This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Polish Migrant Workers

Letter to Herald E xpress 310806 ;

As a TGWU member I was delighted to read of Cllr Jennings; leader of the Torbay Liberal Democrat council group, lending his continued support to ensure that the same employment rights are afforded to Polish workers, especially in relation to the national minimum wage. The trade union maxim of equal pay for work of equal worth needs to be enforced for equality before the law is a cornerstone of democratic society that needs to be upheld. The council are therefore to be commended for producing 'Know Your Rights' leaflets in Polish to attempt to realise this goal. This follows organising and recruitment materials produced by the TGWU with similar aims in mind.

In contrast to Mark Dent of UKIP's thinly disguised opposition to the influx of Polish workers I'd prefer to recognise the positive contribution individuals from the new EU member states are making in our tourist industry, care sector jobs and, indeed, even in my own workplace. What is needed are initiatives to confront the bay's low wage economy as it impacts upon all our communities, irrespective of ethnicity. This is, of course, a more difficult longer term proposition than seeking electoral support for the populist but chauvinistic position that UKIP subscribes to.

Finally I'd like to suggest to readers that the quest for equitable employment practices should not be conflated with the issue of immigration. The latter is an issue of ongoing policy debate. The former is about the application of existing employment law.

This is in response to the following story from the 290806 edition of the Herald Express :


Migrant workers are being ripped off and threatened by law breaking Bay bosses, it is being claimed.

Three Polish hotel staff working in separate establishments and a nightclub worker from France have been exploited by Torquay employers.

All four were paid less than the minimum wage, one receiving just £3.50 an hour.

And the nightclub worker was warned by his boss he would be deported if he complained to anyone.

The minimum wage varies: £5.05 per hour for workers aged 22 years and older; and £4.25 per hour for workers aged 18 - 21 years.

The shocking facts came to light during a drop-in advice session aimed at the Bay's migrant workforce and staged by The Transport and General Workers Union at the Acorn Centre.

Bay councillor Gordon Jennings, who is also the TGWU branch secretary, believes there are many more underpaid migrant workers in the resort who are too frightened to come forward.

He said: "We staged the session to tell migrant workers about their rights of employment in the UK and we picked up four who were not being paid the minimum wage with threats alongside it.

"The French guy working in a nightclub was told by his employers that if he divulged what he was getting they would have him deported.

"Obviously, they can't do that but he was very worried and thought they could.

"The three hotel workers were not aware they were being paid less than the minimum wage until they came to the drop-in session.

"I am concerned there could be others that are frightened to come forward because they have received similar threats.

"These people have a legal right to work in this country and it is illegal to pay them below the minimum wage."

The hotel workers from Poland are now all being paid the minimum wage, after TGWU representatives spoke to their employers.

Cllr Jennings continued: "This sort of thing is why it is so important to inform them of their rights when they are working in this country."

"As a councillor I have taken this back to the council and we have produced some 'know your rights' leaflets written in Polish which are available at Torquay Library and the job centre.

"These are the sort of things that should be in place to help people coming into the Bay from Europe to find work.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mayor 'Mare on BBC 2

Torbay Council's elected Executive Mayor made a complete buffoon of himself on national television last Friday evening. He described the resort as a 'parking paradise' which will come as a surprise to residents and visitors to the bay alike.

The NCP contract and the 'zest' of the parking attendants has alienated many. Further, the car parking charges are significantly higher than neighbouring boroughs and it certainly influences my shopping and leisure choices. Quite often I'll go to Ness Beach in Shaldon (Teignbridge) than to more local choices like the lovely Broadsands / Elberry Cove combination because of this factor.

A wider issue pertains to the mayor's antics however. His quest for endless media attention and photo-opportunities mean he's operating more like a ceremonial mayor, not the sole executive decision maker of the authority. Whilst aspects of the NCP contract and the wider issue of car park charges do need addressing, one might ask whether the mayor himself is justifying his near £60,000 salary !

Only a couple of weeks ago he attended an official opening of an extension to my workplace. Well Nick, you 'achieved' a nice photo in the paper and some inane quotes were attributed to you. But, Mr Bye that engagement was surely the job of the current Chairman (sic) of Torbay Council, who does much of the work formerly done by ceremonial mayors !

Maybe Nick you might belatedly wrestle with your own under-funding of adult social care which is threatening the closure of local facilities, rather than embarking on more ego stroking media appearances. The LD warned of the shortfall at the budget meeting and since then your error is being compounded by inaction.

Some time ago a LD councillor had to apologise to the mayor for calling him a buffoon. As an activist, rather than councillor, I see no reason to be quite so circumspect [with regard to this matter at least]!

Be More Like Lib Dems say UKIP !

Thanks to an anonymous contributor to my blog for this tip off ! This letter remains unpublished, but it is amusing to see opponents imitating us. Pity UKIP locally have no discernible policy differences with the Tory mayor and their lead candidate - Susie Colley - has a slim electoral platform that can be summed up as 'I'd be a really good councillor and I hate the Lib Dems' !

Text of Letter to Herald Express 310706 below :

UKIP just bang on about Europe – so why should anybody vote for them come local election time? This is the question posed on 15 May 2006 to UKIP's own online 'Democracy Forum' The suggested answer was to emulate the Lib Dems and adopt a 'community politics' based approach.

To apply this in practice it is suggested that UKIP members buy no less than 6 recommended guides from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors to give their activists the skills to be more like the Lib Dems ! Has Susie Colley placed her order yet ?!

I should warn UKIP members though that an inability to talk about subjects other than Europe will limit the effectiveness of the suggested publications !

Barrie Wood

Torbye View 050806

Letter to Herald Express :

'Torbay View', the periodic magazine of Torbay Council, is meant to be an
informative non-political publication highlighting the successful work
of the council, included the often under-valued contribution made by
its staff. Whilst accepting that the elected mayor as the bay's first
citizen should rightly feature, the summer edition is notable for its
inclusion of only Conservative politicians - the mayor [several times]
and his deputy, Cllr. Carroll.

A first glance one could misconstrue this as a partisan party political
magazine. This Summer edition might be better called Torbye View ! I trust this was not the intention of all concerned and look forward to future editions featuring a broader range of council members from all parties and none.

Sadly Nick Bye continues to be erroneously described as being
Independent, despite continuing membership of the Conservative party,
presiding over a ruling Conservative administration and there being
direct weblinks to his neglected online presence from both websites of
the Torbay Conservatives and Marcus Wood, their leading spokesperson
locally. Everyone must know you're a Tory Nick, why persist with this
pretence and put distance between you and your party ?

I await the next issue with interest !

Barrie Wood

Pity much of the last major paragraph was chopped when published by the paper!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Tories - Still the Nasty Party !

Thanks to Paul Clarke on the LDYS Forum for drawing my attention to this :

"Nasty foreigners are ruining Britain" - spokesman for Cornerstone Group of Conservative MPs. See :

BBC Report on Cornerstone statement :

Some things don't change. The Tories are the 'Nasty Party' and the BNP the 'Nazi Party'. No amount of sharp suits, makeovers or honeyed words will change this anytime soon !

Lord Ashdown + 'Cross Dressing' !

The G2 section of 'The Guardian' carried an article on political 'cross dressing'. Mr Blair defines the era of left / right politics over and declares that political ideas are fluid. Very fluid in his case. Now, unlike lots of Lib Dems, I do use the left / right political axis as a way of defining issues. I do it for left and right is the shorthand that the public understands. I have no problem with describing myself as a bottom-up grassroots liberal, green-ish and left-ish.

Of at least the same importance as the left / right divide is the liberal / authoritarian spectrum. When one looks at politics through this prism one can find oneself closer to so-called 'Orange Book' market Liberals than the authoritarian left on issues. This too is not a problem for me. Yes, on economic questions I am social democrat inclined, but without the unnecessarily prescriptive and statist assumptions of most of the left. Commitment to decentralisation, variation, meeting locally decided differing needs and priorities and local accountability of public services are where I differ from the Labour Left. The state doesn't always know best and politicians rarely do !

However, the problem with Blair is summed up well by 'Lord' Paddy Ashdown in an interview in the Summer 2006 issue of 'Fabian Review'. He describes Tony Blair as someone who "...doesn't have a creed he believes in. I think Tony's creed is that Britain would be better if it was run by decent people. And decent people are like him. A politician needs a creed because it'a a creed that's your sheet anchor that holds your ship into the storm'.

We need to remember this. Joining NuLab / Tories in political cross-dressing and like them dressing to the right will lose us those things that are compassionate, liberal, progressive and DIFFERENT about our party. Furthermore, offering the same option, offering the voters three similar political varients would only make extreme options [like BNP] seem more like a definitive alternative. Chillingly the vile racists; and in parts neo-nazi influenced BNP, often use the abbreviation of OPWTN to describe the major parties. That is 'One Party With Three Names'. We must not let the BNP make headway with this jibe.

Let's remain distinctively Liberal and be seen to do so !