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