Friday 27 June 2014

A Socialist and a Patriot

No ‘my week ahead’ for a few weeks as i will be spending most of the next 30 days either climbing in Wales or Northern India – where I am taking a group of teenagers to trek near to the city of Leh and work on a community project in a small settlement close to the Tibetan border.

This week I was very fortunate to be invited to attend a ‘Labour Friends of the Forces’ reception in London.

Those at the event included most of the Shadow Defence team and Ed Miliband also we had three Potential Parliamentary candidates, all ex members of the Armed Forces.

As soon as I arrived I was approached by another ex- Greenjacket – 1 rather than 3 RGJ and slightly older than me as he was a Borneo veteran, but we had a good laugh as we discussed how the ‘Black Mafia’ were once again running the army.

I then had a long conversation with two serving soldiers both had served in Afghanistan and it was informative to hear what had changed since I was in Sangin in 2009.

Then I met Frankie Caldwell, ex tankie who had taken a short break for campaigning for a ‘No’ vote in the up and coming Scottish independence vote to come to London to support the event. It was nice to catch up with someone who I had corresponded with via twitter.

Then the two highlights of the night, first to meet an ex RAF Officer but one with a number of tales to tell. As a young Sergeant he had been in the same Prisoner of War camp as those who had taken part in the ‘Great Escape’ and he himself had endured a long march across Poland as the Germans closed the camp with the Russians approaching. A real British hero.

Then I met Lord West, not only a former Ist Sea Lord but who had also been Captain of a ship that was sunk in the Falklands War.

I had a long conversation with him and asked him about a quote that had appeared in the papers this week that was attributed to him, I asked him if it was true he smiled and then confirmed it was.

The quote? It was true he informed me that he had asked Michael Gove if he wished to discuss the accusation (that Gove had made) that you can’t be a socialist and patriot. Lord West is happy to be described both as a socialist and a patriot and he did tell Mr Gove that he was willing to discuss the issue either inside or outside the boxing ring!

Not surprisingly Mr Gove had not yet responded; maybe he was till busy arguing with Mrs ‘no passports’ May.

With our new candidates and a shadow Minister like ex Para, Dan Jarvis – we are now ready to be the party of the Armed Forces.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Tory MPs and Ministers may be arrogant and out of touch but at least they have their passports!

This week I watched with interest the debate over the passport chaos we are currently witnessing. There were so many interruptions during the speeches of Tory Home Secretary, Theresa May and her Labour opposite, Yvette Cooper that after they had both finished, other MPs were limited to a speech of 6 minutes and even then not all who wanted to speak would be able to.

The current backlog of passports is of interest to me as in 2 weeks time I am leading 30 school pupils on a trek in Northern India and our Mountain Guide is currently still waiting for his passport as he had to send it to the passport office as he had run out of pages. He has now been told he has to drive to Durham for an appointment where they will try and deal with it. Not the service you would expect.

The chaos seems to have been caused by a number of issues but taking over a service previously provided by consulates overseas certainly did not help and whatever the coalition would like us to think, job cuts and the downgrading of certain passport offices seems to be the main contributing factor.

Remember this is a service that makes a profit! Last year it was believed that each passport application made the Government £13.

Now the whole episode has been a PR disaster for Theresa May, whilst she was spending her time arguing with Michael Gove and losing the services of her trusted assistant the problem with passports was becoming known to most MPs as residents contacted them for help.

At first she said there was no problem and no backlog, the next day the Prime Minister indicated there was a backlog of 30,000 applications. This quickly reminded me of the chaos caused by the recent floods where the PM, Pickles and the Environment Minister could not seem to agree on how much money was needed and how much would be promised.

This week Mrs May did say sorry but was still loathe to admit there was a problem but she did seem to indicate there was possibly a backlog of 40,000 passports (on Saturday we were officially told there is now a backlog of 53,000 passports).

But after Theresa May and Yvette Cooper had finished we then had the spectacle that yet again how much contempt for voters that this Tory Government has.

First of all the Home Secretary, Mrs May only listened to the first two MPs speak – one from either side before she scuttled out of the chamber. How will she know what MPs think or maybe the solutions they suggest if leaves as quickly as she can?

But possibly she left because she knew already what the Tory MPs were going to say!

The third speaker was former Labour Minister, Gerald Kaufman who then rightly criticised Mrs May for not even staying to listen to the debate – so angry was Mr Kaufman that he declared Theresa May to be the worst Home Secretary that he has seen in during his 44 years in house, he then went onto describe her as one of the most arrogant politicians he had ever met.

A Tory did spring up to her defence before then repeating the Tory Party line when it comes to explain the passport chaos – and what is that reason? There is a backlog of passports as now the economy is doing so well more people are going on holiday overseas!

An answer that I would compare with one attempted by many 11 year old school children – my dog has eaten my homework – an excuse not believed by anyone and I am not sure anyone is going to believe the Tory Party reasoning for the passport chaos.

But the Tories are now so out of touch and arrogant they must think we will believe anything because just two days later we had a Tory MP explain that we have more potholes as now more people have jobs we have more people driving!

What other bad news story can the Tories blame on so called good news about an improved economy?

So we have an issue that we already know is affecting over 50,000 people, an issue that was enough to lead to an emergency debate and all the Tories could do was get a number of puppet MPs to trot out the hardly believable party line. No wonder many voters have little faith in some of our elected representatives.

But if we did not believe that excuse we had some more good advice from a Tory Minister, Helen Grant who indicated that the passport chaos may be a good reason to decide to have a holiday in the UK. Trouble is she decided to tweet this advice to us from Brazil, where she is currently watching England play in the World Cup (on a free trip)

Tory MPs and Ministers may be arrogant and out of touch but at least they have their passports!

My week ahead 23 - 29 June 2014

Monday – 23 June, 8am – Ipswich ‘Angle’ Board meeting
6pm –Labour Group campaigning session

Wednesday – 25 June, 6pm – North East Ipswich Partnership Group meeting
7pm – North East Ipswich Area committee, St John’s Church, Cauldwell Hall Rd

Thursday - 27 June, 7pm – Labour ‘Friends of the Forces’ reception in London with Ed Miliband

‘No anger is worse than a jilted woman’ – or should it now be ‘ no bitchiness is worse than a criticised blog’?

In a post I wrote last week, I criticised local blog ‘Ipswich Spy’ over what I thought was lazy journalism over his comments about attendance of councillors at the Queens Commonwealth Baton event.

So it seems one of their two writers has waited just one week to strike back but it seems to many that it just another sign that as we get closer to the General Election of 2015 that the blog has become an unofficial cheer leader for Tory MP Ben Gummer and would be better if titled ‘Tory Spy’ rather than ‘Ipswich Spy’.

Rather than admitting he had made a mistake or thinking maybe best to not mention it again, he decides to attack my article on the baton at the same time defending the County Council. I indicated that local County Councillors had not been invited to the events though there seemed to be a heavy Tory attendance at the Lowestoft event.

I was also critical of the county as there seemed to have been a lack of publicity about the event. He defended the county, informing us that they had sent out at least a dozen press releases and it was not their fault that the local media had ignored them. Maybe rather than just sending out numerous emails they should have arranged a closer tie up with local media over the event. Ipswich Borough Council certainly did their bit, I did a BBC Suffolk radio interview along with our baton carriers and David Ellesmere did a piece in the local paper.

He excused the County for not inviting their own County Councillors by stating they should have read at least one of their own twelve press releases! I can imagine that the number of emails that a County Councillor receives that reading numerous press releases is not one of their top priorities where a short email from the Council leader or Portfolio holder asking them to support the local events would have achieved a far better attendance.

‘Tory Spy’ then has yet another pop at me for my use of twitter and at the same time acting as an unpaid Press Officer/Social media outlet for Tory MP Ben Gummer. (If you have had the misfortune to look at Mr Gummers website you will see that he does need some help on the use of social media).

During the week a large number of Ipswich residents had a nightmare of a journey either from or to London and I tweeted that Mr Gummer was notable by his silence on the subject as he is often quick to tweet with (what he perceives is) good news about our local rail service. ‘Spy’ praised Mr Gummer for not rushing to twitter, though I think commuters would have been pleased to hear that he was going to take up their concerns immediately with the executives of the franchise and Railtrack. But then ‘Spy’ added when Mr Gummer does take to twitter at least he can communicate with over 5,000 followers rather than the 279 who follow Mr Ellesmere. But what ‘Spy’ forgets/decides not to mention is that Mr Gummer himself only follows 265 as with many Tory MPs they see twitter as just a one way line of communication but at least those who follow Mr Gummer can now read the apology he has gathered from the rail franchise over the events of last week. As a tweet today links to his blog which now has an apology from the franchise (making that post his 9th of the year).

But Mr Gummer was quick to take to twitter this week to inform us of potential good news for rail users – we will be getting an Ipswich to Bristol rail route. Emphasising in his tweet that it will happen, this tweet was picked up quickly by many – was their a timescale – no answer, so like the ‘new trains’ mention on his recent leaflet no real detail. I would appreciate a good East/West link but find it hard to envisage when the current Ipswich to Cambridge/Peterborough lines are so slow. Mr Gummer did indicate then that this development would include electrification of the Cambridge route – good news there but it was then indicated that this had not been confirmed. So once you get to Cambridge you would then get on the re-opened ‘Varsity Line’ between Cambridge and Oxford then change at Oxford for Bristol. Sounds great?

Is a ‘Varsity line’ needed? I am sure there are far more routes that are in need of funding, and would this trip to Bristol (with at least one and maybe two changes) be any quicker than taking the current journey via London. It may be cheaper as many routes to the Midlands via Peterborough are but currently few of those routes are quicker/reliable or of any use for those who wish to use the route for business reasons and wish to be be at a meeting and back the same day.

Then we have ‘Cross Rail’ with a change at Stratford, and a final destination of Maidenhead – will that not make a trip to Bristol easier than it currently is?

So maybe Mr Gummer should have followed his own advice and not rushed to twitter to inform us of this great news when it reality we will not probaly see an Ipswich - Bristol line for over 10 years - if ever!

Mr Gummer did take to twitter yesterday to have his picture taken at Cherry Lane Recreation ground alongside two local Tory councillors with the tweet indicating that two councillors had secured a new play area for the rec. I myself have thought carefully how we use the good news of the new play area, because it certainly was not secured by just politicians- it was mainly down to the work of a team of dedicated local residents and then supported by councillors both Labour and Tory and also Borough and County. The key funding had come from the Labour dominated North East Area committee with additional funding from Labour and Tory County Councillors. The final piece of the jigsaw was funding from the Viridor Landfill Communities Fund and our success in gaining a grant was down to local residents and Labour County Councillor Sandy Martin who helped complete the application.

It certainly was not just the work of the two Tory councillors pictured, in fact one of them had no involvement at all in the project as it was planned, paid for and built before he was even elected but then as Mr Gummer is keen to tell me (via Tory Spy) we should not always rush to twitter – instead he could have spoken to the Chair of the North East Area committee (he has my email)!

But back to this week – it will be great to get back to the North East Area committee as we have a busy year attempting to work with local partners within our ‘action plan’ to improve the lives of local residents.

Then Thursday it is off to London to meet Ed Miliband and the Labour ‘Friends of the Forces’ reception – speaking only this week i know that the morale of the army is the lowest it has been for many years – hopefully the last forced redundancies are over and the army can now get back to what it does best- serving this country. I will certainly be lobby the Labour Defence team to have a plan in place to replace the coalition plan of dependence of a large Reserve force, current recruitment of reservists already indicates that this plan is failing miserably.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Pass the baton and lazy journalism?

Last Monday, Suffolk and Ipswich were fortunate to be one of the few English locations chosen to host the Commonwealth Games Queens Baton Relay.

I myself was even more fortunate as I was invited to attend the ‘Quads’ Athletics event at Northgate School, the event would see local primary schools compete against each other and then have their chance to complete a lap of the track with the Commonwealth Games baton.

The young athletes also had the opportunity to meet some of Olympic and Paralympics stars from 2012 – with gymnast Beth Tweddle the most well known of those present. She was a great ambassador and so obliging to all those who asked for autographs or to have their photo taken with her. Though it seemed to be the teachers who were the keenest have a ‘selfie’ taken with Beth!

A quick dash across town took me to Christchurch Park, after picking up my wife and nephew as the baton made its way to the last event of the day as it was paraded through the park before a short charity run. The baton in the park was carried by our own Paralympics star, Zoe Newson and 80 year old (keep fit enthusiast) Ken Webb .

The event was maybe more low key than the Olympic Torch event in 2012 but all there seemed to be enjoying it and it has certainly given me a buzz as I look forward to attending the games in Glasgow in July,

Our events and sports staff hosted the event on behalf of Suffolk County Council who was the organiser of all the events that were held in throughout the county on behalf of the Commonwealth Games.

It was good to see a number of Labour councillors attending the event with Sarah Adams even attempting the charity fun run – in sandals!

So it was surprising to read in ‘Ipswich Spy’ how disappointed he was that unlike the Olympic Torch event that no councillors had attended. Well I was there as were at least 5 other Labour members.

There were hundreds at the event so I can understand why their writer never saw us but you would think he may have checked first. In the past the ‘Spy’ writer has been both critical of my blog and my twitter feed, if he had checked both this time he would have seen that I had indicated that I was going to attend the event and my twitter feed included photographs from the event.

He implies that more councillors attended the torch event two years ago, not sure how many did but that was a ticket only event and other than the Mayor, no tickets were given to councillors – if they wished to attend they had to queue at the town hall like every other resident. This event was more low key however I would have still thought that the County Council would have made more effort to promote the baton events. We did try and help, I did a radio interview with BBC Suffolk and there was also publicity in the local paper that was arranged by the Borough. I did ask one of our Labour County councillors if she had been informed about the event and she had not and it seemed the same had happened in Lowestoft where no Labour County councillors had been informed about the event there but Tory Leader Mark Bee had made sure he had been seen and photographed on the beach.

Did the County play a political game and not invite Labour councillors or are they so disorganised and just forget to invite anyone?

Not sure either way but both explanations could be true with this joke of a County Council.

My week ahead 16 - 22 June 2014

Monday – 16 June, 4pm – Culture Portfolio meting,
6pm –Labour Group campaigning session

Tuesday – 17 June, 6pm – Ipswich Borough Council – Executive Meeting, Grafton House

Wednesday – 18 June, 10am - Ipswich ‘Angle’ Board meeting, Grafton House

Saturday - 21 June, 10am, Labour campaigning, South East Ipswich
2pm – Suffolk Pride Festival

Tuesday may give her us an early warning on how the opposition are going to go about council business over the next 12 months. The Tory Leader, Cllr Cenci will be attending her first Executive meeting as an opposition member.

We have offered the Tory group a place on the Executive since we took back control of the council but up to this point they have always refused. We only thought it was right to offer them a place as we had attempted to have our leader elected as a member of the executive when we were in opposition and even when we were the largest group the Tories and Lib Dems still refused to allow us to be represented.

When it comes to Scrutiny committees, ‘Best Practice’ is to allow the opposition to chair the committee, again the Tories and Lib Dems refused probably leading to the disastrous way such topics as the Kiln Meadow were handled. Once we were in power we have had both the Tories and Lib Dems chair Scrutiny, both have not (in my opinion) been the best chairs we have ever seen but we still believe it should be an opposition member who is chair and I am sure Cllr Harsant will make a far better chair than the last two holders of the post.

Tory run Suffolk County Council do not seem to wish to have any opposition when it comes to Scrutiny, they do not offer to opposition the chair on any of their scrutiny bodies, and their leader Mark Bee seems now to not wish to have any Tories chair Scrutiny if they are not 100% loyal to him.

The latest Suffolk Cabinet meeting indicated again that Mark Bee is now spending most of his time attempting to hold onto power and crush his own rebels. Time that should be better spent trying to sort out the mess that the Tories have made of education in the county.

Sunday 8 June 2014

My week ahead, 9 - 15 June 2014

Monday – 9 June, 2pm – North East Area Committee Agenda setting,
3pm – Commonwealth Games Baton – Schools Athletics event – Northgate School
5pm – Commonwealth Games Baton – Celebration in Christchurch Park

Wednesday – 11 June, North East Area Committee – Councillors meeting

Saturday 14 June – 10am, Labour campaigning

It looks like I have a hectic (but enjoyable) week ahead. Now the new municipal year has started we begin the first set of meetings, I have high hopes for the North East Area Committee and I hope the Conservatives will now become more involved in the Area ‘Action Plan’ rather than sniping from the side as they have done over the last few years.

Monday will be busy but enjoyable as we welcome the Commonwealth Games Baton to Ipswich, this will be a great event and I see it as a reward for the town. We are getting known as a local authority that can put on big sporting events – the Olympic Torch, Tour of Britain and the Sky ride. But it is not just having a proactive authority and a great events team, the baton is coming to Ipswich as the organisers know the Ipswich public will turn up and support the event.

This week Mr Gummer has been involved in a number of arguments on twitter. The arguments started after commuters were handed out the latest glossy (expensive?)Tory leaflet. The leaflet focuses on planned improvements to the Norwich – London rail link. Norwich in 90 and Ipswich in 60 seem to be the targets that Mr Gummer and his fellow Tory MPs seem focused on but that will not happen without new trains and new tracks. This is where the arguments start – the leaflet mentions new trains and Mr Gummer admits that improvements in speed will not happen till the new trains arrive, he then stated that the new franchise will bring new trains then after further tweets it seems that is not for certain and not all the existing rolling stock will be replaced and that any new trains will not be seen for at least 6 years! Making the use of the words ‘new trains’ on the leaflet seem rather misleading – deliberate?

Mr Gummer may have more to worry about this week than the state of local trains as his boss faces MPs after having to apologise to the Prime Minister and a senior civil servant after a spat with the Home Secretary.

From the outside it seems both Gove and the Home Secretary have broken the Ministerial Code, but yet again as with Mr Hunt it seems Mr Cameron is either unable or unwilling to discipline senior ministers. It will be interesting to know how involved Mr Gummer is in the whole shenanigans.

The losers in this whole event? The children in Birmingham as they have been let down by this Tory Government the only real issue is by which Tory Ministers door the blame lies.

Expect this post to lead to a local blogger/Tory/Gummer apologist to state (without knowing) that Gummer is not implicated as he was away on his honeymoon. Now as most of the briefings from Gove and May have taken place the day before the Queens Speech, I hope Mr Gummer was back at work – he deserves a honeymoon but he does have a long break in the Summer to fit that in.

Sunday 1 June 2014

My week ahead, 2 - 8 June 2014

Monday – 2 June, 3pm – WW1 Working group,
4pm - Culture Portfolio meeting
6pm Labour group meeting

Wednesday – 4 June, 6pm, Full Council

Saturday 7 June – 10am, Labour campaigning

A last weekend of rest – no campaigning, no football, no World Cup so a chance to relax (but still find time to watch plenty of sport on TV - football, tennis, rugby and boxing!)

But that will be the last free weekend- most of the next 50 weekends will be taken up with the campaign to see a Labour MP elected for Ipswich and a Labour Government back in power in Westminster.

Most of our involvement in the campaign will take place on the doorsteps in Ipswich, talking to residents is the most enjoyable and rewarding part of any campaign but the election will also be decided in Ipswich on how we (Ipswich Labour) act as the controlling group on Ipswich Borough Council.

Nationally much of the election will be fought in front of us all on TV, in the newspapers and this time more than ever via social media. We all can make mistakes via social media and I will put my hand up and admit i have made a few errors but ignoring social media is not the answer. Not just for campaigning purposes, it is important that all political groups have a web presence so that voters can research your policies and also are able to contact you if they have a question or an issue that needs your help. The local Tories and even our MP Ben Gummer have been slightly lacking in the quality of their websites but not as bad as the Lib Dems whose poor effort of a website can only tell you about what is happening in Colchester!

The new Ipswich Tory leader, Nadia Cenci is a big fan of social media so I am sure we will see the local Tories using twitter and facebook more not that her first weekend as Group Leader saw a great start on twitter with the Ipswich Tory twitter account tweeting about UKIP activists in Newark rather than Tory activity- after a couple of hours the tweet was removed but it does highlight how easy a mistake can be made, Another Ipswich Tory activist is using a bar chart as their profile picture, the reason why? To highlight that UKIP did not win the election when it comes to council seats won. But the bar chart also indicates how well Labour did – 1857 seats won and how badly his own Tory Party did – 1254 seats , so expect more use of social media as we head towards May 2015, but also expect many mistakes!.

Ipswich Spy has a new web design and also the content has changed from mainly Ipswich political gossip to a more general Suffolk news site – not a fan of the new site. Fortunately the ‘Saturday Diary’ column is retained. This week they mention that the new Ipswich Mayor also has a number of County Committees to sit on and Spy seems to wonder if taht is a sensible move. Maybe a valid question but I did not read of the same concerns on Spy when Graham Newman the Tory Portfolio Holder for transport was announced as the new Felixstowe Mayor, you would have thought trying to sort out the mess of ‘Travel Ipswich’ – new toilets at the Old Cattle Market, real time bus times and Queens Street plans would you think have given Mr Newman enough work without having to dash back to the coast to cut a ribbon or slice a cake?