Category Archives: Politics Blog

Remember Aylan

Yesterday through tragedy Britain showed its heart.
There’s been a slow burn of racism creeping into our communities; an unkind spirit growing in our towns. “You’re not welcome here” becoming the new tag line of our cities.
Yesterday we were faced with the reality of our actions.
Yesterday the migrant became a human. Yesterday the greedy scrounger became a child. And we cried and we mourned and we asked… What can I do?

Well my advice, is firstly, you can remember

When you dress your little boy for school today, when you tuck your little girl up in bed tonight, when you take your child to the beach for the first time, remember Aylan.
When you hold your baby in your arms when they cry, when you carefully put your little brother or grandson into his a child seat, when you do bath time, remember Aylan,

Remember Aylan and the thousands and thousands like him; remember that every minute another Aylan will die through poverty, famine, conflict & disease,

We are so lucky to have been born in a world with so much, with safety, with an NHS, with a stable government, with food, water, education.

Aylan wasn’t so lucky, he was born into war & poverty. His parents hoped that if they got to Europe maybe we could share some of what we have with their son. He never made it.
But other Aylans will make it. They might even make it to England, to your town or your city.

How will you respond?

Will you hold up the “you’re not welcome sign” and say “there’s no room for you here?” Or will you remember Aylan and say “we’re so glad you made it”… “Welcome home!”

Protecting Children

abused-boy-350 This week, I’ve been reflecting on children and those most vulnerable in our communities. On Sunday I was speaking to a young boy who told me it was his birthday the next day. His shoes and clothes had holes in them. He told me he wanted to jump off a tall building and die because his life was so hard. I later wrote an article for The Guardian about the closure of a charity called Kids Company. The charity worked with vulnerable young people like this boy, but had to close last week, mostly because of funding.

Around 6,000 children who used their services, now have nowhere to go. The life line it provided to so many children has now been taken away and it’s closure is going to be very painful for those left behind. When leading A Way Out, the charity I started in my twenties, I had to make the difficult decision to close services. We provided drop in centres, youth clubs, creative programmes, counselling, therapies, meals and mentoring. We worked with women and young people, many of whom had been through some kind of abuse, neglect or trauma. The damage they’d suffered didn’t happen overnight. Change didn’t happen overnight either. Addiction was common place, as was self-harm, eating disorders, homelessness, unemployment and family breakdown. We needed to help people rebuild their lives piece by piece. We played a vital role in changing communities and breaking the cycle of addiction, poverty and abuse. Closing any part of this, is terribly hard to do.

There are some amazing community projects and charities all across Teesside and I’m worried some of this work is also at risk. Play projects, young carer support, foodbanks, recovery services, counselling, youth clubs, sports clubs, acting schools, elderly care and so much more are ran by the charity sector. Many of them need more funds than what they have to keep going. Those that have relied on short term government funding are particularly vulnerable, not knowing year to year where their next grant will come from. I want to look at how we protect and support them. Local government are facing huge cuts because of the aggressive deficit cutting programme being imposed by central government. As their money gets less and less, the amount of money that can be given to the voluntary sector also gets less. This worries me. These services are too precious and too important to cut or cut back on.

We sadly need charities more than ever as life gets harder for the most vulnerable. There are too many people, like the boy I met on Sunday who are really struggling. Across Teesside we need to use our voices, finance and time to ensure the services that help them, continue. We must also put political pressure on those making decisions to think twice about the level of cuts needed and where they are being made. Just because children can’t vote, it shouldn’t mean they don’t have a voice. Let’s stand with them and say “no more”.We must stand up to government and make it clear, if we can’t trust them with our children, we can’t trust them on anything.

Beyond the Ballot Box

Ballot-box-006 Today is the General Election. In my last general election themed blog I wanted to have a slightly different conversation to the majority of what you will hear and take part in today.
I have spoken about trying to decide how to vote, about why to vote and also about why I am voting Labour. Today though I want to share what I think is the most important conversation we all need to be having which is this… “What happens beyond the ballot box?” Our media is full of stories about our politicians, their policies, their supporters and their critics. We have a continuous commentary about who may be in power and what kind of government we may wake up to on May 8th. The choice we make today is so important but I don’t think it’s the final deciding factor that determines what Britain looks like for the next 5 years

Russell Brand said something interesting the other day. He said this:
“Politics isn’t just something we can just be involved with every five years, Democracy is for everyday, not just elections.”
Ed Miliband said in the same interview with Russell Brand that politicians can only do so much to change the world or our country. He said we need people to play their part, to put pressure on governments to make the changes needed. I agree with him. If we pin all hope on politicians we could be disappointed, no matter how great they or their party may be. Instead we must begin to see ourselves as participants in democracy, with our participation continuing long after we cast our vote at the ballot box. Our voices are important.

Politics should be a partnership between people and government, not a transaction.

Over the last few months I have seen some wonderful examples of this nationally but also across the Tees Valley. The Vote for the NHS movement galvanised thousands of people to go and march and sign petitions about saving the NHS from privatisation. It was started by a group of Mums from Darlington who were worried about their health service. The NHS has featured heavily in political parties manifestos, some say as a direct result of these campaigns.
The Trussel Trust and Citizens Advice have written articles and campaigned about food poverty. These two issues have also been featured in some parties manifestos.

Other examples of year round politics and democracy are things like, For People Not Profit in Saltburn who have a film night, every third Thursday in The Marine pub, raising awareness about issues of social justice, human rights & environmental issues. The People’s Assembly campaigning against the severe cuts to public services and public sector funding. Thrive in Stockton, working with people who have been left destitute by benefit sanctions, helping them have a voice and to know their rights. Middlesbrough against racism is often a presence at right wing protests. There have also been groups tackling much more local issues, like Save the Regent Cinema, who succeeded in winning investment from Redcar Borough council to renovate the beautiful old cinema on Redcar seafront and Save Teesside airport who have a strong social media presence keeping people informed about what is happening with our local airport.

All of these are people led movements and more than a few of them have resulted in their issues being adopted and tackled by our politicians. So in amongst the noise of today about who will run our councils, towns, cities and country I also want us to think about what role we can play beyond the ballot box and beyond today. Your voice and your engagement is as important as your vote. If you really want to help shape the country, the community and the place you live in then your X on the ballot paper should only be the beginning.

We all must hope that the party who win’s will listen to the voice of the people, but whatever happens we can’t go back to business as usual. Let’s make sure that our activism, political conversation and democratic engagement doesn’t stop once the media have got bored of the weeks of analysis of why SNP mopped up in Scotland and why after everything UKIP only won 2 seats. Let’s make sure it grows, develops, builds momentum, matures and intensifies and let’s make sure we all play our part in shaping the Britain of the future.

Vote With Hope

Don’t know who to vote for or even why vote… Here’s some of my thoughts, here is why I am voting. I hope this will make you think about what’s important to you.

Each of us are citizens, we are not just individuals, we are the community, we are the town we live in, we are our country. As a citizen, we have a responsibility for the place of which we are a part. It is our responsibility to choose who governs that place and who makes up the laws and rules for that place. When we vote we are making a choice on behalf not just of our families and friends but hopefully, on behalf of our communities and for the country.

When I vote tomorrow I am voting for the party that I think will make the best job of running the country and the politicians I think will make the best job of looking after my borough and the community that I live in.

As you reflect on what’s important to you, I strongly encourage you to watch this.

owen jones, thinking of not voting, power, people, democracy

Tomorrow I will be voting Labour, this isn’t a decision I made without thinking, it isn’t a political way of thinking I was born into. I spent years working to build a better and stronger society for those most vulnerable. I eventually realised that there was one clear political party that could represent my own values and beliefs the best. Labour. Here’s 5 reasons why.

1) I believe in Labour values – that we achieve more by the strength of our common endeavor than we do as individuals. This is the fundamental difference to conservatism. I believe the years of serving the individual / self, first needs to be reversed and has actually had a detrimental affect on society
2) Labour want to stand up to & tackle unethical & immoral practices of big business. I believe in business, we need prospering industry for prosperous nation BUT… I think it needs controls. Just like individuals need laws to create a safe, ethical & moral landscape for living (think seat belts, theft, violence etc). We have laws to protect ourselves from the worst of ourselves. It’s same with business. It needs laws that ensure it is safe, moral & ethical. To protect it from the worst of itself. Labour aren’t afraid to do this & they also believe it is right. Unlike liberal thinking which thinks there needs to be more freedom.
3) Labour have equality at their core. They believe we should all have equal opportunities. I inherently believe this too. I think it’s a British value that we need to protect. Our care and compassion for ALL is what makes us great!! It’s what makes Britain the envy of the world (I’ve met so many people from other countries who are blown away by our public services / NHS / transport systems / care for those with disabilities) So any party that tries to dismantle that or privatise that are attacking the core of what I believe makes Britain great. Labour get this & are committed to protecting these things.
4) Ed Miliband gets that we need party reform. He isn’t afraid to say that even his own party needs to change to be fit for purpose for the next 20 years (so people’s movements, organising, campaigning, workers unions are all valued and seen as important) this excites me, the potential is big & I want to be a part of helping labour fill that potential
5) I care about the most vulnerable in society. I care about the elderly, at-risk children, homeless, workless, those in social housing… I don’t trust any of the parties to care for the most vulnerable in the way I believe Labour will. They have already made promises about benefit sanctions and scrapping benefit sanctions. I hope this is only the beginning.

So there you go, here’s some reasons to vote, here’s some reasons why I am voting. Now it’s over to you. Vote with hope and never let your voice be taken away from you!

White Noise of Politics

jessie jacobs, politics
For the past few months I’ve been looking at how we get people more engaged in politics, from registering and encouraging people to vote, to mobilising individuals and communities to be more politically active.

One thing has become really obvious in the run up to this General Election. A lot of people genuinely don’t know who to vote for and a very common reason is that people just don’t understand how it all works and what each party stands for.

For the next three days I am going to write an article each day addressing this issue.
We live in an information age. With so much information out there, it may seem strange that so many people are unclear about what politics means and what our political parties are about.
It feels like we are talking about politics more than ever before, my Twitter and Facebook feeds are littered with political posts. The news doesn’t seem to talk about anything else at the moment and our newspapers are a catalogue of party political propaganda. So if there is so much noise, why aren’t people hearing?

Here’s my theory. White noise!

White noise is physics terminology to describe a noise containing many frequencies, a constant background noise that drowns out all other sounds. It can also be used to describe a meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub or chatter.

Has the continuous coverage of MP’s arguing; the sometimes seemingly meaningless conversations of our media broadcasters (reporting things like how many girlfriends a potential PM has had) and the never ending bombardment of stories about the seven major parties and what they have or haven’t promised, what is wrong with what they have promised and why what they have promised can’t be trusted; simply created a political white noise.

If we aren’t absolutely dedicated to the political cause, with weeks to spare researching the parties and getting our head round it all, how do we unpick all that has been said. How do we find truth from all the chatter? How do we hear what is really being said? And importantly how do we move forward and make that very important decision about who to vote for in two days time.

I am not sure sadly we can address this issue in a few days. For real democratic participation we need to re-think a whole host of things. We might need to re-think community, revive public gatherings, start going down the pub more, lobby for better political education in schools, encourage people to get active in political parties or unions, join or start campaigns, make it ok to talk politics at the dinner table or any table, ensure political voices are welcomed at community events, make our community activities more political. All of these things could ensure our communities are more politically aware and active. They could enable year round politics and not just election time politics

Unfortunately for this General Election we only have two days to make up our minds so If you are struggling to hear through the noise and are still unsure who to vote for, why not think about trying the following

1) Ask a friend for advice. We all have those friends who only ever post things about politics. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you have; they spend most of their time talking about it anyway. Don’t think you can’t ask the really basics either. I’ve been asked all sorts of questions and was very happy to answer them.
2) Choose wisely where you get your information from. The BBC are a much more reliable source of news and information than people like the Daily Mail or the Sun. (although some would say not completely unbiased) Many of our other papers and TV stations are owned by a small number of media owners who have their own agendas (usually to protect their billions and ensure they don’t come under scrutiny or restrictions) so I personally would take what they say with a large pinch of salt (or maybe a whole salt mine of the stuff)
3) Take one of those political compass tests, they’re not completely accurate but they do give you an idea of where you lean politically. These two are good and again take them with a pinch of salt, just because your politics align with a certain party, it still doesn’t mean they are the right party to vote for but at least you will know where you lean.
4) Lastly, to try and understand the main differences in the parties it’s good to understand their core principles, these can be described as left or right wing. Here’s a nice little overview of what that means Some parties policies may sound similar but there’s still some fundamental differences so understand these and it may just help you make your mind up.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. This is so important!

Speaking out against benefit sanctions

Today at 12.30pm I am going to be outside Middlesbrough job centre, speaking out about the benefit sanctions regime. It is part of a national day of campaigning called #no2sanctions. I thought I’d share with you why I am speaking out.

I used to run an organisation that worked with some of our communities most vulnerable people. We supported people to find a way out of poverty, sexual exploitation or addiction. I have always tried to be a voice for our service users. I first spoke out about benefits reform quite a few years ago. I was concerned because the new policy being developed looked like it was going to create a system that punishes those who can’t work, making life much harder for them. I questioned how this would help people into employment.

As the reforms developed, we saw correlating increases in poverty, depression, destitution and prostitution. We were told of families going without food, elderly people having to choose between heating or eating, a woman using a neighbours bath to wash as she had no gas for hot water, people turning to begging and in some cases, prostitution to just get by. We have always had poverty in Teesside but this was something else.

One of the specific problems was the amount of people who were being sanctioned. A sanction is where the job centre stops your benefits if you have failed to meet their requirements of “seeking employment”. People were reporting being sanctioned for really simple things like being ten minutes late, being ill and unable to attend their job seeker appointment and not getting through to anyone on the phone. People were giving up and dropping out of the system. This is what would bring them to our door. With nowhere else to turn, they began turning to charities and churches to find food, warmth and support.

I couldn’t believe this was the world we were living in. I grew angry at what I was seeing. Shows like ‘Benefits street’ and ‘Benefits Britain’ didn’t help. They added to the public feeling that there was somehow a “deserving poor”

progress Let’s just say this up front. No-one deserves to be poor, and they definitely don’t deserve to go without food, heating or electricity; particularly when they live in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. It is just not right. People are now catching on to how cruel our system has become and have begun speaking out. Churches, charities, political parties and trade unions have all being making a noise about what is happening in our communities and with our welfare system. Citizens advice produced the ‘Punishing poverty’ report which highlighted how people being sanctioned were driven to suicide attempts, scavenging out of skips and begging. The Church produced a similar report, calling on decision makers to urgently review the current sanctions system, stating one million benefit claimants had been sanctioned in 2014.

Today many of us will gather to say enough is enough. We are saying “No to Sanctions” whilst calling on the government to urgently review it’s welfare processes. We want people supported into employment, what we don’t want is them being punished when they can’t work. Follow the debate using #no2sanctions today!

Time to Register! Time to get political!

time to register
People using their voice and their power to change something or to do something moves me. It is something I am deeply passionate about. The world we live in is better or worse because of people and because of the things they do and say. Politics is the collective action of people. It is the decisions that are made every day. It affects everything. What your local school is like, whether the pot holes in your road are sorted, whether your elderly relative gets good care at home, what your child see’s on TV, whether you have decent street lighting or what the local health service is like. Everything is political, and yet not all of us are political. Not all of us engage in the political process and that worries me. It really worries me.

This year people are predicting the lowest ever voter turn out for the general election, particularly among young people. Last year I learned that research was estimating close to 1 million young people would not be registered to vote at the general election. One million voices not heard on election day. Well, I was determined to do something.

A few months ago, I began having some conversations about this very issue. These conversations have now lead to action. A week of action called “Time to register” where many of us will be taking to the streets, using art, street demonstrations and social media to get young people aged 18-25 voting.
At the moment it is just in county Durham, but we are encouraging people in any town and city to get involved. There’s no copywrite, we just want to get people voting. Here’s the facebook event if you want to get involved webcal:// or use the hashtag #timetoregister to tell us about any events you plan to do.

And for a bit of inspiration, watch this!

Saying “No” to Benefits Street… Warning, this one’s political!

Last week Ralph Lee, head of factual at Channel 4 announced he would not back down to pleas by Stockton locals to stop making Benefit Street in our town, I am one of those locals, but I mean really, why would he?  What power does a little town in The North East of England have to change anything that happens to it?  We will just add it to the long list of things we tried to fight and failed, like

– Thatchers anti-industrial north east revolution (a.k.a lets kill your industry & livelihood & replace it with benefits, revolution)

– Blair’s failure to find adequate money in the treasury to develop north east rail

– Cameron’s local government cuts intervention (a.k.a lets take away your libraries, youth services & art galleries to keep giving bankers in London a bonus)

– Ian Duncan Smiths bedroom tax that is ripping apart communities and turfing pensioners out of their homes

I could go on. People wonder why the North East has a drink problem, well that’s what happens when you rip the soul out of someone, take control of of their life, tell them, they’re rubbish and then maybe make a few TV program’s about it.

Our railways, that could help us rebuild our economy through better links to major cities in the north have been completely neglected.  Despite endless debates in Westminster and pleas to the treasury from our local MP’s, we have trains that make India’s railways look modern.  And then some London based bankers decided to play roulette with all of our money, lose badly and then get a bail out from our government but who pays the price?  Town’s like us, who through austerity are having to find millions and millions of pounds worth of cuts every year because money that we used to get from central government went to bail out the bankers.  We are losing our youth centers, drugs educators, youth workers, domestic violence workers, community nurses, rape counselors and children’s play workers.  And so we go on marches, we cry injustice, we plead stop, but just like Chanel4 ‘s Ralph Lee, they don’t listen, they carry on regardless saying it’s in the public interest.

There is a lot of talk around devolution at the moment.  Westminster are beginning to debate about how London shares greater power with the rest of the nation? I can’t imagine any bright ideas coming from the Tories though, particularly if they continue with the idea of English votes for English laws.  To me English rule means a continuation of the same.  After all, it’s only London that’s the problem really isn’t it?

What 45% of Scotland was saying to Britain last month was that they wanted more control of their lives and what happens to them.  Well join the club Scotland, so do we but we are not going to get it until power is genuinely devolved from Whitehall.  Maybe instead of all of the regions beginning their own Independence campaigns, the only thing we really need to do is join together to tackle the power of the city of London and corporations that control us. Maybe we should come together to say to Cameron and his tax avoiding corporate friends, we are serving you notice, we’d like our nation back oh and we hope you don’t mind, but we’ll probably make a TV documentary about it, while we’re doing it!

Saying Yes to Independents

Much Ado About Muffins - Hambletonian Yard Stockton

Much Ado About Muffins – Hambletonian Yard Stockton

A friend said to me not too long ago that the future of our high streets is the independent shops sector. I wasn’t sure, surely you need some of the big chains to get people visiting the high street. Many people think that securing a Primark would be the answer to all of Stockton’s prayers for instance. But I’ve been on a journey recently and I am beginning to wonder whether my friend was right.

You see I have begun to discover the strength of Teesside’s independent retailers and I am astounded at what I am finding. A few years ago there was a street called Baker street in Middlesbrough, it was fairly run down and many shops and buildings were empty. The wonderfully innovative Middlesbrough council decided to earmark it as a new “cool quarter” and offered incentives for new independent retailers to move in. 3 years later, Baker Street is buzzing and most definitely, the coolest place in town. With it’s vintage shops like Vintagious rags, cool foodie spots like Chilli Cake Deli and the mouth wateringly good Baker Street Café; this quarter has something for everyone and has completely regenerated that part of the Boro. Other councils have run similar schemes. Stockton council introduced its Enterprise Arcade, taking over a large high street shop and giving new retailers the opportunity to try out a business idea. Many of the business were so successful, they then relocated to their own premises, filling Stockton’s streets again with retail life. I have also just re-discovered the old yards of Stockton and they are honestly like finding a diamond in the dirt. These historic streets such as Hambletonian yard and The Ship Inn Yard are bursting with historic character and are filling up with micro-pubs, gift shops and vintage shops, making them a new favorite destination for many.

As well as aiding regeneration, there’s another reason why I am choosing to shop at independents. They are an alternative to big business. I don’t love big corporates. There are too many stories of tax avoidance, zero hour contracts, unethical supply chains and huge corporate payouts for me to feel a strong bond with our big chains. They are in my opinion too focused on profits. Many of us are concerned about non-British nationals taking employment in the retail sector too because of the low paid jobs and easy access. Eventually though, if the retail market keep asset stripping, it could soon turn to fully self operated tills, computerized shelf stackers and holographic sales people, meaning there wont be many jobs left for anyone, regardless of where we were born. It is therefore imperative that we have local businesses, businesses that will always employ local people, always have a human to give you specialist advice and always be there to greet you with a friendly smile.

So why not do your bit for Teesside and say Yes to Independents too, after all it’s probably the future of our High Streets!

My Reflections on Bereavement and Love

The last month has been really hard. I suffered the bereavement of two people close to me. The first was David Zikhali, a close family friend who had been involved in a tragic drowning accident on the River Tees. The second was my Grandma, the lady who brought me up. She was 89 and had been suffering with dementia for maybe five years. Her body and mind finally gave up on the 19th August.

grandma montage

Both deaths were very painful; my Grandmas, particularly so, as we were so close, but Davids was also hard as he was so young, having only just turned 20, a month or so earlier.  As I have walked this journey of loss, I have been reflecting on a few things.  I never imagined how I would cope when Grandma died.  She was my rock, my best friend and I loved her so ridiculously much.  I always wondered when it would happen, often feeling that we were on borrowed time and when she did go, it was horrendous.  The pain is indescribable, like someone is taking away something from inside your heart. I cried and I cried and I cried, but then I stopped crying and I realised, I was not on my own.  In amongst my grief, something very powerful happened, I discovered yet again the power of love and community.

As soon as I heard about grandma dying, I went home to our family house, the house where i had been brought up, where Grandma lived for the last 35 years and where she finally ended her days.  My Mum, Aunty and four of my siblings were already there.  As soon as i got to the house, I wept.  My little youngest brother Jazz held me in his arms.  We don’t hug very often usually but for a few minutes I just cried on his shoulder.  This was the pattern of the day and the next few days.  Family would arrive and we’d cry and then we would talk and make tea.  I have drank a lot of tea over the last few weeks.  Friends began to send kind words of encouragement; messages  on Facebook; cards, flowers and phone calls were received. Many conversations were had about how wonderful Grandma was and what we would miss about her. It has been a long time since I felt so united with my family and cared for by my friends. In amongst our grief, this power of love and community shone through. I can’t convey how much this helped at such a tragic time.

When David died it was very similar. From the moment David died, this love and togetherness was so evident.  Day after day many people visited the site where he had drowned, over 100 people, young and old gathered for a night vigil, his mother opened up her home for visitors to share their grief and many, many people used social media to share their hearts. Within all of these activities we told stories of David, about who he was, how kind he was, why he might have died and what we would miss about him. We grieved collectively and it helped, a lot.

But all of this has now got me thinking. What would society look like if we were all more connected or more together, not just at times of tragedy but all the time? It’s rare for people to have open homes for anyone to pop round. We don’t often gather regularly and share stories, sorrows, news or thoughts. We rarely message someone on Facebook just to say we are thinking of them or that we care. On the whole, people tend to keep “themselves to themselves” but maybe this needs to change? Aren’t community and relationships vital to not only our own personal development but also the survival and developments of our towns and streets and villages? Don’t we need each other? There are too many influences dividing our society at the moment, but maybe we can make a stand. Maybe we can do things differently. Lets make more space in our lives for each other, for our neighbors and for our friends. I know my Grandma always loved a visitor who would just pop round unplanned for a cup of tea, maybe have a think about who you could visit this week. Who could you spend a little more time with? I was so glad to have made space in my life for Grandma and I am now so thankful for all the people who have made space for me over these last few weeks as I have had to say goodbye. 

If you have any thoughts about this, I would love to hear them and if you are going through pain and tragedy I hope you are not alone, if you are please message me.


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