Monday 30 May 2011

Spoonie Revenge Party

Oh how we laughed!!

Last night, no doubt a little hysterical on bank holiday levity, we held a virtual, twitter, spoonie** party.

Imagining the day when we win our fight. (and we will win because we're right), we decided the best punishment for ministers past a present would be if they had to live our lives for a year.

The suggestions rolled in thick and fast - Messrs Osborne & Cameron, Ms Miller and those from the past such as Purnell, and Field could serve the drinks at our celebration, then be shipped off to their new lives to see exactly what they did.

Obviously, they would only have £65.40 per week to live on until their "assessments" had been carried out. If they fail the assessment, they will have to survive on nothing at all until the tribunal is heard. Even if they pass, we'll just start the whole procedure all over again, "assessing" them endlessly to the point of despair.

We'll find them nice little slums on a sink estate somewhere, where obviously, their property will have to be sourced from the lowest 30th percentile of housing stock. Then we'll tell the neighbours they're all scroungers and skivers taking advantage of their hard earned tax money, inciting a nice bit of hate crime along the way.

They won't be able to get out of bed or clean themselves unless someone turns up to help, but no-one will turn up as the care packages will have been cut. They'll have to lie in their own mess for days on end until someone comes. As a solution, we could suggest they simply use incontinence pads at night until someone turns up one day to change them.

They'll have to live on microwave food or just plain toast and tea - they won't have the energy or money to cook. They will be woken up for two or three hours every night and forced to watch the shopping channel.

We won't waste a chance to tell the Daily Mail or Express how they're getting on. We'll remind everyone weekly that they are subjects of suspicion - lazy, workshy layabouts who let us all down.

They won't ever have any spare money for holidays to Ibiza or a nice week skiing in Klosters. No new clothes or nights out, no car or Sky TV. Then we'll tell them there's been a mistake - they acted fraudulently and they need to pay back the pitiful £65.40 a week they've been cheating.

We might take their children away. If they don't manage to turn out shiny, scrubbed, well fed, well dressed little darlings despite their terrible poverty; if they can't manage to look after them properly through the constant pain and despair, we'll threaten them with social services at every opportunity.

They will have to use a wheelchair wherever they go, but first, they'll have to jump through hoops for at least four months to get one in the first place. Until then, they'll just have to stay home. Once they do achieve wheely-mobility, we'll insist they use only public transport to get around and make sure there are as many steps and inaccessible public spaces as possible. Nonetheless, if they manage such daunting challenges, we'll simply classify them as "fully mobile" and take their money away.

Obviously all of this will only show them our lives on the outside. They won't feel our symptoms or understand our pain. We could certainly insist that they ingest the vast numbers of medications we have to take and deal with the myriad side effects that come with them. After all, it wouldn't really be reflective if they too didn't have to battle daily against addiction or dependency and be labelled as junkies or addicts for succeeding.

We can make them wear those weighted suits to give them some idea of the exhaustion many of us feel. They can drag their bloated costumes around every minute of every day, wondering how on earth they're even going to get from the sofa to the toilet.

Except we wouldn't do this would we? Not even for a year. Because despite their best efforts, we're still human. We wouldn't even make politicians live the way they expect us to. It would be cruel, callous, disgusting. It would reduce us to bitter, nasty, thoughtless people with no empathy or compassion.

No. When we win, we'll just set about putting the whole sorry mess straight and making sure that none of them are ever allowed to go anywhere near Westminster or a policy document again. And we'll hope that they never truly know what they've done.

I'm not sure they could live with the shame.

**Spoonies are those who are perhaps more unwell than disabled. Those who struggle with long term, degenerative or progressive conditions. Read more here :

Sunday 29 May 2011

Cameron's on holiday AGAIN??

Seems our laid-back leader is abroad again!!

In Ibiza this time, of all places.

One might point out the disasters surrounding him at home wherever he turns - the NHS, tuition fees, education, the economy, defence, justice - hardly a department is running along smoothly. Does it reassure anyone to see that despite looking like the most incompetent PM of all time, he sees no reason to stay at home and try to sort out the mess?

Having just returned from a trip to Spain last month, he's now ravin' with Sam as though he doesn't have a care in the world.

Shirt sleeves Dave, good old man of the people, flying Easy Jet and Ryan Air. All in it together.

I can't remember the last time we had a family holiday Dave. This year, we can't even afford to take the kids camping. Next year, you're going to take away every penny I rely on to survive. All £4661 of my Incapacity Benefit, the only money I receive as an independent person is to be sacrificed on the altar of deficit reduction.

I really don't care if you fly easy jet or private jet, go to Benidorm or Bermuda. I'd much rather you stayed at home, made some effort to sort out the horrible, horrible mess you've created and gave the little jaunts a miss.

We're not all in this together. You don't even know what we're "in".

Well, I'll give you a clue Dave, it smells and it's sticky and it's not going to go away however often you jet off for a bit of R&R.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Weekly Overview

Well, I'm back. I think.

The Sickie Jinx got me quite spectacularly, reminding me that perhaps I'd been overdoing it just a touch. My GP sent me to bed on pain of a hospital admission if I didn't stay there.

I could make the point that this is the result of someone working who really shouldn't be, but that can wait. Summing the week up might be a bit tricky as I'm not sure I remember all of it, but certain things stood out.

Firstly, in a hugely important development, four disabled people won their case at the high court against the Tory/Lib Dem Birmingham Council. The high court judge ruled that the UK's biggest council acted unlawfully over a decision to cut it's provision of care to only provide for those judged to have "critical" needs. The judge described the move as potentially devastating and found that the cuts failed to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act.

As the Guardian reports,

"Karen Ashton, who represented three of the four families in the case, said the ruling gave disabled people a voice in law; the proposed policy would have had devastating results. "In cash-strapped times such as these, the public sector must do more to avoid the consequences of cuts falling on those who are least able to bear them. What this case demonstrates is that this may be not only a moral obligation but also a legal one. Local councils, and all other public authorities, must learn this lesson and learn it fast – otherwise there will be many more of these cases coming before the courts."

Other judgements are pending and this is a huge step forward in our fight to be heard. It sets a precedent for other councils and give sick and disabled people a voice painfully lacking from politicians and often media.

In a less obvious ruling, the Metropolitan Police found that pulling Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair and hitting him with a baton did not amount to assault or brutality. 

"The DPS said McIntyre had been tipped out of his wheelchair and pulled across the road for his own safety."  

It is, at the very least, hard to see how pulling someone from a wheelchair they need could ever be for their own safety - surely wheeling him away from the alleged personal danger would have been much more effective and efficient? Any body that investigates it's own failings must surely be unlikely to come to the same conclusions as an independent investigation? 

Finally, in other news, George Osborne is becoming more and more isolated in his mission to cut our deficit faster than any other nation. Both the Times and the Financial Times reported comments from the OECD 

“We see merit in slowing the pace of fiscal consolidation if there is not so good news on the growth front,” Pier Carlo Padoan, the think-tank’s chief economist and deputy secretary-general, told The Times. “We have seen that [growth numbers] are a bit weaker than expected; should that continue to be the case, there is scope for slowing the pace.”

Barack Obama also failed to endorse Osborne's deficit reduction plan, instead emphasising the need for "investment" and stressing that "every country was different".

As just about every economic indicator moves in the wrong direction and growth targets are repeatedly lowered by every official body, the only miracle appears to be how anyone could still think the chancellor has a clue what he's doing. 

When the baby-chancellor took over, the deficit had fallen by over 20 billion thanks to Labour stimulus and Darling's policies. Growth was the strongest in Europe. Now it is projected to be the weakest. We simply cannot afford to let the Tory narrative go unchallenged any longer. This government are dangerously wrong economically and they're running out of excuses. 

It is no coincidence that Cameron and Osborne have opposed Gordon Brown as head of the IMF. If the man who he claims to be responsible for Osborne's terrible mistakes were to become the most respected economic leader in the world, it would totally undo the lie they have so carefully crafted. When commentators call Dave "un-statesmanlike" for not backing Brown, I think the word they're looking for is "terrified". 

So, that's it from my foggy brain. When I said "I'm back" I'm not sure that was completely true......

Wednesday 25 May 2011

This is what the fight costs us.

Warrior queen and campaigning colleague, Kaliya Franklin wrote this for us very few at Broken of Britain fighting what we see as terrible injustice.

We're not fine.

I've been banned from typing or moving for two days on pain of a hospital admission. I'm just posting this because it's incredible.......

"The "We're Fine" Update
And from the whole of the Broken of Britain team I can say we are. Fine I mean. Ok so one of us has just got out of hospital from yet another infection, one of us has a 'wonky' heart, one of us has just moved and is suffering the increased health consequences, one of us has been diagnosed with dehydration, malnutrition and exhaustion, and another has a chest infection. But we're spoonies so we're all fine. 

To us 'fine' can mean not knowing what day it is, what our own names are or where we are. It means the people who love us standing over us with fear and worry etched on their faces, begging us to slow down, to see a doctor. It means those who care saying with broken resignation in their voices " but it shouldn't be like this, this is Britain". It means sitting back and watching us deteriorate until we have no strength left to argue otherwise, overruling and sending for the doctor. But still we'll tell you that we're fine if you ask.We'll probably even claim we're fit for work when we're like this, to us it's just a natural consequence of the risks we all knew we were taking with our health by campaigning but felt we have no other option but to continue anyway. 

To help you understand our 'fine' it might help to explain that not all of the 5 of us will live to see the end of this fight. Our conditions vary, but we are united in our shared understanding that this battle is bigger than each of us, more important than our individual lives, that it is literally a war we will wage with our dying breaths to protect those who we know will come after us, those we wish a better future for.

But it is a war with huge, terrible costs associated. Not bullets and bombs but no less lethal all the same. We step back and regroup because we have no choice, our bodies are weakened by the ferocity of attack against us. When ordered to rest we fret and worry about those with no-one to care for them, to fight for them and through our delirium insist on trying before falling back in a grudging, tactical retreat. 

The energy to fight will always be found - it's taken 3 days to write this much. To try to explain to you that this is the reality of 'fit for work'; that no matter what we do, what efforts we go to, we fight this because it is wrong. It is wrong to traumatise sick, disabled and dying people already living difficult enough lives for being unable to manage their bodies or minds well enough to sustain work.

But please don't believe that we are 'fit for work' or even that it's true when we insist to you

"we're fine" 

Welfare for the people, by the people - Continued




Sunday 22 May 2011

Welfare for the people, by the people - a Consultation

Did you ever wish you hadn't started something?

When I started this blog, I had some hazy idea that perhaps I could share my stories and it might help other sick or disabled people to feel connected. I thought I'd tippety-tap away now and again, saving my poor hubby the trauma of 24/7 news bulletins and political rants.

I didn't for one minute think many people would notice. I'd used the odd forum here and there and imagined a kind of cosy support group where "spoonies" "sickies" and "crips" could enjoy reading the ramblings of someone who actually "got it"

I didn't think I'd find myself reading endless transcripts of a dangerous and callous welfare reform bill. I didn't think I'd be on radio shows or in national newspapers opposing cabinet ministers. I didn't for one second imagine my blog would shoot into the top 50 political blogs and stay there and I certainly didn't think I'd be invited to the Compass conference next month as a guest speaker.

And that's just the stuff I can tell you about!!

You may have noticed fewer posts lately and if you knew the stuff I can't write about (though I will) you'd see why blogging is having to take a bit of a back seat.

I've always liked to learn and OH MY GOD have I been learning. In just over 6 months, I've read just about every theory put forward on welfare reform over the past two decades. I've read Blue Labour, Purple Labour, Policy Exchange, Progress & Compass reports, everything written by Iain Duncan-Smith, James Purnell, Frank Field and Jonathan Rutherford**.

Shall I sum them up for you in a natty soundbite?

"I despair"

Or another?

"Get a bigger stick, throw away the carrots and beat 'em to despair"

I read their "proposals" with incredulous dismay. I wonder just how many have ever actually experienced any of the problems they wish to solve. From the mid nineties, politicians who timidly took the first steps towards reducing the welfare bill have been encouraged to "think the unthinkable" and over the years, they've forgotten that it was ever considered unthinkable in the first place. The "unthinkable" is now not radical enough and, as I write on an almost daily basis, we've reached the tipping point. We are on the brink of removing sickness benefits altogether and disability benefits are to be slashed so far, that sick and disabled people have only the last resort of our judicial system.

We have reached a stage, where only the Human Rights Act or the European Court of Appeal can save us now.

Why? How has it come to this? When asked to "think outside the box", why did every last politician think inside a tiny, claustrophobic box tied up with ignorance-string? How did the "scrounger" narrative get such traction? Why did every last politician consider how to throw us off benefits with little care or concern for where we will go? Why did a succession of Oxbridge educated men choose to focus on a mythical hoard of cheats and skivers, convinced that with bigger and bigger sticks we could be forced into work? If fraud is just 1/2 a percent, what convinces these men that most could and should work? When medical evidence assures them that many of us can't and, in fact, work will make us worse, why do they ignore it?

Now let's see how successful they've been. Since 1994, successive "work programmes" and schemes have been rolled out to get sick or disabled people back into work. Has the welfare bill gone down? Has business embraced us and modified their structures to include us? Have the private companies, paid billions to find us work been successful?

No, No and No.

Not one single thing has changed in 25 years. The sickness and disability benefits bill has stayed stubbornly constant and work programmes have pathetic success rates of between 8 and 15% (almost identical to the number of people who find work on their own)

The solution? Cheat.

Change the descriptors, make certain that fewer people will qualify and break a million eggs to make a rotten omlette. Since Labour started "cheating" in 2008 the rate of those claiming sickness benefits has fallen. Now the Conservatives are about to cheat in such a spectacular way that the financial bill will certainly go down dramatically, but at what cost? Using the model of the past 25 years, this will be considered a "success" as costs will finally be cut. Eureka!! All they needed was one almighty stick and a sneaky bit of legislation or two that effectively all but stops sickness benefits altogether.

One might think that if a government are serious about stopping sickness benefits, they would have their best thinkers devising plans to make sure that the people affected had somewhere to go. That they wouldn't be left to starve without some pretty cast iron guarantees that there would be an alternative. One might think that there would be research available to prove that pulling support would in fact be empowering and manageable, but there is none.

Having said all this, we're no closer to finding out "why?" politicians are convinced that we can all pick up our beds and walk - or are we?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the "Psycho-Social Model"

Allow me to paraphrase. (The link above will give you the scientific stuff, I'll just put it in Sue-speak.)

We are all sick or even disabled because we choose to define ourselves as such. Despite our various diagnoses, those that manage to work have a better psychological grip of reality and do not become "victims". We choose to stop working from a lack of confidence or fear of failure and become lazy and plagued by doubts. The longer this fear develops, the less likely we are to find work and stay in it.

Any symptom, and disability can be overcome through perseverance and the right mental stance - we simply need re-training in our attitudes. Hence the conclusion we reach today, where you ask what work you can do, not how your illness or disability limits you. Those unwilling (remember none are unable) to find work they can do will be abandoned.

Time Limiting ESA will enshrine this in law. If you haven't overcome these "psycho-social" flaws within one year and found work, the state will wash it's hands of you. That's why the language speaks of "helping" us into work. The paternalistic state will stop our metaphorical pocket money and take away our sweets if we are disobedient. If "encouragement" doesn't work, there are a whole host of sticks to beat us with.

This also explains an assessment that focusses solely on what we are physically able to do and ignores any  pain or symptoms or distress. Pain and symptoms and distress can all be overcome according to the psycho-social model, they are simply a part of our psycho-social weakness; shields to keep the world away, to wallow in our own helplessness. If you can swallow or do up a button or pick up a penny, you must, no matter what it costs you, or you are simply allowing neurological impulses to get in the way of a full and financially productive life.

It might not surprise many readers to find that Frank Field and James Purnell are the most zealous advocates of a psycho-social approach to welfare. Reading my red-top precis, academics may nod sagely, believing there is much to recommend the theory. And that is the vast, putrid, hideous, terrifying problem.

If you don't have MS or bowel disease or cancer or schizophrenia or alcoholism or parkinson's or lupus; if your research is conducted in an academic bubble of theories and sociological studies and think-tank jargon, you might as well be designing policy for fish. However much an affluent, out-of-touch politician might think a theory is the answer to all their prayers, you simply cannot make an unsound theory fit reality without cheating.  An alpha-male, who has sailed through life without physical trauma, poverty or disadvantage, will simply be totally unable to empathise with the nuances of suffering. They can no more design a welfare system that works than I could design a new offside rule.

Until sick and disabled people start to put forward their own suggestions, their own answers, we will remain in the hands of ignorance and arrogance. Until we are at the heart of policy making, we will suffer policies that may as well have been designed by aliens. The time has come where it is no longer enough to oppose, we must educate and inform. We must save ourselves, because my endless nights spent poring over welfare papers has convinced me that we have no alternative. Privileged academics and politicians have proven themselves horrifically incapable of even beginning to understand our lives and if we are to get a welfare system that actually works for us, we need to start making suggestions. We have the experience, the knowledge and the understanding and they never will.

So today, please use the comment thread below to explain what would help you. Contribute your ideas and suggestions no matter how silly or unformed you think they are. Share your stories of trying to work and how the system has failed or supported you. Make them essays or make them just a few words. I don't care how long or short they are. Tell me what work you could do and what support you would need to do it. Does the state itself trap you? What could business do to enable you? Is there a working model that could suit you? What type of work would you like? Why is it unavailable? Do you want to work? Would it make you better or worse? Would it increase your affluence or plunge you further into poverty? In an ideal world, what would governments be doing to support you?

Remember, this is a brainstorm. Write anything. It can't possibly be more banal, mis-guided or unworkable than the suggestions of successive politicians.

Please help. Join in, engage, show politicians our endless strength, our great value and our hopes and dreams. Help me and I'll do my very, very best to help you.

As I started this article by explaining, I have been given a voice. I have the privilege of a platform. It's your platform too and I need you to share it. Otherwise, I might just end up as another mis-guided fool who thinks she knows it all. I can speak for myself, but I can't speak for you.

*Finally, please share this article with anyone you know who suffers from a chronic illness or disability. Urge them to contribute to the consultation, tweet it on twitter, share on Facebook and email to friends. Any consultation is only as good as the people who take part. It needs variety and balance. Thanks. 

**Rutherford is the one beacon of hope. He exposed the psycho-social model and opposed incompetent welfare reform before most of us knew it existed. Read more here

Friday 20 May 2011

Swearing against Disablism

Why do we swear?

To express emotions with the greatest force? To shock? To frighten?

I never swear on my blog. Other than the odd "bloody" or "crap" you'll find I always consider the reader who could be offended.

In real life, I'm afraid I swear like a trouper and you'll never know how often I'd like to resort to a damn  good cuss when I'm writing about politics or the issues facing sick or disabled people.

Earlier today, I wrote a fairly innocent post on food poverty. It was intended as a light-hearted swipe at well paid journalists trying to imagine living on £50 a week to feed a family of four. It opened with a recipe for Desperation Stew that I'd cooked earlier in the week and pointed out that millions of people already live on £50 or less.

The comments started to flow immediately. As the day has gone on, hundreds of people have commented across various social networks and on the blog itself, sharing their tips for surviving. People with MS and heart failure and bowel disease and every other condition you can imagine have shared their stories and it's a fucking disgrace.

A sickening, disgusting, shameful fucking disgrace.

Our country, the 6th richest in the world, has decided - with general consent - that it is OK for people with terrible illnesses or life threatening disabilities to live in abject poverty, scraping around for fucking scraps to make a bit of soup with.

On top of that, they have decided - with general consent - that it's OK to take away around a third of their already inadequate incomes. It's OK to make them pay an eye watering 10% of the entire deficit reduction plan. £9 billion pounds taken from people who already can't afford to feed themselves.

Banks are paying less than 1 Billion this year. I can't be arsed to work out what proportion of their income that is, but I'll lay money it's not a fucking third.

Britain : Get off your lazy arses and wake up! Read a paper or switch on the news.

The first place to start would be reading the comments on this thread. (Click the different colour bit). They should make us all fucking weep.

Poverty Cooking

Desperation Stew

-Prise one limp, mouldy leek from very back of fridge. Peel away 2 or 3 mouldy outer layers, rinse off remaining mould and chop.
-Appraise last 4 carrots. Cut away brown, slimy bits, peel and chop.
-Chop last two bendy sticks of celery. Use leaves to increase flavour.
-Notice out of date pancetta scraps, sniff cautiously.
-Defrost half a pack of mince.

Add ingredients to pan and fry off. Add one tin of basic tomatoes, one litre of stock and cook gently for 1 1/2 hours. Serve with rice.


Nothing sums up the divide between journalists, Westminster and real people better than the bemused astonishment of affluent Londoners surrounding the Sainsbury's "Feed your Family for a Week for £50" campaign.

Amazed and incredulous, the all-organic "stock simmering" classes (Times, Thursday May 18th) think this quaint experiment has landed from a 1950s austerity planet. "Toast and jam for breakfast???" "The kids wouldn't touch the sausage hotpot" "No snacks??" One reads these articles with a sense that the family have gone to observe poverty in Africa for the week, so alien is the concept of cooking on a strict budget..

Of course, it has fuelled the debate that it is Sainsbury's running the campaign. Last stop for those in genuine poverty and first for the suburban Delia-Mums, I imagine the experiment would have been roundly ignored had it been launched by Asda.

The only thing that astonishes most of the country is that it should even be a subject for discussion. The "budget" takes no account of cleaning products or toiletries. No drinks or clothes. Most families do feed their families on £50 with varying degrees of resourcefulness. Are there no "stock simmerers" living in poverty?

There are two ways to go:

1) Shop at Freezer Store.
Buy bland, tasteless slabs of frozen crap, serve them up with a bit more frozen crap (though vegetables or fruit are, obviously, optional with this plan) and follow with a slice of frozen crap. Make lunches with cheap ingredients no longer related to their original source. Add a carton of sweeteners and flavourings. Buy a bottle of cheap sweeteners and flavourings to serve at home, a mega cheap bumper pack of frozen "lollies" (actually just more sweeteners and flavourings) and 2 or 3 packs of very cheap biscuits and crisps.

2) Devote your life to bargain hunting.
-Go straight to "reduced items" buy whatever meat or fish doesn't look too on-the-turn and shop around them. Make the "reduced item" aisles your friend.
-Buy tins of pulses and tomatoes, a few tasty spices and a big bag of preferred starch (we like rice)
-Make a chicken last three days (roast, curried, then stew with vegetables.)
-Try your local Pick-You-Own farm - it's addictive.
-Discover your local market for the "Two for a paaaand" fruit and veg or the "Not just one pack, not two but THREE packs of top quality meat" fella. The quality is often excellent.
-Embrace Lidl. They sell much better quality budget food than Tesco with fewer additives, highly discounted European products and seasonal, well priced fruit and veg.
-Turn leftover fruit into smoothies or sauces or pies
-Make fishcakes
-Grow your own herbs and favourite veg in pots or take an allotment
-Serve cheap starch with every meal.

Is it really any surprise that many families go for the first option? Consider long workdays, children's clubs and housework. Is it really any surprise that we face an obesity crisis? Is it actually something we should be judgemental about? (and we are) when millions of families living in poverty have little other option?

The terrifying question of the times should be "What happens when budgets are squeezed even more?" What gets cut as families living in poverty already live to the bone? Is it possible to make a chicken last four days? (sort of) What happens when there's just nothing to go in the lunch boxes at the end of the week? How many Desperation Stews can you get away with? Dare you try the 20 frozen "sausages" for £1?

The Sainsbury's furore highlights perfectly the problems our country really faces. Millions of shoppers chuckling wryly that £50 would be a relief, while the affluent, London-centric, organic brigade view the whole thing as an implausible joke. Most columnists draw the conclusion that you probably can feed a family of four  for £50 a week, but that it is a joyless and unethical process.

Well, yes, it is. Food ethics simply have to take a back seat to hungry bellies. Innovation and flair is certainly possible, but it takes dedication and time. Protein will be low, starch plentiful and treats almost unheard of.

As relieved Islington lab-rats return gratefully to their delis and morning granola, the real tragedy is the millions faced with the daily grind of food poverty. The millions of families who live the Sainsbury's "experiment" every day.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Kindergarten Debate

I love a good comment thread. I've just spent a happy hour or so laughing at silly people.

Nonetheless, there is a serious side that (leaving aside my own personal amusement) we really ought to address before we land up in the deepest mess in living memory.

Ditzy-Debate No.1 Labour spent all the money. We are teetering on the edge of a Greek or Portugese debt-precipice that will destroy us if we don't scrap every last bit of social progress made in the last 30 years. 

Every indicator proves this to be a lie. Until the credit crunch, Labour had a lower deficit as a proportion of GDP  than 6 out of the 7 G7 countries. Spending had been largely well controlled for over a decade and our debt and deficit were entirely manageable. A global credit crunch gave us two options : Prop up the banks with eye-watering wads of cash, or face the total collapse of our financial systems. Our debt is largely held within the UK and is nothing whatsoever like Portugal or Greece on any measure. Economists of every political persuasion are clear that cutting too fast before recovery is established is at best the risk of all time and at worse, disastrous.

IF Geroge Osborne were to say : "The credit crunch has left us with a serious financial situation that needs addressing and it is my view that cutting fast and deep is the best way to get out of the mess" His argument would have some validity. It would still be contentious, but it would be honest.

Ditzy-Debate No.2 "We don't need to cut the deficit at all. We can make tax dodgers pay their fair share, spend our way out of trouble and all our problems will be solved."  

This is clearly just as bonkers. If tax dodging were so easy to address, then capitalism alone would not be enough to save the dodgy dodgers. Sure, we might be able to rake in a few billion here and there, but we'd still be left with a whole pile of deficit. No-one ever argued that cuts were unnecessary. The argument ought to be about when it is safe to tighten our belts and just how much belt-tightening can be avoided by stimulating growth.

Ditzy-Debate No.3 - The state is bloated and lazy. It traps people in poverty and suffocates innovation. 

Anyone who has ever worked for a large, private, multi-national corporation knows that bloated laziness exists wherever people do. As does brilliance. The NHS, our education providers and our police service innovate and improve every day. Some Private companies waste money quicker than I could say "Business-flight-to-America" or "Meeting-with-buffet-to-discuss-previous-meeting". The fact that seemingly intelligent people think that cuts of 27% (local councils) or 37% (NHS Trusts) can be found by cutting management, bureaucracy and paper clips never ceases to amaze me.

Ditzy-Debate No.4 Conservatives are evil lying cheats who just want to kill off a few of the weakest to put more money in fat-cats pockets/Labour are resentful, jealous militants who want to take money from hard-working taxpayers to feather their own nest and support an army of scroungers and skivers.

It does politics no favours to make these arguments. It just feeds the destructive "They're all the same" myth. Most politicians go into politics to make things better. They just have different ideas on how to go about it. If we insist on such a shallow debate, then we have only ourselves to blame when the public vote for "none of the above"

Ditzy-Debate No.5 Ken Clarke thinks rape isn't serious/Chris Huhne must go for fibbing about speeding/William Hague seems to get on well with his SPAD/Lord Strathclyde had sex with a constituent/Miliband brothers split over leadership. 

We are just incapable of talking about anything sensibly. Race-to-the-bottom gutter thinking that has nothing whatever to do with whether or not the "disgraced" minister does a good job or not. I seem to recall Gordon Brown even got the blame for a volcano erupting in Iceland. We really have to get a grip.

Every time I read any of the above arguments, I immediately dismiss those who make them as utter lollipops. They contribute nothing to running our country well. They mis-inform and divide and allow gross pillock-hood to flourish.

These are important times. Huge decisions are at stake and whatever the outcome, our lives are about to change entirely. All of us. Rich and poor, public and private sector. Can we not actually try to find the best solutions and leave playground chants to the 6 year olds?

Tuesday 17 May 2011

So, how am I?

For the last 15 years, my hospital has run a brilliant service for sufferers of bowel disease.

A team of two specialist nurses ran a helpline, offering over-the-phone advice to patients. Rather than going to see you GP, (who invariably knew little of your condition) waiting for a referral to see your consultant, waiting for the appointment to see your consultant and taking up valuable clinic time, you could just ring the super-brilliant nurses, talk through your query, maybe get a prescription or recommendation sent directly to your GP and save the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds.

If you found yourself at death's door, dangerously in need of an admission, the bowel nurses, who got to know you well, would arrange things almost instantly and save vital hours or days waiting for the slow wheels of the NHS to grind into action.

If you needed strong, chem-style drugs, they would arrange things with NICE, contact the drug company, arrange for the drugs to be delivered to your home, train you in how to inject the medicine and oversee the monitoring with your GP. Blood tests could all be arranged to make sure the drug wasn't causing damage and sent immediately to the consultant. Treatments like these would otherwise require an in-patient stay every two weeks, costing the NHS.....hundreds of thousands.

This wasn't their only job. they were also both research nurses in one of the world's leading bowel disease centres at the hospital. Working with just three or four consultants, they made huge discoveries in their field, developing diet management that is widely used all over the world. Diet management saves the NHS millions. They ran the studies that discovered that ulcers could be treated with simple antibiotics. They have pioneered genetic research in bowel disease that has led to the treatments now being used as a gold standard throughout the world. They discovered the genes so far linked to bowel disease.

Today I rang up to hear this message:

"We're sorry to announce that due to circumstances beyond our control, we are no longer able to run this service. In the first instance, please contact your GP who will make a referral....We hope to be able to re-introduce this service in the future."

Can you even begin to imagine the chaos this will cause to my life and thousands like me? We are very much the "most vulnerable" of bowel disease sufferers. We are referred from all over the country - I very rarely meet anyone on a ward who is local. We have the most severe cases, the worst complications, need the most intricate and pioneering surgery and basically, we take bowel disease to a whole new level.

Addenbrookes also deals with the patients who have lost so much bowel, they will never eat or drink again. They are fed with Total Parenteral Nutrition, a liquid feed that is fed through a central IV line directly to the heart. (I've had it many times). The IV must be set up under sterile conditions and it takes 6 weeks of in-patient training to be ready to do the task yourself at home. Can you even begin to imagine the support these patients need from nurses like those on the end of that phone line? You are at constant risk from infection from bacteria with a direct entry to your heart. You need someone at the end of a phone!

And this is the best example of why NHS cuts cost money. Just look at how much this is going to cost. Think of all those extra admissions!! For thousands of things those 2 nurses dealt with on a daily basis!! The extra referrals and appointments, the extra stress and uncertainty that patients will suffer.

No more brilliant discoveries or time-consuming research that might lead to them.

So How am I today?

Bloody mystified.

Monday 16 May 2011

Guest Post - NICE and Leukaemia Drugs

Guest Post by Terry Hickmott
In late 2004, and as is common with many cancers, I was diagnosed with 
Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia totally out of the blue. In the past this 
potentially fatal disease could only be treated with drugs like Interferon 
following a bone marrow transplant. The latter is only available to people 
within certain age groups and of course you need a marrow donor, either 
through family members or through a match on the Anthony Nolan Register. 

However, things have moved on, and in 2004 there was a drug called 
Imatinib, which is available on the NHS despite its enormous cost. This 
drug has been available for about 10 years now, and is very successful in 
keeping the disease ‘at bay’, as opposed to curing it. It is the NHS's 
first line of treatment for CML now.

Sadly a number of patients either fail to respond to Imatinib, or have a 
‘sub-optimal’ response to it. For them, over the last five years or so, 
two or three new drugs, working in a similar way to Imatinib, have been 
developed, and are showing great promise for those patients for whom 
Imatinib is not working as well as it might.

So we CML sufferers always had a fall-back. If things went wrong, there 
could be a drug you could swap to. And so the prospects for life 
expectancy for this potentially fatal illness are really, really good. So 
hats off to modern medicine and the NHS!

Until last week, when a letter dropped through my letterbox, and that of 
thousands of CML sufferers, telling us that these ‘fall-back’ drugs were 
not to be approved by NICE if Imatinib failed to work. The safety net 
suddenly disappeared.

The bottom line is this – if the first drug they put you on (eg Imatinib) 
fails to work, you will not be permitted to swap to one of the successor 
drugs, and instead you will instead be offered a combination of the ‘old 
type’ chemo drugs such as Interferon, which without the bone marrow 
transplant are pretty much useless.

Put another way, you go to your doctor with a headache and he prescribes 
paracetamol, which doesn’t work. You go back to him, and he says he can’t 
prescribe say Tramadol, because you’ve had your bite of the cherry and it 
didn’t work. So go home and put up with it, or in our case, go away and 

I can only surmise that NICE are taking this stance because of the cost of 
the medication. Its efficacy is not in question. This isn’t a drug that 
extends life just for a few months – I’m over six years post-diagnosis, 
and the disease, whilst not cured, is under control. So are many many 

NICE have launched a consultation which closes on 27th May 2011. We need 
as many people as possible to sign an on-line petition. Leukaemia can 
strike at any time in life – I was 47. Imatinib is a brilliant example of 
how in the 21st century cancer need not be a death sentence.

Please take the time to sign the petition. One day you might need these 
drugs and through government cuts you might not be able to get them!

Friday 13 May 2011

My local area Protest against Social Care Cuts

Greatly proud of local protesters here in Sussex who forced a debate at the County Council today by raising over 20,000 signatures on a petition opposing Social Care cuts. We had the petition on our Labour street stall and the Worthing Solidarity Network also supported the protest by holding street stalls and local meetings.

I'm also delighted to see that three local Bishops joined the protest today saying that they were "standing up to be counted". This is an affluent area and it is very heartening indeed to see the car park of County Hall in Chichester packed with disabled people, their carers, concerned citizens and charity and religious leaders all standing together to support the vulnerable.

It gives me strength to know that not everyone buys the "scrounger" rhetoric.

Sadly, it made no difference to the planned cuts and the Conservative council did not agree to pause the proposals until more work had been done.

Nonetheless this was an impressive campaign and a very well attended protest. Well done Sussex - keep it up. You are obviously winning hearts and minds from all sectors of our community and if you can do it here, communities can do it anywhere.

They Think it's all over....

She Crashes!!!! She Burns!!!! They think it;s all over !! It is for today. 

But just before I go back to bed, PLEASE read the brilliant Rhydian Fon-James from Broken of Britain and his response to the useless, pathetic, dishonest Maria Miller, Minister for Disabilities yesterday.

Yep, she lied. No surprise, but depressing nonetheless. Really, are we happy to allow this? Really? In response to the largest collection of sick or disabled people in UK history protesting as part of the Hardest Hit march in London yesterday, she claimed that it isn't fair that more alcoholics and drug addicts claim DLA than those who are blind.

1) Alcoholism and addiction are diseases whether our current crop of politicians like it or not.

2) She lied. Pure and simple. She misled the country.

Over to Rhydian :

"....The final story is regarding Maria Miller's interview on BBC Breakfast yesterday. Having swallowed a copy of the Daily Mail with her breakfast cereal, Ms. Miller said: "Well, it can't be right that we have a benefits system where, under DLA, more people who are either alcoholics or drug addicts are in receipt of the higher rate of disability allowance than people who are blind".

The real figures are:

DLA - 0-15 age group

Blindness - 5,300

Alcohol & Drug Abuse - 100

DLA - 16 - 64 age group

Blindness - 45,800

Alcohol & Drug Abuse - 20,900

DLA - over 65 age group

Blindness - 18,900

Alcohol & Drug Abuse - 2,000

The figures are not broken down according to payment rate so that Ms. Miller could not have had data to support her claim, and it is improbable, given the sheer numbers involved, that a higher number of alcoholics and drug abusers claim the Higher rate of DLA. This may have been an honest mistake, but the Minister has seriously misled the public whether by design or not."

If you cared about the march yesterday, if you were there or willing them on in spirit, if you watched Ms Miller on the news and felt cross, if you were outraged at the lack of news coverage or scrutiny, please share this with your friends, your family and your networks.

If our government ministers are prepared to lie, all we can do is to make sure OUR networks defeat them. Please share until your fingers bleed.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

A change of tone from Labour?

I know that many of you are very sceptical indeed about Labour's position on Welfare Reform and in particular how it failed the sick or disabled.

You're right to be sceptical and regular readers will know that I share that scepticism and even fury.

Nonetheless, I believe that the only way we will achieve real change is to win the hearts and minds of those 650 MPs sitting in the House of Commons. They get to vote, they get to decide, they have the power of veto.

Both myself, the Broken of Britain, National Charities and other campaigners and bloggers have worked tirelessly over the last year and well before to be heard. We have battled daily to give voice to the tremendous concerns we have over the changes to sickness and disability support. Some of it we write about, some of it we can't, but every day we fight.

Yesterday, Liam Byrne made a speech to the London Chamber of Commerce and it undoubtedly showed a change of tone from Labour. It refers to many of the points we have been making and gives me some hope, that at least to some degree, Labour are starting to hear us. I still have grave reservations about some of the content, but it would be self-defeating not to acknowledge the change. Here are the main quotes I feel are noteworthy :

This is the summary. We are at the very heart of it "
  • The idea of responsibility is a clear theme coming through in feedback to Labour’s policy review listening events; welfare reform is therefore one of the policy areas where Labour needs to win back trust.
  • The Tories have a wrong-headed view of responsibility, with no sense of balance between the responsibility of people to work if they can, and the need of government to help provide jobs and protect the vulnerable.
  • The Lib Dems have a chance to show they are serious about standing up to the Tories, by opposing measures which risk pushing thousands of disabled people into poverty in some crunch votes on the welfare reform bill. 
He goes on to say :

  • To help get people back to work – but to work if you can.
  • To invest in opportunity – but to protect too the most vulnerable.
  • To pay your taxes – but in turn to provide a helping hand with getting on and up in life.
Then :

Second, my basic position is that we should cut welfare to help cut the deficit; but we should cut welfare by pushing unemployed people into jobs; not pushing the disabled into poverty.
That is what I now fear the government’s welfare reform bill is about to effect.
Just as government has a responsibility to invest in opportunity, so it has a responsibility to protect the vulnerable.
I think ESA should be reformed, but it is wrong to ask people still recovering from cancer to start filling in job applications.
I think DLA should be reformed with a new, independent gateway, but a big bang approach is irresponsible and risks pushing thousands of disabled people into poverty.
And it will waste over half a billion pounds on retesting and retesting, including the disabled, when thousands of disabled people who are blind or have severe mental health problems, are not going to get better no matter how often you re-test them.
The abolition of the DLA mobility payments will overnight, leave disabled people as prisoners in their care home.
And the halving of disability premium for disabled children risks punishing some of the most vulnerable people in our country. 
Put this together, and this is an approach to reform which quite simply is financed by cruelty to the disabled.
It is irresponsible, we call on the government to change course before it is too late, and we will continue to seek to change the welfare reform bill to make it better.
These measures are not cruel to be kind. They are just cruel and they should change
Compare this to a speech he made just a few months ago on becoming Shadow Secretary of state for Work and Pensions :
Please don't misunderstand me. There is still a very, very long way to go indeed. Labour still support time-limiting sickness benefits, albeit for two years not one. They still seem unaware of (or wilfully ignoring) just how badly ESA is failing us. They are still all "stick" and no "carrot" - a speech to the Chamber of Commerce could have laid foundations for much more responsibility by business to employ and embrace us. 

Nonetheless, every triumph is noteworthy and every step brings us closer to an improvement. 

Later today, Mr Byrne will address the Hardest Hit protesters. They will, understandably, share our scepticism and it is at least to his credit that he will be there - unlike Maria Miller, Minister for Disabilities, who declined the invitation. 

The Hardest Hit March - We have a Dream

Today, sick and disabled people take their protest to parliament. Like others before us it is an unpopular protest, opposed with prejudice and division. But we have a dream. This is our dream......

Please watch our video and remember that all civil liberties were won, not gifted.

Share this far and wide - help us to tell everyone what we're marching for today.

Monday 9 May 2011

Why Labour still have it wrong on ESA

If threats of suicide over sickness and disability welfare reform were not enough to depress me (see earlier article) then news that The Public Bill Committee on Welfare Reform voted on Tuesday to keep time-limiting as part of the Bill added fury to the mix.

Rhydian Fon-James outlines the next steps in this brilliant piece for Broken of Britain and rightly points to Stephen Timms passionate attempt to oppose the plans, but finding myself on a long and boring car journey to Devon over the weekend, I took the time to read the transcripts from the committee and my sense of frustration and anger rose with every mile.

Of all the proposals to cut social security for the sick and disabled, I am totally clear that time limiting ESA is the single biggest threat to the dignity and financial stability the most vulnerable people in our society face. Why? Because it is absolute. Once our year is up, no matter what our conditions, no matter what our family incomes or levels of poverty, we will be cut adrift. If, like me, your partner works him or herself into the ground to maintain a degree of financial independence, you will face a total loss of all support. We will become chattels, totally at the mercy of the goodwill of our loved ones. Worth nothing in the eyes of society, anyone with a progressive or degenerative condition who has not found some miracle cure within one year will be cast off.

Even a causal reading of this article makes it clear that this will present a massive dis-incentive to work. It will simply bankrupt us and force us into claiming 100% state support.

It is also a dis-incentive to be honest. I could side-step this proposal by getting a divorce and indeed, many people like me may simply be left with no other alternative.

It breaks any covenant between the state and dreadfully unwell people. People who may have paid into the same system all of their lives but find that when life becomes impossibly hard, they are all alone.

The transcripts show that other than cancer and to a lesser degree, mental illness, our politicians - of all parties - have no concept at all of what they are about to do. Mr Timms suggested that 90% of all claimants put into the Work Related Activity group will be affected by this change. From now on, if you get sick, you have just one year to get better or you will lose everything.

The Labour amendment suggested that time limiting should be set at at least two years. Mr Timms did ask for much more information and research on just how many people will actually have found work in that time, but it appears the DWP have no idea. So far studies show that of those being transferred from Incapacity Benefit to ESA, just 9% are "helped" into work within a year. What will happen to the other 81%? Nobody knows and it is abundantly clear that nobody cares.

There is no evidence to suggest that ministers have looked into exactly how much working partners earn. Can they actually afford to support their unwell or disabled partners without facing bankruptcy? With the limit set at just over £5000 per year or 24 hours a week, virtually all families will be affected.

The vital and depressing part is that despite asking for clarification on some issues and asking for a longer limit (the proposal was rejected) Labour still totally support the concept of time-limiting ESA. There were many references to how it has worked with those on Jobseekers Allowance but no concept at all of why the same mandatory approach cannot possibly work for those who are unwell.

All the while Labour refuse to listen and the Lib Dems support the Conservative proposals, sick and disabled people have no voice at all speaking out for them. How dare Labour decide that one year is too short, but two will probably be fine, with no details or facts at all to back up their claim? What kind of society and democracy are we living in if the opinions and voices of sick and disabled people are totally ignored? If those making the decisions are so keen to save money that they ignore all evidence, all pleas, all sense?

How totally out of touch are our politicians if they believe that cancer is the only condition that might not get better in a year? Have they honestly not heard of conditions like Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis, Bowel Disease, Heart Disease, Lupus, Kidney Failure, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia or the countless other degenerative, progressive or auto-immune conditions that may make it impossible for people to work? ALL of these people routinely go into the Work Related Activity Group and it is very unlikely that many of them will be able to "work" at least in the way expected by the DWP.

On 14thy May 2010, Mr Timms was stabbed by a constituent, suffering "potentially life threatening" wounds -  lacerations to his liver and a perforation to his stomach. A senior police officer said that he "was extremely fortunate not to have been killed."

Just a millimetre either way could have seen Mr Timms disabled for life. He could have been left without a bowel, leaving him dependent on a feeding tube for the rest of his life. He could have suffered liver damage that left him in need of a transplant. That spare liver may have taken much longer than a year to appear. The knife could have severed his spinal cord leaving him paralysed.

Whilst I'm extremely thankful that no such disaster ravaged Mr Timm's life, the words "There but for the grace of God go I" must surely have occurred to him? Surely, he of all people must be able to see that life can change in a heartbeat and setting a stopwatch may not be appropriate to recovery?

No matter how big the stick, no matter how hard politicians try to use that stick to beat us with, some conditions just won't get better. Some will be made worse by working. A political class that chooses to ignore those simple facts, using a mid 90s definition of illness is in a very dangerous place indeed.

Jobcentres on Suicide Alert

After a week of welcome distraction provided by the local elections, it's with a heavy heart that I return to the car-crash-horror of sickness and disability benefit reform.

The Guardian today, are running a story claiming that jobcentre staff have been issued with 6-point guidelines on how to deal with suicide threats as the sickness and disability benefit squeeze continues to be rolled out across the country.

A concerned senior jobcentre employee with over 20 years experience sent the internal document to the Guardian with a covering letter explaining that:

"Absolutely nobody has ever seen this guidance before, leading staff to believe it has been put together ahead of the incapacity benefit and disability living allowance cuts"

According to the Guardian:

"Another jobcentre adviser said: "People have been coming off sickness benefits and thrown onto jobseekers allowance. It's problematic because some of the customers are clearly not fit to work, and they are clearly very distressed."

I wrote about the issue of suicide on my blog some time ago. Many campaigners have been worried for some time at the regularity and seriousness of comments made about planned suicide attempts. It is a terribly sensitive area and one that should be dealt with without a trace of scaremongering. However, we read very matter-of-fact, detailed plans from supporters who state that they are considering taking their own lives on a daily basis and our concern has grown by the week.

As I researched the issue, I found that, in fact, the government keep no records at all on how many people from this most vulnerable of groups already commit suicide. Those living in pain or depression, exhaustion or despair clearly face heavier burdens than more able citizens. Any scheme that aims to radically reduce the number of people receiving some kind of state support to this group ought surely to know what risk there is of increasing the chance of suicide?

Studies from America and charity groups seem to indicate that in fact, this group is at least 4 times more likely to commit suicide than healthy or non-disabled people with the figure rising to 8 times more likely if the condition involves symptoms such as severe head pain or mental illness. Remember, this is before the enormous pressure currently being heaped on claimants has even come into effect.

A few weeks ago, a fellow campaigner called me in tears. She'd received yet another email from a supporter detailing very clear plans to take their own life. Not only had the person made their mind up, but they knew exactly what they intended to do. The person stated that they would take her own life in a very public place. Their only hope left was that by doing so it would stop our country from sleep-walking into this misguided disaster. The sender of the email hoped that people would wake up to what was going on and even appealed for others to join them.

To those who say it is insensitive to discuss this, I say : Read my emails for a week or two. Read the comments left on my blog and others. If people are willing to discuss ending their own lives so clearly on public forums, it is our duty to listen and act.

If the article in the Guardian is true, then our government must be perfectly aware that benefit changes are causing such distress that people are thinking of taking their own lives - some are already doing so.

The shame we should all feel must make us act. Now. Before it is too late.

**If anyone needs any support at all over these issues or simply needs to talk things through, please contact

Saturday 7 May 2011

Local Triumph!!

What a couple of days!

As most of you will know, I was standing for the local council elections. When I say I live in True-Blue Toryville, I'm not sure many of you appreciate just what I mean. There hasn't been a Labour party in my town for decades. Some years we didn't even field candidates and if we did, we were usually beaten into 4th place by UKIP.

We were encouraged to put all of our time and resources into fighting for the marginal seats a few miles along the coast. Labour simply ceased to exist where I live. The Lib Dems were the opposition here, and we colluded to allow them to eat away at the vast Tory majorities, slowly building up a broad base of support.

We were rewarded with unpleasant leaflets sneering at our lack of presence and a sprinkling or dirty tricks.

I decided to stand for Labour a few years ago. I couldn't bear the fact that Labour voters didn't even have a candidate to vote for and stood as a paper candidate so that, if nothing else, democracy would be served.

Slowly, others joined me and this year, with the coalition leaving many feeling upset and betrayed, we managed to persuade our CLP (for the first time) that we should actually do some work in our own constituencies.

It won't sound like much to those of you who volunteer in busy cities and thriving Labour heartlands, but for the first time, we managed to field a candidate in every ward and I wrote a heartfelt plea to Labour voters, appealing to them to vote with their hearts. I suggested that we test the old Lib theory that "Labour cannot win here" "Vote with your hearts, just for once" I suggested, and let's just see what happens.

We hoped to put a leaflet through every door in my constituency, and amazingly, volunteers popped up from everywhere with offers of help to deliver them. It took a herculean effort for a party so fragmented, but we did it with just a day to spare.

And that was it. That was our election campaign. Other candidates used my leaflet too and made their own massive efforts, roping in family and friends to help. We were a team again and it felt amazing.

I love polling day. I always dress up to the nines (always good to out-Tory the Tories I feel) and smile and nod my way through as much of the day as I can. on Thursday, we'd also managed to put together a rota so that my polling station would be manned all day. For the first time in decades, three pretty yellow, blue and red rosettes sat side by side.

And what an odd day it was! For the first time since 1997 people were  actually glad that I was there. Normally, no-one really speaks to me all day. A few defiant voters hand me their polling card pointedly and shake my hand, but other than that I am roundly ignored and have to content myself with good natured opposition-baiting and friendly banter.

Thursday saw me nearly as busy as the other three, with voter after voter smiling or winking or patting me on the back, delighted to have a voice, delighted there was somewhere they could register a vote of protest. I knew the result was likely to be a bit better than last year, but I'm used to false hope and over-excitement. At the last election, the Libs got 38% of the vote, while I got 15% - we were only on the very first step of an endless staircase.

Let's not forget I'm not well. (This is a diary, after all.) By the end of Thursday, I staggered home at 8.30, ate my dinner and fell into bed. I was so exhausted and in so much pain, I nearly collapsed in the hallway.

The following day, colleagues from all over the town reported similar popularity and we even arranged  to go to the count, hoping for the first time that it wouldn't be too humiliating to venture in.

I couldn't get there until 10.30 ish and when I arrived, they'd just started to count.

Something extraordinary started to happen. As I watched my friend's count, her pile was going up as quickly as the Lib one! It couldn't possibly be true, but she seemed to be in second place. I scurried off to my table and sure enough, my pile of ballots was equally large. I'd got on very well with the Conservatives at my polling station and they confirmed that I seemed to be in second place, almost as excited for me as I was!

The next hour or so was just brilliant. I am a self-confessed election geek, and seeing the delight of my colleagues, the grim faces of the Lib Dems and the piles of Labour votes right across the count, I was practically dizzy with excitement. Suddenly, I was being mobbed by scores of Tories all shouting "congratulations" and trying to shake my hand at once*. I'd come second!! With a massive 29% swing to Labour, I'd overturned decades of tactical voting in just one campaign.

Soon, other seats declared and we managed three second places!! Three! for a party that hadn't even existed a year or so before. For the first time in living memory we got to enjoy a little reward for all our hard work.

Anyone looking at the results would simply see a sea of blue. The same old blue they always see. But underneath there is a story that no paper will report. Labour became the opposition again and the Lib Dems took a knock from both sides.

You see, they rarely play fair locally. They attack the Conservatives violently while sneering at us at every opportunity. You could argue that it's "just politics" but it doesn't win many friends. I'm not sure who was more excited yesterday, us or the Tories. They are heartily sick of the Libs in opposition, and celebrated the return of us reds in a way that was almost unseemly - so much so, that in a case of dreadful sour grapes, the Lib Dem leader referred to a "New, blue and red coalition in town" in his speech and was heckled by a Conservative shouting "Long may it last!!"

So, from now on, there will be a Labour voice in my town. Our group has doubled in numbers in the last year and we finally have the manpower and commitment to run successful campaigns. We have a web designer in our little group and a marketing expert. We have a few old time, battle hardened experts to help with organisation and a band of leaflet deliverers and voter-id volunteers to start to find our vote and target it more effectively. We are going to pool resources with our neighbouring constituency and work together. There will be street stalls in the centre of town every month and we're running debt counselling drop-ins for local residents, manned by two other volunteers from legal professions.

If we never win a council seat, I can at least promise that we will oppose, we will give our voters a voice.

Today feels very nice indeed.

Friday 6 May 2011

Clegg in "Tories Lie" Shocker!!

More later, but one thing that occurs to me this morning is that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems just can't be as naive as they seem. Surely. Can they?

This morning the airwaves are jammed with Lib Dems telling tales to teacher. "He stole my referendum" "He fibbed" "He broke my coalition"

Can they honestly be surprised to find that Conservatives might lie sometimes? That Tories might sell their granny for an archaic voting system that gives them an unfair advantage? It's like a gazelle complaining that a lion ate him. Or bread reacting with astonishment at being made into a sandwich.

No-one else is surprised. No-one. Not even Conservatives. They did what they had to do and won the referendum. No hard feelings, back to business. OK, the campaign was a bit dirty, they were economical with the truth, but it's not like Lib Dems know nothing of that at local level. In my area and many others they run the dirtiest, nastiest election campaigns known to man.

We are told that "the bonhomie of the rose garden has gone". The only thing that astonishes people in the real world is that it was ever allowed to flourish so unquestioningly in the first place.

Do any of you remember that documentary - 5 Days that Changed Britain? I clearly remember Clegg saying that he phoned a friend during coalition negotiations who also knew Cameron well. "Can I trust this guy?" He asked. I shouted back "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" at the TV screen. "He's a Tory!! He's lied in every single speech he's made during the election campaign and before. He's like a tiger played by Leslie Phillips"

I honestly thought that Clegg must know it too, but had chosen to ignore it for the deputy PM job and a cabinet full of ministers. The sense of genuine outrage Lib Dems are expressing this morning makes me wonder if Clegg is, after all, the most naive politician of all time.?