Seema's Webspace

Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Change to Website and New Contact Details

I was deeply honoured to be selected in November and then elected on December 15th 2011 to be the new Member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston. Over the last six weeks I have heard so much first hand from local residents about the work Alan Keen had done in the constituency for them and their local communities. I'm looking forward to continuing that work and to meeting so many across the constituency, and standing up for the people of Feltham and Heston in Westminster.

My webspace is being reorganised and is likely to take another week or two. In the meantime, my contact details are:

Seema Malhotra MP
Member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston
House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

Office: 020 7219 8957.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A Personal Tribute to Alan Keen MP, Member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston

As someone who has known Alan Keen for most of my political life, news of his passing earlier this week left me feeling deeply sad. Like many, my thoughts have been with his family including my former MP Ann Keen and his son David and family.
When MPs pass away, many tributes relate to what they were best known for in Parliament. But sometimes the differences that MPs make are far more personal. At particular moments in my early political life, Alan was key in helping me navigate my next steps. Discussions over coffee would be full of advice about how to build relationships in politics, how dynamics worked, and why listening to people was so important. Many of those things characterised Alan for me. He was held in high regard across Hounslow's minority communities too - an MP who knew how to build bridges and be a support in the community and in Parliament.
The first major election I was an activist in as a young student member was the 1992 election that saw Alan win his seat. It is amazing to think that it is nearly 20 years ago. Alan's passing is a real loss to Hounslow, and that sense of loss felt across the board is a tribute to him.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Croydon Women Start on Local Manifesto

It was an honour to be invited to speak at the launch event of @CroydonLabour Women's Forum, at which over 40 local women, many of whom had not come to anything vaguely political before, turned up to share a sunny Saturday afternoon in a community centre with kids in tow discussing their vision and hopes for Croydon. As a London-wide Assembly candidate, I was keen to support the event which was successfully developing an innovative space in which women of all backgrounds, political or not, could share in a conversation about their collective local future. Now its not surprising that someone like me, passionate about creating inclusive conversation so as to change debate and outcomes, should be inspired by such an event. To open the event, Fiona Mactaggart spoke succinctly about how the Government's policies have disproportionately affected women - with women directly paying twice as much as men for deficit reduction. The research that Fiona is leading with many Labour women MPs in their constituencies is showing remarkably consistent patterns about how families are responding to the economic crisis - in the last year alone, spending less, saving less, borrowing more. It's not a good picture. Val Shawcross talked extremely powerfully about Boris's record on London - highlighting rise in bus fares (56%), rise in tube fares - both issues really affecting outer London families, and one new area - the emerging statistics of rising pedestrian accidents across London as Boris reduces traffic lights and switches road management in favour of faster cars. And what was hugely impressive is that the women who came along really did respond to the opportunity to take a lead in that space and speak up on what they wanted. Fierce opposition to the skyscraper with 50 storys to be built next to an established community with no thought for the infrastructure around it was a strong theme. The lack of proper - and dare I say it - "family planning" - will have a direct cost impact for community and council. A similar approach to planning has now seen another estate generate a multitude of casework - poor parking facilities causing problems, safety issues on the streets contributing to keeping children at home much more. We were almost back to basics - build in community space and think about families when you make local development plans. If the only guide is a developer's ROI, and indeed their calculation of it, the result could be problems that take generations to solve. The event ended with a great speech by local London Assembly candidate Cllr Louisa Woodley - the first time I've heard Louisa speak, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Three words to describe Louisa - driven, focussed and committed - and absolutely unstoppable in making the case to people for change and challenging the record of Conservatives in Croydon.
Through an afternoon of policy, cupcakes, self defence and speed networking, two things really came through for me. Firstly the potential and power of people to change their communities, and secondly the power of women to change political conversation at any level. As we have more events like this across London, opening the party to the community, it can only help make sure we get the analysis right and the solutions right in our London manifesto.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Will the vote for Palestinian statehood go ahead?

For more reasons than one, the world's eyes should be on the UN today. Whilst the Guardian writes that the UN vote on Palestian Statehood may be delayed, the last few months has brought into the international scene a new dynamism on the question of Palestine and Israel, and achieving a viable two state solution. At an event in July, I asked Tony Blair about the Quartet's progress in the Middle East, and his view on Palestinian Statehood. I was really impressed by the thoughtfulness of his answer. It suggested to me an honest commitment to a making a two state solution become a reality. My personal view is that we must see this happen in our lifetime; to leave it to the next generation would be a huge abdication of our responsibility. He said rightly that Israel had legitimate security concerns, and confidence these were being being addressed were vital. But also on the vote; that statehood would mean very little if the infrastructure of the state, institutions, development were not in place to make statehood or anything close to it a reality. So it was heartening to hear from someone who went on the Young Fabian visit to Israel and Palestine last week their view that real progress is being made, and that many similarities also exist in aspirations of both sides. It made me wonder whether the people are ahead of the politics - and politicians now needing to step up and deliver on the aspirations of ordinary families wanting to live at peace with their neighbours. Certainly opinion polls would suggest that. Whether or not the vote goes ahead today, a momentum has been built and this has been an impressive power move on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas - a move which has triggered a significant response and called for each nation to review its position and commitment to peace in the Middle East. There has been a line of argument recently (but not one I personally agree with) that the vote could lead to a raising of expectation in Palestine that could be counterproductive at this delicate stage. I was one of many I am sure today who was extremely proud of Douglas Alexander MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary, for his truly statemanly letter to William Hague, Foreign Secretary, laying out Labour's position backing the recognition of Palestinian statehood as part of continuing steps to achieve a comprehensive two state solution. Whether there is a vote, the expectation is now higher on international politicians including America's leaders to make sure we move forward. Our political leaders must not rest until we see addressed through meaningful negotiation the security of Israel, the security of Palestinian borders on 1967 boundaries and the prospects of a positive future for the region. Peace in the Middle East was an issue I campaigned on as a student. It would be sad and shocking if children being born today were set up to do the same in 18 years, because of action that international Governments failed to take today. Peace in Israel and Palestine can only have positive outcomes for the world as a whole. Let's not see another generation of progress wasted.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Boris Johnson: Record vs Rhetoric

This blog has appeared today on ProgressOnline.

A few weeks ago Labour announced its team for the London Assembly elections in 2012. Fourteen constituency candidates and eleven Assembly list members will join Ken Livingstone to make up London Labour’s team for the elections in May next year.

Labour should be proud of the diversity of our Party’s candidates. Our field of 25 includes 14 women, 10 BME candidates, 3 LGBT candidates and one disabled candidate (the full list can be found here). It shows a genuine aspiration for representation that goes beyond what the Tories in London could even dream of offering. Their current eleven London Assembly members are made up of ten men, one woman and one ethnic minority.

On the same day as announcing its list of candidates in July, London Labour launched its Save our Sergeants campaign, calling on Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson to reverse his decision to force 600 local beat team sergeants in London to reapply for their jobs. It was revealed in mid July that hundreds of sergeants are being forced to reapply for their jobs as a result of Boris’s cuts to safer neighbourhood (SN) police teams. A recent Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) report (30/6/11) referred to ‘not recruiting to fill vacant posts and further reducing numbers.’ In February 2011, Boris Johnson announced he was cutting 300 sergeants from London’s 630 safer neighbourhood teams and in June 2011 Metropolitan Police Authority figures revealed that the number of police officers in London is being cut by 1,800 between 2011 to 2013/4.

This is despite the impact that the SN initiative has had in terms of London’s safety. The same MPA report quotes Public Attitude Survey data showing a 10-point increase in ‘confidence in local policing’, an 18-point increase in people ‘feeling informed’ and a 9-point drop in ‘worry about ASB’ between 2006 and 2010.

It is easy for the investment that has happened in policing to be taken for granted. But recent events have brought into sharp relief why policing continues to be a political battle. On the one hand, Boris Johnson is saying that it is not the time for police cuts – deliberately creating distance between himself and Downing Street (vital for his election so he is seen as independent ‘Boris’, not one of Cameron’s Conservatives). But this is at the very same time, as Ken Livingstone has pointed out, that he has agreed to budget cuts that will see precisely that – a cut in London’s policing. London police numbers peaked at 33,404 in July 2009 – and according to a report by the police watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary published last month, will fall to 31,460 by March 2015, as a result of budget cuts over four years.

Labour presided over a hard-won increase in police numbers as well as change in style of policing which has demonstrably contributed to safer communities and a far better relationship between the police and community. To understand policing is to understand a lot about prevention of public disorder and crime through community engagement, as much as it is about responding swiftly and effectively to criminality. The riots came to an end after the effective response of the police (after a disastrous start) and the corresponding partnership between the police and community is what is sustaining peace.

The last week’s affairs have shocked not just the UK but the world. But what is also shocking has also been the response of our leading politicians. We are now entering a vital debate about the social conditions and individual motivations that led to the riots and what we must now do to respond. This is going to take partnership between politicians and the police – not political point scoring that we have seen this week from Cameron and May. And with Boris having agreed one thing with the MPA, and saying another to the media, Londoners have to ask with greater scrutiny what Boris really stands for, and what he actually plans to deliver. Trust comes from your record, not your rhetoric in politics, and currently for Johnson there is a big gap between the two.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Nominate Seema Malhotra for Conference Arrangements Committee

Dear Constituency Member

I have been attending Labour Party conference for 20 years since I joined the party as a teenager. I am writing to ask you to consider nominating me at your next CLP meeting as a constituency representative on the Party’s Conference Arrangements Committee.

Nomination details have been sent to CLPs secretaries. CLPs can nominate up to two candidates. CLP delegates at conference will vote for two constituency representatives. Nominations must be received by the Compliance Unit of the Labour Party by June 24th 2011.

Not many members know about the work of this important committee that oversees organisation and debate at Annual Conference. Conference is and must remain our sovereign decision making body; when we really debate the issues that matter. It is when voters see Labour members speaking up for their communities and for Labour values. Debates at conference show voters what we stand for. Ordinary members must have their voices heard.

Conference will be vital in opposition to expose the betrayal of this Tory-led Government and the impact of their policies, while setting out a progressive and fair alternative that goes back to our roots. The engagement of members from across the UK will be critical, including the South where we lost many MPs and councillors, and the devolved administrations which see elections this year.
Our party is renewing itself. Through outstanding, informed debate at Conference we will show Britain we are ready for Government once again.

And to succeed, conference must be inclusive for delegates and visitors; all too often it is confusing especially for new members. I believe better communications are vital, and increased training and support for members and CLPs.

I bring wide experience as a CLP and union conference delegate. I have Party experience as a Constituency Chair, GC and EC member, and Labour candidate. I grew up in Hounslow, west London and have lived in the North and Midlands. I have campaigned across the country including in Scotland and Wales. I am a Unite union branch chair, active member of Coop Party, a former National Chair of the Fabian Society and Young Fabians. I founded and run the Fabian Women’s Network. I hope you will support me.

Please do feel free to contact me at any time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Seema Malhotra
Twitter: @SeemaMalhotra1

Thursday, 5 May 2011

AV is not the issue on which Progressives should be Conservative (and why I’m not #Meh about #Mehs)

Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to talk across the country and make the case for AV. It’s understandably been an issue on which a lot of people haven’t felt that “bothered”, but that doesn’t mean the outcome is not going to make a difference.
Many have felt aggrieved by the lies and innuendo paraded by the No campaign. I found the first poster of Clegg based on an Obama image one that verged on racist. That may not have been intended – but bad taste has come to dominate their campaign. There must be something deep that the right particularly fear losing – and it can only be power.
Indeed the issue of the cost of AV was rebutted by Lord McNally this week in the Lords who said that the costs of AV would not be significantly higher than First Past the Post. I also remember one event I was speaking at – and being extremely surprised to hear the No speaker argue one way (“Its not enough so just say No”) to supporters of PR, and then argue the merits of FPTP to others. I had no idea by the end of the meeting as to what the speaker actually believed in.
Less than a week after the Royal Wedding – which was a symbol of how the monarchy is modernising - we all have a chance to make a decision that will be a small step in the modernisation of our politics. A great Progress piece talked about AV as a marriage of principle and practice – and it was right.
Let me be clear. Whilst I support AV, I do not support PR. I believe we weakened accountability of our MEPs by removing the constituency link and I wouldn’t want a system that gave fascist parties seats in Westminster.
But what I do believe is that the public still want our politics to change. As the expenses crisis lingers as a painful memory, people have not lost an interest in politics. The evidence is there that in fact people want to feel closer, more connected and more influential in our political decision making.
Whilst we could have chosen another variant of reform for the Referendum, this is the one we have got and it is a sensible next step for our parliamentary reform. It is not a big complex change as the No campaign make out. In fact it is a system used by political parties – for internal elections. Every Labour party member who voted in the leadership elections last year used AV. The change is a simple one. It simply is a change from putting a X to either putting an X or ranking candidates 1,2,3.
When I was initially thinking about which way to vote on AV, I found myself coming down to a very simple question. If the Tories aren’t supporting it as Cameron’s has clearly stated, ask yourself why. If the BNP are against it, ask yourself why. The reason is that FPTP or PR entrenches the self interest of each of those parties. However the decision on AV should not be about your own party’s particular interest; it should be about a fairer voting system. This is a change that gives away a bit more power and choice to people. That’s why it’s important. That’s why the Tories are putting up a smokescreen. They know it is a system that could make them have to work beyond their comfort zone and natural supporters – and rather than change themselves, they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo.
Secondly, the very act of changing something in our national politics is symbolic of the fact we can change more. A spirit of change could bring other changes in its wake. I’d like to see a lot more be different. Reform to working hours of Parliament. A reduced recess. Job share MPs. Much more is possible, if people believe change can happen. So I believe that this will be the opening to changing our political life more fundamentally, and it’s a side of reform that Progressives should be on. This is not the issue on which Progressives should be conservative.
This referendum, our first in 36 years, isn’t about Nick Clegg or the Coalition.
It’s about the people of Britain. It is a change that matters, and it saddens me that we have so many people across parties – perfectly comfortably about being ‘Meh’ – undecided. Well on the issue of a change that improves voter choice and fairer democratic outcomes that doesn’t bring other problems in it’s wake, I’m not meh, and I won’t be meh about mehs. And if you worry about coalitions under AV – just remind yourself that FPTP produced this coalition – and there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen again.
If you think it doesn’t really matter what happens, take a quick look into the future. The boundary changes, reduction in seat numbers and issues around registration could result in Labour losing the chance to ever have an outright majority again. AV, as a fairer system that keeps the constituency link could be the Progressive’s best chance of ever holding power after the constitutional reforms (which are likely be biased in favour of Conservative forces) have gone through. With all the different changes underway, the future is never going to be the same as the past. Today’s vote has to be about the future.
A few days ago, I voted YES. And I urge you to do so too.

Seema Malhotra (@SeemaMalhotra1)

Monday, 4 April 2011

Are women being hit hardest by Pension reforms?

This article was published today at ProgressOnline.

Pensions reform may not be the sexiest of topics in Parliament, but you can be guaranteed that if we live to retirement age it is one area that will directly affect every one of us. Today, the Fabian Women's Network is holding a public debate on the Coalition's pension reforms and their impact on women. Speakers include pensions minister Steve Webb, shadow pensions minister Rachel Reeves, Baroness Patricia Hollis and Michelle Mitchell from Age UK.

The debate could not come at a more important time. Today the government is publishing proposals for a ‘universal state pension' which could make a positive difference to women and carers' pensions. But last week when the Pensions Bill went through report stage in the House of Lords, an amendment tabled by Lord McKenzie of Luton which aimed to stop the increase in the state pension age from 65 to 66 before 2020 was narrowly lost by 12 votes.

The pensions bill plans to raise the state pension age to 66 by 2020, and brings forward the timetable to equalise men and women's state pensions. Under the Pensions Act 2007, secured after Turner Commission and the establishment of a consensus on the principles of pension reform for a long lasting settlement, the increase was due to take effect between 2024 and 2026. The bill will bring forward the increase for both men and women so that by 2020, both men and women will be retiring at age 66.

This means that women's state pension age must rise from 60 to 65 by 2018 - just 7 years from now, rather than by 2020 as planned under Labour. The additional year's rise - to 66 - will be phased in between 2018 and 2020.

The coalition has said the changes are ‘necessary' because the current system is not sustainable in an ageing population. Certainly we are playing catch up on pension provision - projections show we will see a rapid increase in the dependency ratio over the next 30 years (i.e. number of economically active people supporting non-economically active). The Turner Commission summarised four choices that society and individuals need to choose from or balance for reform: a) pensioners will become poorer relative to the rest of society; b) taxes/national insurance towards pensions will need to increase; c) savings must rise; d) average retirement ages must rise.

None are palatable, and any change will see winners and losers. All parties were beginning to be warm towards the view in the Pension's Commission final report that supported the principle that the State pension age should rise over the long term as life expectancy increases - but do so as part of a package that is fair. The devil is likely to be in the detail - and today's Green Paper is seek views on plans for a mechanism to automatically increase the state pension age in line with average life expectancy.

Bringing forward the increase in SPA to 66 by 6 years is estimated to result in a total net saving of approximately £30.4bn between 2016/17 and 2025/26. The argument is that those reaching SPA before 2026 would gain from rise in life expectancy but would not carry a fair share of the costs.
But reaction to the Bill has rightly focused on the impact on women who have been disproportionately affected. It is estimated that half a million women will be waiting longer to receive their state pension under the new timetable, and for some women this will amount to losing £10,000 of pension payments. Shadow Pensions Minister Rachel Reeves said "Women born in 1954 have already had to adapt to one major revision as women's state pension age was increased from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020 and they now face another with little time to prepare." Ros Altmann, the DG of Saga, said the acceleration in timetabling was "clearly discriminatory" - "Women accept the need to equalize pension ages, but the timetable is unfair."

Age UK, who are supporting tonight's seminar have pledged to step up the campaign to halt the speeding up of the SPA increase to 66 before 2020 on the basis, according to Michelle Mitchell of Age UK, that "if given the green light these changes will deny millions of people the chance to plan properly for their retirement and will condemn the poorest to even more hardship".

With this being yet another reform that hits women the hardest, and at a time when unemployment is set to rise, implementing pensions reforms fairly is something that should concern us all and which needs far more consultation and cross-party consensus building than the Government has shown to date, and which characterized the process of reform over the last 5 years.

Seema Malhotra is director of the Fabian Women's Network

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Banker's report on top 500 Islamic Institutions

Fascinating report (well, to me anyway) in the Banker - "Islamic finance has continued to grow over the last few years despite a loss of confidence in global financial systems. The 2010 survey of financial institutions practising Islamic finance reveals that assets rose by 8.85% from $822bn in 2009 to $895bn in 2010. Islamic finance has held a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.46% from 2006 to 2010. Many sharia-compliant institutions remain unscathed from the direct impact of the financial crisis."

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Inspiring day at TUC Women's Conference

I spent the afternoon & evening at the TUC Women’s conference in Eastbourne today, ahead of speaking at the Electoral Reform Society’s reception tonight. I’ve not spent much time at the TUC Women’s Conference before and I came to the conclusion that it is something we should promote more widely and treasure. The debates that were had in the time I was there were quite short debates, but meaningful and rich with delegates showing their real experience of the issues and challenges. Just some of the issues debated were violence against women, abortion rights, free schools, public services, safety on transport. Issues debated by women from the point of view of women. The TUC brings together working women from a far greater range of backgrounds which made this a people’s debate beyond a political debate, in a conference where people were much more free to connect the personal and political. The discussion at the reception this evening also addressed women’s political representation. I have been making the argument in speeches recently that political equality is not just a consequence that follows from social equality, but in fact is something we must now see as a pre-requisite to social equality. If you don’t have the voices of men and women more equally in political decision making we'll continue to be making decisions from the narrow perspective of a minority.