Organised by Frankie Prazer, We Shall Overcome Dudley has assembled an incredible range of 28 artists over 3 days, from the revolutionary folk stylings of Stourbridge’s very own Jess Silk to Redditch rockers Act of the Risen. The cause? Raising money for local grassroots charity Leslie’s Care Packages for the Homelessness!
Thank you to all of you for working so hard in the general election campaign to ensure that Labour won 40% of the vote share. Together, we reduced the Tory lead from 24 points to just two and added 30 extra Labour MPs. A personal highlight was seeing Preet Gill elected as the first ever female Sikh MP. The result is a Conservative party in chaos and a zombie prime minister with no mandate, no manifesto and no plan for the country or Brexit.
Theresa May has demonstrated once again that her only concern is the future of the Tory party, not the country. She managed to find £1 billion of taxpayers money in order to cling onto power by bribing the DUP, but at the same time refuses to give our nurses, policemen and fire-fighters their first pay rise in seven years.
June was another month filled with tragedies. The Grenfell Tower fire was the worst of all, killing at least 79 and probably many more. Since the calamity, tests on the cladding of 95 other tower blocks all failed fire safety tests. Before becoming a politician, I worked in social housing for 18 years, so this is an area that I care deeply about. Other EU countries like Germany, Denmark, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic ban the use of combustible products on tower blocks as high as Grenfell. Regulations like these can save lives, but many of the most zealous Brexiteers see leaving the EU as a chance to slash “red tape”. I will campaign to keep the rules that keep our people safe after Brexit.
On other issues in Brussels it has been a productive month for me personally, and the EU as a whole. You may have noticed me discussing Money Market Fund regulation a lot over the past three years. It was a proud moment to see the new regulation that I have been leading as Rapporteur officially signed and turned into law.
Meanwhile roaming charges have now been scrapped. If you have had the chance to travel to another part of the EU this summer, you will have received a text explaining that all calls, texts and phone calls are now charged at your normal rate. No more surprise phone bills! It was also great to see the Commission standing up to tech giant Google for illegally prioritising its own products in search results. The €2.42 billion fine shows that the EU is the only institution worldwide which has both the power and the political will to properly regulate multinationals. These examples all demonstrate what we can achieve when we work together.
Neena Gill – MEP for the West Midlands
A message from Pete Lowe – your Labour candidate in Stourbridge:
I know first-hand the challenges that young people face. I have one daughter who will be saddled with a mountain of student debt and another who is struggling on a zero-hours contract. Only the Labour Party promises educational opportunity for all and secure employment from day one that will give young people hope for the future.
Labour’s promise to maintain the triple lock protection on pensions gives my Mum and all pensioners in Stourbridge the peace of mind that their incomes will be protected.
My parents were the first generation in my family who could afford to buy their own home. Their grandchildren are faced with unaffordable private rents and mortgages. I will support a radical increase in affordable housing to buy and rent.
Stourbridge schools are projected to lose more than £4.5m in funding by 2019. The budget at my own primary school, Thorns, will be cut by more than £700 per pupil per year!
As a registered nurse for over twenty years I have worked in our local hospitals and am proud of Labour’s greatest achievement in government – our NHS. The NHS is under threat from reduced funding, increased waiting lists and further privatisation. I will fight for the future of our NHS.
The Tory government has cut Dudley council’s funding by 25% since 2010. Affluent and leafy Surrey has been given an increase of 1.4%. Why have the Tories got it in for the people of Stourbridge?
In this election we have a choice: a local resident who is committed to his community and committed to fight for a better future, or a career politician and the Tories who have failed our NHS, failed our housing needs, have no idea what it’s like to live on a pension or disability benefits, and have no sense of the struggle to help our children fulfil their ambitions.
Vote Labour on 8th June. Aim high, vote Lowe!
For more from Pete and the Stourbridge Labour campaign team, go to Pete Lowe – Standing Up For Stourbridge.
On the day that the Tories U-turned on the dementia tax, a little something from the Labour Party on broken Tory promises…
Theresa May pretends otherwise, but she has been at the heart of the Conservative Government for the last seven years. Her personal record is the record of this Conservative Government – one of failure and broken promises. From the economy to the NHS, policing to schools, Theresa May’s government has failed again and again to deliver on the pledges they made to the British people.
• They promised economic stability, but they have missed every debt and deficit target they set themselves.
• They promised to raise living standards, but working families are set to be on average over £1,400 a year worse off.
• They promised to improve all standards of NHS care, but A&Es are in their worst state on record and hospitals are in financial crisis.
• They promised to protect school spending, but per pupil spending is going down and class sizes are soaring.
If they broke this many promises in just two years, imagine how many they could break with another five.
To read more about the Tories’ record of broken promises and failure, download ‘One Tory Manifesto. Two years of Failure. 50 Broken Promises’, a document produced by the Labour Party Policy and Research Team highlighting Tory broken promises.
Great work from members of the community, including Labour councillors and party members!
A beautiful start to the day with warm bright sunshine. Another good turn out to which we are always grateful.
Todays worthy volunteers: Alison, Amy, Steph, Holly, Cllr Vanessa P, Sarah, Pat, Andi,
Cllr Julie Baines, Doug, Rachael, Geoff, Roger, Tony, Craig, David.
Before I start to do any more I must say that today we had many Tenants Lager Cans, Bottles of all sizes – glass, even a 3/4 bottle of vodka with gold pieces speckled through out.
The car park was that bad in between the mass of overgrown laurel bushes that some of the team did not see daylight as they were pulling allsorts from in between the undergrowth.
The team other wise went of into differing directions again. Up the road, down the road and across the road down the tracks,
Todays haul was as follows: 4 Tyres, Dinner Plates, 1 Fridge, 1 x 25 litre canister, 15…
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This article was originally written for the Stourbridge Labour Party Study Group, which meets monthly to discuss national and international policy issues. Much attention is paid to our future relationships with the EU and the USA after Brexit, but Russia and China – two other great powers – are largely ignored, hence this essay. Our member T. W. Pee presented the original paper to the meeting in March; this is the amended version, with some changes made following the group discussion. It closes with some ideas and policies that the Labour Party (in opposition or in government) could pursue in relation to the issue.
Tipping the Balance: Dealing with Russia and China in a post-Brexit World
By T. W. Pee
It is now apparent that the UK will formally leave the European Union within the next 2 years. Although it is unclear how exactly this process will end, we will likely find ourselves outside the single market. The government then will have to establish new trade links and agreements to replace the business lost.
Prime Minister May has already made some overtures in this regard, holding discussions with Turkey’s President Erdogan and the USA’s President Donald Trump – whom she controversially invited to a full state visit just a week into his Administration. May has also participated in meetings with Commonwealth allies India and New Zealand among others, although I will not examine those in this article.
We must first accept that the balance of global power has changed. The UK can no longer rely on the international influence of the USA as it retreats inward to focus on “America First”. The country must then reconsider its relationship with other world powers – most notably, Russia and China.
I will first explain how the UK interacts with these countries in 3 spheres of influence (inside their own borders, in foreign interventions and in the heart of the West) and offer some recommendations for the future.
Similarities Between Russia and China
First we must understand that while Russia and China approach issues differently, there are similarities in their national history and make-up that allow us to see them as a connected phenomenon. These are listed below:
- Both populations have experienced state-sponsored mass killing in the recent past; in China, the neighbor-on-neighbour brutality of the Cultural Revolution; in Russia, a succession of purges against political and ethnic groups opposed by the state.
- Both are essentially One Party states.
- Both states have adapted to trade in the global capitalist economy without fully embracing this model at home.
- Both are formerly Communist countries (although the Communist Party still holds power in China, it has changed much since the Cold War).
Russia and China can be considered as two sides of the same coin; they are a challenge to the hegemony of Western liberal democracies such as the USA and Europe, and have rejected those models of government in favour of a more authoritarian system.
The UK and the West in Russia and China
Although official diplomatic policy towards Russia and China has varied over the past few decades, the UK has maintained a trade presence inside their territories throughout periods of diplomatic difficulty.
Although popular history is dominated by the perception that Nixon’s visit to Chairman Mao opened Chinese-Western relations, Britain’s former imperial ties mean we never left. In China, the UK maintained banking and trade relationships with the People’s Republic of China from the socialist revolution of 1949 and throughout the Cold War.
This was done through the (much diminished) branch infrastructure of HSBC and through links between the mainland and Hong Kong, which at that point was still a Crown Colony. The UK was also the first “Western” country to recognize the PRC government, although formal diplomatic relations weren’t established with China until 1972.
Relations with Russia during this period were considerably cooler, and UK businesses only began entering the country again after the end of the Cold War. The swift introduction of capitalism and the free market in the 1990s was and continues to be viewed as a period of anarchy by the Russian public:
“By the time of the 1998 financial crisis […] Russians talked of dermokratiya (shitocracy) and prikhvatisatsiya (piratisation) instead of demokratiya (democracy) and privatisatsiya (privatization).” – Lucas, E. (2014)
This contributed to a general hostility to what’s seen as “foreign interference” in Russia. After Putin came to power, foreign businesses inside the country faced the challenges of both tighter regulation and government corruption.
Both countries operate protectionist policies. In China, for instance, it is hard for foreign businesses having goods manufactured there to defend Intellectual Property in court against a Chinese plaintiff. Regardless of these challenges, China remains the “manufacturing powerhouse” of many Western businesses.
The situation in Russia is difficult both economically and diplomatically due to the sanctions that have been in place since the invasion of Ukraine. Russia also operates its own sanctions against imports and visiting diplomats from the EU.
Should we wish to pursue a trading relationship with Russia, the lifting of sanctions by the UK may be used as a bargaining chip. More likely, this would actually be imposed as a condition by Russia in any deals that take place.
China does not present the same opportunity. However, the EU has not established a Free Trade Agreement with China as it does not recognize China as a free economy. This may allow the UK to push for “Most Favoured Nation” status with regard to China.
Both states exercise power and influence through foreign intervention, although their approaches are substantially different. Close to their own borders, Russia and China attempt to maintain historical territory – for Russia, the borders of the former USSR and for China, the Qing dynasty borders before it fell in 1911 (of which Tibet was a protectorate).
Russia pursues a policy of direct intervention that often brings it into conflict with the foreign policy interests of the West (and the UK by extension). Recent examples include Ukraine, where Russia launched an unofficial armed intervention in the wake of the recent Revolution to halt the country’s move towards European influence. Russia is also building up its forces along its borders with the Baltic States – where NATO are responding in kind.
Russian foreign policy close to the border is focused on maintaining a “buffer zone” of former Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan against external influence. China practices a similar policy with respect to North Korea, which acts as a barrier against American projection of power from the South.
Further afield, Russia’s involvement in Syria acts as another defence of its own interests but also has propaganda value; Russia is now able to market itself as a powerful actor in the “War on Terror” and diminish the military power of the USA and its allies in the region – the UK being one of these. It also serves as a political challenge to the export of Western democracy in the region.
Chinese projection of power is less overt. Outside of military displays in the disputed islands of the South China Sea, it takes the form of economic “soft power” in Africa. This approach has long been a feature in Chinese policy, as in its ancient period:
“Rulers and ministers preferred to believe in the myth of cultural attraction whereby their vastly superior Chinese civilization, founded on Virtue and reinforced by opulent material achievements, would simply overwhelm the hostile tendencies of the uncultured…
If they could not be overawed into submission or bribed into compliance, other mounted nomadic tribes could be employed against the troublemakers, following the time-honoured tradition of ‘using barbarian against barbarian.’” – Sawyer, R. (1994)
Unlike the UK or the USA, Chinese investment does not come with political conditions attached. Notable Chinese projects include the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, substantial highway and rail links and special economic zones based on the Shenzhen model. Chinese brands such as Huawei also enjoy ubiquity in various markets on the African continent.
In any future negotiations, these states may ask the UK to support (or at least remain silent over) internationally controversial foreign policy actions such as Ukraine, Syria and the South China Sea in exchange for favourable trading conditions for the UK. Russia in particular may request that we either exert influence within NATO in their favour or simply leave, further weakening the alliance.
Within the UK and the West
Russia and China also promote their own interests in Western liberal democracies, although again their approaches differ quite substantially.
Russia pursues political influence in Europe and the US. Most famous are the recent allegations of cyber-warfare and Russian financial influence surrounding US president Donald Trump, although the EU itself heavily suspects Russian state involvement in the Brexit campaign and the forthcoming German elections through the funding of far-right anti-immigration Parties and the creation and distribution of “fake news”.
For Russia, the benefits of this include:
- The election of an administration more favourable to Russian interests.
- Political disruption of Russia’s main opponents, allowing Putin to pursue his own objectives while the West is distracted.
- An opportunity to discredit liberal democracy as farcical, allowing Putin to cement power and discourage reformers at home.
China does not follow such a direct path, but has managed to exercise some soft power in the UK. Chinese investment has risen substantially since 2012, and Chinese interests now own a diverse range of businesses; MG Rover (owned by Shanghai Automotive), substantial stakes in Weetabix (Bright Food), Superdrug (A. S. Watson) and numerous football teams.
Chinese and French interests are also behind the Hinckley Point power plant, and the Chinese government is also set to develop two more powers stations at Sizewell and Bradwell. Chinese investment in infrastructure is projected to grow to £100 billion by 2025.
China’s dumping of cheap steel was cited as a primary reason behind Tata’s proposed closure of the Port Talbot Steelworks, leading to public unease about the nature of our business relationship with China. Ironically, the UK had previously opposed anti-dumping proposals in the EU which would have placed higher tariffs on these imports.
Culturally, attitudes to China are warmer than those towards Russia. This was facilitated by the spectacle of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and subsequent glut of travel documentaries portraying a generally positive image of modern China and its people. The same cannot be said of Putin’s Russia, which is more often the subject of exposés.
Chinese production companies are also trying to enter the Western box office, a recent example being The Great Wall. American productions are also now turning to investment from Chinese production companies – who usually demand that a token Chinese actor or actress be given a role (see Kong: Skull Island and Independence Day Resurgence for the most egregious examples). In comparison, Russian productions have an almost non-existent presence on UK screens (aside from news channel Russia Today).
In the event of trade negotiations, Russia is likely to demand access to its financial assets in London, while China may put forward conditions that allow it to flood the market with cheaper resources and products.
As US influence declines and Britain withdraws from the EU, it will be increasingly necessary to establish a more favourable relationship with Russia and China. This will come with the expense of ignoring deficiencies on human rights and political freedom within those states.
Such a partnership also has the potential to erode UK industries and/or our political establishment if not managed effectively. It may also have the effect of alienating the UK from its current political allies.
A future government would have to weigh the consequences such a deal would have for Britain’s workforce. Any such FTA with China or Russia presents a substantial risk of dumping, takeovers or outsourcing which could leave many workers out of work or employed under contracts with reduced rights. The freedom of Trade unions would also be under threat, as such organisations would be seen as obstacles in this environment of deregulation.
Were such deals to be undertaken by a Conservative government, a Labour opposition could pursue this angle, along with emphasising the moral compromises being made and the damages this would do to the UK’s international reputation.
Actions that may avoid or mitigate the negative effects of a new UK-Russia or UK-China trading relationship are as follows:
- Advance policies towards energy independence, reducing the reliance on fuel from Russia or a destabilised Middle East.
- Introduce economic safeguards against “dumping”, such as the influx of cheap Chinese steel that adversely affected the UK steel industry.
- Avoid burning bridges with the EU and attempt to maintain an amicable diplomatic relationship after the “divorce”.
- Exercise a degree of protectionism to protect UK workers from foreign takeovers and outsourcing.
- Appoint competent negotiators and diplomats to manage our relations with these countries – do not leave it to the likes of David Davis, Boris Johnson or Liam Fox.
- BBC News – “Hinkley Point: UK approves nuclear plant deal” (19/09/2016) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37369786
- Financial Times – “EU leaders to hold talks on Russian political meddling” (16/10/2016) https://www.ft.com/content/ff1f1cdc-9227-11e6-8df8-d3778b55a923
- Financial Times – “China set to invest £105bn in UK infrastructure by 2025” (27/10/2014) https://www.ft.com/content/501808f6-5b89-11e4-b68a-00144feab7de
- Goldstein, A (2013), ‘China’s Real and Present Danger’, Foreign Affairs, 92, 5, pp. 136-144
- Lucas, E. (2014), The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West [Revised edition], St Martin’s Press, pp. 44-45
- Peruzzi, R. (2017) “Leading the Way: the United Kingdom’s financial and trade relations with Socialist China, 1949 – 1966”, Modern Asian Studies 51, pp. 17–43. (Cambridge University Press)
- Sawyer, R. (1994) “General Introduction and Historical Background”, Sun Tzu: The Art of War, pp. 32 (Westview Press)
Stourbridge Young Labour’s Andrew Tromans takes a look at Siôn Simon’s Labour candidacy for West Midlands Metro Mayor, and what his policies would mean for our region…
London. Bristol. Liverpool. The West Midlands? The question of whether the second biggest conurbation in the UK will elect a Labour Mayor will be settled on 4th May. Siôn Simon, Labour’s candidate in the West Midlands Mayoral election, has a strong record of standing up for our region, both as a government minister and MEP. He has pushed for the West Midlands to have greater autonomy for years – long before the Tories cottoned on to the devolution agenda. Mr. Simon has bold and ambitious plans for transport and housing, and has also recently called for the West Midlands to have its’ voice heard around the Brexit negotiating table.
Much like London, transport policy will be a key battleground for the runners and riders in the West Midlands Mayoral contest. Siôn Simon has touted several ambitious policies such as introducing 24-hour bus services on popular routes to help shift workers or late night revellers get home on public transport. Labour’s man has also proposed scrapping the charges for using the M6 Toll road. This would be music to the ears of anyone who has commuted in or out of Birmingham during rush-hour.
Closer to home, the Combined Authority that the new Mayor will chair from 8th May has already signed off on a major transport project that will provide a tram to link from Brierley Hill to the Wolverhampton-Birmingham Metroline, offering Black Country residents an alternative to using the roads to make their journeys. Furthermore, in recent weeks there has been lively discussion about undoing some of the damage Dr. Beeching inflicted upon our railways in the 1960s and reopening the Stourbridge-Walsall link.
However, it is HS2 that dominates the transport debate in the West Midlands. Optimists suggest that HS2 will bring businesses to the West Midlands and increase the value of housing. Others have grave doubts about the economic benefits that marginally quicker journey times to London will bring. Regardless, it’s certain that – if elected – Mr. Simon will work tirelessly to ensure our region gets the crucial transport investment it needs.
Addressing the housing shortage is a priority for the Labour Party both nationally and locally. It would seem that the West Midlands public agrees – a poll conducted by the Birmingham Mail suggested that residents want the new Mayor and Combined Authority to focus on housing as a matter of urgency. This concern appears to be well founded, with The National Federation for Housing suggesting that only 48 per cent of the new homes needed to meet demand were being built in 2014. At the first public hustings event for the West Midlands Mayoral candidates held recently at the Black Country Museum, Siôn Simon called for action on the ‘indefensible’ state of housing in the West Midlands and outlined his plan for a region-wide housing strategy that includes using a £200m budget to develop 15,000 new homes. This fund was granted as part of the devolution deal between Whitehall and the West Midlands. However, as Birmingham and the surrounding areas receive new funding and development, the Mayor and Combined Authority will need to ensure that a similar pattern of gentrification and “social cleansing” to that seen in areas of London does not occur in the West Midlands.
More for Birmingham?
There is a justified concern in some parts of the region that the new funding for the West Midlands through the Combined Authority will simply mean ‘more for Birmingham’. One of the key challenges for the new Mayor is to make sure the benefits of devolution touch every part of the West Midlands. This problem is compounded by the fact that residents in areas outside of the main conurbation such as Redditch and Cannock Chase will be affected by decisions made by the Mayor but will not be able to pass judgement at the ballot box. Labour’s Siôn Simon is keenly aware of this tension and has pledged to be a ‘Mayor for the whole region’. It is Mr. Simon’s vision, for example, to ensure that everyone in the region lives no more than 30 minutes away from a cultural attraction or green space.
The election on 4th May represents a huge opportunity for Labour in the West Midlands. It is an opportunity for the party to win back the confidence and trust of voters and wield executive power. It is also an opportunity to show just how different Labour’s priorities are to those of Theresa May’s Tories. A Labour victory in this historic election will be owed to the dedication of grassroots members and supporters, and we should all remember that the road to Number 10 runs through the West Midlands. It’s time to knock on some doors…