Thursday, 17 November 2016

A timely break

All I can say is I tried. Last year I was advised to take a break from my campaign work. I did this and came back earlier this year with reduced commitments. However despite being less active, my health problems slapped me down again. The reality of this is that whilst in full time employment, if I am to maintain my health I'm not going to be able to sustain my political activity. Returning from work and having to undertake research or attend meetings when some days I'm physically exhausted eventually takes its toll, and this is what has happened.

I also feel I am letting people down. Sending apologies month after month to meetings is something which has frustrated me. I feel my place should now go to other more able delegates. The same goes for this blog. These day's I'm hardly a radical whisper for Paignton never mind a voice, unable to become involved in campaigns which need input and a real voice.

So the time has come to step aside and make time for people with the voice and ability to take up the causes much needed in this area. For these people I wish good luck.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Britain would still benefit from another Europe

I have not given much reference to Brexit on my blog. However I am horrified at the mass fallout from both the campaign and the result which seems to have divided many friends, families and politicians. I will always remember the morning of the result and driving to work in Torquay and reading the words ‘EU Rats Go Home’ sprayed in large letters on the shelter on Torre Abbey meadows. It seemed as if Britain had taken one massive step towards the far right – something I know those who favoured a ‘Lexit’ argument never wanted. With my eldest son in a long term relationship with a Hungarian girl this filled me with fear for her future and that of her family.

As many know, prior to the referendum I had been a huge opponent of the EU. This criticism was based on the bureaucratic and often centralised, undemocratic nature of its structure and its focus on big business. I was not anti-European, far from it, and favoured a more democratic, decentralised and co-operative alliance of nations. However such an option was not on the ballot paper. What we were faced with at the end of the day was a simple choice between remaining in the EU and at least benefitting from the reforms progressives had fought for and won over the years on workers rights, the environment and consumer protection, or leaving and allowing a Conservative government to create a bonfire of such reforms. Judging by what I have seen so far from the government I made the right choice in voting to Remain.

But what of the future? As an internationalist I strongly believe in co-operation between nations and therefore in some form of European alliance. I expect in many countries across Europe there are millions who also desire some massively reformed version of the EU, and therefore there has to be pan-European co-operation between progressives to push forward this demand. I want to see a new Europe with co-operation and legislation on human welfare, workers rights, animal welfare, environmental and sustainability issues and of course encouraging sustainable trade. Such trade should see exchanging of services and bartering between nations and regions and not necessarily based on delivering the highest profits. This would put people before big business. Currently this does not exist within the EU diktat and therefore there is failure in delivering genuine economic equality and distribution of wealth. It’s inevitable within such an alliance of nations a single market would exist, but this would be based on reducing food and product miles for environmental reasons and not on the basis of economic protectionism. As for free movement of labour, if there was fairer distribution of wealth, secure employment and employment rights and economic equality this would dramatically reduce the need for people to migrate, thus allaying fears of many about the impact of immigration. A new Europe built on these lines would be of huge benefit to Britain.

Britain may be leaving the European Union, but we should not turn our back on Europe. We need to work for a progressive, reformed Europe and with groupings such as the European Free Alliance. In the meantime we must oppose the right wing Brexiteers who believe Britain can sail off into a golden sunset and who see Brexit as another step to recreating the ‘Little England’ and Britain of Victorian times they crave for.  

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Who will pay the ultimate price for Heathrow's expansion?

Some may ask what airport expansion at Heathrow has to do with the English Riviera? Beyond some jetting off for holidays or visiting family many will not give expansion of any airport in London much thought. However, the expansion of Heathrow and the vast increase in air traffic anticipated will not only effect Torbay, but people across the planet in terms of the fight against climate change.

Sadly what we have is a government and many of the political elite in Westminster are still addressing 21st century problems with 20th century policies. It is said the expansion for Heathrow will be beneficial for business, but in reality when all the figures are added up the benefits to the UK economy is minimal. A great deal of business can now be conducted via modern technology, negating the need for face to face meetings. But the price to the environment, with the expansion likely to mean the UK unlikely to meet emissions targets is a high one to pay.

I am also very angry at the attitude of some of our Trade Unions, including my own the GMB. Like the government they are failing to look at what could be a green industrial revolution, instead choosing to champion yesterday's technology and yesterday's solution. They could have supported a greener argument and alternative to Heathrow, one which could have created new jobs, but instead chose to back expansion at Heathrow and the devastating effect on the environment and pollution levels that go with it. That is not really protecting workers, that is simply ignorance.

It appears the government is putting all its eggs in the same old basket instead of looking at better public transport connections and even alternative forms of air travel. Although opposing airport expansion I have long been a supporter of Plymouth airport. I would love to see this re-opened and embracing modern alternative forms of air travel such as a new generation of air ships for domestic and cross channel flights. Some may dismiss this idea, however those involved in the industry are confident modern air ships have a place in 21st century aviation. What they are up against is a very powerful airport lobby and conventional jet aircraft industry.

However providing more environmentally friendly alternatives is not the only solution. Some of the wealthy will still use air travel as often as they change their shoes simply because they always have done. In the face of climate change such frequent use is completely unsustainable, and it's a battle we must all face together. This is why I favour the introduction of 'Carbon Points' for all forms of travel, with an upper limit. This would mean the most frequent travellers looking to use less polluting forms of transport as their carbon points run out. This system would not discriminate against the less wealthy, and provide an added incentive for businesses to use Skype meetings or the equivalent instead of accumulating 'Carbon Points'.

Too often and for too long we have been held back by in the box thinking and as I previously mentioned using 20th century politics and solutions to fix 21st century problems. Very often corners are cut to keep prices down. But the cost in the case of airport expansion is one that will not be paid for in monetary terms, but by the environment. A cost which may be beyond the reach of future generations.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Offering asylum something to feel proud about

A lot has been spoken and written of late about patriotism and what makes you proud to be British. Acts of humanity and compassion, such as accepting those fleeing tyranny is something we can be proud of as a nation.Yet some of our media, with their exaggerated and misleading headlines, stirring up hatred and xenophobia represent the worst aspects of our society.

I actually understand people being concerned about the numbers of asylum seekers Britain has accepted. I have worked with such people, but they only see one side of the story and don't look at the facts, simply believing the words of the Mail, Express and other right wing rags. But ask them how they would feel if the boot was on the other foot and it was British children and families fleeing tyranny? The answer is then very, very different.

We need to counter the misinformation of the Tory right wing rags and I feel organisations such as the TUC need to fund a campaign to address this in workplaces, towns, cities and communities across the country, with fact sheets being distributed to schools, colleges and households. The headline scaremongering of the right wing media must be met and dealt with head on.

Of course none of us want to see refugees, and whilst the British government may accept those seeking asylum, their foreign policy and support for the arms trade contributes to the situation. This needs addressing, in addition to making asylum the responsibility of a truly international community. The situation that has arisen in Calais represents not the failure of the French government, but of the international community and a very dysfunctional UN.

Though we should feel a sense of national pride in the acceptance this country has shown towards those less fortunate, we should not accept the contribution successive UK governments has made in creating the refugee crisis. Here we should look to the radicalism of our forefathers, rebel and make our feelings known. This heritage is something else the people of this country should be very proud of.

Youth cadet forces will only encourage violence

Young people have been used by the political elite for a very long time, but the Tories proposals for Cadet forces in schools takes things to a whole new level. Their divisive Education policies through the reintroduction of grammar schools was bad enough, however this new idea and their pumping up of all things 'Rule Britannia' is a very dangerous path to take. It is a path that will encourage violence.

Looking at things simply, we live in very troubled times, and therefore we should be installing a sense of peace, mutual respect and co-operation amongst young people - not a message of military superiority. I have no objections to youth groups being attached to schools, and in fact this is something I would encourage. It is the military aspect of this and the possible coercion into recruitment I strongly object to. Traditional youth organisations such as the Scouts and the Guides have provided enjoyment for millions of young people over the years. They have been joined in more recent times by thousands of sports and local youth clubs.  Yet funding and support for youth organisations has been very poor. Why can't these groups be attached to schools and given the financial assistance that will be lavished on the cadet forces?  Each one provides activity, develops teamwork and discipline and in many cases contribute towards local communities.This is far more important than some military attachment.

We need to invest in our young people and allow them to help shape a modern, progressive, sustainable society. We need to ensure our young people want to help build a society that is fit for them to live in, eventually grow old in and eventually hand over to the next generation. We need to invest in nurseries, schools, employment and housing as well as adequate leisure and sporting facilities.

Education needs to be more engaging in preparing young people for the challenges of tomorrow and offer them a real say by lowering the voting age to 16. We must look to protect young people from all forms of exploitation, economically and socially. This includes reform of the age of consent laws, which are clearly not working. Instead we need to introduce legislation allowing individuals to enter into the sexual relations they choose, provided this does not conflict with the rights of others. It is these rights of others that needs to be made crystal clear.  At the same time it must ensure the safety of young people from sexual predators and introduce stronger legislation to protect children from sexual abuse.

All this is necessary to provide a better future for young people. Putting them in a military uniform, dividing them from their fellow classmates and failing to address the issues which seriously effect young people is definitely NOT the way. Unfortunately it is the Tory way.

In Sickness and in Health

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Torbay & South Devon TUC public meeting on the threatened closure of a number of community hospitals across South Devon. I was one of the organisers of the event and was due to be one of the stewards for the evening, but on the morning of the event I found myself unfit for purpose, and following my previous health scares sent my apologies.

The threats to our hospitals is packaged carefully and you hear words such as 'New model of care' being used, when in reality it's streamlining of services to reduce spending - in other words CUTS! It cannot be in the interest of patients to have to travel greater distances to receive care and medical attention, especially when Torbay Hospital is already at breaking point. How is this progress?

Very often people are fooled into thinking these cuts are a recent phenomena, but in reality a regression in basic care has been going on since the early days of Margaret Thatcher's reign. I'm sure you will remember much loved and much needed convalescent homes being closed back in the 1980's, places where patients could actually rest and recouperate  before returning home.

Instead of cutting health care and community hospitals, the government should invest in them and provide a true National Health Service that meets peoples needs. We are after all living longer and in need improved facilities as close to home as possible. Yet the government and its henchmen in charge of the cuts only see pound signs and not individual patients. What is needed across the country is local consultations to review health care and then invest to provide a service based on these results and not financial merits. After all, if it was a bank they would be bailed out, so how about bailing out our underfunded health service!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Vilified for telling the truth

With the dust settled on the Labour leadership contest, I find it confusing as to why Owen Smith was vilified in his comments about immigration and Isis. On the one hand it seems you have to be so far to the left even mentioning the word 'immigration' is met with horror, cries of racism and references to a certain item of Labour merchandise that has now become a collectors item. On the other hand you have to ignore possible avenues of peace because it may mean discussions with representatives of radical Islam.

I am sure Owen Smith was speaking for many when he mentioned people's concerns about immigration. Speak to the people of Spalding, Holbech and Boston and I am certain they will echo Smith's words. Yet many on the left used this as a stick to beat him with. Here rests Labour's problem in winning back its lost voters, they do not really recognise problems exist in certain towns which have a high level of migration. Those that mention this, such as Owen Smith and Andy Burnham are immediately called 'Blairites', or far worse by some.

What exists in towns such as Boston is a situation where work is being carried out by migrant workers because local people no longer wish to carry out such work. Go back to the 1970's and early 80's and housewives, students and others saw no stigma in crop picking, it was a means of earning a living or a few extra quid to pay for a holiday. When Margaret Thatcher came to power with her 'loadsamoney' culture, she set about stigmatising certain types of work. Successive governments, including Labour, failed to remove this stigma creating a need for overseas Labour. However, as is typical with much planning from Westminster, the cart was put before the horse, as there was a lack of housing and insufficient funding education, health care, policing etc to cope with the influx of necessary migrant labour. I do agree with Owen Smith, mismanagement has also caused a lack of integration and what some see as large solely migrant communities. Personally I can see nothing wrong in saying this and offering a solution to the fears some people have. This is not racism, this is common sense.

On the question of negotiating with Isis, again Smith was attacked, largely based on the atrocities Islamic State have committed.  However we do not know what the future holds, there may be a change of leadership within the ranks of Isis. Should we therefore rule out dialogue and instead commit ourselves to a war which could go on indefinitely? Japan carried out acts of severe barbarity to British troops during WWII. The same happened in Vietnam with atrocities committed by both sides. But today Japan is one of our largest trading partners and the US has a healthy relationship with Vietnam. I have always believed the  Olive Branch is better than the Bullet, and where there is conflict we must offer humanitarian aid and a sense of humanity to both sides. The battle against radical Islam is not simply a battle of bullets but one of the mind. The more open we are to dialogue and delivering this message, the more we will influence those whose minds may be wavering.

In a similar sense we can see the 'Bullet First' attitude prevailing in relationships with North Korea. American and South Korean forces constantly hold military exercises close to the border, basically sabre rattling at the North Koreans. Pyongyang responds with its own exercises and missile tests. One acts - the other reacts. Dialogue could lead to an improved relationship, a trade, an improvement of conditions for the North Korean people and a more peaceful world with a reduction in military arsenals.

Syria, Iraq, North Korea? I see governments looking for military victories as a first priority when they should be pushing more for dialogue and looking for peace as the first priority