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Grammar Schools

  At a time when our NHS is under unprecedented pressure and we have a housing crisis with no sign of sensible solution how does the Prime Minister spend her summer?  Apparently in trying to re-invent Grammar Schools.  She has no electoral mandate for this – it wasn’t a manifesto pledge – and it really needs to be stopped right now. Grammar Schools provided no improvement in educational standards and only benefitted a group of children who would have thrived in any case in a good all ability comprehensive school.  But their damaging effects were devastating to the vast majority of children.  Much of primary school time was spent coaching children for the dreaded 11 plus exam which left 80% of children feeling like failures and doomed to a second rate education at secondary modern schools.  Anyone who doubts that needs to look at the statistics for attainment through the 1950ss, 1960s and 1970s.  I was a child of that era and knew from how we were organised and taught at age 7 who was expected to succeed and who was expected to fail.  There was no place for an imaginative curriculum for curious and enthusiastic learners, just endless exam practice in maths and english.  In Hitchin, the town that I represent, some parental preferences for secondary school places are stillbased on perceived notions of grammar and secondary modern schools 40 years after the reforms that gave us all ability secondary schools. As a local County Councillor it’s quite hard for me to effect or influence the decisions of MPs and ministers to resist this dreadful suggestion.  But I do call upon Hertfordshire County Council – its Leader Rob Gordon, and Education Portfolio Holder David Williams – to make it clear at once that they will resist and reject any suggestion of a return to Grammar Schools in Hertfordshire and make it clear to the Prime Minister that there is no place for divisive, unimaginative and failure inducing education in any part of Hertfordshire.

Leadership Nomination Meeting

On Thursday members from across the constituency met in the barn at the Victoria in Hitchin to nominate our candidate in the leadership election. It was a very popular event, with standing room only left. The atmosphere was extremely comradely, with all members respecting each others' views. The key theme emerging from the evening was the need to divert our energies to positive cause and unite to oppose the Tories and come together as an effective opposition.  Continue reading

Hitchin Town Hall & North Herts Museum Round-Up

I apologise for the dull title. But I have a feeling this is going to be a recurring theme over the coming weeks and months. I'll also apologise for the length of this post in advance. But there have been so many developments in the last week and a half, and there's so much conflicting information floating around. What I want to do here is report the facts. Yes, I'll give my view on matters and there will be something of a political angle. But I'll keep all of that to the end.  So, here we go... Continue reading

The most unacceptable face of capitalism ever – Hitchin Town Hall and Museum

We cannot believe the greed, incompetence and malice which continues to make it impossible for the people of North Herts to have their long awaited museum at Hitchin Town Hall. Continue reading

Beep me when the Apocalypse comes...

In 1951, from the ashes and devastation of the Second World War, the European Coal and Steel Community rose. It was an economic treaty and one of its most important functions was to avoid the arms races and tensions which led to France and Germany knocking ten bells out of each other. Over time, via the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the agreement grew into the European Union. Continue reading

The remains in Spain

The remains in Spain won't be in pain and other reasons to stay in the EU! Continue reading

Reflections on the referendum

The last few weeks of Referendum campaigning has brought British politics to the lowest extremes of appalling behaviour I can ever remember. Looking back at some bad political moments in my life, I recall that when Enoch Powell made his dreadful scare-mongering racist speech in 1968 he was expelled from the Tory Party because even they found it unacceptable.  Not so now: We have heard Boris Johnson make disgraceful comments about Barack Obama, Nigel Farage has produced a poster with the worst possible racial connotations and now a madman in Yorkshire has thought it ok to murder a young MP, Jo Cox who spent her life as an aid worker and concerned with the rights and welfare of refugees. The Labour Party is fully committed to a future in and with Europe.  Why does it matter so much to us? For me it is unthinkable to revert to a small-minded island state which is only interested in leaving the union in order to dominate and colonise others.  Is that what they mean about making Britain great again? I hope not but fear the worst.  There are good economic reasons for working in harmony and partnership with our European comrades and these have been highlighted by every objective study by every objective financial organisation over the past few months. But there are even more important reasons not least of which are peace across our continent which as the daughter of a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Berlin means the world to me.  As a committed Labour member and trade unionist, I also care deeply about the work that has been done in the European Parliament to safeguard the rights of workers with legislation that demands that we treat people decently at work. The EU has helped to control the hours that people work and give them rights to proper maternity, paternity and straightforward holiday leave that everyone needs to thrive as individuals and as part of their wider families I was brought up with a sense of hope after a period of desperate world turbulence and fear.  Politics seemed to be about looking at the greater good for society as a whole rather than playing on the fears and anxieties of people in order to manipulate them to hate and reject some of their fellow humans. If we allow the Brexiteers, the worst excesses of UKIP and the Right wing extremists to win on Thursday, they will have free reign to continue their politics of fear and we absolutely mustn’t let that happen.  We must stay in Europe, work with Europe and the wider world and never ever become insular, mean spirited and accepting of racism ever again. Please Vote to Remain on Thursday.   Cllr Judi Billing Hitchin Bearton &  County Councillor for Hitchin North

Harpenden Newsletter May 2016

HITCHIN AND HARPENDEN CONSTITUENCY LABOUR PARTYHARPENDEN BRANCHNEWSLETTER No 5/16 May 2016_____________________________________________________________________________Chair: Rosemary Ross, 21 Connaught Road, AL5 4TW 715399Vice-Chair: George Fraser, 29 Pipers Avenue 765045Secretary: Chris Gillen, 18 Barrons Row chris.gillen@ntlworld.com 622167Treasurer: David Lawlor, 9 Burywick.AL5 2AQ 764217Membership: Chris Gillen 622167Newsletter: Gavin Ross, 21 Connaught Road e-mail: gavros.ross@btopenworld.com 715399CLP Website: www.hitchinandharpendenlabour.orgSt Albans LP 28 Alma Road, St Albans 01727-752183European Office: Richard Howitt MEP, Unit 3, Frohock House, 222 Milton Road, Cambridge CB1 3NF 01223-240202Richard@richardhowittmep.com, twitter.com/richardhowitt, facebook.com/richardhowittmep Dear Members Many thanks to all of you who helped in the recent elections, especially the candidates, but also those who helped deliver the extra tabloid newspaper as well as the district leaflets. In spite of dire predictions of hundreds of lost seats in English boroughs, in the event the Tories lost more seats than Labour, and Labour beat the Tory Group keader on N Herts DC in Hitchin Walsworth. In St Albans Labour held its three main target seats, but just lost in Ashley where we had a single councillor from four years back. Locally the results were 'no change' with safe Tory seats except in Redbourn where the popular independent was returned. With UKIP standing for the first time in Harpenden results are not exactly comparable with previous years, and there were independents in North and East. But the Labour vote held up, beating the Lib Dems in most wards. The results were as follows: Harpenden East: Rosemary Farmer (Con) 967, Anne James (Ind) 415, Rosemary Ross (Lab) 311, Lib Dem 260, UKIP 144.Harpenden North: Hodgson (Con) 890, Hansen (Ind) 382, Linda Spiri (Lab) 289, Lib Dem 223, UKIP 96.Harpenden South: Heritage (Con) 1210, George Fraser (Lab) 225, Lib Dem 219, UKIP 118, Green 88.Harpenden West: Stephens (Con) 1232, Lib Dem 349 .Michael Gray-Higgins (Lab) 320, Green 158, UKIP 141. Redbourn: Tony Swendell (Ind) 930, Con 626, Tony Neville (Lab) 214, UKIP 106.Wheathampstead: Jill Clark (Con) 1141, Lib Dem 292, Neill Sankey (Lab) 262, UKIP 115, Green 91. The Lib Dems supported the Independent in Redbourn. UKIP fared little better in other St Albans seats, reflecting the finding that St Albans is one of the most pro-European districts in the country. Police and Crime Commissioner election As expected this was won by the Tories, but Kerry Pollard came a good second after the second votes for the Lib Dems and UKIP were added in, slightly increasing the Labour share over the November 2012 result. Europe, the next challenge Now we have the more serious challenge, to argue the case for staying in Europe. We will ask your help in any further leafletting or street stalls over the coming weeks. The Doctors' dispute Now that it is shown that there us no evidence for extra deaths at weekends, Jeremy Hunt tries to claim that he has to fulfil a 'manifesto promise', as if everyone read and voted after reading the Tory manifesto. This is a dangerous argument, as a previous manifesto promised no top down reorganisation of the NHS!   Dates For Your Diary Thursday May 12th at 8 p.m. Branch meeting at 21 Connaught Road. Discussion on how to campaign for Europe in the coming weeks. Thursday June 23rd European Referendum   Chris Gillen writes: Is the Party anti-Semitic? Just a few days before the May 5th elections Ken Livingstone threw petrol on what was a slow-burning row about Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism. Livingstone, if one takes the charitable view, was giving his support to Naz Shah, Bradford Labour MP, who had mused on social media that the Israel/Palestinian question would be solved if the Israeli Jews were transported to the US. Her utterances took place before she became an MP but were ‘discovered’ by a national newspaper. She apologised and was suspended by the Party. Livingstone recounted that Hitler and the leaders of the Zionist movement had talks about the mass exodus of German Jews, but that was before Hitler, according to Ken, “went mad”. Livingstone’s qualifications in psychiatry are unknown, but most reasonable people would assume that Hitler was “mad” quite a long time before that. (Livingstone’s membership has also been suspended). Naz Shah’s solution is not novel. During the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’ many people posited, half in frustration, half in jest , that the solution was to tow Ulster into the middle of the Atlantic and sink it. The parallels don’t end there. There are striking similarities between the Irish problem and the Palestinian problem - two intractable tribes, buttressed by their differing religious beliefs, fighting over the same territory. You cannot solve this problem by ‘disappearing’ one or other of the two sides. Anti-Zionism has been prevalent on the extreme-left fringes of British politics for some time. Its origins go back to the forged Russian publication The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903) which purported to be the plan whereby worldwide governments, institutions and religions would be overthrown and replaced by a Jewish world order. Paranoia about Zionist ambitions was fostered by Stalin and his successors who proclaimed Zionism as either a tool of US Imperialism or as the shadowy power behind the US government. More recently, elements of the anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation movement have joined the game – “Goldman Sachs, the name tells you all you need to know.” It is probable that there are a few members of the Party who are anti-Zionists. But if their utterances damage the reputation of the Party they should face the consequences. The inquiry headed by Shami Chakrabarti into anti-Semitism is therefore welcome. The Party and its individual members feel sympathy not only for the thousands of displaced Palestinians but for the Israeli children killed on the school bus. The Party is right to criticise not only Hamas and Hezbollah for acts of terrorism, but also Israel for disproportionate armed reaction and land grabbing. Only a two-state solution will solve this problem. Gavin Ross, Chris Gillen    

In Memory of Les Baker

What a strange weekend it has been. A great set of election results for Labour in North Herts and now the really sad news of the death of Les Baker. He was without doubt one of the Labour Party’s best ever and most consistent campaigners and friends. I worked and laughed with him (and sometimes cried) over about 40 years I think and was aware that it took a very special kind of campaigner to keep the faith over all that time in a town like Royston, which was rarely a humdinger of a good news story for us! But Les was also of course a journalist and definitely knew how to make small successes into major moments of joy. Others will, I’m sure, say more about Les over the next days and weeks, and share their special memories. I just wanted to share the fact that I will miss him terribly for his calm common sense, incredible humour in the face of adversity and kindness always towards me and David which is impossible to quantify. I send my every good wish and love to his family.

2016 local election reflections

I hadn’t realised until Thursday's sunny, friendly election day, and Friday's marvellous North Herts Labour results the extent to which constant assaults from the press, internal division, cold and rain can sap the confidence of even the most experienced local politicians! So massive congratulations to all our returning councillors: Deepak Sangha, Ian Mantle and Clare Billing in Letchworth and our fantastic new team in Hitchin of Ian Albert, Simon Watson and Elizabeth Dennis.   Continue reading