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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

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

Your Vote, Your Candidates, Your Voice!

As district council elections draw closer, here's reminder of your Labour candidates. Polls are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday 5 May. Every single vote counts and really does make a difference. In many wards it's a two horse race between Labour and the Tories and we are so close to being able to make a real by winning back Walsworth and holding our seats in Bearton and Oughton.  Continue reading

Education White Paper – Dogma without Reason

As a local Labour Councillor in Hitchin I spend much of my time in opposition.  Can’t be helped, that’s how it is.  It never stops me trying to get things done and do the right thing.  It does mean that I am used to being angry.  I'm also used to feeling confused about the rotten decisions of Tory politicians. Continue reading

Education, education, wait, what?!

As a parent and resident of a ward staring down the barrel of a school places crisis, the budget proposals make disturbing reading. Tory plans to convert every state school into an academy are ill informed at best, and represent a creeping privatisation of our education system at worst.   Of course, the Prime Minister tried to sell the policy today as representing 'maximum devolution'. That is a myth. Academies operate as private bodies. They are not accountable to local authorities, rather the head teacher and a charitable trust (and sometimes a franchise or chain) are in charge. They set their own standards on admissions, can 'innovate' (read: opt out of the national curriculum) and are overseen by regional commissioners. Ofsted has recently criticised a number of academy chains for failing to meet standards for improvement and paying board members exorbitant salaries. Teachers and their unions see this for what it really is - it isn't about improving the quality of our children's education, it's privatisation of our education system.   So, in this brave new world the Chancellor is trying to create, undoing the link between local authorities and state education which has functioned (on the whole) very well since its inception in 1902, what happens to areas like Walsworth where many of our children have no preference for any secondary school? How, without the valuable support of our county councillors and the local education authority, do we ensure our children can not only attend school, but that that school is within a reasonable distance of their home. And that the quality of teaching is what our children need?   It's early days. There's a lot of detail the government still needs to produce about this policy. But on the face of it, it is utterly terrifying. This policy could well turn out being more expensive than the current system. And the real lack of any public accountability of these organisations means our children's futures are seriously at risk.   Oh, and finally, let's not forget the state has a duty to look after the wellbeing of children. Now, pray tell, how on earth can it do that if we as parents, governors and local authorities cannot have a say in their education and that fundamental foundation of their future?   Elizabeth Dennis Labour NHDC candidate for Walsworth @lizzi2611 eldennis@btinternet.com

Fog Over Hitchin

A fog of figures descended on the Sun Hotel, as warring Conservative Councillors exchanged a series of numbers and “Blue on Blue” attacks to demonstrate their version of events leaving the public little clearer on what’s happened to delay the opening of Hitchin Town Hall. Councillor Richard Thake claimed that the overspend on the project was only £400,000 and a 10% overspend was acceptable on large projects. Well, it may be to him, but not to Labour! Who exactly is funding the project – not Richard, but local taxpayers. What else has to be cut to fund the overspend? Meanwhile, Councillor David Leal-Bennett claims the overspend is £1.2 million. This is the same Councillor who has cost the Council thousands of pounds in having to take disciplinary action against him for his behaviour. And he is the same Councillor (subject to any appeal) who was found guilty of bullying and harassing behaviour. No matter the issue, that type of behaviour and treatment of people is completely unacceptable. If Conservative Councillors can’t agree with each other on a major issue, it strengthens the need for political change on North Herts Council (NHDC).   There was a strong Labour presence at the meeting. Labour Councillors Frank Radcliffe, Judi Billing, Adrian Smith and Deborah Segalini alongside Labour candidates Ian Albert and Elizabeth Dennis all attended. To loud applause, it took Judi to set out the feeling of many at the meeting. This should not be about finding Council Officers to blame. There had been a clear failure of political leadership and direction from the ruling Conservative Group. Judi also pointed out that the Town Hall had been neglected for many years by NHDC. Many members of the public urged NHDC to get on with opening the Town Hall and a need to sit round the table to come up with solutions, particularly as 14/15 Brand Street entrance is in the hands of the Receiver and up for sale. This could be disastrous and cost taxpayers even more money. The Town Hall and Museum will be a wonderful community asset. It’s clear that there will still be more work needed on it as the project planning has not gone well. But let’s celebrate that we still have an asset like this to use. Finally, thanks to those people who organised the meeting. It’s important to have events where the public can question decision makers. Ian Albert Labour Candidate for Hitchin, Bearton Ward @Ian_Albert

A miserable day at County Hall

  It has been a really bad day for the people I represent as a County Councillor in Hitchin. It was County Council Budget day and we are of course faced with massive Local Government cuts from a Government that doesn’t seem to understand the importance of the services we are obliged to deliver such as Child Protection, Education, Social Services, Adult Social Care and Highway maintenance. But there are imaginative ways of dealing with these problems and so the County Labour Group presented a fully costed alternative budget which would have amongst other things:   Restored proper night lighting to those streets and communities who would prefer this Ensured that buses were available for those who need them for work and leisure at a time when we should be discouraging the use of cars for every journey Re-instated support for the incredibly valuable work of Homestart Home visiting and family groups, supporting the most vulnerable families The Council Tax this year will have to rise by 3.9% and for that there will be no improvements in services, just more cuts year on year.   One of the ways that local County Councillors have been able to make a small difference has been through their Locality Budgets of £10,000 per year.  These have enabled us to give to support directly in our communities to those who most need it:  as an example in the last year I have been able to help a Homestart Family Group to re-establish itself in Westmill, support a Sunday bus route around the whole town, support extra activities in schools such as Young Enterprise, local Rape Crisis groups, Hitchin British Schools and many many others.   Now the County Tories have decided to cut this funding in half.  At a stroke, despite our putting forward well-reasoned arguments about the considerable local importance of this money to local organisations. It is almost the meanest cut so far and seems based on the fact that apparently some of their own County Councillors represent such well-heeled places that there are very few organisation that need to be helped in this way.  That is certainly not true in Hitchin and I am desperately sorry that I won’t be able to give the help that has been available for the past 3 years.   Which brings me to my final point.  It does seem as though my Labour colleagues, mainly representing urban areas of the County with greater issues to face are those most affected by this cruel and unnecessary move.  I have tried to ponder at why this has happened and whilst not wanting to appear too cynical it is just a year until the next County Council elections.  Could it be that the Tories want to make it as hard as possible for Labour County Councillors to make a difference in their communities?  For electoral advantage in 2017?   I really do hope that I am wrong