Saturday, July 25, 2009

From Norwich to the Isle of Wight

LABOUR's defeat in the Norwich North by-election was no surprise, and not an occasion to weep or rejoice. Turning a Labour majority of 5,000 odd votes into a Tory majority of 7,000 gives Tory leader David Cameron something to smile about, on a day when he had just told the Sun that people in Britain are living too well, and promised his government would cut spending on public services, and face down the unions on jobs.

Labour brought this debacle on itself not just by disappointing the voters with its policies in government, but by the undignified MP's expenses scramble, which was compounded in Norwich by scapegoating popular local MP Ian Gibson, who had broken no rules, but taken the fees office advice in letting his daughter live rent free in a flat for which he had claimed. Told he would not be able to stand for Labour at the next election, Gibson decided to step down now, hence bringing about the by-election. Harriet Harman says he should not have done - once more demonstrating the Labour leadership's ability to blame anybody but itself for things going wrong.

With all three main parties sharing some measure of public disgust over the expenses row, the Tories probably benefited from having a young candidate whose assumed lack of political experience would make her look cleaner to the electorate. But though 27 year old business consultant Chloe Smith is now the youngest MP, she is not a newcomer to Westminster. As she mentioned, she has worked for Tory MPs Gillian Shepherd and Bernard Jenkin. Apparently she was modest enough not to mention her association with another Tory MP,
work and pensions spokesman James Clappison, MP for Hertsmere, who owns 24 houses and lives in two of them, and claimed over £100, 000 for expenses like gardening and redecoration.

The Tory victory in Norwich is not a resounding as that in Crewe and Nantwich in May last year. Then they gained by 17 per cent. This time the overall swing looks almost as big.. But when you look closer, the Tory vote in Norwich only increased by 6.3 points. The Labour vote collapsed, by over 26.7 per cent, but that was because large numbers of Labour voters were sick and tired of the politicians' performance, and could not bring themselves to vote. (That long standing Party members sympathised with Ian Gibson over the way he was treated probably did not help, but where do you find enthusiastic party workers these days?) Some did venture a cross for minority parties - the Greens who only got 5 per cent in 2005 won 28 per cent this time.

To look at the picture of ('New') Labour government and the people the Labour Party was supposed to stand for from a different angle, let's cross to the Isle of Wight. Not part of Old Labour's industrial heartlands, perhaps, beven Karl Marx only went there for a rest-cure holiday, but the islanders do have to work, and right now a group of them are fighting for their jobs.

They are not in some old, outdated industry. Vestas moved to the Isle of Wight nine years ago, attracting around £3.5 million in government subsidy.The factory at Newport manufactures wind turbines. A lot of people, leaving out those foreseeing richer pickings from nuclear power stations, see that as the cutting edge of Britain's effort to increase power supplies while cutting carbon emissions.

Local MP Andrew Turner says the government intends to build around 7,000 wind turbines across the country. But the Danish-owned company insists that it is leaving Britain because there is a reduced demand for wind turbines in Europe.The Department of Energy and Climate Change says the Newport factory wasn't making turbines for Europe, but for the US market, to an entirely different specification. Vestas owners want to set up in the US. Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, insists one of the reasons for the firm's departure is that Britain is one of the most difficult countries in which to get planning permission.

As the Morning Star asks, how can the government have plans for the turbines without knowing where they are going to go? It also notes that according to Miliband, the government has worked with Vestas for some time to work out how the factory could be converted to produce blades for the UK market.

So what is going on? Is the government too uncertain about its energy and environment plans to convnce? Or is it just too easy, having pocketed subsidies from the British taxpayer, to pack up and sack workers in this country? Not because the workers will put up with it, but because while every possible consideration is given to capitalists, whatever damage they do to the country, the full weight of anti-union law and police are ready against workers and their unions should they resist.

Some 600 jobs could go because of Vestas closure, and that in an island where 60 workers are chasing every job now. So a couple of dozen workers occupied the factory, and there are climate change and environment campaigners camped nearby. Riot police are surrounding the factory, and have prevented food being taken in to the occupying workers. In short, the workers are defending what is theirs, their jobs, livelihoods and skills, and the police are there to make it easier for them to be robbed.

The working-class union activists and environmental protesters reflect the kind of alliance which put Labour in back in 1997, and which is coming together against this government today. If the Tories and more right-wing politicians seem to be winning, it is because these real forces for change have yet to find political expression.

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At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I use this photo for a brochure.
Please let me know.


At 10:54 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Lisa,
The photo was not one of mine I'm afraid, it came off the internet, so you might be as well to check the source and OK it with them, particularly for use in publication.
I expect they won't mind so long as you acknowledge it. Or the company may provide pix for publicity.



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