Tuesday, 17 September 2013

OFSTED Letter highlights real change needed

Medway Focused Inspection Letter v8 FINAL Embargoed 050913 by Tristan Osborne

What with the state of the NHS locally, where a botched Tory privatisation has left real and lasting damage to local services, it could be easy to forget that it isn’t just health where residents are being let down.

Medway schools have been mis-managed by the Conservative Party for more than a decade. A period that has seen a marked deterioration in outcomes for many pupils across our towns; many of which could have been ameliorated if it were not for all the changes in officers, personnel and dithering Council portfolio holders.

From being bottom of Key Stage 2; a botched 11+ Medway test fiasco;  shambolic and forced re-organisation of schools; to expensive errors over photocopier contracts. We have had schools closed on the basis of statistics when less than three years later another is needed. We have had teams cut in the Council at the exact time improvements needed to be embedded. The list goes on and on.

Medway as a conurbation produces proportionately fewer number of University graduates that puts us at a competitive disadvantage when trying to attract inward investment. Getting education right is therefore an economic priority for future years and one we cant get wrong.

The OFSTED report is damning but it seems lessons are not being learnt. Instead of accepting the recommendations within the report we had a press statement from the Council that barely acknowledged any of the negatives; rather than an acceptance we had an aggressive rebuttal.  The Tory record of buck passing on education continues.

Labour invested in education locally; from the new Mid Kent College campus in Gillingham to capital spends to modernise our Academies, some of which are doing well. There is a legacy in many schools of new infrastructure that makes it a real pity that the Tory-led Local Education Authority has dropped the ball.

Tory Councillors’ distancing themselves by stating schools ‘stand alone’ is just the latest out-of-turn comment which leaves parents with no confidence that the Tory Council has a grip.

Whilst Academies are independent of direct LEA control the fact is the Council are responsible for the 70,000 or so pupils that attend all Medway schools. They also have a responsibility – like other LEA’s across the country – of setting political leadership, direction and offering help. Schools do not and should never ‘stand alone.‘  An inappropriate phrase whose sentiment is very much understood by thousands of parents across Medway.

The Council should acknowledge the OFSTED report. When it comes to a child’s education a decade of poor performance is not acceptable; and that record will be on the ballot paper in 2015.

Live in Snodland?

Snodland Labour Leaflet Autumn 2013 by Tristan Osborne

One weekend and 6,000 leaflets delivered to residents of Snodland!

Good team effort from a team of 15 over the weekend.

Strength to change Britain

Ever since he became the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband has been talking about how we need to harness the talents of everyone – and how those in power should be governing for the whole country, not just a few at the top.

That’s what he means when he says that he wants ours to be a One Nation Labour Party – one which is rooted in the lives of men and women in all of our communities and which, in government, will create an economy that works for working people.

Last week at the TUC and over the next week, Ed will set out how we’re going to do that. 

At the TUC  he took aim at the government, who are busy congratulating themselves and saying that they’ve turned the economy around when ordinary families know things are getting harder not easier.

People in our area know the truth. Living standards have now been falling for longer than at any time since 1870. There are a million young people looking for work. Long-term unemployment is higher than at any time in a generation. And there are 1.4 million people stuck in part-time jobs.

In the face of this cost of living crisis what is David Cameron’s priority? Standing up for the wealthiest few by cutting taxes for millionaires while asking everyone else to pay more. The Prime Minister is out of touch, and is failing to turn things around for hard working families in Medway and Aylesford.

Ed has said that if Labour were in power, we would make fundamentally different choices. We would offer a compulsory jobs guarantee to young people, getting them a job with proper training on at least the minimum wage – funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses. We’d increase the number of apprenticeships, set up a British Investment Bank to get money to small businesses, and build more homes.

And, as Ed has said, we would act to stop the abuse of workers who are being exploited on zero-hour contracts. Some people are on call all day, without any guarantee of going to work. Or, after years on a regular contract, they’re now trapped on zero-hour contracts with no idea of what their wages will be next week. I really welcome Ed’s announcement that the next Labour Government will put a stop to the exploitation of these contracts.

Of course, the headlines out of Ed’s speech are also about his proposed reforms of our relationship with the trade unions. People may wonder why this matters to them.

It matters because we are changing the Labour Party so that we can change the country – and carry out all those reforms that will really make a difference to people’s lives.

The Conservatives don’t represent the whole country as Vince Cable said yesterday. Under David Cameron, they hold working people, as members of trade unions, in contempt – effectively writing off whole sections of our society. Being One Nation is about governing for the whole country – and that’s why Ed is arguing for a new kind of Labour Party. One with a new relationship with individual trade union members.

Currently, we have 3 million working men and women formally affiliated to Labour. But the vast majority of them play no role. They are affiliated in name only. They don’t really have a voice – and we aren’t hearing what they have to tell us. We want to make every member a real part of the Labour Party – and we want people to make a positive choice to join us and to make their voice and their stories heard.

We could become a Labour Party not of 200,000 people, but of 500,000 – or many more. A party that’s rooted in every community. A real movement.

This is of course a challenge, and there are strong views. Like all challenges, it’s a risk.

But it’s a bigger risk not to change. We’ve seen that Ed Miliband is determined that this change will happen. I really support what he’s doing – and want to play my part in getting more working people involved in the Labour Party here in our area. 

If you want to see our country change so that everybody is getting a fair chance, and that our government works for all of us – not just a few at the top – I hope you’ll join me.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Voice from Lordswood

This weekend I spent most of Saturday and Sunday afternoon in Lordswood meeting residents to garner more signatures for the anti-Asbestos petition. 

Whilst on the doorstep I inquired as to whether the individual supported the stance by Ed Miliband and Labour on the amendment submitted to Westminster last week. The overwhelming response from the doorstep was positive towards the Labour position. 

Despite the rhetoric and heat coming from the right wing press there is very little appetite to be engaging in another conflict in the Middle East. The Murdoch press last weekend was woefully out of tune with the reality on the ground; sadly it seems Cameroon loyalists too who seem gung-ho in going straight into a conflict. 

The PM was right last week the issue was that of judgement; and it is also clear that it was Obama’s judgement less than 48 hours later to prolong the timetable. To most reasonable people it is quite clear that Ed’s amendment has been proved right in the fullness of time; to delay and consider the evidence rather than a headlong rush to war. I truly believe Ed Miliband has set the tenor for the debate in the US and possibly France; the UK position put significant pressure on Obama to change his position.

The Labour amendment was also clear; Labour was, is, and in future not opposed to enforcing International law but only with an evidence base and mandate. The government has still refused to publish; in full; the attorney general’s guidance for war. Cameron failed to secure a majority last week largely because of Conservative Party incompetence. 

The fact is that Ed Miliband set out a very reasonable plan for listening to the UN and making a considered approach to act, within the realms of International law, and on a timetable governed by the British people. In the last couple of days the US has rightly presented its evidence on culpability. Whilst welcome and comprehensive this also needs to be considered with the UN report. Only after all the pieces of evidence are assessed can lawmakers have a fair chance to assess the position. 

The immaturity about another debate on this shown by the Tories – namely George Osborne - once again highlights weakness. Whilst it is true the government lost the debate was on the basis of the evidence at the time of the debate; coupled with the absence of a number of lawmakers who were ‘discussing Uganda’ or indisposed. This was a judgement issue and it was judged by many that Cameron was rushing into conflict; not – and this is crucial - that it may be necessary to enforce International law should the evidence be present. 

I am disappointed that the majority of Medway based MPs; Mark Reckless MP and Rehman Chisthi MP supported the government motion given it was flimsy. They represents 5/6ths of Medway residents and it is for them to judge how they voted. Those Tory MPs that rebelled acted in a principled and considered way.

Whilst there does have to be a separation between domestic politics and our international obligations the two do not act in isolation. I absolutely agree that this debate was set on the backdrop of the Iraq conflict; it is true today there is a natural suspicion of the state around going into war; and also from a more educated public living in a far more inter-connected world a requirement for more information to make informed judgements. Cameron though did not build a credible case for action. Taking away his rhetorical ability to persuade the actual case presented on Thursday was poorly prepared and looked even weaker in the hindsight of Obama’s position to prolong the debate. Cameron suggested we needed immediate action and that delay would be irresponsible; how moronic that looks now that Obama has presented the exact opposite position.  

This does not mean however that with a change of facts the debate cant change. This perhaps sounds idealistic but a free non-whipped vote could easily be timetabled again once the UN has reported in detail. We now know Obama does not have to act for a month. 

Ed Miliband has always made it clear he disagreed with how the Iraq conflict was handled and promised a different approach to dealing with International issues. That was a large part of why I, and many thousands of progressive Labour members, voted for him in 2010. The lessons needed to be learnt. 

The country can not afford both in treasure and lives a cavalier and reckless approach to leadership that could have rushed us into a conflict, but nor can it afford to a second-bit player on the global stage. A Prime Minister still smarting from a personal defeat that it so impacts his judgement to act in light of changed facts is an even weaker Prime Minister in the eyes of our allies. How Cameron and the Tory party respond in defeat is a test of them; will the government accept it was hasty last week in pushing for a recall? Will it re-assess itself the evidence base? 

People are rightly asking me what I would have done. If I were MP I too would have listened to constituents and would have voted against a rush to war. I am however never closed minded to future evidence. but to act without all the facts is something I could never ever support. Cameron was pre-judging the outcome of the UN inspectors last week; his rush to a compromise on Wednesday night still sanctioned in my mind indirect military action, party I suspect, because he was working to a US timetable. Crucially, all of this before the UN Inspectors were allowed to report back.

I am however disposed to oppose conflict given the public mood unless there is overwhelming evidence Assad is guilty.  I do have real anxieties that the replacement for Assad could be an extremist Islamist government. The Free Syrian Opposition needs to do a lot more here in giving the public some assurance it has a post-Assad plan; they clearly do not.

Taking our country into conflict is the most important undertaking of any Prime Minister; Cameron’s inability to lead and govern last week and now by refusing to open up a debate in light of new evidence highlights to me why we need a change of leadership in this country. Ed Miliband last week acted as a Prime Minister and the International community responded after the vote in Westminster. 

Labour could lead the debate again in my mind by tabling a free vote on the evidence base presented in future weeks should circumstances change. MPs could then look at the evidence and either re-affirm a previous position with more confidence or make a different judgement based on new evidence.