On LGBT+ Rights in Chechnya

In today’s article, Rachel Megan Barker, London Young Labour’s LGBT+ officer, discusses the horrendous situation for LGBT people in Chechnya.

Yesterday, London Young Labour and LGBT Labour members stood alongside other activists from across London outside the Russian embassy, protesting against what is happening in Chechnya.

Right now, authorities in the Northern Caucuses had been detaining dozens of men in what are effectively concentration camps “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”

The details of what is happening in these camps are horrific; with people being taken outside and beaten several times a day, having their hands electrocuted and being forced to sit on bottles.

In these kind of situations it’s easy to feel paralyzed. But the fact that attention is being drawn to this issue, and that that has led to international condemnation is a step forward. While not enough, I was pleased that Boris Johnson spoke out against what’s happening.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the Russian LGBT network is currently ready to evacuate people and anyone in Russia can call their hotline for free on 8 800 555 73 74.

There are no obvious solutions for how we can stop what is happening right now. But we need to keep paying attention, listening to LGBT people in Russia and support however we can. This is one of the most horrific attacks on LGBT rights in the Western world in recent history and we cannot just let it happen.

You can read the Russian LGBT networks full statement here: https://lgbtnet.org/en/content/statement-russian-lgbt-networks-board-regarding-information-kidnappings-and-murders-lgbt

The Progressive Alliance- a Debate

Today’s article is a debate between our regular contributor Dan Oliver of Stockport Young Labour and newcomer Benj Eckford. Benj has lived in North West Durham constituency all his life. He comes from a family of coal miners and teachers. He joined the party at the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala when he was 16 after seeing Ed Miliband and Tom Watson speak to the Gala. He is on North West Durham CLP exec, Secretary of Newcastle University Labour Society, on the executive of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and is a Labour council candidate on 4 May. Benj will argue in favour of a progressive alliance and Dan against.

Benj– In 2015, the Tories got 36.9% of the vote, 51% of the seats and 100% of the power. That led to Brexit and goodness knows what else. In 1979, 1983 and 1987 more people voted against Thatcher than voted for her. From the Liberal landslide in 1906, it was 39 years before another majority anti-Tory government was formed. First past the post allowed the Tories to rule Britain for longer in the 20th century than the Communists ruled Russia. The only argument against first past the post within the Labour movement is that proportional representation would always result in a hung parliament, meaning Labour would never form a majority again. I make no apology for preferring a Labour-Liberal coalition to a Tory majority. I urge you to read ‘Realignment of the left? A history of the relationship between the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties’ by Peter Joyce, detailing how our two parties can and should work together. All it would take in 2020 is a one-off alliance. A pro-PR majority in the Commons can change the voting system, give us a fresh election in which alliances and tactical voting are no longer necessary. All indications are that this would lead to a near-permanent Labour-Liberal coalition, which I would prefer to a Tory majority.

Dan– Whilst I understand the sound rationale behind using a progressive alliance as a vehicle for electoral reform, I strongly believe that this is more theoretical than practical. For me, such an alliance would only work in the form of a coalition that was negotiated in the case of a hung Parliament – not where an agreement is made prior to a General Election. As we saw in 2015 with the marketed threat of an SNP ‘kingmaker’ situation, there can be a public hesitance around handing power to smaller organisations who seek to benefit from such situations – a progressive alliance has far more benefits for smaller parties than it does for the Labour Party.

In my opinion a progressive alliance would not only limit our chances of electoral success but it would also actively harm those chances and our reputation. The logistics of such an alliance are not as simple as adding up all non-Tory votes to find an outcome, for example in Stockport I know many Labour voters who would not vote Lib Dem, and vice versa. Whilst I am in favour of electoral reform, I would much rather see a Labour Party fighting for an outright victory in a general election with a manifesto built on our own strengths – rather than marketing various hypothetical policies that a progressive alliance or coalition would implement.

Benj- Dan is certainly right that the SNP are a bogeyman for English voters, and I would not include the SNP or Scottish Greens in an alliance. Labour only needs to work with the Liberals, once, to get electoral reform. Something that any advocate of the progressive alliance should always emphasise is that it is not an excuse for Labour to be lackadaisical. We must still be the strongest party in the minds of the British people and gain their trust. A progressive alliance is not a substitute for winning the arguments. Strong leadership, the best policies, organisation on the ground by our thousands of activists, and a convincing narrative of the future to win hearts and minds are still absolutely necessary. It is simply common sense to say that we can help ourselves by not splitting our resources. Let the Liberals take on the Tories in their heartlands (the West Country, the rural areas with no Labour traditions where we always come third), and in return the Liberals will not stand in our safe seats or in Labour/Tory marginals. While not all Liberal/Labour voters are transferable, I believe enough are to deny the Tories a majority and give us electoral reform.

Dan- Whilst I would not look to include the SNP in any alliance, the chances of Labour winning a general election without regaining seats in Scotland are extremely slim. From the results of the 2015 election it is clear that Labour would not have won many more seats if the Liberal Democrats hadn’t stood, or vice versa. The chances of working with the Liberals are subjective at best in terms of local Parties, as there are areas where members of both sides will not contemplate defeat to enable victory for the other Party. I think we should also be wary of disenfranchising the members and activists that we have in areas where we wouldn’t field a candidate – we would be pretty much telling those people that they can’t campaign for their own Party. We also need to remember what the perception of a progressive alliance would be from an ordinary member of the public, rather than from our informed and politically-biased position. For me we have a choice here, between standing on an electoral platform of our own strengths and gaining our own mandate, or opening ourselves up to the risks involved in working with other Parties who do not share our values and interests.

Benj Eckford and Dan Oliver

Do you think there’s something they missed? Want to write your own response? Let us know by emailing labour.lyon@gmail.com.

Repeating Parliamentary Scrutiny does not make it so

In today’s article, Nathan Kelly gives his take on Labour’s red lines for Brexit.

Early Fabian writings, of the Webbs, Shaw, et al., was littered with references to ‘science’. From the flirtation with eugenics, to the belief that an elite group of social scientists could help install British socialism by infiltrating the bureaucracy, to the notion that science could be used as a means to persuade people towards socialist thinking. The magic notion of ‘science’ was ever present. Contesting such ideas now is not purposeful, what is prescient, however, is W. H. Greenleaf’s remark on the early Fabian’s use of the word ‘science’. None of the early Fabians had any scientific training, nor were any scientifically literate, Greenleaf contended: “constant repetition [of ‘science’] was intended to inspire confidence”. In repeating a term over and over again, the Fabians sought to legitimise it and make reality of their ideas via its use – when Labour says ‘Parliamentary Scrutiny’ of Brexit, it feels eerily similar.

Alas, how I do feel sorry for Keir Starmer, stuck between a rock and a hard Brexit. His six red lines are noble. Ensuring a strong and collaborative future with the EU is vital to British security interests, climate change policy and many other future challenges – hurrah! Delivering the exact same benefits as we currently in the Single Market, wonderful for minimising the economic damage Brexit looks to bring – great! Fair migration and a defence of worker’s rights – the liberal within is weeping with tears of joy. Deliverance for all regions of the UK- with the Northern powerhouse not just dead rhetoric but a decaying idea to Theresa May, this is necessary.

These red lines play into the Brexiteers hand’s. Starmer has promised Labour will vote against the Brexit deal if such demands are not met by the negotiating-maestros of May, Fox, Davies and Johnson. I wouldn’t ever – even for a moment – doubt that Liam Fox isn’t the best negotiator to set up trade talks, but regardless of the negotiating skill Britain has to offer, Starmer’s red lines will not be met. I doubt even Donald ‘Art of the Deal’ Trump could make them.

Back in June 2016, just after the Brexit vote, Angela Merkel issued a statement saying Britain could not expect any special treatment or expect to the keep the privileges of the EU without the obligations. May’s rhetoric surrounding Brexit has already made it perfectly clear that, in order to remove ourselves from the bondage of free movement, we shall be leaving both the single market and the customs union. In doing so we are risking, at least in the short-term before a concrete trade agreement, tariffs with the EU on items such as financial services, cars and cheese. It is impossible to somehow be in a position where we manage to retain the “exact same benefits” as we currently have with the EU by removing ourselves from the institutions which grant those benefits.

Labour’s refusal to vote for a Brexit that doesn’t meet its red lines plays into the Brexiteer’s hands. As already illustrated by the large fuss made over a potential divorce bill – of the money we’re obliged to pay – the hard-line Brexiteers are practically salivating to walk away from the EU negotiating table with no deal to rid themselves of the organisation. Refusal to vote for a final-deal on Brexit plays into their hands, if they rebel with Labour then we walk away – with no deal.

Simply repeatedly saying Labour will scrutinise and hold the government to account in accordance with their red lines does not make this a reality. The red lines make a hard Brexit more, not less, likely. True scrutiny would be to divert the government’s hands towards a Brexit that does deliver the same benefits, fair immigration and regional support. But in voting for a hard Brexit and rejecting the Lord’s amendments beforehand, Labour’s six lines trying to force the government are useless.

They render Labour in a position where we now face a May hard Brexit or a Farage harder Brexit. Repeating otherwise is woefully hopeful thinking.

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Nathan Kelly

Free School Meals for all, and why it matters

In today’s article, Ellie Clarke gives her take on Labour’s recent announcement that it will provide Free School Meals for all primary school children.

Last week I switched on the news, and once again the Labour party was in the headlines. This time however, I’m glad to say, it wasn’t anything to do with Ken Livingstone, or some disastrous new polling figures. It was to announce one of Labour’s new flagship policies: Free school meals for all primary school children.

Now this really excited me, but not as much as when I heard how it was going to be paid for.  The money is going to come from introducing VAT on private schools, which I personally think is a fantastic idea. It appeals to my socialist principles of taxing the very rich to help provide a social good for everyone. And free school meals for primary children really is a social good. Research from the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that offering free school meals to everyone improves pupils’ performance, allowing them to advance by around two months on average. This shows just how important it is that every child can have a decent meal. Although those in financial need do already have access to free lunches, the stigma around it (for both pupils and parents) means take-up isn’t nearly as good as it should be, and many children don’t get the help they are entitled to. Making it available to all will end this stigma.

Some people are not keen on this universal approach though, saying it is subsidy for middle class children who can easily afford these meals. But to those people I say you are missing the point. It is available to all, because that is how it should be. I believe that vital things in our society such as health care, public services, and decent meals for children should be available to everyone, free at the point of use/consumption. Trying to means test it makes the system more complicated (and often more expensive), and means that some who really are in need are bound to miss out. Regardless of the fact that school meals are often healthier and more nutritious than packed lunches, if this new policy means that just one less child has to go hungry, then that to me makes it all worth it.

The other argument I have come across is that it is not just the super rich that go to private school, and that many hardworking families will now struggle. 80% of families that send their children to private school have a household income of more than £50,000 per year. And you’ll forgive me if I don’t get too upset about the remaining 20%. If they can no longer afford to go private, and decide to send their children to a state school instead, then good. I believe that’s a better place for them to be. And at least, if they’re of primary age, they’ll be guaranteed a decent, free lunch.

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Ellie Clarke