A few people have asked me why I seem to have such a deep rooted distrust of political parties. Seeing as how we're in the hiatus between the election campaign and the results, I've got time to explain.
Back in 1986, a Church of Scotland Minister in Buckhaven, Fife hit upon the idea of converting a disused church into a theatre. Rev Dane Sherrard was a keen Gilbert and Sullivan fan and helped run the local G&S Society. Raising a few pounds here and there, he encouraged local youths to start doing up the old church. He applied for local grants to buy paint and materials. Progress was painfully slow until someone told him that, instead of asking for £50 every couple of months, he should put together a proposal to use local unemployed people and ask for £2 million. So he did and was stunned when it was accepted.
Buckhaven is and was a particular unemployment blackspot in a pretty deprived area. Badly affected by closures of local coal mines, the whole atmosphere was grim. Undoubtedly, the actions of the Thatcher Government exacerbated the situation, but there were a number of Govt re-training schemes running at the time - TOPS, YTS, CP and later, ET (Employment Training).
With the backing he now had, Dane was able to expand his horizons. Doing up the church now became a total refurbishment. Training programmes included carpentry, bricklaying, plastering, painting & decorating as well as more exotic stuff like stonemasonry, stained glass making, carving and upholstery. All these training departments needed space to work in, so Dane (through the new Buckhaven Parish Church Agency) began buying derelict buildings in the small town. Each of these also needed re-furbished and so the whole thing grew.
When I came along in 1988, the theatre was up and running. I walked in and asked for a job as a writer and was promptly persuaded to train as a stage manager instead. It was that kind of place. Everything was fluid and bustling and people just got drawn in. It had now grown to include a motor pool and garage, training car mechanics, a screen printers, IT departments, leatherworking, candlemaking as well as all the theatre-related stuff.
I think at that point it was employing or training about 1000 people and was one of the biggest schemes of it's type in Britain. The Govt held it up as an example and I actually found myself the subject of a Yorkshire TV documentary and flown down to London for an appearance on GMTV.
What I didn't know was the local Labour MP, Henry McLeish, was working against the whole thing. The idea of a Tory Govt initiative actually working obviously didn't sit well with him.
I finished my training and got a job at Perth Rep as an ASM (Assistant Stage Manager), from where I went on to work in theatres throughout Britain.
Meanwhile, the BPCA went from strength to strength. Working with the community as well as in it, they opened a dinner club for OAPs and ran mini-buses taking them to and from the drop in centre. The painters and decorators had redecorated every building twice and so began decorating local pensioner's homes for free as part of their training.
And this was what gave Henry McLeish his opening.
He had been continually making allegations about financial mishandling and misconduct going on, all unfounded. But he found out that one of the pensioners who had her house redecorated for free was actually Dane's mother. This was the proof positive he needed. He managed to get all funding frozen before having the whole Agency closed down.
Around 1500 staff and trainees were thrown on the dole again. Buckhaven has never recovered and is today a soulless, derelict place with shocking levels of unemployment.
There is no doubt in my mind that Henry McLeish pursued a personal political vendetta against the Agency. He didn't care that hundreds of people were gaining valuable skills that led to them gaining real employment and careers, all he saw was a Tory success story in a Labour heartland.
This is what party politics is about. It's all about scoring points off the other side and ordinary people don't matter. If McLeish was truly a Labour man and a socialist, he would have done anything & everything in his power to see this initiative to help the disadvantaged succeed. He didn't. He put the party before people.
And I am under no illusion that, if the situation had been reversed, a Tory would have done the same to a Labour success story.
That is why I despise party politics and party politicians.
UPDATE - I've just been contacted by the Minister behind BPCA. It turns out the house-painting story was just another piece of mud thrown by McLeish in his campaign to close the place down. It has no basis in truth and never actually happened.
Happy to set the record straight Rev.
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