Monday, July 21, 2014

AMNT Summer Conference 2014 - Stephanie Flanders

I was only able to attend the first two sessions at this year's AMNT Summer conference before having to dash off to a represent a union member in a meeting out of London.

Our first speaker was Stephanie Flanders, who is now the Chief Market Strategist for JP Morgan but much better known as being the former BBC Economics Editor.

She has been told that she has 20 minutes to speak and is reminded of the advice that G.B. Shaw gave to an orator who claimed that he couldn't possibly say all he knew in 20 minutes. Which was "talk very slowly".

Stephanie pointed out that we have had a terribly long period of recession. UK growth is now ok and near its long term trend but we need to do recover faster to make up for the past 5 years. Risk asserts have struggled to find momentum. While it pays to be a risk taker it may not pay as well as did in the past.

Money is cheap still by historic standards, there will be less austerity in the next 3 years than the last 3 years. National Debt is levelling out. The unemployment rate has crashed in the UK and even Spain has managed to increase employment . Deflation is falling prices not reduced inflation, which is something she had to constantly explain to John Humphrys on the Radio 4 Today Programme. WDIAM use to be her favourite 6pm BBC News spot - "What does it all mean?". 

Long term growth and recovery is now so slow that the recent recession could be more damaging to the economy than the First world war or even the Second world war.

We are overdue a correction on equity markets but loose money will not cause a crash. Diversification matters.

My question to her was that the USA and EU recovery may be more genuine and sustainable than the UK due to our over heated house prices and soaring household debt. Stephanie agreed that there was a fear of a bubble in UK housing market but more confident about UK growth which is now far more balanced.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

National Lottery Newham London Anniversary Run 2014

Off message but this morning I took part again in this 5 mile run in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.

We were started by 2012 Olympic Cycling legend, Sir Chris Hoy (see bottom right of college).

It was a great run around the Park. A little hot and humid but very friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

I used it as a training opportunity for the London Triathlon later next month. After the run I went for a 1.5k swim at the Aquatics Centre then a 90 minute cycle ride. Now feeling absolutely knackered but pleased it went okay. Only 2 more weeks until Triathlon. I cannot wait....until its over :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

West Ham at Grays #Labourdoorstep

This morning members of West Ham Labour Party were out knocking on doors in Grays, Essex with local Thurrock activists in support of their Parliamentary candidate, Polly Billington.

Polly is in the group picture with West Ham MP Lyn Brown (holding Labour attack dog Cara).

West Ham has been twinned with Thurrock for the General election campaign so we will becoming very familiar with the A13 and c2c trains. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Let's Stay Together - 'Scotland, you're my best friend'

"This is the campaign for everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who doesn't have a vote in The Scottish Referendum, but wants to have voice in saying #letsstaytogether
Take a closer look and sign up here:"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stuart Barber "A true tribune of working people...a comrade in arms"

On Saturday I went to the celebration of the life of London UNISON regional officer and my good comrade, Stuart Barber, who sadly died unexpectedly of a heart attack earlier this year aged 64.

The celebration was held in Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, Holborn. London UNISON regional secretary, Linda Perks, spoke first about this being a celebration of Stuart's life as well as remembering him. His death was a shock to work colleagues, UNISON members and his family.

Stuart was born in Scotland in 1949. He started his involvement in our Labour movement family as a steward in the steel works in Corby. He was a leading activist in the fight to try and stop its  closure.

His union recognised his talents as an organiser and sent him to the famous Ruskin College in Oxford.  Afterwards he become an official for the National Union for Public Employees (NUPE) which was a predecessor union of UNISON. Firstly in Wales then in London. He had 35 years of service to our union.

Linda remembered his commitment and dedication to the union and colleagues. He was brave and loyal, who put members first. If he came across an injustice, he would turn every stone to overcome it. He was not however a self appointed crusader for the working class but also caring and kind.

Linda and many others had never met his daughter but felt they knew all about her since he was so proud and would tell us all about her.

London Ambulance Service (LAS) branch secretary and Vice President of UNISON, Eric Roberts spoke next. He first came across Stuart during the LAS pay strike of 1989. He was their new regional official with this gritty, hard, Scottish accent who was full of energy. This was a bitter dispute with ambulance workers locked out and troops sent in to try and break the strike.

It was a battle but Stuart was in his element. He should have been a spy or a secret agent since one of his talents was to obtain very confidential information from management in order to help win the dispute

Next was Jeremy from Wandsworth branch, who remembers Stuart ringing him up days before he died (while officially off sick after his first heart attack) but still working hard from home worrying about his members.

Stuart's partner Clare spoke about his "cloak and dagger" activities when he was in Cardiff, also getting confidential information to aid the union. She told us that there will be candles lit and Red Flags flying in honour of Stuart today in Wales as well.

Debbie was next. A young UNISON organiser and colleague, who told us straight from her heart, that not only was Stuart's knowledge and skills second to none, he was a friend and mentor, without whom she would not be here today. She missed the chats and moans during their "catch ups" in Cafe Nero. No question was ever stupid to him. He will be sadly missed but left very fond memories.

Mike use to be the branch treasurer for Richmond Local Government. He had known Stuart for many years and had similar experiences as others. Stuart was not a normal Regional officer. He was the "Scottish tornado". A 7 days per week man. He remembers a Council Assistant Director who whenever he saw Stuart in the Town Hall would immediately turn in the opposite direction and try to sneak away. When they made Stuart - they broke the mould.

London UNISON Health Manager, Chris Remington, read out to us an address by our former General Secretary, Rodney Bickerstaffe, who had to be at the Miners Gala that day. Rodney had great memories of Stuart. He was quick witted and full of banter. Mischievous, cheeky and very funny. A true tribune of working people. A comrade in arms.

Stuart's brother in law Andy spoke about a hugely principled and courageous trade unionist. A marvellous father. Stuart would have been a wonderful investigative journalist. He remembers Stuart leaking information about clandestine British Government activates in Ireland during the Troubles which made front page news in the Irish Press.

Linda finished by reminding us that Stuart had died too young but we must remember how rich a life he had and how he contributed to the welfare and benefit of colleagues and our members. He lives on in the life of our union and our members. "We will always remember you and always love you".

High above the floor in the main auditorium in at Conway Hall there is their motto "to thine own self be true". At the time I smiled and thought... that is a tee.

(Great picture of Stuart in his younger days fighting some fight on behalf of his union)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Saving our Safety Net - the Welfare State is Under Attack

 "We are not Scroungers" - 'Saving Our Safety Net' is a new campaign from the TUC to defend a decent welfare system that provides help to those who need it, when they need it. This short animation explains how under Universal Credit people who lose their jobs will have to wait for at least five weeks before they get any financial support from the government.

Find out more and take action at:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Labour Link Forum: Less than 10 months to get rid of Cameron and Tories

This report was posted on UNISON Active.

UNISON Labour Link Forum took place this year in Bristol earlier this month. This is the national meeting of UNISON delegates from regions and Self Organised Groups who support our constitutional link with the Labour Party via the Labour Link (also known as the APF) political fund.

This is a motion based conference which had some great debates on policy. There was also workshops and a number of high profile speakers including Jon Cruddas MP, Head of Labour's policy review; Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Minister for London Sadiq Khan MP and our General Secretary, Dave Prentis. There was a UK Parliamentary panel of Labour MPs and a European Parliament panel of MEPS.

Jon Cruddas MP told us that Labour in power would stop the abuse of zero hour contracts and that of agency workers, increase the minimum wage and make greater use of a Living Wage. It would repeal the Lobby Act, have fair taxes and build new homes. Extend free child care, make private providers of public services liable to freedom of information obligations and use procurement to help decide wages. The recent announcements on Labour plans for Councils and regions is the biggest devolution of power in 100 years.

Our UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, spoke that what we want is a Labour Party committed to tackle child and pensioner poverty. We want a Party committed to build an NHS that Nye Bevan would be proud of. We do not want Labour Councils just being vehicles for putting out contracts.
We need and now must get alternative policies not alternative spelling. We expect Labour to support us over Pay. Opposition means opposing. We want no weasel words. We want our demands to be heard. We want clear commitments. Cameron and Tories do not stand for our class. We must get rid of them. Our one objective is to kick the Tories out and get a Labour Government elected not just for 5 years but 15 years.

Sadiq Khan MP introduced himself as the son of a bus driver, whose sister is a teacher and brother works in the NHS. He salutes our public services. Public institutions hold our society together.
He attacked the new huge fees on Employment tribunal applications which is depriving rank and file workers of justice. He argued we must stand firm on further attacks on access to justice.

He praised Ed Miliband's plan to devolve power and money away from the centre and empower our great cities and councils. Sadiq promised not to sign any contracts for privatisation which are on his desk as Justice Minister in 2015 and his first task will be how to unpick existing contracts.

In the UK Parliamentary panel local Bristol MPs attacked the Executive Mayor model in Bristol as being undemocratic and unaccountable. It was hoped that after the recent announcement by Ed Miliband on decentralisation of power that the whole executive mayoral system will need to be looked at. In the European MEP debate there was a positive discussion on combating UKIP and stopping the race to the bottom in employment rights.

There is now less than 10 months to get rid of Cameron and his Tories. UNISON Labour Link must now do everything it can to elect a Labour Government in 2015 but also make sure that the Party has the progressive election winning policies that will help us to deliver the Labour vote.

This weekend it is the Labour Party’s national policy forum in Milton Keynes. UNISON is launching its manifesto for public services this week, ready to present to the Party. These are the type of policies that will not only protect public services but win elections.

John Gray

Monday, July 14, 2014

Vive la France! Bastille Day 2014

I forgot to mention this at Newham's Full Council Meeting tonight. We should have sang this as well:)

Vive la France! Bastille Day 2014

UNISON Greater London Welfare - Family Fund Day Fundraiser Sat 2 August 2014

 University College London
Gower St, London WC1E 6BT
2pm to 5pm 

Children’s Entertainer   Cake Stall   Live Music
Tombola: Fabulous Prizes!


Please contact Greta, Secretary to the Regional Welfare Committee to register your interest:


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stoke Newington West Reservoir Centre

Off message but I was up very early on Saturday morning in order to attend an open water swimming induction course at the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington.

London never ceases to amaze and surprise me. I have lived here for 26 years and never knew this lovely place existed.

It is a former fresh drinking water reservoir surrounded by greenery and tower blocks in the middle of urban North London.

The site is also used as a sailing and canoe centre.

There was about 12 in my course (all younger and much fitter looking!). Things were a little chaotic at the centre because the lake had been closed in recent weeks due to outbreaks of blue green algae in the water.

Our instructor was Matt, who was ex-forces and gave a classic military style presentation on what to do and not do - with humour and candour. There is a small risk from swimming in open water.

The swimming part of the induction was actually quite fun. This was the first time I had used a wetsuit and it definitely keeps you warm and aids floatation. It did feel a bit constrictive.

It is a very different experience swimming in open water compared to public baths. You cannot see anything under water, it gets very choppy swimming alongside a pack of swimmers and your arms do tire more easily with a web suit. Saying that it is a marvellous experience to swim out doors under the open skies.

I need to get my act together because I am doing the London Triathlon 3 weeks tomorrow. I'm picked up my bike today from its service at Halfords that I bought from my fellow contestant, Newham Cllr "Red Terry" Paul.

I have been training for a while but will admit that have left it a little late. It all seemed such a good idea in January....

(Update - this morning I swam a mile - very slowly - in my wet suit at the mixed bathing pool on Hampstead Health.  Another lovely spot to swim out doors in London)