Sion Simon is Labour MEP for the West Midlands and also Labour candidate for West Midlands mayor. He has launched his campaign to win the elections on 4 May and he was able to find time in his busy schedule to come to Brussels Labour and talk about his vision for renewing local government.
Regional devolution has been long overdue. The previous Labour government took bold steps to devolve the UK along national lines but regional devolution in England was not a priority. As a result, the UK remains the most centralised country in the industrialised world.
Only 19% of public spending is determined at regional level in the UK, compared to 50% in Germany. Most UK cities have a GDP per capita under the national average. Cities are centres of decay and inequality. Brexit makes reform all the more important because of the economic uncertainty and the need to attract investment.
A regional devolution process has been launched by the government, but it is quite gradual. Whereas the 1999 national devolution package established a complete framework with clear division of powers, the current process is open ended and starts with a bidding phase this May.
What powers and budget will the new Mayors have ? This is as yet undefined because the first question is what do we need to do ? We need to develop a vision about where do we need to get to in eleven years from now. Then we infer what powers should be devolved as a function of those goals. The first term of the new Mayors will be essentially spent on consultations but by the second term we should have a defined set of policies, in particular as regards housing; development planning; transport; health and social care.
As regards budgets, Sion Simon argued that the Barnet formula allocates substantial per capita grants to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But Birmingham has a lot higher unemployment and lower living standards so there is no quantitative argument to spend less on the West Midlands region.
However, the election challenge in 2017 will be to raise awareness in the electorate because the regional devolution process is unknown. The real test will be in 2020. However there is a need to deliver real change in the meantime. Areas where it should be possible to make a difference in the short term include transport ticketing; lowering rents on private housing; improving mental health care.
In the discussion that followed Sion clarified his position that whilst this government’s approach is insufficient, nonetheless he believed that it was an opportunity that had to be seized. Chancellor Osborne had realized that the regional economic imbalances were too great and that the South East was buckling. The new devolution had many flaws but was still an opportunity “to run our place”.
This devolution is based around the main connorbations and the West Midlands electorate comprises 2 million voters.
The new framework has a lot in common with the County Councils which were established in the 1970s and then abolished by Thatcher. In effect the Tories took away our manufacturing base and then took away our means to build it back.
Sion believed that England did have regional identities e.g. the Northeast but we didn’t have a tradition of regional government or a language to express our regional identities. The West Midlands has an identity linked to manufacturing, from steam engines and spitfires to electric cars. It is a creative engineering identity. A big part of the job of Mayor will be to articulate that identity, make it real and create a sense of pride.
He concluded by saying that the HS2 high speed rail link will be good for the West Midlands. The project itself will create jobs and in the longer term a 4% spike in growth is expected from the rail link to London. But Mayors will not have any say in the project, all power is in the hands of the HS2 company. There has not been enough local consultation and there is a risk of highly congested roads for decade to come during the building works as the local train service will be disrupted.
The Executuve Committee met on 11 January 2017
The minutes of each meeting can be downloaded here: January 2017
7 February 2017
As you will remember, Brussels Labour campaigned with you, the Labour Party, MPs and MEPs for a ‘Remain’ vote during the referendum campaign. Brussels Labour is obviously devastated by the referendum result and our members and their families, like British citizens throughout the EU, are deeply distressed about the potential impact of Brexit on their lives.
For this reason, our members are now very concerned about the position the Labour Party is taking on the Article 50 Bill. Leaving the European Union will not be straightforward and the Labour Party needs to be an effective opposition to the Government during the whole exit process, in order to protect the rights of all citizens. Labour is a pro-European party and the vast majority of our MPs are lifelong pro-Europeans.
We believe that Labour MPs should have the right to a free vote on this issue of historic importance. Furthermore we are very concerned the Conservative Party’s intentions during the Brexit negotiations and would like you to ensure that the transition towards leaving the European Union is smooth for working people. We therefore urge you to support amendments that protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens who live, work and have retired in the European Union.
Thank you for considering this request.
Chair, Brussels Labour
175 million Europeans will go to the polls in 2017 to elect a new parliament and a new government in i.a. The Netherlands, France, Czech Republic and Germany. In all those countries progressive parties are currently ruling parties.
The issues at stake are high: populism is on the rise across Europe. Fake news and fake solutions with xenophobic and nationalistic slogans are undermining democratic values. Europe integration project is facing a huge challenge. The new governments will define the i.a. EU’s stance on Brexit, visions for society and economy, alternative to an isolationist and exclusive society proposed by right-wing populist movements.Join us to discuss:
When: February 10, at 18h30
John Crombez, Chairman, sp.a, Belgium
Jiří Dienstbier, Senator and former minister of Human rights, ČSSD, Czech Republic
Alexander Schweitzer, Head of the parliamentary group in Rheinland-Pfalz, SPD, Germanyand TBC:
– Which concrete perspectives are we progressives offering our voters – credible alternatives to the nationalist-conservative scaremongering?
– Austerity: how do we put an end to it? What roles for national or a eurozone budgets?
– Migration crisis: finding solidarity solutions in the EU.
– What will be left from the left if 2017 will mean a radical shift to the right in the EU?
A drink will be served.
Download the latest edition of Germinal
This edition features reports of the Labour Party Conference in September, the latest meeting of the National Policy Forum and the meeting of Labour International.
Read also Stephen Kinnock and Emma Reynolds views on Brexit.
The next Brussels Labour Branch meeting will take place on Wednesday 25 January at 19:30 with Sion Simon MEP, at the Foundation for Progressive Studies (FEPS), Rue Montoyer 40, Brussels.
Sion Simon is an MEP for West Midlands and Labour’s candidate in the upcoming election for West Midlands Mayor.
The 2016 Memorial Lecture was held in remembrance of John Fitzmaurice and Mike Ridgeway. Mike passed away earlier this year and had participated in Brussels Labour for many years, including as auditor of our accounts. We warmly welcomed Françoise, Mike’s partner, to the meeting.
His fellow auditor, Peter Wragg, told us how Mike was well known in Brussels circles and was also an active member of the Belgian Parti Socialiste. He was quite a private person with a dry sense of humour but who was fiercely loyal to Labour and, today, would have called strongly for party unity. Peter had known well Mike and John and he was moved to remember how they had both been discreet but selfless and learned comrades.
Also on this occasion, Labour International was pleased to give Frazer Clarke an award in recognition of his services as Treasurer.
Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton North East led a Delegation of MPs and gave the keynote speech. Emma had been Shadow Minister for Europe, as well as a former Treasurer of Brussels Labour ! She was delighted to see many old friends and had come to Brussels to discuss the situation in her new role as a representative on the Brexit Committee in the House of Commons.
She recalled the first ever John Fitzmaurice lecture given by Neil Kinnock. In those days Socialists were in power in 11 countries across Europe and there was a sense of a world full of possibilities. Never would we have imagined what was happening today.
However, Emma went on to say that today we needed to accept the situation. Working people did feel that they were neglected and were worried about their livelihoods. The Theresa May government seemed to put migration above all other issues, to the extent that it seemed to put UKIP into power without being in office. A hard Brexit was possible but it posed huge questions.
The recent High Court ruling clarified that since Parliament voted for the European Communities Act when the UK joined the EU, then only Parliament could repeal it. Labour MPs are pressing for a transitional free trade arrangement to fill the gap between the end of the Article 50 exit procedure and the conclusion of a full free trade agreement in compliance with Article 218. Otherwise there was the risk of less favourable WTO rules coming into force.
Emma outlined her principles for an exit settlement. We should defend progressive rights and avoid race to bottom. We should also ensure the closest possible relations with the EU and reform free movement. There was a spectrum between all or no free movement and a debate was needed to convince voters that we had a fair system.
UK financial expertise and the role of the City of London were valuable to Europe as well as to the UK it was in our mutual interest to preserve this. Furthermore, it was in all our interests to have a new relationship with Europe including British participation to deal with strategic issues such as security.
In the discussion that followed several friends questioned whether Labour should support Brexit following a referendum based on misinformation and which risked leaving the UK worse off. Emma underlined that in her view it was necessary to respect the result of the referendum, where 17 million people had voted to leave the EU. It was fundamentally important to respect democracy.
Theresa May was apparently intent on leaving the single market and therefore Labour had to focus on setting its own objectives for the Brexit process. We needed to say that European cooperation was still valuable and have the softest Brexit possible.
Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, spoke about how Brexit and the Trump victory pointed to a new post-liberal age where popular opinion had shifted. Labour had a choice between continuing to fight for existing policies, and risk perpetual defeat, or engaging with this new mood.
Other comments included that the softest Brexit will leave Britain worse off than what we have now with no Schengen and the budgetary rebate; the need to be pragmatic if the Brexit negotiations revealed that the Leave promises were unattainable and public opinion changed; the need to ensure reciprocal rights for EU and UK workers and respect acquired rights.
Click here to read Emma’s speech in full.
Executive Committee Meeting Dates in 2016
4 April 2016
3 May 2016
1 June 2016
20 July 2016
7 September 2016
12 October 2016
10 November 2016
Follow the links below for the minutes of each meeting
The annual Brussels Labour pub quiz will take place on Wednesday 16 November at 19:30 at Café Place de Londres: 1050 Ixelles.
Please register your team of 4 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Entry is 5 euro per team member (20 euro per team) – please pay on the night.
The quiz is open to Brussels Labour members and non-members alike. Teams can also be signed up on the night.
There will also be a raffle, and the net proceeds of the event will be donated to the Jo Cox Fund.
Do come along, have some fun and support a good cause.
Look forward to seeing you there!