Whoops – Another Dummy flies out of Anderson’s Pram!

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What’s Joe Anderson got to hide about his statement  offering to host the Commonwealth Games here in Liverpool in 2022 if Durban cannot proceed?

Over the last two days I have had an amazing series of e-mail interchanges with the Mayor of Liverpool which has led to me reporting him to the Standards Committee of the Council and having to threaten staff of the Council that I will do the same with them.

The exchange is about the Commonwealth Games which Mayor Anderson announces may come to Liverpool in a letter to the Government in 2022 if Durban is unable to continue with its commitment.

Mayor Anderson has form in this. He first announced a potential bid in 2015. He then produced it in 2016 as part of his re-election campaign. Curious then I asked officers in March 2016 what had been done since the previous summer. The answer was nothing. The Commonwealth Games Bid in 2015 and seemingly in 2016 was nothing more than a press release.

This is important. I would really like the Commonwealth Games to come to Liverpool. I believe in the ‘Friendly Games’ and the spirit of the Commonwealth that inspires them. But if we are to get the Games here we must work hard to build a coherent case. The Games in total costs something in the order of £1 billion. This is big money to lose if we get it wrong. It will involved the creation of strong partnerships if we are to get it right.

There is nothing in the council budget that we are considering next week which begins to supply the cash needed to even work up the bid.

The Exchanges below speak for themselves.

These exchanges lead me to two conclusions:

  1. That the letter to the Government about the 2022 Games is just a gimmick. And that there is no substance to this application; and
  1. Mayor Anderson is breaking both the law and the Elected Members Code of Conduct in the way that he is both referring to me in a rude fashion and more importantly is refusing to give me information and therefore the people information to which I and they are entitled

The exchange of e-mails is set out below:

E-mail one from me

E-mail to an officer of the Council on Wednesday 1st March

XXXXX,
I understand that the Mayor has told the Government that he would be prepared to see Liverpool hosting the Commonwealth Games if Durban pulls out in 2022. I have no objection to this in principle but….

We should by now have done some preliminary work on an application for a later Commonwealth Games. Could you please send me a copy of all papers relating to the work that your department and partners have compiled relating to this potential of a bid.

In particular I would like to see some evidence about:

  1. Venue suitability
  2. Potential costs
  3. Potential sources of revenue
  4. Those organisations who have currently expressed an interest in this.

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

E-mail two from Mayor Anderson to me

On 1 Mar 2017, at 19:26, Anderson, Joe (Mayor of Liverpool) <Joe.Anderson@liverpool.gov.uk> wrote:

Mr Kemp

In regard to your recent questions seeking information about Liverpools intention to bid for the Common Wealth games of 2022 or 2026. No Officer will be able to provide you with any information without my approval. I would therefore suggest that any questions you may have should be directed to me. Of course I will not give you the answers to the questions you ask, because you cannot be trusted. However when we have information that we make public you will then have the opportunity to see it.

Mayor Anderson

E-mail three from me to Mayor Anderson

From: Richard Kemp <richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk>
Date: 2 March 2017 at 08:43:12 GMT
To: “Anderson, Joe (Mayor of Liverpool)” <Joe.Anderson@liverpool.gov.uk>
Subject: Re: Commonwealth games

As I am sure you are aware:

1.   I am Cllr Kemp

2.   The staff of the council do not work for you but for the council.

3.    If the council do not provide me with information to which I am entitled I will take legal action to ensure that they do under the FOI or other means.

Cllr Richard Kemp
Www.richardkemp.org.uk

E-mail 4 from Mayor Anderson to me.

To Richard Kemp

Message body

Mr Kemp
Please feel free to do so.
Mayor Anderson

Beneath is the Employees Code of Conduct extract which is relevant.

Extract from the Code of Conduct for Employees, Liverpool City Council

SECTION 12 – RELATIONSHIP WITH ELECTED MEMBERS

Both Councillors and employees are servants of the public, but their responsibilities are distinct. Councillors are responsible to the electorate and serve only so long as their term of office lasts.

Employees are responsible to the Council and their job is to give advice to Councillors and to carry out the Council’s work under the direction and control of the Council and its decision making structure.

Mutual respect between Councillors and employees is essential and close personal familiarity between individual Councillors and employees can damage the relationship and prove embarrassing to other Councillors and employees.

Employees serve the Council as a whole and consequently must serve all Councillors not just those of any controlling group. Some employees are required to advise political groups and must advise minority groups as well as controlling groups. They must do so in ways which do not compromise their political neutrality.

Employees, whether or not politically restricted, must follow every lawfully expressed policy of the Council and must not allow their own personal or political opinions to interfere with their work.

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Our Health & Social Care Motion to the Lib Dem Conference

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Lib Dem Health Spokesman Norman Lamb MP who is working with people of all Parties and none to try and build a consensus on health and care spending

At our Spring Conference to be held in March in York we will be discussing the following resolution about the health and social care crisis which is threatening to engulf our ill and elderly.

As you might expect the motion echoes many of the things that I have been saying in my blogs on the issues in recent months. Put simply we are not coming up with simple answers in this motion because there aren’t any. Just putting more money into the system will mean us continuing to spend money on things which are not priorities and in ways that are not sensible.

That is why the most important aspect of the motion is to try and establish an all-Party working group to try and achieve a consensus on what is required and how to fund it.

We also expect that the independent committee that Norman Lamb has established to look at these issues will make an interim report looking at its key areas of enquiry and set the base line for the money that it believes is necessary for health and social care in the short and medium term.

As ever please let me know here or at my e-mail address richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk what you think of this motion.

F8 The Crisis in Health and Social Care

Mover: Norman Lamb MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Health)

Summation: Cllr Richard Kemp CBE, Lib Dem Spokesperson on Health & Social Care, Local Government Association

Conference notes:

  • The crisis in the NHS and care services which has seen hundreds of urgent operations cancelled this winter, a steep rise in the number of hospitals issuing emergency alerts, and people regularly being diverted from A&E departments because services cannot keep pace with demand.
  • The warning from the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust that a combination of cuts and rising demand will leave adult social care facing a £1.9bn funding gap this year, and the projected gap could reach at least £2.6bn by 2020; and that nearly two thirds of NHS Trusts ended the last financial year in deficit.
  • That the Government’s only response to the social care funding crisis has been to suggest that councils will be allowed to further increase the ‘social care precept’, raised through the regressive council tax – a move which will worsen the postcode lottery of care; and that they have failed to give the NHS the additional funding promised at the last election
  • That short-sighted decisions from the Government to cut community pharmacy budgets and public health grants to local government will only serve to increase pressures on primary and secondary care
  • That the Government has failed to ensure that all the additional funding for children’s mental health, secured by the Liberal Democrats in 2015, is spent as intended, and that the goal of equality for those who suffer from mental ill-health is still a long way from being achieved.
  • That the negative economic consequences of leaving the EU and the risks of losing dedicated health and care workers from other European countries will pose additional challenges for health and care services.

Conference believes that:

  1. The NHS and care services are some of our most vital institutions and we should always fight to protect and safeguard them for future generations.
  2. That these services face critical funding and capacity pressures and that politicians need to be honest with the public about the tough decisions needed to address them – including the possibility of raising additional revenue through taxation.
  3. That inordinate pressures placed on staff by a combination of these factors, have also led to serious problems with staff recruitment and retention.
  4. That the Government cannot continue to ask the health and care system to do more without sufficient extra resource, including forcing through plans for seven-day opening of GP surgeries, when many already struggle to stay open during normal ‘core’ hours.
  5. That building a more sustainable, efficient and joined-up health and care system which can provide high-quality care cannot be realised without putting aside party political point-scoring.

Conference calls for:

  1. The Government to establish a cross party NHS and Care Convention to engage with the public, patients, staff, professional bodies, local government and trade unions from across the health and care sector and civic society with the objective of agreeing a long-term settlement for the NHS and care services.
  1. An injection of additional emergency funding for health and care services to be delivered over the next year to keep services from the brink of collapse; this funding should be directed in particular to social care and mental health services, as well as invested in improving integration between health and social care, modernising services, supporting general practice and all out of hospital care, and improving efficiency in the longer term.
  1. Any EU citizen working in NHS and care services to be guaranteed the right to continue to live and work in the UK, following Brexit
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Labour – They’re dead but they won’t lie down!!

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David Millband the ‘lost’ Leader of the Labour Party who told us today that Labour is further away from power than at any time in the last 50 years.

As so often happens when I consider the still twitching carcase of the Labour Party I am reminded of an old music hall song. At the moment its “He’s dead but he won’t lie down”.

I listened this morning to the discussion on Radio 4 with the Secretary General of ASLEF. It is clear from what he said that there is a huge denial of some basic facts of political life that have engulfed all Parties over the past 30 years but which threaten to drown Labour for ever.

The most important of these is the concept of the working class. 50 years ago when I first entered politics there were still huge companies based in huge locations employing people whose family was also in that place of work and who lived often in accommodation provided by the employer. Coal, steel shipbuilding, the docks, engineering works etc, etc. Many of the jobs that these people carried out were dirty and dangerous. They invoked a sense of camaraderie and group loyalty. They remembered times when employers were not bound by Acts of Parliament to provide decent working conditions, pay and holidays. In Liverpool dockers rightly remembered the lump. The system whereby men would turn up day after day looking for work for just one day. Any lip to the boss and they could be out of work for a week.

Such employment no longer exists. The concept of ‘working class’ is not largely recognised by an aspirant society which yearns for better things. Whether that is right or wrong is irrelevant, the changes have happened. Those bonds have been rent asunder with the exception of small numbers in the public or quasi-public sectors where that unity of purpose is still extant.

That is the principle reason that a Progressive Alliance, which in my view is desirable, is impossible given the rhetoric of the Labour Party. Their language is the language of the 1950’s their solutions appear to be none-existent. In the face of the Brexit vote they mumble on about the will of the people and supporting Brexit not out of principle but because they will lose what remaining contact there is with the working class who were once the bedrock of their support.

We see that alienation from their base too in Liverpool. In recent weeks we have been venturing out from our strong areas in the South Suburbs into places like Anfield, Kirkdale and Warbreck. Here we see whole communities where nobody appears to have used a brush for years to keep the streets clean. I know that the council has not got the money that it used to have but it has got the money, if spent properly, to keep the streets and entries clean, the bins emptied on time, the street lights working. This is attention to detail and it is detail that matters. People in these areas depend on the council to keep their neighbours clean, safe ad well managed. Their quality of life depends on the council getting the basics of community life right. Instead of that we get government by gimmick.

The mayor of Liverpool’s latest gimmick is giving people a year’s council tax if they dob a neighbour for things like fly tipping or allowing their dog to foul the pavement. That’s very socialist. Dob a neighbour if you live in a Band H Mansion and we’ll give you £3,000 back but if you live in a Band A terrace only a £1,000. But it’s a daft policy anyway. Fly tipping is a criminal activity usually undertaken by organised gangs. Dogs that foul are usually owned by people who don’t give a damn and are aggressive about not giving a damn. So our nice old lady is really going to film a miscreant from their community, report them and then go to court? No I think that is unlikely as much as you do!

So where do we go from here? Well times are hard and the situation facing our Country is desperate. That will involve us all taking decisions that we might otherwise have thought unthinkable. The question that those of us on the centre and progressive ‘left’ must be asking is, “Are there a set of principles and thence policies around which we can converge and jointly campaign on”. At the moment my answer to that is that I cannot see a joining together of political parties such as Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens plus other fringe parties such as The Women’s Equality Party and the NHS Action Party being able to do that.

But we must not let current Party structures get in the way of trying.

The principles that I would put forward are:

  1. To retain as much as possible our place in Europe even if we cannot have the second referendum that our Party believes in.
  2. A realisation that the UK will only be string by creating treading, educational, cultural and military alliances with like minded countries.
  3. Breaking the Power of Westminster and Whitehall to interfere in the lives of every community in England.
  4. Breaking the power of politicians generally and putting it back into the hands of tenants, residents and communities.
  5. Strong environment policies which understand the dangers of climate change and seek proactive solutions.
  6. An NHS which respects the need to stop people becoming ill rather than being incentivised to deal with illness and where good social and medical care in the community is provided wherever possible and desirable.
  7. An updated economic strategy linked to changed practices in education which will encourage real training and apprenticeships for real jobs.
  8. An updated employment strategy which tackles the problems of globalisation and the gig economy by supporting worker’s rights.
  9. An education system which pulls out the talents of each individual and encourages them into a path of lifelong learning which makes them adaptable for fast moving changes in employment and society
  10. A fair taxation system which rewards enterprise but discourages greed and which provides everyone with the basic necessities of life.

As I’ve just gone on our national policy committee I will have the chance to argue for these. But just imagine if there were no political parties in the UK and we were starting from scratch. Would it be beyond the wit of man for us to come together to establish a Party that would fight for these things? No of course not. What holds us all back are our roots and our heritage and our tribal loyalties.

I can only ask the question. “Given the massive dangers that our country faces is it not possible to come together to find new structures, policies and ways which overcome our disparate histories?”

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Our role is to represent the community in the Town Hall not t’other way round

JoesDo.PNG

When politicans get sponsorship from private companies you need to ask do they serve that company or the public!

Two things have made me ponder over the past few days about the nature of community politics. In some ways this should not be a surprise because I represent the ward where the modern notion of community politics was invented. It was in Church Ward at the end of the 60s where the late Sir Trevor Jones put together the principles of community empowerment with the marketing techniques he successfully used to develop a leading ships chandlers business in Liverpool.

Put simply I believe that it is our job to represent the people in the Town Hall and not to represent the Town Hall in the community. At the end of the day the City of Liverpool belongs to the people of Liverpool. Councillors (even old hacks like me) are short term custodians of the City using the power of the people that has been lent to us by the ballot box.

I have particularly felt that in the past few days over the issue of the sale of part of Calderstones Park to Redrow. It is now becoming increasingly clear that this is part of an elaborate charade being conducted by the council to enable Redrow to develop not only the Calderstones Park area but also the Allerton Priory area. I remember that at the planning committee which considered Allerton Priory Redrow did not even turn up. The council rightly put forward objections into the application based on heritage, traffic, environmental and animal issues. The planning committee did the right thing.

Redrow have now appealed against this decision but interestingly have made it clear that they will not, as would normally happen, pursue the council for costs if they are successful. Of course at the other end of the South Liverpool green wedge the planning committee took the alternative decision. Although the heritage, environmental, traffic and animal issues are even clearer in Calderstones than Allerton Priory. Here Redrow turned up; did not themselves speak but allowed an agent to make a poor presentation on their behalf.

I can only assume that they knew that the council would grant permission on Caldies and therefore felt they had no need to pursue Allerton Priory hard because they knew that granting of the planning permission at Caldies would hugely damage the chance of winning the appeal on the Priory. Let’s not forget that according to the Mayor’s own website Redrow were silver sponsors at a fund raising event that he held in 2015.

The people of Church; Woolton and Allerton Wards are well aware of the issues around here. Yesterday I had a reception like no other that I can recall in all my years as a councillor. People were literally queuing at our Advice Centre to pledge support for a continued campaign to stop Redrow. I was delivering leaflets later in the day. People were shouting “Good luck and Keep up the Good work” as I progressed through the area. I felt strongly that I was amongst friends; amongst a community that I am proud to represent and that there was a strong level of trust between me as a councillor and my constituents.

I do not, by any means always agree with everything that my constituents want. I recognise that in our City there are areas in far greater need than the ward that I represent. On that basis I do not always press for things that my constituents want. They are not always happy with this. However, when I cannot deliver what my constituents want I feel obliged to tell them why.

The way I think of my constituents and democracy was brought into sharp relief by the actions of a nearby inexperienced and frankly naive Labour Councillor. After the Caldies vote one of my constituents wrote to all the 5 local labour councillors to say that they thought the people of the area around the Park in those wards would never vote Labour again. That councillor e-mailed back because they felt that they had been threatened by the contents of the very mildly written e-mail. The councillor has also complained to the council about the resident’s e-mail!

Well I don’t expect my constituents to always agree with what I do or say. The whole concept of democracy is that electors as a whole look at what every candidate does or says and then chooses between all the names on the ballot paper. If Labour are going to burst into tears every time a S Liverpool residents tells them they will never vote Labour again, at least at local elections, because of the Calderstones position taken by their Party they will need to order paper hankies in bulk!

Community politics is a complex issue because there are many different types of it. What I have described above is just one version of community politics although the one closest to my heart!

There is Politics in the Community. When we go and ask people to vote at any level we are asking them to vote on big picture issues; strategies and policies that affect them we are asking them to look at hard level politics.

There is the politics of the community. Not all communities are homogenous. Often different groups and different geographical parts of areas will have different views on big and small issues. This will often be true on matters such as planning where there is a different viewpoint between those who will be closely affected by a decision and those that live further away who will not be so affected.

All of these are important as is the carry through into the council chamber. I always vote with my conscience on what I believe to be the best long term proposals for my city and my constituents even if, as I explain above, not all of them agree with me. I have never been whipped to vote for a particular decision. In the course of 34 years as a councillor I have voted against the Group line on about a dozen occasions. Never, of course, on matters of liberal principle. There was never a comeback against me because that is what my Party expects. People from other Parties sometimes laugh at us if we vote differently. We laugh at them when they vote the same although some of them don’t believe in what they are voting for.

I am glad that so many of the people I represent and those in surrounding communities see me and my 3 councillor colleagues not as some remote politician but as someone who they know well; see regularly in the community and consider us as their friends and neighbours.

In May 2018 our communities and the Lib Dems will have more friends inside the council chamber. We will take back the city street by street, community by community and ward by ward. We will re-establish our Council and our City not as a place of cronyism and deals but a place of transparency where it is the will of the people that will prevail and note the narrow interests of a political elite.

 

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The Three Fundamental Deceits about Calderstones Park

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Some of the 300 respectable ladies and gents who were described as a screaming mob when they dared to protest about the Mayor’s plans to build on part of Calderstones Park

Today the council’s planning committee met to consider the development of part of Calderstones Park by Redrow. As expected the planning committee gave its consent. As predicted the committee voted for the application by 5 votes to 1 with only the one Lib Dem, Cllr Malcolm Kelly voting against. All your Lib Dem councillors spoke in the debate and made the same points as 23 other objectors.

300 demonstrators turned out at the site meeting. Later they were described as a screaming, howling mob by Labour councillor Tony Concepcion. When a Labour member pointed out that he was both a Labour member and a professional urban design consultant and was appalled by what he saw he was told not be political! 60 demonstrators came to the Town Hall and most of them stayed to the bitter end. Most of them were not impressed by their first contact with what passes for democracy in the Town Hall!!

This decision not only will have major effects on Calderstones Park but will also very much weaken the council’s case regarding Allerton Priory. This application is in the same green wedge that Caldies is in. The cynical would say that this was always the council’s plan. Pretend to support residents in Allerton in the full knowledge that Redrow would get their way when the council gave permission at the other end of the green wedge. I cannot work out whether or not the Labour councillors for Allerton are cynical or totally ill informed. I’ll leave judgement on both matters to you!

There were three things that are quite clear from any objective review of the facts:

  1. This is parkland.

It was bought as an addition to the Calderstones Park in 1913

It was officially opened as part of the park in 10914

Had a depot, which is part of the application, which was the Park’s depot and is entirely surrounded by the Park (incidentally it was where the council’s world famous orchid collection was housed until Militant destroyed it)

Most of the site has had free access by the public since 1914

The model railway is described by the council’s own website as being in Calderstones Park

The council has recognised the Friends of Harthill & Calderstones Park for 38 years

There was one maintenance contract for the whole of the Park including the application sites

Redrow know this because I was able to talk about documents that they have submitted to the council where they labelled the depot as being in Calderstones Park. They asked the council to put up notices to say this was private land to prevent a village green application on the site. Of course the council did not do this and a village green application is already in.

But more importantly than all that there is the feeling of local people. They have always described that area as being part of the Park. They have used it as part of the park. They have taken part in activities on all three venues on the site which have been run in the interests of the community and not for personal or commercial profit.

  1. This development is dangerous because of huge traffic problems

The head teacher of Calderstones School is so concerned about the dangers of traffic that he has written to 1,500 parents expressing his concerns.

Cllr Nick Small, the Assistant Mayor is concerned. 18 months ago the 3 Church Ward councillors were summoned to site meetings with him to look at the dangers to Calderstones students. As a result of that junction improvements were made. The two major junctions on Menlove Avenue and Mather Avenue where school traffic enters the main system have been identified as priority junctions but of such a scale that no progress in making the major changes needed is possible in the short to medium terms at either of them.

Residents are concerned. Narrow pavements often partly covered by parked cars cause them to walk in the road on a dangerous blind curve on a daily basis.

At school going in and going out times these roads are dreadful. The worst that I have seen in the city and this application will add to the difficulties. A video was presented which showed just how bad the traffic was at chucking out time on 25th January. To say that the area is not already exteremely dangerous is ludicrous. The concerns of the Head of Caldies for his 1,450 students was totally ignored.

  1. The people of this area don’t care

Mayor Anderson said in the Liverpool Echo last week that the opposition was from Greens, Lib Dems and a handful of objectors. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a huge anger in the whole of South Liverpool about the way that this park and Sefton Park are being treated. 250 people packed a public meeting last autumn. Not one Labour councillor attended it so how could they know what local people said?

In recent weeks we have visited hundreds of homes not only in Church Ward but also Allerton and Woolton wards which also fringe the Park. We met a handful of people who though this was a good idea; a handful of people who were prepared to tolerate it and at a conservative estimate 90% of the people were totally opposed to it.

  1. These are not the only objections to the application.

Objections were made by qualified members of the public about:

  • Ecology
  • Wildlife
  • Heritage
  • Design standards
  • Impact on the Park
  1. What next?

That leads us inexorably to what happens now. Normally when a planning application is lost that is the end of the matter BUT NOT IN THIS CASE. The fact is that this application can still be blocked because the council is the land owner.

The council has farcically told the residents that it will conduct a master planning exercise once the planning application has been agreed!

We believe that there are grounds for a judicial review of the way the council has handled the matter.

We know that the removal of Beechley; the model railway and Calder Kids is proving to be much more expensive than anticipated

We know that the planning applications for Beechley and the model railway will involve the enclosure of public open space in Calderstones Park and Clark Gardens.

  1. What is a park?

We will continue to defend Calderstones Park in its entirety. Parks are too precious to lose. Liverpool has one of the lowest levels of parkland of any major urban city in England. Parks are good for mental health and for physical health. They trees and bushes mop up CO2 in the atmosphere and make our air healthier. They encourage us to exercise. They get us out of our houses to meet people.

These thing are too important to be lost on the arrogant whim of one man and one Party. My political Party and the community around the Park will continue the fight and will do our utmost to ensure that this land is retained for future generations and that Redrow, who themselves are contributors to Joe Anderson’s re-election campaign don’t make a penny piece from this brutal attack on Liverpool’s heritage.

I warned Redrow at the committee today that they might have won a battle but they have not won the war. We continue to fight against the bland and boring pastiche of 1950s suburbia that is a typical Redrow estate. We will continue to battle for a good environment for our people and we will be backed by our screaming mob!!

 

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Some thoughts on Suicide

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The late Jo Cox who is being remembered by the development of the ‘Jo Cox Trust’ to develop strategies to deal with loneliness which is a major cause of suicide

Suicide has been much on my mind lately – not that I am thinking of doing it myself. In a blog last month I shared some thoughts on mental health following the discovery that the daughter of a friend of ours had attempted to take her own life. Fortunately I can now report that the attempt was unsuccessful and that she seems to be recovering well.

By coincidence I have been talking about suicide twice publicly. Last week I was talking about the national ‘Suicide Prevention Strategy’ at the House of Commons Health Select Committee. I met our local MP Luciana Berger there as she sits on the committee and was able to congratulate her on the valuable work she does from the Labour benches on mental health issues. I then spoke yesterday at a major conference which brought together 200+ people from the organisations that most deal with suicide including both its prevention; aftermath where suicide attempts have been unsuccessful and specialist bereavement services where the attempt succeeded.

I was pleased to be able to say at both events that although the development of suicide strategies is a not a mandatory function of councils 95% of upper tier councils have a strategy. Not only do they have a strategy but they are implementing it.

Suicide is a relatively rare event although attempted suicides are much higher. The President of the Royal College of Psychiatry told me that in his professional life he will only deal with 10/12 cases. Many GPs will never deal with a suicide case although they may deal with the aftermath of one. About 6,000 people do take their own lives in any given year. Every one of those deaths, of course, affects dozens more families and friends as they ask, “What did I do wrong?” or “why didn’t I see it coming?”

Research shows that there are a number of starting points for a high proportion of suicides. Loneliness, loss of self-esteem caused by loss of job or other life changes; obesity or other illness being the chief triggers. In this context the idea of a free standing suicide strategy is meaningless. What we do must be part of what we do with the wider needs groups that public health deal with daily. Obesity; sexual illnesses; the unemployed; men; drug users are all ‘constituencies’ where suicide is most likely. In these cases we try and ensure that staff and volunteers are trained to pick up the signs of ‘acuteness’ where there will be a higher propensity to self-harm or take one’s life.

In some ways the more difficult situation is the ‘unexpected suicide’ where people with good jobs; good homes; good families suddenly snap. We cannot train every mum and dad, every brother and sister; every best friend to be able to see the signs. The signs themselves may not be obvious at all even to the trained eye. In these circumstances we must widen awareness of what to look for and where help is available.

The problem is most clearly seen in the biggest constituency of all for suicide – men! 75% of all suicides are of men. It seems that we cannot do the one thing that is most likely to stop us taking our lives and which will help us through any difficulty that we might face in life – talking to someone. Yes that is the most effective defence against suicide; depression and other mental conditions. Talk it over with someone. Men find it very difficult to talk over problems. I know that I do. We are brought up in a culture which values a malemacho, version of strength and find it hard to accept advice and help.

The most important things that a council does to help deal with mental issues are not really health activities at all. If everyone had a decent job; lived in a decent house in a clean, green environment and had a few mates the rates of mental illness and therefore suicide which is the ultimate mental illness would plummet. That’s why I believe that local councils are THE National Health Service and the NHS is really the National Illness Service.

But that is not where society is at now. So we have a full range of services for a variety of needs groups. I was delighted to be able to say yesterday that Liverpool is one of the 90 councils that have a mental health champion. In fact 4 of the 9 councils in the wider City Region and Cheshire have such Champions and as  a result of a report from our Directors of Public Health the other 5 are being encouraged to have one as we all review our suicide prevention strategies.

We are also pioneering a new relationship between coroners in the area and public health. Coroners will report suicides to public health directors who will ensure a rapid and follow up visit(s) to families. There are good reasons for doing this. Firstly there is a predilection for those who have been bereaved by suicide to also take their own life. Secondly, they also have a range of specific bereavement and counselling needs to help them develop complex coping strategies.

But there are things we can all do. Is your mate even more reclusive than normal? Are they saying things about life and death that you have not heard before? You can try talking to them and try and get them to seek help either medically or anonymously through the Samaritans or similar organisations.

We can all use the right language. Yesterday I learned that a term, “committing suicide” is actually a term that the bereaved often resent. It’s the language of crime (which suicide used to be). You commit a crime but you take your own life! We need to get mental health issues into the open and discussed more. That is why at the House of Commons I was pleased to mention the pioneering work being done by Mick Coyle at City Talk with his weekly programme about mental health issues.

Most importantly we must all try in our families, networks and communities to make sure that no-one is left along and that everyone has a shoulder to cry. Those who have mental health issues are not from other planets they are from all families and communities. We must all do what we can to talk and listen to those that need us.

 

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Not an extremist in sight at my local Mosque today!

pennylane-mosque

Penny Lane Mosque which is a key player in our local community

Today was “National Visit My Mosque Day” and I was pleased to take up the invitation from our local Mosque, the Penny Lane Mosque to once again visit them. I’ve always had a great reception at the Mosques in the City of which there are now six. Indeed the first Mosque in the UK was reopened two years ago in Brougham Terrace. It was established by an Anglican convert to the Muslim faith Mr Quilliam.

I particularly wanted to visit them today because of the thoughts, behaviours and actions of Donald Trump. I don’t too much about this snivelling individual other than to say that his actions against Muslims are wrong. That’s was the big reason that I turned up to the demo against Trump last week.

In this Country we have a peculiar ambivalence about the Muslim faith if indeed we can differentiate a Muslim from any of the other faiths that now happily co-exist in our communities. Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims aren’t they all the same? Well yes and no. Of course they worship different Gods and do so in a different way than we do so they are different from each other and those that profess the Christian faith. But go inside a Mosque, Gurdwarah, Temple, Church or Synagogue and you will basically find the same sorts of people that you do in the rest of the community.

People from the majority of faith groups are open and tolerant. The fact that they believe in one story of creation or another or that they choose one prophet over another in practice makes little difference. They have their beliefs and tolerate others. They work within the community and with each other for the community. They co-exist happily with the exception of a very small number of extremists that exists in every faith and in secular society.

Repeatedly we were told today that there is no conflict between the Muslim way of life and the British way of life. That is what their youngsters are taught in the evening and weekend school. That is the way they carry out their work in the Mosque and in the community. From the reception that all the external members of the community were given today I have no doubt that it is true. For those that choose to live here to be a good Muslim  is to be a good Briton.

So let’s look at the small number of extremists. Why has there been a big increase in that still minority of people who are jihadists. Well it could be partly our fault. I believe that the most effective recruiting sergeants for the Jihadists were George W Bush and Tony Blair. They went into an illegal war with no sound foundation of fact. They followed that up with a war in Afghanistan. They followed that up with targeted bombing in Libya and Syria but with no ‘boots on the ground’. There is no excuse for people to become extremists because of any of these actions but we need to understand the mind set of those that have chosen this path.

We chose our allies in the Middle East not because of principle but because of expediency. Did you notice, for example, that the List of countries that trump chose to offend did not include any Country where his business empire has investments? Instead he chose to make enemies of 7 countries which to date have failed to provide a single action which results in the death of Americans.

Do you notice our craven support for the appalling regime in Saudi Arabia? Chop, chop, chop go the heads, lash, lash lashes fall on the backs of people only wanting to express an opinion but hey so what? They buy lots of arms from us. They give us preferential deals on oil. We’re not going to be honest and principled and take them on.

In this Country the vast majority of Muslims are model citizens. They have come here and created businesses which employ other people and they contribute their taxes to our economy. I noticed that many restaurants owned by Muslims opened their door to the homeless over Christmas free of charge. They want to contribute to the wider economy of the Country that they call home. Increasingly third and fourth generation immigrants and not immigrants at all. They pay obeisance to the faith of their fathers but are a part of the secular multi-racial, multi faith society that the UK has become.

But we cannot ignore that fact that extremists exist. I argued with the Labour Government against their ‘Prevent’ strategy where they provided money on the basis of the number of Muslims in an area. I argued instead that they ought to give money and work in areas where intelligence showed that there were the greatest risks of the growth of extremism. No joy with that one I am afraid.

We need to have a seamless system whereby information on extremism goes to the right quarters. We need to think carefully about those returning from Syria. Some of them have come back even more determined than when they left. Most of them are sickened by the reality of what they have seen. For those in the latter category we need to be assisting their return into society and helping them tell their story to dissuade the young and impressionable to follow them into arms.

Those not of the Muslim faith need to publicly stand shoulder to shoulder with the Imams and other leaders of the faith to show that we are the same as each other and that there is mutual trust and respect in society between people of good faith.

I am proud to live in a city region where people from more than 100 Countries live in peace and harmony. A region where there is racial and faith conflict but it is minimal and where we do come together in the aftermath of personal, local, national or international events.

Together we can defeat extremism. Together we can show the [prejudiced that all faiths have the same ration of the good, bad and the nasty. Together we can create a Liverpool and a Country where our children can live in peace.

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