A letter to my MP on cuts to the ESA

This week the government forced through a cut to the Employment and Support Allowance – what used to be incapacity benefit – and overuled objection in the Lords by claiming ‘financial privilege.’ Members of the upper house had expressed concern and were seeking an impact assessment but this is now forced through as yet another step on the Conservative government’s path to dismantling the welfare state and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. Read More »

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Covered by: The Smiths and Anthrax

Okay, let’s get this straight to begin with: The Smiths were a great rock band. Label them ‘Indie’ or even ‘pop’ if you like but they could certainly rock.

A lot of rock and metal fans will probably stop reading here but give me a minute to explain. Johnny Marr is a god amongst men when it comes to playing guitar and he’s also a clever, funny and generous guy with a social conscience too. When David Cameron declared his love for The Smiths back in 2010, Marr responded via Twitter, “..no you don’t, I forbid you to like it.”

Read More »

Stop arguing, start opposing

Say what you like about the Conservative Party but one thing they have pretty much totally nailed is a united front. Yes, there may be occasional dissenters but on the whole the Conservative Party stand together, vote together and when they need to they circle the wagons and defend en masse.

Even when individual MPs do not agree with policy, even when they speak up in parliament against that policy, they still vote with their party.

I’ve written vefore about wishing MPs had a totally free reign to vote with their consciences (presuming they have one) and to do what’s right for their constituents but there’s not much chance of that happening anytime soon due the the political party model. Therefore if a party is going to really oppose the government – and I would say this if it was the Conservatives in opposition to Labour too – there needs to be some unity instead of airing grievances and hanging out their dirty washing in public.

Look at Labour right now. After a massive upswing in party membership and overwhelming support for a left-field leadership candidate (Corbyn) they seem to to be deadset on arguing amongst themselves rather than making the most of their support.

Jeremy Corbyn is a straightforward, principled man and had the Right worried but rather than work together to support him against attacks in the press, some Labour MPs such as Simon Danczuk have taken to taking potshots in the Daily Mail!

When the London Fire Brigade Union is on the verge of reaffiliating with the Party, anti-Corbyn MP John Woodcock attacks them on Twitter

JohnWoodcock

Today (27th November 2015)there is news of potential resignations over the Party’s position on bombing Syria. I’m sure their are disagreements and heated discussions within all Parties but very rarely do we hear about them. The Tories control their MPs like they control their press yet it seems Labour would disintegrate over who had control of theTV remote on a quiet night in!

The Scottish National Party present a united front but I believe that is because their MPs and other members are like-minded and share common goals. When Nicola Sturgeon speaks one believes she speaks for her party and nobody is sniping at her or undermining her in the press.

Labour need to look to the SNP, take note of their policies (apart form the independence thing!) as they reflect what many of us believe Labour should be standing for and then look at them as an example of a Party unified to represent the electorate.

It’s simple, surely? Stop bickering and start opposing this government before it’s too late.

 

 

When does a rebel sanctioned by the West become a terrorist? 

It’s only a few days after the latest atrocities committed in Paris and one more day since a vicious attack in Beirut but today I read something which goes some way to explaining why we are in such a mess; why the threat of terrorism looms over much of the world.

[note: by ‘we’ I mean pretty much the whole world. I would say ‘the international community’ but we don’t tend to include a good many of the affected countries in that collective]
Back in June The Guardian reported the collapsed trial of a Swedish man, Bherlin Gildo who had been facing terrorism charges for supporting a Syrian rebel group.

What forced the prosecution to drop the case was the evidence that British intelligence had been arming the same rebel groups.

Yes, that’s right. We were prosecuting someone for fighting for a cause we had been assisting until quite recently.

It just beggars belief doesn’t it? We Undermine a regime which has fallen out of favour and then when the collapse of law and order in that country destabilises an entire region we expect everyone to toe the line of our foreign policy and what? Hand the weapons back? Go back to farming?

Of course, it’s not just the UK which blunders into conflict like this, our ‘closest ally’ the USA has form too.

All that fuss with the Taliban? It’s an inconvenient truth that while Afghanistan was occupied by Russia, the U.S. was arming and training the resistance and the CIA were instructing them in insurgency tactics and the use of improvised explosive devices (IED) such as car bombs.

At the time the U.S. was obviously quite ‘proud’ of this; the 3rd Rambo movie sees Stallone fighting the Russians alongside the locals. The movie isn’t seen too often these days but not just because it’s utter crap. It’s obviously a source of some embarrassment, a reminder of an intervention which hasn’t really panned out as expected.

Do we learn? It looks like we don’t even want to learn, instead we just sweep it under the carpet and move on to the next fiasco. Libya, Syria, Afghanistan – all slightly different but essentially all the same.

Read the Guardian’s report, I’ll even link it again so you don’t need to scroll back up.

A letter to my MP on the UK Steel Industry

The recently announced job losses in the UK steel industry are a disgrace, While our chancellor is courting China, seeking investment in HS2 and encouraging their companies to bid for infrastructure contracts in the UK, the steel industry in this country is going to the wall. Cheap chinese steel is “dumped” in this country and thousands of jobs are being lost yet our government is turning a blind eye to it. What can we do? Like with the tax credits cuts I believe that one answer is to let your MP know how you feel. A ground swell of dissent might bring it home to MPs that many in this country are not happy and that THEIR JOBS might be at risk.

Here’s my letter to my MP, sent via writetothem.com

Please take a minute and do the same.

——

Dear Mel Stride,

a couple of weeks ago (30th September to be precise) I wrote to you regarding our government investing £3m into grassroots Chinese football and you kindly replied that you were making enquiries on my behalf with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

However since then there have been the announcements that several steel plants will be closed, downsized or mothballed with the loss of thousands of jobs, including at the Tata Scunthorpe works which is not too far from my place of birth Cleethorpes.

While my original letter outlined my worries for Torquay United and also other lower league teams, I also mentioned that I was concerned that we as a country were throwing contracts to Chinese firms rather than British or even European companies. As you know, our steel industry is suffering due to the strength of the pound and British based firms are undercut by Chinese and even German firms who can be more competitive due to support form their governments or in the case of the Chinese, lower labour costs and less restrictions on due to poorer workers’ rights.

I understand that we might need to court China as the world’s 2nd largest economy but I am struggling to understand the sense in offering them what would seem like sweeteners while our own industry needs support and we could be servicing our need for materials such as steel nearer to home. Should we be wining and dining the Chinese president right now or should we be looking to support our industry?

Right now the recently announced job losses account for approximately one sixth of the steel industry workforce but is this just the start?

I therefore ask you and your ministerial colleagues:

Is it out of the question to support the UK steel industry? Surely we will need steel for HS2, power stations and other projects as well as day-to-day construction.

Does the government perhaps have a plan to provide jobs for those workers informed this week that they are to be out of work? The affected areas do not seem to be particularly blessed in terms of alternative employment.

Given the recent cuts to tax credits and other benefits, how are the affected families expected to provide for themselves?

Does this situation not make a mockery of the much heralded ‘Northern Powerhouse’?

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

Monopoly: the slightly retro, alternative Grimsby and Cleethorpes edition

Last year, while reading the news about the new Grimsby and Cleethorpes edition of the popular, capitalism themed board game Monopoly, I was delighted to see both Steels Cornerhouse, the Docktower and Grimsby Town in prime position on the game board but the I found myself wondering where was Boyes? What about Norman’s Toys?

I know that it’s an advertising opportunity and therefore I shouldn’t expect to see businesses that might not even exist any longer but it got me thinking about what I’d like to see on a Grimsby monopoly board. Which landmarks, past and present define Grimsby and Cleethorpes for me?

Here then is my first pass at a new, imaginary version of Monopoly for slightly sentimental 40-ish types; likely born in Croft Baker and quite possibly living in exile but still hopelessly in love with the place.

Starting at Go – and despite reimagining a board game which has remained more or less the same for 80 years I still am quite traditional in this respect – we arrive at the brown properties, traditionally the cheapest on the board:

Boyes – When I was at school, everybody went to Boyes to buy marbles. Despite moving a short distance down Freemo, Grimsby’s discount department store is still seems to be going strong and has even expanded – there’s one on Cleethorpes High Street where Woolworths used to be. This Monopoly property is the original one though.

The Nunsthorpe estate – If you believed everything you read about the Nunny or what you saw on ITV documentaries you would have a picture in your mind resembling a cross between the city in “I Am legend” and the Gaza Strip. Yes, the estate might have problems but is it that any different from other areas of Grimsby struggling with lack of investment and a government hammering the poor? Is it much different from estates in town across the country? I went to school there for a while and from what I remember you could get decent fish and chips there at lunch time. Tony Ford grew up there too so The Nunny is therefore on my Monopoly board.

The light blue properties never meant much to me and they are overdue being updated so I propose the following:

Norris the Rubberman – Long since closed down, this shop on Pasture Street will be fondly remembered by many. The area is run down now and was suffering before the Parkway hammered the final nails in its coffin but if you saw the advertisements at Blundell Park or ever bought a pair of jeans or trainers there, it will be a name which instantly transports you back home.

The Grimsby Docks – It has to be on any Grimsby related board;the town was built on the fishing industry and the fortunes of both are intertwined. There are more yachts and small day boats than trawlers these days and what was once one of the world’s busiest ports will never recover but while the geography of the towns changes as new estates spring up and rail lines are replaced with roads, the docks will always dominate any map as they do our history.

Freemo – Forget Top Town, Freeman Street is the Grimsby shopping area which I’m including. It’s but a shadow of its former self but walk down Freemo from Hainton to Riby Square and take in the view of the Dock Tower and then try and argue against its inclusion. The market is still there along with Boyes and a few pubs with ‘character’ but so many shops and businesses have long since disappeared: Steve’s Music Bar, Humber Records, Harry Wainman’s sports shop to name but a few. How many of us saw our first movies at the ABC cinema?

The Pink properties next and on the traditional Monopoly board these are a little better known. My choices maybe not so…

Gullivers Nite Club – ah, Gullies. Home of Goth Corner and either the best night out or the worst; there were never mediocre nights there. In the early 90s it seemed as though pretty much the whole town was a goth. Where have they gone? Do they still congregate there or have they moved to Whitby? The last few times I’ve been back to Grimsby, the sign above the door has been broken. Could somebody fix it, please?

The Barge – just a short stagger from Gullies, The Barge is a local landmark as well as a decent boozer. Many a Newcastle Brown Ale has been drunk on the beer “garden” tables outside and in poor weather how many unsuspecting (or slightly worse for wear) punters have tumbled down the wet stairs into the bar? Health & Safety nightmare but back in the day offset by a jukebox sent from heaven. PiL’s “Rise” and Wire’s “I Am The Fly” stick in my mind and I hope they’re still being played.

The Flamingo – okay, this one is probably controversial. I was going to choose The Spider’s Web but for no better reason than the old turnip used to make the body of the spider on the sign but that’s not a good enough reason so I’m going for The Flam on North Sea Lane. Now replaced by The Trawlerman, The Flam was home on a Friday to a heavy metal night which I loved going to. Maybe it was the ritual pub run that made it so good: The Notts, Smugglers, King’s Royal, Lifeboat (now flats) and then The Pavilion by The Boating Lake, also sadly gone. Whatever it was, the Flam makes my game board.

I’m back on the straight and narrow with my choices for the orange properties, there will be no arguments about these. Probably. Check them out:

Humberston Fitties – The Fitties is a wonderful place to visit if you’re a local. When I was younger my school took us on residential weeks to the YMCA camp just down the road and we used to wander to the Fitties to buy sweets from the holiday camp shop. The name itself is from a local word for ‘salt marsh’ apparently and the beach here is a lot different from the main stretch in cleethorpes. A lovely, peaceful place which means a lot to our family and somewhere I’d love to go to walk my dog every day if I still lived in Cleethorpes. Or owned a dog.

The Pier – Did you know it’s 20 years since Blur played a gig on the pier? The pier has been been run down for years and I don’t think Damon Albarn and co are totally to blame for that; nightclubs across the country have suffered as punters have  discovered internet dating as an alternative to the ritual of getting hideously drunk in a dark, damp hell-hole. Pier 39 had been a bit of a mess for years so it’s great to see that it’s been done up and looks like something the town can be proud of again. While it’s up for sale again but at leaast it’s not falling down. Every seaside town needs a pier and that’s why ours is on my Monopoly board.

Wonderland – How do you describe Wonderland, that rag-tag jumble of market hall, amusement arcades and rides which would make even the hardiest of travelling fairground types shudder in fear. The Sunday Market is gone, replaced with indoor carting and airsoft but Wonderland is still there and although a little less wondrous it takes a place on my board, if only so that I can use this rather brilliant picture which The Grimsby Telegraph included in one of their Bygones features.

wonderland

The red properties on the standard Monopoly board are quite well known, even to non-Londerners and my choices for a Grimsby & Cleethorpes board are similarly well known:

Steel’s Cornerhouse – After a nuclear war cockroaches will need somewhere to eat and that place will be Steel’s Cornerhouse. An institution untouched and unchanged by time and fashions, Steel’s has stood in Cleethorpes marketplace for almost 70 years and its reputation is far-reaching: everybody knows about Steel’s fish and chips and folk travel from far and wide for their mainstay – haddock, chips and mushy peas, served with bread and butter and a pot of tea. I remember when I was younger, being egged on to try the jumbo haddock by my uncle and staring open-mouthed as said fish arrived with the tail on a side plate as it was too vast to fit on the plate. First name on many a (metaphor-mixing) team sheet.

Victoria Mill – along with the Dock Tower, the Victoria Mill dominates the Grimsby skyline; another memory of the town’s industrial past. Of course it has been some time since any flour was milled there and these days it is a complex of flats but this is a building that must surely be preserved for future generations. A reminder of our past and also a striking and beautiful building.

Humber Forts – okay, so the two sand forts, Haile and Bull might not even fall with the administration of NE Lincs Council but I’m claiming both for the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Monopoly board. Nearly one hundred years old, the forts could accomodate 200 servicemen and although they were completed too late for WW1, they saw service in WW2 with a net between them protecting the Humber and its ports from U-Boat attack. I remember them being sold off and there being talk of them being converted into hotels with access by boat or helicopterbut eventually a charity took them on with the intention of Bull becoming a drug rehabilitation facility.

My yellow properties are as follows:

Winter Gardens – Cleethorpes Winter Gardens was demolished a few years ago and I think for many exiled Grimbarians and Meggies returning to the town this was a greater shock to the system than the old railway line becoming a road. The Winter Gardens sat at the end of the Kingsway for decades and was famous as a gig venue, hosting tours by Queen, The Sex Pistols and many more but perhaps the thing that we will all remember it for is of course The Bags’ Ball on a Wednesday night. Melody Night? Ha!

Cleethorpes Zoo – yes youngsters, we had a zoo, where Pleasure Island theme park now stands. I can just about remember going there with my mum and dad but it closed in the 70s. Photos now look like how we might imagine an Eastern European zoo to be now with poor conditions for animals but truth be told, most zoos were like that. I remember seals, penguins, an elephant, bear and more and a lot of concrete enclosures. I’ve just found footage and photos of a killer whale in 1970 and a few years ago when I wanted to send a couple of postcards I popped into one of the giftshops opposite the slipway. The owner nipped out back and brought me a box of older postcards including a dolphin at the zoo. A dolphin. Unbelievable.

Welholme Galleries – I reckon pretty much every Grimsby schoolkid of a certain age will remember trips to Welholme Galleries. This former church was run as a museum and my younger self was fascinated by the local history on display, especially the model boats

The green properties are as follows and

Blundell Park

Weelsby Woods

Cleethorpes Beach

The Blues

Minster

PEoples PArk

stations are

utilities are Dock Tower and chapman’s pond

Phew.

So, there you go. What do you think? Did I pick the right places? Write a comment and let me know.

A letter to my MP on Torquay United and UK investment into Chinese football

If you’ve been following my blogs recently you will have seen a couple of pieces on the fortunes of Torquay United:

The decline of Torquay United – a cautionary tale

Torquay United part deux – support your local team

I also wrote about it in my regular diary for independent Grimsby Town site Codalmighty:

It’s but a dalliance, nothing long-term – 24 September 2015

Yep, I’m a Grimsby fan (it’s a birth thing) but I feel the plight of Torquay and other small, lower league clubs is something we should be concerned about as if they are lost then a key part of a community is lost.

When I saw that our chancellor, George Osborne was investing £3m into grassroots football in China, the world’s 2nd largest economy I had to take a deep breath. Yes, I understand that palms need greasing in order to attract investment but to label it as for ‘grassroots football’ and to say that it might bring more money into the UK football sector shows a lack of understanding of that ‘football sector.’ In all but the Premier League, perhaps the Championship and some of the Scottish Premiership times are quite tight.

So, like with all things I get a little tetchy about I wrote to my MP and I encourage you to do the same. About anything. Drop them a line, be polite and ask them what they’re doing about it.

Letter as follows:

Dear Mel Stride,

Recently I have been concerned to see my local football team Torquay United struggling financially.

Now finding themselves in the Vanarama National League (the Conference) with gates down substantially on the seasons before they were relegated from League 2 there is a possibility that the club might not be able to fulfil its fixtures this season. I, like many fans (and not just of Torquay) fear they might be forced into administration and if that happens then there is a good chance that a club with over one hundred years of history might cease to be. Obviously this would be a bad
thing, for the local community and the people of wider Torbay but also their neighbouring teams in Exeter and Plymouth who benefit from local rivalries. The loss of a team mid-season would also affect teams around the country who would lose gate receipts if fixtures are not played.

Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you as an MP and indeed Torquay United is not even in your constituency, instead it sits in your colleague Kevin’s Foster’s Torbay patch. Why would the government be interested in bailing out a football club which to all intents and purposes operates as a business? Businesses might go bust every week.

The reason I am writing is that I saw just recently that the chancellor is offering £3m to China in order to grow grassroots football, and “increase awareness of the thriving football sector in the UK,” (according to gov.uk) but I question whether this is really needed given that:

  1. China is the world’s second largest economy and still growing rapidly;
  2. Raising awareness of Premier League club’s through the promotion of the British Council’s Premier Skills product does little for the football sector in the UK other than potentially bringing a little more money to a league which is awash with it;
  3. Any keen football fan in China will already be more than aware of the Premier League and while not the largest market for the PL it will undoubtedly grow to match that in other Asian countries when it is renegotiated at the end of the current deal.

I understand fully that there are sweeteners and deals required in order to pave the way for Chinese investment in UK infrastructure as well as encouraging Chinese firms to bid for contracts in our new power station and HS2 projects although I would prefer to see UK or European firms given preference rather than money and profit leave the UK and maybe taxes not be paid due to some offshore status but that is another matter!

One might argue that it is market forces which define whether a club survives, that if the fans and the community want it then they will turn up on a Saturday in sufficient numbers but I believe that the spread of money within the league structure is disproportionate and this plus aggressive positioning of the PL product by Sky and now BT Sport has left us with the smaller clubs and lower leagues unable to compete. Is it a monopoly? Maybe so.

Torquay’s plight is good example of the absurd nature of Premier League vs lower league fortunes. By my reckoning their current shortfall at the turnstile equates to something in the order of £75k over the season but a top PL player, let’s say Wayne Rooney, can earn £300k in a week. In simple terms less than two days of Mr Rooney’s pay would keep Torquay United afloat.

In real terms, in modern footballing terms, £75k does not seem like a huge amount of money but if a board does not have money to invest, new investment cannot be found and cost cutting measures cannot be implemented quickly enough it might as well be a million pounds. And that is why I am writing to you, my MP about the plight of a local football team. The government is investing money into grassroots football in China when that money invested in grassroots football at home would possibly secure the short term futures of a number of clubs, maybe even every club with troubles in the Vanarama Conference and League 2. These clubs might not be tempting to overseas investors but they are crucial to their communities, to their employees and also clubs around them and that is why I believe the investment is misplaced.

I don’t know if you are a football fan or even a fan of any sport but I hope you can see that this might be more than just a sporting issue and rather a community issue and therefore something which might be considered. If there is another cabinet or committee member more appropriate, please forward this to them.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A letter to my MP on the changes to tax credits

I normally take a deep breath and think about what I want to say before I write to my MP. I normally let the first rush of anger and frustration subside before starting to type but this time I didn’t wait, I didn’t need to. I’m clear on what I think about the debate and vote on tax credits today and I don’t need to wait.

I was doing some quick sums on the effect of the measures voted through today and I came to the same conclusion as many observers, commentators, unions, etc. those in need of tax credits because of low incomes will find themselves with even lower incomes. Unison published this image which summarises it quite neatly and It’s chilling. A low earner just cannot afford to lose more than 10% of his income.

Your MP probably doesn’t respond to the standard campaign emails, the 38 Degrees, etc, mine now has an auto-response to that effect, so take a minute to write something personal. Be concise, be polite and make sure he knows what you think. I use www.writetothem.com – go get ’em!

My letter is as follows. I’ll post any replies and correspondence as a comment.

—-

Dear Mel Stride,

I hope this finds you well but unfortunately many of my fellow constituents, colleagues and friends and many more in Great Britain will be less well as a result of the vote today on tax credits.

The voting figures suggest a party whip rather than a free vote so I guess many of your party’s MPs will have voted for something which pulls the rug out from many of their constituents, something which will leave children hungry and the poorest cold this winter.

I understand that tax credits subsidise low wages and also rising rents but cutting them before tackling wages and rents is cruel, irresponsible and frankly heartless. Many will accuse the Conservative party of being out of touch, of being detached from the realities of life in modern Britain and who could blame them? Can an MP or member of the Lords appreciate what it is like to have to survive (and I don’t use that word lightly) on low wages as the cost of living continues to rise?

This change of the tax credit thresholds is targetting those who need help, it’s going to cut the incomes of single parents and families already struggling to make ends meet and the dependence charities and foodbanks will most surely increase.

For one of the world’s richest economies that is quite simply disgraceful and those pushing ahead with the austerity measures; measures based on idealogy rather than evidence should be ashamed of themselves.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills