Monday, 13 June 2016

What is the "Hard Left" anyway?

What exactly is “The Hard Left?”
 By Bernadette Horton

On a daily basis right wing newspapers and media refer to Jeremy Corbyn as the “hard left Labour leader” the Shadow Minister for Trade Unions Ian Lavery as the “former hard left President of the NUM” and any MP that dares to voice his/her support for Corbyn is automatically branded “hard left supporting MP…” The list is never ending, the job done by right wing media to spray tag the Labour Party, any newspaper that isn't owned by Murdoch and anyone remotely involved in a trade union as “hard left” is a daily diatribe most of us have become accustomed to.

After the recent Welsh elections where I was campaigning for a Welsh Labour victory day in and day out, I often heard this term bandied about by activists. In banter I often heard “you lot on the hard left need to realise what it will take for Labour to win an election.”  But what exactly is the “hard left”? And does anyone consider themselves to warrant  the right wing media tag of being “hard left.”?

I'm a socialist. Full stop. Yet I've been branded everything from a Stalinist to a Trot, from a trade union firebrand, to a Bolshevik and yes the tiresome “hard left” logo too. Every time I tell a stranger or even another party member I write for the Morning Star I am instantly branded with their own personal version of exactly where I fit into the “hard left” genre.

I believe in all children being given equal access to schooling, apprenticeships and university, whatever their background and those from poorer families given help to achieve this. I believe in the right of everyone to have a decent, warm roof over their heads at a price they can afford to pay and that means the building of social housing. I believe railways should be publically owned as the public use them and are entitled to a seat when they have paid the fare; a fare that is realistic for the service and doesn't eat into their wages that makes going to work extremely difficult. I believe in compassion for the vulnerable. By this I mean dignity for disabled people and dignity for the carers who care for them. A state that directly helps promote quality of life for disabled people and supports disabled people to  work if possible; and if not possible,  supports their right to a life without worrying how they can feed themselves and their families, and whether they are able to heat their homes.

I also believe that if the employers cannot be bothered to pay a living wage, then they should be compelled by law to do so. A fair days pay for a fair days work has never been more needed in this country than it is now. All concept of fair pay, fair hours and fair conditions is being eroded and we need to stop this immediately. If a parent needs to stay at home and care for children they should be able to do so while their children are young without the necessity of having to have either one full time wage if  they are a single parent or  two full time wages as a couple, coming in or they will suffer. It's no coincidence my childhood in the 70s and 80s was idyllic with a father in work and a mother working part time with no debt worries. Having a parent around who wasn't stressed out from working long hours contributed to my own mental health well being. Just look at the chaos our children are surrounded by now as they are tested from the cradle, have soaring mental health problems and are often lucky to have quality time with their parents, for an hour or two a day.

I vehemently believe in an NHS that is free from privatisation and treats everyone free at the point of entry. We pay National Health Insurance so have paid through work for our NHS in our working lives. For those unable to work I am happy my family’s dues and those of people in work and the better off  go to looking after them too.It is a fundamental freedom in this country that if you get sick or have an accident you will treated by dedicated staff free of charge.

I believe in the right to join a trade union. For a trade union to protect your rights in the workplace and more recently in the community. To negotiate pay deals, to stamp out poor health and safety conditions, to stand up to bullying and harassment in the workplace, to blow the whistle on unscrupulous workplace practices and praise the employers who are giving their workers a good deal. Bringing the odious Mike Ashley of Sports Direct infamy before Parliament to account for his Victorian workplace practices, where staff live in fear, mostly on zero hours contracts and have 110 ambulance call outs at its warehouse HQ in a given year is because my trade union Unite, and particularly Unite Community have put up a relentless campaign to make the billionaire Ashley accountable.

I passionately believe in business and trade : vital for our economy. I love to support our small independent businesses on the high street; the ones who treat their employees fairly. I see the fantastic apprenticeships developing specialised skills at places like Airbus near me in North Wales and see the trade they do in Europe and the rest of the world, and know those highly skilled jobs are well paid ones too with pay deals negotiated by their union. Likewise the steel jobs in our steel industry that we are frantically trying to save currently. Local MPs and Ams and indeed my own union,have been campaigning vociferously to halt the closure of our steel plants. These are the lifeblood of skilled and decently paid jobs that we need to protect.

I stand up strongly for the right to protest and demonstrate against injustice. You will find me in pouring rain and recently hailstones fighting to protect our steel industry, our public services, our care homes and protesting against the total evil  of benefit sanctions.

According to the right wing press this then makes me a ringer for the “hard left” badge of shame.

All of  the above, in my own view,  point to my socialist beliefs. My Labour Party beliefs. It's not “hard left” or any other right wing media obsessional name, but purely socialist. The same type of beliefs held by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and countless other Labour MPs. And I am opposed to elitism, power held by the “top 1%” those with money being able to buy their way into private education and university, oligarchs buying up London housing, a Tory government hellbent on making the poor poorer and the disabled more vulnerable and frightened, constituency boundaries being redrawn to favour Tory candidates, trade union activities and funding being unduly scrutinised and almost outlawed and the fear of helping refugees and the ugly politics of UKIP stalking our land.

But that's why socialists are being branded as “hard left”. It's the establishment fear, their own right wing hysterical fear that sees them lashing out on TV and in print. The fear that socialism will show them up for all that they are; opposed to the rights and aspirations of working class people, opposed to care of the vulnerable, opposed to working class people having a good quality of life.

I'm a socialist.  If that makes me “hard left” then I'm proud of it.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Carers: Robbed of Choices, Careers and Cash

                              Carers: Robbed of Choices, Careers and Cash
                                             By Bernadette Horton

It's Carers Week. A chance for Carers Organisations to highlight once again the crippling impact caring has on individuals, the clamour to keep shouting at the government to do something to help carers  across a myriad of problems from basic recognition, to job choice, to the insult of the frozen £62.10pw. This is the pittance Carers receive in Carers Allowance from a cold,distinctly uncaring Tory government. A government that insists Carers provide 35 hours per week care for way below the minimum wage. Illegal elsewhere, but promoted by the Tories!

My own situation as a Carer highlights how circumstance can rob you overnight of the basic of rights, where giving birth to a disabled child can take you from full time work on decent pay, to the scandal that is Carers Allowance. When the youngest of my sons was born with autism in 1999, this was before we had decent child care arrangements under tax credits. But subsidised and free childcare mean absolutely nothing when your child is disabled. Why would a childminder who can take 6 able bodied children under their care currently, choose to have 1 disabled child who needs their constant attention? It simply isn't “good business” to them and who can blame them? I certainly don't! Governments on all sides of the political spectrum are very good at publically denouncing disability discrimination but are absolutely hopeless at putting into place schemes that allow Carers a choice of being able to even work part time. Getting a decent childminder/nursery that has expert knowledge on dealing with your child's particular disability is a complete nightmare for parents who are Carers. It's a choice currently we simply don't have.

In fact government legislation actually hampers Carers who would like to combine caring with a part time job! You can only work to a maximum income ceiling of £110pw before your entire Carers allowance is stopped. Some incentive! The laws currently, actively seek to punish Carers and trap us into a lifetime of poverty. Employment laws and employers aren't keen to employ Carers who may have to rush off in an emergency situation to the person they care for either.

The feeling I had when my son was diagnosed with autism wasn't just that of worrying what his life would be like. It then dawned on me, that to give this child every available chance in life, it would mean the almost slow death of mine. It would mean being robbed of job choice immediately, having only my husbands one wage coming in, and as he was my youngest child, less time to spend with my older children. At the beginning it felt like a curtain coming down on my life and involved endless days of  form filling, appointments with experts, fighting the education system and with my mouth  standing up constantly for my sons rights when I thought they were being eroded too. Endless, dreary, constant fighting against different sections of our health and education systems. It shouldn't be like this  and  as my son has grown up my thoughts are often with those who accept what the system gives you, as they are unable or less knowledgeable, or simply don't want to be worn down by constantly fighting the system.

Our Tory government has now frozen Carers Allowance until 2020 at £62.10pw for a compulsory 35 hour caring week. It equates to £1.77 roughly an hour. Taken away entirely if a Carer dares to earn £110.01. It actually makes you feel worthless. The unemployed get more at £73pw. So not only are Carers tucked away in their homes, unseen, unheard and virtually voiceless, the government makes us worthless too. It's a kick in the teeth and one that a future Labour government has a complete duty to change. I know it is a subject that both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will be seeking to tackle in policy change for 2020 as both know the absolute disgrace the system is serving up to Carers currently. My hope actually lies in the Shadow DWP where both Owen Smith and the new MP, Nick Thomas-Symonds have a complete grasp of the Carers plight and will be wanting significant change to be made. There is also talk within Labour of a basic citizens income which would be music to the ears of Carers and actually lift many of us out of the poverty trap. We eagerly watch what John McDonnell has to say on the issue.

But going back to choices, it's not only the ability to work that is taken from Carers. Politicians forget the ability to get out of the house when you want to, do the shopping without thinking of the logistics for doing it, having a holiday; these are all things where Carers have no or little choice, With social services funding from Tory Westminster being slashed, respite care is being cut, which is a lifeline for drained, weary Carers. My very own Tory/Inde/Plaid dominated county council Denbighshire, decided to start charging  parents of disabled children £25 to actually access respite care. A despicable Tory led initiative that was  described to me as saying “Parents receive Disability Living Allowance for their disabled child, so they should use this for the charge.” All pushed through by local Tory councillors with no idea of the impact on families and no moral compass to understand this was yet another attack on disabled people and their families. If it doesn't touch their lives then it doesn't matter about the rest of us is their motto.

Governments of any political party have an enormous amount of work to do for Carers to even try to level the playing field slightly. Scotland should be congratulated it has raised Carers Allowance to the same rate as Jobseeker's Allowance: a good start is my view with more to be done. The social security system needs a complete rethink to address Carers and for Carers to be prioritised and not bottom of some special advisor focus group as we were in the 2015 General Election: not worthy of any showpiece political policy. I do think though that Jeremy Corbyn will have a bolder and more empathic approach. He understands Carers needs and will seek to entrust the Shadow DWP to come up with perhaps an holistic package of support for Carers, as he has the right people in position to have an emboldened view.

My hopes and the hopes of 11 million Carers and the  disabled people we care for rest with the Labour Party. Cameron and his henchmen at the DWP which have included one of the most hated politicians of our times Iain Duncan-Smith, and now his equally loathsome successor Stephen Crabbe have thrown Carers and the disabled to the wolves in what for many is a circle and lifetime in a poverty trap. We look to 2020 for urgent change and for a compassionate Labour government under Corbyn to make the changes Carers urgently need.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Welsh Labour Conference Speech
February 2016
Ambition and Learning

Working class people both here in Wales and England have ambition, aspiration
and a burning desire to learn.
Aspiration should not and cannot be the preserve of the middle classes because
ordinary working class people do not have the money to pay for education.

It was Nelson Mandela who said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon
which you can use to change the world.’ So take note David Cameron and Andrew RT Davies – Mandela didn’t mention that access to education will
depend on an individual’s ability to pay!

My family is privileged, and I mean that -  Privileged to live, work and
be educated in Wales as opposed to England. My two younger sons aged nearly
18 and 17 are both products of a fantastic Welsh educational system. Both are in
6th form studying A levels and both receive Education Maintenance Allowance
at £30 per week to help them cope with the cost of books,
and essentials. If we were living in England they wouldn’t get EMA…the
Tories abolished it in 2010.

Hope, ambition and aspiration to achieve the desired A level results renewed again in my sons.

And once they go to university again, unlike England, where students pay up to
nine thousand pounds per year, my sons won’t have to pay more than £3800 in tuition fees
…thanks to Welsh Labour!

This week we visited Aberystwyth university, home to the fantastic National
Library – and I’d defy anyone not to be impressed with this place of learning!

I too have a burning ambition to learn.

I also have an ambition to gain political representation for those whose voices
aren’t heard by this Tory Westminster government;

the full time carers and the increasingly persecuted disabled.

This Tory government learnt their politics in the debating halls and playing
fields of Eton. I learnt mine through my union, Unite.
They have given me the skills and confidence to challenge the Tories.

I am passionate about Adult education
It should never be the Cinderella service in our education system.
Adults have aspirations too!

Knocking on doors, talking and listening to people
Getting our message across
Has never been more important.

I know we hear Labour has been in power for some timeBut its thanks to having a Welsh Labour government that we have
the successes we do! It’s time to go out on the doorsteps and passionately
spread the message of what we have done and what we intend to do for our kids and for our future –

Under Welsh Labour we have:

·        Flying Start in our disadvantaged areas from aged 2!

·        Free school breakfasts for many of our children.

·        Education Maintenance Allowance for our 6th formers

·        University Tuition fees capped.

·        Maintenance grants at university for poorer and disabled students

·        Record successes last year in our GCSE RESULTS

·        100,000 New apprenticeships announced for this year for ALL AGES!

·        And should you fall ill at any time Free Prescriptions.

Welsh Labour is ambitious for the Welsh people.
Ambition and Learning go hand in hand for ALL.
Let’s get that message out loud and proud to voters.
Together for Wales!