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 gives 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 Occtober 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 2015
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 and for deputy leader on 17 June. 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 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.