Friday 17 November 2017

Woods of Darney ......... Passchendaele remembered

Wounded, Passchendaele
Paul Nash (1889 - 1946) Manchester Art Gallery
A hundred years ago, November 1917 marked the end of the Battle of Passchendaele. It took place on the Western Front, over a span of 5 months near the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders. Hundreds of thousands sheltered in trenches made intolerable by incessant rain; wave after wave sent across the quagmire of no-mans' land to their deaths. The final tally will never be known but estimates put the death toll at 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German soldiers. 42,000 bodies have never been recovered. By the end of November the toll had reached 600,000. It is really difficult to comprehend the scale of such slaughter and the breathtaking callousness of the Allied Command who justified the battle by the belief that the German Empire would be hardest hit by such losses. The chronology and statistics of the battle are horrific as outlined here:

A brief description of the Battle of Passchendaele on the BBC website

A hundred years later and a group of Englishmen competed with a similar group of Germans, this time on the well manicured turf of Wembley Stadium in London. Yes it was a football match but the sport was incidental to the emotional sight of the two nations standing together through a minutes silence, both teams wearing armbands embroidered with poppies, the symbol of loss in war.

For many, like me, this was a significant moment following months of argument with football's ruling international body who maintained that the poppy was a political statement. Finally good sense prevailed the remembrance of those who fell in conflict is allowed on the football pitch. We will never know the full extent of our loss as numbers have never been agreed ............ this Wikipedia article makes grim reading but from whatever nation they came from, all are remembered.

The leaders of government and the armed forces who sent so many to their deaths were fools. WW1 was so shocking that it was dubbed the war to end all wars yet the lesson learned was soon forgotten with 260 major wars since 1918. Still it continues. Lions led by donkeys.

Downing Street Donkeys of 2017

And what of the current drove of donkeys? They fan the flames of war and then turn their backs on those displaced by their "strategic thinking". The UK has a vested interest in conflict as it is the second biggest exporter of military hardware in the world, second only to the USA ......... based on a 10 year average - 2016 Parliamentary report on UK arms industry. There are 170,000 UK jobs involved in the production of arms. It is no co-incidence that Liam Fox, long associated with international arms sales, has been chosen to lead the team given the task of securing trade deals with the rest of the world following Brexit, (Britain's trade policy is just the sound of one hand clapping). The British response to the resultant refugee crisis is disgusting (see here previous BelperStuff posts regarding the plight of refugees). Weaponry enables war. Without the four and a half million shells fired at Passchendaele the battle could not have been fought. Is it wrong to imagine that a concerted effort by society to turn swords into ploughshares is the best way to go? We have much more to gain by solving the evils of worldwide poverty and disease or the climate challenge and substitution of renewable for carbon based energy. The preoccupation with war and armaments must stop as this Mozambique soldier testifies here is the link:

Liam Fox is but one of the donkeys that sit around the cabinet table in Downing Street squabbling for position, arguing for a variety of Bexit flavours that nobody has voted for (Theresa May talking nonsense). 100 years after Passchendaele Europe is a united political entity except for a Britain that is intent on returning to a single nation status that will involve a deterioration in the standard of living of citizens, and a destabilising of international accord on the environment and the rights of individuals. It is only the rich who will benefit ......... because they always do. Our donkeys pursue increased international arms trade as a substitute for what is lost when we leave the EU; donkeys following the carrots dangled by financiers when they should be driven with sticks wielded by a well-informed electorate.

The Woods of Darney

Thinking of the lost 42,000 who slumber beneath the fields of Flanders reminds me of this song from Richard Thompson: For those who need the link. So many lives were lost as European society moved slowly but inexorably towards social democracy and the welfare state. Bloodshed can never be justified but what is embodied in the EU was hard won. There is a tide in history towards order and justice that cannot be halted though war, conflict and subjugation is so often employed by those who resist. The Woods of Darney are far to the south of Flanders but the two places are linked by the same struggle, muddy trenches and sacrifice.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Boris Johnson found time to visit Duffield this weekend

Thankfully Boris didn't say anything whilst he was visiting Derbyshire, contenting himself with hanging around Duffield on a zip wire.

Amazingly lifelike - Photo: ©Dawn Narborough
This Boris (created by the Buckley family) featured in the Duffield Arts Festival Scarecrow exhibition alongside 69 other scarecrows spread right across the village.

It would be interesting to substitute the Duffield Boris for the Bullingdon Boris at international summit meetings and see if Britain gains from the switch ............. probably wouldn't be worse off.

Friday 22 September 2017

Derbyshire Tory promises .... Bus services protected ..... No

BelperStuff has been following the progress of the new Tory regime in Matlock with ............ well ................ few expectations. One of the most intriguing promises was to reverse Labour's cuts to bus services which were honestly disclosed by Labour's Councillor Dean Collins in January of this year. He stated that because of government cuts the DCC would have to gradually cut subsidies from £4.2 million to £2.7 million over the 4 years up to 2020/21.New Blueprint for Derbyshire Buses. Don't forget that these are Tory government austerity cuts imposed on councils.
Bus interior scene - Eustace Pain Elliot Nash (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery - Bournemouth)
Derbyshire Tories reacted to this by making the reversal of "Labour" bus subsidy cuts a major election pledge in May 2017. Many people voted conservative because they were promised that by voting Tory they would be protecting bus services. Below is that very promise .......... number 10 in their manifesto:
We know that Derbyshire Community Transport Schemes and subsidised bus routes provide a vital service for vulnerable and isolated people, particularly in the county’s rural and former mining areas.
We will reverse Labour's cuts and restore important access to health and social care, shopping and social activities. 

So what have the Tories done now that they are in office?

In a DCC press statement made in September the Tories announced that they were reversing £3m of the cuts: 

............ and this is the salient announcement:

Subsidised bus services to continue

Bus passengers in Derbyshire are to keep services paid for by us as plans to cut public transport funding are reviewed. It had been proposed to withdraw funding for around 144 subsidised services from October 2017. Following consultation where more than 90% of respondents said they disagreed with the plan, we have now agreed to provide £3m to continue funding some of these services.
The future of individual services has yet to be decided but we will be working closely with operators to see if some can be run commercially. We will also continue to review the whole of the bus network, streamlining less well-used services by reducing their frequency and joining up other services to reduce duplication.
There is another reference to the £3m in the revised budget announcement of July 2017:
  • putting back £3.1m over two years (2018-2019 and 2019-2020) into public and community transport, reversing a previous budget saving and resulting in an additional £11.9m over the next five years you can find that here

Have the Tories made good on their manifesto pledge?

Not quite sure how putting an average annual sum of £1.55m can become an additional sum of £11.9m over the next 5 years ............ (surely 5 x 1.55 = 7.75) ............. must be Govian maths.

The total sum allocated for public transport in the Labour budget for 2017/18 was £13.7 million. It would be helpful if the new administration could publish their revised public transport budget figure for this current year and give an indication of what subsequent budgets might look like. The eagle-eyed amongst you have probably noticed that Councillor Collins was talking about a 4 year budget period (up to 2021) but the Tories are planning on a 3 year timescale (up to 2020). What do they propose in the 4th year? What is needed is a like for like comparison. That claim of an extra £11.9m over the next 5 years would equate to an additional annual figure of £2.38m. If we use Councillor Collins January 2017 press statement as a baseline then we could have expected the 2021/22 public transport budget to be around £12.2 but the revised Tory forecast would make that £14.58m. If inflation is included in the calculation then the 2021/22 budget figure would have to be in the region of £15m to keep parity with the 2017/18 figure. Obviously £3.1m over two years falls way short of the election manifesto promise.


A cynic might well say, "so what's new .......... Tories make big promises to get elected then do exactly the opposite once they have your vote".
The trouble is that they do it time after time, election after election. "oh yes ..... (the cynic would say) ............ but all parties renege on their election promises".
Maybe so but in this instance it would appear that Labour were more trustworthy than the Tories. In fact there are other Tory promises that have already been broken that will feature on this blog.
As usual BelperStuff tries to be a reliable source of information. If you spot any factual inaccuracy then make a comment below and if something needs correcting it will be corrected.

Sunday 11 June 2017

Abraham Lincoln comments on the UK 2017 General Election

Some things never change and the British electorate has once again demonstrated this simple truth. The famous quote from Abraham Lincoln about the politics of 1860's America is a very apt description of what happened in the UK elections last week. Theresa May and her government chums, cheered on by a fact-free press have been found out by a younger electorate that have started to see through such arrogant foolishness. May has responded with the usual Tory trick of finding someone else to take the blame as her advisors fall on their swords but the solution of enlisting support from the DUP to prop up her minority in the House of Commons (will it be ConDUP or DUPCon?) is already floundering. Theresa May's response to the message from an increasing number of voters that the country does not want to be dragged to the right on Brexit and a whole raft of domestic issues is to cling to power via an alliance with the ultra right of Northern Ireland. That she also ignores the warnings of senior voices in her own party is the height of folly and will only result in an early demise.

The Tories campaigned with the apocryphal warning that voting for Jeremy Corbyn would result in a "Coalition of Chaos" but what we have ended up with is the "Chaos of ConDUP" They conjured up a vision akin to this painting.
Nicolas-Antoine Taunay Triumph of the Guillotine in Hell 1795 (Musee de la Ville, Musee Carnavalat, Paris)

We should not be surprised

The sheer folly of a Prime Minister calling an election when the only message she had for the electorate was, "trust me because I'm better than the other bloke who would be a disaster" had many of us shaking our heads in disbelief (and not just on the left). Trying to understand the logic of her thinking is difficult but we are left none the wiser after looking at her appearances on television and a whole slew of newspaper articles of which this piece in Premier, a Christian commentary website is typical. It reminds us of her vicarage upbringing where she obviously did not pay enough heed to her scriptures: A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences (Proverbs 22:3)

There is a way forward

What is now evident is that there is little appetite for the hard Brexit that May was proposing. That the Tory negotiation strategy was based upon the idea that the tenets of the World Trade Organisation were a reasonable alternative to the EU free market makes it obvious that they now have no idea how they will conduct themselves when confronted by the EU next week. They do however have a way out of this impasse if they take heed of what Labour's Keir Starmer (Brexit must be reset after the election result) and Yvette Cooper ( Guardian article referencing Labour ideas on how to proceed) propose. In a saner world we should expect a cross party consensus to emerge but it takes a wise leader to countenance such an idea ......... and we demonstrably do not have a wise head leading the country. Events may yet overtake us as the reality of the seriousness of the position we face sinks in during the first few days of negotiation.

Apophenia or Pareidolia

This must seem like a bit of a jump but bear with me. The working title for this post was "Apophenia"  which is the tendency to perceive patterns in random data or, as is determined by the word "pareidolia", the ability to see faces in clouds or the likeness of Jesus on a piece of toast. This is relevant because for some years we have been assailed by politicians and the media claiming that the ills of society can be blamed on the EU, the feckless poor and religious or ethnic minorities. Over many decades the fat finger of prejudice has relentlessly pointed at random skeins of data and, by suggesting spurious connections have managed to fool the majority of the people. (Do you see how artfully we have returned to Abraham Lincoln?). The significance of this 2017 general election is that a fresh generation of voters have joined those of us who have never bought in to the right wing myths such as the left is economically incompetent or that immigration has caused the housing crisis, (or the problems of the NHS  ............ or ........... well fill this in yourself). This unblinkered alliance of the objectively minded electorate has finally reached the tipping point of a majority. The subjective views of the right which promote illogical ideas of cause and effect could only muster 45% (Tory 42%, DUP 0.9%, UKIP 1.8%, plus sundry others 0.5%) whilst the so-called alliance of the left gained a 53.2% vote share (Labour 40%, SNP 3%, Lib Dem 7.4%. PC 0.5%, Green 1.6%). It is my contention that those of us on the left (and I do include Lib Dems in this as they have now learnt the lesson of supping with the devil) see the data for what it is and do not swallow the false assumptions that fuel the bias of the right.

In conclusion 

As usual BelperStuff concludes this post with a carefully chosen video that is supposed to add something to the debate. In researching for this piece I came across this delightful song by the Canadian group Tasseomancy, busking in Shoreditch with their song, Apophenia. Here is the link for those who cannot see the embedded video. If you like it just let the video run on to their track, "Diana".or sit back and enjoy another version of "Apophenia" on their album, Palm Wine Revisited.

Thursday 1 June 2017

2017 General Election ..... Campaigning with Labour's Alison Martin at Belper Railway Station

The Labour candidate for the Mid-Derbyshire seat, Alison Martin was about early this morning campaigning at Belper Railway Station.

Alison Martin and Labour supporters campaigning at 07:30 this morning (Photo: BelperStuff)
Alison Martin
The message that Alison brought with her was one that Belper commuters well understood as they crammed onto the two coach train for their journey into Derby or Nottingham (sometimes it's just one carriage). The board being held up by Alison and her supporters puts Labour's pledge in a nutshell,

Alison adding:

"Ticket prices have gone up by 27% since 2010. Travelling by rail should be affordable and hassle free. Labour's plans for rail will improve things for passengers".

Below is the leaflet that was being handed out and Alison said that she stood by every word.

Labour Party Policy on Rail

The Labour pledges are very specific and deliverable, for instance the plan to cap rail fares can be implemented within current franchise arrangements: Labour promises to save average rail commuter £200 on a season ticket - article in the Guardian and ensuring safe staffing levels will be good news for Southern Rail passengers who have been plagued by the failure of Connex to provide an adequate service. Free Wi-Fi is enjoyed by first class passengers on some routes so extending this to all trains and all passengers is in keeping with the Labour slogan of "for the many not the few" ......... and it costs comparatively little. Modernisation is touched upon later in this post.

On a more general note it has become very clear that the Labour Party policy to renationalise rail is very popular with wide support, not only with voters but also with industry experts ............. as the Guardian comments in a recent article Labour renationalisation ............, "Academics have found private operators no more effective or efficient than public owners. Money is usually the key. The trains are safer and popular with buckets of public investment".

At the moment, those buckets of investment provide rich pickings for the 23 private companies who operate the rail franchises with an average annual profit margin of 3.4% (see here the Full article) but research by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change in a report entitled "The Great Train Robbery", highlighted the fact that private rail operating companies invest very little of their own money, in fact earning a return of 147% (sadly the links now seem to be broken).This is what the Nobel prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz named as "renting", where a private company is allowed to make a profit from public investment (just enter the name Stiglitz in the search box to the right of this blog to find out more).

If you've followed all those links you will now know that the rail network is already owned by the state (that's us) and that renationalisation of the passenger rail franchises would not cost a penny as the state would simply take over franchises as they come to an end. It would take a few years but you could find that some companies would choose to hand back the franchises early to avoid late franchise costs ( as was done by National Express who handed back the East Coast franchise which was then run by the state between 2009 and 2015). Privatised railway economics is an absolute minefield but using the state run East Coast franchise as a yardstick (annual average payment to the exchequer of £200 million, foregoing a profit of £19.9 million a year) we can see that renationalisation alone could make an extra £304 million a year available for investment in more carriages to reduce the chronic overcrowding, help lower fares or improve service levels and frequencies. If you factor in the whole edifice of franchise bidding (£5 million per company per bid) plus the extra levels of management involved in activities like financing and contract negotiation then the annual net savings could be far more than that.

Putting this into perspective, to add a single carriage to the trains that stop at  Belper on the Matlock service would cost at most £1.5 million to build and add additional costs per year for fuel and maintenance (back of fag packet calculation - somewhere in the region of £250k per year - if anyone can provide a more accurate figure then please leave a comment). The East Midlands franchise makes an annual average profit of £16.6 million which, if reinvested, would fund many more carriages and help pay to run them. 

It should be noted that environmental, engineering and safety standards have changed in the past 30 years (the trains operating the Matlock service were built in 1987) so a decision to increase capacity by simply adding a carriage could involve a more general refurbishment of the existing carriages -----  so it's not that simple.

However, the opportunities that follow from renationalisation are very apparent. Before anyone asks, these calculations do not include freight operations which play a minor part in the overall cost of railway provision and we haven't even mentioned the Tory failure on electrification but if you want to know more type the word "electrification" into the search box to the right. Then of course there is the big question of who exactly owns all these trains? Successive ministers of transport crow about the millions being invested in new trains but whose money are they spending?  

Wednesday 31 May 2017

2017 General Election ............... Tories on the slide with 8 days to go

The General Election 2017 was initially dubbed as the one that nobody wanted and Theresa May was justifiably criticised for doing a u-turn on her pledge that this government would not go to the polls until 2020. There seemed little enthusiasm from party activists and the voters were particularly unengaged. This was summed up perfectly by  Brenda from Bristol who at the time spoke for the majority of the country when she found out that a snap election had been called:

Pumped up by fawning newspaper articles and sycophantic supporters the prime minister was tempted by poll ratings that promised a huge Tory majority .......... it was an opportunity too good to miss. Looking ahead to the political climate of 2020 with anticipated Conservative poll ratings likely to be negative in the post-brexit shrinking economy, compounded by 10 years of disastrous austerity, going for an election in 2017 was a Tory no-brainer. All Theresa had to do was keep her mouth shut so that the obvious paucity of Tory policies and ideas was not found out ..........  but .......... being so far ahead of Labour in the ratings and believing their own Corbyn bashing propaganda to be true the chance to make further cuts in government provision of services proved to be irresistible.

Make no mistake about the dogmatism that drives the thinking behind the 2017 Tory election manifesto ............ they are now getting close to the very heart of what's left of the welfare state ......... they want to rid the country of the principle of collective responsibility. The noble post war consensus that accepted the role of taxation in the provision of health services, social care, education, scientific research and improvements in infrastructure is once again under attack from the far right.

Then it all started to unravel. The public perception of  Theresa May gradually turned from strength and stability to one of uncertainty and indecision as the u-turns started to pile up to the point where she was going in ever decreasing circles. As the Tory contender became increasingly unhinged the public, and more significantly the press looked towards the other camp with a more open mind. Were Labour and Corbyn as bad as the Tories made them out to be? What they found was a well thought out manifesto which is more Maynard Keynes than Marx and a Labour leader who was coming across as being ........... well ........... electable. With bastions of the establishment such as David Dimbleby  stating that Jeremy has not been treated fairly by the press it is evident that the tide has turned; a fact underlined by an article in today's Times Poll predicts shock losses for Theresa May's Tories at the election. I did not go behind the Times paywall (never give Murdoch even a single penny) but it was possible to lift this predictive chart:

How accurate this proves to be will only be known some time early on June 9th but such a forecast would have been unthinkable even a week ago. This is a tantalising glimpse of a possible coalition of the left with Labour not just avoiding melt down but actually increasing its seats in parliament. Please let this be true .......... though it pays to keep your feet on the ground and this article in the Guardian commenting on the YouGov poll puts it into perspective.

Why is it possible that we can contemplate Tories losing their majority?

Put simply the voters are starting to realise that Corbyn and Labour are not as bad as the media would have them believe and that Tories and May are far less attractive a proposition once the spotlight is turned upon them. The 8th June could become the defining example of the meaning of the word  "hubris" .............. or perhaps it's this: Anti Theresa May track "Liar Liar GE2017" nears top of official singles chart

Apparently if you download this track from iTunes or Amazon (and probably other places that an old fart like me would never have heard of) you donate to both the Peoples Assembly against austerity and to foodbanks. Couldn't resist so I paid my 99p. (A link to Liar Liar GE2017 for those who receive this post by email)

Monday 22 May 2017

2017 General Election -------- BelperStuff has to eat humble pie

Those of you who have followed this blog for the past two years know that BelperStuff has in the odd post been critical of Jeremy Corbyn. A generous view would be that the blog tries to be even handed and it is in that spirit that these words are being written.

2017 Labour Party Manifesto

I've read it and am very impressed. The document is a reaffirmation of the Welfare State and the best part is that it is not an attempt to put back the clock but contains plans to re-invigorate state provision of services and infrastructure for the twenty-first century. The costings are credible and bear the hallmark of honesty when compared with the flashy eye-catching but uncosted pledges contained in the Conservative Manifesto. Don't take my word for it, follow this link to the Labour Manifesto.

The temptation to add the link to the Tory Manifesto has been deemed somewhat premature because Theresa May is busy rewriting it ............... tearing up their main policy on the funding of Social Care. The Tories have not and will never get this right because they have abandoned the simple principle that has underwritten the delivery of health and care services for the past 70 years, that we, as a society undertake to collectively pay for the wellbeing of the 65 million who live here. We don't need tax cuts, we don't need the profit motive as an incentive in the NHS and we don't need a "dementia tax". There is a refreshing alternative: Healthcare for all. I freely admit that it has taken the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party for such a manifesto to be produced. Reading through the document I was struck by the idea that all the ideas are positive ........ there is no desire to exclude or to deny or to point the finger of blame at anyone. Put simply, the inspiration is a love of people. It made me think of The Housemartins, Caravan of Love. Stand up and fight and join the caravan of love. (I am reminded of the Christians on the Left and the fringe meeting I attended at the Liverpool conference last year).

Blogposts not yet written will look at other aspects of the manifesto. Of interest are the plans to re-nationalise infrastructure services which are well thought out and costed. The press tried to claim that privatised industries would be bought back but careful reading of the manifesto shows that what Labour intends is to provide a state alternative, notably local publicly owned energy companies and there are obviously ways for the state to reclaim passenger rail services at zero cost. As I said, more on that later.

Sunday 21 May 2017

2017 General Election: Tories pay for Grammar Schools by cutting funding to Comprehensives

There are many Tory policies that make me shake my head in disbelief that anybody would vote for them and I expect that are quite a few who make their cross despite their better judgement. They stand in the polling station, pencil in hand, running through that last minute checklist in their heads as they select the Conservative candidate .................. they pause momentarily as they are unsure about Tory plans for education, specifically the grammar school philosophy but then make their mark with more confidence as they remember this quote from Theresa May:
Link to BBC fact check of this statement

The reality is however very different

That statement is disingenuous as the issue of performance of poor grammar school pupils when compared with their better off school chums is not really the issue. What is of more significance is that Tories are cutting funding to other schools at the same time as funding for Grammar schools is being increased. There is already an inbuilt bias favouring grammar school pupils as study after study shows that academically gifted poorer children (identified as eligible for free school meals) face significant hurdles in getting a place in a grammar school. This paper produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (in collaboration with Cambridge University) is a detailed analysis of the available evidence as detailed here:

The Tories have no idea how to improve the chances of poorer children gaining a place at a grammar school. The IFS study did not try to enter into the debate about impoverished homes leading to impoverished life chances as there is some considerable evidence that a poor background impacts on the educational attainment of all age groups.

Then there is the unfairness of selecting at the age of eleven as is shown by the following chart which shows the pass and failure rate of the 11+ selection procedure. Children develop at different rates and it has been known for many years that a comprehensive system offers flexibility for pupils who could be termed as late developers and those that excel in some subjects but not in others:

The above chart is taken from a report by the Sutton Trust/Durham University which analyses the evidence for and against grammar school education. The fact that over 20% of children tested at the age of eleven end up in the wrong school, as subsequently realised when their academic performance is once again tested at 16 is very worrying. Further, in the executive summary this is compounded by this:
Most of these analyses suggest that pupils in grammar schools do a little better than similar pupils in other schools, with the difference somewhere between zero and three-quarters of a GCSE grade per subject.

It would appear that Theresa May has not factored in the available evidence for her belief in the expansion of grammar school education providing better opportunities for poorer children. The evidence in fact shows the exact opposite. So from an ill-informed position Tories come up with an education policy that will not benefit the poor and will in fact do real harm to the 11% who are wrongly given a place in a grammar school.

How is all this ill-judged policy being funded?

The simple answer is from cuts to all other state schools. For example:

This chart produced by BelperStuff from data gleaned from!/
The Tory government is expecting schools to save an annual £3 billion from their budgets by 2020 with consequences to local areas such as Belper listed above. In the same period funding for grammar schools is being increased as, in the Autumn 2016 budget the Tories pledged an annual £50 extra for the existing 164 grammar schools (for the 4 years up to 2020/21) and in 2017 added a further £320 million to increase the number of grammar schools. The temptation for a cash strapped comprehensive school to become a grammar and thus have access to this pot of £520 million is apparent. It's the same inducement that was used to entice schools to become academies. Thinkingeo of it another way the annual cuts to Belper schools supply the increased funding to 3 and a bit grammar schools.

Additional funding cuts to free school meals

The 2017 Tory manifesto also contains a commitment to cut free school meals (FSM) to, (as is shown here in this Guardian article) "900,000 children of struggling families". This will purportedly cut a further £650 million from school funding. The cynical amongst you might already have noticed that performance comparison data of poor children relies upon FSM statistics and if students are denied free school meals then that data is harder to gather and collate. There are echoes of the 1960's debate here as the main evidence for the retention of grammar schools was supplied by a character named Sir Cyril Burt who was ultimately found to have falsified his data (the debate is still ongoing). 50 years on and there is no need of false data, you just get rid of all data. Who needs facts. 

What next?

It seems clear that if the Tories are re-elected into Westminster there will be a mad rush to revert to a selective education system that was decisively condemned in the 1960's and there being no modern evidence that grammar schools are any better than the comprehensive system. We now have a Conservative controlled county county so there can be little doubt that Derbyshire school pupils and teachers are not only at risk from government funding cuts but also from the real risk of the re-introduction of selective schools. Funding cuts lead to teachers losing their jobs, increased class sizes, less equipment and a curtailment of many school activities.

If you are tempted to vote Tory on the 8th of June then please follow up the links posted in this blog to learn some facts about education in preference to the ill-informed comments of Theresa May. If the references so far given are not enough then you can look here at this research briefing from the House of Commons Library dated March 2017. Or ......... you might like to view the PM question time from September 2016 when Jeremy Corbyn put the Tory position on grammar schools into perspective:

Here is the link

Labour pledges to increase funding for schools ----- not cut it.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Tories get their sums wrong in the lead up to the County Council elections on May 4th

It was really refreshing to write yesterday's blog (On the campaign trail with Labour's Carol Angharad). Much more satisfying to concentrate on the positive and get away from negativity of criticising the opposition. But ........ if statements are made then they should be provable so in today's blog we revert back to fact checking Tory claims.

Elections can have a strange effect on candidates and their supporters. You start to look at your opponents for any sign of a weakness that you can exploit; a means by which you can entice some of their voters in your direction. Let's be honest, no political party or electoral hopeful is immune from such temptations and yes, I too can feel myself being attracted as if by gravitational force to the black hole of political shenanigans.

This really is a shame as it results in a debate that at best distorts the truth and ............. in some instances .......... gives voters information that is simply false. I shudder each time I hear the term, "false news" because if it's false then it is not news ............. it's lies. Now where am I going with this?

I feel lucky that I don't have to invent anything to blacken my opponents because so many unsubstantiated claims have been made by Derbyshire Tories that just a few minutes fact checking can easily disprove them. I am sorry, that did seem a bit smug. I am actually rather disappointed that the debate is so ......... well ......... uninformative.  Like what follows ..................

Amber Valley Conservatives website claims

Amber Valley Tories, led by Kevin Buttery make quite a few claims (see here on their website) and their leading "fact" just had to be investigated:

"Over the last 4 years the Labour-run council have cut the services you value and stashed £233 million in reserves ............. "

It didn't take me long to discover the truth because it is possible to verify by consulting the county council website where you find a succession of year end financial statements. I have chosen the years 2009, 2013 and 2017. You will remember that the council was run by the Tories between 2009 and 2013. I sum up the information in this little chart:

It jumps out at you doesn't it ...... in the past 4 years Labour has actually reduced the DCC reserves by £43 million ........... but, what is even more startling is that in the 4 years the Tories were in the majority they increased the reserves by £77 million. Try as I might I cannot find any evidence for the claim made by Kevin Buttery and his Amber Valley colleagues. I assure you that my figures are accurate and I have compared like with like so no distortion.

I searched elsewhere for corroboration and only came up with evidence in line with my findings. In fact, even Clr Mike Longden, Tory DCC Shadow Cabinet member said this in 2015:

"The carefully managed Earmarked Reserves are healthy and undoubtedly cushioning and protecting some areas of spending .............. "

See here for the source of that quote - Tories blast Labour spin and yes he did go on to apply a goodly dose of his own spin.

Yet more evidence

It was interesting at last week's hustings in Belper to hear the Tory candidate Chris Short making the claim that Labour had underspent during the last 4 years in control of Derbyshire County Council by £32 million. This was immediately refuted by Stuart Bradford the deselected Tory councillor who is now standing as an independent. Clr Bradford spoke of his years on the DCC audit committee and he could assure us that Labour had not underspent ........... in fact they had been taking money from the reserves to protect front line services from the effects of Tory government cuts (I admit that he did not use the word Tory). Again, hard evidence that Tories are making claims about Labour that when analysed are found to be pure invention. It is ironic that the one Tory that states that honesty in politics is paramount has been deselected by the local Conservatives. At the hustings Stuart went on to say that the debate should be about the differences of approach between Labour and Conservatives, about the differing strategies to deal with government cuts and the delivery of services. I could not agree more.

What now

I could of course work my way through all the other unsubstantiated claims the Tories are bandying about by checking through their own spending history when in power ............ but you know I really do have a life.

This election is about Labour asking you to vote for a continuation of their policies, the excellent way in which they are handling the cuts to funding being imposed by the Conservative government in Westminster.

The Tories claim that Labour chooses to make these cuts and they even go so far as to disown the one Tory County Councillor who dared to tell the truth, that Tory central government funding to local councils has been cut by 37% since 2010. That's what happens to Tories who break ranks and tell the truth ........... they get deselected.

I must stop this as I can feel the attraction of that black hole of political shenanigans. 

Monday 1 May 2017

On the campaign trail with Labour's Carol Angharad ......... Duffield & Belper South

In every election there is something that stands out, something that captures the mood. In the 2010 general election it was the myth of Labour debt and hug a husky; in 2015 it was the false spectre of the SNP pulling Labour's strings; then in the 2016 local elections it was the inability of the Tory Amber Valley Borough Council to respond to voters wishes to oppose housing developments on green fields.

So what has struck me as being the motif of 2017 and the fight for control of Derbyshire County Council ............... it was the Labour candidate for Duffield and Belper South, Carol Angharad, speaking passionately last week about the anger she feels at the damage to local services caused by cut after cut of central government funding of local councils (since 2010 a reduction of 37%). Following her barnstorming performance at the hustings in Duffield I really wanted to interview Carol for the BelperStuff blog, to find out where she gets her energy and what drives her. Carol is retired after a lifetime of caring for others, her children, grandchildren ........ and also the many children and adults she helped during her career as a social worker.

In the past I have canvassed with Carol, going from door to door speaking with voters of all persuasions and what I learnt very quickly was that it was best if I did not try to match her walking speed. Carol's energy and drive put me to shame. She set herself a mammoth task of calling on as many of the homes in the electoral division as possible and I know that she is still out there, visiting yet more of the 4,927 homes in the district. She has been at it for months. At the hustings Carol mentioned some of the stories of those she had visited and stressed that 15% of the households in the division were occupied by single pensioners ............ that's 740 pensioners living on their own. She spoke of those in need of care and it is a salutary lesson to learn that in the Duffield & South Belper division there are 1,384 folk receiving unpaid care. No wonder Carol is angry at government cuts. She reminded me that some parts of the country care services have been halved following swinging Tory cuts. No wonder Carol is angry.

I wanted to know more about what motivates Carol so I asked her for an interview. She shared with me not only her thoughts but also some of the photographs she has taken during her long days of campaigning ............ so what follows is less of me and more of her:

Carol in her own words (and photographs)

Photo with a camellia was taken on Hillrise & looks down the valley to the East mill & across to the Chevin.

Looking over the roofs of Belper I was thinking that Belper is a great Town & I am very settled here. It's a Town where people do things for themselves, the annual Arts Festival, the Town's Sports Day, the Green Festival and numerous music events all organised & run by Belper folk. You could be busy everyday of the week and it could take you an hour to progress down King Street as you stop & talk to the people you know. But I also thought about those who are isolated from this beehive of activity. Isolated because of age, infirmity, lack of money or transport or having no one to go with, despite the friendliness of Belper there are those not included in its life. The County Council is aware of the isolation of the elderly.

Milford Mill
In other places Mills like this would have been developed for housing or art space but the empty Mills of Belper & Milford rot with neglect. The Borough Council seems incapable of seeing the potential of these heritage buildings. The Borough Council needs the muscle and expertise of the County Council in forcing the owners of the Mills to restore and develop them or sell them to someone who will.

The closed pub on the Parks Estate
There would have been a time when a Councillor could have championed this building and identified money that could have turned it into a community centre for the Estate; years of central government cuts have put an end to such ideas. A group are working to rebuild their Youth facility, the Blue Box, which was burnt down and a group of young mums are now running the Children's Centre. Again Government cuts meant the County Council could not financially support the Centre but two local councillors, John Owen & Stuart Bradford gave money from their community funds to help and John Owen arranged for Council Officers to negotiate a peppercorn rent.

Ecclesbourne School

Ecclesbourne School will lose £568,744 per year by 2019 which is equivalent to employing 15 teachers. That's a cut of £524 per pupil. Down the road, the Meadows Primary School will lose £85,909 per year, a cut per pupil of £294 and risks the loss of 2 teachers .......... the William Gilbert loses £70,774 which is again £294 per pupil and a further 2 teachers' jobs at risk.

In Milford and Belper it is the same story with similar cuts which add up to a cut of over £38 million of central government funding to schools in Derbyshire. In this  electoral division the cuts to our 10 schools amount to £1.69 million per year. What are these Tories doing to our young people? We have to find ways of securing their future and invest properly in education and meaningful apprenticeships.


Carol with her granddaughter
Amongst the photographs that Carol sent me was this charming snap of granny and granddaughter ....... framed. I just had to share it with you. 

If you are a Duffield or Belper South, Milford, Quarndon voter you should by now have received Carol's leaflet through your letterbox (the header of which is shown above). Carol writes about her use of buses and their importance to our area; pledges to oppose fracking; mentions the new care home and library in Belper; her views on planning and housing ........ the NHS and so much more. I know how easy it is to bin political bumf after just a casual glance but I do urge you to spend a couple of minutes more over Carol's leaflet. Yes Carol is angry but she has great compassion for those who are disadvantaged and would be a powerful voice in the county council chamber.

Voting for Carol would give you a cracking good county councillor

Thursday 20 April 2017

Vote Jyoti Wilkinson for Alport & Derwent (including Belper North)

Alport & Derwent is mainly a rural division of Derbyshire County Council with main centres of population being Crich and Belper North. Referring to the Derbyshire Observatory Area Profile of Alport & Derwent we find that it comprises a population of 11,523 living in 5,035 households. These good folk usually return a Conservative Councillor but the Tory majority has been dwindling in the past few elections.

Jyoti Wilkinson standing for Labour

I would normally write something here about Jyoti; very well known in the area and a really good candidate. However, he has produced a very good video so my words are really not needed:

Oh no, I had hoped to embed Jyoti's video here but blogger says that the file is to big ......... so you can access the video here: Jyoti Wilkinson video on Belper have your say and you can find out a bit more about him here: Jyoti Wilkinson on the web ............. but I do urge you to look at his video as it is really informative.

................ and here he is supporting the NHS in Crich:

I'm sorry but I have no idea who took this photo. Credit will be acknowledged once I find out

David Taylor standing for the Conservative Party

David Taylor was elected to Derbyshire County Council in a 2014 bi-election. He is also of course an Amber Valley Councillor with a responsibility for housing in the current AVBC Conservative administration. You can access his page on Amber Valley Conservatives website here. I notice that he states that one of his three priorities is:

Protecting our greenbelt and preventing the over-development of our villages.

Remember the wise words of Tonto
Of course we have to check this out. We are in the middle of the consultation period for the latest attempt by AVBC Tories to deliver a local plan which you can reference here: Amber Valley Borough Council Local Plan consultation document. It is safe to assume that the councillor responsible for housing in the borough will be a steering hand to the plan so, given Clr Taylor's priority to protect the greenbelt it is a surprise to find the proposal to build on the greenbelt north of Denby, nigh on doubling the size of that village with 1,100 new houses. There are also plans to build on green field sites such asn120 houses on Belper Lane and 80 houses in Crich (where there are "environmental constraints"). Not forgetting the 150 houses being planned for Bullsmoor in Belper, a much loved green open space. None of this squares with David Taylor's priority  to protect the greenbelt and prevent over-development of villages.

If we delve deeper into the Local Plan we find that it contains a watered down commitment to provide affordable housing which is desperately needed in our area:

Policy H5 - Housing development proposals on any sites of 0.5 hectares or more (or 15 dwellings or greater) will be expected to provide up to 30% of the gross number of dwellings, in the form of ‘affordable housing’, subject to considerations of viability. 

There then follows a raft of clarifications of the term "viability" which does not really strengthen the councils hand in negotiations with developers ....... from page 65 onwards. Looking back at page 61 we see the council estimates of housing build but if they fail to negotiate with developers the 30% affordable or correct size of home needed for both market and affordable then we can expect the numbers of homes to be built to be something like this:

To be honest this is a projection and may or may not be accurate. If anything I may have under-estimated the number of 3 bed semis but it  If I was a councillor with responsibility for housing then I would not be happy with this. Kevin Buttery the Tory leader of AVBC says that David Taylor is a strong man but he would need to be superhuman to hold developers to the 30% affordable homes target, let alone their desire to build 3 bed semis on greenfield sites. AVBC Belper councillors Ben Bellamy, Maurice Neville and Erik Johnson tabled an amendment at a recent council meeting for an increase in brownfield instead of greenfield development with a greater proportion of 1 and 2 bed dwellings ........... as advised by in independent housing needs assessments of the area and also in line with residents wishes but all the Tory councillors including David Taylor did not support the amendment.

It might be said that I am commenting about AVBC business and not DCC but it is fair to compare what a person in public life says they will do against what they actually do.

Two other candidates

There are two other candidates for Alport and Derwent:

Paul Smith - Liberal Democrats 

William Macfarlane - The Green Party

I can find no references to their candidacy online other than this produced by Amber Valley Borough Council: Statement of persons nominated