Monday, March 30, 2020

In Memory of Joe Ashton

I am very sorry to hear about the death of Joe Ashton the former Labour MP for Bassetlaw. Although he served longer as an MP than I did we were both MPs together over a shared period of 14 years from 1987 to 2001, during which time I got to know and admire his work.  In his memory, I re-produce below a report of a fine Discussion Meeting which I arranged for him to address in Dronfield back in January 2009.  

Joe, The Shop Steward For Former MPs

First, Joe in full flight. Then, Christine Smith (Chair, Dronfield Labour Party), Joe Ashton and me.

The photos are from our latest discussion meeting, which was addressed by Joe Ashton. He has always been a popular speaker in Dronfield, having in the past addressed a local May Day Rally and a packed public meeting. It was no surprise that he doubled the average size of our attendance.

Joe was the MP for Bassetlaw in North Nottinghamshire for over 32 years. After he left the Commons, he helped to establish the Association of Former Members of Parliament gaining a positive response to his initiative from Michael Martin, the Speaker of the Commons as well as from many of his past colleagues.

A survey of former MPs was conducted on behalf of the Association by the School of Politics and International Studies at Leeds University where 343 members of the Association were issued with a questionnaire. Copies of the Leeds University report which was published in October 2007 were circulated at our meeting. As were copies of the Associations magazine "Order! Order!".

Although some MPs (as I did) announced their retirement well in advance and prepared to move into either retirement or a fresh career, others faced the trauma of losing their jobs in the glare of often adverse publicity. This can occur contrary to expectations, with a former MP often then having immediately to start from scratch to build a fresh life.

Whilst in our current era of the credit crunch and major job-losses, people may not see MPs to be a special case; Joe is keen that a body should be maintained which can seek to further ex-MPs' concerns and draw upon their past experiences. The average shelf life of an MP on the parliamentary benches is only 8 years, so the rapid turn over is likely to involve many hidden problems. On top of this, former MPs have developed interests and areas of expertise that should not just be thrown to one side.

Joe was christened as the MPs' shop steward during his time as an MP. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that he should continue that role during his own retirement on behalf of his fellow former MPs.

As would be expected, the bulk of the time at our Dronfield discussion meetings is taken up with debating our speaker's presentation. However as Joe was well known to everyone as a former columnist, author, playwright, frontbencher and Sheffield Wednesday supporter; the discussions were bound to go well beyond the initial scope of his presentation. But as with all worthwhile discussion meetings, people left buzzing and continued their own discussions in groups. Which is exactly what discussion meetings are supposed to be about.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Easington Colliery - Past and Present.

Easington Colliery Disaster, 1951 | Crowds waiting in the st… | Flickr
Easington Colliery Pit Disaster 1951 (when I was 14).

In 1936 I was born at Easington Colliery in County Durham. It was my home base until 1963, although between 1954 and 1956 I was pulled away to undertake my National Service in the RAF, mainly in Basra in Iraq. After then settling back in Easington I later became an adult student being away from home during term times between 1960 and 1963. I then married and although my wife Ann came from nearby Shotton Colliery, we moved to Yorkshire then Derbyshire. But my parents continued to live at Easington until their deaths in 1993 and 1999 with my wife, myself and then our two children regularly visiting them.

The Easington I remember was a vibrant community, living a coherent if often harsh communal life based fully on the operation of its coal mine. For apart from quarrying and farming, little had existed in the area until the pit was first sunk in 1899. Then the initial progress was slow as much of the coal to be extracted came from under the sea. It took until 1910 before coal was finally extracted and the community then expanded and developed.

Life drew almost entirely from Easington's mining operations. When teachers, shop-assistants, railway workers, doctors and others moved into the area they did this essentially to service the mining community. Communal facilities grew mainly to meet the needs of miners and their families. There came to be a Miners' Welfare, a Workingmen's Club, Pubs, a wide range of Churches and Chapels, Colliery Houses, Age Miners Homes and Council Houses, a Welfare Park with its main football ground opened by Ramsay McDonald when he was the local MP and Prime Minister, annual cricket contests for made-up local teams and at one time three cinemas with long queues especially at the Rialto on a Sunday evening and for children's programmes at the Hippodrome on a Saturday morning.

The social bond was added to by important helpful social responses to the harshness of pit life. On top of numerous mining injuries, 192 men and boys where killed in the pit starting with a sinker in 1900 and ending with a power loader in 1991. With 83 being killed in the pit disaster in 1951. My father only surviving because he was in a different seam from the explosion.

Yet in spite of the tough nature of mining life; miners, their families and others providing commercial and social needs helped to build important social bonds. Here is an important article which I have just come across which shows the serious social decline which has hit the Easington Colliery community since the pit was closed in 1993 -

And whilst coal mines can't function for ever, action needed (and still needs) to be taken to ensure that the communities they helped to build are preserved, re-built and improved. For there are alternative avenues to coal mining.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Unite Community calls for help for the most vulnerable

Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Unite Community

Contact name:    Colin Hampton
Contact tel:         07870387999
Embargo: none 

Unite Community Calls for help for the most vulnerable

At its monthly meeting Unite Community in Chesterfield has called for immediate assistance from the government for the most vulnerable in the present coronavirus crisis.
Unite Community, part of Unite the Union, brings together people, students, claimants, pensioners, those not currently in work, and allows them to organise giving them a voice.
‘As the coronavirus crisis deepens we need clear and decisive action to prepare health services and protect the most vulnerable in society’ said Colin Hampton secretary of the local branch. ’This crisis will impact most on those with the least and the Government has had very little to say about this.’
The branch members had outlined at their meeting how years of underfunding had weakened essential public services and the social security systems that many need to survive.
Unite Community in Chesterfield and North Derbyshire is calling for the Government to respond positively to the demands for
·        Full sick pay for all workers making sure that the many workers in precarious employment are given financial security preventing destitution. Thousands of workers now fall into this category including the many bogus self-employed in the gig economy as well as those on zero hours or minimum hours contracts.
·       There should be no benefit sanctions and the five week wait for Universal Credit should be stopped.  Those currently on benefits and the thousands who will lose their jobs as businesses close down need social security.
·       There should be immediate end to evictions for rent arrears across both social housing and the private rented sector with provision for a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments.
·       Emergency provision should be provided for the homeless who will be particularly at risk during the crisis.
·       There must be support for families and children where school closures take place.  Many of our most vulnerable families rely on free school meals to feed their children.
‘Our community came together to support the miners and their families during the great strike 35 years ago.  Today we face an even bigger task, and the cry of ‘They will not starve’ must be heard again with community coming together to make sure all of us get through this crisis’. Colin went on to say, ‘People have to rally round but Government at all levels must play a key role with immediate emergency funding and support.’

Colin Hampton
01246 231441

Also from -
A basic income alone is not going to get us out of this. But it's one piece of the puzzle that will give people what they need right now - and can bring us closer to remaking the public realm and creating a new political and economic settlement for the future. 

In solidarity,


Sunday, March 08, 2020

Adult Education and Life Long Learning

Ruskin intake 1962_Page_1Ruskin College Students and Staff 1962. Shortly after I had completed my studies there.

In pursuit of Adult Education and Life Long Learning a campaign was established last year. It marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of a similar campaign which had a measure of success from the time of the First World War, but has been hit since by developments from the era of Thatcherism. The modern campaign aims at the development of adult education and life long learning in 21st Century Britain. See its major publication here -

The new campaign has four main themes. (a) To establish a Commission on the basis of the old one. (b) To conduct research around the history of adult education. (c) To preserve the remaining records on previous adult education – some of the past records having been destroyed from the former Adult Education College at Ruskin which I attended in its best days - the intake before the photo above. (d) Exchange knowledge on the significance of Adult Education.

Stress is placed on the need for Local Authorities to have a statutory duty to provide adult education, with each individual having their own learning account.

Then Universities need to give second chances to rejected applicants.

Currently the new campaign also provides a list of the following 18 recommendations.

  1. The Government needs a Adult Education Lifelong Learning Strategy, with people having the rights to literacy, nursery and digital skills. This should also be open to those who are unemployed or part of the gig economy.
  2. There should be a Government Minister appointed with specific responsibilities to see that the above is delivered.
  3. There should be an Adult Learning Partnership drawing together local and regional government, universities, colleges and local employers on such matters aided by national media campaigns.
  4. Funding should be provided for local authorities for such services.
  5. Funding should be increased for Adult Community Services and Further Education Colleges, especially to aid those who have missed out.
  6. Additional resources should go to the Workers' Educational Association and to other institutes of adult learning.
  7. All Universities should provide Adult Education and Life Long Learning.
  8. There should be an information campaign to motivate people to engage in such provisions.
  9. Basic skills and strategies needed in the workplace need to be covered.
  10. There needs to be a community learning account of £50 million per annum rising to £100 million in three years.
  11. Further Education Colleges should have representation on their boards from local authorities, community organisations and trade unions.
  12. An innovation and development fund of £50 million should be established to spread best practice, rising to £100 million in 3 years.
  13. There is a need to use non-profit bodies such as the Open University to provide a digital platform.
  14. Apprenticeship laws need to be balanced and flexible.
  15. Employers should provide paid time off work for studies.
  16. Employers should facilitate workers learning-representatives in the workplace.
  17. Employers should submit annual reports on their educational and training provisions.
  18. There should be funding in the gig economy for access to education, without loss of earnings.