Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Make Your Vote Count...Vote For Real Change (GE2017 - Week 8)

Well, we're almost here...

Jeremy has led an inspiring campaign and drawn in the crowds wherever he speaks. 

But take nothing for granted.  Nothing will change if you don't vote!  People who don't vote can't blame anybody else when we see further decimation of our public services, our NHS, our schools, our community police, when inequality gets ever wider and workers' rights and disability benefits are stripped even more; when more people are hungry and homeless - a blight on any civilised society.

I don't want to watch the Exit Polls come in tomorrow night and see what I did in the general election 2015 - when pollsters over-estimated the Labour vote and neither do I don't want to wake up on Friday morning in deep despair to hear that Theresa May has a mandate or a landslide majority to deliver a hard Brexit and give us even more reasons to be miserable! I trust Jeremy Corbyn as an intelligent negotiator - someone who will put workers' rights, human rights, tariff-free access to the single market, security and environmental protection at the top of the agenda.

If you're in a marginal, vote tactically if you must, as long as it's for a progressive party.  Even a hung parliament will be an achievement and will scupper Theresa May's hand in government.  If you're in Scotland and a Unionist, Labour will give you the best of both worlds - anti-austerity while staying as part of the UK. 

So now it's over to you.  Make your vote count whatever the weather so we can all wake up to a hopeful and positive future for old and young on Friday morning, and put an end to the nightmare of austerity politics for good.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

A Real Alternative to the Same Old Tired Politics of Austerity (GE2017 - Week 7)

The Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn offers a real alternative - a chance for progressive politics instead of the failed politics of austerity that we've all been subjected to for these past 7 years.

So much has changed in the last two years - since the 2015 general election.  It seems so much longer ago than two years when each party was squabbling for what they perceived to be the centre ground.  I and many other like me kept noticing that the Tories were dictating the narrative and pulling Labour along to the right with them.  This left a yawning void on the Left and I wondered why it wasn't being filled. Surely there was an appetite for an alternative?  But frightened by the unchallenged and false narrative chanted ad nauseam by the Right that Labour had crashed the economy (rather than it being a result of the banking crisis), Labour did little to counteract these claims. They could have easily done.  They could have boasted how well the economy had done under years of Labour until 2008.  But instead many former Labour supporters became disillusioned by the offer of what many perceived to be 'Tory Lite' and a Westminster club out of touch with their constituents, especially in the regions most distant from London: the north east, the south west and many more.

Labour was at a crossroads. Ed Miliband did put forward many progressive policies but they weren't translated into votes.  Socialism was the elephant in the room but when it was mentioned, Labour seemed to be defensive and apologetic, instead of proud.

But when they lost the 2015 election and Ed Miliband resigned, one outsider put his name forward - that was, Jeremy Corbyn.  Against the others - Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and even Andy Burnham, he stood out.  He offered a real alternative.

This is what those on the Left had been craving - not another watered-down Tory. After all, if people want to vote Tory, why would they vote for a paler version?  You have to be offering a real alternative and that's what Labour offer now. Corbyn took a gamble and was unafraid. He embraced the new way of doing things, via social media and emails, as well as good old-fashioned crowd-pulling talks up and down the country where he always pulls a crowd.

Far from showing character weakness, he's showed dogged determination - and that he isn't a quitter! He listens - that's an important part of being a leader, he says, in his quiet unassuming manner.  In fact the Labour manifesto has been put together as part of that listening exercise and isn't a million miles away from the policies of the SNP - which many of us south of the border could only dream about two years ago.

But the Brexit referendum has further shifted people's alliegances.  The political landscape has changed. Just by how much will be confirmed or otherwise on June 8th.  But make no mistake, five more years of austerity as well as a hard Brexit will leave our country and its people more divided and all the poorer. This is our chance to turn the tide, to vote for investment into our public services and our young people as well as a savvy negotiation out of the EU, a vote for social justice and a fairer more equal society.  And everyone benefits from that.


Sunday, 28 May 2017

Manchester - Campaigns Suspended (General Election 2017 - Week 6)

Such a waste of young life, we're all agreed, as the gallery of mainly young female youth looks out on us from our TV screens. Photos taken in happier times.  Immortalized in tragedy. We can hardly pin down our feelings - beyond raw disbelief and shock. Children and young people enjoying themselves at a pop concert, children who should be tucked up asleep now, or riding home with their parents, relaying the songs, the atmosphere, the joy at seeing their idol perform.  Young parents waiting for their children to hear all about the above, but mown down in their loving parental duty. Those of us over 50 may never have heard the name of the young female star - but we all know of her now.  We all know the face of the youngest child, brown-eyed, smiling gently at us from our TV screens - fresh, beautiful, a life barely begun...
We watch the news for developments, disbelieving it to be true, that here in Manchester, such an atrocity could unfold. We watch the spirit of Manchester rise in love, queuing to donate blood from their bodies to help the injured, people offering lifts backwards and forwards across the city and beyond through the night to bring home the stranded and frightened and confused, people offering their homes and flooding social media with kindness.  All nations and ethnic backgrounds coming together to lay flowers and pink helium balloons, heart-shaped. This is Manchester. A diverse city. We stand together.  We won't be cowed.  We won't be divided. The Moslem community rise to condemn, non-Moslems stand with them in solidarity.  An elderly Jewish woman and her Moslem friend walk the streets together, publicly condemning.

Political divisions and aggressive general election campaigning is laid aside. None of that matters, for today. For tomorrow. What matters is the spirit of Manchester.

But how quickly that those in supposed journalism show their true colours, wasting no time to find a cheap and obscene opportunity to score political points.  Did The Sun really think they could curry support from the sister city to Liverpool - where it has already been disgraced and banned for its vicious campaign against Liverpool fans at Hillsborough?

They wanted a cheap jibe at Jeremy Corbyn's approach to terrorism and his multi-pronged approach.  Peace is never achieved by war-war, it is achieved by jaw-jaw, and getting round the table.  How else did we reach the Good Friday agreement?  Two petitions were started to boycott The Sun but The Sun threatened the petition sites with legal action and so the sites were forced to remove the petitions. Never mind The Sun committing slander against Jeremy Corbyn. But Murdoch money talks - the Murdoch empire does as it pleases.

In a week where we have all been devastated by the wicked loss of life, we should all remember the spirit of Manchester.  That must be the legacy.  That even in the face of the unimaginable, good will shine through and win.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

For The Many Not The Few - General Election (Week 5)

So this week we saw the launch of Labour's manifesto to a rapturous applause at Bradford University and what a great progressive one it's turned out to be. Jeremy Corbyn described it as a manifesto 'for the many not the few' and 'a programme of hope not fear'.

In order to put together the manifesto, Labour have consulted with loads of different people including experts, researchers, charities and of course ordinary members.

Just to recap on some of the proposals:

- Higher spending on the NHS (this must surely be one of the most important things to consider when casting your vote - the NHS is not safe in Tory hands and has been consistently underfunded as well as seeing creeping privatisation, especially as a result of the Health & Social Care Act 2012 which removed responsibility for the health of citizens from the Health Secretary and created Clinical Commissioning Groups, partly run by GPs but also private service providers.)

 - Reversal Of Welfare Cuts (this is equally as vital as the above because Labour voted against most if not all of the Welfare changes that have impoverished the lives - and worse - of many long term sick and disabled people since the Coalition in 2010).

 - Building of over a million new homes

 - Renationalization of the railways (when present franchises end), water, and Royal Mail

 - The creation of a National Education Service along the lines of the NHS to include free learning from the cradle to the grave and university fees will be scrapped making 'education a right and not a privilege'. Schools will be properly funded

 - There will be free child care for all 2 year olds

 - Voting age to be reduced to 16

 - A guaranteed triple-lock on pensions

 - A planned rise in Corporation Tax and a levy on firms paying very high salaries (this is a measure to reduce ridiculous inequality within society)

 -  No tax and national insurance rises except for the richest ie raising taxes to 45p for those earning over £80k and 50p for those earning over £123k

 - Scrapping exploitative zero hours contracts

 There were many more things in the manifesto including Brexit negotiations, helping the environment, making the country a more inclusive place and so on.

You will always get the naysayers who say the figures don't add up and the amount of borrowing but consider this: the Tories have borrowed more than all previous Labour parties!

At the launch of the manifesto, many of the media were present to pose questions and here is a flavour of some of Jeremy Corbyn's responses to their questions.

Somebody asked if anything could be done about 'the shockingly biassed media against the Labour Party.'  Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted to ensure there was diversity of all our media and that he thought freedom of speech in a democracy is important.

Then, when a journalist from some right-wing platform, posed a question on immigration he was immediately booed and heckled. But Jeremy Corbyn said 'Please, let's have respect for journalists - I'm a member of the NUJ.' But responding to the question on immigration, he went on to say that immigrants made 'an immense contribution' to our society and 'without immigration in the NHS, most of us would be far worse off in our health'.

Jeremy Corbyn likes to lead by example.  He quite rightly says that 'being strong doesn't mean shouting, dictating and insulting...I don't indulge in personal abuse.'  He just wants to 'debate the issues'.  But it is a sad reflection of affairs when so much of politics is about the 'cult of personality'.

Finally, there have been all those comments about 'taking us back to the 1970s'.  Corbyn's response was a comment in relation to the Conservative plans: 'fox-hunting and grammar schools...that's really forward-looking, isn't it?'

But whenever people make that comment I always say, better the 1970s than turn back the clock 100 years ago which the Tories seem to be doing - when inequality was rife and none of the rights that have been hard-won in the last few decades even existed.  For those of us old enough to remember the 1970s, great changes were made, such as The Sex Discrimination Act and The Race Relations Act which paved the way for a fairer kinder society.

So let us return to a fairer, kinder society.  We have had thirty years of Monetarism and it's failed.  Not everything that went before is bad and should never be revisited.   Let us learn from all that was good that went before. It is time to look back in order to move forward.

If you would like to read the Labour manifesto in full - please follow the link here:


Friday, 12 May 2017

A Picture Tells A Thousand Words (part 1) General Election 2017 (Week 4)

Well, what a week it's been, with the 'leaked' Labour manifesto which backfired! Backfired inasmuch as it will give Jeremy Corbyn double the publicity and double exposure for the manifesto.  But as I've had a bad week in terms of health I thought I would post many of the memes, satire and pictures which I have collected over the past few weeks and months (mainly from Facebook).

Here's just a small selection and they all include a few succinct words, too!

More memes to follow next week!

Friday, 5 May 2017

The 'Strong & Stable' Mantra - General Election 2017 (week 3)

    This week I thought I'd share a poem that came to my attention via 
    Disability Arts Online. It sums up for me the tactics the Tories employ to 
    get their message across. They use soundbites and mantras like a refrain 
    which sink into the public psyche. But they have little substance. 
    This wonderfully satirical poem sums it up perfectly and demonstrates 
    how hollow it all is and deflects from what's really going on. Do not be fooled.

      All Together Now - A poem by Judith Milburn 

      Theresa May has kitten heels 
      And legs like Betty Grable;
      Of COURSE that proves her leadership
      Is really strong and stable!
      Let's wheel on Boris for a laugh
      On Sky, Beeb, Mail or cable.
      His jibes are bound to make us look
      Big and strong and stable.

      Who cares about election fraud -
      Best swept under the table.
      (Just make sure no-one's charged 'til June,
      To keep us strong and stable!)

      Don't dig below the headlines, now,
      Don't question if we're able;
      Just repeat the same old riff:
      'We're very strong and stable!'

      Our strength is putting others down,
      Our sympathy's a fable;
      We bully, harm and isolate -
      And call it 'strong and stable'.

      We hate what we don't understand
      And box it with a label.
      So if you disagree, we'll say
      That you aren't strong and stable.

      Don't be 'foreign', poor, ill, old,
      Raped, unemployed, disabled -
      That doesn't fit with our idea
      Of being strong and stable.

      For God's sake don't be taken in
      By their 'strong and stable' lie;
      Value humanity when you vote -
      Or hope, and people, die.

      Poem shared courtesy of a member of Disability Arts Online

      Friday, 28 April 2017

      Why Disability Benefits are Political - General Election 2017 (week 2)

      I am amazed how some people claiming disability benefits like ESA and PIP can still be in ignorance as to why things are so bad for them, why they are being put through repeated tests, why they have been sanctioned and so forth.    For many they don't see the Welfare Reform Act brought about by the last Coalition government, consisting mainly of Tories (and propped up by the Lib Dems) as having any relevance to where they find themselves today.

      I am amazed but shouldn't be. It has all been carefully choreographed by the Tories and the largely Right Wing media that supports them: Daily Mail, Sun, Express, Channel 5, often the BBC. It is in their interests to have the poor set against the poor, the working poor vs the out of work poor, the 'genuinely' disabled vs 'all those other people faking it', the poor vs the immigrants, the 'deserving' vs the 'undeserving', the young vs the old. You name it.  What you will never see from the Right Wing media is the obscenely rich vs the obscenely poor.  Because if all the poor united against the rich, there would be no more rich. So, the slow drip drip of poverty porn piped through our TV screens and newspaper, month on month, year on year, has softened people up, has made people turn on 'the other'.  Divide and rule they have us.  United we stand, divided we fall. It's as simple as that. And the Tories know it and have exploited it. They have the power, the influence and the money to carry it off. 

      Many people are disengaged with politics and will come out with phrases such as 'They're all as bad as each other'. One person who said this recently in relation to disability benefits qualified it by saying that 'it was Labour that introduced Atos and Capita assessment'. While this is true to some extent, previous Conservative governments had paved the way long before under the likes of Peter Lilley. You only have to check Peter Lilley's name on Wikipedia if you're too young to remember (which I'm not) and you will find all the information you need, such as: "Shortly after his appointment, Lilley entertained the Conservative Party's annual conference by outlining his plan "to "close down the something for nothing for society" (I've previously written a blog on that myth too). Lilley also replaced Invalidity Benefit with Incapacity Benefit in 1995 "in the hope of checking the rise in sickness benefit claims. Unlike its predecessor, Invalidity Benefit, this new welfare payment came with a medical test that gauged claimants' ability to work."

      Whatever you may think of New Labour and the other scandalous horrors that occurred under their watch internationally, they introduced a raft of measures at home to reduce inequality.  In terms of benefits, they introduced Tax Credits, Tax Credits for the over 50s, the Minimum Wage,  an extra £28 for disabled people on JSA, free Legal Aid for people on benefits and other people on low incomes, voted against the Bedroom Tax, reduced homelessness, introduced the National OAPs and Disabled Bus Passes and voted against the worst of the Welfare Reform Bill to name a few.  Many of these measures helped the poorest in society and many of them have been scrapped. Many more people have been found wrongly fit for work under this and the last government and countless lives have been lost needlessly as a result. You get more true negatives when you set the bar too high - that is too many ill people being found fit for work - and yet the government have been prepared to sacrifice lives in this way. And yet benefit fraud is as low as it gets, especially among disabled people and in any event there are DWP fraud officers to deal with that tiny amount of fraud.  It's not for anybody else to make that judgment.

      Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to scrap the WCA and put benefits in line with inflation. He wants to bring back Legal Aid and get rid of punitive sanctions. He has promised the Waspi Women £155 a week, those women born in the 1950s and robbed of their pensions by a sudden hike in the pension age, denying them time to prepare for their retirement.  Of course, it's not going to happen the day after the day of the General Election. It takes time to pass new legislation and reverse existing legislation.  That is how democracy works.

      It will certainly take time because the Tories have continued their onslaught at lightning speed since being the 2015 election. 

      Since 2010, the Coalition and then the Tories, have made the WCA harder and harder to pass, they have replaced DLA with PIP, in order to cut benefits, they have denied people the immediate right to appeal against a wrong decision, not until they go though a Mandatory Consideration first. This was introduced as way of ostensibly cutting down the number of cases needing to go to appeal, but the cynical part of me knows that the real reason was so that fewer people would appeal.  Even before Mandatory Reconsideration, people dropped out before appeal stage.  Now with one more hoop to jump through, many more give up.  It is all too much when you are vulnerable, stressed, fatigued, in pain.  In a word, it is cruel to have added this extra hurdle.

      Not only this, the Tories have closed down the Independent Living Fund, they have introduced Council tax for the poorest and they have made legislation so that disabled people can be sanctioned - in fact, the more vulnerable you are, the more you are seen as an easy target by Job Centre staff who have to stick to their sanctioning targets. Several hundred disabled people are losing their motability scooters every week and 18-21 year old ones will not be routinely paid housing benefit.  The Tories have voted for disability benefits cuts in the ESA WRAG group by £30 for new claimants - £30 from a measly £100 a week or so!  People in the ESA WRAG group who have passed one of the most difficult tests in the world to pass - the flawed Work Capability Assessment (WCA) - and yet are still being punished because the government want to treat all out of work people the same (regardless of their limitations). And if you think you've been let off the hook because you're in the ESA Support Group, the New Health & Work Green Paper outlines plans to coerce this group too.  Food banks have rocketed since the Welfare Reform Act and yet the government denies there is any link between the rise in food banks and the change in legislation.

      The third child 'rape clause' in order to qualify for benefits for that child is perhaps one of the most pernicious of the Tories obsession with what they call 'welfare dependency" (again, I did a previous blog on this too) and shows them to have plumbed the depths.  Anyone who thinks this is an acceptable thing to do in a supposed humane society is completely morally bankrupt and 'the nasty party' are well and truly back. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon rightly called this measure 'obscene' and said Ruth Davidson had tried to shake off the toxic image of Westminster Tories but on this she had failed.

      But I fear that many people will either vote for a party who doesn't have their best interests at heart because of half-formed ideas that 'they are all as bad was each other'.

      A lot of myths abound, for example, the one about there not being enough money in the pot for everyone to have what they need but again people have been sold the politics of austerity for so long they believe it. But we are the sixth wealthiest nation in the world. We can afford to look after the sick and the vulnerable and let's not forget how many millions - if not billions - go unclaimed in benefits every year.  It is not about austerity but ideology.

      Therefore we have to share the facts as to how disability benefits and ergo people's quality of life  will be affected according to who they vote for. Because if they don't vote for the party or parties most likely to help the disabled then they can't complain when the Tories continue the rest of their brutal destruction of the welfare state.