of her first term. “This council is too top-down, too hierarchical. The incumbent to my mind represents the past, a very ossified way of doing things,” she said.
The system of directly elected mayors was created under Tony Blair. It was successfully established first in the capital and more recently in Manchester and the West Midlands, but it has not caught on elsewhere. Newham is one of four London boroughs that use the system. At the last election, in 2014, Wales won with 61% of the vote.
He has a strong grip on Labour’s East Ham constituency and is backed by the area’s MP, Stephen Timms, and he has compared himself to Sir Alex Ferguson. Under Wales’s leadership there has been significant economic investment in the area around the Olympic park, underpinned by the Westfield shopping centre.
He has argued that “things take time to get done”, but Fiaz claimed the regeneration benefits have been uneven, with 24,000 people on the council house waiting list at a time when some newbuild flats near Stratford railway station are on sale for more than £1m. “We have all this development, but residents can’t afford to live in Newham,” she said, addingthat she herself could not easily afford to buy a home in the borough.
She also criticised the council for writing off £52m on a loan intended to develop the Olympic Stadium for use by West Ham United, a deal that soured when hoped-for income was not generated.
Fiaz has been a councillor since 2014. She previously worked as a television producer in public relations and latterly as an adviser on race before running an interfaith charity, the Maimonides Foundation.
She has won support from Momentum, although the grassroots Labour group is not strong in the area, and she has the backing of the West Ham MP, Lyn Brown. Fiaz said she voted for Jeremy Corbyn in both Labour leadership contests, but described herself as “a candidate for everyone, hoping for support from all parts of the party.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Happy Mothers Day! (& End Maternity Discrimination)

Happy Mother's Day to my lovely Mum, Margaret Gray, and shout out to @rokhsanafiaz #Rokhs4Mayor call to end #maternity discrimination on this #MotheringSunday

Mum is pushing the pram containing my little sister Lucy, aged 3 months, in our home town of Buckley, North Wales in 1968.

As a trade unionist I know that mothers are sacked or forced out of work every day of the week by bigoted employers and managers.

Mums & all carers (including men) need more protection from discrimination at work.

If you love your Mum and don't want other Mums to be exploited then sign the petition below!