A New Year and dispelling the rumour mill….

Throughout 2016 although I have continued to support and fight for the Labour Party and am happy in the direction that the Party has moved, locally I have continued to be on the outside… I’m under no illusion that this position cannot be allowed to continue.
For me, at the moment, I want to dispel the main rumour that is being touted around the political arena in Stoke-on-Trent. I’m convinced that some of the rumour – mongering is being raised to continue the ill feelings and division between the local Labour group and myself, others are repeating ill informed tittle-tattle.
There are members of the Labour Group that are saying that a number of them want me back in the group, but there are reservations… those reservations seem to be based on the main rumour that’s ‘out there’…. so what is this rumour, and what is my response?
The rumour that appears to be having the most negative impact on my involvement in local politics is that I intend to challenge for the MPs position at the next General Election, an interesting concept…. 
Let’s look at this a little more closely. At the last election, we knew that the incredibly popular Joan Walley was stepping down and that there would be a contest for the position to replace her. At that point, I very clearly stated that I was not interested in putting myself forward for the long listing. Has anything changed? 
I can categorically state that nothing has changed, I’m not interested in putting myself forward for the position of a PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) and cannot see anything changing that. Maybe someone has misinterpreted my thinking when I’ve said that I believe we should have an open slate at selections, but that’s more about allowing grassroots members a choice in who they have representing them than any desire by myself to be a prospective MP. Huge difference.

What I’d say to those putting these tales around is, if you want to know what I am or aren’t thinking about doing… ask!

2016….. where to begin?

From a purely private and personal point, 2016 has been a hellish year, fraught with family issues that have impacted on all of us but have also shown how incredibly strong my family are, I continue to be awestruck at my wonderful children and their ability to focus and move forward. They are my inspiration and I will forever cherish their strength and integrity. As my children grow, I see them spreading their wings and preparing to fly… I’m very, very proud of them.

Throughout the year, I’ve been honoured to continue working alongside Chris Robinson, the councillor for Longton and Broadway East. Together we have continued to support the homeless and have worked together on a number of initiatives. Helping to create a free orchard at the Crescent Children’s Centre is one and we have been very lucky to work alongside the Parents Forum who are working really hard to create an end to end programme with the orchard- getting children involved in the whole process that starts with preparation of the land, planting, cultivating, picking and preparing and cooking… the Forum are a highly motivated team who we are proud to assist.

From a political point locally, I’ve been blessed with amazing support from a great team of socialists and unionist, including Chris Robinson, Chris Spence, Steve Jones, Tony Walley, Max Penkethman, Joe McClusky, Chris Wilson, Andrew Buttress, on a wider scale l’d like to thank those new friends and comrades who have had a massive impact on my thinking and working…. solidarity always. We’ve continued to work under the Red Labour banner, unapologetic in its left leaning belief and hugely supportive of Jeremy Corbyn. Last year we held the most democratic election within the Party. The result was overwhelming. In some ways, I could almost understand some of the MPs reactions…. They were now in a Party that was being led in a direction that was alien to the Party that they had been elected to under Miliband.

Rumblings and rumours started immediately and we were all aware that there were moves to undermine JC. At the precise time we had the ideal opportunity to attack the Tories, the attack turned on JC. It was a concerted effort, timed for maximum impact and damage. What the PLP didn’t expect was for the sterling jobs that the likes of Angela Rayner, Clive Lewis and Cat Smith did – they dug deep and held their own. Well done to them.

As expected, we were once again thrown into a Leadership campaign. One of the differences this year was the agreement to hold a rally in Stoke headed by Jeremy Corbyn, this was sheer determination from a group of us, with Chris Spence, Andy Buttress and myself being the main (but not only) driving force. We were thrilled to have confirmation late on a Friday evening of a bank holiday weekend! The event was to take place on the following Thursday afternoon (no pressure!).

The event went incredibly well, the sun shone, the crowds turned out (an estimated 2,000) and Stoke was blessed to hear a variety of articulate speakers from a variety of backgrounds, including my 17 year old daughter making her maiden public speech, other local speakers included Max Penkethman (CWU), Clare White (WEA) and James Fox-Hewitt (FBU) who were ably supported by Roger McKenzie of Unison. The reception that was given was truly moving, with all speakers being well received and JC given a rapturous welcome and thank you. Certainly a red letter day for politicos in Stoke-on-Trent.
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Throughout the campaign this year, we saw some terrible behaviour, from both sides, and we saw some underhand tactics. These are inexcusable and in my opinion still need to be investigated and dealt with. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the governance within the Party, discipline needs to be addressed as does the way that membership has been suspended/refused/denied. The whole sorry ‘purge’ needs to be addressed and explained as a matter of urgency. The ‘power of the few over the many’ much of which is led by regional offices needs to be addressed and the power they have held needs to be put back to the grassroots members. The sovereignty of the Party needs to have control of choosing who it elects to stand as its officers, Councillors and MPs. At that point we will have true democracy.

As a family, Labour will continue to build and grow, we will train people to go forward and spread the word, to develop and bring the message that JC extols ‘let no one and no community be left behind’. The youth are the future of our Party, we’ve engaged them and need to continue that. We should be proud of the achievement in re-electing JC , once again we reached out and our Party responded, it’s given the direction it wants to take…. I also think we have listened to our members and are starting to defend the things many outside the party also hold dear, such as education and our beloved NHS. On this point, I’d point out that as a left winger, I have great faith in the ‘broad church’ of our Party, and am immensely proud of the friendship and support I get from Tony Walley (who is most definitely not a Corbynista!), you won’t get a more moderate socialist, and we may well differ on the political spectrum, but we always walk away as mates, not because we have to…… because we can. Tony is one of those people who believe that the choice made by the membership should be upheld, and will support Labour ‘for the greater good’ – proof that all factions of the Party can work together!

The Leadership election opened up opportunities for me to discuss my belief in the Corbyn ethos on both local and national media outlets, and I was pleased to be asked to do an interview regarding the Autumn Statement and the impact on Stoke to a Japanese newspaper with an audience of 7.2 million…

Following on from this we had the Brexit referendum and the fallout of that has been huge, including a rise in hate crimes which are totally unacceptable, when and who will initiate Article 50? We also had the farce that was the ‘election’ of the new PM, considering Labour held the most democratic elections in their Leadership challenge the Conservative membership must have felt well and truly miffed at having no choice whatsoever!!

Locally, we’ve campaigned on education, the NHS, the People’s Post and Chris Robinson and I put out leaflets from Hope not Hate with regards to Jo Cox and the #moreincommon initiative, especially important as we have seen some activity in Stoke-on-Trent from Albion First, a far right group hoping to create a divisive City.
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There has been and continues to be a veritable glut of elections within our unions, and (as usual) I’ve pinned my flag to who I think best to head Unite, I seriously hope that Len McClusky is re-elected as the General Secretary and continues to build our union. As a GS, he reflects the ethos that we the labour grassroots members chose to take, a reflection of JC, someone proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with its members…

From a local point, we are now seeing the second budget put forward by the City Independent/ Tory coalition. Last year saw a massive raid on our reserves so as not to make unpopular decisions on cuts. This year…. not so easy. Areas that absolutely work well in helping our young and our most vulnerable families are being decimated.. Cuts to our Children’s Centres are unbelievable and will render the centres unviable within a short time, Chris Robinson and I spent a really productive afternoon with some of the parents and careers from Crescent Children’s Centre and also some from Blurton and Bentilee. We agreed on a petition going out and that one petition across the City would be far more productive than a number of smaller ones, unfortunately time is our greatest enemy, but we will let the coalition know that we will not allow some cuts without a fight. I’d also like to thank the wonderful Nicki Howarth for all her time and effort at getting the e-petition to help save our Children’s Centres up and running on Stoke Councils website – what a star ⭐️

When Labour led the council we put forward the idea of ‘Cooperative Working’, it was our flagship initiative into helping troubled families access services at the earliest possible moment, one of the effects would be long-term savings… sadly the coalition are looking at short-term savings and not the real effect that decimating this service will have. They accept that it’s been successful, but keep throwing the line out that ‘partners need to do their part…’ Can they not see that ‘partners’ have also had funding cuts?

In the run up to Christmas, I put out a call for help in providing sanitary products for ladies using the local FoodBanks and the homeless, the response was tremendous, and I’d like to offer special thanks to Linda Allbutt, Emma Johnson and Linda Mummy Ackley. I supported the @ABagForKatie initiative with this.

As Christmas fast approached I had a lovely message from Kay D Keen, once again offering a massive amount of Christmas presents from the wonderful Tracy Slack, words can’t express my gratitude… I feel truly blessed to have so many wonderfully generous people around who help in making life a little bit better for so many.

I suppose, in a nutshell, I’ve been really productive in Labour nationally but continue to be somewhat in the wilderness locally… maybe it’s time to tackle that thorny issue, let’s see!

Little left to say, other than a huge thanks to those wonderful people who have continued to be supportive of me in both my personal and political life. One saying I’ve taken to heart goes like this….

It’s funny how someone who was just a stranger last year,

                                                                     can mean so much to you now.

It’s terrible that someone who meant so much to you last year,

                                                                    can be just a stranger now.

It’s amazing what a year can do.

I think as we grow, we realise that we can let go and live… we don’t have a rehearsal to life, let’s make the best of it we can.

The implications of the budget cuts and our Children’s Centres and Cooperative Working.

There’s a real need for people to see the way the coalition are trying to decimate the services within our Children’s Centres. This saving is going to affect most of the children and families that have contact with our Children’s Centres. 

In many ways, the budget lines are confusing by linking the children’s centre posts to those of cooperative working, but be under no illusion, staff that we have been accustomed to seeing in our children’s centres are being threatened with their posts being deleted. Some of the posts below are from the cooperative working division, but are linked.
Cooperative Working was meant to be a flagship for our council, bringing partners and teams within the council together to assist families with multiple issues before they hit crisis point and therefore reducing the overall costs to our social care department, this team is likewise taking a massive reduction in staff.

Let’s not forget these ‘deleted posts’ are people’s livelihood, jobs that are keeping homes running, feeding families and helping the local economies.

Proposals in tiers 3 and 4:- there are currently 11 posts, these are being rebranded and 5 posts will be created.           Proposals in tier 5:- 14 posts are being deleted and 3 posts will be created

11 Senior Play and Learn Practitioners post will be deleted, 1 Senior Play and Learn Practitioner post will remain. 
33.69 Play and Learn Practitioners posts will be deleted 9 Play and Learn Practitioners will remain                                                 9 Community and Economic Development Officer posts will be deleted

4.62 Youth Development Worker posts will be deleted 5 posts will remain
0.5 Youth Support Assistant post will be deleted.                                                                                                                                Sessional Youth Workers will transfer to Homes and Communities 

Integrated Family Intervention Services will have 14 posts deleted with 10 remaining and being re-designated and relocated to Homes and Communities. 
3 Educational Welfare posts and an Educational Welfare Administrator post will be deleted and the remaining 9 Educational Welfare Officer roles will be relocated to Learning Services.
1 ASB officer post will be deleted and the remaining 5 ASB posts will again be relocated to Learning Services.

The questions we need answered are:-
1. What services will remain in our centres, when so many positions are under threat

2. If as the budget book states they are looking at saving £1 million per year for the next 3 years, how long will it be before one of the Children’s Centre is closed permanently?

3. We need to understand the clawback on all Children’s Centre’s under threat of being ‘relocated’. Relocation will mean buildings possibly being empty with associated costs.

4. What ‘alternative’ roles/positions are going to be on offer to the employees under threat of losing their jobs? 

5. Are these roles going to be the care provider roles that it’s taken 12 months to fill just 22 vacancies? 

We Are All Daniel Blake

Many will think it a strange film to watch, as I celebrate my birthday. The truth is.. it’s an incredibly difficult film to watch, and reminds me in a way of a scab you keep picking at – it’s painful, but you can’t leave it alone.

The film explores the plight of Daniel, a carpenter, an average guy, with an average background, nothing spectacular, nothing unusual, so why would the acclaimed director Ken Loach spend time on this? Loach has never shied away from difficult subject matter, challenging the media portrayal of sensitive subjects such as abortion, homelessness and troubled upbringing (Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home, Kes).

I, Daniel Blake tells us of Daniel, 57, a joiner who has suffered a major heart attack. We see Daniel with his consultant who advises him that he is not fit to return to work as his heart still needs time to recover and she explains her concerns about Daniel not recovering but developing arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm). During his assessment for ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) although Daniel scores point, he doesn’t score sufficient to qualify for ESA. This is one of the important points of the film, as this means that Daniel is deemed ‘fit for work’.

Daniel is interviewed by a healthcare professional for his WCA (Work Capability Assessment), one who he assumes will have contacted his doctor and consultant for information regarding his condition, but that doesn’t happen. Daniel should have had criteria applied due to the risk his condition posed, it’s not applied and we hear (a constant thread) of the continually unseen ‘decision maker‘. Due to this, Daniel is forced to apply for JSA (Job Seekers Allowance), a benefit for people who are ready and able to work; during this time he is also attempting to appeal the decision regarding his ESA.

We see the frustration of a 59 year old man with no IT knowledge being tied up with the bureaucracy of the benefit system that forces everyone to use computers and the internet, whilst trying to sort out his own issues we see Daniels chance meeting with Katie, a single mum of two who has escaped a homeless hostel and travelled 300 miles to get out of the hostel into their own home. Katie is sanctioned for being late to her appointment even though she explains why she has been late. The invisible ‘decision maker’ once again impacts on lives with devastating effect. Katie is unable to feed the family and heat her new home. We see Daniel, Katie and her children come together to try and overcome the adversity of their individual situations. We see the hopelessness of both their situations, the desperate depths that they are forced into, Daniel selling his belongings and Katie selling herself. Both desperate, both drowning in red tape, unable to get basic responses to simple queries….

The need for FoodBanks, its normalisation, the desperate need for Katie when she needs sanitary towels and has to resort to shop lifting, her attempt to glue her daughter Daisy’s shoes because she can’t afford to replace them… The film is dark, gritty, painful but above all it’s an honest reflection of the DWP (Department for Works and Pensions) and the Job Centre’s normality of demonising people at what for many will be their lowest ebb. 

The raw brutality of what was happening to both Daniel and Katie made them unusual friends, but as Daniel is given a glimmer of hope with his appeal date, we see Katie supporting him, as a true friend would.

It’s a brutal reflection of the demonisation by the media, those who have supported the Conservatives crowing of people’s need for a benefit system, one that has made it acceptable to call people scroungers, skivvers and ‘underclass’ because they may need a support system. 

I won’t spoil the film for people, but I found it uplifting that although at the end of the film everyone in the theatre was sobbing, everyone applauded as the credits ran. For me that proved that there are many people who still don’t buy into the ‘scroungers’ thinking of people who may need the benefit system, these people need to start making a noise about the changes not only in the system, but in the way in which applicants are demoralised and made to feel. 

I’d like to offer my thanks and deep respect to Ken Loach, for once again addressing an issue in an open, honest and approachable fashion. I came away, sobbing, angry but also taking away the glimmers of hope that are shown in the friendships that grow from need and despair.

If nothing else, please take the time to watch this film, more importantly ask that all those Conservative MP’s and Councillors take the time to watch it. Let them explain how they can think the system is acceptable, human, fair… 

#WeAreAllDanielBlake 

The Importance of Education

My daughters thoughts and speech from the Jeremy Corbyn rally in Stoke-on-Trent

Have you met Kiwi?

A short matter of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to be a speaker at a rally in support of Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the anxiety and stage fright that I knew I would endure, I decided to persevere and (successfully!) delivered the speech in front of… just a few people. No biggie. (For those who cannot detect sarcasm, that was it.) My speech prominently focused on education, university and why I think that Jeremy Corbyn is the leader that the Labour Party not only needs, but deserves.

To get swiftly to the point, I decided to publish my speech to the internet for those who are interested, or happen to stumble across it and find themselves interested in what I have to say.

“John McDonnell once said that “education is a gift from one generation to another and is not a commodity to be bought and sold. It is a…

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The fight for Chinky Park continues  – Councillor Margaret Astle

Last night I attended a Full Council meeting which took place at Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council in the chambers at the Civic Offices.This was an important meeting for all democratically elected councillors.

Indeed, the meeting was so important that the public gallery was full to capacity with members of the public, who had braved the cold winter weather to listen to the debate. It’s not very often that the public gallery is full to capacity with members of the public.  

Why was last night’s meeting so important and why was there such a huge attendance by members of the public?

Quite simply, the Tory, Lib Dem, UKIP and some Independent councillors wished to force through land sales in area’s that are predominantly represented by Labour councillors.

I am deeply disappointed that political shenanigans took precedent over the wishes of the vast majority of residents who simply wishes to retain their green open spaces and children’s recreation area’s.

I currently represent the division of Newchapel, Kidsgrove and Ravenscliffe on Staffordshire county council and I represent the ward of Kidsgrove on Newcastle borough council.

Last night I personally delivered a petition to the full council.

A petition that has been signed by 843 residents who reside in the Kidsgrove, Newchapel and Ravenscliffe area’s.  

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-kidsgrove-s-chinky-park

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I reiterated the wording of the petition and I also made an impassioned speech in the chambers as to the numerous reason’s as to why Chinky Park was vitally important to all the residents, children and teenagers. My Labour colleagues also provided factual information as to why we were against the sell-off of open green spaces and recreation area’s.  

Indeed the debate was quite passionate at times.

However, I must admit that I was not prepared for the catalogue of untruths that emitted from some of the Tory, Lib Dem and former UKIP councillors.  

I have been a Labour councillor for 20 years and I can honestly say that last night’s meeting was a complete and utter shambles. The diatribe that emitted from the Tory, Lib Dem and former UKIP councillors was truly disgraceful.  

Excuse, after excuse as to why they had voted to sell-off open green space and Chinky Park was in abundance. It was quite clear to my colleagues and I, and the members of the public that ‘some’ of these councillors were unfit to be voted in as councillors.

Councillor Marion Reddish who is a Lib Dem stated that Chinky Park, Kidsgrove was the number one site on her list to dispose of.

Really?

Councillor Marion Reddish represents the ward of Thistleberry . . .

You couldn’t make this up, could you?

It is my intention to provide Ruth’s excellent blog with a list of all the names of the councillors who voted to sell-off your open green spaces and recreation area’s.

In the meantime, the campaign to Save Chinky Park from the Tory/Lib Dem/UKIP sell-off continues and the petition is still open.

Can you please take one moment of your time and sign the petition?

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-kidsgrove-s-chinky-park

 

 

 

Councillor Margaret Astle:- Save Newchapel Recreation Ground from the Tory/LibDem Sell-Off

Newchapel recreation ground is a well-used area situated in Newchapel Road and on the corner of Pennyfields Road in the Kidsgrove and Newchapel wards.

The Newchapel outdoor recreation area has always been well-used by teenagers, younger children, dog lovers who enjoy walking their dogs in a safe environment and of course, the elderly residents, who are keen to take a daily, brisk walk to improve their health and wellbeing.

  
Indeed, one of Kidsgrove’s most responsible teenagers, Tyler Cooper-Moore and his friends have been working in the background to improve Newchapel recreation ground, not only for himself but for the entire Kidsgrove and Newchapel community.

So, how has Tyler Cooper-Moore and his friends with the help of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, helped to improve our beloved park?

Tyler Cooper-Moore and his friends contacted myself as their Councillor who represents the area. Tyler Cooper-Moore explained that he and his friends were active users of the Newchapel Recreation Ground and they wanted to improve the facilities within the park.

I held numerous conversations with the teenagers and they asked me if I could obtain some soil, so that Tyler and his friends could embark on a project of building an exciting BNX track on outdoor area, next to the football ground on Chinky Park. Chinky Park is the affectionate and local term for Newchapel Recreation Ground. Why it’s called Chinky Park is known only to the locals who live in the area.

I then contacted Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council and I reiterated Tyler’s and his friends quest to improve the area. I was delighted when Newcastle Borough Council informed me that they were aware that that the park was well-used and they were keen to assist Tyler and myself for the benefit of all, whom live in the Kidsgrove and Newchapel area.

Newcastle Borough Council delivered ten tonnes of soil to Newchapel Recreation Ground. I watched the tractors and ground staff deliver the soil in the pouring rain. I personally thanked all the staff for the work that they had carried out.

 What happened next was astonishing.

The teenagers arrived home from school and they were excited to see a huge mound of soil, deposited on the edge of Newchapel Recreation Ground!

Tyler and his friends, immediately, set to work, gathering their shovels and wheelbarrow! Every afternoon when Tyler and his friends left their school [The University Academy of Kidsgrove, the former Maryhill High School], they worked like Trojan horses to move the soil into their wheelbarrows.  

The boys then manually transported the wheelbarrows to the park, off-loaded the soil and began to construct one of Kidsgrove’s most outstanding BMX tracks. The boys toiled every day to build their BMX track. They worked assiduously, regardless of the pouring rain, the wind and even a slight thunderstorm, did not dampen their spirits.

I am very, very proud of the BMX facility that Tyler and his friends have built.  

 All too often, teenagers receive negative press coverage and I am proud to say that Tyler and his friends have proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that not all teenagers loiter on the streets and take part in anti-social behaviour.

Tyler’s hard work and achievement was even recognised by our local rag, The Sentinel and the University Academy of Kidsgrove. Indeed, I was pleased to be invited to attend an assembly at Tyler’s school and I was even more delighted that I was asked to congratulate Tyler Cooper-Moore on his outstanding contribution to the Kidsgrove and Newchapel community.

Tyler and his friends have kindly agreed to work with the school and myself in our quest to obtain solar lighting for the Newchapel Recreation Ground, so that the BMX facility could be used in the dark, winter evenings. This lighting would benefit the entire Kidsgrove community and not be a drain upon council resources, as I was willing to donate some of my Staffordshire County Council community funding to finance the solar lighting.  

The future for the Newchapel Recreation Ground was looking positive and we were all embarking upon a new and exciting project.

   

 You can then imagine, my dismay when I learned that Conservative Councillors, David Loades and Simon Tagg, voted to sell-off Newchapel Recreation Ground without consulting Tyler, his friends or indeed, residents of the Kidsgrove and Newchapel community. I was appalled to learn that Councillor Marion Reddish, a Lib Dem Councillor, who does not live in the Kidsgrove ward, supported David Loades and Simon Tagg to sell Chinky Park for the development of houses. I was even more appalled to learn that Counciilor Derick Huckfield, a former UKIP voted to sell Chinky Park. Oh,yes, and Councillor Derick Huckfield does not live in the Kidsgrove or Newchapel area’s.

 

Councillor David Loades and Simon Tagg are also Staffordshire County Councillors, as well as Derick Huckfield. It’s not a surprise to learn that Staffordshire County Council have closed much-needed youth clubs within the Staffordshire area.

If the quest to deprive Kidsgrove and Newchapel of any further facilities continues, then I suspect that we will become one of the most deprived areas within the Staffordshire conurbation.