Sunday, 29 October 2017

No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain

Yesterday was a day of sport in London, football ( no hipsters) first and then cycling at the Olympic velodrome but with brunch planned on a barge in Lambeth, I had a look to see if there was anything worth visiting for a couple of hours in the morning - and I found something and it was a real eye opener, very thought provoking. I had stumbled across the UK Migration Museum.

First the location, the museum was based in the old workshops building for the London Fire Brigade, a building that may not be there much longer, as the Fire Brigade seeks to sell the large site as part of an urban redevelopment project.

On the main workshop floor were hundreds of kids, making large items from cardboard - TVs to houses to giant robots but our destination was upstairs, it is here that the Migration Museum has found a temporary home. The museum had on display their latest exhibition - "No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain".

The exhibition was fascinating, taking 7 moments in the history of migration in Britain and then displaying them, but deliberately not placing them in chronological order.

The relevance of the exhibition should not be lost on anyone as we get closer to Brexit. The exhibition is not all about those who have chosen to or were forced to come here, it also looks at when we have forced people to leave these shores and also how those who have emigrated felt when they were forced to return to the UK. From our treatment of the Jews in the 12th Century, to those returning from India in the 40;s to 'Rock against Racism' in 1978.

The terms migrant, immigrant, ex-pat to refugee - all are terms that are frequently used, but often just to score a political point rather than factually describe the person involved.

There are not many of us in this country who do not have a direct link with migration, I only recently discovered that my father's family on his mother's side had done a midnight flit from Germany in the late 19th Century. Often it is those who have arrived in this country quite recently who are the keenest on immigration control. Many voters with an Asian heritage, voted to leave the EU in the recent referendum.

Migration, should be a subject that is covered in depth during PSHE in our schools but it is all of us who need to learn the true story of migration and our own families part in it. I would love to see this exhibition tour, you will leave it moved but I also left very hopeful for our country.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Tories betraying our Armed Forces, but are Labour leaders letting them off the hook?

Push out bad news when another crisis is hogging the limelight. The MOD must have read that memo and have gone to town on leaking possible defence cuts whilst the papers are concentrating on the internal war happening within the Tory Party.

Michael Fallon, who is pushing to be remembered as the worst defence minister ever, just seems to smile and try and convince us all is well in the Ministry of Defence, troop morale is high and we can continue to support our allies and contribute to NATO.

Even the beleaguered  Mrs May got into the act, visiting my old regiment in Estonia - she probably felt more safe there than she did at Manchester with Boris and other Cabinet members stood behind her back.

This week alone we have been told that the Army Air Corps may be slashed in half- big concern here in Ipswich as many Air Corps soldiers and civilians working at Wattisham air base live in our town. This news was then followed up with a report that senior Navy Officers were willing to see the Marines lose their beach landing capability in a vain hope that would see them retaining a few more warships.

Then over the weekend we were told that the plan is now to lose a complete armoured brigade. It is as if the current stand off between Russia and the Baltic states is not even happening, that Syria is at peace and that Boris is right and that Libya is now the new 'Dubai' of the Mediterranean. What a load of rubbish, the world is more unstable now than it has been for a long time. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan  certain North, West and East African states are countries that are facing armed insurgencies and all have British troops deployed to them if even if most are just in training and advisory roles.

That is without even mentioning North Korea or the Ukraine!

The stand off between NATO and Russia is like a rerun of the 80's Cold War, but instead of facing Russia from our bases in west Germany we now have over 1,000  troops deployed to Estonia. Then add in to the melting pot the need to still deploy troops in Northern Ireland and at times to help the police in the rest of the UK - are clear indicators why we should not be thinking of cutting spending on our Armed Forces but actually increasing spending. That is not even including what we expect our armed forces to do if we have floods or natural disasters in UK or further afield (troops still currently working in the Virgin Islands.

A mini defence review was undertaken in 2015, Fallon states it was because of changing threats to the UK, but that does not tell the whole story - it reality it is try and sort the potential funding gap of over £30 million over the next ten years. Cutting a boat here, a plane there, scrapping a whole regiment - will not solve this - we need to make a major cut - the whole RAF? Or we demand more money from the treasury.

I am not a war monger, but the world is an unstable state, others look to us to lead - we have experienced troops, give them the correct tools to undertake these important tasks.

Mrs May and the Tory Party will continue to pretend they are the party that is is more trustworthy when it comes to defence and looking after our armed forces but as in the past it is is just a blatant lie.

So are Labour the party to take the bull by the horns and have an open defence review and listen to the experts and then allow our Generals, Air Marshall's and Admirals to get on with the the job they are trained to do? I have to be honest and say, I am not sure.

The Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Grffith is highlighting the Tory cuts, but this is a shadow minister that was not even allowed to speak at our conference, that should not be a concern if Corbyn, Thornberry or McDonnell were highlighting our concerns, but presently I hear nothing. Checking the tweets of our leader from the last week, I can find no mention of defence or the proposed Tory cuts, but he could find time to tweet for people to join Labour in Scotland for a low fee to vote in their leadership election, priorities?

I discussed this with a Labour member who has always backed Corbyn yesterday, he commented on the view that as Corbyn is a well known CND supporter, peace activist he would be better staying silent and leaving it to to Nia. I understand that thinking, but to me it seems Jeremy is trying to please his supporters within the party rather than reach out to the general public. I know it will be hard for him, he does not agree with his own party policy on trident but this a test of real leadership - speak on issues that you may not want to but it seems defence is like the current situation in Venezuela - off the Corbyn agenda.

So it is left to Nia and Labour MPs like Luke Pollard to take the fight to the Tories but they struggle to get the press they deserve. So it has been left to certain journalists like Deborah Haynes to highlight the Tory cuts. Some journalists are critical of our current Generals for staying silent, but serving soldiers should not go public but I hope within the Defence HQ, they are telling Fallon in no uncertain terms that these cuts are unsustainable. Knowing the current Chief of the General Staff quite well (and for a long time) I am sure he is fighting hard but he may be playing a long game. Former Generals and Admirals can and should go public with their fears.

In conclusion, the Tories are letting the country down, our armed forces down but they will continue to get away with it till Jeremy takes them on over defence rather than keeping silent in the hope he will not upset his own supporters, mostly from the left, within the party.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Conference season - as good as it looks?

We are about to start the Tory Party Conference and could it be better for our party? Labour on the up, a buoyant conference, membership rising and the Tories in disarray.

More examples of this today with Marr giving Theresa May a grilling, on many issues- tuition fees, universal credit, Brexit and the bungling Boris Johnson. A documentary later tonight on Boris and his quest to get to number 10 will also be a further distraction for the Tory Party.

They are a party hanging onto power, with the majority of their activists continuing to support Brexit, Universal credit and low taxes whilst a number of their MPs now seem more concerned about their constituents, the country (or maybe just holding onto their seats!)

It seems the next General Election is ours to lose - but is it that simple?

The answer I am afraid is no, like the Tories, we also have an issue with Brexit, most of our MPs, our councilors and members are unhappy with the direction of Brexit but it seems we do not have a clear path we wish to take - it is understandable as many Labour voters in particular outside London and the South East voted to leave the EU, but the bigger issue is that for many of us it seem that Corbyn and others are actually happy with us leaving - so much for being the voice of your constituents or members!

How the Brexit debate (or non-debate) was handled at conference is why many of us within the party are still concerned in the direction of the party. there is no doubt Corbyn is now showing more leadership than previously, the PLP is now acting in a more united way and our membership is still increasing and we are now seeing policies being formulated that we can all get behind. However you do not have to dig deep to find problems and issues that should concern all of us.

Brexit should have been debated at conference but in a way that so called 'new' Labour would have been proud of, it was blocked from being a key debate in Brighton - and that decision seems to have come from those close to the leader and Jon Lansman and Momentum were the key players in making sure it was not debated.

Disappointing that many of our newer members, who in the main will be pro staying in Europe were willing to block debate on this most important issue just to ensure that Jeremy did not have to face any difficult questions on his and the party stance on Europe. Corbyn then joined the vast majority of  Labour delegates in voting for a rule change that would make it clearer that we as a party would not allow antisemitism to be tolerated in our party, but then by the end of the conference we have Len McCluskie and Ken Loach insisting that there is no antisemitism in the party - if they are right, why did Jeremy get Shami Chakrabarti to write a report on something that does not exist. Jeremy himself could have helped by mentioning the problem we have with antisemitism and the abuse Laura Kuenssberg receives alongside the comments he made about the unacceptable level of abuse of Diane Abbott receives but for whatever reason he never used the opportunity in his speech to do so - a missed opportunity.

To me all the good policies and discussions that came out of Brighton were overshadowed by the way some of the left wanted to manipulate the proceedings to make the week a rally to show the popularity of Corbyn. It was unbelievable that at first none of our elected metro Mayors were going to get an opportunity to speak, they were not the only ones who were going to miss out as many shadow cabinet members would also not be able to speak. This was dressed up as this would be a conference where more time would be given for members to speak but then they found time for Dennis Skinner MP to speak, an MP who only weeks earlier had ignored Corbyn and the whips and voted WITH the Tories over Brexit.

As a former soldier and with the current situation in North Korea plus the deployment of British troops to Estonia, I for one would have liked to heard from the shadow defence secretary - bit it seemed that only those close to Jeremy would get a speaking part.

A number of very vocal  Corbyn supporters (like those of Trump) are quick to attack the mainstream media, shout "fake news" but what Brighton did show that in some cases it can be the left wing press, the likes of the 'Canary' that are shown to be spreading fake news. Jeremy has an opportunity to show real leadership by not just staying silent but openly criticise those who spread such false stories.

One of the biggest Corbyn supporters in the media is Aaron Bastani, who tweeted this weekend this unhelpful comment - "See lots of complaints about poor Labour councillors/councils, and how they aren't in line with Corbyn. I agree, so join party and change it"

This comment was quickly condemned by some Labour MPs, but we need Jeremy, Diane, John and Emily to act quickly, condemn this comment and distance themselves and the party from such views.

It is not all gloom and doom, the party is in a far better position that it was year ago, I may be annoyed that we avoided a Brexit debate but at least for a while our commitment to Trident and NATO is off the agenda. We have some star performers on the front bench but we are also carrying those not up to the job and we need to find a way of getting the likes of Cooper, Coaker, Jarvis and Greenwood back on the front bench taking the fight to the Tories.

We also have a party with a very large membership, many if not most have joined because of Jeremy, we now need to get them to take the next step in becoming activists, community champions and then elected representatives - I do not fear our new membership, my concern is those who are returning to the party from (in most cases) self inflicted exile, they seem to just want to push the party further to the left, to take control of each CLP and then force on us an almost Stalin style way of doing things.

I am sure that is not what most new members joined to see, this is not what ' The world transformed' was on about -some from the far left want to bully us out of the party, if that does not work then bore us - with endless motions and votes and if that does not work they will try and shame us for not being 100% behind 'our leader'. But in doing so, just as Militant did in the 80's they will push us further from power, they will just help save the Tory Party and in doing so condemning the people who need us most even more time to be spent under a Tory Government.

That action would be criminal and that is why I and many will stay in this great party, it is not about us or them it is about helping a party whose main purpose is (and should remain as so) to put a Labour Government in power - in that way we can the many and not just the few.