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If you were one of those in Hemel Hempstead watching last week's Labour Party Conference on TV or reading about it on mainstream news, social media or websites and thinking what relevance does it have for me then think again.

Politicians these days are increasingly seen as distant, out of touch with what the electorate really needs. And what was happening in Brighton, despite only being 86 miles from Hemel Hempstead may be viewed as a world away from those struggling to pay the bills, get a roof over their heads, find a job never mind job security or worrying about their kids getting a decent education. Never mind older generations fretting about the advent of new technology and and getting left behind in the workplace or life.

While delivering leaflets before this summer's General Election, campaigning for local Labour candidate Mandi Tattershall, one man I spoke to simply expressed his concern at the lack of real jobs in the town and how it had increasingly become a commuter town for London. As he put it people didn't want to get home too tired and too late to spend time with their family.

Another - who ran a local business - told Tory MP Mike Penning at a hustings held in one of the town's schools that he would rather pay higher taxes if it meant the kids at that school got a better education. He spoke also of often struggling to employ people because they lacked the right skills. 

Which is why Labour's plans for a National Education Service - announced last Tuesday - are ground-breaking and relevant to all of us because when we invest in people to develop their skills and capabilities, we all benefit from a stronger economy and society.

When the 1945 Labour government established the NHS, it created one of the central institutions of fairness of the 20th century. The NES aims to do the same for the 21st, giving people confidence and hope by making education a right, not a privilege.

At a time when working lives and the skills our economy needs are changing rapidly with escalating global competitiveness and shifts in the use of technology and its effects on employment, Labour aims to create a unified NES to move towards cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use.

The NES will be built on the principle that ‘Every Child – and Adult Matters’ and will incorporate all forms of education, from early years through to ADULT education.

This includes:

  • Overhauling the existing childcare system in which subsidies are given directly to parents who often struggle to use them and extend the 30 free hours to all two- year-olds and move towards making some childcare available for one- year-olds and extending maternity pay to 12 months.
  • Investing in schools from building to teachers and avoiding crippling underfunding which has driven up class sizes as well as a narrow curriculum and a culture of assessment driving away teachers, creating a recruitment and retention crisis.
  • Free school meals for all primary school children, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees.
  • Abolishing tuition fees in higher education and introducing free LIFELONG education in further education colleges. 

As Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, who has admitted her own mother was illiterate and who herself was a teenage mum, said: "Our children will be ready for school and when they get their they won't be let down either."

A major policy is also the introduction of free, lifelong education in Further Education (FE) colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at ANY point in life and a new focus on apprenticeships but ones that again have worth and are not run by dodgy opportunists.  

Not everyone is academic and all too often I see university graduates struggling with massive student debts and unable to find decent paid work because for whatever reason they have been lured onto poor courses - who can still charge the same as leading universities whose students they then have to compete against for jobs - and would have been better suited developing, using or being trained in practical skills and leaving school or further education at 18.

Older people - fearing automation of their jobs or the advent of changing techology - can also go back to college and re-train.   

Rayner said: "At a time when technology is changing demand for different kinds of skills, and evolving patterns of work mean that people are more likely to pursue several careers during their working lives, it is crucial that our education system enables people to upskill and retrain over their lifetimes.

"We would ensure vocational routes incorporate the service sector as well as traditional manufacturing, working in tandem with our broad industrial strategy to deliver for the whole economy."

"Labour believes education should be free, and we will restore this principle. No one should be put off educating themselves for lack of money or through fear of debt."

And for decades the Tories have pitched themselves as the homeowners’ party. 

But in Brighton, Party leader Jeremy Corbyn made it clear that Labour wants to be the champion of a smaller but increasingly politicised electorate: tenants.

Waiting lists for housing in Hemel are growing and growing with young people increasingly unable to get their foot on the property ladder as prices in the South East escalate and with council places scarce.

As a result many are reduced to renting from private landlords, often paying far more than they would fork out for a mortgage if they were able to put down a deposit in the first place with tax-payers paying over the odds as councils house tenants in private rentals.

Corbyn caught the ear of Britain’s 4.5 million renter households by promising rent controls in some cities, guaranteed homes for existing tenants on redeveloped estates, and a tax on developers who fail to build on empty sites. As his predecessor Ed Milliband said: "Use it or lose it" because families need homes.

A counter-argument is that controls - scrapped under the Thatcher Govenment in 1988 - will result in landlords to sell up or underinvesting in homes, leading to poor conditions. But the word is that rather than setting rents at levels lower than present they propose caps in increases.

Labour have also pledged to force landlords to clean up their act on poor housing conditions. Corbyn said: "We will insist that every home is fit for human habitation, a proposal this Tory Government voted down."

Yes in January 2016 a Labour amendment to the government’s housing and planning bill, designed to ensure that all rented accommodation was safe for people to live in, was defeated by 312 votes to 219, a majority of 93. And 72 of those Tory MPs who voted against were themselves landlords who derive an income from a property. 

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning - who has a donor who made a fortune from property development - was among those who voted against it. One good reason you would think for changing policy in the first place.

What Labour's 2017 Conference means for Hemel Hempstead

If you were one of those in Hemel Hempstead watching last week's Labour Party Conference on TV or reading about it on mainstream news, social media or websites and thinking...

Hemel Labour Party member Ian Ridley looks at the Brighton Conference and its lessons

THE PROBLEM for Labour in this Conference season is that the Tories, as the party of government, get the last word. It’s a bit like a court case, where the defence speak first and sound so compelling, only for the prosecution to leave the lasting impression on the jury’s mind by casting so much doubt.

And so we can expect all the great speeches in Brighton, all the impressive policy initiatives, to be mocked and rebuffed by the Tories in Manchester next week. Our task as a party will be to challenge them on the misrepresentation of Labour they will undoubtedly advance, particularly on economics.

Because no matter how innovative Labour are on all the big issues - such as Brexit, the NHS, education, housing, transport and pay, for example – the Tories will always deride us as being unable to cost it and pay for it all.

This from the people who have DOUBLED the national debt despite austerity – or more probably because of it – and failed to cost their manifesto before the last election when Labour did cost theirs, through the proposed increase on corporation tax and making the richest pay their fair share.

How will the Conservatives pay for things, meanwhile? Well, economic growth, of course. That’s what they tell us. Except that under them currently, there is no growth. Only inflation.

And after we have challenged them next week, we then need to convince the wider public, the electorate, that we can deliver, on such as Brexit, where Keir Starmer has become so influential a figure that Theresa May has now actually stolen Labour policy, announcing in her Florence speech a desire for a transition period, to include membership of the single market and the customs union.

As Keir Starmer said on Brexit: “Labour are the grown-ups in the room. The Tories are suffering from post-imperial delusion and a willingness to put other people’s jobs at risk.”

We have to convince people, too, that we can actually implement what was promised in Brighton by John McDonnell on the economy, especially when it comes to nationalisation and his desire to create a Ministry of Labour, and by the compassionate Jon Ashworth on health and by Angela Rayner on education.

Even many Tories, according to polls, can see that renationalisation of the failing railways makes sense. And who cannot warm to the proposal for a lifelong, cradle-to-grave National Education Service, providing for people at every stage of their life so nobody feels discarded by the system?

They were just two of many new ideas as speaker after speaker, Shadow Minister after Shadow Minister, came up with policy announcements that reflected a vibrant, fresh approach to politics that is leaving bereft Tories floundering for ideas of their own to address the current challenges of our society.

I spent four days as a self-funded visitor at Brighton, in the hall and at fringe meetings, intrigued, fascinated, educated and energised by much of what I heard. It is clear that there is a unity to the party again that was not there until six months or so ago.

Then, at the call of a snap election, no matter our sympathies with the various shades of opinion within the party, we all pulled together using our individual skills and gifts to halt the Tories and their potentially cruel programme of more cuts and contempt for anyone who wasn’t one of them.

Now comes the true test for the Labour Party – to maintain that unity both for our own internal health and to win the credibility of the electorate.

I’m going to be honest here. I found it difficult at times to go along with the clamour and cult of leadership surrounding Jeremy Corbyn. And I speak as someone who voted for him as leader because I wanted a shake-up of politics.

For many years, we all decried the politics of personalities, insisting it should be about policies. We cannot now change our minds on that, just because we have found a man who campaigned exceptionally well at the last election and has the engaging charisma, though different by nature and vision, of a Tony Blair.

And I found Jeremy’s speech overlong, with so much great sense and material being overwhelmed by long-windedness.

That said, he was bang on the money about the centre ground of politics, from which elections are won, having shifted. Now, a radical agenda is much more mainstream. People are sick of the failed politics of austerity. The young simply are not buying modern capitalism as it excludes their prosperity at the expense of those who already have it.

Having attended a fringe meeting on polling, I can say that Labour are making some surprising strides in the middle ground and middle-aged categories as well. Where we need to make bigger gains is among the retired. And the way to do that is not to pander to their self-interest, their fear of losing what they have, but to appeal to their feel for their children and grandchildren on pittance wages and who have trouble finding housing, and who will then will see their potential inheritance go on care home fees.

Let’s be honest, Labour did not win the last election as Len McCluskey reckoned, to rousing cheers. For all the gain in votes after the misery of 2015, unexpected and welcome as it was, Labour won only four more seats (262) in 2017 than in what was seen as the debacle of 2010. We still need to win another 64 for an outright majority.

In John McDonnell’s speech there was concession to centre left party members like myself of all the good Blair and Gordon Brown did economically in their first term of 1997, notably in investment in public services and the rebirth of the NHS.

Sadly, in the hindsight of the Iraq War, it seems that the many other achievements of that Labour era – including peace in Northern Ireland and the minimum wage – dare not speak their name.

But, as the Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones said in Brighton, quoting his great predecessor Rhodri Morgan, who sadly died this year: “Labour always does best when it mixes the mushy peas of old Labour with the guacamole of new Labour.”

Whatever the shade of red that may hold sway at any given time, Labour will always be my party, the one I voted for when first eligible at the 1974 General Election, won by Harold Wilson, though it produced a hung parliament.

Why? Because of something simple, beautifully expressed, I read in John O’Farrell’s new book, Things Can Only Get Worse: Twenty confusing years in the life of a Labour supporter, which I have been reading lately:

 “Labour want to govern to make the world better. The Tories want to govern to make THEIR world better.”

The real star of the last election was the Labour Manifesto – “our vision of hope,” as John McDonnell called it - that was arrived at by consensus of the National Executive Committee and the National Policy Forum, in conjunction with shadow ministers and the membership. And it has to be the way we campaign at the next election, which might be sooner than we all think should the damaging Tory divisions be exposed in Manchester next week.

After our feel-good Conference, I want any lingering divisions of our own to be healed, hatchets to be buried – on all sides - and such immense political brains as Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Hilary Benn and Angela Eagle brought back into the front-bench fold for the good of all when opportunity arises.

If we can harness our policies and people, as shown in Brighton, the next election can and should be Labour’s. It will make us compelling, demanding of credibility. And as a veteran Welsh Labour voter said in another brilliant video made for Conference by the wonderful filmmaker Ken Loach: “Power never concedes without demand.”

Here in Hemel, Mike Penning is wobbling, sacked as a minister by Theresa May soon after having had his majority slashed by a third at the last election by Mandi Tattershall, behind whom we all united and must do so again when the time comes.

As Emily Thornberry said at Conference: “There is no seat we can’t win. No Tory we can’t bin.”

Here’s to Labour having the final word during Conference season in the not too distant future.

 

 

View from the balcony - a personal review of Labour's conference

Hemel Labour Party member Ian Ridley looks at the Brighton Conference and its lessons THE PROBLEM for Labour in this Conference season is that the Tories, as the party of...

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Enthusiasm, Energy and Excitement. Three words that have echoed around the Brighton Conference Centre for the past five days. 

Now the challenge is for that to be translated into campaigning around the country and to convince more than the Party faithful in Brighton, more than those who voted for Labour at this summer's General Election that Jeremy Corbyn can lead the country when we next go to the polls. And that could be sooner than later even without local elections another test next year.

No one can doubt his ability as a people person. At a reception on Sunday night I watched him work the room, stopping for selfies, stopping to talk to people and hug complete strangers even though he was running late with another NINE engagements that evening alone. I even got a brief word with him myself and an unsolicited kiss on the cheek. Some reading this won't like it but Tony Blair had a similar ability when meeting people to charm them over as I also experienced personally on a number of occasions. 

Compared to the robotic Teresa May - who had never until this summer had to campaign having been MP in a safe seat in Maidenhead and then handed the position of Prime Minister on a plate - Jeremy Corbyn has spent all his political career campaigning. But he must know deep down the work is only just beginning- despite his confident approach after a week which saw no outward challenges to his position as leader, a week in which his position was strengthened.

Before he launched into his speech today he admitted to the packed hall: "This week has been infectious. Let's make sure the whole of the country is infected with the same spirit too."

But he added: "In June we won the largest increase in the Labour vote since 1945 and achieved Labour's best vote for a generation. It's a result which put the Tories on notice and Labour on the threshold of power.

"Yes we didn't do quite well enough and we remain in opposition for now but we have become  Government in waiting. Our message to the country could not be clearer - Labour is ready.

"We are ready and the Tories are clearly not. They are certainly not strong and they are definitely not stable.

"The reality is that barely three months since the election this coalition of Conservative chaos is tearing up its Manifesto and tearing itself apart. They are bereft of ideas and energy. Well we have plenty of ideas and energy."     

At one point Corbyn used the crumbling, blackened image of Grenfell Tower as a symbol for a failed and broken system - although personally I thought it should have been the opener for his 90 minute delivery, providing a stronger narrative in a speech that at times and unusually for him seemed to lose its way. 

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Not that it didn't go down well in the hall with the majority cheering him to the rafters, chanting 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn' as soon as he entered the main hall. A LBGT rock choir from Brighton were the warm-up act singing The Voice by English born Australian rock star John Farnham - something I think I last heard live at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics back in 2000.

But Corbyn insisted he would give a voice to those often unable to speak up for themselves.

He said: "I promised you two years ago that we would do politics differently. It's not always been easy. There are quite a few who prefer politics the old way. But let me say it again. We will do politics differently. And the vital word is WE.

"Making sure that everybody's voice must be heard no matter who they are or what their background."

Now though Corbyn and the Labour Party have to ensure that their message of hope and a new kind of politics is not only heard but believed and translated into more even votes on the doorsteps of Britain so they cross the threshold into power.

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Conference Highlights:

  • Jon Ashworth - a rising star who as Shadow Health Secretary gave a passionate speech and announced a new national policy for addiction services. Hopefully he will also realise the need to bring health and social care for the elderly especially under the same umbrella - a motion raised by Poole CLP. Means-tested social care is not cradle to the grave for many including those with dementia who are forced to sell their home to fund residential or nursing home care.
  • John McDonnell announcing no new PFI agreements
  • Hearing Yvette Cooper, Keir Starmer, Hilary Benn and Chuka Umunna speak on Brexit at a fringe event with intelligent answers on How to Handle Brexit
  • The announcement of a National Education Service.

Live from Brighton - final day

Enthusiasm, Energy and Excitement. Three words that have echoed around the Brighton Conference Centre for the past five days.  Now the challenge is for that to be translated into campaigning...

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Labour Shadow Secretary Health Secretary Jon Ashworth opened his heart up about his alcoholic dad - and then pledged to set up the first ever national strategy to support kids of addicts as well as investing in treatment and prevention.

This year £43 million has been slashed from alcohol and drug treatment services despite growing problems in towns, cities and even villages across the country including Hemel Hempstead and the surrounding area.

Ashworth, in a  moving speech to Conference, said: "Recently I chose to speak out very personally about my own circumstances, growing up with a dad who had a drink problem. He was an alcoholic.

"His drinking hung over my childhood with the fridge empty other than bottles of drink. His drinking became so bad in his final years that he couldn't bring himself to come to my wedding because he felt too embarrassed.

"I tell this story not for your indulgence or sympathy. But because two million children row up with an alcoholic parent, 335,000 children grow up with a parent with drug abuse issues.

"So as part of our assault on child ill health I will put in place the first ever national strategy to support children of alcoholics and drug users and we'll invest in addiction treatment and prevention as well."

Ashworth, an only child brought up by mum Maria in Manchester, would stay with his dad at weekends. His dad eventually drank himself to death after moving to Thailand.

He also spoke at a fringe event in Brighton where he added: "It wasn't unusual at the age of nine or 10 to be picked up from school by my dad drunk. It's seven years ago since he died.

"I got  a phone call from Thailand and didn't answer. I thought it's dad, he's probably drunk again. I got the message 'ring back it's bad news' and I knew immediately he was dead. He was 61"

Drug and alcohol services for children are being slashed by 70 councils by total of £8.3 million and English councils will cut drug treatment and prevention budgets by £24.8 million this year with alcohol treatment and budgets making up the rest of the cuts.

 

Live from Brighton - Jon Ashworth on addiction service pledges

Labour Shadow Secretary Health Secretary Jon Ashworth opened his heart up about his alcoholic dad - and then pledged to set up the first ever national strategy to support kids...

Angela Rayner - shadow education secretary - has pledged to reverse £500m cuts in funding for Sure Start centres.

Her speech to Labour conference, drawing on her experiences as a teenage single mother, promised a ringfenced grant from the Department for Education of an additional £500m a year for the children’s centres and early intervention services, as well as outlining plans for a national education service promised in the party’s manifesto.

She said: “When I became pregnant at 16, it was easy to think that the direction of my life, and that of my young son, was already set. My mum had a difficult life, and so did I, and it looked like my son would simply have the same.

“Instead, the last Labour government, through support of my local Sure Start centre, transformed my son’s childhood, and made sure that his life would not have to be as hard as mine had been.”

She also unveiled a 10-point charter for a cradle-to-grave education system, promising it will be “free at the point of use, available universally and throughout life”.

She said: "Our children will be ready for school and once they arrive they won't be let down either."

The charter sets out plans for democratic oversight of schools and colleges, as well as emotional and academic support for staff and learners. Plans include a boost to adult education, pre-school and skills training.

Live from Brighton - Education

Angela Rayner - shadow education secretary - has pledged to reverse £500m cuts in funding for Sure Start centres. Her speech to Labour conference, drawing on her experiences as a...

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