Going back to my Notts roots once again

A trip back to my original home county of Nottinghamshire was called for, so with Sheila and daughter Jen off we went to once again discover my roots. My main objective of this particular trip was to watch cricket at Trent Bridge following in the steps of my Dad George Robertson and Grandad Bill Robertson, but there’d other highlights too.

Our first stop was Edwinstowe to have a look at the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest:-

Then a visit to see a relative living only a couple of miles away from the Major Oak in the lovely Nottinghamshire countryside.

Our hotel for the trip was the Premier Inn Nottingham West which is well situated at the end of one of the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) tram lines meaning no driving was required around an unfamiliar city. You know exactly what you’re going to get at a Premier Inn and we use them regularly. NET trams, as I’ve said before, are very good indeed:-

A NET tram near Nottingham Railway Station

A look at Park Tunnel was worth the short walk out of the City Centre. I’d first heard of it via ‘Trekking Explorations’ on YouTube – see link below – a video well worth looking at:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=axPEpwS2jq8

Park Tunnel – Photo by Jen Robertson

Trent Bridge Cricket Ground

And then a day at the cricket for me at the beautifully appointed Trent Bridge Cricket Ground watching Nottinghamshire V Middlesex in the County Championship. Fortunately, it was just the right weather for cricket, not too hot or cold. My Grandad Bill Robertson took my Dad to this ground just before the 2nd World War (Dad went many times after then, particularly when he’d retired) so I was following in their footsteps so to speak. Dad used to tell me of meeting famous Nottinghamshire batsman Joe Hardstaff (Jnr) on the bus from Kirkby-In-Ashfield to Nottingham after the war – see link below:-

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Hardstaff_Jr

Nottinghamshire & England cricketer Haseeb Hameed

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haseeb_Hameed

We also took in a trip to Newstead Abbey, which has recently made an appearance in the BBC Drama ‘Sherwood’. The first things we saw were peacocks and those who watched the series will recall how one was ‘killed’ with a longbow and arrow. No, of course, the one you see dead on TV was not real one……

Newstead Abbey

And finally, a look at the Town I was born in, Kirkby-In-Ashfield. On Orchard Road we found No.14, which I lived in until the age of 6 when we left Kirkby and we ended up having a chat with a nice chap who lived at No.18 (I think) who told us he recalled our next-door neighbours (No.12 – Jack Garner and his wife) who were there when we were. The photo below is me on the footpath which used to go over the now long gone Kirkby-In-Ashfield Central Station and railway. The significance of it was that around 5 years old I disappeared from home and was found after a shortish search waiting to see the ‘Fish Train’ which passed through each day.

Me on the footpath leading out of Orchard Road Kirkby-In-Ashfield.

As you might expect I enjoyed my trip down memory lane. I’ll be going back, of course, not least to watch more cricket at the home of Randall, Hardstaff, Larwood, Sobers etc. (oh how I’d have loved to have seen them all play at Trent Bridge) and not forgetting one of my present-day cricketing heroes Haseeb Hameed.

Notes –

* Click on the photos to enlarge them

* Tony has lived on Merseyside since the age of 10 and presently resides in Lydiate

Sefton Council – Struggling on, at best!

I was a Sefton Councillor representing communities in the East Parishes (Molyneux and Park wards) part of the Borough for 16 years from 1999 to 2015 and had the great honour to be Council Leader from 2004 to 2011. I can’t, in all honesty, say that Sefton Council was one of the best local authorities in England but during my time on it, I’d say it was fair to middling with credible aspects to it.

I say this as in recent years the Council has troubled me. I still live in the Borough, pay my Council tax and use the Council’s services. Sefton has 3 issues that for me are examples of poor local governance. It has:-

* ended up with government-imposed commissioners overseeing its Children’s Services operations following a grim OFSTED report
* been failing significantly for some months now with regard to its refuse and recycling kerbside collections
* failed to put right a situation, of its own making, whereby residents living in areas where Parish Councils maintain local parks & gardens pay twice for this service

Children’s Services in dire straights

If a Council is failing to offer a good children’s services operation it means that the most vulnerable youngsters in our communities are being let down and the consequences can be very serious indeed. I appreciate that cuts in government funding will be a huge influencing factor but why has Sefton ended up with government-appointed commissioners taking the reigns when this is not a common factor across other English councils with children’s services responsibilities. Commissioners are not appointed to run/oversee local government services very often and yes, of course, I’m aware that neighbouring Liverpool City Council has significant governance problems with Commissioners being sent in. So Sefton’s Children’s Services must have been in a dire state. Having said that I hear that significant progress is being made to address the concerns of OFSTED but never the less the Borough should not have ended up where it has found itself.

Best bin service to worst in the blink of an eye

Kerbside refuse/recycling collections in Sefton have been a shining light of the way to do it and pretty much for as many years as the Borough has been in existence – 1974. But oh dear the wheels have come off in recent months causing great anger across the Borough. The Council majors on sickness being the cause, whilst the trade unions representing the refuse/recycling collectors say they’re working to rule following a dispute over management changes to how they work. I suspect that both issues are true although for some odd reason the Council doesn’t seem to want to talk about the latter. Whatever the causes many residents have now had their green (garden waste) bins out on the pavements of the Borough for weeks and weeks. They’re supposed to be collected every 3 weeks but some locals say it feels like it’s slipped to 3 monthly collections, at best. Grey and Brown bin collections have also been impacted too, across many parts of the Borough, although with these the Council is just about keeping its head above water. When it comes to a service that all residents rely on and use on a weekly basis Sefton has gone from very good to very bad in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Treating Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village Council taxpayers as 2nd class?

Paying twice, otherwise known as double-rating, with regard to parks and gardens is very much a Sefton Council-created problem. It affects council taxpayers in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village where in all 3 cases the local parish/town council maintains all of the parks and gardens in those communities but the Borough charges the same amount of Council tax as everywhere else. The ridiculous aspect of this is that Sefton Council actually fixed the situation back during my time as Council Leader, indeed I made sure it was fixed. Then under the umbrella of austerity cuts, the problem was recreated i.e. the Council taxpayers of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village were put back to financial disadvantage by our now Labour-run Council. Yes, money being spent on parks and gardens maintenance was having to be reduced across the Borough but why on earth, in effect, make bigger cuts in these 3 communities, forcing their parish/town councils to have to increase the precept (the name for the part of Council tax raised by parish/town councils) to compensate! Why does the Sefton Council seemingly look upon Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village as being less equal than the other communities in our diverse Borough?

So there you have it, my issues with Sefton Council. As my old school reports used to say ‘with more effort could do better’ and that’s being polite about the Borough’s governance as I see it.

Why Tories won’t mind losing 1 election & why all eyes should be on Labour’s PR stance

It’s the day after the next General Election here in the UK and progressives are seemingly in a majority, if you mistakenly assume that all Labour MPs are progressive which of course they’re not. There is a lot of celebrating as the Conservatives have finally lost their majority but it will take a ‘coalition* of willing progressives’ to create a workable left of centre government. Here are a few reasons why that ‘progressive alliance’, for want of another term, is likely to fail in short order leading to another populist government of the right.

Firstly, Labour, who have won some extra seats, really aren’t looking much like progressives at all, having run a campaign based on a centre-right platform. The SNP are more progressive but their independence or bust approach to working with other parties is a big stumbling block when you consider that both Labour and, sadly from my perspective, the Lib Dems are firmly unionist in their outlook.

The Lib Dems, who have won a significant number of seats from the Tories, are in reality two differing types of Liberals – Economic Liberals (Nick Clegg was one I guess) and Social Liberals. Whilst they share numerous Liberal values the Social Liberals tend to be very much of the left in UK political terms although many of them baulk at being seen as of the left. However, they’re the ones who realised early on that that Nick Clegg’s negotiated coalition with the Conservatives back in 2010 was going to be a disaster. Of course, they were right as Clegg backed out of the Lib Dem’s flagship policy of opposing Student Tuition Fee increases. It was pretty much all downhill for the Libs from there onwards for the next 10 years.

Would the SNP, having seen what Clegg did to the Lib Dems, even for a moment, contemplate watering down their independence for Scotland stance to make working with unionists in other parties easier or even possible. Frankly, they would be mad too, so how can a multi-party progressive government be formed in a way that brings an independent Scotland to the fore?

It’s proportional representation stupid

And then there’s proportional representation, which for generations Labour has opposed; a position that’s exposed it as being anti-progressive. Labour’s pretty much on its own amongst all left of centre parties across Europe and beyond over its heel-dragging with regard to PR. They got close to backing PR in 2021, of course, and now seem to be in a position where they no longer oppose PR but don’t really back it with any great enthusiasm either. The problem is they can’t be trusted to see through a PR agenda by progressive parties who probably look upon Starmer’s party as being akin to Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Liberals. They, having previously backed/promoted PR, pretty much ran away from delivering it. The SNP, Lib Dems and Greens think Starmer’s lot will pull a similar trick, and they’d probably be right to fear such an outcome.

Labour’s still a Brext party?

Too many of Labour’s MPs continue to be right of centre or they represent white, working-class, right-wing leaning constituencies even when they’re progressively inclined themselves. This was of course the very bind that drew Labour into at best sitting on its hands and at worst enabling a Brexit which has probably damaged poorer areas of the UK more than anywhere else. Of course the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens were utterly opposed to Brexit so here’s another big sticking point which creates barriers to progressives being able to work with Labour.

And look who Labour will probably want to be Chancellor, one Rachel Reeves who’s infamous, with this progressive anyway, for her 2013 utterance that Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing benefits, or words to that effect. She’s going to go down well with progressives in the Greens, SNP and Lib Dems NOT.

So can a Tory opposition so disparate and so very different from each other really carry the day? It could but only on a very limited agenda and proportional representation would very much have to lead that agenda. A further Scots Independent referendum would clearly need to be part of it together with an unbreakable commitment to devolve many more powers to Scotland, N Ireland, Wales and the regions of England, whether the Scots referendum delivers independence or not. This latter point should get the Lib Dems onside as they have long proposed powerful regional governance for the whole of the UK as opposed to the very limited and messy decentralisation which presently exists in differing ways in different parts of the UK. The only other potential issue for this limited agenda could be an emergency financial NHS rescue package. Surely, all progressives could get behind such an initiative? But that’s about it and of course, if Labour will not implement PR then all bets should be off. Certainly, Ed Davey would not survive any brokered deal that simply props up a Starmer Government; he won’t get away with what Clegg did!

And the alternative for anything like a progressive way forward? A minority Labour Government which progressive parties would back but only on matters/policies, they agreed with. On that basis, Starmer’ would be thrown to the wolves if he tried to pursue any right of centre agendas. I’m sure there will be other barriers to non-Conservative parties working together, I’ve just picked out the obvious ones here!

A UK version of Trumpism, that’ll probably be our future

No matter which way you cut it the Tories may only be out of power for one election (under our warped First Past the Post system that is) and they could live with that outcome. Without proportional representation being enacted we’ll be back to Tory Governments most of the time and they’ll probably not be of the benign John Major-type either. Right-wing populism has taken over the Tory Party of old and putting it back in its box will be the devil’s job. No PR Labour? Then settle back for a UK version of Trumpism because that’ll probably be our future.

* Oh and one last thing the Lib Dems have previously ruled themselves out (under Tim Farron’s leadership) of participating in any future coalition government and who on earth could blame them after they were Clegged!

Johnson should be facing down the DUP not pandering to them

As readers of this blog site will recall, I quite often check in on what Jim Hancock says via his ‘Hancock’s Half Page’ blog site as I share his views sometimes but respect them even when I don’t. The piece below on the complete and utter shambles surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol is Jim Hancock at his best:-

‘The Northern Ireland protocol is an international treaty. Tearing it up would further damage our international reputation, already harmed by Brexit. Johnson should be facing down the Democratic Unionists with a threat to change the Good Friday agreement to allow parties that are willing to form a government at Stormont to do so. Many businesses are reporting they are thriving as the province benefits from its unique status between the UK and the EU Single Market. The DUP voted for Brexit. They are responsible for the checks which, they say, distance themselves from Great Britain.’

I’m not at all sure what the end game will be but it seems to serve both the Tories and the failing DUP to keep the NIP on the boil as it’s more raw meat to feed to Brexiteers. But this is dangerous politics which puts peace in NI at great risk. The DUP may have nothing to lose now as they look to be in significant decline, with a united Ireland a real probability and just a matter of time.

Politicians who have nothing to lose will hit out and do pretty much anything and the bad consequences will always be someone else’s fault. For Johnson, who finds himself in his own self-made nothing to lose predicament, pandering to the DUP (or in reality continuing to manipulate them) risks everything.

RMT Union V Merseyrail – Still no resolution

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

It’s a while since I’ve dropped into the long-running dispute between RMT trade union and Merseyrail, but there’s been some recent movement. Here’s a link back to a previous posting of mine on this subject:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/09/06/merseytravel-merseyrail-liverpool-city-region-v-rmt-train-guards-dispute-ended-but/

And the movement? The latest peace deal has been rejected by Merseyrail’s RMT members in a ballot. According to the RMT website, there were 217 eligible members in the ballot of which 182 voted i.e. 84%. I often wonder why in such trade union ballots some members choose not to vote. Yes, there’ll be illness etc. but can we assume those not voting were not bothered either way? The result was 83 accepted the deal and 99 voted to reject it.

So far I’ve not been able to track down much else about where this long-running dispute is now headed and as an outsider looking in, even one who is a retired trade union officer, the alternatives look rather bleak to me. I’m wondering whether those voting no to the deal had an eye to the ticket checking (revenue protection) part of it and a wish not to have to? Although ticket checking onboard trains by guards is still reasonably common, not so on Merseyrail who seem to have opted more for mobile teams to enforce those travelling ticketless over the past few years. However, with this new and now rejected deal the guards, renamed Train Managers, would be walking through the new Class 777 Stadler trains checking tickets and of course, dealing with the confrontations flowing from such interactions with folk deliberately trying to travel for free. My feeling is that the revenue protection part of the new Train Manager’s job is aimed, at least in part, at raising more money to assist in paying the wages of the Train Managers*.

It will be interesting to see if the rejected deal now becomes the marker for another fully-fledged industrial dispute between Merseyrail and the RMT.

A Merseyrail train just noth of Maghull Station heading for Liverpool on the Ormskirk LIne.

* I keep coming back to a point that I’ve made many times before. The fact is that the Liverpool City Region ordered new trains which were intended to run without guards being required at all. On that basis, a dispute with the unions representing the train operator’s staff was always going to be on the cards. You can’t help but wonder if the Labour-run City Region was looking for a fight with Merseyrail’s trade unions all along? The City Region came unstuck when the RMT and passenger groups said they wanted a 2nd person onboard each Merseyrail train to aid passenger safety. This argument gained traction and the politicians were forced to back down.

Why we need more Low traffic Neighbourhoods

As far as I can see we are still building new communities and housing estates so they’re car-dependent when clearly we should be doing just the opposite!

I’ve been trying to get my head around another green initiative called ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ and here’s a good explanation of what they are from Sustrans:-

www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/get-active/2020/in-your-community/what-is-a-low-traffic-neighbourhood

Car drivers often get very angry when there are suggestions/plans to reduce car use. Their often irrational response is because they’re addicted to their car which they use for virtually every journey. Indeed, their whole life has been built around them being car-dependent and they want it to stay that way as they know and care little about alternatives. Pedestrians are strange, why walk when you can drive, aren’t these people weird? Cyclists are a damn nuisance who need running off our roads. Horse riders should be in fields. Drivers who follow speed limits are forcing me to take on dangerous overtaking manoeuvres to get past them.

Does pollution not matter to these drivers? Well no, not unless someone in their family has been made ill by airborne pollution. And what about vehicle accidents?, oh they happen to others, not to me. Green issues generally?, oh that’s for politicians to sort out, nothing to do with my car. In reality, the vast majority of vehicle drivers will never volunteer to reduce their car use. They may well buy an electric car (if they are comfortably well off that is) as it may make them feel ‘green’ when actually the production of their ‘green’ car is anything but green!

I suppose it comes down to this. We all want the road we live on and the one our child goes to school on to be car-free and safe but we want every other road to be a vehicle free for all where we can drive however we want and not suffer any consequences.

The approach of the government is to build car-dependent communities as developers like, where they like. It’s for another generation to sort out the mess that poorly planned housing developments are creating. Oh and let’s build more new roads even though we know they just generate more traffic. And the climate change/green agenda?……………………

Editor’s Note – I Drive, Cycle and walk.