Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Vote Independent For PCC

I've previously blogged about tomorrow's Police and Crime Commissioner elections for 2020UK but, on a more personal note, I wanted to explain why I will be voting for the independent candidate in our area tomorrow. To quote myself in that post (a very immodest thing to do but...):

I wouldn’t really have minded going through a list of independent candidates and seeing who was best suited to the role. I would’ve looked for local knowledge, experience and reputation. Instead, this is all being fought along party lines. It will become another party battle and, no doubt, you’ll end up with people being chosen for their party affiliations and not their ability to do the job. I don’t think I’m in a minority when I say that I don’t like the idea of politics seeping into our police forces any more than it already has. We need our services to be independent...Independent candidates were no doubt put off by the prohibitive registration necessities – each had to give a £5,000 deposit, something easily manageable by the four major parties but difficult for independent candidates to manage. I think there should have been a lower threshold to try and coax more people into standing.

My main reason for voting independent is that I don't think these elections should be political in any way. The Labour leaflet that came through our door ONLY talks about the central government cuts. The headline is: 'The Tories are cutting over 2,000 West Yorkshire Police Staff - on Thursday send them a message... Vote Labour.' Right, okay. Whilst I agree that police cuts are unhelpful, I DO NOT see how a Labour PCC is going to be able to 'fight against' them, as the Labour candidate proclaims in his leaflet. A PCC does not have that kind of power. They are promising a battle they can't follow through on. What they should be doing instead is working within the framework they've got. I look at West Yorkshire's independent candidate, Cedric Christie, and I see that effort.

Christie worked as a front-line police officer for over thirty years. He claims to 'understand the real problems' and, you know, I believe him. There's no party machinery pushing him forward but he feels passionately enough about the role to stand - and given the prohibitive deposit mentioned above I see that as quite a commitment. His election priorities can be read on his website but there's nothing there that can't be delivered, unlike the Labour candidate vowing to fight a battle he can't fight.

Tomorrow, I will be voting for Cedric Christie as my preferred candidate in the PCC elections for the West Yorkshire area. I hope other people will join me but, remember, even if you feel a loyalty to a party in these elections, you can still cast a vote for Christie as your second preference.

Christie's website is here.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Trains or People?

I've been watching the furore over the West Coast Mainline franchise with interest. To recap: the franchise has been awarded to First Group following a bid process that has lasted over a year. Virgin's boss Richard Branson is irritated by this and has voiced his disapproval very publicly. His criticism has helped a petition on the government's official E-Petitions website reach 153,000 signatures. A lot of people seem very tanked up about this issue.

I understand the concerns in all honesty. First Group haven't got the greatest track record with franchises (handing one back very recently without fulfilling their contract) while Virgin have managed the line fairly well over the last decade. However, my personal view is that we should be starting to renationalise the railways and, if I had my way, the West Coast Mainline would be brought back under public ownership instead of being handed out in this way. My thoughts on this are a sideshow - something more important struck me as I was considering the issue.

153,000 people have expressed their disgruntlement via this e-petition. 153,000 people are irritated about a business decision that may or may not affect them. In the meantime, a very worthy petition by Mrs Pat Onions entitled 'Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families' has only reached a paltry 43,000 signatures. I'm honestly appalled. More people care about trains than the very serious difficulties being faced by disabled people as a direct result of government policies. Richard Branson has got Jamie Oliver onside and that's apparently helping his case. Perhaps that what disabled activists need - a celebrity to fight for them. Personally, I think the people affected by what Pat Onions calls 'piecemeal change' need Jamie Oliver a damn sight more than Richard Branson does.

People are actually dying because of the government's policies towards disabled people. Others are being confined to their homes and locked into poverty. Now, I'm not saying don't get angry about the West Coast Mainline if you want to. I'm just saying that if you've taken five minutes out of your day to make your voice heard about a train franchise then surely you can take another five minutes to try and protect the most vulnerable in our society. And if not...why not? I don't understand.

You can sign Pat's petition here if you haven't already.

Friday, 27 April 2012

An Elected Mayor in Wakefield? No!

On Thursday 3rd May voters in Wakefield (and several other cities across the UK) will go to the polls to decide whether they want an elected mayor in their area. After some slight wavering on my original verdict of 'No' I've come to the conclusion that I was certainly right in the first place. My instincts told me an elected mayor would be a pointless and expensive waste of time in Wakefield and I'd like to explain why. All figures are from the 20th April edition of the Wakefield Express.

  • We have no idea of the powers an elected mayor would have. No specifics have been given about the powers that will be given to an elected mayor except that they won't be as extensive as Boris Johnson's powers in London. How can we be expected to vote to give powers up when we have no idea what powers we'll be surrendering to one human being?
  • The salary will be extortionate. At the moment the council leader's salary is about £45k. An elected mayor would be paid between £60k and £70. In addition, every cabinet member the mayor chooses to appoint would cost £13k each. Doesn't seem to me like this is austerity in action.
  • It'll be Labour or Labour round here. The council leader elected by councillors is Peter Box. An elected mayor will no doubt end up being Peter Box. The notion of choice that a mayoral election will bring means very little around here so why bother paying more money for the same man?
  • Wakefield has no one distinct community. We're not called 'Wakefield and the Five Towns' for nothing. Normanton, Pontefract, Featherstone, Castleford and Knottingley all come under the remit but my fear would be that an elected mayor would focus on the central belt. I'm not the only central resident to have had enough of on-going development work that doesn't seem to have a coherent purpose. I certainly don't want more of it. 
  • The mayor could not be removed mid-term. At least the council leader can be removed during their term by the councillors. But if the mayor is incompetent or worse then we have to wait four years to get rid. Not good. 
  • What'll be the point of elected councillors? As far as I'm concerned, if we have an elected mayor everybody else that we vote in is redundant because the majority of decisions will be made by one individual. I don't see that as wholly democratic. 
  • I don't want one person in charge. I think this is what it comes down to for me. I believe democracy can only be obtained through dialogue and compromise. I don't think we'll get that with an elected mayor.
I know a lot of people will disagree with me but these are my thoughts and these are the reasons I'll be voting 'No' on 3rd May when I'm asked whether Wakefield should have an elected mayor. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

On Soft Courses

Education policy is perhaps the only area of Coalition policy that I don't have a real problem with. I went to secondary school during the Labour years (1998-2003) and noticed as it became more target-driven and, actually, irritating and pointless. I don't know the figures for my school in relation to vocational courses but we were a bit rough and I'm willing to bet people were pushed towards anything that would help the school look better. Consequently, I think that Michael Gove's plan to stop most vocational courses being equated to GCSEs is more than fair. This scheme has bred a culture of 'easy' courses, often making vocational studies look silly along the way. It demeans the truly worthwhile vocational courses that I remember from way back - care of children, care of the elderly and your trades such as electrician, plasterer and plumber. Those are worthy courses which will actually help a pupil in their chosen career. Many of the new ones are little more than pieces of paper.

A quote in this Telegraph article today from Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers irritated me. She says, “It should not be up to the Government to decide which exams are of more merit than others. This is something which should be assessed by major stakeholders such as the teaching profession and awarding bodies." What, you mean it should be assessed by the people who stand to gain from making the teaching and examining professions look better than they actually are? Asking teachers to make a verdict on vocational qualifications is like asking a member of a criminal gang to comment on the activities of the whole. The government may actually be the most objective 'stakeholder' in this situation: they want students to come out with qualifications which will help them get a job. It could be said that the teaching profession and awarding bodies simply want the best for their own members. And who cares about the children?

We cannot carry on congratulating people for failure. Students should be pushed to their limits and, for that matter, teachers and awarding bodies should be too. It's fine and dandy wanting an 'easy' life but then you end up in the situation we're in now - we have a country that's practically useless and we're slipping down international league tables faster than you could imagine. Our education system is the most logical place to start fixing this. You can't help children once they're through it. 

Monday, 9 January 2012

Spartacus Report

I know there's a lot going around about this today but it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops - and there's always the hope that one more person may be informed about the illogical and foolhardy changes to DLA by reading this post.

A new report, Responsible Reform: A Report on the Proposed Changes to Disability Living Allowance, has highlighted many of the failings that the government made during their consultation procedure about the change from DLA to Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Analysing the SAME responses that the government did (obtained via a Freedom of Information request), the report plainly shows how this information was misrepresented by the government in their haste to approve the flawed changes. The report can be accessed here (and the executive summary is digestible and very revealing) while the press release can be found here

I'd just like to make a few points. Without social media this campaign would've been impossible. Whether by design or error, the government has targeted their most detrimental reforms at the most vulnerable group in society and those least able to mobilise themselves into action. Without the dedication of Sue Marsh and other online campaigners, the battle would've been lost long ago. As it stands, we still have a chance to make the country listen.

But, first, the scrounger rhetoric HAS TO stop. Yes, I agree there is a sense of entitlement in some parts of society, the I want culture whereby people believe that because somebody else has something they deserve it too. However, we are not attacking that culture with the changes from DLA to PIP. Do you know what we're doing? We are attacking the I need sector instead. We are attacking the people who rely on DLA to survive. We are replacing a benefit that helps with one that tries desperately to get out of helping. The changes have been badly considered and misrepresented by the government AND the Labour Opposition.

Finally, you might think this has nothing to do with you because it doesn't affect you now. Well, it might one day. The chances are high that it'll affect you or someone you know at some point. No one chooses to be disabled and by making life more difficult for those people we are condemning them to a life of worry, misery and pain. Is this acceptable?

Please email your MP and tweet #spartacusreport as much as you can today. It needs to be done and the report needs to be seen.  

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Tickling Miliband

I've had a little back and forth on Twitter today about Ed Miliband. My tweet that started the dialogue was this: Hang on, Ed Miliband believes he would've got a better deal for Britain? What, by rolling over and letting Sarkozy tickle his tummy?" Perhaps a little inflammatory but Prime Minister's Questions does that to me. Anyway, I was engaged in debate by someone who seems to think that it doesn't matter what Ed Miliband would've done had he been in David Cameron's shoes last Thursday/Friday because it's 'fiction'. While I understand the sentiment, I can't agree with it. As you can't judge the Leader of the Opposition on the policies he implements, shouldn't you be able to judge him on what he said he would do? How else are you supposed to get the measure of him and decide whether you would vote for him in a General Election?

To be honest, Miliband is reluctant to make his views known because he's aware they run against the tide of emotion in the country at the moment. The Tories have a poll bounce thanks to Cameron's veto. Labour have...well, Ed Miliband.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Leave Wakefield Westgate Alone

This blog runs the risk of becoming a diatribe against the great British railways. I've previously written about my loathing of HS2 and the problems that could arise from closing small ticket offices. Today, as George Osborne announces money going towards rail infrastructure projects in Yorkshire, I have a new gripe.

£6.6 million is being given to Wakefield Westgate station to rebuild and refurbish. You'd think I'd be happy. I use the station several times a week, after all, and theoretically it should be in Wakefield's best interests to have it rebuilt. However, I don't believe it is.

The idea to 'move' the station down a few yards was mooted years ago. It was accepted that it would finally be done and then the refurbishment plan disappeared from the Network Rail website and everything went quiet. For the last few years Wakefield Council have been insisting that the work would happen while the transport authorities have just blanked the idea. If the original suggestions are being used then (in my understanding) the station would be moved along a bit. For Wakefield people, it would be moved slightly further away from Westgate bridge and towards the Balne Lane bridge. This was fine when the plans were first suggested. But I see one major flaw here: they've since built a hideously ugly multi-storey car park near this area. They can't just pick it up and move it so does that hamper plans? These are the details already announced by the local paper: "New shops, a travel centre, a First Class lounge, a customer reception and information screens will be developed at a brand new station building. It will be built next to the multi-storey car park which opened last year to provide better access." See my next point.

Secondly, I'm happy to admit that Wakefield Westgate is not a hub station. The majority of people who get on and off the train don't wait around for a connecting service. It's a destination, that's all. As such, I believe the station as it is can cope. You don't have too many people hanging around and the services it's got are sufficient: cash machines, shop, cafe, toilets ticket offices, information desk along with first class and regular waiting rooms. It might be a little scruffy but it's hardly in the direst of circumstances. I wonder if the powers that be are merely trying to make the station look more attractive to businessmen travelling through from Leeds. Quite an expensive vanity project if they are.

Finally, there is the most important point. Wakefield has two railway stations and this one isn't the one desperate for a bit of TLC. Wakefield Kirkgate has been the scene of at least one serious sexual assault in recent history and is an unmanned eyesore. It does, however, offer a direct Grand Central service to London. The problem is, no one will dare risk going via that station because of the dangers. Wakefield Kirkgate is the closer station to the new Hepworth Gallery and refurbishment of that could easily help visitors to the attraction. The waterfront area nearby has also been heavily redeveloped recent years: why not build a station to go with the new prosperity of the area?

So, you see, I'm not saying no money for Wakefield's rail system. I'm just asking for it to be put in the right place and to help local people in favour of anyone else.