Woolwich, unity and the far-right

On Thursday morning, people woke to the images of a bloodied man and his victim being broadcast all over the world. Watching these events unfold in Woolwich on Wednesday afternoon, I was shocked and horrified. Social media was used to send out the rallying cry for fascists and racists, calling for violence and whipping up hatred for the Muslim community. All of this was because this was ‘time to take our country back’.

‘Back from where?’ was my first thought when I saw that line on the internet. As a proud British Asian, the UK is my home, I was born here and I identify with it as much as the next person. I believe we are stronger when we are united, which is why the reaction to the events in Woolwich worry me. Seeing the pictures of the 100 or so EDL activists out on the streets throwing bottles is a clear and conscious attempt to divide our community and whip up hated for the Muslim community. The day after the attack, Nick Griffin called for a BNP demo in Woolwich further seeking to play on the tensions that are already running high in the area.

The EDL and the BNP don’t speak for me and they are no more representative of the wider British society than one man shouting, and killing in the name of Islam is of the Muslim community. Over the coming days and months, the far right will continue to ensure they capitalise on this moment and evidence from America shows that in the first week after incidents such as the Woolwich attack, crimes against minority communities increases. It’s vital therefore, that we stand united against all forms of racism and fascism. I know that the London I love is capable of doing this just as we stood united in the aftermath of the July 2005 attack.

There will come a time to explore how and why the horrific events of yesterday were able to happen but now isn’t that time. Until then, my thoughts are with Drummer Lee Rigby’s family and friends.

Supporting a Financial Transaction Tax

Islington Council recently passed a motion supporting the UK joining 11 other EU countries including France, Germany and Italy, in introducing a Financial Transaction Tax. This new tax could raise an additional £20 billion annually in the UK alone. This money could be invested in growing the UK economy through funding house building, education and infrastructure. It would help address London’s urgent housing crisis, fund the reintroduction of Educational Maintenance Allowance, and create jobs and opportunities for thousands of workers.

Governments across Europe and in the USA have spent vast sums of money bailing out their financial services. A tiny Financial Transaction Tax is a neat and progressive way for governments to recover some of this money. All members of society are being asked to make sacrifices to restore public finances following the collapse of Lehman brothers and subsequent the financial crash. Our financial services must pay their share too.

As writer in the Washington Post, making the case for introducing the Financial Transaction Tax in the USA, put it “The good news is that it’s a tax so small it could be mistaken for a rounding error. It’s so small, Wall Street could easily afford it and the average E-Trade investor would barely notice it. If this were a tax on coffee, it would cost you $1 for every 800 cups you bought at Starbucks.”

There are many compelling arguments for introducing a Financial Transaction Tax in the UK. A Financial Times opinion piece explains “At a time when many countries are facing budgetary pressures due to the financial crisis, the new tax would contribute towards fiscal consolidation without directly impacting the real economy. The tax might also deter excessive trading and, in the process, promote market stability and long-term investing. Financial services would no longer enjoy an exemption from value-added taxes, thereby reducing competitive distortions. Several countries impose financial transaction taxes, for example, a stamp duty on share purchases has been levied in the UK for centuries.”

Critics of the tax argue that it will make the UK less attractive, encouraging financial traders to abandon the UK for other countries. This same argument is used when people call for taxes on bankers’ bonuses. Well, Mr Mayor, I am unconvinced by this argument. The UK (and London) is a fantastic place to live, work and do business.

If the government wants to encourage international business, they should focus on providing our young people with world-class education, training and skills. It is ironic that the government is probably doing more harm to the UK economy with their regressive attitude towards immigration than a Financial Transaction Tax ever could. Just go to Canary Wharf and see how cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse the workers are, how those leading international companies attract talented people from around the world. These talent individuals make the choice to come to work in London.

Who can blame them? Whatever country you come from, your community will be represented in London, where you can enjoy the best cuisines from around the world. We are even in arguably the best time zone for doing business internationally. From our theatres to our football clubs, from our museums and art galleries to our fashion and shopping, London is a top destination and this tax would not change that. I am proud that Islington Council supports the Financial Transaction Tax.

Alice Perry is an Islington Councillor and member of Labour’sNational Policy Forum

Which side are you on, boys?

The Daily Telegraph supporting Boris Johnson? Surely not!

For many, Andrew Gilligan’s promotion to the paper came as a relief. No longer would his hysterical opinions be broadcast to the capital’s retreating commuters as a point of course.

But when self-proclaimed Labour supporters take to its pages to shaft their own party less than a month before a crucial election, we can no longer be passive.

Lynton Crosby, the hard-right Tory campaign director, emailed the Tory members this weekend.

In an attempt to string out the mayoral tax row, Crosby invokes a number of sources, including the Telegraph, Lib Dem Brian Paddick and The Times. No surprises there. But Crosby also lists apparently ‘Labour’ commentators. “This isn’t just my view,” he writes. “See what others, including Labour activists, are now saying about Ken Livingstone’s hypocrisy.”

The Labour members he lists are Atul Hatwal, Jonathan Roberts, and Dan Hodges (who is quoted supporting Andrew Gilligan, who, like Hodges and Boris Johnson, is paid by the Telegraph).

It is time to call this what it is: Labour members undermining the Labour campaign for the mayor of London by doing and saying things the Tories want them to do.

They are acting as agents of the Tories’ line and the Tories’ strategy by throwing hand-grenades around our own trenches, rather than targeting the opposition.

Describing these figures as Labour activists is a insult to the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who have brought bread and butter issues such as transport fares up the agenda. And I’ll sort out a VIP ticket to my ward’s next canvassing session for any proven sighting of Dan Hodges on the doorstep.

None of these people have shown any interest in Labour winning this election. When the polls have shown the election to be on a knife-edge, they stay eerily silent. And then we see them pile in behind a newly negative and unpleasant Tory campaign. Self-describing tribalists like Hodges know too that when you’re close to an election, you can only pick your side. They have picked theirs: that of the Tory mayor.

Whilst Labour and its members are piling everything into this campaign, some people prefer to indulge themselves and their egos.

We only have to read the introduction of Crosby’s email to see the Tories’ vulnerability in this election. He is worried that his main election argument has gone into a tailspin. “Today, the national media are focusing on what disclosure means for the future direction of British politics and others are saying that it is a sideshow – just politicians spatting,” he says, adding that “These claims may serve Ken Livingstone’s purpose…”

He should be worried – his strategy has veered off into a different debate: whether total disclosure is healthy for British public life. He and Johnson have poisoned the well. Many commentators are urging for the debate to move on.

Even Tory ex-minister John Redwood now says the tax debate is “crowding out the more important matters of what Ken or Boris would do to the Council Tax, the policing, and the transport of London,” he argues.

Johnson’s campaign is trying to divert Londoners’ attention from understanding that they will be £1,000 or more better off with Labour’s Ken Livingstone, through the reduction of fares and other key pledges – or, put another way, they will be £1,000 or more worse off with Johnson and the Conservatives.

If we can get this message out, then Ken will win. In a cynical attempt to deceive the electorate, the Tories have made a song and dance distraction.

Crosby’s strategy can be taken down. Real Labour activists will be doing just this in the coming weeks. Those few Labour members who continue to snipe must accept that they are simply the Tories’ useful idiots.

* On Tuesday, hundreds of Labour activists will be campaigning for Ken’s fares cut. Show the Tories whose side you’re on and sign up here: http://www.kenlivingstone.com/faredealtuesday

By Conrad Landin