Archive for Blog

Lilac Sky

thistle hillTwo Labour County Councillors who represent the Swale area have expressed their anger, frustration and concern at the news that Lilac Sky Academy Trust is no longer responsible for nine schools in Kent and Sussex, including Richmond Street and Thistle Hill on the Isle of Sheppey. Roger Truelove ( Swale Central) is on the County Council’s Education Cabinet Committee and Angela Harrison represents the Sheerness constituency.

Roger Truelove says,

” I can scarcely contain my anger. Why oh why are we entrusting our publicly owned schools to these unknown and generally unaccountable organisations? It certainly isn’t because their teaching or their management is any better than local authority provision as this debacle shows. Our children’s schools should be open to local scrutiny and local democratic decision making.”

” Both of us find it exceptionally frustrating that when something like this occurs, we know nothing about it. We have consulted senior education officers at the County Council but they have no say. They are simply told by a remote bureaucrat called the Regional Schools Commission, who has responsibility for the South East and South London and is answerable to no-one apart from the Government Minister. He has indicated concerns about the Governance of the Trust, which of course could mean any thing,possibly financial management.”

Angela Harrison

” It is disturbing that the Local Education Authority is kept at arms length in this academy system but my immediate concern is for the children concerned. We are told that other Academy Trusts have been allocated by Mr Herrington (the RSC) but wouldn’t it be nice if these schools, paid for by the public, were returned to the County Council and to a level of democratic accountability.”

brexitAt the meeting of the Kent County Council on Thursday 14 July, the Cabinet member for Economic Growth, Mark Dance, confirmed that Brexit posed a threat to KCC’s aim of securing £100 million for the Kent economy by 2020 from European Growth funds.

Mr Dance was answering a question from Labour’s Roger Truelove about the danger of Kent not reaching its target.

Mr Dance said the situation was full of uncertainty. It was not certain that current contracts would be fulfilled. It was possible that funding might be maintained during the period of Brexit negotiations, probably over the next two years, or beyond that if the negotiations took even longer. Much would depend on the UK’s approach during the negotiation period.

The European Regional funds help businesses in Kent, both large and small, the rural economy, creative industries and the skills economy. They help to increase trade between Kent and NW Europe.

For Labour, Roger Truelove says,

” We heard quite a lot during the referendum campaign about how the UK’s contribution might be recycled back into our economy. There was the promise to pay it all into the NHS. Farmers who voted Brexit apparently think they are going to receive the same subsidies from our Government. I only hope there will be some funding left to support the local economy and I hope Kent will try to expand its export trade to other parts of the World.”

Jo Cox

jo-cox_1

Jo Cox MP

Around lunchtime on 16th June reports began to emerge of an attack on a Labour MP in Yorkshire, outside the library in which she was conducting her constituency surgery. As the afternoon went on it was clear that something truly appalling had happened and just after 5 pm Yorkshire Police confirmed that Jo Cox MP, for Batley and Spen, had died from dreadful injuries inflicted by both a shotgun and a knife.

A picture emerged the following day of both the murdered MP and her murderer. She was young, universally admired, courageous, intelligent and resourceful. She was a mother with two young children and a devoted husband. The murderer was revealed as a supporter of extreme right wing politics, who clearly hated Jo Cox’s humanitarian and inclusive attitude to people of all races.

There was shock, disgust and sorrow expressed all across the country, with generous words from all parties, including the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. In this constituency of Sittingbourne and Sheppey people of all political faiths expressed their deep sadness. It made many think about the confrontational nature of the referendum debate and there was a call for a weekend armistice on the 18th and 19th June.

On the Monday, Parliament was recalled to pay respectful tribute to Jo Cox. This was not a business day, but a chance for all MPs, by their very presence, to show respect and to represent the strong emotional feelings in their communities. For a time, there was a sense that we might have a more decent politics.

Last Friday, 8th July, our Local Party held its first constituency meeting since these tragic events. There were 25 members present and we held a minute’s silence as a tribute to Jo Cox.

At the meeting it was also revealed that the Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey had not been in parliament to join in the tributes to Jo Cox. It was further reported that he had given his reason for being absent as “I did not know her”.

We are extremely disappointed. It seems to us that Gordon Henderson saw no personal advantage to himself in being in Westminster and took a day off. It suggests to us in the Labour Party that he does not understand the nature of representation and that he should have been there on behalf of the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey, whatever he thought of her politics. We obviously feel this with some sensitivity because Jo was a Labour MP but we have to say there are times when MPs must represent all of their constituents.

It was also true that Gordon Henderson campaigned on the Saturday when there was meant to be a pause. He will say that he scaled down the level of activity, but he did take Chris Grayling to Lower Halstow and took a promotional photo there that was published in the local press on the Wednesday before the referendum vote.

We, in the Local Labour Party, have never chosen to attack Mr Henderson personally, though we are conscious of what we regard as a number of shortcomings. His statement that he “did not know “Jo Cox underlines his rather low presence at Westminster. His contributions to Parliamentary debate in the chamber of the House of Commons appear to be somewhat sparse. In six years as MP, there is not much evidence of much being delivered to the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Moreover, there seems to be no agenda for the local area, no real ambitions and no targets for change. It is only fair to say that, whilst he is inconspicuous in Westminster he cultivates a high profile in the constituency by attending local events as a sort of civic dignitary, sharing in the local group’s photo opportunity. But this isn’t actually doing very much. There seems to be very little political impact on the Tory Group on Swale Council and no input into serious local issues such as the failure of regeneration policy and the burdens of the local plan.

We are, as we say, very disappointed over the failure to do what was right over our slain MP and we call for a more proactive approach to the serious needs of the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey.

Labour Comedy Night 27th April

Sittingbourne and Sheppey are proud to present a Comedy Night, featuring Josie Long, at the Avenue Theatre, Sittingbourne at 7:30PM on April 27th

Lessons Learnt and Time to Look Forward

20162015 comes to an end but still a torrent of articles flows forth explaining why Labour failed so badly in the General Election. All set out as if producing something new to read; but essentially they boil down to three areas of vulnerability.

The first is that Labour never recovered economic credibility after the crash of 2008. It is hard to win in such circumstances. Of course, we can challenge the assumption that our part of a World crash might not have been the fault of the Brown Government. The sad fact is that those at the top of the party never took up that challenge.

Secondly, it is now common place to point to the fact that voters never quite took to Ed Miliband as a plausible Prime Minister. Those of us who spent much of the previous 5 years knocking on doors knew that this was a major problem, and so surely did the party’s strategists. There is a commendable habit in the Labour Party to elect a Leader and then to give him or her complete support. This is fine except the history of the Labour Party since the Second World War has seen us going into a number of elections with leaders who we knew were not going to be winners in their own right.

With the tremendous media bias against Labour, it is far too sanguine to go into elections with unelectable leaders. The reality is that only 3 Labour Leaders have won General Elections since World War 2. Attlee and Blair did it with landslides and Wilson at least had a good majority in 1966. So the Tory press doesn’t always win it.

The other problem for Labour in 2015 was the story around migration, the failure of our party to develop any kind of narrative, the loss of working class support to UKIP and the feeling that we have left many traditional Labour areas behind us. This is not just about migration but a failure too to understand that many ” natural” Labour supporters have socially conservative views on a number of traditional cultural issues. It is something that Attlee, Wilson and Blair did understand.

Outside these three consensual points, there are two other matters that are less discussed. Firstly, the support for Labour was profoundly undermined during the campaign by the media focus on a potential Labour/SNP coalition. This was despite Ed Miliband’s constant denial that any such thing would occur. It played all over the Tory press but it was the lead on BBC, ITV and Sky. Personally I found it very influential over the last few days, even with strong Labour supporters.

The other point I would make is around campaigning. Our strategists determined on a key seat strategy. It didn’t of course include us. Money was levered in to pay for paid agents and each of the key seat candidates was charged with the task of getting their teams to make targeted door to door contacts. All over the social network we saw, week by week, the claims that so many houses had been visited in this or that constituency. Our strategists were totally convinced that this would outplay the Tories use of mail shots in these marginal seats.

Well, it didn’t work and the money was partly wasted. If you are not credible on the economy, on leadership and on migration, you aren’t going to reverse these problems with a single knock on the door. Knocking on doors in such seats is only productive if it establishes real links between Labour and voters on issues locally of concern. It is impossible to sustain such links if you are under pressure simply to beef up the number of contacts made. Lastly, dare I say, if a voter’s sole contact with Labour is one canvasser, for a brief encounter on the doorstep, it matters that the canvasser presents well. That may need training.

Any way, it’s over now. We must move on. The Government is not good and needs a coherent and convincing opposition. People who know the history of the party know that it is a broad church, in which different parts must work together. The homeless, the poor, the young, our public services, our elderly and disabled, our environment and our economy need Labour to hold the Tories to account. No-one else will.

Councillor Roger Truelove