Thursday, January 28, 2010

Liverpool Wavertree selects new Labour Party candidate

I realise I am a bit behind on the news with this story but then you don’t come here to be first with the stop-press (I use FB for that and was first to let everyone know the result on Sunday). You come here to see what I think about things when I have had time to reflect.

There are those who belittle All Women Shortlists, although personally I have been an arch defender of them since they were first introduced in 1995. There are those who say that they preclude the best person from being selected but in all honesty I cannot imagine the race in Wavertree having any room for any male would-be candidate. The outstanding abilities and talents of the two front-runners, Luciana Berger and Wendy Simon, two very different candidates with different things to offer but both particularly impressive, made it clear to all members that they were going to choose someone special. And Joyce Still was great too, I do hope she stays in touch because she made a lot of friends in Wavertree, we really liked her very much. She will, as they say, make someone a very wonderful candidate!

In an all-member postal vote, open to paid-up LP members living within the bounds of Liverpool Wavertree constituency, there was a very big turnout – 85% or thereabouts, which just showed how much the selection has invigorated the party.

The votes in the end favoured Luciana and she was endorsed in a special meeting on Sunday. She has already started making her presence felt and was welcoming a cabinet minister to the constituency today. I think she is going to blow through the constituency like a breath of fresh air, bringing new impetus, focus and direction that we had lost since Jane announced her retirement. Obviously the LibDems will be focussing on the usual deeply unpleasant personal attacks – the ones that drove Jane out and that continue to be directed at me. They do love to target women, particularly in terms of what we look like – such a delightful party. But Luciana is more than a match for Colin Eldridge and if they are brought together to debate the issues it is obvious who will be the victor!

I love Wendy, and I would have loved her to be our next MP, I was proud to run her campaign but at least now I don’t have to lose her from Kensington and Fairfield where we have been absolutely joined at the hip in the community team, since before I was elected.

So we now have three strong women working in Kensington and Fairfield (you can pause to pity Liam at this point if you like, but believe me he more than holds his own and is taking on an increasing strategic campaigning role within the ward), game on!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Young people commemorate the Holocaust in Kensington and Fairfield

It is very easy to demonise young people, I often hear thoughtless adults refer them as feral, running wild, out of control. Tonight in a school hall in Fairfield, in a deprived part of Liverpool, I experienced some truly inspirational contributions from young people gathering to commemorate the worst of atrocities against the human race. Contributions that made me proud to be alive, proud to have been there, proud to have experienced their passion for myself.

It was the first event in the six part programme of Kensington Remembers. Kensington Remembers is our area's contribution to Holocaust Memorial Day next Wednesday.
As the chair of Kensington Remembers I have been privileged to lead a steering group made up dedicated and committed local people for the last six months, this week our work has come to fruition.

Tonight's event was for and by young people. Last year we ran one single event over about 10 hours and it was very hard for people to keep focussed, particularly given the difficult subject matter, so this year we decided to split the event into component parts and host each on a different day.

The evening began with a contribution from 3 of the young people from the John Paul II Polish Saturday school, currently based in St Cuthberts School I believe, led by Alexandra Mrozik. (I have her contact details if you want to learn more about the Polish school, what they learn and perhaps arrange to have your child attend.)
They read some shocking and disturbing extracts from German history, about the reduction in the rights of Jews from the early 1930s through the 1940s - children being forbidden to go to school, banned from cinemas, theatres, their parents forced to close their businesses, being moved into Ghettos while their synagogues were burnt to the ground, and ultimately into death camps where they were gassed. The young people interspersed this with Polish poetry, read in Polish, with an English translation on the screen behind them, about the horrors of the journey in cattle trucks and the ultimate arrival at concentration camps.

We then watched a trailer of Homotopia's documentary Project Triangle (which we will be showing in full on Monday evening, contact me for more details), concerning the visit to Poland last September of a group of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from Merseyside. Representatives of this group then took questions from the floor about their visit to Auschwitz where they learnt that the Nazis exterminated huge numbers of gay men, along with the Jews. (Lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people were of course also exterminated, but they fell into different categories of "undesirables". One woman was shopped to the Nazis by a neighbour who thought she must be a lesbian because she smoked.) They also talked about the good relationships that LGBT young people in Merseyside can now experience with the police, and in particular the SIGMA hate crime unit where they feel free to report any homophobic attacks and can expect full support.

The next contribution came from the young ambassadors of the Anthony Walker Foundation who also visited Auschwitz last year, in November. A short film of their visit is available on their website. We watched the film together and then the ambassadors also took questions from the floor. The Anthony Walker Foundation was set up by his family, after 18 year old Anthony was murdered in Huyton, Liverpool in a racist attack in 2005. His sister, Dominique, was filmed on the trip to the concentration camp in Poland and she explained that the foundation's campaign to eradicate race hate crimes took on a new impetus after she fully realised the threat to humanity of leaving such crimes unchecked.

We were then invited to watch a drama performance from children and young people from Edge Hill Youth Club, Liverpool, who had written their own short play highlighting anti-social behaviour, violence and racist attacks targetted at Asian shopkeepers in the Holt Road area, where they all live. The culmination of their piece, where they played several parts each, was the representation of a public meeting, called by concerned residents, to ask the community to come together to fight this invidious threat to their diverse community. As the youth council's champion, I could not have been more proud of them. That children and young people could so thoughtfully create a play, with such a powerful message was humbling and wonderful. When they too took questions from the floor, it was particularly special to hear them explain that they fully understood the devastation of hate crime (a phrase they used with confidence) because of their attendance at the youth club and the support and direction they receive their from their youth workers. If we ever needed a reason to support our youth services, it was laid out for us this evening.

Our final contribution came from the young people of Yellow House who have undertaken two trips to Auschwitz thus far and have also visited other concentration and labour camps in Poland, and the Post Office in Gdansk where the first shots of the Second World War were fired on September 1st 1939. Yellow House is an arts group based on Marmaduke Street, in Edge Hill, Liverpool who support mainly disadvantaged and isolated young people through art, culture, drama, reading, photography and film. They performed a powerful tableau and movement piece, reflecting on the daily sufferings of those who lived in the camps. When they answered questions from the floor, it was fascinating to hear from Steph who explained that she had learned that people with disabilities, like her, often did not even make it to concentration camps, they were exterminated at the sides of the rail track even as the cattle trucks were rolling. George McKane, the leader of Yellow House told the young audience that Hitler began systematically exterminating people with disabilities in the early 1930s in Germany with the full support of the state, on the grounds that they were useless to the Reich.

We ended the evening in a circle, shaking hands with each other, hugging and sharing our first names with each other - reflecting on the dehumanisation of the people in the camps by being stripped of all possessions and given a tattooed number in place of their own names and identity.

I only wish that it were possible for the cynical and the critical, those who think our young people are lost, to have seen and experienced such a powerful event. There were approximately 50 young people with their youth workers, project managers, supporters and enablers, and they all treated each other with total respect. They asked intelligent questions, contributed thoughtfully, sat quietly, studied and learnt. They shared common experiences, reflected upon the impact that the holocaust has had on them individually and in groups, the event was absolutely theirs. Wendy and I and the vast majority of other adults in the room, were merely privileged observers.

If the other five events are as powerful as this then the discussion that the steering committee will need to have about the future of Kensington Remembers will be a very easy and quick one, we must go on.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kensington Remembers 2010

As Chair of Kensington Remembers, I am really pleased with the programme we have put together for our local contribution to Holocaust Memorial Day later in the month. We have six events planned over the course of a week and I will be blogging all the details once the publicity material is all finalised.

But dates for your diary include

Thursday 21st January - evening, St Francis of Assisi Academy - youth event where young people explore their reaction and response to holocaust, genocide, racism, homophobia, bullying in school.

Saturday 23rd January - afternoon, St Francis of Assisi Academy - family/adult event bringing together the diverse communities of Kensington and Fairfield to discuss and showcase their commemoration of genocide, ethnic cleansing and holocaust, pertaining to their home nations.

Sunday 24th January - afternoon, St Francis of Assisi Academy - Jewish event, featuring Klazmer music and a screening of The Passenger - with another chance to see the Deane Road Jewish Cemetery on the big screen.

Monday 25th January - evening, St Francis of Assisi Academy - Fighting Homophobia event with the screening of Project Triangle documentary when a group of young gay adults visited Poland and in particular Auschwitz with Homotopia and Merseyside Police Sigma team, supported by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, GYRO, Armistead and Liverpool City Council.

Tuesday 26th January - evening, Liverpool John Moores University - Darfur Forum featuring debate on situation in Darfur/Sudan.

Thursday 28th January - evening, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine - Congolese evening, celebrating life of Rev Dr Patricia Nickson OBE and screening of film, Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death

For more information about any of these, please post a comment and I will get back to you, or email me at Louise dot baldock at liverpool dot gov dot uk.

Deane Road Jewish Cemetery - the movie!

By popular acclaim I am proud to link to the Deane Road Jewish Cemetery short documentary filmed last year on location in Kensington!

We have a fantastic team working with terrific patrons and our meeting this week with the Heritage Lottery Fund people and our consultants, helping us to put our stage two bid together went really well.


Part One

Part Two

Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter Fuel Allowance - £2500 for our pensioners

If you were eligible for the Winter Fuel Allowance from the start, you will already have received £2500 towards your heating bills since Labour introduced it.

Over 60 = £2190 or £2290 if on benefits. Over 80 = £2840 or £3340 if on benefits. And if you were somewhere in your 70s when it began, then you fit somewhere between.

Under the Tories, pensioners across Britain were entitled only to a cold weather payment, where they would receive £8.50 for the week if the temperature was recorded or forecasted to be at or below 0 degrees for seven consecutive days. This scheme continues but is paid in addition to the Winter Fuel Allowance, Labour has recently increased the payments to £25 week.

Readers may recall Edwina Currie controversially advising people to "wear woolly hats and long johns" to beat the cold.

With free TV licences for the over 75s, free eye tests, free bus passes, plans to restore the link to earnings by 2012, pensioners know they are better off with Labour.

(Edited March 1st 2010 at the request of the Tories on the Wirral - it has been my pleasure)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Chair of Labour Party North West Region

I was very proud and honoured to be elected today as the new Chair of the Labour Party for the North West Region. This makes me only the third chair in 25 years. Louise Ellman served as Chair for at least 10 years (I must ask her again how long it was) while she was the Leader of Lancashire County Council. Then when she was elected to Parliament in 1997, Dave Quayle, Trade Unionist, now of UNITE the Union, took over. He has now retired after his 13 year stint and I took over at a meeting in Manchester this morning.

It is a tremendous opportunity to help direct the future of the Labour Party in the region - the biggest Labour Party region in the UK, with the most MPs. Alongside the Regional Director and her team, I will be working with our Local Government leaders, MPs, MEPs and Regional Minister, our Constituency Labour Parties, Regional Trade Unions, Socialist Societies and the Co-operative Party, Young Labour and LGBT Labour NW to influence policy, campaigning, recruitment and fundraising. (Representatives from these groups make up the LP NW Regional Board).

I want to thank Dave Quayle for the great job he has done over the last 13 years, helping Labour NW grow from strength to strength, I hope I can do as good a job as he has done.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

12 days of Christmas - at the Lodge on Gardners Drive, Fairfield

On December 13th at the Lodge, Newsham Park, we had a wonderful Christmas extravaganza. An ice rink (£1 for half an hour with free skates), Father Christmas, a cafe, face painting, crafts, card making, singing and all round Christmas joy. It was fabulous, and the ward councillors helped pay for the ice rink with some of their devolved Working Neighbourhoods Fund. We also took the opportunity to take the official RESPECT week launch photographs, but like so many other photos taken that week, they didn't make it to the Echo or Post, which is a bit of a shame.

It was a fabulous day though, Wendy, Liam and I had a great time, cut short only my session on KVFM with Gosia of Merseyside Polonia(pictured skating with Liam, Wendy, Tracy from LYS and George from Yellow House)

Well done to Vicky and Lisa from the Academy Extended Community Team for all their hard work on the 12 days of Christmas programme.

Pensioners' Christmas Party

Another lovely party at the Devonshire House Hotel on Edge Lane, Fairfield. And this time it was the City and North Liverpool District Pensioners that enjoyed themselves. Each of the six wards was invited to send 50 local pensioners to a Christmas Party (which we also funded locally through the Working Neighbourhood Fund devolved budget), where they had lunch, listened to a comedian and had a game of bingo. It went really well although next year, if we do it again (and I think that might be in doubt) we need to get planning much earlier and get the transport right. I had to come out of my work to collect two ladies who had been overlooked and drop them up at the Dev in time for their lunch.

The dinner which has been happening for a few years now, was originally organised by (and paid for I think) by the local police. They still wait on all the tables, do the clearing up, washing up etc, but we councillors pay for it now. However, with Sergeant Simon Joyce retiring in March 2010 I doubt if the impetus will be there again next year, although I hope it is.

Anyway, here is a photo of me and Simon, enjoying watching the pensioners have a great time.

Gritting my teeth (over the gritting)

I have been so angry during the last two weeks, about the state of our pavements. It started snowing and being wintry on the Saturday, I think that was the 19th of December. Eventually the main roads were gritted but the side roads remained shockingly dangerous until the weather warmed up and the rain moved in, to clear them, on the 29th December. So the roads were not safe, what of the pavements?

They were shockingly bad too. On 23rd December I was standing on Prescot Road, Fairfield, when I saw an old lady fall over on the opposite pavement and hurt herself on the ice. Thankfully she was helped to her feet by two people walking behind her. I couldn't get over to her myself because the pavements on my side were so bad, that by the time I crossed she had moved off.

I left there to go over to Allerton Road to the bank, where I spotted an ambulance, pulled up to the kerb, attending to someone else who had fallen over. I discussed this on the phone with a resident from Fairfield Crescent who called me to say that her neighbours and she were trapped in their homes, unable to leave on foot or in the car because of a gritting failure, one had a broken bone. When I mentioned it to Natalie on Christmas morning (in a service at St Philips on Molyneux Road), she told me of two of her neighbours who had fallen and broken bones. I mentioned it to another friend who told me that his Gran has two broken ankles from falling on the ice. On 28th, when Dylan attempted a walk with his father, he fell over twice in 100 yards.

I phoned Enterprise on Monday morning, 21st, asking them if they could come and sort out the pavements on Kensington and Prescot Road and received a call back to say they don't do pavements. There is no vehicular equipment available that would do this apparently, and there is not the manpower (personpower?)to get out there with a shovel and some salt. And it does not happen often enough for anyone to have gotten to grips with it properly before.

This is clearly not a problem confined to Liverpool either, I dont think any pavements have been cleared by any authorities.

I am told that in some countries it is a requirement that shop keepers/householders clear their own little bit. That would help, although we would have to have some form of assistance for the elderly and infirm. Unfortunately there are still a lot of empty and boarded up shops, particularly in Fairfield (which Kensington Regeneration never bothered with, so the place has a real West/East divide now to add to the North/South one), so I don't know who would clear their pavements.

This is an A road, a main road through our area, I know we dont have many shops (yet) but it remains important to local people who need to get to one of our Post Offices etc. They need to be able to walk in safety, I am appalled, genuinely horrified at the scale and size of injuries and casualties over the last 2 weeks, we cannot go through that again. We need some thoughtful suggestions about how we can put this right next time, whether we recruit community volunteers, encourage or enforce shop keepers to take action, or some other plan. But what we cannot do is find it perfectly acceptable for people to be hurt, with lasting serious impacts, just by stepping outside.

Celebrating new British Citizens

I carried out two citizenship ceremonies over the festive season - December 20th and January 3rd.

I was a bit disappointed about the ceremony on the 20th, which we held in the Town Hall for a change. I had hoped to secure a choir to come and entertain the new citizens and their families with some Christmas cheer, but, although there were a few nibbles, nobody committed in the end. Perhaps most choirs were already singing on that day, it being a Sunday and so close to Christmas. But I shall keep on trying, for another day, and for a different play menu.

Today we were back in the Register office, but it still felt special, a lovely way to start the New Year for the 22 new Brits from 13 countries - including Germany which I thought was interesting.

Anyway, here is me in my regular "Citizenship Ceremony" suit.