What would Beatrice Webb do? Essay winner announced

The New Statesman and Webb Memorial Trust award prize for the Poverty Index essay competition.

A team from the New Statesman joined representatives from The Webb Memorial Trust last Thursday to announce the winner of the Poverty Index Essay competition. The event took place in the august surroundings of the House of Commons and was attended by representatives from children's charities and guests from the world of politics.

The competition, designed to encourage young writers to engage with the issue of poverty, asked participants a set question on how Beatrice Webb, anti-poverty campaigner and co-founder of the New Statesman, would develop an index of poverty if she were alive today.

Mike Parker, Honorary Secretary of The Webb Memorial Trust, along with Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, kicked-off proceedings by outlining a new five year collaboration between the Trust and the NS. Kate Green MP went on to praise the quality of the essays, adding that the legacy of Beatrice Webb and the issues she campaigned on are very much alive today. With the current government in power, she hastened to add, the issue was of particular concern.

John Hills, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Ecomonics, went on to announce that Celia Goodburn, a recent Master's graduate, had won the runner-up prize. She received £500 and will have her essay published by the New Statesman. She said afterwards she was "extremely happy" adding that she "hoped her essay would help raise awareness."

The winner was announced as Anil Prashar, a 20-year-old economics student at the LSE. He received a £1000 prize and will also have his essay published. Anil said afterwards:

I didn't expect this. I'm a mathematician! I really had to explore the issues for myself. I know it's a bit of a cliché but I do hope I can make a difference. I find that my friends say things that bring me down. They hate poverty and the way the country is run. I say to them: you can change this.

Kate Green MP said of the winning essayists:

It was brilliant to see young people engaging and exploring the issue of poverty, putting effort to think through the arguments, developing new perspectives and thinking. The winning essays showed muscular thinking that was focused, exploratory and -- in a good way -- ruthless.

Mike Parker later added that the event was "fortuitously timed with all of the discussions over the summer's riots and recent comments from David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith on the Poverty Index."

David Cameron was asked on ITV's Daybreak on 1 December about recent findings that 100,000 children would be forced below the poverty line because of the measures in George Osbourne's Autumn Statement. Cameron replied: "I think there is a real problem with the way we measure child poverty...it's done on relative poverty, if you increase the pension, that means more children are in poverty. I think that's illogical." You can read his claims fact-checked here.

The winning essays will be published online and in the New Statesman on 2 January. Below is an except from Anil's piece:

[Webb] helped create the ideas that were behind the welfare state and the universal healthcare system. In doing this she achieved the structural change she had intended and it is because of her efforts that the index suggested in this essay is so particular to the UK. Not many countries can boast being a welfare state, having universal healthcare and a minimum wage. If Webb were alive today to compile her own poverty index for the UK she would probably smile at how UK citizens can keep out of the workhouse and not worry about the Poor Laws, that is, before turning her attention to the problems of child poverty and social cohesion.

The full judging panel included Richard Rawes (chair Webb Memorial Trust), Jason Cowley (editor New Statesman), Baroness Ruth Lister, Kate Green MP, Chris White MP and Paul Hackett (director Smith Institute).

Photo credit: Sophia Schorr-Kon.

Show Hide image

Donald Tusk is merely calling out Tory hypocrisy on Brexit

And the President of the European Council has the upper hand. 

The pair of numbers that have driven the discussion about our future relationship with the EU since the referendum have been 48 to 52. 

"The majority have spoken", cry the Leavers. "It’s time to tell the EU what we want and get out." However, even as they push for triggering the process early next year, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk’s reply to a letter from Tory MPs, where he blamed British voters for the uncertain futures of expats, is a long overdue reminder that another pair of numbers will, from now on, dominate proceedings.

27 to 1.

For all the media speculation around Brexit in the past few months, over what kind of deal the government will decide to be seek from any future relationship, it is incredible just how little time and thought has been given to the fact that once Article 50 is triggered, we will effectively be negotiating with 27 other partners, not just one.

Of course some countries hold more sway than others, due to their relative economic strength and population, but one of the great equalising achievements of the EU is that all of its member states have a voice. We need look no further than the last minute objections from just one federal entity within Belgium last month over CETA, the huge EU-Canada trade deal, to be reminded how difficult and important it is to build consensus.

Yet the Tories are failing spectacularly to understand this.

During his short trip to Strasbourg last week, David Davis at best ignored, and at worse angered, many of the people he will have to get on-side to secure a deal. Although he did meet Michel Barnier, the senior negotiator for the European Commission, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative at the future talks, he did not meet any representatives from the key Socialist Group in the European Parliament, nor the Parliament’s President, nor the Chair of its Constitutional Committee which will advise the Parliament on whether to ratify any future Brexit deal.

In parallel, Boris Johnson, to nobody’s surprise any more, continues to blunder from one debacle to the next, the most recent of which was to insult the Italians with glib remarks about prosecco sales.

On his side, Liam Fox caused astonishment by claiming that the EU would have to pay compensation to third countries across the world with which it has trade deals, to compensate them for Britain no longer being part of the EU with which they had signed their agreements!

And now, Theresa May has been embarrassingly rebuffed in her clumsy attempt to strike an early deal directly with Angela Merkel over the future residential status of EU citizens living and working in Britain and UK citizens in Europe. 

When May was campaigning to be Conservative party leader and thus PM, to appeal to the anti-european Tories, she argued that the future status of EU citizens would have to be part of the ongoing negotiations with the EU. Why then, four months later, are Tory MPs so quick to complain and call foul when Merkel and Tusk take the same position as May held in July? 

Because Theresa May has reversed her position. Our EU partners’ position remains the same - no negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and Britain sets out its stall. Merkel has said she can’t and won’t strike a pre-emptive deal.  In any case, she cannot make agreements on behalf of France,Netherlands and Austria, all of who have their own imminent elections to consider, let alone any other EU member. 

The hypocrisy of Tory MPs calling on the European Commission and national governments to end "the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens living in one another's territories", while at the same time having caused and fuelled that same anxiety and uncertainty, has been called out by Tusk. 

With such an astounding level of Tory hypocrisy, incompetence and inconsistency, is it any wonder that our future negotiating partners are rapidly losing any residual goodwill towards the UK?

It is beholden on Theresa May’s government to start showing some awareness of the scale of the enormous task ahead, if the UK is to have any hope of striking a Brexit deal that is anything less than disastrous for Britain. The way they are handling this relatively simple issue does not augur well for the far more complex issues, involving difficult choices for Britain, that are looming on the horizon.

Richard Corbett is the Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber.