Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dear Sir Bob Geldof...

...of course back in 1984/85 you were just plain Bob Geldof. You and your band The Boomtown Rats were adorned across many teenagers walls; myself included. In a time of Thatchers tyranny, you angrily fronted a band of  young skinny men with something to say and a whole heap of attitude. Your marriage to Paula Yates and exotically named eldest daughter Fifi Trixiebelle just cemented your reputation as a modern punk couple living the rock n roll lifestyle we all seemed to find so glamourous and exciting.

At 17/18 years old you were one of my idols, a rebel against society, but a passionate family man with always something to say. You saw the hunger, the poverty, the starving people in Africa and you wanted to change the world. Through your passion, through your unshakable self belief that music could indeed change the African people's lives, we teenagers and also parents and grandparents, stood alongside you Bob, bought "Do they know it's Christmas?" in record numbers and clamoured to get tickets for the unbelievable Band Aid concert on 13th July 1985 at Wembley. You believed and we believed, that if we raised  such a vast amount of money never seen before, we could cure African hunger in one swoop. The images of starving children on the news and in every programme charting the Band Aid phenomenon, was never apologised for. It was necessary. When you coined the phrase 'Give us your f***ing money" we loved you more and contributed more. While we were at it, could we cure world hunger in your name?... Such was the sheer passion of the cause. And you were our rebel leader Bob. You made it all happen. No one said no to you. The pop royalty of the day turned out at your request to perform in a concert in London and a simultaneous concert in Philadelphia, USA. Seeing Phil Collins perform on stage at Wembley then take Concorde at supersonic speed to the USA and perform in Philadelphia on the same day was unforgettable, trailblazing and downright  unheard of. Bob Geldof had thought the unthinkable, and made it happen. We had anointed you Sir Bob, way before you recieved your knighthood.

As for the record 'Do they know it's Christmas?" back  in the day  not many people analysed the lyrics or questioned the way in which money was being raised. Bono rasping out 'Tonight thank God it's them instead of you" may have been a line he didn't like singing, but to us it was simply Bono actually putting our thoughts into song. With the harrowing TV footage, we really did thank God it wasn't us. As for the image of the benevolent West deciding what was in Africa's best interests, I never heard anyone question that matter. Again it was a case of those who have, giving to those who were starving of hunger. Put that in context against a Thatcher government backdrop and we were just happy that we were helping to alleviate the incredible suffering in Africa. Our government was responsible for the start of the "I'm alright Jack" society, but we were the rebels with a social conscience, bucking what was going on in our communities, giving hope to Africa and perhaps even thinking we were giving hope to ourselves too. Bob Geldof and the pop stars involved were giving us a feel good about yourself factor - "Hey we may be skint, struggling or one of the millions of unemployed, but hell there are people starving out there we must help."

Fast forward to the recent events. Sir Bob got together another batch of 2014 pop singers to appeal to this generation of  kids. He had brought Band Aid together for a second version in 2004 which was successful at raising funds for famine relief. It was again a time of  following Sir Bob and euphoria prevailing-we were helping out again. But for this third campaign -a new version of "Do they know it's Christmas "with wording changed to raise money for the new cause - fighting the deadly disease Ebola - questions have been raised, reasons analysed and Sir Bob's halo starting to slip.

It's a very different Britain to 84/85. It's much worse! Thatcher drove much of the working class into poverty, but there were not wide spread cases of starvation and dying due to benefit sanctions as there are now. Foodbank was a term we had never heard of and certainly branches of the Trussell Trust were not seen in thousands of our towns and cities as there are now. So perhaps although this new record is to raise money for Ebola rather than starvation in Africa, many are questioning why money
cannot be raised to ease our own plight in Britain.  Alongside this we live in a very different world than we did in 1984.  We are asking more questions about charitable donations. Who is benefitting? Where is the money going exactly? What are the admin costs? How much money is going to the people actually suffering? Can't we help Africa help itself in a different way? Do the white western people feel smug about helping black Africans?

 We have seen millions of pounds spent on famine relief in Africa, but no structural change in making sure mass starvation does not occur again. Money has gone missing on the African continent to corrupt government officials, thus prolonging their own countries suffering. Feeding the starving simply is not enough. Global changes were needed to make sure the "benevolent West" doesn't have to revisit these scenes every few years, but that structural change has not happened.  Many countries in Africa are still as poor as they were in 1984/85. Now Ebola which is killing people in Africa is being used emotively, as it could soon be on the doorstep of the West in vast numbers. Fling enough money at it and we will make sure the USA and UK do not have to suffer, is what is coming out of this charitable effort.  The record is a third run out which is is also a bit desperate - the thing  has been done and is frankly looking as tired and pained as Sir Bob himself. Adele didn't respond to Geldof as she is raising a family - even  my kids could not name everyone on the new video of the song.

At first I felt admiration for Sir Bob. Over the years he has lost his ex-wife Paula and his own daughter, Peaches to drugs and has had unimaginable personal loss in his life, while stepping in to bring up Paula and  Michael Hutchence's daughter  Heavenly Hirrani, Tiger-Lily. But in one expletive  this week he literally threw off his saintly halo and dashed it to the ground for anyone of  socialist, humanitarian leaning, and threw the shards of glass straight through our hearts. Whilst being interviewed about the re-release of the song for Band Aid 30 he was asked would it simply have been better if the pop stars in the room all,paid their taxes?

"B***ocks" said Sir Bob. When asked again he repeated it - B***ocks

Probably basking in the notion by being taken off air and the interview halted he would be plastered all over the evening news bulletins, thus raising awareness and more money for the record, Sir Bob probably had no idea of  the change of heart from many people 45+ who had been around in 84/85 when he could do no wrong.

Oh Bob. What an awful reply. It was such an opportunity to have a go at the big corporations - Vodafone, Amazon etc. you could even have side stepped pop stars if you needed not to cause offence to your profession. You could have said something along the lines of -

" Lets get the big corporations like Vodafone and Amazon paying their dues in taxes, the multi millionaires paying mansion tax, the bankers being held to account and paying fines for the recession they led us into and f***ing hell we would have the money to fight Ebola within 24 hours!"

Instead whilst indeed you got the kids to download the record in droves, just as I did in vinyl back in 1984 without question, the scales dropped from my eyes and sadly tarnished your image for me and
other Band Aid originals for ever. Why should honest, decent ,struggling working class people pick up the tab to fight Ebola, Sir Bob, when we are the ones struggling like hell to make ends meet in a country where corporations pay next to nothing in tax, pop stars live abroad with their money tucked safely away and a government turns a cold stone heart to its own people?

I have sadly waved goodbye to Bob Geldof: hero, rebel leader, humanitarian, doting dad.
SIR Bob Geldof is part of the Establishment, part of the very force striking daily terror into my working class world.

All I can say is " Tell your compatriots to pay their f***ing taxes Bob and find a cure for Ebola. It can't be down to ordinary people to "dig deep" into empty pockets again. Let this cause be funded by those who have, for the majority of us working class simply have not."

Friday, 7 November 2014

It's our Labour Party: Own it, Campaign for it, Fight for it!

There is  an excellent article written by Jon Wilson on the LabourList site saying that ordinary Labour members as well as MPs have caused the current leadership crisis within the Labour Party. Why? Because we have allowed successive Labour leaders to have, or appear to have, sole power of OUR party.

On this I have to agree wholeheartedly.  Back in the 70s and 80s the Labour Party housed a myriad of opinion from centre left to militant  and we all aired our views - activists, PPC's and MPs - roared our opinions and fought at conference to get our say on policy. At times it felt there were so many opinions and so many views they could not possibly fit into one Labour Party. But when we came into the 1990s and had spent so many years sitting on the opposition benches,  Blair and the doctors of spin (good name for a pop group!) felt the Labour Party needed total reorganisation.

In 1994 when Blair gained the Labour leadership, a process began of gagging the activists, halting MP dissent and a new Presidential style of politics took over. The vision was a Labour victory in 1997. We got it of course and subsequently two further election victories, but the cost to both the party and the wider political arena has been huge, and often detrimental. What we have now  is a party that is gagged by spin. Any other ideas emanating from grass roots activists or MPs is filtered through the spin doctors sieve and analysed like a dissected rat, before being presented to Ed Miliband if it is considered fit for him to see. The cautious back room team, hellbent on getting Labour elected in 2015 on a 35% "just over the line" approach, allow nothing to come to the leaders ears that has not been chewed over continuously.

The back room team and the spin doctors are so woefully out of touch with working class labour activists, so out of touch with anything happening outside of the Westminster bubble, and so cautious about keeping the 35% target in sight, some bewildering "barely there"  policies have been presented to Labour Party members. A whole party therefore has policies made for it in the hands of a tiny percentage of out of touch apparatchiks; making the party look afraid of its own shadow on many occasions.

No MP is permitted to put their head over the official party line, unless they have no personal political ambition within the party, debate with  the left of the party and trade unions is scaled down as worried spin doctors have no answer to the right wing press harping back to the "bad old days" of 70s strikes. A constant worry of appearing to be a socialist party has succeeded in alienating a loyal core working class vote, who have looked to Ukip to provide answers; something  the back room boys had not anticipated.

But we are at fault! It is OUR Labour Party! Instead of tearing our membership cards up in annoyance at the way the party is going, we need to be more active and more vocal and act to shape our party. We moan at MPs who have gone straight from university to politics and have no idea of the way ordinary people feel. Then we need to sit down in our CLPs and elect more diverse parliamentary candidates; more working class, more ethnic minority, more disabled people who live our lives!  So what if a candidate doesn't have the in depth political science knowledge that we have come to expect from potential MPs. We no longer need identikit Labour MPs. We need MPs who passionately believe in the issues affecting ordinary people and seek to work to improve the lot of the working class. We moan we no longer feel able to debate policy at conference. Then we need to make it known within our CLPs we want to change our stage managed conferences and debate the issues and set policy the majority of the party want to see. We don't have to keep matching the Tories in the way we import political styles from the USA. We don't have to put up with being the equivalent of social democrats in America. Our party is still as diverse as it was thirty or forty years ago and still has a myriad of views that need airing. But we need to wrestle back control to Labour activists. Let's hear personal opinions from our MPs, instead of them looking cautiously over their shoulders in case they speak slightly differently from the official party line.

I have heard  people from our own number criticising some candidates as they "don't have the in depth knowledge required" Maybe not, but they will learn soon enough and can let their own life experiences be their guide. The frontbench have their speeches written by back room media staff. Well let's have some personal input and some of their own soul put into their speeches. Let's hear their opinions and not a soulless, gutless party line, devoid of life and colour.

It is OUR Labour Party. Let's ungag it, breathe new life into it, own it, campaign for it, shape it and
fight for it. Its leader should lead it on behalf of us all, representing all the different shades of red within it and welcome its unique diversity and sell it to the electorate on that basis. In turn we get behind our leader and do all we can to ensure he is elected as the next Prime Minister of the Labour Party. His loyalty to us will ensure our loyalty to him.

Monday, 3 November 2014

My CLASS Conference Speech 1st Nov 2014 - Working Class Woman Representation

Imagine a working class woman, educated at the local comprehensive, bright enough to go on to A levels but then marriage and a family come along; not University. One of the children is autistic so any hope of a decent job is plucked away as a full time carers role is the only option. Then picture a car accident that leaves this working class woman disabled with a mobility problem, but nonetheless a burning desire to climb into the political arena and change the narrative. But being outside the ‘political bubble’ it is like being led to a pitch black, dark alleyway with closed doors leading off and told to navigate down it with various hazards on route. Whichever way she turns, she can’t work out the trick to make the doors open because they are controlled by the political elite, politicians and the right wing media who can unlock the doors as they have the correct contacts, the passwords and the secret handshakes.

Then enter Unite the Union and Len McCluskey. With the birth of the new concept of Unite Community that opens up union membership at 50p pw to people who don’t work in the traditional unionised workplaces like carers, the disabled, students, the self employed and retired, the working class woman is opened up to a world of new education: public speaking courses, community activism, setting up a community branch, and access to Unite tutors to help her navigate the political representation route. Unite help out with all the travel costs that previously held this woman back from participation and education. Unite give the woman self belief and self confidence that she WILL be able to change the political narrative and enter the arena, as the courses provide a toolbox of skills she can use.

That woman is hungry to change the austerity story. That woman is me.

In 1979 in Westminster 40% of elected Labour Mps were from a manual or clerical working class background. In 2010 this had dramatically decreased to 9%. Where I live in Wales well over two thirds of the 30 assembly members come from a middle class background of law, PR and heads of public bodies. It is time for change.

While the Labour Party recognises the under representation of women in Westminster, by using All Women Shortlists. It certainly does not recognise the woeful under representation of working class people and disabled people. Watching from the sidelines while people applaud all women shortlists is frustrating. Most of the women selected are from middle class backgrounds. This may even be acceptable if some of the women had working class values. But there is nothing worse than seeing these women and indeed shadow female ministers, lamenting the opportunities and the way in which austerity is effecting the working class, then driving home in their Chelsea tractor to the nanny who has put the kids to bed as she relaxes with a nice glass of claret and looks forward to dinner parties at the weekend!

WALK A MILE IN OUR SHOES. Have your day interrupted by school who want you to turn up ASAP as your child is having a meltdown. It’s the third time in as many weeks and your employer is more than annoyed. Fear of losing your job is a daily worry. My husband and I are self employed and low paid. I have a regular features column in the Morning Star covering topics on working class austerity and political representation. We have 4 sons and we are on working tax credits as a top up to our low pay. Income fluctuates a lot. Now walk round the supermarket with £40 to feed the family for a week. You get innovative, but there is no room for treats or fripperies.

There are working class people living lives the Westminster elite can’t begin to guess at. Not for a month or 6 months but day in and day out all year round on a Tory enforced austerity that affects us the most, the people at the bottom. The Tories have been successful at pitting people against each other; old v young, working poor v poor, able bodied v disabled, men v women. The politics of a selfish, ‘every man for himself’ society. And women are bearing the brunt of austerity the most. But we hate being represented by people who only seem to empathise but have no idea at all what it is like to live our lives.

With the help of Unite I am able to lift my personal barrier to political representation and unravel what is essentially an upper middle class jigsaw to becoming an MP or in Wales an AM. I have this week been accepted onto the list for an AM seat in 2016.

But there needs to be a wholesale cross-party change into how ordinary people can gain access to political representation; how candidates are selected and indeed financial barriers removed entirely as this is what makes it so near impossible to enter politics for working class people of both sexes.

There has been much said in my paper The Morning Star about opportunities for women in politics to job-share on a part time basis. Caroline Murphy the leading businesswoman in construction on the left and campaigner is a huge advocate of the part time job share MP. Cameron and his party are just about to dismantle the Access to Political Office fund in May 2015 for disabled people wishing to enter politics. What was damned hard will be near impossible if this rung of the ladder is taken from us.

My union mentor me and are always there at the end of the phone or by email should I need specific advice. Personally I have made connections via twitter and at the events I attend with many of the trade union group of MPs like Ian Lavery and Grahame Morris who are always happy to offer advice. But that help is not available for women outside of a union environment. There are no courses or mentoring or explanations of the almost impossible political navigation process by the Labour Party. Whilst our selection is undertaken as democratically as possible by CLPS, is this always the right way? For example many disabled candidates are being overlooked the minute they come through the selection door as many of the panel see their health as an issue and a barrier to selection. CLPS are selecting some working class candidates but not enough. However there are more 1st generation university people who still hold dear working class values of solidarity and the strong helping the weak.


For the private school educated Eton boys it’s a smooth stroll to that safe seat in Parliament. For this woman there is Everest to climb. I will do it with the help of my union behind me all the way. Working class people in working class communities deserve to be represented by one of their own. The House of Commons does not look or even think like the electorate. It’s a democratic deficit to be addressed and resolved. Now it’s time to stop talking and time to start acting for the Labour Party.  Let Labour MPS reflect the people who built the party; the bricklayer, the miner, the nurse, the shop worker, the carer. Political reward waits if the party acts; political wilderness if it refuses to listen.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A free education? Not for Working Class Kids

There is a lot of talk in the papers of the rising cost of sending children to school. This wouldn't have been much of an issue pre-2010, but with the last 4 years of ConDem rule it is a burning issue for the poor and the working poor.

How have we got to the situation when sending your child(ren) to school with the correct uniform,  lunch money and the occasional school trip is now a source of  trepidation and nerves for parents?

Take my situation. With 4 children with a 10 year age gap between eldest and youngest, there have been some very tough times with all four in school. Four school uniforms to buy for September always meant starting to buy items at Easter. Buying the cheapest was always, (and still is) false economy as trousers would rip within a few weeks if they were made from the thinnest cheapest material. But often there was simply no choice as 2 pairs of trousers per child were needed. The real headache came with school jumpers and in my sons cases school blazers. All had to be bought from the school supplier as they had the school logo attached. There was no option to buy badges and see them on yourselves like my parents did when I was at school. The mark up on these logoed items is astronomical. Take this years jumper for my 15 year old. A mans size 40 inch chest means I pay VAT on his jumper. With the logo it was £26. A plain navy jumper of good quality in a high street chain was £15. A big difference when you have more than one child. School games kits are frequently personalised with the school badge too and in a certain colour. Football and hockey boots plus trainers and plimsolls all have to be bought in many cases.

School lunches and the Nick Clegg con are my own pet hatred.  Have gone through many adjustments on school lunches trying packed lunches for all 4 sons, hot school lunches , and then a combination of packed lunches for my sons at high school and hot lunches for my sons at primary school. Whichever way I and millions of working poor turn we cannot get away from the school lunch cost. The older children get the costlier the lunch. Nick Cleggs scheme for all 5-6 year olds to receive a universal free school lunch is anathema to the working poor. While millionaires 6 year olds get a free lunch the working poor 7 year olds do not. The simple rule is that if you currently receive working tax credits your children are not entitled to a free school meal.  I have always believed this was due to the fact that free school meals are an indicator of poverty. The Government would not be allowed off the hook if the working poor were able to claim free school meals as the poverty indicator would go through the roof! I am a firm believer in a hot school lunch for children whose parents earn under £25,000 p/a. I am also a firm believer that children in high school deserve a free lunch the same as a 5-6 year old. But then Clegg is applying the ConDem policy of Divide and Rule Politics -Us v Them.

Books have always been provided by school, whether handed over or borrowed from the school library but this is no longer the case. Even in the dark days of Thatcherism where I shared my English literature textbook between 3 of us, school was still the provider. My sons are doing GCSES and A levels this year. Last year I had to buy Geography textbooks as there were only 8 to go around a class of 23 and the teacher reluctantly asked parents to buy a textbook if they could, to give their child use of it at home for homework and research. This year as my son has started A levels, every subject textbook has had to be bought as the new school he is attending does not permit pupils to borrow them from the school library to take home. They are only allowed to use them in the library during school hours. I have resorts to ploughing through eBay to buy them second hand, but one subject teacher actually forbade pupils to buy second hand textbooks as she did not want them seeing pencilled in notes from previous owners. So far in the past 6 weeks I have spent £180 for A level textbooks. Already I am wondering how the poorest pupils cope. It is a financial nightmare for families and bright children from poor backgrounds in England have had EMA taken away from them which used to ease the burden a little.

School trips are loved by the children but increasingly dreaded by parents. In primary school the  local trips to nature reserves, castles and such like used to be frequent outings and a nominal cost was charged. But now due to our pre-occupation with red tape, more health and safety rules than what is needed, a fear of being used by schools, many if these local visits have been curbed or stopped in many instances. The cost of hiring a school coach is  now huge as is the cost of entry to many of these places. Once children get to High School the trips abroad are frequently advertised. A recent school trip to Paris at my sons school for 4 days was priced at £350 and that was by boat not plane! I have noticed just how many children are not going on these trips due to the sheer cost involved. It is not just the trip cost but the inevitable new clothes and spending money too that is needed for participation. But peer pressure is also great and when a child from a poor family consistently keeps saying they will not be going on the school trip, they are pitied and singled out for being poor and unable to go. In some cases bullying then occurs.

There are other hidden costs many schools are now charging too. Hire of laptops and hire of school
 lockers are frequent. My sons new school charges £15 per year for a school locker for example. Another hidden fee was the 'resource fee' charged on Day 1 for A levels. This was £15 and was to cover photo-copying for the year and such like. This will have to be paid again on the second year of the course. I have heard from friends with primary age children that on top of school dinner money they have the option to pay for  "Fruit and biscuits" for the week - an extra £1.50 which is given to children at break times. Those who don't pay - mostly the working poor - don't get.

Under this government it is actually worse to be "working poor" than poor. The very people who used to be the "strivers" are being penalised by the ConDems for striving! Even millionaires with 5 year olds are being protected more than we are.

I would urge Labour and Tristram Hunt to take a look at the raw deal children of the working poor are getting and indeed all children from ordinary working class backgrounds. Don't make school something to be priced out of. The concept of a free education has been eroded to the point of no return by the ConDems. Labour should call time on the stealthy privatisation of our education system as children from poor and working poor families are starting to be second class within the state education system. It is frankly abhorrent and has no place in a decent education system. But then the Tories and LibDems  have sold decency. It is up to us and the Labour Party to fight for our children's future. A future and education that does not depend on the amount of money in your purse.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Immigration : Time to listen, hear and act....

While our right wing media screams out the Ukip headlines, while the BBC falls over itself to devote hours of  TV and debate to Carswell and the Clacton by election result, while media analysts and teams of  spin doctors and party leaders dissect and pick their way through the fall-out, one thing stands out a mile for me:

Who is listening, hearing and ultimately acting for the working class?

Liz McInnes  the new MP for Heywood and Middleton will be a superb voice for her constituency. But Liz has to be given time to do her job and not be spun by the party machine. It is quite a task becoming an MP and then fighting for your seat again in 7 months at a General Election. Granted, Liz won by a slim majority, but comparing a rainy day's by-election turnout in October to a 2010 spring day turnout for a General Election is a touch farcical.

I spent a day in Heywood campaigning for Liz and listened to many voices of concern from the local community. Many of the parents picking up their kids from the local school were delighted that Labour will be offering 25 hours free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds, but the subject on almost everyone's lips was immigration. They feel it is not enough for Labour to weakly say they will restrict numbers coming into the country. Many said they would support Ukip because of their immigration policy.  When I asked what they thought of other Ukip policies, they either didn't know of them or simply didn't care.

Having immigration headlines in all the right wing newspapers on a daily basis has in no uncertain terms fuelled the politics of fear. Even when  we give the actual facts on immigration and the stats etc people only see the headlines and Ukip play to this fear. However, I have come to the conclusion after hearing people's concerns over school places, community facilities, jobs etc that Labour need to sit down and listen to these concerns and not write working class people off as bigots.

I am no academic. I can't quote lofty ideology and reel off stats on immigration, but I am working class and I will write what I heard. Fear of the new mosque being built on your street is because we don't understand Muslim culture.  Fear of  your child being in the minority of white faces in the classroom is because we have for centuries been used to our communities being white, English and working class. Whilst not bothering over the immigrants of the 1960s/70s settling into our area, the sudden surge  and quantity of new arrivals over the last few years has felt like an overwhelming tide and so we feel threatened by cultures alien to ours and lash out in fear.

If only immigration was talked about openly in our community centres by people of all races without fear of being labelled a racist. I am certain that dialogue and de-mystifying cultures would go a long way to calming the fear of immigration. By bring able to understand another cultures religion, dress, way of life, we will break down the barriers of fear surrounding the whole immigration issue. And that goes for both sides of the debate. Immigrants need to hear indigenous working class peoples fears too without labelling us as racists. We need to air our views frankly but calmly in a community arena that promotes working together. Let's get the fears out into the open and aired on both sides. Let's bust those myths!

As a Labour Party member I am appalled at the rise of Ukip. But whilst I am appalled I understand why. Ukip thrive on our fear. Rather than beginning constructive dialogue in our communities they peddle the lie that immigration is to blame for all our woes in the UK. Backed by the media, the working class are being conned and spun to believe it.

It is the stockbrokers like Nigel Farage, the crony banker mates of David Cameron and the millionaires who are benefitting through our fear. We focus our fear on immigration and let these posh boys off the hook!

As for the Labour Party, now is the time to stop spinning, stop the caution.


 Listen, hear and act on behalf of  our working class communities. 

Not voting at all is our other enemy. The politics of fear needs slaying. Let it be Labour who lead the way.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Shouting loud and proud in Socialist Wales!

Every week at PMQs David Cameron never fails to sneer, attack and denounce the Labour led government in Wales. Like a petulant child who is secretly rather envious of the kid next door, he resorts to petty point scoring and frantic finger pointing whenever  his envy spills over  for the exciting initiatives going on in Wales.

Bereft of ideas, the ConDems look on as spectators at a Welsh Labour administration that is delivering;even though currently being shackled by a Westminster imposed budget. So how are socialist Wales doing things differently and what are our successes?

Whilst the Tories swept in and destroyed the aspiration and  further education of our poorest children aged 16-18, Wales defiantly stood up for our children and retained Education Maintenance Allowance. The £30 pw allowance pays for books, travel and lunches and is a lifeline for  children whose families are existing below the breadline. It will be interesting to see in the next few years the difference between England and Wales in the numbers of  children from the poorest families who are staying on at 6th form or college, and the numbers who drop out due to unaffordability.

Going to the opposite age range, Wales has the Flying Start scheme for under 4s in the most deprived communities of Wales. A package of support including more input from Health Visitors, parenting classes, early language development and play skills and part time childcare has resulted in £180m of funding from 2007- present. The results are impressive and are changing lives. 76% of children were fully immunised at age 4 and 82% of children in the Flying Start areas  reached or exceeded their developmental norms at the benchmark age 2. Investment from birth is reaping dividends.

One of the jewels in Welsh Labours crown is our envious scheme of  Universal Free Prescriptions. Whatever age you are and however chronic a condition you have free medicine is there when you need it. My own son aged 22 was ill recently and was worried about work as he is agency employed on a zero hours contract. A free antibiotic prescription got him back on his feet quickly and a swift return to work. No worrying about the affordability of medicine. My husband suffers from chronic asthma and is a lifelong condition. He is eternally grateful for the free prescription service here in Wales. Indeed many of our friends living just over the border in places like Chester and Hereford are rushing to sign up with GP practices in Wales. It is not as costly an exercise as many critics suggest as it is a fraction of the health budget  in Wales, yet has such positive outcomes.

Jobs Growth Wales is a shining example of offering  young people a 6 month work experience but paying them the minimum wage while they are doing it. A total opposite to the sapping pointless workfare the Tories in England support wholeheartedly.  Such is the success rate that 82% of young people taking up a work placement then go on to secure a sustainable job after the initial 6 month period. An exceeded target of 13,000 people in jobs in the first 3 years of the scheme is testament to its success. A complete  stark contrast to the crippling youth unemployment in England with no hope on the horizon as one thing the Tories destroy is hope for young peoples futures.

Wales is incredibly rural and our rural areas have suffered more than most with freak weather conditions and seasonal, casual work.  The Agricultural Wages Board was abolished by the ComDems in England in October 2013. It was responsible for setting the minimum rates of pay for agricultural workers, terms of employment and often rents on tied cottages etc. Wages were always higher than the minimum wage. Wales decided  to challenge the Westminster government and  were successful in the Supreme Court in summer 2014 to set up a new Welsh Agricultural Wages Board. 14,000 far workers will benefit and be kept out of rural wages poverty, unlike farm workers in England.  Holiday and sickness pay will now also be protected here in Wales, unlike England. In fact unlike England, Wales values the skills of our agricultural sector workers and will always fight to defend them.

Even on issues like Healthy Living Wales takes the lead. Banning smoking in cars where children are
 present, and the Future Generations Bill are on the agenda here. The Wales we want by 2050 is
A "healthier, happier, more equal, prosperous more bilingual economy with a resilient environment."
Future development and discussions on this way forward are being held in early 2015. Wales does not stand still. It plans ahead.

Carwyn Jones leads from the front in Wales, and I include him on our list of Welsh successes. I urge you to watch First Ministers Questions in the Sennedd on the Parliamemt channel on TV. Whilst the Tory leader, Andrew R T Davies continually flusters, Carwyn uses his considerable intellect and wit to shoot him down in flames every time. Carwyn Jones is Labours Socialist Statesman. Instrumental in bringing new business and world class sports events like the Ryder Cup in golf and Ashes Test Matches in cricket to Wales, Carwyn is a big name on the international scene. He has been successful at promoting Welsh businesses in the USA also. He is now passionately campaigning for more devolved powers for Wales, so we can unchain ourselves from the shadow of the ConDems in
Westminster.

My family are proud and frankly relieved to live in Wales while the coalition wreak havoc in England. My son has just applied for EMA, my husbands asthma means we don't have to bankrupt ourselves to pay for a long term health condition, my youngest disabled son had excellent early years speech and language therapy for his autism. Whilst my grandfather was from Tonypandy in South Wales, my mother from Bridgend; I live on the Coast in N Wales, I will never forget my grandfathers stories of grinding poverty before  Clement Attlee came to power. In modern day times I am delighted that a  socialist Wales  under devolution wants more devolved power, so we can set our own rules, use our compassion to look after our most vulnerable Welsh citizens and not be at the mercy of the nasty party in England.

It's time socialists in Wales shouted much more loudly about our successes and on going future plans when faced by Westminster arrogance.  Like a modern day Cromwell, Cameron rules over his vision of England in tyranny, where the people are pushed noses to the grindstone in hard low paid work, and leisure and fun are things to be derided. I am  proud to live in Wales; proud to be a Welsh socialist.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

We've got the IDS blues!

Stop your child's birthday cake, put down that dog food can
The Benefit Card is here,
Courtesy of that IDS man
Stop the laughter
That keeps you sane
The poor prescription is misery and pain.

Forgo that biscuit
Give up that pint
Preserve of the rich now
Out of spite
No more cream cakes, he's closed the door
It's the Benefit Card for all the poor.

Embarassment at the check-out
Is our fate
Rooting through food
Going out of date
IDS views us as a running sore
Punishment for the crime of being poor.

In 2015  put on your coat
Down to the polling station
To use your vote
To boot out the Tories who "work so hard"
Give them life on a Benefits Card!



Sunday, 28 September 2014

Time to be proud of being a 21st Century Trade Unionist!

I grew up in the 1970s in Worcester with a grandad who worked for British Leyland at Longbridge in Birmingham, the heart of the car industry in the Midlands. A staunch union man a socialist -he was married to my gran a property owning Tory! There were always  good "debates" in their household. My memories however were of Grandad coming home early.. "On strike again" my gran would stand and accuse him. "Not enough sugar in their tea and they're off on strike again!" Obviously her own Tory exaggeration at the time but it had a ring of truth, as strikes were happening on a regular basis, on some issues that would appear trivial these days.

My Uncle worked for a small machine tool factory in Worcester. They were never on strike, but as Thatcherism hit home hard in the early 1980s my uncle was first on a 3 day working week, swiftly followed by the ludicrous 1 day week as more and more workers in the factory lost their jobs. Union bosses fought hard but in vain against its closure. The company shut for good in 1985, like thousands across the UK.

Two very different  experiences, but part of my early memories of Trade Unionism. I spent a week with miners wives in the food kitchens as an 18 year old politics student at college which has been an abiding memory for me, and haunts me to this day.

Trade Unionism and belonging to a union became a dirty word under Thatcher and  the myth peddled that under unions, workers were always out on strike took hold and flourished in working class communities. Just like today when Cameron peddles the lie of austerity that must be imposed on the working class, we have fallen for it, hook line and sinker and taken our eyes off the real culprits; the robber barons, the bankers, the Tory elite, Ukip and the millionaires.

Time to shake off the shackles of the 1970s! I believe firmly however that the dark cloud hanging over the Trade Union Movement is lifting. I want to see it being not only fashionable but imperative to belong to a union. This is all down to Len McCluskey opening up Unite the Union to members of the community, not working in the traditional unionised workplaces. Other unions will be certain to replicate the new way forward. As a Unite Community member myself you can literally hear new breath being breathed into the unions lungs, new energy and new working class people coming forth to take up the fight against Tory imposed austerity.

Community members shout loud and proud they are members of Unite. I walked round Labour Conference with my Unite lanyard holding my conference pass on proud display. I travelled the Manchester trams and proclaimed to all that would listen "I am a member of Unite the Union". The time to go unseen or casually not to mention union membership when talking to people is being banished. The sleeping giant of trade unionism that has taken an almighty kicking since the '70s is emerging into a new dawn in the 21st century.

Why? Because people in communities and workers in our factories, schools, hospitals and  public sector are sick to death of taking a battering from the ConDems, the right wing media and the emergence of the extreme right wing Ukip. For us in community we are seeing social services slashed, libraries and swimming pools closed, carers and disabled voices going unheard. Workers are being battered into accepting zero hours contracts and agency work is the norm. Let's face it, the Tories have put the power directly with the bosses. They hold every card without a crumb on the table left for the workers. Cameron quite openly tells us of his plans to literally eradicate trade unionism should the Tories be elected in 2015. Never has the time been riper than to belong to a union or join a union. Education is the key too as we talk to the younger generation about workplace rights. And this education has to begin at age 14+ as young people, brainwashed by right wing TV, need to know there is a union there, a band of people willing to protect them from the onslaught of  the worst excesses of capitalism.

But the future of a new modern era of Trade Unionism can only gain momentum by slaying the other
major opponent; apathy. In a Tory society of "I'm alright Jack" it is imperative we change the selfish
narrative and list the benefits of belonging to a union and the history of success we have had. I bang the gong on the following Trade Union successes: The Weekend, Maternity/Paternity Leave and Rights, Sick Pay, Workplace Pensions, Paid Holidays, a Minimum Wage, Health and Safety at work. These are the workplace successes. Imagine the community successes we will be able to list within the next five years! With constant attacks by the Tories and now Ukip creeping up on the working class disguised as sheep in wolves clothing by announcing they will ensure those on minimum wage pay no income tax, we must stand united against this right wing extremism. While Ukip make these soundbite policies they still back zero hours contracts, agency employed staff and a huge slashing of the workplace rights so hard fought for by unions. They are on the side of the bosses even more so than the Tories.

So If you're in a union already, have that talk with friends, relatives and workplace colleagues. Let them know you belong to a union. If it's possible, encourage others to join themselves. Unite Community for example only costs 50p p/w. Let's show the bosses, and Cameron and Farage that you "really don't get me; because I'm part of the union!"**** -

A 21st century modern trade union fighting to protect the rights of the working class against  greedy capitalism.

***1973 song by The Strawbs for those who can't remember it!


Thursday, 25 September 2014

My Labour Conference 2014

Being working poor with a large family, I could not afford the cost of Labour Conference. The pass was £63 for the low paid/unwaged and £109 for everyone else. Accomodation was quite frankly extortionately priced for budget accomodation. £120 per night plus on average. Wanting desperately to go I crowd funded my way there and I am eternally grateful to the many people ( including MPs) who put their hands in their pockets and paid for me to attend. I then began a campaign which I will continue to take up with Labour Gen Sec Iain McNicoll entitled #ForTheManyNotTheMoneyed
The campaign was to give a voice to every person who simply could not afford the best part of £1000 to attend conference week. The campaign continues for 2015 as Mr McNicoll looks into it.

Attending Labour Conference is an experience like no other. Every member rich or poor should be given the opportunity for a "seat at the table", a chance to engage with their party, meet people, smell the politics and in my case most importantly, learn from the event and come out wiser than when I went in! Of course it is useful to sit in the main conference hall and listen to the speeches by the party leader and shadow cabinet, but the fringe events on a wide variety of topics from What makes a working class MP, to the Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity campaigns are where you have to be to learn the most. I was like a political kid in a sweet shop! Scouring the days events in my conference book and making a list of MPs and other speakers I wanted to hear from most, made the entire conference all the more enriched. Of course while I was there I had my own article coming out, announcing my intention to stand for Parliament in 2020 and that it was truly a time for working class MPs who have compassion and the human touch to be  elected to change the make up of the current establishment. I had a terrific response to my Morning Star piece, with one lady rushing to the Morning Star stand to subscribe to the paper having read the article!

People make conference. A wide variety of people though, not just suits who can afford to be there. I met with  some grandmothers in their 80s who told me of their experiences after the war when the welfare state was being set up, I met with a young man whose mum was being hounded by the DWP and faced sanctions as due to her mental health she couldn't understand the letters being sent to her demanding her constant appearance at assessment centres, I met a whole array of feisty disabled people demanding change from the Labour Party and fighting to mould disabled policy within the party. These experiences were my education. Of course I also met with my own Unite the Union General Secretary Len McCluskey for the first time, and was delighted to meet up with the MPs I admire most, Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris and Ian Mearns. These four men have something in common more priceless than diamonds; the ability to connect, engage and care about what you are saying. No one feels the hurt of austerity on their people and constituents more than these guys believe me! And they are not just empty words. They act immediately. When you have heard  Ian Lavery deliver a hell raising speech on how children at a school in his constituency are stealing bread from the school kitchens as they are hungry and how there is simply no need for austerity in one of the richest countries on earth, you can be damned sure that speech will be seared in your brain forever! Christine Blower from the NUT telling delegates that teachers are hoarding cereal snack bars and the like to feed hungry pupils in school, the realisation from newly qualified and perhaps middle class young teachers that teaching is only part of their job, and social worker and feeding children is also part of their remit wrenches your insides literally. Kevin Macguire of the Daily Mirror sitting alongside 91 year old Harry Smith at a fringe event when he weeps as he tells of his sister dying from TB aged 10 because there was no NHS. These speakers told the real stories of conference. The stories that were happening to ordinary people. To me these were far more important than any policy announcements taking place in the main hall as they told the real story of what is going on under the watch of Cameron's Britain.

I was also involved in an incident concerning myself and other disabled people prior to the leaders speech taking place. Huge queues had formed and all disabled people were allowed in first, but the queuing system was pretty haphazard as of course there were people on mobility scooters and  in wheelchairs as well as the "walking wounded", the deaf  and blind. All week long  on the front row of the floor level balcony seating, stewards reserved seats for the disabled who couldn't climb the
balcony. I was among them. However, when stewards showed us to this front row, 2 party officials insisted we could not sit there as they were reserved for other party members. Despite vehement protestation from the stewards and also myself, I was told to move up to the balcony seating. However by this time a lot of the upper seats were occupied so there were quite a few stairs to climb. The stewards did their best to assist but I lost my footing with my crutch and fell. Thank you to the steward who picked me up and saved me! On seeing the scene, the party officials quickly urged stewards to fetch chairs from outside the hall and put us seated next to the wheelchair users in the main part of the hall. Myself and a few others who had attempted the balcony climb were very angry and of course shaken and in disbelief this was happening to us at Labour conference.  We felt frankly like 2nd class citizens, a bit of a nuisance to the female party suits desperate to avoid a scene and get their people seated in the reserved disabled seats.

At the end of conference all became apparent as Ed Miliband and his wife Justine walked to the back of the hall and shook hands with the long line of party members sitting in the reserved seats. Of course Ed himself would have been oblivious to the fact we had been ousted from this area, and the feeling of somehow not being good enough or photogenic enough for the cameras following him pervaded our thoughts.  I was very angry on leaving the hall and gave my account of what had taken place to a Morning Star reporter. Whilst Luke James reported the facts, another Tory paper copied the story and added its own right wing twist for public gain. Not what was intended.  Labour got it wrong for disabled people, but it was a time for bringing this to the attention of Kate Green, shadow minister for the disabled and not for Tory rags to gain politically from it. Both Kate and John McDonnell MP are raising the issue seriously with Ed Miliband and  looking into the behaviour of party officials. For the record it is up to people like me to speak out and ensure that at future events this is never repeated. With the arrival of Disability Labour as a new group I will work with them as a voice to  improve procedures for disabled people at conference. It is not enough to moan. Change must come by fighting for it personally.

The  conference centre foyer was packed full of stalls ranging from Unions to the Campaign for Real Ale (popular with delegates for samples!) and all had stacks of information; leaflets, free pens and fridge magnets etc. I have much to read in the coming weeks! The sheer volume of stalls and causes made me swivel- headed but again enriched the experience for me.

Finally I would like to thank the cleaners, the stewards, the  workers providing us with food and drinks, the centre receptionists, the centre guides. These were the unsung heroes. People like us on minimum wage and perhaps  a short term contract, all working to 200% to ensure conference was enjoyable to all. A special mention to the security guards on the gate who always opened up the main gates when they saw myself and other disabled people coming along, rather than the turnstiles for others. They were cheery every day and always glad to welcome us. The Manchester police were obviously present but again did their jobs and directed us to taxis etc when needed. The taxi drivers were animated and asked lots of questions about conference and what Labour would do in certain areas, and I hope I converted a few!

I marvelled at the cheapness of the tram tickets (£3 return)  and how safe and welcoming Manchester was to a lone female. Thank you Manchester, a truly great city.

Labour now has to knuckle down with a huge job of work leading up to May 2015. Trying to change the narrative and how  the right wing media perceive the party and leader will be a difficult task, but we have it in all of us grassroots members, us the people, to campaign to ensure a Labour victory next May. Just view the alternative on offer: Cameron, Clegg and Farage, or a combination of all 3, for the next five years. Stand with Labour, and campaign for change from within.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

IDS wants Obese Poor on Celebrity Diet Plan...

You have to wonder what  goes on in the Duncan-Smith country estate at weekends. Like a scene from a James Bond film you can picture IDS in his "lair" pondering how to rule the world and what dastardly plan he can hatch out next to humiliate, degrade and punish the poor. Never in the history of British politics has one man, backed by his leader, and even worse turned a blind eye to by the LibDems, been allowed this much freedom to  target his own personal hatred onto one section of society; the most vulnerable. Backed up by a willing right wing media who have conned the working class into actually believing a lot of IDS' rhetoric we are now never shocked by what this right wing maniac will do next.

I use maniac willingly and in context.  "An obsessive enthusiast" " A person exhibiting wild or violent behaviour" "a person suffering from mania" "a deranged person". IDS is certainly an "obsessive enthusiast" over his plans  for the poor, sick and disabled. His latest wheeze probably would have shocked us a few years ago, but such is our "unshockability" at  what he does, his latest idea barely raises an eyebrow, as we have come to expect demonisation of the poor as a daily occurrence, both from Duncan-Smith and his propaganda machine the DWP.

IDS has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a cunning plan  to ask if  poor obese people claiming JSA and ESA could be put on the celebrity diet "The Cambridge Plan" - a £45pw liquid diet. Now many people radicalised by right wing media may well see nothing wrong with poor obese people being given "help" this way. But with the Tories and particularly their hatchet man IDS, you have to peel back the layers to find the hidden truth and reality of the situation. IDS' constituent Ruth Barber is the brain-child of The Cambridge Diet. "All in this together" certainly rings true. As with ATOS being handed multi million pound contracts and various Tory cronies having more fingers in pies than the nursery rhyme figure Little Jack Horner, it seems IDS is keen to put a huge  NHS "diet contract" Ruth Barber's way. Of course were the scheme to become reality, there is always a stick with Duncan-Smiths harebrained ideas and you don't need a crystal ball to know there will be an element of compulsion to participate if you are obese, and in receipt of JSA/ESA or the inevitable sanctions will be applied.

Putting aside, that this is the latest in a whole range of punishments  from a man so dim his own party derides him, let's look at the facts of  obesity and being poor.

Poverty and being on benefit is a vicious grinding cycle. While many of us would like to put some portly MPs, obese due to lavish subsidised lunches and expensive champagne receptions, on one of these celebrity diet plans, yet again the spotlight falls on the very poorest, who in Tory eyes, are not permitted to be obese like their richer "betters". While lardy Cameron parades his belly chillaxing on the various beach holidays he enjoys each year, this is simply not permitted to be poor and fat and scraping by on £71pw JSA.

Those of us whether poor or working poor have very limited incomes which have to be stretched like never before due to Tory imposed austerity. When I have the electric bill to pay or one of the kids comes home with torn trousers which needs replacing immediately, the food budget is where I , and thousands of other people turn to in an effort to find the money needed. To cut down means to go without or replace with  bulky cheap food the kids will eat. Simple as that. I know I can go to Iceland and pick up a pizza for £1 and frozen chips for £1. As much as I would like to , minced beef and fresh  vegetables are a lot more expensive. I have fed a family of 6 on £30 for a weeks meals when desperate, but I know how to as I was taught practical cooking skills by my parents and by school. Many people are not so fortunate.  The school GCSE for example is full of  theory based health and safety questions rather than how to feed yourself on a strict budget.

Once someone like IDS has lived for a year controlling a food budget week in week out on JSA of a total £71pw income or on a Carers income of £61.35pw, then he can speak with authority of how poor obese people should be truly helped. Imagine your food budget as a single person on JSA is £10pw every week, every month which thousands are living on. Now imagine doing a weekly food shop in the supermarket. Out goes the nutritional more expensive food like meat, fresh vegetables; in comes the bulky highly processed foods like frozen pizzas, chips, and value bread. In fact everything becomes the supermarkets value brand; the lowest common denominator. Now after weeks of living on this cheerless bulky high sugar diet, your health starts to suffer you feel lethargic, less motivated, sapped, stressed with the anxiety of wondering where the next meal is coming from, so your mental health takes a bashing. You feel cooking is a chore, you feel less motivated to cook, less motivated to go out. The walls and your horizons start to narrow as your life consists of one long huge effort to survive. And the inevitable thing is that your weight  increases on this high sugar diet and lack of  outdoor exercise and obesity occurs. Obesity brings its own demons of higher  blood pressure, diabetes and other related health problems. Then a man comes along earning £100k a year plus and tells you the answer is a celebrity liquid diet, a cure for your obesity and poverty in one, and that by going on this diet, you will be fit for work, off benefit and your life improves with a wave of the IDS magic wand!

What utter tosh!  GPs will tell you of the complex array of health problems caused by poverty. Poverty and a lack of education and life skills go hand in hand and have done for decades. Successive governments have never found the cure. Likewise GPs will also point to the excessive lifestyles of the rich where their obesity is caused by too many rich foods and lavish dinners. But IDS is not pushing a celebrity diet  onto his cronies is he?!

So stuff your liquid diet IDS. Stop trying to award big fat privatised NHS contracts to your chums. And get off the backs of the poor who can't carry the weight of austerity any longer. Fat chance Cameron will sack you sooner, but  I very much think that like your party, you will be history in May 2015.