Thursday, 9 March 2017
Much has been written about the economic failings of a Conservative government elected on the basis of economic prudence, they are now busy tearing each other apart on the decision to break a manifesto pledge not to increase the tax burden on self employed workers, so I will not add to that criticism, instead I'm writing about an area I have some knowledge; Education.
The Tories have consistently ignored the majority of children in existing schools in order to divert as much taxpayers money as they can into pet projects such as free schools and new grammar schools. This budget is no different but the disparity is stark.
There are around 22,000 state schools in England and the £216M of funding was announced in the budget for existing schools which, if distributed equally would be around £9,800 per school.
Unregulated 'free' schools and new grammar schools get a share of a bigger pot, £312M for shared between just 110 schools that's 2.9million per school.
Putting money into existing schools and increasing the number of school places in high demand areas should be a priority, instead the government remains obsessed with structures, it seems they have the preconception that local authorities, 3 tier schools and comprehensive education are all bad and should be starved of investment, and that grammar schools and free schools are the answer and despite some high profile failures of free schools and the controversy surrounding grammar schools that these should be funded at the expense of every child in an existing school.
It's a pattern we have seen before, putting the few before the many. And, like the tax on self employed workers, the matter should be reconsidered.
Thursday, 23 February 2017
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Strange that much of Hammond's Autumn statement was the same Labour policy that was rejected in 2015. I welcome this massive U-turn.
There was however, some less welcome news: Yet more cuts to corporation tax for large companies, this policy didn't stimulate the economy on all the other previous occasions it was tried. Giving a few million quid to do up a mansion near Rotherham doesn't really count as infrastructure investment. Topped off with the sheer arrogance of failing to mention how to properly fund social care.
There was one announcement that is beyond parody and could have come straight off the script of Yes Minister or The Thick of It: They want to scrap the autumn statement and replace it with an autumn budget at the same time as scrapping the spring budget and replacing it with a spring statement. It's like fiddling with the deck chairs on the titanic while Rome burns.
The Tories were elected on the basis of their perceived competence at handling the public finances. After successive years of imposing austerity while failing to fulfil the promise of reducing the deficit, that perception may have changed today.
Thursday, 1 September 2016
There are 3 reasons why I have chosen I to cast my vote for the current Labour Leader:
1. I feel a sense of loyalty to him, I defended Ed when he was criticised and I find myself doing the same for Jeremy. It is not right that he has been challenged at this point in the Parliamentary cycle and it is equally wrong that he has not been well supported by some MPs. The responsibility for effective opposition lies with every Labour MP, the leader asks the questions at PMQs, but a team is needed to go against the government narrative in the media and stop the worst excess of Tory policy getting through parliament. Recently he has been left with a decreasing shadow cabinet.
Owen Smith is picking up support from a few trade unions, and there is a possibility he may be elected. If he does win, he will have my full backing as leader. If Jeremy is successful in retaining the leadership - he deserves the support of all MPs.
2. Jeremy is at least as electable any other potential leadership candidate. The conservatives, sections of the press and powerful vested interests will always portray a leader who is a threat to the status quo as unelectable. They did the same to Ed Miliband and unfortunately it can be an effective tactic. The ways to counter this are to be united in opposition and, during the course of this parliament, to develop a credible alternative policy offer. If we can get these two things right, then the Labour Party will be seen more as a government in waiting rather than a pressure group.
3. He has been democratically elected by the vast majority of party members and he has overseen some positive progress:
- We forced a U turn on working families' tax credits. Jeremy's use of real examples of hardship at PMQs shamed the government into scrapping planned cuts.
- The Fire Brigades Union have now affiliated to the Labour Party. I will always be grateful to firefighters for their support they gave me during the general election campaign, their re-affiliation is great news.
- We have many new Labour Party members of the Labour Party in every constituency across the UK. It is great to go along to meetings and see new faces enthused about politics and hopeful for the future.
It is these reasons: Loyalty, electability and his achievements to date, that have convinced me to cast my vote for Corbyn.
Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
In order to trigger a leadership election two things have to happen. First you need a named candidate. Second you need 51 MP's signatures in support of that candidate. If both of those things happen then we have another leadership election, with the same stipulations as we did when Ed resigned after the General Election - Get 35 MPs to nominate and then you're on the ballot.
There is no named candidate and there are no signatures, so - at the risk of repeating yesterday's Facebook post - we really should be concentrating on the job of holding the hapless Tories to account and shaping a fairer, more equal post-Brexit UK.
Monday, 27 June 2016
It is ironic that Corbyn is being criticised for weak leadership. He has responded quickly and decisively to Hillary Benn's threat of resignation by removing him from his post and he has shown strong leadership by announcing a new shadow cabinet members quickly.
The EU referendum result presents a challenge to all parties who campaigned to remain in the EU. The results can be broken down along Party lines by looking at how many supporters did the opposite of what the party leaders campaigned for: about 4 out of every 10 Labour supporters voted differently to their party leader, this was similar for SNP supporters. Around 6 out of 10 Conservatives defied Cameron. Surprisingly 1 in 25 UKIP supporters ignored Farage and voted to remain in the EU. If you don't rate Corbyn then fine, but the above figures are incompatible with Corbyn-bashing.
The Referendum is now over, politicians on all sides need to listen to the concerns of voters. The messages sent by the electorate were clear; we don't like being told what to think, we don't feel like have benefited from our EU membership and we are are uncomfortable with current levels of migration. If any politician hopes to be elected they must address these real concerns, we should learn the lessons of the referendum campaign and respond to these messages; don't preach to voters, be more positive in our messages and don't ignore real concerns over immigration.
Jeremy may not the have been the most loyal of backbench MPs he voted against the Party line on many occasions. He wasn't so loyal to Party Leaders, he didn't organise a coup, and he wasn't in the shadow cabinet but 28 years ago, he voted against Neil Kinnock, when Tony Benn stood for the leadership. What happened all those years ago could be repeated today; the incumbent leader - Kinnock - was re-elected by MPs, Unions and the party membership.
We have to move on and we have to unite, so I do not hold Jeremy's past misdemeanours against him. While I didn't vote to leave the EU there is now an opportunity to shape what the UK will now look like post-Brexit. This work is too important to be left to the individuals who campaigned to leave if we do that, then it becomes even more certain that the consequences of the vote to leave, will fall squarely on the shoulders of those least well placed to deal with them.
If Labour representatives truly had the best interests of our Party at heart, then they need to get more involved in the fight for a fairer United Kingdom and less involved in a fight amongst ourselves.
Friday, 17 June 2016
3. Investment in our Region
Migration does put pressure on public services but the biggest current threat NHS and local services is not immigration, it’s political views of people like Gove, Boris and Farage who don’t think the rich should have to pay the taxes that fund our public services.
Friday, 1 January 2016
Before the election was the busiest year ever, balancing the work as Labours parliamentary candidate in the Hexham constituency with full time work and family life. We fought a good but tough campaign; knocking on doors, listening to concerns of voters fighting a very difficult election in what has been Tory seat for a very long time. I worked with some of the most committed activists in the country, we heard from voters who were worried about rising prices, static wages, job security and a lack of transport and infrastructure investment in our local area.
These concerns are real and they remain, but ultimately most voters decided that we needed continuity in government. Candidates and Labour supporters woke up on May 6th to learn that despite times being very tough especially for those on low incomes, the majority of people who voted did not think that a Labour government was the answer to the difficulties facing the country.
The issues on which the general election was fought have not gone away. I am ashamed to live in a country where foodbanks are not an emergency measure. People, often those in work, have to rely on the charity of others in order to eat. Benefit delays are an accepted part of the system, leaving people unable to afford to feed themselves and their families.
Charities are providing services that were once provided by local councils, while the conservative government, now with a mandate to cut restrict funding to local councils to a point where it is difficult to provide even statutory services. The ideological position of cutting local government combined with low levels of investment is set to continue will mean the UK economy will continue in the same way for the next few years with low wages, and falling living standards.
The lack of infrastructure investment has come into sharp focus. Floods have ruined Christmas and New Year for too many families. The coalition government appointed a climate change sceptic as environment secretary, while he was in office the budget for climate change adaptations such as flood defences were cut by 40%. Land use regulations which include planting to prevent run off, were also scrapped. The government should apologise for these these two decisions and reverse them both this year.
Labour has a new leader and he needs time to settle into the role. Large sections of media and conservative head office are trying to do hatchet job at such an early stage in the electoral cycle. Jeremy has a pretty hard job, leading the Party in opposing the worst excesses of the conservative only government in the next few years and convincing voters that there is an alternative to more years of Tory rule.
I said, after the hectic pace of the general election campaign I would take a break from politics. In the second half 2015 I have done exactly that. I didn't take too much of an active role in the leadership election but I was pleased that Jeremy won and he has my full support. I haven't even been staying up to watch Question Time on a Thursday night and my twitter feed and blog has been a bit neglected. Instead in my spare time I have been cycling, playing guitar, doing voluntary work and spending time with my family.
There is now four and a half years to the next general election. There are local elections which are increasingly important because despite councils' having far less funds to provide services than ever, power is being devolved to local regions.
The fight for a fairer society continues and that fight has to become a local one; in our workplaces, for fair wages and in our communities, to try and safeguard relied on services. In 2016 I remain optimistic about politics. The Labour Party and the Trade Union movement are still a drivers for positive change in society.
All the best for the coming year.
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
The fact that Working Families Tax Credits will remain is some help to working families. Credit goes to MPs and Peers who opposed this measure.
The changes in adult education stood out for me. The plan is to introduce adult learner loans for 19 year olds who want to return to education but need to study access qualifications before University. This may be a barrier to some before they take the first step towards a new career.
The other big change in education funding was the end to government funding of Nursing degrees. Trainee nurses, serving our NHS will now have to pay for the privilege and start their career in debt. At a time when we face a shortage of Nurses these two changes will do nothing to help.
The final change borders on victim blaming: Campaigners have been calling for an end to the 'tampon tax' - VAT levied on these products. This taxation will be to offset cuts to services to rape crisis and domestic abuse centres. I'm pretty sure this plan was dreamed up by a man and discussed in a room full of men. The thought processes that led to this are disgraceful "Women use tampons... Women use women's charities..." This sort of thinking makes me ashamed to be a man.
The briefings to the press before the Autumn Statement were designed to convince us that things could be really, really awful. Then when the statement itself is slightly less bad the public supposed to be relieved.
I'm not relieved, more concerned that we have got more budgets and more statements to come before we get another chance to vote the Conservatives out of office.
Monday, 16 November 2015
One response to the atrocity was an outpouring of sympathy and support. Messages of solidarity have come in from around the world including from the Lumierie festival in Durham City, locally the tricolour flag has been prominently displayed by local councils and individuals.
|Durham Cathedral Sunday 15th November|
Another response has also been evident. An online petition emerged calling for UK borders to be closed until ISIL has been defeated. The majority of the signatories may think that borders need to be closed regardless of the perceived threat. Marine le Pen, leader of the far right French National Front party has always wanted to withdraw from the Shengen agreement and end immigration, that position remains the same after these attacks.
The mode of operation of the I.S. organisation is to promote division, and launch attacks where they see harmony. They see Sunni and Shia Muslims living together in Syria and the response is to divide, they see Iraqi Christians co-existing with Muslims and the response is brutality, torture and murder.
It is exactly this brutality that refugees fleeing into Turkey, Jordan and Greece are trying to escape. Terrorists would hope that the refugee crisis would cause division, and unrest. Increasing tension in Europe. This increasing tension brings the aim of a divided, separated world closer. The 'Refugees Welcome' demonstrations in Germany, Holland, France and across Europe are demonstrations of values that are in exact opposition to those of I.S.
The international response to this attack will almost certainly be to increase air strikes in both Iraq and Syria, whether or not British planes should be operational in Syria as well as Iraq will depend on parliamentary approval and public opinion both of which are subject to change.
Where terrorist organisations try to create a climate of fear we have to try, as Parisians have done, to stand firm and get on with our daily lives.
Where they try to end unity we must build resilient, multicultural communities.
Where they try to radicalise the young, we have to educate and promote a sense of belonging.
My thoughts and prayers remain with the families of those killed.
Monday, 9 November 2015
Saturday, 25 July 2015
I rejoined the Party in 2010 after Iraq and was selected to stand for parliament in 2015, I'm an active trade unionist and would be considered by many to be on the Left of our Party. I will most likely be supporting Andy Burnham in the election, I have met him, most recently at the Miners Gala and he has broad appeal. My second preference will go to either Jeremy or Yvette Cooper. I will continue to work tirelessly for the Party and give my full support to whoever is elected. I have a lot of respect for Liz Kendall but her politics are probably furthest from mine. I agree with what Tony Blair said last week; 'Labour should modernise, look to the future and move on' He should acknowledge that 1997 is also in the past, we have to move on from then too.
Tony also said that when a traditional left wing party contests and election against a traditional right wing party we get a traditional result (Tory win). This may be true but what is also true is that divided parties aren't much good at winning elections either, that '97 win was historic but helped in part by John Major being unable to unite his Party which were split over the EU.
Last week I was disappointed to see the Labour MPs split over their opposition to the welfare bill in which George Osborne had to outline how he will cut £12Bn from an already squeezed social security budget. Our tactic of seeking amendments to curb the worst excesses in the bill was a sound one but the amendments were voted down and what followed was a mess, with some Labour MPs abstaining, as the temporary leadership had suggested, and others voting against the bill. The only people what benefit from division in the Parliamentary Labour Party are those in the Conservative Government.
Corbyn was one of the MPs who rebelled and while I both respect his decision and understand the reasons behind it, his persistent rebellion is about the only reason why I'm undecided about supporting him. To vote against your party once over something like Iraq shows character, to do it twice could be described as carelessness but to rebel on over 500 different occasions shows a disregard for the principle of collective action.
We must not forget what is painted on our Union banners and printed on old posters. 'Unity is Strength'. The opposite is also true, 'division is weakness', a fact not lost on the Tories.
The Tories are the real enemy, they wrote the welfare bill and voted it though. The electorate have given them enough MPs so it would have gone though even if had there been a three line whip to vote against. Maybe Harriet's call to abstain was a misjudgement but Labour MPs didn't draft this bill, they didn't vote for this bill and if the campaigned anything like I did, they would have spent 18 months before the election putting family, work and social life to one side, listened to countless voters on the doorstep and tried to make sure the Tories were out of government and not in a position to inflict such cuts.
The election result was difficult. This selfish, out of touch, ideological Tory government now have a mandate to cut. I hope that at the end of our selection process, everyone who opposes them can unite behind the new leader and join the fight to end 10 years of Tory rule.
Thursday, 4 June 2015
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
Wednesday, 15 April 2015
When a grandparent picks up a child form school the child is met by a loving, familiar face and a person they know will always have time for them. They spend time reading stories, encourage kids to count everthing in sight and impart not just knowledge but wisdom, as only people who have been there, seen it and done it can.
It is difficult to quantify how much we gain from the input of our grandparents but I will try to briefly summarise the qualities for which I should thank each one of my four grandparents: An acute awareness of the local environment. A work ethic. How to care without mollycoddling. Generousity of time, money and spirit. Without them I would not be the person I am today and I am greatful that my Grandfathers lived long enough to influence my life in this way, my Grandmothers are still an inspiration today.
The Grandparents at the school gate are doing a service not only to thier children and their children's children but to society as a whole, this vital work has been ignored by the Conservatives for too long. The next Labour government will allow Grandparents in work to take time off to look after their grandchildren.
Grandparents could share the 18 weeks leave, or four weeks in any year, that parents can already take for each child and adopted child up to their 18th birthday without losing their job. At present, only a parent or someone with legal parental responsibility qualifies.
Harriet Harman said “Public policy has not caught up with the reality of families’ lives. It is rooted in the past and has to change. It is not for us to dictate what families do but to back them up.
"Allowing grandparents to share parental leave would help working parents cope during the 'annual nightmare' of the school summer holidays."
I don't really think about my own retirement but questions must be asked: ...Are the government just going to keep upping the retirement age for those who cant afford early retirement..? Will we just all work until we die..?
Every generation should do better than the last. When I became a Dad I made an unwritten promise to my children to work and make sure that they have a better life than I did. The present government policy on exams, tuition fees and lack of policy addressing rising youth unemployment are making this a difficult promise to keep.
Labour will back the next generation with careers education that looks to the future, a youth jobs guarantee, an end to exploitative zero hours contracts and a reduction in tuition fees. Older people I meet are concerned about pensions, fuel bills and the getting good care in old age but they are also concerned about the next generation.
I would urge all parents, grandparents to vote for hope rather than fear, at this election.
I would ask any younger people reading this to make sure your registered to vote using the link below. Some of our great grandparents fought for the right to vote, now all we have to do us click on a link.
Tuesday, 7 April 2015
The journalists had all made the trip up from London to try and get the story they wanted, and maybe longing for the days when they could have filled bulletins and column inches with talk of splits. They asked Tony about Ed taking on businesses: Tony said that he fully agreed with Ed that it was right to challenge inequality. They asked why he wasn't on the platform with Ed: Tony quipped that we are a Party that can do more than one thing at the same time.
The speech itself was well received in the room and was very positive throughout. Tony turned the Tory mantra of competence vs chaos on its head, and making the case for a confident, outward looking Britain and describing the UKIP and the Tory Right as mean spirited. He asked if we would rather be seen as adventurous or timid. If we should have global ambitions or be a parochial bystander and if our nation which has built its history on confidence towards others should choose to define itself by resentment to others.
My own position on an EU referendum is very straightforward. We don't live in a country that holds referendum after referendum. Instead we elect a government which we hope share our values and then we let them get on with the job. We know where the parties stand on the EU and other issues, we make our choice at the ballot box.
I know we didn't get everything right in government and I know that the former Prime Minister will be (quite rightly) followed around for the rest of his life by the shadow of the Iraq war. But during the speech I wasn't thinking about the mistakes we made in the past. What I was reminded of, was that for a large part of our time in office he wasn't such divisive figure and that he led a competent and capable Labour government.
Tony acknowledged that there are disagreements in our Party but firmly stated that what unites us is greater than that which divides us. He said;
"What we share in common is a deep and profound belief in social justice, in the belief that it is the purpose of a Labour government to bring opportunity to those people that don’t have it, and a belief also that it is right that our society, our country and its economy, are run in the interests of the many and not the few. And those are values that unite the Labour party, they are what keep us strong and what should see us on course for a general election victory on May 7."
I'm backing Ed Miliband, and so is Tony Blair.
Thursday, 26 March 2015
David Cameron is too scared debate with Ed on TV so it's now up to the presenters to ask the questions. I have got a few I would like to ask.
1. The Conservatives have tabled a motion to get rid of. Conservative MP John Bercow as speaker, if you show such a flagrant disregard for the job security of one of your own MPs what chance have the rest of us got?
2. You didn't really win a first term in office, voters have not yet decided if they will give you a second term yet you are arrogant enough to take a third term for granted. You have, in effect started the contest for the Tory leadership. Are people right to expect infighting rather than any meaningful governance from the Conservatives?
3. Why do you insist on standing up for the wrong people, such as private healthcare providers and tax avoiders with offshore accounts? Tax is not a choice for the majority of society why should it be a choice for large corporations and very rich individuals?
We will see if anything like this asked in the forthcoming election interviews. It would have been good to see a proper head to head debate. The next Labour government will make both the debates and the format non-negotiable. Voters deserve nothing less.
Sunday, 22 March 2015
The allegations are that he made this plegde in return for EDL cooperation on a publicity stunt which would have allowed the candidate to play the hero, by stopping a fake EDL demonstration.
This is a desperate move from a desperate candidate, it's worrying, the depths this Tory hopeful may have gone to. It is a stain on the whole of politics when the majority of candidates, on all sides will be working hard in their communities up until May 7.
Stories like this fuel voter apathy, people are understandably put off politics by scandal after scandal but, this election is going to be very close and it's incredibly important to use your vote, as candidates are not the same.
Thursday, 19 March 2015
1. The NHS was omitted completely from Osborne's speech, the Tories are hiding from their record on Health and Social care. All of the 'easy' efficiency savings have already been made, the Conservative plan represents a real threat to relied on services.
2. Osborne was bullish about his 'recovery' the average weekly wage in our region dropped from £485 to £479 last quarter he did keep repeating the words "long term economic plan" hoping that voters will believe the Tories actually have one.
3. Despite the talk about 'The North' there remains 75% bigger cuts in the North than the South and for every £25 spent on transport in the capital just £1 is spent in our region. I'm not convinced Osbourne could point to Northumberland on a map, it was a London-centric budget with transport infrastructure announcements for the South, this really was a desperate chancellor trying to shore up core support.
4. The measures announced on tax avoidance are blatant electioneering. We know who is paying for the Conservative election effort, they remain the party of tax avoiders. I don't trust what Cameron and Osborne say on tax avoidance if they did tackle it, too many of their friends would get caught out.
5. By all measures the austerity-only approach has failed. But Osborne continues to cut services not because it's right for the country but because that's the reason he came into politics.
Saturday, 14 March 2015
I accept that where game is kept for shooting, there is a real need to control fox numbers, but there is no need to resort back to hunting with dogs to achieve this. While I recognise the value of shooting sports and other forms of hunting to the rural economy I see no reason to change the law on hunting with dogs.
It's ten years since Parliament voted to end hunting with dogs. Legislation put forward by the Labour Government at the time was controversial, Peter Atkinson, Hexham's Tory MP at the time voted against the ban.
Supporters of the Hunting act believed that the unnecessary and prolonged suffering of defenceless animals has no place in civilised society and the legislation was passed with the majority of MPs voting in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs.
Despite the controversy at the time, most people now support the ban on hunting with dogs. A poll conducted in 2010 showed that 76% of the population were opposed to repealing the hunting act the figure drops to 71% when only rural areas are included in surveys.
The Labour Party has used this ten year anniversary to set out key commitments to protect animals in the next parliament including, defending the Hunting Act, ending badger culls which scientists consider to be inneffective and banning the use of wild animals in circuses.
The hunting ban shows how far we have come since the days when blood sports such as dog fighting and badger baiting were quite common in rural areas. I'm not sure why the Conservatives and even the Lib Dems have shown interest in the possible repeal of the Hunting Act by calling for a free vote on the issue.
After 10 years it's time to move on.
Friday, 13 February 2015
Wednesday, 28 January 2015
We will build an NHS with the time to care: 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs. Integrate services from home to reversing the decision to scrap the cancer test target when a doctor suspects something might be wrong, tests are conducted within a week.
Our NHS message is in stark contrast with how David Cameron chose to mark 100 days until we can vote him out of office. His announcement on further benefit caps would make more sense if it was accompanied by measures to address problems with the rental market. As its not, it simply represents yet another attack on the poor.
Political leaders are not all the same, in just 100 days the country has a clear choice to make, between governments which would have very different priorities.
I'm backing Ed
Sunday, 11 January 2015
This move is further evidence that the Tories are retreating to their old ways: It is as if the last 30 years never happened. Most employers no longer view unions as the enemy, and most unions are not at war with employers. Forward looking employers work with unions to improve staff relations and solve problems proactively. Unions work with employers to safeguard jobs and pay even when budgets are under pressure.
Strike action is always a last resort - refusal to work for a day or an extended period is by its very nature, a failure of all other negotiations. It results in hardship for workers and damage to employers. Unions only call strike action when jobs are at risk or hard won terms and conditions are under threat. Members only vote in favour of strike action when they feel they have exhausted other options.
Before elections, governments make many promises. Pledging to be more anti trade union is a strange promise, unlikely to win many friends other than traditional Conservatives who, like their leadership, cling onto an outdated vision of industrial relations. Policies like this are more about stopping old school Tories turning to UKIP and appeasing backbenchers. It is yet another case of David Cameron putting the interests of the Conservative party before the National interest.
The big issue facing the country today is not that workers have too many rights. It is that too many people are on working too few hours in precarious jobs. There are areas of employment law where there is need for change; to prevent extended use of exploitative zero hours contracts, which trap people unable to get on the housing ladder or plan for the future.
In making changes to strike ballots pre-election pledge, we can see that Conservatives have very different priorities than most people. They are out of touch, this year, they could also also find themselves out of government.
Thursday, 1 January 2015
I have spent 2014 listening to voters across the Hexham constituency. I have found that people are working harder and harder, but standing still, families struggling with bills that are growing faster than their wages; young people, taking on mountains of debt to get a proper education, only to find themselves with no job at the other end
and most importantly an NHS where we face restrictions to A and E services with people waiting longer and longer to get the care they need.
I have listened to many residents across the constituency,
I have met with trade unions, employers, small business owners and visited two of our large employers SCA in Prudhoe and Egger in Hexham,
we discussed the shortage of skills in engineering related subjects, we have a skills shortage at a time when youth unemployment remains stubbornly high,
government has a role in making sure that both problems are solved together.
I have seen first hand the impact that Tory policies have on people in our region.
I have listened to people who have been hit by the bedroom tax, one parent who was separated from their partner who and had children to stay but still had to pay.
I visited West Northumberland Food Bank who continue to help individuals and families in crisis due to delays in support that now, unfortunately, seem to be designed into our welfare system.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I don't need reminding that there is only four short months until the general election,
This year, we have the chance to change direction;
a chance to build a recovery that benefits all and not just the few at the top,
a chance to fight for fair wages that actually reward hard work.
A chance to elect a government who is bold enough to stand with the many in taking on vested interests wether they are in the press in the banks or in the energy sector.
At the start of the new year we look forward, not back
which is why I can say with confidence a Labour government will be a stark contrast to Cameron and Osbornes austerity only approach
they have used the deficit as an excuse to sell off national assets like the Royal Mail and East Coast mainline to their rich friends at the same time as growing the national debt.
But the 2015 Labour government will also be different from the one elected 1997,
Of course I will challenge criticism of our achievements such opening sure start centres and rebuilding schools and hospitals...
but we have learned from the past, we could have regulated the financial services sector and we could have stayed out of Iraq,
the Labour MPs voting to stay out of Syria shows a more measured approach to Foreign policy
and the willingness to tax bankers bonuses is evidence that we are not afraid to intervene when we see those at the top being rewarded for failure.
I believe we have the right policies for the future of our region and our country as a whole.
There will be a long overdue increase in the minimum wage, which will reduce the welfare bill by reducing the demand for in work benefits
we will address the ongoing crisis in our NHS and protect relied on services.
We will introduce fair rules on immigration which will not only will address people's fears about the negative effects of immigration but also end the exploitation of workers,
we will repeal the unfair bedroom tax
And we will build an reformed economy, so that the benefits of growth are felt by working people and not just the few at the very top.
I am proud to be part of a forward-looking Labour Party which puts the long term future of the many before the short term gains of the few,
A Labour Party who represent the North and not just the south.
And a Labour Party which needs your support to bring about the change we all want to see.
I will finish by wishing you a Happy New Year, and all the best to you your friends and family for 2015.
Wednesday, 24 December 2014
Donations to foodbanks increase before Christmas. The students I teach asked if they could have a Christmas party in the lunch hour before our last lecture of the term and I asked them if they would like to donate to a food bank instead and they made me quite proud by bringing in 4 bags of food. I thought about the people who would be receiving this food. Christmas must be a difficult time to be struggling financially, particularly for families with young children. Benefit sanctions and delays do not stop at Christmas.
My eldest daughter is in a drama group. This year she was in A Christmas Carol with Spotlight CTP. It is difficult not to make comparisons with Dickensian times. Scrooge asks "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" A Conservative MP, after voting for the bedroom tax might ask "Are there no foodbanks? Are there no zero-hours contracts?"
There are also jobs that still have to be done on Christmas Day; firefighters, midwives, nurses, care workers, prison officers and the Police will be working while most of us are tucking into our turkey. They do vital work all year round, sacrificing time with their families to keep our families safe and healthy.
Recently I recorded a song, which for me, strikes a chord at Christmas: Winter Song written by Alan Hull is a reminder to spare a thought for those who are less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year...
Friday, 19 December 2014
Redundancy, illness, welfare reform, rising costs and falling incomes are still the main reasons people are forced to turn to food banks. Since opening in 2013 West Northumberland food bank has responded to over 1200 requests for help from individuals and families in crisis, operating over a rural area, where the effects of poverty can be particularly isolating.
Their work, in providing a safety net to those in greatest need is unfortunately vital, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.
Donations can be left at Tesco and Waitrose in Hexham and the Cooperative supermarkets in Prudhoe and Haltwhistle.
Friday, 5 December 2014
Most of what was said in the autumn statement had already been announced, the dualling of 13 miles of the A1 was lauded as a victory, with North East Tories and Lib-dems tripping over each other to take credit for a road improvement which is welcome, but amounts to less than half a job, stopping 25 miles south of the Scottish border.
The NHS was promised extra cash, which would be welcome, if some of had not previously been cut from NHS budgets. The chancellors smoke and mirrors on the NHS will fail to hide the squeeze NHS budgets caused by a costly £3Bn top down reorganisation.
Stamp duty hit the headlines, I'm still yet to see a simple breakdown of how this will work, it sounds like tax cut for those moving house, but the chancellor failed to address the unfairness in the system when someone living in a £290,000 family home pays the as the owner of £10M mansion.
Hexham's current MP was mentioned in the debate, not by Osborne, but by the speaker, who on two occasions had to ask him to stop heckling loudly. On the first occasion the telling off was jovial, speaker Bercow saying that Northumberland's only Tory MP was normally a 'good boy', the second time the speaker had to intervene he invited Mr Opperman to leave the chamber.
The sitting MP for Hexham in transmit mode, when he should have been listening. On the first occasion he was rebuked, The shadow chancellor was explaining that the since the Conservative-led government came to power wages have fallen by £1600. Low wages are at the core of the deficit problem. People on low pay quite rightly, do not pay tax. When people are having their wages driven down, it not only affects their family and quality of life, it affects the government and borrowing gets out of control.
The second time the speaker had to intervene, Ed Balls was talking about an issue that affects the Hexham constituency directly. Air passenger duty in Scotland is now devolved, Newcastle airport has to compete with Scottish airports and could be disadvantaged if central government do not act, concerns must be addressed, rather than shouted down.
The chancellor's autumn statement was an attempt to distract from the fact that he has failed in his own terms, the deficit is still growing while pay is falling. The next Labour government will be faced with some difficult decisions, but we will see a real change from the status quo. We will implement a progressive mansion tax, and use tobacco levies to properly fund our NHS and provide an integrated health and social care system. We will end exploitative zero-hours contracts and tackle low pay. The choice in May 2015 is clear, the electorate have the chance to elect a government who will build an economy that works for all, and not just the few at the top.
Sunday, 16 November 2014
"I was interested to read in The Journal on 6th November that the Hexham MP, Guy Opperman, has got his foot on the first rung of the ladder of government. I refer to his position as pump-primer at Prime Minister's Questions which permitted David Cameron to make the outrageous claim that his Government has been responsible for the small (2-3%) rise in exports from the region but ignored the fact that the number of young people unemployed for over a year is up 62% since he came to office.
To get an accurate view of the Tories attitude to this region, people should have watched the debate on 28th October in the Commons to consider if the Thatcher government misled the country over the pit closure programme thirty years ago . It was an eye-opener!
Labour MPs from all the major coalfields in the North East, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Scotland and Wales spoke. The only exception was the small Kent coalfield which was not mentioned at all. These MPs inluded many who were personally involved in the dispute and experienced the strike and its aftermath. These included Dave Anderson, Ian Lavery, Ronnie Campbell and Pat Glass who pointed out the lack of support for the communities affected and went on to call for regeneration assistance now to help communities which are still suffering today from the closure of their pits.
Most Tories, including Mr Opperman, were absent for the duration of the debate which indicates their lack of true conern for the future of the former coalfields.
The opening proposal for the debate was responded to by a junior minister with a prepared statement who then immediately left the Chamber never to reappear. His interest was over!
Some two and a half hours later, another Tory minister, female this time, entered the Chamber and sat on the Front Bench. Significantly she was accompanied by Cabinet Minister, Eric Pickles.
She then read another prepared paper to wind up the debate on behalf of the Government but believe it or not, all she spoke about, in some detail, was the developments on the former Betteshanger Colliery site and how her Government had funded new buildings, etc. which had created jobs for former miners and their families.
Where is Betteshanger? In Kent, of course. The one former coalfield never mentioned or represented in the debate but very near Rochester & Strood constituency where a crucial, to the Tories, bye-election is imminent.
When her blatant electioneering was greeted wth cries of derision from the opposition she paused, only to be told by Pickles to “plough on”.
This proves that the Tories have no interest whatsoever in the future of the North East but are prepared to put their Government's and party's survival before the interests of the nation."
Saturday, 1 November 2014
Egger has remained in a strong position, in spite of the global economic downturn, producing materials not only for the building trade but also finished products for home improvements such as laminate flooring and furniture. Two separate policy areas which could help employers like Egger and SCA paper products in Prudhoe are agriculture and skills.
The supply of high quality raw materials is vital to the business. Up to 40% of recycled wood can be used but the rest must come from sustainable sources such as Kielder forest. There is a biomass power plant on the Egger site which burns wood particles that are too fine to be incorporated into wood products but any policy that encourages burning wood before it has been used for other purposes does not help manufacturers of wood products.
The one of other challenges faced by employers is a shortage of skills; across the manufacturing sector skilled engineers are in short supply. Egger do a great job in training their own apprentices but more are needed and if I was giving careers advice I would advise young people to give careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths serious consideration.
Work must be done to address the skills shortage. Vocational routes are just as valid as more traditional University courses. I also think that there need to be a radical change in the way that vocational qualifications and apprenticeships are applied for. One change would be to have higher level vocational training and apprenticeships applied for via the UCAS system, so that students studying Level 3 qualifications such as A-Levels are presented with a full range of options.
It was great to join Paul for this meeting, afterwards he said;
“Egger is the jewel in the Hexham economy and is a real European success story. Not only is Egger an economic force in its own right but it brings jobs through the supply chain. It is the biggest single buyer of timber from Kielder for example. As a member of the European Agriculture and Rural Development Committee I believe that the North East is well poised to expand our rural economy and deliver growth and jobs.”
Monday, 29 September 2014
There were 2 contrasting announcements: Firstly, the 4% of richest households will be able to pass more money onto their offspring (if they have any) because inheritance tax is being scrapped. I can see why the thought of a 'Death Tax' might be unpopular but it affects so few estates, now is not the time for more measures to help the few and not the many.
On the other side of the coin there are 10 million households on low to middle incomes claiming tax credits or some sort of in work benefits. These are the people who will be hit hardest by the Chancellor's announcements today. In-work families with children will lose as much as £490 a year in child benefit and tax credits.
The Tories are again standing up for the wrong people, offering nothing to families who work hard to provide a decent standard of living for their children, but instead implementing changes, which only serve to build an economy that is skewed towards those at the very top.
Their conference slogan needs an added strap line: Conservatives: 'Securing a Better Future' ...for themselves and their donors since 1832.