Monday, February 23, 2009

Vote For Us

In connection with the Compass project "How To Live In The 21st Century", two submissions have been made by the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group. These can be found on the appropriate Compass web-site if you click onto the following - "Political Education, Political Education, Political Education" and "Integrated Transport"


Background explanations on our two sets of proposals are provided below -

On "Political Education, Political Education, Political Education"

A vibrant and intelligent political culture requires issues to be debated openly (but not violently) within the context of widespread commitments to civil liberties, including those of free expression. In the modern Labour Party and often in the wider Labour Movement, a past tradition of considering practical political alternatives in the light of the concepts of social equality, collectivism and democratic participation has tended to be sidelined. This is not an argument for the adoption of a political dogma by today's movement; for core values themselves need to be under continual testing and re-examination and to be attuned to changing circumstances. But unfortunately in today's movement too often core values tend to have withered away, rather than being re-assessed and updated.

The Labour Party in particular needs to encourage and facilitate internal debate and discussion about our times. A key avenue to achieve such an approach is the establishment of a political education programme to stimulate debate and discussion amongst what could then become a growing and active membership.

Such an approach is likely to require a serious publications' avenue which the Labour Party membership could contribute to. This would require moves towards a weekly Labour Party newspaper, the establishment of a theoretical journal, the publication of discussion pamphlets, the running of discussion groups and study courses; plus the use of web-sites and other avenues of more modern technology. The Labour Party itself should aim at running such provisions, building upon the efforts (amongst others) of Tribune, Chartist, the Fabian Society and Compass.

Such forms of Political Education will, however, only achieve a living impact when the internal structure of the Labour Party is openly democratised - yet political education could also encourage such a development.

The TUC, individual Trade Unions and the Co-operative Movement form essential parts of our Movement. They have their own traditions of providing their own internal educational programmes. The focus of such activities are often centred around the practical needs of health and safety representatives, shop stewards and equivalents. These programmes need to be leavened with fuller investigations around the historical, political and core values of the Labour Movement.

Ways and means of re-establishing a pre-Thatcherite tradition of working class education centred on the earlier practices of Colleges such as Ruskin, Coleg Harlech, the Northern College and Newbattle Abbey need to be explored.

On "Integrated Transport"

A programme to move towards the effective use of an integrated public transport system; involving the establishment of a variety of forms of social ownership for the operations of buses, trams, taxis, aeroplanes, ships and lorries. In order to reduce congestion on our roads, priority will be given to public forms of transport over the use of private cars. A full use of an expanded rail network would be employed for the movement of goods as well as passengers. To maximize the use of public transport facilities, cheap and free fares would be extended, based on need. Current free and concessionary travel facilities for pensioners and others would provide a model for such schemes. Publicly run (or supported) taxi services, buses, trams, planes and ships would be linked whenever possible at bus and tram terminals, airports and ports. Entitlement to air travel would balance the needs of travellers with carbon footprint considerations.

When considering integrated transport policies, account should be taken of how transport effects climate change, and any decisions regarding integrated transport should include plans to reduce carbon emissions from future forms of transport. Consideration must therefore be given to future plans to convert the existing rail network to a completely electrical system of rail transport. An expanded rail network should also be fully electrified. An integrated transport policy should also include plans to develop road transport vehicles with greatly reduced carbon emissions. Types of electrically driven vehicles, which satisfy future transport requirements, will therefore have to be developed if this objective is to be realised. Electrifying the rail network and the provision of road vehicles, which depend on electrical power, will transfer demand from fossil fuels to electrical power and will place greater demands on the electricity supply industry. An integrated transport policy should therefore include plans to increase the amount of electricity produced by renewable sources and plans to replace the current generation of aging power stations with power stations with low carbon emissions.

The role of railways in an integrated transport system would require a curb being placed on the need for the use of heavy road transport with limits being placed on the use of lorries and huge pantechnicons. Their operations would need to be restricted, especially where alternative rail services are available. This could be achieved through the licencing of the giants of the road.

Whilst cheap public transport would attract many away from private car usage, it is likely that a programme of restraints on private car usage will need to be introduced to relieve major avenues of congestion. This will need to be done via a programme of restrictions rather than via a market policy involving the use of congestion charges.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Last Chance Saloon

Today and tomorrow are the last opportunities to join in Dronfield Blather's debates on Political Education and Integrated Transport ,before they are finalised and submitted to Compass. Check these to see the latest suggestions.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In Memory Of My Mother

Today is the 100th anniversary of my mother's birth. She died in 1999 and was buried on my 63rd birthday.

She was born at Sunniside in an area that was then the South West Durham Coalfield. She was christened Betsy Gray, although she became known as Betty.

Her parents John and Elizabeth (Lizzy) Gray moved to Sunniside on their marriage in 1898, with John working at the local pit throughout their married life. My grandparents had eight children, two of whom died as youngsters. John Gray himself died in 1920 when he was only 49. The harsh conditions of that time are shown here.

The six surviving children were obliged to leave school at 14. although my mother was always top girl of her class which is shown here. The two boys found work in the local pit, whilst three of the four girls went into domestic service. Only the youngest child, Alice was kept at home because of the poor state of her health.

My mother went into domestic service at Oldham alongside her elder sister Bella. The above photo was taken the month after the 1926 General Strike when she was 17 and she was still working at Oldham. She later worked in domestic service in other places such as Whitby (her favourite) and Seaton Carew.

When her mother moved the family home to one of the new Council Houses at Easington Colliery, my mother temporarily packed up work when she received a description of the Council House which had been acquired. The house had gardens around three sides, a proper bath, a flush toilet, plastered walls and even a landing window. It was a complete transformation to the family home back in Sunniside which was a back-to-back terraced house, with a midden across the street. Even the weather was milder, as Sunniside is exposed at the highest point in County Durham and Easington is next to the sea.

My mother was to be based in Easington for the remaining seven decades of her life. In 1933 she married my father, who was a miner at its pit. The 100th anniversary of his birth is something which I will record in just over 3 months time. The photograph below was taken in Sunderland around 1946, when my mother and father would have been 37 or so and I would be about 9 or 10.
My mother retained the closest of links with her side of the family in particular, which was aided by the fact that during my school days we lived only four doors away from her mother and her unmarried brother, Bill.

With her brothers and sisters she had attended the Sunniside Methodist Sunday School and was married at the Easington Bourne Methodist Chapel, where I was then christened. When she was 40 she once more started to attend Chapel and became fully involved in its activities and in the social life around it. She became Secretary for the Women's Meetings, undertook Overseas Mission work and took a leading role in acting in the plays it produced.

Although she did not find paid work during her married life, apart from her own housework she looked after her mother's home as Granny was always frail. Then she often cared for others, as when my Aunt Alice developed cancer.

She was bright, lively, friendly and popular. She regularly visited the local library and read three modern but serious novels per week, until Alzheimers finally caught up with her in her mid 80s.

She ended her days in a nursing home, which had been the Colliery Manager's house, being visited by my father for long periods each day. My wife and I told her about my father's death, but it did not register with her until on a later visit she said to us "Joe doesn't come to see me any more." He was the last person she remembered. She couldn't come to terms with the idea that the man in his 60s in front of her could be her only child. She had a long, tough, active and happy life - helping others. Her immediate family being at the top of the long list, which was completed when I married Ann and then her two beloved grandchildren arrived.

The photograph of my mother above was taken when she was in her early 80s, but before the onset of Alzheimers. The photograph below is taken at Christmas 1979, when she and my father were 70. Her grandchildren are Joanne (7) and Stephen (11)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not Dead - Only Fired

Kerron Cross keeps placing this photo of me on his blog. It was taken nearly 22 years ago. I don't, however, ever remember being fired. In fact I had just been elected as an MP at the time. I didn't even have the whip taken away from me when in the Parliamentary Labour Party, although I tried hard enough. When I wrote a lengthy letter to my Regional Whip to explain why I would be voting against the Labour Government on yet a further issue, he merely told me that I had won that week's Booker Prize.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Confirmation - I Am Not Actually Dead Yet

I am pleased to see that although Kerron Cross has issued Andrew Gwynne MP with the HARRY BARNES MEMORIAL AWARD, Kerron believes that I am not actually dead yet. To test his latter theory out, I will have to carry on blogging.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The State Of The Franchise : A Democratic Disgrace

Chartists For Male Suffrage, 1848: Suffraggettes For Female Suffrage, Released From Prison 1909

Here is a potted history of the growth of the right to vote in this country since 1832. It is generally assumed that the journey towards a full franchise has been completed, apart perhaps for those who argue for votes for 16 and 17 year olds. Unfortunately, too few notice the huge gaps which still need to be filled. They include -

1. Some 2 million people who are entitled to be registered to vote, but whose names are missing. The numbers missing are heavily concentrated amongst the poor, racial minorities, those living in bed-sitter land and those who are otherwise rootless and move about from one address to another, including those suffering from homelessness. As the missing millions are not spread equally throughout society, this has the knock-on consequence of seriously distorting our electoral boundaries.

2. Residents in this country from overseas, other than those who already qualify to vote because they come from the Republic of Ireland or from Commonwealth nations. (The other side of this coin is that British citizens overseas should be registered to vote in the country whose laws they are then subject to and not in this country.)

3. Those who are imprisoned. Yet this is a group of fellow human beings who could not be more clearly subject to the laws of the land. The paradox is that the large numbers of people who are never caught or convicted for their crimes, retain their franchise rights. If prisoners were registed to vote in the Constituencies in which they were imprisoned then it would give strong reasons for their local MP and candidates to pay attention to their interests. That is what accountability is supposed to be about. (This issue is regularly pursued on Jailhouse Lawyer's Blog.)

4. The case for votes for 16 and 17 year olds is that the teenagers concerned could initially be registered to vote via their schools as 15 year old "attainers". Not only would their names not be missed from registers, but schools could be obliged to run classes on the development of the franchise, its importance and its usage.

5. To overcome the problem raised in (1) above about under-registration, it would be possible for registration officers to be given the means to trace the movements of people once they are on registers (as in 4 above) to ensure that their voting rights were automatically transferred. There is a case here for the democratic usage of a compulsory ID card system.

In addition polling cards could be issued as soon as formal electoral procedures start, with widespead publicity given to their issue. This needs to be done so that those who don't receive cards can become aware they may not be registered. They can then be given the opportunity to register as long as they were present in the area concerned when the relevant electoral proceedure commenced.

6. Many of our legislative powers have been passed over to the European Union (EU), yet it does not operate under a proper parliamentary system. The EU has a huge democratic deficit which can only be overcome by its transformation in a fully democratic, social and federal structure.

Unfortuneately, we have halted the process of the advance of the franchise. Its current shortcomings are nothing less than a democratic disgrace.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Iraqi Democracy?

This is the start of Jim Muir's report this morning for the BBC from Baghdad.

History may look back on the provincial elections held on the last day of January this year and see them as the point at which it could be said that Iraq had turned a corner and was heading towards a stable, democratic future.

Here is the rest of report. Let us hope he is correct.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Purple Pride

The purple fingers belong to a group who voted in the recent elections in Baghdad. Dr Mohammed a 25 year old dentist tells us that his friends in the photo are Sunnis, Shiites and a Kurd. Dr Mohammed blog is called Last-of-Iraqis and he is my favourite Iraqi Blogger. He is no wild optimist as is shown in the item he posts, but he gives us hope. In part he states -

I woke up with hope, hope for Iraq to be taken along the correct path by its sons. I woke to the noises voters were making in the street. As I dressed I was thinking about how different this election would be. Most of the people I know were not voting based on sects, but on sense. We are sick to death of corruption and sectarianism, and desperate for a change.....With the sparse crowds, I had only a short wait before the employee found my name in the list and gave me my voting paper. I took it to the booth and chose what I believed was best for Baghdad, then I painted my finger purple — it might look ugly, but I like it and I’m proud of it. At the same time, a child reached the table and insisted on painting his finger, too; everybody smiled because he was so happy about it.....On my way home I developed an obsession of looking at the fingertips of every man and woman I passed. Too many had no ink. I hope the electoral committee does its part better than we did. I hope the election will not be fraudulent and the winners will not let us down. And I hope the people who didn’t vote this time will do so next time, and a real democracy will be achieved in the land where the first laws of the human race were set.

Better still go to his blog here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Good Day For Thinking About Transport

If you are stuck at home because of the snow, why not join this debate about the future of transport? Should we phase out our addiction to the use of the private car?