Thursday, 31 December 2009

I make it onto Radio 4 - PM Programme, 29th December 2009

Made it onto Radio 4, talking about Afghanistan on the PM programme on the 29th December - you can listen to it full for a few more days , see the link on 'John's Labour blog'

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tories/Lib Dems to sell off Ipswich buses

Ipswich Buses Ltd has been owned by the People of Ipswich for more than a hundred years, but the Tories and Liberal Democrats are planning to sell off the company to a private operator.

Any company that takes a stake in the bus company will only do so to make a proft. We have already seen what this means since the Tories and Liberals took control of the council: by trying to get as much money out of the bus company, instead of treating it as a public service, they have forced fares up by more than 60% and services have been cut.

The demands of a private operator will only accelerate this trend.

Privatisation could also cost council tax payers more in the long run. Higher fares will mean that concessionary bus schemes will cost more. In other areas of the country private bus companies claim that services in the evenings and at weekends are not "commercially viable". They demand tens of thousands of pounds of council subsidies to continue running these services.

Even if we thought privatisation was a good idea, now is surely not the time to do it? We are in the middle of a recession and asset prices are depressed. Any sale now will mean a poor deal for the council tax payer. The only reason the Tories and Liberals are desperate to sell now is because they are short of money due to their own mismangement. £1.5 million has been lost "investing" in dodgy Icelandic Banks. £400,000 of revenue has been lost from the enforced closure of Crown Car Park.

Ipswich Labour Party believes in a publically owned bus company, run as a service for the People of Ipswich, not to maximise profits.

We are totally opposed to the Tory and Liberal plans to sell the bus company off cheaply to a private operator.

Monday, 28 December 2009

2009 The year we lost Bobby

Ipswich Town 3 - 0 QPR

A great way to end 2009, a 3-0 win over QPR - "You should have kept Jim Magilton"

2009, the year we lost the great Bobby Robson.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Ipswich - a Labour hotbed?

Last night saw the Ipswich Labour Group Christmas Dinner, and it was an opportunity to listen to some of my older comrades as they talk about earlier political battles in Ipswich as we are about to again start an election year.
Ipswich has a great Labour tradition often going against the national trend and voting in a Labour MP, and Chris Mole is following in a well trodden path to Westminster, with well liked Labour MP's going before him - Dingle Foot (pictured), Ken Weetch and Jamie Cann.
I am currently reading a short history of the Labour Movement in East Anglia - (Labour in the East, published by Labour Heritage)The chapters on Ipswich and Lowestoft are fascinating and it does make me proud to think that I am part of this great Labour tradition in this town.
The chapter by the late Ipswich Councilor, Ian Grimwood is a 'must' read for all Labour activists in the town. We must remember our roots and try to live up to the values of those who went before us. whilst writing this short post, I tried to find a picture of one of the three leading socialists who led the way in Ipswich- Peter Jackson, Dick Stokes and George Hines- but to no avail. George was one of the very early Labour activists in the town whilst Peter Jackson was our first Labour MP in 1923, whilst Dick Stokes was our MP from 1938 to 1957.
But it is not only the achievement of getting a Labour MP that makes good reading it is the fight to get our first Labour councilors, and I thought it was hard winning Rushmere!
In 1891 Labour won St Margaret's ward and in 1911 came the big breakthrough when Peter Jackson won the Westgate ward seat, it was only with his election that the working class have had a voice in this town and it is now up to us to make sure we continue to speak for the people of Ipswich and give them the council they deserve come next May.

Anyone wanting to purchase a copy of the book can do so via Ipswich Labour Party Office. Email us at: for more information. £5 per copy plus £2 postage and packing (unless you can pick up from Silent Street, Ipswich)

Monday, 30 November 2009

Cardiff weekend(wet!) Rugby, Nye Bevan and Football

Just spent a great weekend in Cardiff with my wife, except for the heavy rain it was a busy but fun couple of days in the Welsh capital. Even the shopping wasn't too bad!
Started with an Indonesian meal, then shopping, Rugby with my first visit to the Millenium Stadium to see Wales v Australia. then the Sunday saw mine and Ipswich Town's first visit to City of Cardiff Stadium for the football and to top it all, our first away win of the season.
it was not a totally politics free weekend as I managed to get to see the Nye Bevan statue- afraid the sun (or my lack of ability taking pictures) means that you do not get to see the statue in all it's glory.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Staff Sgt Olaf Schmid - one of the bravest men I have ever met

I was fortunate to meet many brave men and women during my six months in Afghanistan, but there is little doubt that Olaf Schmid was one of the bravest.
The teams who defuse the Improvised Explosive Devices that are planted by the Taliban have one of the most difficult jobs undertaken by HM Forces and not only was Olaf brave but he was also superb leader of his team.

Christina Schmid who in her own words called herself a "proud widow" also had these words:

"We might disagree with a war. However, I hope Olaf's death, my public storytelling and appreciation, our community display of respect here today can serve to bridge that gap and unite us once more with our troops."

Mrs Schmid said she hoped the work troops were doing in Afghanistan did not go "unnoticed" by "our leaders".

It is important that we don not forget the likes of Olaf or any of our troops serving in Afghanistan, but it is also the duty of this Government and the Army to get the message over to the British Public, why we are in Afghanistan, why it is such an important role and also the tell the public of the successes of the British and coalition troops.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Against the Odds

Video played at the Labour conference- many believe we should use this as our TV Political Broadcast - it does make you proud to be a member of our great Party

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

We MUST Remember them.

We MUST and will Remember them

Swift and Bold

Saturday, 7 November 2009

We will remember them

Tomorrow, I will be joining most of my fellow Ipswich Borough councilors at the War memorial in Christchurch Park.

Remembrance Day has always been an important event in my family but this year will be even more poignant as I remember the 24 soldiers we lost from our Battle Group in Sangin this year. whilst we are holding our service, the Rifleman of 3 Rifles will be holding a similar service at the small memorial inside the Sangin District Centre.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

...and hello Ipswich

In my last post, I said goodbye Sangin, Afghanistan and in this one I say "Hello, Ipswich"
My Labour colleagues managed to get me a welcome home announcement on the electric scoreboard at Ipswich during half time in the match last Saturday against Derby County. A nice touch and an even better welcome was being able to see us win our first three points of the season!
Good to be coming home, but I will never forget serving with 2 Rifles in Afghanistan as our commander stated, "it was the fight of our lives". the tragic news from Helmand today reminds us all in the Rifles of what we went through and watching the news today it made us realise the roller coaster ride our families went throughwhilst we were away.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Goodbye Sangin

Goodbye Sangin- it has been a complex, lethal, intense and nuanced campaign. But we leave Sangin and the Upper Helmand Valley a safer place to live for all Afghans.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Back from one war to join another fight.

Back from Afghanistan and now I join a different type of war - the fight for Britain as we move towards a General Election. spent the day reading blogs and tweets from Labour activists. I feel there is enough of us to make sure this election is not the forgone conclusion that the Tory Press thinks it is.
One activist I follow on twitter is BevaniteEllie -
and she is also a collector of Historical labour pictures and on the Labour blog of Chris Paul - we get to see this great Labour picture, and now it is up to us Labour members of today to fight like Bevan and Gaitskill did in their time for the future of this country.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

A Tribute to The Rifles" The Chosen Men" High on a Hill'

Worth a look-

No more Ipswich Film Theatre

It gives the Ipswich Labour Group no pleasure in saying "we told you so", but we did warn when the Mrs Terry and her Tory cronies handed over the running of the Film Theatre to Hollywood Cinemas that it would put the whole future of the theatre into jeopardy.
Of course we were accused of scaremongering, but what do the Tories say now? Blame the Government for the economic downturn- a common thread here- it's never their fault.
Hollywood Cinemas have put in a good effort, refurbished the seats but they had no experience of running a specialist cinema, all the other venues they run tend to be in small towns where they are the sole cinema, showing general distribution films.
Now Hollywood Cinemas have left and the Film theatre will shut in a month, of course the economic downturn has not helped but now one of their employee's has hit the nail on the head - the reason why Hollywood Cinemas could see no future is because of the Tories decision to close the Corn Exchange for 6 months a year! Not going to help when it comes to selling tickets or bringing in the passing trade.
What next? The Corn Exchange closed permanently- Tory cuts to Public Services- you better get used to it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Dumbarton Road Youth shelter

This Thursday (20th August) I will be in Sangin, helping their election day go well but in Ipswich and in particular Rushmere Ward, there will also be an important event.
The new Dumbarton Road Youth shelter will be officially opened by my fellow Rushmere councilor, Eileen Smith.
The project has been the brainchild of my Labour colleague Sue Thomas who led the way on the project along with the North East Ipswich Police Safer Neighbourhood Team.
The shelter is already being used by youngster's from the Rushmere Estate and there are already plans to use it by the older members of the community for one of their functions.
The opening will see the local Police play a football game against local teenagers.

Well done to the North East Ipswich SNT and to Sue Thomas who had the vision and the determination to see the project through.

Once again showing that Labour has the right priorities for Rushmere, unlike the Tories with their Humber Doucy Road signs!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Tories lead in 'Democracy?'

Eric Pickles has been in most of the broadsheet papers recently claiming that the Tories are leading the way in giving politics back a good name (did it ever have one in the first place?) How are they doing that you may ask?
Well even before the expenses scandal, the Tories have been using the open Primary to select candidates in some of their seats, in Totnes they have even used a Postal Primary. Now for many the word Primary smacks of copying the US system, hardly one that lends itself to the cleanest way to run politics.
Pickles forgets that the Tory party suffers more than most for having MP's who contribute little to public life but sit in Shire constituencies with large majority's- we have a number who fall in that category in Suffolk. Once sitting there seems little chance of a Primary being used there. It just seems to be for seats that the Tories currently don't hold.

Now I talk from first hand experience as I attended the Ipswich Primary where Ben Gummer, was selected. well run? It seemed so at first but take away the party members, there were very few members of the public there, and even after the selection the local constituency management committee can throw the choice out. (As happened in Plymouth Devenport)
Why was Ipswich a failure (other than selecting a candidate who will jump to Suffolk Coastal, once his burger eating Dad retires)
Well those who were not Porty members (not including me) seemed to come from the Far Right Christian movement, and as only some of the candidates got asked about abortion and such like, the questioning was not fair. this done for Chloe Smith- who may have had the last laugh as she is now the MP for Norwich North!
So the contest was a straight shooing for Gummer with his Fathers religious views helping. Of the Tory party members who were there, an obvious split between the younger Gummer supporters and those who were after a Council leader from Surrey who had led a Unitary Council.
Some of the Tory members who did not even live in the constituency were also able to vote, I saw a number from Ipswich and Central Suffolk voting. Wonder if that is the last time they will vote together as they divide into build/don't build on the Northern Fringe debate!

So Eric, yes- all parties should be doing more to restore confidence in democracy and politics but pretending these gimmick Primary's are the answer is a joke. Maybe a start will be to stop Tory Councils calling a council meeting that costs hundreds of pounds and had only one thing to discuss but in the same year cancel council meetings when councilors would have had the opportunity to discuss the proposals for unitary Councils. Plus all the working groups that seem to never meet. Well Mr Pickles- democracy with or without a Primary certainly does not look alive in Ipswich Tory circles!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Harry Patch - a true hero

This week saw the funeral of Harry Patch, last veteran from the trenches, whose coffin was carried by members of my Regiment as it entered Wells Cathedral, but as in his life his funeral was about reconciliation.

Harry Patch (In memory of)

I am the only one who got through
The others dies where ever they fell.
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides..
Give your leaders each a gun and let then fight it out themselves.
I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground.
I’ve seen hell upon the earth.
The next will be chemical but they will never learn.

Recorded by Radiohead , using Harry’s own word.

Harry Patch – an extra ordinary man.

The song can be down loaded from the Radiohead’s website- all proceeds going to British Legion

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Abolition! The Thomas Clarkson Story

I have blogged in the past about Thomas Clarkson, his links to Ipswich and the key part he played in the abolition of the slave trade.
His links to the town is something we should be proud of, and this month, Ipswich Museum have opened an exhibition about his life with plenty on the fight to abolish the slave trade.

Ipswich has recently seen a number of statues appear in the town, the most recent the Rugby playing, Russian emigre who fought with the RAF in World War II. Now he deserved a statue as he fought from Martlesham Airfield and his grave is in Ipswich cemetery, but surely a statue of Thomas Clarkson is long overdue.
Location? How about Barrack Corner, a number of the streets around that part of town are named after those from the Quaker movement and others involved in the abolition of the slave trade.
Recently I have read the biography of William Wilberforce, after his death there occurred a number of arguments between Clarkson and the sons of Wilberforce about who played the major role in the Abolition movement. But both have been quoted - Clarkson and Wilberforce, that this evil trade would not have been abolished with out the efforts of the other.

So Ipswich council, when ou ext get a cash handout from some property developer, a statue of Thomas Clarkson would be a excellent visual reminder of a son this town can be proud of.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Good news for Renfrew Road- at last!

Some good news to report at last!
After a long campaign by my Labour colleagues and myself we have been informed that essential carriageway repairs will take place on the Renfrew Road/Ayr Road junction on Friday 26th June.

This is long overdue as this junction is also on the main bus route through the ward.

This is only a small victory, as we push to receive our fair share of cash for road improvements.
the Labour Government has increased the amount of money for road repairs it gives to Suffolk County Council, the trouble is the Tory run council does not give Ipswich it's fair share of the money.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Hazel Blears- too late to come crawling back

Hazel Blears let down the Labour Party and it's members. I actually like some of the stuff she said in her campaign to be deputy Prime Minister, her close links with her Labour roots, working class girl 'made good', her push for the parliamentary party to be closer to those of us out campaigning every week. I was also impressed by her use of new technology, tied in with good old knocking on doors, shaking hands and talking to people.

Then she acts like a spoilt child who has her toys taken off her! She quits just before the Euro and County elections- her aim to damage Gordon Brown. She did that bur she also kicked in the teeth those who campaign week in week out, and especially those who had spent every spare minute of the last 4 weeks fighting a campaign that was difficult anyway.

Now she has changed her tune! Her interviews this weekend have been very emotional, now I am not saying that she is not upset, I am sure she is, but partly because she realises she made a big mistake, she is from a strong Labour family and I am sure those in the North West who know her better will rally round her but I hope some there are honest enough to tell her that she had let them as well as us down.

The 'rocking the boat' brooch just made her quitting look more like an act of a teenager playing up because she is not allowed to go out Saturday night.

The election was always going to be hard for Labour this time but we suffered more than others because of the expenses controversy, even though more Tories were caught with their noses in the trough, but lets face it Hazel, you were caught ' playing the system' and that is when you should of quit.

I am sure she will bounce back, and that she will work hard in the Manchester area, but for many of us in the Labour movement we feel betrayed by her actions - maybe she should go on 'You Tube' and explain her real reasons for going.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Keep the BNP out of Ipswich

Keep the BNP out of Ipswich – It was a sad day for the town this week when the BNP announced that they would stand in Bridge and Chantry. I have always been proud of the fact that Ipswich has been a town of many cultures and one that was not blighted by the race riots of the 80;s or the rise of the National Front in the 1970’s.
One of my old school friends has contacted me since I have been in Afghanistan and we both remember the great times we had at Toweramparts, but the best thing about the school was how everyone got on – white, West Indian, Sikh, Indian, Ukrainian- it was a school of many different cultures but the fact that we all stuck together- what ever the provocation was part of my education and upbringing that I am proud of.

Now we have fascists standing in this town that is not what is Ipswich is about – recently we have had Mayor’s born in the West Indies, but if you go to the Racecourse estate and just off Felixstowe Road is a street named after the first Asian Mayor in Ipswich – and that was in the 1920’s.

It seems funny and slightly perverse that I am sitting in Afghanistan, trying to bring democracy and freedom to all in a troubled country, when back in Ipswich we have two people standing who would like to take away the right to live in a democracy from thousands who now see Britain as there home.

Please make sure in June we show them at the ballot box that they are not wanted in this town and that they go back under the stone they crawled out from.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009



For a very long time I have been pressing the council to repair potholes and bad road surfaces on the Rushmere estate.

In particular, the part of Renfrew Road at the junction with Ayr Road has been in a terrible state.

At long last, and after more pressure on the council, we understand that resurfacing work is being planned for this part of the road and that ‘currently’ the council anticipates the works being completed by the end of June.

Welcome though this will be, there are, as we all know, very many more potholes and bad road surfaces, some of which are potentially dangerous to cyclists and motor cyclists, not to mention the damage they do to car tyres.

Labour councillors will continue to press the Tory/Liberal council to make our roads safe.

This week I will depart for Afghanistan after completing my training in Ireland, but whilst I am away my Labour colleagues will continue to campaign on your behalf and mine. So if you have a pothole or bad road surface you’d like your labour team to refer to the council you can contact us by any of the methods below:

New e mail address: You can also contact my Labour colleagues by writing to
A Ross, c/o 33 Silent Street Ipswich, IP1 1TF
or you can phone the office on: 01473 255131

I hope to be able to continue with my blog whilst I am away, I also have a Twitter page that will give you a feel of the type of work the Army is undertaking in Afghanistan:

Thank you,

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Shackleton -Timewatch- Rifles at the South Pole.

Last year I blogged on the Matrix Shackleton Centenary Expedition to the South Pole. Shackleton is my hero and probably one of the greatest British leaders of all time.

Tonight I have just watched the BBC 2 Timewatch programme, which followed the successful 2008/09 Expedition. A fantastic programme and a great achievement,

The picture is of Lt Col Henry Worsley, a former colleague of mine, here he is at the South Pole, with the Rifles flag.

A proud moment.

Daniel Hannan - showing the Tory Party is still full of far right politicians

You would have thought that now he is the 'darling' of the US media and a 'You Tube' star, the Tory party would be pushing Daniel Hannan forward as a spokesman for the Tory Party, grass root Tories are even suggesting he may be a future leader or even PM.

Today has shown why those in Conservative Central Office were not so keen to see Hannan take central stage. On a US Chat show (not sure he is doing much for his constituents, whilst he is appearing on US TV) this week he has declared that the NHS is a failed Socialist experiment. Both my parents spent most of their working life working for the NHS, so I have notrhing but great pride when it comes to talk of the NHS and like most of my Labour colleagues I believe the NHS is the greatest social invention of the 20th century. We all know that the NHS needs to improve and that changes have to be made but no way can the last 60 years of the health service be seen as a failure. This is what Hannan said on US Fox TV:

"If you see a friend about to make a terrible mistake you try and warn him ... We have lived through this mistake for 60 years now. It began with the best of intentions. It began because people thought it was wrong for those who weren't well off and who couldn't afford the best healthcare to be treated differently. Everyone felt it is a nice togetherness solidarity thing if we all took part in this experiment. But the reality is that it hasn't worked. It has made people iller ... As long as you have a socialist system, no amount of extra spending is going to save it".

If you can stomach it, you can see the vile man talking on US TV here.

I am still waiting for Mr Cameron to tell Hannan he is wrong and to defend the NHS, it was only 3 months ago that Cameron stated that the Tories could become: "the Party of the NHS".

I actually believe that Cameron is an admirer and supporter of the NHS, trouble is most Tory MP's, MEP's and activists are more likely to agree with Hannan. Even in Ipswich, Tory councillor Gavin Maclure called one of Hannan's speeches -'Superb'.

Well the fame has got to him, not sure how going on a Right wing/republican supporting TV Channel and criticising the NHS is showing the British public that the Tories are 'the Party of the NHS'. I just believe that in his attacks on the health service, he is insulting all those who have devoted their lives or still are devoting their lives to the care of others through the NHS.

Funny thing he seems to forget to mention to his new friend - Far Right American, Sean Hannity that Daniel actually said he wanted Obama to win the US Presidential election.

The Tory Spring conference will be upon us soon, I wonder who will get the biggest cheer from the Tory faithful? Cameron telling them they are now 'the Party of the NHS' or Hannan telling them that the NHS is a failed socialist experiment.

John Prescott has become so enraged that he has even made a video critisising Hannan, watch John here, defending the NHS.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Eirigi - Irish socialist's or just Irish dissidents?

This week I have come across a leaflet that was being handed out in Belfast over the weekend. Now as a bit of a political anorak, I love pouring over election/campaign leaflets- not caring from which party they are produced by. But this leaflet does leave me worried, it was produced by Eirigi. now "who are they" you may ask?

The leaflet describes themselves as a campaigning party with the aim of forming a 32 county Irish Socialist Republic. Now I am proud to call myself a socialist, but I am not one for the likes of those who seem to live in 'cloud cuckoo land' the Socialist Workers Party, Respect and the hopefully now finished Militant. Dreamers and chatterers, and the ones I have met seem to come from middle class or privileged backgrounds. Now at first these seem to be an Irish version of the SWP, originating in Dublin but in their move to expand North they seem to have attracted a different type of member. The Irish Republican who has become disaffected with Sinn Fein and their 'friends' in the IRA.

Respect, Galloway, SWP, Troops Out, all of those organisations in the UK have at some time supported Sinn Fein, trouble is if you do have a true aim of forming a Socialist Republic in Ireland, you have to gain support of the Protestant community. having ex Sinn Fein members in your ranks is not going to help on that front.

So in the North at least, Eirigi have become just a front for dissident republican groups. Now since the murders last month, Eirigi have tried to accuse the media of falsely linking them to the atrocities, trouble is their spokesman in Lurgan - Colin Duffy has been arrested and since charged with the murder of the two young soldiers in Antrim.

So I have no wish to see Eirigi leaflets in Belfast or for that anywhere in Ireland. Now I do wish we could see a Govt in Northern Ireland that is elected on political views rather than religious/sectarian views. So I would like to see Labour and the Lib Dems join the Tories in fighting elections in the Province. Voters on the Protestant Shankhill Road and the Catholic Falls Road have far more in common with each other than a farmer in County Wexford or a civil servant in North Down or a Dublin suburb.

It has to be the mainstream parties that get the ball rolling, because as seen with the likes of Eirigi, any fringe party will end up becoming attached to one side of the divide or other.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Sidegate School- "Star of the Week"

Only home for a weekend before departing for Afghanistan, but it was nice to be able to fit in a visit to my local school- Sidegate Primary.

I love going to visit the school as the children always seem so full of life and though one of the biggest primary school's in Suffolk it still manages to have a homely feel to it.

Today I was there to see their weekly assembly, where a number of pupils received certificates for achievements over the last week. Three lads were given certificates for playing the 'giant' in the school production of 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. Others got certificates for maths, homework and for just being helpful.

At the end of the assembly, I was presented with my certificate, as the Headteacher- Andrew Waterman decided I could also be a 'Star of the Week'.

It did give me the chance to tell the pupils of the good work that the British army is doing in Afghanistan, and how I felt it was important that children in that country, whether boy or girl should get the chance of an education. Something that we take for granted over here in the UK.

I will take my certificate with me and it will hold pride of place in my bedspace in the Sangin District Centre in Helmand.

Thank you Sidegate.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Football goes to the dogs!

Today I went with a friend of mine too see Lisburn Distillery play Coleraine in the Irish Football League. The first time I had been to an Irish game since 1996. Now for any of you bored by the millionaire clubs of the Premier League or the same boring midweek Champions League games - this is the place to come and watch your football. Similar to the English Non-League scene, crowds are slightly higher but the football is if similar standard. The Irish grounds are like a flashback to the early 70;s and like non league football, you always seem to find yourself ending up in the social club!
My friend is a Coleraine fan so that is why we ended up in Lisburn. Actually it wasn't Lisburn, that is the club name but the ground is closer to West Belfast than Lisburn city centre. the ground is out in the country - on the outskirts of Belfast. the ground is also the home of greyhounds, and by the state of the racetrack restaurant, the dogs are doing better finacially than the football. They even have different names for their shared stadium, the football club calling the ground- New Grosvenor Stadium whilst the Greyhound fraternity use the Drumbo Park name. So if you want to pay £9 to see a game rather than £29 and be allowed to have a beer with rival fans in the social club, get yourself across to Belfast and get your fix of football with a 1970's feel.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Province is full of visual reminders – from all sides of the troubles

The Province is full of visual reminders – from all sides of the troubles. With the tragic events unfolding last week in Ireland and my return to the province, I have been drawn to any news coverage of the recent atrocities. Whilst doing this I read in Slugger O’Toole's excellent blog that Crumlin Road Gaol was on fire. I then felt a sudden sadness as I had spent some considerable time both working from the jail and from the army camp behind it. On further investigation I found out it was the courthouse not the jail that had caught fire- arson is believed to be the cause, vandalism rather than some politically motivated act.
But the fear that the jail had been burnt down, did make me think about that where ever you go in Northern Ireland you have reminders of the troubles. But what can we do to these buildings and places that are reminders of the troubles? Simple solution- bulldoze them all! But some are buildings that have a far longer history than just being reminders of the troubles. Sir Charles Lanyon who also built Belfast Castle and Queens University built the Crumlin Road Courthouse.
It was to become a luxury boutique hotel- but many wanted it be kept as reminder of the troubles.
But the trouble is that there are very few places that both Loyalist and Republican sides can agree on that they want keeping. The Maze Prison being one example, the Government would like to see it as a home to a new national sports stadium but the Republican side would like part of the prison turned into a museum. Both side’s prisoners were kept in the Maze but it is the Republicans who hold it as a ‘holy’ place –thanks to the 1981 hunger strike.
One thing that bots sides can agree on is the keeping of the street murals. You can now take a bus ride of the Falls Road and the Shankhill, to see examples of this political/troubles inspired art.
But there are more than two sides involved here – not just the Republican/Nationalist and Loyalist sides, what about the soldiers and those who had no part in the troubles.
How many soldiers would like to see the observation Post on the top of Divis Flats re- built, as a military museum? Only joking but for many of my friends the now long gone North Howard Street Mill and Fort Whiterock in West Belfast are buildings and locations that they will never forget.
Then we have the Observation Towers now torn down in South Armagh and the famous Baruki Observation Post in Crossmaglen.

And if more police stations are knocked down, should part of the fences and walls with the British Army cap badges and dates of tours be kept- just as the murals in Belfast and the Free Derry wall are now accepted visual reminders of Ulster’s recent troubled times.I would like to see next to Crossmaglen GAA field the wall left which had the slogan – “Welcome to XMG” and the smiley face, for me that is as much part of my history as the Free Derry wall is to Martin McGuinness.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Not going back to the "Bad old days"

My return to the Army has seen me return to Northern Ireland after a 11 year absence, and the change to Belfast and the remainder of the province in that time is very noticeable and the biggest surprise to me as an ex soldier was the pace of that change.

Anywhere you went in Northern Ireland and anyone you spoke to could not see a return to the " Bad old days".

You can then imagine how surprised and shocked most people over here are by the events of the last week. Rumours of activity by dissident republicans has never gone away and over the last few weeks that talk had increased and the events of the last week can see that that talk was justifiable.

But will the events of the last 6 days see us slip back into that endless daily story of terrorist atrocities. I for one do not believe so, if anything the events since the murder of the policeman have shown that the dissidents are now entering the 'Last chance saloon'. The wave of demonstrations all over Ireland has certainly not only shown the world that the people of Ireland do not want to see a return to the troubles but it has also shown Republican politicians especially those in Sinn Fein that there can be no return to the 'Long War'.

My Regiment lost a large number of soldiers in the conflict, all murdered by the IRA, not only in Ulster as we also saw our band callously blown up in London and because of that it is hard for many of my former comrades to see the likes of Adams and McGuinness as elected leaders of Northern Ireland . I am sure that there are many in Ulster (and not only protestants) who feel the same. But in the end it is the sight of Peter Robinson and McGuinness sitting together in Stormont and the likes of Alex Maskey at the funeral today and Tom Hartley as the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast attending the peace march during the week that gives us hope.

It does show that the leaders of Sinn Fein see that peace is the only answer and that they also do not want to see a return to the "Bad old days".

But though the majority of people in both the North and the South of Ireland want to see the peace kept, the dissidents have a larger support than many would want us to believe, they can call on many ex PIRA members who have vast terrorist experience and they also have the support of many other nationalists in areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, even in Derry and West Belfast - the political homes of McGuinness and Adams there will be support for the 'Real' IRA but it will be test for Sinn Fein leaders if they can keep that support suppressed and stop other ex PIRA members 'jumping ship'.

But I hope that they can achieve that as I would hate to see Ireland return to what is was like at the end of the 20th Century.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Miners strike- 25 years ago but still remembered - even in Ipswich

Last night on the BBC, 'One Show' saw the first of what will be Summer of features about the miners strike of 1984. The piece last night featured Roy Hattersley and was a good short piece that featured ex miners and an ex policemen who had been a miner before he joined the force. though 25 years has passed it is obvious from the film that the strike is far from being forgotten and in some area's- South Yorkshire - for one, there still remains bitterness. I do have a worry that many of the articles and programmes over the Summer will portray the strike in more romantic terms. A sort of 'Billy Elliot' view.

I believe the miners were right to strike and what has happened to the coal industry since has proved they were right but they were badly led by Arthur in what became a Scargill v Thatcher battle and that took away the focus from the real suffering of the miners and their families.

Of course some good came out of the strike and the efforts of the wives and mothers introduced a number of females to the Labour movement.

In Ipswich, I remember miners coming to collect money in buckets and my parents helping them on the Cornhill and putting up a number of strikers in our house. I was home a lot of that summer as I was on extended sick leave from the Army after badly breaking my leg, what I can dispel is the urban myth that soldiers helped on the picket line, I have never found any soldier who was involved. In the military hospital we did have a number of policemen as it was thought they may get a hard time from NHS staff if they went to a normal hospital.

I also remember the music of that era, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg remain my favourites from musicians who got behind the miners and who would eventually become 'Red Wedge'.

This link, takes you to a BBC site, that features a slide show of photographs from the strike with a musical backdrop featuring both Weller and Bragg. I hope we do see a number of well made programmes about the strike but let us also look at how some communities have recovered and also how some are still suffering.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Ipswich 'Not in the Swim'

The Tories with their Lib Dem lapdogs have decided they will not take up the Labour Govt offer of a grant towards fee swimming for our senior citizens and also to be included in the £140 million investment in swimming that will include the upgrading of local swimming pools.
The Tories state that the Ipswich Council tax player will be left to foot the bill, strange then that the other Tory led District Councils in Suffolk have all quickly joined the Govt scheme.
Free swimming will also soon be offered to Under 16’s- part of the 2012 Olympic legacy, this will also help with improving the health of all our population, but again in Ipswich our youngsters will not be included. So for our senior citizens it will be jump on a free bus (courtesy of a Labour Govt) to Felixstowe and there be able to have a free swim.
But this is only just one example of the portfolio holder for leisure in Ipswich being “out of her depth” pun defiantly implied!
We have had the promise of a further Heritage Grant for Holywells Park – not gained and all sort of other pie in the sky promises- Art Gallery outside Christchurch Mansion?
But it is the sport side that she does seem to (with her Tory colleagues) have no clear plan. They came into power promising to assist with the re-opening of the Broomhill Lido and then there was talk of a 50M pool on the Portman Road car park and away from swimming we are in line for an outdoor cycle velodrome- all I would say to you sports enthusiasts – don’t hold your breath!
All this came to me attention today as I opened one of my birthday presents, a book called “Great Lengths” by Dr Ian Gordon and Simon Inglis, it is one of a number of books from English Heritage in a series called ‘Played in Britain’. I am a bit of a sports heritage and sports stadia spotter so anything like this appeal’s to me. The beauty of these books is that they also show the link between sport and social history.

The new book is about indoor swimming pools and includes pages on both Fore Street swimming pool and St Matthews Pool (now a social club). I actually learnt to swim at Fore Street so it holds special memories for me and I would hate to see it close. But there should also be a balance between keeping old facilities open (because of sentimental reasons or because the building is listed) and offering sporting facilities to the whole population, and even then there you have another consideration to be looked at the facilities needed to produce top level athletes and the facilities needed for the general public. In swimming this is the argument between fun pools, 25/50M pools and open air lidos. Swimming again has the added factor of public safety and it should be an achievable target that by the age of 11 all children can at least swim 25M.
Coming back to Judy Terry and the Tories- we have no plan, it is time we had a joined up programme for the provision of swimming in Ipswich, the future of Broomhill, Fore Street and Crown Pools needs to be decided on once and for all. In my view Crown Street needs money spent on it urgently (pity we did not get put in for that Govt money!!) and Fore Street has a future, with its proximity to University Campus Suffolk, it should be able to increase its use and the future of Broomhill needs to be decided on, one way or the other. We can’t just leave it as it is, costing money on security and actually year by year with the indecision making it harder and far most costly to ever consider re-opening it.
Back to the book and reading about Fore street, one of the three Ipswich residents who put their financial backing into the opening of the pool was Felix Cobbold, a lifelong Liberal who thought that the baths should be classless, a pity our present day Liberals are more happy to support the Tories who would rather see private sports clubs- where high membership fees would be required.
For History buffs, Fore Street opened in 1894, St Matthews was open from 1922-1984, Pipers Vale open pool 1937-1979 and Broomhill was open from 1938-2002.
If you would wish to purchase the book, visit the ‘Played in Britain’ website here.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Ipswich in Distress!

Empty shops, credit crunch and a "do - nothing" Tory council - even the art world has noticed all the empty shops in Ipswich.

Local art photographer Anna Duncan has produced a set of 68 photographs depicting "Ipswich in distress". Take a look:

Tories say "put it in the bank"

Last night saw Ipswich Borough Council debate the budget plan, I say debate but what I mean it was just an opportunity for the tories to blame the whole worldwide recession on Labour and Gordon Brown in particular.

We had put forward 10 amendment's to the budget, which would have led to an £8 million boost to the Ipswich economy and still keeping the Council Tax at the same level as the Tories/Lib Dems have set. All the amendment's were thrown out by what became the Carnall and Cenci show! Just like a music hall act but one with little laughter. Actually that is wrong John Carnall spent most of the time laughing- obviously he has not met many constituents in Bixley who have been hit by the current economic meltdown.

The Tory answer to the problems we face is to leave the money in the bank- till a rainy day, well its seems to be pouring at the moment. What Carnall means, is they want to save money so they can set a low Council Tax rate in election year!

A number of our amendment's would not have cost much money- an example was the £7,000 proposed to employ a member of Council staff to help with Ipswich to keep their Fairtrade status, this was thrown out and what was quite amazing was the attack on those who want Fairtrade, by certain Lib Dem members. I wonder how those who vote Lib Dem would have felt?

I was so annoyed by the Carnall/Cenci show that I even left before the end of the meeting - I thought that I would rather spend time with my family in my last week here before I depart for my final training before I deploy to Afghanistan. I even felt like giving up politics.

But fortunately this morning a visit to the Dundee House sheltered Housing scheme, has made me more even determined to not only return a Labour Council to Ipswich but even more importantly help Labour win a fourth term in government.

For those who feel the Tories have changed- and that Cameron is now moving to the centre- forget it- Carnall and Cenci showed that in Town Halls all over the county, the same Thatcher Tories are still running the show.

Monday, 23 February 2009

£8 Million boost for Ipswich economy

As I blogged a week ago, the Ipswich Tories-like Cameron and his cronies are sticking to their "Do nothing" principles. My Labour colleagues and myself have proposed a budget that will see an £8 million boost to the local Ipswich economy. We will be putting forward our budget plan at the Full Council meeting this Wednesday.

Wonder who the Lib Dems will support- and 8 million pound boost to the Ipswich economy (that will not see a rise in council tax) or -as we all expect - they will support the Tory "Do nothing" plan. Maybe they like seeing more empty shops in Ipswich

The Ipswich economy could receive an £8m boost if proposals put forward by Labour councillors are agreed at the meeting on Wednesday.

Highlights of Labour’s “Budget for Jobs” include:

• a large-scale home energy efficiency programme

• doubling the size of the council’s affordable housing programme

• reversing the cuts in grants to good causes

• a freeze on bus fares

• an investment fund to bring empty properties back into use

• ensuring Ipswich residents and businesses claim the grants and benefits they are entitled to.

The measures put forward would be paid for by reducing the amount of money the council keeps in the bank for a rainy day, bringing forward spending from future years and borrowing at extremely low rates of interest. There would be no increase in council tax and no cuts in services. The council’s Chief Finance Officer, as required by law, has stated that figures are correct and that the council’s remaining reserves (£1.8million) are adequate.Labour Leader David Ellesmere said: “Councils should be at the forefront of protecting their residents from the worst of the economic downturn. Our programme will save jobs, save residents money and help to save the planet. It is just the boost that Ipswich needs.”

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Now a Twitter!

I now have fully arrived in the 21st Century! A Blog, Facebook and now I have joined the Twitter world. You will see a link on the right hand side of the blog.
It is all a bit new, but I like the feel of it so far.
To those who have only heard rumours about the spread of Twitter, basically you have a site where you can send 'what your doing' in less than 140 characters - have a feeling it will be a better communication tool for politics than Facebook.
A good link for blogs, so not a replacement, I am following the tweets of John Prescott, Alastair Campbell, No 10 Downing Street plus away from politics, BBC News, BBC Sport, BBC Football, Ipswich Town, Billy Bragg and also a link to news on Afghanistan.
I would recommend trying it.
Local councils are now looking to use blogs, Twitter and social network sites as a means of getting their message over to the public. a number of councils used such sites to pass on highway and school closure information over during the recent cold spell.
According to a local government publication, there are at least 20 councils using Twitter and 40 individual councilors. Well make that 41!
Will be interesting to see how many followers I get to my Twitter site over the next few weeks, not sure I will be as popular as Stephen Fry or even Jon Prescott!
Try it and join me on Twitter!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Ipswich 'Til I Die

This week saw the launch of a football book featuring stories from Ipswich supporters, nothing new there you may think, but you would be wrong this is a book which is not only a great read but does far more than that. It is a great example why many of us are so hooked on not only following football but supporting our local team. The book is also a great advert for the Supporters Trust movement. This production was put together by the Ipswich Town Independent Supporters Trust working with football club and also with the aim of assisting local schools. 600 free copies were given to schools thanks to the involvement of the National Literacy Trust.

The launch was on Wednesday night and the evening saw contributor's mix with Town players and also pupils from local schools. The picture below is of pupils from chantry School with the oldest contributor to the book.

The whole project showed that the Trust and the Football club can work together and also that the trust is a very professional organisation.

But it as a Town fan that I love this book, forgetting that it is done by the trust and that is for a good cause of improving school literacy the book stands on it's own as a great football book. You would think as it is by Town fans that it would be full of 1978 or 1981 and maybe 1962 and 2000 but I found the best bits were about the likes of Dammo Green a Town star of the 30's and the piece by Kath Parker the wife of Towns 1950's captain Tommy Parker. there are also heart warming stories from pupils from Ipswich schools, a story from a youngster helped by the Club's link with The Princes Trust, plus two very diverse articles, one from an American Army Officer who seemed to clothe a whole Iraqi village in Ipswich Town shirts and a fan who was helped out of a coma by listening to messages from Town players.

Now go and buy a copy of 'Ipswich 'Till I Die', it will be on sale outside the ground this Saturday and hopefully the club shop. you can also buy by post from 'Those Were The days'.

Do nothing from the 'Do nothing' party

Not only are Cameron and his cronies doing nothing but even here in Ipswich the Tories (with help from their Lib Dem puppets) are also intending on doing nothing to help Ipswich during this recession.Now you may think that it is easy for us to say as we are in opposition, but we have produced our own budget proposals and there is no doubt that these proposals would do far more for the people of Ipswich and the businesses who employ them.

Ipswich Borough Council’s 2009 budget does the bare minimum to help people struggling to cope with the economic down and is a “massive missed opportunity”.
Labour councillors had called for a “Budget for Jobs” and published a list of 27 measures they wished the council to introduce in its budget.
While the council has introduced some measures that Labour called for, such as investing in the University, most of the help for Ipswich residents and businesses has been ignored such as:
1. An expanded programme of home insulation
2. Waiving Business Rates to bring empty shops back into use
3. Introducing “local labour clauses” into council contracts to give work to local people
4. A freeze on bus fares
5. Passing on the Government’s VAT cut
6. More help to keep people struggling with mortgages in their homes

Labour councillors believe that the council is pursuing completely the wrong strategy for trying to boost the local economy. Instead of bringing forward spending to support local businesses the council is actually planning to increase the money it keeps in the bank by £800,000.
The council is also being criticised for trying to sneak through the cuts it is planning to bring in such as:

· Cutting grants to voluntary organisations by £30,000
· Hitting Ipswich Town FC’s finances by increasing football parking charges
· Cutting the opening hours at Sports Centres and the Corn Exchange
· Cutting help to reduce abandoned vehicles at a time when scrap metal prices have plummeted which will lead to more abandoned vehicles
· Putting people’s health at risk by increasing charges to remove asbestos

Labour Leader David Ellesmere said: “The council has turned its back on its responsibilities to Ipswich businesses and residents who are struggling in the economic downturn. It is worse than ‘do nothing’ - some of what the council is planning will actually make things harder for the people of Ipswich.”

Monday, 9 February 2009

Desert issue!

Not blogged for a while as I have been involved in pre Afghanistan deployment training- training for a hot summer in Afghanistan with a freezing two weeks in Wiltshire!

But today in Northern Ireland we were issued our desert clothing and equipment. The reason I mention this is that there has been much criticism in certain papers about the lack of equipment our troops are issued with. Well in all my time in the army I have never been issued with so much equipment and of such good quality. Of course our troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan deserve the best equipment but the papers (and the Tories) should say well done when the MOD and the Government get it right.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

This film is presently the "must see" film, so I went with my family this afternoon. Is it all hype? the simple answer- no.

It is a fantastic film, in many ways. Entertainment is the main point of cinema and this has no problem delivering on that front, It is a film that will appeal to teenagers, those in their 20's and right up to our more Senior citizens. It has love, comedy, action , violence and even a quiz show thrown in. But where it scores most is the desire it leaves in you to visit India.

Danny Boyle did a great job with his earlier film - 'Trainspotting' but not sure that film helped draw the crowds to Edinburgh but even though a large part of this film is spent in the slums of Mumbai it still leaves you wanting to see more of this vast country.

I was fortunate enough to be able to take eighteen 16 year olds to Northern India in 2006, and one part of that trip I think the kids will never forget is the train journey from Delhi to Jaipur and the night we spent on the platform in Delhi Railway station whilst waiting for that train. we had 4 weeks in India but in those hours on the train and at the station we saw the 'real' India. In 'Slumdog Millionaire' you fell like you are in the real India the whole time.

Go and watch it, you will not be disappointed.