HOW MANY manifesto pledges did the government tear up last week? They bullied their MPs into voting against the pledge not to introduce university top-up fees. That was on every news broadcast and in every newspaper. But very few people noticed housing minister Keith Hill announce that he was ditching a pledge to bring all council homes up to a ‘decent homes standard’ by 2010.
Was this because his announcement came on the day of the Hutton inquiry-another ‘good day to bury bad news’, as a New Labour spin doctor infamously described 11 September 2001? Hill’s reversal of the housing pledge came after tenants in Camden rejected a plan for a two-stage privatisation of their council homes. Tenants elsewhere have rejected privatisation of their homes.
Hill told a parliamentary inquiry he was ‘tearing up’ New Labour’s clear and unambiguous pledge in its 2001 election manifesto. Their own fault The government was committed to pushing tenants to vote for forms of privatisation. But it insisted that this was about giving ‘tenants choice’, and that the decent homes target would be met even if tenants voted to stay with the council.
In January 2002 then cabinet minister Stephen Byers said categorically that the homes target applied ‘irrespective of any decisions which are taken by tenants’. But last week Hill said, if tenants did not vote ‘rationally’ and voted ‘against the opportunity’ for privatisation, ‘that’s a matter for them’. Their homes would not be brought up to standard, and it would be their own fault, he said. Pressure needs to be stepped up to force the government to honour its manifesto pledge. The government pledges millions where tenants accept privatisation. The money should be given to councils where tenants reject privatisation.
In Camden next week a public rally to demand precisely that will be addressed by local Labour MP Frank Dobson, Camden council leader Dame Jane Roberts and Defend Council Housing’s Alan Walter.
Camden rally, Tuesday 10 February, 7pm, Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, London WC1 (Euston/King’s Cross station/tube).
THE FIRE at the Scottish Rosepark care home last Friday killed 14 elderly people. But under government plans to ‘modernise’ the fire service, the death toll could have been much worse. The plans being imposed by fire service bosses mean less cover in the middle of the night. The Rosepark fire broke out at 4am. The plans also mean scaling down the response to automated fire alarms. It was such an alarm that alerted workers at the home to the fire.
Ken Ross, Scottish secretary of the firefighters’ union, said bosses’ plans to reduce fire cover were ‘gambling with people’s lives’. ‘Some 75 percent of fire deaths occur during the hours of 1am to 5am. The proposals are massively dangerous. To reduce fire cover is reckless. The tragedy showed in the starkest terms we don’t need reductions-we need increased funding, resources and cover.’
The union is called for a full independent public inquiry into the fire.
‘NON-JURY courts and internment-they’re treating Muslims like they did the Irish in the 1970s.’ So says Paddy Hill, one of the six Irish men framed for the Birmingham pub bombings 30 years ago, about home secretary David Blunkett’s latest assault on civil liberties.
Blunkett called for more authoritarian laws under the guise of the ‘war on terror’ on Monday. He didn’t make his announcement to parliament, or to an audience in Britain, where we will all suffer the effects.
He spoke as a guest of the Hindu chauvinist government of India in the city of Amritsar, site of one of the worst massacres the British army ever carried out under the empire. Under his plans the government will be able lock people up, try them in secret without a jury, hold back evidence from their defence team (who it will in any case choose), and convict them on a ‘balance of probabilities’ rather than proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
Mark Littlewood of civil rights group Liberty says, ‘Britain already has the most draconian anti-terror laws in Western Europe. To add to these by further undermining trial by jury and radically reducing the burden of proof is wholly unacceptable.’
Human rights lawyer Louise Christian says Blunkett’s statement makes him ‘not fit’ to be home secretary. ‘What they did to us Irish in the 1970s and 1980s was to terrorise a whole community in order to smash any political opposition,’ says Paddy Hill, who addressed a rally in Edinburgh in defence of civil liberties on Tuesday. ‘Now they are demonising and terrorising Muslims. But it won’t stop there. Non-jury trials, the abolition of the right to silence, and internment without trial all came in first in Northern Ireland and then became enshrined in British law. Already courts effectively ask you to prove yourself innocent rather than the prosecution to show guilt. This is something we have to resist. I’d say to people who are immediately under attack from this, get yourselves organised, find allies and fight back. If we don’t, we will wake up one day and find a Labour government has created a society a dictator like General Pinochet would be proud of.’
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle