Uploaded: Launching My Campaign Online

When an election comes around, we always look for a novel way of launching the official campaign — for example, the last campaign was literally launched on a boat on the River Taff!

This year, we wanted to let as many people as possible into the launch and have something that lasted — that went beyond a single day. So — we decided to put it on the internet.

The launch takes the form of two films made by and featuring supporters. Make Sure It’s Julie, both short and longer versions, are available at www.juliemorgan.org

The shorter one focuses on the qualities that I would hope to bring to the Welsh Assembly and the longer one gives more details about some key issues facing Cardiff North. I hope that people will look at both videos to get an idea of who I am and what my views are. What you will find is my walking and talking personal manifesto. I’ve put it where everyone can see it.

While the shorter film just gives a flavour of things, the longer one gives me an opportunity to go into more detail. It allows me to talk about how important the Welsh Assembly has been and, just as importantly, how vital a Labour-led Assembly is for Wales while we have the Tory-led coalition in Westminster. For example, Labour in Wales is able to protect the NHS as we know it — this is very different from the confusion and chaos being caused by the Conservative-led government in England. The longer film also highlights other key issues in Cardiff North such as the environment, transport, jobs and schools.

Anyway, I hope that people will enjoy this online electronic launch.

I have no hopes of an Oscar or a BAFTA — winning the Assembly seat in Cardiff North would be honour enough!

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Here’s to All the Extraordinary Ordinary Women

“How important it is for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Maya Angelou

This week marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and I was delighted to attend many events throughout the week, as well as hand out a special leaflet I produced in Cardiff North. Women’s Forum members dressed for the part, as you can see!

Every year, March 8th is a great day to commemorate the often unrecognised achievements of women and to assess what we still need to accomplish to make women’s lives better in the UK and throughout the world.

International Women’s Day itself has an interesting history. Debate about the position of women in society led to political awareness and action. In 1908, 15,000 American women marched through New York City to demand better working conditions and voting rights. In 1910, an International Conference of Women in Copenhagen proposed that a day should be observed every year in every country and on this day, we should press for women’s rights and for equality for women.

And so here we are a 100 years later.

And over the last century, there has been a lot of progress. In 1928, all UK women over 21 secured the same voting rights as men and in 1997, a record number of women, mainly Labour, were elected to the House of Commons and I was pleased to be the first woman MP for Cardiff.

In 2003, the Welsh Assembly became the first legislative body in the world to achieve a 50/50 balance between men and women. More women in Westminster and Wales resulted in a string of gains for women, including paid maternity leave, the National Minimum Wage, stronger domestic abuse laws, free bus passes and increased Child Benefit.

But now, some of the things women have gained seem under threat. Politically, things seem more precarious, with cuts to public services and the voluntary sector hitting women harder. Everything now seems more uncertain. With the current Conservative-led government, we seem to be going backwards. I’m determined that this shouldn’t happen and I’m confident that the Welsh Assembly can help to protect women and to stem the tide.

I have campaigned throughout my life for equality for women and if elected to the Welsh Assembly, I hope to be able to continue this work in a body with such a strong record on gender issues.

Let’s end, however, with a tribute to all those extraordinary “ordinary” women who toil away day after day to make sure that elderly parents are looked after and that the children get to school.

These are the women who oil the wheels and keep things going and don’t think that they are doing anything extraordinary at all. International Women’s Day is a great day to salute all of them.

So here’s to all the ordinary extraordinary women — they are all around us. As the writer Carol Shields said, “I don’t believe in ordinary or extraordinary people, unless we are all extraordinary.”

(Part of this post appeared as a letter in Viewpoints in the South Wales Echo on Tuesday, March 8th 2011.)

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Our Vital Voluntary Sector: Where Has David Cameron Been?

With Ed Miliband in Llandudno

This past weekend, I attended the Welsh Labour Conference up in lovely Llandudno.

It was a great couple of days and I was pleased to speak at conference and to be part of two panels — one for Oxfam Cymru and one for Stonewall Cymru.

Both were very good sessions and the latter very much emphasised the importance of addressing the bullying of LGBT students in schools. The feeling was very much that teachers and governors should have training in how to combat homophobic bullying — school is a place where all students should feel safe.

I spoke at conference about our public services and the voluntary sector. I was pleased to acknowledge the essential work that the voluntary sector already does in providing vital services.

I had been very shocked recently when David Cameron said that one of the big opportunities of his ‘Big Society’ would be the chance for the voluntary sector to bid for contracts to run public services.

I wondered where he had been.

There are countless examples in Wales where the voluntary sector delivers essential services on behalf of the public authorities — they are part of our wider ‘Welsh Public Service’ — and they should be protected.

You only have to look at services for people at the beginning and the end of their lives to see what I mean. Before I was a politician, I worked for Barnardo’s and we organised and delivered respite care services for children with disabilities (working with the local authority) to give parents a break and to help them to cope in difficult circumstances, often when they may have been at the end of their tethers.

Now look at the hospice movement. I am Vice President of George Thomas Hospice in Cardiff and I congratulate Edwina Hart and the Welsh Assembly Government for trying to organise a fair way to provide care at the end of life.

Hospices caring for people at the end of their lives either at home or in hospices themselves have about 30% funding from the government, with 70% coming from voluntary sources. We are dependent on such organisations to give dignity and relief to people when they are dying.

I could go on about the fantastic work that the voluntary sector does — Women’s Aid, Shelter, Macmillan Cancer Support, Oxfam, Stonewall — the list is endless. They get things done and we must make sure that they are protected.

The Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government has shown its determination to minimise the damage to services and this must include essential services delivered by the third sector.

From the cradle to the grave, the voluntary sector makes all our lives better.

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Why I’ll Be Voting Yes on March 3rd

On Monday night, the Cardiff Says Yes campaign was launched at the university with a good crowd – about 150. There were non-political speakers (who were very good), followed by party politicians. Labour, Plaid and the Lib-Dems all spoke and the chair of the Cardiff steering group is a Conservative. So – this was a genuine cross-party event and there was a lot of enthusiasm in the room.

And, when you think about it, why would anyone not vote ‘Yes’?

It was very different in the 1997 campaign on the devolution referendum. When I went on to the streets of Cardiff North and out on Whitchurch high street back then, there was real hostility to the idea of devolution. Now, the Welsh Assembly is an accepted part of life for most people and few want to go backwards.

When talking to people, I find that there are lots of queries and there is quite a lot of misinformation about the vote on March 3rd. I find I have to emphasise time and time again that the referendum is not about independence and is not about giving the Assembly tax-raising powers.

What it is about is normalising the law-making process so that the laws the Assembly wants to make in the areas already devolved to it are made in Wales. There will no longer be the need to go to Westminster to ask for permission. The whole procedure will be made clearer – everything will be much more transparent – and it will be much cheaper.

So – I hope that Cardiff says Yes for Wales and I hope that the rest of Wales agrees.

On March 3rd, I hope that we all just say yes.

(You can see my short video clip about why I’m saying Yes for Wales on the Home and Why the Assembly pages of my website at www.juliemorgan.org and you can visit the Yes for Wales website at  www.yesforwales.com/site/)

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Why I Am Standing for the Welsh Assembly

It is a great honour to have been chosen as the Labour Assembly candidate for Cardiff North. I had not expected to be in this position. The constituency was so focused on trying to win the General Election last May that, come the summer, we had not yet chosen our candidate for the Assembly.

After 13 years as the Labour MP for Cardiff North and after losing by only 194 votes in one of Labour’s best results in Wales (not good enough, but bucking the trend), I was asked by lots of constituents whether I would consider standing for the Assembly and I am delighted to now be the candidate. 

I have always been a strong supporter of devolution. Power should be as close to the people as possible. Labour’s pledge to create a Welsh Assembly was one of the reasons I was keen to stand for parliament in 1997. In the early days, there was a lot of scepticism about the Assembly, but now it is an accepted fact of life in Wales. 

The advent of the Conservative-led coalition in Westminster has highlighted the benefits of the Assembly – a body whose policies are more in tune with the mainstream of thought in Wales. 

We have seen the distinctive Welsh policies of tackling poverty and social disadvantage with universal benefits such as free prescriptions, free swimming for the over-60s, free breakfasts in schools etc. I know that the Conservatives plan to abolish free prescriptions – this seems crazy to me when you consider the number of chronic illnesses that should be exempt and the huge cost of administration. This is just one example of where having a Labour-led Assembly is so important. 

The thing that I like most about politics is representing people. I enjoyed being a Cardiff councillor and an MP and would love the chance to be a Welsh Assembly member. Having close links with constituents helps you understand how laws are working and how effective the system is. 

You can’t always help everyone, but most people appreciate it if you try. I believe that politicians should be as open and as accessible as possible and this is why I have always had an office that is open for anyone to call in at any time, as well as regular surgeries around the constituency. (I also did surgeries in a local supermarket – a sad reminder of how vulnerable we all are when you think of the tragedy in the USA.)

So – I would like to represent people again, do my bit for an area of Cardiff that has given me great support, and practise progressive politics. 

Where better to do this than in the Welsh Assembly, still a new body, with hopefully more powers in 2011?

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Let’s Not Turn Back the Clock

Welcome to my new blog!

I will posting here frequently — so if you want to read something more than a tweet, this is the place to come!

To start off, I’d like to post a copy of my essay on the coalition’s proposed cuts to legal aid –this appeared in the Western Mail on Wednesday, January 5th 2011.

Legal Aid: Turning the Clock Back

It seems to have escaped many people’s attention, but when it comes to legal aid, the coalition government has alarming plans to turn the clock back.

For the sake of the most vulnerable in society, I certainly don’t want to see this happen. The coalition’s proposals will cause real hardship for real people and will make a mockery of its lofty claims about providing equal access to justice. This simply won’t happen. 

In November, the government issued a Green Paper proposing to cut eligibility to legal aid in civil cases and among the areas excluded from the scope of Legal Help and Help at Court are employment, welfare benefits, family law (unless domestic violence or forced marriage is involved), education, debt disputes (except where the home is directly at risk), and housing cases (except where there is serious disrepair or homelessness is imminent).

In real terms, what does this mean? Who will be affected? Who will lose out?

Well, disabled people will be disproportionately affected – 63% of legal aid clients receiving help in welfare benefits are disabled. Women will also be disproportionately affected, especially in family cases. Disputes with local authorities over the special educational needs of disabled children will not be covered.

Who will advise parents fighting to get their autistic child properly educated? Who will help the woman who believes she’s been dismissed from her job because she’s pregnant, but can’t fight it because she has only been employed for 6 months? Who will advise the client being pursued by a hard-nosed creditor about whether Consumer Credit Act procedures have been followed and whether the agreement is enforceable? Who will advise the family that has been on the council’s housing waiting list for over 5 years and is still living in unsatisfactory housing? Who will advise the claimant who has lost her job through long-term illness and is left without any money because Jobcentre Plus has stopped her benefit because it says she can work?

The fact is that over a half a million people a year are likely to lose access to advice and assistance and, as a society, we stand to lose the heart of something which has, for many years, helped very many people.

When we think of the welfare state set up by the post-war Labour government, the NHS comes to mind. But we often overlook another great reforming measure – the Legal Advice and Assistance Act 1949 – which founded modern ‘legal aid’. This provided full representation from solicitors and barristers for specified civil court proceedings such as divorce and matrimonial disputes. However, it did not cater for areas of law which ordinary people came up against daily – areas like employment, housing, debt, welfare benefits.  

The 1960s saw the advent of tribunals regulating benefits, housing, and employment and this prompted widespread criticism of the failure to meet ordinary people’s legal needs.  Recognising this gap, the Conservative government introduced the ‘Green Form’ scheme in 1972. This enabled solicitors to give advice and assistance to financially qualifying clients on “any matter” under the law of England and Wales. In the 1990s, the Conservative government extended advice-giving to voluntary organisations like CABs and this resulted in a big expansion of specialist advice in social welfare law.

In 2000, the Labour government cut down the number of solicitor firms which could provide help under the scheme (rebranded ‘Legal Help and Help at Court’), with the result that generally only specialist solicitors could give help. With other economies, this led to civil legal aid costs being cut.   

However, even after the international banking crisis with falling public revenues, the Labour Legal Aid Minister, Lord Bach, went out of his way to protect social welfare, recognising that the most vulnerable in our society need this help and that they often face clusters of problems. For example, it is well established that early help on debt management – advice on liability and benefit take-up, help negotiating reasonable arrangements to pay — can avert rent and mortgage arrears and avoid homelessness. Ultimately, such advice saves taxpayers money.

I’m sorry to say that such help is now at risk, however.

And such help is often essential. The late Lord Bingham, a senior judge hugely respected for his knowledge and intellect, described the Housing Benefit Regulations as “far from straightforward” and sympathised with lay persons required to wrestle with them. And anybody involved in the tribunal system knows that an individual’s prospect of success improves dramatically with specialist advice. Expert assistance is invaluable.

The Government says that voluntary organisations will fill the gap. But these are the organisations doing much of the work now funded by legal aid and without it, they will have to severely cut back on services and sack the lawyers they employ.

Advice in a particular locality or region will become hit and miss and we will see “advice deserts” appear. I know that vulnerable people, often with poor levels of education and struggles with literacy, will suffer – they will be completely without access to any specialised and effective help.

We all know that there is no shortage of lawyers to advise on tax avoidance, property acquisition, and inheritance planning. So why should poor people and their legal problems receive less favourable treatment than the well off?

Does this not offend the rule of law?

These proposals will turn the clock back 40 years.

We can’t let that happen.

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