Gary Elsby – Holiday Reflections

Taking a much deserved holiday in the Eastern Mediterranean gave me too much time to reflect on the daily goings on in my upside down Country back home.

The newspapers came through thick and fast thanks to new digital technology and what a revelation it brought.

As the West continued its bombing campaign on behalf of “Ëœdemocracy’ and the economic world of my host holiday home continued on its downward spiral of bankruptcy the one headline that grabbed my attention was: “Louis groped me!’ and then followed the next day by “ËœCowell backs Louis 100%”

Well that’s that settled then I thought, with calls probably costing 35p per minute and 10p going to charity. Is this the best the British newspapers can do? I further thought.

Then came the usual new Labour Leader speech rolled out every few years by the invisible opposition Leader wanting a headline. “We must reform and change if we want to win” pumped out the red tops on behalf of Ed Miliband (advisor of the last Leader who bankrupted us. Ho hum).

On the back of an Arab spring they die in their thousands in a people’s revolt all over Africa and the Middle-East for democracy and Ed Miliband goes the other way and wishes to remove democracy by stopping elections to his shadow Cabinet.

Oh, how I laughed out loud.

Ed uses the usual change and reform speech to get rid of party democracy to make Labour much better. If you say so Ed, but the rest of us will just laugh and laugh. Maybe Ed is secretly angry by the clumsy outburst by Ed Balls who wanted a £50bn VAT cut without telling anyone in Labour?

Not to be outdone, surely the best headline of my holiday came from the usual sensible and well respected Jack Straw MP.

Jack normally keeps his senses intact by not bringing his personal animosity to the arena and usually tells a good story, but this one was a corker of immense WMD sexed up stupidity.

“ËœThe Euro is doomed and will go soon’, came the hysterical story and given more credit than it deserved by the EU rabid press.

This is the headline that gave me the most curiosity considering it came from a man who is considered to be a well considered and thoughtful man.

If we were to shove our fingers into a light socket and get a shock, should we all blame the electric company, I thought?

In a “Ëœhit and run’ crime involving a child and car arises, should we blame the car producing company or the driver? I pondered.

So why did Jack Straw blame the Euro currency and not or Portugal or anyone else whose economy goes into freefall?

I came to the conclusion that Jack must be one of those hysterical antis that pop up now and again yelping out nonsense that they know to be nonsense.

This type of person rabbits on about how useless they all are (EU) and how great we are and that we should just pull out and have done.

Let us remember and go beyond the headlines that sell newspapers galore. The pound (Sterling) is as close to bankruptcy as any useless EU Country you can think of and austere measures are plentiful to see. The US economy is just as bad and both Countries give proof that it is the economy and not the currency that is at fault. After all, both the US and GB are non Euro zone Countries and have economic sanctuary within these long established currencies and are self protected from the Euro. Not true though is it and our currency offered us no protection save an alternative way out.

The Tories have loved Europe just as much as any Labour Leader you can think of and signed up to everything put before them, but not to that awful Euro currency being used by Germany, the Country doing very well indeed and bailing everyone out in the process. Again proof if any more is needed.

I need another holiday fast.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s New Leader ““ Is He Red, Radical Or Revolutionary?

The weekend saw a tense almost X-Factor type results show, Election for the new Labour Party saviour.

As the results were read and candidates were eliminated, their votes re-distributed among those still standing until the new leader was announced.

That Leader proved to be Ed Miliband, described by some as an also ran, hailed by others of being Labour’s best new broom willing to sweep all before him clean.

His winning margin just 1.3%, the union members vote giving him the edge over his brother David.

I was an interested observer of the whole contest. That contest was fought with great humility and dignity. There were no personal attacks, but what there was evidence of was a broad church of opinion on the future of the Labour movement.

Among other policies, his appeal shot through the roof when he announced that he thought that the Iraq war was a mistake. Greater bank levies and taxation, a national “ËœLiving Wage’ and a pledge to win back the “Ëœmiddle ground, rubber stamped him as a serious contender.

The vote of the union members, individual mind not block votes, proved to be the difference between him and his brother David the pre-contest favourite.

The media seem to want to turn Ed Miliband’s victory into a major move to the left wing. I can’t take that seriously to be honest.

Red Ed they call him, but do we really seriously accept that Ed Miliband is of the left? He says he is from the middle ground and I can totally see that.

“It’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right”

New Labour moved to the right of the centre ground of the political spectrum. Will it really be an issue if Ed Miliband moves the party back to the centre left? He is hardly a Michael Foot is he?

He is on record as saying that he wants to attract the 5million voters to Labour as a result ofTony Blair’s New Labour experiment.

New Labour was different, some saw it as a new start for the party. Others saw it as an abandonment of the working class voters. The problem was that everyone saw New Labour as well…new, something radical and different to the past. That radical difference however, would eventually be seen as ‘the establishment’.

I think it would be harsh to say that this had an impact on the rise of the politics of the far right. But in my opinion there is no doubt that the British National Party seized the opportunity of marketing themselves as the party of the working classes and the darling of the benefit claimers.

If Labour are to stand a chance of winning the next election in 5 years time they need to show that under Ed Miliband they will be different. He will need to show responsibility in opposing the upcoming cuts and where he does oppose he must table a credible alternative.

The normal Joe’s and Josie’s in our country want to see an effective opposition that does exactly what it says on the tin and opposes those cuts that impact severely on the most vulnerable and needy in our society.

Tomorrow’s leader’s speech at the Labour Party Conference will give us more of a clue. It will be difficult for Ed Miliband, despite some of the hostile media questioning, to set out his vision for opposition until we hear the ConDem’s Comprehensive Spending Review on October 20th.
So what does Ed Miliband’s victory mean for the City of Stoke-on-Trent?

Well he knows how to use the Sat Nav to get to the City. He has visited Stoke-on-Trent twice in the past 6 months.

No other leadership contender or former minister has visited our city that I can think of in recent times.
The Labour Party parted company with some members in the run up to both the local and general elections. They set their stall out to encourage a new more dynamic breed of candidate and this clearly paid off.

Sources from within the City Labour Party have confirmed that there will be more of the same for next year’s all out council elections. New members and members who have never considered standing before are putting themselves forward.

From what my sources tell me, the local Labour Party are excited by Ed Miliband’s victory. His message that he has been listening to the opinions of members of the public and their reasons for not voting, or turning their backs on Labour, is something that party members locally can go out and campaign on.

The local Labour Party right up to the Party Leader Ed himself need to send out a very clear, progressive vision on life under the Labour Party for electorate of Stoke-on-Trent as the country as a whole.

Stoke-on-Trent’s three local Members of Parliament all favoured different Labour Leadership Contenders.

Tristram Hunt voted for David Miliband, Rob Flello voted Andy Burnham and Joan Walley voted for the winner Ed Miliband.

This morning I managed to reaction to Ed Milibands victory from first Joan Walley MP for Stoke-on-Trent North who voted for him and was responsible for bringing him before party members in the City for a question and answer session.

I also managed to catch up with Rob Flello MP for Stoke-on-Trent South who had voted for Andy Burnham but is happy to unite behind the new leader. He also confirms his intentions to stand for election to the Shadow Cabinet.
We will be speaking to Tristram Hunt MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central later…

Labour Leadership Debate – I Agree With Tom!

We are but a few weeks away from knowing who gets to lead the opposition against the wave of ConDem Coalition cuts that are heading our way.

I get a vote on the Labour Leadership election courtesy of my union membership and I must admit I have watched/listened/read everything put out by each of the 5 candidates.

I was trawling through some blog sites earlier and I came across Cllr Tom Reynolds site on it he revealed who he was supporting and why.

I have been edging toward Ed Miliband myself but I’m still considering who will get my second preference vote. I’m pretty sure it won’t be Ed Balls though.

As Tom’s thoughts kind of mirrored my own I thought it would be good to put it out there and ask Labour supporters, union members and other parties supporters who they thought should lead the Labour Party through the next phase of their history.

Here is Tom’s Blog:


This blog is a bit of a journey; in starting it I was completely undecided on who I would cast my vote for in the Labour Leadership Contest. I’ve trawled the websites of the runners and riders, watched the interviews and read their literature and, after much head-scratching I’ve reached a conclusion.

From my perspective the whole leadership contest has to some a large extent been defined by the absence of two names which I was desperate to see on the ballot paper. Alan Johnson ““ the union man with high-level cabinet experience who hardly faltered at the top (and on the occasions I have heard him speak he has been excellent); and Jon Cruddas ““ the media tagged “Ëœsenior backbencher’ with a fantastic policy pedigree and the perfect type of politics (everything I have read by JC in Compass has been spot on).

Alas, the ballot paper has five different names on it, all bringing their own unique flavour to the mix. One thing I can say is that the campaign has showcased our “Ëœbroad church’, and the genuine contest will mean a stronger party than that which followed Gordon’s coronation. So, turning to each of the candidates:

When you meet Andy Burnham he comes across as a genuine down to earth bloke with a passion for putting things right in society. I like some of the inclusive social policy he has come forward with, however he’s not come forward with much ““ only one post on his leadership blog. I like what he has said on trusting the party and being more inclusive in the policy making process, and he offers a much broader commitment to this than the other candidate’s elected party chair gesture.

A couple of concerns though. Firstly his media performance: like it or not a party leader must be able to stand up to a grilling. When I saw Andy on This Week (a fairly informal set up) he was mauled by Andrew Neil. How would he come across facing Paxo on Newsnight or Cameron over the dispatch box? Secondly, his campaign has been described as grassroots. If we’re honest it’s been barely visible because of lack of finance and manpower. If a leadership contender can’t inspire the support and donations to fight this battle, how will they engage the public in order to grow the Labour movement and build the electoral coalition we need to succeed in the next election?

Mrs Reynolds decided early on in the leadership campaign that she would be backing Ed Miliband. I wanted to be convinced, and must admit I have been taken with his approach to the economy (e.g. High Pay Commission, interventionist in industry) and his take on what people want from politicians ““ ideology and passion rather than just guff. That said I wonder if a milibandwagon has passed Ed’s campaign HQ? Denouncing the invasion of Iraq for instance (wasn’t EM a policy advisor to Tony Blair back then). Also I’m not keen on his pledge on gender balance for the shadow cabinet, although I admire the principle. The party should appoint people to posts based on skill and potential, rather than on arbitrary quotas. There are enough females of a high calibre in the Labour Movement that the new leader doesn’t need to be reminded they are there by having his/her own targets!

I’ve been very impressed by David Miliband’s campaigning machine. I’ve personally had three calls from his team, a leaflet and he is all over Twitter. Some of this is because of his huge financial backing, but then again two of the calls were from ordinary members of his own CLP that are giving backing to the campaign. Also, if people are donating to the campaign there must be a reason, inspirational leadership perhaps (see B Obama)? Having seen David speak on a couple of occasions though, he’s not blown me away. His policy priorities don’t get me excited either. There’s nothing I’d argue with: fair wages, building the new economy, a greener Britain, its just it all seems a bit cliché and there doesn’t seem to be much substance. All in all I think David would be a very capable leader but not necessarily an incredible one. He would manage the media, and take the battle to the ConDems, but would he inspire the reinvigoration of the Labour Movement and the nation?

I must admit I started out with a prejudice against Ed Balls. I know a lot of educationalists that haven’t a good word to say about his approach while Secretary of State. Also a lot has been said about the “Ëœbullying culture’ that allegedly characterised the latter days of Government, with Mr Balls being Gordon’s chief lieutenant. This is a culture which a revitalised Labour Party should be avoided like the plague.

Over the course of the leadership campaign, however, my perception of Ed Balls has changed entirely. He has been by far and away the best candidate at defending Labour’s record under attack from the new government. Further he’s not denied his key role in the New Labour project. His campaign has been articulated in unpretentious language which I like and he has in my opinion been strongest in the media, particularly in broadcasted interviews. He has got stuck in to his campaigns (watch out for Keep the Post Public), but aside from that his campaigns are similar to David Miliband’s ““ a little dry and “Ëœbitty’. Ed is a high calibre candidate but I’m not sure he provides the break with the past that we need.

Last but not least the final contender Diane Abbott. Its been refreshing to see Diane in the contest, not because she isn’t a white thirty-something man, but because she isn’t in the same mould of carbon copy politico’s that use a certain type of language and present their arguments in a certain type of way. She’s also put across some arguments that haven’t had the airing they deserve for some time. However I get the feeling she’s playing being controversial and trying to make that her USP. I really like her stance on immigration policy, trident and economy, but then again I find some of her policy banded under “ËœCivil Liberties’ unacceptable. I like the prospect of have a highly principled leader, but what happens when her principles are at odd with the will of the wider party? Will she bolt as she has done as an MP? Also I’d question whether someone is a principled politician when they argue against private education and then send their offspring to public school. Aside from that I can’t get past the fact she’s unelectable.

So cutting to the chase, after balancing everything up Ed Miliband will be getting my first preference and (surprising to me) Ed Balls the second.

Frankly, whoever wins the leadership has a massive task. Tony Blair aspired that while the Tory’s were the party of government in the twentieth century, Labour would be in the twenty-first. For that to happen we have to become a movement again rather than just a Westminster party. None of the policy initiatives or rhetoric coming forward from the candidates at the moment will make that transformation. It is an exciting, if worrying, time to be a member. From the new leader a party expects.

The Five Labour Leadership Candidates On Public Services

This autumn’s fight for the top job in the Labour Party will be the first true leadership election since Tony Blair defeated John Prescott and Margaret Beckett in 1994.

Public Servant asked the five candidates to set out a clear vision for the party and for public services

Andy Burnham

Over the past two months, the mission of this coalition government has become clear: to unpick the fabric of our society, to hollow out public services and to pursue a survival of the fittest ““ or the richest ““ approach. I joined the Labour Party against a backdrop of swingeing Thatcherite cuts. Now I am seeking to lead the party against a depressingly similar backdrop.

The Tories’ election slogan was “we’re in this together”, but we’re not. Older people, those with disabilities, families struggling to make ends meet, will all feel the cuts harder than the Cabinet of millionaires that is making them. But it’s not just the recipients of services who will bear the brunt. Thousands of public service jobs are at risk too.

We need to tackle the deficit, but the emphasis on cuts is wrong. I would adopt a more balanced approach, looking at tax as well as cuts. I want to see a more meaningful financial transaction tax which exerts a level of social justice where the institutions who got Britain into this mess make more of a contribution to get us out.

We also need to look at personal taxation. As Labour leader, I will support the continuation of the 50p rate and recommit to the increase in National Insurance contributions. I will look again at taxation in order to minimise cuts. Higher taxation may make life a bit harder for those having to pay it, but service cuts can devastate lives.

That is the collectivist approach I will bring as leader of the Labour Party. At times in government, we appeared to be dazzled by big business, power and glamour, no longer on the side of the ordinary people. I want to redress that balance and to bring forward policies that will improve health, wealth and life-chances across the country.

I want to help those kids without connections get the training and education they want and need. That’s why I oppose the scrapping of the Future Jobs Fund. I want to help support those families who do the right thing, but still live on a financial knife-edge. That’s why I will ensure that they are not penalised by utility companies because they don’t have access to direct debits. And I want to start celebrating our ageing society. That’s why I will bring forward a National Care Service, to give older people and their families peace of mind that they will not lose everything they’ve worked for just to pay for their care.

That is why I am standing for the Labour leadership, and that is why I’m in the race to win.

Ed Miliband

When Labour came to power in 1997, the public sector in Britain was on its knees. Chronic underinvestment had left a legacy of diminished services, decaying infrastructure and a demoralised body of public servants. Labour can be rightly proud of what it achieved in power.

But we failed to address people’s daily frustrations ““ citizens who felt that the state was not responsive enough to their needs, public servants discouraged by layers of central bureaucracy.

I have, and I believe Labour must always have, the highest expectations for public services, where local people are able to shape the area where they live and the services they receive.

At a time when the public finances are stretched, it is all too easy declare that real improvement to local public services is impossible. To do so is mistaken.

Rather than cut funding and leave small pockets of citizens to fend for themselves as the coalition government intends to do, we have a plan for the future which is about empowering public servants. By shifting the balance more towards local communities and less towards Whitehall, by encouraging greater cooperation between services. It is a radical approach that relies on our ability to change the way we use resources.

The Labour government set up the Total Place approach that was pioneered across the country. It seeks, not simply to improve the standard of individual public services, but to bring together the many facets of local public bodies to deliver the best possible services.

It asks the hard questions of what people need and how best to provide it. It strips away layers of central control and hands power to the people who are going to use those services in their communities.

Under our proposals, from April 2011, local authorities and services like the NHS and police could come together, gaining for themselves enhanced freedom in their spending, and a lighter touch from central government, in return for offering better and more efficient services.

The coalition government would rather not see the different arms of our public services work together. Instead they have said they will ringfence health and schools spending, leaving local authorities and police forces to fight for ever diminishing resources.

Theirs is a disjointed approach, which is happy to see schools break away from the local education authority, setting up parochial health boards and local sheriffs. In short, cementing a permanent dislocation in local public services at the cost of massive inefficiencies.

The Tories are happy to promote better services for the few at the cost of substandard services for the many. There is nothing radical or new about it. It is an insidious attempt to disguise something we all recognise ““ a return to the cuts and retrenchment of the 1980s.

But a truly progressive party believes in establishing a standard that all can live by and seeks to achieve it for all. Only when that deeply held belief is matched by what you attain, do you achieve genuine progress.

David Miliband

Over the past couple of months, Labour’s leaders have rightly been opposing the government. The coalition’s avoidable and ideological Budget has put our fragile recovery at risk. Despite their pre-election promises, Cameron and Clegg hit the poorest the hardest, and yes, they did cut frontline public services.

However, in time Labour will have to propose. We will need to show that we have the vision and ideas to chart an alternative course. An alternative course in the economy, an alternative course in society and an alternative course in public services. In hard financial times we will need to find innovative ways to deliver better for less. And we must make sure we don’t leave those at the bottom behind.

In public services Labour made real progress. Thirteen years of investment and reform has left our nation healthier, safer and more qualified. Public servants are better paid and better trained. At our best we are world class.

But ours is a job half done. Too many students still leave school without decent qualifications, crime blights too many communities and health inequalities remain stark.

In the debates ahead my principles are clear. People must have the power to shape the services they rely on. Practitioners must have the autonomy to deliver. Strong accountability must be the ally not the enemy of professionalism. And while the state should provide the platform for this empowerment, it is people who will turn their power into action and into change.

In the past, public services have too often been state services; done to people; offering but not always demanding. At their best, relationships, between teachers and parents, doctors and patients, police and residents, are based on reciprocity and give and take. We solve our problems together when powerful citizens enter into pacts of mutual obligation with professionals.

The truth is we won’t close the achievement gap, or tackle antisocial behaviour, or improve life chances if people are passive recipients and public servants are above, not alongside, people. Parents can determine how well their children read, so we need them on board. Communities standing together can help the police stamp out crime, so there must be engagement. People need to change their lifestyles to defeat obesity, so we can’t ignore individual responsibility.

Fine words, but what do they mean in practice? I set out last month my vision for the next stage of education reform. I said I wanted to recruit three-quarters of teachers from the top 25 per cent of graduates, with self-critical peer-to-peer networks central to accountability. I said I wanted to give pupils the power to choose their own pathways at 14 so they could move at their own pace. I said I wanted to make the opportunity of university a promise to more and more young people. My vision: excellent teachers with the tools to innovate, students with the freedom to create, graduates with the social capital to be powerful.

Over the months and years ahead I will be making the case for people power in all our public services. I believe that this is the way we meet and master our shared challenges.

Ed Balls

We are witnessing the biggest assault on our public sector since the 1980s. Ideological free market reforms to our schools and NHS are being pursued regardless of the cost. Vital public services are being slashed as public sector jobs, pay and pensions are attacked.

The new Tory-Lib Dem government is promoting a myth that the public sector is to blame for our economic difficulties. But this is a myth we must not allow to go unchallenged. The global financial crisis was caused by reckless bankers, not by teachers, nurses or local government workers on modest incomes. It is immoral for them to pay the price. Most public sector workers have modest incomes and pensions ““ though significantly improved compared to 1997 ““ and while there are some over-generous salaries at the top, as in the private sector, let’s not allow these examples to feed a battle against millions of public sector workers.

As a Labour leadership candidate, I will not be distracted from my first duty which is to defend public services from this savage assault. That’s why I have led from the front on campaigns to stop cuts to free school meals, against axeing new school buildings and in opposition to privatisation of the Royal Mail.

But we must also be clear that, despite all the investment in better public services of which I am very proud, the Labour government sometimes got things wrong. When our core aim should have been guaranteeing better public services for all those who rely on them, in the second term the government sometimes sounded as if this could only be done by attacking public sector workers.

We cannot duck difficult decisions and reforms, but there is a better way of doing politics which takes people with you. In education, the social partnership model between government, unions and employers delivered investment and reforms and a better deal not just for teachers and support staff, but for parents and children too. I want this approach, based on fairness not favours, to apply across government.

I fought hard to make sure Labour honoured the three-year pay deal for teachers and prote?cted spending on vital frontline services like schools, the NHS and police. But even with that settlement, I knew that our public services needed to make every pound go further. That’s why I worked with unions and employers on being more efficient ““ with schools working more closely together for example ““ not just to save money but to raise standards too.

I set up the first negotiating body for school support staff and was the first and only Cabinet minister to implement the living wage for all staff and contracted staff in my department.
So in this Labour leadership election I hope people will judge me not just on what I say and do now, but on my record as a champion of public services too.

As this contest proceeds my first priority will be to continue being that champion who will stand up for public services from this most savage assault.

Diane Abbott

How life will look under the coalition government is something that only time can tell us. But with the threat of cuts looming over Britain the outlook is decidedly gloomy.

We might be in opposition but there is still a very important debate to be had about the economy as part of the leadership contest. The Con”“Lib Dem coalition all assume that we have to have big cuts in public expenditure to fill the hole in the public balance sheet. But, as an MP from the inner city, I know that these cuts will hit my people twice. Firstly they will have a worse service, but secondly they will lose their jobs.

I live in an area where the majority of people work in the public sector. Or they are in private sector jobs such as restaurants, cafes, hairdressers etc that depend for their clientele on people who work in the public sector. Many of these people are women. There are no alternative jobs for them. Often they are the only wage owners in their family.

Big cuts in the public sector could devastate some inner city areas like Hackney, just as closing the mines devastated many pit communities in the North. When David Cameron tells us our way of life must change, he doesn’t mean his way of life, he means ours.
I want to be leader of the Labour Party because I understand this. I want to be the voice in the debate about the future of the Labour Party that reminds people that one man’s public expenditure cut is another woman’s job loss.

I would look at ways to avoid drastic cuts altogether. Instead of assuming that all this money should be found from public expenditure cuts we need to discuss raising levels of taxation on bankers and the higher paid. Why should ordinary people, who did not pocket the bonuses, pay for the credit crunch? We are being forced to pay to clean up the mess the bankers left after them. I find that hard to accept, as do my constituents.

In addition, we need to discuss the possibility of dropping the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, which would save billions. Even military men believe a new Trident weapons system would be a waste of money. This money could be used to save our public services and stop hardworking people losing their jobs.
I have always stood up for my beliefs and those of my constituents. This is something I will continue to do as leader of the party.

Political Comment: The Labour Leadership Runners And Riders

With Gordon Brown taking a well earned rest from the stresses of the highest public office in the country, the Labour Party have begun their search for a new progressive leader.

The candidates have started to emerge. The first to declare was David Miliband.

David Miliband 44, called for a comradely contest. He said:

“I will stand as a candidate. I do so with humility in face of the responsibility this post brings and passion for the causes and values that led me to join our party.”

He has already received the backing of former Home Secretary Alan Johnson and former Europe Minister Caroline Flint.

David Miliband’s younger brother Ed is also set to throw his hat into the ring shortly.

Ed Miliband is the former Energy and Climate Change Minister and a past advisor and close ally of Gordon Brown.

Former Schools Minister and darling of the unions Ed Balls is set to wait until probably next week before he announces his candidature.

Balls is a serious front runner in this contest but has a reputation for being divisive. He was blamed for the recent breakdown in the negotiations between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

A name that is also being linked with the leadership contest is that of former Health Secretary Andy Burnham.

He was the only member of the former cabinet that was openly critical of the talks between the Lib Dems and his own party. He is set to wait until later into the campaign before confirming his intentions to stand for the leadership.

The left wing of the party will be represented by John Cruddas in the contest.

He is a powerful and influential backbencher and is said to have the respect of those who sit on the left of the party.

It is thought that he is the man to return the party to it’s true socialist principles.

Who ever the eventual winner turns out to be they will have a massive job to unite the party national in the wake of the imposition of parliamentary candidates across the country in the run up to the General Election.

Many commentators said that the imposition of candidates was all about any subsequent post election leadership battle.

The Labour Party need to rebuild nationally. They have to attract new members and ex members back to the fold. Sources tell me that the Labour Party membership is down by 2/3rds across the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

This City was an example of some of the worse behaviour in the selection of candidates for both the local and parliamentary elections. As a result some people left the party to stand against official Labour candidates in a bid to make their point that the Labour Party had changed and in their opinion, not for the better.

The Labour Party was victorious though, in both the parliamentary and local elections. So it could be argued that the party hierarchy knew better and were completely vindicated. They won and those that lost, lost their deposits.

But the sort of selection practices displayed in the recent elections are not sustainable and have to change. If they do not there may well be a shortage of candidates in the future.

Now there will be no general election for the next 5 years the mainstream parties will face stiffer opposition from fringe parties and Independents and will not be able to cash in on those who turn out to vote for a particular party at a General Election.

The official announcement of the Con/Dem coalition has resulted in a record number of applications to join the Labour Party.

At times during Tuesday evening when the shenanigans of the new coalition were playing out to the whole nation live on the TV news channels, the Labour Party server crashed under the weight of the amount of people wishing to join.

I saw many screenshots published on the social network Twitter that bares witness to this.

Many Liberal Democrat supporters were voicing their dissent at their party’s actions which was driving them towards the Labour Party.

The Labour Party have an enormous opportunity in this country. They can build on their popularity by scrutinising the every move of the unlikely coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

It could be Labour’s re-birth. If they select the right leader, more importantly, if they select the right leader in the right way.

An open, clean and transparent leadership election is essential.

Mind you the Labour Party could always cash in on the ‘new dawn of politics’ and elect two leaders and follow the example of Dave and Nick.

What about a Balls and a Miliband? After all don’t they always say two ‘Ed’s’ are better than one? Boom boom – thank you, I’m ‘ere all week!

The ongoing BSF fiasco ““ future pupil numbers

I’ve been too quiet for a little while now on BSF pupil numbers. I have been arguing this point with SERCO and the multitude of Children and Young People’s portfolio holders over the last two years, although I have not said much in the last 6 months because nobody with any influence in the council wants to see sense. But it is a good time to say something again now ahead of the visit by Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker in January.

The SERCO plans have suffered throughout from serious flaws, some of which have been eventually addressed, but there remains poor planned provision, with respect to both pupil numbers and geographical location, especially in the centre of the city and to some degree in the South of the city.

To recap the background, which many of you will be aware of, the council plans reorganisation giving a total of 14 high schools; James Brindley, St. Margaret Ward, Haywood, Brownhills, Holden Lane, Birches Head, St. Peter’s, 20:20, Thistley Hough, St. Thomas More, St. Joseph’s, Blurton, Trentham, Sandon. The current Longton High School has already ceased new intake, to be taken over by Sandon. The plan is for Berry Hill to close and merge with St. Peter’s onto the current site of the 6th form college and for Mitchell and Edensor to close to be replaced by 20:20. The mergers are geographically stupid. It makes far better sense to merge Mitchell and Berry Hill to a new school on the Mitchell site as is the wish of the local communities and as is being campaigned for by the Community_Schools_Action_Group. This would avoid a gaping hole in provision in the centre of the city. Planning permission to build 20:20 on Adderley Green has been seen off by the “ËœSpringfield’_Action_Group, the Community Schools Action Group, their representations and the council’s Development Management committee.

What I embark on now is an analysis of the provision of pupil places across the city. This is made difficult by the lack of openness of SERCO and the council and the continual movement and disappearances of information that does exist on the council’s web site. A particular outrage is the reluctance of SERCO to publish the BSF strategy for change part 2. They published part 1 but I wanted to see their up to date reasoning in part 2. Well if they are going to publish it, I don’t know when. I get the impression they are just proceeding with the outline business case that is supposed to come after part 2. However, I have put together a spreadsheet of pupil numbers which is as accurate as I can manage, given what I have available to me. You will need to refer to the link ““ Spreadsheet_of_Pupil_Numbers ““ to follow my analysis.

Sheet 1 shows the raw data and where I have sourced this from. Much of it is taken from the strategy for change part 1, but where there is more recent information available, I have used that. The information on planned pupil numbers for Trentham High has been changed since the strategy for change part 1, but then disappeared from the web site, but I do have the hard copy which was posted out stating that the capacity is 750, which I know anyway as I am a governor at Trentham High. The numbers highlighted in yellow in sheet 1 are SERCO’s own figures and show the high school population for the city decreasing from 13,113 in 2008 to 11,790 by 2014, then rising again to 14,642 by 2020. Also stated is the SERCO plan to provide 13,050 high school places, another stupidity that should be glaringly obvious to everyone. Do you not think that building schools for the FUTURE should be properly providing for 10 years from now? I do. You will notice also that the 13,050 high school places the council says it plans to provide is not in agreement with the total of 13,820 places I have referenced. In both cases I am using the council’s own figures, I can not help it that these do not agree. Perhaps there is a more consistent story in the strategy for change part 2, but how can I know as I am denied that information. I use the 13,820 for further calculations as at least it is closer to the 14,642 needed, despite not going far enough. If the 13,050 is indeed the plan, the situation will be worse than suggested by my analysis.

In sheet 2 I try to analyse provision in different areas of the city. To do this I make certain assumptions which may not be completely accurate but should at least provide a good estimate. I know the pupil numbers in the separate schools for the year 2008 and I know the total number of 11-16 year olds which is the age range I am analysing. But for the 3 schools with sixth forms I do not know individually how many 11-16 year olds there are, so the first assumption I make is to assign these in proportion to total pupil numbers. The second assumption I make is that pupil numbers will dip then increase in the same proportion, based on the year 2008 figures, everywhere across the city. I certainly know of one case for which this is inaccurate, Trentham, for which the 2008 figure is artificially low. We have 136 FIRST CHOICE applicants for 140 places in 2010 and look set to fill all places even when the annual intake rises to 150 from 2011. There may be other examples of figures which are rather too low or too high that I do not have knowledge of. So the best I can do in the absence of a complete set of individual projections is apply an equivalent algorithm to all schools.

I calculate the spare places in the planned schools for the year 2008 and for the year 2014 when high school pupil numbers reach their lowest point and for the year 2020. In these calculations I have followed the council’s planned mergers. Negative numbers result where the school can not accommodate the calculated number of pupils destined for it.

Then I imagine what I would have to do if I were in charge of applications to the schools and have to send pupils to alternative schools. These are listed in the sheet, obviously trying to select “Ëœnearby’ alternative schools, with the aim of solving the problem of any negative numbers. The adjusted figures are shown in the coloured columns. Working with the 2008 figures I fail to accommodate enough pupils in the 20:20 school and end up with 138 pupils, likely living in the Bentilee or Berryhill area, without a school place (orange column). There is some capacity elsewhere but how reasonable would it really be to send these pupils to Brownhills? It’s just as well other schools were still open in 2008. Looking ahead to 2014, I have initial problems with accommodating pupils at 20:20 and Sandon, but manage with alternative provision at Birches Head and schools in the South of the city (blue column), not that families involved would necessarily be happy with this. But looking at numbers rather than families, from the 2014 figures all is apparently well with the world. This lowest high school population year is presumably the blinkered SERCO focus, their idea of future not extending beyond 4 years. But looking ahead to the year 2020 reveals impending disaster. This is bound to be the case with the ridiculous policy of providing fewer pupil places than pupil numbers in the city, but is made much worse by the distribution of the pupil places that are provided. It can be seen from sheet 2 (pink column) that the new 20:20 and St. Peter’s fail to cater for the needs of the centre of the city with over 800 pupils without high school places and there is also some shortage of places, over 200, in the South of the city. These amount to the size of another school. The only available pupil places are in the far North of the city, well beyond any reasonable expectation of pupil travel.

My analysis uses the council’s own real data. Because these are high school data they do not depend on estimated birth rates, they depend on real live children who now exist and will need high school places in the future. If there is any reason why there could be any large exodus of young people from the centre and South of the city to ease the situation I would like to hear of it but I know of none. Certainly I do not believe, for our sake or anyone else’s, we should be seeking to dump our young people out of the city to Staffordshire for their education. I am aware I have used some assumptions in my calculations but these are fairly reasonable and I would be very happy to receive further facts and figures that could help refine them. But I would not be willing to settle for any unsubstantiated SERCO statement that their planned provision is adequate. If they think that, they should prove it by publishing their own detailed analysis and they should prove it for the future, for 2020, not just for 2014 to make their lives easier. Consider the lives of the young people of the city!

The best solution to the problem of under provision I have highlighted is to build the 14th school on the Mitchell site, to address the largest shortfall both in pupil numbers and geographical provision and cater for the needs of Bentilee, Berryhill, Townsend and the general Bucknall area. But further, I would suggest building a 15th school on a suitable site, possibly the Longton High School site, to better cater for pupil numbers in the Weston Coyney, Meir and Sandford Hill areas. This is no startling new suggestion that I am making. The 15 high school solution was the view of Mark Fisher, Rob Flello and Joan Walley 2 years ago when they worked with schools to suggest an alternative to the SERCO plans. Rob Flello MP has since then reiterated the argument for 15 schools

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/2009/04/rob-flello-wants-15-high-schools

and recently when the planning application to put 20:20 on Adderley Green was thrown out, Mark Fisher MP further reinforced the argument for 15 schools ““ see his video interview on:

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2009/12/planning-application-parkhall-academy-refused

The council’s own Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee consistently presents sensible arguments for the right mergers of schools, the right number of schools and the right location of schools ““ see for example chair Cllr Mike Coleman’s video interview on:

http://www.pitsnpots.co.uk/news/2009/12/contamination-could-ko-springfield-academy-plans

but many of the scrutiny recommendations are ignored by the leader and his cabinet. If we really can not have 15 schools, the 14th should be sited at Mitchell and the rebuild/refurbishment plans for schools in the South of the city should be increased to accommodate the pupil numbers.

Apparent in the issues I have discussed is a distinct lack of openness and transparency and engagement with people, the things that government are always harping on about but just are not happening locally. Instead the council leader and cabinet are in my view treating interested citizens of the city with contempt. Why do they pay no attention to the needs and wishes of communities such as those served by Mitchell and Berry Hill High Schools? Why do they seemingly have no regard for the representations of the ward councillors for these areas. Why do they ignore their own scrutiny committee? What has happened to openness, transparency and democracy? Why is the BSF strategy for change part 2 not published and accessible to ordinary citizens? To me, something is very wrong.

Jim Knight when he was schools minister, under persuasion from Rob Flello, helped fix the Trentham High problem by strong advice to deputy mayor Mohammed Pervez. Let us hope that Vernon Coaker and Ed Balls, with Mark Fisher and Rob Flello, are just as successful with advice to Ross Irving. Let’s finally please get sufficient pupil places provided in schools in the right locations, to provide better future education for the young people of the city along the lines suggested by the local communities who will be directly affected.

…Oh – and a Happy New Year to Everyone.

Should parents have right to keep kids out of Sex Ed?

By Matt Taylor

It’s all over the papers today: Balls releases his all-new strategy on sex-education, and the Tory rags have already set tongues wagging in ‘respectable’ middle-class households everywhere disgusted at the prospect that their innoccent teeny somethings could be defiled by such corrupt obscenity.

And of course the whole thing has been sensationally exaggerated, by using the fact that, under new plans, primary school-aged pupils will learn basics about parts of the body, to rationalise headlines like ‘sex and drugs lessons at age 5′.

The crux of the matter is, teenagers will now receive a year’s teaching on sex, contraception and relationships, and short of breaking the law by not sending their kids to school at all, parents won’t be able to do a bloody thing about it because, for the first time, it will become compulsory to take the course before reaching the legal age of consent, by which time most of the teenagers of Stoke, let’s face it, would be able to hold the lecture themselves.

As well as this, under the new Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) syllabus to be taught in both primary and secondary schools kids of seven will learn the joys of puberty and the “birds and the bees”, whilst five-year-olds will find out about the “parts of the body” ready to be met with much giggling from pupils, amid embarrassment on behalf of primary teachers forced to take on the new responsibility.

Included in the high school agenda will be lessons on single-sex relationships and civil partnerships, and faith schools which instill religions in which sex before marriage is prohibited will have to teach contraception methods to teenagers being told that they are forbidden from actually using them.

From a local perspective, you’d have to welcome the news, considering levels of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. In fact, looking at some of the sights I see in the streets of Hanley, to go as far as adding some kind of ‘good parenting’ course along with the free contraceptive rations wouldn’t go amiss.

And from a personal perspective, the more education on this, the better, so long as they don’t start going into details about foreplay to five-year-olds and preserve just a little but of our children’s innoccence. They could even throw in some ‘how to pull’ classes so that some of the new-found technical information is actually put to good use, rather than (if my memory bears any resemblance to any other teenage guys’) just making them even more sexually frustrated.

Those who are up in arms about the idea of putting filth into the minds of their youngters need to get off their high horses and realise that with TV, films, magazines and even computer games today, their kids have got sod all chance of evading the subject of carnal refreshment. So to prevent them from being taught about it would be idiocy. What’s needed is enough lectures to keep the horny little beggers clear of the dreaded STDs and away from becoming the world’s youngest mum and dad. We’ve got enough of a cross to bear in Stoke without holding that record too.