Monday, 21 December 2015

Putting Margaret in prison will only make her problems worse.

A little over two weeks ago Margaret Wooliscroft was jailed for twenty eight months for breaching an ASBO placed on her five times. The front page article in the Sentinel telling her story sprinkled with claims by neighbours that she had led a 'reign of terror' around Brindley Ford as part of an ongoing dispute over use of the lane by her farm. It also contained the none too flattering comment made by her barrister that she was a 'disagreeable old trout.'

It could have been any tale of a neighbourhood dispute gone too far, the sort of thing that is the stock in trade of any provincial newspaper. I happened though to meet someone a few days after reading the story who has known Margaret for most of her life, the version of events she told me changed my perspective.

Margaret Wooliscroft has suffered from serious mental health problems for many years and has lived a life of frugal isolation on the smallholding left to her by her father that belongs to the century before last, or earlier.

The setting may be modern; the basic scenario though could have been lifted from the pagers of a novel by Thomas Hardy. Not for the first time an awkward outsider has ended up on the wrong end of a serious injustice.

There is no doubt that Margaret could be 'difficult' and would be unlikely to 'engage' with social services of her own volition. That is no excuse though for the way she has been allowed to fall though the cracks of a system that should have done more sooner to help her.

Her conviction and subsequent imprisonment are all to sadly symptomatic of a system that seems to be going back to the values of Victorian times. These, despite their Middle England friendly image, are unthinkingly harsh and show little compassion to anyone who differs from a tightly defined norm.

Their first, last and most powerful instinct when faced with a lifelong member of the awkward squad like Margaret is to hand out punishment. Even though in most cases; and certainly in this case, finding an alternative solution would be fairer for all concerned in the longer term.

Fairness is a term that has assumed an almost totemic stature for we Britons, yet as a society we seem to be fast losing sight of its true meaning.

Margaret Wooliscroft may have been a 'difficult' person, but anyone with even the most basic understanding of mental illness knows that those people who present with the worst behaviour are often the most in need of help. As for the dispute over access to the lane she had come to see as her property that could have been resolved through restorative justice, something Staffordshire Police endorse, in a way that allowed all parties to have their say and sought to find a workable compromise.

All handing her an ASBO and now sending her to prison has done is further entrench Margaret's feelings of alienation and insecurity, feelings she expressed through antagonism. The actual dispute at the heart of this sorry story remains unresolved, in fact it has probably been made worse.

We talk endlessly about the importance of fairness, yet only want to practice it when doing so requires no effort. That makes a mockery of the whole concept; to mean anything fairness must be applied to the most troubled people, not just those who know how to flatter the egos of those handing out the help.

This skewed view of fairness also sets us up as individuals for the fall that lurks at the edge of every life. It takes only one wrong turn, one of the cruel prat-falls life delights in inflicting on the unwary, to put any of us in Margaret's shoes.

Adrift on a sea of troubles and faced with a bureaucracy that has been made hard by having to meet ever more confusing targets and distracted by boxes hungry for ticks. If that happened wouldn't we want to be treated with real fairness by a system that's first instinct was to help not punish?

The answer is yet; so doesn't an awkward woman like Margaret Wooliscroft deserve the same?

Sunday, 13 December 2015

A threat to the NHS too dangerous to be kicked into the long grass.

The City Independents have made their first political mistake since taking control of Stoke-on-Trent City Council in May. As is the way with such things it is a biggie; perhaps the biggest and most dangerous one they could have made.

This week Labour tabled a motion calling on the council to oppose plans by Stoke-on-Trent NHS Clinical Commissioning Group to allow private companies to tender for a contract to provide cancer and end of lifer services worth £1.2 billion.

Thanks to a successful intervention by Independent cabinet member Ann James the motion was amended so that the issue will simply be referred to the relevant overview and scrutiny committee. A small victory for her, a bis mistake for everyone else; positively huge in fact.

The threat this thinly veiled assault on the existence of a free at the point of delivery health service are many and various. Introducing competition to NHS contracts will have a huge impact on how decisions are made, visiting upon the health service 'predatory pricing', where companies underbid to win a contract, shutting out small local companies and charities who cannot afford to take the short term losses and leaving the field open to the big outsourcing companies. Capita, Virgin, and all the other usual suspects who have brought us countless disasters involving public services that have been sold off.

This freeze out happened to the Douglas Macmillan Hospice and St Giles Hospice when they tried to make a joint bis to deliver cancer and end of life services, they were ejected at the first stage without explanation. Prompting Dougie Mac chief executive Michelle Roberts to say the plan was 'undoubtedly a privatisation of a service and we cannot support such as move due to the serious damage it could inflict on the care we are able to provide.'

The clinical commissioning group has defended the plan on the grounds it will consolidate cancer and end of life services, improving how they are delivered. Possibly, but if it turns out to be a mistake, and the omens aren't good, we're stuck with it because the contract would be essentially unbreakable.

The cancer care contract has yet to be awarded due to ongoing difficulties, at present only the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust still in the frame. No shortlisted bidders have been announced for the end of life services contracts, although at least seven companies may be in the race.

An answer is expected over the Christmas period, a fact that should set a fire station filled with alarm bells ringing. Politicians like nothing better than announcing burying bad news whilst we the voters are all busy jingling bells under the Christmas tree.

It is hard to disassociate the plans to sell off cancer services with another and even more serious threat to the survival of the NHS as we know it, the silent approach of the Transatlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP). This shadowy deal between the US and the EU hasn't registered on the domestic political radar, but could radically change our public services and not for the better.

Under the provisions of TTIP large corporations, just the sort of businesses who will be bidding for this contract and the others that will follow, will be able to sue anyone, councils, the NHS even the government, they feel has damaged their profits.

You can all too easily imagine a scenario where an NHS trust trying to protect services from cost cutting that may be good for the corporate balance sheet; but a disaster for the staff who work their and the patients who depend on it finding itself in court. Even is a trust won its case in the wonderful world of TTIP they would have no recourse to damages or ability to recoup their legal costs.

This could tie the hands of cash strapped public services, erode the employment rights of their staff and, in the case of the NHS, result in a debacle that makes the sorry events in South Staffs look minor. The big beasts of the corporate jungle would have power without responsibility or accountability; that never ends well.

Councils, trades unions and anyone else who can make a noise need to send a clear message to the decision makers in Brussels that they are not going to stand by and see vital services sold off to corporate asset strippers. By not doing so and instead kicking the issue into the long grass the Independents have done themselves and the people of this city few favours.

Since May they have managed, more by luck perhaps than design, to retain a surprising amount of public good will, mostly by not being Labour. That will dissolve entirely if they persist in ignoring a dangerous policy backed by a government that pours honeyed words over the NHS, then deprives it of money and puts its continued existence in danger.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

TTIP- a disaster in the making we should all be worried about.

Last night members of North Staffs Green Party met at Hanley Fire Station to discuss how the party should respond to the threat posed by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

TTIP is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, the negotiations to set it up have been shrouded in secrecy with parliamentarians across the EU being given only limited information as to what it will entail.

In a speech made in 2014 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said TTIP, if it were to be implemented would 'blow apart the power of our democratic decision making,' adding that it posed a huge threat to worker's rights, food safety and environmental protection.

Last night's meeting took place ahead of a debate on TTIP to be held in parliament on Thursday, the first to have taken place since the mostly secret negotiation on the agreement began.

TTIP, members heard, represents a direct challenge to the authority of councils, public services such as the NHS and the UK government to take decisions that could be perceived by large, mostly US based corporations as posing a threat to their profits.

Large corporations would be able to sue for compensation on these grounds and even if the organisation being sued won its case it would have no right to claim compensation.

An example of this given at the meeting was that of tobacco company Philip Morris, who took the Australian government to court over their plans to introduce, for public health reasons, plain packaging for cigarettes. This happened under the provisions of the Pacific Rim Agreement which is identical to TTIP, although the Australian government won its case it received no compensation and was left with a massive legal bill to pay.

When the UK government was considering introducing plain packaging for cigarettes it is thought that covert pressure from the tobacco lobby was partly to behind the eventual decision to drop the policy.

It is feared that the legal costs of fighting even a successful case against a large corporation backed by TTIP could shrink further already diminished budgets for public services, inhibiting the willingness of parties to take action and placing big business above the law.

This, one member said, would 'play into the hands' of the 147 mostly US based corporations who exert an 'unnatural' degree of influence over the world economy and have been implicated in dubious business practices. Giving them the power enshrined in TTIP had about it, he said, 'the makings of a real disaster.'

Locally MPs Rob Flello and Paul Farrelly, representing Stoke South and Newcastle respectively, are believed to be opposed to TTIP, Stoke Central MP Tristram Hunt and Stoke North's Ruth Smeeth have not expressed an opinion. Labour members of Newcastle Borough council are also believed to be opposed to TTIP.

Local Green Party members have been active in protesting against TTIP, in October they took to the streets of Newcastle to raise public awareness. Over the next few months they will be in action again with campaign activities planned including a petition to Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the possible tabling of a motion on TTIP by Keele Green councillor Wenslie Naylon.

TTIP is one of the defining political issues of our time, it could, if implemented, shatter irrevocably employment rights and laws protecting the environment that have been hard fought for over decades.

There is also a real risk that TTIP could do lasting damage to the local, national and European economy by squeezing out the small and medium size enterprises that drive innovation and create the jobs of the future.

TTIP is a complex issue and doesn't fit easily into the bite-sized, information-lite format followed by much of the news media. It requires close examination of the facts, figures and potential risks along with a serious debate about the sort of economy and society we want to hand on to our children.

Hard though it may be this is a discussion we need to have before it is too late and the freedoms we value but too often take for granted are either diluted or lost altogether.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Braving a night out in the cold to highlight the problems faced by the homeless.

North Staffs Green Party coordinator Sean Adam will brave a night sleeping out in the cold this weekend to highlight the challenges faced by homeless people across the city.

The sleep-out will take place at a yet to be disclosed location.

Sean said: I'm sleeping rough to bring to attention to the issues of homelessness here in Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire.'

He went on to comment on the wide range of people driven into homelessness by circumstances often beyond their control, including many ex-servicemen and the impact of government attitudes towards homelessness, saying 'government policy should not be putting people on the streets to live. When is the government going to realise this a wake up to it. Yes there are those 'ladies & gentlemen of the road' but these are a minority of the homeless. Even with some of young people sofa hopping there are still times when the only bed they can find is under the stars.'

Amongst the issues Mr Adam wishes to draw attention to is the possible use of Public Space Protection Orders, introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, which could be used to criminalise homeless people.

He also wishes to draw attention to the impact of homelessness on young people, a Freedom of Information request made to local authorities by homelessness charity Centrepoint revealed that 136,000 young people asked for help because they were either homeless or at risk of homelessness in 2014/15, with 15,000 being assesses as eligible for support.

The Green Party has a number of policies aimed at redesigning the housing market to make it fairer and more sustainable, these include:

Building 500,000 rented social homes and ending the 'right to buy' scheme; devolving control over Housing Benefit budgets to local authorities, allowing for more flexibility and restoring entitlement to Housing Benefit to people under the age of 25.

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said ' this is a hugely important issue that goes to the very heart of the government's austerity policies and their impact on the lives of real people. We are fully behind Sean's campaign.'


Friday, 20 November 2015

The cruelty of WCA shows that Tory leopards never change their spots.

Researchers from Oxford and Liverpool universities have analysed data from five years of the government's Work Capability Assessment (WCA) programme and found that it could be linked to nearly six hundred suicides and a rise in mental health problems.

The WCA was introduced by Labour in 2008 as a way of helping people on sickness benefits back into work, under the coalition government its remit was expanded as part of Iain Duncan Smith's assault on the welfare state.

Out of every 10,000 people subjected to WCA 2700 reported mental health problems and six may have been driven to commit suicide by the experience, there was also a marked rise in the number of people being prescribed anti-depressants.

Tom Holland, campaigns manager for mental health charity MIND told the BBC on Tuesday the report shone a 'light on the damaging impact WCA's can have on peoples mental health.'

Also speaking to the BBC shadow health minister Luciana Berger said it was 'unacceptable to have a system that causes vulnerable people anxiety putting their health at further risk.'

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said the report was 'wholly misleading' and that no direct conclusions could be drawn from the evidence presented about cause and effect.

Professor Tom Baguley of Nottingham Trent university, again speaking to the BBC, said the evidence presented in the report went 'beyond merely establishing a correlation but falls short of establishing a causal link.'

He added that the study 'provides evidence that the specific application of this policy increased the suicide rate and outcomes associated with adverse mental health in those people affected.'

I'll leave the academics to argue about the methodology, what it abundantly clear is that someone has been 'misled' over the impact of WCA and it is we the public.

Since 2010 the government has sold us the us the line that it isn't seeking to punish people who are can't work due ill health, it is trying to help them recover their independence and sense of purpose; how wrong can anyone who believed that have been.

Actually you don't need a report stuffed with graphs and statistics to see that the WCA system isn't helping the people it was set up to, in fact it is exposing some of them to mortal harm. Look at your local paper any day of the week and you will come across stories of people who have been hounded mercilessly by a system that refuses to believe, even when it is backed up by medical evidence, that they are unfit to work.

Lets be clear about this, nobody chooses a life on sickness benefits because it is easier than working; it demonstrably isn't, if they're lucky claimants have just enough money to survive and no more. That they have to deal with a suspicious and prejudiced system only serves to make a bad situation even worse.

The government seems to operate in relation to what remains of the welfare state on a moral level handed down by the Victorians. People in what they are careful not to call 'the lower orders', but evidently think of in those terms are fundamentally feckless, if they aren't working its usually because they just don't want to, therefore any benefits they receive should be meagre and the process of claiming them difficult.

Added to this ludicrous prejudice in this instance is another and equally ancient one, that against people with mental health problems. If someone needs a stick to help them walk then even the dimmest blimp in the smoking room can see they might genuinely be too ill to work. Someone with depression say probably doesn't show any outer symptoms and so to those afflicted with smaller than usual minds they can't be ill.

Only, of course, they can; so ill in fact that they are unable to face the struggle of wrestling with the complexities of the benefits system and so it rolls over them like a runaway train. In the worst cases the result can be, as this report shows, suicide.

Since 2005 David Cameron and his cabal have been on a mission to persuade us that the Tories have changed and learnt the value of compassion, policies like this prove that to be a lie. They are still the same elitist, selfish and sometime openly cruel party they have always been; they really do believe there is no such thing as society.

Political leopards are no more likely to change their spots than the ones in the zoo are. That it a terrible thing to find out, as many people are doing to their cost, at the most vulnerable time of your life.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Hope, Recovery and Crocodile Bob.

On Wednesday night Stoke based mental health charity Changes held its annual general meeting at the Hope Centre in Hanley. In attendance were around a hundred members and a small stuffed crocodile called Bob.

Quite what role Bob played in proceedings wasn't made clear, apart, perhaps from serving as a metaphor for how the risk of experiencing mental distress can lurk under the surface of the most placid seeming lives.

The meeting took place as concerns were being expressed locally about an acute shortage of psychiatric staff as the Royal Stoke University Hospital. Nationally think tank the King's Fund were quoted as describing cuts to NHS funding for mental health care and the increasing replacement of clinical treatments with cheaper and largely untested self help alternatives as a 'leap in the dark.'

For its part the government has since the election continued to make comforting noises about 'parity of esteem' for people with mental health problems with that of those with physical ones, meanwhile the same old situation pertains on the ground. Age old prejudices collide with paltry funding and the politics of austerity to create a bleak landscape for service users.

Increasingly charities like Changes are having to step in to plug the gap in services, providing mutual support, the group is, uniquely, run by people with first hand experience of mental distress; and surprisingly often a real opportunity for recovery and hope.

Chairman John Irons alludes to this in his review of the year saying Changes has continued to provide a 'supportive environment' and to help members play to their strengths rather than be limited by their problems, despite operating in a 'harsh' financial environment.

The work done by what is a, comparatively, small charity is truly impressive, over the past year it has delivered 34,104 contact hours, every week Changes volunteers have clocked up 540 hours of unpaid work with a value of £300,000 for the year as a whole.

Through an impressive array of projects the charity has delivered mutual support groups in prisons, offered training to members helping them to understand and develop tools to cope with their experience of mental distress and worked to help whole communities to improve their surroundings and quality of life.

About the only thing more remarkable than how much good Changes does in the local community is how little said community knows about it. Perhaps because they are used to having to fly under the radar to avoid prejudice people successfully living with mental illness who refuse to be defined by their condition are reticent about celebrating their achievements.

That is a great pity because it means some truly inspiring stories are never heard by the larger audience they deserve, stories like that of Matt. He is one of the 569 people Changes helped last year through its One Recovery drug and alcohol addiction project.

On Wednesday night he took to the stage to tell the story of how through the pressures of his job as a chef he had become first a heavy drinker and then a full blown alcoholic. Despite having tried to find sobriety before it was only when he discovered Changes that something 'clicked' and recovery became first a possibility and then a reality.

Now a year or so later he had found a new life, not one that was always easier than it had been before, but now it was one that contained genuine friendships, a sense of purpose and hope for the future. There was no contrition or victimhood here; no sense of an individual having been flattened into numbed stasis by a system that puts paperwork ahead of people, just quiet and hopefully lasting strength.

Mental illness has, in one form or another, always been part of the human condition, the trade off we make for having brains that reason rather than follow instinct alone. What is clear though is that the atomised, aggressively materialistic and competitive nature of today's world has made it more prevalent.

There are few people who will not have it touch either their life or that of someone close to them and yet it remains something not to be spoken about. On the rare occasions when the subject is raised it is through a narrative of victimhood and intractable problems.

Wednesday night told, through the experience of Matt and many of the other people present, told another and more positive story. One about hard times overcome and a long road travelled to arrive at a better place.

It is a story that should be told openly and with honesty to give hope and courage to others who might be about to take their first faltering step.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Bloody Ploughman returns to Penkhull- actually it probably never left.

'People get used to me suddenly shouting stop the car! whenever I spot something,' I'm standing in the large and surprisingly modern kitchen of Penkhull village hall talking to Jayne Fayre, a quietly competent woman with an interest in 'feral foods.'

These, she tells me are the fruit and vegetable varieties that have fallen out of favour in the decades since the supermarkets persuaded us that all apples have to look like the sort of thing Snow White gets fed by the wicked witch in fairy stories. They still exist in hidden corners, on the edge of town in the places people rush past in their cars on the way to somewhere else.

Places, Jayne tells me, like Sideway on the edge of Stoke, between the council incinerator and the Britannia Stadium, where she recently discovered fifteen apple trees, each one a different variety, growing a few feet away from the busy A 500.

The thing that has brought us both to Penkhull on a chilly Monday evening is the rare apple discovered in an until recently secret location in the village.

It is, she tells me, the product of someone grafting together a Bloody Ploughman and a type of French crab apple first brought to these shores by the chef to Henry VIII. The tree had gone undiscovered, largely thanks to being shrouded with ivy, on a piece of land off Trent Valley Road belonging to Western Power Distribution that was home to a pig farm some one hundred and fifty years ago.

The tree is in remarkably good condition given its age, and the fact that at some stage in its history someone took a hefty chunk out of it with an axe, the crown needs to be dropped, Ms Fayre says and the ivy wants cutting back, but it could be good for another century and a half.

Last year apples from the tree were used to make cider for the village's new years wassail and there are plans to brew up another batch for 2016. It should be an interesting taste experience for the discerning drinker since the small, dark red and unevenly shaped apples have a flavour all of their own; sharp and yet also sweet.

Later that evening the residents association discuss how the Penkhull apple could be part of a 'tree strategy' for the village, it will certainly feature in the 'feral foods audit' for the city being prepared by Jayne Fayre in partnership with Keele university. There is talk of selling cuttings for people to plant in their gardens and using the produce to make cakes and more cider for thirsty morris dancers.

I don't doubt that this and more will happen, Penkhull is a 'go ahead' sort of place. A village that has staged its own pantomime almost every Christmas since the thirties, puts on a mystery play every summer and is home to a brass band and a ukulele orchestra.

What stuck in my mind and is still there days later as I write this is the phrase 'feral foods', or rather the idea behind the term.

We have access to a stable supply of food that would have been the envy of even our recent ancestors and yet we are astonishingly poorly fed. Open your newspaper on any given day of the week and you will be met by a parade of stories about children (and not a few adults besides) growing obese on a diet stuffed with salt, sugar and chemical additives.

You will also be reminded of the growing politicisation of food, in a country with pretensions to be seated near if not at the top table of world powers there are food banks in every town and teachers worry about their students coming to school hungry.

Somewhere along the line we have lost touch with the value of food, with what it should mean as a part of our culture. Television presents it as an element of the lifestyle porn by which we are so obsessed; the right wing media uses it as a stick to beat parents struggling to raise a family on the minimum wage because they haven't the money or time to cook from scratch.

Like those 'feral' apple trees the idea that food is something that nurtures the body and the soul by bringing people together has been overgrown by the strangling ivy of hypocrisy and prejudice.

The audit of 'feral foods' being carried out by Ms Fayre is, I'm glad to say, more than just an academic exercise. When we met on Monday night she told me that her real passion was for using growing and cooking food to help people on low incomes regain control of their loves and a sense of purpose.

Perhaps the 'Penkhull apple', that unlikely splicing of the Bloody Ploughman and the crab apple brought over by the cook to a king famous for his feasting could be part of that process. Reminding people that apples don't have to be perfectly red and round whilst tasting like wet cotton wool.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Greens take the no to TTIP message out onto the streets.

Members of North Staffs Green Party will be holding a street demo against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in Newcastle town centre this weekend,

TTIP is a trade agreement between the EU and the United States that has been largely negotiated in secret and could have a devastating impact on the public services, employment rights and the environment.

Trades unions, professional bodies and parliamentarians across Europe have expressed concerns about the impact of TTIP. In a speech made in 2014 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said it represented 'huge threat to our hard fought for standards for the quality and safety of our food, the sources of our energy, worker's rights and our privacy.'

Green Party members taking part in the demonstration have expressed their own misgivings about TTIP:

Jade Taylor, who owns a graphic design business based in Newcastle said she was 'concerned' about the impact TTIP would have on animal welfare standards 'particularly the use of bleaching in the poultry industry.'

Sean Adam, a party member and former parliamentary candidate said he was concerned about the possibility of large corporations being able to take the UK government to court if it passes legislation that may harm their profits.

He said 'A large US corporation recently took the Canadian government to court and won on the basis of a treaty similar to TTIP, the British public need to realise the impact allowing this agreement to go through could have on our public services and the independence of our parliament.'

Campaigns Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party Adam Colclough said that the demonstration would be 'just the start of a concerted campaign against TTIP,' which he described as being a 'truly dangerous threat to the environment, worker's rights and democratic government across the continent.'

He went on to say the party would be keeping the momentum going by gathering signatures for a petition and asking public questions on related issues at full council meetings.

The demonstration will take place outside the Guildhall in Newcastle town centre from 10.30 am on Saturday 24th October.


Friday, 9 October 2015

TTIP represents a threat to the freedoms underpinning our democracy.

Green Party members in North Staffordshire are set to take part in a month of action in protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

TTIP is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, the negotiations to set it up have been shrouded in secrecy with parliamentarians across the EU being given only limited information as to what it will entail.

Campaigners fear it may include provisions to allow large corporations to sue governments for bringing in legislation that hit their profits.

Speaking in 2014 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said TTIP would 'blow apart the power of our democratic decision making,' she went on to say that it represented a 'huge threat to our hard fought for standards for the quality and safety of our food, the sources of our energy, worker's rights and our privacy.'

Green Party MEPs have also spoken out against TTIP, Jean Lambert said it was a 'myth' that the partnership would create more jobs and that there was no guarantee those it did create would pay a living wage.

Keith Taylor said the deal was 'favoured' by large corporations because it would 'slash regulations that protect our environment and health' and that it represented 'a serious threat to democracy in our country.'

Concern has also been expressed about the impact of TTIP by the Centre for Food Safety, the Royal College of Nursing and the European Students Union, with regard, respectively, to food safety, large American companies gaining access to the NHS and education funding.

Molly Scott Cato MEP, the Green Party spokesperson on financial issues said 'the proposal to protect corporate interests against the democratic interests of citizens must not be allowed to stand.'

She added that 'The Greens are totally opposed to TTIP, which threatens to undermine our ability to protect the high standards of environmental protection, employment rights and animal welfare we have come to take for granted.'

Adam Colclough, Campaigns Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party said that TTIP 'represents a serious threat to the fundamental freedoms that underpin our democracy; putting the profits of large corporations ahead of the interests of individuals and communities in a way that is potentially disastrous.'

He added that it was 'scandalous that the public and parliamentarians across Europe are being kept in the dark over what the agreement will contain, if it doesn't operate openly the democratic process does not work.

Green Party members are going to be taking part in a range of campaign activities over the coming month including holding a protest in a local town centre to raise public awareness about TTIP.

Adam Colclough said ' We want to make people aware of the impact TTIP could have on their lives and to coordinate local protest activity.'

He added that ' the rights guaranteeing our freedom are something we hold in trust for our children and grandchildren, we should not allow them to be diluted in the name of big business making a profit.'

Monday, 28 September 2015

Unite boss attacks Trades Union Bill as unnecessary and illiberal.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference today Len McCluskey leader of the UNITE trades union likened the government's Trades Union Bill to the sort of tactics used against organised labour by the Nazis, as reported by the BBC.

He told delegates the bill was 'an unnecessary, illiberal and spiteful attack on free trades unionism' and went on to say they should 'remember that's what the Nazis did- trades unionists in the concentration camps at Dachau- made to wear armbands with red triangles.'

Mr McCluskey said that he would not be wearing an armband when he supported UNITE members on the picket line.

The bill also doubles the notice period for unions calling strikes from seven to fourteen days and would allow employers to use agency staff to break strikes.

The government has expressed concerns about the legitimacy of strike ballots based on turnouts, Mr McCluskey and UNITE have offered to work with ministers on this issue in return for reform on how votes are carried out.

In his speech he said that if government concerns over strike ballots were genuine they should end the 'archaic and undemocratic reliance on postal votes and give trades unionists the right to secure, secret workplace balloting.'

A Department for Business spokesperson told the BBC today the changes to trades union laws weren't 'about banning strikes' but there was a need to 'get the balance right between the interests of trades unionists and the interests of the majority of people who rely on important public services.'

The Trades Union Bill passed its first parliamentary hurdle earlier this month with a majority of just thirty three votes.

The rhetoric used by Len McCluskey was of a sort that has almost vanished from Labour Party conferences, relegated to fringe meetings for the discontented during the slickly scripted years under Blair and Brown as the conference became a glorified trade show. Now with the advent of Jeremy Corbyn it is suddenly centre stage again as the party tries to reconnect with its roots.

Invoking the Nazis is a somewhat dodgy debating tactic, their methods and the crimes that resulted from them were unique; but look beyond that and it is possible to see that the UNITE leader has a valid point.

The proposed changes to trades union laws could take industrial relations in this country into a dark place that few of us would wish to visit.

Do we want of live in a country where working people exercising one of their democratic rights have to inform the police before doing so? How about one where one group of workers can be drafted in to break a strike by another?

In countries that operate on such a basis trade and most other things are seldom free. Liberty is a delicate organism, exposure to poorly drafted laws can do it fatal harm.

There is a distinct sense that the Trades Union Bill is just such a law, badly thought out and seemingly aimed at fighting battles from the 1980's not addressing the economic problems of the twenty first century. It is certainly an odd position for a Tory party that claims to be on the side of working people to be seeking to dilute some of their most fundamental rights.

If any of the other three candidates had won the Labour leadership contest the party would have made concerned noises about the dismantling of worker's rights; but done precious little to halt the bill's progress. You get the impression that the new, old, Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn intends to fight it every step of the way as a matter of principle.

In the long run that could be a good thing not just for the right of working people to withdraw their labour; but for the freedoms we all enjoy.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Times they are a changing for the party of solutions.

Addressing their party conference in Bournemouth today Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said that there could be no going back to the failed twentieth century solution of perpetual growth.

Politics was, she said, 'heading towards an understanding of social justice' as pressure grows against the 'disastrous' austerity policies of the government.

In a confident and combative speech Natalie Bennett paid tribute to the work done in the commons by Green MP Caroline Lucas and in the Lords by Jenny Jones and also the work of Green Party councillors around the country.

The party had, she said, plans to build on the solid foundations laid during the general election campaign to increase the number of Green councillors at the 2016 local elections.

Throughout her speech Ms Bennett stressed the bottom up nature of the green movement emphasising the role the party has played working with local groups campaigning against austerity and climate change. The Greens were, she said, the 'natural home of the community campaigner.'

She contrasted this with other parties, particularly Labour, in local government who often present as remote and in thrall to vested interests.

Despite being critical of some Labour councillors she welcomed the election of Jeremy Corbyn, citing it along with the success of the SNP as a sign that politics is moving in a more progressive direction.

She also drew attention to the rise of Syrize in Greece and the 'surge' in membership of the Green Party as grounds for optimism that a more people focussed style of politics may be possible.

The biggest change needed though to bring progressive politics into the mainstream in the UK, she suggested, was to the voting system. Ms Bennett called on new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to join with her in campaigning for the introduction of proportional representation, a move that could see the Green representation at Westminster rise to 25 MPs

Ms Bennett attacked the government for its austerity policies and the damage they have done to the lives of vulnerable people, the continued privatisation of public services and its failure to address climate change.

Attracting the biggest round of applause of the whole speech she called on party members to organise public meetings in their communities to highlight the importance of making climate change central to policy making.

The environment also featured prominently when Ms Bennett spoke about what had brought her into politics. A growing feeling based on her training as a scientist that something needed to be done to defend a fragile planet attacked from every side by greed and exploitation.

She spoke about how she was the only leader involved in the election debates who brought environmental issues to the table saying this 'needs to change and change now.'

This was a confident speech delivered by the leader of a party with much to be confident about. Membership is growing and a solid performance in the general election, even if that didn't translate into seats won has brought increased media attention.

The surprising election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader has shifted politics away from spin and towards substance. That is something Natalie Bennett with her no nonsense style and clearly demonstrated convictions has to spare.

The Greens, she told the conference were the 'party of solutions' that believes in a fairer future. As a fresh round of austerity measures hit public services more people could turn to them as an alternative to tired mainstream parties trapped in the past.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

It is never OK to tweet sick jokes about dead refugees.

This is how it used to go back in the day, there would be a horrific disaster somewhere in the world and within a day or so there would be dozens of 'sick' jokes doing the rounds in the playground.

It wasn't big or clever, but we all did it before we grew up and developed some sensitivity. At best you could say it was a case of testing the boundaries of what is acceptable; at worst it was an object lesson in the crass stupidity of youth.

Richard Broughan, Ukip councillor for Abbey Hulton and Townsend is a bit long in the tooth for the playground, but, sadly it seems, not adult enough to have learnt to engage his brain before he tweets.

That would be why he decided it was acceptable to tweet #IsItOk to ask migrants to chill out following the Austrian refrigerated lorry incident, in reference to the death of a party of refugees on their way to Europe.

This spectacularly unfunny 'joke', he told the Sentinel, wasn't racist it was just his contribution to a debate on the TV comedy programme 'The Last Leg.' He went on to tell the paper the tweet had been 'misinterpreted' and that 'social media can be dangerous because there is no real line between a professional profile and a personal opinion.'

Talk about being wise after the event, Mr Broughan's late discovery of common sense hasn't done him any favours, he's been suspended from the council pending an investigation and may face disciplinary action from his party.

As to whether he's a racist only he can answer, he's certainly guilty of being thoughtless and immature, not to say more than a little dumb. Really can there be anyone in politics who hasn't grasped that in cyberspace everyone can hear you prattling on.

I have only encountered Mr Broughan in person once, it was during the election campaign and I wasn't much impressed by what I saw. It was before one of the candidates debates held at Staffordshire University, he was standing in the foyer having 'lunched well' as the sketch writer's euphemism has it and entertaining some friends with the sort of jokes that would have made Bernard Manning blush.

He came over as an almost amiable buffoon trying to validate himself by having others laugh at more than with him. Quite a sad way to behave, but more likely to be the product of insecurity than prejudice.

His antics do though through an unflattering spotlight once again on the ugly truth hidden behind the 'hail fellow well met' front put up by Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Put the words Ukip, scandal and comments into any search engine you like and a list of sordid incidents will fill the screen, each one usually ending in an apology, an expulsion and a pledge that nothing like this will ever happen again; until next time anyway, and there is always a next time.

The party described by its own leader as a collection of crackpots exhibits an unhealthy suspicion of anything that could be remotely seen as being 'other' to a very narrow vision of what it means to be English coupled with a total lack of sensitivity. As evidenced by the inability of many Ukip supporters to tell the difference between a mortal insult and a bit of 'banter.'

Richard Broughan has probably brought the curtain down on his political career before it has really begun, something over which we need shed no tears since he is the author of his own misfortune in 140 characters or less.

There is a saying that the unfortunate thing about political jokes is that they sometimes get elected, Richard Broughan's short and far from glorious tenure as a councillor will probably demonstrate how quick voters are to turn their backs on one when he proves to be painfully unfunny.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Now he's won Jeremy Corbyn must turn a fantasy into a meaningful challenge.

In the end they didn't so much count the votes as weigh them. On Saturday a once unimaginable outcome became an inevitability when Jeremy Corbyn was crowned as the new leader of the Labour Party.

Cue wild celebrations from his supporters, dire warnings from the press that he is about to drag the country back to the dark days of the seventies and a string of high profile resignations from the shadow cabinet. Yvette Cooper, Tristram Hunt and Chukka Umunna all too their respective balls home within hours of the result being announced.

This surprising win for the candidate who was only let into the race to make up the numbers presents both opportunities and pitfalls.

The biggest of these is a potential split between the keepers of the Blairite flame and the newly triumphant left wingers. Jeremy Corbyn promised during the campaign to reach out to all wings of the party, he must honour that promise now; this is no time for settling scores.

Humble pie is going to have to be on the menu at the victory banquet and at the gloomy gathering of New Labour types who think the sky fell in on their heads on Saturday morning. The Blairites have to accept the hand of reconciliation if it is offered to them, along with a portion of the blame for not connecting with the party's core vote or anyone else. For their part the left have to resist the urge to 'get even' with the people who have spent the past twenty years telling them to keep quiet.

Two big political set-pieces also loom for the new Labour leader, the first is his début at prime minister's questions on Wednesday. Corbyn has expressed a wish to share the duty of attending the weekly shouting match with other shadow cabinet members. Good luck with that, the glacial pace at which parliamentary procedure changes means that even if such an idea were to be implemented Mr Corbyn would probably be long gone.

He needs to play to his strengths, meaning adopting the quietly reasonable approach he has against his opponents in the leadership race. Getting drawn into the playground machismo of the event wouldn't suit Corbyn's style, anyway not responding to his inevitable provocations might just wrong foot citizen Dave.

If PMQ's is a hurdle making his first conference speech as party leader is an assault course daunting enough to scare a commando. Normally leaders spend months preparing to address conference and even then, as the efforts of Ed Milliband demonstrate often get it wrong. Jeremy Corbyn is going to have to deal with the equivalent of an understudy being given ten minutes to scan the text before going on as Hamlet.

Again the best course is for him to stick to the tried and tested routine, namely being himself. What you see is really what you get with Jeremy Corbyn, he is an affable, erudite man for whom 'spin' is just a cycle on the washing machine; trying to out slick David Cameron on the conference platform would be a disaster.

The biggest challenge facing Corbyn though is how to handle the compromises that are an inevitable part of leadership. There is a political naivety to much of his supporter base, they may struggle to tell the difference between sensible expediency and outright betrayal.

On the big decisions like renationalising the railways and ditching Trident he should stand firm since they are either positions taken on points of principle or policies that resonate strongly with the public. Making some smaller concessions early on might be no bad thing though, sensibly handled it would send out a message that he is a reasonable man and may help draw the right of the party back into the fold.

Where there are pitfalls there are also opportunities and the Corbyn camp shouldn't lose sight of these in the tough times to come.

His campaign for the party leadership played, in part, on one of the most potent stories in the British myth kitty, that of the underdog who wins against the odds. Jeremy Corbyn could seek to position Labour as the natural home of all those who oppose entrenched privilege and the complacency of the political elite.

The influx of new members means that Labour's branch and constituency party network is viable for the first time in years. This presents a golden opportunity to revive the party's internal democracy and to demonstrate how a more inclusive form of politics could be made to work in practice, something new deputy leader Tom Watson spoke about during his own campaign.

At the age of sixty six Jeremy Corbyn must realise that his own chance of being prime minister is slim at best, the trust placed in him and the unprecedented energy that has built up behind his campaign mean he could do something remarkable. He could recognise that his role is to prepare the way for whoever comes next.

If he can revitalise the moribund grass-roots of the Labour Party and demonstrate that left doesn't have to be the political irrelevance then even though he may never get into Downing Street someone like Tom Watson or Lisa Nandy just might.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn at leader of the Labour Party could be where it all begins or the moment when everything crashes into the buffers. At this stage of the game there is still everything to play for, but his remarkable campaign suggests that sometimes surprising things happen even in the cynical word of politics.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Stoke Green Party backs Hope Not Hate report on changes to voter registration.

North Staffs Green Party has given its support to a report produced by campaign group Hope Not Hate expressing concerns about government plans to introduce Individual Voter Registration (IER) a year earlier than planned.

Under the current system voters are registered by household, the introduction of IER would mean that voters have to register individually using their National Insurance number.

The government intend to introduce IER a year earlier than planned against advice from the Electoral Commission in time for the preparation of new electoral registers by the Boundary commission, these will be used at the 2016 local elections.

The report 'Britain's Missing Voters' ( raises concerns including that changing the way we register to vote will mean that 1.9 million people will 'drop off' the electoral register.

This will result in the under-representation of people who are already living in marginalised and disadvantaged communities, creating a distorted electoral map with an adverse effect on urban areas where there are high numbers of people living in private rented accommodation.

The report recommends that the decision to introduce IER early be annulled and that councils be given a further twelve months in order to register missing voters. It also calls on the government to put a strategy backed by extra resources to increase voter registration, particularly in under represented areas.

The Green Party takes a strong position on electoral reform. Amongst the policies advocated by the party in its 2015 manifesto are the introduction of a written constitution including a Bill of Rights, using proportional representation to make sure every vote cast counts and supporting a fully elected House of Lords.

Campaigns Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party Adam Colclough said ' The government's plans for introducing individual electoral registration are poorly thought out, a fact attested to by the concerns expressed by the Electoral Commission cited in this report. Rushing them into place shows an utter disregard for our democracy.'

He added that: 'Giving political power back to the people is at the heart of everything the Green Party stands for, we support encouraging more people to register to vote and would like to see them doing so in a system that makes every vote cast count.'

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Stoke Labour group need a new leader not another witch-hunt.

The soap opera surrounding the race to be the leader of the national party has distracted attention from the drama being played out within the Labour group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

This week the decision taken by the group to remove the whip from councillors, Alan Dutton and Ruth Rosenau after they voted for City Independent Dave Conway to be council leader following May's election brought the divisions within the party back into focus.

Dutton and Rosenau also gained black marks against their names for being publicly critical of group leader Mohammed Pervez and calling for him to resign.

Casting them into outer darkness for six months a spokesperson for the Labour Party told the Sentinel the whip had been withdrawn following an 'internal decision taken by the Labour group' that had found them to be in 'breach of group rules.' They had, said the spokesperson, 'a right of appeal.'

And, in all probability the likelihood of being told to take a long walk of a short pier for their pains. Yet again justice has been dispensed within the the Labour group with all the reasonableness and sensitivity of an automatic checkout reciting 'unidentified item in bagging area' with mechanical regularity.

Alan Dutton told the Sentinel that he was 'unhappy' with the decision, adding that 'it wasn't as if we voted against Mr Pervez since he wasn't standing', to be council leader, and that before the election he had criticised the Independents, then in opposition, for sitting on the fence 'but as soon as we're in opposition he wanted us to abstain on the leadership vote.'

Ruth Rosenau, also speaking to the Sentinel said she was 'disappointed' about the result and had hoped the group would 'have been more understanding' of the position she had taken. The perceived flaws in the leadership Mr Pervez had provided was, she said, a major cause of voters becoming 'disengaged' from Labour.

Both councillors said they were considering their position and would wait until the national leadership of the party had been decided before taking any further action.

There are few sadder sights than a party struggling to come to terms with finding itself in opposition. One moment they're calling the shots, the next they're stranded on the sidelines scowling Norma Desmond style about how they're still big; it's politics that has gotten small.

Locally and nationally Labour have been the authors of their own misfortune. In Stoke the party gambled big on HS2, Smithfield and paying for a stand at the Chelsea Flower Show only to lose even bigger.

Ed Milliband deservedly lost the general election and did the decent thing by putting his hand up and resigning. The party then went on the drop the ball by spending way too long choosing a new leader; but at least they had the sense to drop one who was a dead man walking.

In Stoke Labour made a mess of things that was entirely predictable to anyone who has watched their antics over the years. First they lost their way, then they lost the election; now they've gone into opposition with the same leader.

Anywhere other than inside the bubble protecting the senior members of the group from reality it would have been unthinkable for Mr Pervez to remain in post. Yet he has and seems to be immune from being challenged.

This highlights a problem Jeremy Corbyn or whoever else might win the Labour leadership next week will have to tackle as a priority. Officials in the party's regional offices have assumed powers that go way beyond their proper remit, side-lining party members and elected councillors in the process.

In Stoke Mr Pervez is very much their man and always has been, he owes his position to their patronage. Even the rather tame opposition shown by Dutton and Rosenau is seen as an existential threat to the established order that must be crushed at all costs.

The butterfly mustn't just be broken on a wheel, it has to be hung, drawn and quartered afterwards just to show everyone else who is in charge.

This matters for two distinct reasons. Locally as the coalition led by Independent Dave Conway gets ready to deliver its first budget good governance demands that it be closely scrutinised, a job that should fall to Labour. To date their performances as an opposition have been lacklustre at best, they are hardly likely to improve while the party simmers with internal tensions and its leader's position grows less tenable by the day.

The talent pool within the group is admittedly shallow, but there are options were Mr Pervez to do the decent thing. Members could support Ruth Rosenau were she to stand for leader again, she was a capable cabinet member and deserves the opportunity to step up. Better still they could prevail upon Olwen Hamer, perhaps the most talented politician representing any group on the council to stand for the leadership. She would almost certainly bring a fresh perspective and spirit of independence to the role.

The sorry story being played out is Stoke shows in miniature a problem that is crippling the Labour Party nationally. Twenty years of obsessive central control by New Labour has crippled its internal democracy, the backlash against this is one of the drivers behind the Corbyn surge, but it could take years to put things right.

Here in Stoke this story has an ending that is as sad as it is predictable. Alan Dutton and Ruth Rosenau will end up joining the marching corps of capable and committed people driven away by a party that seems to prize unthinking loyalty above everything else.

The Labour group will trundle on in the same old way bemused as to why the public don't seem to trust or even like them any more and getting a little less relevant with each passing year. Only by having the courage to ditch a leader who has failed can they bring about a different ending and find a new relevance.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Corbyn suggests women only carriages and Labour goes off the rails.

Last week Jeremy Corbyn, the surprise front runner in the race to be Labour leader, suggested introducing women only railway carriages in response to concerns about safety on public transport. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth from his fellow contenders.

Yvette Cooper told the BBC he was 'turning back the clock, not tackling the problem', whilst Andy Burnham said that 'in this day and age we shouldn't even be considering the idea of segregated travel.'

Britain last had railway carriages reserved for women only in 1977, a relic of Victorian prudery and many other countries including Mexico, Japan and India have separate women only carriages on trains.

Women's Minister Nicky Morgan said the idea 'smacked of segregation' and Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health select committee said having women only carriages would 'normalise unacceptable attitudes.'

Hang on, everybody take a deep breath, calmer now? Good, then we'll try to look at things sensibly.

Jeremy Corbyn in his slightly diffident way told The Independent the paper that broke the story he wanted to 'consult with women' and open the issue up to 'hear their views on whether women only carriages would be welcome', with no more sinister intention than to try and 'make public transport safer for everyone.' What he didn't at any stage do was issue a proclamation that this was a policy Labour would go to the country on at the next election.

Actually there is a problem figures released by British Transport Police recently show that sexual offences committed in and around railway stations have gone up by 25% and they have launched a campaign urging women to report incidents. Rail minister Claire Perry even suggested last year that introducing women only carriages was an idea worth considering.

Considering possibly, faced with a problem you should at least consider every option, but not, I think worth adopting. I'm with Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan in not wanting to see segregation on the railways or anywhere else.

Instead we should be tackling the immediate problem by enforcing existing laws robustly and using public education campaigns to change attitudes and behaviour in the same way as they did around drink driving a generation ago.

The moral panic that greeted a modest suggestion made by a modest man has nothing to do with the unlikely prospect of men and women having to travel in separate train carriages. What it is really about is the panic that has gripped the political establishment following the remarkable rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

The pattern is as familiar as it is tedious, he makes a policy suggestion and all hell is instantly let loose. He is accused of being either a dippy idealist or a dangerous radical; a thoroughly bad egg anyway.

If you think he's got the boys and girls in the Westminster bubble rattled you're almost certainly right. Corbyn was only allowed into the race in the first place on the complacent assumption that he would finish nowhere, now it looks like the could win.

The reason for this is devastatingly simple, he's everything the other candidates aren't. Where they are slick and cynical he is homespun and earnest. The public response to this has been as powerful as it has been positive.

Jeremy Corbyn probably won't much care for the comparison but he resembles nothing so much as a senior member of the Church of England. He has that of intellect and otherworldliness and, most importantly, he is so firmly convinced in his beliefs he isn't afraid to be himself. What you see really is what you get.

How very different to his three opponents, who probably wouldn't recognise a genuine belief if they tripped over one. Where Corbyn engages in a conversation with the voters they alternately wheedle and hector at them from their ivory towers.

On this specific issue Corbyn genuinely wants to engage in a discussion with the public. The other three want to follow standard political procedure by passing the whole thing through a couple of focus groups, turning it into a policy framework only their civil servants will ever read before doing nothing about it.

Corbyn's approach can, it must be admitted, be a little bit scatter-gun. Some of the policies he has put forward have about them the well meaning impracticality of student politics, others though, like renationalising the railways ring true to the public mood.

Whether he wins or not on 12th September Jeremy Corbyn has changed the Labour Party and maybe politics as a whole forever. He has shown that if politicians have the courage to speak honestly about their beliefs the public will respond to them.

As its chief architect Tony Blair harrumphs to the press about 'Corbynism' being 'Alice in Wonderland politics' New Labour suddenly looks older than the hills and a lot less likely to endure. It might be too soon to predict what will take its place, but these are interesting times to be on the left.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The council needs to rethink its priorities following cuts to the Infant Feeding Team.

North Staffs Green Party today announced its support for the campaign to protect Stoke-on-Trent Infant Feeding Team (IFT) led by Jo Haywood and Antonia Dykes.

The IFT could see its funding cut dramatically from 1st September, this would result in the axing of jobs and clinics and the closure of the 24 hour helpline run by the team.

The service is delivered by the NHS and is funded by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Currently just 56% of women in Stoke-on-Trent breastfed their babies compared to a national average of 80%. This has serious consequences for the health and development of local children, something the team was set up to address.

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said: “ Since it was set up the IFT has done magnificent work to promote breastfeeding and improve the health and life chances of children across the city, that good work is being threatened by these cuts.”

He added that: “ As another round of spending cuts imposed by central government loom we recognise that the council has to make some tough decisions. Spending will inevitably have to be cut in some areas, but the decisions regarding where and by how much should be taken on a basis of doing the least possible harm and protecting vital services.”

The Green Party fought the 2015 general election on a manifesto committing it to taking action to bring an end to austerity in the NHS. This included pledging to increase funding by £12 billion to help improve mental health care and bring back NHS dentistry services. The party also pledged to end market based commissioning and procurement and making the way the NHS is run more transparent and patient friendly.

The Green Party also gave a manifesto commitment to ensure the NHS gave special attention to the well-being of children during the vital first 1001 days of their lives, from conception to the age of two.

The party was, the Campaign Coordinator said, “committed to ensuring the young people who will be the future of our country get the best start in life possible”, he added that “ supporting the people who work for and use the IFT is one way in which we can put the principles that make use different as a party into action.”

He called on the council to “rethink its priorities regarding spending cuts, something the last administration failed to do with devastating consequences for vital public services.”

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The DWP using fake claimant stories adds insult to injury for people struggling with benefits sanctions.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) hardly has a brilliant reputation when it comes to sensitivity and common sense. Even so its latest gaffe scales heights of institutional idiocy never before achieved.

Thanks to a freedom of information request lodged by Welfare Weekly the DWP has been caught out for using case studies from 'fake' claimants accompanied by stock photographs in a leaflet explaining benefits.

The leaflet contains case studies purporting to support the controversial regime of benefits sanctions introduced for claimants who miss appointments or fail to carry out requested actions.

In these 'Sarah' twitters blithely about losing two weeks benefits for not writing a CV when asked to and 'Zac' rhapsodises about how understanding Job Centre staff were when a medical appointment clashed with a meeting.

A spokesperson for the DWP told Sky News the case studies were 'based on conversations our staff have had with claimants' and were designed to 'help people understand how the benefits system works.'In particular 'when sanctions can be applied and how they can avoid them by taking certain actions.'

There can be few more stressful situations to be in than out of work, probably fearful over how you are going to pay the bills and having to negotiate the mad maze of the benefits system.

The very last thing claimants, or as the rest of us like to think of them, human beings who could be us but for a different turn of the cards, want is to be patronised by leaflets designed to help them.

Far more benefits sanctions are the result of incompetence and a bull headed refusal to listen on the part of the DWP than any failure to comply on the part of people looking for work. Needless to say the consequences of losing even a week's benefits seldom fall into the 'aw shucks' category portrayed in the leaflets.

If you want an example of what I mean how about the man I met outside a charity shop in Stoke, he was waiting to start the shift of 'voluntary' work arranged for him by the Job Centre. He looked gaunt and had trouble walking with the aid of a stick, the spirit may have been willing but his health would prevent him from working; so why force someone like that to jump though hoops for their benefits?

Losing benefits thanks to the imposition of a sanction and the resulting struggle to get an intransigent officialdom to listen to any mitigating circumstances has cost people their lives. Even if they do manage to get their benefits restored they are left feeling traumatised and anxious.

If officials at the DWP want to indulge their literary leanings that's fine, everyone should have a novel written in dog eared exercise books tucked away in their bottom drawer. What they shouldn't do is create malicious little fictions designed to minimise the impact of the awful slow motion car wreck of benefits reforms on the most vulnerable people.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Setting Britain's children free is surely a revolution we can all support

At some level we always knew it was true, that modern children are less free than those of us who grew up in the seventies and earlier were. Now it has been proved through scientific research.

Academics at the University of Westminster have ranked England in seventh place for parents giving their children the freedom to roam, based on a survey of 18,000 seven to eighteen year olds.

Amongst the things striking fear into parental hearts are letting their children cross main roads, cycling in traffic and being out alone after dark.

The survey says, quoted on the BBC News website 'even the oldest children are restricted in what they are allowed to do.'

Unsurprisingly perhaps the free-wheeling Finns top the table for letting their children run free with the Germans coming a surprise second.

The survey found that just 28% of youngsters in England travel to and from school on their own and even at secondary school age only 25% are allowed out alone after dark.

Ben Shaw of the Policy Studies Institute told the BBC 'obviously we've got to protect children but part of their development is that we allow them to gain independence.'

Too true; almost every problem relating to modern childhood stems from it having been transformed from an obstacle race survived by the lucky into a cocoon that smothers in the name of protection.

When children played outside obesity was almost unknown, exercise burnt off the excess energy behind all but the worst bad behaviour.

What went wrong? The private motor car turned suburban roads into rat runs, hyperactive tabloid scaremongering put a malicious stranger in every shadow.

The end result is two or more generations of young people who, if their families can scrape together the cash, live cloistered lives where they are shuttled between school and organised activities.

This has made our young people fatter, less happy and more lonely than previous generations and, perversely less safe. Sooner or later the apron strings have to be cut and they are tipped out unprepared into a world that is seldom kind to innocents.

What is to be done? We need to stop thinking of our towns and cities as places where people are warehoused; and start thinking about them as communities again.

There needs to be serious investment in public transport so that owning a car is made impractical. Something that, incidentally, would make most Britons richer, healthier and less stressed whether they've got kids or not.

More needs to be done to get kids walking to and from school and once they're there to get them doing their learning outside.

All this sounds like starry eyed idealism, the province of well meaning people who wear dungarees and knit their own beards. That's a bad thing?

The Labour Party is starting to look fondly at its core principles as touchstones for making policy rather than amusing artefacts; the Greens have always advocated better public transport, and cities designed on a human scale.

If there really is a wind of change blowing through the dusty halls of politics shouldn't the youngest in our society benefit? Setting our children free is surely a revolution we can all support.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Local Greens hold their first social at Keele.

A slightly shabby room above a student bar on the campus of Keele University, the sort of place like minded people would choose to meet and talk about changing the world.

This week members of North Staffs Green Party held its first social event at the Keele Postgraduate Association. Around twelve members attended the event and organiser Steven Maddocks described it as having been 'very successful' with a relaxed atmosphere, everyone at the university had, he said, been 'very welcoming.'

The event had, he said, 'done everything it set out to do' by giving members and people interested in joining the party an opportunity to socialise and discuss issues relating to politics and the environment.

The topics discussed ranged from how Newcastle becoming a transition town make the local economy greener and fairer, with several members suggesting ways such a project could be introduced through community groups working in partnership.

There was only moderate enthusiasm expressed for plans put forward by President Obama to make America's energy more environmentally friendly, with the consensus being that they are too modest to make a real impact. What little will be done could be rapidly overturned by an incoming Republican administration, as one member put it the changes made would 'go away because Obama will go away.'

Members also discussed the remarkable rise of Jeremy Corbyn from also ran to bookies favourite in the race to be the next leader of the Labour Party and the impact on UKIP of a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU. The consensus was that a likely vote to stay in would diminish their support, although they could continue as recipients of the 'anger vote.'

All this sounds very much like what it was, an exercise in student politics, dogmatic intransigence and antagonism that often marks it was absent. The prevailing attitude towards other political parties was one of conciliation and a willingness to work in partnership on shared priorities.

This could resonate with a Labour Party that is moving rapidly towards a position further to the left that that held by its local leadership. One member said, with their tongue not too far in their cheek, Green Party socials could be the ideal place to take your left leaning Labour friends for a night out.

There was a certain earnestness about the discussion to be sure, the majority of those present were in their early to mid twenties; the age when idealism blossoms. It was tempered though by a mix of knowledge and openness to other points of view.

This chimed with the intention expressed by Steven Maddocks that the socials should be a way of introducing people to politics who wouldn't come to another kind of meeting.' An 'easy way in' free from pressure to sign up, obscure rituals and the feeling of simmering anger that often traps the left in a ghetto of righteous but impotent anger.

This was a place where generations and viewpoints could meet, explore their differing positions and then agree to differ on specifics whilst being united by strong shared values. It would be hard to imagine the big three parties staging a similar event, were they to try the whole thing would be managed into banality by their overly centralised structure.

The steady growth of the Green Party in Staffordshire, following a strong showing at the general election, is hardly comparable to the renaissance in the fortunes of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left, although there are similarities.

Both respond to a desire for a type of politics that works from the ground upwards, where members have a real role in making police and disagreements are handled with maturity before they become schisms. As I left on Wednesday evening I did so feeling that I had spent a couple of hours in an atmosphere where the business of politics is done in a quieter, more collegiate and far more mature way than at Westminster or down at the Civic Centre.

The next Green Party Social will take place at the Keele Postgraduate Association on the campus of Keele University at 6pm on 4th November.

Adam Colclough is the Press Officer for North Staffs Green Party.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Turning the Living Wage into a cheap con trick isn't making work pay.

George Osborne sold it to the country as a budget for working people, less than a month later it is turning out to be nothing of the sort.

This week it was revealed that the Living Wage, announced with a flourish in the budget as a replacement for the minimum wage along with a promise that it would rise to £9 an hour by 2020, will not apply to apprentices aged over twenty five.

A policy that left the Labour Party gasping on the bank like a fish out of water has been exposed, fittingly by Louise Haigh, perhaps the only Labour MP not busy with the undignified squabble over the party leadership as a cheap and cynical con trick.

All of a sudden the penny drops with a crash louder than a drain cover falling from the top floor of a skyscraper, no wonder the Tories have been so keen to push apprenticeships, its got nothing to do with raising the national skills base; and everything to do with creating jobs on the cheap.

How very typically Tory, like so many of the current government's policies it is strongly reminiscent of the cynicism and sly cruelty of the Thatcher years. It is not inconceivable for someone who was exploited as a teenager on a YTS scheme in the eighties to now be being exploited all over again as an apprentice; what goes around comes around and socks you in the jaw.

It is certainly a shocking betrayal of people who, as the phrase Boy George and his chums like to trot out goes, are 'doing the right thing'. An opposition that was doing its job would be tearing lumps off the Conservatives over this issue; what a shame the Labour Party, the admirably Ms Haigh aside, is too busy trying to make sure anyone but Jeremy Corbyn becomes their next leader.

Lord Sewell, before this week a man who wasn't even a household name in his own household resigned first from his post as Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords and then from the upper house altogether.

His downfall was brought about by the Sun publishing video footage of him taking drugs in the company of ladies of (ahem) dubious virtue, looking in the process like the Fat Controller going off the rails.

Lords Speaker Baroness D'Souza described his conduct as 'shocking and unacceptable' and said the Lords would 'continue to uphold standards in public life and will not tolerate departure from these standards.'

Exit Lord Sewell, pursued by a bear made out of angry tabloid editorials.

The not so noble lord was also caught on camera making disobliging comments about several senior politicians including David Cameron, that probably did more to get him into bad books than his narcotic misbehaviour; politics will forgive just about anything apart from the pricking of its practitioners egos.

It is cruel perhaps to gloat too much at the fate of Lord Sewell, behind every public meltdown is a private tragedy, but haven't we all secretly been waiting for something like this to happen?

To paraphrase the famous Peter Cook sketch after weeks of noisy Tory triumphalism and the endless turgid squabbling over the Labour leadership this is just the sort of pointless scandal we need to raise the whole moral tone of politics.

I had promised myself that I wouldn't write another word about the race to win the Labour leadership, but as Wilde would have it I can resist everything apart from temptation, this week it has provided shed loads.

The latest comic turn in this epic battle between three bald women and a trot over a comb is the possibility that the vote may be corrupted by people who want to damage the party signing up as supporters to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

This has caused Labour M Ps Graham Stringer and John Mann to call for the vote to be postponed and for the man of the hour to tell the BBC he only wants the support of people who are 'genuine Labour supporters.'

There is some grounds for this former member of the party to say 'I told you so' over all this, back in the day the party hierarchy was mad keen on dropping members with their silly ideas about having a long term relationship with the party giving them a say in its policies in favour of lots of tame supporters. These could be bussed in to pack meetings or vote how they were told to and ignored the rest of the time; big mistake.

It is wrong if the system is being manipulated by people with malicious intentions, but entirely the own fault of the New Labour types who are squealing now about them doing so. The chickens have come home to roost and are now doing what chickens do best all over their cynical manoeuvring.

Lose weight or lose your benefits is the latest message from a government that like to make hard lives that little bit harder just because they don't care.

It is the latest wheeze for victimising, I mean motivation; no I don't I mean victimizing people with addiction problems who refuse to engage with support services. Most of them won't of course, giving them a splendid opportunity to cut said services.

The consequences will be more crime, more pressure on the NHS and probably more needless deaths; but when did this witless government ever think about the consequences of its actions?

If we are going to dock the money of people who live off the state because they are spending too much of it on booze and burgers why only look at the poor? There are quite a few portly M Ps and the commons bars are seldom short of custom, never mind weighing in the votes lets start weighing the politicians before we give them their expenses.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Britain's kids are stressed out and its all our fault.

According to a poll conducted by management support services service The Key Britain's school leaders are more concerned over pupils' mental health than any other issue.

Two thirds of the 1180 headteachers questioned said it was their top concern with domestic violence (58%) and cyber-bullying (55%) also scoring highly.

Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders told the BBC said there had 'certainly been an increase in the number of pupils who are displaying different types of mental health problems.' These, he added, often arose as a result of 'difficult home backgrounds or a form of abuse or issues such as ADHD.'

As local authority budgets continue to be squeezed schools are finding it difficult to get support for students with mental health problems and are employing their own counsellors, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy estimates that between 64 and 80 of schools have taken this option, they are also drawing heavily on resources from the voluntary sector.

The Department of Health told the BBC this week that it had increased the NHS mental health budget over the past two years, a survey carried out by charity Young Minds found that most councils in England had frozen or cut their spending on mental health services for young people over the same period.

There is something rotten in the state of childhood in modern Britain and it says nothing good about the sort of country we are becoming. Our young people are being slowly poisoned by a toxic stew of false expectations and mixed messages being fed to them by adults who should know better.

We drive them through the hoops of an education system so obsessed with measuring results actual learning is often pushed off the agenda entirely and then tell them their grades are worthless because the exams have been made too easy. Deluge them with advertising and messages that only physical perfection is acceptable; then throw up out hands in horror when they turn out to be shallow and image obsessed with no aspirations beyond owning the latest i-phone.

Just to sour things even further thanks to five years of austerity the poorest of our young people have has heaped upon them the long term physical and mental health problems attendant on not being properly fed or clothed during their formative years.

How we treat our young people it a guide to the general health of society; in which case ours is seriously sick. Like the parents in Larkin's poem we have visited upon our children all the faults of an adult world that is painfully ill at ease with itself, with a few more added on for good measure.

The solution to the problem is obvious, for a start the budget for mental health services needs to be ring-fenced so that NHS trusts and local authorities can't loot it when funds elsewhere are low. We also need to talk openly and honestly about mental health problems as something anyone can experience, there has been some progress in this area during recent years but there is still a long way to go.

We need to let kids be kids, testing in schools should be rigorous; but there is no need for it to be relentless. Education should be about more than just producing exam results for middle aged politician to argue about.

Children and adults alike would be healthier and probably happier if we turned down the volume on the jabbering of the advertising industry, shopped a little less and socialised a lot more. Far from opening the shops for longer on Sundays we should be thinking about closing them altogether, if you can't be bothered to buy a thing on the other six days of the week you probably don't really want it.

Sadly none of this will happen, at least not in the next five years anyway. The Tories are wedded to an education policy so out of touch and backward looking you'd be forgiven for thinking Mr Chips had been disinterred and give a job as a special adviser. As for Labour, they're so consumed with the need to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming party they have lost contact with reality.

The good news is that after five years of the resulting nonsense the electorate, always far more sensible than the politicians who presume to lead them, will be so heartily sick of business as usual they might be disposed to take a chance on something different.

You'd hope so anyway, not least since the alternative is, as Philip Larkin, the Wordsworth of suburban angst, put it generation hands misery on to generation so that it 'deepens like a coastal shelf,' our young people deserve better than that.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Walking to school could help to defuse the childhood obesity 'time-bomb'.

Almost a third of children in the UK leaving primary school are either obese or overweight, creating, says charity Living Streets, a 'public health time-bomb.'

Their solution is to encourage families to build exercise into their daily routine through making it easier for children to walk or cycle to school.

Living Streets is a national charity that has been campaigning in the interests of pedestrians since 1929. They support a number of initiatives to encourage children to be more active including 'Walk Once A Week' and the national 'Walk to School Week.'

Living Streets has welcomed a target set by the government to get 55% of children in the UK walking to school over the next decade and announcing a cycling and walking investment strategy.

The charity has though expressed concern that a lack of funding may mean these good intentions aren't turned into practical improvements.

North Staffs Green Party shares these concerns and has announced its support for the Living Streets campaign to get more children walking to school.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said 'We support fully the aims of Living Streets in working to improve conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and everyone who uses our public spaces and will be taking action to promote their campaign.'

This action will include writing to Transport Minister Robert Goodwill asking him to ensure sufficient funding is made available for the government to meet its target for getting more children walking to school and implement its cycling and walking strategy. The party will also be writing to Stoke-on-Trent City Council to urge them to support the call for funding to get children walking to school to be protected.

As part of its health policies the Green Party encourages people to adopt healthy lifestyles and believes some aspects of society need to be adapted to make this easier. This includes focussing on preventing illness as well as making sure the NHS is properly funded, improving the design of our towns and cities to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle; building more outdoor activities into the school day to improve students learning and well-being and improving public transport.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said 'We all want to do something about the rising levels of childhood obesity and making it easier ans safer for kids to walk to school is an ideal way of doing so.'

He added that ' At its heart the Green Party is all about working for the common good, this is just the sort of issue that allows us to put that principle into practice. We will work with any organisation, community group or other party that shares our values and wants to take positive action to improve the health and well-being of our young people.'

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

North staffs Greens back Crisis 'No-One Turned Away' campaign.

North Staffs Green Party has today announced its support for homelessness charity Crisis's 'No-One Turned Away' campaign.

The campaign aims to ensure that single homeless people have access to the same level of support given to families in the same situation.

A freedom of information request made by North Staffs Green party earlier this month revealed that Stoke-on-Trent City Council received 17 'presentations' from people who are or are at risk of becoming homeless each week in June this year, of these just 5 were give places in accommodation. Regionally figures produced by the Office of National Statistics using data from the 2011 census shows that there are 18,500 homeless people in the West Midlands with 497 of these living in Stoke-on-Trent.

These official figures are, or course, the tip of a much larger iceberg with many homeless people 'sofa surfing' through informal accommodation provided by friends and relatives.

The Crisis campaign calls for the existing regulations governing how local authorities support homeless people to be enforced by regular inspections, better data collection on levels of homelessness and for councils to be given adequate funding to work with homeless people.

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said: ' Our support for the Crisis campaign is in no way a criticism of the way the council supports homeless people, we recognise they are working within very tight financial constraints.'

He added that the government had 'created a huge rise in the number of homeless people though its changes to the benefits system and cuts to public services, they have a responsibility to address the problem they have created.'

The Green Party put forward in its election manifesto a number of policies that would address homelessness and wider housing related problems, these include;

Introducing a 'right to rent' where local authorities would step in to support people who are struggling to pay their housing costs, taking action to bring the thousands of empty properties across the country back into use; building 500,000 environmentally friendly social rented homes and devolving Housing Benefit to councils so they can tailor the support they give to local need.

The Green Party also supports homeless people who are single or part of a childless couple being given the same rights to support currently granted to families.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said: 'Having a secure and suitable place to live is a basic human right, shamefully that is a right denied to too many people in this country.'

The party had, he said, written to Homelessness Minister Marcus Jones calling on 'the government of which he is part to meet their responsibilities in this area.'

Monday, 13 July 2015

If they don't oppose welfare cuts for working families just what is the point of the Labour Party?

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme yesterday acting leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman said the party would not oppose the government's benefit cap of £20,000 for people living outside London and the reduction in Child Tax Credits.

She said the temptation to oppose everything in the budget delivered by George Osborne last week was a luxury Labour could not afford because the party was not trusted by the public on economic issues.

She said 'we are not going to do blanket opposition because we've heard all around the country that whilst people have got concerns, particularly about the standard of living for low income families in work, they don't want blanket opposition to what the government is proposing in welfare.'

Three out of the four candidates running in the party leadership election have said they would oppose the government's benefit changes.

Andy Burnham said 'you don't allow a change that is going to take money off people in work who are trying to do the right thing.'

Yvette Cooper said cutting child tax credits would affect people's incentive to work and that party could be 'credible and also say we are going to oppose the things the Tories are doing that are going to hit people's incentive to work.'

Jeremy Corbyn said he would oppose a budget he described as 'brutal and anti-young and anti-the poorest in Britain.'

Only Liz Kendall said the acting leader had been 'absolutely right' in the stance she had taken, adding that if Labour continued with 'the same arguments we have used for the past five years' another election defeat would be certain.

Within hours Harriet Harman had amended her position to say she was articulating an 'attitude' not a policy, but the damage had already been done and the impression had been confirmed that Labour is a party without a leader and, it seems, a rudder.

The principle behind the benefits cap is that no-one should be better off on benefits than in work, in principle that sounds fair; in practice it doesn't work so well.

The roll out of the Universal Credit means that housing benefits and those for caring for children and vulnerable adults will be taken into account, leaving many families dramatically out of pocket. A situation, according to analysis published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last week, the rise in the minimum wage announced in the budget will do little to improve.

The first budget delivered by a majority Conservative government since 1996 took away more than it gave to those families, to quote the cliché of the moment, who are trying to do the right thing; despite the rhetoric work still doesn't pay for too many people.

The Labour Party should be instinctively opposed to the ideological opposition to driving the budget and the past five years of 'austerity', the rare occasions when the party has managed to connect with the electorate have come when it has spoke out on the challenges faced by working families.

High levels of personal debt, an insecure economic position and the ever rising real cost of living mean that more of the middle class demographic New Labour courted so determinedly are being dragged into a nightmare world of struggling to get by.

The party needs to take a firm line on benefits, the dismantling of public services and the rising fear that too many people are being left to struggle at the times in their lives when they are most vulnerable.

If it can't do so and despite the denials of the prospective leaders in waiting there is little sign that the party has the stomach for a fight on benefits changes, then more and more people will continue to ask just what is the point of the Labour Party?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Do they know George Osborne has taken away their Child Tax Credits?

Hanley on a grey Wednesday afternoon that seems more like November than July. I'm standing outside the Potteries Centre with a small group of protesters holding placards and the unseasonably grim weather seems fitting for the day George Osborne became the first Conservative chancellor to deliver a budget for almost twenty years.

It was a budget that saw him hand out a number of sweeties including a promised rise in the minimum wage, renamed a 'living wage' to steal Labour's economic clothes, to £9 by 2020, along with a large spoonful of bitter medicine in the shape of further benefits cuts.

This is the budget that capped benefits payments at a maximum of £20,000 a year for families living outside London and £26,000 for those in the capital, far less than it sounds in real terms. The chancellor also announced drastic cuts to Child Tax Credits and the removal of Child Benefit for a third child.

George gave and George took away, as one of the protesters put it, what dose he expect people to do with their inconvenient third child, send it back to the shop? Within a day the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) had said that even with the rise in the minimum wage the budget would leave many families significantly out of pocket.

On the day of the protest things don't get off to a good start, there is a minor squabble with the delegation from the Socialist Party that sees their stall removed from the proximity of ours, leaving them free to sit apart in politically pure solitude being ignored by everyone else. In the wider scheme of things it isn't even a storm in a teacup, but it is hard to see how a movement that seeks to fight austerity can do so effectively if its members are distracted by fighting amongst themselves.

I walk around the good natured if not overly large crowd milling around the People's Assembly stall. As I do so Dave Muller, a young man wearing a Green Party badge says the budget and the rise in the minimum wage is a 'joke' since it does little to close the gap between the highest and lowest earners. Another young Green says he finds it 'baffling' that the Tories spent the election saying raising the minimum wage would be economically disastrous and yet were now touting it as one of their flagship policies.

Someone starts to bang on a saucepan with a wooden spoon setting up the percussive beat of dissent that by the end of the afternoon will have turned into something like a samba. A woman standing smoking a roll-up at the edge of the protest points at some shoppers rushing past Boots laden with bags and says loudly 'Do they know that George Osborne has taken away their Child Tax Credits?' The shoppers do that very British thing of pretending that nothing it happening, but walking a bit faster anyway.

A man in a wheelchair tells me that his partner is seriously ill with cancer but has still been classed as fit for work by the DWP, adding that 'if you saw that on Monty Python you'd laugh.' In real life nobody's laughing; but a lot of people are suffering, since 2010 government austerity policies and the stress of coping with an overly adversarial benefits system has been implicated in thousands of deaths.

As he takes a leaflet a man leaning on a stick talks about the dole being constantly 'on his back' even though he's doing all he can to find work, the pressure they're being put under is, he says, 'killing people.'

Taking to a megaphone Jason Hill of the People's Assembly Against Austerity says they are here to 'protest against cuts for which there is no need at all', he goes on to say that the fight against austerity is an 'ideological' one. It is indeed, one that puts an understanding of the welfare state as the Labour Party of 1945 saw it and 1980's style free market economics; a fight for the sort of future many people say they want and the one they fear they might get.

Quite where the Labour Party of 2015 any beyond stands in this fight isn't clear, they spent the five years up to the election failing to convince the public they had anything coherent to say about the economy or austerity. One minute they were fighting the corner of families struggling with the cost of living and the next amidst a frenzy of back peddling they were promising to adhere to Tory spending plans.

There are a couple of young Labour supporters present, one holds a sketch pad with 'THIS IS A CLASS WAR!' written on it in black marker pen, the other wears a 'Jeremy4leader' t-shirt and is ostentatiously holding a copy of Labour Left review. Its a nice idea to think that the Labour Party might elect Jeremy Corbyn as its next leader and return to something recognisably like socialist values, but it won't happen.

If there were the slightest risk of his even coming close to wining someone, somehow, would throw a spanner into the works or find a skeleton in his closet. Don't believe me? Read 'A Very British Coup', it's a book that will change your mind.

On the day the protest made its point with good humour, that awkward spat with the socialists aside, and the public seemed to engage. At least the ones who took leaflets or stopped to talk did, unfortunately more people rushed past oblivious.

That, as much as their give-aways and political manoeuvring is what David Cameron and his wily chancellor are relying on. Our political system is based on most of the people being indifferent most of the time, one day soon though if the IFS is right they might just find that George Osborne has taken with one hand benefits that help them keep their heads above water and given with the other a rise in the minimum wage that sounds impressive but still leaves them significantly out of pocket.