Saturday, August 24, 2019

Labour Party members should choose Labour Party candidates - now

With a General Election on the way there is controversy surrounding the selection of Labour candidates in seats where we expect to win. Even Dave Prentis has got in on the act.

There is something more than a little unappetising about how much disputes about the selection of candidates in winnable seats, which are essentially contests about individual political careers, take on the misleading appearance of disagreements about political principle, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon.

It is because this is a problem with a long history that I sympathise very much with comrades in Vauxhall Labour Party who have protested that their local democratic desire for an All Women Shortlist (AWC) has been denied by the National Executive Council (NEC).

Whilst one might think that it would be an easy matter for a local Party to ensure that they selected a woman candidate if that was their wish, this would depend upon there being a selection process in which local members could express their views.

Those who remember the imposition of Kate Hoey by the NEC in 1989 will appreciate, however, why members in Vauxhall are worried that a local Party saddled with an MP they didn’t select for the past thirty years might end up in the same boat again if, as in 2017, the NEC has to take over selecting candidates when a General Election is called.

The answer to the dilemma confronting the Party, in Vauxhall and elsewhere, is surely to get on with open democratic selection of candidates in every constituency (including those with sitting Labour MPs).

For those of us who don’t have a sitting Labour MP – and are not at the top of the list of target seats – even we would still like to have a say about who our candidate will be. There are thousands of loyal Labour Party members who are preparing to spend several weeks campaigning for candidates across the whole country – not only in seats we expect to hold or gain.

In 2017 we were taken by surprise and it was understandable that candidates had to be selected – and imposed – by the NEC. Since we have been watching this General Election approach for months now it would be much less understandable if we were to deny our mass membership their democratic right to choose candidates at constituency level again.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Hospital food, nutrition, food miles and community wealth building - give peas a chance?

A fortnight ago I emerged from my longest ever stay as a hospital inpatient, my life having been saved by our National Health Service. My stay in hospital coloured in my admiration for the NHS, and those who work in it, so that the abstract admiration for an institution is now adorned with specific recollections of caring individuals who helped me back from sepsis.

One aspect of the hospital experience that could however stand improvement was the food. Meals were cheerfully dispensed by staff who were as kind and attentive as any of their colleagues, but the content of the plates which they had to deliver to the patients were – more often than not – anything but cheering.

In particular, I was generally presented with vegetables which had been subject to treatment the punishment for which ought in all fairness to have been a custodial sentence. Someone somewhere must be responsible for the decision to boil some hapless beans to death before sending them on a long journey at the end of which they will be microwaved just to make sure that they can do no one any possible good – and someone else must have let a contract to this vegi-sadist.

Since my current recuperation involves an awful lot of sitting around watching telly I noted with interest today’s news about the Government’s attempt to enlist celebrity assistance to improve hospital food. I am not sure that sort of headline-grabbing is really what is needed – and have read with much more interest about the work of the Soil Association in campaigning to improve hospital food. It is quite obvious that we ought to want to ensure that patients in hospitals (and, for that matter, staff and visitors) are offered nutritious food which they will want to eat.

However, this isn’t just a matter of public health. Catering provision for major public service institutions, such as hospitals – which are described as “anchor institutions” by the Centre for Local Economic Studies because they are “anchored” in local economies – can be organised in ways which generate and sustain wealth in the communities which they serve.

This month, the Health Foundation has published a major report on the role of the NHS as an anchor institution – showing just how much more the NHS could be doing to support local economies (and therefore the health and wellbeing of local people). Locally this approach doesn’t only chime with the Council’s economic strategy – it can also contribute to our goal of becoming a zero-carbon City.

Locally sourced ingredients won’t clock up “food miles”, and if they are prepared locally be local people employed on decent pay and conditions (and represented by trade unions) then the public money which goes to feed hospital patients will also be recycled in the local economy by staff spending their wages in the City.

And, with a bit of luck, a day will come when no further crimes of violence will be perpetrated against leguminous vegetables at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Getting better in order to work until I drop?

As I am laid up recuperating from a rather nasty illness (plus the side effects of treatment for prostate cancer) I was not entirely delighted to see the rabid wing of the Tory Party flying a kite about extending my state pension age by another three years.

Thanks to the concessions which the unions were forced to make after we retreated from the confrontation with the Coalition Government over public service pensions following the great strike of 30 November 2011, my state pension age is also my normal pension age for the purposes of the Local Government Pension Scheme, as is the case for all local government workers.

If a rabidly reactionary Government can get away with raising the state pension age this will automatically mean that workers paying into our pension funds in the belief that the settlement of the last pensions dispute was “for a generation” will face the prospect of lifetime (actuarial) reductions in the pension (for which we have paid for many years) if we retire at our current normal pension age.

This is just one tiny part of the Tory plan for a low-wage, low productivity Brexit Britain, the answer to which is not a “Government of National Unity” but a socialist-led Labour Government. I look forward to recovering in time to campaign for that outcome in the coming General Election.