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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Strangest of Elections

But some wonderful outcomes

I have been involved in helping to run election campaigns since I was 14. Then I was helping at the constituency office in Okehampton, Devon where I went to school. For many years I was an organiser and then Election Agent. I worked in by-elections as well as General and European elections. I’ve seen a lot in 45 years.

But this election was unlike any other I’ve ever been involved in. 

For the first time, Social media had a huge impact. I was running two different twitter accounts. I was also re-tweeting for our next door candidate, who is a personal friend. I could have spent my whole time doing nothing but tweeting everyday. There were also two Facebook pages to maintain and update. I also had a very sharp learning curve in how to use Instagram. I still don’t really understand why the memes I posted had so much impact. 

The next thing that was so different was the diametrically opposite campaign strategies of the two main party leaders. Theresa May, seemed very reluctant to meet any of the public. Possibly a sensible strategy, bearing in mind how badly she came over when people tried to talk to her. Jeremy Corbyn was the opposite, and welcomed meeting voters and listening to what they had to say. 

But the most noticeable difference to me was the lack of political mud slinging from Jeremy’s team. It made a refreshing change and was clearly popular with the electorate. 

For many people it wasn’t ‘All about Brexit’ as Theresa May wanted it to be.  Talking to people on the doorstep, what excited people were the Labour manifesto pledges. The memes about them were some of the most popular images shared on social media.  

What was also new in this election, particularly in the Labour Party was the involvement of Momentum, the campaigning organisation set up to back Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bids. Momentum ran an excellent social media campaign. They also attracted large numbers of young people to help with phone banking. Some of the training sessions were run by staffers from Bernie Sanders’ campaign team.

Two other organisations, Collective Voice and EL4JC, produced wonderful literature and memorable short videos. The endorsement from actors, film makers and grime artists ensured the enthusiasm of the younger generation.

They also surprised the pollsters by going out and voting.

For me as a disabled person, I was able to be involved in campaigning from my bed. Many other disabled people helped the campaign by being able to phone-bank from the comfort of their own homes. There will always be room for more inclusion, but we have made a good start.

Two Labour candidates with disabilities won seats, and a third came within 1,200 votes of winning. Marie Rimmer who retained her seat of St Helens South and Whiston has a hearing impairment.  She was Shadow Minister for Disabled People before the election. So Labour now has three MPs with declared disabilities. 

Stephen Lloyd is the only Liberal Democrat MP with a declared disability. He has had a hearing impairment since childhood. Two Conservative MPs, Paul Maynard and Robert Halfon both have cerebral palsy. I have been unable to discover any other MPs who have disabilities. By having less than 1% of MPs with a disability, Westminster is clearly not representative of the 19% of disabled people in the UK. 

It is often difficult for people with a disability to get accepted as political candidates, either for local councils or for Parliament. For a few years the Access to Elected Office Fund was able to give financial support to disabled candidates to cover extra expenses. But this fund closed in 2015, just four years after its launch. It leaves prospective MPs or councillors who are disabled with no additional funding support. 

One previous parliamentary candidate was unable to stand during the recent campaign. Emily Brothers who has both vision and hearing impairments, was a Labour candidate in 2015. She was financially supported and able to campaign effectively. This time with no funding available she felt unable to be a candidate.

Mary Griffiths Clarke, was another Labour candidate with a disability. She  has ME. She stood in a Tory/Labour marginal in Afron, Wales. Mary was beaten by just 92 votes. I’m sure the extra money would have supported her and enabled her to win. It is disgraceful that the last Tory government closed the AEO Fund. I would expect any future Labour government to restore it as soon as possible. Disabled people have a right to enter public life and should be assisted to do so.

The two new Labour MPs, Marsha de Cordova, who is visually impaired and Jared O’Mara who has cerebral palsy both had historic victories.

Marsha won Battersea, overturning a Tory majority of almost 8,000. She ousted Jane Ellison, a Treasury Minister, in an amazing campaign. She had hundreds of young people, many from Momentum, door-knocking and delivering leaflets for her. This, together with Marsha’s own work ethic, activist background and focus on local issues assured her victory. I’m proud that I played a part, albeit a small one. 

Jared’s victory over Nick Clegg was considered one of the most dramatic results of election night. He again was a local activist and campaigner, who like Marsha had worked for disability charities. I know little of his campaign, but he must have got the vote of every student in the city who wanted revenge on Nick Clegg. A former Liberal Democrat leader, he dramatically u-turned on his party’s policy of free university tuition, once in coalition. 

I wish the our new Labour MPs well and will be keeping my posters and t shirts ready for when this current coalition of chaos implodes.

This blog was also posted on the Huffington Post 

 

 

Should Nurses go on Strike?

An ethical dilemma.

Last month I watched my Royal College of Nursing colleagues give Jeremy Corbyn a standing ovation at the end of his speech to RCN Congress. I felt proud of the support they gave him.

But 24 hours earlier the RCN made a worrying announcement. They have been balloting nurses about the current pay crisis. 91% of nurses said they’d take industrial action short of a strike. 78% of members who completed the poll said they were prepared to go on strike. This is the first time in 101 years of the RCN that nurses have decided to strike.

I have been a qualified nurse for 40 years. Never in my career have I known nurses wanting to strike. We’ve previously protested about pay. As a student nurse in the 1970s, I and many of my off-duty colleagues marched through the streets of Exeter. I will never forget the reaction of some of the by-standers. Whilst the majority were supportive, some spat at us and accused us of killing patients by being on the march. Nurses were only allowed to march if off duty or given formal permission by a Matron. No patient care was affected by our actions. It took some time for my student nurse pay of £11 a week to improve!

RCN members have now voted at Congress to begin a summer of planned protests. And so they should. There is currently a 1% cap on public sector pay rises. Unless there is a change of government, this will continue until at least 2019-20. The effect being that the average nurse has suffered a real-terms pay cut of 14% since 2010. This is not acceptable. Nurses are now being forced to use food banks.

Our professional registration and indemnity insurance fees have risen. We have to pay these before we can work. Pay and conditions are worsening. Most nurses are now working long 12 hour shifts. When I started to train these had just been phased out, apart from Night Duty. We were told that such long shifts meant nurses were too tired and could make mistakes. Why is the same advice not valid now? 

What can nurses do to highlight their plight? There are few actions they can take without jeopardising care. Working to rule, what would that involve? Not staying on after a shift has ended if there is an emergency? I guess some nurses if they have pressing family issues, such as collecting children from nursery, may feel they can’t stay on. But most nurses I know would willingly stay on to help. Not helping a patient in some extra way? I doubt it.

What would I do if I were still working in the NHS? I really don’t know. I would certainly ‘cover’ so more junior nurses can protest in some way. I suspect when it comes down to taking strike action, most nurses will be very reluctant. I went into nursing because I cared about people and wanted to learn how to help people get better. That still holds true for nurses today. The word vocation may be rarely heard, but nurses still care, deeply.

This current government knows this. It’s why they have treated nurses and other healthcare workers so disgracefully when it comes to pay and conditions. Theresa May did not even bother to acknowledge her invitation to the RCN Congress. Whilst the two other party leaders did attend, Theresa was nowhere to be seen. There are 675,000 nurses in the UK how many votes did she loose? 

I have seen at first hand over the last 6 years how hard nurses work. During that time I’ve had 4 different operations as well as other treatment. Most of my nursing care was good. I saw nurses having to care for confused and elderly post-operative patients in a High Dependency Unit. The unit was understaffed, the nurses not adequately trained. There were not enough doctors  on duty either. 

Visiting a friend in a psychiatric hospital last year, the picture was the same. The ward was chaotic and noisy, with not enough staff. There were no extra staff to provide activities either. The reason? More bed closures including the specialist high care unit.

Yes, nurses can protest outside hospitals or Downing Street. But I cannot imagine any nurse leaving the ward to actually withdraw their labour. In itself that would be a breach of the NMC Code of Conduct. Nurses could refuse to do overtime. But the effect of that will be to reduce their pay even further. 

All I know, is that when nurses are protesting – I will join them. Both as a patient and a nurse. 

 

 

#CripTheVoteUK

Getting disabled people to vote

Crip the vote started in the US in February 2016 during the run-up to the last presidential campaign. It is a nonpartisan online movement activating and engaging disabled people on policies and practices important to the disability community. It is grounded in online conversations encouraging individual and collective action in the face of inequality, ableism, and oppression in all forms.

Their campaign was – and is –  high profile and has incentivised many disabled people to get involved in politics and vote for candidates whose views would best serve disabled people. Although that election is over the campaign continuesActivists are now looking to move into other forms of political participation.

Now Crip the vote has launched in the UK. Started by some campaigners from DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), it has had its own blog, and is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

DPAC have organised or been involved in all the Direct Action protests against Austerity Cuts in the UK since 2010.  Their visibility for those of us who may be unable to be involved so publicly for whatever reason, has highlighted the inequalities faced by disabled people.

I’m proud to be part of #CripTheVoteUK. As my friend Dennis Queen said; “Disabled people are quite literally voting for our lives. We need ALL voters to know this is an emergency for thousands of disabled people and help us fight back.” 

You can read more about the campaign here.

Did you know both the United Nations and the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, have condemned the UK government for many abuses against disabled people?

Did you know that at least 10,000 disabled people have died in the last 7 years (since 2010) within 6 weeks of being declared ‘Fit For Work’, and the government has ignored warnings from its own research about the impact of their regime? The next Labour Government has pledged to scrap these cruel tests.

Those two facts alone, should make any voter think hard about what sort of a country the UK has become under the last three Tory led governments. Don’t forget the LibDems were part of this too. 

This is why I’m voting Labour at this election. If you live in a constituency that is already a Labour seat or could become one, please join me. If you live in a seat held by a Tory or LibDem vote for the party who can most easily unseat the sitting MP.

Disabled people, our families and friends make up almost half the UK voting population. Think what a difference your votes could make? 

By voting for a Labour MP you could, quite literally, be saving the lives of disabled people.

A shorter version of this blog post has been published on the Huffington Post UK site, where I will be blogging regularly.

Why this election is personal

The disability vote and why it matters

The UK is now in the midst of a General Election campaign. I have been a political activist in the UK and US since I was 14, and this time is no different. I’m involved in organisation and campaign strategy. I also manage several social media accounts to support our local candidates. 

I’m doing all of this because I want a change of government.

But for me, this is not just about voting Labour, a party I passionately believe in. A party that has the best policies to give us greater equality. In Jeremy Corbyn we have a leader who seeks a great distribution of wealth, and goverment for the many, not the few. The election is also about what this cruel and heartless government and the two preceding ones have done to disabled people.

Almost 19% of UK citizens have a disability. For most of us, we were either born with the disability, or we have become disabled having worked for many years. Those of us who have congenital conditions often suffered as children. Sometimes through neglect and sometimes through ignorance. Those of us who have acquired disabilities frequently find that even though want to work again, even part-time, that option is not possible. 

I have one friend, A GP who used to work with drug addicts. He has had a stoke, and as a result needs a wheelchair to get around. But his home is not wheelchair accessible, so he is denied a wheelchair. If he had a wheelchair, kept in his car or in a garage, he would be able to work again. But this is now denied him. All his years of training and expertise have gone to waste. He cannot afford to move, as he can’t get a mortgage because he’s not working. 

I have another friend, she has a congenital condition, and experienced a abusive childhood. She has trained as an actor and voice coach. Most of her work opportunities are in London. But she can’t afford to live here. So she struggles to survive on part-time hourly paid jobs with no security. She is also in constant pain and cannot afford ‘time out’ for the surgery she needs.

These storied are replicated all over the UK. I know other people who could work part-time, but cannot get the care support they need to enable to be employable.

So this election is personal for me and for my disabled friends. We are asking to become valued members of society again. It is wrong to view us as scroungers or cheats. We have skills aplenty – but need accessible transport and work environments. We need employers to treat us, and all workers, fairly. Did you know most people who use food banks are actually in work?

We need an NHS, free at the point of delivery that is run for the benefit of patients, not for managers or private companies bidding to run services. We need more nurses, especially in mental health, who are paid properly for the work they do. We want properly funded schools for our children and grandchildren. The money this would take can easily be found if companies and Tory backers no longer have ‘sweetheart tax deals’.

The only way that can happen is if people vote out Theresa May and her cronies.

Disabled people are becoming more involved in this election than ever before. My next post will give the story of what’s happening. 

 

I just don’t believe it!

No access at a disability AGM
 
Today is the Disability Labour AGM. It’s a 2 hour meeting being held in Manchester. For health reasons it’s not possible for many of us living down south to travel so far for such a short time.
 
My friend Sophie asked for, what in legal terms is called ‘a reasonable adjustment’, under the Equality Act 2010. Practically this means that she would like to take part in the AGM via Skype – or a similar video conferencing system. 
 
This would have been wonderful not only for Sophie, but for me too as well as others in a similar position.
 
But Sophie’s request has been refused. A refusal for a reasonable adjustment at a disability event – you couldn’t make it up! 
 
This is not an April Fool – but a real situation.
 
We are hoping that a mutual friend, who will have a laptop and mic with her will be able to and allowed, to link up with Sophie. 
 
Watch this space……………………
  
Will it happen? 
 

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