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.
Monday, 1 September 2014
Sir Robert Rogers the long-serving Clerk to the House has retired. He had a wide ranging role that included responsibility for ensuring parliamentary processes are followed and the running of the parliamentary estate. The speaker has a role in making the appointment and Speaker Bercow has recommended Carol Mills who currently oversees parliamentary services in the Australian parliament. Tory MPs have taken issue with this and decided to raise several of points of order and repeatedly shouted down the speaker. The speaker's job is to keep order, today some MPs it impossible.
I'm not sure of the reasons for the vitriolic reaction to this recommendation. It could be an excuse to have a go at the Speaker. Bercow, who despite being a Conservative, has upset many in his own ranks with his wide ranging reforms. He has given select committees and backbenchers real power to hold the government to account. Bercow has got into the habit of calling out individuals at PMQs with pre-planned put-downs, which would anger any unruly MP.
Women are underrepresented in the Conservative Party. The disproportionate reaction could even have been because the recommendation was that a woman should take on the role of the UK's principal constitutional adviser, a position which has been held by a man for the every one of 651 years since the post was created.
There may well be valid concerns about the recommendation but today, certain MPs behaved in a way that would be unacceptable on the first day back at any school, summing up precisely what members of the general public dislike about politics.
Thursday, 14 August 2014
The group that runs the community-owned Kielder Campsite have decided to take matters into their own hands and try and reduce the number of midges. There are a number of ways to do this:
At Kielder they have chosen a high-tech approach; installing midge traps. These have flashing green, blue and white LEDs, a small fan to draw the midges in and then a water trap, which drowns them.
The science behind the traps is quite interesting with the light designed to be most attractive to midges looking for a mate. The water needs to have no surface tension that would save the insects from their fate, and no chemicals such as chloride or fluoride ions to put them off. At Kielder they have discovered that dissolving demerara sugar in rain water seems to do the trick.
Each unit is effective over one hectare and there are three on site. A significant reduction in the midge population is expected over the next year with the result that sitting outside on warm summer evenings at Kielder is likely to be a lot more comfortable.
Kielder is much quieter than other Northern England tourist destinations such as the Peak District and particularly the Lakes. This is great for people who have discovered the North of Northumberland, but tourism brings benefits and should be encouraged. Come to Kielder, enjoy the dark night skies and the long warm days and don't worry about the midges!
Wednesday, 16 July 2014
On hearing the recent news that Baroness Butler-Sloss had stepped down as the head of the historic child abuse inquiry because she felt that she 'wasn't the right person for the job' Dennis Skinner cut to the point as usual "Most of Cameron's cabinet should do the same."
I don't know if William Hague was listening to advice from the long standing MP for Bolsover when he threw the towel in, but the loss of experienced cabinet members like Hague and Ken Clarke is worrying, we could see a lurch further to the right before the election. And while I don't agree with Hague's politics he was a statesmanlike Foreign Secretary. Philip Hammond is a bizarre choice, described by Rhonda MP Chris Bryant as "a man trying to catch up with the 1990s whilst busily shouting at foreigners" Foreign office staff could be worried for their jobs, it is difficult to see him as anything other than a 'hatchet man' after making 3000 armed forces personnel redundant since 2010.
Staff rooms were relieved that Gove is no longer at Education. He consistently put ideology before outcomes and stubbornly refused to listen to teachers. He prioritised free schools over the vast majority of existing schools, diverting £400M from the education budget into his free school pet project. He will not be missed, but why has Cameron made him chief whip? Gove the enforcer? If he is as good in the whips office as he was at education, the Government could be losing divisions in the commons soon.
His replacement Nicky Morgan has one thing going for her, she is not Micheal Gove, however Cameron has also made her Women and Equalities minister at the same time. That is clearly two roles. What is it with Tories and 2nd jobs? Being an MP is a full time job there should be no time to earn on the side as a consultant, barrister or company director. Ministers are also MPs and giving one person 2 briefs to look after means that something will have to suffer, probably Women, and Equalities.
Monday, 14 July 2014
What is incredible therefore, is that David Cameron is so arrogant says he still made the right choice. A Judge has judged herself unsuitable for the role she was given yet our Prime Minister refuse to question his own judgment. He badly judged the situation in the EU when he chose to fight a losing battle over the appointment of Junker. These poor judgement calls are not in the same league as ignoring repeated warnings by bringing Andy Coulson straight from hacking phones at the News of the World into the heart of Government but again, demonstrates a worrying lack of judgment.
|The Beast of Bolsover in Durham Photo Credit: David Crockit|
There is speculation about a reshuffle, Cameron will may reappoint some of his old friends Liam Fox or maybe Andrew Mitchell to top jobs, he might try to make his cabinet a bit less male and a bit less stale, but with his judgement so lacking, I wouldn't trust him to pick a 5 a side football team.
Saturday, 5 July 2014
|Map first published in the Journal|
Austerity is not just a word we hear on the news. It is not just about efficiency savings and 'working smarter'. It is impossible for cuts of such magnitude to have no effect on people's lives. Home to school transport has already been removed by neighbouring authorities. Northumberland have managed to provide it for two extra years compared with other councils facing similar budget cuts.
There has been been some scaremongering from Tories, led by the sitting MP for Hexham, but to clarify: There will still be some funding for transport. Northumberland college will use some of the funding it receives to provide a bus service from Hexham to its campuses. Students whose parents are on low incomes will still get a bus pass. There is also ongoing work to negotiate reasonable rates for bus passes.
I can't welcome the decision to restrict funding for home to school transport, and I don't agree with some of the justification for it. As well as a Parliamentary Candidate I am Branch Secretary of the University and Colleges Union at Newcastle College. Many of my students attend college in Newcastle because their chosen course is not available close by. Restricting home to school transport could have an impact on student numbers and therefore jobs at Newcastle College. And while it might be true that Northumberland County Council has been paying to export students to Tyne and Wear, I don't think that in itself is a reason to cut transport.
The disparaging remarks about the quality of post 16 education in Northumberland from a Tory councillor are out of date and out of touch. I doubt if the councillor in question has any experience of 6th form or Further Education provision in the County. In the Hexham Constituency alone we have the outstanding QE 6th form and Northumberland College's Kirkley Hall campus where success rates for 16-18 year olds have risen, and are now in the top 10% nationally.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the provision is only being reduced because of the disproportionate impact of government cuts on North East councils. Transport spending on London is £400 per head while in our region the figure is less than £18.
The council has also received criticism for not holding the July meeting when this decision could have been discussed. The criticism from the sitting MP for Hexham at first seems justified 'council running scared' etc. Until you learn that not one alternative motion had been put forward for discussion at the meeting by either the Tories or the Libdems!
Instead of trying to stop his own government from targeting our council, by imposing cuts that are way above the national average, Hexham's Tory MP is now looking to legally challenge the basis for cancelling a meeting which would have cost £18,000 to hold. The only people that benefit from this sort of childish behaviour are expensive lawyers. Taxpayers will no doubt end up footing the bill if this goes any further.
I wish the council wasn't forced into making such choices, but unfortunately this government has chosen to pursue an austerity-only approach to economic recovery which is failing our region. Tory MPs in parliament have voted for these cuts but then Tories in Northumberland oppose their implementation. If Conservatives are looking for division, they don't have to look very far.
Thursday, 12 June 2014
|Looking West from Whittonstall after a day campaigning in Hexham.|
Restoration after opencast takes decades, the impact on biodiversity leads to populations that are more susceptible to disease and extinction. Unrestored opencast leaves us with land that is of no ecological value.
Whittonstall Action Group have been opposing this application for the past four years. Hours have been spent; looking at plans, amended plans and reports. Drafting letters, reports and press releases. The process has dragged on, the patience and resolve of volunteers has been tested.
The refusal is good news, The proposed opencast was in a scenic, rural corner of the Hexham constituency and would have operated for at least 7 years but victory for local activists, has not come in the way in which we had hoped. Withdrawal of this application rather than refusal, could leave the gate open in the future, for new applications in the same area.
The outcome is welcome - the diverse habitat close to Whittonstall first school is safe. There is however another positive outcome; When a single issue unites the people of a local community, personalities and skills emerge that otherwise remain hidden. leaders, negotiators, press officers, landscape archeticts, ecologists, researchers, web designers all working together. The single issue has gone, but I hope that Whittonstall Action Group remains to bring people from surrounding villages together, working on the issues that matter.
Further Reading: WAG Website http://www.whittonstallactiongroup.co.uk/
Thursday, 29 May 2014
I was asked by a UCU member recently what I thought about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) the answer I gave wasn't helpful but it was accurate; I said that I didn't know enough about TTIP to really give an opinion, and it is the secrecy which surrounds TTIP that is the essence of the problem.
I work not for a college, but for a group, many of us now both in further and higher education work for corporations. TTIP would allow corporations to challenge legislation on environment, health and worryingly employment legislation.
The stated aim of TTIP is to remove 'barriers' to free trade. But what some people might describe as barriers, I would call the protection of workers rights.
I support [The motion on TTIP] We should work with the European TUC who are defending occupational heath and safety, the protection of minority rights and hard won terms and conditions.
(It's a pretty short speech, all of the speeches at this years conference were, with everyone on a strict countdown timer, I find this OK - there's nothing I could say in five minutes that I couldn't summarise in three, but some colleagues were cut off in full flow or when developing arguments)
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
|Jayne Shotton, Jude Kirton-Darling, myself and Paul Brannen|
We have listened to people's concerns about Europe: On immigration we will tackle employers who exploit migrant workers by paying less than the minimum wage. This is in stark contrast to other parties intent on demonising certain groups.
On jobs we will safeguard British jobs by securing European investment in companies based in the North East and by defending hard won rights at work.
Some MEPs draw a salary but then don't bother to turn up. Our candidates will be a strong voice in committees and debates in Europe.We have candidates that will work hard for our interests, speak up for the people of the North East and exert real influence.
I'm voting Labour tomorrow. I hope you will too.
Thursday, 8 May 2014
If David Cameron still had to call an election, he would be open to the same sort of criticism he gave out to Gordon Brown in the run up to 2010 election. Cameron could be described as weak, indecisive and running scared of the electorate.
There are practical issues too. The business of government almost grinds to a halt. The coalition have rushed though legislation that was expected to be controversial; trebling tuition fess, cutting welfare payments for the disabled, the bedroom tax and measures to privatise NHS services, all in the first three and a half years of the five year fixed-term parliament. This leads to situations such as earlier this week when there was no ministerial statement at all until the Speaker called a Minister to the House after Labour asked an urgent question about the American company Pfizer taking over the successful British drug development company Astra-Zenica.
The Coalition is limping towards the general election, its like Clegg and Cameron are locked together in a three legged race to 2015 trying desperately not trip each other up. They could do honourable thing and repeal the 2010 fixed term parliament act and call an election but they won't, they are clinging to power but at the same time not doing very much with it.
Thursday, 1 May 2014
- End rip off rents so tenants can plan for the future with new long-term, predictable tenancies.
- Cut income tax with a lower 10p starting tax rate, but reintroduce the 50p top rate of tax as we pay off the deficit in a fair way.
- Make work pay by strengthening the Minimum Wage and providing tax breaks to firms who pay a Living Wage.
- Back small businesses by cutting business rates and reforming the banks.
- Help working parents by providing 25 hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year-olds.
- Tackle youth unemployment with a job guarantee and more apprenticeships.
There is a clear choice in the local and European elections. There are parties who put the narrow interests of a few before the national interest. We in the Labour Party act in the interest of the many and not the few.
Sunday, 27 April 2014
In this weeks podcast we discuss our latest campaigning activity, plans for government to give the public a say in betting shops on the high street, HS2 and zero hour contracts. Please press play to listen to the podcast or subscribe via our talkshoe page by clicking this link.
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Sunday, 20 April 2014
Labour recognises the need for an economic recovery that benefits the many and not the few, the need for a government that acts in the interests of people who work outside one square mile in the capital. We are setting out plans which including the reinstatement of a Minister for the North East, this will be a step in the right direction towards an approach which is inclusive of all regions of the UK.The sitting MP for Hexham has called on Alex Salmond to invest in infrastructure in that would benefit the North East, citing the example of dualling the A1 (Journal 12th April). There was not one infrastructure investment for the North East in George Osborne's recent budget. However tucked away behind the beer and bingo, on page 86 of the budget, there is a pledge to provide funding to extend a viability study into A1 improvement north of Newcastle to Scotland, but with strings attached, the Scottish government must pay half! The government are happy to spend millions on transport infrastructure projects such as Crossrail in London but they want the Scots to pay for a road which is in England because it happens to be North of Newcastle. It is embarrassing to see a Conservative MP, after failing to get his own government to invest in North East infrastructure, pleading with Alex Salmond for funds.