Taking the 50s women protest to the doors of the Department of Work and Pensions

 

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The protesters outside the DWP under the #One Voice umbrella

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The campaign for justice for the 50s women denied their pensions has come home to the Department of Work and Pensions.

A group representing all shades of opinion demanding redress for the 3.7 million women who have lost out hired an old London bus to protest outside Parliament, Downing Street and Caxton House, the DWP headquarters to drive the message home.

Under the banner #One Voice it included a number of #Waspi groups from London, Chichester, Bognor Regis to name but a few. On board backing the campaign was the Barnet blogger, Theresa Musgrove, who runs the @brokenbarnet  website.

 

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Waspi supporters from London with a banner – the guy in the background is the DWP’s privatised security guard from G4S who was pretty accommodating given it was a surprise visit

The campaign was supported by lawyer Michael Mansfield who wants to bring a legal case against the DWP  presently represented by Guy Opperham, the pensions minister and MP for Hexham,. who is implacably opposed to giving any concessions to anybody.

He appealed for unity among the campaigners – warning that divide and rule between various factions – would mean they could be picked off by ministers.

The 50s women used a battlebus obtained by Angela Taylor to make as much noise as possible particularly in its thrice trip round Parliament Square, causing both tourists and MPs to turn their heads. No doubt the message would have got back to Japan given the number of pictures taken.

The choice of the bus added to the occasion. It was a London RT model – the workhorse of  London Transport for decades – and built pretty much at the same time as many of the 50s women were born.  Reliable, dependable and capable – it was very much symbolic of the women who have been robbed of their pensions.

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The pensions battle bus with Yvette Greenway  who works in association with #BackTo60 with her trusty loudhailer

Of course the government is still saying it will do nothing. A letter sent to Pauline Hinder by the DWP ministerial correspondence unit ( ministers  like Guy Opperham have better things to do than reply to the general public like watching the Eurovision song contest) says :

” The Government has no plans to revisit the policy on women’s State Pension age and does not intend to make further concessions….

And according to the ministers they are striking a blow for equality.

“Changes to the State Pension age put right a long lasting inequality which was based on an outdated rationale that women were dependent on their husband’s incomes.”

Bizarrely this is exactly what many of the 50s women  were dependent on – the minister is just rewriting history to suit himself.

And mindful that the ministry may soon to be taken to court for not telling people about the change they are on the defensive..

“In the years after the 1995 legislation (1995 to 2011) this equalisation was frequently reported in the media and debated at length in Parliament. People were notified with leaflets, an extensive advertising campaign was carried out, and later individual letters were posted out. Throughout this period the Department has been providing individuals with their most up-to-date State Pension age when they have requested a Pension statement.”

And also you aren’t entitled to a pension  and we can’t afford to pay it anyway. We just take your contributions and do what we like with it.

“The National Insurance scheme operates on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. It is inaccurate to characterise the State Pension as an individual contract where people get out what they pay in. It is today’s contributors who pay for today’s pensioners.

“There is no surplus in the Fund that can simply be drawn upon. The Government Actuary recommends a surplus is kept in the National Insurance fund to cover day to day variations in spend. The surplus is lent to the Government while that happens – it cannot simply be spent again.”

I have a feeling that ministers may not get away with this if people continue to press them – the Conservative government can’t afford to lose 3.7 million votes when it is neck and neck with Labour.

 

Government narrowly defeat plan for new Leveson inquiry after deal with DUP

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Lord Justice Leveson ; Pic courtesy Leveson Inquiry website

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UPDATE: Government defeated the Leveson2  inquiry by nine votes 304-295 . There were five Tory rebels. The nine DUP  MPs supported the government after they were offered a new press watchdog for Northern Ireland. The one independent Northern Ireland MP, Lady Hermon voted with Labour.

Five Tories voted with Labour – they were Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve ( former attorney general), Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone and Crispin Blunt.

One Labour MP John Grogan voted with the government to block Leveson 2.

Parliament will decide today whether a second Leveson inquiry  should go ahead and on new rules that would strengthen the role of press regulator Impress and force compulsory arbitration in libel cases.

Voting in the Commons on both motions is on a knife edge with  literally the decision being made on who turns up and whether very active campaigns by  mainstream media moguls or Hacked Off can convince wavering MPs.

Theresa May has staked her reputation on protecting Murdoch and Dacre from a second Leveson inquiry into malpractices by the media and scrapping the section which would have forced compulsory arbitration. At the Westminster  Correspondents Dinner she promised lobby journalists that ” very good news” was coming to help the media moguls avoid further scrutiny into their practices.

But her failure to control Parliament has put both promises at risk- hence the frenzied campaign  in the media to protect press freedom by media bosses who do not want some of the dark practices subject to forensic examination by Lord Leveson.

There are two motions today – one by former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Tory rebel Kenneth Clarke – aims to reinstate Leveson 2 after a Commons committee overturned a Lords resolution to hold the inquiry.

The second by Tom Watson, Labour deputy’s leader and long time campaigner against the Murdoch press, would implement the changes promised to force compulsory arbitration in libel cases – making court cases very expensive for the media even if they won.

The first motion stands the best chance of passing with guaranteed support from a number of Tory rebels, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the sole Green MP, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists. Nobody seems sure how the DUP will vote.

This alliance is however dependent on everybody turning up and solid support among all the groups.

There was signs at the weekend  that media moguls had changed  tactics and were trying to persuade some Labour MPs not to back Ed Miliband’s motion and the one strengthening Impress-and suggesting this would go down very well in the mainstream media who might look favourably on covering some of the issues  these Labour MPs might want to take up. A senior Labour source told me : ” They (the Labour MPs) are trying to curry favour with the mass media”.

Labour whips have been alerted to this but some Labour MPs are playing their cards very close to their chests and trying to hide their proposed support. You can be sure there will be very active work done by Labour this morning to try and root them out.

The other problem  that could scupper a  defeat for the government will be if not all MPs turn up. Here the SNP with 35 MPs are a key group – but not all of them turn up if they have pressing business in Scotland. A  ” no show” by just a few in this group would have a big effect on the vote.

So today’s decision will depend on the capricious nature of MPs in Parliament – and how much priority they put into defeating the government over this issue.

 

 

 

 

Feted in Mayfair but flouted in Nuneaton: The extraordinary Labour local election performance

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Tiffany’s in Bond Street,London now in an area represented by Labour:

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Now I have had time to look further into  Labour’s performance in the local elections a rather extraordinary picture is emerging among the losses and gains made by Labour on the night.

The election has been presented as a boring status quo result but if you drill down into the figures it  shows two rather extraordinary trends – Labour is losing among the UKIP more Brexit minded white working class voters to the Tories but making major progress in some of the most affluent  areas that  stayed Tory strongholds  even under Tony Blair.

Probably one of the most striking results was in Westminster. Now Labour failed to make the huge headway – just  gaining four seats overall though they narrowed the gap between Labour and Tory across the borough to 1.8 per cent. The Tories  held the one seat they had in Pimlico after a defection  last year.

Labour took one  of three seats in the West End ward – covering Mayfair, Soho and Fitzrovia in Central London.  What’s more the person who won – Pancho Lewis- did so with a by-election style rise in votes. In 2014, the party’s candidates received a total of 1,281 votes and this year the figure stood at 2,858 – more than the 2,831 votes for the three Conservatives. This means  that Oxford Circus, Park Lane,Bond Street, Grosvenor Square, the Dorchester hotel, Savile Row, Regents Street and for that matter the editorial offices of Private Eye are represented by a socialist. Since the ward was created in 1978 Labour have never been in sniffing distance.

The Westminster result mirrors  earlier council wins for Labour in the City of London where Labour won its first seat in the Portsoken ward in 2014 and then went on to win five seats -including one in the Barbican – in the next election.

A similar surprising victory for Labour  was in Harrow where Labour increased its majority to seven over the Tories. It was where it was won  that made it surprising.Labour took Harrow on the hill – one of the poshest bits of the borough – that includes Harrow School and a private hospital – not normally natural Labour territory. The Labour candidates put on 1500 votes between them.

And in Barnet amidst the carnage for some of the Labour councillors in Hendon – Labour did make a GAIN  by two votes -ousting a Liberal Democrat in Childs Hill  just north of Golders Green – in a diverse ward that included Jewish, Arab and Somali voters.

And in Redbridge – Labour which made a double digit number of gains – included the new ward of Wanstead Village where homes can go for £750,000 – again not natural Labour territory.

Outside London Labour did amazingly well in Worthing. Worthing has never had a Labour councillor since Harold Wilson’s second victory in 1966. Last year Labour won a seat in a by-election in the centre of the town. Last week it won another  four council seats and came close in a number of others. They also gained three seats from the Conservatives in next door Adur –  better known as Shoreham on Sea -while the Tories took two from UKIP. The MP for Worthing East and Shoreham , Tim Loughton, who has a majority of  5,106 over Labour should be worried.

The reverse can be shown in Nuneaton which if the council had a full election – it seems certain Labour would have lost it to the Tories. Labour lost eight seats – some by big margins- in a result that gave the Tories 51 per cent of the votes on a 32 per cent poll.

Nuneaton is 88.9 per cent white British with a large proportion of pensioners – immigration hardly exists –  the biggest group are Poles -but it had strong support for UKIP. which has transferred to the Tories.The census figures showed it was overwhelmingly Christian with just 12 Jews and 2895 Muslims out of 126,000 people.Nearly two thirds of the population are working class – classified as C2, D or E.

This makes an interesting  dilemma for Labour they are still gaining votes in areas that Tony Blair could not even dream about  but equally they are losing votes in traditional English working class areas where they need support. But Labour  need to progress in both old England and new diverse England to succeed. If there is any post mortem to be had after these elections – this is it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local Elections 2018: Reality triumphs over expectation

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Local elections 2018 Pic credit:BBC

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The local elections have been portrayed  in the mass media as a disappointment for Labour ,a shot in the arm for Theresa May and a revival for the Liberal Democrats

In the pre election scenario Labour were expected  to  sweep all before them winning Tory councils in London and elsewhere, Theresa May was going to face a dire night and the Lib Dems were not going to do so well because of their poll ratings.

Yes  Labour are partly to blame for creating this scenario  with the promise of a Momentum style surge knocking  the Tories out of Barnet, Westminster, Wandsworth and Hillingdon in London and winning Swindon, Plymouth and Trafford outside the capital. They had high expectations after the surprise  rebirth under Jeremy Corbyn in the last general election and thought another heave would do it.

But it would be very foolish to write up these elections as the end of Labour’s progress or  ruling out a slow revival of the Liberal Democrats.

For a start the final analysis of voting by the BBC shows that if there was a  general election was based on these voting figures Labour would have got another 21 seats, andbecome the largest party in Parliament . The Tories would have lost 38 seats and the Lib Dems gained another 10. If that had  happened last year Theresa May would not have been able to form a government and it would be Labour plus a coalition that would be negotiating with Brussels.  And if you compare it with last year’s council elections it was the Tories making nearly all the gains. not Labour.

A more detailed analysis shows why this is true. Although Labour did not gain the breakthrough to take another four London boroughs from the Tories, their vote share was much nearer than their seat share. In Westminster where the Lab vote share jumped by 7.6 per cent – the difference in percentage support between Labour and the Tories is not much more than point. In Wandsworth there is only a 150 votes difference between the Tories and Labour running the council.

Even in Barnet where Labour’s self inflicted wound over antisemitism  led to a 13 seat Tory majority- the Tories biggest gains – the Labour share of the vote went up 2.8 pc but was trumped by a 6.6 per cent rise for the Tories.

Also not noticed in London is that Labour increased the number of seats on councils they already run, notably in Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hammersmith and Fulham and Waltham Forest – which will make it difficult for the Tories to regain Parliamentary seats.

In Swindon where Labour gained just one seat more people voted Labour than Tory but obviously not in the key wards. Interestingly in Plymouth where Labour won the council, more people voted Tory than Labour but not in the right places.

Also where councils switched from no overall control to Tory control – it was often by a couple of seats in places like Peterborough. The one exception was Nuneaton and Bedworth where the Tories were robbed – they got 51 per cent of the vote there but could win enough seats to take the council.

The other big factor which stymied Labour  and helped the Tories was UKIP. Many UKIP voters became Tories so they could get a hard Brexit. In Basildon and Great Yarmouth this gave the Tories the edge over Labour.  Labour did take  back seats from UKIP, but the Tories took more. In Great Yarmouth former UKIP candidates actually became Tory candidates. Britain Elects shows this disparity examining 81 UKIP losses with the Tories gaining 47 seats from UKIP while Labour gained 30.

It should not be a total surprise that the Lib Dems do well in local elections, they have won quite  a number of by-elections over the last year. But in three councils- where the whole authority was up for grabs – they did spectacularly well, trouncing the Tories. These are South Cambridgeshire, Richmond and Kingston, where they won sweeping gains pushing the Tories out. They also won seats in Hull, Sunderland  and Gosport but were pushed back in Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne.

So what is the prospect? The Tories can take comfort that they were not trounced and could claim a mandate for a hard Brexit after hoovering up  much of the UKIP vote. It is rather ironic that Theresa May treated councils she had not lost  as a victory parade-normally you go to places to celebrate a Tory gain.

Labour need to tackle the antisemitic issue promptly and to reflect soberly on how they need more than an incompetent government to form a majority administration. And the Lib Dems need to build on their local government base as a springboard to win  more seats in Westminster.

The reality for all parties is that it is going to be a hard slog to get or stay in government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain: Sleep walking into the valley of death

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Glasgow Necropolis; Glasgow is nearly at the bottom for life expectancy for men and women. Pic Credit: historicgraves.com creative commons

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Britain is literally dying. Ever since the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition came to power a 50 year improvement in the  death rate year on year went into reverse. Whether it is the weather’s toll on the elderly,  more homelessness or the NHS failing to cope, something has happened and nobody either  notices or wants to know.

The figures are not speculation. They are official and were published in a report from the House of Commons library just before Parliament came back after the Easter recess.

It is however remarkable that this abrupt change in trends has happened ever since successive governments committed themselves to austerity. The period also  coincides with a huge attack on the welfare state – including cuts in working benefits and  a £77 billion reduction in pension payments to  3.9 million women aged between 60 and 65 – soon to be 66 – which is known to have taken its toll.

What the figures show is that: Between 1961 and 2011 both the   crude  death rate( number of deaths per 1000 people) fell every year.

Since 2011, both the number of deaths and the crude death rate have increased. The number of deaths has increased more than the crude death rate, as some of the increase in the number of deaths was due to population growth.

Provisional figures on the number of weekly deaths indicate that winter mortality was higher than usual in early 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Improvements to life expectancy have slowed in recent years for both men and women, but estimates of life expectancy have not fallen compared with earlier periods.
Among the countries and regions of the UK, in the period 2014-16 life expectancy at birth and at age 65 was highest for women in London and for men in the South East. It was lowest for both women and men in Scotland.

This winter Theresa May presided over the largest number of deaths in recent years. The report reveals that during the first twelve weeks of 2018 the figure reached 154,684 and exceeded the 149,978 equivalent figure for  2015 – when it was known there was a serious winter flu epidemic.

This year’s flu epidemic numbers have not been as great as 2015 but the overall death rate is higher.

The report also reveals that life expectancy is still going up – but at a much slower rate than previously predicted and there is a huge difference between those living in London and the South East and much of the rest of the country – with many of the lowest life expectancy in  Scotland and the North. The difference between the metropolitan and the south and the North and Scotland is nearly 10 years.

Highest life expectancy for women ( between 86 and 86.8 years) is in Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, Hart,Westminster and Chiltern ( Chesham in Buckinghamshire).

Lowest life expectancy for women  ( between 78.7 and 79.6) is in West Dumbartonshire, Glasgow, Manchester, Blackpool, Middlesbrough, North Lanarkshire and Dundee.

For men the highest rates ( from 83.7 to 82.5) are Kensington and Chelsea,East Dorset, Chiltern,Hart and Harrow.

The lowest rates  for men  ( from 73.4 to 75.4) are Glasgow, Blackpool, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire).

This disclosure suggests that since 2011 the country has been going into reverse and I don’t believe this is a coincidence. Nasty sharp government  policies are literally taking their toll.

 

New Video:The time for 50s women pensioners to take action is now

With less than a month to go before the local elections if the 3.9 million 50s women pensioners want to influence events the time to do so is now. These are the people who have been deprived of a pension for up to 6 years by successive governments putting up the pension age and were not given proper notice of the change unless they happened to be a nerdy Parliamentary watcher.

This website is supporting the #BackTo60 campaign because it believes this is one of the largest injustices to a group of women perpetrated by any government in recent times and it seems clear that many of the £76,000 a year MPs are not bothered about what happened to them. As a group their vote is taken as for granted by the present government. I have made a contribution to the film.

This film made in the London borough of Barnet because it is the most marginal council going to the polls in the country. It also has 18,200 people living there who have been affected by the decision. Every councillor standing in the May  elections needs their vote – which gives them an ideal opportunity to demand they do something for them.

This film contains contributions from two  existing Barnet councillors – one Labour, Andreas Ioannidis and another an ex Tory, Sury Khatri- who are prepared not only to listen to them but also to get something done.

There are also contributions from blogger Theresa Musgrove – best known in Barnet for her popular @brokenbarnet website- and campaigners Hilary Law, Prafula Shah and Anija Bablee. The narrator is Joanne Welch, who has put together the # BackTo60 campaign.

The programme was produced by Hello Dear films by Jaspar Warry, Joanne Welch and Yvette Greenway.

Watch it. Learn what is going on and then do something about it.

 

 

Voldemort Grayling: The transport secretary and his fantasy Hogwarts Express train service

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Chris Grayling: Transport Secretary and The Lord Voldemort of the Cabinet

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Just before Parliament went into Easter recess the real story about Chris Grayling’s decision to cancel three  major rail electrification projects was released with hardly any mainstream  news coverage.

It was fitting example of the present appalling career of Chris Grayling. This has caused misery  for millions and waste running to hundreds of millions of pounds. He has been  responsible for the botched privatisation of the probation service, slashing compensation for people beaten up by criminals and introducing sky high fees for people bringing tribunal cases (now scrapped thanks to a case brought by Unison)) , restricting legal  aid and putting up court charges.

He and Ken Clarke,when he was justice secretary, also wanted to work with the Saudi Arabian prison system with its obscenities of public beheading, stoning women and flogging men. He is the true Lord Voldemort of Theresa May’s Cabinet.

This latest investigation from the National Audit Office – while more prosaic than J.K .Rowling’s Harry Potter novels – reveals yet another tale of deceit and fantasy to cover up government having overreached itself on rail investment.

Last July just as Parliament was about to go into summer recess ( Funny this happens all the time) Chris Grayling announced the scrapping of three railway  electrification schemes.

They were the Midland Main Line north of Kettering (to Nottingham and Sheffield); the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea; and the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere.

But the real story is that two of the projects were actually  cancelled in Match 2017 but the public was never told.
As the report  says: ” In March 2017 ministers agreed to cancel the Midland Main Line north of Kettering and Oxenholme to Windermere electrification projects but did not announce their decision until July.”

” Electrification of the Midland Main Line to Sheffield was a 2015 Manifesto commitment. The Manifesto also stated that work was underway to electrify the railway in South Wales.”

Hence the deceit.

The public went to the polls in June 2017  and the electors of Nottingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Chesterfield. Sheffield and in Windermere and Kendal were told a lie – the electrification of their service was not going to happen and ministers had trashed their 2015 manifesto commitment.

The electrification of the line between Swansea and Cardiff was scrapped by Theresa May after the election.

But that is not the whole story. Chris Grayling promised to modernise the three services by buying new trains called bi- mode trains- running on both electric and diesel.

The NAO report said: “It will now use bi-mode trains to operate services on the Great Western Main Line and long-distance services on the Midland Main Line. Although bi-mode trains allow greater flexibility by being able to run on electrified and non-electrified lines, there are some disadvantages, such as increased track damage and higher energy costs, which the Department will need to take into account.

For Oxenholme to Windermere the Department had interim plans to use bi-mode trains and proposes to replace existing trains with new diesel trains. It has also asked the operator to explore the use of alternative fuel trains on the route.”

Grayling even promised on the Midland Main Line the journey from London to Sheffield will only be ONE MINUTE slower.

But here is the rub: Such  fast versions of these trains do not yet exist and have never been built for express services. The government hasn’t a clue how much they will cost. They are fantasy trains in the imagination of Chris Grayling. He might as well have announced that the London to Sheffield service was going to be run by Hogwarts Express – it is still in the realm of fiction.

As the NAO report says: “At the time of the decision to cancel in March 2017, officials had advised the Secretary of State that the bi-mode rolling stock with the required speed and acceleration did not exist. They said that the maximum speed of bi-mode trains being built at the time was 100 miles per hour in diesel mode and that the acceleration was not sufficient to meet the timetable of the route. There was also a very high degree of uncertainty over the price of new bi-mode trains.”

I asked for an explanation from the Department for Transport. They contested it.

A spokesman said:“As this report makes clear, we are focused on delivering better trains and services to passengers more quickly, at better value for money for the taxpayer, without the significant disruption to services that electrification can cause.”

 The ministry is said to be happy that bi-mode trains work having tested some on the Great Western l.ine claiming that they could reach 120mph in diesel mode- though this completely conflicts with the NAO investigation which says they are only designed to reach 100mph.

In the meantime this could be another dodgy decision by Chris Grayling. Only this time  he seems to be living in a fantasy world. I await him dressed as Lord Voldemort (He’ll be in the Lords by then)  launching the new London to Sheffield service from Platform 9 and three quarters at London St Pancras rather than Kings Cross.

Update: Since writing this I have discovered that Nicky Morgan, Tory MP for Loughborough and former Cabinet colleague of Chris Grayling reacted furiously to the NAO’s disclosure.She told the Leicester Mercury: 

“Now we see the decision to cancel it was based on fantasy trains that didn’t even exist and the Midlands being a guinea pig for an untested technology.

“This report justifies why people felt so shortchanged when it was cancelled and it makes me more determined to get the decision re-opened.”

 

 

 

 

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