Saturday, 27 October 2012

Decide Europe "Through The Ballot Box"

Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson Called A Referendum On Europe
In May 1975 I had just turned 18 and was about to leave school. On 5 June that year I was able to cast my vote in the national referendum on whether the UK should continue as a member of the European Economic Community. The result was a vote of 67% in favour of remaining in the "Common Market", as it was often referred to at the time, on a 65% turn-out.
I was able to vote because the Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, had promised in it's manifesto for the General Election of October 1974 that the people would decide "through the ballot box" on whether to remain in the EEC.
Since 1975 the nine member EEC has morphed through many treaties and names to the almost unrecognisable European Union of twenty seven nations we have today.  There is no doubt that being a member of the EU has brought many benefits - although thankfully the UK avoided being sucked into the disasterous single currency - but it also has many critics.
And yet no one younger than people of my age has since been offered the opporunity to once again directly decide whether this arrangement is one we wish to continue, despite a regular series of hints and undertakings by all political parties since.
The next elections for the European Parliament are due to be held in June 2014. My view is that the UK government should call another referendum next year in order to seek a fresh mandate from the British people before participating in any further European elections.
However, as this is not going to happen, I urge Ed Miliband and those responsible for drafting the Labour Party manifesto for the next UK general election, scheduled to be held on 7 May 2015, to include a clear, unequivocal commitment to hold another national referendum on whether the UK should continue as a member of the European Union. 
Let's give the new generation (and anyone of voting age of 54 and younger!) the chance that I was given, to decide "through the ballot box".

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

End The Great British Rail Rip Off Now!

Annual Public Subsidy: £4Billion To Private Profits 
Recent opinion polls and on-line surveys now show that between 70% and 90% of the British people would favour a full renationalisation of the railways. I have to say, as a Socialist, I am heartened by that suggestion.

The truth is that the great British public have worked out that it is not renationalisation we can't afford, it is any further franchise fiascos. People don't want the franchises got right - they want them got rid!

When the Tory government brought in the franchise systen in the 1990s they promised "cheaper farers and more competition". But rail privatisation has been bad news for rail travellers in the UK, who now pay double, treble or even ten times the cost of comparative journeys by their continental counterparts.

However, for the likes of Richard Branson it has been a financial bonanza, whose Virgin Trains operation has hoovered up more than a billion pounds of tax-payers' subsidies.

In compiling reasons for renationalising the railways, it would be easy to think just write "West Coast mailine franchise" in big letters and be done with it. West Coast is, of course, the franchise which has already cost us nearly £100million not to award a contract.

The fact that we already have a taxpayer owned railway company running successfully on the East Coast mainline is not something you will hear government ministers talk about. The East Coast main line is run by DOR (Directly Operated Railways) and shows that publicly run rail companies can be run efficiently and deliver better value for money than their private profit making sisters.

The private franchises are costing the country over £4billion a year and most have deals which ensure that if they don't make enough profit, then the government (using our money) streps in and tops them up. It is like a corporate welfare benefit for the most expensive and over-crowded railway network in Europe.

It does not seem to me that there is much competition going into London or down to Wales on trains that were first introduced 36 years ago when I was still an undergraduate - Inter City 125s we called them then, passing in and out of Reading. There is no alternative to First Great Western, who are in effect, like other franchise holders simply regional monopolies. What is the point of having video screens in the back of seats if there are not enough seats to go round?

A couple of weeks ago I had to go to Taunton and went by train. It was £156 day return in standard class. So I can have some sympathy for George Osborne when he got his train ticket the other day, he must have looked at the cost and thought "it must be first class".

Cheaper tickets? No. More competion? No.

Worst Great Western and all their pals need to be brought back into public ownership - and I say, the sooner the better.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Wilson's Days Are Numbered

Next General Election Due On 7 May 2015
The process to find Robert Wilson's successor as MP for Reading East has reached another significant landmark: the short-listing of those to be put before a hustings meeting of Labour Party members before the end of the year.

The hopefuls are:

Cllr Richard Davies – Caversham ward Councillor & local business person
Angela Pober - Slough Labour Party
Cllr Matt Rodda – Katesgrove ward Councillor & former Whitehall advisor
Cllr James Walsh – Slough Borough Councillor
Cllr Paul Woodward – Church ward Councillor & professional education advisor

Mean while over in Reading West, Alok Sharma's replacement wil be one of the following:

Cllr Victoria Groulef - Wycombe Councillor & Group Leader
Christine Quigley - former chair of London Young Labour
Debbie Watson – ex Minster ward Councillor

Personally I would have preferred to see a short-list of two in each constituency, with the prospect of a more exciting "head to head" debate giving candidates more time to develop their arguments - another time perhaps!

Next General Election day on Thursday 7 May 2015 looms ever larger, so Rob and Alok should enjoy their train rides back and fore to Westminster while they can - while  we work hard in Reading to get them out!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Welcome Eileen!

Cllr Eileen McElligott - Church Ward Blogger

Reading's political blogosphere has a new member - welcome to Eileen McElligott, Labour councillor in Church ward. You can read Eileen's debut blog here. Smile at the bouquets and ignore laugh at the brickbats - then carry on blogging!

Eileen and fellow ward councillor Paul Woodward are forming a formidable campaigning team in Church ward. This is, of course, bad news for Tory group leader Tim Harris who has little chance of being re-elected in the ward in 2014 - so who will make way north of the river to find a new seat for Tim?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Squeezed Britain - Cuts Don't Work, They Hurt

Pick up for the free coach organised by Reading Trades Union Council to next Saturday's demonstration in London is 9am outside the UNISON offices, 10 Church Street, RG1 2SD. The coach returns from London at 5pm.
For more information on the "A Future That Works" march and rally click here

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Can You Help Reading's Food Bank?

Readifood, Reading's food bank, is appealing for increased food donations to meet the growing demand for emergency food parcels.

They currently deliver around 50 parcels a week to families and individuals referred to them by Reading Borough Council's Housing and Children's Services, Launchpad (Reading Single Homeless Project), Homestart, Reading Refugee Group and other organisations.

Tinned meats, fish, vegetables and fruits are particularly welcome donations, as well as tea bags, biscuits and toothpaste.

More information and contact details here.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My Vision For Britain - Guest Post

A guest post from Ed Miliband, Leader of The Labour Party

I am writing to you today about my vision for Britain.

Today, our country risks becoming two nations, with a million young people out of work, the gap between the richest and everyone else getting worse, and hard work not rewarded.

My core belief is in leaving this country a better place than I found it, and that when people join together, we can overcome any odds.

We did it during the second world war and we did it when rebuilding the country afterwards. That is the spirit Britain needs today.

The mission of the Labour government I will lead will be to rebuild Britain as One Nation.

Click here to join me in rebuilding Britain

That means a One Nation banking system: banks that work for all of us, not gamble our savings in casino operations.

It means a One Nation skills system: a gold standard of vocational education which leads to many more apprenticeships which give opportunities to those who don’t go to university as well as those who do.

It means building a One Nation economy with rules that encourage long-term investment.

It means keeping the United Kingdom together, making immigration work for everybody and recognising that at the moment it does not, and standing up for the values of the NHS.

As another Opposition leader - Benjamin Disraeli - urged 140 years ago, we must govern Britain as One Nation.

Not divide this country between the richest and the rest like this government is doing.

It means governing for the struggling small business as much as the public sector, and standing up to vested interests.

And it means building a country where everybody has a stake, prosperity is fairly shared, and we all feel part of something bigger than ourselves, like we did this summer during the Olympics.

Most of all, it means recognising that we share a destiny and a common life.

That is my vision for Britain.

And that is how we will govern.

Click here and let's get to work

Ed Miliband