Today I learned the sad news of the death yesterday of Sir Teddy Taylor. MP for Southend East and later Rochford and Southend East for 25 years he was truly dedicated to this town. He was an MP for over 40 years, the first 15 years or so spent in his native Scotland but when he came to Southend in 1979 I am told he quickly became very much a part of the town. When I arrived here in 1992 he was a well-known popular figure and a visible part of the community. I cannot say that our politics often, if ever, aligned but he was a gentleman and could be relied upon for a good debate. He had an opinion on everything and would express it with vigour.
Sir Teddy and I both appeared in a short film once about The English Breakfast as we were both regular visitors to the Alexandra Bowling Green Café in the early 2000s. I remember often bumping into him over a “Full English Super Special” and he was friendly and engaging even when we were disagreeing about Europe, the education system in Southend or capital punishment.
Whatever his politics and whatever you thought of his views there is no denying that Sir Teddy gave of himself to this town and its people for 25 years and even after he retired he never stopped being a part of this community or lost his love of this place. Whilst I never agreed with his politics I cannot fault his service to Southend, he will be fondly remembered by many in this wonderful town, including me.
￼For a woman that says she loves small northern towns, Ruth Alcroft doesn’t half think big.
Having never lived south of the M62, Ruth has moved around the northern towns of England for the past few decades, always staying within traveling distance of her husband’s beloved Newcastle United and St James’ Park. She’s currently settled in Carlisle, Cumbria but the weekend I meet her Ruth is with her two children, aged four and eight, on a campsite in Derbyshire. There has been a bit of poking around the Dales and quite a lot of buying plastic stuff in the camp shop. She says the girls are having a great time. Now the little ones are safely to bed in the converted barn Ruth sits down to talk with me about “doing politics” and the things that drive and inspire her.
Ruth is part of the first cohort of Labour Party women undertaking a bespoke course in women and leadership; the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, created in memory of the Labour MP who was murdered in her constituency in June 2016. Some of those women have gathered to spend the weekend camping, eating, chatting and laughing together and politics is high on the agenda. Ruth is in her element. For her, politics isn’t an ethereal concept; it’s the stuff of life. “I’ve always done politics. The Labour Party drives me to distraction but I can’t help myself,” she says “I have 101 other things I’d rather be doing than politics but it is everything. You don’t agree with the speed limit? That’s politics.You can’t go to the supermarket at 9:30am on a Sunday morning because it’s closed? That’s politics. Where your kid goes to school: that’s politics. Everything is politics and it can be frustrating to see it like that because you can’t forget about it – but it is. That’s why I have to do politics.”
Ruth wasn’t raised in a particularly party political family but she tells me they were a debating family – noisy and loud. Her father once stood for the SDP but he wasn’t committed to a party the way Ruth is – and has been for 24 years, from her mid-teens. “When I was 16 the environment was a big issue for me,” she says. “It was 1992-93; Maggie Thatcher was elected when I was two and was all I’d ever known. Things were run down, hospitals and schools, and they were big issues for me. A friend said I had to join the Labour Party so I did and when I went to the meeting I thought, these are my people. This is my tribe. I was very active then.” Ruth loves small northern towns and chose to study classical studies at Durham University rather than Leeds because it would be smaller with fewer people. That’s not to say she doesn’t like people; far from it. One of her tutors once told her that she thought Ruth enjoyed being a big fish in a little pond and Ruth thinks that is true. That said, Ruth’s philosophy is that being a leader in a small community, having small conversations in small towns, can send out ripples that change the world.
A ward councillor in the City of Carlisle, Ruth is the only woman with pre-school children on the council. This, she says, is important because without her perspective, issues might be missed by others. “One issue that was more important than people thought was the removal of toilets from Carlisle City centre,” she explains. “Temporary toilets were being put in. Women with children and shopping couldn’t fit in the temporary toilets that were proposed. Nobody else was picking up on this because nobody else in those meetings was a woman in her 30s with young children. It’s so important to have diversity on the Council so it’s representative of the people you serve.”
Ruth doesn’t only change the world through her council role. After training and working as a primary school teacher Ruth is now a director of Susan’s Farm Community Interest Company, a social enterprise farm in Carlisle. All three of the farm’s directors are women and as well as offering top-quality traditional meat, poultry and dairy products, the farm delivers interactive educational programmes for children plus work experience and training for young people, vulnerable adults and users of mental health services. Ruth leads all the educational services on the farm and has gone beyond her teaching qualifications by learning about marketing meat, transporting cows and teaching adults as well as children. The environment is still clearly very important to Ruth and she loves the farm for the opportunities it gives people to connect to their surroundings and their food. Ruth also loves the farm for its own sake. She has a favourite Longhorn cow called Helena. “She is a chocolatey brown and lovely. She’s a really chilled out cow,” she says.
But it’s not all about small conversations in small northern towns. In June this year, Ruth took a massive leap out of her comfort zone and stood for Parliament, seeking to represent her beloved Carlisle. “I like the philosophy of national politics. National is about laws and what we do as a country, why we do it and why we want people to behave in a certain way; how we interact with other countries, and that’s interesting. I’m a big picture person,” she says. Ruth tells me the nature of the snap election meant she felt able to stand when otherwise she might have not. The other women on the Jo Cox course encouraged each other to stand. “Because of the course, everyone was going ’well, here’s the form, here you go’ and it snowballed from there,” she says. But despite this support, Ruth – as do so many potential female candidates – felt a touch of impostor syndrome that she had to overcome during the campaign. “I was selected against two others – an experienced outsider and a local man who has lots of experience and is very good on procedure and wasn’t working so had lots of time to give. It was a month into the campaign – it was nearly over – when I realised that I’m a director of a company, I’m a sitting ward councillor, I’ve got 24 years’ unbroken membership of the Labour Party; I’ve got every right to stand. I know some people didn’t think I was up to it. But, that it was a short election – I knew I could do that. I thought yeah, I can do this for seven weeks.”
It doesn’t seem to occur to Ruth that she might have won, even though at the kitchen table where we’re speaking is Rosie Duffield MP who went through a similar experience to Ruth. She was selected in Canterbury, a seat with a much larger Tory majority than Carlisle, and to widespread surprise is now sitting on the green benches. When I point out that she might’ve been elected, Ruth seems torn between horror at the prospect of winning and disappointment over losing. “Maybe in five years I can do that.”
So what will Ruth Alcroft be doing in the meantime? Ruth loves music, especially 1990s indie rock and so she’s keen to get back to listening to more, which she’s moved away from since having children. Ruth speaks fondly of bonding over music with her late father and she’s still very much a muso, loving Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl’s solo material and Green Day. Apart from this, Ruth says that over the next five years she will continue to “do politics” – talking to people, networking, changing things. She’s drawn to it; she can’t not do it. “I’m quiet in the Labour Party when people are getting things done but there wasn’t a women’s forum in Carlisle and I want one and no one else was doing it” she says. “That’s what got me to apply for the Jo Cox course – to help with setting up a forum. I’m now working with our local party women’s officer to develop it. By being on the course I have got so much; I’m learning to say ’I can do this.’”
You know when there are people in your orbit doing wonderful things, and you’re aware of what they do, but don’t know the detail? Michelle Langan is one such person for me. It won’t have escaped your notice that homelessness is reaching epidemic levels in the UK, but rather than just pitying those dealt a shitty hand, Michelle, 44, has been doing something about it for some time now. I’ve known her since working on teen magazines together over a decade ago. But, although she moved back home to Liverpool in 2006 to get into TV scriptwriting, she’s stayed in my peripheral vision via social media, largely due to the things she’s got involved with on the side. First launching The Paper Cup Project, (a group supporting people living on the streets of Liverpool); she then…
My statement in support of #SaveSouthend A&E as the Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate for Rochford and Southend East
“As the Labour Party Rochford and Southend East Parliamentary candidate for the election in June I am proud to support the campaign to save Southend’s A&E. Labour is listening and if elected into government we pledge to immediately halt the Tories’ ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan’ (STP) programme and to insist that plans be redesigned around the needs of patients not the economic targets.
“A Labour Government will ask a new body – NHS Excellence – to lead that review with patients and local communities involved at every stage. Any proposed changes to local services must be driven by clinical evidence and patient need, not by financial considerations.
“Much of the chaos and confusion around our health services is caused by the Tories’ disastrous Health & Social Care Act, which we, along with professional and patient groups warned would have a terrible effect on the NHS. Our health services including primary care and adult social care are under massive pressure and it is clear that the Conservatives are going in the wrong direction. I pledge to work tirelessly for a whole healthcare system that is fit for the 21st Century.
“The NHS is not a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘luxury’, it is at the heart of what it is to be British and as a cancer survivor myself I know how crucial it is to us all. That’s why I am standing for Labour on the 8th of June and why I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you all to resist the attacks on our hospital and health services.
Ashley Dalton Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate, Rochford and Southend East
It is 3 years this week since I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer. The primary bit means the cancer is at a stage where it is either isolated to the breast or at least hasn’t got beyond lymph nodes in the armpit. It means that it’s probably curable. I spent almost a year being poisoned and blasted with radiation and having bits of me cut off. Since then, whilst it doesn’t cloud my every thought, it’s fair to say that every ache and pain fills me with fear and suspicion that the cancer may have come back or worse, may have spread.
Occasionally breast cancer has spread beyond the breast before it is diagnosed or it can spread very quickly during or soon after treatment for primary breast cancer. Breast cancer is also, as far as cancers go, a particularly tenacious beast and whilst many cancers rarely return after 5 years or so of being clear of the disease, breast cancer can appear in distant organs many years after primary treatment. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body it is called metastatic or secondary breast cancer and it is incurable.
Theresa May PM referred repeatedly to people who have “come through cancer” in a response to a question about secondary breast cancer at PMQs on 12th October 2016 showing that even she had no understanding of what secondary breast cancer is or means.
Secondary breast cancer doesn’t mean getting breast cancer twice. Nobody “comes through” secondary breast cancer.
So how many women and men develop secondary breast cancer? Well, we don’t know. Remarkable as it may seem there is no accurate, up-to-date data on the number of people diagnosed or living with secondary breast cancer in the UK. We know that around 11,600 people die of secondary breast cancer every year but we don’t know how many people are diagnosed each year, how long after primary diagnosis they are diagnosed, how long they live or even the extent of their disease.
Whilst figures have not been published that might not mean they aren’t being collected though and Breast Cancer Care undertook research to find out what NHS trusts are doing in relation to the requirement to collect data on secondary breast cancer. This is what they found:
Two thirds of trusts aren’t collecting the data they should be
47.2% of trusts are collecting some but not all data
19.8% of trusts are not collecting any data at all.
My local NHS Trust – Southend University Hospital is not collecting any data on secondary breast cancer. They do not know how many of us have secondary breast cancer. They do not know how long those with it live. They do not know how many of us need help, support or assistance and they do not know for how long. They do not know if the resources they have are adequate or if the services they deliver meet the needs of people with secondary breast cancer and their families.
My friend Maria was diagnosed with primary breast cancer at the same time as me. We live in the same area and come under the same NHS Trust. Maria developed a recurrence and secondary breast cancer within 18 months of primary diagnosis. She died just after Christmas in 2015. Our local hospital has not recorded her experience.
By not recording that data and the data of all the other people with secondary breast cancer they are missing an opportunity to ensure that everyone with secondary breast cancer gets the support and treatment they need.
Complaints that teenage asylum seekers and migrants brought to Britain are not in fact under 18 years old betray some unsavoury prejudices. The mistrust of foreigners underlying these complaints is blatant. But is there something else at play as well? Maybe people feel these new arrivals don’t look young enough, but perhaps they don’t look poor enough either. British philanthropy was built on the idea that there is such a thing as a deserving poor and therefore an undeserving poor and it is stubbornly persistent. The elderly war veteran that has worked all his life and faces a freezing winter on a pitiful pension is somehow more deserving than the long term unemployed single mum raising her kids on food bank hand-outs. If these refugee children are not in fact children then perhaps they aren’t refugees either and not deserving of our help after all.
When I hear people questioning if these young men are young enough, I am reminded of a party my 16 year old daughter had once. The kitchen was full of teenagers and there was a group of around six young men – tall, muscular and brooding. I pulled my daughter to one side “Who are those men?” I demanded, “they must be 21 if they are a day!” “Mum, they’re in year 12. They are 17,” she said. “Oh!”
Teenage boys often look older than they are – British boys, and boys from the Calais Jungle. So maybe that’s what this is all about.
But perhaps there’s another reason behind the outcry. Age aside, maybe the asylum seekers just don’t look the way we expected. Because don’t we all, when asked to consider the plight of unaccompanied minors in the aptly named Calais Jungle, conjure up a certain image? A six year old orphan perhaps, innocent and wide-eyed; an open, grubby face with the trace of a tear; ideally dressed in rags with a hint at what was once a vibrant “ethnic” weave. Instead we are faced with a 15 year old boy in a hoodie strutting about and skulking on his mobile phone. The young men arriving this week don’t fit our idea of vulnerable child fleeing a war zone and so we feel cheated. We retaliate by subjecting them to trial by the press, violating their privacy with paparazzi and demanding that someone inspect their teeth.
Perhaps our most basic survival instincts require us to tell ourselves that these children are not like our children and that becomes difficult when we are confronted with children we assume will look different to ours, but then defy expectation. Our children are well fed and cared for. Our children would not be forced to journey alone across perilous seas in makeshifts rafts. Our children would not be forced to live in tents with adult strangers. Our children would not need to risk their lives to reach a foreign land and a long-lost relative that they have probably never met. These refugee children ought to be dishevelled and emaciated. But they are not. They look like our children.
When you can’t tell the difference between a 17 year old lad that has just crossed continents and lived in a makeshift camp for months on end, and your 17 year old that gets a lift to school when it rains and has his own bedroom fridge, then how on Earth are we to know the difference between them and us? Perhaps that’s what alarms us the most – that we can’t tell the difference between them and us; that perhaps there is no them and us. That there is just all of us and a teenage boy that needs a safe place to call home.
I can be melodramatic, it’s true, but I am actually getting quite close to scared now. It feels like we’re just a few steps from putting badges on foreigners and loading them onto cattle trucks.
Theresa May sending a bus around the streets of Britain in 2013 to tell illegal immigrants to “GO HOME” seemed a low point. But with a speech from the Home Secretary being compared to Mein Kampf and the PM redefining immigration control as basically getting rid of foreigners it seems we can go lower, much lower than we ever thought possible.
In response Corbyn’s Labour might re-assert the economic arguments that immigration is good for the country, call 52% of the electorate racist or, if in stroppy teenager mode, simply refuse to talk about it.
UKIP just won a council by-election in Hartlepool with almost 50% of the vote.
The Tories know how to play this one; it’s dead easy. They’ve been playing it under the radar for decades, particularly in local elections, and Brexit is all the permission they need to lay out their anti-foreigner stall with pride. Anna Soubry will be a mild irritant but they’ll win votes. Where they don’t win votes UKIP will and that won’t really matter because they’ll be taking votes from Labour so it’s fine. I refer you to that Hartlepool by-election result.
Labour hates it. Labour would rather not talk about it at all but if they must they will say that people should be able to come and go as they please and it’ll all work out it in the end. It is the one and only issue on which Corbyn’s Labour Party adopts a laissez faire, market forces will work it out approach.
But of course this is the Left and there has to be some kind of public division so the centerists are begging for a conversation about immigration and being told they are racist and should go join the Tories and the Left of Corbyn (yes, there is such a thing) are hanging up banners saying “British Jobs for British Workers” and wondering if it would condemn their mortal souls to secretly vote Tory or if they might be able to get away with it.
Meanwhile, the pound plummets and foreign workers in the NHS (a quarter of all doctors) are put on a countdown to deportation. British ex-pats are suing Junker and a man is murdered in Harlow for openly speaking Polish.
Like I said, I’m getting quite close to scared now.
Labour Party Conference 2016 had the potential to be a miserable affair for moderates but I feel energised and excited about what lies ahead.
We’re all a bit bruised after the second leadership contest. Some of us are angry and confused. Moderates have heard, over and over again, that if we don’t like the current direction of the party we should set up on our own.
I spent a lot of time at conference talking to folk about why they shouldn’t leave the party. People told me that with Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election perhaps now is the time to bow out gracefully. But now, for the sake of the people we seek to serve, it is critical for moderates to stay, bringing every ounce of skill, passion and commitment to the party’s renewal and survival.
In May 1997 we wept and cheered with joy at the dawn of the New Labour government. We went on to truly transform the lives of ordinary people. It was brilliant.
But nothing lasts forever. Ideas that aren’t revised, tested and challenged yellow pretty quickly. When the core of New Labour began to hollow out, we didn’t respond quickly or decisively enough. As the vacuum of ideas grew, the Left filled it in the party and the Right filled it in the country. We relied on our track record to win the continued support of the electorate but we forgot that there is no such thing as common sense or an indisputable truth.
300,000 of our members believe Corbyn’s Labour is what the electorate have all been waiting for; that the only thing preventing the public voting Labour in droves so far has been a lack of a true Socialist alternative. If Corbyn is carried into Downing Street on a tidal wave of a Socialism, good on him. If that doesn’t happen, however, and we haemorrhage council and parliamentary seats and become an electoral irrelevance, we’re going to need a plan B.
In his speech to conference, Corbyn said that, under a Labour government, “when there are credible reports of human rights abuses or war crimes being committeed, British arms sales will be suspended, starting with Saudi Arabia”.
If we ever get a chance to put that apparently laudable plan into action it would be celebrated as a great achievement – until we realised that it would achieve absolutely nothing at all. Someone else would sell Saudi Arabia weapons. Whilst we would be able to sleep better at night, and hold our hands up and say “Nothing to do with me, G’vnor”, it would not actually end terror and war. We would assuage our guilt but little else.
The same goes for moderates stepping back or stepping out of the party. “It wasn’t me” will be no defence. If we sit back and let others get on with it, our lack of commitment will be blamed for the crushing electoral defeat that could follow. If we attempt to build a new party, our splitting of the vote will be blamed for a Labour defeat.
But blame aside, when the country is weeping at the onslaught of Tory policies and let down by an inward-looking Labour Party, we must have more than apology or an embryonic party to stand on; we must have a viable, ready-to-go alternative.
Corbyn euphoria won’t last forever. There won’t be 300,000 members cheering when we have 100 MPs and barely two councils to rub together. And when it all comes crumbling down, I want the majority of Corbyn’s supporters – who are not diehard Trots or Communists or Marxists but just people who want to make a difference – to know that they still can. I want to be ready to engage all of the party with new, challenging and exciting ideas that expose the 20-year-old ideas – rehashed to fit into 140 characters – for what they are.
We need the brightest and the best to lead the renewal of our party and ambition for our country (yes, Jon Cruddas MP, I’m looking at you). We must ensure that when the scales fall from the eyes of the devoted, we have more to offer them than a shrugged “I told you so”. Working together to come up with intelligent, radical ideas is a really exciting prospect. So don’t leave; roll up your sleeves. There’s work to be done.