Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Both For and Against Together

Reading the letters page in the YourThanet free newspaper today I'm a little confused by the Labour group's position on the Dalby Square planning application. I also despair at the rather  unimaginative political rhetoric I see coming from Cllrs Hart and Poole in their attacks on Cllr Chris Wells, the Conservative cabinet member for housing.

Chris has sent in his own letter of response to the newspaper in an attempt to clarify the issue but for those of you who don't receive it, here it is a little early:

"I am grateful for the recent letters from the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Thanet Labour Group making clear their group's position on social housing and green spaces.

To summarise: for green space and against social housing (scrutiny panel); against green space, and for social housing (planning committee); for green space and for social housing, but against taking up the £1.7milion grant to make it happen (cabinet).

Phew, I'm glad that's all out in the open then, I was really worried people might find the Labour group position a little confusing."

On a completely separate note, I walked into a business friend's office this morning and he had on his desk several hundred pounds worth of cheques from a company called uclaim4me.

"It's all to do with overcharging on credit cards and payment protection insurance on loans" he said. "I simply filled in the online form and they did they did the rest on my behalf and sent me these cheques."

I would normally take such financial advice with a large pinch of salt but the cheques on his desk were evidence enough for me to go and have a good look. I wonder if anyone else has been so succesful in recovering money from the banks and credit card companies?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two Views

Two contrasting views of Westbrook this afternoon taken with my iPhone. The first is the paddle steamer, Waverley, sailing majestically past towards Birchington on a glass-like sea and the second, a burned-out Mercedes in the very spot, near the Barnes Avenue car park, that is being set aside as a nature reserve of sorts. The latter must have happened in the last 24 hours as the wreck is still warm. Rather depressing to say the least and I have called my colleague Cllr Martin Wise, to see if the council can have the wreck, which must also be a crime-scene, removed as quickly as possible.

This weekend, we have the annual, 'Big Sky' kite flying festival on Margate beach. I have been asked if I can trawl a banner, advertising the event between Birchington and Broadstairs at Midday on Saturday, so I'm hoping the weather is kind to both kites and banners. Invariably what is good for the former is a problem for the latter but if you get any good photos of either please feel free to send them along.

I did watch the Miliband speech earlier. Somewhat dull and full of socialist cliches I thought but then I would say that I suppose! It did make me rather wonder what Labour were doing for the last decade or so, to promise so much 'fairness' for the future. Total Politics reports that delegates and party members seem satisfied that it was a good 'first speech'. But you can't help but wonder how different it would have been for his older brother. Are people more gracious to the younger Miliband? Will he have the time and space to grow into the role, in a concession that would not have been afforded to his brother? We will never know.

I have my own theory that David Miliband may have actually won the leadership ballot but lost to those members of the Party, who couldn't tell the difference between the brothers and ticked the wrong box. David alluded to it in his speech yesterday, telling of people coming-up to congratulate him on his victory.  If you think about it, a near 1% margin of victory is almost within statistical probability or put another way, rather more than 1% of the voting population, I suspect are likely to have problems reading the instructions on any ballot paper without a little help!

My thanks to my friend Richard Holway, of reminding me of the classic Blackadder quote: "Death to all geography masters..."We will fight this by-election on policies not personalities...because our candidate doesn't have a personality"

Saturday, September 25, 2010

And the Winner is?

I must confess I'm delighted for the Labour Party this afternoon with the news, moments ago, that Ed Miliband, the Trades Unions choice, is the new leader of the party.

It may not have been lost on some observers that all the candidates were Oxbridge educated, which speaks volumes about our top universities at a time when these are struggling against government interference in what was once regarded as the finest education system in the world.

Labour then, has retreated, through the choice of its new leader, to a party once again  heavily influenced by the trades unions at a challenging and difficult time in our history. I was struck by Harriet Harman, in her farewell speech, refusing to take one iota of responsibility for the £160 billion mess in which her Government left us and for which, collectively, we are all about to pay.

At this period in time, it's easy to be in opposition, both nationally and locally, because you don't have to take the tough decisions or indeed, even clearly state what measures you might adopt to deal with a chronic financial challenge to generous public services and subsidies that the nation can no longer afford. In a few weeks, the coalition government's detailed measures to reduce the national debt. will be announced for all to see and without a doubt, it's going to hurt and that pain will be felt across all sections of society, equally and unequally, from any government regardless of party.

On a personal note, I have always believed that David Miliband was Labour's best bet for the future, lucid, telegenic and very smart, he would have made Prime Minister's Questions an interesting intellectual contest between two well-matched politicians. Brother Ed, the union man, I'm not so sure about. Smart, without a doubt but equipped to deal with Britain's manifest problems on a very public platform, I'm not so sure.

Red Ed, a good result for the Conservative and Liberal parties without a shadow of a doubt.

Finally, to remind us that the true spirit of international socialism is alive and well in the party, the 'Prince of Darkness', Peter Mandelson is still being paid £8,000-a-month by EU two years after quitting Brussels - The peer, who quit as European trade commissioner in 2008 to return to the Cabinet, has a 'transitional allowance' of £103,465-a-year funded by the taxpayer. Who says you can't take it with you?

Friday, September 24, 2010

One More Labour Quango Bites the Political Dust

I picked-up on the Guido Fawkes website today the "Great news that the backhanded theft of millions of pounds of taxpayers money by the Labour Party, also known as the Union Modernisation Fund, has been scrapped."

For those readers who didn't know how this worked, the illustration opposite explains the rather convoluted process of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

With Ed Milliband now the odds-on favourite to beat his more telegenic brother David (I'm going to lose that £5.00 bet) to become the next leader of the Labour party, Baldric, aka died-in-the-wool socialist, Tony Robinson, is going to have to come up with a truly cunning plan to replenish the Party's empty coffers, now this particular avenue of funding has been closed.

While none of the main political parties have unblemished records when it comes to raising large sums of money, I really do think that funding the Labour Party at the taxpayers expense through this particular 'Quango', now to be axed with may others, is an affront to our rather tatty-looking democracy.

However, it's reported that the biggest cost to the taxpayer still remains paid staff time spent working for the unions by public sector employees. That is time spent away from delivering public services and representing a union instead. Paid staff time is estimated to have cost £67.5m last year.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Turner Contemporary Takes Shape

Another aerial photo to share with you today, this time it's the Turner Contemporary 'shot' on the way back from the Thanet wind farm yesterday.
You can see how the whole structure is steadily coming together now with under a year left until its opening. (click on the photo to zoom it up)

Cabinet meeting this evening. Dalby Square, Selective Licensing in Cliftonville, East Kent Shared Services and more on the agenda on the desk in front of me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Offshore Wind in Thanet

With the giant Thanet offshore wind farm opposite Ramsgate having its 'grand' opening tomorrow, I was out there this morning taking photographs and very 'grand' and large it is too as you can see from the photo of one hundred windmills turning in the breeze!

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Essex Mirage

Unusual atmospherics this afternoon, as for the first time in my living memory at least, one can just about make out the Essex coast from the promenade at Westgate.

Even more curiously, while readers may easily see the windfarms opposite Whitstable and North Foreland, unless you happen to be a pilot, you wouldn't necessarily know there's another large windfarm just south of Clacton, over 25 nautical miles away.

With the curvature of the earth at 11 miles, the Essex coast and the Clacton windfarm should be quite invisible to the naked eye but I can just about make out a fuzzy line of white objects exactly where the Essex array should be.

Clearly it's something to do with the temperature of the air and the sea forming a lens but having lived here since I was a boy, I've never observed anything quite like it.

NB: A superior mirage occurs when the air below the line of sight is colder than that above. This is called a temperature inversion, since it does not represent the normal temperature gradient of the atmosphere. In this case the light rays are bent down and so the image appears above the true object, hence the name superior

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The End of the Compensation Culture?

It's reported this morning that the so-called 'compensation culture' is to be swept away by new reforms, proposed by Lord Young. Very importantly, people performing first aid or other "good samaritan" acts should no longer be able to be sued in personal injury cases, according to the peer.

Lord Young will also recommend that emergency service workers, including police and ambulance staff, should be exempt from lawsuits for breaching health and safety rules where they are risking their own safety to assist others or to stop crime.

In the last five years, the NHS alone has spent £8billion on compensation.

Teachers are set to be spared the burden of filling in reams of paperwork, including "risk assessments" before they can take pupils on trips while injuries suffered by pupils either on trips or playing games should no longer be able to spark lawsuits - unless there is clear evidence of "reckless disregard".

Firework displays, street parties and concerts should no longer be able to be banned unilaterally by councils. Organisers are likely to get the right to challenge any decision - with an independent ombudsman ruling on contentious cases.

Lawyers who offer "no win, no fee agreements" face a crackdown - including a ban on them recovering costly "success fees" from defendants while judges are likely to be given discretion to cap costs that claimants can recover in personal injury cases.

While, as a councillor, I worry about the control of fireworks parties from a purely anti-social perspective, as I find that alcohol and explosives rarely mix well unless sensible precautions are observed. I welcome a common sense approach to the many other problems that our obsessive health and safety culture has delivered and in particular the introduction of a 'Good Samaritan' rule which exists in the that most litigious of all countries, the United States and not here. In recent years, we've seen the aberration of people dying needlessly  because the emergency services stood-by because they weren't allowed to use their personal judgement to save life when circumstances demanded a personal judgement call.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Quick Flick

Flicking through your weekly, fun-packed, Thanet Gazette this morning, I was somewhat bemused to discover that very little if nearly nothing, of what council leader, Bob Bayford and I told this week's Westgate & Westbrook Residents Association meeting, was actually reported.

The future of Hartsdown park and that of the seafront land adjoining Barnes avenue in Westbrook were both dealt with and more besides but not a whisper on the subject from the newspaper on this or even my taking one of their journalists flying over the weekend to illustrate the facts about Manston's flight path in contradiction of the earlier front-page story on the subject.

Once again, I read in the newspaper's 'Letters page' – the regular anti-Tory, anti-Gale, diatribe from Mr Muir of Westgate, having a week off – that the council is wasting people's money building a Turner Centre, when the cash should go to regenerating Margate High Street or some other good local cause. This myth is perpetuated by the paper which knows full-well what the facts are.

It's fast reaching the point where to find out what's really going on behind the scenes here in Thanet, you have to read some of the local weblogs, which says a great deal about the decline in the quality of local journalism and the growing influence of the internet.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Champagne Socialists Abandon Those in Housing Need

My own guest 'Blogger' today, is my cabinet colleague, Cllr Chris Wells, who published the opinion piece shown below in the 'Your Thanet' newspaper this morning. The opinions surrounding the proposed development in Cliftonville's Dalby Square are highly polarized and I must congratulate Thanet's Labour group on their vigourous and I believe, quite disingenuous 'disinformation' campaign. As Chris is the cabinet member holding the housing portfolio, you might wish to read what he has to say.

Chris Wells writes:

Political watchers in Thanet could be forgiven for rubbing their eyes and wondering if they were experiencing an upside down world of dreams this week.  The Conservative administration at Thanet District Council put forward plans to build new, affordable, family homes, to help house more comfortably some of the 5,000 or so people on the housing waiting list for the area; and the local Labour party protested and campaigned against new social housing.

So, is this the same Labour Party:

  1. Which wanted larger and fewer flats in Cliftonville?  Yes – but here they campaign against the provision of new affordable family homes, and only want flats!
  2. Who opposes shared service housing as 'the beginning of privatisation of council housing?'    Yes – but here they oppose a nationally recognised and registered social landlord, cynically describing them as developers rather than the affordable housing provider they are!
  3. Which backed their former government's stance to build on green belt land to provide necessary social housing?  Yes – but here a brown field site, formerly housing, is hailed as 'peerless' green space!
  4. Who nationally has repeatedly supported the ability to gift land to Registered Social Landlords to make social housing more affordable?  Yes – but here local Labour attempt tarnish of this commonly used policy as unusual.
  5. Whose local Leader and Deputy Leader live in the leafy avenues of Cliftonville East and Broadstairs?  Yes – and perhaps there's the clue as to how far these champagne socialists have moved from understanding the needs of those on the housing waiting list and in particular families desperate need for better housing.  Instead they offer Daily Mail like attitudes, chanting not in my back yard at every opportunity.
 Come next May, I suggest you remember things like this.  If you want self righteous indignation, self serving headlines, and labyrinthine twists of policy to suit the moment, you should vote Labour. 

If you want someone to get on with the job of improving people's lives, best vote Conservative.

As a famous meerkat might once have summarised:  'Simples'.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

First Light on the BBC

The BBC are telling the story of Spitfire pilot Geoffrey Wellum tonight at 9:25pm in 'First Light' the name of his book.

I wrote about him in a blog entry in 1997 here and as he was based at RAF Manston you might want to watch it!

Cuba Libre

Being particularly fond of Cuba, Hemingway et al, I picked up on Guido Fawkes today that Cuba has announced that it will slash at least half-a-million state workers by early next year and reduce restrictions on free enterprise to help them find new jobs – Cuba's official work force is 5.1 million – meaning nearly 10% of all employees could soon be out of a government job. Which makes Chancellor, George Osborne's deficit reduction plans less radical than Castro's plans. The country's healthcare system is being reorganised as well. There is no money left and that's without any help from Gordon Brown either!

According to a statement from the Communist Party controlled Cuban Workers Federation – the only legal union in Cuba – this is "in support of Socialism" and will "make the Cuban production model more efficient." There is nothing progressive about a budget deficit…

Watching the RMT's Bob Crowe on the BBC's Andrew Marr show on Sunday, I was struck by how the political rhetoric of the Trades Union movement omits thirteen years of mismanagement by the last Labour government and focuses on 'Banker Bashing' as the source of all our problems. To be sure, a greater part of the responsibility for the global financial crisis lies at the feet of the financial institutions but a significant proportion of the responsibility lies with leaders, such as Gordon Brown, in allowing unrestrained 'Carpet-bagging' by the banks.

In the simplistic language of the demagogue represented by Mr. Crowe, the solution is to tax the banks until they bleed and deny the harsher reality of the new globalism, as described in the 'New Barbarian Manifesto' , written before the crisis, by Professor Ian Angell at the London School of Economics.

The broader problem that the Trade Union movement has yet to recognize involves not only immigration but automation as well. If you think of a pyramid, with the highly paid and highly specialized jobs in the economy at the apex and trades and skilled-jobs at the base, the greater part is taken up with public sector and service/manufacturing economy jobs. The latter are being steadily outsourced to cheaper locations, such as the Philippines for my BT customer service centre and the former has been used over the last fifteen years to conceal the loss of many thousands of jobs in the private sector, in banks, call centres, factories and elsewhere.

Once you realize this, then you also see that the skilled jobs two thirds of the way up the pyramid, for example computer programmers and software engineers are steadily being automated out of existence by increasingly advanced systems. This then leaves people I know either to try and 'Skill-up' even further in a competitive market to survive or look towards taking up a niche 'trade' at the bottom of the pyramid.

The really bad news facing our economy however is that both the apex and the base require a certain critical mass of everyday service, public sector and manufacturing jobs in combination to keep the economy rolling and healthy. Instead, what has happened over time is that this has tipped dramatically towards the public sector, much like a ship taking on water and the economy that powers the pumps, can't operate fast enough to keep her from the threat of capsizing, which has of course happened in Greece.

The BBC's Robert Peston, reporting from Liverpool today, said "The city has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance over the last fifteen years with employment up by 40%" He added however, that "While public sector jobs accounted for most of that 40% there was a simultaneous decline in manufacturing and private sector jobs by 40%, which means that Liverpool will be particularly hard hit by cuts in the public sector budget."

So all the dramatic, posturing, huffing and puffing by Mr. Crowe, the TUC and Harriet Harman avoids the reality that a huge public sector has to be paid for by a healthy, growing economy which can afford it. The UK largely floats on the income from the City of London and as much as we resent wealthy bankers taking huge bonuses, we simply can't afford to drive them out; in much the same way as King Richard I parked them on the Goodwin Sands and left them to the incoming tide in the 12th century.

Losing the election allowed Labour to escape without offering any real solutions to escape the consequences of their administration. The coalition government is forced to make decisions that it hopes will achieve a result but it can't be certain that the medicine will work as planned. For the rest of us, the real pain is yet to come and industrial action will only return us to the anarchy and misery of the seventies and early eighties with absolutely nothing achieved but prolonged agony for the UK economy.

Sandys and Gale Support Minister on Childrens’ Placements in Thanet

I'm encouraged to hear that Laura Sandys, MP for South Thanet, has met with Tim Loughton, Minister for Children and Young Families, to discuss the placement of looked after children in Thanet by other local authorities and has learned that regulations restricting out-of-area placement will come into force in April 2011

Laura says: "I was extremely encouraged by the education department's commitment to ensure that London authorities, in particular, stop sending their looked after children to Thanet. We will be taking steps to compel these authorities to make adequate provision in their own locality for those children rather than locate them in Thanet."

And North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale, adds:, "Across Thanet, the impact of out of area looked after children has, for far too many years, been considerable placing a huge burden on local education, health, and policing services. I very much hope that from April next year we will see a dramatic reduction in young people being "dumped" in Thanet so far from their extended families, friends and schools. As a result of the incoming guidelines, I believe that we will see a significant benefit quite quickly in the area."

This is particularly relevant at this time as several residents have raised concerns about proposals for a new children's home in Ramsgate that might well attract children from out of the area. On behalf of local people, Laura will be relaying to the children's home company and to KCC the Coalition Government's strong position on halting out of area placements.

Laura added: "It is not acceptable to place more vulnerable young people in Thanet from out of the area and we are determined to ensure that this proposal will not be successful. I raised this particular local case with the Minister and he was adamant that this sort of practice must be stopped. We will be writing to the company to ensure that they are very clear about the new regulations that will stop them taking children from London and placing them in the heart of Ramsgate."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Only 16th Place

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I was both moved and delighted to read in today's Thanet Gazumph, that I had been awarded 16th place in the 'UK's Worst Political Weblogs'; an award I knew nothing about in a category I didn't even know I was qualified for inclusion. I'm a little disappointed that the editor of the political website responsible for the accolade, couldn't be bothered to send an email congratulating me on the award; perhaps with an accompanying logo to proudly display on my own website for me to feel smug about and for others to admire!

As a literary distinction, it is of course on a par with Tony Blair's 'Journey'; now filling a somewhat lonely space on the shelves at Waterstones in Westwood Cross. I would like to commend 'Smudger' for the hours of diligent detective work that led to the chance discovery of a mention for 'ThanetLife' on a rather obscure blog-site, 'Sociology with a Militant Twist', that lies several political miles to left of Karl Marx. However, it's more likely that 'Smudger', who visibly struggles with the internet, had a little help, as did my nomination, from someone who shares her interest in political ranking.

Although I have problems spelling 'Soicology' I see I'm on top of Conservative MP, Nadine Dorries, which isn't such a bad position to find myself in. Overall winner of the award for the Worst Political Weblog, was the very popular 'Guido Fawkes', described  by the awards panel as: a "stinking turd of a blog" and which appears to share the same distinction as everyone else on the awards list. Curiously, several appear to be vaguely Conservative or Liberal-leaning (and I include Alastair Campbell) with the party's 'top-blogger' Ian Dale of Total Politics, in at No:3.

The distinguished 'Top Twenty' is as follows:

20) Tax Research UK

19) Boatang and Demetriou

18) Old Holborn

17) Bloggerheads

16) Thanet Life

15) Nadine Dorries

14) Shiraz Socialist

13) James Delingpole

12) A particularly litigious blogger I refuse to link to.

11) Tory Bear

10) Liberal Conspiracy

9) Socialist Unity

8) Dizzy Thinks

7) Lenin's Tomb

6) Alastair Campbell

5) Obnoxio the Clown

4) Tim Worstall

3) Iain Dale's Diary

2) Harry's Place

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sunday Politics

I see that Sky news will be hosting the opposition leaders' debate today. It's been two General Elections now, since I predicted here, that the Labour Party was simply waiting for David Milliband to mature and follow-on from 'The Man' Tony Blair and I may yet be proved right. I really don't believe from the evidence of the Brown disaster, that Britain is a nation temperamentally suited to the left of politics any longer and Milliband senior reflects the natural conservatism of the New Labour project. We'll see!

Personally, I quite like Diane Abbot and her common sense. If she could team up with Michael Portillo it would be a perfect combination.

Tony Flaig's Big News Margate takes a look at the 'Facts about Dalby Square' and draws an interesting conclusion: 'A Conservative administration is trying to increase affordable social housing and the Labour group have somehow manoeuvred themselves into a position where they're opposed housing.'

As you might expect, there's a great deal of disinformation flying around but let's remember that we have a chronic shortage of social housing here in Thanet and for me, as a councillor, it represents a regular part of my caseload. I'm in favour of retaining green space but I'm equally supportive of providing homes to families who desperately need them. I'm really quite surprised at the opposition that this is attracting from Cllr Hart, because as Tony Flaig quite correctly points out, it's the Conservatives who appear to be looking at the greater good when balancing the small green space (100 yards or so from the seafront) against the need for good social housing in an area which is crying out for such. I'm sure readers will however reach their own conclusions.

On Monday week, (13th September) there a Westgate & Westbrook Residents Association meeting and Council-leader Bob Bayford and I will both be attending.