Archives for posts with tag: legal aid

Sir Keir Starmer: So what is Labour going to do? You know, we keep being told that we are world-class in this and that, and probably the only thing that we can think of that fits that description is the vaccine programme. We have brilliant scientists who have developed the vaccine and our super-efficient NHS is distributing it faster than anyone else.

But you don’t need me to tell you that not much else is world-class at the moment. The number of people who have died in the UK is the highest in Europe and our economy is doing worst among the developed nations. 

Literally millions of people are having to go to food banks, and thousands are homeless on the streets, even in winter time. Universal Credit, to pay everything for a family of four, comes to less than a typical middle-class family will spend just on groceries in the supermarket. 

At the same time some people are getting massively richer through their private contacts with the Conservative party, making contracts to supply things which they know nothing about and which they fail to do, trousering billions in the process.

You know all that. What did you vote for in connection with Brexit? I can’t believe that you really wanted our farmers and fishermen to be unable to export to the EU, or our performing artists, actors, musicians, opera singers, orchestral players or dancers to be unable to go on tour anywhere in Europe, or for none of the stars that we used to welcome from Europe to be able to come here. The Brexit deal leaves out not only the performers but also our financial services industry – together that means half our economic output is effectively subject to a no-deal Brexit. Is that really what people wanted?

Let’s start thinking about what we in Labour could do, if we were in government. People liked the idea of an extra £350 million per week for the NHS as a result of our leaving the EU. Leaving the EU has actually cost us far more than this each week so far. But let’s stay with the idea that the NHS does need more money. Because it does! 

So people were right to vote for more money for the NHS; and Labour will give the NHS the funding that it needs, which is much more than £350 million per week. There needs to be enough investment to ensure that we have sufficient hospital beds – at the moment we have the lowest number per head of population in Europe – enough doctors – we have a shortage of several thousand – enough nurses – we have a shortage of 40,000 nurses – and all the necessary equipment and facilities that the NHS needs. The NHS needs massive extra investment, and Labour will provide it. 

Just remember the Nightingale hospitals. The army came in and very efficiently did what they are very good at, creating instant buildings, and the government managed to cobble together enough ventilators – but we didn’t have any doctors or nurses to staff these new hospitals. It was an illusion. Labour is not in the business of illusions. We want to give you the real thing, something solid and reliable.

What about our housing? When did you last meet someone who lives in a council house? We need to build hundreds of thousands of council houses. Yes, council houses, not so-called ‘affordable’ houses. Because current housing is not affordable. For somebody on an ordinary income even the deposit for a private rented flat may be out of reach. To buy an ‘affordable’ house, as it is defined, in parts of the south-east, costs half a million pounds. 

The government needs to invest in things which provide solid, lasting benefits for society and at the same time provide real jobs. If we built another half million council houses, as they did at the end of the Second World War, this would employ thousands of people and provide work for many subcontractors and manufacturers all over the country. Labour will provide the necessary finance to local authorities so that they can afford to do this.  

And local authorities need the proper funding – which they used to have – in order to do all the things which they can do to make our lives more civilised. We need to make sure that they have enough funds to pay properly for social care which can work closely with the National Health Service, so that old people are not just dumped.

We need children to be properly catered for. The Sure Start scheme needs to be reinstated and properly funded. Our schools and their teachers must have proper funding. It’s interesting that if you send a kid to a private school (or what is called a ‘public school’), it’s going to cost over £30,000 per year, whereas in the state system the budget for each pupil is around £4,000. 

Nearly eight times less! We need to invest in our schools, so that our teachers can take their proper place in society – and indeed so that we can attract the best and most talented people to become teachers – and so that those schools can have all the facilities to educate our children to the highest standard. It’s no good when Dame Louise Casey, the Children’s Commissioner, says in her leaving report that a fifth of children leaving school cannot read and write. We are the sixth richest country in the world, and that is disgraceful. Teachers need to be in the same league as other professionals.Every child should have a proper amount spent on them. We should rejoin the Erasmus educational exchange scheme. Labour will do this.

We must get away from this idea that public is bad and private is good. Think where you would rather live, if you couldn’t live where you do now. Which country? I expect quite a lot of people would say Italy, France, Germany, or Spain, where every town has an elegant square and fine buildings around it; fine public facilities – in Germany even modest sized towns have their own opera house – whereas our whole country has only three major opera houses.

We have to get through this pandemic. It seems wrong to us in Labour that there are still hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen through the net and are not receiving any kind of state benefits even though they are prevented from working, perhaps because they have just changed their job or they have gone self-employed – and by the way, being self-employed, we think, is often a scam, so their employers can cheat the tax-man. 

We are very pleased to see the judgement in the Uber case which is, we hope, going to outlaw much of the ‘gig economy’ so that everyone who works hard can have paid holidays and sick leave when they need it. Good work by the trades unions got this result, and Labour will legislate to make sure of it.

But, you will say, Labour is always very good at spending other people’s money. We need government to be prudent. Frankly, you need to know, that is an over-simplification. As Mr Sunak has proved, when the money is needed, money can be easily found. If you compare our situation now with that at the end of World War II, we were far worse off then and borrowing was much higher – and yet the Labour government successfully started the NHS, built half a million council houses and created the modern welfare state. Margaret Thatcher and her handbag are not a good economic model!

And what about our relations with Europe? We don’t think that people voted to leave the Customs Union and Single Market. Indeed the Brexit campaigners constantly assured us that there would be no question of this happening. 

Again, people wanting to stop immigration have perhaps forgotten how many immigrants keep the NHS going. How many doctors and nurses there are from other countries all around the world. How many teachers and researchers in our leading universities – and indeed how many plumbers and fruit pickers – there are from our friends and neighbours in other countries.

Immigrants, as a group, contribute over 10% more in tax than people who were born in this country. We should welcome them. Freedom of movement would actually be a very good thing for our country, so long as we have proper resources in place. 

If there is a competition for public services, it is because those services have been cut to the bone. If we had properly funded public services, then everybody would be able to benefit, wherever they have come from. 

Labour wants this country to be really world-class, not just world-class for the spivs. A Labour government would lead the country, all the country, into a better place. We know that it will cost money, at least in the short run, and we need to look again at the taxation of the giant multinational companies who use our public facilities but contribute hardly anything in tax.

There is a reason why it is cheaper to shop online than to visit a shop on the High Street. It is because the likes of Amazon and Apple and Google play the market in international tax and pay little or nothing in this country. Labour will put a stop to this and will tax the multinational companies not on profits but on turnover from sales in this country. 

And yes, we will introduce higher rates of income tax for the wealthy. It’s true that the wealthy already pay a lot of tax. But frankly if you earn several hundred thousand pounds a year you can afford to pay some more.

We will look sympathetically at the idea of universal basic income. It is frankly wrong that anyone in work should have to go to a food bank, as many nurses do. It is wrong that people who are disabled or unable to work for whatever reason should have less to cover all their living expenses than what many people spend every week just on groceries in Sainsbury’s or Waitrose.

Mention those shop names; what’s happening on the High Street is something which Labour wants to address too. The great department shops can’t survive if people can buy everything online at a cheaper price. Your local bookshop won’t survive if Amazon can sell books for less than the local book shop can buy them wholesale. Labour will ensure that online retailers have to bear the same costs as physical shops who employ local people and provide real service face-to-face.

Labour will invest in our justice system. We will actively seek to rejoin the European criminal intelligence network; we will reopen courts and provide properly resourced Legal Aid, including for family cases, so that justice is no longer open only to the rich, and people charged in criminal cases do not have to wait for up to a year to be tried. Justice delayed is justice denied, and Labour agrees. Labour will uphold the Human Rights Act.

Welcome to our world – to the Labour world. Really world-class.


Sermon for Holy Communion on the Third Sunday after Trinity, 16th June 2013
2 Samuel 11.26 – 12.10,13-15, Galatians 2.15-21, Luke 7.36 – 8.3. Taking the Poor Man’s Pet Lamb.

On Wednesday I went to a very interesting panel discussion in St Paul’s Cathedral, chaired by Stephanie Flanders, the BBC economics correspondent, in a series called ‘The City and the Common Good – what kind of City do we want?’ under the auspices of St Paul’s Institute, which, even if it may not actually have been set up in response to the Occupy protest outside St Paul’s, certainly has raised its profile since.

The title of the session was ‘Good Banks’, and the panel was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave the keynote presentation. As you can imagine, it was a fascinating evening. Archbishop Justin is a leading member of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, so he definitely knows what he is talking about in the banking area as well, of course, as being an archbishop.

Archbishop Justin talked about what it was for a bank to be good. The ultimate objective, Archbishop Justin said, was that a bank should contribute to the common good; and the common good he explained as ‘human flourishing’.

I think ‘human flourishing’ is one of those almost circular terms dreamed up by philosophers and theologians to get away from terms like ‘rich’ or ‘successful’ or ‘happy’, which might invite objections of one kind or another, if they were put forward as ingredients of ‘goodness’. ‘Flourishing’ has perhaps some connotation of St Irenaeus’ famous saying, that ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive’. A human being who has realised his or her potential, who is fulfilled in that: not just successful – not necessarily successful at all.

Antony Jenkins of Barclays, another panel member, recalled that, when he was being questioned by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, he was ticked off by Archbishop Justin for forgetting that Barclays was originally a Quaker company. Their values were derived from their Quaker, Christian, faith.

Not everyone will automatically agree on what is good and bad. There’s a famous instance in Herodotus’ Histories, written 2,500 years ago in the 5th century BC, [Book III.38.3f], where the Persian king Darius asks some Greeks how much he would need to pay them in order to persuade them to eat their fathers’ corpses when they died. They replied that would never do that, not at any price.

After that, Darius summoned some Indians of a tribe called Callatiae, who regarded it as completely normal to eat their fathers’ corpses, and he asked them how much money it would take to persuade them, instead of eating them, to cremate their fathers’ corpses. They cried out in horror and told him not to say such awful things.

These days we don’t very often go very deeply into what it is that makes something good or bad, what it is that makes us generally agree that something is good or bad: what the quality in the thing which is held out to be good or bad, what quality in that thing will make us decide that it is good or bad morally. I think that we ought to give it more thought.

But if we do think about it, it is that as Christians, just like the founders of Barclays Bank, we derive our justification, our perception that something or other is good or bad, from our Christian faith: from the 10 Commandments, from Jesus’ sayings in the New Testament. Not everyone has this same moral compass.

In our lessons today there are three different illustrations of right and wrong. Jesus meeting the woman who was said to be a ‘sinner’, but who showed him more love than the respectable Pharisee, Simon; St Paul wrestling with whether ultimate goodness depended on following the Jewish Law, and in particular whether in order to be a good Christian you needed to be circumcised (if you were a man).

I want to concentrate on the first one, the terribly sad story of King David and his adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Some of it is rather reminiscent of what I think many of us find shocking in the recent stories about the banks.

David used his power as king. He did what he wanted, he had his way with another man’s wife – because he could. There was no-one to stop him. He contrived to have Bathsheba’s husband killed, by ordering him to undertake what was in effect a suicide mission. Again, he did it not because he was right, or justified, in so doing, but because he could. He had the power, the might, of kingship.

Just so, those banks, those banks who were ‘too big to fail’, and the so-called ‘masters of the universe’ who led them, undertook transactions which involved zero sums: someone wins, and the other party loses. By the amount won, the loser loses a corresponding amount. The profit and the loss balance out: it is a zero sum. Nothing wrong, perhaps.

But the trouble is, that in many cases, what made some banks winners was not the excellence of their work, or their deals’ contribution to the economic well-being of society, but rather the fact that they did it because they could. If, for instance, you sell people an investment based upon the bagging up of hundreds of loans, if you represent to your buyer that this is a good investment, even though you know that in many instances the loans which you have packaged up will never be repaid, and if you sell them on, using your bank’s great reputation as a powerful and reputable operator in the market, you are not trading fairly. You are in effect a bully. You are too big to fail: the other parties are too small to affect you.

You are a bit like King David, perhaps. But where your bank differs from King David is that, in modern times, there has been no prophet to speak truth to power, in the way that the prophet Nathan did to David. The regulator, the FSA, has been ineffective. Perhaps if one compares Nathan’s scrutiny of what David had done with FSA regulation, one could see that, whereas, most likely, a modern regulator will look at whether the rules have been followed, Nathan looked to see whether David had done evil in the sight of God.

I had some dealings with the FSA when I was in legal practice: but I never remember them couching any of their communications with my clients in terms of whether their conduct had been right or good – let alone whether they had done evil in the sight of God.
Nathan brought David to see that he had done wrong by telling him the heartbreaking story of the rich man taking the poor man’s pet lamb. The rich man had no right to do it. He didn’t even pay the poor man – he just took it. He did it because he could.

What redress could the poor man have? He was too poor to sue. It’s the same today; legal aid has been taken away, so a poor person cannot, in practice, go to court to get justice if a big company infringes his rights.

But King David had Nathan the prophet to hold up a mirror to him, to show him the wrong that he had done. David acknowledged his fault, his sin, his crime. He was punished: but ultimately the Lord forgave him. We, in our society, don’t do that. No-one accepts that they have done wrong. No-one prays for forgiveness. Instead, these masters of the universe take their bonuses, or their huge golden parachutes, and ride off into the sunrise, heads held high.

But the little people have to suffer. I was shocked to read, in ‘Lunch with the FT’, yesterday, Sir Mervyn King, the retiring governor of the Bank of England, sketching out possible ways of restoring financial health to Europe. One was, I quote, ‘to continue with mass unemployment in the south, in order to depress wages and prices until they’ve become competitive again’. Do you see the spectre of the pet lamb? Do you think that a poor person in Greece, who can’t get medicine any more when they are ill, has the slightest interest in being ‘competitive’?

Maybe it was the way the piece was written; maybe in fact Sir Mervyn is the most compassionate man, and he would never sacrifice the livelihoods of the poor and impotent for the sake of some economist’s dogma. But the frightening thing is that he could, if he did want to. Where is his Nathan?