Is it now time for national politics to return to normal?

Dangerous secnes on Brighton Beach last weekend will only be made worse by the blatant flouting of rules and laws by Dominic Cummings

For the past three months there has been a marked reluctance from politicians to criticise each other. We have recognised that those in control at both national and local levels are facing huge and unprecedented problems. They have been making it up as they go along and I don’t say that as a criticism. Has Joe Anderson got some things wrong? Probably and we would probably have made the same mistakes if we had been in control of the Council.

As a Council we must have a thorough review of our activities post coronavirus not so we can play the blame game but so that we can ensure that the learning of what worked and what did not work is captured within our ongoing public health and emergency planning procedures. Liverpool’s Lib Dem team has no intention of going on a party political attack. We have the opportunity to influence events and some of our suggestions have been taken on board. In light of the huge financial, economic and societal problems that our City will face we are determined to work together with Labour for the coming months.

Things look very difficult at a national level. This is perhaps exemplified by the Cummings case. In old fashioned parlance Dominic Cummings was caught ‘bang to rights’. The fact that our buffoon Prime Minister supports him as do the sycophantic sheep in the Cabinet shows that they have a very clear view of society. There is one rule for the likes of ‘us’, the Masters of Society and one rule for ‘them’, the plebs who just pay taxes and have to lump it.

The fact that the Government’s quasi Prime Minister was able to act in breach of both the Coronavirus law and guidelines shows societal norms have broken down. Worse than that in the short term it will cause deaths. Some of our citizens are sufficiently tired of lock down to see the Cummings case as a reason for ignoring the lock down themselves. “If Cummings can do it why not me?” they are asking. Most people will continue to do what is right for their family and neighbours by staying in but an increasing minority will not.

Meanwhile the Government is ignoring its own guidelines by recalling Parliament next week. I know the palace of Westminster well. Tight and winding corridors with no hope of a one way system or proper social distancing will mean that the coronavirus will spread to Peers, MPs and staff. The more elderly and those with underlying health problems will lose their vote and Parliament will lack proper balance as, for example, the Scottish MPs will have real problems in getting to and staying in London. There is only one reason for the return. Johnson now lacks the courage to face a serious set of questions without the braying donkeys that make up the majority of the Tory Party in the Commons.

There are still many things that the Government is getting right. There would be few who would have a go at the Chancellor for the steps he has taken to keep our economy as strong as possible. Increasingly, though they are taking acts based not on the needs of 100% of us but the prejudices of a minority of us. Two examples will suffice:

The farce over immigration and the NHS levy for immigrants. On the latter of these the Government changed its mind three times in 24 hours and eventually gave an exemption for care and health service workers not to have to pay extra, above their tax and NI, for risking their lives to save ours. However, although the pandemic has shown that we still need immigrants to work at all levels in these services there will still be huge restrictions on so-called unskilled workers. Workers that we need to keep our society functioning.

Europe is becoming a tragic farce. Remember being told in January that there would be no border between Britain and Ireland. Well, as we said at the time, there will be. Some goods will be inspected and there will be an effective customs border between Britain and the island of Ireland. Remember being told that there would be minimal ‘friction’ on the movement of goods between the UK and the EU? Well the latest Government estimate is that 50,000 people will be required to deal with all the forms and declarations that will be needed to allow goods to flow. This costs money but there will be more costs than this.

It will take more time when we have a hard border with the EU as we will be in the same position as any other external Country. Hard borders take time to get through and need facilities put in place to enable this to happen. But the facilities have not been put in place, the people have not been recruited. In fact, in the absence of an agreement there is a total lack of clarity about what is required. Our businesses and indeed Government have been spending all their efforts on trying to survive.

The Tories are now quite relaxed about all this. They have a scapegoat! As things go wrong it won’t be their failure on Europe that will be the problem it will be the fault of the Coronavirus. At a time when we all need friends more than ever before the loathsome Tories are putting barriers between us and our friends in Europe. Their best hope is a trade deal with mad dog Trump but that will be a deal which can only work in the Americans favour. Perhaps as the sick country of the Western World they won’t be in such a strong place as they were to negotiate with anyone.

So my view is very simple. It should now be gloves off with the Tories at a national level whilst we should be prepared to work with people of good faith (and there are good Tories in local government) at a local level.

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951 Liverpool children still start smoking every year

Too many of our young people are taking up smoking which will lead to an early death as their lungs look like this!

Cllr Richard Kemp, the Liberal Democrat Leader in Liverpool welcomes the ban on child-friendly menthol favoured cigarettes as new figures show 951 Liverpool children taking up smoking each year.

Newly published figures show that in a year according to Action on Smoking and Health 951 children aged 11-15 years old start smoking in Liverpool highlighting the need to do more to tackle youth smoking. Which is why Liverpool’s Liberal Democrats welcome the ban on sale of menthol flavoured cigarettes which comes into force on Wednesday 20th May 2020.

Menthol is a popular starter product for children as menthol makes it easier to smoke and to inhale deep into the lungs. Menthol smokers are also more likely to become heavily addicted and find it harder to quit. The ban on menthol is the logical next step in the Government’s tobacco control strategy to deliver its ambition for England to be smoke free by 2030, while reducing inequalities.

The evidence is clear that two thirds of the 951 children who start smoking in Liverpool every year will go on to become daily smokers. It is better to not start smoking in the first place than to have to quit, which can take as many as 30 attempts. Many of those who experiment will become lifelong smokers, suffering serious smoking-related diseases and premature death. That’s why we support the ban on menthol cigarettes, which we know make it easier for children to start smoking and harder for them to quit.                                                                                                                                                                                          It is hard for us to deal with this problem, even with no pandemic on, when our public health budget has been cut by about 30% in real terms since 2015.We should also remember that a very high proportion of those dying of Covid-19 have had sever bronchial problems and smoking is a major cause of these.

Children whose parents smoke are nearly three times as likely to become smokers themselves highlighting the importance of doing more to help adults quit. That’s why Liverpool is providing support for smokers which can triple their chances of success.

The smoking rates in Liverpoolis 14.7% amounting to 58,787 smokers, with  355 people dying from smoking each year. The best thing any smoker can do for their health and wellbeing is to quit, to protect themselves and others from life threatening diseases, and reduce the impact of smoking on health and social care services.

Full details of all English performance on smoking can be found at Public Health England https://bit.ly/2WAmHiJ

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A ‘forest school’ in every park in Liverpool

The pandemic has made many people think again about the realtionship between nature and people even in our cities. New thinking about what we want from education is now possible and the informal, practical learning in forest schools should be a major way forward

Councillor Liz Makinson, the Liberal Democrats Children’s Services Spokesperson in Liverpool has suggested 6 ways in which schools can respond to a new way following the pandemic.

Key amongst these is the provision of a different type of school for those under 7 in which they learn by experience. She is calling for a forest school to be created in every appropriate Liverpool Park which would both provide a better type of informal education on the Scandinavian model and would ease the pressure to add on more classrooms in schools which are already overcrowded.

Cllr Makinson says, “As a teacher myself I know that far too much pressure is being placed on children with constant internal assessment and a toxic mix of learning walks, book scrutiny and micro management of teachers creates a stressful environment which has a significant effect on the mental health and well being of children and does not increase their attainment.  Happy children and young people, in an environment of respect and challenge learn well and develop skills for life and an enthusiasm for reading and learning.” 

Resilience and well being should be the keystone of our aims for children, with inspirational teaching rather than micro managed assessment models.  Young people need skills for life, not just for employability but to be happy, successful adults who are engaged with society and retain a desire to learn. 

The pandemic has created a re-evaluation of society and a desire to make a fairer and better way of living in the future.  Schools should not return to business as usual but use this to take a long look at how to ensure that the joy of learning and the well being of children & young people is prioritised”. 

You can find out more about forest schools at http://www.forestschoolassociation.org

Cllr Makinson’s ‘Six to Fix’ list is given here:

  1. A forest school in every major park. Deal with the increasing numbers of children in the City by providing forest schools, where children spend much of their time outdoors and develop empathy for nature.  Every child should be given the opportunity to spend time there, which would assist with the issues of overcrowded classrooms during and post pandemic.                                                                                                                                                                                              
  2. Wellbeing should be at the heart of our schools.  The pressures of constant internal assessment must end with a refocus on children enjoying learning and being happy.  Schools need to be aware of the damage a stressful environment does to children and make real and concerted efforts to make schools less stressful.
  • Teachers, who are continuing to step up as key workers in many cases, must be trusted to teach and inspire children.  Continual ‘big brother’ style monitoring within schools has not raised standards but has lowered morale, achievement and enjoyment.
  • Make all our schools part of and responsive to their local community. One of the positives of this terrible crisis has been communities coming together and supporting one another.   Schools should look to engage fully with the local community and involve them in aspects of school life.
  • Involve parents more. Parents have been involved in their children’s education as never before during this pandemic.  When it is safe for schools to reopen, we must not lost this home /school engagement.  
  • Engage with nature more. Many people have engaged with the wonders of nature far more in Liverpool’s marvellous parks on their daily exercise and enjoying the beauty of spring when life has been stressful and anxious.  Schools should make engaging with nature a priority, growing plants, having an allotment and organising visits to the countryside.

In addition Cllr Makinson is a firm supporter of the national Lib Dem policy for the abolition of Regional Schools Commissioners and OFSTED. The organisations cost a fortune and there is absolutely no proof that they add value to our education system. Let’s use the money instead at a local level to equip schools properly  to face this and any future pandemics.

Some of the suggestions that Cllr Makinson is making can be done immediately. Some can only be done by putting pressure on the Government. She is putting these ideas forward as part of the Liverpool Liberal Democrat plan of starting a city-wide conversation about Liverpool’s opportunities as it comes through and out of the coronavirus crisis. We believe that people want a new normal which is different from the old normal. We want to provide education, leisure and employment in a different way that picks up on the new mood within the people of Liverpool and the practical changes that will be forced on society as a result of the financial difficulties that the City and Country will face.

Conditions for re-opening schools.

Cllr Makinson has also suggested the following conditions for a safe and orderly return to the classroom for both students and teachers:

We need to make sure that children are as safe as they can be when they return to school.  This does not mean a bit of extra cleaning and a couple of hand sanitisers.  Mayor Anderson is right to say Liverpool schools should not reopen on June 1st

What schools must now do is use the time to equip schools to meet the challenge of this and future pandemics.  Measures should include:

  • Individual desks fitted with Perspex shields;
  • Provisions for all students to be given hand sanitiser on entering school and available throughout the day in all classrooms and shared areas/ lavatories;
  • Temperatures taken daily on arrival; 
  • Class sizes need to be considerably smaller. 
  • Cleaning needs to be carried out regularly throughout the day, with all cleaners given PPE. 

You can contact Liz Makinson at liz.makinson@liverlibdems.org.uk or on 07939 119402

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Thinking of sending the kids back to school?

We want all our kids to come bacl to school as quickly as possible but this picture shows how difficult this will be. At least half the students will need to be out of the room to even begin to observe safe distances

It appears from certain quarters that our teachers are failing to rise to the occasion and become heroes. It appears that they are selfishly trying to ensure that neither they, their families nor the kids they treat fall prey to the coronavirus. What traitors the teaching profession possesses! Of course, we might have greater respect for this call if it didn’t largely come from the privileged upper middle classes who are safely ensconced in nice big houses and having food and services served up to them by working class people who have had no choice other than to put their lives on the line to pay the mortgage.

I dare anyone to disagree with this paragraph. There is no one who doesn’t want the schools to reopen as quickly as possible. Children being off for months damages their education prospects and their mental health and the effects will be felt most by those whose parents are poorest with the worst jobs and in the worst housing. Unless we get the kids back to school their parents can’t get back to work and help us deal with the terrible economic problems that will emerge increasingly over the coming weeks.

We provably all agree with a qualification to this. That the return can only be undertaken when it is safe to do so. There the digression starts because we all seem to have different ideas about what safe means. As an old fogey with no young kids around and even the grandchildren currently beyond reach I’ve had time to think about what I would do if I were a parent with young children now. It seems to me that there would be three lots of questions that I would want to ask:

  1. Questions about the school:

How safe is it?

Can social distancing be maintained and if so for how many children at a time?

Where are the congregation points?

Can we really expect very young children to social isolate without scaring them into a bad experience of school that will last them for life?

How many teachers will be able to teach given that they might be self-isolating either because of themselves or others in their household? The same, of course, applies to all the other people needed to make the school work.

Will the kids clubs which some working people rely on be open?

  • Questions about getting to school and into it?

Is there a safe socially working route to school?

Will school buses be able to operate in a social distanced and safe way?

Wil ordinary buses be able to cope with sudden onrushes of children before and after school?

Could we increase the number of children who walk or bike to school?

Will we be adding to the number of cars on the road at peak times?

  • Questions about my family

Who is needing to be shielded in the family?

What family support is available for the kids if I go back to work?

Do my children have underlying illnesses which would make them susceptible to the virus?

So this is not easy either for decision makers or parents. I think we will have a messy return to education. Some schools might be able to be opened because of their design while the school next to it will not because they cannot effectively put in place social distancing measures. Some families will need to keep their children of for family reasons. Some might be able to send one child but not another. Some schools will have easy transport options and others will not.

There is no right answer to this. The worst answer though is to try and insist on a uniform return to school. The questions are too complex for that. The worst response to a messy opening would be for the privileged elite who would, no doubt, like to have the children of working families going up chimneys again, to say that teachers who don’t return are being unpatriotic and that parents that don’t send their kids back are feckless idlers.

But I do have some criticism of the teaching profession. As I have talked to people in my ward I have been told very different things about the schools that serve it. Some have been in contact with the children on their rolls giving semi-formal education and advice about good things to do such as watching the Chester Zoo broadcasts. Others have been treating this as an extended holiday and have not been in touch with parents at all.

By now all schools should have an outreach policy in place and be working on it. By now all management teams in schools of all levels should have worked out answers to the type of school based questions which I have outlined above. I hope that after the crisis is over -whenever that might be – Governing Bodies will be asking Heads and staff what they did to maintain educational standards during the lock down.

In the meantime, Liverpool Council is taking the right approach. It has delayed a return. It is trying to recognise the individual circumstances of people, teachers and schools and is working to ensure that schools will be safe places for our young people whenever the right time is for them to reopen on a proper basis.

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Mayor’s cycling plans welcome but incoherent

If we are to match the cycling record in other European cities like Amsterdam, pictured here, we need major changes in policy and not timid, tiny steps forward.

Today my Liberal Democrats colleagues and I have welcomed the Mayor’s short term proposals for cycling and pedestrian improvements but have suggested that the actions are short term and need to be conducted against a wide spread review of the City’s transport needs.

We believe that the Mayor’s cycling and pedestrian plans are welcome but incoherent and inconsistent. In practice he is making minor alterations to proposals which need radical change in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the short term he can use some of the £2 billion that the Government announced last week to deal with temporary pressures on public transport which will be caused when people return to work and schools some time later this year.

In the long term, however, he is pursuing schemes which will have the opposite effect of the schemes he has announced today. The City Centre proposals for the Strand and Lime Street will make bus use more difficult but there seems to be no suggestion of a major review of these schemes.

The Riverside Drive project will encourage more cars on to the roads and will cause major traffic problems in the Aigburth and Mossley Hill areas. If the Mayor wants to be radical he needs to be looking at these big schemes and scrap them to use any available money more effectively elsewhere.

The City needs to be looking at a comprehensive review of the way it works in light of changes to work, leisure and education practices forced upon us by Covid-19 but now welcomed by many. More people will want to work from home. Some businesses will stagger their work times or make them more flexible to make a reduction in morning and afternoon ‘rush hours’. More people will want to cycle both for school, work and leisure purposes and in many cases will want to do this as a family.

That is why Liverpool Liberal Democrats have suggested sweeping changes in transport which are more in keeping with the times than the timid proposals from the Mayor. We have had no response from the Mayor for any of the suggestions that we have made but are pleased that he has privately taken note and begun to introduce some of them anyway!

It’s not only transport that needs to be looked at. Not only will there be changes in the way we ‘work, rest and play’ but there will be changes in the way we go on holiday and the way we decide to spend our leisure time. Retail will change massively not only because we have become hugely more accustomed to home deliveries that we were 2 months ago but also because we are likely to want to buy less ‘stuff’. Surveys show that we will want to buy less products but spend more on experiences. When we do buy it is likely that there will be a shift towards more quality.

We have continually argued that the Council needs to establish a ‘Commission’ or ‘Task Force’ to bring together the best brains from the Council; Universities; private sector and communities to chart out a return to a strong new ‘normal’. We have had no response to those calls but instead understand that three consultancies have been employed to prepare reports but we have no idea what these reports are looking at or where they will go.

Liverpool has a choice. Adapt quickly, work as a City to provide a new rationale for our economy and all that goes with it. Dither and dawdle and we will be bypassed for new opportunities and finance just as we have been for the past decade.

The Liberal Democrat priorities for the City’s transport plans need to be taken up quickly by any review commissioned by the Council

Helping people to walk more. Too many of our citizens are unable to walk through their local neighbourhoods for shopping and recreation purposes because of poor quality pavements; failure to introduce stepped Kerbs at crossing points and insufficient pedestrian controlled crossing as the council has sought to speed up traffic on main roads.

  • Helping people to cycle more. There has been a huge increase in cycling during the lock down. Families have been out together partly because it is a good form of exercise and partly because they at last feel safe to do so. You announced a £4 million to improve cycling but this appears to be starting very slowly and is nowhere near sufficient to provide a comprehensive network of cycle routes throughout the city.
  • Helping people to use the buses and trains more. There needs to be more bus lanes in the City and a comprehensive review of this network needs to take place. Bus lanes lead not only to improved bus times, if designed properly, but also provide a haven for cyclists as well. We also need to reconsider the proposals for movement of buses in the city centre. We should take advantage of the increased numbers of platforms at Lime Street to press for more local trains.
  • Helping people to get out of their cars. The above three measures will lead to a reduction in car use but we can do more. All finances of the council and the government are in flux. The government will seek to expand the economy, not through increased revenue spending, but by increased capital spending. They will be looking for ‘shovel ready’ schemes. Three schemes which will be environmentally unsound; the Strand, Lime Street and Riverside Drive, should be reviewed and money saved used instead on pedestrian, cycling and public transport programmes.
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Happiness – The Greatest Gift that I possess

Perhaps Sir Ken Dodd really summed up the spirit of the coronavirus age and public opinion in his wonderful ‘Happiness’ song

In February I spoke at an Ageing well event in Manchester. I was talking about how to age well and when we should start thinking about our third age. My answer was very simple. I quoted the late and great Professor Sir Kenneth Dodd Esq. “Happiness, happiness, the greatest that I possess. I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed with more than my share of happiness”. To preserve the happiness of my audience I didn’t actually spoil the event by singing it to them!

I’ve been thinking of that today as I’ve seen a new study that has been published which says that 60% of the population would prefer the Government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth when the pandemic is dealt with. An even starker figure of 80% of the people want to put wellbeing before wealth creation in terms of measures to bring us out of the pandemic.

I think that one of the important things that is happening during the lock down is that people are reaching a new appreciation of what being rich actually means. Being rich isn’t about the amount of money or stuff that people have but the richness of their relations, communities, neighbourhoods, thinking, culture and families.

Although I have to admit that my office at home is full of stuff.  This stuff isn’t worth much and most people would think it was rubbish but every bit of that stuff brings back to me a memory of when I acquired it, the circumstances I was in and in some cases the Country I was in. Or to quote another song from my childhood days, “memories are made of this!”

Of course there are links between money and happiness. You can’t be happy without a  decent home. You can’t be happy if you are ill. You can’t be happy if you are hungry. What keeps us happy the most is having enough. What makes us most unhappy is the pursuit of ‘more than enough’. No one needs a house that has more than one bedroom more than the number of people who live in it. No one who lives in an urban area needs a four wheeled Chelsea Tractor. No one needs a £10,000 watch to tell the time.

People pursue these things because they equate expensive stuff with success. “Look at me”, they say, “I’ve got stuff that you haven’t!” The most successful countries in the World, as far as their citizens are concerned, are those where this lesson has either been learnt or has always been there.

There can be no doubt that Germany is the most successful economy in Europe. However, in Germany much of the private sector is part owned by state banks so that the profits flow back into neighbourhoods and communities so that all benefit from success. The gap between the highest paid and the lowest paid whilst large is nowhere near the size of the gap in the UK.

Yet we are told by successive Governments including Labour ones that we need to pay high wages if we are to attract the best brains to run our businesses. So why aren’t our businesses doing as well as those in Germany? High wages seem only to attract the testosterone charged male adventurer most of whom have the soul of a piece of granite.

This siren call for more money is always accompanied by a call for lower taxes. “They must be able to keep more of this wealth”, go the arguments. However, in Scandinavia there is far more satisfaction with their Countries than over here and they have far higher taxes than we do. They have realised that a tax is not some sort of fine on achievement but a way of cooperatively buying services that we all require. High quality provision for the young and old; safety; security; decent homes are all paid for out of taxation and everyone benefits.

One of my favourite poems is the Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yeats where the first stanza is:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,

And I live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Now to be honest I wouldn’t actually want to live on a small island – I’m a city boy! The only Lane I want to wander down is Penny Lane! But what this poem talks about, of course, is simplicity. It’s about the pleasure that can be had in simple things. Living in greater harmony with nature. Having the thrill of watching children and grandchildren growing up. Enjoying the Parks which I am fortunate enough to live near. Going to our magnificent museums and central library. Listening to the music at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic or getting free concerts from my very musical neighbours next door.

I still hope that the best thing to happen to me in 2020 will be attending my son’s wedding although that might be deferred to next year. My treasury is choc-full of memories and experiences that I just would not have had should I have had the misfortune to born wealthy.  My bank account has all that I need to live on and just a little bit more saved for rainy days.

Increasingly, this is what the people of the UK want. How much of it will last when the pandemic dies down and we move back towards the old ‘normal I don’t know? What I do know is that now is the time for all of us to work together to achieve a new normal. We can achieve a society based on communitarian and ecological values if we choose to. A society in which the real chavs are the nouveau riche who ostentatiously show their wealth and are there to be pitied.

That Coronavirus might just do us some good after all.

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My Own VE Day Heroes

My Mum and Dad who met on a searchlight station in Lincolnshire, fell in love and were married for more than 40 years before Dad died at the age of 64 from lung cancer. I’ll be thinking of them tomorrow on VE Day.

Tomorrow is VE Day and it will, as usual, bring out both the best and the worst of the people of the United Kingdom. Captain Mainwaring look alike Mark Francois MP will bring out the worst. With all the military experience that only three years in the Territorial Army Catering Corps can give he will wax lyrical about the Battle of Britain; how singlehandedly we beat Europe; the Bulldog Spirit was given us by Winston Churchill; and how we saved the World.

Others like my late parents Laura and Jack Kemp and my late Uncle Ran(dall) Kemp would not think of it that way. They were proud to have served; proud to have risked their lives but their mood, on the rare occasions when they talked about the war at all, was pensive and thoughtful. They were more inclined to remember those that didn’t come back and the terrors of the war. Their view, although they voted Tory, was that it was a war to unite Europe and to defeat evil and not a war to beat the Jerries or any other nation.

Mum and Dad met on a searchlight and radar station in Lincolnshire which was a front line in World War II as they fought to down enemy bombers and the fighters coming in from Occupied Europe. Mum had marched off to war in 1942 and never came back to live in Liverpool. The touchstone for her joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was the death of her first fiancé, Bill Moorcroft who was in Bomber Command. Many years later when my Aunt died we spent a little time at the lytch gate of Maghull Parish Church and she rested her hand on his name.

A few years before she died there was an article in the Echo about a French Mayor who was trying to contact the relatives of three young men who had died in a plane crash. They had rescued the bodies and buried them with full Military Honours and every year on the anniversary of their deaths played the Last Post and the children of the town laid wreaths and flowers at the grave. They were moving the graves because of road widening and the Mayor knew, somehow, that Bill Moorcroft had a fiancée in Liverpool. Mum didn’t want to talk to the Echo but a few years later I spoke to that Mayor on her behalf and she made a solitary journey to the grave.

My Dad left Hull and joined the RAF after commencing work as a ‘lad porter’ at Ferriby Station outside Hull. I have all sorts of artefacts of their time together before he went into hush-hush mode as part of the RAF development team for radar which was then in its infancy. He ended up as part of the forward team on one of the first ships to move into the Channel on D Day. The radar was needed to provide information of incoming enemy ships and aircraft so that they could be countered by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

I have the ‘letter’ that he wrote to Mum over the 4/5 days leading up to and leading from ‘D’ Day. His mood was sombre but not really fearful. He described there being so many ships in the harbour that he could have gone from one side to the other without getting his feet wet. He described the sight and noise of the hundreds of planes going overhead. He talked about his sadness about going to kill the ‘Hun’ whose men were as brave as ours but led by despicable people.

My Uncle was awarded a gallantry medal as he was in the Army on their long campaign up through Italy. Like Mum and Dad he came home and didn’t talk about the war. I only know as much as I can tell here because after my Mum died I took possession of some boxes with their medals, service records, marriage details and wedding pictures. Some of these were of people I knew but some had been dead even before I was born. They are all dead now. There are very few members left of the generation of giants who did defend our shores and then came home and started to build a new post war world of peace and plenty as they brought up their family.

Their generation was hugely tested as had been the genration before. I have never been tested in that way. As a ‘Boomer,’ conscription had been abolished well before I would have been called up. Warfare is now so techical that a vast conscript army would be of little value.

Uncle Ran went back to being a joiner, Dad went back to the Railway and achieved a very senior position and Mum became a housewife, which is what young women did when they got married. She only returned to work when I was 6 and that was part time at the infants school I attended.

I’ll also be thinking of my constituent, Kathleen Whiteside, who was the first President of the War Widows Association. She celebrated VE Day along with everyone else and a few days later received the dreaded telegram that VE Day was the day that her husband died, one of the last casualties of the war in Europe.

They are the people I will be thinking of tomorrow, them and the ‘boys’ who didn’t come back. Part of my political beliefs is a fierce internationalism which says that nation shall not only speak unto nation but nation will work with nation to inspire long lasting peace and solidarity.

I will honour their memory tomorrow with a quiet reflection on their lives and sacrifice. I know that is what most of our dead heroes and heroines would want. No jingoism and faux patriotism from people who have no idea what sacrifice is and who has made it. I will renew my own efforts to build a lasting peace with the people from other nations who, at heart, are just like us. By doing that I will honour my parents, of whom I am inordinately proud, and all the others who made my life of freedom possible.

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