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.
img_3728
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.
img_2179-2img_2180-1img_2518-1
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.

Look back in anger, despair, hope – my 2015

Well, those who know me won’t be surprised that I’m sitting here with my double sized ‘Tigger’ mug full of coffee while I muse over the year just ended…

 

Tigger

 
2015 was a year of expectations… We had an election to fight, both national and local. The City Independents released their manifesto and raised a number of questions from some of the Labour members, probably the most frequent being around the proposal for a Tram system – I gave a ‘finger in the air’ response to them based on the system taken forward in Edinburgh…

“Edinburgh’s tram – 14km (8.7miles) with 15 stations is showing as £521million (though delays will create extra interest costs which could push the final bill to over £1billion)

 Construction started in May 2008 and it opened May 2014 


Kidsgrove to Meir (short route) approx 11.5km (7miles
) expectation of 5 or 6 stations Kidsgrove to Meir (extended route) approx 19.5km (12miles) 8 stations (connecting all 6 towns plus Kidsgrove and Meir) 

Costs (v rough estimate) between £427 and £725 million.

Would very much depend on routes/ stations / timescales / negotiating costs etc”

The manifesto was interesting, but we still had a budget to approve… Budget meetings were well under way, difficult choices were being put forward, but then I took a phone call that put things into perspective for me….
My beautiful, darling sister had passed away… For 39 years she had raised smiles and spirits. I miss her constantly. I feel cheated. I struggle to deal with this loss.
The weeks that followed Erica’s death were dark and mind numbing and I’m not sure at what point I re-engaged with the election. When I did, I recall constantly being told that Labour would be returned to power in the local elections and that we were hoping for a win nationally… This can only be described as a double fail. 
Locally, we had some huge issues that as a Party, we just don’t seem to be mature enough to discuss and change. Nationally…. we saw Miliband step down as leader, he took responsibility for the failure of the Party to succeed and said that it was time for someone else to take up the mantle, to take our Party forward…

The Labour Leadership challenge started off relatively quietly, no great surprises in names coming forward until the left put forward their candidate, one Jeremy Corbyn…. My interest in the contest was ignited, Corbyn was the change we needed.
The contest grew in interest, and I have to say, along the way I have met and made some fabulous friends, true comrades, real socialists. People who care. Red Labour grew.
Locally I was having my own battle with the Labour group, which led to myself and Councillor Dutton being handed a 6 month suspension from said group…. Unfortunately, Alan felt that he could not remain a member of Labour and joined the City Independent group. A loss to the socialist movement, but maybe change can happen and bring him back at some point…. I remain ostracised by most of the group, but know who I can trust and work with.
The election of Corbyn showed the changes needed by Labour, and that’s not just about moving to the left of the party, it’s about the way in which the Party operates. The Labour Leadership contest was the most democratic election within the Party we have seen, and it was heartening to see that change embraced, I just wish we could replicate it locally.
On a local level, we have taken on a few battles and made a difference, even if it’s only been to raise awareness – the battle for Longton Cottage hospital, the need to retain a fruit and veg stall at the Royal Stoke hospital, the desperate need to open a building over the winter months for the homeless… We’ve seen the national fight for our Trade Unions, Tax Credits and the need to oppose the cruel cuts to welfare…
The run up to Christmas has been long and has shown the true caring, giving nature of the residents of out great City. We have had so many items donated both for those families and individuals who have needed a little extra help to those who need the hand of friendship offering…
We placed over 20 coats out across the City on the 20th December for the homeless to take and make use of… They were well received and an initiative that we will repeat soon, the offering of #BlessedBags is another idea that we will be taking forward again, offering bags with toiletries, socks, snacks, plasters… An offer to the homeless that can help them. 
All in all, 2015 was a tough year, but one that welcomed some huge changes politically. I’ve made some fabulous friendships and retained some that have been incredibly supportive, and I offer my heartfelt thanks for that hand of friendship. Below is a list of those people, not exhaustive, but people who have made a difference:

Tony Walley, Christopher Robinson, Steve Jones, Andrew Buttress, Clare White, Chris Spence, David Williams, Alan Dutton, Joe McClusky, Joe Cairns, Margaret Astle, Duncan Walker, Denise Keen, Brenda Proctor, Fred Hughes, Danny Flynn, Glenn Parkes.

                 A very special thank you to my long suffering family. They provide my rock. Love you all.

The humility of giving….

We have had a very busy few days, and we can’t begin to thank our many wonderful friends and comrades. I’ll apologise now for those I have missed off the mention list, but from the bottom of my heart – thank you. 

Big shout out for Unite Communities Stoke for their continued support in both Longton and Meir, making a big difference to the areas with the surgeries offered. Thank you Duncan Walker, Andy Buttress and Cllr Shaun Pender.

I have to make a special thanks to those, such as Tracey Slack, that I don’t know personally, but have donated and who have helped to make what for many, would have been a difficult time, into an event that will be happier, with gifts, food and company. Something that so many of us take for granted but can be harrowing for others. Very grateful to Denise Keen for all her help assistance and generosity. Geraldine Tatters thoughtfully donated some #BlessedBags which will make a big difference to some of our rough sleepers. #BlessedBags offer toiletries and thermal socks which are passed on to our homeless to help them.

The #DonateACoat that we carried out yesterday (20th Dec) was a huge success, and I’m still collecting coats which will be distributed over the next few days, especially at events planned on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. People have been so generous with both gifts and time and have given us the opportunity to make a difference to many who have so little. I’d like to make a special mention of Steve Jones, Chris Spence and Andrew Buttress.

   
  Chris Robinson and myself have been overwhelmed by the generous community spirit shown by so many which I think shows the real meaning of, not only Christmas, but of humanity and humility. I’d like to thank both Councillors Margaret Astle and Alan Dutton who took time out of their busy schedules to ensure that they passed on coats for our appeal. I’d also like to extend that gratitude to the Council Officers who have likewise taken the time to pass on coats and assisted with the collecting of them.  

Whilst we mostly think of spending time with our loved ones this festive break, let’s not forget those who may not have family, or have no contact with them. 

Offer the hand of friendship. If we have nothing to offer but time, we need to understand the importance of that, to offer someone time may be the most precious gift of all.

Looking for inspiration……

Two weeks ago, I travelled with some comrades down to Sparkhill in Birmingham to see Jeremy Corbyn at one of his rallies. It was the second rally of the day (he was in Coventry earlier) that he was addressing and followed a hectic week.

We arrived early (a good hour and half) to see some people had already arrived, and we helped with the setting up – making sure there was refreshments available, chairs were set out and that the ‘over-spill’ room was likewise set out. As the time passed, a growing feeling of anticipation grew, the room quickly filled, more chairs were brought in and as the appointed hour arrived there was no standing room left, let alone chairs. The over-spill room was likewise filled to capacity and was to share the event via a video link.

Arriving 15/20 minutes late, Jeremy was ushered into the large room as it erupted into cheers, whistles and a rousing standing ovation. The applause continued, rising as he slowly worked his way to the stage, shaking hands with observers as he passed.

Birmingham Rally - Corbyn Taking to the stage, Jeremy waited for the applause to lessen before he started speaking – he spoke of our loss at the election, the ‘deeply unpleasant’ Conservative Party agenda, which we all know will decimate public services, demonise the unemployed, the vulnerable, immigrants, yet provide tax cuts for the wealthy…. He spoke at length about the Labour manifesto in the run up to the 2015 election, but accepted that as a party Labour did not offer a real alternative to the austerity measures put forward by the Conservatives, we failed to oppose and challenge the rhetoric around our inability to be economically sound, we allowed the Conservatives to blame us for economic failure, which they said led to the banking crisis, when the reality was that the banking crisis led to the economic downturn.

Be under no illusion though, Jeremy did not focus solely on the negatives of the GE2015, he spoke eloquently of the many great initiatives that the Labour Government of 1997 had achieved, Sure Start, the introduction of the minimum wage, repealing section 28. He humbly stated that where we have been wrong, we should hold our hands up and accept that we were wrong, apologies do not make you weak…. Strength shone through his speech when he explained that rather than him being a return to the politics of the 1980’s, that was exactly what the Conservatives were doing – returning to the politics of Thatcher, attacking the poor, manufacturing, the welfare state and demonising the unions. He drew comparisons with the Labour Government of 1945 – the birth of the NHS, a massive house building programme all at a time of economic downturn – importantly he stated that we needed to stop blaming the victims – ‘there but for the grace of God‘ was the sentiment. He showed his disgust at the terminology used around immigration, and reiterated that when we have a shortage of housing, its because we haven’t built enough – NOT because of immigration. Building stronger communities can build prosperity for all.

Jeremy showed his sense of humour when he spoke of gaining the required amount of nominations to stand as a candidate for Labour Leader…’we had almost 2 minutes to spare‘ he quipped. Its sad really that whereas he had been asking for a debate on the direction of the Party post election we are now in the middle of a leadership election. What had he started his election campaign with? Not much. A diary and a list of places to visit. The campaign though grew, hustings, public meetings, interviews – in the first few weeks 6,000 volunteers came forward. Every meeting seems to grow bigger, Preston – the meeting had to be transferred to a car park, Camden, a huge conference centre had two over-spill rooms and still hundreds queued outside – so many that Jeremy gave another speech to those who could not get inside from the platform of a Fire Engine…

Jeremy spoke about his policies and how he would initiate the future under a Labour Government, a National Investment Bank – to invest in housing, rail, sustainable energy and high tech jobs. He spoke of the need to assist small and medium enterprises. The need for global movement towards combatting climate change. He spoke at length of the need for a major programme of council house building – this is a cyclical idea that by investing in house building, you provide jobs, a better environment for people to live in, better income, increased security, increased wellbeing…. increase in opportunities..

Education is high on his list of important areas to address, from free schools to academies – he has said that they will all be returned to Local Authority control and that all teachers should be fully qualified. One of his main aims is to increase Corporation Tax, (already low) by 0.5% and use it to offset University fees. When we see those taking degrees now, know that they may leave University with a degree, but saddled with debts of around £53.000. Is it any wonder that Jeremy has engaged with our youth?

Following on from his speech, he sat down for a Q&A session which had broad headers, although they tended not to follow the headers, each question, comment and statement made from the floor was answered and addressed. Jeremy answered questions on the press, ISIS and the Middle East, Counter-terrorism, Nationalism, Education, Party unity and Calais.

As a left of centre activist, Jeremy enthused, enthralled and engaged me. As the end of the meeting was called a standing ovation again rang out loud and proud. The audience were reluctant to leave, but slowly they started to filter out of what was by this time a pretty stifling room, Jeremy spoke to some of the organisers and activist Salma Yaqoob, who tweeted from the meeting “So impressed with @jeremycorbyn rally in Birmingham, restored some faith I’d lost in politics“. there remained a considerable group of people all wanting to have a photograph with Jeremy or to ask a last question – he took the time to answer everyone who waited and all photographs were taken (my own photograph was taken by his son who insisted that it would be taken however much of a rush to the train they were in!)

So without hesitation my first preference will go to Jeremy Corbyn, the only one of the candidates that opposed the Welfare Reform Bill, the only one who has not resorted to personally attacking the other candidates and the one candidate that appears to be upsetting some of the Labour Party elite… which is resulting in the likes of Blair, Brown, Mandelson coming out with the ‘anyone but Corbyn’ lines,whether they are veiled statements or not. Do these work, or are voters going to use reverse psychology on the lines? My 16 year old daughter stated that she thought (Cooper) was unprofessional and unprincipled by attacking another candidate in the Labour Leadership contest, she then questioned whether Cooper thought that by attacking Corbyn she would gain support from his supporters….. My daughter isn’t impressed with the behaviour we have seen in this contest by some of the candidates and their backers.

So this Sunday I went to see Yvette Cooper at the Civic Centre, we were advised to arrive for 2 for a 2.30 start. We arrived at around 2.05 and the car park was fairly busy (especially for a Sunday), but then I noticed that there was a wedding on in the Kings Hall…

Why was I attending a different candidates rally? the voting system being used allows each member to put their preferences in order from 1 (favourite candidate) to 4 (least favourite candidate). I thought that if either Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper could inspire me then I would at least make a second preference on my voting slip. Although we arrived almost half an hour early for the start of the rally, we could have taken seats on the third row….not what I was expecting, as we were in a group of 6.

Ruth Smeeth, MP for Stoke North and a Cooper supporter was chairing the meeting and possibly didn’t make any friends by saying that Yvette was going to be a little late as she as in the vicinity but was struggling with SatNav and the City Centre v Stoke issue. As we had all signed in to the event, we were given slips to put any questions we may have on, so some of us duly wrote out our questions and returned them to the desk – non of these were taken at the meeting.

Yvette duly arrived probably as late as Jeremy had, but there was not a throng of people clamouring for a sight of the candidate, no rousing standing ovation and no feeling of anticipation… She thanked people for coming out on a Sunday afternoon. I looked around the room I think I generously tweeted that there was 140/150 in attendance. Unofficial figures for the Jeremy event two weeks previously had been 1400/1500

Ruth gave a brief introduction and then passed over to Yvette who started with a speech about who she was, her background and why she was standing, what was important to her and the party. What did I learn? that her grandfather was a miner, father was a trade unionist, her first job was driving a tractor, she was born in Scotland. Yvette accepted that Labour had messed up on objecting to the Welfare Reform – for most Labour activists it didn’t seem difficult, we opposed the majority of it, so oppose it – abstaining just didn’t cut it – but an admittance that mistakes were made….doesn’t make it right, but its a start. Getting elected into Government was seen as a must, as being in opposition wasn’t going to get us any of the gains we needed to be making. This point was made with a connection to Jeremy – are we to believe that someone who has engaged massively in Scotland would not bring back some of those lost seats? Jeremy has filled building after building, with far more capacity and engagement than even Nicola Sturgeon has commanded… but Corbyn isn’t flavour of the month with the Labour Party elite….

After the speech, there was a Q&A session, Ruth took questions from the floor, many of which seemed to be from Stoke North. Questions varied, from banking and the economy, to is £3 what my vote is worth, party unity and the Scotland issue, the bedroom tax and university fees.

Yvette Cooper  Civic Centre

What did I get from this session – sadly not much, I didn’t feel inspired, I didn’t feel motivated, I felt almost like Yvette was ‘going through the motions‘ That may well be a response to the polls we are seeing that seem indicative of a Corbyn win (but we all know that the polls can get it disastrously wrong). Maybe the telling part is the bookies odds starting as a rank outsider of 100/1 Corbyn is currently 3/1 on… how often do they get it wrong?

Interestingly Yvette mentioned Jeremy by name four times throughout the afternoon, Andy and Liz didn’t get a mention. It seems that Jeremy is on everyones mind, in one way or another. I’m sure that some of those supporting Yvette will say that she was inspiring and they felt motivated by her speech – maybe she knew it was only my second preference that was on offer, and didn’t think it was worth fighting for…

What is different about Jeremy is the way he engages, his open, honest way of answering the question you ask. Every question put forward by the audience was answered by Jeremy, Yvette failed to answer the Scotland question asked by Andrew Buttress, yet surely its one of the most important questions, as without regaining at least 30 of the seats in Scotland a Labour Party led by any of our candidates is going to have one hell of a job trying to get control. One local reporter asked where the support for Corbyn was from our MPs – they have the same voting rights as I do. I agree, locally the four MPs have shown their support for any of the other three candidates. They have offered phone banking sessions to support those candidates. What have we done, as supporters of Jeremy? we have spoken with our union comrades and have been lucky to have their support. At our sessions, we all do what we can, we turn up with laptops, tablets (iPads), mobiles and enthusiasm – by the bucket load. We all make tea and coffee, we all support each other and we have a grand time. When we can’t make a session, you know what? We make calls from home, why? because we care.

Jeremy Corbyn, Chris Spence and mePhone bank StokePhone Banking Stoke

Tony Blair said that anyone who was thinking of voting for Corbyn should get a heart transplant… how sad is that? A socialist party saying don’t use your heart… I’m proud of being a socialist, I’m proud that I care – I don’t like inequality, and I absolutely believe that we should look after those who can’t look after themselves for what ever the reason – as Jeremy inferred at his meeting ‘there but for the grace of God go I

Phone Banking StokePhone Banking StokePhone Banking Stoke