Tales from the front line: public-sector workers speak out

In this week’s New Statesman, six key workers speak out about their fears for 2011.

This is the year that the full force of the coalition's austerity budget will be felt. In a major feature in this week's issue of the New Statesman, a teacher, GP, lawyer, social worker, postman and policeman reveal their concerns about the seismic change that 2011 will bring.

You can read their testmonials in the magazine, which hits news-stands tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a taster of what they have to say.

 

The Teacher

Gove's English Baccalaureate has the potential to send Britain's education system back 50 years.

The teacher is Peter Hyman, No 10 strategist (for Tony Blair) turned deputy head teacher.

 

The Postman

The Royal Mail is being slashed back, and it breaks this old postie's heart.

The postman works in the south-east of England and writes under the pseudonym Roy Mayall. He is the author of Dear Granny Smith (Short Books, £4.99).

 

The Doctor

The way to stop GPs using resources, it seems, is to bombard them with so much admin, they give up.

The writer works in a GP consortium in the south-west of England.

 

The Supported Housing Officer

Instead of cutting front-line staff, why not cut the bloated bureaucracy?

The blog by the social worker Winston Smith won last year's Orwell Prize. His book Generation F will be published by Monday Books later this year.

 

The Policeman

Already, in big towns, there can be just half a dozen uniformed cops on duty at any one time.

The writer is the blogger Inspector Gadget, author of Perverting the Course of Justice, published by Monday Books (£7.99).

 

The Legal Aid Worker

They say our work could be done by volunteers – but filing cabinets of complex cases tell me otherwise.

Nick Dilworth is a legal aid casework supervisor in Devon. To find out more about the Justice for All campaign, visit: justice-for-all.org.uk.

 

Are you affected by the cuts? We will be collecting testimonials from the front line over the course of the next year, so tell us your stories.

You can do this by writing in the comment box below, by emailing comments@newstatesman.co.uk, or sending a letter to:

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John Carpenter House
7 Carmelite Street
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London EC4Y 0BS

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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