How Labour plans to crack down on payday loan sharks

Miliband will announce that the party would give councils new powers to limit the spread of payday lenders and betting shops on the high street.

Ed Miliband will return from holiday to launch Labour's local election campaign today and he's prepared a new policy for the occasion. Speaking in Ipswich, Miliband will announce plans to allow communities to halt the spread of payday loan sharks, bookmakers and fast food outlets along their high streets.

At present, if a high street bank closes down, councils are powerless to stop a payday lender moving in, despite the negative effect they can have on the area, because they are classed as the same kind of business. In the last year, there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of payday loan firms as well as a significant increase in betting shops and pawnbrokers. Miliband will aim to reverse this trend by granting councils new powers to prevent such businesses opening. According to the party, Labour would reform planning laws by creating "an additional umbrella class which allows local councils to decide if they want to place some premises in a separate planning category." This would allow local authorities to refuse planning permission on the grounds that, for instance, opening a payday loan shop would constitute a change of use. In addition, it would allow councils to limit the spread of other types of outlet where there is local concern such as betting shops and fast food takeaways. 

In proposing the change, Miliband will cite the example of Chatham in Kent, where 23 payday lenders operate within a mile of the high street and where residents complain that their presence is increasing levels of personal debt in the area. He will say: 

Too many councils are finding that they don’t have the real power to stand up for local people. But that is what politics is supposed to be about: standing up for those without power and giving power to them. Currently if a bank branch closes down, there’s nothing a council can do if a payday loan shop wants to move in and open up in the same place. Even if there's another lender next door. That can’t be right.

The policy is a notable example of Miliband's embrace of Blue Labour-style small c-conservatism and he will contrast his stance with that of David Cameron. 

David Cameron’s government used to say it would give people that kind of chance. But it hasn’t delivered. In fact, it is moving in the opposite direction. Not standing up to the powerful interests. So it is up to us to give local people a proper chance to protect the places that they love. To turn their high streets around.

The crackdown on payday lenders is one of the five policies Labour has chosen to prioritise for its local election campaign. The other four are:

- Cancelling the cut in the 50p income tax rate (dubbed "the millionaires' tax cut") and protecting tax credits for low paid workers.

- Introducing a mansion tax on property values over £2m in order to fund the reintroduction of a 10p tax rate on the first £1,000 of earnings above the personal allowance.

-Reforming the energy market to break the stranglehold of the big six energy companies.

-Cracking down on train companies who are putting "the price of the daily commute further and further out of reach". 

After his absence last week, it will also be worth watching to see what Miliband has to say about George Osborne's decision to link the Philpott case to the government's welfare cuts, which he was privately appalled by. 

Miliband will say that "too many councils are finding that they don’t have the real power to stand up for local people". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.