Thursday, April 29, 2010

Low Level Run

I was somewhat bemused at the sight of two F15 fighters hurtling past the beach at low-level this morning at 8 am. I wonder if you saw them too.

Its two days since the 'Folded Wings' memorial ceremony at Westgate and so one might consider the flyby a little late! I send an email to Colonel Price, The US Air Force Attache and he replied that he didn't know anything about it but perhaps Lakenheath were making-up for missing Tuesday, with a flyby gesture, using the GPS coordinates I gave them for the original request.

Anyway, whichever way you look at it, the US servicemen who were remembered on Tuesday, had their F15 fly-past and Cllr Bruce called me from Cliftonville, to say they had flown past there too! So thank you United States Air Force for both supporting the ceremony so generously and also for sending two fighters along the seafront this morning!

If you've been watching the Liverpool Anfield match on Channel 5 this evening, you probably spotted one of our aircraft towing a Channel 5 banner, saying "Come on Liverpool." I've already had two calls this evening asking if I was flying it and the answer is no, I'm watching a bit of it on TV and then the great 'Leaders Debate' on BBC. I had a banner to fly over Reading today and the weather deteriorated so badly it was like flying through a car wash. Come Sunday, I've now go two more banners at Anfield to do, one being a marriage proposal and the second for the Liverpool Supporters Club; weather permitting of course and the forecast for the weekend is very poor indeed!

This time next week, it will almost be over and we'll know who will be our next Prime Minster. Prejudice aside, I suspect Labour may well end up in third place but still have the largest party at Westminster, thanks to the 'Clegg effect.' I really wonder if those people who think of voting Liberal Democrat really grasp, beyond the much repeated mantra of 'Fairness at the heart of everything we do' what the Liberal Democrats really stand for? At a time when so many people wish to distance themselves from Europe, the Liberal Democrats plan to surrender what little autonomy is left to us under the European constitution that none of us voted for and few of us want!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wings Over

It had all the appearance of a summer's day and the size of the crowds reflected the good weather as the community turned-out to support the 'Folded Wings' memorial service in Sea Road yesterday.

Some readers may have seen it reported on the BBC South-east News or ITV's 'Meridian Tonight' or even heard the story on BBC Radio Kent but I would like to extend a personal note of thanks to everyone who made it possible this year, and in particular the Mayor of Margate and the Margate Charter Trustees, the many veterans associations, the presiding clergy, Dr John Pritchard, the United States Air Force and the families of the bomber crews who joined us from the United States.

A special note of gratitude goes to 'Capt' Terry Brown, who provided us with a fly-past with his vintage Stampe SV4 biplane, to replace the F15 fighters from Lakenheath that we had all been hoping for. As I wrote in an earlier post, the operational training for these aircraft was interrupted by the volcanic ash cloud and as a consequence, we lost our display slot.

I now have a few photographs of the occasion up on my Flickr site which are available to view and download, here.

One very touching part of the event was when I introduced Mark Weinheimer, the son of the pilot of the Westgate Liberator crash to Westgate resident, Mr. Smyth, who as a young man, rescued his father from the aircraft in 1944. This story was captured in part by the different news programmes. I would like to thank Cllr Iris Johnston for her part in tracking down Mr Smyth and bringing him to the event for this very special moment. Also in attendance and interviewed by BBC Radio Kent, was Mr. Chapman, one of the first on the scene of the bomber crash at Foreness Point and I'm delighted that the memories of both these gentleman have been captured by the media for the archives.

The formal part of the event and the return of Lt Hafner's dog tags was made possible by the involvement of Lt Col Price, the Assistant United States Air Force Attache from the embassy in London (pictured with Mr Chapman). He very kindly arranged for an USAF Honour Guard to come all the way from Mildenhall and their presence and his was an important part of the occasion.

If you visit the clifftop at Westgate, just to the west of the pavilion, you'll see that the Margate Carter Trustees have installed a plaque commemorating the events of 27th April 1944. It overlooks the site of the West Bay crash and tells a little of the history.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Folded Wings - Westgate War Memorial Tomorrow

Preparation begins at 10:30 on Tuesday with the different veterans groups, Margate Charter Trustees and the Mayor of Margate arriving, together with an Honour Guard from USAF Mildenhall and the United States military attaché Lt Col Jeff Price.

The service will start at the war memorial at 11:00. We had hoped for a fly-past from USAF F15 fighters out of Lakenheath but I’ve just heard that the volcanic dust fiasco has put them behind in their operational training sorties and they are unable to oblige us. Instead as a small mark of respect from the air, I’ve asked ‘Capt Terry Brown’ to arrive at 10:50 with his vintage Stampe SV4 biplane, which will also help mark the spot.

The Honour Guard have been given approval by Kent police to fire a volley during the ceremony and a plaque, commeortating the events of 27th April 1944 is being erected on the clifftop near the Westgate pavilion, overlooking the crash site of one of the two Liberator bombers that came down that hour.

After the ceremony, invited guests will return to the Mayor’s parlour in Margate, where the dog tags of Lt Hafner, discovered on the beach at Foreness point, will be officially returned to the United States Air Force.

Below, you will find the story of what happened that day in 1944:

On the 27th April 1944, two mission-damaged B-24 Mark H Liberator aircraft of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) returning from different pre-D-Day raids over France, attempted to make emergency landings at RAF Manston but crashed as night fell along the Thanet coast in the same hour. This memorial tells the story of one of these aircraft and its crew and serves as a tribute to all the young men, allied pilots and crew, who gave their lives in the Second World War in the struggle against fascism.

The pilots of both aircraft were recognised for their bravery in skill in avoiding the towns, and while one aircraft, No. 41-29509 of the 578th Bombardment Squadron of the 392nd Bombardment Group (‘The Crusaders’) based at Wendling in Suffolk made a forced landing at 6:20 PM in shallow water at Westgate on Sea near this memorial, shortly afterwards the second aircraft, No. 41-29543, piloted by 1/Lt. Harold J. Larson from the 706th Bombardment Squardron of the 446th Bombardment Group (‘The Bungay Buckaroos’) based at Flixton, collided with the clifftop at Foreness Bay in Cliftonville and was totally destroyed on its ninth mission: there were only two survivors who managed to bail out on their pilot’s orders just before the crash, and they were plucked from the water by the Margate Lifeboat. Brave efforts made by the Margate Fire Brigade, Police and local people to save other members of the crew were in vain. Part of that aircraft, with two of its engines already on fire, reportedly broke over the top of the clifftop but then fell back onto the shoreline below and exploded.

Returning debriefings gave an account that the first aircraft, known as ‘The Knuckle Head’ and piloted 2/Lt. Jacob Weinheimer, had been hit by German anti-aircraft fire over Dunkerque. Several of the crew-members had been injured by the burst of flak which hit the left wing of the aircraft, and the Liberator rapidly lost altitude, while one crew-member, radio-operator, T/Sgt Parke V. Kent, parachuted to safety and capture. It is accepted that Sgt. Kent was the only man aboard with an undamaged parachute. Just three months earlier, however, as Annette Tison, a researcher for the 392nd Bombardment Group Association, remarked, ‘On 4 Jan 1944, his plane had been badly damaged during a mission and crashed at Sheringham, Norfolk. Five men were killed and Kent suffered a broken ankle and strained back. He returned to duty and flew missions on 23 March and 24 April before becoming a POW on 27 April.’

2/Lt. Weinheimer managed to regain control of the aircraft, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) but, badly damaged, the aircraft attempted to reach the relative safety of the English coast and finally crashed-landed at 8:10 PM, one hundred yards from the beach at West Bay (the crew had practiced beach landings as part of their training in Texas before going to England). This aircraft was completely destroyed by the impact, its undercarriage ripped apart on the chalky limestone shallows, just before sunset as the tide was ebbing, along a line that can still be seen at low tide. An official USAAF photo of the wreckage was taken on the following morning and is reproduced here. Five of the crew members were killed instantly by the force of the impact. Local people watching from the Swan Inn pub and soldiers waded out to help rescue the survivors, and the Margate Lifeboat, Lord Southborough, was launched, assisting two RAF Air/Sea Rescue launches in the rescue (and later, recovering alive the only two airmen who escaped from the other doomed B-24 which crashed at Foreness Point in darkness at 9:07 PM that night.

The rescuers found 2/Lt. Weinheimer pinned behind his control wheel. The only uninjured member of the Knuckle Head’s crew, the co-pilot, 2/Lt. George C. Marshall, heroically helped to free his three badly injured but surviving crewmates, the pilot, the navigator, 2/Lt. Marvin L. Gurwit, and tail gunner Sgt. Robert R. Duffy. Marshall suffered severe post-traumatic shock as a result of the incident but was given credit with having saved the day, and together with the crew’s highly decorated navigator, Marshall was also awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.

A memorial plaque is being erected by the Margate Charter Trustees to coincide with a Service of Remembrance at the Westgate-on-Sea war memorial, on the morning of 27 April 2010, in the presence of Mark Jacob Weinheimer, Anne Keese, Joan Ries and Dona Cox, children of the pilot of the aircraft and in the presence of one of his father’s rescuers.

Later, the family of the pilot will join with others in a personal visit to the Allied Air Memorial Gardens next to the Spitfire & Hurricane Museum opposite the main entrance to RAF Manston. A large diecast model B-24 with the markings of the aircraft that crashed at Westgate has been prepared by the Margate Charter Trustees with detailed guidance from historians and technical experts across the world.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It Must be True or Maybe Not

There's a huge amount of rubbish being written and spoken about the vexing issue of immigration during this election and I listened to Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, on BBC Politics today, claiming firstly that net immigration was falling and that secondly, someone is "removed by the Borders & Immigration Agency, from the UK every six minutes." While not conceding the exact number, he didn't deny that there were approximately, one million illegal immigrants in the UK.

In a second interview on BBC Radio 5 Live (at time 1.46mins) Harriet Harman, has Labour's election promises demolished around her and once again, doesn't deny that out of 1.78 million jobs created under the Labour Government, 81% have gone to people born abroad,. So much, said Stephen Nolan, the interviewer, for the hollow promise of "British jobs for British workers."

Now, if you do the maths and were more than generous, with weekends and holidays, you might arrive at the conclusion that in six months, every illegal immigrant in the UK, might have been returned home, at least twice; in fact it would take 11 years and by then, the hard-working  Algerian bag snatcher who has already been deported on four different occasions and reportedly accepted a £3,000 bribe to return home as well, might well be recognised as a regular Eurostar traveller by immigration staff at St Pancras . However, even with the finest efforts of Government Minister, Phil Woolas, yesterday's papers were reporting that Borders & Immigration Agency, were simply not turning up at immigration hearings and appeals, which conjures up the potential for a new useless statistics, "That every five minutes, an illegal immigrant is given leave to remain in the UK by the courts."

I wouldn't be surprised if the public simply threw up their hands in despair at such risible attempts to confuse then with useless statistics like these!

I recommend listening to the Harman interview. There's almost a temptation to feel sorry for her but after a little while it fades as she consistently avoids answering any questions or indeed, condemning the shamelessly fabricated 'scare' tactics that the party have been using against pensioners through the election leaflets the Party has been distributing.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cameron 2010 - Flying the Flag

Over at Grays in Essex  this morning to ambush David Cameron, with a banner message: 'CAMERON 2010@No10'.

There was a large reception committee in evidence in the playing field behind the school or college below, with TV outside broadcast vans with satellite dishes on their roofs, parked-up outside. On teh way back to the airfield I passed a very smart looking Agusta helicopter, en route to Grays,, I asusme to pick him up for his next appointment.

I've some photos in my camera and will try and put one up later, as I'm typing this between jobs at the airfield.

Next-up is the pop concert the afternoon at Camber Sands, with a rather different message and one that to be honest I don't understand: "WHEN HARD CREW RULED THE WORLD."

Now, if only someone would tell me what Gordon Brown's schedule is, I could have a special message flown for him too. Suggestions welcome!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Up Pompeii

I was five hours in the air today and not a sniff of any volcanic ash at the low altitude I was flying at. With luck, tomorrow will see the re-opening of the UK airspace but it's anyone's guess as to how long it will take to recover the thousands of stranded Britains from airports all over the world.

I heard earlier that an aircraft carrier was heading to Calais to pick people up from there. What are the odds I wonder that the French trades unions will immediately strike and blockade the port?

Michael Child has published a very interesting history of Westgate on Sea on this weblog - see sidebar - butyou can find a direct link to to the publication and its photos here.

Finishing on a political theme you might enjoy 'Gordon's Gangsters'.

Reportedly and I will add 'allegedly' simply to remain within the realm of fair comment, "The Labour Party have been exposed as associated with organised crime in Scotland dozens of times in the last few years."

I read the story but wasn't surprised, which is a little worrying in that I took it for granted without a second thought!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Brighton Marathon

I've been up over Brighton this morning flying a banner over the inaugural marathon in the town. A glorious hazy day in warm sunshine and thousands of runners threading their way along the streets and the seafront. In fact I wouldn't envy any of them in this temperature, as I'm sure a number of runners are going to encounter heat stress given the sudden change in temperature.

On the way over there, I found I was the only pilot on the London information frequency which covers the entire south of England. It was a bizarre experience because normally there's a busy level of communications chatter on a weekend but early this morning, just an eerie silence.

By noon, the airwaves had 'warmed-up' as more light aircraft pilots took to the skies. Piston-engined aircraft which have filters installed as standard don't face the same level of risk from volcanic dust as jet-engined aircraft at high altitudes and so it seemed that everybody who could fly was taking a once in a lifetime opportunity to fly over Gatwick or head towards Heathrow for a look see.

Gatwick reported earlier that the dust cloud had been detected at 5,000 feet but that's still-up in controlled airspace, which remains closed. It seems that executive jets are trying to sneak back in under visual flight rules (VFR) as the upper levels remain closed and while I was returning home, I heard a Citation coming back in across the Channel at low level, doing 380 knots, so good reason to keep one's eyes peeled!

France has opened-up its uncontrolled airspace to VFR flights which allows people who are marooned on the continent and with friends who have aircraft; to call on the 'Dunkirk Spirit' and have them come in to Calais or Le Touquet to collect them.

What worries me now is not just the economic impact of the eruption on struggling airlines but that the much larger sister volcano in Iceland might suddenly go 'bang' in sympathy; effectively crippling Europe's airspace for weeks ahead. While we are all enjoying the ridge of  high pressure weather over the UK, for the sake of the airline industry and tens of thousands of stranded passengers, a north Atlantic depression with strong winds is the only hope for clearing the dust away!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thanet Community Radio - Folded Wings

I had a visit from Roger Allen at Thanet Community Radio this afternoon to record a short interview on the history of the Liberator bomber crashes at Palm Bay and Westgate on Sea in 1944and the plans for a special memorial event on the morning of the 27th April organised by the Mayor of Margate and the Margate Charter Trustees.

You can find the interview link here and more written information and research on what happened on the same day in 1944 from this weblog archive here.

The ceremony is being called 'Folded Wings' and you may have read in the local paper that the United States Air Force (USAF) attache, Colonel Price will be attending, together with a USAF Honour Guard, with rifles, who have been given permission by the police to fire a salute at the Westgate War Memorial.

At the same time, 11am on 27th April, we have a request for a USAF fighter flypast, which Colonel Price tells me is in the system and approved but subject to final operational confirmation.

Everyone will be assembling at 10:30am that morning, with standards and representatives from the different veterans associations and if you plan to attend, I recommend that you find a space on the green outside the war memorial in Sea Road, Westgate on Sea.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Woof Woof

I was delighted to be approached by two PCSOs this morning on the beach and handed a leaflet on 'dog fouling' and a free 'poo bag'! They hadn't recognized me at first and it pleased me no end to see that the initiative was being taken in regard to mounting complaints over dog mess on our streets or indeed the growing number of irresponsible dog-owners that are now plaguing Thanet.

I read in The Telegraph this morning that the explosion in dangerous dogs now merits its own Metropolitan Police special unit. The paper reports: 'In the early part of this decade the Met was seizing a steady average of about 42 illegal dogs per year, then in 2006-07 the number suddenly jumped to 173 and has doubled every year since. In the past 12 months the Status Dog Unit has seized 1,259 illegal dogs, the vast majority of them pit bull types. 'At the same time that gang culture was becoming established here, hip-hop and rap singers in the US started using pit bulls in their pop videos, and suddenly it became fashionable to have one of these dogs,' 'They became a status symbol for a lot of the youth in London.'

Last year 5,221 people, a quarter of them children, were admitted to hospital in England after being attacked by dogs, compared with a total of just over 3,000 a decade ago. Thousands more were treated as outpatients.

The Dangerous Dogs Act, aimed at wiping out Britain's entire pit bull population. The Act made it illegal to own or breed four types of fighting dog: pit bulls; the dogo argentino, a dog bred for hunting boar; the Japanese tosa, a huge mastiff and the world's oldest breed of fighting dog; and the fila brasileiro, bred specifically for aggression. The Dangerous Dogs Act did have a temporary effect on pit bull numbers, which declined in the 1990s to such an extent that they dropped off the political agenda.

But, under pressure from animal charities, in 1997 Parliament watered down the Act by introducing an amendment giving magistrates discretionary powers to give illegal breeds back to their owners, subject to certain restrictions, if the owners are deemed responsible enough to keep the dogs under control. This is now generally seen to have been an enormous mistake and has led to a nationwide problem which is now seen to be running out of control through the inability of the legal system to deal with offenses involving dangerous dogs.

The Telegraph story today not only reveals how weak government and the legal system have been in responding to a growing social problem but also reflects how dangerous breeds are increasingly replacing knives and guns among gang members involved in crime or intimidation. Whether any government is now capable or even interested in changing the law appears unlikely until such a time as the state of equivocation and denial which presently exists at the Home Office is no longer avoidable.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Round the Houses

I was out this morning doing a little local canvassing and wearing my rosette for the first time. My route took in the retirement homes in Westgate and I was surprised to see, from one newspaper cutting on a wall, that the famous Lord Scarman spent his final years here, who would have guessed it.

As a judge, Scarman's career had some controversial decisions. Although widely regarded as a liberal, he upheld the blasphemy conviction of Gay News (1979), punctured the GLC's "Fare's Fair" low-cost public transport policy (1981), and supported the banning of trade unions at GCHQ (1985). He is best known for chairing the public inquiry on the causes of the race riots in Brixton in 1981. He also chaired inquiries into the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969 (1969-1972), the Red Lion Square disorders (1975) and the Grunwick dispute (1977). (Wikipedia)

Remaining on the subject of the law and following on from the earlier 'Twitter' political abuse story of last week, I see that the influential Guido Fawkes political weblog has spotted that the Conservatives appear to be getting an 'easy ride' in the press:

"Former intimate friend of Derek Draper, James MacIntyre, the New Statesman's wayward political editor, got his fingers well and truly burnt in a smear straight out of the MacBride/Draper play-book. Macintyre has been moaning about the apparent easy ride the Tories are getting in the press. It seems he likes to hold them to extreme accounts, regardless of the truth. It took Guido days to trawl around for the last edition of the New Statesman but he finally managed to snatch one from a passed-out tramp. Hidden away in it was this apology:"

Apparently, labeling the Conservatives as 'racists' proved very expensive indeed and led to a substantial out of court settlement which once again illustrates the dangers of becoming quite carried away with one's politics at the expense of simple common sense.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Resident Blogger

Having received my copy of 'The Record' this afternoon, the newsletter of the Westgate & Westbrook Residents Association, which I support and of course includes my own ward, I thought I would pop-along and visit their newly advertised 'Blog site'.

Quite frankly, I was a little worried by what I discovered, two gambling sites being promoted on its front page. From a professional perspective, I regard such embedded code as a potential security risk to one's own PC and I can't for the life of me think why the residents association thinks this might be a good idea, with so many free and popular engines, such as Blogger and Wordpress available. I recommend taking it down straight away and starting afresh!

Secondly, I'm equally surprised by the 'Chairman's Report.' Once you have a councillor chairing a residents association there is a danger of a 'political' bias appearing, in much the same way as my own weblog perhaps but to suggest that "Thanet Council has a policy of excluding Westgate from the 'Shop Local' scheme" is quite incorrect. Cllr King was present when he, I and Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel discussed it.

Shop Local is a modestly budgeted pilot initiative, supported by traders, that has been rolled out to the main high streets in Thanet where parking restrictions and charges apply. If it proves successful, which looks to be the case, we were told it will be expanded across the island. Westgate, thankfully, does not have parking charges and wasn't included in the pilot.

Like Cllr King, I have also been corresponding with the banks in regards to placing another ATM in Westgate but without success. The simple reason is that it's a commercial decision for the banks and nothing whatsoever to do with the council, although both Roger Gale our MP and Roger Latchford, the Deputy Leader of the council have made attempts to convince the banks otherwise.

Simply stated, the financial institutions do not regard Westgate, small as it is, as being financially viable for a second cashpoint and remind me that there are two ATM machines at the Marks & Spencer drive-in at Garlinge and several in Birchington. This doesn't help the elderly and those without transport at all but Somefields help by offering a 'cash-back' service and withdrawals are possible for those people with Post Office banking accounts. It's not the news that people want to hear but I'm sure readers will understand that if governments struggle to prevail over the banking system, Westgate councillors have a somewhat harder challenge in making them listen to our own community needs.

Finally the council's 'Shared Services' project which seeks to save £6 million of your money over the next five years is a little more complex than it is both presented and dismissed in three paragraphs of the WWRA Chairman's report. I would take a very different view of the project in the light of a £168 billion public sector deficit; I suspect that local people would be very pleased to find ways of saving what little money we have and improving services through working with our neighbouring authorities to eliminate duplication. Let's take Human Resources or even ICT as an example. By centralizing and sharing these processes large amounts of money may well be saved and that's the goal of shared services and its written, strangely enough, into the heart of this Government's own public sector strategy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time to Spare – Go By Air

Last week, I had to go through the torment of my annual multi-engine renewal, which is rather like having to take your driving test each year but with the added bonus of the examiner turning-off one of the engines at a critical time in the flight. Of course, with the tragic events that took place in Russia yesterday, my thoughts are with the Polish people and it gets me thinking about what on earth might have happened, without trying to pre-judge the conclusions air accident investigation which will take place.

From what I can discover, 'Smolensk military' has no precision landing aids and was sufficiently blanketed in fog for an earlier transport aircraft attempting to land, to divert to Minsk. While Poland is in Europe and is an ICAO/EASA signatory, when it comes to our rigid civil air-safety standards, what we appear to have in this incident is a refurbished Presidential Tupolev which is rather less than 'State-of-the art' and an experienced Polish Air Force crew under pressure to reach Smolensk in time for an important remembrance ceremony of great historical significance.

What surprises me, is that the pilot reportedly tried three failed approaches and collided with trees a mile from the runway on the fourth. Normally, you would not expect the aircraft to descent below 1000 feet unless the runway visibility was equal to or exceeded the published minimum and in the case of a non-precision approach the aircraft, would not descend below a published Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) unless the required visual reference was first obtained. If an aircraft collides with the tree-tops then it's clearly descended below its minimums for one reason or another, (pilot error or engine failure being the most common) and in more modern aircraft with 'glass cockpits' you set this as a reference altitude on the primary flight display (PFD) and that's when you hear the computerized voice call 'Minimums' when you reach it. There's a good example of this in the embedded video of a precision approach in an A320.

Without all this, the pilot and co-pilot are reduced to using a stopwatch from the start of the descent from a known approach fix or distance from the airfield, this being a 'sweaty' experience in the extreme in poor visibility, not as accurate as one would like but safe, as long as the aircraft remains at or above the platform height or MDA until the pilot either sees the runway or reaches the Missed Approach Point in a calculated number of minutes and seconds.

With the flight recorders quickly recovered, we may discover what took place rather quickly but I'm not encouraged by reports of the Russian security police confiscating any camera footage of the tragedy from waiting journalists.

The old adage that there are 'Old Pilots and bold pilots but no old, bold pilots', still rings true but the this month I discovered that one veteran aviator I know, used to fly for 'Air America', which in some ways proves it wrong. Now he has some really interesting stories to tell!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Turning Blue on Twitter

I hear that since my last post, Dr Ladyman has been re-discovered in Ramsgate today, quite possibly forsaking the Tardis for the more reliable high speed train service from London. That's the only problem with time travel; you can't be sure which General Election you might find yourself fighting when the door opens!

I've been out flying today, doing some aerial surveys and while I've been airborne, I read that 'Twitter' has been turning blue; not the political blue or even John Prescott's rants but once again, a Labour man going completely over-the-top in grossly insulting the opposition. Nothing new there you might say!

This time it's Stuart Maclennan, Labour's candidate for Moray. Ian Dale reports that "In a series of foul mouthed tweets he insults virtually every politician you've ever heard of and even has a go at his constituents." The Scottish Sun has the full story, but here's an extract...

In the foul-mouthed Twitter postings, he branded House of Commons speaker John Bercow a "t**", Tory chief David Cameron a "t***" and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg "a b******".

And he also posted an outburst about veteran Labour MP Diane Abbot, describing her as "a f****** idiot".

In one post the 24-year-old complained of being in a pub full of "depressed teuchters" then poked fun at elderly voters by branding them "bloody coffin dodgers".

Maclennan claimed: "Johnnie Walker Red Label is so awful they can't sell it in Scotland." MacLennan also hurled a volley of insults at Commons speaker Mr Bercow during his outbursts. One Tweet branded him "an opportunist little t***" and another claimed the Tory is "detested".

He also attacked the Lib Dem leader, saying Nick Clegg can "f*** right off if he things he's in the same league as Brown and Cameron".

Apparently the ranting MacLennan a policy researcher, a Shadow Scottish Cabinet adviser and head of Young Labour in Scotland, is carrying on in the finest tradition of Derek Draper and Damian McBride, Gordon Brown's Strategy Chief in Downing Street. It only serves to underline the urgent need for a political change, when the Party of Government seems so short of 'fine words' 'a few good men' and is so richly colourful in abuse and well endowed with distressed Parliamentarians and former Ministers for hire!

We Seek Him Here – We Seek Him There

With the General Election now running at fever pitch, my sources in South Thanet have taken to reciting:

"We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

Is he in heaven? — Is he in hell?

That damned, elusive Pimpernel."

Of course, it's not the famous character from Baroness Orczy's Tale of the French Revolution they are seeking but rather our own missing 'Dr Who', Labour's very own Dr Ladyman, who is reportedly trapped in another dimension, on account of either being captured by the political Daleks or his Tardis having broken down somewhere between Westminster and Ramsgate. The Conservative volunteers don't believe it's fair that they should be doing all the campaigning on their own and without any real opposition to speak of.

Should anyone see our missing Member of Parliament for Thanet South, I would ask them to gently return him to his local constituency office before May 6th and collect a small reward. It may well be that like Dr Who, he has gone through some form of character transformation and may indeed believe he is now a Liberal Democrat but there's still time for him to make his presence felt, that 'That damned, elusive Pimpernel.'

Thursday, April 08, 2010

On the Buses

I started wearing out my trainers, a little earlier, delivering election leaflets around Westgate. I don't think I'm allowed to say which Party or candidate I'm delivering them for because we are now officially in pre-election 'Purdah' but I would like to thank everyone else who is involved in doing the same, across all the wards in Thanet. It's a pretty daunting task when you are given several bags full of leaflets and a local map with the street plan inked-out in yellow highlighter.

It never ceases to amaze me how many of the large family houses from my own youth are now divided in multiple flats, from the attic, all the way down to the basement. This is a problem that needs real attention under any new government because in the rush by property speculators and landlords to turn any large building into homes of multiple occupation, Cliftonville, being a prime example, the housing stock for families simply disappeared, leaving a chronic national shortage of affordable housing in its wake.

A little earlier, I walked to Margate with my small dog to enjoy the spring sunshine; it's a remarkable day. There and back I counted a new 'Pit Bull' record of nine for the round trip, although one man had three, that he was busily training to attack a rather deflated football in the rough ground adjacent to Westbrook car park. Call me timid if you like but I picked-up my own dog to walk past this small pack of excited dogs and in my view, three of these animals off the lead, is nothing short of an offensive weapon. I needed my walking stick on Westbrook beach to vigorously fend-off another dog that sprinted, quite out of control, after my own, which once again sought refuge in my arms.

I've nothing sinister against any properly trained and controlled dog but you've seen me write about this kind of thing before and I worry, not just about other dogs being pursued or attacked but the potential risk to small children, as the summer approaches. In a very short period of time, we appear to have seen our local canine 'demographic' change from the customary middle-aged dog walkers with Labradors and Yorkshire Terriers, to a growing number of young men, out during working hours, with poorly controlled, randomly defecating and potentially aggressive Bull Terrier crossbreeds.

Government really needs to get a grip on this problem and I really don't care which Government it might be because it broadly reflects the 'Broken Britain' debate when an encounter with potentially dangerous dogs under the control of irresponsible owners starts to be a normal consequence of a morning walk along the seafront.

Yesterday, there was a meeting of the Westgate Residents Association at the community centre to discuss the problem of Sunday bus services. It was chaired by Cllr Tom King and both Sandy Ezekiel and I attended along with Mr Easton of Eastonways transport. It was a two hour meeting which also attracted residents from as far afield as Dane Valley and involved listening to residents' concerns and explaining how the concessionary fare system, operated by the county council.

To cut a long story short, we all recognize the importance of delivering public transport to all parts of the community and in particular, the elderly, who can find themselves quite isolated without it. Between all of us who were there, we hope to find some kind of solution that satisfies the criterion that every bus service has to be profitable in its own right and can't be legally subsidised by other routes. In this deep economic recession, that's a big challenge but it was important for everyone to have their say on the subject and think about a way forward that joins up all the communities in Thanet in a workable business proposition to the bus companies.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Britain’s Big Decision

The worst kept secret in our political history is now public and as we all guessed, the General Election will be on May 6th. As David Cameron said this morning, 'It's the most important political decision for a generation' and those of us who never voted for Gordon Brown in the first place, will now be able to decide whether we wish to keep him at 10 Downing Street, until he finals falls victim to the inevitable coup from the unreformed 'Blairites' who can't wait to see the back of him, together with a high proportion of the adult population.

Gordon Brown finished his speech outside N010 this morning by saying 'Let's get to it'... As Ian Dale points out:

"'Let's get to it' or was it 'Let's go to it'? - Line from 'Pat Garratt and Billy the Kid' when the fat loser knows he has to go out and be shot by the Kid. Hardly an auspicious start."

Of course, Gordon won't leave without a struggle and I'll be out and about in Westgate in the weeks ahead delivering leaflets and testing local opinion alongside Thanet North MP, Roger Gale and Cllr Brian Goodwin. As this happens during the day, I may not catch as many Westgate residents at home as I would like to or indeed knock at every door but in-between earning a living, I will get around as many homes as I can. Should any reader feel strongly enough about the potential election result to volunteer some of his or her time, delivering a few leaflets locally, please do send me an email, as every bit of help is welcome with so little time available before May 6th.

From what I've heard already I suspect that with Thanet South to lose, as a key marginal constituency, Labour will use every and any means to try and maintain its small majority. Last time around the UKIP vote was a decisive factor in handing Thanet South to Labour and its worth remembering that a vote for the smaller parties is essentially a vote for Gordon Brown and a further term in power for Labour.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Flipside of Dominick Hide

I don't know about you but I remember the 1980's with some affection. Once Margaret Thatcher has asserted her authority over the Trade Unions, I  recall a dramatic change in Britain. After the misery of the 1970's when we we in danger of becoming one more class-obsessed Soviet satellite state, dominated by industrial unrest, the country quickly became proud of itself again and colour and credit appeared in our shops and on our streets.

While like any decade, it was not without its problems it wasn't such a bad time. Jobs, good music a sense of identity and the light touch regulation that allowed me and many others to set-up their own businesses and buy property without suffocating in government red-tape. If I had a time machine, I might gladly return as might many others, now facing the unhappy consequences of ten years of New Labour's boom and bust machine.

By lampooning  David Cameron as an 'Eighties icon' the Government may have delivered a gift to the Conservative Party and conjured-up the very opposite of what they intended, a little nostalgia for a time of  almost  limitless opportunity and new possibilities for many of us who lived through it and were prepared to dream hard and work even harder!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

It’s Falling or Even Rising

Like most other people, I really don't know what to believe anymore when Gordon Brown grandly delivers a volley of statistics to support some government project or another.

Yesterday, I listened with interest to his speech on new immigration measures but already, there are complaints that if he wasn't simply being economical with the truth, the figures were downright fiddled to show a brighter picture than the one that actually exists. The Spectator magazine describes this and other statistics of convenience, like this:

THE BROWNIE: "Some people talk as if net inward migration is rising. In fact, it is falling – down from 237,000 in 2007, to 163,000 in 2008, to provisional figures of 147,000 last year" (Downing Street website, 26 March 2010).

THE TRICK: He used two different sets of statistics that should not be directly compared without caveats. For 2007 and 2008 he used Long-Term International Migration estimates. These include data from the International Passenger Survey, the Irish border (separate until recently), incoming asylum seekers and migrants who arrive on short-term visas but stay longer, or vice versa. For 2009, he only used the Provisional International Passenger Survey estimates. These do not include asylum seekers or people who overstay their initial visa. Unsurprisingly, this gives a smaller figure.

So for those unhappy residents of Norfolk and Suffolk discovering homeless migrants living in their potting sheds or in lean-to's at the bottom of their gardens, the good news is that these are in fact passing faeries who will, in due course, be subject to a skills-related points test before being offered permanent garden residency, unless of course they happen to be European little-folk, in which case, all bets are off.

A silly analogy I know but regardless of what our leaders appear to think, people are increasingly less-prepared to be fobbed-off by statistics in which they have increasingly little faith, given our Government's poor track record of accuracy in such matters. It's only natural that people will migrate to where the opportunity is greatest, which is why so many people from this country are now seeking to emigrate to Australia and why millions left Europe for the United States in the last century. Given the expansion of the European Union, we have, to all intents and purposes, lost any real control over our borders and now, even selling the 'Big Issue' is seen as an employment opportunity for people seeking work from the farthest fringes of Europe.

Many years ago, I left Thanet, where I was a teacher and went to work in Saudi Arabia, a decision which gave me the opportunities that altered the course of my own life. I have every sympathy for people who make similar decisions in an increasingly restricted and recessed world. However, Government really has to try and properly understand and tackle the many complex and inter-related problems that surround the immigration debate and why indeed, so many people, as expressed in the BBC Newsnight interview with people in Thanet, are upset by the progress made to date.