Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Ugly Face of New Labour

Democracy is a fragile thing. It relies on political opponents being allowed to go about their campaigning free from intimidation and violence. That's not New Labour's way. It certainly isn't Reading Labour's.

Last year I was assaulted delivering leaflets and recently Paul Woodward, the Labour candidate for Church ward went out of his way to stop and start shrieking 'betrayal' in my face like a banshee in Broad Street when I was helping at the Yes 2 AV stall.

You would think by the way they behave that this sort of hysterical reaction was common place and Lib Dems were some sort of pariah, yet the interesting thing is that when knocking on doors only active Labour members behave in this way. The public in Reading appreciates that we're rescuing the town from the mess Labour left behind and have been supportive of what we have been doing, but Labour members think that threatening people is a valid election tactic.

The latest incident saw Tony Jones, harassing a Lib Dem leaflet deliverer in a threatening and belligerent way.

Mr Jones, the fresh face of New Labour. A man who fell out with the local Labour Party because they passed him over as Deputy Leader of the Council, flounced out in a theatrical fashion, then had to go crawling back on his belly. He is nothing less than a bully. The matter has been reported to the police.

Tony Jones is not an ordinary member of the public. He is the South East Regional Manager of Unison. I can understand why he is unhappy that his union is going to lose their share of £89,000 of council tax payers' monies but that is no excuse for intimidation.  I hope his union bosses do something about it before it is too late. Perhaps an anger management course is needed before he does something worse.

Previously opponents of Labour may have thought twice and given up in the face of their threats. I'm not. Bullies need to be stood up to or we're all lost..

Friday, 28 January 2011

Union Backhanders

Jo Lovelock has been quick to squeal now that her use of council tax payers' monies to fund Reading Labour's donors is public knowledge. I'm not surprised by her leaping to the defence of paying over £100,000 a year to bribe union officials because let's face it that's what it is - a bribe. In fact the amount is more than that if you take into account that the unions have use of three offices rent-free.

The matter of payments for full time union officials did not come before the Personnel Committee when I was on it. The agreement is not listed on the council web site. The payments were not listed individually in any year's budget papers. I only found out because of a tip off from a member of staff and had to ask specifically for a copy of the agreement.

However, if you wish to read it you can find it at : http://www.rbcunison.org.uk/docs/facilities-agreement.pdf

What Jo Lovelock doesn't tell you is that the facilities agreement goes way beyond good employment practice. I'm a union member and former union rep. I have voted for strike action and organised a picket line. I don't need lecturing about the value of unions. But unions are only of benefit when they represent their members, not the corrupting political wishes of their senior officials. I remember when my union leader used Unite's block vote to back the Iraq war at a Labour Party conference against the wishes of its members to curry favour with Blair and Brown. It was a disgraceful episode in the history of the union movement.

It's not just the money. A former union official told me how Labour would employ its members in the council, give them union rep posts and use this agreement to give them time to campaign for them. This is endemic across many organisations, not just the council, where Labour placemen and women are in positions funded indirectly through the council tax. Nice work when you can get it indeed.

Ordinary union members are council tax payers too so what do they get for both their union subs and council tax? Precious little. The main effect of taking this Judas money is that they have been denied equal pay for four years. Their leaders close ties to Reading Labour meant that they have failed to represent their members interests which is the primary role of a trade union.

This should be making you angry, you are getting no pay rise this year and probably not for the foreseeable future, your council tax has gone up, your petrol bill has gone up and your likelihood of redundancy has gone up on top of that RBC are deliberately choosing to delay implementing fair pay and reward.

That last paragraph are not my words. They are Roy Leader's, the chair of the Unison branch. They were written last year. So it made him angry did it? Not angry enough for Unison to refuse Labour's bribe and do the job his members think he should be doing.

My council union insider tells me that they were scared of implementing it because the local Labour party did not want to upset the T&GWU whose members were being paid simply for turning up at work.

The unions could have ensured that the Labour council fulfilled its legal obligations and the NJC agreement by simply refusing to fund the local Labour party. It's something they do rather generously, even negotiating the use of the Unison franking machine for the last Labour campaign. That would have brought real tears to Jo Lovelock's eyes in place of the crocodile ones she weeps for "the vulnerable and low paid". They are vulnerable and low paid because Labour made them so and the unions colluded in it.

How have the unions reacted to Labour being in opposition. None of them have spoken to me about the budget process. Instead all three union leaders are seen trooping into Labour's group room to work out how to return to power the very people who have done their members the most damage. I guess it's to ensure that their bribe will be restored by any future Labour administration. In the interests of being open and honest with the electorate I hope we will see Labour promise to restore these payments to union officials on their election leaflets. I tell you one thing that will be on Lib Dem leaflets: Labour Shame - Lib Dems Introduce Equal Pay for Council Staff to Labour opposition.

But the worse side of the union connivance in this are the vast sums of money that now have to be set aside for back dated equal pay claims. Despite it being Labour's toxic time bomb, it's the coalition administration that has to clean up their mess and become the focus of union propaganda.

A staggering £3m has to be set aside which could be used to offset some of the budget savings but instead needs to be available for legal claims. That's Labour's legacy. Put simply services may have to be cut further because of Labour cowardice and union connivance. Of course the unions are laughing because they are supporting their members in making the legal claims for not implementing equal pay. They truly do have it both ways. Except they are equally culpable for the failure to implement the scheme and every successful claim with mean that the administration will have to find even more savings which they will no doubt blame on the coalition.

The unions have let their members down because of this nice little sweetener from the previous administration bought their silence. It's time this corrupt practice stopped. Union members will be the better for it.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What a shambles.

I can't believe how I fell for it. The idea that Reading Labour were somehow a well oiled political machine.

Last night they were a shambolic mess.

There's nothing against the rules that says the Mayor has to be apolitical during a council meeting as the ceremonial and political functions are clearly split in the constitution. However, there have been long standing conventions that appear to be proving inconvenient at the moment to the Reading Labour party.

It was clear from the first full Council meeting when Glenn Goodall was passed over in asking a supplemental question in favour of allowing the previous lead councillor for the Environment that we were not playing by the previous rules anymore and indeed the one sided admonishment of councillors during meetings has to be congratulated as a well targeted political move.

Given that the politicising of the chairing of the full council meetings is practically acknowledged if not publicly, it was interesting indeed to see Councillor Khan troop into the Labour group leader's office prior to the meeting to get his official Labour order of business briefing from Jo Lovelock and Tony Page.

We saw several examples of the Labour agenda in use as opposed to the one published in the summons.

Probably the most flagrant breach of etiquette, if not the rules, was when the Chair allowed Rachel Eden to ask a second supplemental question. Except it wasn't a supplemental question. This is what the constitution says:

"To clarify a reply to a question, any Councillor may ask a supplementary question. Only one supplementary may be asked unless the Mayor allows more."

So the constitution is quite clear on this matter. A supplemental question can only to be asked to clarify the reply to a written question and the original questioner had already asked a supplemental question. That didn't stop Rachel Eden being invited to ask second "supplemental question" which clearly was not to clarify a reply. That made it unconstitutional but who cares about standing orders, it was on the Labour script.

A grip on the council Constitution is clearly not Labour's strong point. Although I had indicated to speak to the main motion, for some reason the Chair asked me to speak to a Labour amendment instead. The difference is that I was not following a script so could change what I said in response to circumstances.

When you are asked to speak to an amendment you do not have to declare whether you are speaking for or against the item. When Labour put in an amendment asking for the administration to look at alternative ways of raising money, I thought it was only fair of me to point out that it was a little late in the budget process for them to suddenly think of it being a great idea and that I'd been doing it from day one. As it happens, just prior to full Council I had spent the afternoon with the Chief Executive and senior managers promoting council services to invited delegates from large national and international companies. I don't need a back of a fag packet amendment from Labour to tell me how to do my job.

According to their script we'd vote it down, they could put out their pre-written press release and go away smug with themselves. Trouble with the Labour script is that although they'd marked it down as something the administration would vote down, we didn't. I agreed with it. I said as much in my speech.

Beetroot faces on the Labour bench. It left them voting against a motion that they had themselves successfully amended. Labour don't agree with own amended motion fiasco!

The problem got worse when the meeting veered even further from plan but the Labour script demanded ploughing on regardless. So it was that when advised with several and unambiguous points of order and a ruling from the monitoring officer that the final Labour motion was against the Council's constitution and could not be debated, the Labour script required the proposer and seconder be allowed to carry on with their speeches. On the one hand it was quite hilarious to watch Labour unravel but more seriously it caused official council business to descend into farce.

The final nail in the coffin was Bet Tickner's faux horreur at the decline in standards and the terror of tweeting councillors telling the public what is going on in the council chamber and a near tearful plea for better standards in public office by Unite union official Debbie Watson. It was real tugging at my heart strings. Except it would have if it didn't come from the party that regularly uses obscenities in the chamber frequently hurling "bollocks" and "twat" during debates and with Peter Jones even calling the chair of the Planning Committee a "silly cow".

[Whilst we're talking about the ridiculous, Peter Jones made himself look even more of an idiot by claiming that he wasn't using his mobile 'phone, he was "using an iPad". Except it was obviously the non-existent iPad-mini given that it fitted in a top pocket. Technologically incompetent. No wonder Reading Labour dislike technology and piss off people with their inappropriate use of the #rdg hash tag on Twitter.]

Let's face it, Labour's sudden love of the dear old standards committee is nothing to do with councillor behaviour. It's because they have been using it as a political tool to waste officer and opposition time for years and are terrified that they will lose another of their campaign tactics. Trish Thomas and Richard McKenzie are amongst many Labour supporters and councillors who have used it to put in vexatious complaints designed to waste council time and thousands of pounds of public money and tie up opponents who have to deal with the bureaucratic process. All it taught me is that I need to stock up on MORE silver bullets next time Richard McKenzie comes along to council - the garlic and wooden stakes are quite clearly not enough.

If Jo Lovelock is not prepared to give her own group a bollocking for bad behaviour then why should the council waste a single penny on something that can do nothing more than deliver a slapped wrist. I made a promise to staff that I would get rid of every single item of non-essential spend before I looked at staff reductions as a way of putting right Labour's mess. The standards committee is one such complete waste of public money but it is typical of Labour that with the toughest budget we have ever had to prepare, perpetuating a toothless dinosaur is top of their list of priorities.

Last night really laid to rest any idea that Reading Labour possess a shred of competence politically or financial ability.

They really were a joke.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Dead Hand at the Tiller

It's getting scary isn't it. First you discover John Howarth is still lurking around behind the scenes of the local Reading Labour party and then it gets worse. Just when you thought you'd seen the back of the two faced hypocrite, the fishy former MP for the Greater Reading area is back (virtually that is) and sticking his oar in dispensing advice.

Rachel Eden appears to be a nice enough person so she should think twice of listening to the man who petitioned to save the Reading Sorting Office, took the Communications Workers Union members' monies to pay for his office... then shafted them by voting for its closure.

From Facebook:

Martin Salter ahh...memories, memories. Seriously though..loads of press, drip feed announcements about new supporters, turn up with cameras at the homes of prominent Tory and LibDem cllrs demanding they sign and a personal letter/email to each petition signature. Best of luck !

Reading Labour haven't changed and it's no surprise that Martin Salter is advocating criminal activity as a campaigning tool. It highlights what we have always known that their campaigning has a complete disregard for the law. Unfortunately whilst it may have been permissible in his day, the Protection from Harrassment Act 1997 means that others should think carefully before following his advice and harrassing people in their own homes or about sending a letter or email to signers of a petition which without clearly asking prior permission and obtaining it is a breach of the Data Protection Act.

There is a quite rotten underbelly in Labour politics where the end justifies the means. The mosque assault on the Tory candidate and voter fraud in Redlands are just the tip of the iceberg. I've been assaulted going about my ward work (yes, I reported it to the police and the council) and I think we're beginning to see a pattern. It would seem that intimidation is still one of their tactics. Perhaps their idea is to scare the elected from talking to their constituents.

Well it isn't going to work.



Update

Seems Martin is also threatening to kill his own supporters on Facebook:

Martin Salter Please stop Duncan Bruce. If he gets into politics I shall have to kill him.


I DON'T WANT TO GO TO JAIL

Update
From Twitter:
@ReadlingLabour Cllr Swaine (@waswasere) has recently posted a comment which he attributes to Fmr. MP Martin Salter. This comment is not true and is false.

I love the fact that I've published two comments and they use the singular in denying it to be true. Which one is it? ;0) I hope Martin doesn't want to kill Duncan Bruce but he usually gets his way in the local Labour party.

I might be having a laugh at their expense over them obviously not knowing how to delete comments from Facebook, but it's funny how they shriek hysterically at the slightest thing yet barefaced lies never bother them when they put them in their own leaflets.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Show Us the Money

There's been a lot ofwailing and gnashing of teeth from the Reading Labour Party about some of the budget papers. A lot of noise and precious little about what they'd do about it.

The best we've seen so far is Jo Lovelock doing her Mrs. Lovejoy impersonation screaming: "Why won't somebody please think of the children?" Perhaps it would have been better if she'd asked her husband to do that over the toast and marmalade whilst he was running Reading's Children's Services into the ground.

The truth is that New Labour and their apologists are in denial about the serious situation they have left the town in. They have built successive budgets on pyramid schemes expecting a never ending list of suckers to help pay for it. Trouble is with using that as a strategy is that at some point even a sucker will discover that they are being ripped off.

Anyone who thinks this is some sort of idealogical crusade is a complete muppet. To put things into context, if Reading was a household earning £25,000 a year, we have around £3,500 in the savings account. The problem is that only £850 of that could be spent as we need the rest in case the boiiler breaks down and the family car is looking dodgy for the next MOT. Once it's gone, it's gone. On top of that we owe around £34,000 on the credit card.

The choice we face is whether to sign up for a second credit card and go out on a spree to make us feel better or cancel the Sky Sports and Movie Premiere subscriptions. I guess how anyone feels about it is whether you think cancelling the Sky Sports subscription is a cut, or whether you consider going down the pub to watch a match is a totally valid alternative.

What Labour needs to understand is that the cost of them being taken seriously is that they need to tell the electorate EXACTLY where they would make savings or how they would pay for them.

On one level I'd love to see Labour struggling with setting next year's council budget and watch them squirm as they announced to staff why they were not going to implement equal pay for yet another year. On the other hand, sorting out the mess is far to important to leave to those charaltans to it.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Justice for All

I don't read The Guardian because quite frankly it's for people whose idea of politics involves discussing child poverty over canap├ęs but it's equally hard to avoid people posting or emailing links with "you've got to read this" quoting some self-important truth from a journalist.

I refuse to read anything by Polly Toynbee, as she is to journalism what Gary Glitter is to seventies nostalgia parties, but I gave it a go with yet another piece [Labour & Lib Dems need each other] about why Labour and Lib Dems need to align themselves to advance the Guardian's beloved "progressive" agenda.

There are some good points in it such as "Labour continues to behave like a majoritarian party even though party alignment has declined." but essentially is suffers from the same mushy-brained thinking that affects left-leaning journalists. It's starting a point is that Labour and Liberal Democrats are essentially after the same objectives.

It does this by painting both Labour and Lib Dems as progressive. I acknowledge that some Lib Dem members from the SDP tendency may be perfectly happy to align themselves with that terminology (and I bet they ARE Guardian readers!) but I'm not. I want to see reform and a fundamental restructuring of chances and aspiration and that is not what Labour are about. It is hard to tell what Labour are all about. It certainly isn't socialism.

If I had to pick, it wouldn't be social justice or individual freedoms. For all their protestations it's hard to tell the difference between them and the Tories anyway. Qiniteq, PFIs and Post Office closures would all attract their bile if done by a Tory administration but they weren't. If I had to pin-point a defining Labour policy it is probably the redistribution of wealth. The irony though is that they don't believe in redistributing it to those who need it, but to those they hope will support them... and like we saw with capital gains tax and the "light touch" with the banking industry, that includes redistributing it to the wealthy when they see political capital in it.

Perhaps it's because unlike most Labour politicians, I grew up in a single parent family, on a council estate, on income support and know what it's like to have nothing that leads me to believe that one of the most important duties of a government is to ensure that no-one is stuck in poverty by accident of their birth. It's why to me the pupil premium is more important than arguments over VAT which we all know Labour would have increased anyway. You don't get social justice by tinkering about "redistributing wealth" which Labour did for 13 years and ended up increasing the gap between rich and poor. You need a fundamental change to achieve that.

You see, I'm not a progressive. I'm a radical. Something Labour cannot and will not be able to deliver on and something Guardian journalists should make at least an attempt to understand if they want to write anything about the Lib Dems that we're meant to take seriously.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Reading Labour - Political Scumbags

I'm a union member and the proudest achievement for me as a Lib Dem will be the introduction of equal pay once and for all to Reading. Was it Labour who delivered it? Was it hell. They were too busy playing off one union against another and protecting their own self-interests to do the right thing for the hard working council staff they crapped all over whilst in power.

Don't take my word for it, why not read what the unions had to say last April before the election. Bear in mind that what Unison are describing here is the Labour administration before you believe another weasel word offered by Lovelock, Page, Ruheman, Ennis and Orton. This was written about them (highlighting and underlining is mine):
Pay and Reward update by Roy Leader

There is nothing to report on pay and reward. The most recent meeting with management was cancelled. The last meeting that was held between management and the unions was counterproductive as management stated they were not prepared to share information with us.

My conclusion is that pay and reward is comatose and whilst the unions would dearly like to resuscitate the sick patient unfortunately the management seem determined to switch off the life support.

What angers me the most is that the failure to implement has led to so many of our members being worse off, in many cases they are being denied equal pay for work of equal value as measured under the NJC scheme, even more of you are being denied incremental increases you may have been due had the scheme been introduced.

On the other side of the coin there are a few staff who benefit by the non-introduction of pay and reward. A few staff were identified as being paid more than the work they do is worth and a few more as receiving unjustifiable bonuses and honoraria. In many cases these are still being paid.

If one group of staff enjoy a bonus just for turning up to work shouldn’t we should all get one? If an individual gets a large honorarium each payday for something that they did so long ago nobody can even remember what it was, shouldn’t we all?

This should be making you angry, you are getting no pay rise this year and probably not for the foreseeable future, your council tax has gone up, your petrol bill has gone up and your likelihood of redundancy has gone up on top of that RBC are deliberately choosing to delay implementing fair pay and reward.

If you are angry start asking questions, start hassling your managers and expressing your disappointment because by keeping quiet they will assume there isn’t a problem.

Uniform Election Special Spring 2010
Let's just outline what the Unison rep is telling staff members they know all about:
  • Labour have refused to even talk about implementing equal pay (it is "comatose")
  • Union members are worse off because of Labour's refusal to implement the scheme.
  • Some staff are being paid by Labour for more than the work they actually do.
  • Labour pay some staff just for turning up to work.
  • Labour continue to pay some staff a bonus for things they no longer do.
All this whilst stating:
  • Labour will continue to put up council tax
  • Labour will give them no pay rise
  • Labour are going to make staff redundant.
I agree. Staff should be angry. But they should also be angry with their unions for hiding what they knew was going on and Tony Jones in particular who is the UNISON South East Regional manager who would have known exactly what was going on whilst his own party was shafting his union's members.

If staff are angry they really need to ask why are their union representaves are so supine and willing to back Labour in public and hide the reality from them that Labour were using the Equal Pay money from the poorest staff each year to fund their pet projects and budget overspend. Maybe they would like to ask self-styled socialist (sic) John Ennis why he chose to dump all over council workers when he was in the Labour cabinet?

The unions have been playing the "you scratch my back, we'll scratch yours" game with public money for nearly a decade funding Labour's campaigns with money and payments in kind, like the use of the Unison franking machine during the general election.

What have union members ever got from Reading Labour other than the closure of the sorting office and an unequal pay regime that elevates the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club to a beacon organisation in comparison to a Labour run RBC. What indeed?

I'm not revealing sensitive internal Council documents here, they are publically available. If you want to find out exactly why the unions support Reading Labour you can easily find out - a few choice keywords into Google is all that's needed. No, I'm not going to point you at it. Do your own work!