Thursday, 30 April 2015

The BBC shouldn't behave like the arbiter of political debate in our city.

Green Party candidate for Stoke Central Jan Zablocki has expressed serious concerns about the exclusion of his party from an election debate broadcast on Radio Stoke today.

Represented on the programme were Tristram Hunt (Labour), Liam Ascough (Conservative), Zulfiquar Ali (Liberal Democrat) and Mick Harold (Ukip).

The presenter, Mr Zablocki said, inaccurately told listeners that all the candidates standing in the constituency were represented, there are in fact seven candidates including himself.

When challenged by a caller about the non-representation of the Greens the presenter said there wasn't enough room in the studio for them to be included.

This, Mr Zablocki said, is not what he was told by the station management when he asked why he had not been invited to take part in the debate, he was told the Greens had not been included because they had not polled sufficient votes in previous elections.

He said that he felt the party had been 'deliberately excluded' from the debate and that this was unacceptable from a radio station that 'repeatedly says it represents the people of Stoke.'

Mr Zablocki suggested the Greens could have been excluded because they 'do not believe in the austerity policies' favoured by the four parties included, adding that as a result 'people who share our views have been denied a voice.'

A spokesperson for North Staffs Green Party said 'it is massively disappointing that Radio Stoke has decided to exclude Jan from this debate, their reasons for doing so do not hold water.'

Mr Zablocki said the BBC were 'behaving like the arbiter of political debate in our city', a position he believes to be 'totally opposed to their remit.'

Mr Zablocki is to meet with senior managers from the radio station later today and may consider making a formal complaint.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Rise in numbers using food banks shows the recovery hasn’t reached everyone.

The number of people in need of emergency food help is expected to reach one million according to the Trussell Trust which runs 400 food banks across the UK.

In 2005/06 2814 people were given three days emergency food supplies by the trust, by 2010/11 this had risen to 61,498 and rose again to 346,992 in 2012/13. Last year, 2013/14 the number of people using food banks jumped sharply to 913,138, of whom 330,205 are children.

The Trussell Trust says that staff at staff at its food banks cited government benefit sanctions as the main cause of referrals.

Rachel Orr, the Head of UK Poverty for Oxfam said, quoted on the Trussell Trust website, said: ‘ the fact that the number of people forced to turn to food banks has doubled in the last year and the situation is worsening for people in poverty is deeply worrying.’

The Conservatives have promised to cut a further £12 billion from government spending if returned to office, this will almost certainly mean more austerity, more cuts and more people forced into poverty.

Sean Adam, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Stoke North said: ‘" I am one of those caring people who spends money every month contributing to one of this country's worst social facilities; food banks. How sad it is to watch parliamentary banquets, on our televisions, taking place at the same time of day where those struggling are making a simple meal from a charitable donation from their local food bank"

Jan Zablocki, the party’s candidate for Stoke Central has also spoke out about issues relating to poverty in a number of public debates, calling for an end to zero hours contracts, better support for people on benefits and a rejection of monetarist economics.

Stoke-on-Trent is a city that faces considerable levels of deprivation, according to figures produces by the city council it is the 16th most deprived local authority area in England with 27.8% of children living in poverty and 16.1% of families in fuel poverty. The city has a larger than average number of people in low paid work (19.7% compared to a national average of 11.0%) earning an average wage of £11,984 per anum, the city also faces significant health challenges with a life expectancy 2.5 years lower than the national average.

All of these factors mean the impact of five years of austerity on local people has been severe and has exacerbated already deep seated social and economic problems. The solutions is not five more years of ideologically motivated cuts dispensed by central government; it is new thinking and radical actions of the sort only the Green Party can provide.

It is central to the policies of the Green Party to work towards a situation where everyone has a secure job that pays a living wage, public services are efficient and well- funded and addressing climate change is used as a means of creating new jobs in sustainable industries.

If in government working with progressive partners the Green Party would increase the minimum wage to be a living wage, phase in a shorter working week and get rid of exploitative zero hours contracts. Curb tax dodging by big corporations and control the activities of payday lenders by supporting alternatives such as credit unions. Bring in a 2% wealth tax levied on high earners, raise child support and put an end to private companies carrying out assessing benefit claimants.

A spokesperson for North Staffs Green Party said: ‘the continued rise in the number of people, many of them in work, using food banks shows that the supposed economic recovery hasn’t reached everyone.’

Adding ‘austerity policies imposed by an out of touch government of millionaires isn’t the solution to our economic and social problems. What we need is fresh thinking and radical actions; that is something only the Green Party is able to provide.’


Stoke-on-Trent City Council Statistical Summary February 2015

Trussell Trust:[accessed 19-4-2015]

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Giving power back to the people

On Wednesday evening candidates contesting the Hartshill and Basford and Penkhull and Stoke wards in the local elections will take part in public debate.

The debate has been organised by Harpfields and Hartshill Occasions and will be held at the Medical Institute in Hartshill.

The Green Party has a range of policies aimed at reviving local government and giving power back to local people in a meaningful way.

These include raising the funding available to local authorities by £10 billion, setting up a £5 billion fund to help local authorities buy out costly PFI contracts and putting controls over education, planning and public transport back into the hands of councils.

On a national level the party would work towards creating a written constitution and a bill of rights and bring in proportional representation to break the stranglehold of the three main parties and bring new voices into the nation’s political debate.

A spokesperson for North Staffs Green Party said, ‘We have put together a strong team to fight the local elections, public debates like this give us an opportunity to meet and engage with voters.’

The spokesperson added that ‘unlike the big three parties the Greens are all about listening and responding to people’s concerns. Local people have had enough of being offered the same old tired out options, we are able to offer something genuinely different.’

The Green Party candidates in the two wards involved are Thomas Edgar Holland (Hartshill and Basford) and Elaine Rose Holland (Penkhull and Stoke).

Friday, 17 April 2015

Hunt raises his game to make a draw in the Hartshill debate.

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m sitting in the bar of the Medical Institute in Hartshill ahead of the second debate I’ve attended in two days.

The surroundings have a touch of late sixties coolness that is both pleasing and deserving of being preserved as a reminder of more optimistic times. Early evening sunlight is pouring in trough the tall windows, there are nibbles to spare and the crowd milling around the circular bar seems genial. As billets go during an election that is yet to really catch fire there are far worse.

Ukip seem to have brought a fair contingent again, a different crowd though than at Staffordshire University a couple of weeks ago. This time it is all rugby club blazers and faux posh accents instead of Primark suits and low level bigotry. Most of the audience though when we file through into the Wade Hall where the debate is to take place are local residents with no noticeable political axe to grind.

The running order is much the same as at Staffs a couple of weeks ago, although the Liberal Democrat candidate is absent due to a family bereavement. The Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol Party and the Ubuntu Party of the UK candidates also send their apologies, rather a shame in the case of the latter since they sound intriguingly esoteric.

Tristram Hunt, the incumbent and so the star of the show strolls in wearing an artfully crumpled suit and no tie; the daringly fashionable devil, this is maybe a ploy to look more relaxed and approachable. Par, probably, for the antic atmosphere of an election campaign, it is to be hoped though that he has raised his game after two lacklustre performances in the last double header watched.

There were are the usual opening statements from the candidates, by this stage they have all repeated the same few words so many times to so many audiences they must be able to recite them in their sleep.

Mick Harold (Ukip) is no better a public speaker than on the previous occasions I have seen him, much given to swaying about and clasping his hands nervously. He places emphasis on his working class origins and ‘passion’ for the city, but has little in the way of a real message, rather like Ukip as a whole who seem to have spent the campaign so far making a lot of noise but saying very little.

Tristram Hunt (Labour) gives an overview of the work he’s done over the past five years, some five thousand or more pieces of casework, impressive sounding, but much of the actual work would have been done by his office staff, rather more creditable have been his efforts to help the ceramic industry fight back from years of decline.

Liam Ascough (Conservative) wears a natty three piece suit with shows that don’t quite match, tonight is turning out to be a night for political fashion victims. He makes great play of his humble origins, council house Tories are a rare breed these days. His speaking style has grown more assured as the campaign has progressed, suggesting he may have prospects in another seat at another election, not here though, he’s a little too on message to win friends.

Jan Zablocki (Green) also made play of his working class roots, as the son of a Polish miner who fled Stalin’s terror after the war and his long career in the trades union movement. He said he wanted to fight for the sustainable regeneration of the local economy and to encourage local people to demand more opportunities.

The preliminaries out of the way the panel take questions from the floor, unsurprisingly given the setting the first topic is the health service with several well thought out questions from NHS staff in the audience.

Asked about nurses from abroad coming to work in the NHS Jan Zablocki attacks the government for the pressure constant reorganisations have placed on health workers and calls for something to be done about the crippling costs of PFI. Mick Harold also attacks PFI and calls for hospitals to be given the option of buying themselves out of the debt; Tristram Hunt waffles around the issue, possibly because he memorably described opposition to privatisation of cancer services as a ‘knee jerk’ reaction puts him on something of a sticky wicket. He does seem to be more engaged than during the last debate, perhaps the Wade Room doesn’t have such an interesting ceiling.

Asked by one audience member who she should vote for if she wants to pay higher taxes in return for better public services Mick Harold says the British public are overtaxed already, a popular tune in the Ukip repertoire; Tristram Hunt treats the whole thing as a joke, poor form, and Liam Ascough launches into an attack on the tax rises to be expected if Labour return to office. This probably gives him the best of the exchange, though since there are probably more unicorns in the room than Tory votes the points gained count for little.

Asked about the environment Liam Ascough then promptly undoes all his good work by outing himself as a supporter of Hs2, a white elephant that has already cost the city dear through chasing after lost causes. Tristram Hunt and Jan Zablocki both make lucid points about, respectively, the need to improve energy efficiency in the ceramics industry and the importance of using geothermal energy to create jobs and make the city greener; score than round as a draw.

Then comes a curve ball, where would the panellists say their ‘moral compass’ resided. Jan Zablocki and Mick Harold both cite family and the importance of treating people fairly, Liam Ascough finds his in his Catholicism and Tristram Hunt finds it in the writings of the early socialist thinkers and the Judaeo Christian heritage; that sounds a bit like showing off, score another win for Jan Zablocki with honourable mentions for honesty going to Ascough and Harold.

At the end of the evening it is possible to score the debate as a draw between Tristram Hunt and Jan Zablocki, with the latter having had to raise his game significantly. Liam Ascough has shown both growing confidence and obvious potential, Mick Harold trailed in last leaving behind the impression that his is a party fighting a one note campaign and that their best hopes rest on the local elections.

On the way out I pass through the lobby just as Jan Zablocki is leaving and I am impressed by the number of people who come up to shake his hand and promise their vote, such things are, of course, subjective, but it does suggest his campaign is holding its momentum.

Tristram Hunt, as befits a member of the shadow cabinet is whisked away to another engagement through a side door, tonight though should have confirmed for him that he has a race on his hands.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

First should be marketing early morning and evening services better not cutting them.

First potteries have announced the fourth shake up of its timetables in the space of a year with early morning, evening and Sunday services facing drastic changes.

Many of the services being altered have been deemed ‘unsustainable’ by the company; a First spokesperson told the Sentinel ‘many of our early morning, evening and Sunday buses are used by a very small number of customers’

Adding that services were being ‘adjusted’ in order to provide a ‘sustainable network of services for the majority of travelers’ as part of the company’s continual review’ process.

North Staffs Green Party opposes the cuts due to be implemented from 19th April as part of their commitment to campaigning for better public transport.

Adam Colclough, Green Party candidate for Springfields and Trent Vale said ‘four changes to the timetable in the space of a year is confusing for bus users, many of whom depend on public transport to get to work.’

The Green Party is committed to improving public transport through policies including taking the railways back into public ownership, giving pensioners and young people free travel and campaigning for affordable public transport for all.

Adam Colclough said that ‘if early morning and evening buses aren’t attracting enough customers then First need to concentrate on marketing the service better, not cutting it back.’

He added, ‘Given a gentle nudge many people would find travelling to work or the shops by bus easier and cheaper than going by car.’

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Older people vote they ask tough questions too.

North Staffs Pensioners Convention held their election hustings in a church hall on the edge of Newcastle town centre. A slightly dowdy space with lots of folding chairs and a stage at one end over which hung a banner with ‘Older People Vote’ stitched on it.

As I sat at the side of the room watching the mostly retired audience file in I over- heard a white haired woman explaining to what were probably her grandchildren what was going on, just as I tuned in she was asking the oldest if she’d heard of Ukip; let’s hope they’ve been forgotten by the time she’s old enough to vote.

The candidates on the panel were a mixed selection drawn from across Stoke and Newcastle with a Tory and a Ukip candidate from Stoke North, a Green from Central and Labour and Liberal Democrats from the home team in Newcastle.

Ben Adams (Conservative) looked and sounded like a suburban bank manager, decent but just a bit dull, Paul Farrelly (Labour) walked onstage with the heavy waddle of a retired prize fighter; Geoff Locke (Ukip) had the sort of beard Gladstone might have envied and an avuncular manner that made you wonder why he was in such a nasty party, Jan Zablocki (Green) arrived smartly suited as ever with a file of facts and figured tucked under his arm; Ian Wilkes (Liberal Democrat) arrived fashionably late looking a little like a crumpled polytechnic tutor from a Malcolm Bradbury novel.

In their opening statements, timed with superb eccentricity using a kitchen timer that rung from somewhere off stage each candidate gave their take on the key issues of an election that hasn’t, yet anyway, properly caught fire.

Ben Adams said issue he had been faced with most on the doorstep was the future of the NHS and praised the outgoing government for the work it had done to address the concerns older people had about healthcare, public transport and pensions. He wasn’t an electrifying speaker, but probably deserves a gold star from Tory central office for heroically staying on message.

Ian Wilkes said, rather shamefacedly, that he’d have liked to use the figures Adams had just rattled off so impressively, but didn’t want to bore people with repartition, a common problem for Lib Dems these days apparently. He also made a rather half- hearted attack on the government’s record, but then gained a few Brownie points by speaking well about his links to the locality.

Jan Zablocki also stressed his strong local links and his long association with trade’s unionism in the city. He made an eloquent appeal to the audience’s memories of the post-war Keynesian consensus that delivered welfare for all and the NHS and how the monetarist policies of the past thirty years had largely destroyed its legacy. The Greens, he said, were a party committed to reviving the spirit of that consensus along with the optimism and solidarity it created.

Geoff Locke stressed his long experience in local campaigns and spoke knowledgeably about the need to protect and improve pensions. Unfortunately he undid most of the good this did him later on when he fumbled badly over a question about ATOS and their infamously unfair assessments of benefits claimants.

Paul Farrelly was strong on his role and an ‘independent minded’ back bench MP since winning the seat in 2001 and his long track record of supporting local campaigns. He defended Labour’s record on pensions and attacked government plans to give people the ‘freedom’ to take and spend their entire pension pot at fifty five.

The formalities of where everyone stood out of the way it was time to get down to business; questions from the floor. If this debate was more of a cricket match than a boxing one, with the panellists competing certainly, but not doing so in a spirit of antagonism, then the questions were from whence a googly or two was going to come; they did not disappoint.

Asked about the privatisation of healthcare for older people Ben Adams suggested it could be helpful as a means of improving the service delivered, this was an audience, mostly, too polite to heckle, but having forty odd people all frowning at him in silence must have been pretty intimidating. Ian Wilkes waffled awkwardly over the same question and suggested an all- party commission should look into the issue, dear lord not another! Jan Zablocki tore with gusto into the government and its privatisation by stealth of NHS and council health services, saying that providers should be brought to account where the service was shoddy, getting a deserved round of applause in return. Paul Farrelly called the government’s plans to privatise healthcare ideologically driven and called for better pay for care staff, also strong applause.

Asked about the role of accounting companies such as KPMG and PwC in government affairs Jan Zablocki drew attention to the role one had played in ‘funding’ certain MPs, one rather close to home and asked if their support was being bought. Geoff Locke said tax avoidance, one of the subjects on which said companies had given advice was hard to prevent, so maybe we shouldn’t try? Ben Adams said people should pay their taxes, but that KPMG et al weren’t necessarily wrong in what they were doing; another stony silence met that one.

The question of the day though came from the most unlikely source, Jack Hood a sweet looking centenarian with a mind like a steel trap. He gave the panel a Paxman style grilling over the ‘bedroom tax.’ Well played that man, would that we all could be that feisty at half his age.

At the end of two hours of debate Paul Farrelly and Jan Zablocki emerged as joint winners; both put forward a pugnacious defence of the need for independent voices in politics. Farrelly though has a painfully small majority and so may find holding on to his seat in Newcastle a struggle.

His chances might be helped considerably by the fact that Ben Adams hardly emerged well from this debate, along with Ian Wilkes and Geoff Locke he came over as an effective campaigner in local politics, but an also ran in the parliamentary race.

Monday, 13 April 2015

A living wage for all would bring much needed fairness into the workplace

London Citizens, a charity that campaigns on social issues including fair pay has said that supermarket workers on the minimum wage are forced to claim £11 billion in benefits to make ends meet.

They have called for employers to pay retail staff a living wage, the current minimum wage stands at £ 6.50 per hour, a living wage would, as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation be £ 7.85 generally rising to £ 9.15 in London.

The Green Party recognises that the financial crisis of 2008 and its long aftermath has created a new social group, the ‘precariat’, members of which are trapped in insecure and poorly paid jobs.

A spokesperson for North Staffs Green Party said that ‘making a living wage a reality for all would bring much needed fairness into the workplace.’

This has created serious social divisions and requires concerted action to create a fairer situation for working people.

The Green Party would increase the minimum wage to a level that makes it into a living wage with a target of achieving £10 per hour by 2020, in 2015 this would be £ 8.10 per hour generally and £ 9.40 in London.

This would save £ 2.5 billion in tax credits and generate an extra £ 1.5 billion in extra tax and National Insurance payments.

The Green Party is also committed to ending exploitative zero hour contracts, make equal pay for male and female workers a reality and improve democracy in the workplace by strengthening the role of trades unions.

Stoke North Green Party PPC Sean Adam said: ‘I shall not be afraid to challenge the existing system. Why do we allow local unemployment to be disguised behind zero hours contracts, with a work force apparently in employment, but actually receiving minimum hours, not enough to provide a realistic living.’

Adding: ‘Why are we allowing highly profitable companies to pay the minimum wage and enforce their work force to claim working tax credits and housing benefit? The Green Party’s proposed living wage is an option all employers can afford to pay where staff are in full time employment. This is number one of my target campaign in and out of Parliament.’

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Raising a glass to a fairer deal for pubs and drinkers

Pubs have been at the heart of local communities for centuries, as places where people can meet and relax. In recent years they have been under threat from developers and supermarkets selling alcohol as a loss leader.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has stood up for the rights of small brewers, publicans and responsible drinkers for forty years. Earlier this year they published a manifesto for pubs which they asked candidates at the general election to support.

The manifesto calls for politicians to support well run community pubs; help to promote Britain’s 1300 small breweries and to represent pub goers and beer drinkers. It also calls for pub companies to treat licences fairly, protection for pubs under the planning laws and an end to short measures.

The Green Party supports responsible drinking and recognises the role played by well -run community pubs in promoting it, more than fifty Green candidates have pledged to support the CAMRA manifesto, including Stoke North candidate Sean Adam.

Mr Adam said: "One of the great aspects of brewing industry is the fantastic support CAMRA gives out micro-brewery industry, a growth industry not only here in North Staffordshire but throughout the UK. Our selection of real ales is at it’s greatest with more publicans taking on ales from these local brewers."

The Green Party has in its manifesto a number of policies that would benefit community pubs and small brewers, these include:

Keeping corporation tax for small businesses at 20% and raising the threshold for small business tax relief from £12,000 to £15,000 and making it easier for small businesses to get access to finance by investing £2 billion in setting up a network of mutually owned community banks.

The party would also put control over planning issues back into the hands of local authorities by repealing the National Policy Planning Framework and legislation to prevent change of use, a policy that would help to protect small shops and community pubs.

A Green Party spokesperson said ‘we support responsible drinking and recognise that community run pubs catering for a wide age range of customers are the best place to promote it. We also recognise that small breweries are a vital part of many local economies providing jobs and helping to make the way we produce our food and drink more locally focussed, seasonal and sustainable. That is why we are happy to back CAMRA in their campaign for a fair deal for brewers, publicans and beer drinkers.’

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Greens back Pensioners Convention manifesto.

On 6th April North Staffs Pensioners Convention launched a manifesto of issues they would like to see local and national politicians address after the election.

These include raising the state pension to £175 per week, creating railway ‘hub’ stations at Etruria, the Britannia Stadium and other locations and ending zero hours contracts for care workers.

North Staffs Green Party parliamentary candidate for Stoke Central Jan Zablocki said there were strong links between the issues raised by the Pensioners Convention and the policies in the Green Party manifesto; he said he looked forward to debating them with the other candidates on 13th April.

Sean Adam, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Stoke North said: ‘"With commuting opportunities in and around Stoke on Trent through the reinstatement of 'retired' smaller stations there is an opportunity to re-establish the shopping areas within the city.’

He added: ‘ My grandson and I will take the train from Longport to Longton not only for a train journey for a three years old but an opportunity to shop somewhere different without fighting the already busy roads. Etruria as an example is only a small walk from Festival Park.’, and that, ‘The promise of Free care for the over 65's, at the point of delivery, is a key policy within the Green Party manifesto"

The Green Party manifesto contains policies that mirror those put forward by the Pensioners Convention in many key areas, these include a commitment to increase the budget for the NHS by 1.2% in order to account for our aging population, providing free social as well as health care for older people and protecting their bus passes and free television licences from further government cuts.

The party would also support the enforcement of the rights of older people through the Dignity Code and work closely with those organisations that champion patients’ rights.

On public transport the Greens support bringing the railways back into public ownership and would increase spending targeted at improving bus services as a means of ensuring access to affordable, high quality public transport for all.

A spokesperson for North Staffs Green Party said, ‘We support fully the policies put forward by the Pensioners Convention and are committed to working with our progressive partners to create a society that is fair for all citizens regardless of age, gender or any other consideration.’

Monday, 6 April 2015

Children shouldn’t be coming to school hungry in 2015.

At their annual conference in Cardiff this Easter members of the NASUWT trades union have talked about seeing ‘Victorian’ levels of poverty in British schools.

Out of more than two thousand members questioned in a survey one in four said they had brought food in to school to feed youngsters who were at risk of going hungry, three in four said they had seen children coming to school during cold weather without adequate clothing.

In a report published on the BBC news website one delegate is quoted as saying ‘Children in 2015 should not be hungry and coming to school with no socks on and no coats, some children are living in Victorian conditions.’

NASUWT general secretary Chris Harvey, also quoted by the BBC, said that poverty took a ‘physical and emotional toll on children’ and that ‘schools cannot be expected to pick up the pieces.’

Responding to the survey results a spokesperson for the Conservative Party told the BBC ‘the number of children living in poverty has fallen by 300,000’ over the past five years and that through its policies the government had created a situation where jobs are more plentiful and ‘wages are rising faster than prices and family budgets are starting to go further.’

Children coming to school hungry and without warm clothing is the ugly face of five years of austerity economics, the government may claim to have created more jobs; however many of those are insecure and poorly paid.

Poverty experienced in childhood can have consequences that impact on a person’s physical and mental health for a lifetime. That children should have this experience in one of the world’s richest countries is shocking and shameful.

The Green Party would tackle these problems through policies aimed at creating a society that serves the common good.

These include tackling the housing shortage by building half a million social homes over five years and introducing a living rent tenancy to link annual rent rises to the consumer price index. Making work pay by raising the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020 and ensuring the highest wage in any organisation can never be more than ten times that of the lowest, and closing the equality gap by ensuring the richest 1% of the population give 2% of their income annually to be used for the common good.

Through our commitment to a new type of politics that serves the needs and hopes of ordinary working people rather than big corporations the Green Party working in government with its progressive partners would work to slay for good the giant of poverty the three main parties refuse to recognise let alone confront.

Adam Colclough is the Press Officer for North Staffs Green Party and a candidate in the local elections

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Seven leaders in search of a vote

There was something a little frantic about Thursday’s seven way debate between the leaders of the parties contesting the general election. The television coverage trailed the event for much of the day with an endless parade of talking heads speculating on what might be said and how each leader could be expected to react, none of which effectively hid the elephant in the room, that the format had been messed around with so much the whole event was a risk of being a damp squib.

Matters weren’t improved by the style of the coverage; the BBC corralled a herd of commentators in its ‘spin room’ with little to do apart from state the obvious. There was also the presence of the ‘worm’, a squiggly line running along the bottom of the screen that was supposed to track the response to what was being said of fifty undecided voters equipped with key pads. In practice it proved to be little more than a distraction adding nothing of use to proceedings.

The main event got under way with the leaders each giving a short personal statement, Natalie Bennett drew the short straw of going first and made a strong start that refuted some of the snide comments made in the media about the possibility of her experiencing another embarrassing ‘brain fade.’ Her main focus was on the need to create a fairer society and a style of politics that does not trade on fear and division.

Nigel Farage (Ukip) was oddly subdued and looked sweaty as if he had wandered on stage straight from the bar, given the obvious lack of preparation he showed during the debate proper that may have indeed been the case.

Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) emphasised his awareness of the mistakes his party had made as partners in the coalition over the past five years, it was probably not such a good idea to remind voters of these and his comic apology of a few years ago that went viral for all the wrong reasons. He also attacked the Tories for their austerity policies, not a safe wicket for him to bat on since one of Chancellor Osborne’s sidekicks is a Liberal Democrat.

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) proved to be no great orator, rather exuding a quiet competence and authority and positioning her party as still working for Scottish independence and working to make politics in Britain as a whole work for ordinary people.

David Cameron (Conservative) was as smooth as ever; this sort of event is his natural environment, which makes it all the more surprising how hard he tried to derail the whole thing. He stressed the success of his government in turning the economy round and getting more people into work, true up to a point, but how many of those people are able to make ends meet?

Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) the least known of the seven even to political anoraks proved to be a good speaker and positioned her party like the Greens as an alternative to yet more cuts and the tired status quo of Westminster politics.

Ed Milliband (Labour) attacked the government for five years of austerity, the proliferation of food banks and tax breaks for bankers. On the podium he is a better speaker, far more confident than when at the despatch box, the trouble is he finds the rough and tumble of debate a bit much.

Once the preliminaries were over the gloves could come off and the debate proper could get started. In the opening exchanges Nick Clegg made a lot of flappy hand movements that suggested a nervous awareness there wasn’t going to be an outbreak of Cleggmania this time round. Leanne Wood proved to be a confident speaker with a strong grasp of detail; Nigel Farage by contrast looked out of his depth, making a lot of noise about what his party is against but saying little about what they would do instead, apart, of course, from getting out of Europe.

Asked about the economy Natalie Bennett talked about austerity as an ‘assault’ on the services depended on by millions of people and called for more spending and borrowing to invest in services. This line would also be taken by Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood, suggesting a possible alliance between the smaller parties that could make future coalition negotiations interesting in a month or so.

Caught in a three way spat on the economy both Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband sounded shrill, with the latter evoking memories of his regular poor showings at PMQ’s. David Cameron was smoothness personified, completely unruffled as he worked the line that for all the pain it had caused austerity had worked and more austerity would go on working; no really it would.

Later in the debate Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon both made spirited defences of the NHS, this looked pleasantly authentic compared to the obviously rehearsed lines about ‘tough choices’ recited with varying degrees of conviction my Clegg, Cameron and Milliband, suggesting that whatever they say what they’ll almost certainly do is sanction more cuts and covert privatisations.

At the end of two hours it was possible to identify clear who had come out of the debate well if not to name an outright winner.

Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood had all done an effective job of introducing their parties to a wider audience and proving to be eloquent spokespeople for an alternative to the tired routines of political business.

The debate was, at best, a score draw for Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg, although neither made the sort of mess of things that could derail a whole campaign, but little of what they said was memorable. Nigel Farage proved to be a huge disappointment, his ‘man of the people’ shtick might come over on the doorstep in decayed seaside towns, but in a forma political debate he looks and sounds like a bar room bore flailing around out of his depth.

David Cameron, the participant with most to lose, emerged from the debate without anyone having laid a glove on him, even if you don’t agree with what he says, and I don’t, you have to admit he has a talent for this sort of thing.

The real importance of the debate though in the way it allowed the, not so, minor parties to reach a wider audience and demonstrate that if two party politics is in its death throes then something more positive and collaborative might be about to take its place

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Cuts to college funding show how out of touch this government has become.

Stoke-on-Trent College has announced that it will lose £2.5 million in in funding used to provide adult skills training.

The cuts will have an impact on areas including skills for employment training, courses for students learning English as an additional language and training for trade union reps as with the college’s trades union studies centre set to close.

The cuts also mean 117 members of college staff are at risk of being made redundant.

Jan Zablocki, North Staffs Green Party parliamentary candidate for Stoke Central, a long standing trades union activist with the CWU said the closure of the trades union studies centre represented ‘a further blow to support for trades union activists and a sign of the decline in trades unionism in general, something governments of the left and the right had done little to prevent over the past forty years.’

The Green Party believes in creating a ‘culture of hope’ and a society that values our ‘common humanity’, lifelong access to education is one of the ways in which we can go about doing so.

The party opposes the privatisation of further education and in government would seek to prioritise training in the skills necessary to build a low carbon economy. It is also committed to reforming apprenticeships for 16 to 25 year olds, bringing back the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16 to 17 year olds and to widening participation in education for people of all ages.

Locally access to good quality training and further education is an important part of rebuilding the economy of Stoke-on-Trent in a way that prioritises the creation of jobs in environmentally friendly industries these cuts risk trapping people in insecure, poorly paid jobs because they have been denied the chance to realise their full potential.

A spokesperson for North Staffs Green Party said: ‘I am shocked by the size of the cut in funding and very concerned about the damage that could be done as a result.’

The spokesperson went on to say the cuts were, ‘further evidence of the perverse priorities the coalition government has shown during its five years in office,’ adding that ‘money has been wasted on Trident and tax cuts for millionaires whist services depended on by working people have been cut. That just shows how out of touch with reality they are.’