Sunday 30 March 2014

Happy Mothers Day

Missed but not forgotten - Annie Ross - campaigner, socialist, football fan and mum!

My week ahead, 31 March - 6 April 2014

Monday – 31 March, 6pm Labour campaigning

Tuesday – 1 April, 8am, Start of a march from Ipswich (Tory MP Ben Gummer office) to Norwich, to protest about cuts to Mental Health services

Thursday – 3 April, 6pm, Ipswich Labour Party meeting

Saturday 5 April, 10am – Labour campaigning – South West Ipswich

A superb Saturday, (other than a mistake of a re-tweet by myself giving local Tories an opportunity to have a go at me) starting in the morning at Cherry Lane Recreation where we had the ‘Grand Opening’ of the new play area by the Mayor of Ipswich. The project had taken over two years and the final result was thanks to all the hard work put in by local residents with Jim Jenner leading the project and with the great support he received by Sam and Ipswich Parks team. It was also good to see so many local councillors at the opening, money had come from County Councillors plus a large grant from the North East Area Committee and these grants then enabled to get match funding from Viridor (land fill tax).

I hope the success of this project and the ability to gain match funding will show those within the Tory Group that area committees can gain far more for their communities than the old area forums or by just giving each councillor a small locality budget. The opening was attended by 5 of the Tory Group so let’s hope in the next municipal year they decide to work with us on the area committee action plans rather than sniping from the side. By attending yesterday they should be now have no doubt the good work that an area committee can achieve. The other good news about yesterday was that the event was attended by a couple from the West of the town who are now attempting to repeat the success of Jim and his team on a park in Castle Hill.

On Tuesday, I will be at the office of Ben Gummer to see the start of a march to Norwich, to protest about cuts to Mental Health services in both Suffolk and Norfolk. I wonder if Ben will be there?

Saturday 29 March 2014

Check your tweets!

I have to put my hand up and say sorry as I never checked carefully a tweet that I had re-tweeted.

I did agree with the words on the tweet but had not checked carefully the picture attached - a simple mistake but one I should not have made.

The tweet was about Ian Duncan Smith, who in an interview said he could live on £53.00 a week but then claimed £39 for just one breakfast! I have no doubt that IDS could live on just £53 a week - but for how long? It is meant to be the money you live on, not just survive.

Now attached to the statement was a picture of IDS, when you first look at the tweet it seems he has a hat on but when you open the picture( which I never), he has been photo shopped into a Nazi uniform. Do I believe IDS is a Nazi? - No, do I think the picture added humour to the tweet? Some may have found it funny,but I never.

So I will endeavour to check carefully in future any tweet, I re-tweet.

Only one person has mentioned the tweet to me - well that is wrong - no one had mentioned it but my 'error' was mentioned in Ipswich Spy. Possibly you may have hoped that he would have mentioned the tweet to me first, but then it may not have made such a great Labour bashing story.

I have removed the re-tweet but not before I received quite a nasty personal attack via twitter from an Ipswich Tory activist! I hope that same Tory is writing to Grant Shapps to ask why Aiden Burley has not had the Tory whip removed or even been thrown out of the Tory Party, but somehow I guess that has not happened.

Lesson to be learnt- check re-tweets as a mistake may lead to Tory tweeters and bloggers using the tweet to attack yourself or Labour.

Monday 24 March 2014

So it only took the Tories 22 months to destroy education in Suffolk?

It now seems to be every day that we are reading of a new problem involving education in Suffolk. The Tory County Councillors may have confidence in the current political leadership of education in Suffolk but it seems no one else has.

We hear that last week our Tory MP Ben Gummer held an important meeting with the Tory portfolio holder for education, hope he got a better answers from her than the usual ‘Raising the Bar will sort everything out’ response the public seem to get.

The failure of the Tory run education service is beginning to concern Suffolk Tory MP’s (about time) but many just try to blame others, the Suffolk Coastal MP tweeted that Labour Councillors should be asking questions of schools in their wards – but that can be difficult – in my own Ward, the Tory run County Council did not even inform the Rushmere Division County Councillor that her local school was being forced into becoming an academy, whilst at the same time asking her for nominations for the governing body (that will be wound up in 8 weeks’ time)

Often when I mention education, Tory blogs and Tory commentators are very quick to attempt to find faults in my argument.

I have not just discovered an interest in education, I was a school governor even before I was elected as a councillor and soon realised that the Tory run education service was even then already failing our children.

In May 2012, I was very critical of the Tory run county, but yet again I was quickly attacked by my opponents and those from the Tory side. Ipswich Spy even wrote this in response to a discussion I was involved in about education:

“On the charge that you can’t trust the Tories to run education in Suffolk, you only have to look at the Ofsted inspection report for Suffolk, which are clear – Suffolk outperforms the national average, despite the three tier problems, in many of the key indicators, with most of the schools in the county outstanding or good. Hardly the picture of despair that Cllr Ross describes.”

So if education in the county was so well run in 2012, it must mean that in less than 2 years the Tories have seen the service deteriorate so badly that they found themselves the target of a critical Ofsted report – I for one believe the Tories have been failing our children for over 2 years- but if Ipswich Spy are right and everything was OK in 2012, then the sudden drop in standards comes at the same time as the County have cut funding to the School Improvement Service (as they blindly follow their aim of 0% Council Tax rise)and seem to only have one answer to any question raised on education- 'Raising the Bar'.

Just think how bad our education service will be in two further years (of underfunding)

So today we have questions being asked about what the County will do about the failing IES Breckland Free School, we have the Academy sponsor at Westbourne High School not being allowed to take on further schools and we have parent’s concerned about the provision of education for some of our most vunerable pupils at Suffolk One.

I expect Mr Gummer will quickly point out that both Westbourne and Suffolk One are outside his constituency – the buildings maybe but a large number of pupils at both establishments will live in his constituency.

So, Mr Gummer what did you discuss last Thursday with Ms Chambers, and do you have confidence in the political leadership of education in the county?

Sunday 23 March 2014

My week ahead 24 - 30 March 2014

Monday – 24 March, 4pm Culture Portfolio meeting
6pm Labour Group

Tuesday – 25 March, 5pm Sidegate Primary Full Governing Body

Thursday – 27 March, 5pm Area Committee Chairs meeting
7pm – Ipswich Labour Party meeting

Saturday 29 March, 10am – Labour campaigning – South East Ipswich

It will be a rather unusual and slightly sad meeting at Sidgate Primary School this week,. It will be the last ever Full Governing Body meeting before the school becomes an Academy.

I have always felt we were being forced into becoming an academy and the way both the Department of Education and Suffolk County Council have behaved in the process leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth.

But in the end, I believe the school will be better off working with the Active Learning Trust as over the last few months we have seen Tory run Suffolk fail in their responsibility to assist in the education of our children.

Even Ofsted have been critical of the County but they yet again choose to ignore the critical Ofsted report and continue with the myth that ‘Raising the Bar’ will be the answer to all the questions being asked about educational attainment in Suffolk.

Friday 21 March 2014

Do the Tories care about Education in Suffolk?

Yesterday the Suffolk County Labour Group had to take the quite drastic action of proposing a motion of “no confidence in the current political leadership of education in Suffolk”

The motion received the backing of 27 members of the council, however was defeated when 39 councillors voting against it. One councillor abstained.

So 39 County Councillors feel there are no problems with education in Suffolk?

But it is not just Tory Councillors who feel able to just ignore the damming Ofsted report into the County education Improvement Service.

In the March edition of the ‘Ipswich Flyer’ , Tory MP for North Ipswich, Dan Poulter had this to say about the failure of the Tories when it comes to education in the county.

Talking about the Ofsted report – Poulter comments – “ In response to this report Suffolk County Council have recognised the need for improvement and has put in place a comprehensive strategy “Raising the Bar” to help improve schools across Suffolk and allow pupils to achieve their potential”

What rubbish – ‘Raising the Bar’ has been in place for at least two years before the Ofsted report and has not been put in place as a response to report, in fact ‘raising the Bar’ did not come out of the report very well, with Ofsted claiming that many teachers had little knowledge of ‘Raising the Bar’ and what it's aims are.

So you can add Education to the pile that includes the NHS of important services that can’t be trusted to the Tories!

And to make it worse- Dan Poulter is a minister!

Thursday 20 March 2014

Anyone for Patronising (Tory ) Bingo?

Grant Shapps has won the jackpot - or should it be a full house for stupid posters?

It may at the moment be quite humerous but in the light of day it just shows the Tories for what they are - patronising and out of touch!

Trouble for the Tories their own poster is the most damaging of the lot for their Party - #outoftouch

Cheap beer and bingo- that will make me vote Tory!

The Tories have produced a post budget poster- and this is real it is not a PARODY! Hard to believe I know.

I have accused certain Ipswich Tories and even the Tory MP for the town, Ben Gummer of being patronising - I can now see it is a natural Tory trait.

To actually believe that all hardworking families will be happy as beer is 1p cheaper and we can now afford to go to bingo. Is that all they thing hardworking families do?

So Tories make it possible for us to afford bingo, but at same time they reduce funding to libraries, make it harder for local authorities to keep museums open for free- They are the #outoftouch Party.

Within minutes a new version of the poster has been produced - hard hitting but maybe less damaging to the Tories than their own poster- taxi for Grant Shapps?

But are we happy with the budget? No, not even if we play bingo!

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Where are the posters now, Ben?

As Tory run Suffolk County Council are about to close a Children’s Centre on Felixstowe Road, just wondered if Ben Gummer still had his posters from 2010 around?

“The Ormiston Children’s Centre is being closed by the Tories so that is yet another broken promise from this discredited government.”

"We've all got budgets George!"

Sunday 16 March 2014

My week ahead, 17 - 23 March 2014

Monday – 17 March, 6pm Labour Group

Tuesday – 18 March, 5pm Sidegate Primary School Finance meeting
6pm East Area Housing Panel

Wednesday – 19 March, 6pm Ipswich Borough Council – Full Council meeting, Town Hall

Saturday 22 March, 10am – Labour campaigning – South East Ipswich

This week we have seen Mr Gummer our MP visit the Suffolk Police Control room – expect to see in the paper soon ‘Suffolk Police Control room saved after Tory PCC is lobbied by Tory MP Gummer’ – similar to ‘Bishop Hill lights will not now happen after Tory cabinet member is lobbied by Tory MP Gummer’

Now I am sure that lobbying by Ben Gummer and Tory Cllrs did help persuade Graham Newman to shelve the plan to put traffic lights on Bishops Hill but I have no doubt from meetings held with Mr Newman that he still thinks lights should be placed on the approach from Felixstowe Rd, but has been persuaded to halt the work as it is seen as a vote loser in the marginal ward of Holywells.

The Police Control room issue is slightly different as the Tory PCC seems to have decided himself that it is political suicide to close the control room, do not be fooled by the story about the ‘business case does not stack up’ – when he spoke to the IBC Scrutiny meeting last month he made it quite clear that the control room would probably close with other back office jobs coming to Suffolk in return. You would have thought when he spoke to Scrutiny he would have already known of the business case and details of the closure, weeks late he was happy to send every house in Suffolk a letter detailing the savings he has already made and the savings of close to £6 million he will be making in the future – was the closing of the control room in his savings – or has he no idea of where the savings will be made?

In reading that letter you would get the impression that he is in full control of the budget and has a full understanding of the business plan, but now we seem to get the impression (from Mr Passmore) that he had no prior visibility of the business plan.

I am sure Mr Passmore was surprised by the large attendance of staff and union members at the meeting held to rubber stamp the merger of control rooms with Norfolk, he would not have felt comfortable with the presence of two Labour PPCs in the room and I am sure he would have been slightly surprised by the anger shown by those who were likely to lose their job. But I believe his main reason for the sudden change in plan was when the local paper the EADT, announced they were against the plan.

What had been noticeable up to his announcement of his ‘change of mind’ was the total silence of the seven Suffolk Tory MPs – and even after the sudden change of plan, only Mr Gummer has commented on the issue- possibly due to small majority he holds in Ipswich.

Suffolk MPs do seem loathe to comment on any cuts being imposed by the Tory run County Council or the Tory PCC, maybe they know that the Tory Cllrs would not be happy to be lectured to by MPs when they are just carrying out Tory policies!

So do not expect to hear Mr Gummer making too much of a fuss over the closure of the Felixstowe Rd Children’s Centre, just expect him to repeat the County Council line of ‘services will be maintained but at other locations’ – the question is what locations?

Sunday 9 March 2014

My week ahead, 9 - 15 March 2014

Monday – 10 March , 6pm Labour campaigning

Thursday – 13 March, 6pm – Ipswich Borough Scrutiny meeting

Saturday 15 March, 10am – Labour campaigning – South East Ipswich

Not a great week for Tories in Suffolk, but we are unable to gloat as it has been an even worse week for all Suffolk residents because of the local Tories.

First of all we had the damming report on the Tory run Suffolk County Council School Improvement team, more concerning for me was the refusal of those meant to leading the County Council to see that things need to change. We were almost deafened by the silence of the counties Tory MPs. I suppose I should be thankful that the Tory MP for Ipswich, Ben Gummer did criticise the County but there were very few words from him and he was certainly not ‘extensively quoted’ as he made out on twitter.

Something has to be done and done quick but that seems unlikely with the current Tory cabinet, so it is good to see that Labour have called for a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Tory Cabinet member responsible for education. Will be interesting to see if all Tory councillors vote with their own group, in particular those from the west of the county who seem to be in open mutiny on the direction the Tories are leading the county on education.

Then we had the Tory Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk deciding not to go ahead with the merger of the Suffolk and Norfolk Police control rooms, now at least one Tory blogger is trying to spin this as an attempt to show that Mr Passmore has the interests of Suffolk as his main concern when deciding on budgets but those of us who heard Mr Passmore speak at Scrutiny will know that is far from the truth as it from what the Tory PCC said at that meeting the merger was a ‘done deal’. It also seems that is what the Norfolk PCC and both Chief Constables thought.

Yesterday, I received my council tax demand and in his spiel, Mr Passmore mentions savings of £2.3 million in 14/15 rising to £6.1 million in 17/18 – was that written before his U – turn on the police control room merger?

Wonder where the savings will come from now?

There was one other bit of bad news for the Ipswich Tories that did bring a smile Ipswich Labour faces, the Tories decided to change their group leadership, but it seemed not all the Tory councillors were happy with the changes with a number wondering how those who abstained on the Tory budget amendment seem to have escaped any sanction – never trust a Tory – even if you are a Tory!

Sunday 2 March 2014

Crimea - always more important to the Russians than the Ukrainians

In 1993, I was fortunate to visit the Ukraine and the Crimea. The 10 days in the Crimea were to be spent in Sevastopol studying the Crimean The war famous for Florence Nightingale, Charge of the Light Brigade and the Battle of Balaklava. But for my regiment – The Royal Green Jackets, it was the action when crossing the Alma that we hoped to look at.

Crossing the Alma - will British soldiers be crossing it again soon?

Arrival in Kiev was smooth enough and we quickly settle in, helped by our lowly paid guide being a former Colonel in the Soviet Air Force. Ukraine in 1993 was still a ‘young’ nation but even then in Kiev there were many who wished to still be part of the Soviet Union and many more who had wished to stay communist.

We boarded the overnight train to Sevastopol, no tickets but the train guard seemed to be expecting us and we soon settled into our beds , waking in the morning we were now in the Crimea – the ‘bread basket’ of the Ukraine, on the last part of the journey we were asked for our passports, not by Ukrainians, but by Russian (plainclothes) Military police. They soon left us – trouble was, they left with our passports.

We got off the train and had to decide between buying a bottle of vodka for 40p or trying to get our passports back – we decided on both! After paying a fine (in dollars) we were told we had to leave Sevastopol/Russia and return to Ukraine – a taxi ride took us to Simferopol, the Crimean capital. Not much there so after a night we took a bus to Yalta where we planned how we were going to get back into Sevastopol.

We found Yalta (in 1993) to be a run down resort, full of Russian gangsters/new money and elderly Germans. We made friends with a German couple who now lived in Australia. The gentleman had found himself in Sydney via a POW camp in Huddersfield.

The Germans were in two distinct groups, both ex German Army and in some cases SS veterans but one group mainly from the West were quite affluent whilst those from the former East Germany were not as well off but far more friendly.

They had permission to visit Sevastopol so allowed us to tag on and we were soon made welcome on their coach. The city of Sevastopol was amazing but other than a recent monument and the small building hosting a historical panorama there was little evidence of the 19th Century war but we found many memorials to those who defended the city in the 1940’s. The other sight that quickly was noticed by myself and fellow soldier travelling with me was the amount of Russian ships and submarines – many rusting but we could see nor sign of any Ukrainian military in the whole city. They would have seen as much out of place as the Spanish Navy in Gibraltar.

So Ukraine is a complex situation, Crimea is already an autonomous region and though my visit was over 20 years ago, it is still quite obvious that the second largest city in the region – Sevastopol was full of Russians and completely under their control.

The other issue which has slight similarities to Syria, are we certain that the ‘opposition’ (who are now the interim government) the people we want to work with. There is no doubt that the far right have got them into positions of power and there is also the religious link to the ethnic problem. When I was in Kosovo in 1999, the Russians saw themselves not only defenders of the Serbs but the Slav race and the Orthodox Church. In Kosovo it was defending the Slavs against the Muslims but the Ukraine has closer similarities to the Serbia/Croatia conflict – Slav v Catholic.

All in all it is a mess, what should we do? What did we do when Hungary in the 50s and the Czechs in the 60s stood up to the Russians and then were trampled by the Soviet Army? – Nothing!

Some deranged Tory MP is blaming Ed Miliband for the Ukraine crisis – saying that Putin is taking advantage of our decision not to intervene in Syria! What rubbish, it is more likely that Putin is thinking about what happened in the 50s and 60s rather than what we have not done in Syria.

Will there be war? I hope not but can see the Crimea continuing to be a hot spot and in the end seeking full independence rather than just being an autonomous state.

My week ahead 3 - 9 March 2014

Monday – 3 March , 6pm Labour campaigning

Tuesday – 4 March, 7pm – Ipswich Fairtrade Event, Suffolk New College

Thursday – 6 March, 4pm – Health and Safety inspection, Sidegate Primary School
6pm Labour campaigning

Saturday 8 March, 10am – Labour campaigning – South West Ipswich

What a week for the Tories – both nationally and in Ipswich. In Westminster we have FOB v FOG (Friends of Boris and Friends of George) briefing against each other to start the meltdown and this weekend we have Liam Fox and a senior Tory Council leader both praising Farage and UKIP and criticising Cameron.

Not to be outdone here in Ipswich the Tories split into at least three factions – those supporting the leader on his budget amendment, those who did not support him and abstained plus a third faction of those who could not even attend in case they had to decide who to support!

Leadership? Certainly something the Tories seem to be lacking from top to bottom.

Another consequence of Tory cuts hit Suffolk this week (not that you would have known if you just followed Tory MP, Ben Gummer in the local press and on social media) the Tory Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk was meant to attend a meeting and rubber stamp the closure of the county police control room. This service would have moved to Norfolk. But what seemed a done deal soon unravelled as the local paper criticised this action and then Mr Passmore came under further pressure to stop the move from workers, the union and Labour’s David Ellesmere and Jane Basham at the meeting that should have rubber stamped the merger.

I have already publicly said that a full merger of the Norfolk and Suffolk Police may be a way ahead but what we are seeing is a merger of all services but we will still be left with two expensive PCC’s and two Chief Constables.

What was noticeable is that not one of our (Suffolk) Tory MPs has commented on the proposed merger.

It will be interesting to see what Tory Mr Passmore now does, as it seemed obvious to those who attended a recent Scrutiny meeting where Mr Passmore spoke that this was a done deal and it is also evident that both Chief Constables and the Norfolk PCC also thought no further consultation would be needed.