The Fat Man of Europe

The Fat Man of Europe

This week (11-18 June) is Diabetes Awareness Week, a health issue that is an increasing problem. The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in Britain has more than doubled in the last twenty years. 

According to Diabetes UK, approximately 4.6 million people are living with diabetes in the UK. The NHS currently spends 10% of its £100 billion budget on diabetes care. Type II diabetes, as many people know, is linked directly to obesity and in this field the UK leads – not so much the sick man of Europe as the fat man of Europe. In many cases diabetes is a preventable condition. All the while UK politicians have made excuses for a food taxation regime that leaves takeaway food untaxed obesity and diabetes and the care bill have been increasing. However diabetes care depends on the NHS and so Brexit will do further harm to an already strained system. 

European funded research projects remain at risk and membership of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), though the UK has signalled a desire to participate, remains under a large question mark.

The continuing REDDSTAR project involves scientists from the UK, Portugal, Germany, the USA, Denmark and the Netherlands. REDDSTAR, or the Repair of Diabetic Damage by Stromal Cell Administration, is a project spread over the course of three years and if successful, would provide therapeutic options to control the complications of diabetes. Ideally, nothing should imperil this project. And on Planet Sensible, nothing would.  However, we’re not on Planet Sensible, we’re on Planet Brexit. 

The EMA will relocate from London to Amsterdam. If and when the UK leaves the EU, our membership of the EMA will in any case diminish. Unless we can successfully persuade the EU27 otherwise the UK will be relegated to a country with tier 2 market status. The most probable outcome are delays for NHS patients to receive new drugs. Switzerland, a country outside the EU, takes on average 157 days longer for access to EMA medicines. Indeed, over 45% of applications for medicines submitted by pharmaceutical companies are not submitted to Switzerland, with patients missing out on often vital drugs. 

And I haven’t even got onto the dwindling numbers of health care professionals in the NHS, the NHS’ reliance on EU national staff – 11% of the NHS’s staff were born outside the UK –  immigration restrictions on tier 2 visas, the healthcare gap left by removing the EHIC agreement, and likely increases in food prices affecting diets. 

It’s hard to blame the EU for the state in which the UK finds itself. The modern history of the rise of Diabetes is a truly depressing tale and one with consequences that are consistently forcing the costs of the NHS higher. 

If you would like more information on Diabetes Week 2018, and diabetes in general, visit: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/get_involved/diabetes-week  

Posted by John Howarth
Doctor Finds Backbone Shock

Doctor Finds Backbone Shock

The question is will he now be able to help others find theirs. Dr Phillip Lee, Tory MP for Bracknell, resigned his ministerial position earlier today (12th June). Like many other Members of the Westminster Parliament - easily a voting majority - he regards the Government’s approach to Brexit as being badly managed and bad for the country.

But there are lots of pressures on MPs to vote with their party rather than what they believe to be right or to be best for the country and if Government Ministers - even the most junior - want to keep their jobs they have to vote with the Government. 

In his resignation statement he says: , which has rather a Burkian air about it, highlights the concerns many people, including some of the Tory Party, have about Brexit. 

In his resignation statement, Dr Phil also makes plain that: 

“ ... the practicalities, logistics and implications of leaving the EU are far more complex than was ever envisaged and certainly more complex than the people were told in 2016. The UK is not going to be ready in time, neither is the EU, and both would suffer from a rushed or fudged agreement.

“The outcome that is emerging will be neither fully to leave the EU, nor fully to stay. This is not an outcome for which anyone knowingly voted. In my view, this raises the important principle of legitimacy: I do not believe it would be right for the Government to pursue such a course without a plan to seek a confirmatory mandate for the outcome. And I believe that Parliament should have the power to ask the Government to adjust its course in the best interests of the people whom its Members represent.”

And I agree with him. 

No news there. You only have to look at previous articles I have penned on my blog for evidence of what I have long claimed Brexit is a complete Tory fudge-up. The thing is there are a whole lot of Brexiteers who share that view from the other end of the telescope. 

The public seem to agree. The latest Opinium poll for the Observer, released three days ago, shows that only 41% of leave voters trust the Tories to lead the Brexit negotiations. These are the lowest levels of trust in a Tory Brexit since January 2017. 

The referendum was called to fix the ‘Europe’ problem in the Tory party. Instead of facing down those in her party who would take the UK over the cliff edge, Theresa May is taking the country onto a plank over the cliff-edge. After the planned exit date, having given up the UK’s seat at every table, Mrs May then proposes to negotiate the detail.  

The Prime Minister’s warning that any defeat in the Commons, “would send the wrong message to Brussels” has to been seen in this context. All the EU27 have to do is sit tight and by walking away without a full agreement the UK will have played its hand for no gain.   

Many of those who voted to leave wanted Parliament to be ‘sovereign’ (which it always was, by the way). But now, Tory MPs are being asked by the Government to reject the notion of Parliament having a ‘meaningful vote’ over whether or not the Government has got an acceptable deal; to reject being given the power to force Theresa and co to go back to the negotiating table if Parliament votes to reject a Brexit deal. 

It is plain mad for Parliament to abrogate this role to a rudderless executive headed by an astonishingly weak PM with the propensity to fudge this up. 

The only way this madness can be undone is by direct democracy. And whilst there isn’t much of an appetite to go back to the polls, with our current Tory government, it is the only way out of this Brexit shambles. 

As to Dr Phillip Lee MP, he has voted with his conscience, and put his country before his career. Whilst we are of different political bents, this is something to be saluted. 

Hopefully, his next step will be using his medical background to help some of his colleagues locate their backbones.

Posted by John Howarth
Posted Workers Directive – better late than never

Posted Workers Directive – better late than never

Back in the late May Strasbourg session, the European Parliament acted to resolve an important issue frequently cited during the EU referendum. 

‘Posted workers’ (that is people recruited and employed in one country sent (posted) to work in another country) have often worked at the rate of the country where they were recruited. Where wages in the that country are relatively low that resulted in undercutting of local employees’ wages in a range of sectors, but especially in construction, agriculture and transport logistics - over 45% of employees in construction have been posted workers. Unscrupulous employers world lawful loopholes to undercut wages for posted workers by deducting allowances from wages for travel and accommodation. According to the European Commission, a posted worker could earn up to 50% less than their local counterparts for the same work. 

Hiring posted workers proved cheaper than hiring local workers bound by the so-called ‘BlueBook’ agreement. The BlueBook agreement, otherwise known as the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry, meant that local workers would be entitled to allowances to cover costs of accommodation and/or travel. 

The current legislation, last revised in 1996, governing the treatment of posted workers was not fit for purpose. It failed to take into account the evolution of the EU's economy and labour market over the last 20 years. By approving the Posted Workers Directive MEPs have voted against the exploitation of  workers, voting for equal pay for equal work in the same place. 

So what will happen to the legislation if and when the UK leaves the EU?  As my colleague Jude Kirton-Darling MEP has said in an article she has co-written for the Independent, this law will still make a big difference to us and the UK’s workers regardless of our future relationship with the EU. Also, the directive will come into force before the UK is scheduled to leave and so should be carried over into UK law.

I’m very pleased that MEPs have at last made sure that the EU will protect the right to equal work for equal pay in the same place. 

Posted by John Howarth
Volunteers Week 2018

Volunteers Week 2018

Today (2 June) marks the start of Volunteers Week 2018.

Increasingly, volunteers are helping to fill the gaps in vital local services that have been hammered by Tory cuts to services such are libraries. Replacing paid jobs with voluntary staff is not my idea of how public services should be run but, perhaps, is better than losing the service altogether. Perhaps.

However one vital service in the UK has been provided on a voluntary basis since its founding almost 200 years ago and it is genuinely lifesaving. The Royal National Lifeboat Institute, or to give it its commonly known acronym, the RNLI. The RNLI provides a 24-hour search and rescue service in the UK and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations. Since their foundation in 1824, their lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 140,000 lives. And crucially, 95% of the charity is staffed by volunteers, including the Hastings lifeboat pictured above.

You only have to look at the RNLI’s website to see evidence of the importance of volunteers. On their vacancy pages, their voluntary vacancies outnumber their paid vacancies by a ratio of 2:1. These vacancies are for a range of jobs, advertising for fundraisers; volunteers to give safety advice; to give help in lifeboat museums; to staff the RNLI charity shops; and to work in the RNLI offices.

However, some of these advertisements are for volunteer lifeboat crew members. 

The RNLI has 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members, who can be called without a moment’s notice in the middle of the night to rescue people stranded at sea. 

Often, members of these crews are not from a previous professional maritime background- only 1/10 volunteers who join the RNLI lifeboat crews have a maritime background- and they have to undergo rigorous training in order to help save lives. 

But their impact is huge. In a single week (last week), upwards of 10 people were helped by the RNLI crews around the South East, often at very unsociable hours.  With the summer months around the corner, those lifeboat crews will only get busier.

The RNLI pitch this lifesaving work as ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’ And I think that’s a pretty good summary. Nothing much is certain in this world - except that the RNLI WILL save lives along the south coast this summer.

N.B- If you wish to volunteer with the RNLI, take a look at their website-https://jobs.rnli.org/home.html

Posted by John Howarth
Football Unites, Racism Divides #notinmygame

Football Unites, Racism Divides #notinmygame

The love of the game is a passion I share, not just at St James’ Park with my fellow Newcastle United supporters, but with my ‘second team’ at Reading FC, watching my son on a local park, in a bar in Brussels with supporters from Congo or with supporters all over the the world. 

In the week of the UEFA finals and ahead of next month’s World Cup, the European Parliament came together on Wednesday to stand united against racism in football.

Three key issues were discussed at the event; stamping out racism, challenging discrimination, and preventing anti-Semitism. The diversity within football is something we should be proud of and celebrate. No matter whether you are a player, fan, referee or manager, everyone is entitled to play, watch, and enjoy the game without the fear of prejudice or ignorance. 

The event brought together UEFA, football clubs, politicians, charities, and stakeholders to commit ourselves to the guarantee that everyone who plays, or watches football can do so in a safe environment, without the fear of racial abuse or harassment. Football must do more to encourage the participation of people from all ethnic minorities, as either players, spectators, or employees.

There are many ways we can combat this problem on every level. A lot has been done and achieved already but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about politics and community campaigning is as soon as you think the war is won the next battle starts. Clubs need to further develop their understanding of racism and work in partnership with their football associations, so they are better equipped to take positive action and send a clear message that racism is never welcome, certainly #notinmygame.

Players and coaches too have an important role to play, within understanding their role and responsibilities both on and off the pitch. Reaching out to local communities, forging strong partnerships with cross-sections of the community is an essential step in bringing people together to stand against racism. 

Everyone involved within the world of football has a responsibility of staying no to racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. We must use football as a platform to build acceptance and embrace diversity; the love of the game should be a unifying factor in standing against racism. 

Posted by John Howarth
I Like Tomatoes –  and its British Tomato Week

I Like Tomatoes – and its British Tomato Week

This week is British Tomato Week, so I thought that I would draw your attention to the excellent fruits grown on the Isle of Wight.

Although the title is hotly disputed and depends on how you measure it, the Isle of Wight is certainly among the sunniest places in the UK. More importantly (as direct sunlight can be a mixed blessing - see below) the Isle experiences very few frosts - being surrounded by sea and all that (the clue’s in the name). All in all the climate is ideal for growing tomatoes. 

#BritishTomatoWeek is right at the heart of the tomato growing season, and now is a great time to be enjoying Isle of Wight tomatoes, which are famed for their flavour. Apparently, the big advice for this British Tomato Week is to not keep your tomatoes in the fridge, as it impairs the flavour… I know this to be true, though like a lot of foodie advice not always easy as part of a modern lifestyle - so at least bring them out for an hour or so before you eat them. This is one reason British (or local) tomatoes taste good - because they don’t need to be refrigerated for a long trip. My own advice is buy them on the vine (or truss as tomato folk say).

As an MEP, I’ve been listening to the concerns of the agriculture sector. Access to seasonal workers and the ability to sell their produce quickly and efficiently is key to the famers and food producers I have been meeting. While it would be better to stop Brexit altogether, I’ll also work for an outcome that avoids the huge queues at ports and airports and allows farmers to find the key staff needed to help them harvest their crops at the key times that they need to. I was brought up to hate the notion of food going to waste - and tales of fruit rotting on the vine for want of pickers makes me genuinely angry.

Isle of Wight farmers already time their harvesting to allow easy access to the Ferry to get their crops to the UK mainland and moving the produce to the EU adds more uncertainty and time to a process where ensuring that the tomatoes are at their peak is essential.

As a footnote I would add that I very much like tomatoes. In fact I eat tomatoes most days. My Dad grew them in the greenhouse - he saved up for it for ages got it to pursue his favourite hobby. He grew his tomatoes through ring culture on boiler ash I enjoyed helping water them (One full watering can every night for each ring and potash based feed once a week - one pint directly into each ring) - we had to make our own entertainment in those days. We would then be able to eat the smaller ones straight off the vine - absolutely at their best. Too much direct sunlight/heat at the wrong time can be a problem as it can cause ‘white wall or greenback’ - where the tomato fails to ripen through - this is why you can often see the top of tomato glass houses whitewashed or with shades fitted. 

Tomatoes are also meant to be very good for you - especially for men, where they are linked to nutrients that are thought to help inhibit prostate cancer. You can read more about the health benefits here if you like. 

In the meantime that’s quite enough about tomatoes. Have a good weekend.

Posted by John Howarth
The next MFF will matter to Britain – when the Commission gets its numbers straight

The next MFF will matter to Britain – when the Commission gets its numbers straight

On 2 May the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Junker, and his sidekick, Gunther Oettinger (lets call them Junkinger), announced the European Commission’s draft of the European Union Multi-annual Financial Framework for 2021-27. In English that’s the EU’s next seven year budget.

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that this MFF commences the day after the UK shuffles off from its intended ‘transition’ period into the wilderness of ‘third country’ status. So why should we care about what’s in the next EU budget, after all, the UK will by then not be paying into the budget? 

That depends, to some extent, on the approach that the UK takes to its relationship with the European Union in the future. If, as seems probable, there is to be some kind of relationship with the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, then the UK will also end up with some kind of contribution to the European Union. If the UK also wants to sign up to various EU programmes - such as the Erasmus+ student mobility scheme, the Horizon Europe (Framework 9) research programme, ITER/fusion research and the various space ventures for example then it will bear expected to contribute on a ‘pay and play’ basis. The bigger the programmes, the more important membership to UK institutions. Contributions from the UK are likely, whatever combination of the above come about, to be larger than those made by other third countries like Norway and should probably be made direct to the budget for the sake of transparency. 

As I explained it a previous article the level of funding for the next MFF is a political choice for the EU27. Although Britain leaving the EU budget leaves a theoretical ‘gap’ of about €12bn annually, the real level is both debatable and difficult to measure. €12bn is also not actually such a massive gap in practice - sure it’s a lot of money, but over 27 member states, not so much. How the EU27 decides to approach the next MFF will also define all sorts of things that will affect the UK free of any influence the UK might otherwise have brought to bear. For example, if the UK is to participate without a vote in EU security structures and, for example, the medicines agency and legislative framework then it can expect to pay its share. Less simply, if agricultural funding is reduced and EU27 farmers receive less support this will define the acceptable level of subsidy that the UK Government may provide to UK farmers so that their products would be regarded as in ‘fair competition’ within EU markets (by far the UK’s biggest agricultural export market). So if support to farmers is cut in the next MFF the UK Government is probably helpless not to follow suit. So much for sovereignty. 

However, nearly three weeks after Junkinger presented their proposals a series of questions arose on exactly what the figures that were much trumpeted to European media and given with bold headline figures to Parliament actually mean.

An analysis by the Parliament’s Budget Secretariat, the politically neutral EU Civil Servants who service the Parliament committee system, threw up a series of questions over the price base used for the Junkinger claims. In a seven year budget this matters rather a lot. It is the difference between the Junkinger boasts to have “doubled” Erasmus+ and an increase of 70+% - still a lot, but also a lot less, or between a significant 50% increase in Framework programmes and a not so special 27% rise. Now even though being the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is only marginally more significant than leading Hampshire County Council, Mr Junker is an experienced and clever man, as is Herr Oettinger, who was the Premier of Baden-Wurttemburg, in South West Germany. Both would have gained a grasp of PR and expectation management, but if they did, then why was Junker running Brussels around talking about “trebling” Framework 9, while Oettinger told the Budget Committee of his intention to “double” the programme and “treble” Erasmus? Disappointment follows as night follows day and is compounded by the failure to respond to Parliament initiatives such a the Child Guarantee, wider youth policies and the shuffling of the EPPs ill founded, untested and poorly costed plan to give Interail passes to 18 year-olds into the Erasmus budget line. Then why was Junker on more than one occasion talking about “no cuts” to Parliament while his colleague was peddling the notion of 50:50 cuts to new funding? Even if we ignore those claims as ‘just talk’ then we still end up wondering what on earth the Commission thought would happen when they failed to make clear the basis of their calculations? Could they not have anticipated the reaction from politicians of being taken for fools? It’s all a very odd way to communicate a key set of decisions and can really only be either incompetent or mendacious. 

Then there is the rationale over some of the decisions, like the requirement to mainstream climate funding to 30% of the budget - reduced to 25% for no apparent reason or the declaration that the external border agency Frontex will be recruiting 10,000 border police to assist with the protection of frontiers - something for which it becomes apparent after my questioning of the boss of Frontex there is neither a request, a rationale nor a plan. 10,000 border guards the right solution - who knows, but it sounds good on a press release. 

The doubt over exactly what the figures might mean in ‘real terms’ makes the assessment of the Junkinger proposals even more complex than was already the case. The absence of an in-depth analysis of the detailed implications of Brexit for the future EU budget makes it even more difficult to reach sensible conclusions. The avoidance of the latter issue among the Commission’s Budgeteers has been in stark contrast to the rigour with which Mr Barnier’s Task Force 50 has taken on the wider legislative implications of Brexit. 

My take is, though the justification of the figures may be some way off and may yet generate more heat than light, the MFF proposals represent a growth budget of sorts. More worrying is that it seems to be a plan where the requirement for positive headlines matters more than the need to flesh out detailed and real solutions to key challenges for Europe and its peoples.

Posted by John Howarth
Complete customs fudge up

Complete customs fudge up

This week Theresa May, who rumour has it is the Prime Minister, split her cabinet into two teams. I imagine she had seen Alan Sugar doing his thing on ‘The Apprentice’ and figured it was as likely to work as anything else.

The task this week? To analyse over the course of 2 days (whilst juggling all their other responsibilities), the pros and cons of two different customs models. To do so Mrs May decided to mix the teams up a bit, after all the two established teams of Remainers and Brexiteers had not been getting very far. According to Downing Street, the arranged the members of the two working groups are based on their ministerial portfolios and expertise; not on the usual Remainer/Brexiteer fault lines.

The Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor were told to sit out this week’s task, barred from joining in the fun as they were deemed too pro-Leave or too pro-Remain to be able objectively to analyse the options. Perhaps Mrs May hasn’t read the former Mayor of Remain-er London’s newspaper articles.  Meanwhile Mr Gove, Mr Fox and Mr Clark were presumably deemed too have no strong views. Rumours that Foreign Secretary may resign were greeted with yawns all round. 

The models they have been looking at are the ‘softer’ option of the ‘customs partnership.’ This would see UK officials collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU for any goods coming to the UK that were subsequently destined for any other EU member state. Businesses would then claim back any tariff rebates from the Government if the goods stayed in the UK, and this should allow the free flow of goods from the UK to the rest of the EU and across the Irish border without further tariffs or rules of origin checks. So quite a lot like a thing we already have called the Custom Union just an awful lot more bureaucratic.

The other ‘hard’ option favoured by the Brexiteers is ‘maximum facilitation’, in which new technology and ‘trusted trader’ schemes would allegedly minimise the need for checks on goods at the border between the UK and Ireland. So quite like a border then, just with a touching faith in the magic of IT. Meanwhile it’s fair to say that the Channel ports are receiving nothing like the same attention even though they represent a much greater logistical problem than the border in Ireland. That’s simply because there is no party of religious fundamentalists able to hold the government to ransom from their power base in Kent and Suffolk.

Both of the customs options are untested, and both options would be, even by the Government’s own admission, ‘challenging’ to implement and monitor. Indeed, the EU negotiators have called both options ‘magical thinking.’ 

Mrs May re-convened the two working groups on Tuesday to try and come to conclusion on which customs model to use. After a 90 minute meeting, no conclusion was reached, as there had not been enough time to adequately analyse each option. 

Funny that. 

Mrs May and co are now seeking legal advice on the two options. 

Despite this exercise in holding hands and humming in an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, it is clear that Mrs May would prefer the ‘customs partnership’ This is the option most likely to placate Arlene Foster and the fundamentalist DUP, who would never accept different rules for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (well, at least not on this), as Mrs May depends of them to prop up her fragile government. 

However, the MPs from the hard Brexit Tory European Research Group, headed up by the intellectual giant that is Jacob Rees-Mogg and otherwise quite cosy with the DUP, have this week written to Mrs May warning that the customs partnership proposal is ‘unworkable’ and could cause the ‘collapse’ of the Government.

If neither of these models are agreed on, there’s always the ‘backstop’ option.
Signed off by ministers on Thursday, this proposal would seek for the UK to match EU tariffs after 2020. Not an entirely silly suggestion but it does beg the question of why the UK is seeking to leave at all. Also it fails to deliver what Mrs May needs most, her riven Cabinet to come to an agreement on a negotiating position on which to talk seriously to the EU27 negotiators. 

We could all be forgiven for concluding that, far from providing badly needed clarity, all this is merely stirring the bottom of an already muddy pond. Right at the outset after the June 2016 referendum, Mrs May was warned by an experienced and knowledgable official that triggering Article 50 before the Government had developed its negotiating position would be a mistake. The official in question was removed while the Prime Minister listened instead to her dynamic duo of Fiona and Tim. As with so many other things Batgirl and the Bearded Wonder proved to be entirely and utterly wrong. Two years down the line and four months (the EU it’s shut in August) from the effective end of the practical period for negotiations the official in question has been proved right. 

Throughout the process has been the political requirement of Mrs May in holding together the Conservative Party rather than. By the practical of economic needs of the country. The problem is that in the modern Conservative Party the ideological divide over Europe long since became a defining issue - selection, promotion and preferment - the things that many politicians care about above all else - have all been determined or at least tinged by how one may straddle the great divide. In this respect Mrs May’s tenure more resembles that of Harold Wilson than any other modern premier - it’s all about muddling through when decisive leadership is the order of the day.

Nonetheless, Wednesday saw the announcement from Mrs May that the Government are now to publish a Brexit White Paper, which would set out the priorities of Britain’s future relationship with the EU. This is allegedly going to be a ‘detailed, ambitious and precise’ explanation of what the Government hopes the final deal is to deliver, and is expected to contain a plan for a customs relationship that will avoid re-establishing a hard Irish border, the UK’s future security relationship with the EU, the financial services sector, aviation and fisheries. In other words all the stuff that should have been ironed out before Article 50 was triggered.

We’ll wait and see how ‘detailed’ and ‘precise’ this explanation turns out to be. But it ain’t looking too good. 

Posted by John Howarth
Mental health awareness week: make time for a curry and a chaat …

Mental health awareness week: make time for a curry and a chaat …

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week (14-20 May). This year the Mental Health Foundation are encouraging us to get together for a ‘curry and a chaat.’    

In addition to being a trans-lingual play on words gathering together with your mates to have a curry and a couple of drinks is thought to appeal across genders but not least for men. Increasingly, it is becoming more and more important for men to open-up about what’s going on in our heads. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, yet men find it harder to talk about their emotions.  

A year ago the Mental Health Foundation surveyed over 2,500 people who had experienced mental health problems and found that only a quarter of men asked had told a friend of family member what they had been going through. More than a third waited up to two years. 28% of men had not sought any help at all for their mental health problem.     

This emotional reticence is almost certainly a by-product of the conventional male role. According to mental health boffin Joseph Vandello, professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, there are two masculine ideals: procreator and protector. Conventional conceptions with which most of us have grown up dictate that men are meant to look after families, whether that be financially as the main breadwinner, or by making sure that everything is under control. Control is demonstrated by being the strong, silten, reserved ‘alpha male’ who doesn’t express feelings openly. Men are ‘supposed’ to be strong, dominant, and silent.

But while the world has changed a great deal. The role of the modern male is not what is was. In particular ‘male jobs’ in the mines, the factories and the farms, often no longer exist. Men in many parts of the UK lack regular work while women work and provide much of the household income. But while the world has moved on human beings don’t evolve so quickly. Theorists have even linked this change of balance to the alienation that aided the vote to leave the European Union.

We need a change in societal conditions to get men admitting when things aren’t quite right. The beermat campaign run by Time to Change has been widely applauded for its attempts to reach out to men to encourage them to get talking about mental health. With taglines like “Is there a mate missing around the table? Reach out to him”, and “If your mate’s acting differently, it could be a sign of a mental health problem - Reach out, Be Yourself, Do What You Love Together” They have been sent to pubs and bars all around the UK to help spark possibly life-saving conversations. If more men get chatting with their mates, more men will start to see that they’re not alone.

Maybe sometime we can all get to a point where being strong does not mean going it alone. In the meantime the work of mental health awareness will continue.

Posted by John Howarth
2018 local elections: modest gains for Labour

2018 local elections: modest gains for Labour

Over the years John has written post-election analysis of local and national elections both for Labour Party consumption and as journalistic content. This is his analysis of the outcome of May 3rd’s local elections.

Pictured above: John visited 24 constituencies with wards involved in the local elections in 2018. Pictured above with successful candidates, Ellie Emberson (19) one of Labour's youngest councillors (Minster Ward, Reading) and Lisa Mitchell (Portswood Ward, Southampton) an excellent gain for Labour.

The local elections on 3 May presented a mixed picture for Labour. There is nothing new in that and it is always advisable to remember that local elections are just that - local elections. Party leaders, though often a factor, are not themselves candidates, so it can be dangerous to conclude too much from any set of results. The strength of a local campaign, the prominence of specific local issues that can shift votes at the margin can make a big difference as can the strength of local political brands and the significance of the choices on offer - whether change one way or the other is a realistic option.

The next thing we should not, lest we forget, if we live in times where the political continuum has been disrupted by perception changing events - a third party involvement in Government, the emergence of populism, referenda and changes in the two large Parliamentary parties. This leads us, or should, to question whether the usual rules still apply to local elections. One of those rules tends to be that the first set of local elections that follow a General Election tend to be the ‘most local’ in the sequence - voters focus more on the local decision as national decisions are some years away and the most proximate national decision is the vote recently cast.

What happened in the South East?

In general Labour did a little better in the South East Region than its performance across the country. There were 28 Labour gains and eight losses - a net gain of 20 seats. That is a little better than a performance in line with those at local elections in recent years, but other than in a few outlying results didn’t stretch Labour representation beyond what we’ve come to expect since 2010.

Labour held control in Crawley with narrow victories in key wards, where it was defending a slim majority from a good result in 2014 - a well organised and no doubt very satisfying defence that sets up a platform for continued Labour control. Hastings remained solidly in Labour hands returning an unchanged outcome after a boundary adjustment. A great performance in Slough saw Labour win all but one seat while solid results in Reading and Oxford maintained control comfortably. Labour was less fortunate in Southampton - where three gains and three loses maintained a complicated position and a small overall majority while in Milton Keynes Labour slipped from parity with the Conservatives though the Council remains with no overall control.

UKIP Unwind

UKIP, as predicted lost almost all of the seats they were defending and the overwhelming bulk of its vote. This is highly amusing and very welcome though perhaps a little early to scatter their ashes

The UKIP vote, like any of the ‘not the other two’ votes (LD, SDP, Green) has different motivations in different places. When UKIP first came to notice it took its vote from the Conservative Party and made most progress in Conservative areas – most typically rural/semi-rural parts of deep blue seats. That changed almost immediately David Cameron announces his cunning plan for a referendum which happened to coincide with the biting of public service cuts and falling living standards. UKIP then began to cut more substantially into the Labour vote. Strange though it may seem UKIP even gained support from the LibDems where it inherited the franchise for ‘beating the other lot’ from either Labour or Conservative and, similarly, benefitted from negative tactical votes in some areas.

Not surprisingly then, the unwind of the UKIP vote helps different parties in different places and the unwind in the South substantially helps the Tories. We shouldn’t forget that initially the drift to UKIP helped Labour win seats by shaving the Tory vote. When the UKIP vote unwinds its no surprise that the opposite happens. The mistake was not to understand the power and appeal of nationalism in times of crisis.

The last and the next general election

Early results can deceive on local election nights. Some of the most disappointing Labour performances nationwide were early in the evening, which balanced out as the night went on. However, there are still clear and continuing trends which present as fragments of the General Election result last June.

In Milton Keynes, Reading West, Southampton Itchen, Crawley and to a lesser degree Hastings Labour found it more difficult to produce convincing results that suggest these constituencies will with one more heave deliver five bottoms to the green benches.

Meanwhile in the contrasting demographics of Southampton Test, Oxford, Reading East, Slough and Portsmouth South as well as ‘greater Brighton’ Labour moved onwards and upwards.

Currently Labour undoubtedly has appeal to particular segments of the electorate. The challenge remains as ever that, on their own, those segments are insufficient to deliver a Labour Government with a working majority. The challenge for Labour remains to build a coalition of political support that can deliver an electoral and social majority.

Politics and Organisation

Some of the gains may have lessons. Victories that are expected – established marginals that are worked year after year are often victories of organisation as much as politics, especially in low turnout elections.

Such organisation undoubtedly helped successfully to defend many of Labours most vulnerable seats. Labour gains beyond the expected are rarely about organisation. They frequently rely on a strong political message that chimes locally and is built upon genuine community involvement, building around local issues and presenting consistent messages through multiple channels. In other words by doing politics and spotting opportunities to progress.

Developing the Labour Party as a genuine community-rooted political organisation that can engage locally rather than hand out canvass scripts and regurgitate national messages has never been a priority whoever has been running the show. The challenge of re-engagement with essential sections of the electorate is to do exactly that. Developing genuine local strategies, responding to genuine local concern and becoming advocates for place and part of what local political parties should be about - it is also the way to win locally when times are tough.

Posted by John Howarth