Another significant (and frenetic) week in our campaign as we head for the strike alongside the Justice Alliance.
Its highlights have included some extraordinary exchanges between the Justice Committee and Jeremy Wright. We also took another important step forward in our continuing quest for Judicial Review, and met with the Probation Negotiating Committee (PNC) to report progress on the campaign and other important work. We also linked up with Penal Reform International, who seemed very interested in exploring how we might work together to promote our respective causes.
We also attended the ongoing Transforming Rehabilitation Consultative Forum (TRCF) to again formally record our objections and concerns over a number of developments.
As you would expect we have been pulling out all the stops to bring you the facts about the campaign and why we are asking Napo members to support their union. More details below.
Monday 24th March
I joined with hundreds of other trade unionists and political figures in chilly Wanstead to line the route of the funeral for Bob Crow and the magnificent turnout was symptomatic of the sense of direction that Bob's life gave to so many. It was especially touching to see his hearse and horses bedecked in Millwall FC's colours as the procession regally made its way through West Ham country. Bob would have liked that I reckon. He will be a big miss for sure.
Labour's emerging policies
The afternoon was spent at a very useful meeting at the headquarters of Prospect where so called non-aligned (that's politically independent) Unions engaged with two of the Labour Party's key policy shapers in the form of MP's John Healey and John Cruddas. They are pulling the threads together from a number of reviews that Ed Milliband commissioned some time ago to lay the foundations for the Labour manifesto for next year's general election.
In general terms there look to be a number of interesting socio-economic ideas emerging which will hopefully captivate the voters next May. While I personally found many of these attractive, I was critical of what I described as a weak 'forward' to what ought to be a best seller, suggesting that while the electorate certainly need to be told what Labour is against, they want to know (and soon) what they are actually for; and that must surely include an admission that privatisation has failed the taxpayer, as has the failure to close the £120b a year 'tax gap'. While the low paid struggle for a living wage and a significant proportion of the population struggle with the 40% higher tax rate, who is going to bring the likes of tax evaders Starbucks and Amazon and many others to book? These are things which the public want to see firm policies on before they are prepared to suffer another increase in personal taxation; otherwise it's just more of the same old: let's pick on the easy (PAYE) targets to boost the coffers.
There were a couple of uncomfortable faces when I also implied that this might mean Labour admitting that its tryst with the privateers when last in power was a bit of a mistake. Beyond that, my focus was primarily on those areas of direct interest to our members in the area of crime and social justice.
More work needed
It's easy to shoot the messenger at events like these, but the IPPR think-tank presenter was honest enough to acknowledge my observation that if the Probation Service is pulled to bits by Grayling's sell off plans, there will not be the infrastructure in place to deliver all the socially desirable and ostensibly community based initiatives to befriend, direct and rehabilitate that an incoming Labour Government (and the public) want to see, and that it will just not happen in a privatised landscape.
We had an interesting forum discussion around my analysis that the developing policy, while promising, is not yet robust enough. This found support from the other contributors and it was agreed that the IPPR and Napo will hold a special session where we will field some of your elected professionals to try and put some meat on the bones as it were.
Tuesday 25th March
A testing morning for those in and out of Chivalry Road, with a number of us either working on the final planning and leaflets for Tuesdays London strike rally, preparing for the PNC and finalising a briefing for the Justice Committee.
Then off to see the Lawyers with Tom Rendon to see how we can move the Judicial Review campaign forward in light of recent developments and the recent evidence that has been coming through to us. It was an encouraging and constructive meeting and while I make absolutely no apologies for repeating once again that this is a difficult path to tread, I have been really encouraged with the patience and understanding of our members over this issue. The positive responses not only acknowledge the obvious fact that we must reveal what we can, when we reasonably can, but also that members expect us to have the evidence we need to proceed. To do otherwise would be foolish in the extreme.
The Grayling letter
The PNC was interrupted as we heard that John McDonnell had tipped us off about the latest wheeze from Chris Grayling who had written to the Justice Committee in very misleading terms about the position of the probation unions to TR. The letter was apparently one of those classic 'ships I see no ships' denials that so many politicians are famous for, but there was just enough time for our response team to help me set the record straight in an urgent letter to Sir Alan Beith. I also wrote to the two Ministers on behalf of the three unions seeking a meeting (see subsequent members mail out on this giving a flavour of the exchanges that took place at the committee session)
Wednesday 26th March
An uncomfortable morning for Jeremy
Our group could hardly wait to get in to the Wilson Room to see what the Justice Committee would make of Graylings TR claims and my reply. Jeremy Wright, in bidding me good morning beforehand, said he had just received a copy of my letter to the Committee. It would have been easy for me to say that's a good deal more notice than we got of his bosses letter of 16th March (which was precisely none), but I decided to bide my time on that one.
Anyway, the majority of the session also involving Norman Baker was a tad tame, until the issue of those letters came up. The at times Kafkaesque tenor of the closing minutes which saw Sir Alan repeatedly calling 'order', 'order', reflected the fact that the Committee felt that they had been misled; and the embarrassment suffered by the Minister is bound to have been a subject of some discussion behind locked doors back in the MoJ.
We have now been offered a meeting with the Minister and more news on this will follow.
Straight out of the Justice Committee and straight into the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, where we were able to give a real time report as to what had just gone on over the road. John McDonnell was in fine fettle here, just as he and colleagues Jeremy Corbyn and Elfyn Llwyd had been a few minutes earlier. This is an important additional forum for Napo to try and get our message across to a wider audience of unions and parliamentarians.
The afternoon brought a meeting with Penal Reform International which I had postponed several times previously. They were appalled to hear the real truth about the TR agenda and have been doing some really interesting work in East European and African countries in helping them review and restructure their justice and especially probation structures around the UK (including Scotland) version. Napo invited them to set up at the Scarborough AGM and talk to us again about ways in which we might be able to promote our respective agenda's.
Civil Lawyers now getting angry
Still work to do before the close, as Tania Bassett and I popped in to see Unison to update Ben Priestley on the Justice Committee exchanges and then went off to a meeting of London based civil lawyers who want to get aboard the ever lengthening anti-Grayling campaign train.
Some useful contacts were made and after a couple of hopefully rousing contributions about standing together and building their campaign from the grass roots, it was time to think about Thursday.
Thursday 27th March
An early start for some precious (but still not enough) time in Chivalry Road to deal with a queue of issues and people before heading off to the TRCF where we made sure that we recorded a whole host of objections to add to the ones we have been making for months, about this shambolic programme.
As you would expect these included making our position clear about the fact that we never agreed the disastrous split which Mr Wright had eventually admitted the day before, and having a rant about the farcical written and verbal representations to the Justice Committee, and the glaring holes in the contract procurement process. We also reminded the MoJ of the mess that they have made of the proposed Early Departure scheme and the impact of this on senior managers and corporate services staff.
Friday 28th March
We have today sent two more campaign mail outs to add to the ones that have been issued this week as well as the personal letter from Tom and I that should now have arrived at your home addresses.
Next week is another pivotal one for our campaign. I can say no more other than to give you my personal view that standing strong alongside your colleagues at a time of crisis is one of the proudest things anyone can ever do.
Have a great weekend