Friday, 23 April 2010

The Labour Party in East Devon: helping the world to become "a more civilised and fairer place."

The Labour Party has only been in government for four short periods of the 20th century, but claims that its achievements have revolutionised the lives of the British people. Labour believes that it stands for social justice, strong community and strong values, reward for hard work, decency, and rights matched by responsibilities.

In particular the Party claims, as set out in its constitution, to be creating "a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few."

"Those democratic values have guided us through twelve years in government: everything from the large canvas of economic stability, full employment and record investment in public services, to the fine detail of the minimum wage, free museum entry and civil partnerships."

The Party admits that the lessons it should draw from its history are not all positive. "Labour was in government for just 23 of its first 100 years. On occasions we have also been the victim of division and disunity which, as we all know, has cost us dear in electoral terms." It won in only two out of the 11 parliamentary constituencies which make up the county of Devon in the 2005 General Election.

Overall, however, Labour believes: "Our history is one to be proud of. Since our formation, Labour has grown from nothing into a formidable political organisation and one which has achieved major social and political reforms during the 20th century."

Gareth Manson, pictured above, has campaigned in East Devon on local issues ranging from controversial planning applications to failure to invest in education. He has taught from nursery to adults, in the public and private sectors, in mainstream and in special schools, and in this country and abroad. Among his pledges to constituents he promises to hold surgeries in every town and village in East Devon and to establish an office in the constituency which will be open all year round; in addition he pledges to work hard to support people over 60, to champion the rights of public sector workers and those working in hotels, restaurants and shops, and to bring more investment into the area. Gareth Manson believes that the radical changes to the East Devon Constituency at this General Election mean that it can no longer regarded as a safe Tory seat. A former local councillor, he is currently employed by the Hospital Education Service. He is married to Diana and has a dog and a cat. There is more information at source of photos featuring Mr Manson below.

1. What made you a Labour supporter?

I joined the Labour Party because it recognises that the world can become a more civilised and fairer place and that active, progressive government has a key role to play in achieving this.

2. Do you see yourself as Old or New Labour, and what do you see as the difference between them?

Above: Gareth Manson campaigning with Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families Ed Balls
I don’t like labels. Too often when someone is given a label, people assume they know what that person is going to say and fail to listen to what they actually say.

Often the debate around Old and New Labour focuses on ‘Clause four’.

Clause four of the Labour Party Constitution supported ‘the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’. This was often taken to mean nationalisation. However, it could equally have meant municipal ownership or workers' cooperatives.

This phrase was removed in 1995 and replaced with ‘by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’.

I strongly agree with the new version. I was less comfortable with the old version as I believe that private enterprise has its place alongside common ownership.

3. As someone involved in education, what do you think of the ideas proposed by Conservative Shadow Education spokesman Michael Gove?

Gareth Manson campaigning for Fairtrade
Where do I begin?

The Tories' central policy is the introduction of Swedish style ‘free schools’ despite the fact that, in the last 15 years, Sweden has plummeted in international league tables.

Unfortunately the money to fund these new unregulated independent schools, most likely to pop up in more affluent areas, would come from existing schools, resulting in fewer teachers and larger class sizes.

Schools are better than they have ever been; teachers are more skilled, pupils more dedicated and parents more supportive than ever before. Mr Gove refuses to recognise this as the reason for improving results. Instead, he insists that exams have been dumbed down and he plans to arbitrarily increase pass marks.

Diplomas are designed to strengthen the status and quality of vocational study and bring together academic and vocational programmes. Mr Gove insists that the traditional qualifications not suited to many pupils are best and will cancel diplomas.

He insists that maths and physics are superior to other subjects and should carry more points in school league tables.

He thinks that school discipline will improve if pupils stand up when an adult enter the room!

Conservative policies on education are retrograde, right-wing and reactionary. They would harm our children’s education and damage our country’s prospects.

4. Many people view Labour as representing heavy-handed state interference. Is this fair?

Active, progressive government has a key role in making the world a more civilised and fairer place. It is the responsibility of the Government to take an overview of what is happening in our country and involve itself when things are not as we would like them to be.

Few people would now argue, as the Tories used to, that tighter regulation of the banking sector is heavy-handed state interference!

Few people would argue against state intervention which gave women, black people and gay people equal rights; banned smoking in public places; or gave people the right to scrutinise MPs' expenses.

The Tory view that all but the minimum of state intervention is heavy-handed state interference is not only outdated, it is also morally and intellectually bankrupt.

5. From your experience of the NHS what key improvements would you like to see being made?

Above: Budleigh Salterton Health Centre. Gareth Manson claims that Labour's investment in the NHS has had "a massive effect."

I work for the Hospital Education Service. However my job focuses on the education part of the title – I am not a health professional.

However, it is clear to anyone who has even had anything to do with the NHS, how dedicated its staff is and the massive effect that Labour’s investment in the NHS has had on this vital public service.

The key improvements proposed in our manifesto include:

The right to cancer test results within one week of referral. This builds on the right to see a specialist within two weeks if your GP suspects that you might have cancer.

A maximum 18 weeks wait for treatment.

Preventative healthcare through routine check- ups for over 40s and a major expansion of diagnostic testing.

Access to psychological therapy for those who need it.

6. You have written that you feel that "East Devon is essentially rural with its own character, issues and aspirations." How would you define these, and how would you help the area meet the challenges that you believe it faces?

Above: Sidmouth's Royal Glen Hotel: the hotel trade in East Devon is a major employer says Gareth Manson

I was comparing East Devon with Exeter when I said this. East Devon is a collection of towns and villages essentially rural in character. Exeter is a city, essentially urban.

Two-thirds of workers in East Devon are employed in the public sector, hotels, restaurants and shops. Many of these will be on low wages and will have benefitted from the minimum wage, others will work seasonally or part-time and will have gained from new workers’ rights. Both of these measures were introduced by Labour.

One third of residents in East Devon are over 60. Many of these will have benefitted from winter fuel payments, free TV licences, free eye tests and national bus passes, again all introduced by Labour.

As your MP I would give special attention to these groups.

East Devon has particular issues with housing. Local people need affordable homes but finding space to build them in such a beautiful part of the world is difficult.

Many of East Devon’s towns and villages have major issues with traffic. Their narrow streets were not designed for the motor car.

East Devon’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and farming. These industries need support. Others industries must be developed in ways that are sustainable and, at the same time, in sympathy with the character of East Devon.

7. What achievements were you most proud of as a local councillor?

I am most proud of the things I achieved above and beyond those expected of me as a local councillor.

Any elected official will have defined duties and must discharge these well. However, they also have a degree of influence.

I involved myself in a wide range of community activities, from membership of a Wheels Park Development Committee to litter picks. I produced an acclaimed parish newsletter which, residents tell me, helped foster an increased sense of community.

I believe it is this sort of activity which marks out a good elected representative.

8. Do you feel that the Armed Services have received all the support that they deserved under this Labour government?

The Labour Government has met every request for extra equipment for Afghanistan. In the last four years it has doubled the number of helicopters and spent £1.7 billion on 1,800 new vehicles.

Defence spending has increased 10% in real terms since 1997. Funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is additional to this. This increase in core funding has enabled us to give the first ever tax-free bonus for those on operations abroad.

Service families can now retain their places on NHS waiting lists when they are deployed to another part of the country and further education is free for those leaving the forces with six years’ service or more.

Hundreds of millions of pounds has been invested in forces accommodation.

The new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham will have a military-run ward. Headley Court and the new Army Recovery Capability will continue to offer world-leading support to those rehabilitating after serious injury. We have doubled the lump sum payments for the most seriously injured and increased lifetime income payments by up to a third.

9. You have stated "In my considered view, hunting with dogs for sport is abhorrent." How do you feel about other sports involving cruelty to animals such as shooting and fishing?

Above: Gareth Manson and Labour support the ban on hunting
Picture credit:

I think it is difficult to compare killing an animal with a clean shot with chasing a fox or stag with a pack of dogs until it is exhausted and then allowing those dogs to tear it to pieces whilst it is still breathing!

There has been some research involving injecting venom into the lips of trout which challenges previous thinking that fish brains are not developed enough to experience pain. However, it is hard to suggest that the pain and anguish of a fish caught on a hook compares with that of a fox or stag being torn to death.

Irrespective of these and similar arguments, I believe that everyone should oppose the repeal of the ban on hunting with dogs because the way the world views us and the way we view ourselves, are important.

Britain is a modern, civilised and compassionate country. We want those at home to take pride in their country. We want those abroad to consider our country worthy of investment, cooperation and visits.

The dedication of parliamentary time to the re-introduction of hunting with dogs would attract vast media attention at home and abroad. The negative message it would send, would be highly costly and extremely damaging. All those with Britain and her interests close to their hearts should recognise this and oppose repeal of this controversial, minority sport.

10. You have obviously enjoyed exercising your creative talents in the theatre with ventures like your screenplay, Fitting In, performed at Bristol's Tobacco Factory in 2005. Do you have plans for the future in this direction, and if so what themes would you like to explore?

Since being selected as the Labour Party Candidate nearly three years ago, I have been extremely active in East Devon campaigning on a wide variety of local issues. I teach in the Hospital Education Service – the most fulfilling and, sometimes, most demanding job I have ever had. Many of my pupils will be sitting their GCSEs this summer, so I will only be able to take a couple of days off during the election period.

I enjoy spending time with my family and I have a puppy that needs lots of exercise! Unsurprisingly, writing has had to be put on hold.

Politics in East Devon is changing. The constituency boundaries have been substantially altered and there are several local factors which make the result of the election almost impossible to predict. Should I become your MP, my writing will remain on hold.

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