In Union News: Britain’s biggest public sector union Unison supports BackTo60

From Left to right: Unison’s national pensions officer, Alan Fox; Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales; Sian Stockham, senior vice president Unison and Gloria Mills, national secretary, equalities,Unison.

At the TUC I was commissioned to write an article for Union News, the website that reports on all trade union action, about Unison’s decision to back the 1950s born women for the full restitution of their pension from the age of 60.

Unison were keen enough to support the BackTo60 campaign to come to Downing Street to hand in a letter to Boris Johnson, supporting their case which has been backed by a Parliamentary motion, started by Anna McMorrin, Labour MP for Cardiff, North and now signed by 190 MPs from all parties.

Next week Unison will be backing the campaign at a fringe meeting supporting the cause of the 3.8 million women at the Labour Party conference on Tuesday in the Metropole Hotel, Brighton.

You can read my article on the Union News website here.

On Byline Times: MPs slam Home Office for “Windrush” scandal that hit 50,000 overseas students over cheating claims

Home Office HQ: MPs accuse the ministry under Theresa May of ” entirely unacceptable” behaviour in handling the problem

MPs today accused the Home Office of learning nothing from another “Windrush” scandal over their treatment of 50,000 overseas students from outside the EU and European Economic Area who were said – many wrongly – of cheating in oral English language tests to get a university place.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said it is “staggered” by the uncaring attitude of the Home Office over the fate of thousands of students who were accused five years ago and had their visas cancelled or voluntarily left the country as a result. Others had to spend thousands of pounds to win court cases against the government to prove their innocence.

The full story is here on Byline Times.

On Byline Times: MPs slam secrecy and cover up over Brexit management consultancy contracts

Whitehall claimed ” administrative error” for all the secrecy

Whitehall is condemned yesterday by a powerful all party committee of MPs for being over secretive over the award of nearly £100m of management consultants contracts to handle Brexit.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee accuses Whitehall of breaching government guidelines in making public contract details, awarding nearly all the work to just six companies and covering up some of the contracts.

Full story on Byline Times.

Ministers pre-empt Brexit by changing disabled drivers blue badges putting holidaymakers at risk of parking fines

Government jumps Brexit by removing EU symbols from blue badges.

As you can see from the picture above the Government has sneakily already decided that Britain has left the EU as far as 2.35 million disabled blue badge holders are concerned.

My new card for my wife issued this week has been stripped of its EU symbols even before we have left the EU. It appears to reassure people by using nine foreign languages to describe it as a disabled parking card.

But investigating the real position of disabled driving post a ” No Deal ” Brexit this is totally misleading and could easily end up with holiday makers being fined in some European countries for illegal parking.

At present as a member of the EU all UK blue badge holders can get concessionary parking in virtually all European countries. If they hire a car they can take the blue badge with them as it is not tied to a particular vehicle. And the Independent Living advice site thinks nothing has changed. It says:

“It is not likely that Brexit would lead to the UK changing the format of the Blue Badge, so there is no obvious reason why it would not continue to be recognised across Europe, in the same way as those issued in Switzerland and Norway. “

However a more detailed investigation on a disabled motorists site paints a different picture.

It shows that once Britain leaves with a No Deal using this card will vary from country to country. In Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Iceland, Norway,Austria, Poland,Luxembourg, Romania and Cyprus there will be no problem.

But in France, Croatia, Finland,Leichenstein and Latvia the card won’t be recognised because we are from a third country.

In Germany you will have to notify the local council or police and get a card to park as a disabled driver.

And it may not be recognised in Holland, Belgium or the Czech Republic because it does not have a disabled wheelchair sign on the card.

In Malta and Portugal you must apply in advance for a special card if you want to use it. At present as a member of the EU you have no problems and can use the Blue Badge Card.

In Italy you have to check with the local council – it will vary from city to city where you can use your card. At present you can use it everywhere. The same applies to Lithuania and Hungary.

In the UK it is being left to the local council’s discretion whether they want to recognise blue badges from other EU or European Economic Area countries.

So far as I can see the government does not seem to have thought about it at all – most advice dates from 2008 and 2013 on Whitehall websites.

On Byline Times: The reactionary world of Therese Coffey, the new £154,000 a year secretary of state for work and pensions

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Therese Coffey in relaxed mood: Pic Credit: Daily Mail reproduced on Twitter

Boris Johnson has appointed one of the most hard line and divisive women to replace Amber Rudd as secretary for state for work and pensions. The new secretary of state’s voting record reveals a tranche of reactionary views likely to be offensive to gays, women, pensioners and non smokers.   She would also like millions of Europeans who live in the UK to have no right to stay here.

 Cigar smoking Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk, Coastal, would like to lift the ban on smoking in public places, bring back limitless betting odds on addictive gambling machines and is an opponent of gay marriage. Her voting record is recorded on Theyworkforyou.com

The full story is on Byline Times here.

A new warm film on Socialism’s big event – The Durham Miners Gala

There are no deep coal mines in the UK. There are no coal miners. There are no brass bands attached to a living colliery and there no new union banners for new pits. And soon, under new environmental rules, the sale of domestic coal, except for smokeless fuel, may be banned.

So one would think that an event called the Durham Miners Gala would be consigned to our nostalgic past with a few old men having a pint down the local working men’s club.

But the facts contradict this. A new film released on Friday The Big Meeting by director and producer Daniel Draper two years after the last pit closed in the UK in 2016, shows the very opposite with a thriving modern festival in the City of Durham attracting over 200,000 people. It is a tribute to the almost eternal traditions of community, solidarity and fraternity that lives on long after the last mine closed.

It is warm almost affectionate appreciation of one of Labour’s major festivals seen partly through the eyes of a diverse group of individual participants, including a 19 year old Oxford undergraduate who runs a local left wing bookshop in her vacations; a Waspi group of middle aged women campaigning for their pensions and a woman who plays in a brass band.

The film itself interweaves the past and present with split screen and colour and black and white clips contrasts the old celebrations with the new. It has clips of Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson addressing the meeting from the balcony of the Durham County Hotel when the National Union of Mineworkers was a major force in the land to today’s political participants including a video from presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in the States to Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader.

It shows how the country has changed. One black and white sequence shows young lads and lassies (well before the contraceptive pill) cavorting in the fields and woods round Durham – as the festival was the place where young miners could meet people of the opposite sex. This is contrasted with today’s festival highlighting gay rights.

Banners and brass bands at the Durham Miners Gala

There is very raw emotional coverage of the music of brass bands – which, if anything, have expanded – with bands from places like Bristol which never had a pit to the US band players– participating with bands that have survived their pit closures. And there is in an interview with a woman who still makes these huge union colliery banners and is both reviving old lost ones and making new ones.

There is also clips of current pop artists who attend the event including Billy Bragg.

The climax of the festival is a service inside Durham Cathedral with the brass bands that have marched through the streets converging on the city’s huge place of worship.

This is the film that both tells the history of a 135 year old event and captures the spirit of it today.

As the director said: “I don’t think words can do justice to such an occasion – I feel like the Gala is a living and breathing organism, something not static, but immovable – a celebration of working-class life, not just today, but almost as if it takes place in the past and future simultaneously. I suppose this film is an elaborate explanation of something wonderful and beyond words.”

The BIG MEETING. On release from September 6 and shown first in South Shields, Newcastle, Glasgow, Durham and Halifax. It is produced by the independent Shut Out The Light company

Contributors:

Contributers: Jeremy Corbyn, Dennis Skinner, Ian Lavery, Richard Burgon, Angela Rayner, DBC Pierre, John Irvin, Paul Mason, Margaret Aspinall, Selina Todd, Robert Colls, Ross Forbes, George Robson, Heather Wood, Heather Ward, Stephen Guy, Charlotte Austin, Laura Daly, Lynn Gibson, Mike Jackson & Brett Haran (LGSM), Ben Sellers, Liam Young, Emma Shankland, Robert McManners, Jake Campbell-Morris.

On Byline Times: Boris Johnson’s plan for 100 new Brexit Peers hits the Lords buffers

Lord Fowler, the Lord speaker Pic credit: Parliament.uk

Boris Johnson has shot himself in the foot over plans to flood the House of Lords with up to 100 No Deal Brexit supporting peers and simultaneously planning to prorogue Parliament.

The scheme announced over the Bank Holiday weekend has already run into serious trouble in the Lords.

In an article in Byline Times I explain how the PM has now annoyed the Lord Speaker Lord Fowler as well as John Bercow, the Commons Speaker- and how his plan will run into the ground through House of Lords procedures and a competing peerage list from Theresa May. See here