Latest Newsletter from Neena Gill MEP

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 

Study Group: Post-Brexit Relations with Russia & China

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

Chinese and British flags fly in London's Chinatown, BritainIt 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.

Implications

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.

Foreign Intervention

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.

Implications

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).

Implications

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.

Conclusions

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.

Recommendations

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.

References:

  • 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)

Peter Willsman – January NEC Report

Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s National Executive Committee, 24th January 2017…

Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s National Executive Committee, 24th January 2017:

For the second time running, we had a very tranquil NEC. This may be down to the fact that there was very little on the agenda that was controversial. The most noteworthy issues had arisen at the Disputes Panel and Organisation Committee held on the 17 January. I cover some of these issues below.

Uniquely among Labour Party leaders, Jeremy regularly attends NEC sub-committees. Jeremy is almost always at the Organisation Committee. I have also noticed that most of our staff are ever more supportive of Jeremy. I have never seen the staff so determined to win two by-elections as they are in Copeland and Stoke-Central. I suspect most of the staff, like most party members, do not believe that an MP should be parachuted into a CLP one minute and then resign the next. Contrary to this, some of the writers in the dire Guardian have suggested that individual career prospects take precedence over loyalty to the party.

Leader’s Report

Jeremy came hot-foot from preparing Labour’s response to the Supreme Court decision against the Tory government. Jeremy took the NEC through all of the implications of this Judgement decision and of Labour’s response. He and Keir had made it clear that although Labour will respect the decision of the referendum, we will press firmly for all of our red-lines. Jeremy emphasised that Labour must speak to both sides of the referendum divide.

Jeremy drew attention to a Tory MP who that afternoon was moving a 10-minute Rule Bill on seeking to further restrict the rights of trade unions and trade unionists (it was defeated). Jeremy believes that this is an early move by the Tories to prepare the ground for a much more serious attack on the rights of workers.

Jeremy congratulated Jon Ashworth (Shadow Health Secretary) – who was present at the meeting – for all the work he had done building for Saturday’s Day of Action. Jeremy and Jon then outlined the serious crisis facing the NHS. The crisis has been building for years, since the Tories have been continually restricting funding. Indeed, next year and in 2019, the funding for the NHS will actually be reduced in real terms. This is at a time when the challenges facing the NHS are ever growing. For example, we are living longer, the major reductions in social care provisions are having a knock-on effect, there has been a major increase in the numbers of homeless people as a result of the government’s austerity policies, and there are always implications of the advances in medical science. Jeremy and Jon highlighted the particular crisis facing mental health provision. There has been a reduction of 600 nurses and a serious decline in the number of doctors as well. Jon drew attention to possible adverse implications from the trade treaty with the US that May is desperately trying to obtain. It would open the door to the avaricious and ruthless US health insurance companies that could accelerate the privatisation of the NHS.

Jeremy stressed that the NHS is the National Health Service for a reason. Part of its aim was to overcome inequalities between different regions, which was one of Nye Bevan’s main motivations. Jeremy also drew attention to the Defend the NHS demo on 4th March.

Jeremy took the NEC through the Copeland and Stoke-Central by-elections, which are due to be held on 23 February. Jeremy especially paid tribute to all of our staff who are working around the clock to make our campaigns as effective as possible. Many members are also responding to the party’s Call to Arms. Several NEC members (me included) will also be knocking on doors in Whitehaven and Stoke. Later, Margaret Beckett referred to the talk about a ‘progressive alliance’, which she said was somewhat rich given that it was only yesterday that the Liberals were in government with the Tories, where they carried out very reactionary policies. I added that the notion of such an alliance has been talked-up by the dire Guardian and groups like Compass, but has now been relegated to the history books – their beloved Tim Farron has categorically ruled-out any link-up with Labour. Presumably Farron wants to keep his options open so the Lib-Dems are free to jump back into bed with the Tories (in fact, Farron has said as much!).

In his Report, Jeremy also outlined our developing Industrial Strategy and its interrelation with our economic policy, e.g. a national investment bank with a regional focus, investment in infrastructure, and other key issues that had been raised at the NPF.

Jeremy rounded-up by commenting on Theresa May’s embrace of the new President of the US. He emphasised that the Prime Minister should challenge the dreadfully racist, sexist, and reactionary language of the President. Jeremy also paid tribute to the inspiring women’s marches that were held across the world following the Inauguration. Jeremy was in Copeland on Saturday, but his son had represented him at the London march.

In response to Jeremy’s report, Kezia Dugdale set-out the manipulative way the SNP are exploiting Brexit. Kezia emphasised that the response by the Scottish Labour Party will be based on the interests of the Scottish people. Alun Davies also briefly outlined the strategy of the Welsh Labour Party in response to Brexit.

Martin Mayer led a discussion on the setting-out of a clear definition of ‘free movement of labour’. It was accepted that this was a quite complex issue. Jeremy paid tribute to the trade unions for making extra efforts to recruit migrant workers in order to unite all groups against the exploitative bosses – who, as usual, are using the age-old ‘divide and rule’ strategy.

EPLP Report

Glenis Willmott, EPLP Leader and our new effervescent Chair, had circulated a written report. Despite the major focus on Brexit, the important work of the European Parliament continues. In recent months Labour MEPs had welcomed European cooperation against aggressive tax avoidance. Labour MEPs voted against the compulsory opening up of railways contracts across Europe to private sector operators, because the new laws do not provide protection for rail workers’ terms and conditions. The Commission has made clear that workers employed on zero-hour contracts should have full employment rights as a result of EU law on part-time workers. Jeremy added that he had called together representatives of socialist parties in the EU and stressed the need to work together. He was pleased to report that following this meeting two of Labour’s MEPs were elected to important positions.

Local Government Report

Nick Forbes and Alice Perry had circulated a written report, and Nick took the NEC through it. The Annual Local Government Conference will take place in Warwick on 18 February. Over 200 councillors have already registered to attend. Jeremy is planning to address the conference.

In response, I highlighted a serious matter of concern that has been raised with me by many councillors and party members in relation to a matter of conflict of interest. This concerns the accountability of Labour councillors. This used to be ensured by Local Government Committees (LGCs), but with their replacement by Local Campaign Forums (LCFs), democratic processes and the accountability of councillors has diminished. In addition to this, there has been a development whereby directly elected mayors and council leaders can appoint councillors to major positions without any proper democratic processes. As I emphasised, this can create serious conflicts of interest, which, I said, must be addressed. The General Secretary nodded when I made this point, and therefore we can be hopeful that this unintended implication of the new LCF system will be addressed (indeed, at the 2017 Annual Conference in Brighton, there is a rule change to restore the separation of powers that existed under LGCs).

There was also a discussion of what, many of us saw, as the inadequacies of the recent Newham Trigger Ballot process. It was agreed that Ann Black and Alice Perry will visit Newham and report back to the NEC on possible improvements to the whole process.

Minutes of NEC Meetings and Sub-Committee Meetings

As I have already said, the most noteworthy were the Dispute Panel and Organisation Committee on 17 January. A report from officers was presented in relation to the allegations made against the Oxford University Labour Club. Our officers had carried out an investigation. Two students in particular had been singled out by those making the allegations. The investigation concluded that there was no case to answer in relation to anti-Semitism in relation to these two students. A separate accusation (unconnected to any question of anti-Semitism) had been raised regarding the two students and their general behaviour. The Disputes Panel discussed in detail whether a warning was appropriate in these two cases. It was agreed without dissent that no further action should be taken.

In relation to Wallasey, it was agreed that suspension would remain in place with a review at the March meeting of the Dispute Panel.

The Organisation Committee, considered 33 Contemporary Motions which the Conference Arrangements Committee had referred to the NEC. In addition, 38 motions submitted by CLPs to the NEC in relation to organisational matters were also considered. The main issue raised in the motions related to issues arising from the last leadership election. Many of the matters raised are already under consideration by Ann Black as chair of Disputes, Jim Kennedy as chair of Org, and senior officers, in order to learn the lessons and improve arrangements in the future. Each of the motions will be the subject of a substantive reply from the General Secretary. I congratulated our staff for bringing all of these motions to the NEC. This was always the practice before New Labour, but it had been allowed to fall by the wayside.

General Secretary’s Report

Iain took the NEC through the papers he had circulated on the major issues facing us. These included the series of local government elections taking place this year, the Richmond Park and Sleaford and West Hykeham by-elections, the forthcoming by-elections in Copeland and Stoke-Central, and an update on the party’s finance strategy. The General Secretary also presented a review of the Annual Conference arrangements etc. at Liverpool, and highlighted the lessons we learned that can benefit us at the 2017 Conference.

Iain and other senior officers presented a small booklet which analysed in detail the membership data. The membership at the 1 January was 543,645. This is the highest figure on Labour Party records. 70% of our current membership joined after 1 January 2015. Our membership is now younger, and comrades joining from BAME communities has increased. The gap between men and women has become considerably smaller. The biggest expansion of membership has been in the south, particularly the South West. The smallest increase was in Scotland. Five of our eleven regions/nations, have increased in size by more than 40%. In relation to people leaving, 77% of these joined after the general election 2015. Unfortunately, the (ever more) dire Guardian has moved into the ‘post-truth’ era. A recent editorial pronounced that the Labour Party is ‘disintegrating’. In fact, our party is now the largest political party in Western Europe.