Archive for Dear Grandad

The times they are a-changin

Dear Grandad,

Any thoughts on the reshuffle?



How has Cameron been allowed to take the lead on electoral reform?

Dear Grandad,

David Cameron has been in the Guardian and on TV today coming up with ideas on how he thinks the British electoral system should be reformed.

It includes:

• Limit the power of the prime minister by giving serious consideration to introducing fixed-term parliaments, ending the right of Downing Street to control the timing of general elections.

• End the “pliant” role of parliament by giving MPs free votes during the consideration of bills at committee stage. MPs would also be handed the crucial power of deciding the timetable of bills.

• Boost the power of backbench MPs – and limit the powers of the executive – by allowing MPs to choose the chairs and members of Commons select committees.

• Open up the legislative process to outsiders by sending out text alerts on the progress of parliamentary bills and by posting proceedings on YouTube.

• Curb the power of the executive by limiting the use of the royal prerogative which allows the prime minister, in the name of the monarch, to make major ­decisions. Gordon Brown is making sweeping changes in this area in the constitutional renewal bill, but Cameron says he would go further.

• Publish the expenses claims of all public servants earning more than £150,000.

• Strengthen local government by giving councils the power of “competence”. This would allow councils to reverse Whitehall decisions to close popular services, such as a local post office or a railway station, by giving them the power to raise money to keep them open.

Frankly I think he made it all up at the weekend. As Alex Smith says over at LabourList, ‘Of course, the article is incredibly vague, and the language of “Want change? Vote Conservative” and “Progressive Conservatism” will always contradictory. But you have to wonder why Labour are not leading on this matter’.

Which is absolutely right. Labour needs to take the initiative on this. What do you think of Cameron’s ideas, and of Alan Johnson’s suggestion that we hold a referendum on proportional representation? And what reforms would you like to see?

Love from


Primary concern

Dear Grandad,

Hope you’re having a good Sunday! I wanted to get your opinion on a couple of things.

The first is a survey that I was sent by a group within the Labour Party who think the leadership may not be taking the expenses scandal seriously enough. It’s meant to be a survey of Labour members – I’ve filled it in – but there is also an option to fill it in if you’re not a member, so I think it’d be really good if you did it – it’s very short, click on this link to take the survey.

One of the questions in the survey is whether you would like to see open primaries for Labour candidates – this is like the American system where anyone in a constituency can take part in selecting a Party’s local candidate. David Cameron announced today that he wants to see more of these to replace the Tory MPs who have announced they will be standing down at the next election.

What do you think? Do you think Labour should introduce something like this as well? Would you be more likely to vote Labour if you thought you could have more input into who your Labour candidate would be?

Love from Grace

Tell me about it…

The post below is my Grandad’s first response to this campaign (can I call this a campaign? Well, I’m a-gonna), which he sent to me today, by email and via my Nan. (I get a lot of things from him but as you’ll know if you’ve ever read any of my posts, I unfortunately didn’t inherit the brevity.) Please leave your comments and thoughts – here are mine…

Dear Grandad,

Thanks for the response and please thank Nan for emailing it to me.

It’s not quite true that campaigning for Labour was harder because of the economic crisis. I found it very easy to communicate Labour’s straightforward ‘Real Help Now‘ message on the doorstep and on the ‘phone – it’s quite positive to be able to tell voters something they won’t read in the paper – and also found that a lot of voters recognised what David Cameron meant when he talked about a new ‘age of austerity‘: cuts in public spending, hitting those who can least afford it.

It is true that it’s been very difficult to carry on communicating these messages since the expenses scandal hit – I was ‘phone-canvassing last night for the European elections, and even though our MEPs are of course completely uninvolved in this Westminster mess (in fact Labour Members of the European Parliament have their expenses independently audited), I’d say about 47 of the 50 people I spoke to brought up the expenses issue.

One chap I spoke to actually suggested he was going to vote Tory because of the expenses scandal. Why? Because of ‘all these Labour MPs furnishing their mansions and paying for their moats’. Oh dear. It seems the obvious anti-Labour bias of the Torygraph may have led some voters into thinking Labour MPs are the only culprits, when of course some members of all three parties are to blame – and some Tories have an especially bad attitude.

You may be right that in some constituencies people won’t vote Labour again unless the current MP goes – I know that’s true for you. You might have heard that Ben Chapman, the MP for Wirral South, is standing down at the next election: he has been a very popular local MP but he is probably considerably less well-liked after this week, so I agree that this was probably for the best.

If you’re so keen for your local Party to de-select the sitting MP, maybe you should join to influence them from within 😉

Love from


Vote Labour for equality

Dear Grandad,

For me one of the most disappointing things about the MPs’ expenses scandal is the way it has obscured what I think could be one of Labour’s greatest achievements.

The Equality Bill was launched by the government in April this year and debated in Parliament on the 11th May. It includes measures on issues I know you will feel strongly about – like the banning of ‘gag clauses’ which prevent people discussing their wages, so workers can be confident that they’re being treated equally.

I’ve written before on my blog about how you were recently confronted with age discrimination. The Equality Bill unfortunately doesn’t include measures to scrap the National Default Retirement Age of 65, but Walsall MP David Winnick brought this up in the debate, Harriet Harman promised the NDRA will be reviewed in 2012.

Meanwhile the Bill does include other measures to prevent people being subject to discrimination because of their age – not only in employment but in healthcare and social care, and in services like insurance. You can read more about this here.

Another site I thought you might be interested in is Unions Together: it’s a campaigning coalition of all the 15 unions affiliated to the Labour Party. If you support the Equality Bill you can add a message of support here.

Labour’s record on equality is one of the biggest things that sets us apart from the Tories, and they haven’t changed as much as they like to pretend: they are opposing the Equality Bill and have called it ‘class war’ and ‘a rampant manifestation of socialism’. The Tories jeered their way through the debate on the 11th May and Theresa May argued that ‘marriage incentives’ would be a better route to equality.

I know it seems lately that there isn’t much difference between our MPs and the Tories; maybe it’s more important to think of the differences between our government and a Tory government. What do you think?

Love from


Trust in Labour’s future

Dear Grandad,

I know that part of the reason you felt betrayed by the MPs who bent or broke the rules on expenses is that you felt they were not only ripping off the taxpayer, but ripping off the people who work so hard to campaign for Labour without expecting any financial gain.

The good news is, (some of!) today’s activists are tomorrow’s politicians – and they feel the same way you do: read this post by Chuka Umunna, Labour’s candidate for Streatham, and you’ll see what I mean.

So far, 61 of Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidates have signed up to the following pledge:

“The expenses scandal brings suspicion on all those who seek to represent their political parties. As a measure of our intention to try and restore an element of trust between voters and political representatives ahead of the June 4th elections, and an eventual general election, as Prospective Parliamentary Candidates we would like to put on record the following five pledges which will govern our conduct if we are elected to Parliament.

A great many of our current Members of Parliament already embody these principles in their day-to-day conduct and their example should be recognised. We would not like to return to a system where only those who are already independently wealthy can put themselves forward for election to Parliament, so necessary reforms to the system of MPs’ expenses and allowances should acknowledge the legitimate need for those representing constituencies outside Greater London to claim for appropriate accommodation and travel expenses. In the absence, however, of a decision on the final form of the new system, these pledges will act as our guide if we have the honour of being elected to the House of Commons.

– As a parliamentary candidate I will subscribe to high standards of integrity, transparency, accountability and financial economy;
– I seek elected office not for personal gain but to serve the public and our democracy, which I consider an honour and a privilege;

– I will publish my expenses online within a month of submitting them and publicise them annually in full to constituents;

– I will hold regular meetings with my community and will regularly report back to my constituency party;

– I will apply the principle of best value to all decisions I make which involve the use of public money to cover my duties, including for travel and accommodation.”

Does it make you feel any more comfortable about Labour to know that these are the pledges and standards of Labour’s next political generation?

Love from