Sunday, November 23, 2008

London Labour Biennial Conference (II)

Gareth Thomas, MP, (good Welsh name) Minister for Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs gave a cracking speech while giving fraternal greetings from the Co-op Party.

Outside the hall, the Co-op stall was also giving away free bottles of Fair Trade wine with every membership form filled out!

He posed the question - would Northern Rock have crashed or would the Halifax (HBOS) been forced into a merger if they had remained mutually owned? (Of course not)

Not that long ago I was told that those of us who are interested in the concepts of owner citizens and capital stewardship in investments were the “New Rochdale Pioneers”. Which, if accurate, would be a tremendous honour and responsibility. Gareth left a wonderful image of what it was like when the Tories were last in power, when many school buildings were kept aloft only by the woodworms holding hands.

There was then an open Q&A of the panel. I asked whether or not they agreed that one reason for the current credit crunch was due to a failure of ownership and governance by pension and insurance funds. There was a failure to ensure that their money was not misused by those we employed to look after it. Instead it was invested in schemes that no one really under the risk and resulted in us being ripped off by executives motivated by short term bonuses.

Now that was “sort of” the question I had written on my crib card. But to be honest I didn’t actually put it over that well. Tessa Jowell MP answered by saying that she thought that there had been a failure of regulation and transparency rather than anything else. She also thought that due to this there would be a change for ever in the relationship between the regulators and the financial services industry.

Tony McNulty MP, very carefully, said that once the current crisis was over then the government will have to look again at what needed to be changed. However, he did think that there had been a failure of governance not government which needed looking at. But he thought that my “gentile dig” at the government for causing the problems was wrong.

I am pretty sure that I did not get my point over properly and possibly there was confusion over Government and Governance. I wasn't having a dig. But so what - any undertaking to look at regulation, transparency and governance of financial services will be good enough for me.

London MEP Claude Moreas reminded us all that the European Union was important to Londoners. Soon 1.3 million Londoners who work for agencies will soon have significant extra employment rights and protections thanks to the EU. This only happens since there is a small majority of MEPs in the EU who believe in progressive politics. This can change in future elections. There are more MEPs belonging to fascist or racist political parties than black MEPs.

Next year the top priority must be the European elections in June and we need to explain to Londoners why this election is important and relevant.

Andrew Dismore MP gave a Parliamentary report and mentioned the 10 (repeat 10) social housing homes built in Tory Barnet Council last year.

John Biggs, London Assembly member, deputy GLA labour Group leader (and “attack dog”) gave a typically good humoured and thoughtful speech. Boris being described by John as a “vacuous bag of wind” being one of my favourite moments.

Finally Jules Pipe, elected Major of Hackney gave a very confident and lucid report on the problems facing the 9 Labour London Boroughs and our role in “London Councils” as well as the huge social housing problems we face across London.

Next was lunch then workshops.

To be continued.

Photo Dan McCurry

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