Sunday, 17 May 2015

Politics: Addressing poverty is key: new MP

Holly Lynch, the newly-elected Labour MP for Halifax, has said how proud she is to represent the constituency in Parliament.

Ms Lynch narrowly held the seat for Labour in a close election battle against Conservative candidate Philip Allott.

She held the seat against the national backdrop of a Conservative majority, with Labour losing 26 Parliamentary seats across the UK.

“We bucked the national trend in Halifax - I think we always do - so there’s a silver lining there,” she said.

“We had hoped that we’d have a Labour government -I’ve just got to work twice as hard on the same objectives.”

Ms Lynch said her priorities are to address poverty in Halifax, especially child poverty and the rise in food-banks.

Some of the key policies such as a getting rid of the spare room subsidy (known as the bedroom tax) and curbing the privatisation of NHS would be much more challenging to deal with under a Conservative administration.

“We’re not in a position to get rid of the bedroom tax, which looks like its only going to get worse,” she said.

“We’re not in a position to repeal the Social Care Act, which will lead to more privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS, putting more pressure on hospitals and frontline staff.”

Ms Lynch said that the most pressing issue is to re-build the Labour Party following its election defeat and the resignation of their leader Ed Miliband.

“The truth is we’ve got a lot to learn about why the result went the way it did,” she said.

“We’re going to be speaking to a lot of people and doing a lot of soul-searching - there’s no substitute for listening in politics.

“We’re going to have a period of re-building and finding a new leader is going to be a key part of that,” she said.

“There are lots of options for good leaders from our region, as well as plenty of options for women leaders as well - we may well have a Yorkshire candidate, if not a Yorkshire leader.”

Ms Lynch has spent the week since her election victory adjusting to her new life in Westminster.

“There’s a lot to take in - there’s a lot of traditions and etiquettes you have to pick up quite quickly,” she said.

“On top of that there are quite a lot of complex procedures in law-making that you’ve got to get your head wrapped around.

“Then there’s the practical aspects of finding an office in Halifax, finding a flat in London.

“What a change, what an opportunity, what a lot of work - I’m in a position where I can help people and make a lot of difference,“ she said.

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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Politics: Whittaker's pledge: Cash for schools is my priority

Todmorden High and Calder High schools will be the top of Craig Whittaker’s priority list when he returns to Westminster next week.

Mr Whittaker reiterated his promise to address the appalling condition of the school buildings following his re-election as the Conservative MP for Calder Valley.

He said: “My priority for the Calder Valley, as it has been for the past five years, is to continue working hard as a good local constituency MP - looking at our schools, to keep badgering the government for money for Todmorden and Calder High School.”

He said the Prime Minister David Cameron has promised the money and that he will hold Mr Cameron to account on that promise.
Prior to his election in 2010, Mr Whittaker made the same promise to the people of Calder Valley, but was unable to secure funding for the project.

In February this year, Mr Whittaker mounted a rooftop protest at Todmorden High when it became clear that the school, along with Calder High, had been overlooked for funding from two different government schemes.

Andrew Whitaker, headteacher at Todmorden High, was critical of the last government’s failure to fund the much-needed repairs at his school, but welcomed Mr Whittaker’s commitment to the issue. He said: “Todmorden High School is a very good school with an outstanding group of students.

“Our whole community were therefore rightly disappointed that the previous coalition government decided not to allocate essential funding to transform our buildings.

“We therefore welcome the support from Craig Whittaker MP in working with all adults associated with the school as we continue to make every effort to ensure that we secure the very best resources for our very deserving community of students.”

Anthony Guise, headteacher at Calder High School, said he was pleased to hear Mr Whittaker will continue fighting for improvements, but criticised the government for allowing the school to fall into disrepair.

He said: “As one of the remaining state-maintained schools, it is appalling that we are still having to educate the children of the Calder Valley in buildings that are no longer fit for purpose.

“In 2010, the Local Authority identified £4.5 million of work that needed doing then.

“The level of investment required is sadly beyond the coffers of Calderdale Council, so to secure funding for even a major refurbishment would be a fantastic result for the Calder High community would be a major achievement and would have a major impact on the quality of experience we could provide,” he said. “I am committed to improving Calder High School, both inside and out and I am glad that Craig is prepared to continue fighting for the same end.”

Sue McMahon, National Union of Teachers divisional secretary for Calderdale, criticised Mr Whittaker’s “empty rhetoric”.

She said: “Despite being on the Education Select Committee, Craig Whittaker has had little influence or impact. He and his government have had five years yet have failed to deliver. Huge resources are having to be committed by Calderdale Council in order to patch-up both schools.

“Our young people and staff deserve buildings fit for the 21st century.

Coun Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group on Calderdale Council, welcomed Mr Whittaker’s priorities, but said the scheme for building new schools leaves local authorities with a lot of uncertainty.

:“If he can do that, great - but he said that last time,” he said.

“We don’t care where the money comes from or who delivers it, these schools should have had investment ten-years-ago.

“My worry now is that at least under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future there was a clear programme that said over time every school will either be rebuilt or refurbished.

“We seem to be back to this game of bidding for bits of money every year with no certainty as to what will be there which makes it incredibly difficult to plan ahead,” he said.

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Monday, 11 May 2015

Politics: Tories make only gain in council electinos

The Conservatives were the only party to gain ground in the Calderdale Council elections at the expense of a seat lost for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour group are still the largest group on Calderdale Council with 24 seats, the Conservatives have 21, Liberal Democrats five and there is one independent councillor.

No party has enough seats to claim an overall majority on the council, but is currently being run by a Conservative-led coalition.
Conservative Mike Payne was elected in Sowerby Bridge over Labour incumbent Dave Draycott with a 250-vote majority.

Mr Payne said: “Obviously I am very pleased. This is the third time I have stood to be on the Council.

“Praise must go to Dave Draycott for all the work as a councillor he has done over the years and all for the community.

“I now look forward to working a lot for the community.” Chris Pearson took Greetlan d and Stainland for the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 844 votes after Peter Wardhaugh stood down.

He said: “It is incredibly humbling. So many people have supported me and this is the culminations of three years hard work.

“People have put their trust in to get the work done and there is a clear determination for change.”

Labour leader Tim Swift held onto his Town seat by 625 votes and deputy Labour leader Barry Collins held on to Illingworth and Mixenden with a majority of 545 votes.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader James Baker managed to hold onto his Warley seat with a majority of 55 votes. Scott Benton, the Deputy leader of the Conservative group, maintained his seat in Brighouse with a 948-vote majority.

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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Politics: Tories pushed all the way

The Conservatives held onto to Calder Valley, but saw Labour cut their majority by almost a third.

Craig Whittaker held onto the seat for a second term, but saw his majority reduced by more than 31 per cent to Labour’s Josh Fenton-Glynn from a majority of 6,431 in 2010 to 4,427 in 2015.

Following the result Mr Whittaker thanked his campaign team and the constituents who voted for him to stay in power.

He said: “They clearly do not want the regressive policies and out-of-date, out-of-touch Labour party.

“They’ve seen through the lies and petty politics and I thank each and every one of them for putting their faith in me for a second term.”

Labour’s Josh Fenton-Glynn has said he wouldn’t rule-out standing again, but said that it would be the decision of the party.

He said: “I congratulate Craig Whittaker on being re-elected - we don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues and I’ll continue to fight for the people of Calder Valley.”

“We had the greatest swing towards Labour than any other constituency in the country, and we increased our vote by about 5,000 - that’s not an endorsement of Craig’s time in office.”

UKIP saw their vote share increase by 8.8 per cent and the Liberal Democrats saw their share fall by 20.2 per cent.

The Green Party saw their share of the vote more than double compared to 2010, with Jenny Shepherd receiving 2,090 compared to 858.

Ms Shepherd said,“This growth in the numbers of people voting Green gives us a good basis for starting to turn Calderdale green, by tackling the issues that people have told us matter to them.

“That’s why the Greens will continue to push for a fairer, more representative system so in future everyone has the confidence to vote for what they believe in.”

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Friday, 8 May 2015

Politics: Tory MP's Savile tweet sparks internet backlash

The Conservative candidate for the Calder Valley in today’s General Election has sparked anger after sharing a joke comparing the Labour Party to paedophile Jimmy Savile.

Mr Whittaker, who served as Calderdale Council’s cabinet member for children and young people between 2007-10 and sat on the Education Select Committee between 2010-15, shared a post on Twitter linking to a Daily Mail article which read: “Trust Labour? I’d rather trust Jimmy Savile to babysit.”

Mr Whittaker has been widely condemned for sharing the tweet and has been criticised by hundreds of Twitter users who have branded the joke as “sick”, “vile” and “crass”.

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour’s candidate for the Calder Valley, said: “You would think that someone in his position would have a greater sense of sympathy to these issues - it’s deeply offensive.”

He was also criticised by charities including the Care Leavers’ Association and the Who Cares? Trust.

The Care Leavers’ Association wrote on its Twitter account: “We are not happy with @Whittaker4mp comments RE:Jimmy Savile on his Twitter. We would like comment from him.”

Mr Whittaker was chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers from 2012 until April this year.

Twitter user Ruth Kennedy wrote: “Really quite confused at how chair of APPG for looked after children could endorse that.”

Mr Whittaker has declined calls to apologise.

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Politics: It's Holly for Halifax!

The Labour Party held onto the key marginal seat of Halifax... but only just.

Holly Lynch held onto the seat in a close contest between herself and the Conservative Philip Allott.

Labour’s majority was reduced by 61 per cent from 1,472 votes in 2010 to 428 in 2015.

Ms Lynch was selected only six weeks prior to the election following the decision by former MP Linda Riordan to stand down.

Following the result Ms Lynch said: “Having been selected only six weeks ago, it’s been a tremendous team effort.

“I want to hit the ground running and speak to residents in every area of Halifax.

“This result could have been possible without a dedicated group of people.”

She thanked Mr Allott, describing him as a “formidable opponent” and told Gary Scott, the Green Party candidate, that she promised to be the “greenest MP Halifax has ever seen.”

The Conservatives increased their total vote share by five per cent since 2010, but this still wasn’t enough to defeat Labour.

Mr Allott said: “Obviously it’s a hugely disappointing result. We campaigned extremely hard for two years. “For various reasons we failed to connect with Park Ward as well as we could.

“Had we secured that vote it would have been a Conservative victory.”

The Liberal Democrats saw a 15.4 per cent drop in their total vote share, while UKIP saw a 11.3 per cent increase.

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Politics: UKIP candidate 'voting for a hung parliament'

A UKIP candidate has said a hung Parliament is what’s best for democracy.

Paul Rogan, UKIP PPC for Calder Valley, has said that the public will be better served by politicians if neither the Labour nor Conservative parties gain a majority in next week’s General Election.

“A hung Parliament is more democratic and better for long-termism,” he said.

“What you get now is a flip-flop - every time we get a change in government everything’s up in the air and everything gets turned upside-down.

“If you have a hung Parliament - or what I see as a more democratic Parliament - the civil servants, the press and the parliamentarians have to work differently,” he said.

“There’s more compromise and more negotiation - you have to work harder to reach an agreement.”

Mr Rogan explained that the current system is less representative and can give a majority party the ability to push forward legislation without negotiating with other parties.

He added that he’d like to see the voting system reformed to a form of proportional representation where voters will be able to vote for an individual to represent their constituency and cast a second vote for the party of their choice.

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Politics: Tory business boost pledge

The Conservatives have committed to create an enterprise zone in Halifax within the first 100 days of the new parliament.

Business Secretary Matthew Hancock told the Courier exclusively that if the Tories gain a majority government after the General Election, he will establish an enterprise zone in Halifax to give a boost to local industries.

“Over the past five years, enterprise zones have helped grow jobs and bring investment to areas where they have been set,” he said.

“After strong campaigning from Philip Allott, we’ve committed to bringing an enterprise zone to Halifax.

“Unemployment has dropped by a third in Halifax and there have been 3,000 new businesses since 2010, but we don’t want to rest on our record and we think that Halifax has a strong future if Britain sticks to the plan.”

Businesses operating within the enterprise zone will get relief on taxes including business rates; extra support from the government and the Local Enterprise Partnership; and the ability to fast-track planning applications.

Mr Hancock said: “We’ve had great success with these in other parts of the country - they give a boost by making it easier for businesses to grow.”

Mr Hancock said what kinds of industries will be in the enterprise zone will be up to the people of Halifax, but said that Halifax has a strong history of manufacturing and could see the benefits felt by that sector.

He said: “We need to back British manufacturers. Given the growth recently, and given the history, there’s a big opportunity for an enterprise zone to take Halifax forward.

“It will give us the framework for the investment that everyone wants to see.”

Philip Allott, Conservative PPC for Halifax, said: “It’s really positive - it makes a big statement that there’s a lot of effort being put in in terms of regeneration.

“I’ve been pressing ministers for a long time now to get some inward investment and now the government’s come good and we’re actually going to do it.”

Holly Lynch, Labour PPC for Halifax, said: “Having worked for a company in Halifax, I know how tough the past five years have been for businesses.

“Yorkshire Forward and Business Link disappeared almost overnight when the Tories took office, so it’s a bit late - less than a week before the election - to start making promises.”

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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Feature: UB40 stay loyal to their music and politics

When UB40 released their debut album Signing Off in 1980, few could have suspected the global success that the Birmingham reggae-pop act would achieve, selling 70 million records over three-and-a-half decades.

With their first three albums about social injustice, UB40 appealed to a generation raised on punk and reggae, reaching number two in the UK charts with their debut and follow-up Present Arms.

“We’ve got working class politics, and I think that shone out from the first couple of albums,” says guitarist and founder Robin Campbell.

“The politics haven’t changed in any way, shape or form - we still write our own material and our albums now are just as political as our first few albums were.”

Their fourth studio album Labour of Love saw the group achieve their first UK number one single with a cover version of Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine.

The album led many of UB40’s fans to accuse the group of covering love songs to make money and betraying their working class roots.

“The success of Labour of Love changed a lot of people’s attitudes towards us - I’m really tired of people saying that we sold out,” says Robin.

“The first album had cover versions on it, but maybe they were less well-known songs.

“Nothing’s really changed - we’ve done a series of cover albums. I think we’ve done four out of 18 albums.

“Nothing’s really changed except we release a new covers album every seven or eight years - we do those albums for fun, and we wanted to do them from when we started - they’re just covers of the songs we grew up on, the songs that made us want to be UB40 in the first place,” he says.

Growing up in Birmingham during the 60s, Robin says he was inspired by the varied music he was exposed to, especially from the immigrant communities from the Caribbean that had made their home in the city.

“I grew up on the Beatles the same as everybody else and all the English pop music of the day - Merseybeat and all that,” says Robin.

“Before that I was listening to ska, which was the then Jamaican pop music - that was because I had a lot of Jamaican friends who all played ska.

“In the summer of ‘67 reggae happened - it was rocksteady, it wasn’t even called reggae then - and that changed my life,” he says.

“I became obsessed with this new form of music - the pop music slowed down and the bass and drums became the prominent thing and the song and the singer became less important than the ‘riddim’ - it changed the way I listened to music.

“It was people like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Ken Boothe - all these people had hit records in the British charts before the 70s happened, and before Marley and the Wailers happened.

“They dressed the same as the other pop artists at the time - they’d wear flares and these horrible, flowery shirts - I thought reggae was going to rule the world.

“It wasn’t perceived as political music until the 70s when Bob Marley happened, but Marley was just one artist and lots of other artists jumped on the bandwagon - they grew dreadlocks and started singing ‘conscious’ lyrics,” he says.

“For me, reggae is no less relevant today than it was then - it’s just a form of pop music to me.”

Former UB40 lead singer Ali Campbell released his debut solo album in 2007 and announced that he had left the group the following year.

Following Ali’s departure, UB40 recruited Robin’s younger (and Ali’s elder) brother Duncan to step in as lead vocalist and he has been performing with the group since.

“When Ali left it was very difficult - it was quite traumatic,” says Robin. “It was heading that way for a couple of years - he was obviously unhappy being in the band and there was always the threat that he was going to go solo - and he did.

“We were tremendously lucky that I had another younger brother who should have and could have been in the band from the beginning, but he opted not to be and regretted it ever since.

“When Ali left, I went to Duncan and said ‘how do you fancy the job?’ obviously, he jumped at it and also got Ali’s blessing over the phone.

“Since then, Ali hasn’t spoken to him or me - it’s all very disappointing, it’s all very silly,” he says.

“We still make a sound that is instantly recognisable as UB40 and with the similarity of Duncan’s voice to Ali’s, we can do a pretty good version of the old stuff.

“It’s not that weird - when you look at other family bands where brothers sing together, there is a tonal quality that brothers share - that’s why I knew we were incredibly lucky to have another brother that would be able to give us that.

“We’re not doing a slavish impression of Ali and wouldn’t try to, but we can still sing our songs and sound like UB40 - that’s a fantastic advantage.”

Recently, the dispute came to a head when Ali, along with other former UB40 members Mickey Virtue and vocalist Terence “Astro” Wilson went on tour using the UB40 name.

“There’s only one UB40 - we’ve never stopped. It’s difficult to talk about, but we’re taking our brother to court to stop him using the name of the band that he left eight years ago.

“He did leave, and to start years after leaving the band to decide that because things didn’t work out the way he wanted to, that he could hijack the name of the band that he left, is just ludicrous.”

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Politics: Lib Dems needed 'to keep other parties in-check'

A Liberal Democrat candidate has said it is important that his party is part of a coalition after the election to keep the other parties in line.

Alisdair Calder McGregor, Liberal Democrat PPC for Calder Valley, said: “You need to have Liberal Democrats to keep either a Labour or Conservative government in check because UKIP and the Green Party are just extreme versions of those.

“Labour need someone to hold their hand to say ‘you’ve got to keep the economy on track’ and the Tories need someone to hold them back to say ‘you can’t cut that’.”

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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Politics: Christian Party candidate says politicians have lost their way

A Christian Party candidate has said that modern day politics has lost its way and needs a stronger moral foundation.

Trevor Bendrien, the Christian Party PPC for Halifax, has said that politicians now overlook important values like honesty, integrity and kindness in favour of economic competence.

He said: “It’s all about spreadsheets and the spreadsheets don’t balance because they miss out the important things that make Britain what it is.

“We’ve turned into a nation run by accountants and they’re wrecking it.

“Politicians need to be honest. Politicians have reputation of being a power-oriented group who will say anything to get into leadership and then ignore their promises.

“We need a dependable voice to speak out for our town rather than play party politics with it.”

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Friday, 1 May 2015

Politics: Party wants to put Yorkshire First

Rod Sutcliffe has said that Yorkshire has a comparable population to Scotland, yet doesn’t have the same powers to make decisions on a regional level.

“Yorkshire is big enough to manage itself. Yorkshire has five million people - Scotland has five million people,” he said.

“Scotland has self-government - Yorkshire doesn’t have any of those things. The key is to have regional tax-raising powers and powers to decide how to spend it.

“What we get here is we get funding and then we’re more or less told how to spend it.

“Nearly all of the council funding is already allocated before we even get it, so there’s no spare cash for any sort of development. If Scotland can do it, we can do it.”

Dr Sutcliffe said he would like to see powers devolved to all regions across the country, with the ability to raise taxes and fund projects locally.

“All regions should have more say in their affairs - the way I’m trying to do that is to use Yorkshire as an example,” he said.

“If you look across Europe, most countries have federal systems of regional government.

“If you look at Germany, the average is about five million.

“In the long-term we’d like to see most of the powers that Westminster has, and most of the decisions that Westminster takes, being devolved to the regions.

“The only things a national government needs to be managing are foreign affairs including international trade and development, defence, immigration and currency.”

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