Tag Archives: Labour

Suffolk Buses reach their Beeching moment?

The First Bus decision to pull the plug on their Bury St Edmunds services and close the depot at the end of March  is a further step in the apparently unstoppable destruction of Suffolk’s public transport services. It is particularly tragic because – after Beeching’s shortsighted and illjudged railway decisions of the 60s – many parts of Suffolk are now not served by rail and have only a bus service to rely on. 
 
Now it’s Suffolk bus services that are at a Beeching moment.  Sadly, many council tax payers are are left reliant on the decisions of a county council administration that doesn’t value or support bus transport and that has made bus services the focus of recent budget cuts (remember, for example the Bury Road Park and Ride closure (details here)? last year’s loss of all evening/Sunday bus services to Woodbridge and beyond (details here)?). Such cuts have little personal impact on any councillor or officer who runs a car, and yet these are the people making the decisions.
 
SCC needs to remember that the impact of poor/non-existent bus services is felt amongst other very real people. People who pay their council taxes and contribute to the community but who also happen to be elderly, or poor, or disabled, as well as others who rely on the bus to reach their college or first time job in order to contribute to the future of Suffolk.  SCC decisionmaking should be addressing these people’s needs as well as pandering to those residents who pay no more tax but are lucky enough to be able to use a car!
 
Of course, we shouldn’t put all the blame on the county council. At national level, the Coalition needs to reverse the iniquitous deregulation of bus services, instituted under Thatcher, and shamefully supported by the last Labour government. Deregulation has left rural communities at the mercy of bus companies with little local interest or management presence, who can run the moneymaking routes as poorly as they choose. The County Council, on the other hand,  is only allowed to run ones that run at a loss.
 
Tell me, is this how the ‘free market’ gives us a better service?
 
Despite this,  SCC could choose to be far more proactive than it has been. It could lobby both Suffolk’s MPs and central government for increased support for rural public transport. It could also show that SCC cares though direct action to preserve scheduled bus services. In July’s council meeting, I proposed a motion to increase support to disabled and elderly bus user (details here) via improved bus pass conditions. This motion was passed almost unanimously by full council and referred back to the Cabinet.
 
Since July, Cabinet has overseen the revision, recasting, re-consultation, decisionmaking and embarkation of their new Library services despite few Suffolk residents wanting any change whatsoever. Many many Suffolk residents want changes to the new terms and conditions for bus pass holders. Has Cabinet looked at bus passes?  Six months on we’re still waiting for a date!
 
By the way, I note with interest that passengers who wish to register a complaint about the withdrawal of the Bury St Edmunds services are ‘advised to contact First buses directly on 08456 020 121’. I suggest that this is precisely what people should do
 
This is a slightly extended version of my letter to the EADT  published today, 18-01-2012. 

Negligence, amnesia and epilepsy: remembering Labour’s NHS truthfully

Lets start by saying I love, respect and am deeply grateful to the NHS.

I’ve watched one partner progress from medical student to senior consultant, other friends journey to many different medical destinations – and all of us ending up as NHS patients.  I’ve had three children (one by crash caesarean), and an arm reconstructed with 32 pieces of metal during the Winter of Discontent. I’ve supported most of my family in hospital one time or another. When my brother died of cancer, I’ve devoted time  to replacing the countless pints of blood he needed (currently 130plus donations, and rising).

So, yes, like 95% of the people in the UK I love, support and am deeply grateful to the NHS.

But this doesn’t mean I buy into the current myth being foisted by those who know better onto those who don’t. That there was a glorious golden age of unprivatised efficiency in the NHS, brutally drawn to a close by the last election. That the only people to be trusted to run the NHS are the Labour party. Oh no.

A good friend – a retired and leftward leaning hospital consultant -said to me last week,”there hasn’t been any time in the last 20 years when I haven’t been very depressed by where the NHS is heading”. He has a point.

These days the opposition, with consummate hypocrisy, bangs on about the prospective horrors of Tory privatisation. Do they think we’ve forgotten? Lets not talk about all the services that WERE privatised under the last Labour government (GP Out of Hours Services, and Sexual Health are two ones that come immediately to mind). Lets not talk about buildings in hock to PFI and how much they are used/how long they will take to pay back. Lets talk instead about the huge gap between rhetoric and reality that underpinned so much of this untruth.

In 2007, during a period of supposed national wealth, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Epilepsy published Wasted Money Wasted Lives: The human and economic cost of epilepsy in England.

The statistics they quoted were – and remain – shocking:

• 990 epilepsy related deaths annually (365 being children/young people). This does not include eg drowning and RTAs
400 avoidable deaths per year
• 69,000 people living with unnecessary seizures
• 74,000 people taking drugs they do not need
• £189 million needlessly spent supporting this tragic state of affairs each year.

Most shocking of all is that these statistics have not altered since this time. It as if that report never existed. So what did it say? (italics mine):

“ During the course of this Inquiry, it has become clear that the National Health Service (NHS) is failing people with epilepsy and that a much improved service can be delivered at the same time as making significant cost saving.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Epilepsy therefore calls upon the [ then, Labour] Government to recognise the benefits of change, accept the political, administrative and ethical duty to implement these changes, and to take positive action for the benefit of both the patient and the taxpayer.
Government has devolved much decision making to local Primary Care Trusts. It was not the purpose of this Inquiry to examine that policy. It does, however, sometimes give rise to a gap between stated Government policy and actual delivery. It can also lead to a postcode lottery, abhorrent to Government, where patients in one part of the country receive a significantly worse service than elsewhere. Again, this will be clearly shown to exist in the case of epilepsy.
Government must take care to avoid the criticism that admirable policy developments on paper without targets for implementation or powers to roll out the policy are seen as no more than Government “wish-lists”, and of little use to patients facing critical service failures on the ground.

This report concluded

“ the numbers experiencing seizures unnecessarily and the numbers taking anti-epileptic drugs for which they have no need is a national scandal… It is about time that people with epilepsy received for the first time ever a health service that meets their needs, at least to the standard available to patients with other conditions. ”

Four years on, it is as if these words had never been written. It shocks me to the core that our current Labour opposition use every opportunity to imply that the NHS was safe till it left their hands and yet the ‘national scandal’ to which Health Secretary Alan Johnson was alerted and Andy Burnham inherited was as nothing to them. This was heralded as a time of economic prosperity – a time when government increased GP salaries to double their French equivalents’ while cutting their responsibilities. Clearly the notion – of decreasing cost while increasing the standard of care at least to the standard available to patients with other conditions – was unimportant to health secretary Alan Johnson, and his successor Andy Burnham.

Forgive me if I write about this bitterly. I feel very bitter. In the same year in which this report was published my adolescent child faced damage and death over and over again because she lived in a county with no specialist provision and no expertise or interest in managing difficult epilepsy. And no steer from a disengaged and totally uninterested central government to provide it. Epilepsy isn’t sexy, is it, Mr Johnson, Mr Burnham, you Labour amnesiacs and apologists one and all? And its not insurable either.

When I talk about facing damage and death this did not mean she fell over occasionally.

During 2007 she had 200 major (damaging) seizures, and innumerable minor seizures. On 90 occasions these developed into status epilepticus (results in brain damage/fatality if not stopped). Over 2007 she was taking 9 separate drugs in various suck-it-and-see combinations (many of them with toxic side effects) in an attempt to control her epilepsy or rescue her from status epilepticus.

(Can I repeat a sentence from the report ‘the numbers experiencing seizures unnecessarily and the numbers taking anti-epileptic drugs for which they have no need is a national scandal‘ . Quite).

Over 2007 she spent 45 whole days as emergency admission in 4 separate hospitals in 4 separate parts of the country. 67 further days were spent in a state of confusion so extreme she couldn’t string two words together.

Imagine what an effect this had on her life! On her social life! On her education! On her self esteem! On the life of me, her sole carer 24/7. On the life of her siblings.
And 2007 was a doozie in comparison with the horrors of 2008.
I cannot describe what it feels like to cope hourly, daily, monthly, yearly with this level of anxiety, difficulty and stress and then discover that those running the NHS – that was YOU Alan Johnson and YOU Andy Burnham knew about it, and just couldn’t be bothered to act.

So when I now hear you and your apologists complacently posing as the protectors of the NHS and those who use it, I have to remind you that you cannot expect to win the hearts or minds of those half million you failed. Or the families you wracked, and the education and careers you ruined in the process.

Alan Johnson, Andy Burnham, 他们的良心被狗吃了! (Though I don’t suppose you’ll think of checking out the meaning of this , either)

Why I’m saying YES to AV

Some months back the Labour party used AV  to to elect Labour’s new leader.   We Lib Dems have used the process to elect our leaders for a while.  In Suffolk last week,  the Conservative party used AV to elect Mark Bee  as their new leader. The Oscars have moved to AV to vote for Best Film.  Colin Firth, Steven Fry, Joanna Lumley, Helena Bonham Carter,  Honor Blackman, Kriss Akabusi, Amisha Ghadiali, Eddie Izzard, Greg Dyke, Rowan Davies and Martin Bell are all saying Yes to AV.  I am supporting AV, come to that. AV is clearly seen as a fair and intelligent way of  exercising democracy- so why do we in Britain still elect our MPs with the  discredited First Past the Post system?

The answer’s simple: it’s convenient for the MPs. The First Past the Post system keeps people in power without them having to work for it. No wonder so many people in Westminster are reluctant to change!

Every  time there is an election in Britain, people notice the tiny proportion of votes that the winners have gained and comment on how unfair this is.  In 2010 most MPs were elected with less than a third of the votes. The Electoral Reform Society has been campaigning to update Britain’s undemocratic electoral system for over a hundred years – and have long argued that AV is the best system when you’re out to elect a single winner.

In May, at long, long  last we finally have the chance to scrap our broken system and replace it with a better one that will see politicians having to work harder for our votes. See the Yes to fairer votes site to see a video which shows how easy and fair the AV system really is

And remember to vote YES on May 5th

For more information see my fuller briefing on AV:  No more wasted votes? then say YES to AV

I need to remind Labour party members what socialists actually THOUGHT before the last election…

and who is actually responsible for all these cuts.  Since the election there has been the most remarkable degree of amnesia on the subject.

Yes,  the vindictively targeted cuts of Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction are the responsibility of the Suffolk Tories and the administration they head.  But at national level? – only a political simpleton or  a dissimulator would lay Britain’s cuts  at the door of the Coalition.

Certainly, before the elecction the left knew exactly who was responsible. You just have to read Mick Brooks on Brown and Light Touch regulation

If you can’t bring yourself to remember, here ‘s a quote:

Clearly the present crisis is international in scope (contrary to Brown’s tommyrot that he could immunise Britain from boom and bust), but the neoliberal policies pursued have exposed the British economy to global economic forces and left if unprotected to a dangerous degree.

Here is a sample of Brown’s saucer-eyed adoration for financial whizzkids from his Mansion House speech in 2007. “I congratulate you on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London … I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created.” Readers seeing this for the first time after the crash must be wondering what planet this bloke beamed down from.

Completely suckered by the arrogance and pushiness of the City elite, Brown was determined as Chancellor to let them have their head. He seemed to harbor the insane delusion that an island of 60 million souls could all make a living in the world on the backs of the mysterious activities of a few tens of thousands of people in the City and Canary Wharf.

He therefore called for ‘light touch regulation,’ in other words less regulation on the City and finance capital. Before his Mansion House audience in 2007, he called for, “a risk-based regulatory approach”. It was an old theme. In the same hall three years before, he pledged that “in budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers” (2004). This is the approach that got us in the present pickle.

Right?     Right!

Thank you

Oh, and PS, TUITION FEES:

In 1997 you said Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. You then introduced tuition fees … In 2001 you said: ‘we will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them’. You then introduced top-up fees.” Michael Howard to Tony Blair, Prime Minister’s Questions, 6 April 2005

Will tuition fees return to haunt the Labour Party?
Unlike the last general election when university tuition fees figured large, higher education is likely to have a lower profile this time round. That’s because the two biggest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, have done a deal to kick the fees issue into the long grass. They have set up a review, chaired by the former BP boss Lord Browne, which is looking at the options for student funding, including charging students more by lifting the cap on fees that stand at just over £3,000 a year. That review will not be completed until the autumn, well after the election is over. Lucy Hodges, The Independent Thursday, 15 April 2010

Tuition fees dog Labour
Since tuition fees were launched in 1997, student funding has been a thorn in Labour’s side. When Education Secretary Charles Clarke speaks at the Labour party conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday, tuition fees will remain the cloud anchored over his seafront horizon.  Dividing the party, putting off young people, threatening the middle classes, appearing as the party that pushes students into debt – the issue of student finance has continued to be bad news for the Labour leadership.
But what is it that has set the backbenchers grumbling?
And how will the government manage to sell the message that tuition fees is about opening doors to higher education, rather than slamming down the shutters? Sean Coughlan  BBC News Online education staff Tuesday, 30 September, 2003

Like I said, just so you remember, eh? I wouldn’t like to think you were accidentally spreading disinformation, just because you’d forgotten  who was actually responsible.

A Quick Question for Suffolk Labour activists

C’m on, folks, make your minds up. Is the lesser political party in a coalition responsible or not for the actions of the whole?  Helpful hint: We need a YES or a NO here.

Yet Labour activists in Suffolk have difficulty with this one.

When it comes to decisions made at Suffolk County Council,  pre-2005 (a Labour/Lib Dem coalition for those who do not suffer from political amnesia) they  remember it  as if these were their decisions  – and theirs alone.   As in:

“Labour left an exemplary council in 2005, since then this morally bankrupt group of Conservatives have done their best to run Suffolk services into the ground.”

Julian Swainson 2 Feb, “Don’t Privatise Suffolk Services” Facebook group

Yet suddenly,  when it’s politically expedient, when it’s a NATIONAL coalition  (in which it’s clear that the Lib Dems take a small – but ameliorating – role in sorting out the financial debacle of the previous Labour administration)  then suddenly all we hear from Labour is that the resultant problems are all the Lib Dems’ fault.

Yes – right.   And I’m the Akond of Swat.

Do you know, a  prominent Suffolk  Labour councillor had the crust to say to me the other day:   ” I don’t know how a moral person could be a Lib Dem.”  (Brave fellow, eh? Luckily for him  he didn’t know I go to boxing classes. My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure..)

And yet he was  totally flabbergasted when I replied:

“Torture, rendition, war crimes, denial of democracy,  total failure to support public transport and social housing  in times of plenty, privatisation of the NHS by the back door, destruction of our finances by cosying up to, and deregulating the banks,   threatening to cut ‘worse than Margaret Thatcher’ when in power  and then total amnesia afterwards..   Me,  I wonder how any moral person could ever have stayed with your morally bankrupt party!”

It’s like he was believing his own spin!

Come on,  guys – don’t be such hypocrites.  Be grateful that at local AND national level there is the quiet voice of common sense to ameliorate the extravagant  amnesia of right and left alike.

At the moment we Lib Dems are providing the only practical and vocal opposition to the excesses of  Suffolk’s Tory administration, and their bureaucrats’  heaven, the NSD.  United we jolly well ought to stand.  Divided, I’m happy to point out your deficiencies.