Remembering Mary Turner

Many GMB members will be grieving today on hearing of the death yesterday of the union’s president, Mary Turner. Her health has been poor for quite a while, and had recently taken a turn for the worse, so the news was half expected, but nevertheless the huge and genuine affection that GMB activists and members hold for Mary means that it still feels like a tremendous shock.

Mary was an exceptional president of GMB, and anyone who has ever been a delegate to a GMB Congress will remember her warmth and generosity in empowering the lay members of the union to shape the union’s destiny through its sovereign decision making body. She has been in the role since 1997, and expertly provided encouragement and support for delegates who need it, while providing firm and no nonsense guidance for those of us who should know better. Given the poor state of her health, Mary’s assured performance chairing the union’s 2017 Congress in Plymouth this year was remarkable, and demonstrates the strength and bravery that we all admire so much.

She was also a tough and principled shop floor activist, in her own right, who had been a campaigner for free and nutritional school meals for all children long before celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver took up the issue. Indeed Mary starred in a Labour Party political broadcast on the subject in 1982. During the 1990s Mary and her colleagues fought a long battle with Brent council over school meals provision. Mary personified the best of GMB’s ethos that every worker, whether an engineer in a nuclear power plant, a cleaner in the NHS, a call centre worker or a solicitor is worthy of equal respect and dignity.

Mary herself had to overcome prejudice and opposition in what had been an overwhelmingly male dominated union, though she was supported by the legendary London Regional secretary, John Cope.

She built her own personal standing and authority as a formidable character and trade unionist who always had the interests of GMB and its members as her first priority. It was to no small extent her achievement that, following the 2004 turmoil over allegations of ballot rigging by former General Secretary, Kevin Curran, the union survived and emerged stronger.

Mary represented all that is the best of GMB, and all that is the best of the labour movement. She will be sorely missed.

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Labour is the main challenger to the Conservatives

Throughout the recent general election, Labour supporters in the Chippenham constituency were bombarded with advice to “vote tactically”. However, make no mistake Labour is in a better position to win here now than the Lib Dems are.

labour is challenger

The average Lib Dem vote across Wiltshire is similar to the national average, standing at just over 11% – , the Lib Dems have no realistic chance of winning a Wiltshire seat in the foreseeable future. It is Labour who are the growing challenger, both winning over voters from the Conservatives, and also attracting new and first time voters.

There will always be a certain amount of tactical voting, as each voter makes their own personal decision how best to use their vote. For example, the Lib Dem vote in both of the Swindon constituencies was very low, as these are tight contests between Labour and the Conservatives, and some Lib Dem voters will switch to each of these parties seeking to influence the outcome. However, Labour supporters in the Chippenham constituency need to understand that the best “tactical vote” is to vote for what you believe in. The Lib Dems cannot win here, we have a better chance than they do.



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Concern over standards in Melksham schools


Parents, staff and pupils will rightly be concerned about six of the eight schools run by the Academy Trust of Melksham (ATOM) receiving poor OFSTED reports, and that both St George’s in Semington and the Manor will go into Special Measures.

I am surprised at the complacency shown by Conservative and Lib Dem councillors quoted in the Wiltshire Times. The Lib Dem, Pat Aves, was unaware there was a problem, which shows that she doesn’t speak to parents and staff; and Conservative Phil Alford correctly mentions the dedication and professionalism of staff, but fails to address the fact that these OFSTED reports show both a failure of leadership and a system of school governance (relying on unaccountable Multi-Academy Trusts rather than on elected Local Authorities) that is deeply flawed.

Even before these recent inspections, there were 3287 children being taught in Wiltshire schools rated by OFSTED as less than Good.

I am a trade union branch secretary with GMB, and I regularly deal with school support staff working for ATOM. The difficulty is that schools’ management are dealing with extremely challenging financial and other practical constraints, and those run by Multi-Academy Trusts, like ATOM, are outside the supervision of the Local Authority. The current model of school governance has no local oversight of performance or financial management. Low standards are not being targeted soon enough.

But we do need to look at a wider context as well. Wiltshire will see a drop of funding per pupil of £364 by 2019, due to Conservative cuts, amounting to nearly £22 million across the county. Even the best run schools will struggle to deal with cuts of that magnitude, and it undoubtedly puts an unfair strain on school managers, head teachers and school governors.

Under the Conservatives, we have seen education suffer.

Indeed, due to changes by the Conservative government which allow unqualified teachers, there are now 153 unqualified teachers in Wiltshire teaching 3883 pupils. That is not to doubt the professionalism and dedication of those individual staff, but Labour is committed to a fully trained, fully qualified teaching profession, supported by adequately trained and adequately remunerated Teaching Assistants.

There are also 5109 primary school children in Wiltshire being taught in classes of over 30, against the guidance of educational experts that smaller classes benefit pupils of this age group.

Labour will ensure a fair funding formula for schools, levelling up budget per pupil so that no school loses out. We will restore local authority supervision, and ensure that all schools are adequately funded.

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Building support for a new Corsham station

rally for rail 2I was invited by the Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways (FOSBR), a campaigning group seeking to extend rail services in the West of England, to speak on behalf of the Labour Party at a Rally for Rail in Bristol last Friday, Other speakers included Bristol City Councillors, Cllr Mark Weston (Conservative), Cllr Anthony Negus (Lib Dem) and Cllr Jo Sargeant (Labour) as well as Bernard Kennedy from the train drivers union, ASLEF.

FOSBR have also invited me to make a statement in support of a new Corsham Station being included in phase 3 of the Metro West project at the first meeting of the West of England Metro Mayor’s authority on 28th June.

The newly devolved West of England mayoral authority provides a new level of local government with significant powers over transport infrastructure. Winning the new metro Mayor to supporting integrated plans for rail that would include Corsham station could be a significant step forward in increasing the likelihood of a train service being introduced.

The campaign for a new station at Corsham has been building strength for a number of years, and has cross party support from the Labour Party, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The campaign is led by Corsham Town Council, and has been supported by our MP, and Wiltshire County Council.

The Swindon and Wiltshire Strategic Economic Plan identifies that ‘re-opening the rail station at Corsham would be a significant enabler of growth, making the Town more accessible to students, staff and others as well as improving access to the MOD and other employment areas.

Wiltshire Council commissioned a report on the viability

According to the Gazette and Herald

Forecasts from this Wiltshire Council study, the Atkins report, indicate that a Corsham station could carry up to 400,000 passengers a year with an identified for journeys to and from Bath, Bristol and Wiltshire too.

The report concluded that there is a gap in rail service provision between Corsham and Bath. For example, although over 650 Corsham residents make a daily commute to Bath and North East Somerset, less than 2% of these journeys are made by rail. This contrasts with trips from Chippenham to the same area where rail captures almost a third of work trips.

On the longer journey to Bristol some Corsham residents are already using rail by heading to neighbouring stations to travel to work. However, this only accounts for 13% of work trips compared to 34% for those whose journey originates in Chippenham. Only 5% of Corsham residents working in Swindon travel by rail compared to nearly 17% of those who live in Chippenham.

Wiltshire Council identified four possible rail service options, a new service from Temple Meads to Oxford, a new service from Temple Meads to Oxford, a new service from Cardiff to Swindon, or an extension from the Metro West service from Bath Spa to Chippenham.

The extension of the Metro West service is the option supported by the Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways, and is building cross party support.

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Labour is the main challenger to the Tories in Chippenham

election results

Labour has become the main challenger to the Conservatives in Chippenham constituency (which includes Melksham, Corsham, Bradford on Avon, and various villages). During the recent general election, Labour fought a dynamic local campaign, and successfully reached out to young voters and former non-voters.

This is a fantastic base to build upon. Voters becoming disillusioned with the Conservatives are coming straight to Labour and our strong local team.

The Labour result was the highest in terms of votes since 1959 and the highest in terms of vote share since 1970. The Lib Dems continue to lose support here. Labour supporters need to understand that there is no value in a so-called “tactical vote” for the Lib Dems in this constituency.

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Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister

vote Labour 8 June

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Vote Labour. Vote Andy Newman for Chippenham constituency.

There is an increasing likelihood of a so called “hung parliament”, where no party has a majority. The vote share in absolute numbers may be an important lever for Labour in arguing we should be allowed to form a minority administration if Labour doesn’t get an overall majority of MPs. So even here in Chippenham constituency, EVERY SINGLE LABOUR VOTE COUNTS. It is a vote of confidence in the party, in the manifesto, and it is a vote for a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

Beware the false arguments from Lib Dems touting the idea of so called “tactical voting”. The Lib Dems are no friends of the Labour Party and it was the Lib Dems who backed the Conservative government between 2010 and 2015. They are trying to reduce the Labour vote to make it look like there is less support for Corbyn than there is.

Published and promoted by Steve Abbott of 71 High Street, Corsham, SN13 0HA on behalf of Andy Newman, 5 Elm Hayes, Corsham, SN13 9JW

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