Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nostra Who?

My older desktop PC is back at Fast Micros in Westbrook for repair this morning, having: given up the ghost' at boot-up; a regular event you'll recall. I've lost track of the number of times Windows has crumbled over the years and has to be re-installed. It's a Pentium 4 but with so much on it, I'm reluctant to swap it out and simply back-up to the Dell Inspiron laptop I'm typing on now.

I know that Fast Micros will have it up and running again pretty quickly so I'm not overly worried. One day though, I'll have to bite the bullet and buy a new one but I'm dreading the hours of re-installing programs that this involves.

With the New Year just in front of us, I would like to look forward to an optimistic twelve months ahead but predictions for 2010 are far from encouraging. The bookmakers won't offer good odds on VAT not going up to 20% and petrol looks set to hit £1.35. The chances of Israel and or America bombing Iran's nuclear facilities remain dangerously high and you'll have noticed that China is flexing its muscles, now that it owns most of our debts. A General Election may bring a change of government but no end to the pain that has to be endured, for many years to come, if we are to climb out of the deep financial pit that we have been dropped-in by this Government and its policies.

Meanwhile, our armed forces are making daily sacrifices in Afghanistan, while Al Qaeda thrives in Yemen and Somalia, radicalising young men with impunity in a number of British Universities, sufficiently enough to persuade them that God rewards exploding underwear.

What strikes me when I speak with ordinary people on the streets on the doorstep, is when they commonly start a conversation with "I'm not supposed to say this but…" a sense that we live in a Police state where one is no longer able to freely express one's views in private conversation for fear of being overheard and arrested. Feelings and opinions run strong and Government appears to have few if any answers to the antagonism and the distrust felt by the general public. This has to change or the pressure cooker that now contains our society may one day find a channel to angrily express itself in the very manner that New Labour fears most.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Another Ten Years

I can't remember a time when I read so many books over Christmas. This year, it's a consequence of having my Amazon Kindle reader and as I've written here before, the results are quite remarkable in terms of easy and immediate access to works of both fact and fiction. Not one for holidays, the Christmas break is a time when a can enjoy a a good book without the world outside intruding too much on a temporary truce from the reach of email and the telephone. I can even turn my Blackberry off!

For many of us, each decade is one of those periods in our lives that we can most easily recall. In 1970, I was in my mid-teens, in 1980, I was starting a new career and in 1990, I recall that Microsoft's Windows was starting to make its presence felt over IBM's OS/2 Operating System. That technology, still very much in its infancy, would be inconceivable to the teenagers of today, where even the lowest-end iPod Touch carries 8Gb of memory and computing is heading towards a virtualized existence in the 'The Cloud' dominated by the likes of Google and Amazon.

There's speculation this morning that unemployment may jump by another 250,000 this year to 3 million. There's also political talk of offering greater support for new skills to better empower our economy. It's a topic I've been looking at for some time now and I'm far from convinced by the rhetoric.

The fact is that the vast majority of our workers continue to be employed in traditional jobs. The new job types created by technology represent a relatively small fraction of employment and often tend not to last very long.

Even within high technology industries, the bulk of jobs are traditional jobs. Suppose you found a new technology company and it starts to grow. Who do you hire? Engineers, people to work in accounting, human resources, marketing and finance; administrative assistants and more: these are all traditional jobs. The people working at Google do not all have new-age jobs; by and large, they have the same types of jobs as people working in any technology-focused business. What needs to concern us is not just the number of new jobs created by technology, but the types of jobs or as I said in Spain this month, To suggest that technology is suddenly able to create completely new job categories capable of absorbing millions of workers being displaced from traditional jobs is hopelessly optimistic. In fact, what we are seeing is more and more job-types, such as cashiers and bank staff, being automated out of existence at the base of the work pyramid and towards its apex, automation is falling heavily on knowledge workers and in particular on highly paid workers as systems and processes become more intelligent and efficient. I see this all the time in the IT industry as more and more people I know lose their jobs as companies, driven by the effects of this last recession streamline and downsize to leverage every penny from their balance sheet.

As large numbers of workers are automated out of their jobs, the economy may eventually go into decline because each worker is also a consumer and as computers are advancing in capability they will increasingly invade the realm of the highly educated. We'll likely see evidence of this in the form of diminished opportunity and unemployment among recent graduates and also among older university-educated workers who lose jobs and are unable to find comparable positions. It's a complex picture, described by Martin Ford, in his book, 'The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future' but the evidence for this change exists all around us to see.

With Silicon-based digital computers expected to reach their physical limits in terms of increased computer power sometime after 2020, this coming decade, given the exponential doubling of computing power, is going to bring changes that most of us can't imagine, as the paradigm shift rate accelerates. It took 15 years of computing to DNA to sequence the HIV virus yet SARS was sequenced in only 31 days. For most of us the internet started after 1995 and it's taken fifteen years to become pervasive. That same kind of disruptive shift to our society can now be achieved in less than five years, given the molecular technologies that are starting to make an appearance and so the really big question and the one our economy hangs upon, is how on earth we plan for new skills and for new ideas that haven't been invented yet when as a society we have lost our agility and our competitiveness and become yet one more top-heavy, over-regulated European poltico-bureaucracy?

I wish I knew the answer!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Scattered About

Well, that's another Christmas Day, past. I've been out this morning and would personally like to express my personal 'thanks' to the occupants of the house which regularly dumps its household rubbish next to the council bin at the start of the St Mildred's Bay car park. I'm sure those responsible and I could read out the names from their Xmas present labels, will be delighted to know, that with help from the ever present and voracious seagulls, the remains of their Christmas dinner and gift wrappings, are now scattered as far down as the beach. Strangely enough, I see, even the gulls won't eat Brussel sprouts.

Further down in the recycling area, people either can't be bothered or are not strong enough to lift the cover on the skip and have dumped bags of wrapping paper and boxes next to it. Yesterday, I shoved a whole load of boxes and paper to the back which was blocking the opening. So what happens next, is when the wind picks up, all the paper will end-up decorating the putting-green and the sea front. It's a shame because up until now, the beaches and sea-front area were looking remarkably clean, with great credit to the council sweepers and this will soon change as the paper becomes sodden and scatters.

Today, I had considered changing the template on this weblog but if I do, I'll lose all the links down the sidebar and would have to type each one back in again, a rather long-winder process. Also, because I have a number of 'Blogs', such as Zentelligence, I can't easily include and move other code around on the later interface, whereas the old blogger code accepts HTML (however poor my scripting is) so I guess we're stuck with it for now.

With less than a week before the start of 2010, I need to think of a New Year's resolution. The more immediate priority is to get back into a personal fitness regime. With my travelling around this month, freezing weather and two colds, I have 'dropped' the ball and need to re-discover the willpower to get back into my regime. The problem I find, post-fifty, is dealing with the challenge of discomfort and fatigue when one re-starts and I can easily understand why people simply give-up on the gym as falling asleep in the arm chair is a far more attractive option than lifting weights in the cold.

What I would like to do is take a quick break in the New Year if the opportunity allows. I haven't had a holiday in over two years and it would be nice to go exploring again. It's a great way of losing weight as well! Places I've always wanted to visit include the oasis of Siwa in the western desert, Reigandou in Japan, the ancient city of Timbuktu and Hissarlik in Turkey, the site of ancient Troy. Maybe one day!

I did offer to take my daughter to Westwood Cross this morning but she gave me a pitying look and described the idea as 'madness.' I'm sure she's right. Has anyone else made the attempt?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It Came from Outer Space

I was stunned, nay amazed, to read in this week's Thanet Times, the front-page story that ice from a passing aircraft 'may' have smashed the roof of the Councillor Greens in Ramsgate.
It was only last May, that the home of another Labour councillor and 99th most popular Party blogger, Cllr Nottingham of Northwood, was struck by lightning, in what appeared to be an act of divinely-inspired and passing  political comment from the Norse god Thor but for two Labour bloggers  to have their roofs damaged, is remarkable from a probability perspective, even more so, given Ramsgate Mayor, David Green's position on the future development of the airport.

I'm delighted that nobody was injured during the unfortunate incident but whether it was indeed ice that caused a gaping hole in the Green residence is open to speculation, as the expert opinion of the builder, quoted in the newspaper, isn't conclusive evidence. In my own opinion, it's just as likely to have been a small black hole, ball-lightning a photon-torpedo a micro-meteorite or indeed, another Act of God.

The popular proverb does of course claim that 'lightning never strikes twice in the same place' but clearly Ramsgate is an exception in a political sense and I'm now wondering which Labour councillor may be next in line to receive a passing politically-charged salvo from either the Almighty or ET? The Thanet Times account of what may have taken place in the town last week, is previewed in the attached video clip.

In fact, if it hadn't been the front-page story I can't think why anybody might have bought the newspaper in the first place! The next episode may even feature the alien abduction of some unlucky Labour councillor or member of the cabinet, just to keep this local interest story going.

Anyway, here's wishing you all untroubled and clear skies a Very Merry Christmas and A Happy 2010 ahead!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Re-booting The Economy

I've embedded a conference presentation from TED.COM by Juan Enriquez that I recommend watching, as it delivers considerable insight into the problems facing the global economy and the technologies that may soon shape our future.

Although he refers to the US recession, much of what he says in terms of leverage and debt applies to our own economy, as closely linked as it is, to the uncertain fortunes of the mighty dollar and a globalised financial system.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Wonderland

It's a bit of a winter wonderland picture out there in the bright sunshine this afternoon.

With Rochester airport closed with the snow, I ran across to Lydd to take on fuel at lunchtime and the line of the snow appears to follow the main road from Canterbury to Dover with everywhere to the east, more or less clear and the covering thickening to the west and Ashford. Lydd, which has a hard runway is completely clear of the stuff but on the higher ground you can see where the roads are still under what must now be tough white ice.

Operation Stack is off towards Maidstone and there's no sign of any Eurostar activity as you might guess. Canterbury appeared quite busy with late shopping and I regret not taking a camera to capture the scene of Kent at its prettiest.

Other than one other light aircraft I saw depart at Lydd, it's pretty quiet in the air too. With these low temperatures and relatively high humidity, there's a risk of icing, both in the carburetor and on the airframe, which have to be monitored carefully and so not many pilots are up and about.

I've had to place my motorcycle battery on charge as last night effectively drained it, even though I have been starting it every day. It's something to do with the current drain from the alarm in cold weather, even on standby and no maintenance has ever been able to fix it, other than shrugging and me being told it's a BMW problem. Tonight, with clear skies, I expect to be even colder than last night and so if your own car or motorcycle battery is older than a couple of years, you may want to keep an eye on it.

For those readers who might want to keep a good eye on any weather coming our way, I recommend Meteox for a decent radar picture and projection of where the nasty stuff is.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Trains and Trains

Having once spent five hours trapped on a Eurostar train between Calais and Paris, I have some sympathy for the passengers stuck for thirteen hours yesterday, who discovered, like I did, that there was no food, little water and insufficient toilet capacity to last out such a tedious and claustrophobic ordeal.

On this side of the channel, be warned that the train timetable changed last Sunday and duly caught me out on Monday morning when I discovered that the regular  09:37 from Westgate had become the 09:20 to Victoria. Of course, I welcome the arrival of our high-speed link but from a practical perspective, it's cheaper and faster to catch the ordinary train to Victoria than try and battle one's way back to Westminster from St Pancras having arrived twenty minutes or so earlier.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silent Movie

"All anybody wants from technology", wrote Douglas Adams, "is for it to work," and I did rather feel that way at tonight's full council meeting which was scheduled for an inaugural pilot webcast.

Councillors Campbell, Wells and Jarvis were wearing unusually bright and colourful ties, which could have been a contributory factor and even Cllr Nottingham wore a tie, a gesture worth noting in its own right. I was wearing my best suit, clearly displaying the logo of the local business acting as sponsor and several councillors were sporting new hair styles, including one who is normally quite bald. Better still, everyone was on their best behaviour to welcome Labour's councillor Sandra Hart to the chamber and there was a palpable sense of Christmas goodwill, reminiscent of that famous temporary truce on the Western Front in the First World War.

In fact, the problem that prevented the webcast had nothing to do with the internet and the cameras, which were both working as they should be. It was to do with the ageing and frayed wiring microphone system in the chamber, which performed properly during the dry run yesterday evening but simply declined to cooperate tonight. I put it down to Murphy's Law and some strange quantum probability effect, which causes technology to fail, when enough people are relying on it to work at a critical moment. Given the absence of sound, I authorised the "pulling of the plug" on the web cast rather than deliver a silent movie to the public. Naturally we'll have an inquest and look to have it working next time around but the chamber microphones will continue to present a problem because in the present economic climate the budget simply doesn't exist to completely rewire the council chamber.

Just a couple of points I would like to highlight from tonight's meeting. Councillor Wise reminded members of the opposition that the disabled facility grants come from capital funding rather than revenue funding. What this means is that unless councils sell assets as instructed by government, then they cannot raise the capital needed to fund such programmes the same is true for capital receipts for sports funding. The second point involves EuroKent and Cllr Ezekiel pointed out that Thanet is obliged to build 600 new homes somewhere and if the opposition can come-up with a better idea of where these should go then he would like to hear it.

Good news of course from tonight surrounds the £12.4million of funds allocated from different sources and grants for the regeneration of Dreamland and I'm sure many readers will welcome the sight of it reopening in two years time.

On a completely different not, I notice that Richard Eastcliff is accusing Thanet South's Laura Sandys of being out of touch with local information when he writes:

"Two two causes for celebration this week. First, the 'news', as brought to you by the Blue Rinse candidate for Thanet South, that 'the life saving air sea rescue service based at Manston is set to be relocated to the Midlands at the end of this month.' Er, 'what air sea rescue service based at Manston?', you may ask. Clearly, however, that was not a question the intrepid reporter at yourfannitinnit could be bothered with."

I know something about this subject having flown the Coastguard Islander aircraft out of Manston. (see photo-stream) The role at Manston is principally a reconnaissance task, monitoring the channel shipping lanes. However, the Islander is able to fly low and slow and carries infra-red cameras and rescue equipment that can be dropped into the sea to survivors and this includes a dinghy. Of late, I understand that a number of missions have involved the rescue capability although it is not the principal role.

This reconnaissance role is now being moved back to the Midlands and the Islander is to be replaced by the much faster Cessna 406, which does not carry rescue equipment and is a pure shipping lanes reconnaissance aircraft. As a result, we won't have a rescue capable aircraft within immediate reach and will have to wait on either the Belgian Coastguard helicopter or the RAF rescue helicopter out of Suffolk. That 30 minutes difference between climbing into a life raft dropped by the Islander from Manston or floating in the sea waiting for a helicopter, to arrive could prove critical and this was Laura's quite appropriate concern, which I'm sure many readers will share.

In fact, the Coastguard and the Home Office are now reportedly looking at a multi-agency approach to maritime surveillance and my information suggests that unmanned drones, a cut-down version of the US Predator, sitting above the South coast of England, 24-hours a day, will soon be on the cards.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Boxed In

After almost two weeks away, I see the battery life on my Amazon Kindle reader still shows half charge and that's after wading through Dan Simmons' novel, Ilium, and having started the sequel Olympos as well. If you can imagine, Homer's 'Iliad', Shakespeare's 'Tempest' and some advanced quantum physics, all shaken vigorously together, then you've the basis for a rather imaginative novel of both the distant past and far future. The great thing about the Kindle device is that I can also load for free, the complete Iliad, Herodotus' travels in ancient Egypt and a great deal more besides and so in a very short period, it's completely changed my reading habits.

I can see a near future where devices like this one actually have liquid crystal pages as the technology now exists. So you buy perhaps a six-page device or twelve-page device to suit your budget and the first page is wirelessly synchronized with your email, several more display word or PDF documents, another is the book you are reading and so on. Soon they will be as cheap as any other commodity device and with electronic paper cheaper than the real thing, children will carry them to school in the place of books and will have access to everything and anything mankind has ever published in their schoolbag as well as everything and anything they have ever written during their school years at their fingertips.

It was the kind of idea I was giving a talk on in Spain a week ago, with the rapid evolution of what is called virtualization or cloud computing, where technology is delivered as a utility, much like electricity, a model we are already seeing with the evolution of a number of products from Google and Amazon. Anyway, given the exponential growth in computing power, still doubling every two years, thanks to Moore's Law, Christmas in 2015 is going to have on display some quite remarkable technology in PC World and Comet that we haven't even thought of yet!

Back in the real world, I'm confronted by boxes of Christmas cards to sign and seal. One day, someone's going to come-up with a process that automates that too, I'm sure. Just supply the names and addresses and a scan of your signature(s) and season's greetings will become as magic as a Jamie Oliver Christmas. Me, I'll have to make do with inky fingers for now as my fountain pen leaks and I'm running short of stamps. Yesterday, visited Westwood Cross on my motorcycle to buy some presents. Given the frenzied seasonal madness that now surrounds it; I plan to avoid the roads around it now until the New Year if at all possible.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Passing 15,000 Feet

I haven't blogged for almost a week and so I'll start this entry as my Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi, flings itself over the desert coast and climbs away towards Bahrain and London Heathrow, several hours away.

I can't praise the quality of service on this airline enough. I'm sitting in economy and yet Etihad is superior to business class in most other airlines, such as Iberia, that I flew with last week to Madrid. The digital entertainment system, all touch screen, is quite remarkable with enough to keep me busy for hours; I watched 'Ice Age 3' and 'District 9' on the way out and I plan to start today with 'Dillinger' once I settle down after typing this.

The flight attendants on this new Airbus look as if they've freshly arrived from a beauty pageant. I suspect that if they were suddenly exposed to the harsh winter light and charms of Cecil Square, they might wither away instantly; like delicate tropical flowers. On the way out to the emirates, I was chatting to the young First Officer, also neatly pressed into his uniform, who had recently joined the company from Virgin Atlantic. Apparently he had been laid off at the start of the recession and fallen straight back on his feet with a job offer from Etihad and a change of lifestyle, living in Abu Dhabi. Given the legions of airline pilots who have also lost jobs recently, he considers himself very lucky indeed.

As one might expect, the place is spotlessly clean and tidy and no sign of even a single marauding 'Pit Bull' terrier to remind me of home. I did see one discarded water bottle during my time here but the local people take considerable pride in their city and litter just doesn't seem to happen in the way we understand it; the city authorities also being very efficient in removing it. No graffiti either but then I suspect that nobody has ever tried to test the law in this respect, given that the country is not a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and anti-social behavior is treated very seriously indeed by the courts.

I've been staying at the Armed Forces Officers Club, which is unusual in having a mosque and a sophisticated, air-conditioned shooting range next door to each other in the complex. There's also a small bank tucked in between them. I imagine that if one applied for planning consent for the same layout, in say Manchester, there might be rather more difficulty in gaining approval from the city council once they saw what was on the plans. There's also which an Olympic size swimming pool and a gym to match with a very impressive Turkish bath should one get bored.

I toddled off to the indoor range with one of my young colleagues and was reminded of the scene in the first Terminator movie, when 'Arnie' visits the gun store and asks for a 'Gas Plasma rifle.'

"Have you shot before sir," asked the nice girl behind the reception desk.

I replied that I had and surrendered my passport and filled in the appropriate waiver. When this was done I selected what I wanted to shoot from the menu and opted for a semi-automatic SIG 226 and 50 rounds of 9mm ammunition. The SIG is a highly reliable piece of Swiss engineering and I've never had one experience a blockage. The range appeared to be used both by locals and the small groups of American advisors and it was clear that the country is spending a great deal of money on both military hardware and training, I assume because Iran is only a matter of miles away across the disputed waters that saw a racing yacht out of Bahrain impounded last month.

While Dubai's economy went rapidly down the tubes last month, it's clear from the short time I had in Abu Dhabi this week, that it's apparently unscathed by the financial turmoil that surrounds it. From the sheer size, ambition and opulence of the surroundings, it's clear that 'the winner is the one that finishes with the most toys' and I'm looking forward to a return visit in the not too distant future. It's hard not to wonder, for a fleeting moment, what some of that fabulous wealth could achieve around our own sea-front, here in Thanet, rather than around the cornice in Abu Dhabi.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Jolly Affair

Where was I? Between Friday and today I've been nursing a cold, the usual consequence of air travel today. Terminal 3 at Heathrow always seems to be the worst place to catch a virus of any kind and I suppose I should be grateful it wasn't H5N1. I'm sure that many readers can also map their trips by what they've bought home with them and flights to and from the Middle-East and the Indian subcontinent always seem to conjure up the more exotic illnesses, somewhat reminiscent of 'The Curse of the Claw', an 80's Ripping Yarns production with Michael Palin, which I've embedded for anyone who hasn't seen it.

Westgate's Christmas Lights was a jolly affair yesterday, marred only by the rain starting ten minutes before the illuminations were turned on. I don't think the Reindeer noticed but the covered pavement outside the shops in Station Rd provided welcome shelter for those of us without hats or umbrellas. Santa, I noticed, was doing a roaring trade at the Mad Potter, with a queue of small children reaching out into the road and as always, Angelo was lending vigorous support with pizzas, roasted chestnuts and other goodies outside his delicatessen. Children from St Saviours' entertained us by playing Christmas carols on their musical instruments and even the young Romanian selling the Big Issue outside Somerfield, was dressed as Father Christmas; a nice touch I thought.

As always and as one of the three Westgate councillors, I would like to thank everyone involved in making it such a success and for their hard work behind the scenes. In particular I would like to thank Darren Ellis and the Margate Charter Trustees, Mick Tomlinson and Cllrs Goodwin and King for ensuring the money could be found for the event this year and all the traders, children and entertainers that supported it with their own donations and acts.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Splitting Hairs

I didn't get back in from Heathrow and Madrid until close to Midnight yesterday and so hadn't been able to keep up with the Dane Valley by-election progress. However, I now understand from a number of sources that Labour's Sandra Hart was the winner and may I be among the first to welcome her as a councillor and congratulate her on her victory.

I do notice that Labour's own 'Lord Lucan of Northwood' is challenging the absence of any mention of my being a Conservative councillor on the weblog. I'm sure it's passed him by, following the earlier David Green debacle, that by blogging under one's elected title, one is immediately exposed to the public standards code in a way that a personal weblog, like this one, is not.

Now if you happen to be the kind of blogging councillor who has little or no regard for such public standards of behaviour and related guidelines then the high cost to local government in dealing with complaints under the code; such splitting of hairs, may appear quite irrelevant but in practical terms, it's a sensible measure.

More later, as I've some catching-up to do today.

Monday, November 30, 2009

One Box or Two

I've just been down to Sea Road in Westgate with our 'Heritage Champion' Cllr Alasdair Bruce. There's an up and coming planning committee visit to the former old people's home which takes up the properties between 45 – 49 and I share Cllr's Bruce's concerns over the potential impact the proposed new build will have on our seafront conservation area.

It's such a large and dominant site that whatever takes the place of the present buildings, now dilapidated and vandalized, has to reflect the principle of our local conservation area. Readers will know that I'm increasingly worried that when applications are rejected by our own council's officers and planning committee, they are frequently approved on appeal by the government's faceless and democratically unaccountable inspectors in Bristol, wielding their large red rubber 'Approved' stamp over the application. On occasions, I sometimes wonder what it must take for an application to be rejected by the Planning Inspectorate, given what I have witnessed during my short time as a local councillor.

Anyway, the Thanet Gazette has taken some photos, it' s bitterly cold out there and if necessary, I'll make my views on the conservation principle known in public speaking when the matter goes back to the planning committee. It would be nice though to see a development on our seafront that has true architectural merit and is sympathetic to the history of the area, rather than the past catalogue of attempts to build more boxy one and two bedroom apartments in blocks that dominate the skyline.

On another and quite different note, I hear the Carlton cinema is under new management. This is good news for the town, which is privilged to have such a gem and I very much hope that its future will continue for many more years to come.

An Inside Look

With the prevailing fascination in 'New media', Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and more, for political communication, Brighton & Hove City Council being one good example, I'm interested to see that I'm sharing a platform in Caceres, Spain, in December, with Rahaf Harfoush, the author of "Yes We Did: An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand."

Whether I will have a chance to chat over lunch on what we can learn from the Obama campaign over here I don't know but I'm sure her presentation will be rather more interesting than my own talk on disruptive technology and 'Cloud' computing, which at present has rather too many slides and is likely to subject the audience to 'Death by PowerPoint'. Staying with Obama for a moment, I see an old friend has been appointed Obama's interim Cyber-security Coordinator at the White House and I dropped him a note last week to congratulate him and ask him how he was finding it. "Very interesting and very busy" was the short reply.

Come Thursday and the Dane Valley by-election, I'm sorely tempted to put a nice red-letter banner over Margate and help Labour's campaign by flying the slogan: "British Jobs for British Workers – Vote Labour" or any number of tongue-in-cheek themes, as in the present political and economic chaos at Westminster, I'm sure the party could do with all the help it can get. However, I think the weather will be against me and I suspect that many voters would prefer not to be reminded of Labour's quite remarkable record of achievement over the last ten years.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dane and Dale

I'm not certain whether Blogger is playing-up this afternoon or whether it's just my PC. I tried downloading Internet Explorer 8 this week and somewhere along the line my Explorer menu bar disappeared and is defying all efforts to recover it, including a 'System Restore'. Meanwhile, I've fallen back on Google's 'Chrome' as my browser but without ClearType, it doesn't look so good.

On Friday evening, I met Conservative Blogger, Iain Dale. He was giving a talk on political blogging at the North Foreland golf club and I was interested to hear, among other things, that he also suffers from the attentions of left-wing 'trolls'. I'm very lucky I suppose, with only the occasional overnight abusive comments left by the 'usual suspects' but I can't imagine what it must be like when you have up to 100,000 visits a day. I've placed a link to Iain's blog on the sidebar should you happen to be interested in what a really successful weblog looks like.

This morning, I was involved in a mass leaflet –drop at Dane Valley, the last before the by-election. I was given Irvine Drive, which reminded me, quite sadly, of the last time I was there and I duly delivered a leaflet to the same house that was at the centre of attention, now without its white tent and ring of police officers.

Staying on the subject of Dane Valley, I can't quite understand why the independents are reportedly distributing the leaflet in the photograph. It doesn't' make a great deal of sense to me other than to suggest they have 'thrown in the towel'. I wonder if anyone else knows. I'm sure that next week's election results will prove very interesting for anyone with a keen interest in Thanet's politics but from Labour's point of view, it's probably important to have it before the Chancellor's pre-budget speech on December 9th, if Treasury sources are correct. These suggest that Mr. Darling will sharply downgrade his economic predictions, forecasting a slump of 4.75 per cent for 2009. That would rival the worst year of the Great Depression of the 1930s, highlighting the terrible toll the banking crisis has taken.

In the Budget the Chancellor forecast a 3.5 per cent contraction for this year and the difference will wreak havoc with the public finances, which already show a Government hugely in debt and borrowing at record levels. Around the corner of course is the fear that the now semi-nationalised banks, already bailed-out with taxpayer's money, will reveal a significant exposure to financial turmoil in Dubai. I'm out in that direction next month on business and so may return with some insight of my own.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Local Interest Only

Some small items of Westgate news for local readers.

This evening, I spoke with Cllr Shirley Tomlinson, who holds the beach huts in her portfolio and she tells me that we are waiting on a response from the insurers in regards to the burned-down beach huts in St Mildred's Bay. Hopefully, it won't be too long before the charred and unsightly gap is filled with replacements.

We have a new 'beat' Police Constable in Westgate, Lennie Atkins and I would like to welcome him on behalf of the community. I've pointed out some of the more immediate areas of concern and I'm equally delighted, that following the operational decision to re-allocate Chris Bungard in the summer, we once again have a regular police presence.

The next public PACT meeting (Pole & Community Action) will be at St John's ambulance hall in Cuthbert Road on 19th January at 7pm for anyone who wishes to discuss any concerns they may have on crime and anti-social behaviour with councillors and the Police and community wardens

Kent County Council Highways Department called me yesterday to tell me that they have placed my request to place drop kerbs on the entrance to the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady & St Peter on their works list. How long this may take I can't say but at present, parishioners with 'buggies' are being forced into the Canterbury road as they can't negotiate the pavement kerb on leaving the church and I believe that in the interest of safety and disabled access, that a remedy is required.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Help Margate’s Sea Cadets

Some of you may be aware of the "Peoples Millions" where organisations can gain funding for the benefit of the local community.

I have been asked by Ray Heseldine, of the Margate Sea Cadets, to ask for your help in their bid to fund a safety training boat which would be used by Cadets, Scouts and Guides all over Thanet. It would also be registered as an emergency boat with the NVS, Coastguard and the Police, so it would be a multipurpose boat.

Their application is on tonight on Meridian at 18:00, the more telephone calls in support they get will help them achieve this, and, apparently you can make up to 10 calls per telephone.

To register your vote for the Sea Cadets, call 0871 626 8853. Calls cost 10p

Carbon Footprint

Like many other residents of Westgate out walking their dogs, I was appalled to see the fire damage caused to the beach huts at St Mildred's Bay, adjacent to the toilets.

As you will see from the photograph it's a mess.

I have spoken with the police who have it down as a 'Suspicious' incident and they have tasked extra patrols to keep an eye on the seafront in the evening. Beach huts rarely however catch fire spontaneously after dark and in the pouring rain and so it would not be unusual for passers-by to speculate as to the causes.

My next job is to see what can be done to clear-up the damage and deal with the now gaping and charred hole in our seafront view. Given the chronic shortage of public money now facing the economy and local government , it's a depressing incident, particularly as the huts, however old they might be, the huts are popular in the summer and form a matched set, which have been there since I was a boy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Outside Broadcast

I decided to walk to Margate this afternoon for the exercise, all the way up to the council offices for a meeting on the web-casting project, set for its first pilot outing at next month's full council meeting.

During my walk, I devised a new measure of time and distance, call a 'PB'. This, as you may have gathered from the acronymn, is calculated in passing 'Pit Bulls' and so while it took five Pit Bulls to get as far as Cecil Square from Westgate, it was much quicker on the bus on the return leg, avoiding the rain and as you might expect, this only took two 'Pit Bulls'.

I'm interested to know if any other readers are able to measure their walks in the same way, in Ramsgate perhaps? It might also give us a broader idea of how many Pit Bull Terriers are out there and whether one could use them and this method to work out latitude as well!

Back in the real world I wonder if webcasting our local council meetings might knock X-Factor off the top slot. If you never saw The New Statesman series from the 1980's, then enjoy!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Little Creativity

I've been trekking back and forth to the Chatham university campus on a regular basis since September doing a course on education. It's a subject that interests deeply me for a number of important reasons both intellectual and political and in particular because of its vital importance to the future of our society and our place in the world of the 21st century.

Much of what I've seen so far is beautifully summed-up in this very good and humerous video lecture by Sir Ken Robinson. It's well worth watching. I also recommend which is a sort of intellectual YouTube, with lots of lectures by well-known people, such as Richard Dawkins, Al Gore, Brian Cox and many more.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Little Magic in the Valley

I was out leafleting at Millmead this morning for the Dane Valley by-election. Given that it's the end of November, it was unusually warm in the sunshine and I found a great many residents busy outside their houses for one reason or another. Curiously, I didn't experience any of the 'Anger' at the Conservatives, described by the LibDem's Bill Furness in his campaign leaflet.

Bill, who I have never met before was busily doing the rounds, as were I hear the Harts' equally energetically promoting the benefits of New Labour. I wouldn't normally comment on another party's election leaflet but Bill's has left me quite agape with admiration for his energy. Apparently, he has repaired the roads, cut back overhanging trees, swept the pavements and cleared fly-tipped rubbish from Dane Valley, all on his own and without even being a councillor. Clearly, he's a one-man whirlwind with superhuman powers of persuasion.

But rather like the children's story of 'The King's New Clothes', I have to raise my hand and say, "Excuse me, aren't these mostly Kent County Council issues and the responsibility of the equally hard-working Michael Jarvis, who happens to be a Dane Valley District Councillor and a Kent County Councillor both." All this 'Success You Can See' has apparently been achieved by one man who appears able to bend both county and local council officers to his will It's a mystery to me how he does it all, magic perhaps?

Meanwhile, over at 'From One Rant in Kent', I read that this week, that there "are more racist political activists in the Conservative Party than the BNP", and that "Thanet remains a place where racism is unchallenged and tolerated." I'm told that Thanet's Labour group has now rejected the council's 'Blogging Protocol" as a restriction of free speech, which a cynical observer might thinks is just another way of saying 'we'll say what we like about anyone and any subject when it suits us and don't give a damn whether it's honest, decent, truthful or not!'

I rather think that the people of Dane Valley are rather less concerned about the spectre of racism than the impact that £200 billion of public sector debt is going to have on their families and futures. I still can't find any real evidence of support for Labour, instead I'm seeing lots of apathy, the consequences of political scandal and a catastrophic loss of confidence in central government. December 3rd should prove to be an interesting day indeed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Police Action Proves Effective in Westgate

A quick note on policing in Westgate after my meeting with Inspector Pearson today.

The headline figures are a reduction in both criminal damage and violence against the person since prompt action was taken last month. Criminal damage is down 134% and violence is down by 50%. The other good news is that across Thanet in general crime is going down.

It appears then that the arrival of the TASK team and the removal of the bench in Station Road has had the desired effect and I'm optimistic that with the dispersal order in place and the arrival of a new 'beat' officer in Westgate, that we have gone a long way towards solving a problem that was steadily getting out of hand.

Clearly, in contrast to other towns such as Whitstable and Herne Bay, where the police are having to deal with anti-social behaviour and intimidation from groups of up to one hundred youths, we represent a very minor problem here in Westgate but none-the-less, I'm delighted by the prompt response given by Kent police and have, with my two other fellow Westgate councillors, King and Goodwin, written to the local area commander, John Molloy, in Maidstone, thanking him for his intervention, which was encouraged by the support of our MP, Roger Gale.

For those readers who may be interested, the BBC accompanied the police TASK team as they dealt with anti-social behaviour in Herne Bay and this programme will be shown on the BBC at 7:30pm next Monday evening, I'm told.

On a completely different subject, I've just had a chat with Cllr King and it appears that there's enough funding now in place to support the Christmas lights for another year with generous support once again from among the traders and Darren Ellis. If there's a shortfall, then the ward councillors and county councillor, Robert Burgess are prepared to dip into the small reserve fund that each of us has for such eventualities and worthy causes.

Also, I've decided to withdraw the objection I planned to make against the houses to be built on the site in Harold Avenue, on the basis that houses represent the lesser of two evils, given the fact that planning permission already exists for two blocks of flats. As the residents appear happier with homes rather than two concrete apartment blocks, I don't plan to stand in their way by making a challenge.

Indian Evening

I had dinner at the Indian Princess in King Street Margate last night. This was I thought the kind of restaurant that Margate needs, to reverse the prevailing perception of a crumbling façade. It encouraged a vision of what could be possible with successful regeneration and a finished Turner Contemporary and the food was truly excellent.

Not having been there before, I had thought it was an 'Indian' restaurant in the classic sense but it's not. Or as one person who arrived after us commented, "What do you mean you don't do curries, it's an Indian isn't it?"

The Indian Princess is very much nouvelle cuisine in the South Asian style and so I wouldn't recommend going there if you are ready to eat a small Elephant or you might have to visit McDonalds on the way home to top up. Small portions of delicately and beautifully prepared food is what you get and my only criticism was that the service on a Wednesday night was of a glacial slowness. And don't ask if they have any Popadums to nibble on while you wait or you can expect to be put firmly in your place, as I was. "We don't do Popadums!" Almost as if I had insulted them!

Anyway, a delightful meal and well worth the visit but beware of the bar costs as you may need a well padded wallet to buy a litre of Cobra beer.

This morning, I'm seeing Inspector Pearson from Margate, to give me an update on anti-social behaviour in Westgate and the results of the police initiative to date. The British Transport Police haven't made contact as promised by their Chief Constable yet but I assume it will happen in due course.

I did notice on the BBC this morning the report on a management company called Consensus and the related story of how elderly people in serviced retirement blocks, of which we have a great many in Thanet, are struggling with the charges. This is one of the more common problems that I see as a councillor or indeed crops up at Roger Gale's constituency surgeries. I have the sense that the most vulnerable in our society are being impossibly squeezed in their retirement by quite unreasonable demands and I strongly believe that this is something that Government should be investigating with some urgency.

Back in the world of high finance in the economy, I keep reading comments left for me elsewhere that remind me of the manifest wonders delivered to us by this Labour Government. Today, however, The Times reports the Government was forced to borrow £11.4 billion in October to meet its bills - the worst figure for the month since records began in 1946.

Apparently tax receipts collapsed by £4.1 billion compared with October 2008 while spending was £4.5 billion greater, as the recession took its toll on corporate profits and consumer spending while welfare payments a subject which concentrates the mind here in Thanet, surged.

Total public sector net debt grew to £829.7 billion, equivalent to 59.2 per cent of total national output, by the end of October.

From a local government point of view it's equally worrying to read that the public sector current budget, which excludes public investment, worsened from a £2.2 billion surplus in October 2008 to a £7.7 billion deficit last month.

This fiscal year, public sector net borrowing has reached £86.9 billion, compared to £33.9 billion at the corresponding point last year.

Cut the figures anyway you like and you are still left with a financial challenge of unprecedented magnitude facing any Government unhappy enough to win an election and rule the country in the coming five years.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Valley Road

What, with a Dane Valley by-election in December and a General Election to come in the spring, the political atmosphere is starting to heat up with party loyalties clearly split between Thanet's leading blogs.

Naturally, I'm more than a little biased in favour of the Conservatives, but having just received a lecture on the achievements of the present Labour Government, leaving aside delicate matters of public sector debt, war, crime, immigration, Michael Martin and other matters, not discussed in polite conversation, I thought I might reach for some quotes from George Orwell's 'Animal Farm.'

My quote for the day is:

"The vote was taken at once, and it was agreed by an overwhelming majority that rats were comrades. There were only four dissentients, the three dogs and the cat, who was afterwards discovered to have voted on both sides."

However, with the Queens Speech in sight and Labour's last gasp at introducing new legislation or what some in the press have described as its 'scorched earth' policy to make Britain ungovernable in advance of the next election I would like to leave space for:

"Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure. On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?"

I wonder, perhaps, if we all take ourselves much too seriously where politics is concerned!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quick Drying

Westwood Cross was busy this afternoon and there's more than a month to go until Christmas. Given that so many people appear on the blogs to believe the shopping centre was a bad idea, a great many more residents of Thanet are visibly voting with their feet or more to the point, their cars.

On the way towards home, I noticed that the Hornby factory was open and I dropped in for the first time, like the BBC's James May, wallowing in nostalgia, looking at Corgi models, Airfix kits and Scalextric cars. It was like a door to the past opening as I explained to my fourteen year old daughter that I used to spend hours gluing and painting model aircraft, suspend them from my ceiling on cotton and then one day, shoot them down with darts from my Gat air pistol. Didn't everyone?

Somewhere between the light bulbs and bathroom sealants aisles at B&Q, I bumped into the Chair of Scrutiny, Cllr Bob Bayford. We had a brief chat about the forthcoming by-election at Dane Valley and then I sauntered-off in my quest for quick drying cement; the very stuff of politics some might say!

I decided to finish the afternoon by taking the puppy for a walk and was ambushed on the way to the beach by the same dogs as before. Being a councillor I protested politely and was promptly told to F*** Off. A friendly local greeting that many readers may not be familiar with!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Briefly Inactive

If you visit you'll have a good picture of what the weather is doing today.

Lots of larger ships sheltering off the Margate Roads now and I would expect to see some structural damage. A little earlier, while I was out in Westgate buying a paper, the road works signs scattered across the street and I found myself stopping the traffic while I dragged them back to lie flat against the pavement kerb.

Reading the Thanet Gazette I once again marvel at the incisive quality of the journalism. If three passers-by and an ageing Corgi, picked at random, were asked for an opinion on any local topic any reader might be forgiven for believing that the answers represented a groundswell of public opinion. If there's any doubt of course, then look for the regular letter from Westgate's Mr Muir and his one-man campaign against MP Roger Gale. Is the Gazette, I wonder, so short of good letters that they give his opinions space, week-in and week-out? Is he now a regular columnist I wonder?

On today's news, we hear that 21% of the total population are now economically inactive. For the younger generation looking for work inside this oveall figure, this is apparently the highest since records began. Reading the local paper, which publishes the size of the budget deficit facing your local council, I'm again struck by the evidence that neither Labour nor Independent councillors quoted in the pages appear to fully grasp the seriousness of the picture facing this country. One of the latter told me recently that he was convinced that the council had money hidden away somewhere that would fund the schemes he wanted. I'm not sure the paper understands the size of the problem either. You can slice and dice costs as much as you like but in the end, Government are not going to deliver the money we need, simply to stand still, that annual 60% of the cake which balances the 40% raised in council tax.

Let's look at this another way perhaps. I read yesterday that to afford a family an income of £25,000 a year is required; unless of course you happen to be one of the 100,000 or so families that receive up to £25,000 in benefits. Now imagine that the family income is cut to £22,000 and possibly down to £20,000 and that's roughly where we are in local government today. Without a doubt, any household extravagancies can go, any holidays; Sky TV perhaps and more but with bills going up there are much tougher decisions to be made simply to stay afloat.

The weather outside is now so bad that Sky News has given up the ghost as the satellite signal can no longer reach through the rain clouds. I think I'll settle down with my Amazon 'Kindle' reader. I have to confess that two weeks in to using an electronic book, it's quite changed my reading habits in a way I couldn't have imagined before. The convenience of having a best-seller delivered electronically, within seconds of ordering it from the Amazon website is remarkable and the shape of things to come. For any readers who might wish to try it, you can download the reader software for the PC and the Apple iPhone, free from the Amazon website.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Political Tribalism at its Best

Watching the BBC News coverage of the Glasgow by-election, won by Labour, I have to wonder at the point of democracy.

People being interviewed, simply stated that they had always voted Labour and always would, with no thought whatsoever of policies or indeed record. To me, this isn't politics, it's simple tribalism and straight out of the pages of George Orwell's 1984.

For Labour, you could just as easily substitute Glasgow Rangers; I've always supported them too.

Once again, this result is straight out of the welfare trap report from last Sunday's papers. The constituencies with the highest numbers of people on benefits vote Labour and this creates a vicious circle of deprivation because it remains in the interests of the party to keep them that way, because as constituencies become more affluent and employed, their voting patterns start to change, invariably starting with a tinge of LibDem yellow before turning Blue.

What does it take, I wonder to jog such populations out of their absolute confidence in a brand rather than a policy or a record of performance? Clearly not the worst recession since the War or Iraq or Afghanistan or a public sector debt now reportedly equal to £84,000 for every man woman and child in the country.

Is it a fear of change or a better life that keeps them loyal and even the Scottish Nationalists at bay? Someone somewhere must have done some research on this phenomenon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Black and White

I just noticed that our missing Eastcliff Richard has re-appeared or indeed been resurrected, once again, on his website, with a statement of apology which appears to have been drafted by a solicitor.

It comes in the week that I read and approved a blogging 'protocol' offering practical guidance for councillors and in the same period, that another local councillor, Mark Nottingham, (see Tony Flaig's comments on Big News Margate) appears to disregard the sensible recommendations and advice given in the same document.

Readers will be familiar with my views on blogging in regard to the risk it carries where the law governing defamation and libel is involved. I am directly responsible for what appears on this weblog and should someone leave a malicious and false, un-moderated comment, that person can be sued as well.

It's all a question of money and how deep the pockets of the offended party might be. The average man in the street can't afford the expensive solicitors fees involved in pursuing a libel action and the cost of a court order being placed on a company, such as Google, to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger. A big company can frequently afford to protect its reputation and pursue a blogger through the courts.

From what I understand, perhaps two of our local bloggers are reportedly the subject of litigation, as a consequence of publishing unsubstantiated rumours which might send any good libel lawyer pale. From experience of such things, I'm guessing that the cost of good specialist advice in such matters is close to £3,000, in simply dealing with a preliminary complaint; defending any potential libel action being an expensive business.

So maybe some good will come from this example, in that those who believe that blogging offers unrestrained and unaccountable free-speech, may now understand that it's an illusion and that blogging carries with it, the same responsibilities and consequences as any other form of self-expression.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who Alone Was Great

Today, marking the official Remembrance Day, I tried explaining what it was all about to a group of school children before the 11 O'clock silence.

The only way I could think of to put the losses in context for them, was to describe the 'Pals' units of the First World War. "Imagine", I said, "if you all decided to go to war together, some of these young soldiers barely older than you; all the young men of a town joining up for a single great adventure, which unless they were quick, might be over by Christmas."

Then, I told all the boys in the room to stand up and then made them all sit down except for a handful. "Now imagine, I said, "that the boys left standing up were the only ones left alive from your class at the end of the war and those sitting down are among the names written on the town's war memorial."

This seemed to make it easier for them to grasp and let me lead the discussion on the Second World War and Afghanistan today.

But talking about the sacrifices now being made by our armed forces, also reminded me of two excerpts from T.E. Lawrence's (of Arabia) 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' writing on a different war:

'The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster.'

And ..

'The Bedouin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God. He could not conceive anything which was or was not God, Who alone was great; yet there was a homeliness, an everyday-ness of this climatic Arab God, who was their eating and their fighting and their lusting, the commonest of their thoughts, their familiar resource and companion, in a way impossible to those whose God is so wistfully veiled from them by despair of their carnal unworthiness of Him and by the decorum of formal worship. Arabs felt no incongruity in bringing God into the weaknesses and appetites of their least creditable causes. He was the most familiar of their words; and indeed we lost much eloquence when making Him the shortest and ugliest of our monosyllables'.

It's almost one hundred years since Lawrence fought his way across the deserts of Trans-Jordan, Palestine, Syria and what is now Saudi Arabia and another sixty years since my uncle, then an officer in the Gurkhas, was fighting on the same North-west frontier that our own soldiers are trying to hold today, with the same level of success. Little has changed it seems in all that time. The same deeply held religious conviction of the people who would resist us and the seeming futility of trying to win that same piece of barren, mountainous land fought over by Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, the British Empire and the Soviet Empire.

It seems that the personal sacrifices and lessons of history and Afghanistan are quite lost on a Government that clearly doesn't read it. I do wonder if a single Minister has ever read the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Good News for Pfizer in Thanet

Some encouraging local news, gleaned a few minutes ago from watching a Sky News Business report from New York.

Pfizer will close six research and development sites and trim jobs in the United States and the United Kingdom, following the acquisition of drugs giant, Wyeth. However, Sandwich will continue as one of the company's five main R&D centres, down from twenty such units across the globe, which will reassure local people who were worried it might feature in the cuts.

While Pfizer may still further streamline its local operation, it very much sounds as if the future of the majority of people working for the company here in Thanet is secure. However, I should add that this is taken from the lunchtime news and a Reuters report and I haven't any more details at present.

Dog Day Afternoon

It's a newspaper headline that makes me think of Thanet and areas of Margate in particular:

"Concern about the proliferation of illegal breeds in deprived areas, where legal species such as the Staffordshire bull terrier are also seen by young gang members as status symbols, has led the Conservative Party to call for a new Dog Control Act to force owners to take responsibility for their pets."

I've two dogs of my own. A very old Yorkshire terrier (pictured) and a young puppy. Last weekend, even on the beach at St Mildred's Bay, I felt intimidated and considered it wise to turn the dogs around, because one young man had two boisterous 'pit bulls' running off the lead and were dominating the entire beach. A second and much older individual exercises his two dogs on the tennis courts and increasingly, I find that I have to keep a good look-out when I'm walking, to avoid being 'bounced' by dogs of all types roaming off the lead away from their owners.

On those occasions when I felt compelled to pass polite comment, "Would you please control your dog sir", the normal response from the owners of the more aggressive breeds is predictably unhelpful, hostile and even threatening. Women owners invariably insist: "He's only playing" as an excitable 'Rover' paws at my trousers trying to reach the trembling puppy I'm protecting in my arms.

Playing or not, the sight of two Staffordshire Bull Terriers (one local owner has three), charging across the beach in your direction and focused on the two small dogs in your care is likely to give cause for alarm.

The explosion in popularity of these so-called "weapon dogs", which are brutalised and trained by their owners to make them more vicious, has led animal welfare groups and politicans to call for urgent measures, including new laws, to tackle a phenomenon that threatens to overwhelm animal refuges.

A walk through the streets of Margate on any day leaves me to wonder whether the Dangerous Dogs Act was something that happened in another country. Out of work young men in 'hoodies' hanging around with the obligatory Staffordshire cross-breed, sitting on the benches outside the library or the wall outside the Jobcentre.

In today's Independent, the paper reports that the situation in some London boroughs is already "out of hand." The Deputy Mayor of London, Kit Malthouse, said consideration should also be given to banning all bull breeds which were inherently more aggressive than other dogs and were "canine weapons that terrorise the streets of Peckham, Toxteth and Moss Side" and Claire Robinson, a spokesman for the RSPCA, said: "The breed-specific issue is a red herring. What we need is a fundamental overhaul of legislation to tackle the problem of irresponsible ownership. "We need to be looking at measures such as tenancy agreements which can be used to ensure council properties are not used for indiscriminate breeding."

I wonder how many other people across Thanet have noticed the almost remarkable expansion of more aggressive breeds in the company of younger owners. What we can do about it other than express worry, I don't know but it's time that Government; any Government took decisive action to reverse the unhappy social consequences of removing the dog license in the first place.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Facts About Thanet

I''m constantly reading on a handful of local weblogs the accusation that the 'Council' is uniquely responsible for the burden of decline suffered by Margate or Thanet in general, over the last twenty years. The fact that all seaside towns, perhaps with the exception of Brighton, have found themselves in a similar economic position, goes quite unnoticed or is simply ignored and those who use inflammatory words such as "criminal neglect", appear to have no real idea of why the great British seaside has suffered so and indeed who is responsible, unless of course, its, "The council."

There is however a much bigger picture involved here than a local council working hard to deliver against a strategy of economic development and regeneration. Let's examine a few hard facts, mostly from council and Office of National Statistics sources, about the challenges we face about our island. An ageing population and twenty years of demographic change; accelerated by this Government's recently revealed 'Dispersal' and 'Inward migration' policy to seaside towns such as Margate, Hastings and Dover, has dramatically changed the face of the place where I grew-up:

  • Thanet has a disproportionately large population of elderly residents and the lowest life expectancy in Kent. The health of people in Thanet is the worst in the South-east.

  • Those residents over the age of 50 (which includes me) now account for 40.8% of the population, the highest proportion of 50+ adults in the country. This figure will continue to increase as time goes by and presents tough financial challenges to the statutory agencies at a time when central Government budgets are in unprecedented crisis.

  • Adults over 65 and 85 are once again higher than the national picture and annual incomes are lower. This has significant implications in regard to sustaining the local economy of our towns where disposable income is involved.

  • Thanet is characterized by household incomes significantly below the national and regional average but demand for new housing continues to increase and in particular those with disabled access. Meanwhile, Government is reducing its support for disabled facilities grants for the many homes that require it locally, leaving Thanet to find the funding and a £2.3 million backlog in applications.

  • There are over 4,000 people on the housing register and 35% of all homes in Thanet fail to meet the decent homes standard

  • Thanet has the highest levels of domestic abuse in Kent.

  • Unemployment is more than twice that of the South-east as a whole but qualifications are below the average.

  • Thanet experiences the highest levels of criminal damage in Kent.

  • The demographic mix in Thanet is changing rapidly with significant increases in ethnic groups.
I could go on but I think readers will have the picture by now.

Recently, I wrote that my own back-of-an-envelope calculation from a recent presentation suggested that every man, woman and child on the island has been subsidized by Government, in terms of services to the sum of £7,000 each. I also reminded people that collected council tax only pays 40% of what we need to deliver all our local services and that the balance of 60% comes from Government. This is about to be slashed, leaving the close to £6 million gap over five years, reported in Your Thanet last week.

This last decade of Labour government policies has proved disasterous for the island and yesterday's papers revealed what may have been going on behind the scenes in regard to Labour's efforts to win new seats through the simple expedient of making them poorer and more diverse. From looking at the published league of local deprivation, Thanet North sticks out like a sore thumb. It should be Labour but it's not, a tiny island of blue surrounded by a sea of red. But you draw your own conclusions; don't take my word for it.

Most of us have, at one time or another played the board game 'Monopoly', so you'll understand the principles that lie at the heart of any local economy, the value of property and the disposable income of the population or indeed, the visitors to the area.

So, Thanet Bloggers and local papers and local film producers who are so quick to criticize, tell me where the money comes from to deliver on all your grand plans, if efforts to rebuild and regenerate our local economy are frustrated? We need to give local people jobs, homes, opportunities and a future and these can't be found by turning back the clock or even under this Government, which seems so cynically intent on perpetuating and growing our benefits dependent culture, keeping us poor by sending us its poor and homeless in large numbers and against our wishes.

Thanet needs investment and encouragement and new ideas and industries to put people in work and above all, it needs money, lots of it, to reverse the damage done not by the council which simply delivers services within its budget but by a dysfunctional Labour government with its own agenda and which is now being seen for what it really is.

BBC Plays Politics

North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale, has described as "crass and inappropriate" the inclusion of an item relating to the Kelly report in an edition of The Politics Show (South East) otherwise devoted to Remembrance Sunday.

'"I was telephoned earlier in the week by a programme researcher" says the MP "and asked if I would participate in a live broadcast taking place from the home of the Lord Mayor of Canterbury. I explained very explicitly that I was committing the whole of Remembrance Sunday to relevant services and to the Royal British Legion and that I would not, in any event, take part in a discussion about the employment of MPs' wives and husbands in the middle of a programme devoted, quite properly, to a recognition of the service and sacrifice of our armed forces. I could not have made my position more clear.

I was therefore dismayed to find a clip lifted from an interview that I gave to BBC South East and recorded at another time and for a wholly different purpose being used to set up comment between two other parliamentary colleagues about a subject that I had plainly indicated that I did not wish to participate in.

There are important issues arising from the Kelly Report that may have a profound effect upon our parliamentary democracy and that may influence the kind of people that participate in it as Members of Parliament. Those issues do need to be responsibly and appropriately discussed and I have not been reluctant to raise them publicly myself.

I think that to include this item on Remembrance Sunday, however, reveals an insensitivity and lack of judgement that is breathtaking and to use the clip that was recorded for another programme in this way was, I believe, little short of editorially dishonest.

I would like the BBC to make it publicly clear that I did not consent to take part in this aspect of this programme, emphatically indicated that I did not wish to do so and believe that anything that detracts from the recognition, today of all days, of the valour of those who have sacrificed everything in the cause of our protection and our freedom is to be deplored.'

Saturday, November 07, 2009

In Parade

I'm joining MP, Roger Gale for his regular surgery at Westgate library today and looking at the appointments, it looks to be a busy one, through to 1'O'clock and broadly reflective of the troubled circumstances that the country now finds itself in.

At the council's cabinet meeting on Thursday, the jaw-dropping size of our share of the bill for our 'Boom and Bust' economy became clear, with the publication of the budget and medium term financial strategy report, which the local paper reports as being close to £6 million over the next five years. People often forget that approximately 60% of the council's funding of the net revenue budget, (the costs of providing core council services), comes from central Government and with the lights now being switched-off at the Treasury and money being frantically printed across the road at The Bank of England, councils across the land will soon feel the harsh consequences of what is now £200 billion of public debt.

Normally, the Labour group promptly sends out a press release after Cabinet meetings in an effort to convince anyone who might bother to read it that they weren't asleep after all. This time they appear strangely silent, although we did hear, with regular interruptions through the evening, Councillor Iris Johnston, bobbing up and down and forcefully reminding us of the manifest wonders and unappreciated benefits of a Labour Government . This, in the same week that we were given the news of the longest period of negative growth since the Second World War. Thanet's own budget challenges, we are told are all uniquely the fault of Lehman Brothers. Nothing whatsoever to do with Gordon Brown and Alasdair Darling and Northern Rock and Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS and Afghanistan and Iraq and all those other inconvenient stories which never happened in New Labour's revisionist wonderland of shifting truths.

I really think it's time that Labour and its apostles stopped trying to convince us, locally and nationally about its wonderful track-record in Government and instead did a more convincing job of reassuring us that they have some idea of how to handle the consequences of a decade of mismanagement. and a national debt of almost unimaginable size!

Changing the subject to a more important matter of history , it's Remembrance Sunday tomorrow and I will be walking the wreath, donated by the Margate Charter Trustees, in the parade to the Westgate war memorial in Sea Road from St Saviours Church at 11:30. I hope to see some of you there.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Grand Planning Plan

If you recall the 2007 protest against building a block of flats in Westgate's Harold Avenue, part of the conservation area, you may also remember that the developer's appeal against a refusal, went to the Government's 'Planning Inspectorate' and like another appeal, Beach Rise in Westgate, was swiftly granted.

Last week I received notice from the council that the developer now wishes to swap the block of flats application for nine houses on the same spot (F/TH/09/0674) and so I have asked that this new application be referred back to the TDC planning committee and expect my fellow ward councillors will do the same. It's bad enough, I thought, trying to squeeze a new purpose-built apartment block into a small space in the conservation area but nine houses appears to me as excessive, to put it mildly. I'm assuming these will be the same scale model 'dolls houses' builds that have appeared elsewhere in Westgate.

Now, if you weren't aware of it already and for all those excitable readers who appear to believe that the council is at the heart of some kind of developer-driven planning conspiracy, then you may not have heard the Government is to downgrade protection on old buildings and those in conservation areas in order to "benefit developers" and "reduce the number of applications for planning permission rejected on heritage grounds."

Today's papers report that planning powers on all "major infrastructure projects" – such as new windfarms, pylon lines, power stations and trunk roads – will be taken away from locally-elected politicians and given to a powerful new "superquango" which will decide even the most controversial scheme in only a matter of months.

These unelected and I assume, highly paid commissioners on the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will start work in March, have been given sweeping new powers to grant planning permission, cancel Green Belt protection, allow developers to seize private land, remove footpaths and close roads. As a consequence, local councils and ministers will no longer have any decision making role in the process and public hearings will be curtailed. Even the scope for court challenges to the commission's work will be limited.

From our own point of view, trying to protect our green space here in Thanet, the interesting part is:

"The new policy says that local authorities should allow the demolition or alteration of historic buildings where the "material harm" caused to an area's heritage "is outweighed by the wider social, economic and environmental benefits of the proposed development". The policy says that this "is likely to benefit developers… for example, it should reduce the number of applications for planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consent rejected on heritage-related grounds".

So, from the point of view of a concerned ward councillor or perhaps even the council and the hard-pressed planning committee, the outcome of planning law is increasingly becoming a gamble, where, on appeal or for large projects, one's Government-supported opponent appears to be throwing loaded dice. Where Harold Avenue is involved, I'll challenge the new plans but given the fact that the Planning Inspectorate has already rejected the council's refusal and given consent for a block of flats on the same space, it would give me some comfort to believe that both sides were playing with a new set of dice.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tony for Prez

Tony Blair's hopes of becoming President of the new Europe appear to be fading fast and even the best efforts of Thanet's Labour group to support him, may not be enough to tip the balance in his favour.

I've been busy re-reading George Orwell's novel. '1984' this week and I'm struck by some uncomfortable the parallels with our present Government. Here's a couple of quotes for you:

"The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen. As compared with last year, there was more food, more clothes, more houses…. More of everything, except disease, crime and insanity."

Orwell appeared to be cynical about Labour, even in the forties, before it was 'New'. One conversation in the book is written in a political style characteristic of our most socialist of blogging councillors: "Lackey of the bourgeoisie, flunkies of the ruling class! Parasites that was another of them. And 'Yenas… 'e definitely called em 'yenas. Of course e' was referring to the Labour Party you understand."

So try re-reading 1984 and you might think that political correctness had replaced 'Doublethink', 'Thoughtcrime and 'Newspeak'. Orwell's worst fears for the future of British society, led by 'The Ministry of Truth' and the apostles of socialism appear to have come true, in a matter of ten short years from Blair to Brown.

You will have seen on the news that Britain is still caught in recession while the USA appears to have broken free with many other countries. By pouring 100's of $billions of dollars into the economy, President Obama appears to have pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat but one economist I was listening to this morning suggested that we might have to throw another £100 billion at our own economy to have the same result. However, the potential risks and consequences of £250 billion of debt are almost too awful to contemplate. A Bank of England economist on Channel 4 News said last night that in a war, you don't think about how much it costs but of how quickly you can win and that is, where we appear to be today.

But remember, Orwell's 1984 was written in 1949, when Britain was struggling to deal with the aftermath of the Second World War and from a purely economic perspective, things aren't looking much different. Still, there's always the possibility of Tony for President and that's bound to make us all feel much better about the future!

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power" - 1984

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Clocks Back

The clocks are back, sunset, my watch tells me is at 16:48 and Ottos, the world's oldest dog (pictured) can enjoy a well-deserved nap.

Sunday, is however a workday for me for the next month or so, as I've a project in Abu Dhabi to complete and it's a normal day of the week, until about midday, because of the time difference. Thanks to the internet and 'Skype' calls however, my phone bills are rather lighter than using good old BT.

Yesterday evening, I dropped in to the cabaret cancer charity event at the Westgate pavilion, organised by our most colourful of local characters, 'Horace' and Birchington parish councillor, John Worrow. It was very good indeed, supported by Margaret Sheldrick, the Chairman of TDC, with some excellent and very amusing local talent on display. Kevin Crace is doing a wonderful job restoring the Westgate pavilion to its former glory and I would recommend visiting some of the events there to enjoy the atmosphere.

Walking back through the village, later that evening, aside from three bored teenagers at the bus stop, it was absolutely quiet and in marked contrast with previous weeks. I now have many of the traders on email and rather than simply 'doing the rounds' for a chat, I'm hoping that they can keep me abreast of any changes when they need to.

Councillors Goodwin and King are working on the Westgate Christmas lights. These and the celebrations we have when they are turned-on, have been a great success over the last two years with great personal generosity shown by Darren Ellis but this time, thanks in part to the economic climate surrounding donations, we have a shortfall, I'm told, of £1,500 that we are trying to make-up.

Councillors can make a modest contribution from their own special community fund, of £500, which we are all happy to do but an application has gone to the Margate Charter Trustees to see if there's a little financial support available there and I know that the traders and businesses have been asked if they can spare a little extra. I'm optimistic that we will reach the figure but the community will have to work fast, as it's almost November. I'm sure that Cllrs Goodwin and King will keep me informed of their progress and I will post any updates here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On the QT

What a stunning morning! The autumn colours remind me of New England.

Yesterday evening, I was over at St Saviours church in Westgate, where the Reverend Tom Barnfather was welcomed by the local and faiths community as the new priest. Cllr Tom King welcomed him on behalf of the Westgate Residents Association and I'm sure readers would like to join all of us in welcoming him to his new Ministry in Westgate.

Strangely enough, during the service, it was promised we would all be home in time for the BBC's highly controversial Question Time. I won't make any other comment, other than to say that I still believe, in the interests of impartiality and political debate, that it was right and proper to allow Jack Straw to take part in the programme!

What perhaps interested me more yesterday, was the Director of Public Prosecutions, speaking out against the plans of an incoming Conservative Government to derogate from the European Human Rights Act and introduce a British Human Rights Acts instead, with the intention of doing away with the catalogue of abuses of which we are so familiar.

One such example is reflected in the efforts now of four Home Secretaries to repatriate the Afghan hijackers to diverted an aircraft to Stanstead. Each removal order has been quashed by the courts, despite the fact that Britain has expended much effort and too many young soldiers lives, ejecting the Taleban from Afghanistan. The hijackers remain with full welfare entitlements, even though there appears to be no sound reason to let them, other than a generous interpretation of their rights under the European Act. Parliament now has no control over European law interpreted by our judges. However, other countries simply interpret the law to suit their own national and political purposes, the French being a prime example.

I would be interested to know if readers think this is a good idea or take the side of of the DPP?