Labour’s best council by election result night since the General Election

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Victorious Scottish Labour candidate Alex McVey with friends at Coatbridge this morning

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On the eve of the Labour Party conference there is a rare fillip for the divided party .Voters turned out in sufficient numbers to elect councillors in the Midlands, North West and Scotland for the party to gain seats.

The night was not promising for Labour -particularly after spectacular defeats in council by-elections in Sheffield and  Cardiff.

Nine seats were up for grabs – 7 in England and one each in Scotland and Wales and Labour only held one in their heartland in  Gateshead. The Tories held six with the SNP and an independent holding the other seats.

By the end of the night the Tories had lost four of its seats – two to Labour and two to the Liberal Democrats. The SNP lost their seat to Labour and Plaid Cymru took  a seat from Independents.

The result in Scotland was particularly interesting as this is Labour’s second gain from the SNP in a month. The North Lanarkshire council gain at Coatbridge was hailed as “a surprise win” by the Daily Record.  It followed a Labour gain last month in North Ayrshire where Labour beat Nicola Sturgeon’s dad, Robin, to come from behind to win. In both cases it has to be said that the Labour vote fell and the SNP vote went up compared to results in 2012.

In North Lanarkshire  Labour were ahead in first preference votes. In North Ayrshire they were behind the SNP. But in both cases the STV system helped Labour gain the seats. What appears to be happening is that more people voting for opponents of SNP end up switching eventually to Labour ( even Tories in these cases) rather than helping the SNP hold the seat.

In England Labour secured two spectacular gains. In the Lake District they won a seat in Cockermouth with a 5 per cent increase in a solid Tory ward in the town. They were helped by the collapse of the Tory vote and a big 20 per cent rise in support for the Liberal Democrats which pushed the Tories into third place.

In North Warwickshire – a marginal Parliamentary seat which the Tories did particularly well in the General Election – Labour stormed to victory in a straight fight with the Tories.

They won despite a Tory campaign lambasting Labour over local issues. The Tory Party told the electorate.”There will be a clear choice at this by-election; a responsible Conservative councillor who will ensure that the residents of Arley & Whitacre ward get the best deal possible and that their voice is heard, or a Labour councillor who will fail to stand up for local people”

Interestingly UKIP which had done well in this area couldn’t field a candidate and neither did the Liberal Democrats or Greens. Result was a staggering 33.7 per cent increase in Labour share . As @britainelects tweeted:Arley & Whitacre (North Warwickshire) result: LAB: 59.7% (+33.7) CON: 40.3% (+1.7) Greens and UKIP didn’t stand this time round.

This was in area where 60 per cent of the people voted for Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats did well in Devon with a 28 per cent rise in the share of the vote to take Teignmouth from the Tories. They also won a seat from the Tories  in Suffolk  with a 12 per cent share of the vote. The Labour share of the vote in this Tory seat also went up by 5.8 per cent. The Lib Dem performance  is part of a pattern in many Tory and now some Labour seats which has meant the party has made 17 council seat gains since the General Election.

The Tories held two of their safe seats  with an 8.5 per cent vote share  increase in Adderbury near Banbury and they easily saw off a UKIP challenge in Stony Stratford, South Northants – taking over 77 per cent of the vote.

Whatever is said nationally UKIP continue to do badly. In the Labour heartland of  Gateshead where they were a distant challenger they got a mere 1.3 pc more of the vote while Labour declined by 3.7 per cent. Here again the Lib Dems did better. In other places UKIP got a derisory share of the vote – for example coming bottom in Coatbridge with just 63 votes compared to over 1350 for the winner.

My prediction is that on present performance  in council areas it is the Liberal Democrats rather than UKIP that are re-emerging as the challenger to the Tories in the rural shires and Labour in the cities. And all is not lost for Labour on this performance  provided they unite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call General Election now: What Ed would tell Theresa

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Ed Balls Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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I went to  an unusual book launch by a politician this week. Instead of a self serving glowing account of their great achievements (pace Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson to name but two) this book by Ed Balls is refreshingly  honest – it talks about his political mistakes (intended or otherwise).

Ed Balls – who probably will become more famous for his performances  on Strictly Come Dancing than his role in promoting tax credits – suffered the ” Portillo moment” at the last General Election when he was unexpectedly defeated by the Tories. Indeed he revealed  BBC Panorama had unsuccessfully tried to get him to do a programme with Michael Portillo on this very fact and compare and contrast how high flying politicians feel when the electorate rejects them.

Organised by the Strand Group  (see report ) at Kings College, London Ed Balls admitted many mistakes – such as he could have handled better the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of Haringey’s childrens’ services, over the notorious torture and death of Baby P.

He was also critical of May’s failure of leadership over Brexit and also warned that when governments have a weak opposition the media narrative is all about splits in the government – hence the obsession about the Blair Brown split when Iain Duncan Smith led the Tory party. So if the Labour row continues May could find life difficult as the media hone in on Tory Brexit splits.

One experience Gordon Brown and Theresa May share is that both of them have been anointed Prime Minister – neither faced a campaign against rivals and both took office without winning a general election.

In his book Ed Balls describes the botched attempt to call a general election immediately after Gordon became leader. Ed writes at the time ” the ‘risk’ of going for an early general elecrion was nowhere near as risky as deciding not to.”

But Labour dithered – first talking up an early election – and then knocking it down.But the result was devastating and certainly Brown made a mistake in not  acting  earlier and more decisively.

As Ed concludes on the day Brown backed off from an election: ” A dismal day in October, a day from which Gordon’s premiership and the togetherness and trust of his closest advisers and confidants never recovered.”

So what would Ed advise Theresa to do now. I asked him this when I got him to sign a copy of his book.

His answer was frank. She should call an election  setting out her  own manifesto and then be able to choose her own Cabinet.

Given the troubles she will face with colleagues – and potential new rows over decisions like Heathrow, HS2, Brexit, immigration etc and the current divisions within Labour it might be good advice for the Tories. She has a much smaller majority than Gordon Brown inherited from Blair.Otherwise she might regret it like Gordon Brown.

I wonder if she might surprise us all by announcing it at the Tory Party Conference?

 

 

 

 

 

Abuse of Trust: A horrible reminder of a child sex scandal as the Jay inquiry prepares to examine Greville Janner

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Frank Beck. Pic Credit:BBC

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Today  when the pendulum seems to swinging again to start disbelieving claims by survivors  that they were sexually abused the republication of a book examining one of the first major  child sex scandals is a timely reminder of what victims faced in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abuse of Trust looks at the case of the long dead Frank Beck, a charismatic social worker who got away with abusing possibly up to 200 children for two decades before finally being caught and convicted.

It is particularly relevant as Alexis Jay’s child sex abuse inquiry is planning to resurrect the dire situation in Leicestershire social services at the time with an examination of the role of the then local MP, Greville Janner, who was facing multiple charges of child sexual abuse at the time of his death last year.

The book written by two diligent journalists, Mark D’Arcy, a BBC Parliament correspondent and Paul Gosling, an ex Leicester councillor and an experienced freelance journalist, and has been updated by Paul with the latest information about the allegations and investigation into Greville Janner.

The involvement of Greville Janner – who always claimed he was falsely accused by the paedophile Frank Beck  of sexually abusing boys – will be highly  controversial as his family, led by his son, Daniel Janner,QC intend to try and stop the hearing going ahead. They want instead go to the civil courts so all  the allegations from 33 survivors against him can be subject to rigorous cross examination.

This book however concentrates on the horror facing  disturbed children sent to be looked after by Beck and his colleagues and the brutal techniques Beck, an ex Royal Marine, used to subdue, sexually abuse and infanticise teenagers, using faux psychological techniques. He also bullied and sexually abused his staff, manipulated and conned local councillors.

It is highly revealing about the lack of backbone among senior social work management and the failure of democratically elected councillors, particularly in the Liberal Party,who allowed him to stand as a councillor, to take a grip on the situation. The police are also seen as failing to believe the children. It is equally damning of  investigations that followed by distinguished people – notably by Andrew Kirkwood,QC – into the scandal after Beck was convicted and the tragic consequences of Beck’s techniques – which led one disturbed kid to later murder a young boy simulating  the strangulation technique used by Beck.

And it shows the role of insurance companies ,in this case Zurich Municipal, in trying to deny  the council’s responsibility for what happened to these kids -later to be used with similar force in suppressing a report into North Wales child sex abuse.

It is also clear from the book that Beck was not the only person sexually abusing people and  there could have been part of a ring that was never properly investigated. He may have murdered one of his boys – but this was never satisfactorily pursued.

He also like many paedophiles attracted people who believed in his innocence – notably Bernard Greaves, a Liberal Democrat  and Lord Longford  who supported killer Myra Hindley.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to remind themselves about sheer nastiness, brutality and cover ups that seem to dog this area.

Abuse of Trust: Frank Beck and the Leicestershire Children’s Home Scandal. 

available from Canbury Press £15

 

 

 

An 11 plus failure speaks out:Theresa May wants conformity over opportunity

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Theresa May, Prime Minister Pic Credit: conservatives.com

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Theresa May’s decision to turn the clock back five  decades by building a new generation of grammar schools makes me personally very angry. It is divisive, it will narrow opportunities for future generations and it will entrench the current Establishment by introducing a new ” gatekeeping ” role to ensure who succeeds and who fails.

Superficially it will allow a few hand picked intelligent  11 year olds from the poor to go to highly academic schools but the rest of the population can go hang.

I should know because I was one of those who would have been labelled a failure at 11. In 1958 I failed my 11 plus. Living in Streatham, South London and failing to get into Battersea Grammar meant I would be doomed to go to Dunraven Secondary Modern which then didn’t even teach enough O levels ( now GCSE’s) to get any professional job.
But I was lucky – educationalists in 1958 had this new fangled idea of  comprehensive education which was supported by Tories as well as Labour. A brand new school opened at the top of Brixton Hill called Tulse Hill – a   huge rough multi racial school that attracted idealist teachers across Britain.

Its first head came from Dulwich College, a prestigious public school (incidently where “anti establishment ” Nigel Farage later was a pupil) and teachers left cushy jobs at other elite schools to be part of the staff.

So instead of being consigned to the education scrapheap I was taught Latin by a teacher from Manchester Grammar, Spanish by a Republican fleeing Franco’s dictatorship, English by a guy who got plays on BBC radio and history by two brilliant teachers.

Even then though it took me to past 16 to really take off. As well failing my 11 plus I was a  “late developer”. I mucked  up some of my O levels but the flexibility at my school allowed me to retake some of them ( I was particularly bad at maths) while taking three A levels (one in 18 months). Even at 16 I was thought not to be university material but I was no longer thought to be a complete thickie.

I got much better A levels than people expected – though it did not surprise my history teachers- but had been rejected by every university. I used the ” clearing house” to re-apply to my first choice, Warwick University, backing it up by writing a letter.

In the meantime I was going to start my first job as a clerk with London Transport – but days before I suddenly got a place at Warwick on my chosen History and Politics course because someone dropped out. I gather the university chose me because they were heartened by my improvement at A level and thought I had more potential.

I have gone into such personal detail to illustrate why May is wrong – she may get some academically bright 11 year olds into grammars – but she will deprive thousands of other  ” late developers” like me who didn’t show their real potential until they were 16 of future opportunities available in a truly comprehensive system.

It is quite clear to me that without Tulse Hill and Warwick I would never have become a journalist. never have worked for The Times Higher Education Supplement and The Guardian. never been a lobby journalist and would not be sitting on a national independent  panel now. Neil Hamilton, Peter Mandelson. Tony Blair, Leon Brittan, Norman Fowler, Lord Ashcroft, Ed Lester and Brian Coleman to name a few, would never have been bothered by a pesky inquisitive journalist and could have slept more soundly.And talking of Tulse Hill, would Ken Livingstone, another pupil, ever had become mayor of London?

Since working at this level I have become aware of how much of a Club the Establishment is. It is dominated by public schools and old grammar school boys who share an ethos that is now miles apart from the working classes. By filtering people at 11 she will entrench this conformist view of society and help the Establishment- and that includes herself – to keep out oddballs like me – who can be a nuisance to so many people.

My view is that Theresa May’s real agenda is create a more conformist society and bolster the Establishment with a sprinkling of  academically clever working class boys and girls. Given her other main interest is pressing through a surveillance system that allows the state to keep records of every person’s digital footprint, the non conformists can easily be kept out of having a chance to shape society.

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Janner is wrong to say all allegations of child sex abuse against his father must be fabricated

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Lord Janner Image courtesy BBC

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There is nothing more understandable than a son and a daughter wanting to clear their father’s name of serious unproven allegations after he is no longer here to defend himself.Particularly if the allegations concern such a heinous crime as child sex abuse.

And their father Greville  was a national figure with a huge reputation as a fighter for reparations for the victims of the Holocaust.

However  his son Daniel Janner, himself a prominent barrister, has gone over the top in deciding that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse cannot examine the allegations against his father.

He told the BBC that all the claims  against the late Lord Janner by 33 people were fabricated, the police investigations into claims against his father were ” rubbish” and that the people concerned had colluded with each other to make false allegations.

For good measure he added that people were motivated by getting compensation and that he knew his father was totally innocent of all charges and had never been convicted of anything. He claimed the inquiry would be discrediting itself by looking into his father because the people making the claims would not be properly cross examined.by a barrister who would presumably accuse them all of being money grabbing liars.

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Daniel Janner QC Pic credit: http://www.regulatorycriminallawyers.co.uk

Now Janner is a prominent criminal lawyer. If you look at his entry in the Birmingham based No 8 chambers here you will see he has formidable record.

As the entry says: “High profile cases include:The Heysel Stadium football extraditions; The Knightsbridge Safety Deposit box robbery; Oyston and Martin rape trials; French student murder trial; “Happy slap” murder trial; London City Bond fraud trial; Gouldbourne Cayman Islands murder; McGrath money laundering; Cleeve Prior missing body murder; Lord of Fraud, Rodley trials.”

He also has defended a former headmaster against allegations of historic child sex abuse.

Therefore it is rather surprising as a QC that he  has decided that his father is totally innocent given that the Crown Prosecution Service, while rejecting the need for trial just before his death on medical grounds, concluded in 2015 that  “the evidential test was passed on the basis that the evidence is sufficient to have warranted charging and prosecuting Lord Janner in relation to the particular charges”.

A further independent investigation by Sir Richard Henriques into allegations against Janner concluded: ” I am satisfied that, in 1991, there was a sufficiency of evidence for a prosecution to be commenced against Janner for offences of indecent assault and buggery with Complainant 1.”

And ” Had the statement of Complainant 2 been forwarded to the CPS, there was, in my judgement, a sufficiency of evidence to commence a prosecution against Janner, in 2002, for indecent assault and buggery both with Complainant 1 and Complainant 2.”

and

” In my opinion there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction in 2007, and Janner should have been arrested and interviewed and his home searched.  He should have been charged with offences of indecent assault and buggery with Complainant 1, Complainant 2 and Complainant 3.”

Finally there is the investigation by the police watchdog into the failure of the police investigation into Janner. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it had served criminal and gross misconduct notices on 11 individuals in July.

Now if we are to believe Daniel Janner these respected bodies and Sir Richard have been taken in by lying child sex abuse survivors and must be (though I am sure he wouldn’t use such language ” a load of gullible twats.”

By saying that as Janner was not convicted of anything he shouldn’t be investigated by the Jay inquiry he also raises another question. Logically neither should Sir Cyril Smith nor Jimmy Savile be investigated because they can’t defend themselves and all allegations against them should be dismissed and forgotten. This puts him firmly in the camp of those who say really there is no such thing as any widespread child sex abuse and  an ideal advocate for the Justice for  Jimmy Savile  website which believes he is innocent.

I am aware the Janner allegations are highly controversial. Some like a former researcher  I interviewed who worked closely with Janner on Holocaust issues would 100 per cent concur with Daniel.

Another researcher  who worked for him had deep suspicions though no proof but told a story about a colleague  remarkably similar to one reported in the Jewish Chronicle this August. Only in this case Mr Janner did take the young man down to the sauna.

Whatever happens the Jay inquiry does need to look at Janner as part of its institutional abuse inquiry. There is too much smoke around to dismiss this particular fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why we need disability campaigners like Lord Rix now

Lord Rix pc credit BBC

Lord Rix who died this week aged 92

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The sad death recently of Lord Rix highlighted how much progress a determined individual can make in a particular field.

As well as being famous for his slapstick comedy Lord Rix went on to have  a second career fighting for people with learning disabilities ending up as a vocal champion in the House of Lords

I knew Lord Rix in the 1980s when I was social services correspondent of The Guardian and he became secretary general of Mencap, the charity which campaigns for people with learning disabilities.

At the time there was enormous stigma attached to people who were then called mentally handicapped or even worse, Mongols, which was both derogatory and racist.

Most of them at the time were locked away in a network of hospitals for the mentally handicapped which people often confused with hospitals for the mentally ill.

Reports on the treatment and living conditions for people with learning disabilities  and people with mental illness  in these hospitals were then kept confidential. Believe it or not, not only confidential, but protected by the Official Secrets Act, opening a person to prosecution if they were published.

It was then that Lord Rix and myself decided that this should stop and the living conditions for these people should be revealed.

We set up about collecting as many official reports on conditions in these hospitals as possible – both for the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill- and then in one fell swoop the Guardian published a front page news story and a summary of each report.

The reaction to disclosure of official reports was to re-open with a vengeance why these people were being locked up and kept in very bad conditions – without much privacy in neglected hospitals tucked away in rural areas.

I even discovered some people who had been placed in a Lancashire hospital way back in the early twentieth century and diagnosed as  “mentally ill ” because they had illegitimate children – something that is complete anathema in the 21st century.  They were so institutionalised that the hospital was creating flats on its premises – in the hope that they could go back to live in the community. They had to learn how to boil a kettle.

To his credit the response of Kenneth Clarke, then the health secretary, was not to order an investigation into the leaks but to scrap the provisions of the Official Secrets Act that banned their publication. It also speeded up the movement of people with learning disabilities into the community.

Lord Rix who has rightly received many accolades was extremely brave in helping with this enterprise –  and changed the debate.

Today enormous progress has been made but I feel with need a new generation of campaigners to fight disability on a wide range of fronts. The disabled – not only with learning difficulties but with physical challenges- are still facing neglect by the NHS and social services. Government cuts in benefits  are designed by this pernicious government to penalise the disabled and limit mobility. The British tabloid media with an agenda that many disabled people are scroungers or frauds does not help. They will need to be particularly vigilant with Britain leaving the European Union – as many of the disabled friendly advances have been made on the back of EU legislation.

The new challenges are as big as the old.