Hain Severn Barrage Rallying Call: ‘Wales Stand up and fight

Extract from speech at Cardiff Metropolitan University on 21 March by Peter Hain

A strong rallying call to Wales to ‘stand up and fight’ for the Severn Barrage has come from former Welsh Secretary of State and Neath MP Peter Hain.

After mixed signals from the Government and vehement opposition lobbying by Bristol Port, Port, Mr Hain said: ‘We are entering a key period of decision making and if significant forces in Wales don’t stand up and fight for the Barrage we could lose a once in a lifetime opportunity: the biggest ever investment in jobs and prosperity Wales has seen.’
With the Parliamentary Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change due to report in the coming weeks and the UK Government under pressure to state where it stands, Mr Hain issued his rallying cry in a speech at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

‘Everywhere I go in Wales people ask me – “how is it going with the Barrage”! There is a real Welsh buzz about it. But if Wales want the Barrage, it isn’t going to happen on its own. The Welsh Government and the Assembly have given the Barrage in principle support. So has the Wales TUC and Wales business representatives. That’s all very welcome. But now is the time to stand up and fight for the for the Barrage. Every AM, every MP, every County Council, every Welsh political party, every business group, every trade union or civic organisation in South Wales now needs actively to press the Prime Minister to back the Barrage.’
‘That support can be subject to satisfying the necessary environmental and habit requirements, of course. But in principle backing is needed now, or the project could drift away and 50,000 jobs and £25 billion of private investment will simply go elsewhere in the world,’ Mr Hain warned.

‘The prize is enormous. The biggest renewable, clean, green energy project in Europe, if not globally, harnessing the awesome natural tide of the Severn. Skilled local jobs by the thousand. A new marine turbine manufacturing factory, with new technology capable of being exported worldwide. Flood protection for thousands of homes and properties. And over its lifetime the cheapest electricity in Britain, half to three quarters as cheap as gas, nuclear or wind power.’

Why Labour should put the Robin Hood tax centre stage

Great government policy rarely enjoys an easy ride. Challenging the status quo will always ruffle the feathers of vested interests. So 11 European countries should be congratulated for taking on the titans of finance and agreeing to implement a financial transaction tax (popularly known in the UK as a Robin Hood tax).

Today, their proposal for a micro tax of 0.1-0.01% on stocks, bonds and derivatives received the thumbs-up from EU member states at the Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting in Brussels, meaning they can plough on to implementation, possibly as early as next year. Europe’s largest economies – Germany, France, Italy and Spain – are signed up. IMF chief Christine Lagarde recently gave her blessing. It will help ensure the financial sector plays its part for the damage caused to our economies. Yet there is one notable refusenik: the UK. Our government opted out, choosing instead to dance to the City of London’s tune.

The social justice arguments for an FTT are incontrovertible: the City’s financial elite may have sparked the financial crisis, but it is the rest of society, especially the poor, who are paying the price with the harshest programme of austerity since world war two. Yet amid the 2.5 million unemployed and the threat of a triple dip recession, the financial sector has over the past year enjoyed one of the strongest performances of any sector on the FTSE 100. But it is the economic common sense, the potential to raise billions in additional revenue, that has led the centre-right in Angela Merkel’s Germany, Mariano Rajoy’s Spain and Mario Monti’s Italy to back this tax. It will collectively raise the 11 countries involved £30bn a year – no small beer.

The size of the UK’s financial sector means we have even more to gain. Can the government really afford to turn down an additional estimated £8bn of annual revenue? Imagine what could be achieved: we could fund job creation programmes, spreading investment across our regions, giving the million young unemployed the skills to enter (or re-enter) the workplace. We could fund the British Investment Bank (BIB) that Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna have rightly put much emphasis on. In Wales we already have such an institution, Finance Wales, which was set up by the Labour-led Welsh government in 2000 and manages £300m worth of capital to SMEs. Rolled out across the country, it could bypass the bottleneck of banks refusing to lend to cash-starved SMEs, helping them to be the drivers of growth.

This is not about punishing the banks, but about getting Britain back on a stabler footing. The rate is set so low precisely to avoid hitting either the City or longer-term investments such as people’s savings and pensions. Undoubtedly an FTT would reduce certain areas of City trading – high-frequency computer trading that was memorably referred to by Adair Turner as “socially useless” – and this should be seen as a distinct advantage. The process would help rebalance the economy away from an over-obsession with the City’s short-term rewards towards other, less volatile, less geographically concentrated sectors such as manufacturing.

President Obama may support an FTT in his second term and we should actively encourage him to do so, but even without US support, Europe is right to forge ahead. The UK already has an FTT on share transactions. This doesn’t drive business away – on the contrary, London’s stock exchange is one of the most successful in the world. The exchequer benefits by some £3bn a year from this FTT, something George Osborne often seems to forget. Other financial centres also have unilateral FTTs – Hong Kong’s raises £1.7bn a year, South Korea’s £3.8bn and Brazil’s more than £10bn (pdf).

As the Bank of England’s executive director of financial stability, Andy Haldane, said recently, there is no “ideological chasm” that needs to be bridged in order to roll this tax out to other areas of the financial markets such as bonds and derivatives. As Labour continues to articulate its vision of a responsible capitalism, it is time to put the FTT centre stage. Between Europe and our own stamp duty, we have the blueprint to make this happen. In times of fiscal difficulty, tax needn’t be a dirty word – the financial transaction tax could be one of the most popular taxes this country has ever seen.


Western policy on Syria is failing on a monumental scale

The only way forward for Syria is to broker a political settlement, in consultation with Russia and Iran.

Peter Hain The Guardian 22/10/12

Russia and Iran have been culpable, there has been a catastrophic failure of diplomacy by the west and its allies. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s call for a ceasefire and an arms embargo is a welcome challenge to the west’s floundering policy. Britain, France and the US, as well as their allies, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, need to recognise that neither side is going to win the civil war engulfing Syria. Nor will the Turkey’s call for western military intervention to halt the humanitarian disaster resolve the crisis. A political solution has to be the priority.

The Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, is reported to be willing to consider the proposal by the UN-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, for a ceasefire for the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday on 26 October. The western powers and the Arab arms suppliers should urge their friends in the opposition to declare they will reciprocate if Assad makes good on his tentative promise.

Western demands for regime change were never going to work because this isn’t simply a conflict between a savage regime and the Syrian people. Assad and the ruling Shia-aligned Alawite minority form a tenth of the population and fear being oppressed by the Sunni majority. Christians and other minorities are similarly nervous. Together, those behind Assad constitute nearly a third of Syrians.

The war has also become a wider proxy for Sunni versus Shia, and Saudi Arabia versus Iran. There is also bitter suspicion at the west’s real intentions from Russia and China and their allies. They insist that they never authorised UN backing for military force to depose Muammar Gaddafi last year, and refuse to be “tricked” again. The Iraq invasion also poisons trust of the west. Libya today – its people at the mercy of warring militias and jihadist opportunists, the US ambassador assassinated – is hardly a good advertisement for repeating that regime-change recipe in more complex Syria.

David Cameron’s recent high-minded rhetoric at the UN general assembly ignored the presence of al-Qaida fighters among the west’s favoured rebels.Assad and the minorities and other popular forces that support him fear becoming victims of genocide, so will fight on. If the Syrian regime was somehow toppled without a settlement being in place, the country would descend into even greater chaos.

Russia is determined not to allow that anarchy, mainly because Syria provides its only Mediterranean port in the region. Iran also has key interests, malevolent or otherwise. Syrian refugees have already flooded into Turkey and Lebanon, the latter destabilised, with its police chief assassinated, and now plunged into a political crisis.

The only way forward is to broker a political settlement, with Russia using its leverage to ensure that Assad negotiates seriously. Without pandering to Vladimir Putin’s ruthless rigidity, engagement with Russia is critical – as is consultation with Iran. Otherwise a settlement will not happen.The guidelines for a political transition approved by the five permanent members of the UN security council at the Geneva conference in June still provides the best road map – but only if the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia and their allies drop their current stance and help to implement it.

However unpalatable, Assad may have to be granted immunity in order to get him to sign up and stop his barbarity. All state employees, including those in the armed forces, must be allowed to keep their posts, to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused by America’s de-Ba’athification in Iraq. A Yemen-type process may even figure. There, a hated president did not resign but did not stand for re-election. A coalition government of national unity could then prepare for Syrian elections, due in 2014.

The current British-American policy is failing on a monumental scale. Unless there is a radical change, all the hand-wringing and condemnation is either empty or hypocritical – or both.


Last Man Standing Review

Jack Straw is a supreme connoisseur of politics and his memoirs are for political connoisseurs: very much in character, crafted with literary elegance – erudite, forensic and fascinating. Always a consummate politician – possessed of “guile and low cunning”, as his old ministerial boss Barbara Castle memorably put it – his book is a tour de force through the fluctuating fortunes of the Labour party from the mid-1960s to the 2010 election defeat.

Our two stories ran in parallel, but on quite different trajectories, from youth radicalism to cabinet office. In his early 20s, Jack was the bright president of the National Union of Students when in 1969-70 the anti-apartheid campaign I found myself leading burst on to the rugby and cricket fields of Britain with direct action against all-white South African teams. He was supportive but careful to distance himself from our controversial militancy.

His account, laced with memorable anecdotes about Labour’s tortuous journey into self-destruction in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then eventual recovery and success in the 1990s, is a sound guide to outsiders wanting some insight into this crucial period. He is rightly generous to Neil Kinnock who, he remarks persuasively, would have made an excellent prime minister. But he also rejects the conventional wisdom on Kinnock’s successor, the widely admired John Smith, with whom he had a breach when he bravely argued for the abolition of the iconic Clause 4 of Labour’s constitution nearly two years before Tony Blair reformed it. Straw believed Smith was not fit to be prime minister. The reason, he rather brutally gives, albeit “with some trepidation”: Smith’s heavy drinking. Such frankness about senior colleagues applied also to the Commons office of Mo Mowlam, “whose floor was littered with her underwear, and who might, if you were unlucky, suddenly decide, in the middle of a conversation, to change some of it”.

He is also disarmingly but engagingly revealing about the pain of his father’s anger toward his mother (never witnessing “any tenderness between them”) and then his father’s abrupt departure, leaving her alone to bring up her children. An even more startling revelation – especially to those like me who worked closely with him in government – was: “I’d always been prone to ‘impostor syndrome’ and felt what I had achieved was bound to be taken away from me.”

He gives a real insight into being a cabinet minister – what the Private Office is like, the ministerial car drivers, the close protection officers, and the role of cabinet committees – laced with exquisite incidents that carry the reader along.

With an impressive grasp of history and a deep Labour party hinterland, he stood out among younger, more technocratic ministers. I found him commendably outspoken in cabinet, not least over the growing collapse in public trust suffered by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s governments. But then Jack also lost the trust of Blair because of his manoeuvring on Europe and a calculated shift of allegiance to Brown – to be arbitrarily demoted after five years as a respected foreign secretary, though his own explanation is growing differences over the Middle East.

As a formidable constant in top cabinet posts throughout Labour’s 13 years in government – home secretary, foreign secretary, leader of the Commons and lord chancellor – he is well placed to give his take on the dominant issues, including Iraq, and the frustrated plots of colleagues as Gordon Brown’s premiership disappeared into a quagmire. He ends with a hilariously self-deprecating description of getting lost on London’s buses and learning to drive again, after 13 years of being guided and transported by protection officers.

A big hitter with acute political antennae, he nevertheless gained a reputation for delivering legislation that bit back in unexpected ways; his well-intentioned but deeply flawed 2000 act reforming party financing a good example. A senior Labour MP was recently acclaimed by colleagues when he quipped sourly: “We need a one-clause bill to repeal all Jack’s acts.”

As a self-confessed “anorak”, Straw had a nerdish obsession for factual detail, which often got in the way of his ability to win an argument. But his photographic memory and prodigious appetite for devouring official documents left colleagues in constant awe. He was also good to work for, delegating well, listening and encouraging a team spirit.

Some memoirs by former Labour politicians generated headlines and big serialisation fees – promptly to disappear, quickly remaindered. This book will stand the test of time. Straw’s account of Labour’s journeys in and out of power over nearly five decades is a must for serious students of government and politics.


Peter Remembers War dead in Neath

Peter remembers War dead in Neath

Peter attended Neath’s Battle of Britain parade on Sunday 16th of September to commemorate all those who died in defence of Britain’s airspace during the Second World War. With a combined effort from the Air Cadets, Sea Cadets and Army Cadets with RAF veterans leading, they marched through the streets of Neath and attended a memorial service in St David’s church.  Following the service a ceremony took place at the town’s cenotaph at the Gnoll Gates. Peter Laid a wreath on behalf of the people of Neath along with other dignitaries and veterans.

After the ceremony the Royal Air Force Association club held a reception for the guests. The Lord Lieutenant of West Glamorgan D Byron Lewis Esq., CStJ, FCA was asked to present two awards, Malcolm Lyn Davies and Paul John Kent were honoured with the Royal Welsh Regimental Medal. Both have committed a great deal of service to the local community and to the RAF Association

Peter said “I was pleased to be part of the town’s parade and to see such a strong turnout of veterans and cadets showing appreciation and grief for the sacrifice made by so many during the epoch changing summer of 1940. These occasions remind us all of the terrible price the last generation paid for freedom.”