Tory

No Cap on Courage for Britain’s Firefighters

Recent events in Britain have brought into sharp focus the role of our public services in daily life. The two main strands of this discussion have centred around their importance to us in times of need and to what degree they should be financially rewarded for this.

Most recently, and in such horrifying circumstances, it has been Britain’s firefighters at the forefront of our minds.

Having been called into action to tackle the macabre blaze at Grenfell Tower last month, the sight of these brave individuals looking so utterly haunted in the aftermath is one that will long reside in the public consciousness. Equally, hearing individual firefighters lament the fact that their ladders did not go high enough to reach the highest floors of Grenfell Tower was intensely difficult.

For many of us, however, the intricacies of a firefighter’s role are something of a mystery. Naturally only firefighters will fully understand what it is they do and how it is they do it, but the revelation that firefighters at Grenfell were required to write their initials on their equipment before entering serves as an eerie symbol of what these people could be called upon to give at any given moment.

The purpose of the initials, of course, was to identify their bodies should they not have made it out that night. As job-related requirements go, it doesn’t get much heavier than that. There were officers at Grenfell witnessing scenes they had never seen before. People like 26 year old April Cachia, who told the Daily Telegraph how she helped terrified residents from the towering inferno having only been in the job for five days:

“The smell of smoke, the sound of crackling, the sound of debris hitting the ground, children screaming, people hand you their phones to speak to their loved ones – these are the things you won’t ever forget.”

The bravery of the firefighter is of course well established almost to the point of cliché, but in view of recent public discourse concerning public sector pay, the question of how to adequately reward firefighters has become particularly relevant.

In response to the defeat of Labour’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which proposed to “end the public sector pay cap and give the emergency and public services a fair pay rise”, MPs on the winning side of the vote were heard cheering in the Commons.

Regardless of party politics, such grotesque displays of contempt merely highlight the disconnect that exists between some politicians and the will of the public.

Boris Johnson telling Labour-Assembly leader Andrew Dismore to “get stuffed” in 2014 in response to the question of his office’s cuts to fire services was another unsavoury incident which looks far worse in retrospect.

Firefighters and other public service workers are often lavished with praise but little else. Unfortunately, praise doesn’t make ends meet. Despite this, it was heartening to learn that some of the firefighters who attended Grenfell have been amongst the first to take free holidays donated via the Grenfell Tower Holiday appeal group.

Fire Brigade’s Union General Secretary Matt Wrack has noted that firefighter’s real wages are falling and “our members are struggling to make ends meet.”

Wrack went on to launch a scathing criticism of governmental policy, saying: “it is sickening to hear politicians praising firefighters for the outstanding work they do every day of their working lives only to be told they have to tighten their belts as a result of economic problems caused by bankers.”

With this having been said, political dogma categorically should not take away from the fact that when called upon, Britain’s firefighters step up to the task. Their numbers may be diminished – there are 19% less firefighters than in 2010 –  but their resolve to protect is not.

Blessedly for all of us, there is no cap on the bravery of Britain’s firefighters.

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What the deuce! Elmbridge residents call for fair play

There has been something of a hoo-ha brewing in Elmbridge recently. Residents have taken to social media to complain about changes to public services. Smelly bins left un-emptied, was the first issue galvanising the public into complaint. Particularly annoying as this occurred during the June heat wave. Residents took to twitter to berate local councillors.

Earlier this month, Amey, the Spanish owned refuse collectors started their new £100 million joint-waste contract in Elmbridge. Due to be rolled out later in Mole Valley, Surrey Heath and Woking, the residents were promised ‘an improved rubbish and recycling collection service.’ A major advantage of the switch was the proposed £2 million saving per annum and no doubt this would have been a factor in gaining the support of Surrey County Council as the waste disposal authority.

Unfortunately, a series of teething problems left food bins festering in the heat and whole cul-de-sacs abandoned due to the difficulty of negotiating the new vehicles between parked cars. Esher and Walton Conservatives were soon onto the scandal demanding that Elmbridge council ‘get a grip on the current appalling situation’ and laying the blame squarely upon the Lib Dem/Resident Association led council:

“Conservative group leader, Cllr Tim Oliver, is clear that the current service failings smacks of poor forward planning by Amey and a failure of the RA/LD Council to hold the contractor to account.”

But wait a minute, Surrey County Council, which is Tory led were in favour of the plan and at the time of the vote (December 2016) at least 21 of the 48 Councillors were Conservative. Cllr Tim Oliver in fact chaired the meeting with Amey and closed down some pretty relevant questions from other Councillors as you can see on this webcast.

A more recent hoo-ha has been caused by the lock-up of public tennis courts and the necessity for the public to pay a yearly subscription of £36 or a £5 one-off booking fee to play on courts which were previously free. This issue even got Judy Murray riled up as evidently this is Andy Murray’s home borough. £25,000 was pledged from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to help secure the sites and advertise the new charges. In good Surrey style there was soon a petition raised and a campaign organised to reverse the plan; a campaign apparently supported by Cllr Tim Oliver, Conservative group leader. Once again the accusing finger points firmly at the Lib Dem/Resident Association administration, totally ignoring the fact that the decision was passed unanimously by all 48 Elmbridge councillors, including Cllr Oliver.

tweet - ethical surrey - tennis

Note how Cllr Tim Oliver uses ‘they’ not ‘we’ in his campaign support letter;

“At a time when there has been huge disruption for many of us to the waste collection service over the past few weeks as a result of new contractors they appointed, I think conceding they were wrong to bring in charges would in some small way be a sign that they are actually listening.”

The next upset waiting in the wings is the proposed closure of recycling facilities across Surrey. In an effort to save another £2 million the council is proposing to close four recycling centres and to restrict access to the others to five days a week instead of seven. This will undoubtedly lead to bigger queues at those centres left open and restrictions for vans, trailers and pickups will encourage fly-tipping; a dreadful eye-sore in the leafy Surrey lanes and an expensive clear-up cost for the cash-strapped council.

Still at the ‘consultation’ stage this has yet to cause a major storm but the proposals have not been well received by the concerned citizens of Elmbridge.

So let’s start joining up the dots on these three unpopular changes to the delivery of public services. What they all have in common is the need to save money. Surrey County Council has seen cuts of £170 million from (Conservative) central funding since 2010 and with a further £100 million to save this year the cuts will continue to come until the money has been found.

This is the austerity agenda. The same agenda that 35,071 (43%) people voted for in June 2017 when they elected Dominic Raab to represent them. He has continually voted for cuts to local councils since 2010. Five more years of austerity was the Manifesto promise and heaped onto the seven previous years it will see virtually no group left untouched. Perhaps people thought it wouldn’t be their tennis courts closed or their bins left un-emptied. Perhaps the cuts would all fall elsewhere, after all there is no ‘magic money tree’ so it had to be done.

Unless you are the 26% who voted other than Conservative in 2017, then you are pretty much getting what you voted for. So that’s fair play then. Well, except of course some of the 35,071 won’t be experiencing the pain of the cuts, just the benefits of a low tax, low public service economy. They live in the gated estates in St. George’s Hill and Weybridge. They don’t worry about smelly bins; they pay someone else to do that. Neither do they queue at the recycling centre on a hot Sunday morning in a car packed to the rafters with rotting debris. They may have their own tennis court or at the very least membership of an exclusive club. Not to mention private health insurance and private education. The Conservative driven low tax economy puts money in their pocket with no down-side. These exclusive areas represent a solid voting block which will help to maintain Elmbridge as a safe Tory seat, but they can’t do it alone.

Perhaps things will change as the majority of us come to realise that for every £1 given back in tax breaks we have to find £10 to pay for the things which used to be free. Or go without or course, that’s what the poor people do. As the cuts continue to bite across Surrey Conservative voters may finally start to understand the socialist mantra – ‘for the many, not the few’.

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Voters unite: take action against the coalition of chaos

On June 8th something happened that few outside of the hopeful grassroots community could ever have expected. Jeremy Corbyn led the Labour party to an astonishing increase in parliamentary seats; destroying the majority previously held by the Conservative Party.

As a Labour supporter I personally welcome any result that reins in the power of Theresa May’s government. But whilst the hung parliament we’re left with does bring with it a small number of positives, it’s far from an ideal outcome.

On the plus side, without a majority May has already been forced to reconsider the manifesto she plans to submit for the Queen’s speech this week. Hard line policies on pensions and ridiculous notions such as repealing the fox hunting ban have been scrapped. This is wonderful news for those affected, and a clear victory for those of us who fought against such policies.

The snap election also delivered a result which has confirmed Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader of a strong and stable opposition. The in-fighting which dominated the Labour Party last year is over; for the Tories such battles are only just beginning.

There is a negative side to all of this, of course. And not just for Conservative voters. In a desperate bid to keep hold of the keys to number 10, May has sought a deal with the most regressive party in UK politics; the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP).

The DUP are a right wing party with intensely conservative and religious views. This party (who now potentially have control within the UK government) are passionately opposed to LGBT rights, are anti-abortion, largely deny climate change, and most worryingly of all, have strong support from (and reported links to) the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

A violent loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA is still active in Northern Ireland to this day. Just weeks ago, a man was shot dead in broad daylight, and in front of his three-year-old son, by a member of the group. During the troubles in Northern Ireland, the UDA were responsible for over 400 deaths, the vast majority of whom were civilians.

Much of the Conservative election campaign was built around the false notion that Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser. Yet May has wasted no time in jumping into bed with a party strongly linked to terrorists still operating in Northern Ireland today. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has warned Theresa May that the deal she has sought risks jeopardising peace in Northern Ireland, and is a potential violation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Already we have seen signs of May making decisions to appease the DUP. In appointing her new cabinet she has given the role of Justice Secretary to David Lidington, who has consistently opposed LGBT rights; and the role of Environmental Secretary to Michael Gove, despite his previous poor record on environmental issues.

Despite who you may have voted for, a minority government propped up by a terrorist-backed, right wing section of the Northern Irish assembly is unacceptable. It is simply wrong that we should allow such regressive politicians to have any say in how our otherwise progressive society is run. If you voted Labour, this is not what you voted for. But just as importantly; if you voted Conservative, this is not what you voted for.

Millions of people across the country, myself included, live in Conservative areas which means we are represented in parliament by Conservative MPs. It is vital that we now contact them to make it known we do not give our support to a deal with the DUP, and that neither should they. The integrity of our country is far more important than whether a political party is able to cling onto power or not. We must call upon our MPs to say no to any deal with the DUP, even if it means relinquishing control of parliament, or calling another election. On this principal we should all be agreed, regardless of our political alignment.

This is something we must act on now. Anybody that lives within a Conservative constituency must contact their local MP today. Talks between the Tories and the DUP are ongoing, and the Queen’s speech, it seems, has been delayed. The minority government as it is being proposed has no credibility, and this is something that must be communicated to our representatives in Parliament before a vote of confidence is held.

This is a rare opportunity for all voters to stand together. It’s time to put our differences aside and unite in opposition to the DUP and the potential regressive lurch to the right that comes with them. It’s time to stand up for the values that so many have fought for, and to protect the rights of every British person.

Important links:

Here you will find a sample e-mail which can be copied, edited as desired, and sent to your local MP.

Here you can find out who your local MP is, and how to contact them.

Whilst this direct action should be the priority, it is also well worth signing this petition to the UK Government, which has already reached over 150,000 signatures (at the time of this being published).

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