Wednesday 29 April 2015

Compare and contrast TUSC policies with other Lewisham candidates

A fortnight ago, I was pleased to be invited to speak at the Lewisham Pensioners' Forum hustings on behalf of TUSC. Candidates were asked to submit brief written answers to some of the questions that there had not been time to debate. The Forum has kindly compiled the responses it received - copied below - or downloadable via this link

Compare and contrast the responses between TUSC and the Labour Party, for example on TTIP, and you'll find the sharp contrast that was evident at the hustings over, for example, whether or not to keep wasting billions on Trident!

When it came to the News Shopper request for information from the Lewisham West and Penge candidates, Jim Dowd from New Labour was apparently the only candidate not to reply. You can read the full responses here but this is what I had to say:

Age? 51 

Where do you live? Sydenham 

Where are you from originally? Ashtead, Surrey.

Why do you want to represent this constituency? To be an MP who will speak up for the majority of people in Lewisham West and Penge who no longer feel represented by the establishment parties that offer only austerity and inequality; to campaign for a £10 an hour minimum wage, genuinely affordable homes and a properly-funded NHS, schools and council services. 

What local policy are you most passionate about? To stop unaccountable, divisive academies and to bring all schools back into democratic local authorities, so they can work together to meet every child’s needs. I have been one of the main organisers of the ‘Stop Academies in Lewisham’ campaign, mobilising parents, students and staff to oppose the academisation of schools like Sedgehill and Prendergast.

Describe yourself in 3 words: Dedicated, caring, socialist.

Who is your biggest hero? A local hero - Eleanor Marx, feminist and trade union organiser who helped to build the workers’ movement in London and internationally. 

What is your proudest moment? Helping, as organiser of the Penge Anti Poll Tax Union, to build a mass campaign that defied an unjust law and showed that a determined national struggle can defeat even a PM like Margaret Thatcher. 

... and finally, here's the interview I gave for the Great British Tuk Tuk Pop-Up Poll:  

Martin will be speaking at the '38 degrees' hustings on Thursday

Want to hear from TUSC? Well there's lots of opportunties tomorrow, Thursday April 30th!

Martin will be taking part in the one remaining hustings that's still going ahead in the Lewisham West and Penge constituency  - at the Honor Oak Tavern, SE23 1RH at 7pm:

Our campaign meeting for Penge will still be going ahead on Thursday night too - at the Crooked Billet pub, 99 High Street, Penge, SE20 7DT, 7.30 pm
TUSC will also send representatives to the 'Mummy's Gin Fund' hustings and a debate to be held in Goldsmiths tomorrow night as well.

Martin speaking in Bromley last night

Monday 27 April 2015

Labour’s housing policy papers over cracks but doesn’t solve crisis

This week the housing crisis finally reached Westminster.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates have been calling for rent control and investment in building and refurbishing quality council homes for years.

Now Labour, perhaps at last sensing the public outcry over the housing crisis, are making eleventh-hour attempts to appeal to private tenants by saying they would cap the rate of rent increases. Who wouldn’t welcome even this small concession? But it falls far short of what’s needed to solve the desperate and snowballing crisis. 

TUSC calls for rent control which does what it says on the tin - controls the level of rent. The Labour proposal simply covers the rate at which rents increase within a three-year period.

For most of the 20th century there was rent control in the UK. Until the Thatcher government abolished rent control in 1988, you could take your landlord to a ‘Rent Tribunal’ and have your rent reduced. Tenancies created before 1989 still have this right. Rent Tribunals still operate for them and the legislation is still effective. This means that it would be relatively easy for a new government to extend the reach of tribunals as an emergency measure.

Labour also proposes to introduce three-year tenancies. That will look like an improvement for tenants living in fear of eviction on six month tenancies but before 1988 there were secure tenancies in the private rented sector.

Around 19% (4.4 million) of UK households now live in private rented accommodation – and this figure is rising. They have to try to build their lives in insecure expensive accommodation. TUSC calls for secure tenancies.

It is sometimes argued that rent control ‘distorts the market’. Tenants wanting an affordable home are right to think the current market is distorted but at the same time buy-to-let landlords have a licence to print money – getting returns of up to 1400% since 1996.

There is much talk about the need for cuts to balance the books but almost 40% of the annual £25bn housing benefit bill goes to private landlords. Currently the private rented sector is heavily subsidised to provide insecure accommodation at unaffordable prices.

"These so-called second-generation rent controls are likely to mean that landlords set the rent for three year tenancies at a level that they would have expected the rents to rise over that period. And, indeed, they may also factor in the risk that rents might rise faster than they expect so could add a little on top of that amount as a precaution .... Most housing market experts see high rental costs as the market’s way of screaming that there is simply not enough supply in the right areas to cope with demand." See:
It is true that rent control will not ‘solve’ the housing crisis, for that we need to build more homes.

Labour's ‘target’ is to build 200,000 a year by the last year of a new government. But it is estimated we need 250,000 homes per year just to keep pace with new households – let alone deal with the backlog. So even if their target was achieved, the shortage would still be getting worse. But they don’t propose to reverse the cuts to social housing grant or local authority budgets. Without doing that, even their inadequate target is likely to prove a pipe dream. To really address the crisis we need to break with austerity.

TUSC wants to see investment in a mass programme of council housing building and refurbishment. There is money out there – the Rich List proves that. There is no shortage of cash, it’s just the question of who controls it. When the banks crashed the economy, the Bank of England found £375bn "down the back of the sofa” to bail them out. Let’s bail out all those who need decent homes, and a lot of those unemployed construction workers too!

Education - the priorities for the next Government

Tonight, Lewisham NUT hosted a debate between Labour, Green and TUSC candidates on 'Education - the priorities for the next Government'. Here's a summary of the points I made:

TUSC is trying to build a new party so that trade unions don’t just have to make do with lobbying other parties to support union policies but gives us a way to secure our own elected representatives supporting those demands - and supporting trade union struggles to win them outside Parliament and Local Councils too. Our candidates include prominent trade unionists, including three of us who are members of the NUT National Executive.

The NUT's seven education pledges

So, for TUSC, the education priorities for the next Government are clear: they are the same as the priorities of the NUT, set out in the Union’s Manifesto, endorsed by TUSC, and their seven 'stand up for education pledges'.

(1) Tackle the teacher workload crisis

The statistics are stark: 50,000 teachers have resigned in a year, perhaps as many as 40% of newly-qualified staff.

Unless you're in the job, it's hard to explain the unbearable intensity of workload, added to by the bullying regime of Ofsted, league tables and performance-related pay. TUSC says they all have to go.

TUSC believes that a key priority for a new Government is to immediately open up genuine negotiations for a National Contract that applies to all schools, including academies, putting a binding limit on working hours and increasing PPA so that teachers have the time to mark and prepare.

(2) Protect education spending in real terms

In fact, TUSC would go further than the NUT's demand and say that we need to increase spending in order to be able to recruit more teachers – and that means:

(3) Ensure qualified teachers in every classroom – to meet children’s needs and to share out the workload burden.

However, whichever of the main parties wins – and whatever Coalition they cobble together – the outcome will be more cuts, including in education.

You don't have to take my word for it. This is what the budget experts, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have worked out from the spending plans of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. The IFS predict budgets will be cut by at least 7% per child by 2020. That could mean 20,000 full-time teachers losing their jobs!

Sadly, it's no real surprise. After all, when George Osborne's plans for £30 billion more cuts were put to Parliament in January, 515 MPs voted for them, just 18 against!

TUSC is not prepared to accept austerity – we believe there’s plenty of money, just in wrong hands. The Sunday Times rich-list yesterday revealed that the wealthiest 1000 in the UK are now 'worth' £547BN (not counting what's in their bank accounts!) – that's up £28BN in a year. TUSC says we should use the wealth of that 1% to meet the needs of the 99%.

(4) Run education for children, not for profit

Unfortunately, we live in society where education is no longer seen by big business as a necessity to develop the next generation. Instead, it has become just another way to make money. Last Friday saw worldwide protest against Pearson, a company making over $7 billion a year from education. 

(5) Provide a broad curriculum, rather than narrow tests

These edu-businesses are behind the drive for standardisation, testing and tables so as to compare, ‘fail’ and privatise our schools. The main parties even back the introduction of 'baseline assessment' for four year-olds. TUSC, like NUT, will strongly oppose them. We want schools to develop interest, creativity and enjoyment not inflict mental stress and fear of failure.

TUSC is also completely opposed to academies and free schools. Academisation was always a mechanism to open up schools to education businesses and, at same time, remove democratic accountability over local education. TUSC would add an extra priority, calling for the: 

* Return of all academies back into democratic Local Authorities where parents, staff and local communities also have their own elected representatives to decide local education policy. That, of course, also means:

(6) Reinstate councils' powers to open new schools

Last but by no means least, we know that however well we teach, however many hours we put in, the conditions in which our children are brought up remain the key factor behind educational outcomes. 

(7) Take urgent steps to eradicate child poverty.
This Government has left a million more children in poverty, It has left London as one of most unequal cities on planet. Children who are living in sub-standard rented accommodation or without a home at all, or where parent(s) are working long hours for inadequate pay, have a struggle to live, let along learn and pass their exams.

That needs to be recognised by our politicians, instead of unfairly blaming schools like Sedgehill, a school with one of the most unbalanced pupil intakes in Lewisham.

To end child poverty, TUSC’s central demands are key: 

* For a £10 minimum wage now – not by 2020 or beyond
* For rent controls and a massive programme of renovation and house building

Those are TUSC’s priorities. Trade unionists need a political voice that will stand up for them – for better education, for a better NHS, against austerity and against attacks on trade unions and trade union members. Every vote for TUSC helps build that voice – please vote for us on May 7.

Sunday 26 April 2015

Press freedom must be more than the freedom for the wealthy to express their opinions

One of the many different issues that General Election candidates are being questioned about is the issue of 'press freedom'. Here is my reply to the emails that I have received:

Thank you for getting in touch to publicise to Election candidates your concerns about the lack of real press freedom in Britain and the undue influence that press barons like Rupert Murdoch can exert.

I completely share your concerns. The 2015 World Press Freedom Index put the UK only in 34th place. The ‘Murdochgate’ scandal helped to expose the close links between David Cameron and News of the World editors but also between Tony Blair and Murdoch too. Just recently, Richard Desmond announced he was donating £1m to UKIP, a Party that likes to pretend it isn’t part of that establishment.

These links are designed to bind together the political parties with the interests of the wealthy super-rich. Their ranks have swelled by another 13 billionaires in the last year according to the latest Sunday Times rich-list – and they say ‘we’re all in it together’!

Of course, it is made very clear to those Party leaders that if they speak out against those big business interests, they can expect to be silenced or attacked in the press. TUSC, as a Party campaigning against the austerity policies of big business and their establishment parties, is itself a victim of the lack of genuine media freedom. With 135 candidates standing in the General Election, well over the legal threshold for ‘fair coverage’, we have been largely excluded from much of the media, opinion poll forecasts and, of course, the leadership debates.

Despite this, our 280 seconds of Party Political Broadcast, backed up by the campaigning we are doing in towns and cities across Britain, has already helped to break down the barriers put up to hide our alternative voice from voters. Our policies for decent homes, wages and services chime with people’s views and mean our support is growing all the time.

The pledge in our broadcast from TUSC candidates, including Dave Nellist and myself, to be a ‘workers’ MP on a worker’s wage’ also wins support. It is a policy that hopefully reassures voters that TUSC’s elected representatives will remain committed to the people that backed them, rather than being persuaded otherwise by the press barons.

TUSC would certainly support tighter rules on media ownership and legislation to support, at the very least, the full implementation of the Leveson report. However, I believe the fundamental problem is not one of poor regulation, but that the media is almost entirely owned by big business individuals and conglomerates. As a journalist once put it in a letter to Der Spiegel, ‘Press freedom is the freedom of 200 rich people to express their opinion’.

A genuinely free press requires substantial media resources to be made available for genuine public use, under public ownership, control and accountability. I would support all political parties and trends being granted access to the media, perhaps in proportion to their support in the population as shown in elections. Then we would start to have a media that can provide accurate information and quality investigative journalism, one that can be accessed by minority points of view not just those of the establishment political parties.

Saturday 25 April 2015

TUSC - not just supporting but leading campaigns

TUSC is different from other parties. We are, as the BBC put it, the only '100% anti-austerity party' - but that's not all. Our candidates are different from most of our opponents too.

Marching through Ladywell today

As a Coalition bringing together experienced and determined trade unionists, socialists and community campaigners, we aren't just people who appear at Election time. TUSC candidates have been battling to defend their communities and fellow trade union members long before the Election - and we will be doing so long after the Election is over as well.

To see a full list of TUSC's 130-plus General Election candidates, see In London alone, we are standing in a third of the General Election seats. Our candidates include prominent trade unionists and a number of former Labour councillors now standing for TUSC against cuts.

For example, I am one of four NUT National Executive members standing nationally, in a personal capacity, for TUSC on May 7. TUSC has endorsed the NUT's Education Manifesto and agrees that the best way to plan local education is if every school is part of a democratic Local Education Authority. TUSC calls for the law to be changed so we can bring academies back into local authority provision. We also believe that parents and staff should be represented in decision-making alongside local councillors. None of the main parties are prepared to support those demands. 

Their future, their education
As a local parent and NUT Secretary in Lewisham, I have been playing a leading role in the 'Stop Academies in Lewisham' campaign, particularly opposing the threats to Sedgehill and the Prendergast Federation schools. If these schools are converted into academies, then there is a real danger that others would follow, tearing apart Lewisham Education, just as we have seen happen in Bromley.

Unlike the main parties, more and more parents now understand that academies are not the right way forward for education. That was shown again in today's lively march of parents, staff and students in Lewisham. We were united in opposition to the Governing Board's plans to turn the three Prendergast schools into academies.

As I explained to the closing rally, held outside Prendergast Vale school, we are all listening to politicians making promises up to May 7. Voters can decide if any of them are to be believed. Prendergast governors are also making promises about the benefits of academisation - but are they any more believable? We think not. 

At the closing rally this afternoon
Of course, at the General Election at least we have a vote. Scandalously, under the existing academy legislation, parents and staff don't have that right. That's why we have no choice but to step up the campaign to make sure that our voices cannot be ignored, including through further strike action before the 'consultation' ends on June 8th. 

I hope today's march will boost the confidence of all those who took part to go out and win our campaign to 'Stop Academies In Lewisham'. I also hope that everyone who wants to defend education from the education cuts and attacks that are to come, whichever of the main parties wins on May 7, will use their vote to back TUSC instead!

See a video of today's protest here:


Friday 24 April 2015

Gogglebox debates TUSC and a "Workers' MP on a Worker's Wage"

The biased official polling organisations still won't even allow people to have the option of giving their support to TUSC - but tonight's Gogglebox did on Channel 4!

Sandra and Sandy were definitely impressed!

Like thousands of others who watched TUSC's Party Political Broadcast when it was first shown, voters learned that there was a Party standing up to austerity that they hadn't been told about before, learned that Nigel Farage was not the 'man of the people' that he claims to be, and that Dave Nellist had sat in Parliament as a Labour MP on a worker's wage.

As a TUSC candidate in Lewisham West and Penge, I've also made the same pledge, committing if elected to continue to take only my classroom teacher's pay and using the rest of my MP's salary to support trade union, community and anti-austerity campaigns.

Some of the Gogglebox participants didn't seem convinced that Dave could really have done it - but he did, along with other MPs like Pat Wall and Terry Fields as well. To find out more, read a BBC news article that explains how Dave "would only accept the average wage of a skilled factory worker in Coventry, which amounted to 46% of his salary as an MP. Each year the remaining 54% was donated to charitable and political causes".

TUSC - trying to fill the "roaring silence at the centre of this campaign"

If there had still been a hustings meeting going ahead in Forest Hill and Sydenham tonight (regrettably it has been cancelled – along with next week’s Penge Forum event too), I was hoping to quote from a Guardian journalist. That might seem an unusual angle to take for a TUSC candidate, but we’re people willing to listen to a range of opinions, particularly when Aditya Chakrabortty is raising questions that others should be raising too.

Listen to the "roaring silence" from the establishment politicians

On Monday, the Guardian’s senior economics commentator made a telling point: “Elections have but one iron law: listen for what the politicos are not saying. Follow it, and you hear a roaring silence at the centre of this campaign. For all that Dave and Ed have jousted with interviewers and made pledges on platforms, there are three big questions that neither would-be prime minister will talk about. Yet the questions are existential, and the answers to them will matter not merely for the next parliament, but far beyond. The three questions can be summed up as: How are we meant to live? Where are we meant to live? And who is meant to live here?

By “How are we meant to live?”, Chakrabortty points to the very first pledge of Labour’s manifesto: to “cut the deficit every year” but asks what is being done about growth?! He refers to IMF data pointing out that “British households had proportionately the biggest debt mountain of all major capitalist economies – more than the Americans, more than the Greeks”. To emphasise the point about falling living standards, in a further article today he points out that “our GDP per head remains almost 7% below where it was at the start of 2008. The Britons of 2014 are as poor as they were in 2005”. More to the point, the serious economic forecasters don't think that things are going to get any better.

Housing promises: "just as certain not to happen"

On the issue of “where are we meant to live?” Chakrabortty is even blunter: “Both Dave and Ed accept that there’s a housing crisis; neither have any actual solutions to offer. Labour promises that 200,000 houses will be built every year – without providing any detail on how they’ll be paid for or built or whether they’ll be social, private or (that toxic euphemism) affordable. This is more modest than the 230,000 homes a year promised by Gordon Brown, but just as vague and just as certain not to happen. The Tories merely want to privatise more social housing – this time, property they don’t even own, but which belongs to housing associations. What either plan adds up to for anyone under 35 and either living at home or paying over the odds for a crap flat-share is basically: get stuffed”.

Dissolving the people to elect another

Finally, on “Who is meant to live here?”, he comments that “Brecht jokingly called on the government to dissolve the people and elect another. Our politicians are actually doing it. We know which voters they like: the squeezed middle (Ed); alarm-clock Britain (Nick), the strivers (Dave). The voters who don’t pass muster are those on benefits and immigrants. Labour flogs a racist mug, while the Tories send a racist van round London. The divide is not just rhetorical: the coalition has smacked working-age families on benefits. People with disabilities – and therefore with limited access to the jobs market – have been hit worst of all

TUSC - a party that is boldly raising these issues

These are indeed some of the fundamental issues that are being ignored by what Chakrabortty calls the “professional political elite”. I wrote to the Guardian to point out that TUSC candidates were challenging this elite and addressing the key issues that he rightly points to. Here’s what I had to say:

Aditya Chakrabortty is absolutely right in his General Election comment that there is “a roaring silence at the centre of this campaign”. However, there is a growing Party that is boldly raising the issues that others prefer to keep silent about, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

On the doorsteps and streets of Lewisham, TUSC’s demands for rent controls and a mass programme to build council homes are welcomed by Londoners being priced out of their city. So is our call for the idle wealth of the super-rich to be used to build an economy to meet the needs of society, in contrast to the permanent diet of austerity being promised by all the main parties.

Establishment politicians and their politics of inequality are despised by an increasing proportion of the electorate. Voters are looking for an alternative – and if they seek out TUSC, they shall find it

If you are looking for that alternative, then seek out TUSC locally – at our meeting in the Crooked Billet in Penge, 7.30 pm on Thursday April 30th and our final pre-election meeting upstairs in the Hob in Forest Hill, 7.30 pm on Tuesday 5th May.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Local debate 2 - Ken Mackenzie to leave Sedgehill School

A lot of Sedgehill parents were shocked today to receive a
Show support to Prendergast parents on Saturday!
letter from the Interim Executive Board (the 'IEB' brought in by the Local Authority in place of the elected Governing Body) telling us that the current Head, Ken Mackenzie, is leaving at the end of June.

That significant information was included as just a single sentence in a longer letter outlining a series of new leadership appointments, including a new "Chief Executive Officer", appointments that presumably left Mr Mackenzie feeling he faced an untenable position.

A number of parents have expressed their disappointment that these significant changes have been announced without any real dialogue taking place first between the IEB and parents as a whole. The same letter announces that a "first meeting for parents will be on 30 April" - only after the event.

Inevitably, after the vocal support for the school shown by students and parents before Christmas, there will be some suspicions about today's announcements. Some will ask whether the review of the school conducted by external consultants presents an honest analysis - or one steered towards justifying the imposition of an IEB in the first place? Those suspicions will only be addressed if staff and parents are allowed to input on the resulting action plans and, if necessary, question the review outcomes.

Fears will also be raised that the changes are still part of a plan to force the school into becoming an academy. I hope the IEB will reassure parents that this is not their intention. Of course, as campaigners have always warned, whatever the IEB's views, that doesn't mean that the next Government might not have academisation of Sedgehill firmly on their agenda.

Above all, parents and staff alike will be anxious to know what the change of leadership will bring. Too many schools have seen imposed 'improvement plans' lead to even more unmanageable workload, demoralisation and damaging staff turnover. That would be disastrous for Sedgehill.

While parents and staff wait to see how things develop at Sedgehill over the next weeks and months, I hope today's news will strengthen the determination of those of us in the Sedgehill community to make sure that the school gets proper support and not have damaging change imposed upon it. It's also another good reason to make sure we're supporting parents and staff at another set of schools where there are attempts to impose changes without the support of the school community - at the Prendergast federation.

A march is being held in Lewisham on Saturday - and I am sure Sedgehill parents would be very welcome if they came to join the march and take part in the closing rally.

Local Debate 1 - cancellation of the Forest Hill/Sydenham hustings

While I've been busy with my day-job as a teacher trade
Thanks to the SLP for giving me equal billing
unionist, I can see on emails and social media that a debate has been taking place on two local issues: developments at Sedgehill School (which I will post on separately) - and (discussed in this post) why the hustings due to be held at Holy Trinity Church tomorrow night has been cancelled. As a local TUSC candidate, Sedgehill parent and Lewisham NUT officer, I have been asked to comment on both debates - and I am happy to do so here.

Should the hustings have been cancelled?

The Forest Hill and Sydenham Societies have had to take into account a range of views, including my own, about how their hustings event originally planned for Friday 24th April, was to be organised. I appreciate the complexities but have differed with the organisers on two issues. Firstly, they should have included me as a candidate on the panel in the first place. Secondly, they need not have cancelled the hustings.

Invitations were originally sent by the organisers to five candidates: Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP - but not TUSC. When I found out about the hustings, I wrote to the organisers pointing out that theirs would be the only local event excluding me from an open hustings and that, as a well-known local campaigner who has lived in the constituency for over 25 years, I would hope to be included.

Regrettably, I was told that I would only be offered the
Yes, it looks like 25 years has been a long time ...
chance to ask a question and briefly introduce myself from the floor. Why should I have to accept that? I replied in detail explaining that this would not seem justifiable to many of those attending. I have posted elsewhere why I felt that Electoral Commission guidance should allow TUSC to fully participate as a sixth party, one standing in over 130 seats nationally, and with a candidate with genuine backing in the constituency.

Particularly after the Conservative, UKIP and Green candidates also responded in my support, the decision was then taken to extend an invitation to me after all - rightly so but gratefully received.

However, while my argument was only about my rights to attend as a sixth candidate with genuine local prominence, the organisers concluded that they should extend an invitation to all eight nominees. The news then followed that as it had "proved impossible to get all eight candidates to agree to attend the hustings due to the presence of a candidate from Liberty GB", the event had been cancelled.

For my part, I was never included in any discussions about the attitude to Liberty GB's presence. There is ongoing debate within the trade union movement as to when it is right not to give a platform to racist and fascist candidates. I certainly sympathise with the organisers in not wanting to invite a candidate whose Party Manifesto expresses views that many would find divisive and dangerous. Their stated education policy would be laughable if it wasn't so offensive: to "limit the funding of schools to a base amount ... with any extra spending raised by the local authority. This will mean that inner-city schools with multicultural vanity projects will have to raise money through taxes from their own multicultural population".

However, the reasons that I gave to the organisers to include me on the platform also provided genuine reasons why Liberty GB could have been excluded, while remaining within electoral law.

As a trade unionist and socialist, with a proud record of fighting racism locally, I am only too happy to explain how such right-wing parties only serve to divide communities, as they try to unfairly scapegoat migrants for a lack of decent jobs, homes and services. Those threats should be blamed on the permanent diet of austerity being offered by the main parties, not on minorities. However, TUSC also points out that there is a genuine danger that, unless these austerity policies are reversed as we demand, then fringe racist parties could start to gain backing, threatening the unity of our local community.

UPDATE: Friday April 24th
Regrettably, I received an email today from the Penge Forum saying that their hustings next week has also been cancelled. 

Understandably, voters on local forums are angered that, unless '38 degrees' can secure a venue for their event, there will be no further public hustings where they can hear local candidates speak together.

Firstly, I should make clear that TUSC has not been included in any discussions about cancelling hustings and I also share in the disappointment that the meetings are not going ahead. As well as denying local voters the chance to hear the debate, TUSC of course also loses an opportunity to put across our policies too (opportunities which are being unfairly denied us too often already, despite us standing in 130 constituencies.)

Given their divisive views, I would prefer not to have to share a platform with Liberty GB at all but, if the choice is between having no hustings at all and sitting alongside them, then the choice seems clear. A tiny right-wing party, standing in only a handful of seats, should not become a reason why voters in Lewisham West and Penge are denied the chance to hear from their prospective candidates.

I am unable to take up Tom Chance's suggestion of a street meeting in Penge tomorrow, as I am one of the organisers of the anti-academies march assembling on Hilly Fields at midday. However, I am keen to see whether, perhaps through our rights to ask for access to rooms for meetings, candidates can assist in making sure a hustings does still take place.

Separately, TUSC is keen to give voters a chance to hear from us at our own public meetings - still taking place in Penge and Forest Hill in the run-up to the Election (see separate listing)

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Join the 'No Academies at Prendergast' march on Saturday

The official 'consultation' period over the plans to turn the three Prendergast schools into academies is now underway. Parents, staff and students have already shown their strong opposition to these damaging proposals. Now it's essential to maintain the pressure on the Governing Board.

That's why another protest march has been organised on Saturday. The demonstration is assembling on Hilly Fields by Prendergast school's top-site at midday and then marching to a rally at Cornmill Gardens, by Prendergast Vale school in Lewisham.

Please be there and bring your friends and family too!

Sunday 19 April 2015

NHS - Cancel the Profit From Illness debts to plug the funding gap

Labour and Conservatives are arguing over which of them have a 'costed' plan to plug the estimated £30 BN funding gap in the NHS budget. The reality is that none of them can be trusted to secure the future of our NHS.

George Osborne says he will find (from somewhere) an extra £8bn - but that still leaves most of the £22bn shortfall to be met through so-called 'efficiency and reform' (i.e. cuts, closures and charges). In a role-reversal that shows up exactly how wedded New Labour have become to 'fiscal responsibility' (i.e. more cuts and austerity), Labour aren't even promising to fund that much - but  accuse the Tories of making unfunded promises (and they may well be right!).

The reality is that, whether it's Milliband or Cameron in No.10, the NHS faces massive cuts, whatever the party leaders may be promising in the lead-up to the General Election. It's exactly the same scenario of course in schools, where an IFS analysis also suggests that both Tory and New Labour will be cutting school budgets by at least 7% per child by 2020, maybe more. (see my previous blogpost).

Cancel the PFI debts

So where will the money come from? More to the point, where is so much of the money going? Much of it isn't going into paying nurses and doctors or into patient care, it's going to massively overpay a gang of banks and construction companies who have been cashing-in through the  'Private Finance Initiative' - better called 'Profit From Illness'.

At the Lewisham Pensioners Forum Hustings, Heidi Alexander from Labour tried to claim that, while some may mistakes may have been made in negotiating the original PFI contracts, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with PFI. How could she say otherwise when Labour had so enthusiastically championed PFI when in Government to fund schools, hospitals and prisons? 

Jean Shaol of the Manchester Business School is more accurate when she says of PFI "Frankly it's very corrupt... no rational government, looking at the interests of the citizenry as a whole, would do this."

The BMA, correctly identifying PFI for much of the funding shortfall, are calling for the next Government to "renegotiate PFI contracts to ensure a better deal for the taxpayer". But TUSC doesn't think that this goes far enough. We say, cancel the PFI debts altogether and put health before wealth.

At the hustings, I pointed out that perhaps £60 billion could be saved - twice the NHS budget shortfall - by cancelling PFI debts. It seems that I was being too kind on the PFI vultures. The Independent on Sunday has calculated that the UK still 'owes' more than £222 billion to these companies across 720 PFIs - or about £3,400 for every person in England - and that by 2049/50 the total PFI bill will be over £310 billion.

As the Independent on Sunday points out this massive sum not only dwarfs the NHS funding gap, it "is more than four times the budget deficit used to justify austerity cuts to government budgets and local services".

Stop this criminal rip-off - vote TUSC on May 7

These figures show what 'austerity' has really been about - a scheme to transfer wealth from the '99%' to the '1%' while cutting and privatising the gains we made by struggle and campaigning in the post-war years, not least our National Health Service.

As the Independent on Sunday points out "The system has yielded assets valued at £56.5bn. But Britain will pay more than five times that amount under the terms of the PFIs used to create them". Why should we allow such a criminal rip-off to continue any longer? 

If you really want to fund the NHS and put health before wealth, then vote TUSC on May 7 and build a movement against austerity.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Meet Martin and hear your TUSC candidate speak

Forest Hill this afternoon
The TUSC Campaign in Lewisham West and Penge had a great reception this afternoon as we set up campaign stalls across the constituency (see photos).

Many voters were asking about a chance to hear me speak at a campaign meeting or hustings. There are still opportunities - and here they are:

  • Sunday 19 April - Bellingham Green street meeting at the end of canvassing at 2.30 pm
  • Friday 24 April - Forest Hill and Sydenham Society hustings, 7pm, Holy Trinity Church, Trinity Path, SE26 4EA.  Cancelled.
    Penge High Street today
  • Saturday 25 April - Please join me at the Stop Academies in Lewisham march - assemble midday at Hilly Fields (which means I can't be in Penge with the Green candidate or to campaign with '38 degrees').
  • Tuesday 28 April - Bromley Trades Council meeting, 7pm, HG Wells centre, St.Marks Road, Bromley South (Martin will be one of the trade union speakers). 
  • Wednesday 29 April - Penge Forum hustings, 7.30 pm, St.John's Church, Penge High Street SE20 7EQ. Cancelled.
  • Thursday 30 April - TUSC Public Meeting at the Crooked Billet pub, 99 High Street, Penge, SE20 7DT, 7.30 pm  
Martin will also be joining the "38 degrees" hustings on the same night now to be hosted by The Honor Oak pub, St Germans Road, SE23 1RH from 7pm to 9pm.

  • Tuesday 5 May, 7,30 pm, TUSC pre-Election Rally, upstairs at The Hob, 7 Devonshire Road, SE23 3HE opposite Forest Hill station.
In Sydenham this morning
* Exclusion from the Forest Hill and Sydenham Society event?

Originally, the organisers of this event were unique in the constituency in seeking to argue that they had 'impartial' reasons for excluding TUSC from the hustings. This is the reply that TUSC sent to seek to persuade them to reconsider and to add me as a sixth candidate:

"I am indeed surprised and disappointed by your decision and, moreover, I think other local residents, including those intending to attend the hustings, will be as well. I would remind you that the Electoral Commission advises that you must “be able to give impartial reasons why you have not invited particular candidates or parties” and that you should “inform the audience at the meeting of candidates or parties standing who haven’t been invited”.

I am afraid that in presenting those reasons to the meeting, your continuing insistence to exclude me from your hustings will rightly be seen as being anti-democratic, unjustified and far from ‘impartial’. Yours will be the only hustings that is seeking to exclude the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate in Lewisham West and Penge. The Electoral Commission is clear that “if you are holding a public hustings, and you want to ensure that it is a non-selective hustings, the simplest way is to invite all the relevant candidates in the area”. By choosing not to do so, you leave yourselves open to a complaint that you are organising a selective hustings, intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or categories of candidates, specifically prejudicing my electoral prospects and the prospects of TUSC locally.

I should emphasise that TUSC is standing 135 candidates at the General Election, including a third of the seats in London, clearly exceeding the national threshold for ‘fair coverage’. To exclude a party making such a widespread stand needs considerable justification. The Electoral Commission guidance that you referred to suggests that ‘impartial reasons’ for holding a selective hustings might include:

1) Local prominence of some parties or candidates over others
My campaigning record as a local NUT Secretary, NUT National Executive member and local resident gives me considerable local prominence, including in the local press. TUSC’s local base of support and campaigning activity is also not insignificant. Yet you are directly contradicting the guidance by arguing that “I'm not convinced that living and campaigning in the constituency for a number of years is a good enough reason to be included on the panel”.

2) The number of elected representatives at the local or national level
As a new party, then it is not surprising that, as yet, TUSC has few elected representatives nationally or locally. It would be unjustifiable to act in a prejudicial way that would block the prospects of a new political formation being able to develop such representation over time. However, the Socialist Party, the main constituent of TUSC locally, has recently had elected councillors sitting on Lewisham Council. UKIP has never had such an elected councillor.

3) Recent election results in the area
Your justification that you have based your decision on the results of the last parliamentary election is clearly prejudicial against a new party which did not exist at that time. Your arguments about the local elections are also unjustified. In Sydenham [in 2014], UKIP did receive 572 votes as opposed to TUSC’s 235 votes (4.5%). However, in Bellingham, TUSC received 144 votes (4.3%) whereas UKIP did not stand at all. In the previous 2011 Bellingham by-election, Ian Page, of the Socialist Party, one of the constituent parts forming the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition received 264 votes (12.3%), compared to 100 votes for the Green Party. A clear impartial distinction between TUSC, UKIP and the Greens is simply not evident from these figures.

4) Resources and other practicalities constraining numbers of invitees
You have argued that the two options considered were either to invite all candidates or to invite five. However, you have not justified at all why the decision cannot be changed to invite six candidates. Apart from an additional chair, there are no resource implications arising from inviting TUSC to speak. While I understand your concern about the practicalities of time for debate, the addition of a sixth candidate would only require a small adjustment to timings. Your justification that “we selected the second option as having most relevance to the vast majority of voters in the local area” is clearly a subjective opinion which is not objectively justified and confirms that your reasoning could not be seen as being impartial.

Once again, I would ask you to reconsider your decision.

Martin Powell-Davies, TUSC candidate for Lewisham West and Penge"

Friday 17 April 2015

Seen us on the TV? - now meet the TUSC team this weekend

TUSC's election broadcast tonight has at last broken through the media silence about our challenge and got our anti-austerity message out to thousands of new supporters - so much so that the TUSC website crashed because of the number of people trying to visit it after the broadcasts!

If you haven't seen the broadcast, view it here:

If you want to meet TUSC in Lewisham West and Penge, then you can meet us this weekend on:

Saturday 18th 
11am outside Sydenham Post Office, 
1pm outside Iceland/Wilkinsons in Penge High St, 
3pm outside Forest Hill Sainsburys

Sunday 19th 
2.30 pm on Bellingham Green.

If you want to get in touch and/or order a campaign poster for your window, get in touch via

Thursday 16 April 2015

TUSC's program to end the Housing Crisis

Housing was a key question at the Palace & Penge WI hustings
From conversations on the doorsteps canvassing, and at the local hustings that I have attended, housing is clearly a key issue for many voters in Lewisham West and Penge.

It is an issue that affects my students and my family and friends too. My son's friend and mother were recently offered a place to be rehoused - but in Birmingham. The difficulties facing homeless families was highlighted in a moving BBC documentary "No place to call home" featuring a Lewisham family.

Below, London housing worker Paul Kershaw, and a supporter of TUSC, sets out the level of the crisis - and TUSC and the Socialist Party's program to solve it (edited from an original article in this week's 'The Socialist' paper):

All the indicators of homelessness are on the rise. The number of children living in temporary accommodation has risen by nearly 10,000 in the last 12 months. One in 25 children in London are now homeless. 

A series of grassroots campaigns against social cleansing and in defence of decent rented housing have caught people's imagination - for example the campaign of the residents of the New Era estate in Hackney, east London. They give a glimpse of the growing anger at the housing crisis and the potential for housing campaigns based on action by working class people.

The mainstream parties have to respond to this anger and talk about housing but they have no solutions - their commitment to cuts and big business policies make that impossible.

The housing workers branch of Unite the Union has produced a short housing manifesto summarising Unite policy. It starts with opposition to the cuts and points to a real solution, including building council homes, capping rents and nationalising the banks.

The branch is encouraging its members to challenge election candidates to support it. TUSC has endorsed the manifesto. Unfortunately these demands are a long way from Labour's policy. 

Far too few new homes are being built. One of the first actions of the Con-Dem coalition was a 60% cut in the social housing grant. None of the major parties calls for reversing this cut.

It is estimated that at least 240,000 new homes per year are needed just to keep pace with the growth of new households, let alone dealing with the backlog. Labour has set the aim of building just 200,000 homes per year by the fifth year of a new government.

So even if this was achieved, the housing shortage would still be getting worse after five years. Members of the Lyons commission - set up to by Labour to advise on its housing policy - have been reported as doubting whether even this is possible in the context of austerity.

Scandalously, rather than supporting more genuinely affordable and secure housing, Labour councils have been behind 'regeneration' schemes which result in reductions of social housing.

Time and time again this 'regeneration' is carried out without proper consultation and in a way designed not to benefit local working class people but to drive them out of areas they have inhabited for generations. Most of the anti 'social cleansing' campaigns have had to fight Labour councils - a grim warning of what to expect from a Labour government.

If there was any doubt, a host of Labour luminaries contributed to the recent IPPR think tank's report 'City Villages' which advocates working with property developers to redevelop inner city estates. The report ignores the question of what homes Londoners can actually afford. The recent 'Strategic Housing Market Assessment' demonstrated that 52% of households in housing need cannot afford market rate homes - Labour has nothing to offer them.

Unite - and TUSC - policy of supporting a massive programme of council house building is essential. The 'big four' property developers are sitting on enough land to immediately build 1.4 million homes. Their profits have risen by 557% since 2010. The wealth, including land, of the super-rich 1% should be nationalised and used for common good such as social housing, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.

As increasing numbers are forced to live in the private rented sector permanently, rather than a temporary staging post, affordability and security are more important.

Homelessness due to the end of 'short hold' tenancies (the most common private renting tenancy) is on the rise, now accounting for 30% of all homeless 'acceptances.' That is an increase of 26% since the end of 2013. As an immediate measure, we need rent control in the private sector.

People need homes - and that means people will fight for them. There have been occupations and demonstrations by angry tenants and strikes by angry workers. Those campaigners need a voice at the ballot box.

If a mass party campaigned on policies to change things in favour of the 99% rather than supporting big business, banks and property developers, it would get a massive echo. This May only TUSC can be a platform for what working class people are fighting for on estates and outside town halls across the country.

My program to end the housing crisis is:
  • Use councils' powers to compulsorily register private landlords and set-up council-run lettings agencies, as the means to tackle repair standards, high rents, over-occupancy, extortionate letting fees etc for private rented homes.
  • Build council homes now. By using councils' borrowing powers for capital spending to build council homes, while campaigning for the government to divert its subsidy for private developers to finance a mass programme of public housing and renovation to meet demand
  • Rent control now! Democratic rent councils to decide fair levels in each area
  • Hands off our homes! Bring all ex-council housing association stock and housing services back in-house
  • Housing benefits that reflect the real cost of renting
  • Councils should use their compulsory purchase powers on long term empty properties and use them as council housing
  • A new mass workers' party to fight for affordable housing for all. Support TUSC's candidates in May's general and local elections to fight for these policies
  • Nationalise the banks and biggest corporations. For a democratic socialist society that puts the needs of the majority, including decent, affordable housing, before the profits of the tiny minority.

TUSC Party Political Broadcast on air this Friday - don't miss it!

Watch out for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition broadcast on Friday April 17th..... BBC2: 5.55pm... ITV: 6.25pm... BBC1: 6.55pm... Channel4: 7.55pm

Here's a sneak preview of the making of the broadcast:

Sunday 12 April 2015

Friday 10 April 2015

TUSC launches its manifesto - "the only 100% anti-austerity party"

Today TUSC launched its manifesto in Canary Wharf - "in the belly of the beast" as national TUSC chair Dave Nellist described it.

Former Labour MP and TUSC National Chair Dave Nellist launches the TUSC manifesto this morning

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is fielding an historic working class challenge on 7 May. Across England, Wales and Scotland a coalition of trade unionists, working class campaigners, and socialists will stand in over 135 seats. That's one in five parliamentary constituencies. TUSC is also standing in around 650 council seats too.

A list of candidates, with contact details is available on the TUSC elections website:

For once, TUSC received some national coverage of today's launch with the BBC's initial report headlined: TUSC manifesto launch: 'Only 100% anti-austerity party' - well, that's pretty accurate! (

Here's some information on the manifesto issued in TUSC's 'press pack':

TUSC is fielding the fastest growing general election challenge, standing in over 130 parliamentary seats and over 600 council seats on May 7. It is the newest political party to have an election broadcast this year; and TUSC’s rapid growth is down to its unique anti-austerity policies.


The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has the distinction of having never supported cuts or privatisation, and of all the other significant general election campaigns is the only one not to commit to support austerity in the next parliament. TUSC councillors, spread around the country in Southampton, Walsall, Leicester, Warrington and Hull, have moved no-cuts budgets and refused to back attacks on jobs and services at a local level, and this is a policy TUSC is committed to continuing at a parliamentary level. Internationally, it is an anti-austerity appeal that has seen Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain reach such prominence.

Standing up for workers

TUSC has the backing of one of Britain’s most militant unions, the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union) and was co-founded by the late Bob Crow, that union’s former general secretary. The RMT, with 80,000 members, has subsequently endorsed TUSC at three consecutive conferences. In total, 15 national trade union figures are standing as part of TUSC: from Unison, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Usdaw (retail and distribution union), PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union), NAPO (National Association of Probation Officers) and Joe Simpson, the assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA). This is the largest number of leading trade unionists to stand for any party – and three quarters of our general election candidates are trade union activists; and the rest are active housing campaigners, anti-fracking activists, student campaigners, anti-racist activists. 

TUSC is endorsing the NUT education manifesto, the Unite housing workers’ manifesto, the Blacklist Support Group and the Trade Union Freedom bill, as well as actively supporting strikes and workers’ struggles across Britain.

Mass support for TUSC policies

Whenever key TUSC policies are polled, there is huge support.

  • 85% would support the implementation of the living wage (YouGov, 25/5/14). The TUC last year called for a £10 an hour minimum wage. TUSC campaigns to reach and surpass that, with an immediate raise to £10 an hour.
  • 84% think that the National Health Service should be run in the public sector, and the renationalisation of energy companies, the Royal Mail and the railway companies reaches 68%, 67% and 66% respectively (YouGov 4/11/13). TUSC’s election platform includes opposition to PFI and private companies in the NHS, and the renationalisation of these key industries.
  • 80% said social housing should be available for people who can’t afford the cost of private renting as well as providing a safety net (Ipsos Mori, 12/11/2014) and 56% would support rent controls for private housing (YouGov, 4/5/14). TUSC stands for a mass council house building programme to provide jobs and homes, and rent control.
  • Ending all cuts was one of the top issues in a survey conducted for Manchester Evening News, with over 5,000 participants (30/03/15). TUSC has the distinction of voting consistently against cuts in local government, and it is a central policy in the TUSC manifesto.


The Con-Dem government has inflicted five years of savage austerity on working class people. Unfortunately there is no prospect of this changing beyond the general election, as the leadership of the Labour Party has made it clear that a Labour government would not mean an end to austerity.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) argues that working class people should not pay for a crisis that we did not cause. That was why TUSC was set up in 2010, co-founded by the late Bob Crow, to show that there is a clear left-wing alternative to policies of public sector cuts, privatisation, militarism and environmental degradation.

TUSC has accepted from its start that there will be some Labour candidates who share our socialist aspirations and will be prepared to support measures that challenge the austerity consensus of the establishment politicians. But it is also committed to standing candidates or supporting others if that is the only way a working class anti-austerity socialist alternative can be articulated at election time.

Our coalition, of trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists, is united on the need for mass resistance to the ruling class offensive, and for an alternative programme of left-wing policies to help inspire and direct such resistance:

  • Stop all privatisation, including the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). Bring privatised public services, industries and utilities back into public ownership under democratic control, with compensation only on the basis of proven need.
  • No to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and all secret austerity treaties.
  • Re-nationalise all rail, bus and ferry services to build an integrated, low-pollution public transport system. Take Royal Mail back into public ownership to guarantee our postal services. Bring prisons, probation, and all other parts of the justice system back into the public sector.
  • For a high-quality, free National Health Service under democratic public ownership and control.
  • Stop council estate sell-offs and build high-standard, eco-friendly, affordable council housing.
  • No to academies and ‘free schools’. Good, free education for all, under democratic local authority control; student grants not fees.
  • Bring banks and finance institutions into genuine public ownership under democratic control, instead of giving huge handouts to the very capitalists who caused the crisis.
  • Tax the rich. For progressive tax on rich corporations and individuals and an end to tax avoidance.
  • For massive investment in environmental projects.
  • Repeal the anti-trade union laws, reverse attacks on facility time and the right to collect subs by check-off for trade unions, particularly in the public-sector.
  • Support the TUC’s demand to increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour, and for it then to rise in line with inflation or wages, whichever is higher.
  • Scrap zero hour contracts. Guaranteed hours and full employment rights for all. Cut the working week to 35 hours with no loss of pay.
  • Invest to create and protect jobs, including for young people.
  • Solidarity with workers taking action to defend jobs, conditions, pensions, public services and trade unions. Reinstate full trade union rights to prison officers.
  • Deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – otherwise climate change, caused by capitalism, will destroy us.
  • Invest in publicly-owned and controlled renewable energy. Oppose fracking.
  • Move to sustainable, low-pollution industry and farming – stop the pollution that is destroying our environment. No to profit-driven GM technology.
  • Produce for need, not profit, and design goods for reuse and recycling.
  • Abolish the bedroom tax.
  • Reverse cuts to benefits; for living benefits; end child poverty. Scrap benefit sanctions.
  • Restore the pre-Thatcher real value of pensions. Reverse the increases imposed on the state retirement age, creating jobs for younger people.
  • Promote inclusive policies to enable disabled people to participate in, and have equal access to, education, employment, housing, transport and welfare provision.
  • Support measures to ensure disabled people receive a level of income according to needs. Equal pay for equal work.
  • Welcome diversity and oppose racism, fascism and discrimination. Defend the right to asylum, repeal the 2014 Immigration Act and all racist immigration controls.
  • Ensure women have genuinely equal rights and pay.
  • Full equality for LGBT people.
  • Defend our liberties and make police and security democratically accountable.
  • For the right to vote at 16.
  • No to imperialist wars and occupations!
  • Justice for the Palestinians, lift the siege of Gaza, recognise the state of Palestine.
  • No more spending on a new generation of nuclear weapons, huge aircraft carriers or irrelevant eurofighters - convert arms spending into socially useful products and services.
  • An independent foreign policy, based on international solidarity - no more being a US poodle, no moves towards a capitalist, militarist United States of Europe. No to austerity and anti-working class policies, whether from the EU or Britain.
  • For a democratic socialist society run in the interests of people not millionaires. For bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy, so that production and services can be planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the environment.