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.

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.