Friday, 27 March 2009

Good news for Co-operators

Via Politics for people comes an article indicating that the Chancellor is in favour of encouraging mutualisation:

Alistair Darling will next month signal strong support for mutual savings banks and building societies when he sets out a white paper on strengthening Britain’s financial system.

The chancellor has spoken warmly about the mutual model, embodied in institutions such as Nationwide, which tend to run a less risky business model, based on savings and lending. The Treasury is assessing potential legal or regulatory changes to help mutuals ahead of the white paper.


Although Mr Darling accepts that some mutuals can be run just as badly as banks such as Northern Rock, he believes they are less likely to use “extreme” funding models or to depend so heavily on wholesale money markets. Building societies have only 20 per cent of the mortgage market, down from 59 per cent before the wave of demutualisations sparked by the Building Societies Act of 1986.


a spokeswoman for the Building Societies Association said that the time was ripe for an expansion of the sector, given that its model tended to lead to cheaper borrowing rates. “Customers are fed up with the plc banking model, this is a good time for alternative models.”

This is excellent news, mutual lending groups are more ethical and more democratic than businesses working on other lending models. They are also less reckless when it comes to borrowing and lending. A characteristic that leaves them less vulnerable to the kind of market down turn that pushed the Northern Rock to the wall.

As anyone who has spent five minutes talking to the Club Secretary this year will know out of the few banks not to make a loss in the previous year only one high street bank increased its profit. The Co-operative Bank.

Nice one Alistair!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Use your vote

In light of the European Election on the 4th of June tomorrow there will be a "Use your vote" day tomorrow between 10am and half past five. There will be volunteers from the various political groups at Aberdeen at Hillhead and on campus between those times trying to persuade people to vote in the forthcoming election.

If anyone is interested they just need to keep an eye out tomorrow.

Not all of the EU votes on the same day; if you are reading this in another EU country there is a list of election dates here.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Tories confused on tax

From the BBC is an article about Lord Mandelson commenting on some of Ken Clarke's recent statements on taxation in light of the Tories' stated aims:

Lord Mandelson has said Tory tax plans have been "thrown into confusion" by shadow business secretary Ken Clarke.

Mr Clarke told the BBC the Tories' main economic goals would be to cut public debt and restore growth rather than cut inheritance tax on homes under £1m.

Later, a Conservative spokesman said the party was still committed to its manifesto pledge to cut the tax.

The Tories' pledge in 2007 to cut inheritance tax was seen as a key point in reviving party fortunes.

It amuse me to see Mandelson making points at the expense of the man who was widely viewed as Cameron's response to the PM giving Lord Mandelson a cabinet position. It amuses me more that it undermines Cameron and Osbourne than because it attacks Clarke. I say that because in my opinion Clarke is one of the few decent Tories, he actually has a realistic view of the world and opposes idiotic ideas like raising the cap on inheritance tax. A move that would be very costly but mostly benfit the super rich; it is after all a tax only paid by 6% of people.

In hard financial times like this the government should be looking after the most vulnerable people in society and stiumlating economic growth in order to reduce unemployment, not give tax breaks to people with £1,000,000 houses.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Anne Begg's Week

[Disclaimer]: Aberdeen University and its blog are not connected to Anne Begg MP in an official capacity. The writers of this blog are solely responsible for its contents, and therefore this blog may not reflect the views or positions of Anne Begg MP. For Anne Begg MP's official website please go to

Week beginning 16th March - Campaign Pays Off!

Made it down to London by early afternoon on Monday to attend a meeting of my Select Committee. However, this week's big story was not until Tuesday night.
It is always satisfying when years of campaigning pays off and so it proved on Tuesday. It has been almost 3 years since some of the blind workers from Glencraft lobbied me and my colleague Frank Doran about an anomaly in the benefit system which meant blind people didn't qualify for the upper rate of the mobility element of the Disability Living Allowance. A campaign was orchestrated by the RNIB to address this, which included 2 mass lobbies of Parliament; a delegation of MPs, including myself, going to see the Minister for Disabled people; and another delegation to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. We had also had 3 EDMs on this matter, the last in my name which attracted the largest number of signatures this parliamentary session.

The opportunity came up to address this situation with the Welfare Reform Bill currently going through Parliament. A clause was added to this which the government didn't oppose. I added my tuppence worth in the debate on remaining stages too. That was certainly the highlight of the week and the 2 meetings of my Select Committee and the session spent Chairing Westminster Hall on Tuesday afternoon couldn't compare.

PMQs was back to its usual adversarial nature on Wednesday with unemployment dominating a sometimes heated session between the Prime Minister and David Cameron.
I also had a rather interesting day on Thursday. I had been invited to give the keynote speech at a leadership training event for disabled people organised by RADAR, the disability organisation. It was in Hammersmith so we traveled by tube. This may not sound much but it is a real novelty if you use a wheelchair as most of the Underground network is inaccessible.

I had to rush back to the House later that day to take part in an event organised by Parliament's Education Service and supported by the Speaker's Conference. It was for 150 girls from schools in East London to get them to think about women's participation in public life. It was great and I think the politicians present got as much out of it as the schoolgirls. The Q and A session was conducted by Sarah Montegue from the Today programme on Radio 4.

Friday will be quite eventful with constituent surgeries, followed by a visit to a to a social enterprise in my constituency called Stewart Craft Centre, and then in the evening I will be hosting an event for the leader of the Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, Iain Gray MSP.

I think it's excellent to hear that some good hard campaigning has paid off.

I don't know if anyone reading this was at the event with Iain Gray or has seen him speak in the past, but I was lucky enough to get along and see him and once again I was impressed by his ideas for Labour and his directness as a speaker. i think he's a very good leader for labour in Scotland.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

PCC to investigate Dunblane article

I imagine the prospect of a Press Complaints Commission inquiry looming over you must be somewhat like watching a penguin stamping its foot and preparing to charge you. I can't help but be reminded of the exchange between Hans Blix and Kim Jung Il in Team America: World Police when the scientist threatens to write the leader "a very angry letter" telling him how angry everyone is.

We live in a culture founded on the free exchange of ideas. The freedom of expression is more important than many other human rights, in that it is about not only the protecting of individuals from coercion by higher powers, but also the safeguarding of societies ability to progress and evolve. The writer J.S. Mills described a free market of ideas. Nobody has any idea what kind of society people will ultimately be happy in, and therefore no reliable way of predicting what new proposals, ideas or forms of expression may help us to progress. In his free market place, natural selection would provide that the right ideas surface and the bad ideas will be drowned out. Any restrictions, even partial ones such as film certification and bans on public displays, would have the effect of inhibiting the natural flow of the market.

You don't have to be an arch Socialist to see the problems with the free market principle.

Perhaps nowhere but in the realm of expression are these criticisms better illustrated. as the Williams Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship pointed out in their 1979 report, "Truth" will not always triumph if left to fend for itself. Demand for the contrary may well drown it out. A lifeline, in the form of interventions such as state subsidising of reliable and impartial news sources, or the encouragement of media designed for purposes other than to attract viewers or boost circulation.

Likewise, in an unregulated market there is nothing to stop particularly strong forces from gaining an unduly strong grip by monopolising and dominating the distribution of information of all forms, such as by large media corporations which are sources of huge power for their owners or majority share holders.

The system we have for regulating the press in the United Kingdom has been widely acclaimed by members of the press, who also constitute the members of the PCC.

The British media can never be allowed to face censorship. The free market model may be unworkable, but the free exchange of ideas is integral to the development of any democratic society. What cannot be allowed, however, is for individuals to face exploitation at the hands of an industry geared towards profit, as we saw in the Murray article in the Express on Dunblane, without any recourse to anything other than a code built entirely on honour. We would not defend so rigorously the right of any other industry to trump the rights of individuals, and the press can be no exception. It is not viable to rely on honour when the circulation figures accorded a higher status. The blame cannot however be placed solely on the editors. In an economic climate where many newspapers are facing collapse, the editors will of course be under intense pressure to deliver the circulation required to keep the business model ticking over.

It is clear that the area of media regulation needs to be revisited, whether in the form of tighter controls of the ability of newspapers simply to intrude on the lives of individuals, particularly subsidising of substance.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Daily Express finds a new low for tabloid journalism

The Daily Express took the decision today to pull from its web edition an article accusing survivors of the 1996 Dunblane massacre of disrespecting the dead by publishing on social networking sites depicting them drinking. The news story, which can still be viewed by looking at the Google cache, is a prime example of all that is morally repugnant in some elements of British journalism. Unless we are to believe that these profiles were stumbled upon by chance or else were reported by some outraged member of the public, then it seems pretty clear that, in an attempt to bring sensationalism to the anniversary of one of the most tragic chapters in modern Scottish history by actively seeking out the survivors of the massacre and making nasty and malicious inferrals about them.

There are a number of elements to the story that make it nothing short of morally repugnant. It is implicit in the article that the children should have been grateful for the fact that they were protected from the press in the aftermath of the school shooting. From this, given that the article itself concedes that the individuals concerned are all over 18, there is the ridiculous inferral that they should somehow be held to higher standards of public life. The paper has taken victims of the Dunblane shooting, and used them as examples of the youth culture that has long provided a source for sensationalist journalists in the UK.

The article appears to taunt one teenager who is single despite having a list of good chat-up lines featured on his profile. "Among the blogs on his site is a list of the 23 best chat-up lines – but he is still single."

The article names those injured in the shooting and attempts to vilify them by listing all of what to the Daily Express constitutes social faux pas such as using profanities on their profiles, using colloquial language ("canny stop drivin in the silver hing", making "lewd" gestures in photographs and writing of drinking.

The Express goes further by complaining that they boast of discovering sex, despite the fact that these victims are now 18.

This article alledges that the behaviour of these survivors is abhorrent, and attempts to use it as a picture of a degraded culture, but instead it has accomplished something different. This article exposes the ugliest side of tabloid reporting, an amoral and sensationalist element devoid of the values of truth and integrity which it once stood for. If there is any traces of those values left in the media, then the editor (because it was most likely an editorial decision to ask a journalist to seek out the survivors) and any other editor involved in the process will, along with the journalist who penned the article, resign, or else be fired for conduct unbecoming of members of the fourth estate.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Eat a poppadom - help a women’s cooperative

There's a story on the BBC about a co-operative in India that empowers women, who received very little education, to use their skills to create a source of income. The ability to generate income and the associated financial independence is an effective way to tackle problems such as domestic violence and gender inequality. So I think that it's great that schemes like this exist.

From the article:

Mumbai-based businessman and entrepreneur Sushil Jwarijka explains: "Lijjat papads are a perfect example of how a sustainable business can be built, providing large-scale employment to rural women, who are illiterate but skilled.

"And when such skills are given an organisational structure on a co-operative basis a long term sustainable model assures success."

Related to this story is Kiva, which is a website that allows people to make micro loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. It's very interesting so i reccomend that you check it out.

[This story came via the F-Word Blog.]

Friday, 13 March 2009

Anne Begg's Week

[Disclaimer]: Aberdeen University and its blog are not connected to Anne Begg MP in an official capacity. The writers of this blog are solely responsible for its contents, and therefore this blog may not reflect the views or positions of Anne Begg MP. For Anne Begg MP's official website please go to

Week beginning 9th March – Engaging Women and Young People.

As I had spent a large part of the weekend in Dundee at the Scottish Labour Party Conference, I hadn't managed to write my article for the House magazine nor had I held my usual Friday surgery. Therefore, I was up at 6.30am on Monday morning to write my article and was in the Aberdeen office that morning for surgeries. I, therefore, didn't fly down to London until 3pm. The journey usually takes around 5 hours door to door, sometimes 4 and a half if everything goes smoothly. On Monday it took only 4 hours! Wish it was always so quick.

I arrived in the House in good time to attend a reception in the Speaker's house in memory of Lord Norman Hogg who died at the end of last year. This was followed by a dinner attended by his friends and colleagues from both the Commons and the Lords. Although Norman had been the MP for Cumbernauld, it was to his roots in Aberdeen he returned to when he entered the Lords. There was lots of laughter as everyone told their favourite story about him. I think he would have enjoyed it.

Tuesday was dominated by the Speaker's Conference. We took evidence in the morning from young people and those who aim to educate them about the workings of Parliament. The message came across that we needed to 'get out there' and engage with young people who are interested in issues, if not the formal aspects of political life. We did just that in the afternoon when we met up with some of the participants of a young leadership scheme in Bethnal Green called Uprising. It was great fun and really interesting from our point of view. There were more young women than men and almost all of them were from an ethnic minority. All were interested and engaged. Just the group of people we need to persuade that politics matters.

I was also on a charm offensive on Wednesday to persuade a group of women that they, too, should consider politics at an event in the House of Lords to mark International Women's Day. My speech seemed to go down well. Either that or they were just being nice.

Prime Minister's Questions was very subdued this week, partly because it was the first time David Cameron had been in the Chamber since the death of his son, but mostly due to the murders of 2 soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland over the weekend. PMQs is usually a bear pit, but the Chamber also seems to instinctively know when this would be inappropriate.

As a result it was agreement all round when the only Scottish Tory MP, David Mundell, and I appeared on the Holyrood Live programme on BBC2 that afternoon. It is quite hard doing a down the line interview from College Green across the road from Parliament with all the traffic rumbling past.

I had a meeting with a DWP Minister on Thursday about an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill for grandparents when it returns to the Commons next week and Friday is shaping up to be a particularly busy day for constituent surgeries.

It was also great to have some constituents visiting me in Parliament this week. Not that I ever forget the great privilege it is to work in such a magnificent building. However, it is wonderful to experience it afresh through new eyes again every once in a while.

From Monday's entry it seems that it's not just students that have to get up early sometimes to catch up on late work.:P

Another good week when it comes to equal opportunities, encoraging women to stand for election is one very useful way to iron out the gender gap (more like chasm) in British politics. (A gap, I would add, that is not so evident at Co-op party meetings.)

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Anne Begg's Week

[Disclaimer]: Aberdeen University and its blog are not connected to Anne Begg MP in an official capacity. The writers of this blog are solely responsible for its contents, and therefore this blog may not reflect the views or positions of Anne Begg MP. For Anne Begg MP's official website please go to

Week beginning 2nd March – Conference Week

Monday was dominated by media interest in the story of the Council's desperation for money that they are now sending in the debt collectors to an 80 year old partially sighted woman. Mrs. Still had come to me complaining she had been charged for a community alarm she didn't want and I was still in correspondence with the Council about her bill for £17.50 when the debt collectors called.

However, the big event of this week was the second public evidence session of the Speaker's Conference about political participation on Tuesday. While I enjoy being in the Chair it does curtail my opportunity to ask questions. We were taking evidence from Unlock Democracy, the TUC and EHRC. Things got lively when Unlock Democracy suggested candidates who didn't have the money to fight for selection to a seat should receive taxpayers’ money. While there is an issue about the cost involved in standing for selection and then election, the suggested solution didn't go down too well.

It was the Chair of the EHRC, Trevor Philips, who inevitably attracted media attention. That is probably why the sketch writer for the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts, turned up. As is his want, he wasn't very flattering in his column on Wednesday. The EHRC has come up with some controversial suggestions of its own such all ethnic minority shortlists and term limits for MPs. The thinking is that if MPs are only allowed to stand for 4 elections there will be a faster turn over which opens the doors for new candidates. However, this won't change anything if the political parties continue to choose white men as candidates.

Wednesday saw Harriet Harman stand in for the Prime Minster again at Question Time where she was quizzed by William Hague. I personally thought that she did quite well.

As Secretary of the All Party BBC group, I also hosted a breakfast on behalf of BBC Scotland for all Scottish MPs on Thursday. To my relief it was very well attended. Responsibility for broadcasting remains at Westminster, but there is definitely a Scottish dimension. That's why I also attended a meeting of the new Scottish Broadcasting All Party Group about the digital switchover.

After breakfast it was straight to the airport to get back to Aberdeen to meet some constituents and to attend a CBI dinner addressed by Jim Murphy, the Secretary of State for Scotland. It did mean that I missed the debate on International Women's Day, but unfortunately I can't do everything.

For a change, this Friday I traveled down to Dundee for Scottish Labour Party Conference. Always a good time to meet up with old friends.

Once again the council stoops to a new low in their desperate attempts to dig themselves out of the massive debt hole they are in.

Also again this week Anne has spent time on issues related to equality which is an area that I think Labour should spend more time. I have mentioned here before the shocking lack of representation in parliament of any group that is not white men. As Anne said the situation will not change until the political parties do select people other than white men.

The problem of the lack of diversity is also more than just an under representation of political groups. People derive impressions of individuals and groups when they see or interact with them. Having such a skewed legislature creates the impression that politics is for white men only. This has the potential to discourage people (especially children) who aren't in this group from becoming involved in politics which exacerbates and continues the problem, and fosters feelings of marginilisation which should be tackled.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The Peace Process is still strong in Northern Ireland

Alistair Campbell has a blog post (if it has slipped down the front page by the time you read this it is the post on the 9th of March that I'm referring to.) concerning the current situation in Northern Ireland.

Despite the sad deaths of two servicemen recently, murdered by the extremist Real IRA terrorist organisation, his post is optimistic. He highlights the reactions of the main players, who universally condemned the killings, and argues that despite the tragic loss of two young lives the peace process will not be derailed.

Progress in Northern Ireland was the result of bold leadership, commitment from a lot of different people for often very different reasons, hard work and an attitude that says whatever is thrown at you, you just keep going. These latest murders go down as 'obstacles along the way' but what is clear from the way people have reacted is that the forces of good are continuing to prevail.

One point that I especially appreciated about the article which I have perhaps not thought about recently is the role that this Labour government had in getting us to this point. By continued and determined support of a fair and equitable peace process we have arrived at a situation which is more stable than in 1997 when Tony Blair first took office.

This peace is not just a result of British and Irish efforts, so I think we should also remember the great deal of input and help provided by the USA, especially during the Clinton administration.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Yet more good news for Fairtrade

By way of Politics for People comes news that Cadbury is to switch its entire line of chocolate to Fairtrade. This is obviously not just good news to those of us who believe in co-operative values but also especially to the cocoa farmers of Ghana.

This is excellent news and goes to show the strength of fair trade. The extra income should be a boost for development in Ghana, and fair trade is the best way to ensure that money goes to the people that have worked for it, and who deserve their fair share.

The Fairtrade mark is aimed at securing a better deal for developing market commodity producers, and is used on a range of products such as coffee and bananas. UK Fairtrade sales reached an estimated retail value of 700 million pounds in 2008.


Ghana, the world's second-biggest producer of cocoa after the Ivory Coast, produces around 5,000 tonnes of Fairtrade cocoa, but the Cadbury deal should triple that to 15,000 tonnes annually. There are an estimated 700,000 cocoa farmers producing Ghana's second most valuable commodity after gold.

I see Ghana also produces gold, which makes it a doubly good week for them.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Anne Begg's Week

[Disclaimer]: Aberdeen University and its blog are not connected to Anne Begg MP in an official capacity. The writers of this blog are solely responsible for its contents, and therefore this blog may not reflect the views or positions of Anne Begg MP. For Anne Begg MP's official website please go to

Week beginning 23rd February – A Sad Week.

Before I left Aberdeen on Monday I had to do a lot of interviews about my claim that the Council were intending to force adults with a learning disability from their supported accommodation and into an Old Folks Home once they reach 65 in order to save money. I was finding it difficult to believe they were really planning to do this even although it is the clear interpretation of the documents I had seen. It was certainly what the relatives thought too. I genuinely believed that by the end of the day the Council would have rebutted my claim saying it wasn't true. No such luck. All we got was Liberal Democrat Councillor, Gordon Leslie, the social care spokesperson for the Council, admitting that they were going to do what I had alleged. And to make matters worse, he didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with it.

It is now the end of the week and the Council still haven't issued a formal statement, except for one about day care when I what I had raised was residential care. Surely they know the difference, don't they?

Anyway, I arrived in Westminster on Monday just in time to attend the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party addressed by Gordon Brown. He was incredibly passionate and got a very warm reception.

On Tuesday, my Select Committee finalised our latest Report into Contract Commissioning and the Flexible New

Deal. It will be published next week but I can't say what its conclusions are otherwise I would be breaking Parliamentary rules and could be disciplined and thrown off the Committee.

Wednesday saw me and the other members of the Speaker’s Conference begin the task of interviewing people who might act as Advisers. Final interviews will be held next week and then we have to make a decision.

Later on that day, and for the first time in my life, I was interviewed for Pink Times on the work of the Speaker's Conference. Being Vice-chair of the Conference seems to be getting me into some unusual places.

At lunch I shared a table with Joan Bakewell, at an event held by the Employers Forum on Age. Joan is one of my icons and is looking remarkable for her age. Now she is in her mid 70's she has been appointed by government to speak for older people.

It may be well past 'Burns season', but Mr Speaker hosted his annual Burns Supper on Wednesday evening. And, yes, he does play the bagpipes!

Thursday afternoon was spent in Westminster Hall participating in a debate on the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on carers. Carers need respite, but that is being taken away from many in Aberdeen because the council is cutting the services that disabled people get. This will have a huge impact on carers who don't get a rest or a break to do the normal things in life.

Nevertheless, this week was clearly dominated by the tragic death of David Cameron's 6 year old son, Ivan. So instead of Prime Minister's questions we had very emotional statements from both the Prime Minister and William Hague. There were a lot of tears in people's eyes, including mine. Some things transcend Party politics.

I'm sure that I'm not the only person disturbed by the notion of the council taking vulnerable people away from specialist care in order to save money. It seems that no matter how low the council stoops, it can always get just a little bit worse.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Credit Crisis

I found a very good video that attempts to explain the Credit Crisis.

Good News

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has encountered ethical issues when purchasing ingots of gold. How do you know that your gold is ethically sourced? Well now you can know. There is now Fairtrade Gold [From Politics for People].

On a serious note it does seem like a good thing:

..."Gold miners have jobs that are among the most arduous in the world. They spend long hours underground with little or no safety equipment, working with poisons such as cyanide and hewing the precious metal out of the ground for wealthy Westerners."

The international Fairtrade movement is working with 1,000 small artisanal miners in South America, with the intention of having it available for sale later this year. Supporting the miners won't just improve their income, health and conditions. The partners also intend to reduce the polluting impact of mining.