Strike ballot turnouts v election turnouts

The media is awash with claims that the next Conservative Party manifesto will look to change the rules for trade union ballots for industrial action.

A first draft of the Tory manifesto is expected to be delivered to David Cameron later this summer.

The likely new proposals follow a call from Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, to outlaw strikes when less than 50% of a union’s membership has taken part in the ballot authorising industrial action.

I think Boris and Dave need to be a bit careful here. Let’s take a look at other elections that take place in the UK and the mandate they give their victors. True, from 1918 to the 2010 general election turnouts have been a healthy 73.3%, but have also dipped to as low as 57%.

It is not unknown to become a Member of Parliament in a by-election (as happened in Manchester in 2012) on a turnout as low as 19.1%.

Typically, you can get elected to run a council with a £200 million annual budget at your disposal on a turnout in the low 30 percentages.

And let’s not forget David Cameron’s flagship policy for Police and Crime Commissioners. You can sack a chief Constable and set the budget for law and order across a constabulary on an average turnout of…take a guess. Ok I’ll tell you, the average turnout was 15%.

Boris is pushing for a change. And yet Boris himself got elected as Mayor of London by receiving the votes of just 17% of those entitled to vote in London.

A local government turnout of thirty-something per cent gives you a four year mandate before you face the voters again. Rumour has it that Cameron’s proposals will give unions just a 3 month mandate before they have to ballot again.

Just imagine having to go to the ballot box to vote in a general election every 3 months for a fresh mandate. Perish the thought.

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Alan Johnson’s Master Class

Some politicians love doing TV interviews, some hate them and you can tell. I must confess due to it being late/a long day at work/the World Cup/the dog ate my homework, I didn’t see that much of BBC Question Time this week. But what I saw was a delight.

I used to love doing difficult TV interviews. Largely down to the fact an obscure TV Channel called TV Asia was based round the corner from our home in Hayes when I worked as a local Party Organiser. They let me go on live every week for 20 minutes to review the newspapers and basically lark around.

But it taught me a few key things. Firstly relax. In the years to come when I felt under pressure on say Panorama, Newsnight or Andrew Neill’s show, I would revert to Channel East relaxed sofa mode. Sometimes tapping my thumbs together as a subconscious reminder to myself if put under pressure.

Secondly, know enough but don’t over rehearse. Know the key issues but don’t put yourself under so much pressure that you look like you want to explode with statistics, which just turns viewers off.

Finally, sound-bites. Political parties love them and think by repeating them often it’ll help a message sink in. But if you do that you just look like an automaton so don’t do it. Use them sparingly and only to finish off a more relaxed conversation.

So what a delight it was to see Alan Johnson on Question Time this week. Relaxed, conversational and deeply political in his own way. The best moment was the question on the strike action that many public sector unions are taking later this month.

I’d slipped back under my duvet at this point, dreading the usual line: “Public sector workers are great but blah blah, strikes are bad, must continue to negotiate…” Nothing inherently wrong with the line but the awkwardness of the position makes many frontbenchers look uncomfortable.

But not Alan. He basically said: “Hang on a minute. These people are having a crap time and you lot have all just said that you believe in unions and their right to do this, but it’s always next time. Not this time.” Genius.
I’m not going to argue about the politics of the strike. What Alan and his media savvy showed was this, to get a warm response from the audience and the viewers it was the way he said it as much as what he said.

I wonder if he taps his thumbs together?

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The Pig’s Head, and all that…

http://www.gloucestercitizen.co.uk/Gloucester-MP-Parmjit-Dhanda-pig-s-head-driveway/story-19000517-detail/story.html
I do still get quite a lot of questions about the incident mentioned in the link above. This blog tries to answer those questions here in my own words.

Image

I gave evidence in person to the All-Party Inquiry in to Electoral Conduct, which looked in to abusive behaviour in election campaigns.

The headlines largely focussed on the issue of the pig’s head that was left in my front garden. Although I guess it helped to illustrate a point at the extremes, as did the appalling death threats faced by Tory MP Lee Scott, I wanted to post my written evidence in my own words in a blog when things had settled down a bit, following the inquiry’s publication at Speaker’s House a few days ago.

I think the report was a very worthwhile piece of work and I wanted to put on record my thanks to MPs John Mann, Natascha Engel and Angie Bray in particular, and the members who took evidence. I hope you find my written evidence balanced and more measured than the headlines, but for completeness here is a sample of the reporting too, which is also relevant to the issues that were raised: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/31/prejudice-parliament-election-campaigns-racism-discrimination

 

Evidence to All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Electoral Conduct

By Parmjit Dhanda

I am responding to the request to present written evidence to the All-Party Inquiry into electoral conduct. I am very familiar with and supportive of the work of the All-Party Group on Anti-Semitism, and grateful for the opportunity to support its work.

Background

Gloucester is known as a bell-weather seat, usually swinging to the party of government. In 1997, when Tess Kingham won the seat from the Conservatives (they held it from 1970) it was the seat Labour required for an overall majority of 1.

Although I had no local connections, I managed to win the selection to be the candidate for the 2001 election. There was a strong field of over 80 candidates. Although our majority was halved, I became the MP in 2001, was re-elected with a slightly increased majority in 2005 and was defeated at the 2010 general election.

I held ministerial roles as a whip at the DTI, and as a Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Education and finally at the Department for Communities (CLG). Amongst other responsibilities at CLG I was Minister for Community Cohesion – working closely on the Command Paper with the All-Party Inquiry on Anti-Semitism.

It was a privilege to serve the people of Gloucester, and at the outset of my evidence I would wish to make clear that I do not regard them to be prejudiced in their views. If they were, I would never have been elected in the first place.

Political Challenges

I was not seen as the front-runner to be selected as the Gloucester Labour Candidate, an overwhelmingly white constituency (92%) and hence my emergence from the process surprised and unsettled some in the party, nationally and locally, but was embraced by others. The selection was on a one member one vote basis and the result of the ballot was clear cut.

Nonetheless I was quickly made aware that my background would be an issue in the campaign, right or wrong. The Conservative slogan for the 2001 campaign in Gloucester was: “Vote Gloucester, born and bred.”

As a young man (28 at the time), a long way from home, bedding down in a different area and in a seat with a huge political focus on it, it was a momentous challenge.

Although the campaign from the Conservatives was aggressive, I don’t believe it broke any rules, other than those of gentlemanly conduct at times.

Although I was made aware of remarks like: “I’ll bet his grandfather wasn’t in Dunkirk” made by a Conservative Councillor I thought it best to bite my lip and concentrate my campaigning on bread and butter issues in the constituency. For the record, my grandfather was part of the bearded and turbaned Sikh army fighting with the British Army in Burma in the Second World War. He was in the Royal Bengal Engineers.

I do not believe rules were broken in the 2001 campaign, and there is a level of ‘hurly-burly’ that goes with any intense political campaign. However, I was a member of the Speaker’s Conference on Diversity in 2010 when all the political party leaders talked about signing up to codes of conduct for election campaigns.

I would recommend some oversight of campaigning to make sure that parties fulfil the commitments that were made in 2010.  

The Media

After my selection as the Labour Candidate in the summer of 2000 the local newspaper’s (the Gloucester Citizen) political correspondent wrote a column in which he stated:

“The people of Gloucestershire haven’t reached a sufficiently advanced state of consciousness to elect a foreigner as the local MP.”

He went on to say the Labour Party should have selected: “…a candidate more appropriate for a Cathedral City in the West of England than a Sikh from West London.”

He then went on to add that the Labour Party at head office should deselect me and impose somebody else if it wanted to keep the seat at the general election. I won’t name the journalist, although the matter is well documented, because (although he has never apologised for the article) I believe it was a blemish on an otherwise positive career and contribution to the locality.

It did have a profound effect on me at the time. It unsettled me, so I rang Michael White from the Guardian and asked him to investigate whether there were plans afoot within my party nationally to deselect me. He was very helpful and got back to me to say there were not.

Quite separately to this episode, from my experience, I do have real concerns about the conduct of local newspapers when it comes to their treatment of politicians from diverse backgrounds. Local newspaper letters pages and blog posts are easily influenced by a small minority with extreme views, which leave high profile people who are ‘different’ in a very vulnerable position.

These are not matters you can really raise when you are in office, in case you are seen to be whining or weak. I was informed on a number of occasions by journalists who I knew, that there was a stream of racist and nasty posts and letters about me that never made it in to print. Nonetheless, there were still times that my office had to complain and proactively push to get things removed from the newspaper’s website.

These matters became more of a concern to me when I got married and then had children. When you are a long way from home and your partner and young children are in the constituency, you become more conscious of the likely impacts on them than perhaps you are when you are young and single.

I would recommend that the Parties and local newspapers work better together to address some of these issues, particularly where it involves anonymous and threatening behaviour.

Political Parties

Without doubt there has been real progress in the selection and election of candidates from diverse backgrounds in less diverse communities, particularly in the Conservative Party in 2010.

Political parties are right to celebrate that fact. However, there is a danger that we will assume that all in the garden is rosy. I have known and still know BAME MPs that feel isolated or struggle to cope with issues akin to the ones I have mentioned in my evidence. I think political parties needs to do more to support politicians that face these challenges in office. This Inquiry is the first time I have seen politicians begin to air these difficult issues publicly.

Conclusion

I am grateful for the invitation from Natascha Engel MP to provide evidence. I have included some broad recommendations in my evidence about political behaviour during campaigns, the role of the media and the need for political parties to provide more support to MPs and candidates from diverse backgrounds.

It’s difficult to strike the right balance when writing a response to an inquiry like this. There are difficulties and challenges that politicians from minority communities face in less diverse areas and the All-party Group is right to look at the impacts of this on the election process.

Political parties need to be aware that it’s difficult for politicians to talk about these issues whilst they are in office, or even if they hope to return to office.

Having said that, I can think of nothing more rewarding that I have done in my life than representing Gloucester from 2001 to 2010, and the vast majority of fabulous people I got to know there. I would urge others from ethnic and other diverse backgrounds to seek selection for seats that may not be seen as an ‘ethnic fit’.

However, it’s important that we realise that they and their families need to be prepared for some particular challenges, and may need an element of protection.  

I would be prepared to give evidence in person.

  

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Locals 2014: No need for Labour to panic

Let’s get a grip for a moment.

Labour finished the local elections on 31%, two percentage points above the Tories and in first place. Despite the fact the election was fought on the same day as the Euros and the intense level of UKIP hype – fuelled by Nick Clegg’s masochism strategy of televised debates with Nigel Farage.

We must remember this – this was a low turnout election. Labour always performs better in higher turnout elections. Next year the general election turnout will be roughly double, so more Labour voters will turn out and the election will not be dominated by Europe.

That’s not complacency. I’ve been around long enough to see Labour perform below media and members’ expectations twelve months before an election, but for us to win a year later. I’ve also seen us perform badly and lose twelve months later. I don’t smell defeat this time and we shouldn’t let ourselves be talked in to it.

One of Labour’s key seat candidates that I was talking to yesterday was quite down, a combination of tiredness and too much time watching Sky News analysis. He perked up when I reminded him that if last night’s result was replicated at a general election he would be swearing in as a MP. The projections of being the largest party in a hung Parliament (2 seats short of an overall majority) on Sky would more likely convert to a modest overall majority on a general election turnout.

It’s not as good as Labour supporters are hoping for, but it’s not time to start looking inwards, attacking the leader, shifting rightwards on immigration or bellyaching about lack of policies when the policies are out there, with more coming on-stream in the coming days as the Party’s Reviews are published.

It’s been harder to cut through with our messages this time, with Farage’s easy saloon bar style dominating the media. Cameron’s approach in opposition of appointing cerebral vice-chairs from outside of the cabinet for the Today Programme like Michael Fallon and Sayeeda Warsi (less cerebral but effective) helped him reach a broader audience and take some pressure off him and his Shadow Cabinet.

Ed has people we could use in a similar way. Alan Campbell, the straight-talking MP for Tynemouth has probably spent too much time in the whips office and would be a solid northern common sense voice for one. Pat McFadden understands diversity, is a good communicator and has a calm demeanour. He may not be seen as a natural Ed person but his skills could come in handy.

But let’s not beat ourselves up; Labour is set to win next year’s general election, as long as it remains calm, focussed and united.

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After Amritsar, Time to Call Time on the 30 Year Rule

Margaret Thatcher, Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan held Britain’s three great offices of State thirty years ago.

The idea that they could have allowed the SAS to get involved in the Indian government’s attempt to retake the Golden Temple in Amritsar by force would have seemed fanciful just hours ago. But the fact that they did (it’s just the extent of the SAS involvement we’re unaware of at this stage) isn’t just a matter that should concern those of us from a Sikh background. It has implications for everyone.

The correspondence between the private secretaries for the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary of 1984 is shocking in its frankness. One of the letters states:

“An operation by the Indian authorities at the Golden Temple could, in the first instance, exacerbate the communal violence in the Punjab.

“It might also, therefore increase tension in the Indian community here, particularly if knowledge of the SAS involvement were to become public. We have impressed upon the Indians the need for security; and knowledge of the SAS officer’s visit and of his plan has been tightly held both in India and in London. The Foreign Secretary would be grateful if the contents of this letter could be strictly limited to those who need to consider the possible domestic implications.”

I was only thirteen at the time but can recall the tensions and concerns within the Sikh community. Looking back on it now, I wonder if Howe, Brittan and Thatcher were emboldened by the thirty year rule. Would they have made this decision if nearly a million British Sikhs had been aware of it back then?

But let’s take Amritsar and this particular event out of the equation for a moment. In the modern world, is it really acceptable to hide behind the 30 year rule to keep military operations and who knows what else covert? Politicians need to have a long hard think about this.

Making decisions in the knowledge that you’ll be dead when the world can hold you to account for them, or at least very elderly, is no way for holders of major offices of state to behave.

I hasten to add we need to wait and see the details of this particular case, but the secrecy is damaging enough.

There have been constitutional changes to the 30 year rule on recent years, including FOI act. But none of these changes prevented thirty years from elapsing in the case of one of the holiest shrines in the world, and the deaths of hundreds (some say over a thousand) people.

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Responsible Capitalism is alive but needs a helping hand

The phrase ‘responsible capitalism’ has become a popular slogan for those on the left and the right. However, slogans are no substitute for policies.

Responsible capitalism is sometimes used as a cover to bash the bankers, but there is much more to it than that.

Kofi Annan, in his term as UN General Secretary back in 2006 had a go at providing some definition. He brought together some of the world’s biggest investors and got them to sign up to some core principles – the UN Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI).

Under the radar, seven years later we have seen the green shoots of these principles developing via shareholder action in the equity markets. It might sound dull, but bear with me for a moment.

£35 trillion of investments signed up to Annan’s ‘Principles for Responsible Investment’. The principles were meant to cover a company’s environmental, social and governance policies (ESG).

So what, you might say. After all companies often sign up to promises to behave more ethically, and then end up polluting rivers, attacking workers’ rights and marginalising women, etc etc – all too often.

I think every political party leader who wants to take ownership of the ‘responsible capitalism’ tag should carefully read the government commissioned review of UK Equity Markets and Long Term Decision Making, by Professor John Kay.

You and I have tens of trillions of pounds invested in companies worldwide through our pension funds. Many of these companies are signatories to the PRI. The default position is for fund managers to invest pension funds on our behalf and get as big a return as possible. The asset owners (us, represented by trustees) are usually in the dark about where our pension fund is invested.

As the Kay Review showed (and no doubt the Arch Bishop of Canterbury would agree) your money is invested by equity fund managers for a short term return and usually with little or no recourse to the trustees. You might not know you’re investing in Wonga (as the Church was), or for that matter the pharma company that’s been bribing doctors, or the company that has a reputation for sacking trade unionists, but you have invested in them nonetheless.

One of the worst recent examples is the collapse of a textiles factory in Bangladesh, killing hundreds of workers. You and I may have indirectly contributed to this through the investment of our pension funds in companies that purchased these garments. The companies are reputable – they may not even have been aware of where their supply chains led from. So perhaps we need to use our investments to focus their minds on such issues.

There is some welcome news. Of the £35 trillion worth of investors who signed up to the UN code for more responsible capitalism back in 2006, a small but growing group of them, worth nearly £200 billion of investment, are taking a more responsible approach.

For want of a better name ‘asset stewards’ like F&C and Hermes Equity Ownership Services (who are a not for profit organisation) are growing the number of companies involved in a more responsible approach. They won’t get it right every time but by creating a direct link between asset owners (pension fund contributors like you and I) and the companies that our funds have shares in, they are influencing company behaviour.

I’ve taken some time out and seen it in action. The worst excesses of capitalism can (and occasionally) are being curbed. But for me, and I suspect for you, not nearly fast enough.

This is the nub of responsible capitalism and it is also where political rhetoric could and should turn in to policy.

This area of equity stewardship may be a political new ground for many politicians, but it’s a great opportunity for anyone who wants to turn political rhetoric about a better and a more responsible form of capitalism in to practical reality.

By promoting and supporting a new type of engagement between us, as owners of trillions of pounds of shareholdings through our pension funds and the boards of major corporations, we can improve their behaviour. And in a significant way change the world we live in.

These ‘asset stewards’ engage in board level dialogues on behalf of our investments. Our investments, after all, are key to keeping big corporations alive. From gentle dialogue, right through to shareholder votes at board meetings, a new form of capitalism is being shaped by a new breed of not-for-profit asset organisations.

But they are still a small drop in the ocean that Kofi Annan dipped his toe in to in 2006. With the right regularity and political framework, so much more could still be achieved.

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The Queen’s Speech

It’s the day of Alex’s Ferguson’s resignation and also the day of the Queen’s Speech. Let me try to combine these two great events by describing what Sir Alex would call the ultimate ‘Squeaky Bum’ moment for a politician.

Picture this. You’re young and relatively new to Parliament. On this big ceremonial occasion, beamed around the world on TV a senior MP towards the end of his Parliamentary career will ‘Propose a Motion in Support of Her Majesty’s Loyal Address.’ And then it is the turn of a bright young whipper-snapper to ‘Second the Motion’. Your job is to entertain a packed out chamber. Don’t go on for too long and don’t be too serious.

David Lammy and Oona King had just had the honour in the previous years and it was a massive privilege to be asked. But what a challenge! In 2003 I was asked to be the ‘seconder’. I’d never felt so nervous.

I was determined to enjoy what was set to be one of the biggest occasions of my life. The day also played a role in helping me to secure a second term as Gloucester’s MP. The editor of the local newspaper ran a full front page picture of me under the banner headline ‘Citizen Dhanda’ (the paper is called the Gloucester Citizen) and then ran the full text of the speech on pages 2 and 3. You can’t buy publicity like that.

Unfortunately the story was relegated to just pages 2 and 3 for the evening addition because a shoe-bomb plotter was arrested in Gloucester later that day, which spiked my guns a bit. Nonetheless the local Tories were still fuming. But it did mean a quick return to reality as I had to return to manage the fallout of international terrorism encroaching on to my patch.

But I can still recall Tony’s kind words in response to my speech in the Chamber when he said the people of Gloucester had had the good sense to choose me as their candidate, despite the fact that they’d rejected him in the 1970s! Charles Kennedy pointed out I’d sneaked in and received the honour despite having been an Iraq War rebel. Michael Howard had got George Osborne to trawl my website (George told me this himself) to try to have a pop at me, so he was true to form. He later apologise without actually saying sorry, realising I think he’d misjudged the occasion.

In the speech I can recall the Gloucesterian conspiracy about why our local MPs had never been asked to play a role in this ceremony before. It goes back to the Civil war: “If anyone was ever worthy of the honour, surely it was my predecessor Lieutenant Colonel Edward Massey, who, in 1642, fought—literally—for the parliamentary cause at the siege of Gloucester. The honour never befell Massey. Instead, he had to settle for being knighted and becoming governor of Jamaica. Some people have all the luck.” At that point I thought Paul Boateng’s head leaned back on the front benches and I he laughed so hard that I could almost feel the floor boards shaking. Job done.

If you’re into these things (I’m afraid I couldn’t find a video of the speech) here’s the Hansard:

“Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): As the first English-based Member of Parliament to address the House in the new Session, and since my constituency includes Kingsholm—the home of rugby and of the cherry-and-whites, Gloucester rugby football club—I must congratulate the local boys, Andy Gomarsall, Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman, and join my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) in congratulating the other 27 players of Clive Woodward’s squad, the new world champions, England.
I do not wish to be partisan—
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Oh, go on.
Mr. Dhanda: Well, just for a moment and to please my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound). I believe it was Harold Wilson who said that we only win world cups under a Labour Government. I have got that out of my system now.
The House will be aware of the campaign in the run-up to Saturday’s final, urging us to “do the Jonny” as a gesture of good luck to the England No. 10. I do not have the space to demonstrate the Jonny here, but at the
26 Nov 2003 : Column 13
weekend I assured a group of my constituents that I would seek to emulate “Jonny.” They did not realise that I was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton, who, as well as sharing his namesake’s dapper build and winning smile, has demonstrated that he, too, is at the top of his particular field as a parliamentarian. I am delighted to pay tribute to him. I hope that he forgives the comparison with a Sassenach rugby player; I hope I pronounced that correctly.
The honour of commending Her Majesty’s speech is an honour not just for me, but for the people of Gloucester, and one that, if I might say so, is long overdue—although not because of me, I hasten to add. There is no recorded history of a Member for Gloucester playing a role in this unique parliamentary occasion, either as proposer or as seconder—ever.
In Gloucester, we have a theory, Mr Speaker; you might say it is something of a conspiracy theory. If anyone was ever worthy of the honour, surely it was my predecessor Lieutenant Colonel Edward Massey, who, in 1642, fought—literally—for the parliamentary cause at the siege of Gloucester. The honour never befell Massey. Instead, he had to settle for being knighted and becoming governor of Jamaica. Some people have all the luck.
On many a long evening in Gloucester’s New Inn, the England’s Glory and the Linden Tree, Gloucesterians have wondered aloud as to how they have been overlooked when Her Majesty has made her speech to Parliament. Perhaps it was all Massey’s fault, they say, for fighting the parliamentary cause in 1642, rather than the royal one.
So I resolved to change all this. I had to make friends in high places: I needed to undo my predecessor’s work and to get in with the royals. So, as many of my colleagues will be aware, I headed to Buckingham Palace last November. As the copy of The Guardian that I am holding shows, it was the day the Conservative party had to unite or die. Well, it did not unite, but as the front page of that paper also shows, there was the far more important story of my trip to Buckingham Palace to make new friends and influence people. That night, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and I had a chat. We talked about what each of us had done before our current roles in life. In the light of his time in the Navy during the war, and of my time as a student—doing not a lot—we struck up a real rapport. I would go so far as to say that we got on like a house on fire, regardless of what it said in The Guardian—and in the Daily Mail. And in Private Eye. And in Corriere della Sera. And in a Bolivian publication that I cannot quite pronounce. That goes to show that we really do live in a world of wall-to-wall media coverage.
Little did I know that so favourable was the impression that I left on His Royal Highness that he must have felt compelled to ring my Chief Whip himself to request that for this royal occasion, his old pal from Gloucester act as seconder—I stress, seconder—for the Queen’s Speech. I hope that that clears up any confusion. I owe him a debt of gratitude for breaking Massey’s curse for ever.
In making this speech, it is traditional to talk about one’s constituency. But it is my constituents who make Gloucester what it is today, and it was for them that I
26 Nov 2003 : Column 14
said in my maiden speech that I wished to deliver a city fit for the 21st century. All Members of this House—on both sides—rightly consider their constituencies to be the best thing since sliced bread, but mine has been the hub of an unprecedented scale of investment in the past two years. A £30 million private finance initiative rebuild of the Gloucestershire royal hospital has allowed me to become the first Gloucester MP in a generation to open wards in Gloucester, rather than presiding over ward closures. But Gloucester has also received new money for a university campus, and we are working towards a new police headquarters, new road infrastructure and the best leisure centre in the region. In all, that is more than £100 million of capital investment in Gloucester, and more than 100 million reasons for me to be proud of the city that I represent.
In my first two years in office, I have realised that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But so many times when I have asked on my constituents’ behalf, the Government have given. I thank them for that, but that does not mean that I am about to stop asking.
My constituents will welcome the Government’s measures to ensure that our people do not have to be of working age to earn security. Introducing baby bonds will ensure that all young families can be assured of a new level of security in life. Combined with the new measures to protect pensions, that reminds me of a phrase that first brought me into Labour party politics—for this is a Queen’s Speech that improves the quality of our constituents’ lives from the cradle to the grave.
Given that all news is local, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may be aware of a campaign that was initiated by my local newspaper and me, and which is supported by the cross-party consensus of the 61 Members of Parliament who signed early-day motion 1811. That early-day motion supports the steps that the Government have taken to ease pensioner poverty, and urges my right hon. Friend to consider appointing a Minister with responsibility for older people, who would have the power to work across Government Departments in the interests of all our senior citizens. That said, I can reassure him that I am not trying to create a job for myself. Honestly.
I believe the Government deserve particular praise for introducing measures that trade unionists everywhere will welcome, by building on the Employment Relations Act. When people like my mum and dad came to this country nearly 40 years ago, to clean hospital floors, like mum, or drive heavy goods vehicles, like dad, it was not the Government of the day they turned to for help and support.
They had a lot to contend with, with people accusing them of coming here to nick British jobs. But as mum often tells me, there was no queue of people at Ealing hospital lining up to clean the toilets—only migrant labourers, invariably women, doing their bit to build our NHS. I salute them for the work that they did, and I salute the trade unions for sending them on courses to teach them enough English to be able to represent themselves in the workplace. They helped to create a generation of workers with the self-respect and determination to push their own children to make the most of opportunities in life that they themselves could
26 Nov 2003 : Column 15
only have dreamed of. Trade unionists everywhere will welcome these new measures enhancing employment rights.
In 1997 my seat of Gloucester was the key seat. Labour needed to win it to achieve an overall majority in the House of just one. When my predecessor decided after one term that politics was not for her, my local party and the people of Gloucester took a chance. They took a chance on someone who did not look or sound like a typical Member of Parliament, someone who did not have the traditional background to be a Member of the House. I told my constituents that, if politics is about changing things—and I believe it is—in 2001, in the key seat, the barometer seat, the people of Gloucester had the chance to show the world that my party was changing people’s attitudes for ever. Gloucester led the way that day.
After Labour’s six years in office, the Gracious Speech demonstrates that the Prime Minister still believes that politics is about changing things for the better. I urge him to continue to do so, and I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.”

Tony Blair: “As I am sure the whole House would agree, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) also made an effective and amusing speech. I am particularly grateful that he did not remind me that before I entered the House I was rejected as the Labour candidate for Gloucester; obviously, his qualities are far more appealing both to the party and to the electors there. The Gloucester seat was, as he explained, the first seat for which my hon. Friend had applied, and as he said rather movingly in his tribute to his constituency, the people of Gloucester showed by sending him to the House that all they cared about was his character, his commitment and his talent, and that is an example to all. How right they were can be seen from the fact that my hon. Friend showed very early in his parliamentary career that he was a politician who could spot the issues and priorities of the future. How else can you explain a new Member of Parliament who, within weeks of arriving in the House, starts a campaign to ensure that top-class international rugby is open to all television viewers? I am sure that all of us would like to be able to see the future with such accuracy.
My hon. Friend is, I am sure, at the start of a long career in the House, but I have no doubt that whatever else he achieves in life, he will be for ever remembered for a publication that he authored in 1993 entitled “Measuring Distances using a Gallium Arsenide Laser.” I am afraid that there is nothing further that I can say—that is clean—about that.
We have heard two excellent speeches—self-deprecating, generous, forward looking and compassionate. Now, though, I come to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. Free and fresh from his leadership triumph, the Conservatives are consulting the people—a contest in the best tradition of the politics of North Korea, I thought. Six years ago, of course, when he last stood for his party’s leadership, he came a poor fifth out of five candidates; but here he is today. Why did his party believe in 1997 that he was the very last person who could convince the country that the
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Conservatives had something to offer? I think that we all know why—it was because of his record in office. No wonder the Conservative party did not want juries to know about previous convictions—he has got form as long as your arm.”

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