NE Herts Labour Party

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This is not a complete list of items on this page - only the highlights. Items are in reverse chronological order.

The Autumn Statement

Philip Hammond wakes up, but is still in bed.

Alex Mayer takes over as our MEP

Privatised primary care support services

Capita was "inadequately prepared" when they won the contract.

Labour win

Martin Stears-Handscomb holds Hitchin Oughton seat for Labour.

Richard Howitt's last day

The Labour Party throughout the East of England and beyond is sad that Richard is leaving the European Parliament.

Tories adopt Labour policy

Philip Hammond forced to abandon deficit reduction target.

Bringing back secondary modern schools

Labour calls on the county council to continue to promote comprehensive education.

Richard Howitt MEP

A message to all his constituents.

Win in 2020

The added importance of a Labour government, now that we are leaving the EU.

Britain better off in the EU

Jeremy Corbyn's strong, positive message.

Peace in Europe

The core purpose of the European Union.

Not fit for purpose

The HSJ demonstrates one of the significant problems arising fom the Tory re-organization of the NHS.

Jeremy Corbyn at Labour In for Britain Rally

Jeremy set out the EU's positive effect on the people of UK at a rally in Bristol.

Vote Leave's deceitful leaflet

Disgraceful on three counts.

Stevenage's green council houses

Report on a Co-operative Party meeting to promote greener housing in North Herts.

A budget of failure

Comment on the 2016 budget.

The NHS is disappearing ...

but not the deficit.

Osborne's plan isn't working

John McDonnell says that George Osborne is getting his excuses in before there are more failures.

The trade union bill

A government attack on workers' rights and on the Labour Party.

Syrian refugees

How you can help.

Labour In campaign in East of England

Hilary Benn launches Labour campaign in East of England.

John McDonnell

.... on the Chancellor's failed economic plan.

The NHS is disappearing

This time it's PAH, Harlow.

Labour Conference Report

Britain is stronger in Europe

Richard Howitt MEP addressed a constituency party meeting on the importance of voting to stay in Europe.

Comedian George Osborne

The many contradictions in what he says.

Bernie Passingham dies

The unknown hero of equal pay.

Cutting subsidies for onshore wind and solar makes no sense

A capitalist attacks the Government's irrational energy policy.

Budget misery for the poorest

The Institute of Fiscal Studies' report.

Buntingford in Transition

What Chris York would have said at the Buntingford hustings at Freman College.

Economic tsunami

We can't afford the economic tsunami that leaving the EU would cause.

Climate change

You haven't got time to wait for the Greens.

Osborne's budget

Not what it seems and certainly not what he said.

Council tax up, services slashed

Tories refuse to use surpluses to prevent cuts in services.

Haphazard housing development

Chaotic situation created by the government and the council.

Local houses for local people

The mess created by the Coalition Government.

The dangers of TTIP

The need to ensure that private companies from overseas cannot sue the UK government for taking a democratic decision.

Privatisation - unmitigated failure?

The views of one of our members.

Autumn statement in December

Is this another missed target for George Osborne?

Only Labour can save the NHS

Chris York explains Labour's plan for the NHS.

Success is missing your target by 50%

according to Sir Oliver Heald

NHS waiting lists grow

Hinchingbrooke Hospital reprimanded, but elderly care in Cambridgeshire set to stay with NHS providers.

Cuts in public health funding

... as well as in mental health.

Well over £5 million wasted by Tories at County Hall

Severe cuts in mental health provision in Hertfordshire

"Dumbest statement" by the Chancellor

David Blanchflower on a recent interview with George Osborne.

Click here for archived news

Earlier News

Care for the NHS

Labour's National Campaign Day

Our members were out campaigning

Members campaigning with Doug Swanney (second from left), County Council candidate for Letchworth North

Members from every branch in the constituency were out this morning to campaign with our newly selected candidate for the County Council division of Letchworth North, Doug Swanney. Just some of them are pictured above.

The NHS really is disappearing gradually in front of our eyes.The NHS is disappearing before your eyes That this is government policy was confirmed when Philip Hammond's Autumn Statement failed to even mention the financial crisis in the NHS.

We also learn that Margaret Thatcher had plans to privatise the NHS, but was thwarted by Tories who supported it. Unfortunately, the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition did not thwart David Cameron's plans to bring this about.

"The clever thing about this plan," says David Bell, our Parliamentary Spokesperson, "is that it is being done gradually, bit by bit, so that people in general are not noticing any major change. Indeed, I believe that the government has been rather disappointed that fewer contracts have gone to private providers than they expected.

"Partly this is because NHS units have re-organized themselves to be able to win contracts. Unfortunately, this has meant that these units begin to behave a bit like private companies, with money rather than patient care driving their decisions. And, of course, they spend NHS money on preparing their bids rather than on doing their real job."

Meanwhile, we learn that not a single one of the main hospital specialties can now meet the target of admitting 92% of patients needing surgery within 18 weeks. As a result, the waiting list in England is now 3.7 million and over a 1,000 have now been waiting a year or longer. The last Labour government worked hard to bring long waiting lists under control, but now all this is all being destroyed.

Another current issue is reported below.

26 November 2016

Hammond wakes up to fiscal reality

... but is still in bed

This is the Institute for Public Policy Research's verdict on the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. Of necessity, he has abandoned George Osborne's target of a budget surplus by the end of this Parliament - just as George Osborne previously abandoned his target of eliminating the deficit by the end of the last Parliament.

John McDonnellAs shadow chancellor, John McDonnell (pictured) said: "The Autumn Statement underlines the abject failure of the Tories' economic policy."

Public sector debt will actually increase over the next two years and the subsequent improvement will just about restore it to what it is now - that is 80% of GDP. Bear in mind that Labour had it down to 30.9% in 2001.

Alongside this, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) expects inflation to rise, so that the growth in real wages will just about cease next year and only return to the present meagre rate of growth by 2020. Unemployment will rise too, and remain higher than it is now until 2020.

The Chancellor managed to give the impression that this deterioration was due to Brexit, but the OBR says that this is only partly correct. They say that less than half is due to Brexit - though even that is £59 bn. Around £26 bn is due to public finances being weaker than expeccted last March.

However, another £26 bn is borrowing to invest. At last the Tories are adopting the Labour policy of borrowing to invest, as a way of achieving growth in the longer term. But they are not abandoning austerity. The cuts to income tax credits, designed by Labour to make work pay, will go ahead, although he has very slightly softened the impact. He will, however, go ahead with raising the income tax threshold, which benefits the "squeezed middle", but is taking no measures to prevent this disproportionately benefiting the very rich.

His investment in housing, especially for so-called affordable homes, is particularly needed. However, he will trial the "right to buy" for housing association tenants, thus reducing the current stock of social housing.

As for need for investment in our struggling health and social care systems, he did not even mention it.

24 November 2016

Alex Mayer confirmed
as our MEP

Alex Mayer MEPFollowing the resignation of Richard Howitt as MEP for the East of England (see below), Alex Mayer, who was second on the Labour list at the last European Parliamentary Election, has been confirmed as his replacement. 

She is the only Labour MEP in the East of England and will continue as an MEP until we leave the European Union. On the government's intended timetable, this will be until around April 2019.

Alex spoke at the East Herts Rural branch dinner earlier in the year (see below) and is known to many of us for her zeal in campaigning for the Labour Party.

We shall post contact details for her office on the Europe page when they have been confirmed.

18 November 2016

Privatised NHS service fails

The NHS is disappearing before your eyesCapita won the contract to provide primary care support services in England earlier this year. Now even the Tory health minister, Nicola Blackwood, admits that they were "inadequately prepared" for the task. She told the House of Commons that she had made it clear to Capita that she expects them "to consider compensation as an option".

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that patients "have been put at risk", although the minister denies that any actual harm to patients has been caused.

Labour MP, Geoffrey Robinson, who initiated a debate in Parliament about this, said that the government was "taken in" by "the lure of apparent savings and the prospect of cutting 40% from a £1 bn bill for primary care services". The services include the management of medical records and of payments to GP practices, as well as some basic services like providing prescription pads.

Geoffrey Robinson added: "And they contracted the work out to Capita, of all people."

13 November 2016

Labour win in Hitchin

Martin Stears-HandscombWe need some good news and here it is. In the by-election yesterday for the North Herts District Council, Martin Stears-Handscomb retained the seat for Labour in Hitchin Oughton.

He had 258 votes compared with 200 votes for a local independent candidate and 150 for the Tories, with the Liberal Democrats and the Greens following on behind.

Hitchin Oughton is in our neighbouring constituency. Martin is a former councillor and an active member of our constituency party. However, he used to live in Hitchin.

11 November 2016

Have a curry for the
Labour Party

Come and have a curry with the Royston and District Labour Party. The branch's curry evening is at the Ashiana Spice Curry House (opposite the Jolly Postie), Baldock Road, Royston at 7.30 pm for 8 pm on Tuesday, 6 December 2016.

The cost is £20 per head for a two-course meal. There is no need to pay in advance, but you must reserve your places with the branch secretary. There will be a licensed bar and, of course, a raffle.

Open to all members and their members and friends.

11 November 2016

The presidential election in
the USA

Jeremy CorbynCommenting on today's American election, Jeremy Corbyn said: "Many in Britain and elsewhere will be understandably shocked by Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, the rhetoric around it and what the election result means for the rest of the world, as well as America.

"Trump’s election is an unmistakable rejection of a political establishment and an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people. It is one that has delivered escalating inequality and stagnating or falling living standards for the majority, both in the US and Britain

"This is a rejection of a failed economic consensus and a governing elite that has been seen not to have listened. And the public anger that has propelled Donald Trump to office has been reflected in political upheavals across the world.

"But some of Trump’s answers to the big questions facing America, and the divisive rhetoric around them, are clearly wrong.

"I have no doubt, however, that the decency and common sense of the American people will prevail, and we send our solidarity to a nation of migrants, innovators and democrats.

"After this latest global wake up call, the need for a real alternative to a failed economic and political system could not be clearer.

"That alternative must be based on working together, social justice and economic renewal, rather than sowing fear and division. And the solutions we offer have to improve the lives of everyone, not pit one group of people against another.

"Americans have made their choice. The urgent necessity is now for us all to work across continents to tackle our common global challenges: to secure peace, take action on climate change and deliver economic prosperity and justice."

9 November 2016

Richard Howitt leaves
European Parliament

Richard Howitt and Alex MeyerLast Thursday, Richard Howitt, the Labour MEP for the East of England, left the European Parliament, after 22 years as an MEP. His farewell speech closed to an ovation from his fellow members.

Under the rules, the next on the Labour list at the last election normally takes over from an MEP who is resigning and, in this case, will serve until the UK leaves the European Union - on the assumption that this occurs before the next European Parliamentary elections in June 2019.

So, he will be succeeded by Alex Meyer. However, it requires the EU to ask the government and the government to check with the Electoral Commission and then confirm to the European Parliament that she is the legitimate successor. We do not know where the hold-up is in this convoluted system, but it is outrageous that we are left without a Labour MEP. It is even more outrageous that Richard's staff will lose their jobs because Alex cannot take them over from him.

Richard is pictured canvassing with Alex Meyer at the last European Parliamentary election.

We shall miss Richard not only as our MEP but also as one of the keenest promoters of the Labour Party in the East of England.

30 October 2016 (amended 13 November 2016)

The ten pledges

Jeremy Corbyn has set out ten pledges to the British people. Our parliamentary spokesperson, David Bell, says: "Although the Tories and much of the press, characterise Jeremy as dangerously left-wing, these are sensible pledges that all the Labour Party can get behind. Indeed, most of the electorate would get behind them, if the media ever give them the chance to know what they are."Jeremy Corbyn

In fact, they are:

Full employment and an economy that works for all

This includes investing £500 billion in infrastructure, a policy so "dangerously left-wing" that the Tories are edging towards adopting it, albeit announcing separate amounts for different projects.

A secure homes guarantee

This includes a million new homes in five years, compared with the Tories' inadequate one-quarter of a million. Crucially, Labour proposes that one half of these will be council houses, partly achieved by lifting the ban on borrowing by councils to invest in houses.

Security at work

The Tories have been gradually eroding employee and trade union rights, except where EU rules prevented them from doing so. They have excluded employees from seeking a remedy for illegal work practices by introducing exorbitant industrial tribunal fees.

Secure our NHS and social care

Opinion surveys show that the vast majority of the electorate want a publicly provided Health Service.

A national education service, open to all

This includes providing universal child care services and lifetime opportunities for education. This pledge was written before the Tories made their counter-productive proposal to restore secondary modern schools - a policy now being vigorously opposed by Labour.

Action to secure our environment

Many would see tackling climate change as the most important pledge of all. Yet, the Tories have abolished the Department for Climate Change.

Put the public back into our economy and services

This includes expanding the bus network and the very popular policy of bringing back the railways into public ownership - and that means British public ownership, not German or French public ownership which is what is allowed at present.

Cut income and wealth inequality

The gap between the very wealthy and the rest has grown enormously and is now seen by many of the electorate as totally obscene.

Action to secure an equal society

A consequence - even if unintended - of the Brexit vote has been a growth in intolerance. Returning the country to prosperity which is shared by ordinary citizens, alongside strict enforcement of existing protections, will do much to counter this. Against this background, Theresa May's desire to withdraw from the British-drafted European Charter of Human Rights is especially bizarre.

Peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy

This sounds very like what Robin Cook was trying to achieve as Labour's Foreign Secretary before his untimely death.

The full text of these pledges can be read here.

5 October 2016

Making a virtue of necessity

Tories to adopt Labour economic policies

So, the new Tory chancellor, Philip Hammond, is abandoning his predecessor's target for deficit reduction and is portraying it as a step which he needs to take to deal with the effect of the Brexit vote.

The fact is that he had no choice but to abandon the target, because there was absolutely no chance of hitting it. His predecessor's deficit reduction plans were already in disarray even before the Brexit vote.

In 2010, George Osborne aimed to eliminate John McDonnell, shadow chancellorthe deficit by 2015. Indeed, he claimed that the Labour plan to halve it by that date would result in dire consequences for the UK. In spite of the devastating result of cuts on most UK citizens, especially the most vulnerable, he only managed to reduce the deficit by one-third.

So, he reset his target for 2019, with a surplus by 2020. However, when he was sacked by Theresa May, he had made no further progress towards this new target. Debt has, in fact, increased.

Still, there are encouraging signs. It seems that Philip Hammond is considering adopting the sensible Labour policy of investing for growth. Already, the Tories have announced that they will build houses, not only to provide much needed homes, but also to stimulate the economy. It is predicted that he will announce investment in infrastructure projects, like road and rail schemes, in his autumn statement.

This orthodox Keynesian policy used to be regarded as dangerously left-wing by the Tories. Although they killed off the incipient growth achieved by Labour chancellor, Alastair Darling in 2009, and have since wasted more than six years on a policy that was bound to fail, Labour can welcome the adoption of what they have advocated all along.

John McDonnell (pictured), Labour's shadow chancellor, comments: "The Chancellor should apologise today for the failed Tory approach that has meant he has had to abandon the failed economic agenda of the last six years, an approach which has seen them dragging their heels on tax avoidance, an increase in child poverty, and house-building falling to its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s."

The Tory change of heart is welcome, but is certainly too late. Let us hope that it is not too little as well.

4 October 2016 (amended 6 October 2016)

Puckeridge by-election

The result of the Puckeridge by-election today was a win for the Conservative candidate, confirming that once again the Conservatives hold all the seats on East Herts District Council.

David Bell, the Labour and Co-operative candidate, was fourth, behind both the UKIP and the Liberal Democrat candidate. The votes were: C - 179; UKIP - 79; LD - 75; Lab & Co-op - 46; Green - 38. Turnout was 19.4%. 

15 September 2016

Tories plan to bring back secondary modern schools

Labour calls for the county council to resist

Labour has called on Tory-controlled Hertfordshire County Council to confirm that they will resist any pressure to abandon the county's long-held support for comprehensive education.

Judi BillingThe prime minister struggled to justify her plan to return to widespread selection in our education system during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. She calls it "bringing back grammar schools", but selection inevitably means that most children will go to secondary modern schools, or their equivalent.

Writing today in the local press, Judi Billing, deputy leader of the county council's Labour Group and their education spokesperson, points out that the government has no electoral mandate for this; that the evidence is that grammar schools do not improve educational standards; and that those relegated to secondary modern schools do much worse.

She calls on the Tory council leader, Robert Gordon, and the education portfolio holder, David Williams, to make it clear that they will resist any suggestion of a return to a selective system.

Hertfordshire was an early adopter of the comprehensive system and, under Tory and Labour-led administrations, has given strong support to it.

Private schools are anticipating a boost in demand, suggested Nick Cohen, writing in last Sunday's Observer, because prosperous parents will put their children into private education if they fail the 11+, so that the secondary moderns will lose a swathe of well-motivated and well-supported children, as well as those whom the 11+ test picks out as the most intelligent.

"In 1980, I and my family wanted to move out of London and we chose Hertfordshire specifically because of its good comprehensive schools," says David Bell, our constituency's parliamentary spokesperson.

"Earlier, in the 1960s," he adds, "my wife and I campaigned in London against the 11+ examination, which in our borough condemned 90% of children to being labelled failures at age 11. The Tory government is taking us back to the past in education, health and social care, welfare, and so much else.  Almost everything that has been achieved by the UK in my lifetime is being destroyed."

15 September 2016

Boundary changes - initial proposals


Back in 2010, the Tories proposed to change constituency boundaries and reduce the number of MPs by 50. However, the Liberal Democrats refused to allow this change by the Coalition government.

The Tories said that the change was to reduce the cost of Parliament. It clearly was not, because they have created enough peers since then, to use up all or most of the potential savings.

It would also even up the number of electors in each constituency. On the face of it, that sounds reasonable. However, the distribution of Conservative and Labour voters is different. Labour voters tend to be concentrated in urban areas and, if you dilute each urban area with some of the surrounding rural areas, you reduce the chance of Labour holding the seat.

Elsewhere, Labour voters are more thinly spread, even though there are quite a lot of them. For example, in the last Police and Crime Commissioner election, conducted on the single transferable vote system, 40% of Hertfordshire's voters would have preferred Labour to win. Yet in Hertfordshire we do not have a single Labour MP. The 40% have no voice. Far from making each vote count, the reduction in the number of MPs comes close to ensuring perpetual Tory rule.

Without Liberal Democrat constraint, the government is now going ahead with the change. Furthermore, they have now introduced a new problem. Individual registration of voters was rushed in ahead of its original timetable and had the effect of reducing the total electorate, but the Boundary Commission was told to measure the size of electorates on this reduced register of voters, even though two million more people registered subsequently for the EU referendum.

Initial proposals

The Boundary Commission has the task of implementing the government's change, working within the rules laid down for them, which include using district council wards as the "building blocks" for constituencies. Their initial proposal for North East Hertfordshire is:

Retain the core of the constituency - Letchworth Garden City, Baldock and Royston.

Transfer the Walkern ward back to Stevenage and also transfer Watton-at-Stone to Stevenage (which incidentally makes Stevenage harder for Labour to win).

Transfer Hertford Rural North and Hertford Rural South to Welwyn-Hatfield.

Add three wards (The Mordens, Bassingbourn and Melbourn) from South Cambridgeshire to North East Hertfordshire.

The Labour Party will now be considering these, and all the other, proposals and making their submission to the consultation.

13 September 2016

Red Rose Summer Party

Red Rose Summer Party 2016The Red Rose Summer Party was a great success. There was very little sun, but no rain, so that at least those equipped with pullovers or cardigans could eat in the garden.

The party is one of the East Herts Rural branch's two main fund raising events and this year was held in Standon on Sunday, 4 September 2016. As well as providing the chance for old and new members to meet each other and to talk, it raised, after expenses, over £200 for branch funds. Many thanks to all those who came, contributed raffle prizes and cooked the food.

See you all again at the New Year dinner!

5 September 2016

Puckeridge By-election

On 15 September 2016 there will be a by-election for the Puckeridge ward of the East Herts District Council. This arises from the resignation of Cllr James Cartwright. James David Bell earlier this yearwas elected as a Conservative but resigned the Conservative whip some time ago and had been sitting as an independent when he resigned.

The Labour and Co-operative Party candidate for this seat is David Bell (pictured). The whole council was elected for four years in 2015 and Labour's manfesto for this four year period can be read here.

We shall not be publishing an election address, but David stood for Puckeridge in 2015 and his election address distributed to every household before that election can be read here.

"Virtually nothing has changed since 2015," David says, "which in itself speaks volumes about our council, composed entirely of Tory councillors. The only real advance has been progress on the Neighbourhood Development Plan, but that is down to the hard work of a group of local residents, not to the council."

Currently, there is no opposition at all on the District Council. This is a very unhealthy position, whatever party is in power. There is no one to challenge proposals from the ruling party, nor to ensure that decisions are made transparently, in the council chamber, rather than in a closed party meeting.

Promoted by David Bell on his own behalf, at Town Farm House, Mill End, Standon SG11 1LP.

Voting, postal and proxy votes

If you live in Puckeridge, you should already have received your poll card. You do not need this to vote, but if you have not received one you may wish to check whether you are on the electoral register by ringing the District Council on 01279 655261. The deadline for new registrations is 30 August 2016.

Postal vote ballot forms will be issued around 5 September 2016. New applications for a postal vote must be received by the District Council by 5 pm on 31 August 2016. New applications for a proxy vote must be received by 5 pm on 7 September 2016, although applications in the case of a medical emergency can be made up to 5 pm on 15 September.

30 August 2016

Leadership Election

Jeremy CorbynOwen Smith

Campaign information

There is information about the candidates and their websites on the Labour Party website here.

Details of leadership debates are also on the Labour Party website here and you can watch these debates live there. These include a BBC debate on Wednesday 17 August (to be held in Nottingham).

At present, the closest debate to us is in London on 1 September.

Election timetable

18 to 21 July    Nomination period: challengers to the leader need to be nominated by 20% or more of Labour MPs and MEPs.

22 July            Hustings period begins.

22 August        Ballots begin to be despatched in the fortnight beginning on this date. You will be able to vote online or by post (but obviously not both!). The election will be conducted by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).

14 September    Last date to request the re-issue of ballot papers, e.g. if yours has not arrived in the post.

21 September    Ballot closes at noon.

24 September    Special conference in Liverpool to announce the result.

Eligibility to vote

Members are required to have six months' membership, i.e. they must have been members on 12 January 2016. They must also be fully paid up on 8 August 2016 (noon).

Affiliated supporters must also have six months' membership of their union, socialist society or other affiliated organisation, i.e. have been a member on 12 January 2016. Existing affiliated supporters will be able to vote as long as they continue to be eligible. New affiliated supporters can be recruited from their affiliated organisation/socialist society up to 8 August.

It is now too late to register as a registered supporter.

15 July 2016 (revised 31 July 2016)

Branch and Constituency Party
meetings suspended

The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party last night suspended all meetings during the leadership election, except in very limited circumstances. Therefore, the constituency party AGM will be postponed, as will branch meetings. (It is possible that Royston branch will hold a meeting about the by-election campaign.)

13 July 2016 (amended 15 July 2016

Royston Town Council
By-election

Amy Bourke-WaiteThe by-election caused by the sad death of our constituency party secretary, Les Baker, will take place on 4 August 2016.

The candidate that Labour intends to nominate is Amy Bourke-Waite (pictured).

If you are going to be away on polling day, remember to get a postal or proxy vote. Closing dates to apply are 20 July and 27 July respectively.

If you are going to be abroad, it is unwise to rely on a postal vote: we suggest that you apply for a proxy vote. If you have a postal vote and will be on holiday in the UK, remember that you will have to amend the address to which the postal vote should be sent (and, of course, change it back afterwards). You apply to North Herts District Council (not the Town Council). Click here for information.

1 July 2016

A message to his constituents
from Richard Howitt MEP

Richard Howit, our Labour MEP, issued the following statement earlier this afternoon (he is pictured at his last visit to our constituency party, before the referendum).

The EU Referendum has produced a 'leave' vote in most of my constituency and of the country.

Richard Howitt at the CLPPolitics are based on the principle of consent and we have to accept that the popular will is for Britain to leave the European Union. As an elected representative and on behalf of the Labour Party, I respect the result and must commit to its outcome.

I am proud of the way Labour fought the Referendum campaign. United as a party, I believe we told the truth and regret the outcome.

I do not believe Britain's independence or democracy was ever jeopardised.

I am concerned that the economic consequences of leaving the EU will prove to be fact, not fear.

In Westminster, Labour must and will give the greatest priority to defending jobs and services for working people, from the shocks which will follow.

I worry about the divisive nature of the debate and for the continuing loss of tolerance, respect and openness in our democracy.

It is not how I choose to practise my own politics. It is why I wanted our country to continue to have an open and inclusive politics in relation to our neighbours in Europe.

I was elected on public trust to serve the interests of my constituents in the East of England and to represent our country.

I pledge to continue to uphold those responsibilities for as long as I remain as your Member of the European Parliament. Labour will play our own part to seek to heal the divisions created during the referendum campaign.

In Europe, Labour must play our own role in the negotiations to secure the best future relationships for our country.

It has been an immense privilege to serve you and I am deeply proud of the work I have always sought to undertake to the very best of my efforts - both in the region and in the European  Parliament.

I greatly value the support and friendship I have been given from Labour colleagues, members and supporters across the East of England and from very many organisations  and individuals across the wider electorate.

30 June 2016

Labour win 2020Win in 2020

(or before?)

The British people have decided and we all have to accept that.

Although many of the EU directives on workers' rights were preceded by - even based on - UK legislation, that was legislation by Labour governments. We know that Tories, like Priti Patel, want to abolish "about half" of these protections.

Without the protection of the EU, it is highly likely that the Tory government will chip away at these rights, no doubt saying that this "red tape" hinders business. They have already begun on diminishing trade union rights where these were not protected by the EU.

Coupled with the austerity agenda of our government, this means that it will be the weakest who suffer. George Osborne signalled before the vote that he would use a vote to leave to impose greater austerity and thus shrink the protections that we enjoy from the state.

That makes it all the more important that Labour wins the next general election. We can only do this if we unite in the knowledge that we must win and that we start the campaign now.

We may not have until 2020 to win over the electorate.

Footnote: North Herts District voted to remain by a margin of 8.75%, but East Herts voted to leave, albeit by a margin of 0.73%. Turnouts were 78.2% and 80.3% respectively.

There is a message from the constituency party chair on the members' page.
Alex Meyer's comments are on the Europe page. Alex was second on the Labour list at the last Euro-election.

24 June 2016 (added to 26 June 2016)

Jeremy Corbyn with his shadow cabinet colleagues

Britain is better off in the EU -
Jeremy Corbyn

A strong, positive message went to all Labour Party members from the Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, after his meeting with the Shadow Cabinet on 14 June. He said:

Today I joined the Shadow Cabinet to share a single, simple message.

Britain is better off in the EU.

This is a vote for many of the things we stand for: for jobs, for rights at work and for our NHS.

That is why the Labour movement stands together in its support for a vote to Remain next Thursday."

Go to the Europe page for more information about your choice. There are also reports below here, here, here and here.

16 June 2016

The EU peace dividend

In a last attempt to get a Remain vote on Thursday, our parliamentary spokesperson, David Bell, has sent this letter to the local newspapers, most of which publish on the morning of the vote:

Could I make a very personal plea to all those who read this before they vote in the Referendum?

David Bell My father fought in the First World War and I lived as a child through the Second. Therefore, I am acutely conscious that the beginnings of the EU are rooted in the desire to end wars between the European powers. The EU has succeeded in doing this. War between EU countries now appears to be unthinkable and that is because of the EU. We have also been protected by NATO, but its role has been to protect its members from external threats.

By bringing more countries into the EU – a policy that has been supported by the UK – this “peace dividend” is further extended.

For the last 70 years, I have lived without having to fight to protect my country and without an enemy attacking my country. I do not think that this has ever happened to previous generations. The EU has achieved this by making us dependent on each other and also by ensuring that the countries of Europe are democracies, within a Union which has reformed itself from a body run jointly by governments to a body where we, the voters of Europe, share control.

The success of our trade with Europe is, for me, a bonus – not the main issue. Nevertheless, we depend on the EU to take around 45% of our exports and we buy slightly more of our imports from the EU as a whole, even though no single EU country except Ireland exports more than 10% of their goods to us.

I want all this to continue for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So, I am in despair at the thought that we may leave the EU and lose our voice in this important organisation.

"Last month I celebrated a rather significant birthday with all of my family," says David, "- three daughters, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. This really brought home to me the benefit  that the EU peace dividend has brought to me and my family - and how important it is that we do not abandon the EU now."

20 June 2016

Clinical Commissioning Groups
are “not fit for purpose”

Just because there is a referendum campaign, it does not mean that the NHS is not continuing to disappear before your eyes.

NHS disappearing logoClinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) were supposed to be the bedrock on which the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government built its reform of the NHS. You will remember that the major justification was that the people who knew what was needed were GPs.

Now, writing in the HSJ (the Health Service Journal), Alastair McLellan, its editor, says that many CCGs, bodies which were created at great expense four years ago, are not fit for purpose in the eyes of those responsible for their stewardship. “The chaotic nature of the reforms”, he says, resulted in "endless workarounds". The latest of these is Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).

“Finding good quality chairs, accountable officers and finance directors has become more and more challenging”, he writes. “What limited influence CCGs had on hospitals has virtually disappeared.”

Instead, STPs will provide a national framework, which is set to bypass the annual contracting round (run by CCGs).

The role of CCGs will become administrators of nationally agreed budgets for primary care. “But many CCGs are not strong,” writes Alastair McLellan. He believes that they will have to form groups, co-operating with each other and sharing services, as many already have. Failing CCGs should, he believes, have their function handed over to a neighbouring CCG.

It is ironic that the Coalition government set up these small units to “run” the NHS, just after the Labour government had merged Primary Care Trusts (who were the commissioning bodies at that time), because experience had shown them that larger units were needed for greater effectiveness.

16 June 2016

Peter Wood at 100 explains
why he will vote Remain

Peter Wood at his birthday party

We send our congratulations to Peter Wood, who was 100 yesterday.

Typically, when asked how the last 100 years had been, Peter Wood preferred to look forward and explain why it was important to vote to remain in the EU and to work in co-operation with the other countries of Europe.

Peter Wood, from our neighbouring constituency of Hertford and Stortford, only recently gave up being treasurer of the H&S 100 Club, from which our constituency also benefits, and not long before that he was treasurer of his constituency party. The picture shows him at his birthday party, with some of his family. His wife, Shirley, also a stalwart of the Labour and Co-operative parties, is standing behind him. He celebrated with his family and local friends, many from the Labour party.

1 June 2016

Vote leave in 2020

- for the Tory government to leave office

"When Labour comes into government," Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday, "we will work with our allies to reform the European Union to improve workers' rights. That is the exact opposite of what the Leave campaign wants. They said that by leaving the EU they could 'halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation'.

Jeremy Corbyn

"What are these burdens?

The right to four weeks paid holiday, plus public holidays
The right to equal pay between men and women
The right to decent standards of health and safety at work
Rights to maternity and paternity leave
Protection for people working for agencies
And comprehensive protection from discrimination at work.

"They need to come clean and say what they would scrap."

Jeremy was speaking at the Labour In for Britain rally in Bristol, where Marvin Rees became the Labour Mayor at the May election and where Labour took control of the council. Marvin is of mixed heritage and is now mayor of a city which prospered as a result of the slave trade.

He went on to talk of the EU's importance for combatting climate change, cleaning up our beaches and waterways and tackling air pollution - all matters on which the Tories cannot be relied to act. The UK is currrently in breach of the law on air pollution.

"So vote to remain," he said, " for the vision of Europe that unites, not divides."

20 May 2016

Les Baker

Les Baker at a Labour garden partyIt is with great sadness that we have to announce the death of Les Baker, secretary and former chair of the constituency Labour Party. Although unable to attend meetings recently, he was still advising the local party and took part in some executive committee meetings held at his house.

Les was a Royston town councillor and a former mayor of Royston. He had also been a North Herts district councillor and was secretary of the North Herts local campaign forum. He was the election agent and campaign manager for us at the last general election, and had been one or the other at previous general elections.

After his retirement from being editor of the Royston Crow, he was much in demand, notably by the Eastern Region, for his help and advice on dealing with the local media.

He will be greatly missed in the constituency party and in the Royston and District branch. It is hard to imagine the local party without his presence and wise advice.

We extend our sympathy to his wife, Christine.

Funeral arrangements

Les Baker's funeral will be on Thursday 26 May. The cremation will be at the Cambridge City Crematorium (Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0JJ) at 11.15 am. There will then be a memorial service at St John the Baptist Church, Royston SG8 9LG at 2 pm, followed by a reception in Royston Town Hall SG8 7DA. Those who wish to mark Les's life are welcome to attend any, or all, of these events.

Les asked for donations to be made to ACT (Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust) for the thoracic unit or to the TREAT (Treatment Room Equipment Appeal Team) fund of the Barley GP practice.

Gordon Brown introduced Gift Aid which increases your donation by 25%. Let's make use of it. You can download an ACT gift aid form here. TREAT is not registered as a charity and donations to this fund are therefore not eligible for gift aid.

Cheques should be sent to Newlings of Royston, Fish Hill, Royston SG8 9LB, attaching a Gift Aid form if the gift is to ACT. Mark the form "Thoracic Unit".

8 May 2016 (added to on 19 May)

Labour wins an extra seat
on North Herts Council

We held all three of the Labour seats that were up for election in North East Hertfordshire. In our neighbouring constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden, Labour held two seats and gained one.

So, Ian Mantle remains the councillor for Letchworth East, Clare Billing remains the councillor for Letchworth Grange, and Deepak Sangha for Letchworth Wilbury. Ian Mantle had a majority of 158 over the Conservative candidate; Clare had a majority of 31 over the Conservative; and Deepak had a majority of 13, also over the Conservative. The "hold" in Grange is particularly pleasing, because Labour lost one seat there a year ago.

Cllr Ian MantleCllr Clare BillingCllr Deepak Sangha

Councillors Ian Mantle, Clare Billing and Deepak Sangha

In Hitchin, Labour held two seats and in Hitchin Walsworth Elizabeth Dennis took a seat from the Conservative Ray Shakespeare-Smith, who had been the Chairman of the Council. This gives Labour 12 seats on the North Herts District Council.

You can read the full results of the North Herts District Council
election on the district council's website.

Clare Billing and some of her team
Clare Billing, Labour candidate for Letchworth Grange, with some of her committee room team after the polls closed

Canvass team out in Wilbury

Canvassing for Deepak Sangha (centre at back), Labour candidate for Letchworth Wilbury
6 May 2016

Police and Crime Commissioner electionT

The Conservative candidate, David Lloyd, was re-elected as the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire, but the Labour candidate, Kerry Pollard, took the contest to a second round, after the Liberal Democrat and UKIP candidates were eliminated.

Kerry had 27% of the vote in the first round, against 42% for David Lloyd. In the second round, Kerry had just over 40% of the vote against David Lloyd's vote of just under 60%.

It is encouraging to note that, in Stevenage, Kerry had a lead over David Lloyd of 1,639 votes. David Lloyd led the field in all the other council areas, except Watford, where the Liberal Democrat had a marginal lead over Kerry of 113 votes.

7 May 2016

236 fewer police officers

Since 2010 the Tories have reduced out police force by 236 officers. Admittedly, the Tory Police and Crime Commissioner (PPC) did not have control over the government's reduction in funding.

Nevertheless, he decided this year to reduce the charge in our council tax for policing, over which he does have control. Funny that he decided to do this just before the PCC election, isn't it?

30 April 2016

A deceitful leaflet from
the Vote Leave campaign

Labour In logoJust before they were designated as the official campaign group for leaving the EU, Vote Leave sent out a disgraceful leaflet called The UK and the European Union: the Facts. It is disgraceful on three counts.

First and foremost, it is clearly designed to deceive the reader into thinking that it is an unbiased statement of the facts. Only if you have very good eyesight will you find, on the fourth page, that it is published by the Vote Leave campaign.

Second, some facts are presented in an incomplete or convoluted way to exaggerate their significance. For example, the leaflet is correct that 250,000 people came to the UK from the EU last year (an unusually high number), but it takes no account of the 85,000 EU immigrants who left.

It says that the “the UK’s official EU budget” is about £350m a week. It is expressed in this odd way to make the reader think that we pay that amount. But we do not. The gross amount is about £250m and the net amount is around £162m.

Third, sometimes the so-called facts are just wrong. Officials do not decide how we spend EU money. All EU decisions are taken democratically. Officials merely apply those decisions.

It is also not true that the EU decides whether prisoners have a right to vote. This ruling came from the European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the EU and which the UK took the lead in setting up immediately after the second world war.

David Bell, our parliamentary spokesperson, had a letter on the Vote Leave campaign's persistence in using incorrect cost figures published in the Independent on 18 April 2016 (reproduced below).

Text of letter in Independent

18 April 2016

Green council houses in
Stevenage

Stevenage's Labour and Co-operative Council showed just what could be done when they built eight council houses to very high environmental standards.

Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage CouncilThe houses have excellent insulation, roofs tilted southwards with photovoltaic roof tiles, rainwater harvesting to flush WCs, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and many other advanced green features.

Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Council, (pictured left) explained that Stevenage had needed additional external funding to build these houses because of the cost of materials for such homes. Sadly, the Tory government had abandoned earlier ambitions to build energy efficient houses and, because as a result demand was small, these materials remained expensive.

She was speaking at a meeting organized by the North Herts branch of the Co-operative Party in Hitchin. The meeting was jointly chaired by Martin Stears-Handscomb and Elizabeth Dennis, both Labour and Co-operative candidates for the North Herts District Council at the forthcoming elections on 5 May (Letchworth SE and Hitchin Walsworth respectively) and both keen to make North Herts housing environmentally friendly.

Other speakers at the meeting talked about the success of the co-operative MaidEnergy in installing solar panels on a community building and a school and of a similar scheme - Community Energy Birmingham.

A fuller report on the meeting can be read here. There is more on the Stevenage houses here.

14 April 2016

A budget built on failure

and a recovery built on sand

Once again, George Osborne has failed. Growth forecast down for 2016, 2017 and 2018. And this is compared with his forecast made only four months ago. Debt rises to 83.7% of GDP in 2015/16, and forecasts are revised upwards for subsequent years. He has missed his own debt reduction target.standing up, not standing by

He also has breached his own "welfare cap" target and the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts breaches in the subsequent years also.

Remember, too, that in 2010 he told us that the deficit would be eliminated by 2015. Indeed, he told us that we would end up as a basket case, like Greece, if we did not accept his austerity measures to achieve this. In the event he missed his target by a whopping 50%. How does he get away with it?

This truly is, as Jeremy Corbyn said, "a budget built on failure".

Yet, it will all come right in time for 2019/20, just in time for the general election. His third target of a budget surplus by 2020 will be met, he predicts. He says that we shall have a surplus of £10.1bn that year. But, as Ben Chu has shown in the Independent, this is achieved largely by "creative accounting".

Capital spending is cut dramatically in 2019/20, solely to achieve his target: it bounces back again the next year. £6.3bn comes from the retiming of corporation tax receipts and £1.2bn by clamping down on personal tax avoidance - a measure of "very high uncertainty" in the OBR's words.

"A recovery built on sand," as Jeremy Corby said in his budget response.

18 March 2016

EU facts at your fingertips

Image of the app on a phone

Have you ever listened to someone's tirade against the EU, known that it was wrong, but been unable to remember the facts to argue against it? Your problem is solved.Richard Corbett MEP

You can have the facts - literally at your fingertips, on your iPhone or Android smartphone.

Richard Corbett, the Labour MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside (pictured), has devised an app, which gives up-to-date refutations of recently published attacks on the EU, explodes those persistent Euro-myths and gives some facts about the EU and each region in the country.

No canvasser can afford to be without it. Just go to the appropriate app store and search for "Doorstep EU".

13 March 2016

Unaffordable "affordable housing"

Kerry Pollard at the constituency party meeting

Kerry Pollard at Letchworth meetingKerry Pollard is chair of the Labour Housing Group and had agreed to share with us his passion for providing houses for all who need them before he was selected as the candidate for Hertfordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner.

He castigated the Tory government for having no strategic plan to get the houses built that people need. Affordability had now been redefined as 80% of the market rate, but that was not affordable for most of those without a house. It now needed to be 50%, especially in areas of high house prices such as ours.

It was impossible to get the homes that we need through commercial developers. We must restore the drive to build council or housing association houses. "100,000 new homes add 1% to GDP," he said. "Councils need to be allowed to borrow to build and delays in the planning system have to be tackled." 

The government also has to overcome the shortage of skilled construction workers and the shortage of bricks, which we are now having to import from Holland.

He advocated the use of modern methods of construction, such as those developed by the Building Research Establishment in Watford. These houses can be built in six days. Similar houses are being built in other countries, notably Germany.

"If the political will was there, we could build the houses we needed quickly. This was the only way to deal with house price inflation, but the government was just tinkering at the edges, with small, ineffective or even counter-productive measures such as help with deposits, which merely allow builders to charge even more."

A lively discussion follwed his talk. He also spoke briefly about the Police and Crime Commissioner election. Go to the Elections page for more on this. Go to the Members' page to read the latest report on the Police and Crime Panel. 

25 February 2016

23 June

After Cameron's sideshow

Labour In logoWe have a date for the momentous decision by the people of the United Kingdom, affecting our citizens for generations to come.

With or without Cameron's sideshow, Labour's position is principled. It is not about short term gains or narrow political self-interest. Labour is an internationalist party. "By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone" is a major tenet of the Party. This does not just apply within the country, but also internationally.

Speaking in Brussels after David Cameron's sideshow, Jeremy Corbyn said:"We will be campaigning to keep Britain in Europe in the coming referendum, regardless of David Cameron’s tinkering, because it brings investment, jobs and protection for British workers and consumers. Labour believes the EU is a vital framework for European trade and cooperation in the 21st century, and that a vote to remain in Europe is in the best interests of our people.”

Changes are needed in the EU, but these are achieved by being active and influential in the Union.

Normally voters get very little information about the EU through the media. A lot of what they do get is untrue or at least misleading. Now, suddenly they will get a surfeit of information. We have four months to ensure they get good information, but are not turned off by the campaign.

"We (must) not referee a debate which is between the Tories, but wage our own Labour campaign," Jeremy Corbyn said.

21 February 2016

Labour In

Alex Mayer at the East Herts Rural dinner

Alex Mayer at the EHR dinner

The New Year dinner of the East Herts Rural branch was held last Saturday, 13 February 2016. Branch members were joined by visitors from Letchworth and from other constituency Labour Parties: Hertford & Stortford, Stevenage, Broxbourne and Enfield.

Alex Mayer, herself from neighbouring South Cambridgeshire Labour Party, spoke about the forthcoming referendum on Europe, about the importance of winning the campaign to remain in the Union and about how to do this. She appealed to all members to get out on the doorstep to maximise the "In" vote.

Alex Mayer is pictured (centre) with some of the other guests.

This annual dinner is one of the ways in which the branch ensures that it has sufficient funds to fight elections. It raised £215 for branch funds.

15 February 2016

Tories succeed ...

in destroying public services and selling off the NHS

George Osborne has consistently failed to hit his target for deficit reduction. On the other hand, he has been pretty succesful in destroying public services. The NHS is disappearing This is surely his real aim and he is being frighteningly successful.

The government also plan to sell off the NHS to private companies. They introduced legislation to do this as soon as they came into power in 2010, even though David Cameron had promised not to re-organise the NHS.

Initially, they were not very successful, as figures published in today's Independent show. However, they achieved succcess in 2014/5 when they sold off about £3.5 billions-worth, bringing the total to £5.5 billion since 2010.Heidi Alexander A frighteningly "successful" year.

As Heidi Alexander, Labour's shadow Health Secretary (pictured) said today: "The fact that one quarter of the public are now dissatisfied with the NHS shows just how far it has declined on this Government's watch. Hospitals are in financial crisis, there are severe staff shortages, and patients are finding it harder to see their GP."

Unlike the deficit, the NHS is truly disappearing before our eyes.

9 February 2016

The one-seat challenge

Leon Reefe, Labour Group leaderLeon Reefe, leader of the Labour Group on Hertfordshire County Council, is challenging constituency Labour Parties to add one seat to those already held by Labour in each district of Hertfordshire.

He was at our constituency party meeting on 27 January 2016, together with the deputy leader, Judi Billing, who is also a North Herts District councillor.

Currently, there is only one Labour county councillor in our constituency: Lorna Kercher represents Letchworth North West, which roughly consists of Grange and Wilbury wards.

The county council elections will be on 4 May 2017. The campaign should begin on 6 May this year, the day after this year's elections, he said.

There is a fuller report on this meeting, for constituency party members, on the members' page.

29 January 2016

Osborne's economic plan
isn't working

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is getting his excuses in before he is forced, once again, to reduce his financial targets. Two days ago, he warned us about a "cocktail of threats" brewing in the world economy.

John McDonnell, shadow ChancellorWriting yesterday on the Guardian website, John McDonnell (pictured right), Labour's shadow chancellor, said that all these points had been made by Labour before the Autumn Statement and before the summer budget, but Osborne had ignored them.

"He’s spent a fair few years now talking up how clever he has been," writes John McDonnell, "and how good everything is going to be. This was a result of his 'long-term economic plan'. But there’s never been a 'long-term economic plan'. Just the short-term politics of austerity. The result is Osborne serving up a rather unpleasant domestic cocktail of his own making."

The Chancellor claims Britain is now living within its means, but our borrowing rose to record levels. We are borrowing more from abroad than any other developed country.

He talked about a "march of the makers", but manufacturing exports have slumped and manufacturing output is still lower than before the financial crash.

He talked of "rebalancing the economy", but Britain is now even m ore dependent on the service industry than it was. Since 2010, employment in London rose by 12%, compared with 0.3% in the rest of the country.

John calls on us to remember that when George Osborne arrived in office in 2010, "he promised that 2015 was the year that government borrowing would hit zero". Instead, borrowing is running at £67bn for the financial year to date - above even his revised target.

"We need real investment in science, skills and infrastructure, made for the long-term across the country," writes John. "Without
this, George Osborne offers warnings but no solutions to a domestic cocktail that he made (himself) that will leave the rest of us with the hangover."

Read the full artcle here.

9 January 2016

Government to legislate
to stifle opposition

Jeremy Corbyn MPLabour will repeal the trade union bill when we are elected in 2020. Jeremy Corbyn (pictured left) confirmed this last Monday and added: “We will extend people’s rights in the workplace and give employees a real voice in the organisations they work for.”

At the last meeting of the constituency party before Christmas, Vaughan West explained that the bill, now in the House of Lords, was an attack on the rights of workers through its restrictions on trade unions and that it was also an attack on the Labour Party through its changes to trade union political funds. Vaughan (pictured below) is the constituency party’s trade union liaison officer and an official of the GMB union.

Attack on workers' rights

Vaughan West of the GMBThe government plans to reduce the effectiveness  of unions through these measures:

Attack on the Labour Party

The measure designed to hamper the Labour Party is the change relating to political funds. Margaret Thatcher made it necessary for unions to have a political fund to finance activities outside trade disputes. These funds are financed by an addition to union membership fees and are subject to an opt-out by individual members. The fund has to be authorised by a ballot of members every ten years. In the case of the GMB, £3 per head, which amounts to £8m per year, is used to give regular support to the Labour Party. Special grants are also made, e.g. for election campaigns. The opt-out for members will be altered to an opt-in, almost certainly resulting in a reduction of the size of funds.

“Coupled with the cut in ‘Short money’ (state payments to assist opposition parties), this is a clear attack on the funding of the Labour Party,” said Vaughan. “There is, of course, no proposal to require share-holders in companies to have any formal vote about the making of donations to political parties and this is a major source of funding for the Tories.”

30 December 2015 (amended 31 December 2015)

Herts welcomes Syrian families

How you can help

The Hertfordshire County Labour Party at its last meeting asked for information about how to help Syrian refugees. Catherine Henderson (pictured), who is a member of our constituency Labour Party and is also a member of the Herts Welcomes Syrian Families (HWSF) group, has supplied the following information.

Catherine Henderson of HWSFCurrently District and Borough Councils all across Hertfordshire are preparing to receive refugees on the Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. HWSF was set up to campaign for this and to work with the councils to support families when they arrive. To find out more please go to the HWSF website or its Facebook page. You will find details of other local initiatives supporting refugees here too. These include collections for Calais and individuals volunteering in Greece.

Stevenage's Labour-controlled borough council will receive a small number of refugees in January and other district councils in Hertfordshire, including East Herts and North Herts District Councils, have agreed to accept refugees under the government scheme.

Meanwhile, almost 40 unaccompanied minors have made their way to Hertfordshire this year and are currently being cared for by the county. If you are interested in fostering, please visit www.hertsdirect.org/fostering or follow on Facebook or twitter @HCCFosterAdopt. Alternatively, you can call the recruitment line on 0800 917 0925.

It is currently not possible to take refugees into our own homes, though there is likely to be a sponsorship scheme allowing for this, which will be based on the Canadian scheme. If you would like to support a refugee in your own home, you could consider taking a destitute asylum seeker (see Still Human Still Here). If the Immigration Bill goes through there may be children as well as adults left destitute. Families in this situation may be tempted to ‘disappear’ to avoid having their children taken away by social services.

There is more information in the note that Catherine supplied - click here.

17 December 2015

Jobs, growth, influence, security

Hilary Benn speaking at StanstedJobs, growth, influence, security - these are the reasons that Hilary Benn gave for staying in Europe. Hilary Benn, Labour's shadow Foreign Secretary, was launching the East of England Labour In for Britain campaign at Stansted Airport this morning.

He also emphasised the principles behind a united Europe, set up after the Second World War to ensure that the major powers in Europe would never again fight each other, but would co-operate for the benefit of everyone.

Even though Labour did not think that the EU was by any means perfect, Labour's campaign was not dependant on a renegotiation of some provisions, but was based on those principles. The way to improve the EU was to play a full part, whilst arguing for those improvements.

He also argued strongly for 16 and 17-year-olds to be allowed to vote. The case, he said, was particularly strong for this referendum, because this was a vote about their future. "They will be running the country when I am a pile of dust," he said.

10 December 2015

Stronger In Europe

... and more secure

Labour In lunched by Alan Johnson MPOvershadowed by the media frenzy about Labour's views on Cameron's proposal to join in bombing in Syria, Alan Johnson MP launched the Labour In for Britain campaign in Birmingham on 1 December 2015.

This is the united Labour Party campaign based on the facts - the facts that show how much better off Britain is within the European Union. The launch had already been postponed because of the terrorist attacks in Paris, so it is unsurprising that Alan wrote yesterday in the Daily Mail about the security benefits we gain from close co-operation with our EU neighbours.

Speaking at the launch, Alan Johnson said: “From the European Arrest Warrant to cross-border data-sharing on terrorists, the speed of our response is vital and the lesson from Paris is clear: to tackle terrorism we must stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in  Europe. The security of Britain is inextricably linked to the deep co-operation that membership of the EU provides."

Richard Howitt, our MEP, highlighted many of the benefits of being in the EU when he spoke at a constituency party meeting in October (see report below).

Let's add a few more that we benefit from as individuals. We get compensation if our flights are delayed or cancelled within the EU. Credit and debit card transaction fees have been limited.
Mobile roaming charges have been slashed within the EU and will be abolished in 2017. We can work or retire in any member state.

Outside the EU, we could probably negotiate a deal to trade with Europe. If it is anything like the deals negotiated by Norway or Switzerland, we would be paying just about as much as we do now for the privilege and would have to accept the EU rules, including the free movement of people. So, we would still have EU immigrants. 

If we somehow managed to exclude the free movement of people, we would undoubtedly have to take back the 2 million UK nationals living in the other EU countries. Where would they live and work? Many, of course, are retired and currently get healthcare from, for example, the Spanish health service.

“When this vote comes," Alan said, "it will be a choice between staying in the European Union or leaving and Labour will defend the rights of working people, by campaigning to keep Britain in Europe."

2 December 2015

Conjuror Osborne takes a gamble

The Chancellor's Autumn Statement

First you see the tax credit cuts, now you don't. Labour's campaign for the iniquitous tax credit cuts to be withdrawn - a campaign supported by the more sensible of the Tory MPs - has succeeded.

But you will see them later. George Osborne John McDonnell, shadow Chancellorwas forced into a U-turn, but he is still going to end up in the same place, with the universal credit system cutting support instead by the end of this Parliament. Both the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies have calculated that this will be so.

The IFS calculation shows that the bottom 50% of the population will lose far more than the the top half - and not in relative terms, but in the amount of cash. They are also slightly worse off after the Autumn Statement than they were before. The hardest hit are those in the second decile, many of them the "working poor".

His attempt to claim that his U-turn was the result of an improved economy must have been the most questionable claim, amongst many other questionable claims, that he made. Tax revenues have improved: ironically this is partly because we have lots of immigrants paying tax. He is gambling that this improved tax revenue will continue. But will they?

Of course, he is supported in his view by the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecast. But this forecast is quite different from their forecast last July. So, clearly their July forecast was wrong. Or was it? He is gambling that this forecast is right when the form card for OBR forecasts is not good.

The truth is that George Osborne thought that he could get away with cutting state support for the vulnerable now, rather than closer to the next election, relying on the nasty message that benefit claimants are scroungers, but it did not work.

NHS, social services, housing and the police

There was some good news in the statement - or, at least, some improvement to a bad situation. Bringing forward some of the extra money promised to the NHS is important, rescuing the service when it seemed to be approaching collapse. However, some while ago the Chancellor decided that public health was not part of the protected health budget, so he is cutting support for smokers to quit, for example, thus increasing NHS costs.

The extra money for social care is also welcome and this should ease some of the pressures on hospitals through bed-blocking. However, richer areas will benefit more, because 2% on their council tax will raise more money, whereas it is probably the poorer areas where bed-blocking causes the most problems.

As for his housing programme, it is coming rather late. Since 2010 the best year for house building saw fewer houses built than the worst year under the last Labour government - and one of Labour's failings then was not to build enough houses.

Of course, he could not proceed with plans to cut police forces even further just after the Paris terrorist attacks.

George's plan is not working

George Osborne's economic plan is not working - and never has. As John McDonnell (pictured above), Labour's shadow Chancellor, said in his reply to the Autumn Statement, he missed his target of deficit reduction in the last Parliament by 50%, having told us that failing to eliminate the deficit by 2015 would turn us into a failing economy like Greece. 

Unfortunately, what is working is his plan to reduce the size of services provided by the state. As John McDonnell also pointed out, this is in contrast to allowing the German state to run our railways, the French state to run our electricity supplies and the Chinese state to build our nuclear power stations.

27 November 2015 (revised 28 November 2015)

Chancellor's plans
"in virtual chaos"

In his calm and quiet way, John McDonnell (pictured), Labour's shadow Chancellor, told Andrew Marr on television this morning that George Osborne's plans were in virtual John McDonnell, shadow Chancellorchaos. Osborne used to promise that he would have eliminated the deficit by now, but has only managed to reduce it by a half and our debt has grown in the last year to £1.5 trillion.

In fact, October's borrowing was 16% higher than a year ago, as John McDonnell points out, also today, writing in the Independent on Sunday.

In this article he outlines how he wants to work with businesses, scientists and trade unions to shape the future economy. One mechanism would be a National Prosperity Council, learning from how Finland set up such a body to recover after the collapse of its market in the Soviet Union. Another would be to increase the spending on research and development from 0.5% of GDP to 3% of GDP.

Apparently, George Osborne is preparing to reverse, at least partially, his crazy proposal to cut in-work tax benefits in advance of increasing pay, and this is to be welcomed. It does, however, further emphasise the Chancellor's incompetence.

The Tories like to say that they have an "economic plan that is working". This has never been true and Labour's mistake was not to hammer this home at the last general election. Maybe, people are beginning to realise this, since George Osborne's poll ratings have slipped to 25% favourable against 44% unfavourable.

22 November 2015

Hospital "becoming unviable clinically"

The NHS is disappearing before our eyesThe board of the Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust, Harlow, which serves some parts of this constituency, was told at their last meeting that the Trust "is not viable financially and is becoming unviable clinically", according to the HSJ (the Health Service Journal).

The chair of the Trust, Douglas Smallwood, told the meeting that this was recognised by the boards, funders and regulators, but that many of the causes were "beyond our control".

The Chief Executive, Phil Morley, said that the Trust had refused to agree to the target of seeing 95% of A&E patients within four hours, because this would "compromise patient and staff safety" in view of the "number of beds ... without substantive staff".

The Trust will close four beds on each ward progressively, because it cannot "consistently and safely" staff the number of beds being used.   The increasing cost of agency staff "to maintain a viable workforce" was one factor.

The Trust already has a deficit of £20.1m and may find it difficult to keep within their forecast deficit of £28.6m for the year.

This is another local example of how shortages of permanent staff gives rise to increasing use of agency staff. In turn, the shortage of agency staff means that the cost of using them increases.

The NHS is disappearing before your eyes.

See also below on Addenbrooke's Hospital.

30 October 2015

Report on Labour Conference

Cllr Lorna KercherCllr Lorna Kercher (pictured right) was this year's delegate to the Labour Conference. She was accompanied by Jean Andrews. She gave a comprehensive report to the constituency party meeting on 16 October 2015

Members can read this report by going to the members' page.

21 October 2015

Britain stronger in Europe

"Labour is pro-Europe. Jeremy Corbyn has made it clear that we are not going to walk away," said Richard Howitt, our Labour MEP for the East of England, speaking to a meeting of the constituency party on 16 October 2015 in Letchworth Garden City. (He is pictured below with Clyde Millard, constituency party chair.)

Richard Howitt MEP speaking to a constituency party meeting Labour will run a distinct campaign to stay in Europe led by Alan Johnston and then work with other countries to improve the EU.

"If we come out of Europe, we shall regret it for generations," he said, in a passionate speech about the benefits of the EU. We are heavily dependent on trade with Europe and we are much more likely to get good trading terms with the rest of the world as part of a large trading group than on our own.

He told us that 84% in our East of England constituency's businesses want to remain in Europe.

Many workers' and other rights stem from European legislation, for example, pension rights for part-timers, consumer rights for us all throughout Europe, and clean air and clean water.

Nor should we underestimate the continuing importance of what was the original purpose - peace in Europe.

Nailing the Euro-myths

We needed to nail some of the myths about Europe. Eurosceptics like to say that we could strike deals like Norway and Switzerland, but they pay as much per head as we do to be allowed to trade with Europe. They have to abide by the same regulations, but have no say whatsoever in what those regulations are.

It is not true that "all our laws now come from Europe". An authoritative report from the House of Commons library showed that 14% of laws derived from Europe.

In answer to a question, he demolished the argument that the EU was undemocratic. Almost all decisions are subject to co-determination, by the European Parliament, who are directly elected, and by the Council of Ministers, who are elected by their respective nations. 

The Danish Parliament has gone further and mandates its ministers before they go to Brussels and has a report-back from them on their return. This does not happen in the UK, not because of EU rules, but because the government here does not want it.

Four out of five migrants in the UK are not from the EU. If we did send the EU migrants home, we shoulld have to take back the 2m UK citizens who live in Europe, many of them older people who have retired to Spain, where they are cared for by the Spanish health service if they fall sick.

Campaign now

Richard said that the referendum could be upon us soon, probably in 2016, and we needed to start campaign now. UKIP were setting up so-called debates - which were designed to get the answer that they wanted - and for which they were claiming EU money!

Asked what the other EU countries wanted in return for any concessions in David Cameron's negotiations, Richard said that they wanted the UK to shut up, and an end to the rude interventions of Nigel Farage, so that they could concentrate on real problems, like Greece, Syrian and the general refugee crisis!

17 October 2015

Don't mention the deficit

The NHS is disappearing before your eyesWe already know that Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, which serves part of our constituency, has been placed in special measures. In doing so, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) cited several reasons, but especially staff shortages, especially in critical care and midwifery.

We now also know that CQC reports that two-thirds of hospitals, mental health and ambulance services are either providing inadequate care or require improvement. They warn that the "efficiency savings" of £22bn that the NHS in England must make by 2020 will exacerbate the situation.

Already, hospitals are running up deficits of nearly £1bn in the first quarter of 2015/6, which makes the deficit of £2bn in the year, predicted by the HSJ (Health Service Journal) look optimistic. Addenbooke's alone predicts a deficit of £64m and it is believed that the Lister Hospital group will also be in deficit.

The report, published by Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) - the NHS is full of new quangos created by the Coalition government - was delayed by the government until after the Tory conference and in his speech Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, did not even mention the deficit being run by service providers.

Heidi Alexander, shadow health secretary"Jeremy Hunt cannot keep ignoring these serious warnings about unsafe and understaffed hospitals. Under the Conservatives the NHS is going backwards and standards of care are getting worse," says Heidi Alexander (pictured), Labour's shadow Health Secretary.

Meanwhile, waiting lists grew by a record number in August, although they remained within the target of 18 weeks for 92% of patients, largely because of good performance in gynaecology,ophthalmology and ear, nose and throat. No other specialties met the target.

Hospitals are being squeezed on all sides. Monitor and TDA are pressing them to reduce spending, whilst CQC are criticising them for inadequate staffing levels. They have difficulty in recruiting nurses because pay has been restrained by the government and nurse training numbers were cut by the Coalition. 

Meanwhile, incredibly, the government does not allow hospitals to recruit outside the EU, because nursing is not classified as a "shortage occupation" (unlike ballet dancing!). Low pay, coupled with unwanted and ill-thought-out re-organization, means low morale amongst nurses and other staff, too.

Hospitals are also struggling to meet waiting time targets, whilst beds are being blocked by patients who cannot be released for lack of social care provided by councils, because council budgets have been cut drastically by the government.

If we were cynical - which, of course, we are not - we might almost think that government was engineering a situation where NHS providers appear to fail, as an excuse for making it even easier for the private sector to be called in. Whether the decline is planned or is due to incompetence, the NHS is truly disappearing before your eyes.

Note: the day after this was posted it was announced that the Home Secretary had suspended, albeit temporarily, the rules which banned the immigration of nurses from non-EU countries and which would have forced the deportation of non-EU nurses not earning over £35,000 pa after six years here.

15 October 2015 (note added 16 October)

Forward to the past

with comedian George Osborne

By restoring the business rate system to what it was in the 1980s and before, George Osborne can claim that he is making the "greatest devolution of power to local authorities in living memory". He can only do this because a previous Tory government took the power away!

And, with a straight face, he can do this whilst criticising Jeremy Corbyn's politics as taking us back to the 1980s. Incidentally, in contrast, elsewhere at the conference, it was proposed that councils should no longer be able to set their own procurement policies.

His pitch to the Tory conference was full of such contradictions. Comedian George OsborneThe return of the control of business rates to local authorities is a contradiction in itself of his "great Northern powerhouse" line, since it will be the authorities in the prosperous south who gain the most.

He is about to cut in-work tax credits, whilst claiming that his party is the party of working people. But his colleague, Jeremy Hunt, says that the cut is fine because it will make the British work as hard as the Chinese. On the other hand, apparently, the directors of companies do not need this sort of incentive, not even being able to afford a 50% marginal tax rate, in the Tories' view.

George Osborne also says that we cannot afford the tax credits, but also claims (even if the evidence does not bear out what he says), that nine out of ten workers will be better off, as a result of other measures that, by implication, we can afford. Unless that tenth worker is taking a very big hit indeed, both statements cannot be true.

He boasted also that he had protected NHS spending, but he did not mention the £200m cut in public health funding (see below). That is cuts in services like school nurses, stop-smoking programmes, mental health support and anti-obesity campaigns. At a stroke of the pen last June, George Osborne decided that public health did not count as NHS spending.

Meanwhile, NHS hospitals are forecasting a £2bn deficit at the end of the current year. By co-incidence, this is exactly the amount that smoking costs the NHS each year.

If it was not so serious, it would be funny.

7 October 2015

Stirring up divine discontent

Jeremy Corbyn, quoting Keir Hardie, called on the Labour Party "to stir up divine discontent with wrong".

Jeremy CorbynHis initial campaigns will readily unite the party behind opposing the cuts in tax credits, promoting the building of council and housing association houses and championing human rights, starting with an outcry against the beheading of a young man in Saudi Arabia for political campaigning, set for tomorrow.

The immediate campaign, he said, should be to get people on to the electoral register this autumn. By bringing forward the date for the completion of the process of individual registration to the next register, the government could be excluding 2m people from the register. In particular, this will be young people, especially students. 

He characterised this as gerrymandering, before the elections in 2016 and, crucially, in time for the Boundary Commission to start work on new boundaries, with these people not counting towards the set size for the smaller number of constituencies.

You can watch his speech here.

29 September 2015

Discuss Europe with
Richard Howitt

Richard Howitt MEPRichard Howitt, our indefatigable MEP, will be at an all-member constituency party meeting on the evening of Friday, 16 October 2015 at 7.30 pm. Put it in your diary.

Do you understand the danger of some provisions of TTIP - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? Do you know how much power the European Parliament has? What can the EU do about the immigration and the asylum crisis?

Richard will discuss the forthcoming referendum and will also answer your questions.

The meeting is on a Friday evening, because Richard normally spends other weekdays in Brussels or Strasbourg. The venue of the meeting is the North Herts District Council offices in Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City SG6 3JF.

This meeting is open to all members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. Members from outside the constituency and new members not known to the constituency party officers should bring their membership cards with them.

Go to the Europe page for more about Richard.

15 September 2015 (revised 27 September 2015)

59.5% on the first round

Jeremy Corbyn is the new leader

Jeremy CorbynJeremy Corbyn has become the new leader of the Labour Party, winning on the first round. He had wide support amongst members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. He did not win just on the votes of registered and affiliated supporters: he had 49.5% of the votes of full members, well ahead of any other candidate.

Before the announcement of this result, Tom Watson had been elected as the deputy leader. This contest went to three rounds, but Tom Watson was in the lead by a considerable margin in all three rounds, just topping the required 50% in the third round, with Stella Creasy in second place with 26.4% of the third-round votes.

The detailed results are on the Labour website.

Clyde Millard's message to the constituency

Clyde Millard, CLP chairClyde Millard, chair of the North East Herts Constituency Labour Party had this to say: 

"After long Leadership and Deputy Leadership election contests Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson have been decisively elected. 

"With such a clear result it is important that the Party is united in its support for the Leadership so that we can take on this cruel Tory government. Though with four men and five women on the ballot papers for both posts the Party, in its collective wisdom, did not manage a gender balance! If you wish, you can see the results declared and Tom and Jeremy’s acceptance speeches here.

"One very encouraging aspect of recent months has been the huge increase in the number of Members, Registered and Affiliated Supporters and, on behalf of North East Herts CLP, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to everyone. Our CLP meetings are open to all members and supporters, and are normally held on the last Wednesday of the month, whilst on Friday 16 October we have Richard Howitt, our excellent MEP, who will lead a discussion on European issues - details to follow."

12 September 2015 (revised 13 September 2015)

Too wet to woo

The East Herts Rural branch held its Red Rose Summer Party last Saturday in Buntingford. Thirty members enjoyed the first fine day Members dine indoorsfor a week. Fortunately, it was not too wet to woo - but this was the answer to one of the light-hearted quiz questions. What was the question?

They also enjoyed good company and fine food and, between them, raised £325 for branch funds.

The main decision was not who to vote for as leader, but whether to eat inside or outside and which of the delicious puddings to have first.

Members dine outdoorsA Labour poster signed by Andy Burnham was auctioned and may become valuable, especially if he is elected leader and then becomes prime minister. No one dared ask the winner if this possibility would affect her vote!

Raffle prizes were generously donated by many members and ran from Champagne to glossy books about Jamaica and India.

And the quiz question was: why do owls never mate when it is raining?

9 September 2015

Equal pay hero dies

A hero that most people have not heard of died last week at the age of 90.

Bernie Passingham was the Transport and General Workers' shop steward for the sewing machinists who went on Bernie Passinghamstrike in 1968 at Ford's Dagenham plant - the "Dagenham Girls" of the recent film, Made in Dagenham. The reason for their strike was that they had been classified as unskilled in a new pay structure, and they claimed that they were just as skilled as some men who had been classified as skilled.

Their three week strike brought the factory to a standstill. Barbara Castle's Diary - she was Secretary of State for Employment at the time - shows that her immediate concern was lost production, but she met the strikers and obtained a settlement. She thenbrought forward the Equal Pay Act, which became law in 1970.

Bernie had not hesitated in his support for the machinists, in spite of the "macho culture" which surrounded him in the 1960s. The dispute lingered on at Fords and was finally settled in 1984, when the machinists went on strike again. It was Bernie who insisted that the joint unions at Ford included equality in grading for women in their claim.

The picture shows Bernie accepting the Wainwright Trust's Breakthrough Award at a ceremony in 2006, on behalf of himself and the women who went on strike in 1968 and 1984.

19 August 2014

The leadership election begins

Ballot papers are due to start going out tomorrow (14 August) for the leadership and deputy leadership elections. The choice of leader - and deputy leader - is a very seriious matter, affecting not only the furture of the Labour Party, but the future of the country.

This constituency has chosen not to nominate (i.e. to recommend) particular candidates, but urges you to listen to all of them and to read what they propose. There are some suggestions about where to find information below.

the four leadership candidates

Some broadcast hustings are still available and you can wait until the Sky News hustings at 7 pm on 3 September before voting. More information below.

You can read the updates from the candidates for the leadership on the Labour Party's national website here, and for the deputy leadership here.

If you are looking for a reasonably unbiased comparison of the four leadership candidates' policies you could do worse than looking at the Independent or the Guardian.

13 August 2015

The Red Rose Summer Party

The East Herts Rural branch will be holding its usual summer Garden Party on Sunday, 6 September 2015 in Buntingford. Enjoy good food in good company - and help raise very necessary funds to fight the Tories.
Red Rose Summer Party in 2014

The picture shows members engrossed in political discussion and their children engrossed in Connect Four at last year's party.

If you are a member of this constituency, you can find details on the members' page. However, members from other constituencies and other Labour supporters are very welcome. If you are interested in coming, please email the East Herts Rural branch secretary, Claire Bell, for details.

14 August 2015

A capitalist lauds the socialist agenda on climate change

"The government is turning the English language inside out in an effort to dress up drastic cuts in spending on things we need as 'cold, hard economic sense'," writes Bruce Davis in the Independent on Sunday.

Cows under wind turbinesBruce Davis is one of the founders of the peer-to-peer lending group, Zopa, and calls himself "a capitalist with a conscience". He castigates Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, for abolishing the Green Deal and subsidies for onshore wind and solar farms.

These, along with gas, he says, are the cheapest forms of energy. Yet, the government continues to offer special deals for building nuclear power plants and to give subsidies for off-shore wind farms, which are the dearest.

He says that the "socialist" levy on energy bills has helped leverage billions of pounds of inward investment, long-term skilled jobs and financial support for (rural) communities who have seen their other local infrastructure spending slashed.

He gives the Government's account of the financial crisis short shrift: "The Government is busy rewriting the history of 2008, blaming over-spending on benefits for the collapse of Lehman Brothers ....... The socialist agenda of 2008 was the one that provided the rationale to bail out the remaining banks rather than let them fail. The markets failed and socialism dug them out of a very deep hole."

You can read his article here.

27 July 2015

Stand up for Labour - in Hitchin

Cheer yourself up with the comedians at Stand up for Labour - Friday 31 July 2015 from 7.30 pm to 10.30 pm. The comedians will include Alistair Barrie and Christian Reilly, both Edinburgh previews. It will take place at Westmill Community Centre, Hitchin SG5 2PG.

For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

26 July 2015

The best hustings yet

Leadership candidates

Possibly the best hustings yet was the LBC radio broadcast. You can see a film of the candidates in the radio studio on YouTube. The film is in two parts. Click on part 1 and then part 2.

Further broadcast hustings for the leadership contest have been announced. Forthcoming broadcasts are:

Monday, 17 August, 7 pm: Channel 4 News.
Tuesday, 25 August, 8.30 pm: BBC Radio 5Live.
Thursday, 3 September, 7 pm, Sky News.

If you missed earlier broadcasts, you can still see:

the Sunday Politics Show of 19 July on BBC1 on iPlayer;
the Victoria Derbyshire Show of 13 July on BBC1 iPlayer;
the Stevenage hustings on YouTube.

You can also see the Stevenage deputy leadership hustings here.

The timetable for the elections and more information is in our previous article below.

18 July 2015 (amended  23 July 2015)

Labour votes against secret
trade tribunals

Confusion about the position of Labour MEPs

Richard Howitt and TTIP

The European Union is negotiating a trade deal with the USA - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Many have been lobbying their MEPs about this.

We need to be clear that the European Parliament cannot block the negotiations. It will, however, be able to ratify or reject the deal once the negotiations are complete, which may not be for several years yet. Because of this power, it can hope to influence the negotiations and this is what the Labour MEPs, along with MEPs from other countries, have been trying to do through a report to the Parliament on the negotiations.

Campaigners seem not to have fully understood this and they even blocked the email system of our Labour MEP, Richard Howitt, for a couple of days, by sending emails calling for him to vote for an amendment which he himself had put down! Richard issued a message to his constituents, which you can read here.

Labour supports a trade deal which would create growth and jobs in the UK, but opposes the inclusion of public services and measures which could result in a diminution of workers' rights and of environmental standards. Public services like the NHS - but not only the NHS - must be excluded and any future government must not be prevented from bringing privatised public services back into the public ownership.

Labour also opposes the inclusion of ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement), which is, in effect, a secret tribunal, where companies would be able to sue governments.

Labour MEPs voted for amendments on all these issues, but did not succeed in getting them all passed. All the Labour MEPs had pledged to oppose ISDS and, therefore, voted against the report, although they still support the idea of a trade deal.

14 July 2015

County Council plans to cut
Home Start funding

The Tories at County Hall assured the Labour Group last March that funding for Sure Start and Home Start was not under threat. Now, however, after the election, they have announcedLeon Reefe, Labour Group leader their intention not to fund the home-visiting service.

The on-line petition callling for them to put this service out to tender, i.e. to provide the funding for it, had garnered 2314 signatures before it closed in advance of the meeting to consider this on 21 July.

The Tories say that the work will be covered by health visitors - already under strength and under pressure - and by volunteers.

"The county funding for Home Start of £395k will be lost, but it is worse than this, because the service also receives £200k of NHS money through the Clinical Commissioning Group," says Leon Reefe, Labour Group leader on the County Council (pictured). "If there is no county money, this funding will be lost as well."

14 July 2015

More on budget misery

A clear exposition of how the burden of this budget falls heavily on the poorest in society comes from the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies. Over the period up to 2020, the poorest will lose over 6.5% of their income and the richest will lose under 2%.

Worse than this, if you have the misfortune to be a little better off than the very poorest, i.e. in the second decile, you will lose almost 7.5% of your income. Compare this with the 9th decile - the very rich, rather than the obscenely rich - who actually gain slightly.

Histogram of the effect of the budget July 2015

You can read the IFS report on the budget here.

This comes hard on the heels of a report showing that, before the budget, the poorest fifth of the population - that is, the two lowest deciles mentioned above, paid 37.8% of their income in taxes, whereas the richest fifth paid only 34.8%. This report came from none other than the Office of National Statistics.

10 July 2015

Conjuror Osborne

The July budget

Don't let George Osborne's smoke and mirrors take you in. He has adopted the Labour policy on the minimum wage. He has not adopted the Labour policy of encouraging employers to pay the Living Wage. Instead, he sets out deliberately to confuse voters by passing off the minimum wage as the living wage.

George OsborneOf course, it is not right that profitable employers should be able to pay low wages and effectively be subsidised by the taxpayer through tax credits to their employees. Tax credits were introduced by Gordon Brown to make work pay and get people off benefits. They are related to needs and would automatically come down through the higher minimum wage, in cases where that is fair.

It is not fair to cut tax credits and pretend that this is offsetting the rise in the minimum wage. If it was merely offsetting the rise, it would be unnecessary to cut them. The fact is that many will lose up to twice as much as they gain. Others will find it better to stay on benefits.

Moreover, before the election the Tories promised not to cut tax credits. He will also defer the promised improvements for child-care, which were promised before the election to trump Labour's fully costed proposals. We are so used to broken Tory promises that we hardly notice them.

Also, don't be taken in by the ploy of threatening huge cuts in government spending and then withdrawing some of them in the budget, so that it does not seem to be as bad as you were expecting.

To achieve this, he has deferred eliminating the deficit for an extra year - a change in his "long-term plan" from only three months ago.

Don't forget that in 2010 he told us it would be a disaster not to eliminate the deficit by 2015. His plan to do this was a complete failure. On the most generous method of calculation, he cut it only by half.

To cut the other half he is taking such measures as restricting pay rises to 1% for public sector workers, although past restrictions have already reduced their standard of living considerably over the last five years.

The NHS is, he claims, "the government's priority" and he will fully fund the "Stevens plan" which requires £8bn more - but not until 2020. Meanwhile, the NHS must find £22bn in "savings", part of which will be below-inflation increases for nurses and other health workers.

One footnote: clean energy will become more expensive because renewable energy suppliers will have to pay the climate change levy. No, it does not make sense.

9 July so15

Refuse site closure causes traffic chaos in Letchworth

Sign the petition

Tory-controlled Hertfordshire County Council is now closing most of its refuse sites for two days each week. The Letchworth site in Blackhorse Road is closed on Tuesdays and Cllr Lorna KercherWednesdays.

This has increased usage so much on the other days that people are queuing for as much as two hours to dispose of their waste. This causes frustration and anger.

The queuing cars block the entrances to businesses along the road causing them inconvenience. In order to get to businesses, drivers have been overtaking the queuing traffic on the wrong side of the road, which causes problems when they meet cars leaving the waste site and which could be dangerous.

Lorna Kercher (above, right), the Labour councillor for Letchworth North West, has set up a petition to the council. You can sign the petition to call on the council to revert to seven-day opening for this site by clicking here. You must live, work or study in Hertfordshire to sign the petition.

29 June 2015

Who will you vote for?

The four leadership candidates in Stevenage

Don't make up your mind without hearing the candidates speak. On Monday, 13 July they will be on BBC2 at 9.15 in the morning. On 19 July they will be on Sunday Politics on BBC1. Details of other broadcasts are yet to be finalised. Details are on the Labour Party website.

Meanwhile, if you were not at the Stevenage hustings, you can watch a film of the meeting by clicking here.

The constituency party will discuss whether or not to make a supporting nomination at their next meeting on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Members who are not in arrears and affiliated supporters may take part in this meeting. Details will be emailed to members and supporters and will be posted on the members-only page of this website.

28 June 2015
Pictures of the leadership candidates

The hustings period has begun and already there has been a hustings on BBC2 and in Stevenage.   Go to the Labour Party website by clicking here for more information about further broadcasts and hustings in other parts of the country.

The timetable is:

31 July 12 noon: Supporting nominations close.*
12 August 12 noon: Last date to enrol as a member, affiliated supporter or registered supporter.
14 August: Ballot papers despatched by post.
10 September 12 noon: Ballot closes.
12 September: Special conference to announce result.

* The constituency party will discuss whether to nominate one of the candidates at its meeting on 29 July.

There are weekly updates from the four candidates on the Labour Party website here.

There are also weekly reports from the deputy leadership candidates here.

There is more information here and here.

20 June 2015

What went wrong on 7 May?

Read what members think and contribute your own ideas. Ann Black, a constituency party representative on the Natiional Executive Committee, has summarised comments made to her. You can also contribute your own views. Go to the members-only page.

24 June 2015

Don't miss out on your vote

Leader and Deputy Leader elections

Unions Together logoMembers of affiliated trade unions who pay the political levy will no longer automatically get a ballot paper to vote for the new leader and deputy leader. They have to sign up individually as affiliated supporters of the Labour Party, although there is no charge.

Their local constituency Labour Party will also be notified, so that they can attend branch and all-member constituency meetings.

Signing up is easy. Go to the Unions Together website here.

19 June 2015

Surge in membership

The constituency membership secretary, David Bell, reported at the constituency party meeting a surge in membership since the election. It is clear that many people feel appalled by the result of the election and wish to do something about it. Reporting on the two month period, David Bell reported that there were 45 new members. This reflects the national trend.

"There are still more joining since then, " David says. "There have been four more new members in the four days since the meeting, and the number of registered and affiliated supporters is beginning to increase as well."

1 June 2015

Choosing a new leader

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the process of selecting a new leader, with wild talk about trade unions controlling the vote. This was not true under the old rules and is even less true under the new rules introduced by Ed Miliband.

First, candidates have to be nominated by at least 35 Labour MPs. After that, selection is by the vote of members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters, using the single transferable vote system. Each of these has one vote, so each vote has the same value.

Affiliated supporters are members of affiliated bodies, including trade unions who opt into the Labour Party. Far from dominating the vote, there are disappointingly few of them, but it may be that more will sign up before the vote is taken. Even so, only about 10% of eligible trade union members voted five years ago, so it is unlikely that even that number will sign up as affiliated members. Even if they do, this will definitely not be a trade union block vote: each member will make up his or her own mind, whether they are full or affiliated members.

Similarly, there are not many registered supporters. It does not cost anything to be a registered supporter, but they will have to pay a fee of £3 to vote in the election.

Nominations for leader close on 15 June 2015 and for deputy leader on 17 June 2015. There will then be a series of hustings meetings, as well as programmes on the television.

The final date for signing up as a member or supporter is 12 August 2015 and ballots will be despatched on 14 August, with a deadline for their return of 10 September. The result will be announced at a special conference on 12 September 2015.

1 June 2015

Buntingford in 2050

Chris York imagines the future

This is what Chris York would have said at the hustings meetting at Freman College on 28 April 2015 in answer to the first question put in advance to all candidates. In the event, his car broke down on the way to the meeting.

Chris YorkStanding in Buntingford High Street in 2050, it looks much as I remember it from 2015. The supermarket has gone, because no one goes to supermarkets any more – they do it online.   But there are lots of small businesses running specialist shops, including specialist food shops, like the cheeseshop.

After a period of great difficulty, caused by the planning chaos created by the Conservative - Lib.Dem. government of 2010-2015, when far too many houses were built all at once in Buntingford, the infrastructure problems have been sorted out.   There was a small silver lining, because Buntingford took most of its quota for houses up to 2031 in 2015 and 2016. So, hardly any more house were built up to 2031.   Since then, because of the growing number of elderly people, it has been necessary to build a few more houses for the Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants who supplement the shrinking British work-force.

However, the demand for houses for London commuters has collapsed, as London became too big and expensive to be viable.   Only the rich were living in London and they found that they could not get their houses repaired because workpeople could not afford to live anywhere near London.  So, the bosses decided to move elsewhere.

Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester were in easy reach using the now somewhat out-dated high speed rail links.   Buntingford itself now has a magnetic levitation train link to the railway at Stevenage.   However, the link to Cambridge is now very out of date, provided by an extension of the guided bus routes.   The town council is agitating for this link to be updated.

The link to Hertford and beyond has seen some changes.   The carriageway was dualled for all its length in 2020, but has now been reduced to a single carriageway, with the other carriageway used for a mag-lev train and a cycle path.   People have largely ceased to drive cars except for visits to the countryside.   They travel on the mag-lev train.   If they do use their electric cars, they are guided by wires under the road surface, allowing the use of single carriageways.

In Buntingford, the Co-operative Group, now the biggest food retailer in the country, supplies most of the internet-bought groceries.   Their premises have been expanded on to the carpark, because no one goes there by car.   This distribution centre uses electric vehicles after a brief experiment with using drones, which was abandoned after several crashed into windows in sudden gusts of wind.

The improved efficiency of batteries and of solar panels, together with the harnessing of wave-power, has meant that virtually all power is provided by electricity.  Investment in these technologies by the Labour government between 2015 and 2025 set the UK on the course to carbon-neutral electricity generation by 2030.   Ed Miliband also managed to secure an international agreement in 2020 on carbon emissions, helped by enlightened support from China, whose huge dollar holdings were used to force the USA into line.   We still have not found a way of dealing with nuclear waste;  so nuclear power has been abandoned.

Much electricity now is carried by a super-conducting network from the Sahara, although the solar panels installed on school roofs in the 2020s by the Labour-controlled Hertfordshire unitary authority (now again in charge of all schools in Hertfordshire) still provide all the power they need.   However, the Civic Society is campaigning against the receiving station for electricity beamed from panels on satellites, to be built north of Chipping.

Finally, the centenarian society of Buntingford, with 50 members chaired by Stan Bull, has just had a great success in getting funding for a new and luxurious old people’s home on the Nevitts site.   The prime minister, Emily Benn – Tony Benn’s grand-daughter – has just announced a large investment by the government in the National Health and Social Care Service, which included this project.

29 April 2015

Hustings meetings

Letchworth Churches arranged a very well attended hustings meeting in the Icknield Centre in Letchworth Garden City on 24 April 2015. The candidates are shown below, listening to one of the many questions.

All the parliamentary candidates

l. to r. William Compton (UKIP), Sir Oliver Heald (Cons.), John Francis (editor, The Comet), Chris York, Joe Jordan (Lib.Dem.) and Dr Mario May (Green)
(photo courtesy of The Comet)

Apology

Chris apologises for missing the hustings meetings in Baldock and Braughing, because of a virus infection (clearly a Tory virus!). To make up for his absence, he was at the Baldock Community Centre on Saturday, 18 April and at the Old Boys' School, Church End, Braughing on Saturday, 25 April.

Chris York in Baldock

Chris York was at the Community Centre in Baldock on 18 April. Anyone could drop in and talk to him and a number of people did and it turned into a question and answer session. There was a lot of anger that the Tories and Liberal Democrats continued to get away with falsely claiming that our economic problems arose from Labour's economic policies and with boasting about their "long term economic plan that is working", when it is manifestly failing completely.

Tuition fees were also discussed, with the audience making a case for a graduate tax. The audience also wanted the return of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to help poorer students staying on at school. Chris promised to ask for the re-introduction of the EMA to be considered after the election.

The shortage of social housing was also discussed, as well as the need for regulation of private lettings.

"I very much enjoyed this thought-provoking discussion with the residents of Baldock," Chris York said afterwards.

Chris York in Braughing

Steven StoneWe were not allowed to display posters on parish notice boards in Braughing, but our stalwart district council candidate for Braughing, Steven Stone (on right of picture), delivered letters to almost all the houses in Braughing.

Unfortunately, very few residents came to meet Chris. However, Chris said:  "The point was to give residents the chance to talk to me, because I had been unable to be at the hustings meeting. I was very disappointed that a virus infection prevented me at the very last minute from being at the hustings. So, I wanted to show that I was available to the people of Braughing if they wanted to talk to me."

19 April 2015 (added to on 26 April)

We can't withstand an
economic tsunami

The UK economy could take a big hit if we left the EU. The Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics reckons that the UK's economy could shrink by 3.1% or even more. This would be like having the financial crisis all over again.

EU flagAt best, they think that economy would still shrink by 1.1%. or about three times the net contribution that we make to the EU.

Over 50% of our exports now go to the EU. We need to boost exports, because we are currently running a record current account deficit of 4.5%. This means that we are spending more on overseas goods and services than we receive for our goods and services. Only Turkey has as large a current account deficit. Interestingly, Greece, Italy and Spain are all running surpluses. 

For full access, if we left the EU, we would need an agreement like Norway's or Switzerland's. This is unlikely  to cost much less than our EU contributions.

Under such an agreement, we would have to abide by EU rules, including the free movement of people, but would have no say whatsoever in what those rules were.

UKIP allege, very unconvincingly, that the UK would be able to get amore favourable deal, but leaving the EU would hardly make the other EU members sympathetic to the UK's needs. Furthermore, they think that such a deal would allow us to exclude EU workers from the UK, although presumably we would have to take back the 5.5m UK citizens who now live in the EU or, at best, stop any more going.

The Tory solution is to negotiate some changes in the EU and then have a vote in two years' time, thus creating two years of uncertainty, choking off inward investment into the UK, just as they choked off growth from 2010 to 2014.

This is why Labour is not offering a referendum. This is why Labour believes that the UK must remain in the EU. With our economy still in a fragile state, now is the worst possible time to be even contemplating a referendum. Leaving the EU would, in the words of the economist David Blanchflower, cause "an economic tsunami". We cannot allow that to happen.

21 April 2015

You haven't got time

to wait for the Greens

“Tackling climate change is the most important thing I can do in politics for the long term future of my kids and their generation.”   These are not the words of a Green Party politician, but of Ed Miliband.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, in a letter in the Independent today, warns that we must urgently draw up plans to evacuate flood-prone cities and protect critical infrastructure and to move quickly to a zero fossil-fuel economy.

Ed MilibandWhen Ed was Climate Change Minister in the last Labour government, he worked tirelessly for international agreement on tackling climate change. Next time, in Paris, he will be advised by John Prescott, who is generally recognised as the catalyst in getting the Kyoto protocol accepted in 1997.

He will be seeking global targets for reducing carbon emissions leading to zero net emissions by 2050. Here at home, he will make our electricity carbon-neutral by 2030. And it is not a question of sacrificing economic progress to achieve this: he aims to create a million new jobs by making Britain a leader in green technologies.

"I work as an environmental consultant," says Chris York, "so that I am very conscious that we can’t hang around. We must act quickly. This is just one of the reasons why you should vote Labour on 7 May."

17 April 2015 

The early bird catches the train

Campaigners with Chris YorkChris York was up in good time on 1 April 2015 to catch even the earliest commuters, to promote the rail unions' campaign Action for Rail.

"The Tories say we have an economic recovery, but ordinary people are £1600 worse off than they were before the recession," says Chris York. "Higher rail fares are just one problem that they have to cope with."

"The Tories rushed to re-privatise the nationalised East Coast mainline before the election. They were embarrassed by the fact that it made large profits. It had returned £1bn to the taxpayer since 2009, when the private franchisee walked away from its contract," Chris adds.

He was joined by local party members. They are pictured outside Royston station.

3 April 2015

Labour's policies are best

according to North East Herts voters

The majority of voters in North East Hertfordshire, when presented with the policies of the various parties, but without telling them which party, chose Labour's policies.

According to the Vote for Policies website, the current voting in our constituency is:vote for policies pie chart

Labour: 31.2%
Liberal Democrats: 21.5%
Greens: 19.2%
UKIP: 15.8%
Conservatives: 12.3%.

Based on 296 responses.

As reported in the Mercury (26 March), similar results were obtained for the surrounding constituencies of Hertford & Stortford, Hitchin & Harpenden, and, importantly, Stevenage, where Labour tops the poll, with the Greens second. The Tories were bottom, except in Hertford & Stortford, where they beat UKIP by 0.4 percentage points.

The UK results put Labour ahead at 25.2%, followed by the Greens, with the Tories trailing at 13.2%, behind UKIP and the Lib. Dems.

Sir Oliver Heald, who is our MP for the next three days, says that the result is not representative of the North East Hertfordshire constituency, by which he presumably means that there are enough people who will vote Conservative automatically, without comparing the parties' policies.To that extent, he is probably right. Our task is to ensure that they do consider Labour policies.

27 March 2015

Take up comedy, George
and give up the day job

eclipse “The sun is starting to shine,” said George Osborne – perhaps not an auspicious metaphor when he knew that in a couple of days there would be an eclipse. But that eclipse lasted only for two hours, whereas the Tory eclipse, which choked off growth soon after they took office, lasted for four years.

Working people are not better off

As a result, ordinary working people are £1,600 worse off in real terms than they were before this government took over. The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) confirms that the average family is worse off. They put the loss at £1,127, but this does not relate just to ordinary working people, but to the whole population.

“The average,” says Chris York, “includes those at the top, many of whom have had huge salary increases, as well as having the money from the cut in the 50% rate of tax to stuff into their back pockets.”

So, how did George Osborne manage to claim that we were better off? His measure was Real Household Disposable Income per capita. This is an average, too, and the IFS criticises the measure because it excludes housing costs, which we know have been escalating rapidly, not least because the government has scarcely been building any houses.

Youth unemployment and zero-hours contracts

He boasted about job creation and that we have a record number in employment. However, the proportion of the population in work is lower than at the start of the recession and has only just about climbed back to where it was when this government took office.

The story for young people is even worse. The employment rate for those aged 16 to 24 dropped precipitously in the recession: it is always the young who cannot get their first jobs in such circumstances. There was a little recovery last year, but it is still way below the 2007 rate. This is why Labour plans to guarantee apprenticeships for all qualified young people who are in the labour market.

Even those in work have not done well. Many, especially in the public sector, have had pay increases below inflation. As Ed Miliband pointed out, the number on exploitative zero-hours contracts is equivalent to the populations of Glasgow, Leeds and Cardiff combined. Labour will ban such contracts.

As well as these measures, Labour will increase the minimum hourly wage to £8 and encourage employers with tax breaks to pay the living wage, working towards ending the ridiculous situation of taxpayers subsidising the pay of workers even in prosperous businesses. Coupled with 25 hours of free child-care, a 10p starting rate of tax and the cap on energy bills whilst the market is reformed, these measures will restore the dignity and prosperity of working people.

George Osborne’s economic plan is in tatters

For a full return to prosperity we need a flourishing economy and George Osborne would have us believe that he has “an economic plan that is working”. This is far from the truth. He told us that his target of debt falling as a proportion of GDP by 2015-16 will be met, when it will drop from 80.4% to 80.2%, but this is mainly due to bank asset sales, which sacrifices “future flows of revenue”, according to the head of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR).

In 2010 David Cameron said that, in five years’ time, his government would eliminate the deficit. Indeed, George Osborne said then that this was crucially important if the British economy was not to sink the level of Greece’s. So, it is not surprising that he failed to mention in the budget that he would miss this target – and it will not be a near miss either. He will miss it by about 50%. The OBR figures show that borrowing will be £200bn above target and the deficit £75 bn above target.

Plans to cut deeper into public services

Nor did he highlight the cuts in government spending that are included in his plans, which will go deeper than the cuts in public services already made. According to the OBR, he is planning “a much sharper squeeze on real spending in 2016/7 and 2017/8 than anything seen over the past five years”. This must means further cuts in policing, defence and social care, but it is difficult to see how he can achieve such cuts without cutting the NHS.

But fear not: he will not reduce state spending to the level of the 1930s, but only to the level it was when Gordon Brown was Chancellor in 1999-2000. This was when Gordon Brown was bringing down the national debt which he had inherited. It was before he was able to make a start on improving the parlous state of schools and the hitherto neglected health service.

George Osborne has done this mainly by the standard trick of altering his plans for the final year of his forecast, 2019/20.  He reduced his planned budget surplus for this year and planned a sudden and logically inexplicable increase in government spending after decline in the intervening years.

And here is a point for UKIP as well as the Tories:  the OBR has revised its growth forecast upwards, not because of George Osborne’s actions, but because of the unexpected fall in oil prices, an assumption that interest rates will remain lower for longer - and higher than expected immigration.

The missing items:  the NHS and climate change

George Osborne did not even mention the NHS, as Ed Miliband pointed out in his response, despite its importance to most people in the UK. Nor did he mention climate change, which is probably the greatest global threat that we all face.

Labour will transform our NHS with a £2.5 bn a year Time to Care Fund to pay for 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs and a guarantee of cancer tests within one week. This will be paid for with a mansion tax on houses worth over £2m, a crack-down on tax avoidance and a levy on tobacco companies. We will also stop the gradual privatisation of the service imposed by the Tory re-organisation – a re-organisation that they specifically promised not to introduce.

Chris YorkLabour also has strong, clear plans to make our electricity carbon-free by 2030 and to work for global targets leading to zero emissions by 2050. Ed Miliband has a strong reputation in Europe for fighting for international measures to tackle climate change. The news that China’s emissions are at last beginning to fall is a boost for Labour’s ambitions. There is also the benefit that making Britain a leader in green technologies would create a million new jobs.

Give up the day job, George

And finally, George Osborne’s jokes have been criticised as well. “I thought his jokes were quite good and very well delivered,” said Chris York (pictured). “I think he should give up his day job and become a stand-up comedian. Now, that would be good!”

20 March 2015

Council tax up, services slashed

The Tory County Council will have a surplus this year of around £26m. They have also announced that they will increase council tax by 1.99%, bringing in an additional £4.5m. 

This increase actually costs council taxpayers £9m, but benefits the council by only £4.5m, because the government bonus for freezing council tax is lost.

Leon ReefeThe Labour Group proposed that surpluses be used in part to stop the cuts in bus services and the threatened cuts in children's services, to fund a return to full night street lighting and to provide additional money for highways repairs.

The Tories, however, voted down these proposals, preferring to use the money for other things, such as increasing the council's reserves.

The Labour Group leader, Leon Reefe (pictured), said that the group was committed to providing the services that the residents of Hertfordshire pay for. "Our proposals," he said, "were carefully costed. It is disappointing that the Tories prefer to cut services, rather than use surpluses and council tax increases to maintain the services that residents want and need."

16 March 2015

Haphazard housing development
in East Herts

We need houses in East Hertfordshire, so that young people are not driven away from the area when they grow up. The Tory-led government and the Tory District Council have between them created a situation where we are getting haphazard development without proper plannning.

The Labour manifesto for the District Council elections in East Hertfordshire sets out Labour's plans to get the sort of housing that we need, with the proper infrastructure.

Instead of being a mediocre council with average rates of recycling, Labour would like us to be amongst the best, and we need more attention paid to air quality.

East Hertfordshire is a good place to live, but let's make it better. You can read the Labour manifesto here.

15 March 2015

A fairer society from Labour

or more years of austerity under the Tories

Image of the tabloidChris York's message is going out all over the constituency in our tabloid newspaper.

It covers many of the major issues facing all voters in the general election. The NHS is in crisis under the present government and is gradually being handed over to private health care companies. Do you really want to lose this service that Labour created over 60 years ago?

"Tackling climate change is the most important thing I can do in politics," says Ed Miliband. Do you want to risk the future of the planet in the hands of the Tories?

The Tory chancellor has increased the national debt instead of reducing it and has missed his target for deficit reduction by over 50%. Can we risk another five years of economic mismanagement?

If you have not had the tabloid delivered to you, read it here.

9 March 2015

Chancellor's claim "not supported by the facts"

Remember the extra money claimed by the EU because the UK economy was bigger than had been thought? Although the charge was part of an EU-wide review and was based on figures submitted by the government, the Prime Minister was apparently taken by surprise.

After the subsequent meeting of EU finance ministers, George Osborne claimed that he had "halved the bill". 

Now the Treasury Select Committee, chaired by Conservative MP, Andrew Tyrie, has issued a report saying that this claim was "not supported by the facts". It was clear in the EU rules, they say, and always had been clear, that the UK rebate would apply. It was the application of the rebate that halved the charge. 

The Committee adds: "The public should be put in a position to reach a view based on the facts." In parliamentary terms, this is pretty strong language.

"So many people are fed up with politics and politicians," says Chris York. "The Tory Chancellor really ought too know better than to make totally unfounded claims like this. It just convinces electors that they can't trust any politician, and this is bad for Britain and bad for democracy."

5 March 2015

Campaigning in Royston

Canvass team in Royston

Chris York and his team outside Royston Corn Exchange.
Amy Bourke (centre) is Labour candidate for the Royston Palace district council ward.

Chris York was out on Saturday morning, 28 February, talking to shoppers and market stall holders. Despite the cold and rain, quite a number of people were ready to talk to him and to sign a petition to save the National Health Service.

One lady was appalled that the government had wasted £3bn on a quite unnecessary re-organisation. One couple checked the petition carefully before signing to be sure that it was not critical of the care given by the NHS, because their experience had been good. Some just said that it was good to see the Labour Party out in Royston. 

“I was very pleased to have some positive conversations with the people of Royston,” Chris York said. “I was appalled by one man’s story of how he had been turned out of his home, which was now boarded up, and was living in his car. In spite of that he was still managing to run his business. Homelessness is going up rapidly under this government, but I still did not expect to meet homeless people in Royston market. That is what this government is doing to ordinary people, with their obsession for shrinking the state and cutting the funding for local council services."

2 March 2015

Hustings in Royston

Meridian School in Royston organised a question and answer session for students in years 12 and 13 on 13 February 2015. The panel is pictured after the meeting, with the students who asked the questions behind them. The panel was (left to right, below) Mark Hughes (UKIP), Sir Oliver Heald (Conservative) and David Bell (Labour).

Hustings at Meridian School

Photo courtesy of David Atkins, Meridian School

David Bell, constituency party vice-chair, took Chris York's place because Chris had a work commitment in his job as environmental consultant which he had been unable to re- arrange. Mark Hughes is the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Harwich and North Essex.

An excellent set of questions from the students led to a lively meeting. They ranged from "Should we leave the EU?" to "Should we legalise cannabis?", through questions on student loans and the number of women in Parliament. David was able to refute Oliver Heald's claim that the Tories had "a long-term economic plan that is working" and Mark Hughes' claim that getting out of Europe would save us £60m a day.

Since the Chancellor is about to miss his target for deficit reduction by more than 50%, the government plan is surely failing. £60m a day also overstates the net cost of EU membership by about 50% and takes no account of the charges we would pay to trade with the EU from outside or of the cost to us of businesses moving from the UK into an EU state.

13 February 2015

Radiotherapy unit at Lister Hospital

The East and North Herts NHS Trust, which runs the Lister Hospital in Stevenage and the QEII hospital in Welwyn Garden City, also runs the Mount Vernon Hospital, where there is a state-of-the-art radiotherapy unit.

The need for such a satellite unit at the Lister has been talked about for some time - for example, at the Trust's AGM in 2013. Sir Oliver Heald, who is currently our Tory MP, has started a petition to Parliament calling for this, since the journey to Mount Vernon - or, as an alternative, to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge - is difficult and time consuming.

Whilst the timing of Oliver Heald's petition is transparently an election ploy, there is a real need for this unit.

Chris YorkChris York says: "A colleague on our Labour management committee has told me of her trips to Addenbrooke’s Hospital for radiotherapy - every day for a period of weeks, with a journey time of around two and a half hours for the round trip, for a treatment that some find tiring in itself. This would be extremely difficult for someone who was working or for someone unable to go by car.

"So, I think it is right for Sir Oliver to present a petition to Parliament and I urge everyone, whether they support Labour, Conservatives or some other party, to sign the petition which can be downloaded from here."

The petition is in the format of a petition to Parliament. Please send signed sheets to Chris York at 45 Kneesworth Street, RoystonSG8 5AB.

The petition sheets must arrive by 23 February 2015.

12 February 2015

The cost of living crisis

Median earnings down by one-tenth

Confirmation, if we needed it, that the cost of living crisis is real for most people comes from the Office of National Statistics.  The Labour Force Survey shows that real hourly wages have fallen by 8.4% since the recession began and most of this has been since the Coalition took over. That is nearly £2,500 for the average wage earner.

The respected economist, David Blanchflower, writing in the Independent, called this "scary".

The survey covers construction (minus 14.6%), distribution, hotels and restaurants (minus 6.7%), manufacturing (minus 5.5%), and finance and business services (minus 3.5%). It does not include the public sector, where pay has been held back with pay freezes and then increases below the rise in prices.

The Annual Survey of Earning and Hours confirms this, although it only comes up to April 2014. Since the Chris Yorkrecession began, real earnings have fallen by 10.2%.

"Many are working, but are still forced to claim benefits, simply because they are not paid enough money to even meet their bills," says Chris York.

"How can Oliver Heald say that the Tories have an economic plan that is working? It is only working for the very rich, who have been awarding themselves huge pay rises and have had the gift of a reduced tax rate from George Osborne."

11 February 2015

Voter Registration Day

Chris York with USDAW in Royston

Chris York was invited to talk to trade union members at Tesco, Royston on National Voter Registration Day, Thursday, 5 February 2015. Their union, USDAW, is keen to ensure that its members are registered to vote.Chris York encourages voter registration

You may not know that a new system of voter registration has been introduced. You could be forgiven for not knowing. The government has not given it much publicity.

It is called Individual Voter Registration (IER). No longer can all the members of one household be registered by one person. Each individual has to register separately, but they can do it online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. All you need is your National Insurance number.

There is a transitional arrangement under which most people who were on the register have been transferred to the new 2015 register, but for some people this will be temporary and also they could lose their postal vote unless they re-apply. There is more information on the Election page.

Even so, the number of registered voters in North East Hertfordshire has fallen by 600. Elsewhere, the drop in numbers has been very much larger.

Last month, Ed Miliband said: “In the last year almost one million people have fallen off the Electoral Register, hundreds of thousands of them young people. This is a direct consequence of the government’s decision to ignore warnings that rushing through new individual registration reforms would damage democracy. It has…We will not allow this scandal to happen and no right-thinking person should either. 

"Labour will now lead a national mission to stop young people being denied a voice at in this election. And today I urge universities, local councils, and young people themselves to play their part. Let’s work together to register young people to vote and make sure they don’t lose their voice.”

6 February 2015

We need houses for local people

Labour wants many more houses. What we need is plenty of affordable homes and social housing provided by councils or housing associations, so that local people do not get priced out of living where they were brought up.

Chris York, accompanied by deputy campaign manager, Rhona Cameron (pictured below), was at the meeting about plans for houses in Baldock on 31 January 2015.

Chris York and Rhona Cameron in BaldockThe Tory councillors for Baldock, along with Sir Oliver Heald, our Tory MP, were there, making clear that they did not support the plan which had been put out for consultation by their Tory colleagues.

Sir Oliver Heald tried to claim that Labour supported the plan, but Rhona put him right, saying that, at this stage, Labour had only voted for the consultation to go ahead. Chris York appealed for much wider consultation, particularly including young people.

Labour policy on housing

So that voters are quite clear that Labour wants houses to meet demand, especially to meet the demand of local people for affordable and social housing, the constituency Labour Party has adopted a statement on housing policy, which you can read here.

The Coalition Government has reduced the level of house-building to the lowest level in peacetime Britain since the 1920s. House prices and rentals have soared.

The Coalition Government has meanwhile created a chaotic situation. They withdrew the plans drawn up by the East of England Regional Assembly, in spite of the fact that this body was controlled by Tory councillors, but had no planning legislation to put in its place immediately, leaving a vacuum for two years.

As a result, neither North nor East Herts District Councils currently has a district plan, and the government has laid down that there should be a presumption in favour of "sustainable development". As a result, developers are anxious to get planning permission before they are once again restrained by district plans. There is more on this in the statement.

6 February 2015

Preventing US companies from suing UK government

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is being negotiated at the moment between the EU and the USA. Provisions to increase trade between the two largest markets in the world are very welcome.Chris York

As Chris York (pictured right) says: "Europe and the United States are our most important markets today. That's why Labour supports the principles behind these negotiations. More and better trade is good for the UK."

However, there are aspects of the proposals being negotiated that are very worrying. There are proposals that would encourage the privatisation of public services and to allow US companies to bid to run them. There are provisions for European governments individually to exempt services from these provisions and France, for example, would exempt a whole range of services. The UK government is making only one exemption - the ambulance service, leaving the rest of the NHS, and other public services, open to private companies, who could sue the government if it democratically decided, for example, to end their franchises. 

Even worse, there is a proposal for investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which is a behind-the-scenes mechanism for settling disputes between companies and governments. This would allow an American company to sue the UK government and have the dispute settled outside the British legal system.

Richard Howitt MEPRichard Howitt, Labour's MEP for the Eastern Region (pictured left), has told us that the Socialists and Democrats group, whilst favouring a trade agreement, is against those proposals which threaten public services, but the European Parliament has no direct input to the negotiations and cannot take official action until an agreement is put before it for approval.

On 15 January 2015, the Labour MP Geraint Davies will attempt to get Parliament to insist on parliamentary scrutiny before any deal is struck. He says of his bill that "it will take the blindfold off". "We cannot let profit trump democracy by allowing secret deals to jeopardise our future."

Meanwhile, The Independent reports that the EU is "suspending" negotiations on the ISDS as a ressult of the 150,000 objections to it received by the European Commission. Of those, 52,000 came from the UK. The EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, says: "We need to have an open and frank discussion about .... ISDS with EU governments, the European Parliament and civil society before launching any policy recommendations." 

14 January 2015

More Action for Rail

Chris York campaigning at Letchworth stationChris York was out again campaigning at Letchworth Garden City railway station early in the morning on 5 January 2015 (pictured). Commuters in the UK pay more than twice as much of their salaries as most other commuters in Europe.

"We need fairer prices on our railways,"says Chris, "particularly with the majority of families £1,600 a year worse off, and nearly 20% of people’s salaries going on their commute to work.

"This is particularly difficult for those on zero hours contracts and those earning the  minimum wage, who are already being forced further into poverty. Less money should be going into the back pockets of shareholders and more of those vast profits ploughed back into improving infrastructure."

The public subsidy for rail companies is now twice what the subsidy was for British Rail and fares have risen by 23% in real terms in the same period. The subsidy was £4bn in 2012/13 and the companies paid £200m to shareholders in that year.

If you want to protest to your M.P., here is a suggested wording for you. You can send it to Action for Rail if you wish by Freepost.

6  January 2015

Action for Rail

As the cost of an annual season ticket from Royston rises to £4492 and from Letchworth Garden City to £3964, our parliamentary candidate, Chris York, was out campaigning at King's Cross Station.

Chris York with Michael Dugher MP

He and Rachel Burgin, the candidate for our neighbouring constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden, joined others from the Action for Rail campaign, handing out special tickets, Amy Bourkehighlighting how rail fares have risen much faster than inflation and how the UK has the most expensive rail fares in Europe.

He is pictured at King's Cross with Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary, Michael Dugher MP.

Also, one of North Herts District Council candidates, Amy Bourke (pictured right), was interviewed on BBC News at One today about the problems for commuters who have to travel into London to work.

2 January 2015

Happy New Year

A message from the Constituency Party chair

With the General Election only months away the early part of the New Year will be crucial for the Labour Party.

Chris York with Clyde MillardIn North East Hertfordshire, we have an excellent candidate in Chris York (pictured with Clyde Millard just after his selection), who will be involved in running a vigorous campaign over the next months.

The Tories appear to be divided, with Ukip breathing down their necks. And their mask has been allowed to slip, especially after the Autumn Statement.

That revealed a return to the “nasty party” with a so-called plan which will take us back to the 1930s levels of public service, so they can give tax cuts to the wealthy (most of whom support the Tories and make vast donations to the party).

We have seen what the rhetoric of “we’re all in this together” has turned out to be.

Labour has a set of positive policies that are based on fairness and tackle the real problems that are facing people today. But to achieve a Labour government on Thursday 7 May 2015 and turn those policies into reality we need help from members and supporters. Go to the election page to see how you can help

We have a campaign team in place which is working out a strategy and plan of activities for the next months. The details of our campaigning will be circulated to all members shortly.

Meanwhile, may I wish all our members and supporters a Happy New Year.
                                                   CLYDE MILLARD

31 December 2014

Join us for dinner

East Herts Rural branch New Year dinner

Chris York will be at the East Herts Rural branch dinner, which will be held in Buntingford on Saturday, 17 January 2015 at 7.30 for 8pm. This is a fund-raising event for Chris's general election campaign and also for the district council elections. East Herts Rural branch has 15 seats to fight on the same date as the general election.

The cost of the dinner is £25 and there will be a very good value cash bar. Constituency party members can go to the members-only page for more details. Other members or supporters should email the branch secretary by clicking here. Please book by 11 January.

If you really cannot make it to our dinner, you could go to the Hertford and Ware branch dinner at the Salisbury Arms, Hertford on Friday, 30 January 2015. Or how about going to both? Click here for details.

29 December 2014

Privatisation - holding us to ransom

The view of one of our members

After 30 years the lessons of privatisation still elude the Tories.  The part they have never understood is that privatisation only creates private monopolies or pseudo cartels, if enacted without an appropriate level of competition.

Held to ransom by monopoly providersThe utilities are classic examples of the failure, in which we have no choice for water (a monopoly), and for power we pay a charge geared to supplier profit margins (a cartel).  When privatising an essential service, such as utilities, transport, and health care, there will always be a demand because they are essential, so the market is rigged in the interests of the provider.

The winners are the monopolies and cartels, while the public always loses, as they have no real choice, which admittedly was the situation before, but at least the public owned the companies and profits did not leave the UK.

What has happened is private organisations have been given licence to exploit the public through their control of essential services.  It is telling that so many of these are now owned by overseas organisations, something of an anomaly for the party that is now complaining about EU membership, particularly when they sold off most of these services.  What about the decades of investment previous generations had made, all of it now sold off.

Even the Post Office, privatised very recently but leaving no alternative option for post boxes or stamps, which keeps these in the realm of monopoly services.

What of regulation?  In 2011 the McNulty report on the costs of the national railway network found that the unit cost per passenger mile had not gone down since privatisation despite an increase of 57% in passenger numbers.  This cost is not attributable to additional capacity, instead it stems directly from the weakness of the market place and the feeble competition provided by the regulator.  Interestingly, companies from overseas are now running train services, almost certainly not prompted by the harshness of the market.  Regulation is not competition and never will be.

Privatisation should have been engineered to drive innovation and efficiency, not to create soft markets for companies to profiteer at the expense of the public.  Privatised monopolies are not an example of the enterprise culture, but a condemnation of exploitation capitalism that is costing this country dearly.

The public has been mistreated for too long and held to ransom in the name of the privatisation myth; it has to change.

This article was submitted by a member of the Constituency Labour Party, who felt strongly on this subject. Other members are welcome to submit articles, but we reserve the right not to publish them on the website. Send articles to the webmaster.

23 December 2014

Who is the party of economic competence now?

The Midweek Mercury (Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock) last week published comments on the the Chancellor's Autumn Statement from Rachel Burgin (Labour candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden), Cllr Robin Parker (Lib. Dem., Stevenage Chells) and our current MP, Sir Oliver Heald.

This week they published Chris York's response to what Robin Parker and Oliver Heald said. Here is the text of that letter:

Chris York

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” I do not know if Sir Oliver Heald and Cllr Robin Parker know this dictum of Joseph Goebbels, but they are certainly following it when they allege respectively that Labour left the economy in a mess or a shambles (Mercury Midweek, December 10).

The truth is that the last Labour government turned the deficit inherited from the Tory administration into surpluses for four consecutive years. They then allowed modest additional borrowing for investment, particularly in schools and the NHS. The debt was 37%, well below the 43% inherited from the Tories – and below the debt of other large economies, such as Germany – when the government was knocked off course by the global financial crisis.

Do I really have to point out to the Tories and Liberal Democrats that the financial crisis was global, principally caused by banks? Or perhaps they think that, once the crisis had hit, the government should not have bailed out the British banks, thus throwing our economy into chaos, with terrible consequences for individuals and businesses.

Of course, the crisis resulted in increased spending and decreased tax receipts, but Labour left an economy in 2010 beginning to grow again. The Coalition government choked off growth for four years, but their policies have failed completely to achieve their goals. They said we urgently needed to eliminate the deficit by 2015, but the deficit has not even been halved and they are set to borrow a staggering £190 billion more than planned. Oliver Heald calls this “putting the economy back on the right track”?

Labour’s plan will tackle the deficit fairly and restore prosperity to all, not just the few at the top.

Chris York
Labour's parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire

18 December 2014

Autumn statement in December

Is this another missed target for George Osborne?

"The evidence is plain to see that the Tory economic plan hasn't worked," says Chris York, our prospective parliamentary candidate. Millions are in poverty; so tax receipts are down and welfare costs are up.

Many in work still have to claim benefits because of low wages.Chris York "Whilst Osborne gifts tax breaks worth around £120,000 yearly to his millionaire chums," Chris adds, "the average family is now over £1,600 a year worse off.

"I do welcome, however, the Tory plan to build 13,000 new homes in Oxfordshire to help deal with the UK major housing shortage and the extra £2bn investment in the NHS, although one would ask how much of that £2bn will actually end up providing frontline services, rather than going into the pockets of shareholders! Incidentally, this is less than the £3bn spent on an unnecessary re-organisation that David Cameron promised would not happen."

Chris concludes by saying: "The bottom line is that Osborne is failing to deliver - his government is not meeting its borrowing targets. His plan hasn’t worked and isn’t working.  What the Tories never mention is that Labour inherited a debt of 43% of GDP in 2010 from the Tories and had reduced this to 36% before the financial crisis began. Labour converted the deficit inherited into a surplus by 1998 and ensured that the deficit was held on average within a prudent 3% right up to the financial crisis.

"Yet, the Tories continue to spout that tired old mantra of “blame Labour” for the “financial mess” they inherited, when it was a worldwide financial crisis created by the bankers. Under Labour, the UK were second coming out of recovery (behind Canada) prior to the 2010 general election."

The respected economist, David Blanchflower, says that Autumn Statement was a last-ditch attempt to pull the wool over the electorate's eyes before the election. "The hope is," he adds, "to convince the public that the Coaliton has succeeded. It hasn't."

We are indebted to Dennis Forbes Grattan of Aberdeen for the headline.    5 December 2014

David Lammy in Royston

David Lammy MP was in Royston on 25 November 2014. He joined members from Royston and District branch and from elsewhere in the constituency to eat curry and to support the Labour Party in North East Hertfordshire.David Lammy speaking to Royston members

He told us about constituents that he met in the surgeries that he holds in his Tottenham constituency, illustrating the harm that is being done by this government through the bedroom tax and other measures. He talked of the harm being done to the Health Service, of which we used to be so proud.

He reminded us of the courage of Ed Miliband in standing up to Rupert Murdoch and to big business and told us of his intelligence and sincerity.

Perhaps his most important point was that Labour is not a party of people who seek benefits for themselves, but who seek the good of others. "Labour is a movement," he said. The aim is to all work together to build the sort of society in which we want to live, but the steps towards this have to be practical. We have the experience in the Labour team in Parliament to take us on this journey. He told a lovely Jamaican story to illustrate this, but we promised not to retell it, in case he wants to use it when he again gives up his own time to support our neighbours in Hertford on 4 December 2014 (click here for more details if you want to go to that dinner).

Members who gathered in Royston much appreciated David's support. Constituency parties which do not have a Labour MP can feel very cut off from Parliament. This has been especially so in North East Hertfordshire for the period until we again have a Labour MP in Stevenage.

27 November 2014

What Labour stands for

Ed Miliband "This country is too unequal, and we need to change it," says Ed Miliband. Here are the promises he makes about the kind of Britain he will lead:

  1. I will undo the damage the Tories have done to our country.

  2. I will take on the powerful vested interests that hold millions back.

  3. I will start to rebuild a fairer, better Britain.

And here are the policies to do it. Read them here.

16 November 2014

Vision and policies

Ed Miliband in Harlow

Ed Miliband is welcomed by the principal of Harlow College

Ed Miliband, being welcomed by the principal of Harlow College,
Karen Spencer

"It goes with the territory. You set out the vision and they say: where are the policies. Then you set out the policies and they ask: where is the vision," said Ed Miliband. He was taking a question and answer session at Harlow College, before an audience of students, Party members and members of the local community in Harlow. Several Labour parliamentary candidates were there, including our candidate Chris York, the Stevenage candidate Sharon Taylor, the St Albans candidate and former MP Kerry Pollard and, or course, the candidate for Harlow Suzy Stride.

His vision is of a country run fairly for all the people and not just for those at the top. All Labour policies stem from this: tackling the cost of living crisis by making work pay and ending zero hours contracts, by ensuring that young people have opportunities through education or apprenticeships, by improving public services, by building homes that local people can afford and by getting the country's finances on a sound footing by getting the deficit down.

Labour pledged to build 200,000 homes a year and ensure that 50% were allocated to local people.

Several questions related to housing and housing benefit, but the others ranged from art in public places to support for the European Union and to involving young people in politics. He was clear that this government's Health and Social Care Act needed to be repealed to prevent competition lawyers from running the NHS and that mental health provision needed to be put on a par with physical health.

"We currently have nationalised bodies bidding for rail franchises," he said in answer to a question, "but they are foreign nationalised bodies." A Labour government would allow the public sector to bid for franchises, on the model of the very successful East Coast mainline.

12 November 2014

Only Labour can save the NHS

Quotation from Andy Burnham"David Cameron wasted £3 billion and caused chaos with a damaging NHS reorganisation that he had promised voters wouldn’t happen" says Chris York. "It has led to over 4,000 NHS staff being laid off and then rehired, many on six-figure salaries."

David Cameron promised to cut NHS bureaucracy, but a total of 440 new organisations have been created as part of this government's changes. The Tory spin is that doctors have been put in charge of commissioning medical care, but the regulations force them to put services out to tender, opening up the NHS to private providers, many with links to large American corporations.

"Five more years of the Tories would mean the NHS continuing to go backwards," Chris adds, "with longer waits to see a GP, longer waits for treatment and A&E departments in crisis."

Only Labour can prevent the NHS from disappearing before your eyes. Chris explains: "We will raise £2.5bn for an NHS Time to Care Fund, not from everyday working people, but by The NHS is disappearing before your eyesensuring that hedge funds and other tax avoiders play by the rules, asking those at the top to pay more and introducing fees on tobacco companies, based on those in the US."

This will enable us to provide:

We shall repeal David Cameron's Health and Social Care Act which puts private profit before patients, so that NHS professionals can focus on care - and not on competition law.

Finally, Chris adds that we shall also bring together physical health, mental health and social care into a single service, to meet all of a person's care needs, without the current problems of divided responsibility.

Go to Chris's own website to read more.

4 November 2014

The Tories are scared

Oliver Heald fears UKIP will let Labour in and Mark Prisk is economical with the truth

According to the Mercury (in the article referred to below), Sir Oliver Heald pleaded with disillusioned Tories not to vote UKIP because that would help Labour.

Chris YorkEven so, Chris York, Labour's parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire, is clear that UKIP must be opposed. "They are the New Tory Party - more Tory than the Tories," he says. "They would cut taxes for the very rich by even more than the Tories. They support privatisatiion of the NHS, like the Tories, and would add charging to see your GP".

Chris adds that they would throw away the benefits of EU membership, assuming that we could go on trading with our largest export market from outside the EU, but without mentioning the costs and conditions that are imposed, for example, on Norway to do this.

"They continue to churn out extreme right-wing propaganda, misleading people about immigration. Remember that, if it was not for free movement of labour in the EU, over 3.5 million UK workers could not have gone to Europe to work, mainly in the Germany’s construction industry, after Thatcher’s devastating recession in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Mr Farage and his farming cronies (including East of England MEP Stuart Agnew) happily accept millions of pounds in EU subsidies."

Meanwhile, Mark Prisk, the Tory MP for neighbouring Hertford and Stortford, resorts to "economy with the truth" to attract voters, saying that waiting times in hospitals are down from 18 months to 18 weeks, but somehow failing to mention that this happened under the last Labour government - and that waiting times are creeping up again under his government.

1 November 2014

Success is missing your target by 50%

.... according to Sir Oliver Heald

"If Sir Oliver Heald thinks that George Osborne, by missing his target for deficit reduction by around 50% at the end of this Parliament, has demonstrated the success of his long term plan, I wonder what failure would look like," says Chris York. "Missing your target by £75 billion and borrowing £190 billion more than you planned does not look like success to me."

Chris YorkChris York was responding to an interview with Sir Oliver, who is currently the MP for North East Hertfordshire, as reported in the Mercury on 16 October 2014. Sir Oliver was reported as pleading with "disillusioned Conservatives not to follow Mr Carswell's example", i.e. switch to UKIP, "because in Hertfordshire Labour is more of a threat". He went on to say they should not let Labour in "because of the success of the Osborne long-term economic plan"!

Chris York added that George Osborne had taken over an economy recovering from the financial crisis better than any other except Canada, but had then choked off growth for three years. "As a result," he said, "the wages of almost every employee had been cut by £1600 pa. Only Greece, Cyprus and Portugal have done worse."

24 October 2014

Stand up for Labour

Stand up for Labour posterOur colleagues in neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden Labour Party invite you to laugh for Labour on Friday, 7 November 2014 at 7.30 pm in Hitchin.

Arthur Smith, the bard of Balham, heads the list of comedians. Arthur was instrumental in setting Stand up for Labour on its way, appearing at its first event in 2012.

Wil Hodgson won the Best Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Festival; Grainne Maguire has been a warm up act for Ed Miliband at Conference; and the host is Paul Ricketts, who had rave reviews at Edinburgh. There will also be a guest speaker.

Tickets are £12 in advance or £15 on the door. You can get more information and buy tickets at www.hitchinlaughs.eventbrite.co.uk.

23 October 2014

Britain needs a pay rise

25% in NE Herts earn less than the Living Wage

Chris York, our parliamentary candidate, was one of the 90,000 who marched in London last Saturday, in protest at the huge decline in Chris York with Hitchin and Harpenden candidate, Rachel Burginreal wages under this government. He is pictured during the march with Rachel Burgin, the Labour candidate for neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden.

Commenting on the march, he said: "Under Sir Oliver Heald’s government, the people of this country (excluding those at the top) have had to endure the longest decline in real wages since Victorian times.

“This government must sit up and take notice. Their plan simply hasn’t worked and has essentially left millions of people worse off. Instead of dealing with the cost of living crisis, they gift their chums with tax breaks, putting millions into their pockets.

“People of North East Herts deserve to be paid a decent wage, with over a quarter being paid less than the living wage whilst many corporate fat cat bosses are stealing from the state by not paying their taxes. Recent figures show that most bosses have enjoyed a 23% salary increase while the workers have not had any pay increases. The Tories boast about creating new jobs, but many people are on zero hour contracts, which only forces them further into poverty and despair.

“Britain needs a future that’s fair and the Tories have shown yet again that it won’t happen under their watch."

20 October 2014

NHS waiting lists grow

The waiting list for planned operations has been steadily rising since the coalition took over the government and NHS England estimate that it The NHS is disappearing before your eyesreached almost 3.3 million in August 2014. Over 12% of patients are not treated within the target limit of 18 weeks and 510 patients have been waiting for more than year.

Meanwhile, Hinchingbrooke Hospital, in nearby Cambridgeshire, which is the only complete hospital so far to be handed over to the private sector, is not a good advertisement for this government's policy of privatisation. It overspent its budget last year (as did a number of NHS hospitals), but the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said that its plans to balance its budget in the future were not credible.

Now it seems that the hospital has narrowly missed receiving a "section 31 enforcement notice", following a CQC inspection last month which found "evidence of poor care provided to patients", particularly in one specific ward. Such notices are used if "service users will or may be exposed to the risk of immediate harm if the CQC does not act".

There is a crumb of good news. We reported earlier that well over £1m of public money was being spent on putting elderly care services in Cambridgeshire out to tender. Although more than half of contracts go to private bidders, it now seems likely that this service will stay within the NHS. A consortium of two NHS Foundation Trusts (Cambridge & Peterborough and Cambridge University Hospitals) has been declared the preferred bidder. Even if it gets the contract, it still means that over £1m has been spent on the tendering process, rather than on patient care.

We now hear that a "senior cabinet minister" thinks that the government's greatest mistake was the Health and Social Care Act which set this crazy re-organization going, all at a cost of over £3 billion. But there are no signs of the government reversing the process.

Labour is committed to repealing the Act, so that the drive to put all services out to tender and thus draw in more and more private contractors is stopped.

20 October 2014

Scottish and English devolution

It was good to see the government having to call on Gordon Brown to deliver the message about further devolution to Scottish Parliament. It was also good that the Scots opted to stay in the Union.

Chris YorkIt was not so good that David Cameron decided to de-rail the discussions on further Scottish devolution by promoting a simplistic and unacceptable idea of how to deal with the "West Lothian question" as part of the Scottich deal.

Chris York, our parliamentary candidate (left), had a letter published on 2 October 2014 in the Comet and the Royston Crow, showing the complexity of the problems that need to be solved. This is the text of his letter:

No need to rush to a devolution quick fix

Colin Poyser’s letter (25 September 2014) demonstrates some of the complexities of dealing with devolution of power in England. This issue is becoming more pressing as we anticipate greater devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament, but that is no reason for a hasty, back-of-the-envelope solution. 

Yet both UKIP and at least some Conservatives are calling for a quick fix, such as not allowing Scottish MPs to vote at Westminster on matters devolved to Scotland. It clearly follows that Welsh MPs should not vote on matters devolved to the Welsh Assembly – a different list of exclusions – and Northern Irish MPs should not vote on matters devolved to Stormont – yet another list.

This would imply that the Westminster cabinet would double up as the administration for England and for the UK. How would this work if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were Scottish MPs, as was the case not so long ago. Would they formulate policies for England but not be able to vote on them? 

The last Labour government attempted to introduce regional government in England, but this was decisively rejected by voters, probably because they saw it as an additional layer of government. This indicates that our systems of local government have to be considered in this mix.

And then there is the House of Lords. Amongst other questions: should it be a revising chamber for UK legislation, but not for English legislation?

These are only some of the complexities. The only rational way forward is to consider all the issues and work towards a Constitutional Convention, which is what a Labour government would do. I urge voters not to accept a quick fix which would create as many anomalies as it removed.

Chris York
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for N.E. Hertfordshire

19 October 2014

Cuts in funding for public health

Funding for public health will be frozen at £2.79bn for England. Hard on the heels of the news that funding for mental health is being The NHS is disappearing before your eyescut (see below), we learn that a real-terms cut is to be applied to the funding given to councils, who now have the responsibility for public health.

It is true that there will be Health Premium Incentive Scheme to help improve drug and alcohol services and one local target, but this is only £5m, or 0.18% of the budget.

Meanwhile, next door in Cambridgeshire, over £1m has been spent on preparing elderly care services for the tendering process. There are three bidders - one private company, one a partnership of two NHS trusts and one a partnership between private and NHS providers. So, two of these are also spending NHS money on the tendering process.

The NHS really is disappearing before your eyes.... and you are paying for it to happen.

12 September 2014

Chris York at Red Rose
Summer Party

Chris York at Red Rose Summer Party

Chris York, newly selected to be our parliamentary candidate in 2015's general election, was at the East Herts Rural branch's Summer Party on 7 September 2014. Some of those present show their support for him in the picture above.

The sun shone as members from all round the constituency,Chris York and Rachel Burgin together with members from five neighbouring constituencies, enjoyed a great lunch, a great raffle, a great quiz and, of course, a great speech from Chris, who is now planning his campaign with the constituency party's campaign committee for the next eight months up to the general election.

Also at the party was Rachel Burgin, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, who is a member of our constituency party (right, with Chris York). She was able to renew her friendship with several members of the Hertford and Stortford Labour Party who were present: she lived in their constituency before she married.

Red Rose Party picture 1Red Rose Summer Party picture 2

8 September 2015

Well over £5 million wasted by
the Tories at County Hall

Over £5 million of your money, and possibly over £8 million, has been spent on the Hatfield incinerator, although it probably will not be built.

We reported below that permission to build the incinerator had been refused after a public enquiry and a critical report by the government inspector. We had the bizarre situation of County councillor Maureen Cookthe Tory County Council funding the legal representation to support the case for building the incinerator, as well as contributing to the contractor’s legal costs, whilst the Tory Welwyn-Hatfield Borough Council paid legal costs to oppose the incinerator. What is more, the Welwyn-Hatfield Council was supported by their Tory MP, Grant Shapps - the chairman of the Tory Party, no less!

Although an appeal against the Secretary of State’s refusal of permission for the Hatfield incinerator is being lodged by the contractors, Veolia, the County Council will not be making an appeal.

Labour borough and county councillors have been at the fore-front of the opposition to the incinerator since it was first proposed, not least Maureen Cook (above, left), the county councillor for Hatfield North and borough councillor for Hatfield Central. She says that it has been reported that the county council has revealed how much they spent on legal, finance and technical fees - £4.45 million. “Also, the county council spend over £4 million moving Southfield School (from alongside the incinerator site), which I do not think is included in the above figure.”Chris York, labour parliamentary candidate

In addition, the residents of Welwyn-Hatfield have paid £190,000 to oppose the proposal. Also, all of Hertfordshire has lost the excellent facility of the Central Library, which was closed to make way for the incinerator. So, the cost is well over £5 million and could be over £8 million. “Whatever, it’s a lot of public money,” says Maureen.

“This is a disgraceful waste of public money at a time when many people are being forced to live in desperate conditions and vital public services are being slashed to the bone,” says Chris York (above, right), Labour’s parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire. “Monies which could have propped up front line services whilst the economy is in recovery have been needlessly wasted on what is deemed to be out dated technology.”

29 August 2014

Severe cuts in mental health provision in Hertfordshire

The NHS is disappearing before your eyesFunding cuts for NHS mental health services have been cut severely in England over the last two years and Hertfordshire has suffered more than most. The Hertfordshire Partnership University Foundation Trust lost 13.2% of its funding. According to the HSJ (Health Services Journal), only two trust were cut by more than this.

As a result, over 18% of beds available for mental health services were lost (the fourth biggest loss in England) and the number of nurses was cut by 11.7% (the third highest loss).

The so-called “transformation” of mental health provision in Hertfordshire has involved more community based treatment, which, at least in some cases, is a change to be welcomed, but it is reported that morale is low with, for example, nurses in the Trust having to re-apply for the reduced number of jobs.

The deputy chief executive of the Trust, Oliver Shanley, told the HSJ: “We have got to a point where it is really hard now ….. When I talk to colleagues elsewhere in the country there are some real signs of concern. There now has to be a very serious debate nationally about the continued funding of mental health and learning disability services.”

Chris York, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire, deplored the cuts, which have been disproportionately applied to mental health trusts.   He said: "We need everyone to call for fairer funding from government for mental health provision in Hertfordshire. Failure to deal properly with mental health is disastrous for those who are ill, but also gives rise to costs elsewhere, such as increased anti-social behaviour and the resultant policing costs."

25 August 2014

Chris York selected at hustings meeting

Chris York speaks at the hustings meeetingChris York was chosen by the constituency Labour Party to fight the General Election. The hustings meeting took place in Letchworth Garden City on 16 August 2014, when three excellent candidates addressed members of the constituency party and answered questions from them.

He is pictured answering questions put to him by the audience with the constituency party chair, Clyde Millard, looking on.

Some of the party members who were at the meeting and - in a show of Party solidarity - the other two short-listed candidates for selection joined Chris for the photograph below. To the right of Chris York, also holding a Labour placard, is Philip Ross. Between them, in the foreground, is Dean Wilson. Also, on the extreme right is Rachel Burgin, the parliamentary candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden.

Chris York with the other candidates and party members

17 August 2014

Fight the bus service cuts

Major cuts in bus services are proposed from next year by the Tory county council, Leon Reefe, the leader of the Labour Group on the Leon Reefe, leader of the Labour Groupcouncil (pictured) has warned.

He has also warned that the current consultation on this is flawed. The Labour Group called on the Tory administration to suspend the consultation because the proposals are not transparent and the questions asked are loaded in favour of the cuts. Information given to the Transport Panel was misleading and then drastic changes were made after the Council meeting.

It is planned to end support for all services on Sundays and after 6.30 pm on other days.

"This latest proposal from the Tories at county is yet another attack on the poor, the needy and the elderly," said Leon Reefe. "For that reason, the Labour Group has launched its own petition."

Sign the petition here

10 August 2014

Ideas, principles, decency and empathy

This is what Ed Miliband offered to the people of Britain last Friday - rather than what "the other guy" offers - good pictures of hanging out with huskies before saying "cut the green crap".

This thoughtful speech started with a sombre statement supporting the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and ending with a call to Labour to "go out and show how we can change Britain". Listen to him here:

27 July 2014

Eat for the Labour Party

... drink and generally enjoy yourself. East Herts Rural branch is holding its annual Red Rose Summer Party on 7 September 2014 in Buntingford.Red Rose Summer Party 2013

Chris York, who has just been selected to fight the general election in North East Hertfordshire, will be there. Tickets are £10 and for that you get the best Sunday lunch in Hertfordshire.

All Labour Party members and their friends and families are invited.

Members of the North East Herts constituency party can get details on the members' page. Others should email membership@nehertslabour.org.uk for details.

The picture was taken at the 2013 party.

Why not make a week-end of it? Stevenage Labour Party is holding its BBQ the day before, 6 September. Details are also on the members' page.

25 July  2015 (revised 21 August 2014)

New Solicitor-General guilty of professional misconduct

In the recent re-shuffle of government posts, our Tory MP lost his job as Solicitor-General. His replacement was Robert Buckland. It now transpires that Robert Buckland was found guilty Emily Thornberry MPof professional misconduct by the Bar Council as recently as 2011.

In his role as a school governor he obtained papers from a solicitor who had acted for one of the school's pupils, and these were papers which both of them knew he was not entitled to see.

Labour's shadow Solicitor-General, Emily Thornberry (pictured), wrote three days ago to the Bar Council, asking, amongst other things, if Mr Buckland was entitled to sit of the Bar Council after this finding. (The Solicitor-General normally sits ex officio on the Council.)

25 July 2014

"The dumbest statement that I have ever heard from a Chancellor"

This was David Blanchflower's verdict when George Osborne said that "four years ago the country was close to bankruptcy". Writing in the Independent on 21 July 2014, David Blanchflower, who is a former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, said the claim was "unequivocally false".

He points out that the coalition government took office in a quarter when the economy had been growing by an average rate of 0.6% per quarter for a year and the Bank of England could borrow at historically low rates of interest. The UK was never anywhere close to insolvency.

He goes on to point out that, since the coalition took over, growth has been running at half of what it was during Labour's last year.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been successful, with the help of the right-wing press, in convincing people of the complete myth that Labour's spending caused the recession - or, at least, made it worse. The truth, of course, is that, before the recession, the deficit had been reduced by about one-third from that inherited from the previous Tory government and our debt was less than Germany's.

We must not let George Osborne's variation on the myth take hold.

22 July 2014


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