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East and North Hertfordshire CCG tops the league table

.... for spending money on its administration

East and North Herts Clinical Commissioning Group paid more than any other CCG to GPs for their involvement last year, according to the HSJ. The 2013-4 accounts show that they spent £905k. Herts Valley CCG, with a similar population, spent £685k, The NHS is disappearing before your eyesbut were still fourth out of 211 CCGs.

At the bottom of the table was Hardwick CCG, spending only £25k, but on a population of around one-fifth of E&N Herts. Scaled up for our population, that would be just £124k.

Nationally, £58m was spent on GPs' salaries and fees, plus a further unspecified amount on compensating GP practices for their GPs' time. By contrast in the previous year, primary care trusts spent £39m on their professional executive committees and on their chairpersons and non-executive directors.

Not only do CCGs cost more, but they take more doctors away from looking after patients!

15 July 2014

Permission refused for Hatfield incinerator

Tory County Council in disarray

Following the public enquiry, the inspector wrote a damning report about the County Council's proposal to build an incinerator next door to a special school, close to houses and in the green belt, without even considering alternative sites. So damning that the Secretary of State had no choice but to refuse permission.

Welwyn-Hatfield councillor Kieran ThorpeThe Council had proposed to build the incinerator at Barnfield, after moving the central library from the site and temporarily moving the special school which was next door, to prepare the site for Veolia to build the plant. They had even signed the contract with Veolia. The prevailing wind would have blown emissions over parts of North East Hertfordshire.

Labour councillors have been at the forefront of opposition to the proposal, which would have entailed waste being imported into Hertfordshire by road to supply the incinerator. Welwyn Hatfield Borough Cllr Kieran Thorpe (pictured) was vice-chair of the cross party organization, Hatfield Against Incineration.

The good news is that permission to build it has been refused. The bad news is that the whole project has cost you a lot of money. Your money was spent on planning it. Your money will be spent on compensating Veolia. Your money was spent on moving the special school and now, presumably, moving it back. Your money was spent on legal representation at the public enquiry and the Council even agreed to pay some of Veolia's legal costs.

But spare a thought for the council tax payers of Welwyn Hatfield. Their Tory controlled council opposed the plan, so that they were not only paying for the County Council to promote it, but also for their local council to oppose it!

15 July 2014

European elections are important

Under the normal legislative procedure, MEPs and the Council of Ministers (ministers from every EU country) must both approve legislation. Although only around 7% of our primary legislation stems from the EU, these laws do affect you.

On the election page you can find out how the voting system works.

Strange UKIP and Tory policies in the EU

If you would rather not have the right of access to a lawyer if you are arrested abroad, vote UKIP. Our UKIP MEP voted against the measure to ensure this right.

If you would rather not have environmental assessments of fracking proposals, vote UKIP or Tory. Our UKIP and Tory MEPs voted against this measure.

If you would rather not ensure that breast implants are safe, vote UKIP or Tory.

If you would rather not accept EU money to improve road and rail links in the East of England, vote UKIP.

If you do not want to support food banks, then vote Tory. The Tory-led government refused £22m from an EU fund that our Labour MEP had helped to negotiate.

Do you know what UKIP's policies for the UK are?

..... other than withdrawal from the EU - which incidentally cannot be achieved by voting UKIP in this election, because that is a matter for the UK Parliament.

For example, if you pay the basic rate of tax, but think you should pay more and millionaires should pay less, vote UKIP. Their policy is for a flat rate tax which would be around 27%.

If you want to privatise all of the NHS, vote UKIP. They want to sell off the NHS as quickly as possible.

11 May 2014 (revised 31 July 2014)

Our MEP campaigns in Letchworth

Richard Howitt with Labour canvassers in Letchworth

Richard Howitt MEP was out campaigning in Letchworth on Saturday (26 April). He will have been in every constituency in the Eastern Region before the election on 22 May 2014.

With him in the picture are Les Baker (Constituency Party secretary), Cllr Clare Billing (Letchworth Grange ward), Cllr Deepak Sangha (Letchworth Wilbury ward), Cllr Gary Grindal (Letchworth Wilbury ward), Rhona Cameron and Clyde Millard (Constituency Party chair).

Every vote counts in the voting system for the European elections. So, wherever you live you can help to elect Labour MEPs. At present, Richard Howitt is the only Labour MEP for the Eastern Region. This time you can ensure that we have two or three Labour MEPs. There is more about Richard here, and more about the other Labour candidates here.

Labour MEPs play an important part, together with their colleagues in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, in ensuringthat European legislation reflects Labour values. Richard himself helped negotiate the EU fund to support food banks, although our Tory-led government refused to accept the money on offer, thus subsidising France, German and the other countries who did accept it.

UKIP, of course, votes against everything on principle, however good. For example, our UKIP MEP voted against measures to guarantee the right of access to lawyer and to a consulate if arrested in another EU country. Our Tory MEPs joined him in opposing the regulation of medical devices following the scandal of defective breast implants.

Locally, they do very little either. Put "MEP" in the search engine on the Comet newspaper's website and Richard Howitt is the only one of our MEPs who comes up, with pictures of him in Stevenage and in Baldock.

So, you need to vote on 22 May - and to vote Labour.

27 April 2014

Arrogant Council ignores government advice

Last month, Hertfordshire County Council adopted a new Speed Management Strategy. The strategy is important because many local communities in the counnty are concerned about speed.

Ostensibly, the new strategy was prompted by new advice from the government. Yet, the Tory County Council has adopted a strategy which largely ignores this advice. They did this consciously, since Labour Alderman John Metcalf had written individually to every member of the Highways and Waste Management Panel to point out that this was the effect of the proposal before them.

David Bell, parliamentary spokespersonThey also took little account of the Council's own Scrutiny Committee's recommendations on 20 mph zones.

"This is especially arrogant," says David Bell (pictured right), this constituency's parliamentary spokesperson, "when they seem to operate from a position of ignorance about what could be done to improve the quality of life in Hertfordshire."

Government advice sets improvement in the quality of life as a key aim, alongside safety. Quality of life embraces such issues such as the severance of communities by speeding traffic, the discouragement of walking, cycling and horse-riding, and the noise and pollution caused by speed. A vehicle travelling at 56 mph makes ten times as much noise as one travelling at 31 mph.

Yet, these criteria for speed limits scarcely feature in the council’s strategy. In fact, air quality and noise pollution are not mentioned at all.

Speed limits cannot achieve improvement in the quality of life if they are not enforced. It is understandable that the main criterion for enforcement should be casualty reduction, but the council excludes other considerations completely.

The most effective enforcement measure is average speed cameras, but the council dismisses them as “emerging technology”, which is manifestly untrue. Other authorities have used them for over a decade and government guidance recommends them in urban and rural settings, including 20 mph zones. Our council thinks that they should be used, if at all, only on dual carriageways, despite being told many times of their successful use on urban single carriageways in Nottingham.

It also persists in its ridiculous view that average speed cameras should not be used where they may not catch all offenders, for example, because traffic may enter between the cameras. Instead, they prefer to catch no offenders at all or to catch them only on the days when the police can spare resources for speed checks!

22 April 2014

Doctors are not in charge of commissioning

... and the NHS is disappearing before your eyes

Almost half of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) say they have not been able to change services in the way they would have liked because of regulations made under the Health and Social Care Act, according to a survey of 103 CCGs by HSJ (4 April 2014).

Disappearing MHS logoMore than half say that their decisions have been subject to informal challenge and 20% have experienced formal challenges to their commissioning decisions.

One quarter say that they have opened up NHS services to competition only because they feared they would fall foul of competition rules if they not do so.

So much for assurances from the government that CCGs would decide whether or not to use competition.

We did tell you so. Just over a year ago, the government announced that new regulations would allow commissioning groups not to go out to tender - but only if the NHS was the only possible provider. We said that the Catch 22 in these regulations was that you could only prove that the NHS was the only possible provider by going out to tender!

6 April 2014

Beer and bingo budget

We have it from the horse's mouth (the mouth of Grant Shapps, Tory chairman): the budget was about cutting "bingo tax and beer duty" - no doubt, to persuade wavering voters to vote Tory. That is going to help the 350,000 people going to food banks, the 400,000 disabled people paying the bedroom tax and the 4.6 million families facing cuts in tax credits, isn't it?

Ed Miliband in full flowAs Ed Miliband (pictured right) says:  "It doesn't matter if the pound is square, round or oval. If you are £1,600 worse off, you're £1,600 worse off."

The "grey vote" comes out to vote, so they get some goodies, too. The limit for tax-free saving, in ISAs, rises to £15,000 p.a. How many of those struggling with the cost of living crisis can save £15,000 a year? This is a goody for the rich, just like the high interest pensioner bonds coming along later.

George Osborne says that the savings rate in Britain is too low and that he needed to take measures like this. However, the Office of Budget Responsibility does not think it will work. They see the household savings rate declining - and by more than they thought three months ago. (Actually, this is probably just what the Chancellor wants. The growth in the economy is largely because we are spending more, and therefore not saving.) 

That's one of the reasons he has taken measures to help businesses. After all, exports are falling and housebuilding is at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.

Still, it is true that the economy is growing again - just like it was when Labour left office - and George Osborne says that the deficit is down by a third and will be down by a half next year. It is funny that he boasts about this, because that was the level that Labour was planning - a level which he used to say, in his milder moments, was "not sufficient". We were even told that this level of deficit would be a disaster for Britain and put us in the same category as Greece!

Cathy Jamieson, shadow economic secretary to the TreasuryWhat is more, this has been the slowest recovery in 100 years - less than half as fast as forecast in 2010. He can say that the economy is recovering faster than forecast, because the forecasts have been cut year by year since he took office. As Cathy Jamieson, shadow economic secretary to the Treasury (pictured left), says, he has "moved the goalposts - like a badger".

Of course, it's not all bad. The rise in the income tax threshold gives back some of what has been taken away from those on low incomes. The rises in the 40% tax threshold is below inflation, but is better than the lowering of the threshold that we have had in the past.

Help for those forced to buy annuities on retirement at very poor interest rates was needed, but whether it is wise to have a system where people can spend their money and then fall back on the state is a moot point. But they will not fall back on the state yet, so it will not happen whilst George Osborne is Chancellor!

And small businesses get business rate relief - a policy promised by Ed Miliband last September!

20 March 2014

Redundant NHS staff re-employed

... as the NHS disappears before your eyes

Disappearing NHSAlmost 4,000 of the staff who were made redundant by the NHS over the last  four years have been re-employed, 2,370 of them on a permanent basis, the Independent reports. YOU made those unnecessary redundancy payments!

This is all part of the chaotic and costly fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS.

19 March 2014

NHS quangos squabble

... as the NHS disappears before your eyes

NHS England claims that Monitor, the NHS regulator, "unpicked the agreed content ... of the choice and competition framework" and "pulled back from its agreed philosophy".

A February board paper for NHS England says that there is a risk that partnership with Monitor on choice and competition NHS is disappearing prevents it from "providing the system with the clear, robust and consistent policy framework, evidence and advice it needs to help improve patient outcomes".

The HSJ (5 March 2014) says that this language is "strikingly strong". They point out that the framework was due to be published last July, but suggest that the future of this guidance "may now be uncertain".

As two of the many quangos in the health service created by this government squabble over how to guide commissioning groups, an increasing number of NHS bodies are going to law to challenge the decisions of clinical commissioning groups, according to the HSJ.

One of the roles of Monitor is to investigate such disputes. However, perversely health bodies are being forced to open legal cases because they have to do this within 30 days and Monitor cannot investigate and rule on a dispute that quickly.

"These problems are bound to increase as more and more services are put out to tender," says David Bell, the constituency's Parliamentary spokesperson. "The problem is that no one is actually in charge of the Health Service in England. The words 'dog's breakfast' spring to mind."

10 March 2014

Have your say about the Co-op

Bias in the survey?

You can hardly have missed that the Co-operative Group is asking you to "Have Your Say", with large advertisements in newspapers and notes about it on your till receipts. Please complete the survey, which closes on 24 March (link below), but not until you have read this.

Gareth Thomas MPGareth Thomas, the Labour and Co-operative MP for Harrow West and chair of the Co-operative Party (pictured), has expressed concerns about the way in which the questions are asked in the survey. Writing in the Huffington Post, he says: "You don't have to be a professional pollster to guess that if you ask the British public ... whether it would be better to use resources to support local community initiatives rather than politics, you are likely to get an affirmative answer." Read his article here.

The survey asks if it is appropriate for "big business" to give to political parties. This conjures up visions of oil companies and banks. Many who support the Co-op Group and, indeed, the Co-op Party are likely to answer "no". Even when the questions are clearly about the Co-op Group's activities it asks about giving money to "a political party", contrasting this with giving to local community projects and lowering prices.

Gareth Thomas suggests that a question that asked "is it appropriate .... for co-operative to financially support politicians who champion and promote the work and values of co-operatives and a national and local level" would probably get a different answer.

The constituency party is expressing concern about the wording of the survey to the elected members of the regional board of the Co-operative Group. You can also read the message to members of the Party from Clyde Millard, constituency party chair, on the members' page.

Complete the Co-op Group's survey here.

2 March 2014

Labour win in Hertford

Alec Turner, councillor on Hertford Town CouncilCongratulations to Alec Turner, the new Labour councillor for Hertford Bengeo on the Hertford Town Council in our neighbouring constituency of Hertford and Stortford.

Alec had 337 votes, against  319 for the Liberal Democrat candidate and 318 for UKIP. The Conservatives did not get around to putting up a candidate!

27 January 2014

The NHS is disappearing before your eyes

... and you are paying for it to happen, too

Nhs is disappearingIn pursuit of their privatisation agenda, the government has only wanted us to hear bad news about the NHS recently. So, it was good to see the report of Prof. Sir Mike Richard’s interview, when he said that he had been struck by the “good, excellent, even outstanding care” offered in NHS hospitals. Sir Mike is head of the Care Quality Commission.

All this good work is gradually being swept away as more and more NHS services are being put in the hands of private companies, where the profit motive predominates. It also forces NHS trusts to behave like the companies in bidding to keep their work within the public sector, possibly even going into consortia with private companies.

Not only is this destroying the ethos of the NHS and the morale of NHS staff, it is also costing a lot of money which would be better spent on healthcare. The government took £3.5bn out of healthcare to re-organize the NHS – a re-organization that David Cameron promised would not happen. But that was only for starters. We now have confirmation of how much it costs when a re-tendering process is necessary.

“The botched launch of the NHS 111 helpline” (in the words of the Independent) resulted in the contractor for this service in 11 regions having to withdraw. One of these regions has said that the re-tendering will cost £500,000. For the 11 regions that adds up to another £5.5m out of the healthcare budget.

The repeal of the pernicious legislation which is causing all these problems and costs is one of Labour’s most important policies. Don't  let the NHS disappear before your eyes.

7 January 2014

A kick in the teeth for
unemployed youth

Only Britain, of all the European Union countries, has missed the deadline to obtain funding under the EU Youth Employment Initiative and European Youth Guarantee. The £5bn EU fund would have Richard Howitt MEPhelped guarantee jobs and training.

Richard Howitt (right), the Labour MEP for the Eastern Region, said:  "Still more than one in six of young people in Hertfordshire and across our wider region are out of work. What kind of message does it send to those young people when the government is failing to get its act together, come up with a plan and apply for these funds?"

The Tory-led government has a track record of not taking funding from the EU. For example, it opposes the use of the new £2.5 bn European Aid to the Most Deprived fund to help with the cost of food banks. It argued that individual countries were best placed to provide the aid, but, as Richard Howitt said, "in reality it has no intention of providing the help itself."

Remember this when the Tories complain that the net cost of the EU is too high!

2 January 2014

Conservative propaganda
for schools

Conservative local government candidates for 2014 are being sent a document which purports to be about citizenship and democracy and which they are asked to distribute to local schools. Labour has complained that this booklet contains blatant Tory propaganda.David Bell, our parliamentary spokesperson

It is outrageous enough that they are attempting to distribute party political propaganda to schools. It is even more outrageous that this propaganda includes statements like "dealing with the legacy of immense financial mess from the previous government is our most important task" and "I recognise only too well the vulnerable state the country has been left in by Labour".

Time and again David Bell (above, right), our parliamentary spokesperson, has made the point that Labour did not cause the global recession, which started in the USA with the sub-prime mortgage problem, that the UK went into the recession with one of the lowest levels of debt in the EU and that the economy was beginning to grow again before Labour left office.

"The greatest success of the coalition government has been spin," David says. "They have managed to implant in many peoples' minds the notion that our economic problems were 'Labour's fault'. I am reminded of Joseph Goebbels' dictum: 'If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.'"

For an honest view of Labour's financial management before the financial crisis, click here.

16 December 2013

Three wasted years

An increase in the growth forecast for the current year from 0.4% to 1.4% was hailed as a triumph by George Osborne in his Autumn Statement. Let us remember that, three years ago when he took office, he said that the economy would grow by 8.4% by the end of 2013, with a growth of 2.9% in 2013.

Ed Balls, shadow chancellorBut it has not. We are now seeing the first signs of growth after three years of flatlining. In the last three quarters of the Labour government, our economy grew by 1.9%. George Osborne's austerity plans cut off that growth completely. Now, in the last three quarters, the Chancellor can announce that his policies have been vindicated by returning to a growth rate in the last three quarters - of 1.9%!

"After three damaging years of flatlining, after the slowest recovery in 100 years ..." said Ed Ball's, Labour's shadow chancellor (above left), in his response, "working people ... are worse off under the Tories." He said that George Osborne (below, right) had made them worse off to the tune of £1,600 pa than they were when this government took office.

George Osborne also told us that the deficit had fallen by a quarter in the last two years, as though that was a great achievement. In 2010 he told us that he would eliminate the deficit by 2015. Let us remember, too, that Labour's plan to halve the deficit by 2015 would, according to George Osborne at the time of the election, be a disaster for the UK. Yet, on current forecasts, he will not even manage to halve it by then, let alone eliminate it.

Gross Domestic Product per head is nowGeorge Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer 7% below its level at the start of the recession. According to David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, GDP could have been 5% higher than it actually is but for George Osborne's austerity programme - and he bases this on figures from the Office of Budget Responsibility.

Of course, the good news is that at last the economy seems to be recovering, but this is in spite of the Chancellor's policies, not because of them.

8 December 2013

Who was the deputy prime minister 1945 - 1951?

David Evans gives the quiz answersOur East Herts Rural branch held another successful Red Rose Summer Party in Buntingford on Sunday, 22 September 2013. Visitors came from Labour Parties in Stevenage, North Bedfordshire and Broxbourne, as well as from our neighbouring constituencies of Hertford and Stortford and of Hitchin and Harpenden.

David Evans announces the results of the "just for fun" quiz (above left), beforeGreat food and great company drawing the (very serious) raffle. As well as being a good social occasion, the party is one of the most important fund-raisers to enable us to fight elections.

There was also serious and not so serious discussion over the excellent lunch. We caught the constituency party secretary, treasurer and trade union liaison officer in serious eating mode (pictured right) with former county and district councillor, Nigel Agar, Ann Agar and Chris Baker.

(The answer to the question in the heading, one of twenty in the quiz, is Herbert Morrison.)

23 September 2013

Labour triumphant in Hitchin

Judi Billing swept all before her in the by-election for the Hitchin North County Council seat, with 48% of the votes in a field of five candidates. She had 1,250 votes, ahead of the Tory on 673. The Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens polled 246, 235 and 212 respectively.

The by-election was caused by the death of Judi's husband, David Billing, who had regained the seat for Labour only last May.

David's death also caused a by-election in the Hitchin Oughton ward of the North Herts District Council. Here Frank Radcliffe retained the seat for Labour, with 361 votes, just over twice as many as the Tory candidate, who came second, again in a field of five.

14 September 2013

Economy grows despite George Osborne's Plan A

The government is very good  at disinformation. George Osborne is claiming that the growth that at last is showing in the economy is due to his austerity plan.

It is nothing of the kind. The economy is growing precisely because his plan has been failing - because he has failed in his aim of reducing government spending.

When the government took office, the economy was growing, but George choked off that growth and GDP was static until the end of 2011. At this point government spending began to rise. The growth of the economy has followed on behind and is now just a little less than the rise in government spending.

GDP and government spending growth 2011 to 2013This is another in the long line of outrageous claims by the government. It started with blaming the Labour government for the recession. The trouble is that, if these falsehoods are not rebutted, people come to believe them. We must make more noise.

There is more detail on this in the Socialist Economic Bulletin, and the histogram is published by courtesy of the bulletin. (The blue block is gross fixed capital formation - roughly, the rate of growth in investment, or in this case the rate of decrease.)

14 September 2013

Fraternal greetings from the Norwegian Labour Party

Norwegian Labour Paarty campaigning in Oslo

The Norwegian Labour Party is campaigning hard as polls close tomorrow, 9 September 2013. The picture shows their stall in the centre of Oslo, where they were handing out red roses. David and Claire Bell brought back with them fraternal greetings to the Labour Party in North East Hertfordshire from those on the stall.

There are marked similarities between the policies of their right wing opponents and what the Conservative-led government is doing here. The difference is that the right are not in power there. At present, there is a coalition government with the Labour leader, Jens Stoltenberg, as prime minister.

David and Claire were very impressed by the succinct posters in Oslo's trams pictured below. 

Norwegian poster 1Norway Labour poster 2

Translation: Hospitals that put health first vs. Private enterprise that puts profit first and Schools and health first vs. Cutting taxes for the rich. "We could copy them here," says David. "No change in wording would be needed, except, of course, translation."

Good luck to them in their ambition to win outright tomorrow.

8 September 2013

Sadly, the Labour Party did not win, although they are projected to lose only 9 seats. The Conservatives will form a government for the first time since 1990. Ironically, although the far right party is projected to lose 12 seats, they may be included in the coalition government.

10 September 2013

Failing Surgicentre at the Lister nationalised

The government has decided to nationalise the Surgicentre at Lister Hospital. The Care Quality Commission had said that it did not have effective health, safety and welfare systems.

There had been months of chaos with the appointments system, followed by two unexpected deaths of patients. Lister HospitalAlready GPs were refusing to refer patients to the Surgicentre.

The purpose-built Surgicentre is to be bought and handed over to the East and North Herts NHS Trust, which operates the rest of the facilities on the Lister Hospital site.

"I myself was specifically told that patients were not being referred to the Surgicentre when I needed to see a consultant about an abnormality in one eye," says David Bell, the constituency party's parliamentary spokesperson.

The price to be paid to Clinicenta, who currently run the Surgicentre, is £53m. This sounds like a reward for failure, but the East and North Herts Independent Monitoring Group has ascertained that most of this is for the building and facilities, and it would otherwise have been paid at the end of Clincenta's contract. The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) told them that this is approximately what it cost to build and equip the facility.

The CCG also told them that the £53m does not come out of their budget, although they did not say who exactly is paying - the government or NHS England. They are also "confident" that the hated "Catch 22" regulations (see below) will not force them to offer the facility to private providers, presumably because they would maintain that, in the circumstances, only the NHS Trust is capable of taking over.

"The Stevenage Tory MP has made much of the fact that the contract was let to Clinicenta by the Labour government", says David Bell. "That was clearly a mistake by Labour and demonstrates that the far greater volume of contracts for clinical services being let by this government carries potential dangers of similar problems over future years. He does not, of course, say that!"

9 August 2013

Labour candidates for East of England

Following the one-member one-vote ballot, the order of candidates on the ballot paper for the European election Richard Howitt MEP, with Alex Mayeron 22 May 2014 has been announced.

As the sitting MEP, Richard Howitt, who had already been selected in a trigger ballot, with the support of all the constituency Labour Parties, is first. Alex Mayer won the hotly contested second place as the first woman on the ballot paper against a very strong field.

The picture shows Alex out campaigning with Richard Howitt.

Thereafter, the order is Sandy Martin, Bhavna Joshi, Paul Bishop, Naseem Ayub and Chris Ostrowski. Hertfordshire is well represented in the list. Bhavna is from Great Ashby and Chris is from St Albans. Alex Mayer lives not too far over the border from this constituency, in South Cambridgeshire.

2 August 2013

Selling off the NHS in Cambridgeshire

The single biggest oursourcing of NHS services will take place next door to us in Cambridgeshire. A contract for health services for olderAndy Burnham MP people, worth between £700m and £1.1bn is being offered by the Clinical Commissioning Group for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

It is thought that Circle, Virgin and Serco are interested in bidding. Circle already run Hinchingbrooke Hospital, where they have failed to fulfil their promise to reduce the deficit, and Serco were castigated by MPs for the poor out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall.

Andy Burnham (right), Labour's shadow health secretary, said: "One year to the day that Danny Boyle famously celebrated before the eyes of the world an NHS that puts people before profits, we find a government stealthily breaking it up and selling it off."

28 July 2013

Older than the Labour Party

But still in the vanguard

Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, discussed the Fabians' programme of studies with Labour Party members at a meeting in Letchworth Garden City on 24 July 2013. For manyAndy Harrop speaking to a CLP meeting members, it was the return of an old friend, because Andy was our parliamentary candidate in the 2005 general election. He recalled that it was almost ten years since he was selected as our candidate.

The picture shows Andy (on the right) speaking to party members, watched by Clyde Millard (centre), constituency party chair, and Les Baker, secretary.

The Fabian Society is older than the Labour Party. Indeed, along with the trade unions, it was instrumental in forming the Labour Party in 1900.

He outlined the four programmes on which the Fabians were working:

A lively discussion followed his presentation.

26 July 2013

David Billing

We are very sad to announce the death of David Billing, district Cllr David Billingcouncillor for Hitchin Oughton and county councillor for Hitchin North, in our neighbouring constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden.

David had until recently been leader of the Labour and Co-operative group on North Hertfordshire District Council. He was re-elected to the County Council in May 2013, having held the Hitchin North division from 2000 to 2009, when he lost the seat by six votes.

He was known as a very thoughtful and caring councillor, working hard for his constituents. He will be sorely missed by his Labour colleagues on the two councils and by party members with whom he worked on Labour Party committees.

8 July 2013

It wasn't just the unions

Once again, the Tories and their newspapers are trying to imply that the Labour Party is controlled by the unions in general, or maybe by the Unite union in particular. Ed Milliband did get a majority of the votes in the last round from union members (not union general secretaries, incidentally), but he would not be leader if he had not had a very large vote from both party members and parliamentarians.

It may be worth recalling part of a news item published on this website in September 2010:

Ed wins on the fourth round

Ed Miliband was announced Ed Miliband, the Labour leaderas the winner, just before 5 pm on 25 September 2010.

Voting was close between the Miliband brothers, but in the end Ed was the clear winner. On first preferences, David Miliband was ahead, with 37.78% of the votes to Ed's 34.33%. As first Diane Abbott and then Andy Burnham were eliminated, the votes for both Miliband brothers rose, with David still ahead. It was not until Ed Balls was eliminated that Ed Miliband pulled ahead and topped 50%. The final tally was 50.65% for Ed and 49.35% for David.....

Don't believe the Tory press

The Tory press are already saying that Ed won because of union support and that he does not have the confidence of the rest of the Labour Party. Let us be quite clear:

  1. The unions do not have a block vote. These are the votes of individual members of unions and affiliated societies.

  2. It is true that the majority in this section favoured Ed Miliband, but a great many favoured other candidates on their first preferences. In USDAW, CWU and Community, for example, David was ahead of Ed on first preferences.

  3. Ed had huge support in the other two sections. In the fourth round (where the contest was between the two brothers), 122 of the MPs and MEPs (46.6%) supported Ed. In the constituency party section, 45.6% voted for Ed.

In any case, the whole of the Party will now be behind Ed Miliband as he leads us back to victory.

For more information, go to the Labour Party website.

7 July 2013

Stop the East Coast privatisation

The East Coast Main Line has been publicly run since 2009, when the previous operator collapsed. During that time Sheila Gilmore MPservices have improved and profits have been retained for the public benefit, all £640m of them. Labour has pledged to keep the East Coast in public hands after the election.

However, the Government has announced its intention to privatise the East Coast by February 2015.

Sheila Gilmore, the Labour MP for Edinburgh East (pictured right), together with Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesborough, are running a campaign to keep the East Coast Main Line in public ownership. To sign their petition, click here to go to Sheila's website.

In a further odd twist, the Government has asked Directly Operated Railways (DOR) to set up a subsidiary that could run the Great Western franchise, in case they cannot reach agreement with First Group, the current franchisees. So, they are desperate to reprivatise the East Coast before the election, but may be forced to renationalise the Great Western!

Sheila argues further that after the election other franchises should be handed over to DOR as they expire. On the basis of the East Coast, this would reduce costs across the industry.

24 June 2013

Ed Miliband introducing his proposals

The alternative Queen's speech

Britain faces big challenges. But with his 'no answers' Queen's Speech, David Cameron has shown he's unable to bring about the change we need.

If Labour were in Government we would be acting to implement a One Nation programme with new ideas to begin turning Britain's economy around.

(Maybe that ought to be "The Queen's alternative speech"! Let's not get into the republican debate.)

11 May 2013

Lorna wins!

County Council election results 2013

Lorna KercherLorna Kercher took the county council seat for Letchworth NW from the Conservatives. Whilst her majority was only 48, she did achieve a swing to Labour of 14.3 percentage points.

In the second target seat in this constituency, Letchworth East & Baldock, Rachel Burgin had a swing of 12.4 percentage points, taking votes from the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, but the Conservative candidate retained the seat.

In both these divisions, the Conservatives had a small gain in their share of the vote, apparently taking votes from the Liberal Democrats.

In the rest of the constituency, all divisions were retained by the Conservatives. The Labour share of the vote was up in all of them. In contrast to the two key divisions, in these divisions the Conservative share of the vote was down. One factor was undoubtedly that there was a UKIP candidate in all but one of them, taking the "disgruntled Tory" vote. There was no UKIP candidate in either of the two target seats.

In the county as a whole, Labour gained 12 seats, giving them a total representation of 15 councillors and were the only party to gain seats. The Conservatives lost 9 and the Liberal Democrats lost 1. The Green Party and the BNP each lost their only councillor.

Full county council election results are on the county council website.

East Herts District Council by-elections

There were four by-elections for the East Herts District Council, two of them in the constituency. In both of them, the Labour candidate lost to the Conservative. Full results are on the district council website.

Go to the election page for the more information.

3 May 2013

Liberal Democrat peers vote for NHS privatisation

Last night was the last chance to force the withdrawal of the regulations which, in effect, force GP commissioning groups to put NHS services out to tender (see below). A motion to reject the regulations was defeated, when the Liberal Democrat peers followed the government whip.

The Tories clearly want to privatise the NHS - and the Liberal Democrats are going along with this to cling David Bellon to what little power they have. 

"Not only do they want to privatise the NHS, but they also plan to get a hotch-potch of contracts for long periods of 15 years or more, so that in 2015 the Labour government will face problems in restoring the NHS to the national health service that it ought to be," says David Bell, North East Herts Labour's parliamentary spokesperson. 

"Disgracefully, the Liberal Democrats are going along with this."

25 April 2013

1st April, but it's no joke!

Some of the worst attacks on the benefits of the most vulnerable come into force today. Amongst them are:

Say no to the bedroom taxBedroom tax: tenants in social housing, unless they are in one of the protected categories, will have their housing benefit cut if they have a spare bedroom, even if the council has nowhere smaller for them to move to.

Council tax benefit: the government has cut funding by 10%, but instructed that pensioners should not have their benefit cut. Also, they have handed responsibility for this benefit to local councils, so that the cuts will vary according to where you live. Some in North Herts will find their benefit is cut by up to one-third, whereas in East Herts the cut is limited to 8%.

Millionaires win £100,000Access to justice: legal aid for civil cases will be cut. There will be no aid at all for family matters, such as divorce or access to children. There will be no aid at all for welfare matters, such as assessments that a disabled person is fit for work - and many assessments, made by private contractors appointed to do this work by the government, have proved to be wrong on appeal.

As the most vulnerable suffer cuts in benefit, the least vulnerable will benefit from a cut in tax:

Millionaires' tax cut: from 6 April, those earning £1m or more will have their top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45%. 13,000 millionaires will receive, on average, £100,000.

Perhaps the worst change in the long term will be the enforced privatisation of the NHS, which also begins today - see the next item below.

1 April 2013

NHS still to be privatised

Catch 22 in the new version of the regulations

When the government withdrew the regulations enforcing privatisation for re-drafting, we thought the huge volume of protests had worked. However, Jeremy Hunt came back TUC campaign against NHS privatisatioonwith new regulations that do allow clinical commissioning groups not to go out to tender - but only if the NHS is the only possible provider.

Catch 22: you can only prove this by going out to tender!

The government told us that it was crucial that doctors should be in charge in the NHS. It is now clear that they will only be in charge if they do what the government wants. The government told us that they would not enforce privatisation of the NHS. That is now clearly shown to be untrue. And remember: they told us that they were not going to re-organize the NHS at all.

The last hope is the House of Lords, who are to debate a motion opposing the regulations. The TUC are asking you to "adopt a peer". Click here to do so. Ask your friends to do it as well.

28 March 2013

Richard Howitt in Baldock

Richard Howitt MEP at Constituency Party meeting

Richard Howitt MEPRichard Howitt, our Labour MEP, spoke at a constituency party meeting in Baldock on 22 March 2013. It was the best attended meeting for many months and there was lively discussion with Richard after he had spoken.

He began by describing the four meetings that he had attended in his constituency of the East of England earlier in the day. He had come straight from a meeting with Tesco staff in Harlow, where 800 are being made redundant.

He described his various roles as spokesperson on foreign affairs, defence and security and labour relations for the Labour group in the European Parliament, as human rights spokesperson for the Eruope-wide socialist group and for the whole Parliament as the leader of the EU group monitoring the recent elections in Sierra Leone and negotiations for the accession to the EU of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

He discussed the problems of the Eurozone, especially Greece and Cyprus, where the right-wing policy of austerity is being imposed instead of policies for growth, just as it is in the UK. He talked of the EU's cap on bankers' bonuses, which originated from a British Labour group proposal, and of the "Robin Hood tax" (financial transactions tax), opposed by our government in spite of the fact that we have a financial transaction tax on share transactions ourselves, called stamp duty.

He discussed immigration and the policies of UKIP on this and other issues, which showed they really were a nasty right-wing party. Finally, he examined the electoral indications for the European elections on 22 May 2014, when every Labour vote would count, so that North East Hertfordshire's Labour votes were as important as those in Labour held constituencies.

Members can read a fuller account here.

26 March 2013

URGENT - Stop enforced privatisation of the NHS

Yet another broken promise

Regulations under the Health and Social Care Act have been laid before Parliament, for implementation on 1 April 2013. Under them, the National Commissioning Board and the Clinical Commissioning Groups will not be allowed38 Degrees logo to award contracts to an NHS provider without going through thhe privatisation procedure.

It is another broken promise by the government. As the bill went through parliament, they said that clinicians would "be free to commission services in the way they consider best", and that they would be "under no legal obligation to create new markets".

The excellent 38 Degrees organization has taken legal advice to confirm that the regulations really would force clinical commissioners to go out to tender for local health services even if they do not want to. Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham (our shadow Health Secretary) have tabled a motion to get these regulations debated - and, we hope, amended. They are asking that as many people as possible email their MP.

Go to https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/
nhs-section-75-legal-advice-speakout

25 February 2013 (amended 4 March 2013)

Austerity fails

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary (below), was the main speaker at the Stevenage Constituency Labour Party's dinner on 23 February 2013. Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary She said that the credit rating agencies had played a major role in creating the financial crisis and the loss of the UK's triple-A rating should be seen in that context. In any case, it was only confirming what everyone knew already - that the economy was flat-lining and debt was rising.

Nevertheless, George Osborne had said that his programme of austerity was specifically aimed at retaining the AAA rating. So, this was a clear failure of his policy.

She castigated the sheer incompetence of this government. The bedroom tax had not been thought through. It would fall on many who needed that extra room, maybe for a a son on leave from the Army, maybe for equipment for a disabled tenant. And it was quite likely that it would not save any money: because of the lack of social housing, some who could not afford the tax would have to be accommodated in smaller flats, but in the private sector - at higher rents than for their existing "oversized" flats.

From April, as well as the bedroom tax, people with low incomes would also be hit by the reduced council tax benefit. How much impact this would have on them depended on where they lived. Stevenage council had kept the cut down to 8%, but across the border in North Herts they would lose a third of their benefit.

She also commented on the chaotic re-organization of the NHS and re-iterated that  the next Labour government would repeal the legislation which was allowing the piecemeal privatisation of the health service.

25 February 2013

Conjuring tricks and spin

George Osborne's autumn statement

Another statement from the Chancellor, another cut in the growth forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility. The deficit will not be eliminated by 2015, as promised before the election. It has now receded by three years to 2018.

Labour bequeathed an economy that was beginning to grow after the financial crisis, but George Osborne has cut so quickly and deeply that the economy shrank by 0.1% this year. We did manage 0.6% growth over the last two years, whilst Germany grew by 3.6% and the USA by 4.1%.

Ed Balls, shadow chancellorIn spite of this, he says: "Our deficit reduction plan is on course. We will not waiver from it." On course, when the timescale has increased from five to eight years? As Ed Balls, Labour's shadow chancellor, said in his reply: "He is not waivering, he's drowning,"

The Chancellor pulled one rabbit out of his hat: he said that the deficit was going down this year. Of course, this is a conjuring trick. He mentioned some special factors on both sides of the equation, but he did not mention the real "smoke and mirrors" item - he has included the expected proceeds of the sale of the 4G spectrum.

There was one glimmer of hope. Savings from some cuts will be invested in infrastructure, such as roads and schools. He says that this is "exactly what a government ... should be doing." He is right, but is it not odd that he cut Labour's capital expenditure plans in just these areas? Perhaps he is beginning to come round to accepting the need for Plan B.

David Bell, parliamentary spokesperson"I am very angry about the spin that he puts on the real terms cuts in benefit," says David Bell, the constituency's parliamentary spokesperson. "In his subsequent interviews he talked about benefit claimants lying in bed with their blinds drawn whilst the virtuous went to work. He ignored the fact that 60% of the claimants suffering these cuts are already in work. Others are actively trying to find jobs (that often are not there), many after being made redundant by him."

Alongside these cuts, he will make another cut - the tax cut for millionaires. Here the spin is that the 50% rate brings in less than the 45% rate. Put another way, these high earners will evade or avoid tax if the rate is set at 50%. Does he demonise them like the "benefit scroungers"? Of course not. He is giving them their tax cut.

The respected Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown that this autumn statement takes money away from the poorest half of households and gives money to all the others, except the richest 10%. Those on around £14,200 lose £5.10 per week. The richest lose more than this, £8.05 per week. "But which group is better able to absorb the reduction?" asks David Bell.

David says that he was also angry about the measures to allow shale gas to be exploited. "George Osborne hopes for political gain through getting lower gas prices, but he is risking our environment in doing so. The fracking process involves pumping a mixture of water and chemicals into the ground below the water table. Even if the risk of earthquakes, as we saw in Blackpool, is eliminated, the cocktail of unknown chemicals could contaminate the water table. We cannot be told what the chemicals are because they are a commercial secret of the private sector company involved!"

10 December 2012

Lorna Kercher for
County Councillor

We have selected Lorna Kercher to be the Lorna KercherLabour candidate for Letchworth North West in the county council elections on 2 May 2013. Lorna is a very experienced councillor. She is at present the district councillor for Letchworth East and has previously been a Hertfordshire county councillor. Letchworth North West was previously held by Labour, but was lost to the Conservatives in 2009.

Letchworth North West is a key seat for the County Labour Party and is the highest priority for this constituency.

There is one other key seat in the constituency - Letchworth East and Baldock - and the selection for this division will be made in January.

23 November 2012

No to cheerleaders for
police cuts and no to G4S

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, was here in Hertfordshire to support Sherma Batson Sherma Batson and Yvette Cooperon Saturday, 3 November 2012. 

"We don't want Tory cheerleaders for cuts decimating our police. We want people like Sherma Batson who will stand up for their communities," she told a press conference for the local media.

"The government is cutting 300 police officers in Hertfordshire by 2015," she added. "You don't cut crime by cutting front-line police."

Sherma Batson said that the Tory-led government was imposing 20% cuts and she would resist cuts on this scale. The Labour party recognised that there had to be cuts and proposed 12%. "Instead, we are seeing massive cuts," she said, "and the threat of privatisation where a compoany such as G4S is looking to take over services in spite of its record on not delivering fully for the London 2012 Olympic Games."

4 November 2012 

Council tax benefit lottery
thought up in the saloon bar

From next April, council tax benefit will be a post code lottery. Claimants in the same circumstances in North Herts, East Herts and Stevenage are likely to get different amounts - and in many cases less than they get now.

Council tax benefit helps those on low incomes to pay their council tax. The government has delegated this benefit to councils, at the same time as cutting the funding David Bell, parliamentary spokespersonfor it by 10%. However, they have told councils not to cut the benefit for pensioners, who are around half of those in receipt of the benefit. Thus, if funds cannot be found from elsewhere, the cut for others could be around 20%.

The councils will probably seek to protect other vulnerable claimants, so that the cut will fall on low paid workers - a perverse result for a government which says that it wants to reward those who work.

Also, even at this late stage, the government is still tinkering with the policy and may find some more money to lessen the impact.

"This just shows how incompetent they are," says David Bell (above right), parliamentary spokesperson for North East Herts Labour. "These changes seem not to have been thought through, but rather to have been thought up over a pint in the saloon bar."

30 October 2012

Martin Stears for
Letchworth SE

As well as the election for a police commissioner, there will also be a by-election for a district councillor in the ward of Letchworth SE. The Labour candidate is an experienced councillor who is moving from Hitchin to Letchworth Garden City and will be living in this ward. He is Martin Stears-Handscomb.

More information will be published shortly.

24 October 2012

North Herts' housing plan
to cut waiting lists?

"No is the answer to this question," says Labour's Cllr Gary Grindal (Letchworth Wilbury).

North Herts District Council, following guidance from the government, has decided to adopt fixed term Gary Grindaltenancies for social housing tenants. In a letter to the Comet, published on 11 October 2012, Gary (right), who is Labour's housing spokesperson on the council, challenges the view that this will make a significant contribution to cutting the 3,000 waiting list.

Other countries adopting this policy have found that almost all tenants still need social housing at the end of their fixed term. House prices are very high in North Herts and salaries are just not high enough for these tenants to progress to buying a house.

He acknowledges that some older people occupy unnecessarily large houses, but they can only be moved if the council procures the building of "smart two-bedroom bungalows" for them to move into.

The policy, he says, "has not been thought through." You can read his letter in full here.

16 October 2012

"Mr Leader's" tour de force

Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour Party conference was described by Len McClusky, general secretary of Unite, as a "tour de force". It showed that he was "a prime minister in waiting".

Ed Miliband's speech to Conference 2012Ed said he had been called many names but his favourite was Mitt Romney's "Mr Leader" - "sort of half way to North Korea".

Speaking without notes, he said that his faith was that we have a "duty to leave the world a better place than we found it". He attacked the government for dividing the country between rich and poor, private and public, north and south.

"If the medicine is not working," he said, "you change the medicine.... and you change the doctor, too."

The mission of the next Labour government will be to rebuild Britain as One Nation. Those at the top, with broad shoulders, have a responsibility to be part of this rebuilding. So, we must have:

We must engage with Europe, get the benefits of immigration without allowing employers to exploit immigrants and undercut the wages of British working people, and we must keep Britain together.

In particular, we must stand up for the values of the NHS. David Cameron solemnly contracted not to re-organize the NHS, but is wasting billions of pounds on doing just that. Labour would repeal the Health and Social Care Act.

The Tories were, he said, "an incompetent, hopeless, out-of-touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, back-of-the-envelope miserable shower".

Read the speech here or watch it here.

3 October 2012

Privatisation of the NHS
is happening now

In 19 days' time the primary care trusts will be required to put up parts of their community health functions for sale, choosing three from a list of eight functions.

In 13 months' time, a further three functions, from a list of six, must be put up for sale by NHS Trusts -Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary services like maternity or long-term conditions.

The NHS reforms are now clearly seen to be aimed at privatisation, just as we warned. There is little chance of the new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, slowing the pace of privatisation: in 2005, he was involved in writing a book with others that called for "denationalising the provision of health care in Britain" (Direct Democracy: An agenda for a new model party).

Andy Burnham, shadow Health Secretary (above, right), has written to Jeremy Hunt asking him to confirm or deny whether he still holds the views set out in this publication. Andy Burnham says: "Never has an incoming Secretary of State made such overt statements about replacing the NHS with an insurance system."

Meanwhile, the excellent campaigning organization, 38 Degrees, had this advertisement in the Daily Telegraph today:

We are keeping you under observation, Jeremy.

11 September 2012

Fight police privatisation

Sign the petition

Many functions of the police are to be "outsourced" - which means they will be privatised. This is not just clerical work, but such activities as forensics, detaining suspects and victim support.

Even worse, the plan in Hertfordshire (together with Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire) is to outsource to G4S.Sherma Batson for police and crime commissioner The Tories argue that this work is very different from security for the Olympic Games, where G4S failed so spectacularly.

But security is G4S's core function. If they cannot get that right, what can they get right? In any case, the Olympics' fiasco was clearly a failure to manage the process competently. This makes the whole G4S operation suspect. Also, the failure was compounded by the fact that the company did not tell the Olympics' organizers of their problems until the very last moment.

Is this the sort of company that we want to run important police services in Hertfordshire?

7 September 2012

Sun shines on
Labour party

The sun shone on the 40 members and friends at the Red Rose Summer Party on 26 August 2012. The garden party, organizedSherma Batson speaking at the party by the East Hertfordshire Rural branch was attended by members from the branch and from Royston branch, as well as from other constituencies - Hertford & Stortford, Broxbourne and Saffron Walden. Ages ranged from 8 to 96.

Sherma Batson and her husband took time off from Stevenage Day so that she could talk to members about the forthcoming election for a Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire (above).

She explained that, Red Rose party 2012 like the Labour Party nationally, she did not want this election, but, since it was going to happen, it was important to fight hard to get a Labour candidate elected. The Tory candidate, who currently chaired the Police Authority, was refusing to step down from that post whilst he fought the election. Elsewhere, Labour chairs of police authorities have stepped down, recognising that there was a conflict of interest.

Red Rose Summer Party 2012 She told us that she understood that the Liberal Democrats had decided not to put a candidate forward for the post.

She outlined her campaign plans, but said that there was to be a county party meeting in a week's time to consider how best to help her in the campaign.

The branch is indebted to Cllr Lorna KercherClyde and Jean Millard who hosted the party and to other members who also provided food and to all those who provided raffle prizes, including Ken Follett, who sent us autographed copies of two of his books.

There was a tinge of sadness, because Cllr Lorna Kercher (right at the 2011 party), who has been a regular attender in the past, was unable to be present because she was in hospital, hopefully for a very short time.

27 August 2012

Stevenage Summer Barbeque

Sharon Taylor, Labour leader of Stevenage Borough Council, has extended an invitation to all members to attend the Stevenage Labour Party's annual barbeque on 8 September 2012. Details are on the members-only page.

26 July 2012 (amended 11 August 2012)

Humiliating shambles may be coming to Hertfordshire

Police chiefs are still set to press ahead with plans to outsource more than 1,000 jobs to G4S. The security company's failure to deliver on its contract to the Olympic Games was described by its own chief executive as a "humiliating shambles".

Sherma Batson (right), the LabourSherma Batson, Labour PCC candidate candidate in the Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner election on 15 November 2012, opposes this change and is calling for an internal solution, instead of spending £77 million on a privatised contract.

"The failure of G4S to deliver for the Olympic Games throws doubt on its ability to provide a service for the people of Hertfordshire," she says.

"Outsourcing to a private company will dilute the services we get from the police. The men and women of the constabulary provide a service for the community with pride and diligence and this somethin that would most certainly be lost."

The G4S plan will cover Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire and will be decided between chief constables and the incoming Police and Crime Commissioners for the three counties.

24 August 2012

G4S set to replace
police staff

Hertfordshire Police Authority is proposing to outsource most of the back-office work. Their plan is to hand over the work of 1,122 staff to one particular private company. They do not wish to consider any alternative course of action.

The private company is G4S. Yes, that G4S - the company that has failed to deliver on security for the Olympic Games and, at the very last moment, has had to be bailed out by the public sector, namely the armed services.

The proposal is to share the back-office functions with Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Their police authorities, however, have asked the chief constables to propose an alternative to be considered alongside G4S.

The Royston Crow reports that the proposal would save £77m across the three counties. It is not clear how the police authority can give such a figure before the full business case has been completed.

There should be savings from economy of scale through the three police forces sharing services, but such a large saving suggests cuts in services, like the scrapping of the domestic violence helpline, which is already happening. Amalgamation of the police dog units is to be accompanied by severe cuts in the number of dogs and dog handlers (see below).

Cuts in back-office support would mean that police officers, whose numbers are being reduced by 300 anyway, will have to do more paperwork themselves, taking them off the front line. This is one of the concerns of Sherma Batson, Labour's candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in the election to be held on 15 November 2012.

16 July 2012

Police dog cuts
"barking mad"

This is the view of the Hertfordshire Mercury. The number of police dogs will be cut from 74 to 24 in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire when the county units are merged.

"Clearly, this is not just economy of scale," says David Bell,David Bell, parliamentary spokesperson Labour's parliamentary spokesperson for North East Hertfordshire, "especially since the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire units are already amalgamated."

The police themselves say that the cuts result from the 20% reduction in funding from the Tory-led government. "I seem to remember that the government promised that there would be no cuts in front-line policing," David says. "You cannot get much more front-line than police dogs."

The cuts will save £1.1m across the three counties. This is roughly the amount that the government will spend in each of the counties on the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) on 15 November 2012. Whilst Labour does not like this politicisation of the police, it is the system that is now imposed upon us. So we shall fight the election hard to get Sherma Batson, who is a former member of the police authority, elected as PCC.

16 July 2012

Council tax benefits:
funding cuts

The Tory-led coalition is cutting the funding to councils to pay council tax benefit. Our councils will shortly be debating how to cope with this cut. (In spite of the headline in the Royston Crow the benefit will not be scrapped entirely.)

Councils are required to protect the benefit for pensioners and certain other groups, so that the cut could fall on low-paid workers and on those unable to get a job. Les Baker, constituency party secretaryIf the councils decide to apply the 10% cut directly to those who are not protected, the 10% overall cut would be applied to perhaps around half of those in receipt of the benefit, resulting in a 20% cut in their benefit.

But they do not have to apply the cut in this way. They could, for example, minimise the cut by finding some money from elsewhere, or they could put up the council tax, or both.

We have to face the reality that the goverment is trying to shift the blame for cuts on to councils, even Tory-controlled ones. However, the political composition of the council is likely to determine the way that they implement cuts.

Speaking in relation to North Hertfordshire, Les Baker, Labour constituency party secretary (above left), said: "There has to be a sensible approach..... There needs to be a balance between implementing any cuts and still being able to protect the most vulnerable in our community." He added that there was a need for consultation.

The government, contrary to their rhetoric, is targetting these cuts at those who are in low-paid jobs. Labour will do its best to ensure that the vulnerable are protected.

In East Hertfordshire there are no Labour councillors to protect the vulnerable. The executive panel is to consider the issue on 31 July 2012.

15 July 2012 (addition on 16 July 2012)

Rio + 20

Our second chance for a sustainable future?

193 governments are meeting now in Rio. This is perhaps the most important event of the year, maybe of the decade, for our future and, more importantly, for our children and grandchildren's future.

Unless the world can agree on measures to ensure that we reach the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015 and to set new goals beyond that date, it is becoming increasingly likely that climate will change significantly, power and water will be insufficient for the world's needs and more and more people will go hungry.

But our prime minister is not going to this crucial meeting: he is sending his deputy, Nick Clegg, perhaps to ensure that he can disown the results if he thinks it necessary to appease the backwoodsmen of the Tory Party.

Caroline Flint MPLabour's shadow energy and climate change secretary, Caroline Flint, says: "The Coalition Government appeared to accept Labour's climate change targets... leading me to believe that Labour had created a new cross-party consensus .... making the UK attractive to green investments. Today, however, the question marks over the Government's green credentials have proliferated."

Since the coalition government took over, progress on green issues has been reversed. As soon as they took office they abolished the Sustainable Development Commission. They were bequeathed a strategy for sustainable food production by Hilary Benn, but they have abandoned it to allow the market to dictate policy.

The government's own Green Investment Bank is now in limbo and will not begin investing for at least four years. Meanwhile, the UK has slipped from third in the world for investment in green energy to seventh, with spending down from the $11 bn in 2009.

They have created huge uncertainty for businesses by their incompetent handling of the feed-in tariff for solar electricity, cutting the rate drastically with only six weeks' notice. When this turned out to be illegal, they left the issue in doubt for months whilst they fruitlessly fought the court ruling.

The importance of forests for reducing carbon in the atmosphere as well as for biodiversity is well-known. The Labour Government had ended the piecemeal disposal of public woodland which took place under the previous Tory administration. Yet, the new Tory-led government proposed to sell off all public woodland. The public outcry led to one of the earliest of the government's U-turns.

Labour's Climate Change Act required mandatory reporting of carbon emissions by large businesses by April 2012. The deadline has come and gone without government action. Yet some large businesses are way ahead of the government, actually lobbying for the legislation to be enforced.SERA logo Some are also part of an international group calling for a binding, global commitment to such reporting.

Labour's Environment Campaign group, SERA, has produced an excellent report, Rio+20, with contribution from Caroline Flint and several others including our MEP, Richard Howitt. You can download the pamphlet here.

21 June 2012

"We must fight on our own terms" - Gavin Shuker

Gavin Shuker was elected MP for Luton South in 2010 and is now the shadow minister for waste and water. Gavin Shuker MP addresses a constituency meetingOn 8 June he was in Letchworth to speak to members in North East Hertfordshire and discuss Labour  policies with them. (He is flanked by Clyde Millard, constituency party chair, in the picture.)

He said that the election in Luton South had been set to be all about sleaze, but he had deliberately fought on his own terms on housing, education and living standards. He noted that Kelvin Hopkins, who was re-elected for Luton North with an increased majority, was widely respected by his constituents because they were quite clear what he stands for. He believed that this was important in order to win the trust of the voters.

He strongly supported the leadership of Ed Milliband, who was steadily building a set of policies for the next election. The issues which he had taken up, such as the "squeezed middle" and living standards, were now being recognised as crucial.

Similarly, people were beginning to see that Ed Balls had been right to champion a less austere programme of deficit reduction to ensure that growth was not choked off.

By contrast, the Tories' policies were becoming increasingly nebulous, revealing themselves to be "in it for those people they had always been in it for". They had expected to impose four years of austerity and then be able to reward voters in time for the next general election. The failure of their austerity programme had resulted in more borrowing, but they were sticking to austerity as the solution, but now over the next seven years.

However, he believed the coalition would hold together for the five years, because coalition was the only way that Liberal Democrats could participate in government and they had to prove it could work and because they knew that they would fare very badly in any election resulting from their walking away now.

10 June 2012

Three new councillors

All three target seats won by Labour and
Co-operative candidates

Ian Mantle, Clare Billing and Deepak Sangha (pictured below l. to r.) won seats back from the Tories in Letchworth East, Grange and Wilbury, giving us two councillors in each of these wards.

Ian MantleClare BillingDeepak Sangha

Clare had a majority of 234 over the Tory candidate. Ian's and Deepak's majorities were 89 and 17 respectively.

The other Letchworth seats and Baldock Town were retained by the Tories, and Baldock East was taken from the Liberal Democrats by the Tory candidate.

Across the constituency border in Hitchin the Labour and Co-operative candidates held two seat. Joan Kirby retained her seat in Hitchin Oughton and Deborah Segalini retained  the seat previously held by Deepak Sangha before he moved house to Letchworth.

So, we have increased our representation on North Herts District Council by three. We narrowly missed making that four: Derek Sheard missed taking Hitchin Walsworth by only three votes

Full results are on the District Council website here.

Go to the previous elections page for more information.

3 May (amended 14 May) 2012

And a fourth new
councillor ...

Rob Inwood, who is a North Herts District Councillor and a Royston Town Councillor, has decided that he can no longer support the Liberal Democrats and has joined the Labour Party. Robert Inwood

He will now sit as a Labour councillor for the Royston Palace ward on both councils and will continue to represent the concerns of people in that ward.

Announcing his decision at the end of his term of office as mayor of Royston, he said:

“In the past I have become more disillusioned with the Liberal Democrats and its support of the Conservative-led coalition government. Some of the party’s most treasured policies have been abandoned in pursuit of places in government and a lust for power. It is now a party I do not recognise - and certainly not one that I could continue to support.

“I joined the Labour Party because it is now beginning to shape policies which, I believe, will see growth and an improved economy, and will still protect the most vulnerable people in our society."

He was welcomed to the Labour Party by Les Baker, Labour's constituency party secretary, and himself a former town and district councillor for Royston.

You can read their full statements here.

16 May 2012

Switch Off

There is growing concern over switching street lights off.

Street stall in Letchworth 14 April 2012The Conservative-controlled Herts County Council has decided to turn off street lights in residential areas between midnight and 6am.

But elderly people talking to members of the Labour Party at a street stall in Letchworth were worried about the scheme. They saw the potential of an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour.

Clare Billing, Labour’s district council candidate in Grange ward, said: “There is genuine concern about the turning off the street lights. Almost everyone we spoke to was worried about the consequences. This really is a case of the Tories keeping us in the dark.”

All this is to save a predicted £600,000 to £800,000 a year across the county. Yet, last year the Tory-controlled county council had an underspend of £28 million.

The scheme has been implemented without any public consultation – and led to one Conservative county councillor remarking that residents could “make do with torches”.

15 April 2012

Vote NHS. Vote Labour

Lord Winston"Vote NHS. Vote Labour," says Lord Winston (Prof. Robert Winston). He details all the broken promises made by David Cameron on the future of the NHS. Clearly very upset by what the Tory-led coalition is doing to the health service, Robert Winston calls on everyone who cares about the NHS to vote Labour.

Watch him on YouTube.

Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow Health Secretary, has said that he will repeal the hated measures in the Health and Social Care Act when he becomes Secretary of State For Health.

12 April 2012

Labour's 6-point plan for
North Hertfordshire

The Tory district council in North Hertfordshire received £1m from the government to promote the building of new affordable homes. They used half of it to balance the budget and put the other half into reserves. Meanwhile, 2,150 people are on the priority waiting list for homes. At the present rate of building, they will get their homes in the next 25 years!

The Tory district council signed up in 2006 to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2020. Good for them, you may think - but they have not achieved any reduction at all yet!

These are two of the failures of the Tories which Labour would tackle. They form two of the items in Labour's Six-Point Plan for North Hertfordshire, which you can read here.

There are seven wards where there are elections on 3 May 2012 - one seat in each ward. Labour is fielding a strong team to contest all these seats. In the three seats which we held until recently - Letchworth East, Grange and Wilbury - our candidates are Ian Mantle, Clare Billing and Deepak Sangha (pictured below l. to r.).

Ian MantleClare BillingDeepak Sangha

5 April 2012

Labour with you in
tough times

The Conservatives are a party of the "wrong values, wrong priorities and wrong choices" and the Tory-led coalition was out of touch, Labour leader Ed Miliband told his audience as he launched the Party's local election campaign.

"I know that a lot of people thought that Labour eventually lostEd Miliband, Labour leader touch when we were in government. That is why Labour is changing so that we can once more change the country," he said. "The issues on which Labour will campaign in these local elections are rooted in real life, in the experiences people have in every local authority area in the country."

He accused the Prime Minister of betraying his promise on the NHS. David Cameron was elected saying there would be "no more top-down re-organization". "But as soon as (the government) got in, what did it try to do? Not just re-organize the NHS, but the biggest re-organization in the history of the NHS."

Ed Miliband went on to say that the Tories had abandoned any pretence that they govern for the whole country. "They have abandoned middle England," he said. "They prefer to listen to those who have given millions of pounds to the Conservative Party."

"Labour would govern for the whole country, not just the wealthy few," he said. "Those are the values that in these tough times this country needs more than ever today. Those are the values at the heart of what we are campaigning for in these local elections."

Labour's policies for the local elections are set out in a new leaflet, which you can read here.

4 April 2012 (revised 5 April 2012)

Millions pay more so that millionaires can pay less

This was the Les Baker's view, as reported in the Royston Crow on 22 March 2012. Les (left) is Labour's constituency party's secretary.

Less Baker, CLP secretary"There's been a cut in tax credits," he said, "and, in lots of cases, child benefit has been taken away. The introduction of stamp duty on properties with more than £2m will not raise much as there are only 4,000 houses of that price sold each year."

He added that there were something like 14,000 people earning more than £1m a year and the cuts will mean a pay rise for them of £40,000 a year.

The fact is that, in contrast to this hand-out to the very rich, families on £20,000 a year will lose £253 per year, on top of the VAT rise which is costing families £450 a year on average. 4.4 million pensioners will lose £83 a year and people turning 65 next year will lose £322 a year.

In the same report, Sally Salisbury of North Herts Citizens' AdviceSharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage council Bureau was reported as saying that the raising of the personal tax allowance was "an empty gesture". "Poorer working families who get housing and council tax benefits," she said, "will not get all the money in their pocket because, as their income goes up, their benefits will go down."

Cllr Sharon Taylor (right), Labour leader of Stevenage Council, was quoted in the Comet on the same day. She said that it was the same old Tories "giving big hand outs to millionaires". "The additional amount of tax allowance is nowhere near going to meet the amount people are going to have to spend (with fuel increases, food price going up, unemployment up to nine per cent and wages frozen)."

23 March 2012

And now the 2012 budget show

You will have read a review of George Osborne's budget show in your own paper, but do you know what the Tory press said?

"George Osborne yesterday hit five million pensioners with an 'outrageous' £300-a-year stealth tax." Daily Express.

"Osborne picks the pockets of pensioners." Daily Mail

"Osborne's dodgy plans on fuel, tax and pensions, have put your money in the wrong trousers." The Sun

"5m pensioners robbed in the budget." Daily Express

"Granny tax hits 5m pensioners." The Daily Telegraph

"5m to pay higher rate tax by 2014 - IFS." The Times

For the sake of political balance, perhaps we should also quote the Daily Mirror's verdict:

"Osborne and Cam rod OEPs, but the richest handed tax breaks." A much more balanced review, would you not say?

23 March 2012

NHSlogo in mourningNational Health Service

born 1948    died 2012

After a long fight, finally dispatched by the Tories and Liberal Democrats

"In certain hope of resurrection, 7 May 2015"

21 March 2012

130 billboards to save NHS

38 Degrees poster130 billboards went up across London yesterday (5 March 2012). 20,000 members of 38 Degrees paid for them in the last few days. £300,000 is what they gave.

You can help. Go to the 38 Degrees website and get a window poster and put it up in your window. You can get 30 free leaflets as well. Give them to your neighbours or workmates.

Everyone needs to know that the NHS bill must be stopped. Labour will repeal the bill, but a great deal of damage can be done before 2015.

Unison's Eastern Eye: for an account of what is happening and what is in store for the NHS in the East of England, take a look at Unison's Eastern Eye newspaper.

6 March 2012 (revised 7 March)

Death of Colin Harris

It is with great sadness that we record the death of Colin Harris. Colin was an East Hertfordshire district councillor for eight years and took over from Henry Sargent as leader of the Labour Group early in that period.

With only eight Labour councillors, he was able to give the group more influence than its numbers merited, through his thoughtful and pragmatic approach. This did not mean, however, that the group did not challenge the assumptions of the Tories, who effectively held power even during the period of a "hung council" as a result of the support of "independent" councillors.

There is a memorial service on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 2 pm at Hertford Baptist Church.

25 February 2012

Richard Howitt defends the European Parliament

Richard Howitt, Labour MEPRichard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, has set out why the European Parliament is important for a democratic Europe.

Writing in Next Left, the Fabian Society blog, he rejects Jack Straw's proposal to revert to an assembly of national MPs, saying that this would not be workable, given the work load of a Parliament that now has legislative powers. He also says that it makes the Parliament more effective since it gives voters a direct say in the election of those making these laws.

You can read his succinct case for an elected European Parliament here.

25 February 2012

147,922 signatures
and counting ...

Ed Miliband, Labour leaderYou have signed the Labour Party's Drop the Bill petition and the 38 Degrees petition, but have you signed Dr Chand's petition on the Government's own website? The Government says that any petition which reaches 100,000 signatures is eligible to be debated in Parliament. Ed Miliband has written to David Cameron to ask him to set up the debate on this petition, which was set up by a GP, Dr Kailash Chand OBE.

Add your signature now. Read more about the Health and Social Care bill below.

19 February 2012

At least £1m to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner

Next November, we shall have an election for a police and Cllr Sharon Taylor crime commissioner for every police force (except the Metropolitan Police) in England and Wales. This will cost at least £1m, and possibly £1.5m, in Hertfordshire alone.

The Comet newspaper, which covers the Letchworth and Baldock area of this constituency, picked up on this as a result of the letter - reported below - from David Bell, the constituency party's parliamentary spokesperson, complaining about the cost at the time of cuts in the number of police.

As well as the unnecessary expenditure,there are also objections in principle to the whole idea. In the article, Cllr Sharon Taylor (above left), Labour leader of Stevenage Council, and David Bell set these out.

You can read the article here.

19 February 2012

Outrageous Health Bill
and costly election for Police Commissioner

Letters from the constituency party appeared in the three main local papers last week. In the Mercury, David Bell, as spokesperson for the party, attacked the Tory-led government for insulting nurses and doctors, for reneging on their promise not to re-organized the NHS and for implementing changes before they had Parliamentary approval. 

Letter to Mercury on 09/02/12He argued that the main purpose of the bill was not, as the government had said, to put medical professionals in charge of commissioning health care, because that could be done by appointing them to the boards of primary care trusts.

Rather the purpose was the marketisation of the NHS. Furthermore, this reorganisation would cost £65.4m in Hertfordshire alone.

You can read the full text of his letter here.

Meanwhile, the Royston Crow and the Comet carried a letter about the cost of the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire, contrasted with the loss of 550 staff over the next four years as a result of budget costs. David Bell put the cost of the election at £1m, but that figure does not allow for the fact that the election will not be held at the same time as other elections. This probably makes the cost closer to £1.5m. (The election will be on 15 November 2012.)

You can read the letter in the Comet of 9 February 2012 here.

11 February 2012

Three months to save the NHS

Ed Miliband has called on everyone who loves the NHSEd Miliband, Labour leader to fight to defeat this "misguided attempt to impose a free market free-for-all on our National Health Service.

Writing in the Observer on 5 February 2012, Ed said that the bill was already contributing to the NHS's problems by diverting billions away from patient care at the time when pressure on NHS resources was greater than it had been for a generation.

He highlighted three false claims being made by the Tory-led government:

The bill reaches the report stage in the House of Lords on 8 February 2012. "We have three months to prevent great harm being done to the NHS," Ed concluded. "Now is the time for people of all parties and of none .... to work together to try to stop this bill."

Read more about the campaign to save the NHS below.
6 February 2012

You are going to pay
to have your air polluted

An incinerator is to be built at New Barnsfield, Hatfield. Actually, planning permission has not yet been granted by the County Council. Welwyn Hatfield councillor Kieran Thorpe However, they are so confident that they will give planning permission to their contractor (Veolia) that they have already shut the central library, which was on the site, and put the books into storage. They also plan to move the special school next door into temporary accommodation for the duration of the construction at considerable cost.

This is in Hatfield. So, why should it concern us? There are four main reasons:

Concerned? The consultation on the plant ends on 31 January 2012. So, go to www.hatfield-anti-incineration.co.uk to learn more and to find out how to respond to the consultation document.

Labour's Kieran Thorpe, a Welwyn Hatfield councillor, (above) has been very active in the campaign against the incinerator.

20 January 2012

Almost all GPs want the
Health bill to be withdrawn

Over 98% of general practitioners want the royal medical colleges to press for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care bill, according to a survey by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

The majority think that the bill will not improve patient care and that it will increase bureaucracy - the very oppositeAndy Burnham, shadow health secretary of what the Tory-led government say will result from it. Over 89% think that it will increase private sector involvement, which increasingly seems to be the core purpose of the bill.   You can read more on the RCGP's website.

"These results are devastating for both David Cameron and Andrew Lansley. It is hard to see how they can possibly carry on with their Bill in the face such overwhelming professional opposition," says Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow health secretary (right).

He calls on the government to withdraw the bill and begin cross party talks on greater involvement of GPs in health service commissioning, using the current structures.

The government has repeatedly said that it is important to involve GPs more closely in commissioning. Dr Clare Gerada, who chairs the RCGP, suggested from the outset that this aim could be achieved by the simple expedient of appointing GPs to the boards of Primary Care Trusts.

Sign the Labour Party's Drop the Bill petition and also the e-petition set up by a GP, if you have not already done so.

More on the changes that no one voted for below.

12 January 2012

Tory attack on trade unions defeated

An attempt by a Tory MP, Jesse Norman, to introduce a 10-minute John Healy MPrule bill to make trade unions refund the cost of time off for trade union duties, including time spent on training others and on health and safety, was thrown out by the Commons by 211 to 132 votes.

This measure, which could have destroyed good employer-employee relations in the workplace, was strongly attacked by John Healy (left) for Labour.

The fact that 132 Tories could vote for such a measure shows their lack of understanding of how to establish good work relations.

12 January 2012

Half the hospital beds for
private patients

Up to half the beds in foundation hospitals could be given over to private patients. An amendment to the Health and Social Care bill, currently going through the House of Lords, sets the cap for income from private patients at 49%.

And remember, it is intended that all hospitals should become foundation hospitals.

Perversely, Andrew Lansley, the Tory Health Secretary, says that this will benefit NHS patients through the income generated. It looks more like a panic measure because hospitals are finding it difficult to cope within their newly constrained budgets.

Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow health secretary, says: "This surprise move, sneaked out just before Christmas, is the clearest sign yet of David Cameron's determination to turn our precious NHS into a US-style commercial system, where hospitals are more interested in profits than people.

"With NHS hospitals able to devote half their beds to private patients, people will begin to see how our hospitals will never be the same again if Cameron's health bill gets through parliament."

More on the outrageous health service changes below.

28 December 2011

Write your resignation letter
over Christmas

Andrew Lansley (Secretary of State for Health) has sent pro forma resignation letters to the chairs and directors of primary care trusts (PCTs) throughout England, for return by 31 December.

The abolition of PCTs is one of the proposed changes in the organization of the NHS contained in the Health and Social Care Bill. Their role would be taken over by GP consortia (now with the addition of other health professionals).

There are only two problems:

"It is arrogance in the extreme and an affront to democracy to dismantle the NHS in this way before Parliament has given its approval," says Andy Burnham (above), Labour shadow Health Secretary. "The Government is steering the NHS towards the rocks and, unbelievably, is now busy throwing captain and crew overboard."

More on the health bill below.

20 December 2011

Only one social housing
start in East of England

There was only one social housing start in whole of the East of England in the last six month period. This is massively down on the normal number: in the previous two six-month periods the starts had been 6,116 and 5,362.

The same is true of the whole of England. Disgracefully, starts were down by more than 99% to 454.

The mirage of "compassionate conservatism" is disappearing before our eyes.

20 December 2011

£65 million to re-organize
the NHS in Hertfordshire

"We will stop top-down re-organizations of the NHS that have got in Sign the Chhristmas card to Scrooge Cameronthe way of patient care," said David Cameron. Work began on the re-organization plans immediately they took office. Broken promise 1.

"We will give the NHS a real rise in funding," said David Cameron. The increase is minimal - insufficient to cover increased responsibilities. Broken promise 2.

And now we find that £3.5 billion of this virtually static NHS budget is to be spent on the re-organization, instead of patient care. This is a re-organization which has no democratic mandate and which was not in the Coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats.

Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats have been voting for the disgraceful Health and Social Care Bill. Even Liberal Democrat peers have supported the government, with some notable exceptions, such as Baroness Shirley Williams.

In Hertfordshire alone, Drop the bill logo NHS Hertfordshire, our primary care trust, has been told to set aside £65.4 million over two years for the forthcoming re-organization.

How can this be justified, when those on low incomes are having to pay up to try to rescue George Osborne's plan to deal with the deficit (see below)?

If you have signed the 38 Degrees petition and the Drop the Bill petition, you may wish to sign the petition set up by a GP on the NHS Alert logogovernment website or go to NHS Alert to see what else you could do.

Within this constituency, we plan to deliver leaflets, because we believe that people are not really aware that the NHS is being demolished before our eyes. Email us if you can help with that.

Read more in earlier items here.

6 December 2011

It's the poor as gets
the pain ...

It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor as gets the pain,
It's the rich as gets the pleasure,
Ain't it all a bleedin' shame?

"The (Autumn Statement's) tax and benefit measures are, on average, a takeaway from lower income families with children, and a giveaway to those in the middle and top of income distribution," says Robert Joyce, who is a researcher with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The money for the boost to the economy is all coming from those below the average wage, whilst those above the average wageLiam Byrne, shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions actually recoup some of the money that they would have lost as a result of earlier measures.

The IFS has analysed the "Osborne Effect". In 2012/13, for example, those on £15,700 pa will loose 1.7%. The least affected are those on around £40,000 pa, loosing around 0.2%.

Even the richest 10% of the population, with an average salary of £76,100 pa, loose only slightly more in monetary terms than those on £15,700 - £301 compared with £266, in spite of earning nearly five times as much.

As Liam Byrne (above), Labour's shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, said after the Autumn Statement, "David Cameron has just buried compassionate Conservatism for good."

Read on to the next item for more on the Autumn Statement.

5 December 2011

It didn't have to be this way

The Autumn Spending Review

An extra £158 bn of borrowing. This takes borrowing in future years £37 bn above Labour's plan.

Two years extra of austerity to eliminate the deficit.

George Osborne's austerity programme choked off the growth that was beginning under the Labour Government. This was well before the crisis in the Eurozone,Ed Balls, shadow Chancellor although this new crisis has exacerbated the problems.

So, just like the budget last March, we have George Osborne's plans for growth resulting in a downgrading - by almost half - in the forecast for growth.

There are measures to try to boost the economy: £400m to jump start construction projects, underwriting of mortgages for first time buyers, £1 bn for small and mid-sized businesses and £1 bn for the Regional Growth Fund. There is money too for additional capital expenditure in schools, but half of this extra £1.2 bn is for unneeded free schools.

But this is not what the extra borrowing is for. The extra borrowing is to pay for the mess created by the Coalition Government, which has reduced tax revenues and increased unemployment costs. These new measures are to be paid for by us - or, at least, some of us. 

The promised rise in child tax credits has been scrapped. This means an extra 100,000 more children pushed into poverty. After two years of pay freeze, public sector workers will get only a 1% rise for each of two years, rather than the promised 2%.

There will not be a tax on bankers' bonuses, as Labour had proposed. So, unlike those 100,000 children, bankers will not pay. And those even poorer than this will pay too: the overseas aid budget will be cut, in spite of David Cameron's promise that it would not be.

We are losing count of how many of David Cameron's promises have been broken. "No re-organization of the NHS," he said. "We shall be the greenest government ever,"  he said. "We will maintain NHS funding," he said. And now he cuts the other ring-fenced funding - overseas aid.

"It didn't have to be this way," says Ed Balls (above left),Labour's plan for jobs Labour's shadow chancellor. "His economic and fiscal strategy (is) in tatters. And it is not as if they were not warned - including by their coalition colleagues."

And it does not have to be like this now. Labour's plan for growth and jobs has already been set out. You can remind yourself here.

30 November 2011

Anger over pensions

On 30 November, almost all the unions in the public sector plan to strike. It is a measure of the anger of their members that most of myths about public sector pensionsthem voted to strike by a much higher majority than British governments usually get at general elections. Amongst them is the National Association of Headteachers which has never before in its 114 year history gone on strike.

There are number of myths which need to be busted:

Under the 2007 reforms, the unions agreed these changes: pension contributions were increased: pensionable age was increased to 65 for new entrants; a new system was introduced whereby individuals and the state share the cost of any unexpected increase in longevity of pensioners; and civil servants accepted a career average scheme.

The argument that, because private sector employers have reneged on their responsibility to provide for their employees in retirement, public sector employers should do the same is particularly pernicious. Private sector employers got away with reducing pensions because their employees largely had not joined trade unions and because they protected existing employees, imposing the massive reductions only on new recruits.

“We don't have a crisis in public sector pensions. David Bell, parliamentary spokespersonWe have a crisis in private sector pensions. Most private sector employees will become a burden on the state when they retire. Private sector employers have already imposed an unacceptable burden on taxpayers. Public sector employees will find themselves, as taxpayers, paying for the withdrawal or reduction of private sector pensions,” says David Bell (right), North East Herts Labour Party’s parliamentary spokesperson.

You can read David’s analysis of the Hutton report on public sector pensions here. Our earlier comments are here.

Under the threat of the strike, the government improved its proposals, but they still want to make a further increase of around 50% in contributions, raise the age of retirement and reduce the pensions. No wonder public sector employees are angry.

There are no marches on 30 November in our constituency. The nearest are in Hertford and in Cambridge. If you are a public sector worker or you wish to support them, you can get details here.

23 November 2011

Privatisation is coming to
a hospital near you

The disaster about to overtake the NHS - unless the House of Lords saves us from it - is getting scant coverage in any of the media. This letter from David Bell (below right), vice-chair and parliamentary spokesperson of the constituency party, was published in the Royston Crow of 17 November 2011. A similar letter was published in the Comet on the same day. This is the text of the letter:

Privatisation is coming

Privatisation is coming to a hospital near you. Hinchingbrooke Royston Crow front pageHospital in Huntingdon is to be run by a private company. The government points out that it is 49% owned by staff, but the controlling 51% is in private hands. In any case, after the 10-year contract, other private companies could take over.

Such privatisations are taking place elsewhere in the NHS, but this is the first hospital.   If Royston Hospital is saved ("New move on the future of hospital", November 10), it could well end up in private hands.

Meanwhile, the government’s Health and Social Care bill is going through Parliament. After Commons’ approval, only the House of Lords can prevent the disintegration of the NHS.

The initial bill was, after a widespread outcry, withdrawn and amended. ThisDavid Bell, parliamentary spokesperson has lulled people into thinking that the bill is now acceptable. However, clauses remain which will lead to a break-up of the NHS into unco-ordinated units, many run by private companies.

Liberal Democrat, Labour, cross-bench and even Conservative peers have been trying to prevent this. Yet, the media have given this very little coverage. They have got the government to re-consider the clause which removed the Secretary of State’s duty to provide NHS services, giving it instead to unelected quangos, but we do not know the outcome of this.

The Lords are now considering the “hands off” clause. This allows the Secretary of State to interfere with how organizations provide services only if it is absolutely essential – a hard test to meet if the action is challenged at law.

Even if these clauses are amended, do we want the government to spend £2 bn on a re-organization which nobody voted for and which David Cameron promised before the election would not happen?

If you want to keep a national health service, show your disapproval of this bill at www.38degrees.org.uk or at www.dropthebill.com.

David Bell
Parliamentary Spokesperson
North East Herts Labour Party

The front page of the same edition in which this letter was published reports that the privatisation of Royston hospital is, indeed, being proposed. (And, yes, that is Ed Miliband in the top right corner of the front page. He was visiting the business park in Melbourn.)

17 November 2011

Drop the Bill

Sign the petition

Today Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow Health Secretary, is calling for the Government to drop the Health and Social Care Bill. His call comes as the Government seems to be considering yetAndy Burnham, shadow health secretary another retreat - this time on the part of the bill which would give NHS organizations autonomy and thus allow competition rather than collaboration.

Even if all these changes are made at the behest of many distinguished peers from all parties and the cross benches, the Bill will still be wasting £2 bn on a re-organization which nobody wants and which nobody voted for. 

Remember that before the election David Cameron promised no re-organization of the NHSOu, perhaps the one aspect of the Tory manifesto that was appealing to many voters! After the election, we get the biggest ever re-organization. And perhaps the biggest ever breach of a politician's promise.

38 Degrees has been doing a great job with their petition, which now is nearing half a million signatures. Now you can sign Labour's very clear "Drop the Bill" petition. Click here to do it now, before the Coalition Government destroys the NHS.

38 degrees logoIf you have not signed the 38 Degrees petition, sign that as well and help them to continue to put pressure on the Lords. Click here.

8 November 2011

Government to discuss
further amendment to NHS Bill

Amazingly, the media have in the main not reported the very important debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday. Important amendments had been tabled by Baroness Williams, Baroness Finlay and Lord Patel and also by Baroness Jay and Lord Mackay of Clashfern - a mix of Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and crossbench peers.

These amendments were aimed at ensuring that the Secretary of State would have ultimate responsibility for the NHS, would be accountable to Parliament for the public money spent on it and for the services that it provides.

"It is important to have an absolutely solid basis by which the whole of the House and the public can understand exactly the accountabilities and responsibilities of the secretary of state," Baroness Williams said. Lord Mackay put it succinctly: he wanted to ensure that "the buck stops here".

Earl Howe, speaking for the Government, agreed to further discussions about the role of Secretary of State and, therefore, the amendments were not proceeded with. As Shirley Williams pointed out, if they had been proceeded with and had been defeated, then the House of Lords would not have been able to further consider this crucial part of the Bill.

3 November 2011

Sharon Taylor selected
to stand for Stevenage

Congratulations to Sharon Taylor on her Sharon Taylor, Labour candidate for Stevenageselection as the Labour and Co-operative Party candidate for Stevenage. Sharon is the leader of Stevenage Council and the leader of the Labour Group on Hertfordshire County Council. She stood for Stevenage in 2010, when she lost narrowly to the Conservative candidate.

Her website is www.sharontaylor4stevenage.com.

26 October 2011

Labour MEP manhandled
from media area

"Disgraceful action by Tory Council"

Richard Howitt, the elected Labour MEP for the area (pictured right), was physically removed from the media area at the Dale Farm site. On 19 October Richard Howitt, MEP for East of England2011, when the bailiffs were moving in to remove travellers from Dale Farm in Basildon, Richard was specifically invited by the BBC to go to the site and give an interview for the BBC programme Look East.

Before the interview took place, Richard was told by a council official that Basildon Council, which is Tory controlled, was ordering him from the site. Two security guards seized Richard by the arms, lifted him over the distance to the edge of the media area and pushed him on to the road.

Although the BBC relocated their cameras in order to interview Richard, interviews that had been scheduled for LBC, ITV Anglia and Sky News did not take place as a result of this action.

One can only speculate about the reason for this action, but it seems that the Council wanted to suppress Richard's criticism of the way that they had proceeded in evicting the travellers, although he has consistently called for the law to be respected and for the police to be supported.

Clyde Millard, CLP chair"Disgraceful and politically motivated action by the Tory Council," said Clyde Millard, our constituency party chairman (left). "Richard is an MEP, so surely this is a contempt of the European Parliament and a denial of free speech." His message to Richard was: "100% support for your legal action and for all the great work you do for everyone in the Eastern Region."

You can read more here and see messages of support from the Labour leader on the Basildon Council and many others, including some Conservative supporters, here.

26 October 2011 (revised 28 October 2011)

Labour's plan for jobs

All the fuss in the media about what Liam Fox has or has not done has obscured two far more important new items: the Lords' vote on the NHS Bill (see below on this) and Labour's plan for growth and jobs.

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour PartyEd Balls, shadow chancellorLast Thursday, Ed Miliband (left) and Ed Balls (right) launched the plan to restore growth to the economy and give hope for employment to the record number of unemployed. Youth unemployment is at a record high. Unemployment for women is at a 23-year high and total unemployment at a 17-year high. In the EU only Greece and Portugal are growing more slowly than the UK.

The five points are:

1. A £2 billion tax on bank bonuses to fund 100,000 jobs for young people and build 25,000 affordable homes

2. Bringing forward long-term investment projects, like new school buildings

3. Temporarily reversing the VAT rise – a £450 boost for families with children

4. A one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements and repairs to help small businesses

5. A tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers

Read more about the plan and how it would help the East of England here.

15 October 2011

Out of touch and out of date

The world has changed. The Tories haven't. Read a detailed critique of the Coalition government here.

15 October 2011

Still some hope for the NHS

The House of Lords rejected the motion by Lord Owen and Lord Hennessy to refer part of the government's NHS Bill to a special select committee. Labour peers and about half the cross-benchers voted for the motion, but all but two Liberal Democrat peers voted against.

However, there is still a little hope, although the patient is very sick. The Bill does have to go through the committee stage in the House of Lords. So, sign the 38 Degrees petition if you have not yet done so.

In the debate, Prof. Lord Darzi, the consultant surgeon who was a health minister in Gordon Brown's government, put the main issue vividly: "We now (will) have health and well-being boards, clinical commissioning groups, clinical senates, local health watches, the NHS commissioning board, a quality regulator and an economic regulator ..... Who is reponsible for making sure that the NHS saves more lives this year than last? Who is accountable for how its budget is spent? Who will inspire NHS staff to lead the difficult changes?"

He got no clear answers, because there are no clear answers.

13 October 2011

Outrageous

The destruction of the NHS

"We will stop top-down re-organizations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care." That's what David Cameron said before the general election. It is outrageous that we now face a complete change in how the NHS works.

More outrageously, even before the bill gets through Parliament, the Andy Burnham, shadow Secretary of State for HealthCoalition Government is implementing many of the changes, to bring more and more private companies into the system. GP commissioning bodies are not in control of this. They are required to find three outside bodies for a whole range of services.

Most outrageous of all - the unaccountable quango, the NHS Commissioning Board, will control the £120 bn budget of the NHS. The Secretary of State will be forbidden from interfering! Questions about the NHS in the House of Commons are likely to be ruled out of order!

Only the House of Lords stands between us and this disaster, after the Liberal Democrat MPs caved in to the Tory agenda for privatising health services. Lord Owen (David Owen) is proposing to refer much of the bill to committee scrutiny in the House of Lords. This, at least, offers some hope of a more rational way forward.

Our new shadow Secretary of State, Andy Burnham (above), proposes co-operation with the Government on giving GPs a bigger role in commissioning if the Bill is dropped. We shall see if the Government really believes that the important change is to bring GPs into the commissioning role, or if their real agenda is privatisation by the backdoor.

They did not respond to the proposal from Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, when she suggested that they could involve GPs in commissioning by putting them on the boards of primary care trusts - an almost cost-free method of achieving what they said was their main aim.

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian on 7 October called this a "constitutional affront". Read more about this affront here.

10 October 2011

A new bargain for Britain

One of the worst legacies of Margaret Thatcher's government was that she was successful in getting people to believe that greed is good. The banking crisis has shown us where that gets us!

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour PartyEd Miliband, in his thoughtful address to the Labour Conference last week, set out his determination to tackle this culture which is so corrosive of society. He said that we had a "failure of a system, (of) an old set of rules, an economy and a society too often rewardinng not the right people with the right values, but the wrong people with the wrong values." 

One example is senior bankers taking unjustified rewards. "We must end the cosy cartels of the way top pay is set in our economy," he said.

"The top demand of my Shadow Cabinet, my party, my team, is this: ambition to change out country. That is why we were founded."

"The new bargain in our economy must be built on co-operation, not conflict. That is the most important future for the trade unions in this country."

He also saw our environment and climate change as "an essential part of the new bargain - responsibility, commitment for the long term". "So let's break the dominance of the big energy companies."

It is now the task of all of us in the Labour Party to work out the policies which will deliver Ed Miliband's vision of "a new bargain to ensure responsibility from top to bottom.... to break open the closed circles and break up vested interests, that hold our country back".

You can read the full speech here. Unlike David Cameron he did not change his views because the press criticised what he was going to say!

5 October 2011

Boundary Changes

The Boundary Commission for England has made its initial proposal for changes to Parliamentary constituencies as required by the Coalition government's legislation. 

The proposals are now out for consultation until 5 December 2011.

The proposed changes involve the constituency shedding some of the East Hertfordshire wards and acquiring two Central Bedfordshire wards.

13 September 2011

It's George Osborne's mistake

"George Osborne likes to say that he is clearing up mistakes made by Labour," said Ed Balls, shadow Chancellor, addressing Labour Clyde Millard with Ed Ballsmembers at the Stevenage Constituency Party's Garden Party. "But he raised the VAT rate to 20%. That was not Labour's mistake. He made heavy first year cuts in council spending. That was not Labour's mistake. He is cutting too far and too fast. That is not Labour's mistake."

Ed Balls, who is the champion for the East of England, was at the Stevenage garden party on 3 September 2011: he is pictured here with our constituency party chair, Clyde Millard. Also there were Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, and Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England. Richard Howitt MEP with Stevenage CLP chairWhilst most of the afternoon was just a very enjoyable garden party, we did take a little time to hear Richard Howitt and Ed Balls speak. Richard Howitt is pictured (right): on the left of the picture is Richard Henry, chair of the Stevenage constituency party.

Ed also emphasized how important it would be at the next election to win back the marginal seats lost in the East of England, such as Stevenage. Without them, it would be impossible to form a government, however well the Party did in its Labour heartlands.

4 September 2011

Lister Hospital -
final stage of expansion to begin

The transformation of the Lister Hospital into the main acute hospital in the area began under the Labour government. Overall, Lister Hospital£150m is being spent. The first three stages are well under way and now the final stage will begin.

The Surgicentre, the new maternity unit and the multi-storey car park will all be open by the end of this year. The new emergency department, ward block and theatre unit will be complete in 2013.

The hospital will then offer state of the art facilities, in surroundings which will benefit patients and staff. The changes will also deliver efficiency savings of £600,000 per month.

Become a member of the Foundation Trust

At the same time, under Labour legislation, the hospital is well on the way to becoming an NHS Foundation Hospital. In anticipation of this, you can become a member, giving you the right to elect members of the Trust board - or even put yourself forward as a board member.

This is the nearest to democratic control of the hospital that we are going to get. So, sign up as a member now.

Go to www.enherts-tr.nhs.uk/member-area to find out more and to sign up.

14 August 2011

Time for Plan B, George

First, the International Monetary Fund, which usually takes a harsh line on government spending, says that Britain's finances are at "significant risk". If conditions deteriorate further, in their view "significant loosening of macroeconomic policies" will be necessary, possibly a temporary cut in VAT - just as Ed Balls has been suggesting.

Then, the respected National Institute for Economic and SocialDavid Hanson MP Research says that there will be "no meaningful recovery this year". Further spending cuts now would only make things worse, in their view. "Fiscal policy is too tight amd a modest loosening would improve prospects for output and employment," they say.

On top of this, Robert Chote,the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, set up by George Osborne himself, has admitted that the Chancellor will have to downgrade his growth forecast in his autumn statement. This will be his his fourth downgrade since he took over from Alistair Darling. 

"George Osborne must now recognise that his tax rises and spending cuts which go too far and too fast have choked off last year's recovery," says David Hanson, Labour's shadow Treasury Minister (above). "He has left us in a weak position if things now go wrong in the eurozone and America."

4 August 2011

The real pension problem
is in the private sector

"Employers have deserted and employees are left on their own to take ...massive, changing risk," says Lord McFall. If something is notLord McFall, chair of WRIC done, "the taxpayer will have to fork out many billions of pounds decades hence."

Lord Mc Fall, who is a former Labour minister, chaired the Workplace Retirement Income Commission, which has just reported. (You can read their report here.)

He talks of the "flight from defined benefit schemes", which we highlighted in our earlier item on pensions. Many private sector employees will find, when they reach retirement, that they have little or nothing to add to an inadequate state pension.

This was not always the case. In 1967 there were twice as many private sector pension scheme members as public sector, almost all in defined benefit schemes. By 2006 the number in the private sector pensions schemes had fallen by 55%, mainly in riskier, less adequate defined contribution schemes.

The Labour government took action to provide a universal workplace pension and from 2012 most workers over 21 will be automatically enrolled. However, the Commission estimates that between 5 and 9 million people will not be covered, either or age grounds or because they opt out. They face a "bleak old age", according to the Commission, who also say that the contribution rate for the new pension is inadequate.

Many have claimed that it is unfair that public sector pensions are better than those in the private sector. It is clear from this report that what is unfair is that private sector employers have withdrawn from taking responsibility for their employees' retirement and will leave the taxpayer to take up the burden.

4 August 2011

Botched reform of public sector pensions

Last Thursday, teachers, border guards and others went on strike over threats to their pension entitlement. “The Conservative-led Government has badly mishandled Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader5the whole process,” says Ed Miliband. They are “botching reform” and he said that he understood why teachers were so angry with them. Nevertheless, before the strike he had urged the unions to try to settle this at the negotiating table.

Lord Hutton’s report, he said, “sets out sensible starting points for negotiations”, but he castigated the government for slapping a 3% surcharge on pension contributions without negotiation.

The Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, said that public sector pensions were "unaffordable". When it was pointed out that the Hutton Report showed costs going down, the Economic Secretary to Treasury, Justine Greening, said that they were "untenable", but Lord Hutton does not use this word either.

They then said that they were "unfair", because the ordinary taxpayer did not get so good a pension. This is because most private sector employers managed to give up "defined benefit" pension schemes for new employees some years ago, largely because their employees did not have unions to fight for them.

Lord Hutton's report does not recommend destroying good schemes as private employers have done. He calls for a defined benefit schemes that "deliver adequate levels of income", ranging up to 80% of salary for the lowest paid.

David Bell, parliamentary spokesperson for North East Hertfordshire Labour Party, says that he was initially outraged by Ed's failure to David Bellback the unions in protecting pensions. "However, when I read the full Hutton Report," he says, "I realised that it was not a recipe for following the private sector into unsatisfactory schemes, but it provided the basis for the unions to negotiate very good pension schemes.

"Of course, it remains to be seen if the Tory-led government want to play their part in this. They have not begun well with the unilaterally imposed 3% surcharge on contributions. So, Ed was right to recommend to the striking unions, none of which incidentally is affiliated to the Labour Party, that they should continue with negotiations."

As it happens, David Bell, during his career as a personnel manager, twice held posts where he was responsible for the company pension scheme. He attempts to explain the current situation and what Lord Hutton proposes here.

6 July 2011

Ed Miliband welcomed by
European Socialists and Democrats

Ed Miliband had a warm welcome to a meeting of the socialist group of MEPs in Brussels on 22 June 2011. There was a very friendly Ed Miliband addresses the socialist group in the EU parliamentatmosphere as a meeting of the European Parliamentary group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democratics heard him tell them how important it was to combat the Euro-scepticism that several questioners felt was spreading through Europe. With the financial problems of Greece very much on their minds, the MEPs clearly felt that European co-operation was all the more important.

In the picture, Ed is flanked (left) by Martin Schultz, president of the Socialists and Democrats group and Douglas Alexander (right), Labour's shadow Foreign Secretary.

By chance, a group of Labour members from the Eastern Region, including two from North East Hertfordshire, were on a visit to the Parliament and Richard Howitt, our MEP, arranged for them to sit in on the meeting.

Labour Party members from East of England

Eastern Region members wait for the meeting to begin
24 June 2011

Incomplete U-turn on NHS

Before the election, David Cameron promised: "We will stop the top-down re-organisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care."Protecting frontline NHS services What a pity we have not had a complete U-turn and the abandonment of the so-called reforms.

But should we be pleased about this incomplete U-turn? The re-organization is supposed to tackle the rising cost of the NHS, which is alleged to be unsustainable. Under Labour, health spending just about caught up with other advanced European economies, at about 8.5% of GDP, resulting, for example, in massive reductions in waiting lists, and new, better hospitals. Proportionately, spending is still well below the USA's.

The government says that, at a cost of £2 bn, the changes will save £12 bn over the next eight years - incidentally, much less than the savings being sought. Will they?

In England, 152 primary care trusts (PCTs) will be abolished. They will be replaced by a rather larger number of commissioning consortia. They will probably need to recruit staff made redundant by the PCTs. The NHS Future Forum, set up to advise the government on "improving" the legislation, also recommends Clinical Senates, to advise the consortia. It is not clear how this will save money. It is clear how it will cause disruption.

Ten strategic health authorities will be abolished. Mainly their job will be transferred to a new quango, the NHS Commissioning Board, but there will also be scrutiny by local authorities and patients, through Health and Wellbeing Boards. Also, the Future Forum recommends a national citizens' panel to report to parliament annually. All these bodies will need staff.

To make it worse, where consortia are not ready to take over from PCTs, the Commissioning Board will temporarily take over the duties, needing temporary staff to do this. Alternatively, some PCTs will be retained but re-organized to cover differing areas! 

It all sounds like a recipe for chaos - indeed, expensive chaos.

At least, we can be pleased that the Secretary of State will not be allowed to completely give up his duty to provide a free health service and that Monitor (the body which currently checks on NHS foundation trusts) will have a duty to promote integration. 

However, it seems that the Secretary of State will have a duty "to promote", rather than "to provide or secure the provision of a free health service". Also, Monitor will be charged with promoting competition as well as integration .... No, we do not understand that either!

So it seems that there is still likely to be a growing encroachment of the private sector into the NHS. Already, it has been noted that many GPs, who will still have an enhanced role in commissioning NHS services, are involved with a Virgin company seeking NHS business.

The core of the original bill was to encourage private sector involvement, since Tory ideology is that competition between companies drives up efficiency. If this motivation is largely gone, the revised proposals look like a face-saving exercise which not even the Tories believe will give much benefit. If it is not gone, then we have not gained much!

16 June 2011 (revised 20 June 2011)

Cameron's "greenest government ever" gets even more blue

Two countries are blocking the EU's attempt to ban fuel obtained from Canadian tar sands. The extraction of oil from these sands isLinda MacAvan MEP extremely carbon intensive. One is our own Tory-led government and one is the Netherlands.

What links the two countries? Could it be Royal Dutch Shell?

Linda McAvan, the Labour MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber (right), is a member of the European Parliament's Environment Committee. She says: "I know that the latest lobbying ploy for those who are opposed to accurate labelling of tar sands is to suggest a further delay for further research on different types of conventional oil. I find it unacceptable ....." (You can go to Linda's website here.)

4 June 2011

NHS changes a "big opportunity
for the private sector"

We wait to see if the pause for listening on the Health and Social John Healy, shadow secretary of state for healthCare bill will make any difference. Meanwhile, it has come to light that Mark Britnell, who is a member of the government's advisory panel on the NHS, told a conference last October that the changes would show "no mercy" to the NHS and would offer "a big opportunity to the private sector". He said that the NHS would end up as the financier for the Health service, rather like an insurance company, rather than a provider of hospitals and staff.

John Healy, Labour's shadow secretary of state for health (above right), said that this "gives the game away" about the government's plans for a free market NHS, opening up "all parts of the health service to private companies".

David Cameron says that he has never heard of Mark Britnell. You do get the feeling that Cameron lost control of the NHS changes when he allowed Andrew Lansley to go ahead with his White Paper. You will remember that David Cameron's line before the election was that he would not make top-down changes to the NHS.

4 June 2011

Labour defends campaign
about Urgent Care Centre

Image of Mercury letter pageAlthough out of our constituency, Hertford Urgent Care Centre provides a welcome facility for many people in North East Hertfordshire. Mark Prisk, the Tory MP for Hertford & Stortford, in his regular column in the Hertfordshire Mercury accused Labour negative campaigning about the Centre.

The Mercury published David Bell's letter responding to this accusation on 26 May 2011:

Text of letter to Mercury on Urgent Care Centre

Alongside this letter was another letter on the same topic from Peter Boyle, the newly elected Labour councillor on Hertford Town Council.

27 May 2011

OECD comes round to
Labour's view

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which had previously praised George Osborne's programme Wrong cuts, wrong timeof cuts in state expenditure, has cut their forecast of growth in the UK economy for the second time. They now forecast only 1.4% growth this year.

Their chief economist, Pier Carlo Padoan, now says: "We see merit in slowing the pace of fiscal consolidation if there is not so good news on the growth front." Labour has consistently said that George Osborne was cutting too far and too fast, thus jeopardising the recovery.

Meanwhile, President Obama, on his stateGordon Brown visit to the UK says that we have succeeded in "yank(ing) the world out of recession". "That was in large part due to concerted action between the US, the UK and other countries."

An object lesson in how to tell your host with great politeness that he is wrong - because, of course, this policy was formulated by the G20 under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Gordon Brown!

26 May 2011

Osborne's plan for growth: abolish workers' rights

George Osborne says that the impact of employment laws is costly and the he will publish a timetable for a wholesale review. He plans to limit tribunal awards, cut the 90 day warning of redundancies and "simplify" the administration of the minimum wage (whatever that means).

If laws such as these are holding back our recovery, how is it that Germany and France have been growing their economies faster than the UK (three times and twice as fast respectively in quarter 1)? Yet, their employment laws are far more onerous than ours.

15 May 2011

District Council Election
2011

North Herts District Council

We were defending our seat in Letchworth Grange and David Kearns was re-elected with a majority of 159 (pictured right).Cllr David Kearns Of the other seats within the constituency with an election this year Labour came second in Baldock Town, Letchworth South East, Letchworth South West, Royston Heath, Royston Meridian and Royston Palace. In Arbury and Weston & Sandon the Labour candidate was third and there was no Labour candidate in Ermine.

Elsewhere in the District, Labour councillor Judi Billing retained her seat with a majority of 573.

East Herts District Council

Within the constituency, we fought 10 seats.The nine single-member wards were retained by the Conservatives and in Buntingford two Tories were elected where previously the seats were held by a Tory and an Independent.

We had hoped to recover at least two seats elsewhere in the District, so that the Council did not continue to have no Labour councillors at all. Unfortunately this did not happen and we missed getting a seat in Hertford Sele by 16 votes after two re-counts.

Labour stall at Standon May Day

The candidates for Braughing, Thundridge & Standon and Puckeridge (Steven Stone, Claire Bell and David Bell) were at Standon May Day on May 2

Click here for more information on the District Council elections.

6 May 2011


Tory spin

Labour fixed the leaking school roofs whilst the sun was shining

A Tory response to David Bell's letter on the budget came from Michael Paterson of the North East Herts Conservative Political Forum. It was full of the sort of Tory spin which has had far too much currency. We must refute these accusations.

He accused David Bell (below right) of being a "deficit denier". This is a Crow letters pageridiculous label when Labour had clearly stated plans to tackle the deficit - but in a way that does not put the recovery at risk.

He said that the budget was "all about growth", when the Office of Budget Responsibility had downgraded its growth forecast as a result of it.

He said that Labour had left this country "in a financial mess" and that higher unemployment and higher borrowing after the financial crisis was somehow Labour's fault. 

We all know that this was a global recession, which started in the USA.David Bell, parliamentary spokesperson Labour's policies were adopted by almost every other country, including the USA, to prevent them from sinking into a depression as great as that of the 1930s. Statements do not become true through constant repetition!

He says that Labour failed to "fix the roof when the sun was shining" and that the country went into the recession with one of the biggest deficits. He fails to mention that we went into the recession with one of the lower net debts. Although there was a deficit just before the crisis, there was on average a small surplus during the Labour government before the crisis hit.

Both the Royston Crow and the Comet published this Tory response. Unfortunately, only the Crow published David Bell's second letter, making these points.

You can read Michael Paterson's letter and David Bell's response to it by clicking on the links.

16 April 2011

Too far and too fast

This is the text of a letter, published in the Letchworth and Baldock Comet and in the Royston Crow, from David Bell (below), writing on behalf of the constituency Labour Party:

What was the Chancellor’s singular achievement last week? To deliver a “budget for growth” that downgraded the growth forecast. However, it did upgrade some forecasts – those for borrowing and unemployment! These are the revisions made by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.

Before the financial crisis hit, the UK, under Labour, had one of the lowest government debts in the western world and theComet letters page budget deficit had been just about eliminated. It is not the case that there had been overspending by Labour.

The financial crisis, as we all know, began with USA sub-prime lending and almost all countries have suffered. The Labour government had to act, in similar ways to other large economies, like Germany and the USA, and this increased borrowing.

Nevertheless, following the last Labour budget, the economy started growing and unemployment falling. This all changed when the Tory-led government took over.

For example, the budget had nothing to ameliorate the effect on the economy of cuts in local authority funding. The grant to North Herts was cut by 16.9% this year and 12.7% next year, and to the County Council by 14.3% this year and 9.8% next. This is happening far too quickly: the private sector will struggle to employ those made redundant and to invest in capital projects to replace the spending on, for example, the Schools for the Future programme.

What is certain is that we shall lose public services, or have them downgraded. Truly, it is hurting, but it is not working.

David Bell
Parliamentary spokesperson
North East Hertfordshire Labour Party

1 April 2011

"Budget for growth" reduces growth

George Osborne's "singular achievement", as Ed Miliband (below left) told him in the House of Commons, has been "to deliver a budget for growth Ed Miliband, Labour leaderthat downgrades the growth forecast". It also increases forecast borrowing and unemployment.

These forecasts were made by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility, a quango set up by George Osborne himself. He must be ruing the day that he did that!

By contrast, the economy was growing and unemployment falling after Labour's last budget, but all that changed when the Tory-led government took over. The economy actually shrank in the last quarter of 2010, whereas the economies of Germany and the USA continued to grow. Pathetically, George Osborne blamed the British snow, somehow much worse than the snow that fell in Germany and the USA.

Ed Miliband's verdict: "It's hurting, but it isn't working."

A budget of smoke and mirrors

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls (below right) has explained the "smoke and mirrors" used by George Osborne:

So, with VAT already increased, benefits cut, tax credits frozen and unemployment rising, ordinary people bear the brunt of the pain. So, what measure does George Osborne tell us he is considering for the future? Reducing the 50% tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 pa!

As Ed Miliband said: "It's the same old Tories."

25 March 2011

County Council gives back £485,000 to developers

When developers are granted planning permission, they are usually required to provide some form of "planning gain" for the community. Some of this is money towards local services. This is known as section 106 money.David Bell

Since 2005, Hertfordshire Highways has handed £300,000 back to the developers, because they had failed to spend it in the time prescribed. The County Council has returned a further £184,000.

"This is a disgraceful waste of public money," says David Bell (right), who speaks on County matters for the constituency Labour Party and is vice-chair of Hertfordshire Labour Party. "Hertfordshire Highways is also holding £1m of section 106 money which they are in danger of having to hand back because they have not spent it yet.

"It is bad enough to delay getting the benefit from the money, but to delay for so long that they have to give it back is terrible."

13 March 2011

Shadow Minister castigates
Government

John Healy, Labour's shadow Health Secretary, urged Party members to keep up the pressure on the Tory-led government. He was speaking at the Stevenage Labour Party's Annual Dinner on 26 February 2011 to an audience of members from Stevenage and surrounding constituencies. His stirring speech catalogued the broken promises of the government and the measures that they were taking to reduce the size of the state and turn many services over to private companies.

Stevenage dinner - CLP officers with speakers

Left fo right: Barbara Follett, Richard Howitt MEP, Claire Bell, David Bell (both vice-chairs of the constituency party), Jean Millard, Clyde Millard (constituency party chair) and John Healey MP, shadow Health Minister 
Photo courtesy of Peter Warwick

Barbara Follett, the former MP for Stevenage, Richard Howitt, MEP for the Eastern Region and Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Council, also spoke. Entertainment was provided by the folk band, Clog Iron, with Ken Follett on bass guitar. The band also accompanied a rousing rendition of the Red Flag.

7 March 2011

Tory County Council approves cuts of £80m

Labour responded angrily as the Tories at County Hall made cuts in the budget of over £80m for 2011/12. The cuts included library services, home to school transport and support for sheltered housing schemes. Sharon Taylor, leader of the Labour Group Sharon Taylor, leader of Labour Group, Herts County Council(pictured left), said that the cuts were "just the tip of a very large iceberg". 

"Most of the cuts are reductions in budgets for the various departments," she explained, "and we do not yet know what cuts in services would result from this." She added that alongside this there will also be cuts in policing.

She said that Labour could not support a budget which removed reference to plans for tackling the housing crisis in the county, to support for small businesses and to narrowing the gap in the educational achievement of young children.

She acknowledged that the Tory-led government was forcing cuts to frontline services in all councils. "It's the less well-off in Hertfordshire who will be paying the price," she said.

She called on the Tories to use some of the massive reserve of £74m to support the Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the county's own Money Advice Unit, which had been supporting the community through the recession. Alternatively, they could cut the £1.4m spending on communications.

Unsurprisingly, Liberal Democrat councillors sat on the fence and abstained in the vote.

27 February 2011

GPs cannot run NHS
as a hobby

General practitioners care for their patients with, in most cases, a high degree of professionalism. The Tory-led government seems to think that they can also run the National Health Service in their spare time, like a hobby.

Last week, there were news reports of the first steps to implement Sir Ian Kennedy's report recommending the concentration ofEd Miliband, Labour Leader children's heart surgery into a smaller number of centres of excellence. These steps were taken by a Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts.

Under the government proposals, primary care trusts will be replaced by consortia of GPs. Do you really want your doctor to spend his time going off to meetings such as this, rather than being there to treat you?

Running an efficient national health service is a complex matter, requiring its own professionalism. The government seems to think that it is just a matter of buying services from NHS hospitals or from profit-making commercial suppliers.

Speaking at the Welsh Labour Conference, in the country where Aneurin Bevan drew his inspiration for the NHS from schemes for miners' health, Ed Miliband (pictured above) said this:

"What David Cameron is doing is wrong for England because it takes the N out of the NHS.

"National standards - gone. Accountability - gone. Patient power - gone, handed back to the system. In its place - competition, not for the highest quality but for the cheapest price.

"Will these Tories never understand - healthcare is not a commodity to be bought and sold.

"What happens when a local hospital is undercut by a cheap provider twenty miles away? Will this Conservative government intervene to stop it from closing? They say no. Will David Cameron protect good NHS services if they are undermined by cheap private competitors? He says no.

"Will the interests of patients and local communities take priority over the interests of commerce? No. Will the government act if waiting times rise and patients lose out? No.

"We will take on David Cameron as he wastes billions of pounds putting ideology before people."

20 February 2011

UK growth grinds
to a standstill

"The contrast with the US economy is instructive," says Ed Balls, Labour's shadow Chancellor (pictured right), writing in the Independent on Sunday on 30 January 2011. Whilst the UK economy is reported to haveEd Balls, Shadow Chancellor shrunk slightly in the last quarter of 2010, the US economy showed strong growth.

He reports that the US Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, said in Davos that rapid and drastic spending cuts "are not the responsible way" to cut national deficits. Ed Balls comments: "The US Treasury Secretary is right and George Osborne is wrong."

George Osborne's strategy is "straight out of Margaret Thatcher's manual". After the election, he is raising taxes, cutting spending, slashing benefits and making people feel lucky to have a job, whilst building up his war-chest. Then, he will cut taxes just before the election to win a majority and start all over again.

"We have a Chancellor shaping his economic plans around a fixed political strategy to win an election in 2015 and cut the size of the state - outweighing his constitutional responsibility... to protect jobs, growth and homes. We badly need an alternative - and we need it now."

You can read Ed Balls' article here.

31 January 2011

Tories support sex traffickers and bull-fighters

The Tories - and the LibDems - voted in the European Parliament against a new law to crack down on sex traffickers. The law was passed with the support of Labour MEPs.Richard Howitt MEP for East of England

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for this region (pictured right), visited Bishop's Stortford to support the Body Shop's campaign against sex trafficking. "It is outrageous," he said, "that Tory anti-EU prejudice is making it harder to arrest those abroad responsible for trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation in Britain."

Tory MEPs also voted against measures to prevent pharmaceutical companies from distributing unverified marketing information to patients via their doctors; to end EU agricultural subsidies for bull-fighting; and to set a 30% carbon reduction target for 2020, in spite of the fact that this is the Coalition Government's policy. Richard Howitt and his Labour colleagues voted for these measures and all of them were passed by the European Parliament.

25 January 2011

Cameron's biggest breach of promise yet

Breaches of promises made before the election by Tory and LibDem ministers are so frequent that we hardly notice any more. But the massive re-organization of the NHS is the biggest yet.

Not only did David Cameron himself promise there would be no top-down reorganization but there was nothing about the proposed changes in the Coalition agreement either.

In May, before the election, Cameron was promising no re-organization. Yet by July the Health Secretary could publish a John Healey, Labour's shadow Health SecretaryWhite Paper setting out the re-organization. Cameron must have known.

John Healey, Labour's shadow Health Secretary (pictured left), says: "This isn't just the wrong change at the wrong time - it's a change the Conservatives promised they wouldn't make .... all the experts are telling (Cameron) to change course."

Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and Strategic Health Authorities will be abolished by 2013. Their roles will be taken over, in the main, by consortia of general practitioners (GPs), who will, no doubt, have to set up organizations to do the work of commissioning health care - rather like the PCTs, whose staff will have left or been made redundant by then.

Dr Clare Gerada, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, proposes the much simpler course of putting more GPs on to PCT boards, each of which currently only has one or two.  "You could have simply mandated to ensure GPs had more influence on PCT boards" she says,"and achieved largely the same results."

Meanwhile, Dr Laurence Buckman of the British Medical Association tells us that PCTs are "imploding as staff leave in droves", putting health care at risk for the next two years.

The Commons' Health Committee says the NHS has not been able to plan properly for the reforms and the changes will make achieving savings in the NHS even more difficult. They do not think the plan is the most efficient way of improving care. Dr Sarah Wollaston, a GP and a Tory member of the Committee, says that it feels like "someone has tossed a grenade"into the NHS.

There is, of course, a hidden agenda - a smaller state, market forcesLetter to Hertfordshire Mercuryinstead of public accountability and the profit motive replacing public service. "Deficit reduction is just the cover story," says Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary.

David Bell, who chairs the East Herts Rural branch Labour Party, made these points in a letter published in the Hertfordshire Mercury (27 January 2011). Click here for the text of the letter. He also made the point that the rebuilt hospital in Hertford and the Urgent Care Centre within it existed only because of investment in the NHS by the last Labour Government.

18 January 2011 (amended 29 January 2011)

Savage cuts in funding for
our local councils

Hertfordshire County Council's "formula grant" from central government will be cut by 14.3% in 2011-12 and by a further 9.8% in 2012/13. 

To make this sound more palatable, the Government has talked about "spending power". This includes council tax, which perhaps is fair enough, but it also includes ring-fenced grants from government and £11m for new responsibilities transferred from the NHS. So, the Government says that the cut is 1.55% in 2011-12, whereas in reality the cut in discretionary spending power is 4.6%.

The cuts in the formula grant for North Hertfordshire District Council will be 16.9% in 2011-12 and a further 12.7%  in the following year. For East Hertfordshire District Council the figures are  17.8% and 9.6%.

Even on the Government's own spending power measure, each of our two district councils loses about 5% in the first year and about 4% in the second year.

However, we should count ourselves lucky that we do not live inCaroline Flint MP Bolsover or Burnley, where the cut in spending power is 8.9% in both years. Ten other councils lose the maximum of 8.9% for two years running.

Labour's shadow Communities Secretary, Caroline Flint (pictured left), commented: "All [the Communities Secretary's] warm words about transitional funds can't disguise the truth - the poorest neighbourhoods will be hardest hit while the better off will do best as a result of the choices the coalition government are making."

18 December 2010

Student fees an accounting trick or worse

The increase in the tuition fees charged to students "is not about deficit reduction," said Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow Education Secretary (pictured below), on BBC Radio's Any Questions? on 10 December 2010.

The Office of Budget Responsibility, set up in the summer by theAndy Burnham, shadow Education Secretary Chancellor, has backed this up. They say that the Government will have to borrow an extra £5.6bn to make loans in 2015-16. Furthermore, they say that, at best, only around half of graduates will ever pay back their loans in full, and it could be only 25%.

It is obvious that no part of any loan will be paid back in the first three years, whilst the student is at university, and possibly not for some time after that, until the graduate starts earning £21,000 a year (a figure which the ConDems have belatedly agreed to index-link). By the time any money flows in, we shall, according to George Osborne, have eliminated the deficit. Meanwhile, the Government will be borrowing money to lend to students, instead of borrowing money to give to the universities.

Why do this? Perhaps it is an accounting trick, because it transfers the debt to the students, making it no longer a Government debt, even though the reality is that future Governments will have to bear the cost of writing off loans that are not repaid.

However, Andy Burnham sees it is as a very worrying "ideological change" towards a market-driven university system. The fees introduced by Labour shared the cost of a university education between the student and the state, since both benefit. With the 80% cut in this Government's direct funding, students wanting to study arts or humanities will bear the full cost. This is, he says, "a fundamental shift" in the way universities are funded and "a decisive move to a more élitist system".

12 December 2010

George Osborne at the
roulette wheel

Alan Johnson, the shadow Chancellor (pictured right), castigated the Chancellor's plans to make £81bn of spending cuts as "an unprecedentedAlan Johnson, shadow chancellor gamble". He had "swung the axe in a bout of summer madness" with no plans to boost jobs.

George Osborne had claimed that the new report from the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) showed that the Government was "on course". Their report showed the economy growing more quickly than expected this year, but they cut their own previous forecast for next year from 2.3% to 2.1%.

But, as Alan Johnson said, the Chancellor is "in the casino, but he has not spun the wheel yet". His cuts have not yet come into force, nor has the rise in VAT yet taken place. The economy is still operating mainly under the terms set by the Labour government and the improved growth shows that the Labour prescription is working. The gamble of the forthcoming cuts has not yet had its effect.

The OBR also cut its previous forecast of job losses in the public sector to 160,000. We are in a worrying state when 160,000 job losses is heralded as good news! But it is worse than that. The reason why they cut their forecast is that more of the cuts will be Ed Milibandfrom the benefit budget than they expected. So, the most vulnerable will suffer even more than the OBR thought.

Ed Miliband (pictured left) took up the theme at Prime Minister's Questions, pointing out that the report showed that unemployment will rise next year, whereas it will fall in other major economies. David Cameron's response was that Ed Miliband was "talking the economy down" and that the rise was because the OBR had decreased its estimate of unemployment this year. Once again, the reduction stems from the current economy before the cuts begin to bite!

1 December 2010

Grave concerns in Royston

Government cuts even affect the dead. Read about it in Royston Labour News.

26 November 2010

£300 million for East of England at risk

The East of England is at risk of losing £300 million of European regional funding because the Government has abolished the bodRichard Howitt MEPy to which the European Union (EU) gives it! The money, which is intended to help people and businesses in the region used to be handed out to the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), which the Government has summarily abolished.

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England (pictured right), who has been at the forefront of obtaining European cash for the region, asked a parliamentary question to get more information. He discovered that the Government has not had a single conversation with the EU about this. He says that the EU is reluctant to hand regional funds to national governments, because they want to be sure that it will be spent in the intended region.

26 November 2010

Labour councillors vote
against rise

Labour councillors on North Herts District Council voted against an increase in allowances for themselves and other councillors.Les Baker, Constituency Party Secretary The Tory councillors supported the recommendation - so that, with the increase, allowances will now cost council tax payers more than £325,000 every year.

The increase - more than £700 for each councillor - was recommended in an independent report, but North East Herts Labour Party secretary, Les Baker (pictured left) said: "It cannot be denied that allowances received by councillors allow them to serve their electorate.

"This, however, is not the time to increase such payments and it is absolutely right that Labour councillors voted against the rise. It is well known that councillors on North Herts District Council receive less than councillors elsewhere, but this is not a competition between councils to see which one can provide the highest allowances.

"The Tories' accepting an increase in these days of threatened cuts and so called austerity is an appalling decision and one that can be seen as morally wrong."

Read the report in the Royston and Buntingford Mercury here.

15 November 2010

LibDem candidate joins Labour

The LibDem parliamentary candidate at the general election in the neighbouring Hertford and Stortford constituency has joined the Labour Party. Andrew Lewin, who lives in Bishop's Stortford, stood for the Liberal Democrats in May 2010.

Richard Howitt MEP welcomes Andrew Lewin

He was formally welcomed into the Labour Party by Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the Eastern Region (on the right in photograph above).

Peter Wood, the treasurer of the Hertford and Stortford Labour PartyPeter Wood, Hertford & Stortford CLP (pictured right), also welcomed him to the Labour Party. Peter said: "The LibDems have changed just to get the principal people to become ministers. They have had to give away a lot of their principles. More LibDems should come across to Labour."

Andrew Lewin was quoted in the Mercury (11 November 2010) as saying: "The Liberal Democrats have walked away from many of their manifesto commitments...... Government policy is being driven wholly by the Conservative party. It's very hard to discern any LibDem influence in this coalition.

"I believe Ed Miliband has provided a platform I can endorse and sign up to. His election, combined with what's been going on since day one of the coalition, is what made my mind up."

Are you a LibDem voter who is unhappy with Nick Clegg and his colleagues? Would you like to know more about joining us? Click here to contact us. Be sure to give us your name and address.

12 November 2010

The undeserving poor

Tories return to 16th century values

The LibDemCon Government plans to limit housing benefit to £400 per week for larger families from 2011 and, from 2013, to reduce all housing benefits by 10% for those out of work for more than a year.

This may sound all right on the back of an envelope, but in practice it has all sorts of unpleasant effects. Many have protested that one effect of this will be to displace poorer families - many of them in work - from very expensive areas, like inner London.

Children will be moved from their schools and perversely people may have to give up jobs to move to an area with high unemployment. Mark Field, the Tory MP for Westminster, has said this will cause a "huge social upheaval".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 26 October 2010, Oliver Heald, the Tory MP for our constituency, admitted that there was a special problem in London and suggested that there might be some softening of the approach in such areas of high rental prices. However, David Cameron, the following day at Prime Minister's Questions, said that the Government was sticking to its policies.

Boris Johnson at loggerheads with Cameron

Now, Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, has raised the temperatureChris Bryant MP of the dispute, saying that "no Kosovo-style cleansing" (of the poor) would take place in London "under his watch". In doing so, he echoed the words of Chris Bryant, Labour's shadow minister for constitutional reform (pictured left), who said that the plans would "sociologically cleanse" 200,000 people from inner cities, consigning them to an "outer ring".

The 10% reduction is equally rigid, taking no account of the circumstances of the benefit recipient. It is clear that a person who had no job for a year, whatever the state of the labour market and however hard he or she has tried to get a job, is considered to be undeserving by the Coalition Government. So, they can take the strain of the cuts in public expenditure, even if their children will suffer.

It seems that the Government view is that people should not have large families if they might have to claim benefits: indeed, Jeremy Hunt, the Tory Culture Secretary, has said so.

Would you help us to get a better Britain? Click here to give us your name and address.

28 October 2010

Don't believe Tory spin

Comprehensive Spending Review "unravels"

George Osborne's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) was a masterpiece - of spin.

But it is unravelling fast, says Labour's ShadowAlan Johnson, Shadow Chancellor Chancellor, Alan Johnson (pictured left). The respected Institute of Fiscal Studies' (IFS) analysis shows that the CSR was not nearly as fair as George Osborne said. The Treasury's own figures showed that the very poorest will lose as high a proportion of their money as those earning £35,000 to £42,000. Only those earning over £42,000 lose more.

The IFS analysis shows that the Treasury omitted some factors and the effect will be that the poorest fifth will suffer most, followed by the next poorest. Both these groups suffer more than the richest fifth. However, it is true that the biggest effect is on very high earners - the richest 2% - although this is because of Labour's 50% tax rate for the very highest earners.

The Office of Budget Responsibility, set up by George Osborne himself, has also weighed in. They say that the measures may not save as much as the Chancellor predicted. They suggest that people earning just over the higher rate tax threshold, who stand to lose child benefit, may bring down their taxable income by working less hours, increasing pension contributions or making Gift Aid donations to charities. They also warn that the savings from transferring people from incapacity benefit to employment support allowance is very uncertain.

Is the NHS budget really protected?

It is true that the budget will rise in real terms, but only by 0.1% per year. But demand will be greater from an aging population; the NHS will have a new reponsibility to fund social care (currently funded by local councils); and capital expenditure will be cut by 17%.

Are banks to pay their fair share?

It is true that there will be a bank levy, raising £2.5 bn. But this is much less than they are paying in bonuses (£7 bn); and they benefit more from the cut in corporation tax (or they would if they paid any corporation tax). For the moment, they can set their losses during the financial crisis against their current liability.

Must the deficit be cut so quickly?

It is true that the current deficit is 11.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) and is the second biggest in Europe (after Ireland). But our total debt this year will be 78% of GDP, less than France's (amongst others) and the same as Germany's. This is because, before the crisis, the Labour government had one of the lowest debts in Europe.

It is important to cut the deficit, but there is plenty of scope to take it more slowly, so that the economy can grow us out of the problem. The last time such huge cuts were made, in 1918 by another ConDem government, the debt actually rose from 114% of GDP to 180%. 

The ConDems want to eliminate the deficit in four years, mainly by cutting Government expenditure. The Labour plan was to cut the deficit by half in four years, with higher taxation taking more of the strain than in the Government's plan.

The Tories actually want to cut public services

Alan Johnston, in his reponse to the Chancellor's statement, said that some Tories welcomed cuts in services because they wanted a smaller state. Are the rapid cuts driven by this ideology? George Osborne plans to eliminate the deficit in four years. Evan Davies, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, challenged the Chancellor to explain why his plans included cuts in the fifth year, after the deficit had been eliminated. He could only bluster in response.

And the biggest spin of all ...

Clearly, ConDem spin doctors have instructed every minister to Ed Ballsblame the Labour Government for the large Government debt. The theory is that, if you repeat this untruth often enough, people will believe it. Apparently, we should ignore the fact that there was a global crisis which started in the USA.

The fact is that, as Ed Balls (pictured left) said in his Bloomberg lecture last August, "it is a question of fact that we entered this financial crisis with low inflation, low interest rates and the lowest net debt of any large G7 country."

22 October 201018

Our Labour MEP in solidarity with Burmese prisoners

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the Eastern Region, stands in solidarity with Burmese political prisoners. He is joined by Clyde Millard, chair of North East Hertfordshire Labour Party.

As part of the Amnesty International campaign to support prisonersRichard Howitt and Clyde Millard support Burmese prisoners of conscience in Burma, Richard and Clyde supported Zarnagar and Mie Mie, who are currently imprisoned by the Burmese government.

Amnesty has already submitted a file of 5,000 such photographs to world leaders at the Asia-Europe meeting in Brussels and are now collecting more photographs to submit to the Association of South East Nations summit at the end of October. There is more information on the Amnesty International UK website.

Richard and Clyde were photographed at  a Labour Party European Forum in Cambridge on 16 October 2010. Richard is shown supporting Zarganar, one of Burma's biggest comedians, who is now serving a 35-year prison sentence for leading a movement raising money for survivors of Cyclone Nargis. He was arrested after giving interviews to foreign journalists in which he criticised the Burmese government's handling of the relief situation.

Clyde is supporting Mie Mie, who participated in the 1988 protests while she was still in high school. In 2007, she led a women's movement march on the day after prominent activists had been arrested for their role in the protests. Mie Mie was sentenced to 65 years for her involvement in the 2007 protests.

17 October 2010

Make the Coalition a one-term Government

"Let us resolve today that this will be a one-term government." This was Ed Miliband's call to the Labour Conference in his speech on 28 September 2010.

12In a speech which heralded a new start for Labour led by a new generation, he said how proud he was of many of the achievements of the last Labour Government.

Proud of past achievements

"The old way of thinking said that economic efficiency would always come at the price of social justice," he said. "With the minimum wage, tax credits, the New Deal, they showed that was wrong."

He went on to say how proud he was that hundreds of thousands of children and pensioners had been lifted out of poverty, that newly built schools and modernised hospitals had become a fact of life, that attitudes towards gay and lesbian people had been changed, and that the Scottish parliament and the Welsh Assembly had been set up.

"Peace in Northern Ireland ... will be one of Tony Blair's great legacies," he said. He went on to say that it was thanks to the leadership of Gordon Brown around the world that 40 million more children were now going to school and 200 million are protected from malaria.

Honest about past mistakes

But he called on the Party to be honest and admit its mistakes. He cited the failure to regulate financial services more strongly, the failure to recognise the concerns about the effect of immigration on communities and the involvement in the MPs' expenses scandal. He also said: "We were ... wrong to take Britain to war (in Iraq)."

We are the optimists

As to the future, he indicated that some cuts in expenditure had to be supported, but not "at a pace which endangers our economic recovery". He talked of a "living wage" to replace the minimum wage and the need to reduce the gap between rich and poor. He agreed on the need to review welfare benefits, but not to make arbitrary cuts, and on the need to consider better alternatives to short prison sentences.

He said that he would press for an elected House of Lords and for less restraints on local democracy. He added that he himself would vote for the alternative vote system, if the Government holds a referendum.

"We are the optimists in politicis today," he said. "Optimistic about our country. Optimistic about our world. We will change Britain."

Click here to watch Ed's speech.

29 October 2010

Constituency Party backed
the winner

Ed Miliband was nominated for the Labour Party leadership by an Ed Milibandall-member meeting of the Constituency Labour Party on 23 July 2010.

All candidates had some support, but after discussion of the merits of each candidate a vote was taken, which was won by Ed Miliband.

The nomination was purely an expression of support by the Constituency Party. The election takes place according to an electoral college system with three sections: members, trade unions and MPs and MEPs. Each section is given equal weight.

Ed wins on the fourth round

Ed Miliband was announced as the winner, just before 5 pm on 25 September 2010.

Voting was close between the Miliband brothers, but in the end Ed was the clear winner.  On first preferences, David Miliband was ahead, with 37.78% of the votes to Ed's 34.33%. As first Diane Abbott and then Andy Burnham were eliminated, the votes for both Miliband brothers rose, with David still ahead. It was not until Ed Balls was eliminated that Ed Miliband pulled ahead and topped 50%. The final tally was 50.65% for Ed and 49.35% for David.

Although this seems like a narrow margin, it represents quite a lot of votes. It is equivalent to nearly 4,950 Labour members.

Don't believe the Tory press

The Tory press are already saying that Ed won because of union support and that he does not have the confidence of the rest of the Labour Party. Let us be quite clear:

  1. The unions do not have a block vote. These are the votes of individual members of unions and affiliated societies.

  2. It is true that the majority in this section favoured Ed Miliband, but a great many favoured other candidates on their first preferences. In USDAW, CWU and Community, for example, David was ahead of Ed on first preferences.

  3. Ed had huge support in the other two sections. In the fourth round (where the contest was between the two brothers), 122 of the MPs and MEPs (46.6%) supported Ed. In the constituency party section, 45.6% voted for Ed.

In any case, the whole of the Party will now be behind Ed Miliband as he leads us back to victory.

For more information, go to the Labour Party website.

Ed Miliband's message

1 In his speech after winning, Ed Miliband said:

"Today a new generation has stepped forward to change our party. We are united in our mission to transform Labour so that, once again, we stand up for the hardworking majority who play by the rules and want a less divided and more prosperous Britain. I know we have a lot of work to do. The journey starts today."

26 September 2010

The Government's "Big Lie"

Ed Miliband's first task is to expose the Big Lie, according to Chris Mullin, the former Labour MP (pictured below).

Writing in the Independent on 25 September 2010, before the result Chris Mullen, former Labour MPof the ballot for the leadership was announced, he called for some honesty in the debate about the economy. Every speech from David Cameron, George Osborne or Nick Clegg refers to "the mess inherited from Labour", following the Margaret Thatcher theory that, if you say something often enough, it becomes true.

The first task, says Chris Mullin, is to rebut the lie, pointing out:

  1. The crisis is global and began in the USA.

  2. Most of the deficit was incurred through rescuing the economy from the folly of bankers.

  3. In the end, the Tories went along with the rescue plan.

  4. With hindsight, we can all see that "light touch regulation" of financial institutions was a mistake. However, you can just imagine the hysteria organized by the Tories and their friends if the Labour Government had attempted a few years ago to tighten the regulation.

25 September 2010

Government to increase child poverty

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has confirmed Labour's view that the LibDemCon budget is regressive. Their research shows that the poorest familes will be hit the hardest, losing over 5% of their income by 2014. This is a bigger loss than pensioners or any other household group except the very richest.

James Browne, co-author of the IFS report said: "It seems likely that, once changes to other benefits are taken into account, child poverty will go up."

The budget may also have breached the law. Under the Equality Act 2010, championed by Harriet Harman, the Treasury had an obligation to consider the impact on women, the disabled and ethnic minorities. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission announced that it was investigating whether this obligation was met. For example, the budget contained curbs on the Disability Living Allowance

Justin Webb, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 25 August 2010, repeatedly asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, whether this statutory obligation had been met and Mark Hoban repeatedly avoided answering the question.

For other comments on George Osborne's regressive budget, click here.

26 August 2010

GPs to manage the health service

.....as well as looking after you.

Primary Care Trusts, only just re-organized into larger bodies for efficiency, are being abolished and the task of managing the finances of the NHS is being given to GPs instead.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of them do not want this additional task, which surely must result in them having to employ staff, such as accountants, to help them carry it out.

They may even need to set up organizations to carry out the work for them. Perhaps they could call these organizations "primary care trusts" ......

1 August 2010

Government prescribes chaos for planning and education

Secondary school transfer is already a contentious matter, but at least the County Council can ensure some consistency in how it works. However, the Government is already taking action to allow most schools to become academies.

Those that do will be able to set their own entry criteria. So parents will have to find out what the criteria are for each school and apply separately to those that they choose for their children. It is not clear if the County Council will have any role in facilitating this process.

The Government has also told councils that they may ignore the existing Regional Spatial Strategy, if they so wish. Apart from the retrograde step of ending regional co-operation, it leaves a vacuum in the guidance available to planning authorities.

There will be a new planning act to deal with this in some way or other, but it is understood that this may not be passed into law for two years. Meanwhile, different councils will, no doubt, take different views, ending any co-operative effort to build the houses that we need or to plan for improved transport.

10 July 2010

Osborne makes "classic error"

This is the view of Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate economist and former chief economist at the World Bank. He says that Chancellor George Osborne confuses national economics with household economics.

"You cut expenditures and the economy goes down. We have lots of experiments to show this, thanks to Herbert Hoover and the IMF ... economies will get weaker, investment will be stymied and it's a downward vicious spiral." He says that Japan did this in 1997; just as it was recovering, it raised VAT and went into another recession.

Japan is now set to have a government debt of over 200%, far worse than the UK, according to figures from OECD and the EU.

See earlier comments by Stiglitz here.

1 July 2010

NHS Number One for efficiency

A Commonwealth Fund report rated the NHS as the most efficient in their study. Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, warns that this rating could slip as Labour's targets, which brought about such a dramatic reduction in waiting times for operations, are dismantled by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

1 July 2010

Regressive budget - butchery to come

(25 June 2010)

Tory Family Butchers

The LibDemCon government tried to soften us up for their butchery by claiming that things were worse than they expected. But their new quango, the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), told them that they were, in fact, better.

The LibDemCon government also tell us that the debt is unmanageable. Yet it was set to peak at 75% of GDP under Labour proposals - "better than most of Europe and where it was in the 1960s," according to Sean O'Grady, economics editor of the Independent. It was 262% of GDP after the Second World War when the NHS was created and a vast house building programme was undertaken.

The LibDemCon government call their budget progressive, by which they mean that the wealthier pay more. But most of the progressive measures, like the 50% tax rate above £150,000 a year, were part of the Labour budget and not theirs. The rise in the tax threshold is less than the LibDems promised before the election and is offset by the regressive VAT increase, which the LibDems vigorously campaigned against in the General election and which the Tories "had no plans for".

On the BBC Today programme on 24 June 2010, Nick Clegg, the LibDem deputy prime minister, had the effrontery to claim that one factor making this necessary was that the government inherited plans from Labour for £44 bn of cuts in Government expenditure over the next four years. This apparently is why they have to make increased cuts (25% instead of Labour's 20%) in expenditure on top of the £13 bn each year from the VAT increase. No, we don't understand the logic either!

He also said that Labour had somehow been remiss in not saying where these cuts would come. But George Osborne will not tell us where his cuts will come either - until his autumn spending review. All that is clear is that they will be more savage.

As Vince Cable, the LibDem Business Secretary, used to say, cutting too much too soon risks a double dip recession. And the government's OBR has confirmed that growth will be lower under George Osborne's budget than it would have been if we had stayed with the Labour budget. Many predict that unemployment will rise to 10%.

Tories set to cause recession

(14 June 2010)

Don't take out word for it. Read what David Blanchflower, a former member of of the Bank of England's policy committee, told Sky News on Sunday, 13 June 2010:

"... if these plans (the proposed spending cuts) are implemented, it is almost certain that we are going to have a double dip recession .... we need a plan for growth: we shouldn't be cutting now."

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate economist, who warned back in February that Cameron's policy was "really dangerous" (read more here), wrote on 15 June 2010 that "there is a risk that the European economy will go into double-dip recession". By contrast, he points out that Larry Summers, President Obama's economic adviser, and Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, are keen on maintaining support for the recovery.

Outrageous statements from Osborne and Clegg

(1 June 2010)

George Osborne, the Chancellor, says that the economic situation is "worse than we thought" and accuses Labour of "fiddling the figures". Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, says that "our problems are more serious than we realised".

Unfortunately for them, Sir Alan Budd's Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), just set up by the Chancellor, says that Government borrowing will be £30 bn lower than expected and are likely to continue to be lower over the next few years than Alistair Darling predicted.

The structural budget deficit, according to the OBR, will be only 2.8% of GDP in five years' time, only marginally higher than the 2.5% that Alistair Darling was predicting

The OBR does say growth will be lower than Alistair Darling predicted. Of course it will, since the Government is withdrawing support for the recovery. But interestingly it cites another reason - the fall in the size of the workforce - and this is in spite of the fact that OBR assumes net immigration at a level higher than David Cameron has promised.

So much for the Tories' vaunted parent power

(31 May 2010)

Schools will be able to become academies without consulting parents (or teachers), under the Tory proposals. The head and governors can decide.

And if they become academies they will be controlled locally by a governing body appointed mainly by the sponsor - whoever that might be. Not much role for parents there, unless they themselves set up a new school. So much for parent power.

And so much for decentralisation, since ultimate oversight will be by central Government. This will also reduce the local authority's budget, so that it will have less to provide services for those with special educational needs. The fragmentation will end any consistency in admission systems or co-operation between existing specialist schools.

As for parents setting up their own schools, on the so-called "Swedish model", this will probably attract extreme religious groups and it certainly will take money away from the Building Schools for the Future programme, which has been steadily improving the facilities of existing schools. What's more,the chief inspector of Sweden's schools has said that the Swedish experiment does not improve educational standards.

Read what Fiona Millar, who is an experienced governor, had to say about this.

Don't put your country at risk

(1 May 2010)

The recovery is just beginning. The Tory response: "Let's take an extra £6 bn out of the economy."

There are 1,600 people killed at work each year. The Tory response: "Let's dismantle the Health and Safety Executive."

There are 3,500 people killed on the roads each year. The Tory response: "Let's not fund any more speed cameras."

Money is tight for the Government. The Tory response: "Let's give away £200,000 to each of the 3,000 wealthiest estates."

School results have improved enormously in the last 13 years. The Tory response:  "Let's take some money away from them and give it to parents or faith groups to set up additional schools."

The Tories - worse than you remember

Hospital waiting list down from 31,535 under Tories to 9 now

(1 May 2010)

In 1997, after  18 years of Tory rule, 31,535 people in the Eastern region had been waiting for more than six months to go into hospital. Now, under Labour, there are only nine. In many regions there are none.

And the Tories have pledged to abolish the target that cancer patients should be seen within two weeks.

Under Labour, there are 100 new hospitals, 40,000 more doctors and 83,000 more nurses. Don't put this huge improvement at risk.

David Kirkman's pledges to you

(21 April 2010)

David Kirkman's election address set out five pledges.

He said: "Labour will invest in increasing Sure Start children's centres, David Kirkmanwhereas the Tories would cut the number of centres (although they talk about "improving" the centres by having more health visitors).

"We will create a National Social Care Service to help elderly people stay in their own homes and continue to provide winter fuel allowance, bus passes and the minimum pension guarantee.

"We will help families through family allowance, tax credits and a decent minimum wage, whether or not the parents are married.

"We will expand the supply of affordable housing and give help to first time buyers. You can read Labour's housing manifesto here.

"And we will protect the environment by meeting carbon emission targets and fighting worldwide for a legally binding treaty. Read more on Labour's Green Manifesto here."

These were David's personal pledges. They are the matters about which he feels strongly. He also subscribes to the Labour pledges shown below.

If you did not seen David's election address you can view it here.

Labour's five pledges

The Tories' nasty friends

(20 April 2010)

In the European Parliament the Tories left the main right-wing group and helped set up a new group, led by Michal Kaminski. A new book by Rafal Pankowski exposes Kaminski and his Law and Justice party for what it is. He says that they have called for the re-criminalisation of homosexuality and the death penalty. Whilst briefly in power, they "purified Polish culture" by withdrawing Goethe and Doestoevsky from school reading lists and taught in science lessons that Darwinism is "a literary fiction".

Richard Howitt, the Labour MEP for the Eastern Region, reviews the book in the New Statesman. Read his review here.

You can tell a man by the company he keeps - or so they say. One senior Tory did get up and walk away: read more on this.

Labour's Green Manifesto

(15 April 2010)

Labour's Green Manifesto sets out a ten point plan to meet the challenge of climate change. At its launch Ed Milliband said:Ed Milliband 

"The first-time voters of today will be the ones who will live with the consequences of all of our decisions for years to come. Tackling climate change isn't just about avoiding disaster but also ensuring we have a prosperous future and a fair one. That's why I am proud of Labour's Green manifesto. It embodies our values, creating jobs for young people, protecting the vulnerable, standing up for the many and enshrining our commitment to fairness now and in the future."

By contrast, the Tories keep quiet about climate change, because only 5% of their candidates think that it is important (see below).

In the European Parliament, 22 of the 48 Tory MEPs either voted against or abstained from the Parliament's support for the Copenhagen summit!

You can read Labour's Green Manifesto here.

Thumbs up for SureStart children's centres from Hertfordshire parents

(15 April 2010)

99% of parents are satisfied or very satisfied with SureStart in Hertfordshire. "Children's centres play a vital role in their local communities," says the head of Hertfordshire's childhood support services.

Yet this is a service where Tory cuts could shut one in five of the centres, especially in wealthy areas like Hertfordshire. Read the Mercury report here.

Don't risk a Tory Government

(10 April 2010)

"The Labour Party is the party of recovery. The Conservative plans pose great risk," says David Kirkman in a statement to the Hertfordshire Mercury.

He says that taking money out of the economy before the recovery is firm, as the Tories plan, is just too great a risk.

He also points to the huge advances that have been made since 1997 by the Labour Government - in health, education, care of the elderly, law and order, and sport and culture.

He outlines Labour's plans for the future, supporting businesses and families - with SureStart centres, a two-week guarantee on cancer referrals, police spending more time on the beat and the immigration points system.

Read his full statement here.

General Election on May 6th

(6 April 2010)

David Kirkman, Labour's parliamentary candidate, welcomed the news that the General Election would be on 6 May.   "This gives Labour the chance to get a clear mandate to bring Britain out of the global recession," he says. "The Tories consistently opposed all the measures to revitalise the economy - and now they want to start making cuts before the recovery is established."

"This is why Labour's first pledge to you is to secure the recovery."

"In North East Hertfordshire, on the evidence of the last three elections, only Labour can beat the Tory. So even if you are disillusioned with politicians, don't waste your vote on other parties. I am a newcomer to national politics. My motivation is solely to make this country a better place for everyone."

Securing the recovery

(26 March 2010)

"In the budget, I took steps to provide the support for new jobs, businesses, families and the economy," says Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer. "We took the choice to look after people, not leave them to fend for themselves as the Tories did in the 80s and 90s."

Alistair Darling with budget box

Alastair Darling presented the Budget on 24 March 2010

The budget supports the economy until recovery is secured. It helps families with £4 a week extra child tax credits for one and two-year olds. It supports older people with an extension of the higher winter fuel allowance and state pensions rise by 2.5% in April. It extends help for mortgage holders and gives most first time buyers a stamp duty holiday for the next two years.

The extra money from the tax on bankers' bonuses will be used to boost new industries and future jobs. A Green Investment Bank will further promote the Government's programme to reduce Britain's carbon footprint. Boy George Osborne

No one under 24 will need to be unemployed for longer than six months before being offered work or training. There will be more apprenticeships and more university places.

"It is very clear that those on low incomes gain, especially if they have young children. Only those on very high incomes pay more," says David Kirkman, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire. "The brunt of the recession has fallen on those who have lost their jobs, so help to get young people into work and to support small businesses, which provide many of the jobs in our economy, is very welcome."

"By contrast, the Tories would cut child tax credits and child trust funds for those on modest and middle incomes, and cut back on Sure Start children's centres, like the one just being enlarged in Buntingford. They would give away £200,000 to those who inherit the 3,000 richest estates, whilst we think it is right to freeze the inheritance tax threshold. So, those with the biggest inheritances would help us to pay for the care of older people."

Read more ....

Tories are trying to buy the Election

(20 March 2010)

"Michael Ashcroft is funding Tory parties in many constituencies with the money that he has not paid in tax," says David Kirkman. "Paid deliverers are going from door to door with glossy leaflets and battle buses have appeared in Labour-held constituencies like Great Yarmouth."

"In North East Herts we have no money to fund our campaign from David Kirkmanexternal sources," he adds. "We get a proportion of our members' subscriptions; we raise funds through putting on events and raffles; and we get some local donations. Just about enough to run a campaign if we watch the pennies. We rely on local members to print and deliver leaflets."

When Michael Ashcroft became a peer, he gave an undertaking to become resident in Britain. It is clear that William Hague, who led the Conservative Party at that time, thought that he was undertaking to become domiciled in this country for tax purposes. Why else did he say that he would be paying "millions of pounds" in tax? Baronness Dean, who was on the committee that accepted Michael Ashcroft's undertaking, has made clear that her understanding was that he was going to pay tax fully.

"He may have observed the letter of his undertaking, but not the spirit of it," says David Kirkman. "So, I am delighted that the Chancellor has announced that one of the new tax information exchange agreements will be with Belize. Lord Ashcroft is set to be a minister if the Tories win power. Do you want a man like this in a position of power in this country?"

It's no time to change
our Government

(2 March 2010)

"But it is time to change our MP," says David Kirkman, Labour's parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire.

He says that Labour takes an optimistic view of the future, believing that even in tough times we can achieve great things. By contrast, the Tories take a pessimistic view. They would "leave the recession to take its course and leave people to sink or swim." 

In the newsletter going out in parts of Letchworth Garden City, he contrasts Labour's achievements and plans with Tory past votes and future plans. For example, Labour helped people through the recession with measures such as an above-average increase in Child Tax Credit worth up to £2,235 p.a. The Tories opposed the measures to stimulate the economy in the downturn and propose cutting tax credits and the Child Trust Fund.

Read more about this in the newsletter.

Tory MEP expelled for standing against "antisemitic, racist homophobe"

(20 February 2010)

A leaked letter from Edward McMillan-Scott, a Vice-President of the European Parliament, to Conservative MPs shows just how divided the Conservative Party is. Mr McMillan Scott was summarily expelled from the Conservative Party because he stood for re-election as Vice-President against Michal Kaminski, on the grounds that the Polish MEP had "recent ... racist, homophobic and anti-semitic links". He felt that it was a point of principle that such a person should not take over from him as Vice-President for human rights and democracy.

He points out that the nomination of Michal Kaminski had not been endorsed through the procedures of the Tory MEP group. Having failed to become Vice-President, Mr Kaminski now leads the right-wing group to which the Tory MEPs belong.

Edward McMillan Scott has been a Tory MEP since 1984 and used to be leader of the Tory group. He has been cast aside by David Cameron for an extreme right-wing politician. You can read what he says on the website of our own Labour MEP, Richard Howitt.

Cameron's policy called "really dangerous" by Nobel Laureate

(10 February 2010)

Nobel laureate economist, Joseph Stiglitz has called the policy of beginning now to pay off Government debt "fiscal fetishism" and says that it is "really dangerous".   Joseph Stiglitz, who was chief economist at the World Bank and chaired President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, advises that "cutting back means the economy goes into downturn and the market will lose even more confidence, as it will trigger another recession ..."

Interviewed in The Independent on 9 February 2010, he said the idea that the markets could be appeased by a modest cut in the deficit, as David Cameron has suggested, was anthropomorphic stupidity. Instead, he urged Gordon Brown to hold his nerve, defy the markets and ignore those who want him to start reducing the budget deficit.

He added that it was "unconsionable" that the Government was being held to ransom by the very credit agencies which fouled up so badly over sub-prime mortages.

You can read the full interview here.

Council tax election bribe

(5 February 2010)

"After years of complaining that the Labour Government was not giving them enough money, the Tories at County Hall have suddenly decided that they do have enough and will not be putting up the Council tax," says David Kirkman, Labour's parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire (pictured right).

"This could not have anything to do with the forthcoming General Election, could it? Surely they would not be putting services to the people of Hertfordshire at risk for electoral advantage. So, it must be that they have come to realise that their grant from the Labour Government - protected as it is by the mechanism which protects Hertfordshire from a sudden reduction to the level of other councils - is a very generous one."

Click here to read David's letter in the Letchworth and Baldock Comet.

Have you heard what David Cameron thinks of the Copenhagen Accord?

(22 January 2010)

No, neither have we.....

This is the most important issue facing the world, but the Tories are so divided on it that their leader is frightened to say anything at all. 

And here is why. A survey published on 20 January 2010 showed that, of 141 Tory candidates questioned, only 8 gave "reducing Britain's carbon footprint" a rating of 5 (most important) on a scale of 1 to 5. Not nearly as important, apparently, as reducing welfare bills (59) or cutting red tape (73). The top priority was reducing the budget deficit (112). The survey was conducted by the ConservativeHome website.

So, now we know. David Cameron may be sincere when he says that the issue of climate change is of the highest importance, but, if he were to be elected, he would be backed by a party which does not. Our children and grand-children deserve better than this.

Read more about the Copenhagen conference.

See what Labour has done for
the National Health Service

(5 January 2010)

Go and look at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage and see all the building work that is going on. Go and look at the County Hospital in Hertford - completely rebuilt and with a new Urgent Care Centre, so that you do not have to go to A&E if you cut yourself or need an X-ray. At Addenbrooke's in Cambridge a brand new eye unit opened last March. Remember that there are 40,000 more doctors than there were under the Tories and 83,000 more nurses.

Is this money wasted, as people say? Do you want to go back to waiting 18 months to go into hospital? The average now is 18 weeks and waiting more than 6 months has almost been  eliminated!

David Kirkman welcomes Pre-Budget Report

(10 December 2009)

"Our total net debt will be 56% of GDP this year. In the USA, Germany and France it will be half as big again," says David Kirkman, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire. "At £178 bn, it is a lot of money and paying it off will be painful, but we mustn't get hysterical about it, like the Tories and the Tory press."

"The economy has been saved from disaster by Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and the Labour Government. We must get to a point where we have a strong recovery before we start in earnest on the task of paying back the debt. The Tories want to put us back into recession by cutting back immediately," David says.

Alistair Darling (pictured left) has got it just about right, according to David. Alistair Darling As originally intended, the temporary cut in VAT will end in January 2010, as will the temporary exclusion of some lower value house sales from stamp duty.

Other changes to repay some of the debt are brought in gradually as the economy recovers. The inheritance tax threshold will be frozen in April 2010. (The Tories would abolish the tax and give money to the richest 2.5% of estates.) The 50% tax rate for very high earners also comes in then.

However, the rise in National Insurance contributions of an additional 0.5% (making 1% in all) does not apply until April 2011 - and is off-set by an increase in the threshold for payment to £20,000, protecting 15 million workers. By then, the economy is expected to be recovering well. The threshold for the 40% tax rate will not be frozen until 2012. "The Tories are trying to make people believe that they would reverse the increase in NI contributions, without actually promising to do so," says David.

"It would be nice to think that we could repay the debt by taxing rich bankers. However, whilst you may believe that there are far too many of them, there are not enough - or of the very rich in general - to raise the money needed. Those of us in work have to contribute unless we are on very low pay. After all, it is those who are out of work as a result of the crisis - not those of us who still have jobs - who have really suffered."

Meanwhile, the Government will continue to protect the most vulnerable in society. State pensions will rise by more than inflation in April 2010. Increases in benefits and tax credits will be brought forward to 2010 from 2011, giving a 1.5% boost above inflation.

Front line services from schools, the NHS and the police will also be protected.

Click here for more information on the pre-budget report and to read Alistair Darling's speech to the House of Commons.

Gordon Brown returns from Copenhagen disappointed,
but ready to fight on

(19 December 2009)

"It is progress, but it is not enough," he said. "I am now going to lead a campaign round the world for a legally binding treaty."

Gordon Brown was the first of head of government to commit to going to Copenhagen for the climate change talks. In the end, 120 followed his lead, including President Obama. Last June, he proposed the $100 bn. fund by 2020, which seemed very ambitious at the time, but became the main positive outcome of the talks after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton give it the support of the United States. According to Kevin Rudd, Australian Prime Minister, the financial arrangement would not have been achieved "without his (Gordon Brown's) intervention".

Ed MilibandEd Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, after his gruelling week in Copenhagen, says that the Copenhagen Accord provides a basis for a new chapter on climate change. "Let's work together to make it happen," he says. To read more about the positive outcomes from the talks and to give support to the continuing fight to get world agreement on action, click here.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has nothing to say at all about the way forward. He may genuinely hold the "green" views that he has expressed in the past, but he dare not express them now, because his party have been falling over themselves either to deny that climate change is happening or to say that we are proposing to spend too much on dealing with it.


Children's Services Not Good Enough

(10 December 2009)

The County's Children, Schools and Families Services has been rated only as 2 "performing adequately". Nigel Bell, Labour's deputy leader on the County Council, recognises that they say that a higher than average proportion of primary and secondary schools are good or outstanding than are found in similar areas or nationally. However, he is particularly concerned that Ofsted can find: "the difference in the performance of children and young people whose circumstances make them vulnerable and others of the same age is larger than the national average. This is particularly noticeable for young people from lower income families who are not as successful in achieving level 3 qualifications, leading to fewer than average students progressing to higher education when they are 19".

He has called on the Council "to recognise (that this is no time for complacency) and properly act to improve outcomes for ALL children in the County".


Former UKIP MEP jailed for expenses fraud

(12 November 2009)

Tom Wise was elected as an United Kingdom Independence Party MEP for this region in 2005. On 11 November 2009, he was sent to jail for two years for fraudulent expenses claims totalling £39,000. He spent most of the money on wine, a car, clearing credit card debts and party political activities.

It is ironic that UKIP benefited at the last European Parliament election from the Westminster expenses row, when they had had members like Tom Wise whereas Labour MEPs' expenses are externally audited.


Be Afraid ... Be Very Afraid ...

(6 November 2009)

... of a Tory Government. Johann Hari, writing in the Independent of 6 November 2009, suggests that the London of Boris Johnson is the laboratory of what a Tory Government's policies would be. He points out that half those working on carbon emissions have been laid off; plans to limit carbon emissions have been shelved; and the rich have been given a bonus by not extending the congestion charge to affluent west London, paid for by a 20% increase in bus fares.

Meanwhile, in David Cameron's "model authority" of Hammersmith and Fulham, twelve homeless hostels have been shut, the cost of meals on wheels have been increased by 60% and disabled people now have to pay £12.40 per hour for a home help. The leader of the council wants to abolish council homes and let rents rise to a market level.

Johann Hari goes on to say that:

(With thanks to Lord Kinnock for the heading.)

Read all of Johann Hari's article on the Independent website by clicking here.

Tories out of step with the world

(5 October 2010)

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown, named Statesman of the Year (2009) by the American Appeal of Conscience Foundation, told the Labour Conference that all the G20 and all the European countries decided to act to stem the recession.   Only one party wanted to do nothing - the Conservative Party of Britain. Read more



Richard Howitt briefs youth delegation to Copenhagen

(1 October 2009)

Before the Copenhagen Conference, Richard Howitt, our Labour MEP, visited Buntingford to brief a delegation of young people from the charity Peace Child International (www.peacechild.org), who were about to go to the conference.

Richard Howitt with Peace Child students

Richard Howitt (centre at front) is pictured with the students, with David Woollcombe, president of the charity (behind him to the left). Clyde Millard, constituency party chairman, is in the doorway at the rear. Click here for more on Richard Howitt.


Labour's Sure Start celebrated in Hertfordshire by the Tories

(14 September 2009)

One of the Labour Government's most important and widely supported policies of the Labour Government was celebrated across Hertfordshire in National Sure Start Children Centres' Week in September, including by the County Council. Jane Pitman, who is Executive Member for Children, Schools and Families in the Tory administration (and councillor for the Braughing division in this constituency), issued a press release to that effect. Nigel Bell, the Labour Group's deputy leader, said: "We know that the advice and support that parents and carers receive at the Centres is vital to the development of children from 0 to 5 years in our many diverse communities."

"It's ironic," he added, "that in the last week we have seen two organizations with links to the Conservative Party, the Taxpayers' Alliance and the Institute of Directors, float the idea of removing funding from Sure Start Centres."

Your important vote in the democracy of the European Union

(1 May 2009)

The European Parliament is a democratic body which really affects your life, for example by taking action to cut emissions across Europe: we cannot do this by ourselves in Britain. Here is the constituency chairman's response to one eurosceptic who has failed to realise the importance of the European Parliament.

He also points to the complete lack of logic in voting for the UK Independence Party and other parties opposed to the European Union: they cannot achieve the aim of withdrawal from the Union in the European Parliament.

Letter to Mercury from Clyde Millard

Doctors' trade union opposes weekend clinics: G.Ps'. petition and leaflet seriously misrepresent Government's proposal

(28 November 2008)

"Throughout Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire G.Ps. are asking patients to sign a petition and some of them are issuing a leaflet, both of which seriously misrepresent the Government’s proposal for family doctor services,” says Richard Henry (at that time Labour’s parliamentary spokesperson for North East Hertfordshire).

Richard Henry

Richard Henry

Richard Henry, himself a Non-Executive Director of a Primary Care Trust, adds that the leaflet, issued by the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Local Medical Committee, tries to scare patients by suggesting that the proposals will end continuity of care by a G.P. who knows you, forcing you to travel to a large clinic run by a faceless corporation. “The British Medical Association (BMA) is perhaps the most effective trade union in the country and what they really oppose is the requirement that clinics open at weekends. After all, they have just negotiated a very good deal for G.Ps. with the Government, which gave them weekends off.”

The Government proposal is quite different. In fact, they are investing extra money to improve G.P. services, both in G.P. practices and in new G.P.-led clinics. Patients will be able to use the clinics, but still stay with their current G.Ps. Even if they choose to register with a new clinic, there is no reason why they should not normally see the same doctor on each visit.

The crucial requirement is that clinics will be open from 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week. Thus, if you want to see a G.P. at a time when your usual surgery is shut, you can go without registering to your nearest clinic.  “There is no mention in the preamble to the petition or in the leaflet of the convenience for patients of this,” says Richard Henry. “ And this does not result it any change to the continuity of care. After all, in an emergency many of us see one of the other doctors who happens to be available at our own health centre, rather than the one who knows us well.” The Government wants one clinic in every area to provide this convenient service to patients and also to take pressure off accident and emergency departments at weekends. For East and North Hertfordshire, this new centre will be in Welwyn Garden City.

It is true that corporations may bid to run clinics. They already run some G.P. practices. However, they will employ G.Ps. to provide the care.The B.M.A. calls this privatisation, but the G.P. service is already privatised:at the formation of the N.H.S. the B.M.A. insisted on doctors being private contractors rather than employees. G.Ps. are therefore able to decide how much of the money paid to them to invest in services, just like corporations. Clinics run by corporations will only get patients to register with them rather than local practices if they offer a better service.


No time for a novice

(28 September 2008)

"Everyone knows that I'm in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice," said Gordon Brown in his speech at the Labour Party Conference. "...Britain cannot trust the Conservatives to run the economy."

"Where would our country be if we had listened to them? No paternity leave, no New Deal, no Bank of England independence, no Sure Start, no devolution, no civil partnerships, no minimum wage, no new investment in the NHS, no new nurses, no new police, no new schools.... no rescue of Northern Rock, no action on speculation, no protection for mortgages, doing nothing to stop banks going under."

In Hertfordshire, we have all just received the Conservative-controlled County Council's magazine Horizons. In it they boast about the 50 Sure Start children's centres that they have opened, with another 32 on the way. Excellent! But no mention that this programme was an initiative of the Labour Government. And no mention that David Cameron proposed to axe this programme!

Don't let a novice run the country. Back Gordon Brown.

Watch or read Gordon Brown's speech in full at www.labour.org.uk/gordon_brown_conference.


Crime down 39% under Labour

(22 July 2008)

Crime is down 39% since 1997, according to the British Crime Survey. "This reverses the upward trend under the Tories, under whom crime doubled, but convictions fell by a third," said Richard Henry, Labour's Parliamentary Spokesperson for North East Hertfordshire. "The increased number of police officers and the introduction of police community support officers is really having an effect. In Hertfordshire, recorded crime fell by 12% in the last year."

The British Crime Survey (BCS) began in 1981 and surveys the population to record the number of victims of crimes, whether they have been reported or not. It is not affected by changes in the way police forces record crime. The information for Hertfordshire, however, is based on crime as recorded by the police. Both sets of statistics record an overall fall in crime in the last year in Britain: the BCS records a 10% drop and recorded crime was down 9%.

Herts Primary Schools get £8 million a year from Labour Government

(21 July 2008)

The Labour Government's Primary Capital Programme will invest £8 million per year for the next 14 years in Hertfordshire's primary schools. This investment was welcomed last month by Cllr. Nigel Bell, who is the Labour spokesperson for education on the County Council.

Benington Windfarm

(12 July 2008)

Richard Henry, Labour's Parliamentary spokesperson for this constituency, has written to the planning authority (East Hertfordshire District Council) in support of the proposal for Benington windfarm.

The Comet newspaper also published a letter from him responding to an article by  the Tory MP for the constituency who is opposing  this move to generate green electricity:

Letter to Comet from Richard Henry

The East Hertfordshire Rural Branch Labour Party, in whose area Benington falls, has also written to the planning authority in support of the proposal. Click here for the text of the branch's letter.

You will need Adobe Reader for the above document and for some others referred to on this page. If you do not have it on your computer, you can download it by clicking on the symbol below.

Get Acrobat Reader


The NHS at 60

(5 July 2008)

Richard Henry, who was Labour's Parliamentary spokesperson for this constituency at the time, congratulated the NHS on its 60th birthday on 5 July 2008:  "Sixty years ago, the Labour Government of Clement Attlee, in spite of the problems of post-War Britain, introduced free universal healthcare. Nye Bevan, the health minister, had to fight the opposition of the Tories and of the medical profession to bring his dream to fruition."

"Eleven years ago, the NHS was struggling against underfunding after a long period of Tory Government. Patients were waiting two years or more for operations, buildings were crumbling and new high-tech equipment was spread sparsely across the country. The Labour Government tackled patients' number one priority of waiting lists, so that the maximum wait is right down - 18 weeks instead of over two years by the end of 2008. Incredibly, the Tories want to scrap waiting time targets, which would allow waiting times to drift back upwards."

"Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, provided extra resources, tripling the spend on the NHS. 32,000 more nurses and 88,000 more doctors now work in the NHS than in 1997. And look at the improved facilities at the Lister or at the completely new community hospital in Hertford - and thank the Labour Party."

For more information on Labour and the NHS, go to www.labour.org.uk/proud.


Red Rose Summer Party

(30 June 2008)

Members from Letchworth Branch, as well as from Hitchin and Harpenden Constituency Party and Hertford and Stortford Constituency Party, as well as a former member visiting from Canada, helped East Hertfordshire Rural Branch to enjoy their Red Rose summer garden party on 30 June 2008.

Richard Henry draws the raffle

Richard Henry draws the raffle from a hat held by branch member, David Evans. His wife,
Cllr. Jackie Henry, looks on.

District Council Elections on 1 May 2008

(2 May 2008)

This was a very disappointing result for Labour. Arthur Jarman and Ian Mantle both lost their seats on the North Hertfordshire District Council, having won them back only one year ago. However, in Arthur's case he lost by only 11 votes.

The Labour candidates in all the other wards which had an election also lost. Labour did not field a candidate in Baldock East.

Elsewhere in the North Hertfordshire District, the news was rather better. Labour retained seats in Hitchin Bearton and Hitchin Oughton.

Full details of the result are on the District Council's website.

In East Hertfordshire there are no elections for another three years, so we are stuck with a Tory administration who spent £1.1 million on making the chief executive redundant and re-organizing staff, £620,000 on dealing with the resultant quarrels between staff, and then an unknown amount on recruiting a new chief executive to sort out the mess.

Speeding traffic in Ordelmere, Letchworth

(1 Feb. 2008)

The County Council has deferred any action to improve safety in Ordelmere. Read the newsletter issued in Grange ward: click here.

Tories to close Westbury Primary and Nursery School in Letchworth

(23 Jan. 2008)

At the County Council Cabinet meeting on Monday 21st January, the Tory Administration agreed to close the much praised Westbury Primary and Nursery School in Letchworth, as of 31st August 2009. Despite a petition on 1,095 signatures, 87 objections and the opposition of local head teachers, parents and children, the Cabinet rejected last minute pleas by local campaigners.

Labour Education spokesman, Nigel Bell, commented: "The Tories have dealt a severe cut to educational resources in Letchworth in an area that can least afford it. The much admired special needs, remedial work and pastoral care, taught at Westbury are in danger of being lost due to this short-sighted decision."

Westbury is in the top 5% for value-added assessments countrywide, and questions remain about the future level of special help and resources that will be needed at the neighbouring schools – Wilbury and Icknield respectively – to cater for children who will have to go there.

Nigel added: "Despite guaranteeing that the Children’s Centre will still be on the Westbury Site, we are still to be convinced that Early Years Provision and Best Practice regarding Special Needs will be properly maintained in this area."

Parents and children will now have to negotiate Icknield Way and the railway line to access the nearest schools.

We note that David Lloyd, Deputy Leader of the County Council, said "Westbury is a fine school, no doubt about that" and the Leader of the Council, Robert Gordon, admitted that recent figures had shown pupil numbers had risen at Westbury.

East Herts Rural Branch supports Benington Windfarm

(7 Dec. 2007)

At a meeting with Barbara Follett, the Labour MP for Stevenage, during a discussion on climate change the proposal for a windfarm in Benington was mentioned. (Under the new constituency boundaries, Benington comes into the NE Herts constituency from the Stevenage constituency and Oliver Heald, the Tory MP for NE Herts has been supporting the opposition to the windfarm.) Barbara suggested that the constituency party should examine the issue and form a view. The East Herts Rural branch, into which Benington falls, debated the issue and gave its support to the development of the windfarm. (This paragraph has been expanded because the earlier version had been subject to misinterpretation.)

Following the branch meeting, the following letter was published in the Hertfordshire Mercury:

Letter to Mercury

The editor of the Mercury omitted the final paragraph which asked how many Bangladeshi refugees Benington was willing to accommodate when Bangladesh floods because of the lack of action on climate change.

More information can be found at www.yes2beningtonwindfarm.com


Estelle Morris in Letchworth

(4 Oct 2007)

Baroness Morris of Yardley (Estelle Morris), the former Secretary of State for Education and Skills,visited the Letchworth Arts Centre on 4 October 2007, to address a packed meeting of Labour Party members. The meeting was organised by North East Hertfordshire Constituency Labour Party, but the audience  included members from neighbouring constituencies as well.


Estelle Morris addresses meeting

Baroness Morris speaking to Labour Party members, watched by constituency party
chairman, Clyde Millard

Estelle Morris initiated a discussion around the direction of policy in the Labour Party at this time of change of leadership, what that means for areas such as education and what Labour should be thinking about for a possible fourth term in office. Stimulating questions from members led to a lively debate, particularly around education, which both speaker and members felt would make a useful contribution to the future development of policies.

In appreciation Estelle Morris was presented with a book covering the history of Letchworth Garden City and the egalitarian principles on which the First Garden City was founded.

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