Since my last bulletin we moved from a Tier Three partial lockdown to full national lockdown in England. It is due to end on 2 December. It is fair to say that having lost much of the confidence of the population thanks to the scandalous behaviour of Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in blatantly breaching the original lockdown rules, the government’s latest move has been greeted with scepticism.
It is easy to see why. Mixed messages, an inability to decide on a sensible policy from one day to the next, the fact that the different countries of the UK are pursuing different rules and the complete absence of long term planning to give people a sense of direction – these are the hallmarks of this incompetent Tory government. To cap it all Dominic Cummings was not sacked because of his complete betrayal of the people in lockdown one but because he briefed against Boris Johnson’s partner.
It is a shambles, and at every level it is time to redouble our efforts to rebuild support for our party – starting with winning back majority control of Wirral Borough Council in May 2021.
The Big Issues:
The May Election
I would encourage the local party to start enthusing and mobilising members for these elections now. And, given the current situation with lockdowns and future restrictions I would also recommend that the party starts a targeted campaign to get as many supporters as possible to register for postal votes and get those votes sent in on time so we increase our share and get our excellent team of candidates elected.
I know that Birkenhead and Tranmere ward have discussed using mail outs to potential supporters. Perhaps others could think about the same thing and include the postal vote form that I have attached to this this bulletin.
A Labour controlled Council will help us enormously in the struggles to come as this government lurches from crisis to crisis.
And alongside this I would urge all our supporters to take part in the Council’s survey on the Town Deal that the Council has submitted a bid for.
I am dismayed by the government’s approach to the current health emergency.
Throughout the pandemic, the Labour Party has been supportive of all measures that have been aimed at combating the spread of Covid 19, supporting the NHS and saving lives.
Several weeks ago, it was made clear to the government by its own scientific advisors that a full lockdown of the country was the only prudent approach to managing the dramatically increasing infection rate. In the light of that advice the Labour Party called for a two-week shutdown to combat Covid 19’s deadly spread.
Instead of following the scientific advice and our party’s proposal, the government wasted valuable town imposing a semi lockdown on the north under the three tier system while at the same time pouring scorn on our proposal and denouncing us for wanting to “close down” the economy.
The government imposed a cut price furlough payment of 67% on those thousands of workers unable to work because of their tier three restrictions. It did this to save money instead of saving jobs. The Prime Minister demonised Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, and quibbled over the amount of money he was requesting to ensure that the tier three restrictions did not destroy his city region. Johnson shamelessly accused Burnham of “playing politics”. In fact, it was Johnson who was playing with the lives and livelihoods of millions for political reasons.
Johnson was bowing to pressure from his own right-wing supporters to “keep the economy” going instead of accepting the urgent need to keep people going through timely measures to halt the spread of the virus.
In March he did the same thing – refusing to impose the necessary lockdown for two crucial weeks and thereby failing to stem the spread of the virus at a pivotal moment. There can and must be a proper reckoning dealing with this government’s woeful handling of the crisis. But first we must all come together to beat the virus.
The science is clear. The pandemic is spiralling out of control, the infection rate has soared, the grim tally of daily deaths is creeping beyond the levels it reached during the first wave. Johnson has delayed too long but has now been forced to face reality and impose a one-month lockdown.
This is better late than never, and I will be voting to support this lockdown. But at the same time, I will be fighting tooth and nail to ensure that workers, businesses, the self-employed and the three million people who were abandoned during the first lockdown receive proper financial support. There must be an extension of the furlough scheme – 80% as a minimum – to the self-employed, the freelancers etc., and through adequate grants (not loans) to all businesses forced to close during this lockdown.
Giving people and businesses the support they need now is the only way to ensure that there are jobs and businesses to go back to post-lockdown. Any retreat on supplying the support needed will mean that the Tories, despite their bleating about keeping the economy going will be directly responsible for driving it towards collapse.
The Conservative Government has mismanaged many aspects of this crisis and the Labour Party is critical of such mismanagement. We are especially critical of the fact that the Government introduced one rule for some and another rule for the rest of us when they excused Dominic Cummings’ clear breach of lockdown measures at the height of the pandemic. We are deeply concerned that this has undermined public trust and confidence in the safety measures that are vital in keeping people well. I for one am glad to see the back of this unelected aspiring despot.
But make no mistake – the mess is the responsibility of Johnson and while the Tories may have lost their chief adviser, they have not lost their gift for ruing people’s lives with their disastrous policies.
While I fully accept that the lockdown is extremely difficult for people it can play a role in keeping as many people as safe as possible. Therefore I call on you and all my constituents to bear with what is a highly unusual situation, observe the restrictions that have been put in place, be kind and considerate to others and help stem the spread of the disease. This is even more important now that vaccines are, at last, starting to come on stream.
Woodchurch Road Primary School
I sent a video message of support to a meeting of Unison members and parents from Woodchurch Road Primary School. I have also contacted the Council regarding my concern at the proposed cuts the school is facing.
I also attended a meeting of heads from schools across the borough and each one of them described the concerns they had as a result of inadequate funding, staying open during lockdown, a shortage of equipment for students, especially laptops.
The scale of the crisis in Education has become even more clear to me. Education is on the brink and a massive injection of government funding is needed to repair the damage being done. The original pot of funds provided has been exhausted and schools are having to spend money meant for education and supply teachers (to cover those who are ill or self-isolating) on PPE to keep the buildings as safe as possible for teachers, support staff and pupils.
Education is at the heart of taking our children and the communities they live in forward. Education can provide hope, skills and a pathway to a future job for our children. This is true for Woodchurch Road Primary as for many others.
Which is why I am opposed to the cuts that are being proposed. The budget black hole was as a result of financial mismanagement by a previous regime at the school. It is wrong for the staff, especially the lower paid teaching assistants, to be asked to pay the price for this mismanagement. The school needs investment, not cuts. It needs more staff hours not less.
Without such financial support the danger is that more pupils will leave, over worked staff will be less able to cope and a downward spiral will get out of control. And if this happens the greedy scavengers from the private sector will launch a raid and try to turn the school into an academy. In which case the council would have to foot the bill for the outstanding debts anyway.
I am pleased that the threat of compulsory redundancies is off the table for now. But I still welcome the determination of Unison members to ballot for action to call a halt to all cuts. I ask the Council to reconsider the proposed cuts and open constructive negotiations with the trade union, Unison, on alternatives that can save the future of this school and the jobs of its staff. With Education in crisis this is more urgent than ever.
Birkenhead Sixth Form College
Proving the value of education was a Zoom meeting I held with students from the Sixth Form College. It was such a shame I could not hold this meeting in person, but safety had to be observed.
The students were not at all shy in grilling me – in a very friendly way – over a range of topics from the situation within the Labour Party, the issues posed by the pandemic for young people, the importance of mental health, how to tackle the housing crisis, the need to combat climate change and the lack of jobs for those leaving school in our recession hit economy.
The questions from the voters of the future showed both a passionate interest in politics and in the issues that they know will be facing them in the future. I hope I was able to convince these students that the Labour Party not only understands their concerns but is willing to do something about them to improve their lives.
Defend Our Unions
The British public have been asked to make enormous sacrifices to win the war on Covid-19. Livelihoods have been lost, businesses forced to close, and families separated. At the same time, people have come together in a newly found spirit of solidarity and community mindedness.
Across Birkenhead, people have given up valuable time to produce and distribute PPE, deliver food parcels, and look after the most vulnerable and isolated. They understand that we are all in this together.
For some though, this message has fallen on deaf ears. Instead of playing their part, many large companies have cynically exploited this public health crisis to slash pay and attack working conditions. Despite receiving millions in taxpayers’ money, companies like British Airways and Sainsbury’s continue to lay off vast swathes of their workforce. They used the furlough scheme to buy time not save jobs.
The extent of corporate ruthlessness stood fully exposed by British Airways “fire and rehire” tactic. Sack your workforce in its entirety and then only take back those prepared to work longer for less pay with terrible pension rights and working conditions.
Such attacks have shone a spotlight on the many legal limits placed on trade unions that hamper their ability to act in support of their members. Employment rights in the UK are amongst the worst in western Europe. Our employment laws are the most draconian of any western democracy other than the US.
Over the past forty years successive Conservative governments have introduced restrictions on the right to strike, the right to picket, the right to belong to a trade union, the right to access industrial tribunals and more besides. The anti-trade union laws were launched by Thatcher, continued by Major, Cameron and May and now we are facing new ones planned by Johnson.
Each piece of legislation has eroded the ability of the unions to act effectively. And as the Trades Union Congress highlighted, the 2016 Trade Union Act represented “the most serious attack on the rights of trade unions and their members in a generation”.
Yet this crisis has shown just how vital it is to have a strong labour movement. With unemployment spiralling out of control and Covid-19 hitting front-line workers hardest, trade unions have leapt to the defence of their members.
Shop stewards have fought hard to keep their members safe in the workplace. Members have gone on strike to defend high-skilled, dignified work at sites like Rolls Royce Barnoldswick. And the Trade Union movement played a pivotal role in the introduction of the furlough scheme in March, as well as securing its extension just last month.
But too many employers regard the unions, to quote a former prime minister, as “the enemy within”. The scandalous practice of fire and rehire is a glaring example of why we need to overhaul the current employment law system.
Surely, the Government must now acknowledge the central role that trade unions have to play in forging Britain’s economic recovery. They have already withdrawn their knee jerk action in banning socially distant picketing during strikes – but only as a result of a legal challenge by Unite the Union.
Now they must follow this up. The Trade Union Act must go for a start. The anti-trade union laws should be repealed in their entirety. And a new charter must ensure that when bad employers use bad practices and mistreat their staff the trade unions have the means and the legal right to fight back.
Our party was founded by the trade union movement and to this day relies on the unions for funding and support. Our party must support the restoration of the rights stripped from those unions by the Tories.
Lest we forget
This November the Remembrance Ceremonies in honour of those armed forces personnel and civilians who have fallen in war had to be very different. On behalf of the people of Birkenhead I laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in Hamilton Square. There was no ceremony – just me laying the wreath. But I am glad that I could pay my respects to our brave war dead.
On 28 October I was able to attend a safe and socially distanced ceremony at Birkenhead Priory. It was no less moving for that. And Steve Hutchinson of the Birkenhead British Legion followed up the two-minute silence reciting the lines:
“They shall not grow old,
As we are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.”
A reminder not just of the sacrifice that so many made, but of the need to do all we can to work for peace and save future generations from the awful threat of war.
I have signed the following statement – along with 31 other colleagues – issued by the Socialist Campaign Group on 18 November:
“Yesterday’s decision to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Party was the correct one and should be implemented across all levels of the party.
In light of this, the decision to not restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn is wrong and damaging to the Labour Party.
This decision and the division it causes severely undermines efforts to unite to defeat antisemitism and fully implement the EHRC recommendations and to challenge and defeat this disastrous Conservative government.
It should be swiftly reversed”