Another Bit of a Do in Letchworth
There is another Another Bit of a Do on Friday 30 November 2018 at 7 pm, with Live Music, Buffet, a Quiz and Discussion. Bring a Bottle. Howard Gardens Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth Garden City SG6 1SU.
Tickets are £5 (£2.50 unwaged). Book tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royston Curry night
The Royston Branch Christmas Curry Night is on Tuesday, 4 December 2018 at Ashiana Spice Restaurant, 7 Baldock Street, Royston SG8 5AY. Two course meal, with vegetarian option: poppadoms and pickle, followed by main course, with rice and side dishes. Cash bar. Raffle. Tickets are £25 a head and must be bought in advance from Vaughan West.
12 November 2018
Labour can combat austerity with good local government
“The Prime Minister announced that austerity is over. The Chancellor declared he was delivering a Budget for hard working families and looking confidently to the future. But for many of us, the warm words don’t fit the cold reality", says Cllr Ian Albert, the Labour and Co-operative shadow portfolio holder for finance on North Herts District Council (left).
He continues: "We have the evidence of our own eyes, our local council continues to slash services; playgrounds are ripped out, bins regularly aren’t collected, garden waste is charged for… Local Council budgets are at BreakingPoint - with still more cuts to come.
"The recent Strategy proposed by the Conservative leadership of North Herts District Council set out at least a further £600,000 cuts in the next two years. Even then over £2 million of Council reserves will have to be used, raiding the savings just to barely make ends meet. And that’s the trouble with austerity, it’s a false economy – the big pot-hole fund wouldn’t be needed, if councils hadn’t been forced to neglect our roads in the first place!
"The Chancellor's claim of an extra £650m for adult social care rings just as hollow - they're making a £1.3bn cut to council budgets next year, so overall, we're still £650m worse off.
"Schools don’t, as the Chancellor says, need "little extras"! Headteachers are begging parents for donations to buy textbooks, stationery and toilet rolls. Their budgets have been cut by over £2bn since 2015 – the promise of less than a fifth back won’t meet our children’s needs. Local parents, Teachers and Councillors wrote to our MPs, we wrote to the Education Secretary. We told them our schools are breaking. Our words fell on deaf ears.
"We can all see the evidence around us in our local community; closed playgrounds, rundown schools, crumbling roads, blocked drains the threatened loss of our health shuttle. Does it feel like austerity is over to you? No. Me neither.
"We need an innovative, hands-on response. Your Labour District Councillors will be honest about the funding crisis, so that we can be realistic in taking care of our area, because we can only combat austerity with good local government.
"For example, the Chancellor’s reduction in business rates for small businesses is most welcome – but to ensure this really helps our own High Streets, we’ll need to listen to those business owners, tradespeople and community groups who have the ideas to bring our towns back to life. It can’t happen without good local government – more of the same won’t cut it in these tough times.
"Your local Council doesn’t have to preside over the gradual run down of NHDC services in the face of Government cuts. The local Labour team will work to increase income, make our Council part of our community to improve the way that vital services are run.”
More on the budget in the next item.
1 November 2018
Tax cuts, but mainly for the rich
The Chancellor found that he had £11.9bn more than had been expected this year, because tax receipts were higher than expected and growth, though still very low, was slightly better. He has chosen to spend most of it.
The Prime Minister had already committed him to spending money on the NHS and this "windfall" gain made it easier for him than expected. The bulk of his spending, about 90%, goes on health, but it still only provides 3.4% increases each year. This is less than the annual increase received by the NHS historically and does nothing to deal with the deterioration suffered since 2010, when spending flat-lined in real terms.
Some goes on defence and some on foreign aid. The Chancellor is to be congratulated on keeping the aid budget linked to GDP and not succumbing to the "small town" Tories who have no empathy with the suffering of people in other countries. Other departments will receive what the Chancellor describes as "flat real" budgets, i.e. 0% increases (in spite of an increase in population). No end to austerity here!
Education, for example, gets a derisory one-off payment of £400m for "little extras", when schools are having to cut the number of teachers and reduce the number of options open to pupils.
What was unexpected was that he brought forward by a year proposed cuts in personal taxation, at a cost of £2.8bn, but 84% of this goes to the top half of the income distribution, rising to 89% by the end of this parliament. Within that, the richest 10% of households get 37%.
This is only partially offset by the increased funding for universal credit. He is putting back only about 75% of the amount that George Osborne took out. On average, next year the poorest tenth of households will be a mere £30 better off, but the richest tenth will be £410 better off.
This improvement at the lower end of the income distribution is confusing, because universal credit has not yet been fully rolled out, and those not on this benefit do not get any increase at all. If everyone eligible had the increase, the poorest tenth of households would gain £80 on average.
Even so, working age benefits will remain frozen next year, meaning that there will be a real terms decrease of £120 for this group, so that, even if all those eligible has the increase, the poorest tenth would be worse off, to the tune of £40. Of course, those who are not receiving universal credit get no increase and suffer the full cut of £120.
Theresa May said this was the end of austerity, but it does not look like it. It is only the end of austerity for the few, and not the many. As Jeremy Corbyn said in his response, it is a budget of broken promises.
30 October 2018
In England, NHS hospital waiting times have been creeping up under Mrs May's dysfunctional government. We should like to tell you about waiting times at the Lister and QE2 hospitals, but once again the East and North Herts NHS Trust, which runs them, has appeared on the list of hospitals who have not reported.
They last reported 14 months ago, when only 87% of patients were seen within 18 weeks (the target is 92%). England's figures have deteriorated since then, so that it seems very likely that the Trust's figures have also deteriorated. The number of providers achieving the target has sunk from almost 80% in 2015 to 54.6% in August 2018.
One of the most disturbing statistics is that the number of patients waiting over a year has climbed very steeply in the last year. Between November 2017 and June of this year it rose from 1,500 to 3,500.
Here is a tip for you: if you want a good chance of being seen within 18 weeks, you should be old or have rheumatism. Of all the specialties, only geriatric medicine and rheumatology are achieving the standard of 92% in 18 weeks.
27 October 2018
or choose both
A family Hallowe'en party in Letchworth or a curry night in Royston? Which do you prefer? Or why not come to both? Details are below.
11 October 2018
North Herts District Council adopts principles of Charter
Last week, our consitituency Labour Party unanimously approved a motion calling on "our" councils to adopt the Co-operative Party's charter against modern slavery.
Only last month, Cambridgeshire Police, working with other agencies, found eight people on a farm at Kneesworth (just north of Royston) who they believe were being exploited as slaves. So, it is important that councils set up systems to ensure that they do not unwittingly employ contractors who make use directly or indirectly ofmodern slavery.
Martin Stears-Handscomb, leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group on North Herts District Council (pictured), reported to the constituency party meeting that he had prevailed upon the Conservative administration to adopt the following motion:
"That in view of evidence that modern slavery and human trafficking is hidden even in affluent areas like North Hertfordshire, this Council notes the legal duties imposed upon it in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, notes the training delivered by Hertfordshire Constabulary to the Councils safeguarding group and agrees that the Council must seek to raise awareness of the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking in all its work and within the District. To achieve this the Council agrees to support the principles of the Modern Slavery Charter." (The ten points of the Charter are included in the Minute of the decision.)
Martin said that signing up to the full charter would form part of the Labour manifesto at the next election.
We shall now ask the Local Campaign Forums for East Herts District and for Hertfordshire County to adopt the charter as part of their manifestos for the next council elections.
10 October 2018
For the many, not the few
Watch the Labour Party's new party political broadcast here.
can see a number of the speeches made at the Conference, in cluding
Jeremy Corbyn's closing address, on the Party's YouTube channel, here.
27 September 2018
Rachel Burgin speaks at Conference
Rachel Burgin (pictured left), who was the campaigns co-ordinator behind our highly successful campaign in May which won us an extra seat on North Herts District Council, spoke at the Conference on skills training. Rachel was also parliamentary candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden in 2015.
You can hear Rachel's speech here.*
* This speech is on Facebook and you will need to log into your Facebook account to hear it.
26 September 2018
Amy Allen, the chair of our Letchworth and Baldock branch, received a warm reception yesterday at Conference when she spoke about the iniquity of UK citizens needing to use food banks in order to eat. Listen to what she said here.*
Amy is one of our three delegates to the Conference. The others are Sue Ngwala, constituency party secretary, and Jess Finn, women's officer.
*This speech is on Facebook and you will need to log into your Facebook account to hear it.
25 September 2018
This morning, Sharon Taylor (pictured), leader of Stevenage Borough Council, signed the Co-operative Party Charter against modern slavery. This is by no means an empty gesture. Home Office figures suggest that there are 13,000 men, women and children in slavery in the UK and others put the estimate at more than ten times as many.
This includes sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced labour, but there are other forms as well.
Stevenage's Labour and Co-operative Council had agreed to accept the charter and the formal signing took place at the council's offices, immediately before a Co-operative Party conference, which was opened by Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for our region, who spoke briefly about the European Parliament's determination to tackle modern slavery. The conference then went on to discuss the charter in more detail and also housing co-operatives, credit unions, co-operative schools and colleges and the Co-operative Councils' Innovation Network.
Stevenage joins 24 other councils who have signed the charter or passed a motion adopting the procedures in the charter. Labour and Co-operative councils have led the way, but the list includes SNP and Conservative councils.
In our own constituency, the Labour and Co-operative group on North Herts District Council have prevailed upon the Tory majority to adopt the main points of the charter.
You can read the charter here.
15 September 2018
A motion calling on the County Council to write to government ministers about the cuts in funding for schools, proposed by the Labour Group, was passed unanimously by the Council in July. Cllr Judi Billing reported on this motion to the County Local Campaign Forum (LCF), which was hosted in Letchworth by the North East Herts constituency party last Friday.
Headteachers had written this year and last year to parents about the effect of cuts on the education of their children (see our earlier report). Labour had worked with parent groups and the headteachers in preparing the motion and, although the resulting letter was not hard hitting, the fact was that Tories had voted for a motion which specifically complained about "austerity".
There was concern expressed at the LCF meeting that new government guidelines, just issued, were aimed at preventing headteachers from writing letters such as their letters to parents, by indicating that they should not use school machinery for political purposes.
A further concern was expressed that the number of key stage 1 pupils taught in classes of more than 30 had increased significantly. It is actually illegal to have classes above 30 for children of this age and Judi Billing would enquire further about the 1,404 children in this situation in Hertfordshire.
Cllr Nigel Bell reported that the Nascot Lawn respite centre for children could possibly close on 15 November. Yet, the County Council did not have care packages for some children in place yet. We have reported before on the withdrawal of funding by the Clinical Commissioning Group as a result of a government cut of £45m in their funding.
A delegate drew attention to the fact that the East of England Ambulance Service had been rated the worst in England and Scotland. Cllr Sharon Taylor said that she would be meeting the unions and would follow this up in the light of their views.
This meeting was the LCF's AGM and Selina Norgrove of Broxbourne CLP (centre in the picture above) was elected as the new chair. The meeting said farewell to Leon Reefe, the outgoing chair, who had previously been the leader of the Labour Group on the County Council, and wished him well in his new home in Bournemouth.
10 September 2018
It has just been announced that the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Hertfordshire, Tony Lloyd, who is as former Tory councillor, has backed down and withdrawn his bid to take over the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. This means that the Service will remain within the control of theCounty Council.
His proposal was backed by the Tory MPs in Hertfordshire, but opposed by all the parties on the County Council, including the Tories.
So, the imminent threat of fire station closures and firefighter redundancies has receded. However, more co-operation between the police and the fire service is still to be explored. The difference now is that Labour councillors will have a part to play in the decision making about any changes that are proposed within the fire service.
There has been protracted correspondence between the PCC and the government as he attempted to adjust his business plan for the Fire Service in order to make it acceptable. The Labour Group will seek to find out just how much this debacle has cost taxpayers.
There is more on this topic here.
8 September 2018
Lorna Kercher, who was a Labour councillor on North Herts District Council for 30 years, was made an alderman at a Council meeting last Thursday. She gave up her Letchworth seat on the Council at the last election, following her move to Derbyshire.
Tributes were paid to her by councillors from all sides, many joking about "sharing a car with her" - because she does not drive and will accept a lift from another councillor, whatever that councillor's political persuasion!
As well as her long service on the District Council, Lorna was also a County councillor for eight years, representing Letchworth North West. She also served on the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation.
Lorna says that she feels honoured to be made an alderman. "Letchworth and North Herts will always be in a corner of my heart," she says.
Lorna is pictured at the Red Rose Summer Party in Buntingford last Sunday.
8 September 2018
Rail campaign in Royston
Our rail campaign last Monday got a full page spread in the Hertfordshire Mercury today.
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England, led our campaign at Royston Station and was extensively quoted by the Mercury. They quoted her as saying: "People have been put off using the train because of the unreliability and cost when we should be doing everything to encourage them. It really is time the railways were run for the benefit of passengers, not profit."
She went on to explain that a season ticket covering all services throughout Germany for one year costs £1,000 less than a season ticket for the 50-mile commute from Royston to London.
6 September 2018
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England (above, centre), joined our two Labour town councillors in Royston, along with other members, to campaign for the public ownership of railways, in order to provide a better service.
There is a clear majority in favour of public ownership in the country and a Labour government would provide this at very little cost, since each franchise would be taken back as the present provider's contract expired.
The same message was being delivered by our members at Letchworth Station (pictured left) at the same time. One rail user, a police officer, told us that after a 12 hour shift his 30-minute journey home that morning had taken 1 hour 50 minutes.
3 September 2018
Undaunted by the by-election result in Watton-at-Stone, the East Herts Rural branch held another successful summer party in Buntingford on Sunday, 2 September 2018, welcoming comrades from the other two branches in the constituency as well as from Hertford & Stortford, Enfield and Broxbourne constituencies.
In addition, we welcomed Lorna Kercher - due to become an alderman of North Herts District Council next Thursday - and her husband, Les, who drove down from Derbyshire to celebrate their wedding anniversary with us.
The picture shows all the guests, except CLP secretary Sue Ngwala, who was taking the picture.
2 September 2018
Yesterday's by-election in Watton-at-Stone ended one-party rule in East Hertfordshire, but unfortunately it was the Liberal Democrat candidate who achieved this, in spite of the fact that at the previous election the Liberal Democrats did not even stand.
Their candidate, Sophie Bell, had a remarkable win, taking 531 votes out of a total of 792, with a very high turnout for an August by-election of nearly 40%. The Tory candidate trailed well behind with 238 votes and, although we had an excellent candidate in Veronica Fraser and canvassed almost all of the ward, the Labour vote was only 23.
It was clear from our canvassing that the fact that she was the only local candidate was a key advantage in the minds of many voters. Some told us that their main aim was to defeat the Tories and they would, therefore, vote Liberal Democrat on this occasion.
You could perhaps argue that a great many Tories defected to the Lib. Dems., just like Cllr Marment in Letchworth (see next item).
24 August 2018
Tory majority cut to four
Cllr Paul Marment, the sole Tory in the three-seat ward of Letchworth Grange, has defected to the Liberal Democrats, saying that he has been struggling for some time with Tory policies both nationally and locally. The local issues that he mentions are the farce over refuse collection and the ongoing issues of Hitchin Town Hall.
The Labour Group on the Council has been struggling with Tory policies for even longer and more vociferously than Cllr Marment! The Labour Group says: "All North Herts District Councillors should be dissatisfied with the complacent Conservative leadership. The museum situation is a scandal and the refuse service a farce."
Cllr Marment won his seat from Labour in 2015. He will now sit as a Liberal Democrat until his seat is up for election in 2019. The Labour Group says that local people deserve councillors who will make their voices heard all the time, not just when the need for re-election looms.
The electors of the Grange ward will be able to replace Cllr Marment next May with a Labour councillor. Meanwhile, they already have two Labour councillors, Helen Oliver and Daniel Allen, both elected last May (pictured).
"Cllr Marment may be feeling confused," says Helen, "but Cllr Daniel Allen and myself have been opposing the poor Conservative leadership of NH District Council and we'll continue to do so, along with our fellow Labour councillors."
20 August 2018
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England (third from left), joined us this morning to canvass for Veronica Fraser, who is the Labour candidate for Watton-at-Stone.
We were also joined by comrades from Hertford and Stortford CLP and Stevenage CLP for this canvass.
If you want to help us to hold the Tory fiefdom of East Herts to account, join us tomorrow, Sunday, 19 August, outside the Bull in Watton High Street, for another canvassing session.
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone is next Thursday, 23 August 2018.
18 August 2018
East Herts Rural branch invites members and other supporters to join them at their summer party in Buntingford at 12.30 pm on Sunday, 2 September. Food and soft drinks are provided, but bring a bottle of whatever you enjoy.
Tickets are £12 for adults and £4 for children (under 5 free). You can pay on the day, but booking is essential. So, book now by emailing the branch secretary, Ian Fairbairn, at email@example.com.
The picture shows our Labour MEP, Alex Mayer, speaking at the party in 2017.
14 August 2018
Labour was out in Watton-at-Stone this morning. At present, the only non-Tory on the East Herts District Council is an Independent ex-Tory, who nevertheless remains chair of the Tory Party's Bow Group. In other words, there is no opposition at all and no one to hold Tory councillors to account.
We desperately need Labour councillors. Help us begin to change the District Council at this by-election and then at the elections for the full council in May of next year.
So, join us next weekend on Saturday at 10.30 am or Sunday at 11 am outside the Bull in Watton High Street.
12 August 2018
"After weeks on end of broken promises, recycled reassurances and unacceptable excuses, it's evident Urbaser can't deploy enough trained staff and suitable vehicles to deliver the essential service it tendered for," the North Herts Labour Group says in a statement.
"At this point, the public can have no faith in the Council or the contractor to resolve these fundamental failings.
"Moreover, the public can have no faith in those ultimately responsible. The Leader of the Council Lynda Needham, Portfolio Holder Michael Weeks and the Cabinet chose Urbaser. They've proven unable to lead the Council out of the resulting mess and should resign."
8 August 2018
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone takes place on Thursday, 23 August 2018. At the last general election, Labour was second in the poll in Watton, so that only Labour has any chance of challenging the Tory candidate and ending the monopoly of power that the Tories have on East Herts District Council.
The campaign schedule is on the members' page. Please come and help Veronica Fraser's campaign. If you are not a member of this constituency, please get in touch with the Campaigns Co-ordinator to offer your help.
7 August 2018
The Tory Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has asked the Secretary of State to allow him to run the Fire and Rescue Service, which is currently run by the County Council. This was opposed by all parties on the County Council. However, it is supported by our Tory MPs.
Labour's spokesperson on Community Safety on the County Council is Cllr Joshua Bennett Lovell (pictured). He says:
"Having discussed this with the Secretary of the Herts Fire
Brigades Union (FBU) on several occasions, I am well aware of how
worried local fire-fighters are about the Tory PCC's plans to take-over
Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. Together we co-wrote an open
statement as Herts Labour and Herts FBU to speak out against the
proposals. Many fire-fighters have also written to me personally to
express their concerns. I trust their decades of experience when they
warn of how damaging this could be from both a reputational and safety
"That the PCC is so open about planned station closures should alarm us greatly; whilst the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is currently meeting incident response time targets, the shutting down of stations in the county may significantly impact these figures. Impacted too would be the service's ability to respond to major incidents. In the wake of Grenfell Tower, we must take extremely seriously the risks associated with reducing our fire service's ability to respond to such major threats to the public.
"Our fire-fighters did not join the service to be repeatedly undermined and left at higher risk due to service funding cut-backs and station closures, and the public who depend on their skill, bravery and commitment must not be either. As a cost-cutting exercise, it doesn't get much more dangerous than this. I stand with our fire-fighters and our public in condemning the Tory PCC's plans. We must keep our Fire and Rescue Service in local control, and fight-back against service cuts and station closures."
There is a public meeting on Thursday, 2 August 2018 from 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm at Roe Hill, Briars Lane, Hatfield AL10 8EY, hosted by Welwyn-Hatfield Cllr Kieran Thorpe.
31 July 2018
There is no opposition at all to the Tories on East Herts District Council. All councillors are Conservatives, apart from one, who was elected as a Conservative, but was later suspended from the party for indicating support for UKIP and sits as an Independent.
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone gives a chance to end this monopoly of power, paving the way to a stronger opposition, if not a change of control, when all wards go to the polls in May of next year. The by-election is on 23 August 2018 and results from the sad and sudden death of Cllr Michael Freeman.
The Labour candidate is Veronica Fraser, a retired local government officer and civil servant. "I believe that community voices need to be heard in the design of local services and planning decisions," she says, "and I am committed to genuinely consulting and representing the locality and its people."
There are many issues on which the Tory council needs to be called to account. Some of the most important are these: amongst all the building now going on and planned in East Herts there are not enough affordable homes for young people who have been brought up here and for key workers like nurses and teachers; we also need to challenge the District Council to demand new houses are ecologically sound, to make an even greater effort to recycle and to do more to develop the local economy.
Veronica's election address can be read here.
Away on holiday for the election?
It's very easy to get a postal vote. Apply to the East Herts District Council by 5 pm on 8 August 2018. You can download the form here. If you are going overseas or travelling in this country, a postal vote is not recommended, but you can get someone else that you trust to vote for you ("a proxy vote"). You have until 5 pm on 15 August to do this. You can find the form here.
If you have just moved to Watton, you may not be registered to vote. You have until midnight on 7 August 2018 to register for this election. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You will need your National Insurance number.
30 July 2018
but we urgently need two women to step forward for key vacancies
At the AGM yesterday, members elected a new team to run the Constituency Party. Peter Finn (left), from the Royston Branch, was elected as chair unopposed and Cllr Sue Ngwala (below right), from Letchworth and Baldock Branch, was similarly elected as Secretary. The other executive officers are vice-chairs Liz Davis and Clyde Millard, both from East Herts Rural branch; Jess Finn (Royston Branch) as Women's Officer and the treasurer is unchanged - John Rees (Royston Branch).
In his pre-election statement, Peter said that his vision was "a cohesive, functioning campaigning body that demonstrably contributes to successful elections; an enhanced reputation nationally and regionally that will encourage ambitious parliamentary candidates; and a party where we might not all agree but we do feel our views have been heard and respected."
The functional officers who were also elected are shown on the Local Party page.
Two very important posts were not filled and, to maintain gender balance, we urgently need two women to step forward. These posts are Communications Co-ordinator and Membership Secretary. If you want to nominate yourself or want to find out more, please get in touch with Sue Ngwala at this email address.
26 July 2018
It is with great sadness that we announce the death on 12 July 2018 of Peter Wood, at the age of 102. Peter and his wife, Shirley, were an inspiration, both working hard for the Labour Party and for the Co-operative Party until only a few years ago. He died peacefully with Shirley and his family around him.
Peter was politically restricted in his job, but became active in the Labour Party after his retirement. He held various posts within our neighbouring Hertford and Stortford constituency party and the Hertford branch. He was known latterly to the East Herts Rural branch as a meticulous treasurer of the 100 Club, in which the branch continued to take part even after its separation from the Hertford and Stortford constituency. Incidentally, if you needed a history of boundary changes for the constituency or wards within it, everyone knew that the person to ask was Peter.
He and Shirley have been regular attenders at East Herts Rural social events right up to last year and many members from the rest of our constituency will have met them there.
The picture shows Peter and Shirley, with two of their family, at his 100th birthday party, where Peter eschewed reminiscences in favour of persuading his guests to vote "remain" in the referendum.
There will be no funeral as such, because Peter wanted his body to be donated for medical research. A memorial meeting will be arranged soon.
24 July 2018
Some of us can remember when you had to pay to see the doctor or have an operation. It was the luck of who our parents were whether our care could be afforded. Some of us even today have experienced, whilst on holiday in the USA, the awful feeling when you are asked for your credit card before you are asked what your symptoms are.
Aneurin Bevan, after he, as Health Minister in Clement Attlee's government, had brought in the NHS, famously said that it was "the envy of the world". Sure enough, much of the world copied it, with a few changes here and there. So, just how good is it now?
The BBC has commissioned a report from four very reputable bodies: the King's Fund, the Nuffield Trust, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation. It compares health care in a range of developed countries. It demonstrates just how difficult it is to answer this question.
On equality of access, the NHS can hardly be faulted. They quote the American Commonwealth Fund survey which showed that the UK was much better than the average when people were asked if they had skipped a consultation due to cost and was the best when they were asked if they had skipped a medicine prescription because of cost.
However, health care outcomes are something of a mixed bag. The NHS has a good record on diabetes, for example, and is the best at avoiding death from kidney disease. However, it is less good on some major health problems, such as heart attacks: for example, cancer survival rates are below average, although the rates over the ten years to 2014 have improved faster than the average.
But this needs to be put in context. The UK spends less of its wealth on health care (9.7%) than average (10.2%) - and much less than the USA spends on its largely dysfunctional system (17.2%). More importantly, it is less than France and Germany (11% and 11.3% respectively). This makes it difficult for anyone to argue that we cannot afford to pay for the NHS.
Of course, the GDP per person varies from country to country and the report also looks at spending per person. The UK is again below average by about 5% (10% if the USA is included). The figures are for 2016 and exclude capital spending, which might be an important factor, since the UK, for example, has 2.6 hospital beds per 1,000, compared with an average 4.5, and the lowest number of MRI and CT scanners.
We also lag behind on the number of doctors and nurses. We have one doctor for 356 people against an average of 277. The report speculates about how the numbers of our professional staff can be so far below average when our spending is closer to the average (albeit below it). They fail, however, to consider whether the cost of our present tendering system and the re-organization which has accompanied it, introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, is a factor. In effect, a whole new bureaucracy was added to our healthcare by that government.
We desperately need a Labour government to restore and develop the NHS, removing the bureaucracy of tendering for contracts and halting the creeping privatisation of services. That is why we were out today in Letchworth to mark the 70th birthday of the NHS and to campaign to prevent its disappearance into private hands before we can take it back for the good of the people.
7 July 2018
Labour created the NHS 70 years ago today. It is our greatest achievement. Its creation was, of course, opposed by the Conservatives and, it has to be said, by the doctors. However, the doctors have been won over now.
The problem is that the Tories have not. They entered government in 2010 having promised not to re-organize the NHS, but immediately put forward a bill that radically altered the NHS, breaking it up in parts that could be put out to contract. Sadly, the Liberal Democrats, in coalition with the Conservatives, went along with this.
The intention was clear. They expected that these contracts would be won by private companies, especially US health care providers. It did not quite go to plan. Many contracts did go to private companies, but the major American providers held back. Furthermore, against the odds, many contracts were won by NHS organizations, although at the expense of re-organizing themselves on commercial lines and spending scarce funds on the tendering process.
On top of this, the Conservatives have cut the growth of NHS funding and, in real terms, cut the pay of NHS staff. We all saw or read about the state of the NHS over last winter.
That’s why we shall be in Letchworth Town Centre next Saturday, 7 July, to celebrate Labour’s achievement and demand an end to the cuts, austerity and privatisation that have characterised the last eight years of Tory mismanagement of our NHS. We shall be handing out leaflets and talking to shoppers about how the Labour party will save our NHS.
Come and join us in Leys Square, near Esquires Coffee shop, Letchworth Town Centre, 10am to 2.30pm, on Saturday, 7 July 2018.
5 July 2018
An excellent meeting was held on 12 June 2018 to discuss the papers put forward by our Policy Commissions. Members split into small groups, each one discussing a different policy area: health inequalities, national education service, a greener Britain, the future of work, protecting our communities, and giving people power to shape their local communities. Their comments have now all been submitted to the National Policy Forum.
These comments are now available on the members' page of the website. In addition, there are comments on Labour's green paper on social housing, Housing for the Many. These comments were formulated by the East Herts Rural branch.
2 July 2018
Labour, including our two Royston town councillors, at Royston station
The Labour Party was out campaigning about the state of our railways in Letchworth, Baldock and Royston. In Royston, on cue, the rail company delayed one train and advised passengers not to board the fast train because it was only four coaches and was already packed out on arrival.
Fittingly, this is also the first working day for the newly renationalised East Coast mainline. It is now twice that the private franchisee has been unable to run it and twice the state - that's you and me - has had to pick up the pieces. Last time, the nationalised railway company delivered high passenger satisfaction, as well as paying millions of pounds to the Treasury - but the Tories privatised it again, only to be forced to take it back into public ownership.
The Tories tell us that private companies are more efficient than nationalised organizations, but it is clear that they cannot get their figures right when they bid for franchises and they cannot get their timetables right either. Worse, apparently they assured the Secretary of State that all would be well with the new timetable, but now they say that in the north they will not be able to sort out the chaos until November!
25 June 2018
It is two years since Jo Cox was murdered - murdered for her beliefs. But her beliefs live on.
Sue Ngwala, our political education officer, has arranged a second Great Get Together on Saturday 30 June 2018 to celebrate her life and ensure that those beliefs continue to be put into practice.
It is easy to show your support. You only have to eat a slice of cake. But you then need to go on living by her ideals - and that's not difficult either, if you put your mind to it.
23 June 2018
Cei Whitehouse, who was our campaigns co-ordinator at the last general election, explains how the government is ignoring the evidence when it backs grammar schools. Writing in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 7 June 2018, he explains why he gives them only 2 out of 10 - "Must try harder". The article is below.
This was set alongside an article by Cllr Jeff Jones (Buntingford, Conservative) which perfectly illustrates the Tories' flawed grasp of the evidence.
Cei's article is below:
9 June 2018
The 2017 Labour Manifesto is widely thought to have contributed to the remarkable upsurge in Labour support that took place between the council elections in May and the General Election in June 2017.
We are now working on the manifesto for the next general election and your input really can make a difference. We are meeting to discuss policies next Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 7.30 pm in the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1NX. (The Hall is across the road from the Howard Gardens Social Centre where the constituency party usually meets and there is a car park alongside the hall.)
Please read the consultation documents on the subjects that interest you, so that you can make your contribution. Each document sets out some background information and a set of questions that need to be answered. Those familiar with earlier policy consultation documents will find that these are commendably short.
The subjects are:
Towards a National Education Service
The future of work
A greener Britain
Tackling health inequalities
Achieving Sustainable Development Goals
Protecting our communities and turning lives around
Addressing in-work poverty and working-age inequalities
Giving people the power to shape their local communities
You can access all these documents on the Labour Policy Forum website.
We look forward to seeing you. If you are not known to the officers of the constituency party, please remember to bring your membership card with you.
6 June 2018
Alex Jarosy was elected chair of the constituency Labour Party (CLP) at the all-member meeting on 20 May 2018, filling the vacancy left when Doug Swanney resigned earlier in the year. At an earlier meeting, the CLP had decided not to leave the vacancy open until the AGM in July. However, all constituency party posts, including chair, will be up for election at the AGM.
Alex has been membership secretary of the CLP and will continue to hold this post until the AGM. Alex comes with a long history of campaigning in London and recently in elections in our constituency. He has worked in local government at a senior level and with housing associations.
31 May 2018
"Tory policy is clearly having a damaging impact on the most vulnerable in North Herts," said Gary Grindal (pictured right), our Labour and Co-operative councillor for Letchworth Wilbury, after he had seen the report for 2017/8 from Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire.
Compared with the previous year, client issues were up by 20%, principally because people are being hit in several ways by the government's austerity programme: the number of issues per client was up by 15%.
Nearly a third of the problems related to benefits and taxes, and the number was up by 21%, followed by debt (up by 9%) and housing (up by 16%). In addition to debt problems, the need for help with budgeting more than doubled.
The highest number of benefit cases related to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). One effect of the change-over from Disability Living Allowance has been on the charges which disabled people have to pay for care workers to assist them. Labour county councillors have tried to prevent the Tory County Council from taking advantage of the change to increase charges for the most disabled (see below).
PIP, together with Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit, make up more than half the benefits cases, but Universal Credit cases have more than doubled as this form of benefit is rolled out.
We are fortunate that Citizens Advice has kept going in spite of the withdrawal of local authority funding over recent years and it is good to know that even more people are volunteering their help: volunteer numbers were up 38% since the year before.
"In North Herts, this volunteering organisation helped 5,400 people in the last year," said Gary Grindal. "They remain so vitally important in our community."
30 May 2018
Shock at further cuts for local schools
For the second year in a row, local Head Teachers have felt compelled to write to parents, explaining the devastating effect on our schools of funding cuts.
The letter that we have seen outlines some of the effects of previous cuts on one particular school:
The end of native language assistant support in modern foreign languages
Teachers teaching outside their specialisms
A reduction in teaching staff
A reduced number of teaching assistants for those with additional needs
A reduction in school trips and extra-curricular activiities.
The letter goes on to warn that further reductions in teaching staff may be necessary, resulting in larger cleases at key stage 4, withrawal of some options at GCSE and a reduced range of A-level courses. In addition, before and after school provision may be at risk. The letter, which is signed by all the secondary heads in North Hertfordshire, calls on parents to write to their MP and to government ministers.
Judi Billing, Leader of the Labour Group on the County Council and Spokesperson for Education, Libraries & Localism (pictured), says: "It’s really shocking that in a comparatively wealthy place like North Herts all six of our Secondary Heads feel they must explain to parents and students that they expect standards and choices to decline simply for lack of cash.
"The teachers and leaders at our schools are amongst the the most committed professionals you could ever meet. It's nothing short of a scandal that the government is making it harder and harder for them to deliver the education that they care so much about and that our children need.
"The Secretary of State Damian Hinds should be ashamed of himself and I hope that every North Herts parent will make it clear to him that this funding gap is completely unacceptable for our schools, our teachers and our children in 2018."
Last May, at the Generel Election hustings in Royston, Member of Parliament for NE Herts, Sir Oliver Heald, assured parents that Theresa May had a plan to tackle school funding issues. Despite those assurances, a year on, our children's schools have made cuts, and will be making further cuts, which affect our children's education.
You can read about last year's letter from headteachers here.
26 May 2018
The change of contract for food waste collectioin in North Herts to Urbaser has led to food waste caddies being left out on the kerb for nearly a week.
Cllr Elizabeth Dennis Harburg, Labour's shadow portfolio holder for refuse and waste management, said: "One of the most vital statutory services provided by NHDC, the contract for food waste collection, has been chronically affected by the switch over to Urbaser with new routes and "data errors" being blamed.
Labour councillors on North Herts District have spent the last few days hearing from residents in both Hitchin and Letchworth and raising problems with the Council. In some instances, whole streets have had their unemptied food waste caddies out on the kerb for nearly a week.
To make matters worse, there are many reports of unanswered phones, making reporting the missed collections unnecessarily difficult. And sporadic responses to online fault reporting.
Labour has, therefore, requested a full statement from both NHDC and Urbaser, outlining a clear plan for how they will rectify the problems as rapidly as possible - and how they'll literally clean up the mess."
24 May 2018
Change is coming: get involved
The results of the 2018 District Council Elections have brought change in Letchworth, as the Local Area Committee passes into Labour control. The new Chair, Cllr Gary Grindal, pledges to enable local people to use the meeting to get involved and make their voices heard.
Gary explains, “When we were knocking on people’s doors during the election, it wasn’t so much to talk, as to listen; people definitely needed that, because unfortunately they’ve felt ignored - it’s time for that to change. A fresh ethos will shape how Letchworth’s Labour councillors manage the Local Area Committee, ensuring that we encourage engagement across the town.
"We’ll be asking local community groups, charities and even individuals to come along and make presentations, ask questions or share petitions. We’re looking forward to building stronger links with small local businesses and those working for the local community.
"Whilst both NHDC and the County Council remain in Conservative control, it doesn’t stop Letchworth Councillors and the Local Area Committee from engaging with and supporting our community, seeking improvements where we can, sharing what we’ve learned and challenging decisions, if consultation hasn’t been taken into proper account.”
Grange Cllr Helen Oliver will be supporting Cllr Grindal in the role as Vice Chair. Helen added, “We’ve an enthusiastic, energetic and motivated team of Labour councillors ready to support our town. We’re keen to see local people engage with their Area Committee, so look out for notices of our meetings, or get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, to find out how to take part.”
Ian Albert outlines the problems facing North Herts Council
Value for money is the key issue as North Herts District Council faces cuts of 40% in its funding in the next two years. Writing in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 17 May 2018, Cllr Ian Albert (Labour and Co-operative, Hitchin Bearton), who is the finance lead for Labour on the council, gives a clear view of the challenges faced by all councils as a result of the government's austerity programme, which has fallen most heavily on local authorities.
You can read his article here.
19 May 2018
Cllr Gary Grindal, just re-elected as our councillor for Letchworth Wilbury, has been elected as the chair of the Letchworth Area Committee, with Cllr Helen Oliver, newly elected as our councillor for Letchworth Grange, as vice-chair.
Over in neighbouring Hitchin, Cllr Ian Albert (Labour and Co-operative, Hitchin Bearton) will be chairing the Hitchin Area Committee.
18 May 2018
Yesterday we successfully defended four seats that we already held in Letchworth and also won an extra seat in Letchworth South East.
Gary Grindal, with new councillors, Sue Ngwala, Daniel Allen, Helen Oliver and Kate Aspinwall
In Letchworth Wilbury Gary Grindal retained his seat on the Council, with a majority of 454 over the Tory candidate and with over 58% of the vote.
Sue Ngwala won Letchworth East, taking over from the popular and well-known Lorna Kercher, who has recently moved away. Sue had a comfortable majority of 394 over the Tory, with nearly 52% of the vote.
In Letchworth Grange, Helen Oliver and Daniel Allen had majorities of 114 and 119 respectively over their nearest Tory rival. They replace Labour's Clare Billing and Sandra Lunn. Sandra did not stand again, but Clare Billing stood for a seat in her home town of Hitchin, where she won comfortably.
In Letchworth South East, Kate Aspinwall won the seat from the Conservatives with a majority of just eight. The other candidates, including a UKIP candidate, lagged well behind.
In Baldock Town, Alec Maguire lost to the Tory candidate, but was well ahead of the Liberal Democrat and the Green candidates. Similarly in Royston Palace, Rob Inwood was second to the Conservative and ahead of the other two parties. Rob Inwood (pictured right) was, however, re-elected to Royston Town Council and Amy Bourke-Waite (pictured left), formerly our vice-chair (membership), was also elected to the Town Council.
In the other two Royston seats, Ken Garland and Jess Finn fared less well. In both cases, the Liberal Democrats had something of a resurgence. In Royston Heath, they actually took the seat from the sitting Conservative councillor.
Our neighbours in Hitchin held two seats that they were defending and also gained a seat in Hitchin Walsworth, by a hefty majority.
For more information about the candidates and to see their election addresses, go to the Election page.
For detailed figures, and for the results in the rest of North Herts, go to the North Herts District Council website.
4 May 2018
Roma Mills has won back her seat on the County Council, taking the St Albans North division for Labour. A by-election for this seat took place at the same time as district council elections. This brings the strength of the Labour Group up to ten.
She had a majority of 319 over the Liberal Democrat candidate. The Conservative candidate came third.
Roma was also re-elected to the St Albans City and District Council.
4 May 2018
Three District Council candidates at Royston market: (from left) Alec Maguire, Rob Inwood and Jess Finn, with supporters
When the Tory District Councillors implement the Tory Government's swingeing cuts on local government, whilst giving themselves yet another increase in their allowances, it is time to strengthen the opposition, to try to preserve our services in North Herts.
Rob Inwood is the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Royston Palace and Jess Finn is the Labour candidate for Royston Meridian. Alec Maguire, who is our candidate in Baldock Town, was visiting to give his support. Rob Inwood is also standing for re-election to the Town Council and John Rees (on the right of the picture) is a town council candidate as well.
There is more information about the election and our candidates on the election page.
14 April 2018
If you are not registered to vote, you have until 17 April to register in time for the district council elections on 3 May. It's very easy to register - go to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You will need your National Insurance number.
If you have moved recently, you need to register at your new address. Your registration is not transferred to your new address by the council, even if they are aware that you are paying council tax at the new address.
If you think that you may not be able to get to the polling station on election day, you should apply for a postal vote. You have until 5pm on 18 April to apply.There is more information on how to apply here.
7 April 2018 (revised 13 April)
District Council elections on 3 May
We will keep the play parks open in North Herts and we will scrap the bin tax. We will provide genuinely affordable, quality homes and make sure that developers provide the facilities that are needed. This, and more, is set out in Labour's manifesto for the North Herts District Council elections on 3 May 2018, which can be read here.
There will be elections in all five of the Letchworth wards, all three Royston wards and in Baldock Town ward. We are defending four seats in Letchworth. The other seats up for election are held by Tory councillors. There is also an election for all the seats on the Royston Town Council.
For information on Labour candidates, please go to the Elections page.
We need people to deliver leaflets and targeted letters over the Easter weekend. Email the Campaign Co-ordinator at email@example.com if you can help.
31 March 2018
Letchworth playground campaigners last summer
Last weekend local residents in Hitchin Walsworth received a "newsletter" - of sorts - from Conservative District Councillor Alan Millard. In it he seemed to imply some responsibility for a recommendation before the next Cabinet meeting to continue maintaining local Rosehill playground. The letter infuriated members of the campaigning group "Save Our Parks - Hitchin" and local Labour Councillors alike - as Mr Millard had not been an active part of the hard work put in to save this valued community space.
Labour Councillor Elizabeh Dennis said: "Looking back on the excellent campaign at Rosehill, I remember it was led by motivated local people, concerned about their playground. I was proud to be part of that campaign and support those families, to help them make their voices heard. I don’t remember Cllr Millard coming along to listen, nor offer encouragement.
"If our residents are to place trust in local democracy, councillors need to be clear and open about their position on local issues – or it disrespects the hard-work put in by those trying to make a difference and share the views of their community."
In any case, the Tory proposal is to retain the play equipment "for the time being" and appears to relate to just this one playground. Elizabeth Dennis continued: "Residents in and around Linnet Close playground in Letchworth, including local Labour Candidate for the Grange, Helen Oliver, organised to show how treasured their playground was – yet it remains planned for closure."
The Labour manifesto for the election in May makes it clear that they would claw back the increase in councillors' allowances which the Tories awarded in the last two years to help to keep local playgrounds.
14 March 2018
As North Herts Tories spent last weekend apparently confused about the details of their own plans for the “bin tax”, local Labour’s alternative could not be clearer.
A confusing tweet from @NorthHertsTories on Friday, asserting that residents could pay the £40 “brown bin tax” in instalments, has resulted in North Herts District Council having to inform residents once again that this is not the case – the new charge must be paid in one lump sum.
Labour Councillor Ian Albert (pictured) said: “First, the Conservatives ignored resident consultation, which was overwhelmingly against this change, then they were unable to answer a number of our questions when the “brown bin tax” was scrutinised, then a letter was sent to residents about the charges - with no contact telephone number and no postal address. Now it seems they are even confused about how residents must pay the £40 charge.
"In contrast we’ve been clear that we oppose the charge. A Labour run Council for North Herts would work to bring an end to the charge. If the Tories insist on introducing it, there needs to be clear communications, the ability to pay in instalments and proper concessions for groups such as the elderly and disabled."
Ian Albert continued: "Local Labour are clearly offering an alternative to what feels like a panicked and confused response to national government’s relentless slashes to our Council’s funding; over the next two years this Council faces a further reduction in funding of more than 40%, a savage attack on essential local services. However, it’s a political choice to starve Local Government of funding and Labour Councillors would make different choices when dealing with it."
In the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee, the Tories all voted against referring the brown bin charge to the full Council. In East Herts the decision was referred to the full Council and, although the two councils have joined forces to award the contract for refuse collection, East Herts Council decided not to introduce the tax.
See previous news item for more information.
13 March 2018
Our first-past-the-post voting system ensures that right-wing parties can govern with around 37% of the vote. John Doolan, a member of the executive committee of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform (LCER), spoke at an all-member meeting of the constituency Labour Party last night and set out why, in his view, the present system was broken.
At present, the system results in a very narrow debate on how best to influence swing voters, most of whom are not very interested in politics anyway, rather than on the major policies to benefit the country, he argued.
The aim of LCER was to get the Labour Party to accept that the first-past-the-post system should be replaced and then to enter the debate about which system of proportional representation (PR) to propose in the manifesto for adoption by the next Labour government.
In the ensuing, lively debate, he admitted that coalitions were more likely, but contested the view that these would be arrived at through deals behind closed doors. He said that, for example in the Netherlands, parties spelt out in advance what sort of deals they might enter into. He believed also that policies resulting from agreement between coalition partners were more difficult to reverse.
He countered the suggestion that the referendum which decisively rejected the alternative vote system (AV) made PR an unviable policy for Labour at the moment by explaining that AV was not truly PR. As a result, the right wing press and the Tories had found it very easy to rubbish.
Of course, PR would allow more parties to gain MPs and, in the recent past, UKIP would have gained some seats in Parliament. He suggested that this would have shown them up for what they really were.
An indicative vote in the well-attended meeting showed a majority in favour of PR, but with several opponents and several who had not made up their minds.
1 March 2018
Labour's alternative budget for Hertfordshire
Sharon Taylor, Labour County Councillor for Stevenage Bedwell, introducing Labour's amendment to the Tory budget for the county for 2018/9, put the blame for the cuts squarely on the Tory government. "We recognise the impossible position the council has been placed in by its own government," she said.
"The appalling treatment of local goverrnment in successive austerity-driven budgets will go down in history as the most unprecedented and concerted attack on localism and local services this country has ever seen. £16bn of cuts between 2010 and 2020."
She drew attention to the predicted £5.8bn gap in adult care services funding and the rising demand for child protection, leading to a gap of £2bn or more by 2020.
So, Labour could only "seek to mitigate the worst impacts on our most vulnerable residents" and to show the importance of making this a "county of opportunity for all of our younger residents".
So, Labour proposed a fully costed amendment to redeploy some of the money available - principally money being set aside for future use - to allow the Council to:
Exempt those leaving care from council tax until age 25, as over 60 councils have already done.
Allow councillors to use their Highways Locality budget to subsidise bus services (no additional cost for the council).
Reverse the decision to close Cuffley Camp (see below).
Reverse the proposal to cut the Youth Service and Youth Connexions budget.
The Tory administration has just agreed to reconsider one element of their proposal to increase the charges for home care. Labour proposed withdrawing all the increases and conducting a full consultation (see below).
The Tories have also agreed to withdraw for one year their proposal to cut the funding for the Savercard, which allows young people to access education and job opportunities, as well as the wealth of cultural opportunities in the county. Labour demonstrated how this funding could be kept in place at least until 2020/1.
The proposals were rejected by the Tory-dominated council, but show how Labour could make things better, even in the impossible situation created by the government. There is more on the increase in the county's council tax precept here.
27 Februayr 2018
For the second time, the High Court has quashed the decision of the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to close the Nascot Lawn respite centre, which provides respite care for severely disabled children throughout Hertfordshire. (See earlier reports below.)
Parents, who have been supported throughout their struggle to keep Nascot Lawn open by Labour councillors Nigel Bell and Asif Khan, mounted the challenge. The CCG is required to cut £45m from its spending in the current financial year and have tried to argue throughout that they did not have to support the centre because it was a care facility, not a medical facility. The judge has now ruled that it is a medical facility, that they must consult with the County Council and that they must hold a public consultation before they can make a decision to close the facility. The service must continue to be provided at least until August.
Chris Ostrowski (pictured), Labour's parliamentary candidate for Watford, where the centre is located, said: "I am so pleased for the parents. Their determination and campaigning has been rewarded. I call upon the CCG and the Government to abandon this closure. The root cause is the £45 million of Tory government cuts to west Hertfordshire's NHS. I would expect the local MP and Mayor to be campaigning for more funding for our local NHS."
23 February 2018
Labour councillors on North Herts District Council called on the Tories to lead by example. Recognising that the Council faces the imposition of a further 40% cut to its budget by the Tory government, they proposed that they should end the bin tax and stop the closure of play parks by reducing councillors' allowances.
However, the Tories rejected Labour's fully costed alternative budget and went ahead with their own budget with the brown bin tax and the closure of children's play parks, and an increase in councillors' allowances of 2%, on top of the 10% increase last year.
Cllr Ian Albert (Labour, Hitchin Bearton, pictured above) explained: "This Council faces ...a savage attack on essential local services provided by our hard-pressed staff. However, we reject Cllr Cunningham's view that considering cuts to our front-line services or outsourcing public amenities are a sad inevitability. Labour would make different choices.
"We won't close playgrounds. Young people are our future. We'll lead by example. We need to correct the damage of the 10% increase (in councillors' allowances) last year. We propose a reduction. Furthermore, we propose to end the costly civic reception. There are far better ways to honour our local community and raise money for charity than a three-course meal on the taxpayer."
20 Feburary 2018
The Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform campaigns to change Labour policy to support for a voting system on a more proportional system. They believe it is in everyone’s interest, including the Labour Party’s, to do this. John Doolan will be speaking on this and leading a debate on this topic at the constituency party's all-member meeting on 28th February 2018.
This meeting is open to all members and affiliated supporters. There is also some business to transact. An agenda has been sent to members, but a revised version will be sent to them shortly.
As usual the meeting is at 7.30 pm at Howard Gardens Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1SU.
19 February 2018
On Saturday, the North Herts District Election campaign was launched with a flourish in Hitchin Town Square. No one in the square that morning can have missed the red campaign stall and the large number of supporters who came to suppport the candidates for election throughout the district.
North Herts District Council has elections every year for one -third of the seats, except in the year of County Council elections. Within in our constituency there are elections on 3 May 2018 in all the seats in Letchworth and in Royston, as well as in the Baldock Town ward. Three of these seats are currently held by Labour: Letchworth Wilbury, Letchworth Grange and Letchworth East.
There are, of course, also wards with elections in the neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden constituency and this was the joint launch in both constituencies. The picture shows campaigners from our constituency in Hitchin Town Square.
That evening, several of those who had been campaigning in Hitchin joined members of the East Herts Rural branch for their annual fund-raising dinner, which was held in the Axe and Compasses in Braughing.
Cllr Judi Billing, who is a North Herts District Councillor, but is also a Hertfordshire County Councillor and Labour Group Leader on that council, came to talk about the important work that is done by the County Council and the effect that the currently small group of Labour councillors can have. Judi is at the head of the table in the picture and Rachel Burgin, our interim campaign co-ordinator for the elections this May is on the right.
The dinner raised £242 for branch funds - essential for the branch to fight East Herts District Council elections next year and for such contingencies as an unexpected General Election!
12 February 2018
North Herts District Council elections on 3 May
We shall be launching our campaign tomorrow, 10 February 2018, along with our colleagues from the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency. The launch will be at 10.30 am at a stall in Hitchin Town Square SG5 1DY, where local electors can find out about Labour's alternative District Council budget, the Labour manifesto for these election and how to make sure that they are registered to vote.
Candidates, councillors and local campaigners will be at the stall from 10.30 am until 12 noon. Come and join us. Look our for the red gazebo!
"We'll be happy to answer people's questions on our fully costed budget," says Cllr Ian Albert (pictured), "which puts residents first and reflects Labour's understanding that the District Council provides important services, not just numbers at the bottom of a page of cuts. We know it's possible to give these services the funding they deserve."
Last Saturday, local campaigners were out in Letchworth, talking to shoppers, hearing their views on issues from charging for brown bins to Conservative councillors awarding themselves another allowance increase. Come along to Hitchin on Saturday to give us your views. "It will be great to get the chance to share our plans and listen to the public, because our manifesto is focused on our commitment to genuine consultation," says Ian Albert.
9 February 2018
But Stephen Hawkins wins right to challenge the changes
Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, had planned to lay regulations allowing so-called Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs) to take over all the NHS services, as well as social services, in a particular area.
This was discussed briefly at the constituency party meeting addressed by Stephen Gill of the Socialist Health Association (SHA) in November (see below).
This form or organisation would mean that the whole NHS service in a particular area - from GP surgeries up to acute hospitals would be put out to tender to be taken over by a private company, who may itself run the whole of the service or sub-contract parts of it to others. It may also include social services, taken over from the democratic control of local councils.
The result looks very like privatisation of the NHS. The level of service would be set by the terms of the contract and would not be in the day-to-day control of NHS bodies. Eventually, it could mean that the whole of the NHS was privately provided.
There are already companies providing this "service" in the USA. One can imagine that this change, which has not gone before Parliament, aims to attract American companies, such as Kaiser Permanente. This is in spite of the fact that American healthcare is hardly a model that we should want to follow, since it costs twice as much as our healthcare and overall has considerably worse outcomes.
The good news now is that it was announced during last week that Prof. Stephen Hawking has won the right to have a full judicial review of the lawfulness of setting up ACOs. He and leading healthcare professionals argue that the change to such organisations requires an Act of Parliament, so that the Commons and the Lords can scrutinise the proposal.
The whole of the drive towards NHS privatisation seems to have begun in 2002 with an article in the British Medical Journal, which claimed that Kaiser Permanente achieved better results than the NHS at roughly the same cost. However, it was subsequently shown that the comparison was not valid and that the Kaiser model was actually very much more expensive than the NHS.
A variant of this system is about to come into force for Cornwall. The county council, run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Independents, proposes to take over the NHS services and care services from 1 April 2018 in an "Accountable Care System", which they distinguish from an ACO. Whilst the incorporation of care services into the same system as health is to be welcomed, this does open up the possibility of the council contracting out some or all of the services to private companies.
However, Jeremy Hunt has drawn back from authorising this because no consultation has taken place. Even so, this major change in the type of orgnaisation put out to tender has not been subject to Parliamentary debate. It has not even been debated by Cornwall County Council! You can read more about this on the old website of the North Cornwall Labour Party, under both Press Releases and Cornwall Issues.
4 February 2018
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Henry Sargent MBE, at the age of 93. He was twice Mayor of Hertford - and the first Labour Mayor. He served on Hertford Town Council for many years and was instrumental in setting up the Hertford Music Festival.
From this constituency's point of view, his importance was his service as a district councillor on East Herts District Council, although for a ward outside our present constituency. For many years, he was the sole Labour councillor, until he was joined by one other and then, in 1995, by seven others. He was leader of this enlarged Labour Group for one year until he stood down from that role.
He will be remembered for his kindness to all who worked with him, his support for younger members coming on behind him, and for his cheerfulness in spite of the Conservative domination of the district council.
His funeral is next Monday, 5 February 2018 at 1 pm at St Joseph's Church, St John's Street, Hertford SG14 1RX. All who knew him are welcome. There will be refreshments in the church hall afterwards. Family flowers only. We understand that there will be an opportunity, announced at the funeral, to make a donation in his memory.
31 January 2018
The increase in the council tax would be made up of 3% for social care and 2.99% for other services, this being the largest increase allowed by the government without a referendum.
You may wonder why you have not heard what Labour's counter-proposals for next year's budget are. This is because the Tory proposal has not yet been debated. It is a proposal from the Tory Cabinet. The Tories have jumped the gun before going through the due processes of the county council. It has yet to go to the Scrutiny Committee, where the opposition parties can have their say, and for agreement by the full Council.
Labour will bring forward its proposals at the correct time, when they can be properly debated. Judi Billing, the Labour Group leader, says: "It rather makes a mockery of the democratic process and makes me wonder why they bother to pretend that they want to seriously listen to the views of all."
It is notable that the Tories are expecting that their government funding will be cut once again - this time by £22m.
28 January 2018
"20 died after late arrival of ambulances," says MP
Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South (right), has said that 20 people died in the East of England - an area which includes Hertfordshire - in the period between 18 December 2017 and 3 January 2018, after ambulances arrived late.
A senior member of the ambulance staff told HSJ (Health Service Journal) that at least 40 patients were "harmed or died following significant ambulance delays" in the East of England in this period.
An ambulance service spokesman said that in this period "on just one day in that period our ambulance crews spent more than 117 hours waiting to hand over patients to the care of hospitals".
"Our findings will likely show that a number of these incidents were caused by delays in reaching patients," he added.
The government Health Minister told the Commons that a "risk summit" had been set up. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our hospitals are over-stretched, partly because patients cannot be released through lack of social care, which results in over-crowding in A&E departments, with the result that ambulance crews have to hang around outside hospitals or in hospital corridors with their patients, and therefore are not available to respond to new 999 calls.
The Tories will tell you that they have increased funding to the NHS this year, but not that funding has dropped well below the funding in Germany or France.
24 January 2018
The speaker is Judi Billing, the leader of the Labour Group on the County Council, who will tell us of the importance of this Labour voice, at present only nine councillors, on the Tory-dominated council.
Please book by 2 February and give us your menu choices. You can access the menu here.
22 January 2018
It is the most disabled who will suffer most under the changes to charges for social care services, set to be introduced by the Tory County Council from 15 April this year.
"The proposal would negatively impact upon ..... the sustainability of their care and ability to stay at home. which could result in higher costs across the health and social care system," says the charity, Carers in Hertfordshire.
Some new charges affect all users of the particular service, like the doubling of the charge of transport to and from day care centres, from £2 to £4, and a weekly charge of £3.25 per week for telecare services provided by Serco.
Other changes fall especially on the most disabled. Previously, if two care workers were needed to assist the disabled person, the second worker was not charged for, but a charge will now be made. Also, when means-testing was carried out to determine payments, the higher rate disability living allowance (DLA) was ignored and the middle rate assumed, on the grounds that the higher rate was only awarded if care at night was required. The new personal independence payment (PIP) does not include this criterion and the Council will therefore take the higher payment fully into account in the means test.
The proposal for these increases goes to the full Council on 20 February 2018. Carers in Hertfordshire have started a petition. This is at present 126 short of the 1,000 needed for presentation to the Council. Please sign the petition here.
21 January 2018
To see his message, click on the image which will take you to the video on our Facebook page.
24 December 2017
Alex Mayer, our MEP in the East of England, is offering to take a group of Labour Party members to Brussels, to see the Parliament in action, to have a question and answer session with a panel of Euro MPs and to have dinner with her (and, no doubt, some other socialist MEPs). You will also have some free time to see some of the interesting city of Brussels.
If you are a member in the Eastern Region, you should have had an email from her with the details of the visit and how to apply. The main details are: the visit is from 27 February to 1 March 2018. You travel by Eurostar from St Pancras. You need to be at the station at 9.30 am on 27 February and you return to St Pancras at 6.15 pm on 1 March. The total cost is only £196 (single room) or £99 per person for two people sharing a room. The application form is here. Closing date for applications: 5 pm on 3 January 2017.
The picture shows a group of Eastern Region Labour Party members on an earlier visit to Brussels waiting for a meeting of the European Socialists' Group, to which they had been invited, to begin.
22 December 2017
Teaching A levels in Royston to end
"From next year, Royston will lose its only sixth form, meaning youngsters have to travel eight miles or more to Baldock” says Rob Inwood, Labour town councillor (pictured at Roysia School). “The local Labour Party oppose this decision. It's bound to put barriers in the way for less well-off students due to the expense of travelling that far. We're also concerned the plans were announced before the consultation was even closed; how could the results have been considered?”
The Royston Schools Academy Trust (RSAT) proposes to merge the three schools in Royston and the consultation on this has just ended. However, before it had ended, it was announced that there would no longer be a sixth form offering A levels. These courses would be provided at Knights Templar School in Baldock.
In Royston, the middle schools and the upper school are run by the RSAT. Roysia and Greneway middle schools provide education for pupils in years 5 to 8. Meridian School provides for years 9 and above. The proposal is to form one school taking children from age nine through to age 16. This is unlike most secondary schools which take children in at age 11.
Parents' concerns include longer distances to school for some of the younger children and increased traffic in Garden Walk, where the combined school will be, as well as the journey to Baldock for A level students.
There are more fundamental concerns than these, serious as they are. First, the benefits of the three tier system will be lost or severely diluted, depending on how the new school is organized. Ironically, RSAT boasts on its website, albeit without observing the rules of punctuation: “Pupils feel confident in the three tier system so Greneway, Roysia and Meridian Schools joined together in 2011 to promote and support this system for Royston’s children.”
Second, as well as the problem of travel to Baldock for A level courses, pupils lower down the school will no longer be able to benefit from the expertise of A level teachers.
The real culprit is the government. The major reason for the proposals is the Tories’ austerity policy. It is telling that RSAT say that a sixth form college in Royston is “not financially viable”. The Tories will tell you that education funding has being kept at the same level. This is true, but only if you ignore inflation – and it is not true of the separate funding stream for sixth form provision, which has been cut (see below).
Furthermore, the government has put money towards a vigorous policy of academisation, taking most secondary schools and some others out of local democratic control, so that our education authority – the County Council – is virtually powerless to change what the unelected RSAT decides.
17 December 2017
Doug Swanney commends Sir Oliver Heald
Yesterday in Parliament the government was defeated on an amendment to their EU (Withdrawal) Bill. The amendment was tabled by the former Conservative Attorney General and had the support of ten other Conservative MPs, including our Tory MP, Sir Oliver Heald.
It had Labour support, as well as support from the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists. The government lost by four votes.
The Daily Telegraph had dubbed these 11 Tory MPs as "mutineers" before this debate took place.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that Parliament can decide on the specific terms of Brexit deal, rather than many of the changes being brought in by government regulations - the so-called Henry VIII powers.
Doug Swanney, our Parliamentary spokesperson (pictured at the Baldock hustings meeting during the General Election), sent this letter to Sir Oliver yesterday:
Dear Sir Oliver
While we find ourselves on opposing sides on many matters, I wanted to take the opportunity to commend you on your reported stance on the Brexit bill currently being debated, in particular of your support for amendment 7 to the bill, and your words in the House earlier today.
The dictatorial stance taken by the Government, seeking to subvert the will of elected representatives through the use of so called “Henry VIII powers” would be worrying at the best of times; coming as it does following a campaign seeking to “take back control” for a sovereign parliament it is downright hypocritical.
I would like to support your opposition to the increasingly autocratic attitude taken by senior ministers on the matter of Brexit. This is not only because the principle seems to me inherently wrong, but also, as the representative of a constituency that voted to remain within the EU, and whose opinions have been ridden roughshod by an executive seemingly determined to push through the hardest of Brexits which nobody voted for, it is imperative you speak out for your constituents and many like them around the country.
North East Herts Labour Party
14 December 2017
Young Labour are holding a Christmas pub quiz on Monday, 18 December 2017 at the Cultivo Lounge, 32 Leys Avenue, Letchworth SE6 3EW. Join Alec and Dan, our two Youth Officers, meet other young members, join a quiz team and take part in the Christmas jumper competition. Bring a friend along too.
5 December 2017
Report on Constituency Party meeting
“The NHS is the largest, most successful and most enduring socialist project anywhere in the world – and certainly one of the most popular,” said James Gill. “The King’s Fund found this year that 90% support the founding principles and more than half would happily pay more tax to support it."
He added that it cost less than most comparable systems – 8.5% of GDP compared with the average around 10% for the EU-14 – the most developed European nations. Nevertheless, it had been consistently innovative, providing, for example, the first hip replacement and the MRI scanner.
James is a Central Council member of the Socialist Health Association (SHA), a Party member from our neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden constituency, and works as an information analyst in the NHS. He was speaking on behalf of the SHA on 29 November 2017 at a meeting of the constituency party in Letchworth. The SHA was founded in 1930 to campaign for a National Health Service, and now it is campaigning to prevent its gradual disappearance.
He saw the NHS as socialist because the distribution of resources is planned fairly, based on evidence, for the benefit of the people. There was overall democratic control and a workforce motivated by factors other than money.
The Tories found this bizarre. In their view, without profit and the threat of bankruptcy, innovation must stall and costs rise. Their solution was the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, drastically re-organizing the service. Most of the responsibility was handed to over 200 Clinical Commissioning Groups, nominally led by GPs, with planning done at arm’s length by NHS England.
The Tories had expected that more private providers would have entered the market by now, but that this had been partly frustrated by the success of NHS organizations in winning tenders for medical services.
Within three years, NHS England was proposing radical changes through Sustainability and Transformation plans, putting all the new organizations back together again into 44 “footprints” – all this without any legislation or much consultation. He agreed with a questioner that these plans contained some good recommendations, but they were made principally to bring costs down to the reduced budget. For this reason, Labour Conference had voted last September to oppose them.
He suggested that campaigning on specific local cuts was best done in co-operation with others, such as Health Campaigns Together and Keep Our NHS Public. Otherwise, because local plans were so complex, he recommended concentrating on simpler issues like getting the 8.5% figure up to the EU average, keeping democratic control of the NHS and reducing the increasing length of waiting times for surgery and in A&E.
In the lively discussion session after his talk, he agreed that, although the STPs were for local areas, there was a lack of local democratic accountability. It was important to make use of what there was, in particular health scrutiny committees (this is a county council committee, but has members from district councils on it. Margaret Eames-Petersen is the Labour county councillor on the committee); Healthwatch, which any member of the public can join for free; and membership of NHS Foundation Trusts which is also free and open to all.
He strongly supported the restoration of nurse training bursaries and an increase in doctor training to make up the shortfall in the number of GPs.
The probable closure of Nascot Lawn respite care home for disabled children was highlighted as a key current local issue (see article below).
He also agreed that the success of NHS units in winning contracts had the downside of making those units behave like private companies, resulting in some very odd amalgamations, and that the recent proposal to put out tenders for vertically integrated care – from GPs up to acute hospitals – could carry the danger of encouraging more private companies to tender for the contracts.
Membership of the Socialist Health Association is open to all who support Labour. Becoming a member costs £25 per year or less, and supports our work producing and promoting health policy for Labour.
You can see the sources used by James in his talk here.
1 December 2017
CCG decides on closure again
After "setting aside" their decision to withdraw funding for Nascot Lawn respite centre, the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has reconsidered - and decided to withdraw funding.
Nigel Bell, Labour county councillor for West Watford, called this "cynical and uncaring". "There was no proper cconsultation with parents, which they were due by law - only so-called engagement meetings."
"The fight will not stop here," he said. He promised that Labour will continue to call on the 11 Conervative MPs in the county to demand extra funding to keep the facility open."
"Ultimately, it is the government's continuing austerity policies which have led to the £45 million debts faced by Herts Valleys CCG," he said.
There is more information in our previous report here.
You can sign a petition on the Watford Labour Party website.
30 November 2017
A 'nothing has changed' budget
This was billed as a budget to tackle the housing crisis. The government's own Communities Secretary called for £50m of borrowing to invest in housing.
What the Chancellor has given him is only £7bn, plus £8bn in loans to private house builders.
Philip Hammond quoted a figure of £44m, but John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor (pictured left), points out that only one-third of that is actually "new money".
The plan is to build 300,000 homes a year - but not until the "mid-2020s". There is no mention of social housing, whereas Labour would have ensured 100,000 genuinely affordable houses a year in the mix by 2020.
Instead of social housing, we get help for first-time buyers. "Cutting stamp duty, without the significant increase in house-building that Labour promised," says John Healey, Labour's shadow Housing Secretary (pictured right), "will only drive up prices."
We get the same story with the National Health Service. Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive, had called for an immediate injection of £4bn. Instead he has got £350m, with some more to come in the next two years, making a total of £2.8bn.
In Hertfordshire, we have seen headteachers writing to parents about the underfunding of their schools, saying that they would have to reduce staffing and cut some courses. The immediate need nationally has been put at around £2bn.
Instead, schools will get about one-sixth of that to improve maths and computer science teaching. Good in itself, but not enough.
Not a lot has been done for ordinary people's day-to-day lives either. In his response to the budget, Jeremy Corbyn (pictured left) pointed out that 5.5m workers earn less than the living wage - a million more than just five years ago. "Pay is now lower for most people than it was in 2010 and wages are now falling again."
He went on to say: "There is a crisis of low pay and insecure work, affecting 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men - a record 7.4m people in working households in poverty."
Why is this happening? "Economic growth in the first three quarters of this year is the lowest since 2009 and the slowest of the major economies in the G7," Jeremy Corbyn noted. And there was a forecast of more of this gloom in the budget. "Economic growth has been revised down," he said. "Productivity growth has been revised down. Business investment revised down. Wages and living standards revised down. In some parts of the country, life expectancy is actually starting to fall."
The government just goes on and on missing its economic targets. "The deficit," Jeremy Corbyn said, "was due to be eradicated by 2015, then 2016, then 2017, then 2020 and now 2025."
"This what the Chancellor has the barefaced cheek to call a 'strong economy'."
23 November 2017w
Alec Maguire, one of our two constituency Youth Officers, shares his response to Conservative MPs talking out Jim McMahon's private members Bill on votes for 16 and 17 year olds.
When 16 and 17 year olds can legally move out of home, serve in the army, and pay taxes, it seems ridiculous to think that they cannot vote. Many young people stay in education or take-up apprenticeships and these teenagers are routinely expected to make huge life choices – such as making university applications or committing to training for careers – but they continue to have no power to ensure their needs are prioritised by their government.
I was 16 at the time of the 2010 General Election. The resulting coalition decided that my school year would be the first to have to pay £9000 per annum for tuition fees. At the time of our most recent election, at the age of just 23, I carry tens of thousands of pounds of debt – due to a political decision myself and my peers could have no part of. Does that seem democratic?
People may question the political engagement of young people in this age group, but, with no hope of making one's self heard, any voice can be silenced, even the keenest enthusiasm quashed. Engagement would increase if a young people could influence outcomes for themselves and political candidates would need to cater to a new section of voters – they would have to serve them.
Candidates could then visit our local schools not just for PR purposes, but because Sixth Formers would be part of the electorate. I work as a teacher. I have the evidence of my own eyes that Year 12 and 13 classes do know what is going on politically; they can see that there are issues locally and nationally and they question why. They run charity events such as quizzes and non-uniform days. They run Amnesty International groups and mock United Nations events. They are engaged, and should be heard.
The tactics the Tories used to silence the debate in Parliament on the recent Bill for votes at 16 were abhorrent. Rather than allow a democratic debate, they talked and talked – forcing time to run out. This highlights a disdain for political argument.
The last General Election showed a real desire among our young people to engage politically. Rather than shunning debate, why don’t the Tories extend democracy to them and actually fight for their votes? What could they be afraid of by empowering 1.5 million more young voters?
21 November 2017
Jeremy Corbyn has announced a review of democracy within the Labour Party, to which all members have a chance to contribute, whether individually or through their branches.
There is more information on the members' page about the review, which covers all aspects of the working of the Labour Party, from how your local party is run up to how policy is made and how the Leader is elected.
17 November 2017
Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre has, for 70 years, provided an outdoor learning facility for thousands of school children in a very special woodland setting. But now the County Council wishes to give up the lease, although the lease has 14 years left to run.
The discussion arose because the freeholder (Hatfield House) has issued a schedule of dilapidations because the County Council has failed to honour the terms of the lease, which required it to invest money to maintain and modernise the site, over the last 10 years!
Sharon Taylor, Labour councillor for Stevenage Bedwell (pictured above), argued strongly against the closure at the Resources, Property and the Economy panel meeting. Although some Tory councillors had criticised the failure to honour the lease and had praised the facility, they all voted against an amendment, which was supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, to discuss alternative arrangements with the freeholder. So, closure now is being recommended by the panel.
Judi Billing (pictured right), who is leader of the Labour Group and also speaks on education, said that the County Council had seriously failed in its obligation to keep the camp up to scratch and useable.
"Many primary schools," she added, "currently do more sophisticated Year 6 trips these days, but many of these are expensive for parents and sometimes out of reach for some. Cuffley should be refurbished, restored and cherished as an opportunity for all young people, irrespective of means, to enjoy the vital opportunities that it has offered for so many years."
A petition against closure was presented at the meeting. It then had 9,000 signatures. The petition is still open and can be accessed on the Hertfordshire County Council website. The petition closes next Monday, 13 November.
10 November 2017 (amended 11 November 2017)
Update: the CCG will now re-consider their decision on 16 November, in spite of the fact that they have still not carried out a full consultation.
10 November 2017
The Nascot Lawn Respite Service is under threat. Nigel Bell and Asif Khan, the Labour County Councillors for West Watford and North Watford respectively, have been very active in supporting the parents and carers who benefit from the respite care for children with complex needs provided by Nascot Lawn in Watford.
The County Council provides respite care in three homes in Hertfordshire which are run by charities. Nascot Lawn is different from these: it provides care for children with more complex needs and is nurse-led and financed by the NHS.
The Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which provides 90% of the funding, is in formal “financial turnaround” and is required to cut £45m from its spending in the current financial year. They decided to save £600,000 by ceasing to fund Nascot Lawn. The Council faces consequential costs, but is unable to take over the funding completely – even if it could afford it – because it is not permitted to run healthcare facilities.
Following the presentation of a petition to the Council of more than 1000 signatures, Cllr Nigel Bell (pictured above) proposed a motion calling on the Council and the CCG to try jointly to solve the problem of funding. There was also to be a judicial review, but the CCG has at the last moment “set aside” their decision to withdraw funding from 1 November 2017 and will consider the matter further on 9 November.
“This whole matter has been handled badly by the CCG,” says Nigel Bell, “and the refusal of the Conservative County Council to step up immediately with some funding has not helped. As a result, families with some of the most vulnerable children in the county have been treated shamefully.
“However, the real culprits are the government, whose ideological austerity programme has involved severe cuts for the County Council and for the NHS."
7 November 2017
The next constituency party meeting
James Gill is a mathematician and statistician who works for an NHS clinical commissioning group (pictured with Jeremy Corbyn). He will be speaking to us about socialism, a socialist health service and the cuts now being made to NHS services such as female sterlisation (see next item below), IVF, obesity and "stop smoking".
James is a member of the Socialist Health Association, which is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party. It was formed in 1930 (as the Socialist Medical Association) and campaigned for a National Health Service. It was in communication with Aneurin Bevan during the formation of the NHS.
This meeting is on Wednesday, 29 November 2017 at 7.30 pm at Howard Gardens Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1SU. The meeting is open to all members and affiliated supporters. If you are not known to the constituency officers, please bring your membership card (or, for affiliated supporters, the notice of the meeting sent to you by the constituency party secretary).
Papers for the meeting can be accessed on the members' page.
6 November 2017
Women in Hertfordshire will no longer have access to sterilisation, following the joint decision by the two clinical commissiong groups (CCGs) which cover Hertfordshire.
"For some women sterilisation is the most practical, safest and most reliable contraceptive choice," says Kate Aspinwall, our constituency party's Women's Officer (pictured). "We believe this decision to remove this option is likely to force some women to use other forms of contraception which won't be best option for their health or well-being and require more ongoing support from already stretched GPs."
She adds that the decision to remove this service only for women seems discriminatory and that women should be able to expect their health needs to be met on an equal footing to men's. There are far more vasectomies for men than there are sterilisations for women (only 102 sterilisations last year at a cost of £115,600).
Both CCGs are being required to reduce their spending and the Herts Valleys CCG is in formal "financial turnaround", and is required to reduce spending by £45m in the current year. In effect, this cut in health services is the result of the Tory government's austerity programme, under which the NHS is required to deal with a growing population and, in particular, a growing population of elderly people without any increase in their budget.
3 November 2017
Live jazz and folk throughout the evening. Quiz. Discussion. Buffet. Bring a bottle. £5 entry on the door, or £2.50 unwaged.
29 October 2017
The Royston branch will hold its annual Christmas Social and Curry Night on Tuesday, 5 December 2017 at 7.30 pm. This will be at the Ashiana Spice Restaurant, 7 Baldock Street, Royston SG8 5AY. There is free parking in the car park opposite. The cost is £20. There is no need to pay in advance, but please book your place(s) by Friday, 1 December by email to Vaughan West.
1 November 2017
We were out on the doorstep in Royston on Saturday morning. As Jeremy Corby said in the House of Commons last Wednesday, the government is weak, incompetent and divided, and unable to takke the essential decisions needed for the good of the country. We have to keep up the pressure for however long it takes to oust this government.
The canvassing team is pictured above, ready to go out and spread the news that there is an alternative to this minority government, as it struggles to decide what it should do.
28 October 2017
Reports by our delegates
Helen Oliver, our Communications Officer, was our delegate to the National Women's Conference and Cei Whitehouse, our Campaign Co-ordinator (pictured at the conference), was our delegate to the National Conference, although other members attended as visitors.
They both gave reports to the all-member meeting of the Constituency Party on 25 October. These days it seems that government proposals are always given to the media before they are actually announced, even many aspects of the budget. However, we have been rather old-fashioned in not publishing them before the reports had been made to the meeting.
They are now on the members' page.
27 October 2017
£40 pa in North Herts
The East Herts District Council cabinet, in a joint meeting with the North Herts cabinet, decided to charge £40 pa for emptying brown bins, as reported in the next item.
However, the East Herts councillors have voted, against the wishes of their leadership, not to introduce the charge. Whether this means that the weekly waste food collection service will be introduced or not in East Herts is not yet clear.
23 October 2017
Update: Labour councillors had the decision in North Herts to make the charge "called in" to the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee on 8 November. Both Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors argued that the decision should be considered by the full Council, arguing that the decision had been taken without a full analysis of the consultation (85% against the charge), that poorer and disadvantaged residents would be disproportionately affected, and that experience in Welwyn-Hatfield demonstrated that this would reduce recycling. All the Tory members voted against referring the decision to full Council.
10 November 2017
£40 to empty your brown bin
North Herts and East Herts Councils, at a joint cabinet meeting, voted to ignore their electors and impose a £40 pa charge for emptying their brown bins. There will, however, be a weekly food waste collection.
There had been 8,000 responses to the consultation, despite the consultation being over the summer holiday period, and 85% of the respondents thought charging was a bad idea. Nevertheless, it is good to know that the Tory spokesperson says that they "listened carefully" to the views of residents before they ignored them.
North Herts Labour Cllr Judi Billing says: "What a total waste of a consultation. NHDC had clearly made up its mind to charge for garden waste collection before they asked the public what they thought.It’s a scandalous disregard and disrespect for the people we are meant to serve.”
The decision also ignores the environmental impact. There will, undoubtedly, be more fly-tipping and more trips by car to recycling centres (see our comments before the consultation). However, concern for the environment has never been a Tory priority.
18 October 2017
Gillian Troughton is the speaker at an all-member
meeting on 27 September 2017
Gillian Troughton, a Borough and County councillor and formerly a doctor specialising in orthopaedic surgery, was selected as the Labour candidate for the Copeland parliamentary by-election which took place in February 2017.
The by-election was called following the resignation of Jamie Reed, the Labour MP, to take a senior post at the Sellafield nuclear waste facility, which is in the constituency. With the Tories well ahead in the opinion polls, the Labour vote was down by 4.9 percentage points and she lost.
She stood again in the General Election. She increased the Labour vote by 7.8 percentage points, but still lost to the Tory candidate.
There were issues which applied countrywide, like the drop in the UKIP vote, benefitting the Tories, and several special issues, including the fact, on the one hand, that Sellafield is a very large employer in the area and, on the other hand, that the local maternity unit was under threat of closure.
The meeting is at 7.30 pm on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at the Howard Garden Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1SU. The meeting should be over by 9 pm.
21 September 2017
East Herts Rural's Red Rose Party
"The turning point in the general election was the leaking of our manifesto", said Alex Mayer MEP. Alex Mayer is the Labour MEP for the East of England and she was speaking at the East Herts Rural branch's Red Rose Summer Party in Buntingford yesterday.
She assured us that the leak was not deliberate, but that it nevertheless resulted in wide news coverage, so that people came to realise that there were good policies in it, like the ending of austerity and the nationalisation of the railways, all backed by the costings in a separate document.
"By contrast," she added, "the Tory manifesto contained no figures except the page numbers at the bottom of each page."
However, a moral win in the election was not enough. We had to work hard to keep up the pressure for an real election win.
The blues came in when she turned to the Brexit negotiations. She highlighted the Tories' internal quarrels about whether or not we should pay any money to the EU on leaving, the impossible problem of having a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic whilst not having a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic,and the government's mistake in not having immediately given existing EU residents in the UK full, continuing rights.
Her message was not to let people forget that this was all the fault of the Tories, who had held a referendum unnecessarily and then lost it, and had then held a general election to boost their strength in the negotiations, but done so badly that they weakened it.
The party, attended by members from all branches of the constituency, with visitors from Broxbourne, Hertford & Stortford and Hitchin & Harpenden, was enjoyed by all. The food was, as usual, outstandingly good and the company was pretty good too!
After costs, about £300 was raised for branch funds.
18 September 2017
Five years ago, the Tory-led government took police forces away from Police Authorities, which consisted largely of elected councillors, and put them under the control of a single Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). Now, David Lloyd, Hertfordshire’s PCC, is making a bid to take over the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) as well.
Judi Billing, leader of the Labour Group on the County Council and councillor for Hitchin North, is totally opposed to this move, saying that this is yet another vanity project. She says: “It seems to me, so soon after Grenfell Tower, a ridiculous risk to be messing about with our fire and rescue services, which are generally known to be well-established, experienced and of high quality.”
“The bottom line,” she adds, “is that all our services are stretched to breaking point by ridiculous government cuts and this proposal will do nothing to help them.”
Interestingly, David Lloyd, who was a Tory county councillor until this year’s county council elections, is being opposed by his own party. Indeed, the County Council rejects the proposal, but instead favours the alternative arrangement whereby the PCC will have a place in the Cabinet when the Fire and Rescue Services are being considered.
The Tory vice-chair of the Panel that supervises the FRS, Colin Woodward, said that the entire cross-party council opposed the bid to remove HFRS from 78 democratically elected councillors, answerable to their local residents, and place it under one person. Amusingly, the Labour argument opposing the creation of the role of PCC by the Tories ran on very similar lines.
2 September 2017
Campaign with us on 9 September
If you were running a shop and you were not making a profit, you could either cut back your opening hours and make one of your shop assistants redundant, or you could invest in improved stock and some advertising to expand your business. If you took the second course, you could then make enough profit to live comfortably, pay your staff well and pay off the debts incurred earlier.
Faced with a crisis in the economy, the Tories chose the course of cutting back. Labour would invest in the economy, both through capital investment and through paying government employees well enough for their spending to boost the economy.
We shall be canvassing and delivering leaflets on the morning of Saturday, 9 September 2017 in Letchworth. Join us if you want to save our economy at 10.30 am outside the Southfields Post Office in Letchworth SG6 4NB.
24 August 2017
because your world depends on it
Last night, Al Gore, who "used to be the next President of the United States", spoke in London to audiences in around 340 cinemas around the UK, introducing his new film An Inconvenient Sequel.
Note: this film is now on release in certain cinemas. It is well worth seeing.
He brought a message of urgency, because the the climate change crisis has got so much worse since An Inconvenient Truth only ten years ago. The Arctic ice is melting, storms are getting more severe, insect-borne diseases are moving north and south from the equator and sea levels are rising.
Yet he also brought a message of hope. In spite of Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Treaty, the USA is still on course to meet its obligations under the treaty, thanks to the commitment of states like California and the New England states and many, many cities throughout America. No other countries have followed Trump's lead. Indeed, many have re-iterated their commitment. India, for example, plans to take internal combustion engines off the road completely ten years before we plan to ban new internal combustion engines in the UK.
What is more, as Sue Hayman, our shadow Environment Secretary (pictured), pointed out in the House of Commons, the government has merely stated this goal, but has not indicated how it will be achieved.
Most importantly, the price of renewable technology, in particular solar panels, has plummeted in the last ten years. Developing countries used to be able to argue that we had polluted the atmosphere to get to where we are today and they should be allowed to develop before adopting renewable energy. Now, he argued, we can say, if this technology had been available at the time of our industrial revolutions, we would have adopted it and not used fossil fuels.
Indeed, he had a dig at our Tory government, because his analysis suggested that we are not on course to meet our obligations under the treaty. As we know, they have cut subsidies for electric vehicles, cut the incentives for electricity generation from renewables, stopped building the cheapest form of renewable generation - on shore wind farms - and encouraged fracking for gas and oil.
Al Gore asked us all to Be Inconvenient. Let all of us in the Labour Party be vociferously inconvenient about the failure of the Tory government and of our local Tory councils to take positive action to combat climate change.
12 August 2017
An environmentally unsound proposal
North Herts and East Herts District Councils are planning a joint contract for waste collection and it seems that they want to start charging to take away your garden waste. The proposal "really is rubbish," according to Cllr Elizabeth Dennis (pictured), Labour's shadow portfolio holder for waste, recycling and green issues on North Herts District Council. "Labour councillors absolutely oppose this," she says.
The councils are conducting a consultation in which they float this idea. In North Herts we have Labour councillors to fight against it, but there is no one at all to speak up for us in the Tory fiefdom of East Herts.
"At a recent briefing on the new contract," Elizabeth tells us, "councillors were given the distinct impression this was more than a mere 'option' and we’re extremely concerned: NHDC has told us it’s looking at charging £26 a year for 26 garden waste collections (i.e. fortnightly collections costing £1 each collection). There’s no flexibility with this proposed service; so, if residents want their garden waste collected, they’ll be expected to pay the full annual charge - even if they’ll only need it on an occasional basis."
In the consultation, they suggest higher charges, even "up to £70". Perhaps they hope that we shall then be pleased that it is "only" £26, but to many local families, with ever increasing bills, this is an expense too far.
Collecting garden waste is expensive. In North Herts, collection costs about £150,000 a year and £65 per tonne to process, but costs will be incurred by the change as well. Since the free collection of food waste is statutorily required, provision will have to made for doing this, possibly with new containers and adaptations to the collection vehicles. We could find that green waste gets fly-tipped and has to be cleared up, also at a cost.
At least as important is the environmental cost. The proposal is likely to generate many more car trips to the recycling centres to dispose of green waste, and therefore extra carbon emissions. Some green waste may be sneaked into black bins and get into landfill. When the waste rots without contact with the air (anaerobically), as it does in landfill, it produces methane. Methane is far worse than CO2 for global warming. There is also the danger of green waste in landfill producing substances that can contaminate ground water.
These problems do not occur if green waste is composted. Alternatively, if green waste is put into an anaerobic digester, because it then produces methane which is collected and used, rather than being released into the atmosphere, there is no problem either.
We urge you to take part in the consultation and oppose this proposal. The consultation survey is here.
30 July 2017
with Liberal Democrat support
The Labour Group on the County Council proposed that the Council should "look at the compelling need for the provision of social housing for rent across the county". The County Council is setting up a development company and Labour envisaged that this company, in consultation with local planning authorities and other developers, could urgently address this need. In effect, this would mean the use of surplus County Council land for social housing for rent.
The Tory administration, however, amended the Labour motion, so that the remit was broadened so greatly that, in the form that it was approved, it did not address the social housing need.
Judi Billing (pictured), the new leader of the Labour Group, said afterwards: "Sharon Taylor and I made an attempt to promote the building of social housing on HCC land. The Tories, of course, put forward a wrecking amendment, but we were frankly outraged to find the Tory line supported by the Liberal Democrats."
23 July 2017
Sir Keir Starmer in Stevenage
Keir Starmer with the NE Herts Party members
Labour's Minister-in-waiting for Exiting the EU, Sir Keir Starmer, called for all of us to be ready to win the next election. Labour must act as being ready to take over government at any time. It could be this autumn or it could be in 2019, in Keir's view.
He admitted that Labour was far more successful than he expected in the last General Election. He attributed this to three main factors: Jeremy Corbyn led from the front in a fantastic way; the manifesto had a core message that we could have a future that invested in public services to the benefit of future generations; and we were promoting hope over fear - the fear that had gripped the nation since the 2008 crash.
After the election, although we did not win, the Tories are in disarray. The Prime Minister has lost authority at home and abroad. She has shelled out billions to buy the votes of the DUP, making the sensitive state of affairs in Northern Ireland worse.
Labour, by contrast, is now perceived as being influential, especially by Europe, who can see the possibility of Labour taking over the Brexit negotiations. It was at the request of the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that Jeremy Corbyn and Keith went to see him.
In fact, we are off to a very bad start in the negotiations. Theresa May's belligerent attitude is not the way to get a good deal for the UK. It is not a brilliant tactic to say that we will jump before we are pushed!
Global problems need international solutions: we have to work with other nations on peace or war, terrorism, environmental change and globalisation. We need co-operation with the EU in science, technology and medicine. We shall not get this in the negotiations unless we change our approach.
So, the sooner a general election comes the better.
17 July 2017
The Labour Party is high-lighting the failure of the Tory government's economic policy. We were out in Baldock promoting this campaign on Labour's National Campaign Day, 1 July 2017.
We had a particularly severe recession in 2007/9 as a result of the banking crisis which spread rapidly from the USA to most countries in the world. To prevent the collapse of our economic system, the Labour government had to bail out a number of British banks. This was a cost on government funds, but equally important was the sudden drop in revenue from taxes, which was coupled with an increase in outgoings on social benefits.
So, in spite of the fact that, before the crisis, the UK's national debt was a lower proportion of our wealth than many other countries, e.g. Germany or France, our deficit increased, resulting in debt growing.
There are three ways any government can tackle this situation: cut spending, increase taxes and, most importantly, grow the economy. There can be only one reason that the Tories chose to adopt only one of the three measures. They chose to cut spending, because it gave them the opportunity to "reduce the size of the state", an ideological aim of their Party.
They made this worse by going the opposite way on taxes and actually cutting them, by cutting corporation tax and income tax for higher earners. Furthermore, the reduction in spending by the state actually depressed the economy, so that it hardly grew at all and is now one of the slowest growing of the advanced economies.
It is no surprise, then, that David Cameron's government missed its target of eliminating the deficit in five years by the huge margin of 50%. In 2015 he deferred this target to 2018, but the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has now kicked it into the long grass, with the vague target of during the next Parliament - so, probably a decade after the original target. Meanwhile the national debt grows relentlessly.
But it's all in vain
So, we have had - and apparently will go on having - cuts to the NHS, schools, the police and, indeed, all public services, all to no good purpose. They intend to go on limiting public sector pay to 1% increases each year. The purchasing power of a public servant's pay is already about 14% below what it was in 2007.
No wonder morale is low, recruitment is difficult and labour turnover is high, further depressing the capability of services to respond to the needs of the population.
1 July 2017
The Great Get Together
At the behest of the Jo Cox Foundation, this afternoon a constant stream of people dropped in to get together in Letchworth, to drink tea, eat cake and - more importantly - to talk to each other.
For this day at least, JC did not stand for Jeremy Corbyn, but for Jo Cox. Organized by Sue Ngwala (3rd from left) and the Letchworth and Baldock branch, the gathering drew in many people from Letchworth, Baldock and around the constituency, including Doug Swanney, our candidate in the general election, actually on his way back from a well-earned holiday.
It was good to hear today that the Bernard Kenny, the pensioner who tackled Jo's attacker in an attempt to save her, and was badly injured himself, has been awarded the George Cross.
17 June 2017
Remembering Jo Cox
All welcome at the Great Get Together
The Great Get Together is organised nationwide by
Brendan Cox and the Jo Cox Foundation. It commemorates the first
anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder on 16 June last year. Jo was
Labour MP for Batley & Spen in West Yorkshire and she believed
passionately in a kinder, fairer society for everyone.
In that spirit, we shall be baking cakes and making tea to share with the local community. Can you come along? Donate a cake? Or simply spread the word that all are welcome?
This Saturday, 17 June at 12noon - 3.00pm
Howard Garden Social Centre
Norton Way South
Letchworth Garden City SG6 1SU
13 June 2017
Relax at a Labour comedy night
Our comrades in the Hertford and Stortford constituency have organised a Stand Up for Labour comedy night next Sunday at 7.30 pm at Hertford Corn Exchange. We have been late in posting this - somehow we have had other things on our minds until a day or two ago, and that means that tickets are slightly dearer, but we can assure that these comedy nights are well worth the extra.
Buy tickets here.
13 June 2017
Doug Swanney explains why you should vote Labour tomorrow for a better Britain
More about Doug Swanney here.
Read the Labour Party's manifesto here.
We have had reports that the Royal Mail have failed to deliver Doug Swanney's election adddress to a number of voters in North East Hertfordshire.
We very much regret this, but the delivery of election addresses is completely outside our control. At general elections all candidates have the opportunity of sending an election address postage-free to every elector. They can choose to post them individually addressed or allow the Royal Mail to deliver a leaflet to every household in the constituency.
Unfortunately, we had not expected an election to be called, since the Prime Minister had argued that an election would destabilise the economy in the run up to Brexit negotiations. We should have known better than to trust her word!
Because of this, we did not have a candidate in place in time to provide addressed leaflets, so that we were forced to use the option of allowing the Royal Mail to deliver unaddressed leaflets to every household. Clearly, they have not delivered them to every household. Indeed, some constituency officers have not received them.
On the other hand, they delivered some in the wrong constituency!
At this stage, we cannot do anything about this, but, if you are reading this, you can find Doug Swanney's five main pledges here.
Of course, one of Labour's manifesto commitments is to re-nationalise the Royal Mail ......
7 June 2017
What support can you give?
Headteachers throughout Hertfordshire have asked parents for support in the face of severe cuts in funding per pupil that were proposed by the Tory government shortly before the election was called.
They are saying that they will be forced to reduce the number of teachers, drop some courses and curtail other school activities.
One constituent, who had written to Sir Oliver Heald about this, shared Sir Oliver's response with us. In the response, Sir Oliver said that the new distribution proposed for school funding "created winners and losers within the constituency".
Since we were only hearing from "losers", Doug Swanney, our Labour candidate, wrote to Sir Oliver and asked which schools were "winners".
Sir Oliver merely asserted again that "a number" of schools would benefit. Out of more than 50 schools in the constituency we can only find THREE that do not lose!
Here are some examples of the scale of the cuts proposed by the Tories by 2022, according to figures compiled by the National Union of Teachers:
School, Letchworth: £290,453 (10%) or £681 per pupil.
Knights Templar School, Baldock: £502,459 (11%) or £484 per pupil.
Meridian School, Royston: £257,936 (12%) or £714 per pupil.
Freman College, Buntingford: £374,135 (16%) or £581 per pupil.
Roger de Clare First School, Puckeridge: £45,442 (8%) or £164 per pupil.
Ashwell Primary School: £95,593 (10%) or £388 per pupil.
Check out the school that your children or grandchildren go to here.
Elsewhere in the country, headteachers have asked for money. They have stopped short of doing this, as far as we know, in Hertfordshire. So, what support can parents give to the school that is educating their children? They can use their vote.
Voting Liberal Democrat would not help. This would reduce the cuts, but nearly all our schools would still have reduced funding per pupil by 2022.
The only course open to parents who do not want schools to deteriorate is to Vote Labour.
5 June 2017
The Conservative Party have decided to reveal scant detail in their manifesto, so at first glance it can be hard to grasp exactly what their vision is for the people of North East Hertfordshire. But it seems that up to 90% of pensioners will be hit by cuts, as they plan to:
1. Scrap the “Triple Lock” on state pensions, without which pensioners would have been left at least £330 worse off in recent years.
2. Means-test Winter Fuel Payments, which almost certainly means 90% of pensioners in NE Hertfordshire will lose them.
3. Introduce the “Dementia Tax”, using the value of your property to pay towards the cost of your care in your own home.
Doug Swanney, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for NE Hertfordshire, is deeply concerned by these plans: "If you’re over 65, Sir Oliver Heald’s Party has a grim vision for your future. If, after years of contributing to our economy, you’re unlucky enough to become ill with a condition like dementia, you’ll have to use the value of your home to pay for your care. Despite hurried changes and talk of a “cap”, with Theresa May unable to provide details, this might mean that in our area you could be left with only a quarter of the value of your home to leave to your children. I can’t stand-by and see these burdens placed on retired people."
The Labour Party Manifesto stands in stark contrast, aside from the extra £45 billion for the NHS and social care, which will benefit all of us, they make clear pledges to older people:
1. Secure pensioner incomes with the Triple-Lock on state pensions.
2. Protect the Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes for pensioners.
3. Provide justice for women born in the 1950s, who have been badly hit by five-year rise in pension age, with very little time to prepare for the change.
1 June 2017
The Government's cuts in education are a scourge
on our society
Doug Swanney was in Baldock last night at the hustings arranged by Churches Together. Sir Oliver Heald was not there, nor was anyone else to represent Theresa May's party (formerly known as the Conservatives).
Doug showed himself to be passionate about building a better Britain. On no subject was he more passionate than on education. He said that he had talked to headteachers around the constituency and had seen the pain on their faces as they begin the process of laying off teachers. He described the cuts as one of greatest scourges on our society.
The Conservatives talk of putting extra money in, but it still results in a 7% cut in funding per pupil by 2022. By contrast, Labour would reverse the cuts - and not only reverse the cuts but also increase the funding per pupil over the next Parliament.
The Liberal Democrat candidate challenged the National Union of Teachers' figures that show that their plans also result in a cut in funding per pupil, though a smaller cut than under the Conservatives.
Missed this hustings?
You have another chance in Royston
31 May 2017
Local patients and staff deserve a brighter future
you need to pay a visit to the Lister Hospital, chances are the care
and attention you receive will be positive. The cost, however, can be
quite a shock. Not everyone can catch a bus, meaning paying parking
fees of over £5 if your visit lasts longer than a few hours.
It’s a problem which also affects doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. We have been hearing from staff at the Lister about how the startling cost of parking at the hospital is eating into their income. With medical staff reporting fees of £30 - £50 a month for parking permits, one nurse, Tracy, said: “With your parking permit, and professional registration and insurance costs, you end up working one or two shifts a month for free and I know of one nurse who was charged for her permit while she was off sick after an incident at work!” Emma added, “You can’t even be sure you’ll get a parking space when you’ve paid for your permit, the spaces are small and cars get damaged. I’ve been blocked in before – it’s just the last thing you need after a long shift.” *
Doug Swanney, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for North East Hertfordshire, wants staff and patients to know that their NHS can face a much brighter future: “Our plans for the NHS will reverse the marketisation of health, re-building the high quality, public NHS we’ve all paid for. Morale amongst NHS staff is at rock bottom after six years of being told to deliver more for less; with stagnating wages, they’ve been giving more of themselves to keep our hospitals going. We’ll abolish the cap on pay increases which caused this, and start properly rewarding them for their hard work. At the Lister, we could achieve one big improvement with our pledge to end parking charges for staff, patients and their visitors.”
Since 2010, the average household is paying more in both direct and indirect taxation: a total of nearly £2,000. And now they face the threat of further tax rises. For our hospital staff, whose pay has been held down below inflation by the Tories, the constant demand on their income is unrealistic.
continues:“When you’re unwell, especially long-term, these charges are
cruel, they hit people at their most vulnerable time. If you’re a nurse
or porter, struggling to make ends meet, working long shifts, day and
night, you can ill afford to be losing a chunk of your wages to parking
fees and it doesn’t have to be this way.”
NHS funding cuts hit Royston
Carefully worked out plans for transforming Royston Hospital into a health hub have been rejected as unaffordable, in spite of support from former MP, Sir Oliver Heald.
Swanney, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for North East Hertfordshire,
wants local campaigners to know that a Labour MP could fight harder for
the future of the Royston Hospital site. “While Conservative MP Sir
Oliver Heald supported campaigners looking to see the site developed
into a Health Hub, he’s been effectively working against his own
Party’s policy. So, despite his best efforts, campaigners have been
left feeling as though the last four years of hard work have been for
nothing, because unsurprisingly the Clinical Commissioning Group and
NHS Property Services have rejected their careful plans as
“Our plans for the NHS will reverse the marketisation of health, re-building the high quality, public NHS we’ve all paid for. While the Government continues to sign off new Private Finance Initiatives which can be a drain on resources, we’ll tackle the NHS funding crisis, so that we can spend tax-payers money on healthcare first and look at the future of sites like Royston Hospital on a long-term sustainable basis.”
Doug continues: “While Sir Oliver seems to have given a great deal of support to local plans for the site, if his own Government don’t prioritise public investment in the NHS, it’s always going to be a futile struggle. As a Labour MP, I’ll be able to work to monitor unsuccessful private contracts, demand money is spent where it is needed and look to the long-term future of our hospitals.”
28 May 2017
Labour's plans do add up
The Tories seem no longer to be constantly repeating that Labour's plans are "unaffordable" - possibly because the costings in their own manifesto seem rather shaky. However, it is worth having a look at the costings in the Labour manifesto.
Spending commitments of £48.6 billion are set out in the supplementary document Funding Britain's Future by shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. These commitments cover proper funding for schools and colleges, for childcare, for healthcare and social care, for state pensions, for restoring police numbers and for lifting the public sector pay cap.
Doug Swanney with John McDonnell in Buntingford
Against this, he sets out the tax measures required to raise the money for these commitments. The big one is reversing the corporation tax give-aways made by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats since 2010. Even after this change, our rate will still be lower than Germany's, France's and Belgium's, whereas, after the cuts, the rate is now well below the EU average.
These are revenue costs. Nationalisation is different, because it involves the state acquiring assets, i.e. it is capital expenditure. In most cases, it involves the investment of a capital sum and, in return, the state receives an income.
The easiest renationalisation is the railways, known to be hugely popular. Network Rail, which provides the tracks, is already publicly owned. The train franchises do not have to be bought: they can revert to the state at the end of the franchise, or if the private company walks away from its franchise, as happened with East Coast mainline. Already there is a large investment in railways by the government, but there is no additional cost in taking over the franchises, and the profits go directly to the state, again as happened with East Coast mainline.
To restore majority public control to Royal Mail would involved buying 50.1% of its shares which at current prices would cost around £2.15 billion, but it has been paying out around £215 million a year in dividends to private shareholders, so that this looks like a good investment, especially at a time when the government can borrow very cheaply.
Water is more difficult. A complete buy-out could cost as much as £69 billion. However, Labour's plan is to swap shares for bonds, which involve paying interest, but probably at a rate below the profit margin of water companies.
On electricity and gas, where a complete buy-out would be even more costly, Labour would have a gradual process. Possibilities include supporting local suppliers - possibly co-operatives - to compete against the main suppliers. This could be linked with the very important process of drastically reducing the carbon footprint of generators and suppliers, by investing in new technologies.
This report is largely based on an article by Phillip Inman, economics editor of the i newspaper, which can be seen in full here.
25 May 2017
Another U-turn from Theresa May
First, Theresa May told us that an early election would destabilise our economy and make it more difficult to negotiate Brexit. Then she told us that we needed an election to stabilise the economy and give her a stronger hand in the negotiations.
Now, she has taken the unprecedented step of changing here mind about a commitment in her manifesto, just days after it was published. Such has been the outcry about her decision to change the way that assets are calculated for those who need care in their own home (the dementia tax), that she now says that she will consider a cap on what people have to pay if she gets back into government. Hardly, strong and stable leadership.
Yet, her sole pitch in the election address that some voters have been receiving - Sir Oliver Heald is very much relegated to the background, mentioned in passing as "her" candidate - is that she will provide strong and stable leadership. Repeating it often enough may get some people to believe it, but it does not make it true.
She has already made two concessions even before the negotiations have begun. We will not seek to be in the single market and we will not seek to be in the customs union. Nevertheless, we do know, on the authority of Tory grandee Kenneth Clarke, that she is a "bloody difficult woman".
Just consider whether this is the sort of person to get us the best Brexit deal. Whoever negotiates the deal has a fairly weak hand, because he or she has only one sanction to threaten to use - walking away from the negotiations. Whereas we export more than 40% of our goods to Europe, no European country exports more than 10% to us, except Ireland. Do we really want a weak and wobbly, yet difficult, woman in charge?
With such a weak hand, we need someone who is viewed as reasonable and sympathetic to win the goodwill of the EU negotiators: someone like Jeremy Corbyn, for example.
22 May 2017
There are fewer hustings meetings arranged by local organisations than at past general elections - no doubt, because of the limited amount of notice of the election. However, Doug Swanney will be at the following hustings:
May, 7.30 pm: Baldock Hustings, hosted by Churches
Together at Baldock Methodist Church, Whitehorse Street, Baldock SG7
Friday 2nd June, 7.30 pm: Royston Hustings, hosted by Churches Together at Royston Catholic Church, 6 Melbourn Road, Royston SG8 7DB.
The Tories propose that, when people need care at home and have assets above £100,000, the value of their house should be included in the assets. The value of their home is already taken into account if they need residential care.
They argue that this is fairer, because it purely a matter of luck whether you need to be cared for in your own home or cared for in residential care.
However, this is only a blinkered view of fairness. It is also only a matter of luck whether you need care at all. The fair way is to treat it like an insurance for everyone and that is what Labour proposes.
Amongst other measures, Labour will reverse the cut in inheritance tax, so that those with the resources help everyone to have care and dignity in old age.
21 May 2017
This morning Doug Swanney and his team spent the morning canvassing in Cambridge where Daniel Zeichner is defending a majority of 599. Alex Mayer, the MEP for the East of England, was also there and the picture shows the three of them in a moment off from door-knocking.
If you want to help Daniel, get in touch with his team at the Cambridge Labour office.
20 May 2017
A manifesto for your grandchildren - and for bees
None of Labour's aspirations for a better Britain mean anything if we continue to trash the planet. So, a manifesto for the many must, as an absolute precondition, include proposals to take measures to protect not just our environment, but the world's.
Do you remember the Tories' promise to be the "greenest government ever"? That has meant allowing fracking, even in national parks. It has meant air pollution at a level that is actually illegal. In some places we breached the air pollution limits for the year in the first few days of the year. They even tried to sell off our forest for commercial exploitation, but such was the public outcry that they performed one of their many U-turns.
Labour will introduce a Clean Air Act to deal with this. We will protect the seas around us with measures like plastic bottle deposits. Instead of cutting funding for flood defences, Labour will fund robust flood resilience.
This a manifesto for bees as well. You may have been signing petitions to ban neonicotinoids, as the evidence of the harm that they do to bees grows. Now you have a better course than signing petitiions - you can vote for a Labour government.
This is a manifesto for our children and grandchildren. It is not just a question of whether they will have a better future, but whether they will have a future at all.
17 May 2017
Last weekend Doug Swanney was at the Letchworth Chilli festival, the Baldock Street Fair and at Ashwell at Home. We would have said that in Baldock he was holding the mighty sword of truth, if that phrase had not been brought into disrepute by a certain Tory politician.
Saturday, 20 May:
Doug will be visiting the Farmers' Market in Letchworth at around 1 pm. Come and meet him and say hello.
In the time available between the announcement that Doug Swanney had been selected as our parliamentary candidate and the election, there is not a lot of time for voters to meet him. There are close on 40,000 properties in the constituency spread over a large geographical area and there are 26 days before the election. That would be over 1,500 each day, but Doug will be visiting places all over the constituency. If you would like him to come to any event that you are organizing, get in touch with his campaign co-ordinator to see if he is available.
Even members, who usually get the chance to meet candidates before their selection and, indeed, to vote for their choice of candidate, have not had this opportunity. So, if you are a member, and fancy a chilli lunch, a trip to Baldock street fair or a shop in Hitchin, go and make yourself known to him
13 May 2017 (updated)
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England (in the green coat), got Doug Swanney's campaign off to a good start on the Jackmans estate in Letchworth.
After the canvass, party members filled the Grapevine Turkish and Mediterranean Restaurant in Letchworth to eat an excellent meal and to listen to Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, and to Doug Swanney himself. And, this being the Labour Party, the speeches were followed by a raffle.
Andrew, who was our Labour candidate in 2005, commented that he had never had so many members at a meeting. Based on his experience then, he offered some advice to Doug and drew a number of parallels between the problems that he faced then with the problems that Doug faced now. He went on to discuss how important it was to keep the Labour vote up in North East Hertfordshire, because the media would look at the proportion of Labour votes nationwide. In the face of the damage being done to the country by the Conservatives under Theresa May, he argued that it was imperative that the whole Labour Party united to oust them.
Doug followed with an impassioned speech, tracing the development of his own political philosophy back to his upbringing in Scotland. He particularly emphasised the five pledges which will appear on his election calling card:
Giving schools the funding that they need, without wasting money on educating only a privileged few in grammar schools.
Ending the destruction of the NHS and restoring proper funding.
Ending poverty amongst those in work with the banning of zero-hours contracts and a £10 minimum wage.
Providing genuinely affordable homes for local people, both to rent and to buy.
Accepting the democratic decision to leave the EU, but working sympathetically with our European neighbours to negotiate a deal that is fair for all.
He brought the audience to their feet at the end of his speech.
Andrew Harrop is pictured below in the restaurant with Doug
9 May 2017
On 7 May, Doug was in Stevenage, where Yvette Cooper launched Sharon Taylor's campaign. The picture shows Doug with Yvette Cooper.
Also there were John Hayes, the candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, and Judi Billing, newly elected as the leader of the County Labour Group. Judi provided the most heartening news to come out of the disappointing county council election results, when we heard that she had increased her share of the vote to 51% and had a majority of 1008 over the Conservative candidate.
L. to r.: Doug, Yvette Cooper, Sharon Taylor, Judi Billing and John Hayes
8 May 2017
Doug Swanney is to be the Labour parliamentary candidate in the general election on 8 June. Doug has lived in the constituency for the last 11 years, so that he has a keen awareness of the local issues.
Speaking after learning of his selection, he said: "Our country has faced huges challenges in the last seven years, with big changes just around the corner. I see this next chapter as a chance for positive change - to once again create a Britain for the many, not the few. It's time to build a stronger Britain with a fairer economy, where people's voices are heard."
Welcoming Doug's selection, Clyde Millard, chair of the constituency Labour Party, said: "As someone sho lives in the constituency, if elected on the 8th June, he will put this area first and will be a talented and committed local MP, which is surely what local people deserve."
Alex Mayer MEP to launch the campaign
Doug's campaign will be launched by Alex Mayer, the Labour MEP for the East of England, who will be canvassing with us from 6 pm next Monday, 8 May 2017. Details of the canvass are on the members' page. If you are not a party member in this constituency, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Andrew Harrop to speak at the launch dinner
Following the canvass, there will be a launch dinner in
at 7.30 for 8 pm. Andrew Harrop, the general secretary of the Fabian
Society, will be the keynote speaker. Andrew was our parliamentary
candidate in 2005. For details of the dinner, which costs £20, and to
book, go to the members page or email email@example.com.
5 May 2017
County Council elections
With the media full of the general election, it is all too easy to forget that you vote on Thursday, 4 May to elect your County Councillor. The picture shows Doug Swanney, Labour candidate for Letchworth North.
These elections are important. Of course, a change of control on the County Council will not halt the continuing cuts in funding for local councils whilst we have a Conservative government, but a Labour council would make different choices with the money available. The Tories, as their election leaflets show, meekly accept every cut without a word of protest.
A simple choice
Your choice is simple:
You can vote for a further deterioration in services for the elderly and the disabled, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote to do nothing about the crisis in Hertfordshire schools, clearly explained to parents by many headteachers, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote for potholes and noisy road surfaces with flying chips, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote for cuts in recycling sites and more fly-tipping, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote not to fund the Home Start service, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote to keep street lights turned off at midnight everywhere, or you can vote Labour.
You can decide that you do not think this part of Hertfordshire needs any changes in transport provision until after 2050, or you can vote Labour.
The choice is simple and the choice is yours. Read more about Labour's fully costed programme for Hertfordshire in Labour's county manifesto.
Labour's manifesto for the County Council elections on 4 May 2017 is on the election page.
Are you wondering who our parliamentary candidate will be?
The Labour Party has agreed a special procedure for selecting candidates for this unexpected general election. Normally, potential candidates are interviewed to be accepted on to the panel of candidates. They can then apply to any constituency which is seeking a candidate. There is then a short-listing procedure and the process culminates in a hustings meeting where every member has a vote.
Clearly, this is not a viable selection method in the time available. So, sitting MPs are automaticaly re-selected unless they do not wish to stand. Other candidates are being selected by a joint panel consisting of two representatives of the National Executive Committee and one of the Regional Board.
Candidates who stood in 2015 are being asked if they want to be considered to stand again, but Chris York does not feel able to do so, for health reasons.
We expect to hear who our candidate is during next week. In the meantime, we have appointed a campaign manager and an agent, as well as a new communications co-ordinator.
28 April 2017
"Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a government that has failed to rebuild the economy, deliverd falling standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS," Jeremy Corbyn said, in response to the Prime Minister's announcement of a general election on 8 June 2017.
"In the last couple of weeks," he said, "Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain."
Labour's ten pledges are above. As a reminder, the policies that Jeremy refers to as having just been announced are:
Free school meals in primary schools, paid for by charging VAT on private school fees.
A £10 minimum wage by 2020.
Maintaining the "triple lock" for pensions until 2025, i.e. increasing pensions annually by the highest of wage inflation, price inflation or 2.5%, and compensating women hardest hit by the changes in retirement date.
Tackling the scandal of late payments by large businesses to their suppliers, requiring companies bidding for public contracts to pay suppliers within 30 days.
Using the power of public purchasing also to get businesses to cut the ratio between the pay of the highest and lowest paid workers,with the eventual aim of 20:1, and allowing councils to prioritise local suppliers.
Requiring large companies to publish full tax returns.
Added on 18 April:
Increase of £10 per week in carer's allowance, paid for by scrapping the Tories' cut in inheritance tax.
18 April 2017 (amended 19 April)
Doug Swanney is the Labour candidate for the County Council division of Letchworth North. Boundary changes mean that this division is similar to the Letchworth NW division, currently held for Labour by Lorna Kercher, but not exactly the same.
You are in Letchworth North if you live in the district wards of Letchworth Wilbury, Letchworth Grange or that part of Letchworth East which is north of the railway line.
11 April 2017
Hertfordshire headteachers are so alarmed by the reductions in secondary school funding that they have taken the unprecedented step of writing to parents sharing their problems and appealing for help.
The North East Hertfordshire Labour Party is demanding an urgent increase in funding to protect our children's education and to reverse the 35% to 45% funding per pupil that our headteachers report.
"The Conservative Council continue to make these cuts to our schools, without questioning or challenging those in Westminister," says Doug Swanney (pictured), who is the Labour candidate for Letchworth North in the forthcoming County Council elections on 4 May. "These cuts have gone too far - a decent education isn't 'jam today'; it's a basic service, for which we all pay taxes and which children deserve," he adds.
Fearnhill School in Letchworth Garden City is one of the schools that have written to parents, setting out the school's problems and asking them to lobby their MP and to ministers, as well as to their county councillors. Ms Ellis, the headteacher, says that the school is "facing a vastly reduced capacity to ensure that all children's needs are met". She sets out the increases in local government and teachers' pension costs, National Insurance employer contributions, four years of teachers' pay increases at 1% p.a., and the staff training costs arising from ther government's changes to GCSE and A-level courses.
"We have now faced several years of budget reductions," writes Ms Ellis. "The Government would have you believe otherwise – they say school funding is protected. The Government tells us that there is more money in the education system than ever before, which there is, for the simple reason that there are more children in the system. The truth for our schools is that we are receiving the same amount per pupil for an 11-16 year-old as we have done for a number of years – the so called ‘flat cash settlement’, whilst the costs of running our schools has been rising year on year. Our funding for post 16 students has been reduced in real terms for a number of years."
"Failure to invest in our children is devastating for them and also for the future of the the United Kingdom" says David Bell, our parliamentary spokesperson. "Our Tory county council meekly goes along with this. We must shake them out of their complacency on 4 May."
9 April 2017
Anne Holland, the Labour candidate for the County Council division of Baldock and Letchworth East, is campaigning to get the District Council to change its mind about closing our children's playgrounds throughout the district.
Anne knows what she is talking about. She is a retired primary school teacher, who has lived in Baldock for over 20 years, and is well aware of the important role that play has in the development of children.
The elections are on 4 May 2017 for all the divisions throughout Hertfordshire. Go to the election page for more information about Anne and to read her election address. There is also more information on the other Labour candidates in North East Hertfordshire..
22 March 2017
The Chancellor certainly took this advice in presenting his budget to Parliament. You have to read the small print to know that he does not expect to see the deficit eliminated until well after this Parliament - maybe around 2025.
The reason, of course, is that the Tories have failed miserably in their aim - you might say it was their flagship aim - in eliminating the deficit.
They used to say that Britain would become a "basket case", like Greece, if it was not eliminated by 2015. On a generous interpretation of their promise, they failed by 50% to achieve this. So, they put the target back to 2018/19. Now we know clearly that this will not be achieved either. The deficit is actually predictedd to rise next year. What more do the Tories have to do to lose their reputation for financial competence?
We should remember that the last time we had a budget surplus was 1998 to 2001 - for four years under a Labour government. Attlee's Labour government reached a surplus only a couple of years after the Second World War and their surplus peaked at 6.3% in 1950. It peaked again under Harold Wilson at a record 7.6%. Deficits were the norm under Margaret Thatcher and John Major apart from three years in 1998/90 and rocketed to 5.7% in 1994.
Doug Swanney, candidate for Letchworth North (second from left), canvassing yesterday on Labour's national campaign day on the budget
Most people have been suffering from the Tories' austerity measures since 2010. It would perhaps have been more tolerable if they had worked. In fact, the measures themselves held back recovery.
The fact is that Labour is the government of economic competence and we need to persuade the British voters that this is a fact.
The self-employed National Insurance contribution "omnishambles" also shows a lack of competence. Whilst there is an element of truth in the Chancellor's argument about unfairness, this needs tackling in an overall review of contributions and benefits. The biggest unfairness is that high earners pay a smaller proportion of their income than those further down the line. This was corrected for the employers' contributions, but not the employees'.
As for money for selective free schools, perhaps the most worrying aspect is that the Prime Minister - for it would seem to be the Prime Minister who is driving this policy - is willing to ignore all the evidence that selection favours a few at the expense of the many. No longer does the country need a small élite to manage large manual work-forces, but rather a well-educated work-force to take up the jobs that are now being created.
12 March 2017
Labour's 10 promises for the county elections
The government has cut council budgets severely. Nevertheless, by making different choices from the Tories, Labour can provide much better services for you - as long as you vote for the Labour candidate on 4 May 2017.
We are one of the most prosperous counties in the country. Our country is the sixth biggest economy in the world. We could have first class services, but the Tories want to "shrink the state".
Speaking at the County Council meeting on next year's budget, Leon Reefe, leader of the Labour Group (pictured), said: "The sign reading Hertfordshire is the County of Opportunity is now in danger of reading The County of the Bare Minimum."
Starting on 4 March, we published a promise a day to send the Tories away. These ten promises constitute the Labour manifesto for Hertfordshire.
The full manifesto is now on the election page.
15 March 2017
Today is International Women's Day. Below we are building up Labour's 10 promises for Hertfordshire. It is worth noting that the majority of Labour's county councillors are women. At present, due to the sad death of Sherma Batson, we currently have only 14 councillors. Of thoses 14 councillors, 10 are women.
Similarly, the constituency party has six executive officers, of whom four are women.
8 March 2017
Tory County budget proposals
The Tories claimed that their budget for the County in 2017/8 was to help elderly and vulnerable people. "It was nothing of the kind!" says Cllr Judi Billing, deputy leader of the Labour Group.
Elderly people need social care, but the council has implemented the government's cuts without protest.
Elderly people need public transport. Again, this is being cut to the bone.
All of us need to feel safe at night with street lights on. We now have the technology to turn lights on in the locations where they are needed. Labour would do this.
The council is now the lead authority for flood prevention, but is doing nothing about it. Elderly and vulnerable people will suffer most.
We need better mental health services, especially for vulnerable young people.
We certainly do not need a council that pursues costly court cases against parents over special educational needs. Labour would set up a sensible mediation service to reach agreement in such disputes.
"Everyone needs a County Council that will go into battle for them in order to achieve these things," Judi says. "But this Tory Council is too complacent to confront its own government about the disastrous cuts to public expenditure.
"They shrug their shoulders," she adds, "whilst Labour looks for creative solutions to help people."
We desperately need a Labour Council to be elected in May.
26 February 2017
John McDonnell, Labour's shadow Chancellor, was on the panel of BBC Any Questions? at Edwinstree School in Buntingford yesterday evening.
A group of Labour Party members, mainly from the local branch, were invited to join the audience, although unfortunately none of us was selected to ask a question.
Afterwards, in spite of having had a very busy 24 hours and being in great need of sleep, John was kind enough to talk to us. He is shown above with Doug Swanney, the Labour candidate for the key seat of Letchworth North.
He was the only panel member to join his supporters after the meeting. The other panel members were Lord Lamont, Arron Banks (who has donated large sums to UKIP) and Ayesha Hazarika, who is a stand-up comedian and who has previously worked for Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman.
You can listen to Any Questions? at 2.10 pm today on Radio 4, on BBC iPlayer Radio and you can also download the podcast if you want to hear us clapping and sometimes groaning - or, indeed, if you want to hear the discussion.
25 February 2017
Why do we put people in prison? This is the question Sara Hyde opened with at a meeting of Party members in Letchworth yesterday evening. The answers ranged over the whole spectrum from rehabilitation to punishment, which made Sara's point very clearly that we have no consensus on this. Nevertheless, the Labour view would be to put a heavy emphasis on rehabilitation.
Sara Hyde has been a counsellor in prisons and currently works with women on their release from custody, as well a serving on a Ministry of Justice Board that recommends magistrates for appointment. She made the point that it is often "habilitation", since they have never in their lives fitted into society.
She emphasised the importance of the context in which the prisoners became involved in crime. For example, nearly one-third of female prisoners were brought up in the care system. Half of female prisoners attempt suicide, an indication of the high level of mental health problems. There is a high level of drug and alcohol abuse, and a high level of illiteracy.
They need help in prison from experienced prison officers, and help after they leave prison. Yet, the number of prison officers has been cut from 25,000 to 18,000, and much experience was lost in this exercise. New prisons have been contracted out to companies like G4S and the improvement in building design have been regarded solely as a way of cutting costs, rather than improving the outcomes.
It is not too fanciful to attribute prison riots to this cut in staff. Deaths in custody now run at their highest level ever and suicides run at two per week. Deaths from natural causes have also risen and the lack of staff can exacerbate this, when prison officers are not there when a prisoner collapses or are not available to accompany the to hospital for treatment.
There was a glimmer of hope, because the Tory chair of the Justice Select Committee, Bob Neill, has recognised that there is indeed a crisis and Liz Truss, the Secretary of State, has indicated a plan to increase the number of prison officers.
There was a lively discussion afterwards about ways of reducing the prison population, the employment of ex-prisoners and restorative justice amongst other topics.
23 February 2017
As the financial year-end approaches, we can expect our local hospitals to be reporting yet again that they are in deficit.
In 2015/6, the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, the QE II in Welwyn Garden City and Mount Vernon, reported an overspend of well over £16 million.
Rumour has it that this year its overspend will be much more, at around £28 million.
Meanwhile, the government expects all hospitals to make "cost improvements" year-on-year - that means cuts - in spite of the aging population which puts greater demands on them. Will they allow such deficits to continue?
We can count ourselves lucky that, in 2015/6, the Trust managed to meet the 18-week waiting time standards, unlike most of England and Wales, and improve its mortality rate. Nevertheless, it failed to maintain the A&E standard (95% of patients within four hours) and the 62-day standard for cancer patients (time to first treatment).
So, next year, with a mounting deficit hanging over the Trust and the requirement for further "cost improvements", we can expect cuts.
The Tories are pursuing their policy of reducing "the size of the state" and apparently are not concerned if this impacts on our health. Yet, this policy is not even succeeding in reducing the government deficit.
Our NHS is slowly, but definitely, disappearing before our eyes. It is difficult not to conclude that this is the government's intention.
18 February 2017
in Letchworth on 25/26 February.
Labour has 15 county councillors in Hertfordshire. We must retain all those seats on 4 May and add some more. This is what we can do to save social care, which in turn helps to save the NHS, from the depradations of this government and its obsession with "making the state smaller".
There will be three canvassing sessions:
Saturday, 25 February: 11 am
to 1 pm
Saturday, 25 February: 2 pm to 4 pm
Sunday, 26 February: 11 am to 1 pm
17 February 2017
The East Herts Rural branch dinner was held on 16 February 2017 at the Viceroy Indian Restaurant in Buntingford.
David Evans engaged in the key task of selling raffle tickets
In welcoming branch members, as well as members from elsewhere in the constituency and from the neighbouring Hertford and Ware branch,David Bell, the East Herts Rural branch chair, said that he was deeply worried about the future of the country.
"Everything that has been achieved in my lifetime, since the Second World War, has been or is being dismantled," he said. He attributed the peace in Europe in that period to the European Union and he singled out the ongoing destruction of the NHS, on which we spend less than the European average, and the cuts to social services.
"What can we do?" he asked and his answer was: "Promote, promote and promote again the Party that we love." He added that right now we had to elect Labour county councillors, in particular, Doug Swanney, our excellent candidate for Letchworth North - a county division which we already held on slightly different boundaries - and also promote the Party in Baldock and Letchworth East, which we had held when its boundaries were considerably different.
He asked for support in promoting the Labour Party in Letchworth on 25 and 26 February. Details in the preceding item.
17 February 2017
We joined forces with comrades in Hitchin and Harpenden Labour Party to run a canvassing training session in Letchworth Garden City on 28 January 2017. The picture above shows Cllr Judi Billing, deputy leader of the County Labour Group, talking to some of those taking part. The other tutors were Deborah Segalini (Hitchin & Harpenden CLP) and the Letchworth and Baldock branch's canvassing co-ordinator, Cei Whitehouse.
After the very successful training session, the trainees were joined by some more experienced canvassers for the first canvass of 2017, as part of our county council election campaign. Our candidate for Letchworth North, Doug Swanney, was one of the canvass team.
County council elections take place on Thursday, 4 May 2017.
We were delighted to be joined for the canvass by our Labour MEP for the East of England, Alex Mayer, who recently replaced Richard Howitt in this role.
Alex is third from the left (wearing a red scarf). Doug Swanney is next to her, wearing a red rosette.
30 January 2017
Donald Trump has signed an executive order to begin the process of dismantling "Obamacare" in the United States. Meanwhile, Theresa May is continuing the process of dismantling the NHS by stealth.
Tories have cut £4.6 billion from social care budgets. They cannot really be surprised that this means that hospitals cannot discharge patients. The minimal increases to the NHS budget mean that it is not keeping pace with the needs of an aging population. They cannot really be surprised that this means that waiting times in A&E and waiting lists for operations have soared.
Soon, they will tell us that we cannot afford the NHS and we shall have to have insurance for a private system. Yet, we currently pay out less for the NHS than the EU average. And we pay out very much less than the USA does on medical care. Somehow they can afford it!
That's why we were out in order to bring to people's attention what is happening to our NHS. The picture shows the campaign team, with county council candidate Doug Swanney (fourth from right) and North Herts district councillor for Wilbury Deepak Sangha (holding poster, left).
Labour created the NHS. Only Labour can get it back for you.
21 January 2017
In the first week of January, all our local hospitals were on "red alert", as were four out of ten other hospitals throughout England.This means that there are major pressures compromising patient flow and further urgent actions are required.
East and North Herts Trust (Lister, QE II and Mount Vernon) was on red alert for five days in the week, Addenbrooke's for six days and the Princess Alexandra, Harlow for three days. At least, none was on "black alert", which indicates that they were unable to cope, but four hospitals around the country were.
Yet, the government believes that it can cure the problem by forcing GPs to open at weekends, by altering junior hospital doctors' contracts and changing the targets for seeing patients in A&E departments. Apparently, the government believes that it has nothing to do with the fact that the we spend a lower proportion of our wealth on health than the European average and much less than the USA.
Or does it really believe that? The fact is it wants you to believe that a publicly funded health service is not viable. The only question is: how bad does it have to get before we are offered a privatised insurance scheme where those who pay more will get a better service?
Do something about it
If you want to save the NHS, come out with us in Letchworth North next Saturday, 21 January 2017 at 10.30 am as part of Labour's national NHS campaign day. Most people do not realise that the NHS is disappearing before their eyes. We must open their eyes before it is too late.
15 January 2017
Political debate in North East Hertfordshire
During the last year, our members have enjoyed having debates, addressing political issues important to us, at both branch and constituency level. We have discussed many issues including the national housing crisis, so-called Austerity and Brexit. Sometimes discussions have been impassioned, but have brought great focus on the values we all share.
Discussion has led to action – such as collecting donations to the local Food Bank, pounding the streets on our NHS Day of Action and campaigning for the by-election win in Hitchin Oughton. Members have been willing and able to find uniting consensus and work together.
This year, at constituency level, we intend to stick more closely to our aim of holding monthly meetings which alternate political discussion with management committee meetings. Sometimes, however, this is knocked off course by pressing business or by the need to find suitable dates for speakers.
We are pleased we have two impressive speakers to start 2017.
We hope all members and affiliated supporters will join us to hear them
speak, ask questions and share ideas for any local action.
Jess Phillips: Women in the
Friday, 3 February 2017 - 7.30pm – 9pm
Jess is very sorry but she has to attend a funeral
to be a remarkable woman to get to the top … average men get there all
An outspoken feminist, Jess Phillips is MP for Birmingham Yardley, as well as Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party Women’s Group and winner of Parliamentarian of the Year.
Sara Hyde: Prison Reform - Imagining Positive Outcomes for Offenders and Society
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 – 7.30pm – 9pm
prisons crisis shows how austerity has ripped the soul out of
Britain... we could
make our country a safer place to live rather than just holding people
Sara Hyde is a leading left-wing thinker on women and the criminal justice system; she has worked in prisons for six years, sits on a Ministry of Justice board appointing magistrates and, passionate about grassroots social change, is an active member of the Labour Party.
Both meetings are open only to Labour Party members and affiliated supporters. Members should bring their membership cards with them. Go to the members' page for more details. Members from other constituencies who wish to come should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 January 2017
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Sherma Batson, who will be known to many Labour members in this constituency and throughout Hertfordshire. She died yesterday whilst away on a "jazz weekend" in Blackpool, at the age of 59.
Sherma was a Stevenage Borough Councillor and a Hertfordshire County Councillor and was a member of the Police and Crime Panel for Hertfordshire. She was also a Deputy Lieutenant of the County.
She was Labour's first candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner and many members canvassed with her during that campaign. In the second round, she had 40% of the vote. The picture shows her speaking at the East Herts Rural branch's Red Rose Party during that campaign.
She had been Mayor of Stevenage and was a member of the Police Authority, which oversaw the Hertfordshire Constabulary before the advent of Police and Crime Commissioners. She received an MBE for her service to local government and the community in 2008.
Our sympathy goes to her husband Howard Rooke, to her mother Yvonne and to her daughter and grandson, as well as her many friends.
9 January 2017
It is not as difficult as you think
We are not seeking doorstep conversions. The main aim of canvassing is to identify supporters, so that we can try to ensure that they vote on election day. Also, the mere fact that a Labour member has knocked on the door or rung up helps to get Labour supporters out to vote.
We are starting the year with a canvassing training session on Saturday, 28 January 2017 in Letchworth, followed by some real canvassing supported by experienced canvassers. If you have never canvassed or have not done so recently, this is for you.
This is a joint initiative with the Hitchin & Harpenden Constituency Labour Party and is open to all members in the two constituencies.
Details are on the members' page.
7 January 2017
Jeremy Corbyn's New Year message
"Decisions made in Westminster are making people's lives harder," Jeremy Corbyn said in his New Year message. He went on to say that the elderly were not getting the care they deserved, people were waiting longer in A&E because the NHS and social care is at breaking point, and homeless families were being priced out of the housing market.
"This Christmas 120,000 children didn't have a home to call their own," he said.
"We now have the chance to do things differently. To build an economy that invests and works for everyone.... We are the party that listens to you and makes Britain better. Let's do that, together, in 2017."
Listen to his message here.
1 January 2017
Labour's National Campaign Day
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. 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
... 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.
As 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
Following 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
Capita 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
We 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
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
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
Last 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)
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."
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
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 the 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)
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
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.
The 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
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.
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
The 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
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 was 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
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.
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)
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
The 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
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.
Politics 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
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.
24 June 2016 (added to 26 June 2016)
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."
16 June 2016
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?
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
Just because there is a referendum campaign, it does not mean that the NHS is not continuing to disappear before your eyes.
Clinical 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
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
- 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'.
"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
It 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.
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)
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.
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
election on the district council's website.
Clare Billing, Labour candidate for Letchworth Grange, with some of her committee room team after the polls closed
Canvassing for Deepak Sangha (centre at back), Labour candidate for Letchworth Wilbury
6 May 2016
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
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
Just 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.
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).
18 April 2016
Stevenage's Labour and Co-operative Council showed just what could be done when they built eight council houses to very high environmental standards.
The 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.
14 April 2016
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.
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
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.
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
Kerry Pollard at the constituency party meeting
Kerry 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
After Cameron's sideshow
We 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
Alex Mayer at the East Herts Rural 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
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. 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. 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
Leon 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
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.
Writing 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
Labour 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
The government plans to reduce the effectiveness of unions through these measures:
Strike ballots will require a majority (40% of all union members) and a turnout (50%) far beyond what is required to form a government or control a council. Furthermore, costly postal ballots have to be used, because the internet is deemed insecure, although the Tory London Mayoral candidate was selected in this way.
Some of the original measures on picketing, such as the prohibition of the use of social media, have been dropped in the face of opposition within the Tory party, but the need for unions to appoint an identifiable picket supervisor and for two weeks’ notice (currently one week) remains and offences against picketing rules become criminal, rather than civil, offences.
The “check-off” system, which unions have negotiated with many employers, so that union dues can be deducted from pay, will become illegal in the public sector, including for contractors to the public sector.
The government will be able to cap workers’ time off permitted by public sector employers for trade union duties. The certification officer will have additional powers to investigate unions and impose fines. The government will be able to charge unions to cover the running costs of the certification officer.
The use of strike-breaking agency workers, banned since 1973, will be permitted.
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)
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.
Currently 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 - 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
... and more secure
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
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 was 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)
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 chaos. 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
The 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
Cllr 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
"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.)
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.
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
We 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.
"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)
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. The 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
Jeremy Corbyn, quoting Keir Hardie, called on the Labour Party "to stir up divine discontent with wrong".
His 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
Richard 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)
Jeremy Corbyn is the new leader
Jeremy 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, 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)
The East Herts Rural branch held its Red Rose Summer Party last Saturday in Buntingford. Thirty members enjoyed the first fine day for 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.
A 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
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 strike 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
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.
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.
13 August 2015
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.
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
"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.
Bruce 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
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
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:
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)
Confusion about the position of Labour MEPs
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
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 announced 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
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.
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
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.
Of 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
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 Wednesdays.
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
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
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.
20 June 2015
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
Leader and Deputy Leader elections
Members 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
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
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.
Standing 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
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.
to r. William Compton (UKIP), Sir Oliver Heald (Cons.), John Francis
(editor, The Comet), Chris York, Joe Jordan (Lib.Dem.) and Dr Mario May
(photo courtesy of The
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
We 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)
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.
At 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
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.
When 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
Chris 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
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:
Liberal Democrats: 21.5%
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
“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.
Labour 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
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.
The 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
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
or more years of austerity under the Tories
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
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
Chris York and his team outside Royston Corn Exchange.
Amy Bourke (centre) is Labour candidate for the Royston Palace district
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
petition carefully before signing to be sure that it was not critical
care given by the NHS, because their experience had been good. Some
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
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).
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
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 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
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 recession 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
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.
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
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.
The 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
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.
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, 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
Chris 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.
6 January 2015
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.
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, highlighting 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
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.
In 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
31 December 2014
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
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.
The 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
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:
“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.
Labour's parliamentary candidate for North East Hertfordshire
18 December 2014
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. "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 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.
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
"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:
I will undo the damage the Tories have done to our country.
I will take on the powerful vested interests that hold millions back.
I will start to rebuild a fairer, better Britain.
And here are the policies to do it. Read them here.
16 November 2014
Ed Miliband in Harlow
Ed Miliband, being welcomed by the principal of Harlow
"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
"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 ensuring 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:
20,000 more nurses, getting the basics right by providing safe staffing.
8,000 more GPs, to help people stay healthy outside hospital.
5,000 new homecare workers and 3,000 more midwives.
A guarantee that GP appointments will be within 48 hours or on the same day for those who need them.
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
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.
Even 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
.... 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 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
Our 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
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 real wages under this government. He is pictured during the march with Rachel Burgin, the Labour candidate for neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden.
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
The waiting list for planned operations has been steadily rising since the coalition took over the government and NHS England estimate that it reached 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
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.
It 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)
of the complexities of dealing with devolution of power in England.
is becoming more pressing as we anticipate greater devolution of power
Scottish Parliament, but that is no reason for a hasty,
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,
the case not so long ago. Would they formulate policies for England but
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.
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for N.E. Hertfordshire
19 October 2014
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 cut (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, 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, 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.
8 September 2015
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 the 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.”
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
Funding 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 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.
17 August 2014
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 council (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
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
... drink and generally enjoy yourself. East Herts Rural branch is holding its annual Red Rose Summer Party on 7 September 2014 in Buntingford.
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.
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)
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 of 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
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.