“To no one will we sell, deny, or delay right or justice”

7 03 2014

It’s been a while since I blogged but I feel so strongly about the Criminal Bar Association’s strike to resist the massive legal aid cuts that I had to.

To pre-empt critics: I don’t do legal aid work. I’ve never done a day of it. It doesn’t exist in my areas of practice. This is not about self interest. My interest along with most people in the legal professions is to preserve access to justice. There’s a phrase that’s used more at the Bar these days “One Bar”. The idea that whatever your area of practice you all share the same professional obligations, the same drive to win and regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum that feeling in the pit of your stomach that if they’ve got a fighting chance clients should be allowed a fighting chance regardless of their means.

These cuts will restrict access to Justice. These cuts will restrict the opportunity to join the Criminal Bar to only those with family money behind them. These cuts will reduce the number of working class and BME people coming to the professions. That matters to all of us

It’s to my eternal shame as a Labour Party member that our governments in the past have cut legal aid and taken a swipe at legal aid lawyers. It documented elsewhere that Criminal Lawyers aren’t living a luxurious life. Many Junior Criminal Barristers are not earning a large wage and again and again Government Stats are shown to be skewed (the Bar is not the only victim of this). It’s to all our extreme anger that this Tory and Lib Dem Government are about to deliver a death blow to a system that is essential.

The Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 was passed at the same time as a raft of legislation by the post war Labour Government we have come to know as the “Welfare State”. To those of us who know the complexity of the Law, to those of us who know how hard it is to be a litigant in person in today’s legal system, Legal Aid is just as important as the NHS. For some of our clients it is a matter of life and death. A means for them to escape domestic violence and abusive relationships. A means to free themselves to prove an overbearing State is mistaken and is wrong. A means that prevents them from having to take the Law into their own hands. Our legal system is perhaps the finest in the world. English and Welsh Barristers are a quality mark across the Common law world. When you travel to conferences across the Common law world other lawyers will always speak of the Professionalism & skill expected at the English and Welsh Bar. The fact that access to this quality representation and advice is open to the poorest in our jurisdiction speaks volumes of us as a civilised people.

I’d like to leave you with two links.

The first link is a film made by local film maker Rob Mitchell & Firstborn Studios & Bristol Criminal Law Practitioners. It is pretty powerful and especially emphasises the impact on the diversity of BME lawyers in the city.

The Second link is the Hansard Debate for the Legal Aid & Advice Bill. Take the time to read it. It makes me proud to be a Barrister and proud of our Country. In the current time of political pygmies like Chris Grayling take a look at the quality of the debate between Hartley Shawcross & David Maxwell Fyfe. (Labour & Conservative Attorney General and Shadow)  It’s remarkable that these great political opponents had also been British Prosecutor and Junior at the Nuremberg Trials.  At the start of the Second reading: Shawcross describes Legal Aid as:

“the charter of the little man to the British courts of justice. It is a Bill which will open the doors of the courts freely to all persons who may wish to avail themselves of British justice without regard to the question of their wealth or ability to pay.”

 

That’s something worth fighting for. It’s something worth saving.





Why arrogant Mayor Ferguson needs a voting Cabinet and more scrutiny

13 05 2013

Take a look at this video. Warning it contains strong language and is inappropriate for children

It’s Bristol Mayor George Ferguson being confronted by a member of the public on residents’ parking zones and his top down/no consultation so called transport “experiments”

Most journalists focus on the fact that the Mayor tells this member of the public to “fuck off”

He snaps under the slightest pressure from a relatively polite but persistent man. The questioner is no worse than many Councillors experience in their surgeries or community events. The questioner deserves better than to be told to “fuck off”.

Ultimately though it’s the other content of the video which is more concerning.

Member of the public: “…That doesn’t mean to say you can do anything you want to do.”

Mayor “I can”

1 min 15 seconds

I’d lay a bet that that kind of attitude will cost the Bristol taxpayers thousands of pounds in legal fees following a successful Judicial Review of Mayor Ferguson’s decisions.

The Mayor goes on to describe the questioner as “boring” & “extremely boring” for raising a point that disagrees with him. The man to his credit says “it’s not about Ad hominem” attacks and that the Mayor should listen to voters and Councillors.

When challenged about this incident by the Bristol Post Mayor Ferguson initially denied swearing.

http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Bristol-mayor-George-Ferguson-swears-man-Bearpit/story-18957309-detail/story.html

He lied… or has a very very poor memory (itself a concern)

He also called the relatively polite but emphatic man who challenged him, a “stalker”. This is criminal conduct. A serious allegation. It’s one the Mayor has levelled at others including myself because the Mayor just doesn’t like scrutiny, he doesn’t like the democratic processes. He likes tame Journos and Editors not asking difficult questions. I suspect the accusation of stalking is another lie

When challenged about swearing at a member of the public he said “However I shall not be bound by normal political expectations. I’m passionate man.”

The Mayor doesn’t just think he’s better than Councillors. He thinks he’s better than you the voter. That is a big problem

Conclusion: votes in Cabinet needed now more than ever

Given such spectacular arrogance and apparent lies when being challenged is it any wonder that Labour and others want there to be votes in Mayor Ferguson’s Cabinet? Is it any wonder that they want his decisions to go off to Scrutiny?

Let’s be clear: This is a Mayor who needs more scrutiny. Any man so arrogant needs his actions “sense checked” by more modest and sensible individuals for the good of Bristol.

If Cllr Helen Holland and Cllr Jackson win a concession on voting rights in Cabinet it will be a massive achievement in holding this spectacularly arrogant Mayor to democratic accountability. It will certainly put Bristol, not Mayor Ferguson, First.





Standing down

4 05 2013

It’s been a long 2 years as Chair of the Bristol Labour Party. With highs and lows. Labour coming a strong second in the Mayoral election was hard for the Party, the activists and me personally.

It’s been a hard slog but having achieved in this election what I’d hoped we would I’m happy to announce that I’m standing down as Chair at our next AGM.

At yesterday’s count Labour gained 6 wards. (7 if you include the hold following the Southmead by-election). In many wards we romped across the finish line with massive landslides for example in Lawrence Hill and Hillfields. We brought down Lib Dem “big beasts”  in Easton, Eastville and Lockleaze. In many wards we came a strong second for example Ashley and Horfield. It was a very good night for Labour.

For me this journey started 4 years ago. As a member campaigning in Lawrence Hill (we held that with a majority of 9 votes back then. It was 976 yesterday) 2009 was a year when we lost a lot of good people and it hurt. I vowed then that I would spend the next four years getting stuck in to local politics and do what I could to turn Bristol red. First as a candidate in a run at the then leader of Bristol Tories and his ward co-Cllr and then as Chair  of the Bristol Labour Party where I felt that real change could be made.

Driving and informing me for the last 2 years was the need for a massive injection of talented, thoughtful and articulate people into the Labour Group. People who did not necessarily “fit the mould” of previous expectations. People who would mix things up a bit and offer new solutions to the problems facing Bristol. I sat on almost every local election shortlisting panel interview and we maintained a high standard. All those not making the grade were declined.  We made space for excellence. It was, inevitably a tough and painful process, but we will see the benefits in the coming months. We had the courage to shortlist people who possibly had little or no campaign experience but would make excellent Councillors, problem solvers and spokespeople for their communities.

Happily we’ve got real game changers elected. To name just a few: Mhairi Threlfall an expert in “incubating” small businesses. Helping committed people with big ideas to create jobs . Hibaq Jama a human rights lawyer and community activist working with people on the very edge of despair and walking them back to a better life and active citizenship. Estella Tincknell an academic with a strong critical analysis & big policy ideas and buckets of good humour to go with it. Steve Pearce. A former plant worker, turned planning expert. A man who knows his stuff on an issue that will become more important.

Then there’s the people we sadly didn’t get elected but must next time. Again to name just a few: Eileen Means a former social worker, who went on to run an entire Department and then worked in the private sector. She knows how services the Lib Dems privatised work and what problems they generate. We need her on board. Eileen Lepine. A former local government officer with a ton of ideas & an intimate knowledge of how a democratic mandate can be blocked and reversed in the backrooms of local government. Definitely a Cllr we need in the future!

I am so incredibly proud of the 2013 cohort. I’ve done my best to support and protect them as candidates. Now they have the legitimacy of a democratic mandate.

In the coming years the Bristol Labour Party must maintain this high standard. People will see us up our game. People will see that we are a government in waiting.

From next month it will be someone else’s job to deal with the panicked call first thing in the morning. To weigh the best outcome of a difficult decision and to look good friends and comrades in the eye and say “sorry but no”. It isn’t easy and I very much hope the Party & Group of Councillors give that person their full support.

We aren’t a social club. We aren’t there to simply elect friends. We must continue to select bright and articulate people to speak on behalf of our communities. With a lot of hard work I believe that we can secure many more Labour Councillors and then in 2016. Elect a Labour Mayor.

With all that achieved we will all then truly have succeeded in Turning Bristol Red.





Margaret Thatcher

8 04 2013

I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in a Welsh valleys mining family and community that was beaten but not broken. My memories of NUM Christmas socials even long after pits closed were of hwyl. Good humour and fellowship. Sitting listening to the old boys like ancient bards telling a tale and politely looking down as their stories were punctuated by coughs, hacks and spitting up coal dust. Decades after they last breathed in a pit. The community & quiet humanity endured even if the work did not

So I can’t stomach the idea of celebrating the death of another human being. It isn’t my way… isn’t OUR way. I echo the sentiments of another man of good hwyl that I follow on Twitter:

 

“The Tories failed to steal my humanity. So I neither sneer or celebrate. I regret the death of any human being.”

 

Margaret Thatcher partly made me what I am today. I saw every man of working age I knew lose his job through no fault of his own in Collieries that could be run profitably and I swore that would never happen to me. So I became self employed. I saw health and safety law being paid lip service whilst deserving cases were resisted every step of the way or people’s employment rights were rolled back. So I specialised in industrial injuries/diseases and employment law. I saw that I was powerless and buffeted around by the decisions of Government and so I supported the Labour Party & Trade Union movement even as a kid. Finally I saw that Labour in Opposition in Westminster are powerless to protect our communities so I give up my free time to plod around streets and knock on doors and talk to people about their worries and try to secure a Labour victory.

 

There is an entire determined generation of us now hitting our 30s. We haven’t succeeded because of Tories. We succeeded in spite of them. In the absence of local work we have empowered ourselves just as working class members of our grandparents and great grandparents generations passionately believed in. Like diamonds in the coal dust the downward pressure made us harder than we otherwise would have been. It made us determined to firstly empower ourselves and the ones that truly learned the lessons of our childhood turned back to lend a hand to help others.

 

The very worst thing Labour members can do now is show ourselves to be inhuman. After all isn’t OUR ultimate message that Britons are more than Consumers. We are Citizens and more than that we are a humane Society.

 

If Labour members sneer and make spiteful statements we take our eyes off the very real dangers that this current government presents to our communities. You have a choice: Scream at the moon about the battles of the past or articulate clearly the world you want to see in the future. I chose the latter. I chose to win power to protect the communities our party was built to protect.

 

The past is the past. It has shaped us but it’s Labour’s job to fight the battles of the present day and help shape the futures of others.

 

I hope she rests in peace. Her family have my condolences.





The arrogance of the anti health and safety lobby in Bristol

6 03 2013

A few months back a public argument broke out about a report recommending the installation of railing outside the Mshed. If I recall correctly the Mayor, Cllr Richard Eddy & a Bristol Post Editorial weighed in condemning “health and safety culture”.

Both I as a practitioner with experience of Health and Safety Law and @BristolTUSH the Health and Safety experts in the Joint Trade Union Office warned that Bristol should follow this recommendation.
Essentially the simple argument for railing was that foot fall increased along the docks and whilst the likelihood of a slip or trip into the docks was low the risk had increased, the potential consequence (death or serious injury) was high and should be guarded against.

The report was not out of the ordinary and based on a simple assessment of risk and possible control measures, that those in the sector with expertise are familiar with.

But then the usual lobby stepped in with no information, no knowledge of the criteria and no understanding of risk management and the Mayor a populist by heart sided with the Mshed and the anti health and safety lobby.

At 7.05 this morning a cyclist fell off the docks outside MShed. Avon and Somerset have confirmed this man has died.

No one ever points to the bombastic objections of the anti health and safety lobby in these situations. No one ever points to the grand sweeping statements based on ignorance but asserted as fact. No one ever reminds people that they described this proposal as “excessive nannying.” No one ever points to the fact that the health and safety expert was right and tabloid editorials and right wing politicians including our Mayor ignored that advice.

A man has died and our City may possibly have prevented it.

This is a tragedy. If it was preventable it is even more so.





Why we have a Labour Party

18 11 2012

We lost. It happens. It hurts. As someone with a lot of campaign experience it’s hardest to see the first timers, the people who spent weeks and months pouring their energy into the campaign and how hard losing is for them. It was tough to see Marvin’s family who will have sacrificed his presence in their lives so that he could be a presence in ours and change our city. When you are knocked down there’s only one thing left to do:  start again.

I think the hardest thing was watching the Mayor elect’s speech and Marvin’s concession. I won’t compare and contrast the speeches but what I will say is this: We aren’t all equal. Some hope we are but aren’t. We are equal in human dignity and nothing more. We don’t have the same opportunities. We don’t have the same life chances. We don’t have comparable living standards. We don’t have the same power. We don’t have the same freedom. We don’t have the same say in our day to day lives or those of our kids.

It’s the belief of some classical liberals that we are all equal with little or no effort that meant that we have a Labour Party in the first place. As Nye Bevan said

“To us the doctrine of laissez faire conveys no inspiration because the hope of individual emancipation would be crushed by the weight of accomplished power.”

Accomplished power. I’ve never seen it swing into action quite so effectively. Accomplished power for whom the Council is a barrier to their companies freedom to make money. To whom regulation is a dirty word. For whom equality assessments are needless bureaucracy. They feel that way not out of malice but out of complete ignorance.  Accomplished power whose main interaction with the Council is getting their bins collected and paying their Council tax. Who would like the Council to spend more money on FUN.

We have a Labour Party because there are people who see the other side. That there are those who need local government to free them or at least make them freer. Who need their meals on wheels. Who need protection from anti social behaviour. Who worry about their care home’s future. Who want their kids to have a place at a local primary school. Who want dignity at work. Who want to care for others based on need not ability to pay.

So what is next? The Bristol Labour Party will be taking 2-3 months to review the campaign. What we did and what we should do differently. We are bringing in colleagues from outside the city to help in this process so that an honest rational assessment trumps any egoes. The most essential thing for the Labour Party is to not turn in on itself. We must look at how we improve but not become introspective or self indulgent or fingerpointing in this process.

We must remain strong, united and rooted in our communities. Whilst our core vote did not turn out the way we had hoped it is important to remember the good will Marvin and the Labour party’s engagement has brought out in the inner city. As I campaigned around Lawrence Hill and Easton. People would cycle passed chanting Marvin’s name. Stapleton Road was awash with red posters. Men and women voted for the first time because we engaged with them. We must continue to engage. If we turn inwards we fail.

The Labour Group of Cllrs will be meeting on Monday to discuss engagement in the Council and the Bristol Labour Party will meet on Wednesday. We will decide together how we engage with our new Mayor.

George Ferguson won and he should be congratulated on his victory. For my part I think that the Mayor Elect ran an unashamedly anti-Labour campaign. Many of those who voted heard that message and voted for it. The Tory and Lib Dem vote collapsed to him where as our vote did not. We should respect the Mayor’s campaign victory and the will of the voters both Mr. Ferguson’s and ours. We should not sit in his cabinet but remain a constructive opposition.

Constructive opposition. This is something a democracy needs. Both elements are just as important. We must not unnecessarily oppose for the sake of opposition. If the Mayor elect has a Damascene conversion on living wage, childcare, building affordable homes, we should welcome it and work with him on making it a reality. We must work together on a whole number of issues for the good of Bristol.

We must also be an opposition. We must scrutinise. We must invite a rethink and if this engagement fails then we must oppose.  Why? The answer is simple. The Labour Party exists to protect the majority of citizens from the crushing weight of accomplished power.

Lastly I want to thank Marvin Rees. Every Labour Party member & Trade Unionist who campaigned for him. Every volunteer from outside the Party who believed in him and us. Every organiser who worked passed midnight and every member of our families who puts up with our activism and takes up the slack when we are absent from home. Marvin Rees is an exceptional man. You’ll read much about a “vote against party power” in the next week. Yet we all know that it’s only through a political party through OUR Labour family that a black man from a single parent family in inner city Bristol. A man with two kids, a wife and a mortgage. A man with real drive and aspiration could ever afford to run for Bristol Mayor. I am proud of him and I am proud of the Labour Party and movement





George Ferguson: Lessons in Political Expediency

15 05 2012

George Ferguson the very wealthy owner of Tobacco Factory and sometime developer of the Elizabeth Fry Chocolate Factory/bits of the railway path (allegedly) is standing for Mayor.

He likes to claim he’s independent. He likes to claim he’s different. He wants to put Bristol first.

George dodged the question about his membership of Bristol Lib Dems for several weeks.

Unfortunately for George he’s had to admit to the BBC’s Robin Markwell that he was a member of the Lib Dems for some 25 years… and he only resigned just before standing for Mayor.

I’m left wondering what made George leave the Lib Dems?

  • Axing the child trust fund? Nope.
  • Betrayal on tuition fees? Nope.
  • Attacks on the core principles of the NHS? Nope.
  • Local cuts to bus subsidies leaving OAPs stranded? Nope
  • Local hikes to meals on wheels charges announced at Xmas time? Nope
  • Local plans to sell off parks and green spaces? Nope
  • Local axing of the Council homecare service? Nope
  • Being politically expedient in standing for electoral office… yeah that’ll do it.

Now George will protest his independence.

When he does protest his independence let’s remember this 2009 article in which he described himself as the “seed” of the 2009 electoral victories of the current administration.

He remained a Lib Dem through thick and thin. Now he wants you to vote for him and Lib Dems are low in the polls, he quits.

Just who is he trying to kid?








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