Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox

Me and my wife were saddened to receive a letter from Longton North Councillor Mark Davis last week informing us that he had decided to stand down as a councillor and will not contest the all out elections in May.

We have known Mark and his wife Jane for a few years and have worked with him on a number of projects in the ward in which we live.

Mark has always been a very hard working and committed councillor and many people who live in Longton North have benefited from his help and enthusiasm. He has been described as a warm and caring councillor who is always willing to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in.

Cllr Davis is one of three Labour Party councillors to serve the good folk of Longton North. He has worked alongside Cllr Tom Reynolds and current Lord Mayor Denver Tolley since Labour managed to gain a clean sweep for Labour with the defeat of the BNP a few years ago.

Mark is married to Jane Heggie who until recently was an integral part of Rob Flello MP’s constituency office.

People in Stoke-on-Trent are in no doubt as to the contribution that Jane and Tom Reynolds made to the running of Rob’s office and his victory at the last General Election in 2010.

Jane and Tom were made redundant by Rob Flello just after that election victory.

This came as a massive shock to Labour activists in Stoke-on-Trent South CLP.

Rob Flello made a number of redundancies in an organisational change that he puts down to the change enforced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority [IPSA] formed following the MP’s expense scandal.

The Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South still created two full time posts and I believe that he is currently advertising for a third.

Jane and Tom were forced to re-apply for the new posts and for some totally bizarre reason were deemed unsuitable for the new positions.

This decision has played no small part in Cllr Davis’s decision not to stand for election for the Labour Party this May.

I’ve massively enjoyed serving as your councillor, but so many things have changed for Jane and I in the last year or so that I’ve had to think long and hard about whether I want to stand for re-election this year.

Jane being made redundant after the General Election has made us reassess what we are doing and how we manage financially, and obviously, our little boy, Joseph, demands more and more of our time too. After a lot of thought and soul searching we’ve come to the conclusion that it is better if I don’t stand for Council, so that I can concentrate of growing my business ““ something I’ve neglected over the last few years.

Cllr Davis’s decision will mean the Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent City Council will have lost one of their most able councillors and someone who was tipped to go far in both the Council and the Labour Party. His decision is yet another by product of the MP’s decision to “Ëœreorganise, his office.

There is no doubt that Stoke-on-Trent South CLP has lost their mojo since Jane Heggie and Tom Reynolds were shown the door by Rob Flello MP. I say this with no disrespect to the new members of staff employed within the constituency office.

Stoke South Labour members are still perplexed and some are totally angry by the actions of the MP in this matter. Indeed a senior member who used to hold an executive position is now helping Tristram Hunt in Stoke Central as a result.

Jane and Tom used to represent Rob Flello at certain meetings. Now those meetings are attended by Rob’s partner who is a volunteer worker at his office.

I am told that campaign organisation is lacking and volunteers are not forthcoming. In short Stoke South has gone from leading the way to the “Ëœalso ran’s’ among the Labour movement in the City.

Anyone who questions why I have chosen this subject as a blog post, let me say this – I was and still am, appalled at the treatment received by Jane and Tom.

This country has just come through the worse recession in living memory.

Businesses have fought the banks that were reluctant to release funds to business. Company leaders have had to cope with a plummeting market place.

There have been many victims in this recession. Many hard working folk were dumped on the dole queue as companies folded under the strain.

I am an operational Managing Director who, with my group colleagues across the country, fought tooth and nail to keep our staff employed. We were aware of our responsibilities and that fact that our staff had families and mortgages to pay.

We got through it without making a single redundancy, which for a company that relies on the manufacturing sector, I am immensely proud of.

I have never hid the fact that I consider myself to be a socialist and to witness a Labour MP use the change in MP’s expense rules to making redundancies has left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Whilst I totally accept that Rob Flello MP acted within the law and did no wrong in relation to employment law, I have come to the conclusion that he must be a very different kind of socialist to me.

One party member said to me recently that he thought the actions in Stoke South over last summer brought socialism into disrepute.

It is a great testament to Jane and Tom that their involvement with the constituency Labour party continues and they remain committed to seeing a majority of Labour Councillors in the Council Chamber post election.

Those Labour benches will be missing one of their most capable however.

I wish Mark and his family all the very best for the future and on behalf of the good folk of Longton North, I say thank you for all your efforts.

Comment: Stoke-on-Trent Central – The Impact & The Aftermath

The great thing about writing for a site like Pits n Pots is that every so often you get the opportunity to give your 10 penneth to the current hot debate.

So here goes – On the 16th of March I wrote the following:

“Gary Elsby is desperate to be a candidate after 30 years dedicated loyal service to the Labour Party. His timely removal from the parliamentary list has thrown his candidature into serious doubt. He is committed to standing as an MP in the area he has served for many years. It is rumoured that he has the support of a large section of the membership in the constituency. The sad fact is he may have to step outside of his beloved party to achieve this. I think he is totally prepared to do this”.

Well, prepared he certainly was. Yesterday he announced that he was to go it alone and as it was Good Friday, a slow news day, he was maxed out on media attention.

He has made the move, thrown his hat in the ring and now there is no way back for him.

I have been covering the whole sorry saga of Stoke Centrals battles with the West Midlands Regional Office and the paid enforcers of the National Executive Committee for many months now.

Yesterday’s announcement was the Champions League Semi-Final of the competition, there have been many preliminary rounds, but we are now close to the Grand Final which will be played out in front of the nation on May 6th.

The Labour Party have to take the ultimate responsibility for this whole fiasco.

Firstly, those in the Regional Office who decided that Gary Elsby, Barry Stockley & Mick Williams were not suitable and deemed ‘hostiles’ and subsequently prevented from standing in the local elections. Were their crimes ever explained?

Why were they treated differently to people like Joy Garner and Joan Bell who walked out of the Labour council group and joined a Conservative coalition, only to walk back into the party without any recrimination what-so-ever. Why treat these people differently? I suggest the party hold an urgent inquiry into this whole sorry debacle and those ultimately responsible for the witch hunt against these individuals should be forced out of the party with the same dignity shown to Elsby, Williams and Stockley.

It has been suggested that Gary Elsby would have been better served by staying in the party and to help bring those twisted officers to book for their actions. No volunteers deserve to be treated the way these three have by paid officers of a political party.

Secondly, if the Special Selection Panel were directed to include and exclude certain names it should be made public and an explanation given.

Who ever was responsible for not putting a woman or any local candidates on the shortlist must be named and shamed. It was a travesty in the least and an act of political incompetence at worse.

The decision not to allow local names on the shortlist was a terrible mistake. It has left some individuals pondering their future within the party. Sarah Hill, Jane Heggie and Merv Smith all made the interview stage and I’m told gave a good account of themselves. Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper did not even make the longlist. What a joke, I say ambition must be encouraged not stifled.

To their enormous credit most local candidates have expressed their disappointment but urged everyone to united behind the chosen candidate.

There has got to be an end to imposed candidates and rigged shortlists. The Labour Party need to focus on the fact that they have an election to win, not on the possible leadership battle which may follow.

The one person that can not in any way be blamed for the way the Central Three have been treated or the way the shortlist was compiled is Tristram Hunt.

Some of the comments that have been kicking around the Internet have been laughable.

The suggestion that someone with a name like Tristram or someone as posh as he is can not serve the electorate of Stoke-on-Trent Central adequately is quite frankly, an insult to all those that live in the constituency.

He has the backing of the two men responsible for bringing Mark Fisher MP to the City, Terry Crowe and Barry Stockley.

They did not think that it was an issue that Mark Fisher was educated at Eton or was the son of a Conservative MP. I don’t doubt for a second that they think Tristram’s education, profession or heritage should be an issue either.

I have met Tristram Hunt and found him to be a hugely impressive character. I know he felt that the shortlist should have been more extensive and included local names.

I know also that he is committed to uniting the party and reconciling the differences between the region and the constituency. I know he would have fought to get Gary Elsby back onto the parliamentary list and allowed to stand for council in 2011.

Tristram comes with no baggage attached as far as the past battles of the City Labour Party or the Regional/NEC interference.

He is also untainted by the past scandals such as the MPs expenses and the abuse of parliamentary privileges.

He must be judged on the pledges he made prior to being selected which are:

“¢ Fight to keep schools located in our communities
“¢ Use all my business, political and media skills to bring investment, regeneration, tourism and jobs to Stoke;
“¢ Work tirelessly to improve the profile of Stoke-on-Trent nationally;
“¢ Tackle the BNP head on and remove their vicious stain from our streets;
“¢ Build a vibrant and inclusive local party;
“¢ Liaise with local groups, the police and Council to fight anti-social behaviour;
“¢ Make a family home in the constituency;
“¢ Publish transparent and open expenses.

If Tristram Hunt has the ear of the likes of the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, I can think of worse allies. If he can use his influence to get our City a better deal, help with regeneration and attracting inward investment, this can only be a good thing can’t it?

He must not be judged on the treatment handed out to Gary Elsby but he could help to make certain that this never happens again to anyone within the Labour Party in Stoke-on-Trent.

I have spoken to lots of people who are sympathetic to Gary Elsby’s plight, some close to him and some not so close.

Whilst these Labour Supporters want those responsible for the treatment metered out to Gary to be forced out or to resign from the party, they will not be voting for Gary.

The people who I have spoken to believe that their party is bigger than any one individual. They believe that people like the excellent Peter Kenyon will carry on fighting their cause and that the media attention caused by this story will ensure changes to the selection processes of the future.

The biggest fear for the normal Labour Supporters I have spoken to is that Gary Elsby may split the Labour vote and let the BNP or the Conservatives in through the back door.

I have been told that Tristram is approachable, accessible and inclusive.He needs to prove it by getting out and meeting as many of the electorate as he can. He needs to show people his qualities. He needs to hold as many public events where members of the public can voice their concerns and ask their questions of him.

I have known Gary Elsby since 1979. We joined the Labour Party at the same time in the early 80’s.

I know that he has been hurt badly by recent events. I do believe he has been treated appallingly badly by the Regional Officers and the NEC paid enforcers. I do believe that they have acted on information supplied to them by local members.

Gary has chosen to chart his own course. He will give it his best shot but I think deep down he would still prefer to see a Tristram Hunt as an MP rather than a Simon Darby.

The question now is how long it will be before those who have encouraged him come out and publicly back the candidate that they voted for with a massive majority at the hustings?

People must realise that this has being on the cards for far longer than just the past few days. No matter who would have been shortlisted Gary was deemed as unsuitable and removed from the parliamentary list. He knew this better than anyone.

Gary’s argument is not with Tristram Hunt but those individuals who have acted like Pontius Pilate in deciding peoples fate.

Meanwhile Tristram Hunt will campaign to prove he is worthy of stepping into his predecessor’s shoes.

Mark Fisher thinks that he is more than worthy.

The confirmed candidates in Stoke-on-Trent Central could fill all the outfield positions on a Football pitch [11], god help us if the subs bench starts getting full too!

Stoke-on-Trent Central Shortlist Latest

The big story tonight is not who is on the Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour PPC shortlist but who isn’t!

There will be no women or local candidates. Sarah Hill the City Party Chairman, Stoke South Election Organiser Jane Heggie and former Deputy Elected Mayor Mervyn Smith have NOT made the shortlist.

Byron Taylor, who many people thought was a cert to be on the shortlist is another victim of today’s interviews in London.

Tristram Hunt is a name that has made the shortlist and with no local contenders and with his biggest rival out of the picture, it is safe to assume that he is the strong favourite now.

22:00 UPDATE:

The other names that have made the shortlist are Oxford Councillor and ex Lib Dem member Sajjad-Hussain Malik and journalist Joe Ukemenam.

Tristram has been active in the constituency over the past few weeks and has impressed a large number of the Labour activists he has met.

He must be hoping that the omission of any local candidates and the removal of the other big favourite does not give the impression that he is being imposed onto the constituency by the party leadership.

This Thursday’s hustings will be his only chance of winning over those who may be thinking that he is being shoe horned into place.

Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour Longlist Names Start To Emerge [Updated]

The names that have made the Labour Party longlist for the vacancy for the candidacy of Stoke-on-Trent Central have started to emerge.

The two favourites Tristram Hunt and Byron Taylor have made the list as expected.

Local candidates Jane Heggie and Sarah Hill’s inclusion means that there will at least be a local presence at the interviews in London on Monday.

The rest of the longlist will be made up of names not known in the City but is thought to include a Doctor from Coventry and an Asian guy from the West Midlands.

The 10 or 11 names that have made the shortlist will be interviewed in London on Monday and from that there will be a shortlist chosen will will comprise of 4 or 5 names who will go forward to the hustings on 1st April In Stoke.

Sources have indicated that there will not be a postal ballot as previously thought. It appears that there will be a vote on the night.

At this stage the focus is on those who for what ever reason did not make the longlist.

Gary Elsby will now be considering whether to step outside of the party and become the 11th candidate who will contest the Election. He will be bitterly disappointed that he has not made the longlist especially as he was on the Parliamentary list a short while ago.

Cllr Adrian Knapper is another well known Labour Party name excluded fro the list. This will come as a huge disappointment to Adrian who has only ever served the Stoke Central Constituency since he joined the Party. He is a serving City Councillor for the Berryhill and Hanley East ward.

Adrian has released the following Statement:

With regards my attempt to gain the selection of the vacant nomination for the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Labour.

I wish to thank the many ordinary people of the potteries who have come up to me in the Street and wished me well. The warmth of local people has been second to none and has given me faith that I have the respect of the electorate.

On this occasion the National Selection Panel that sits outside the City, have decided not to include my name within the shortlist of candidates.

Within Stoke-on-Trent many members of the local Labour Party have expressed concerns about the heavy hand of the regional office and the NEC, especially with the dealing around the Central 3, who have been dedicated long serving members of the local Labour Party.

All sides that have been involved within this dispute must now unite and realize that we all belong to the Labour Party with solid values and principles of the aim to serve the people to make lives and futures better for all.

Every Labour member in Stoke-on-Trent must now stand in support of the name of the individual who is selected by the local Membership to be the Labour Party PPC and campaign to make that individual the next Member of Parliament for Stoke Central.

I will now be seeking re-election to be a Councillor in the Local Elections and hope that the people in Berryhill & Hanley East Ward will put their faith in me, by voting Labour and re-electing me to be their City Councillor.

Former Labour Elected Mayor Mark Meredith has also been rejected at this early stage.

Cllr Tom Reynolds has also failed to get onto the longlist. This, quite frankly, I find amazing and it certainly fuels speculation that the chosen two are to be given a clear run.

Tom has released this statement:

I have been informed by the compliance unit that I won’t be invited to interview for the Stoke-Central parliamentary selection.

I’m really disappointed, as I believe I would have done a good job for Labour and the people of Stoke-Central. However I know there is a very good list of quality people still in the frame, and I know that we will have an excellent candidate for the seat in the next election. I’ll offer whoever wins the selection my full support.

I’m now turning my attention to ensuring the Labour stands up for Stoke in the council chamber, and I’ll be running for office within the Labour Group at our annual general meeting.

Informed sources are suggesting that the eventual shortlist will consist of Tristram Hunt, Byron Taylor, Jane Heggie and Sarah Hill [possibly one more].

If that is the case there will be a suspicion of a bit of Labour Party ‘social engineering’ given the fact that Stoke-on-Trent Central CLP have had issues with both Jane and Sarah which will probably pave the way for either the party favourite Tristram Hunt or union favourite Byron Taylor.

We will keep you updated as the situation unfurls.

Mike Ion The Latest Name To Be Linked With Stoke Central

The latest name to be linked to the Labour Party vacancy in Stoke-on-Trent Central is that of Mike Ion.

Mike is a man with a long Labour Party tradition and has certainly got the pedigree to be a serious contender:

“¢Born and grew up in Sandbach
“¢Labour’s PPC for the marginal seat of Shrewsbury in 2005
“¢Labour Councillor on Telford & Wrekin UA and Wellington Town Council Between 1995-2004
“¢Fabian Society and Compass member
“¢WM regional campaign manager for Hilary Benn’s deputy leadership campaign in 2007
“¢Vice-chair of local branch (former CLP secretary)
“¢Former campaign co-ordinator for Wrekin CLP (1997 general election)
Other life experience:
“¢National Programme Director for School Improvement at the National Secondary Strategy
“¢Former headteacher of large 11-18 comprehensive school
“¢Co-leader of a PHAB (physically handicapped and able bodied) Club that meets each Monday evening (awarded the Princess Diana Memorial award for community service in 2005)
“¢Member of the BBC local radio advisory panel
“¢Served in the RAF for six years after leaving school at 16
“¢NUT member
“¢JP (Magistrate)
“¢BA, MPhil, PGCE

Speaking on his blog recently Mike said:

“I have decided to put my name forward for Stoke Central… will post more if shortlisted (the deadline for the submission of CVs is next Tuesday, March 23rd)”.

He joins Byron Taylor & Tristram Hunt as contenders from out side the City Of Stoke-on-Trent.

They will be facing local opposition from Sarah Hill, Tom Reynolds, Jane Heggie, Adrian Knapper and Alison Wedgwood.

Interestingly the key battle among the ‘outsiders’ could be between Byron Taylor and Tristram Hunt.

Both have been active in the constituency in the past few days talking to the electorate and Labour Party members.

It is alleged that Hunt is being championed by the Labour Party leadership and has the considerable weight of Lord Mandelson, Alistair Campbell and David Milliband behind him.

Taylor is known to be the favourite of the Unions and has very strong links with and support from Unite.

The Unions have been successful is getting candidacies for some of their key officials and officers.

Given the amount of funding that the unions and in particular Unite put into the party they could probably assume that they have more say in key candidates for safe seats.

The local candidates are busy networking and talking to Labour Party members and are probably pushing the fact that Stoke Central needs a local candidate.

One thing that Stoke Central needs is a constituency office. Barry Stockley has worked tirelessly for Mark Fisher MP in over the years and has assisted many constituents.

But the model that Stoke-on-Trent South operate, which is an office in the middle of the constituency that is more like a drop in centre and is run by full time staff, is something that Rob Flello’s constituents really appreciate.

The longlist is being currently being compiled by the Special Selection Panel of the party. They will also choose the shortlist and from that they will select the 5-6 names that will go forward to the hustings which will be on the 1st April [let’s hope that date does not prove to be ironic!]

An interesting twist to this tale surrounds the question of who will chair the hustings meeting?

Given the fact that the executive of the Stoke Central are all but suspended and prohibited from meeting, surely it could be possible that a key meeting like this be chaired by someone who is not a party of the Stoke Central CLP executive.

This could lead to another potential flash point and one that is entirely avoidable.

The Names In The Frame – But Beware Of Who Comes Up On The Rails!

Now that the dust is settling on the news that Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Mark Fisher is to step down on health grounds, names are emerging thick and fast for the vacancy

As previously reported on this site City Labour Party Chair Sarah Hill and Election Organiser Jane Heggie were the first names to be linked.

I can reveal that other names that have been linked with the vacancy include Labour Councillors Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper.

Another name to be linked is that of Alison Wedgwood, a Labour Party Member and wife of Tom Wedgwood.

Gary Elsby is desperate to be a candidate after 30 years dedicated loyal service to the Labour Party. His timely removal from the parliamentary list has thrown his candidature into serious doubt. He is committed to standing as an MP in the area he has served for many years. It is rumoured that he has the support of a large section of the membership in the constituency. The sad fact is he may have to step outside of his beloved party to achieve this. I think he is totally prepared to do this.

Alison Wedgwood is rather an unknown quantity. She was in Stoke-on-Trent South for a time and is now a member of Stoke-on-Trent Central. My information would lead me to believe that she is not that active a member and does not attend many meetings.

Adrian Knapper is based in Nantwich which will not be a problem for him as far as being a Labour PPC but there are members who question whether he should be allowed to stand as a City Councillor. I don’t think it makes a difference where he lives as long as he’s able to cope with the workload. Some people in Stoke Central are against him because of his time in the EMB and his support for the policies of the previous Elected Mayor. I think people underestimate Adrian, he is ambitious and committed and his suggestion that the long service of Mark Fisher be recognised by the City is both honourable and credible.

Tom Reynolds is a guy I have had a lot of contact with. He is a councillor for the ward in which I live and we have worked together on issues like anti-social behaviour and schools/BSF. Tom is always accessible. He is compassionate and caring and has strong but progressive Labour values. He is extremely well liked in our ward and I think he would make a very capable and hard working MP. He is a guy who has a strong social conscious and would work tirelessly for his constituency. Whether Labour members in Stoke Central hold the same view is an entirely different matter. He would no doubt, through his association with Rob Flello MP, be viewed as one of ‘those West Midlands’ crowd.

Wouldn’t it be positive if all those who have expressed an interest in standing shared their vision for Stoke-on-Trent Central with us through this site. We would welcome their involvement even if they chose to contribute without allowing people to comment on their submissions.

There are also names from outside of the City being linked to this Labour safe seat

The selection criteria is expected to be announced on Friday and it is rumoured that there will be an eventual shortlist of 80% women and 20% men which could mean that by the time the Special Selection Panel, the NEC and the Regional Office have finished with the cull of names, the rank and file membership could be left with the choice of just 4 females and 1 male candidates.

The Labour Party have to act quickly and decisively on this issue. They have to show some sympathy for the views and opinions of the rank and file members in Stoke Central. Why not try and claw some form of respectability back and allow their ‘preferred’ candidates to go up against those that are wanted by core members and work on the old adage of best man/woman wins.

I admit that I would find the prospect of a hustings where Sarah Hill, Jane Heggie, Tom Reynolds and Adrian Knapper went up against the likes of Gary Elsby on a stage answering the same questions in the same pressurised environment.

I have a lot of time for both Tom Reynolds and Gary Elsby and would love to see them go head to head in a hustings. Both love the Labour Party, but both have perhaps a different starting point. Both their own men, Tom the new kid on the block and Gary who has waited for his chance since the early 80’s when he joined the party around the same time as I did.

How intriguing would it be to see Sarah Hill and Jane Heggie vying for the same votes when they both have a similar outlook on the Labour Party, where it is today and which direction it needs to travel in next.

The danger for Labour though is that they are so focused on themselves and their own ambitions that they are in mortal danger of allowing a runner to come up through the pack on the rails.

Whilst Labour are busy jockeying for position, the Conservatives are mounting a confident campaign. Norsheen Bhatti is no also ran. She has the backing of an assured campaigning team and the reports I am getting is that she is getting a very positive reaction.

Another Independent candidate is about to enter the fray in the guise of the Deputy Leader of the City Council, Brian Ward. He is a thoroughly nice guy and a confident speaker who’s key skill is the ability to interact with the electorate. I think he has a real chance of polling very well. Constituents in Blurton speak very highly of him and that appeal could transfer over to Abbey Hulton, Bucknall and Bentilee which are similar areas of social housing.

Of course the far right vote is heading for a split. Alby Walker who is enormously popular in Abbey Green and has a City wide profile will surely take votes off the BNP PPC Simon Darby. Darby disappointed some of the electorate with his no show at the YMCA organised Youth Hustings last week. He also missed a massive opportunity to engage with the young and first time voters. Just how many entrances are there to the Victoria Hall? If only he had contacted the organisers he could have escaped the few protesters that had gathered to greet him.

The Lib Dems will just plod and have no real chance in my opinion. They will mount a very low key campaign that will lack the flash, bang, wallop, needed to make a real impact.

Paul Breeze who failed to retain the Mayoral system when he campaigned against Mike Barnes and Democracy4Stoke is also standing as an Independent.

Matthew Wright is the Candidate for The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

There will also be a candidate from the National Front who will serve only to fragment the far right vote even further.

Interesting times I’m sure you will agree…..