Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End of 11 - Beginning of 12

With everyone else ready to write predictions for 2012, I thought I would tear myself away from the X-Box and a very good glass of red wine to write down my own thoughts, as well as wishing both my readers a very Happy New Year.

I can't start this New Year's Eve blog without congratulating our Thanet North MP, Roger Gale, on being made a knight in the honours list. It's richly deserved, given his years of service to North Thanet as an excellent constituency MP and we will now have to become used to knowing him as 'Sir Roger.'

Thanet finished the old year with another beached whale, this time in Birchington and on this occasion, no blogger's hurt feelings were involved with any typing errors, although I did notice from the front page of the Thanet Gazette that Cllr Alan Poole now owns an iPad, which already appears to be playing its part as a weapon of mass destruction. It's an encouraging sign to see the technology used. I still find the iPad does things I don't expect and big fingers can deliver the unexpected.

There's never any shortage of  imaginative predictions across Thanet's blogs on New Year's Eve and this time, there appears to be some speculation on the blogs about a change of leadership in the Conservative Group but we can dismiss that straight-away as Bob Bayford remains the best man for the unenviable job of what is now 'Shadow Leader.' It's quite possible that the Council may change hands again this year but then, with no overall majority on either side, that's hardly a prediction worthy of Nostradamus!

While there's gossip, that one councillor may yet be seen around town, wearing a cape and his underpants over his trousers, which may make the ward work appear a little more interesting, there's no doubt that the Labour Group are going to find running an administration a great deal harder than being in opposition and I very much look forward to the lively debates to come.

The future of Dreamland remains an important issue to be resolved and the Conservative administration started the CPO process earlier in 2011 and this, with luck, will roll to a successful conclusion in 2012. Its been a long struggle but I remain optimistic that the rides and the crowds will back on the Dreamland site soon enough to give a further and much-needed nudge to Margate's regeneration, already being pushed-along nicely by the 'Turner Effect.'

I think there are too few bloggers left to drop out now although we may see a few more starting-up in 2012 but likely falling by the wayside, as most do.

In 2011, a tidal wave caused death and devastation in Japan and we waved farewell to Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchins and Kim Il Sung among others. in 2012 Iran's nuclear ambition remains a problem that won't go away and lest we forget, we are fighting a war, many thousands of miles away that we cannot possibly win, only exit with honour.

With that final thought, I would like to end 2011 and start 2012 by paying tribute to all the servicemen and women in Afghanistan who couldn't be home to celebrate the New Year

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Running Short of Wonga?

Only a week to go before the first cabinet meeting of 2012 and I'm reading through the council papers, as thick as my thumb, to help fill the seeming eternity between now and New Year.

Don't mistake me, I enjoy the Christmas holiday like anyone else but it feels longer with each passing year and already, I have had several unsolicited text messages offering to get me out of debt. On television, the cash advance adverts from 'Wonga.Com' and others like it, are starting to stack-up on Sky TV like a line of landing aircraft arriving at Heathrow; only 273% APR you know!

Reportedly, British shoppers are set for new year debt crisis in 2012 after a record £4.3billion was spent over the last two days and up to to 12 million shoppers – one in four of the population aged over ten, were thought to have crammed into high streets and shopping malls yesterday.

Back to the council papers and the new cabinet's decision on the controversial Hartsdown and Pierremont park developments, postponed from before the holiday, seems likely to fill the public gallery. The draft budget is really going to prove most interesting, as we finally get to see where the Labour Group, which failed to clearly articulate any financial policy - other than a saving on coffee and biscuits -  before last month, tries to fiddle with the 2012 council budget, which has been work in progress since May, to deliver an impression of  its socialist credentials, without having to raise Council Tax.

I recommend arriving early for a front row seat on the evening of 5th January and I'm sure the Mayor will have the bat signal glowing in the night sky over Cecil Square!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's Xmas Wednesday

In between arm-wrestling my daughter for a turn on her X-Box, I have now discovered it's actually Wednesday and not Thursday, which is a result and says rather too much about my confused state of mind and the length of the Christmas holiday in general.

As the former Cabinet member for the environment, I have noticed on the TDC website it says my own bin should be emptied 'Today' but for new visitors, was that written in the past before Xmas or did they expect you to wake-up after the collection and find this out? Not my problem anymore but I have fired-off an email. I have observed quite a steady stream of family cars descending on the St Mildred's Bay car park and off-loading all their Xmas rubbish into the skip which says 'No Cardboard - Paper Only.'

Now Thanet lies under the control of the forces of fraternal socialism, i.e Clive & Iris, perhaps the new Cabinet Member for the Environment might wish to explore an equally creative solution for one of our more persistent problems, which appears to have run somewhat amok over the holiday as people walk their dogs.

The blogs have been unusually quiet over the holidays, with a couple of notable and rather bizarre exceptions, as most of us switch our attention away from the self-indulgence of hammering away on a keyboard to another and quite different kind of indulgence, which invariably involves a knife and fork.

The BBC, as ever, has delivered a televisual feast not to be missed and in a single day I counted three hours of 'East Enders' and an hour of 'Holby City' as well. I have seen two repeats of 'Shrek the Third', two of 'Spartacus' but as yet, no 'Great Escape' which must be just around the corner as Christmas would not be quite the same without it.

I've noticed the sudden appearance of a mysterious, 'W' shaped light hanging over the centre of Birchington town square in the evening but what it is is anyone's guess? Something political I suspect!

Watching Kim Jong Il's funeral on the news today, I'm reminded that it's ten years since I went to Korea, arriving one very icy day in Seoul, when the temperature was a bitter -26 celsius. Looking at the weeping thousands in Pyongyang standing for hours in the bone-chilling cold as the funeral cortege passed. I suspect that grief for the Dear Leader, was really the last thing on their collective minds.

It's also worth noticing that 'Cheetah', the Chimpanzee star of the Tarzan movies also died over Christmas at the grand old age of 80 and one might successfully argue that he achieved rather more for humanity and will be missed more greatly than North Korea's Kim Jong Il.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Two Christmas Tails

Merry Christmas one and all. I've decided that rather than type, which involves putting a glass of Irish coffee down for far too long, I will put-up a few illustrations, a dog's eye view of the day, to add to the Christmas cheer!

Observant readers may note my small mistake from very late on Christmas Eve! I have a very unusual and highly intelligent small dog which has an extensive vocabulary. Its quite bizarre that in quiet conversation with her, I can suggest that I would rather like to play with one of her toys, by name. You can then see her think about it for a while and then disappear,  quickly followed by the sound of  busy rummaging somewhere in the house. She then re-appears with the object she was asked for if she can reach it.

Dogs have their own wrapped gifts hidden around the tree and look forward to being allowed to find them and open them each year. Pulling the crackers over Christmas lunch to much excited barking is the high-point of the holiday for them. Strange but true I'm afraid!

Meanwhile, my daughter bought me Modern Warfare 3 for the X-Box. A quick lesson on the device has proved quite conclusively that I am absolutely hopeless with the controller and keep getting shot. So the best solution is let her play while I watch from the sidelines, suitably impressed with her effortless dexterity.

Somehow, I don't quite think I'm ready for the X-Box generation and may have to stick to blogging badly instead!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Parking Newsflash - Updated

If you thought you were confused about the prevailing argument over free parking, then I see my colleague, Chris Wells, has stepped into a 'guest' blogger column, over on BigNewsMargate to try and walk readers through the maze of Iris Johnston's rather odd press release, faithfully reproduced with other unusual material over on John Worrow's Weblog.

From what I can make out from the story is still evolving and as Chris Wells writes: ‘Just 13 days, 12 hours, into the new “transparent” Labour era, Cllr Iris Johnston, in her rush to claim all the work on the parking review, has breached all protocols of responsible behaviour by leaking budget information on the ‘official’ Labour website. In doing so she revealed budget papers which are being considered by Labour to hike parking fees by around 9% and worse, realising what she had done, removed the offending paragraph after a few hours.'

Over on Worrow's World, I see that John's byline is now changed to "Campaigning For Social Justice and Defeating Bigotry In The Isle Of Thanet!", which is nice and I'm sure the good Conservative voters of Birchington will be most impressed. More commonly, ward councillors are preoccupied with more mundane tasks, such as making sure your bins are collected on time, crusading against dog mess, trying to solve the seaweed problem on the beaches or helping with pension and benefit queries.

Invariably, social justice is a topic associated closely with Members of Parliament, who can deploy much larger legislative weapons. The intrinsic meaning of the cartoon of a naked man in a bowler hat on John's weblog escapes me for now but here's one of my own pictures, which I hope sums-up where we are at with parking in general.

Glancing at Michael Child's Thanet Online, you'll see he's developed a rather bizarre interest in fruit, which I would comment is in his usual provocative and mischievous style. It's somewhat reminiscent of what one might have read in a magazine like Private Eye, in the seventies, although I'm pretty sure I've read it or a version of the same, somewhere before.

This morning, I have been loitering over a dismal, grey, wet and gusty Essex, taking photographs. I was the only pilot up for sixty miles, so Farnborough radar wasn't exactly overworked. I suspect the controllers are starting to recognise my callsign, 'Sierra Mike' by now. With this regular job to do, I'm learning more about the scrap metal business as the months pass.

What I heard today, is that not only do large numbers of Mercedes cars go missing and end-up being shipped-out in containers to a very healthy South African market but that containers full of 'scrap' metal often go the same way. What's unusual though is that these are absolutely filled to capacity and that at their destination, the containers aren't unpacked but simply put through the furnace in situ, with the molten metals being separated through some process. One comment I also heard, is that anything can go in these containers and so if organised crime chooses to 'bump someone off' then he goes in there too and is melted down with everything else. It puts a whole new twist on cremation.

For camera enthusiasts, the photo is of a Nikon D-700, with a modified night vision lens attached for US Military work, like for example, the raid on Osama Bin Laden. It's my favourite toy this month and sadly, you won't find one of these at the Comet Christmas sale.

Finally, for gadget lovers, I accidentally came across a watch that commemorates a world-record diving event I attended in Marseilles almost twenty years ago but sadly a timepiece souvenir I can't afford.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Still Waiting for the Revolution

'History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce' - Karl Marx

I've been exchanging political‘banter’ with Thanet’s most respected ‘revolutionary’, Cllr Mike Harrison, over on his weblog. Following one of his remarks about the proletariat and I’m sure, the ultimate victory of communism on our small island is yet to come, I thought I would write a few words of my own.

Many of us can still recall those happy days when Margate was twinned with Yalta and our Labour councillors enjoyed the opportunity for fraternal visits to the Black Sea resort, to sample the delights of true socialism by the seaside, helped along with ample quantities of sunshine, vodka and blinys.

It’s not quite the same now of course, because the great socialist experiment failed miserably everywhere it was tried, from Russia to Cambodia to North Korea and even Liverpool, possibly because Karl Marx's strict view of economic determinism contradicted simple human nature.

Just to remind ourselves, In his analysis of the movement of history, ‘Historical Materialism,’ Marx predicted the breakdown of capitalism (as a result of class struggle and the falling rate of profit), and the establishment in time of a communist society, in which class-based human conflict would be overcome. The means of production would be held in the common ownership and used for the common good.

Karl Marx, an occasional Margate resident, was, in places, pretty close to the mark in describing the problems that have left us where we are today, However, he never imagined a stagnating and bloated welfare state in the form that it presently takes around us. His idealistic view of Communism, was one where everyone contributed equally with their labour and not one where people choose not to work and prefer to live-off the generosity of the State. He also failed, quite understandably, to predict the dramatic impact of globalism and rapid automation on the proletariat.

Mike Harrison reminds me that the proletariat don’t like to be lectured on what’s good for them by intellectual academics, a view which could be lifted from the pages of the dissident Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ if I can remember back some thirty years to reading it in the rather depressing Thanet of the 1970s. I would reply however that this backward notion of class-struggle, that still pervades politics in Thanet and has done since I was a boy, simply creates an environment where progress is frustrated because many Labour members still visibly haven’t moved-on from the Thatcher era and the miner’s strike.

Now I happen to believe that challenging the abilities and the record of our politicians, me included, is an important tool in democracy and it constantly on our Thanet blogscene. After all, would you approach a man (or woman) in the street and say here’s £50 million or so for you to spend locally on 600 or so services next year, without asking a few astute questions to see if he was really up to the task?

Local democracy does this all the time but doesn’t ask the important question. So, while it’s the best system we have available, it often totters wildly between administrations and infrequently lives up to the people’s hopes and expectations, simply because some people are given the jobs because it's their turn, party record, a form of pension entitlement or because people rarely ask the simple but really important questionsof the candidates, like "Can you read a balance sheet?"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Feet

Before we get completely carried away, in the earlier comment thread, dancing around the head of a pin, over who may or may not have implied, suggested, requested or even offered what to whom in the often convoluted world of local politics, I need to remind people of the planned visit to Hartsdown Park by the Labour Cabinet tomorrow.

I'm sure that everyone agrees with me that the football club represents an important part of the town's history. The fact however remains that the club is a commercial entity, which operates on public land / public open space and has enjoyed a short and renewable lease on the ground for a great many years.

The lease, has been an issue under discussion for over twelve months now with the club, which insists that if it is to continue, then it requires a 125 year lease on the hotel area, so it can, in principle, release the value of the land as a viable hotel development, in order to build a Travelodge, for which revised plans were approved by the council in the spring.

Council policy on Hartsdown Park is that no new leases of or beyond 25 years can be granted without public consultation, because it is public land.

In simple terms, if the club simply owned the park then I could see no issue but essentially what the club is proposing, is that the council make an exceptional condition and treat the hotel footprint like an asset disposal, under a 125 year lease, much like a freehold investment, so that the development value can be leveraged. The council is also obliged to consider the long-term future of the club; what happens if ten years down the line, for some reason and with a 125 year lease granted, the game of football falls out of popularity locally and it closes its doors? Unlikely, I'm sure but then what? So all possibilities and potential outcomes need to be considered.

Local opinion is highly polarised and while the council might be prepared to explore a lease of just under 25 years as a solution, the club have stated on several occasions that this is firmly out of the question, it's 125 years or nothing.

So that's the dilemma now facing a new cabinet when they go walkabout at Hartsdown Park on Thursday to meet the people. Whether to support the new leases application for the hotel and surrounding areas such as the 3G pitch or risk the potential local economic loss of the hotel development, through not granting a long lease, outside of the restrictive policy already established by the Conservative administration for the park.

I have taken 'considerable stick' over the last year by insisting on a fair, proper and absolutely transparent process and with a change of administration the decision-making now falls elsewhere. I plan to be there tomorrow, should anyone wish to ask questions.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Perils of Parking

I've written about financial common sense before and today’s Conservative Group press release on the review of free parking in Thanet may make for salutary reading for Cllr Worrow in Birchington. To attempt to decide the future of the island against a demand for special treatment for one town, smacks of political gerrymandering. It may well be that Clive Hart views this as fair exchange for his support of a Labour administration. However, this has yet to be decided and it will be interesting to see where the decision goes in Cabinet when the Labour Group finally grasp the real budget impact.

To recap however, we need to remind ourselves the nature of the parking review which was underway when the Conservative administration left office on 8th December.

Parking had been withdrawn from the annual fees and charges review, and a changed parking regime was to be consulted with members and others across the island in January 2012; for public consultation after presentation to Cabinet in March, for implementation in June.

The highlights of this review were:

Parking was to be more demand led.

Free parking to be available to help traders every Saturday of the year in one car park in each of the towns: Alpha Road, Birchington; Harold Road, for Northdown Road; Mill Lane, Margate; Cannon Road Ramsgate; Vere Road Broadstairs.

This  solution was seen as representing an affordable model at a time of restricted budgets, costing  approximately £12,000 to the overall parking budget.

My colleague, Chris Wells, Shadow Cabinet Member for Communities has added:

We left in place a simple, affordable model for parking, ready to be consulted upon for implementation next year. In addition the parking review was set to investigate what could be additionally done to assist lives of residents near and around the QEQM Hospital, many of whose lives have been reduced to misery by the hospital’s poor management of their own parking facilities. I hope the incoming administration has the common sense to adopt these simple proposals, and not skew them in favour of particular areas of the island for political reasons.’

Residents are bound to ask about the costs and when this proposal from Cllr Worrow first appeared, it was determined that the cost of implementing thirty minutes free parking in Birchington car parks would be a little under £10,000. However, the cost of implementing thirty minutes free parking for Birchington High Street,  what he appeared to be seeking, would be more than £40,000.

It would be very difficult to give a special exemption to one town in Thanet, particularly where a pivotal vote was involved, so  extended to the island as a whole, the cost of implementing thirty minutes initial free car parking would be £233,000. This is more than 43% of car parking income and to achieve such a thing in the very challenging financial conditions facing Thanet, these sums would have to be made up from council tax increases or reduced budgets elsewhere.

Does offering special exemption for Birchington present financial common sense I wonder and with six weeks left before the budget, where I wonder will the money come from to replace the lost income across the island?

Now I wonder if the Thanet Gazette will run the figures?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Taiko Time

Off to Chatham this morning with my friends, students and colleagues from the Kaigan Dojo. We've been invited to put on a demonstration at the Shinto Martial Arts School at the university and  Bill Parr will be bringing his Taiko drums and drummers along as well to add a little extra Japanese ambiance and excitement to the occasion.

It's one of those strange things about Thanet, that the island figures prominently in unusual aspects of martial arts, Tae Kwan Do, being a fine example, as well as the Quarterdeck at Cliftonville where I studied Judo as a boy. I can recall many many years ago when Karate and even Kung Fu, with a strange chap named 'Baron Omidi' made an appearance hard on the heels of Bruce Lee's classic film, 'Enter the Dragon.'

Taiko drumming is an unusual thing to find in our part of the world but Bill, who lives in Westgate, has been busy trailblazing the art, with performances all over the country and it's very impressive too! He's been running local courses for anyone who might be interested and you can find his contact details at Kensei Taiko, here.

If I were to hazard a guess, I might suspect that Thanet, quite possibly, has more martial artists competing in national teams than equivalent parts of the country. For a time, the famous Kendo master, O.Fuji, Sensei (pictured)  lived in Ramsgate.

The challenge we find these days, lies in finding students from a new generation, able to find the time from their work or studies, accept the tougher training discipline and swap the instant gratification of the X-Box, for something a little more demanding than the couch and stay the course.

Thirty years ago and more, I remember believing that with a couple of grades completed and capable of 'doing the splits', that I knew it all. Today, in contrast, I realise that long experience only shows how much more there is to learn.

PS.. Having returned home, here are a couple of photos of the afternoon. Great to see so many kids turn-up in the cold to take part.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The First Casualty of Circulation

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." 
Winston Churchill

I attracted yet another mention in the Gazette’s ‘Smudger’ yesterday, a literary accolade which is fast becoming a habit. Mind you, if she can only get me for a ‘missed apostrophe’ in a comment reply on this blog, as a recommendation for urgent remedial English tuition, then as a local politician, I’m getting off lightly.

I did notice a few gems that missed her satirical wit. The first of these was my remark at the Westgate & Westbrook Residents' Association, in front of a reporter, that I had absolutely no confidence in the local paper to report anything I have said truthfully and that I wouldn’t be surprised to read that I had recommended that the ‘Arlington house be painted pink’. (My earlier remarks removed by request)

Anyway, Smudger now has her political ‘Dream team’ in place and I’m sure she’s very pleased about it too!

Satire is a difficult subject to do well and even with Christmas fast approaching, I don’t find my inspiration hiding at the bottom of a large gin and tonic. Eastcliff Richard had a real talent for the medium before his prose became dark and ugly and finally dropped him in serious trouble with members of our local community – allegedly – that no sensible blogger would attempt to annoy.

So satire arguably is one of the most useful tools in keeping modern democracy honest and Guy Fawkes and Private Eye magazine lead the pack. However, there’s a distinct line between satire and bullying when one is thinly disguised as another and a newspaper or its editor, local or national uses it as a medium to express personal animosity, to discredit, belittle or to put it bluntly, tell lies.

On a blog, for example one has an opportunity to respond robustly but no such chance exists beyond the letters page of a newspaper which few people read unless they happen to be looking for the latest installment of the regular anti-Roger Gale campaign from Mr Muir of Westgate or what I might politely describe as ‘Fantasy island’ politics from John Worrow.

If satire is a tool to keep politicians honest then I must ask who keeps newspapers honest, because the Leveson inquiry is showing us only too well that honesty and journalism make uncomfortable bedfellows and that truth is invariably the first casualty of tabloid circulation.

PS.. if you spot a missing apostrophe let me know!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Change Ends

On Monday night, the new Labour Cabinet at Thanet District Council, decided to remove from the agenda and defer any decision, on the application for new leases and a Travelodge hotel at Hartsdown Park by Margate Football Club to a future meeting early next year.

Readers may recall that there has been an intense period of scrutiny and public consultation on the subject since September. The consultation results were to be heard and any subsequent decision or recommendation, was scheduled to be taken by Cabinet on December 12th, in an effort to meet the club's own December deadline; formal application for the revised leases only being received in August from the club.

Instead, the new Leader of the Council, Clive Hart, has called for a Cabinet/ Shadow Cabinet and public 'walk-about' at Hartsdown on December 22nd at 2pm, so that local people can have an opportunity to see the site and ask further questions.

The Conservative Group, in the spirit of cooperation, are quite happy to support this exercise and suggest, that anyone who has a particular view or opinion on the preservation or potential development of our public open spaces, to represent to Clive and his new Labour team, should come along and join us, next Thursday afternoon.

PS.. Looking at the evolving weather picture from the Met Office, Thanet appears to be right in the path of a monster low pressure trough which is due to hit this evening. So if you have any loose items in the garden, best tie them down and don't park your car under any big trees!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let the Train Take the Strain

You will see from my 'Tweets'  that the type of incident now attracting considerable news attention today and shown in the video below, isn't unusual on SouthEastern services into Kent.

Yesterday, I had an unpleasant journey on the high-speed from St Pancras to Faversham and I should add that from experience, this isn't unusual, as you may find from earlier 'Blogs.'

What was different on Monday was that I was compelled to intervene, as a teenage girl, keeping very bad company, was pinned to the seat opposite and was being held down and prevented from leaving the train at Sittingbourne, by one foul mouthed youth with the help of another.

What's doubly bad about the train, is that this kind of incident is very personal and  invades your private space. I recall writing in a previous blog entry, how all the passengers once got-up and left one carriage to a group of drunken youths but this time there was nowhere to go.

On this occasion, the reluctant threat of direct action was enough for them to let the girl go and the ringleader, spent the rest of his journey breaking wind, swearing and making an unusual hi-pitched screaming sounds to the amusement of his mates.

I had a word with the female guard when the group had gone and she re-appeared a little later and she told me it wasn't unusual and implied that her job is very stressful; I'm not surprised. However, for a number of moments, I sat there balancing the consequences of becoming physically involved, against the very real risks of prosecution if I did. Where I wonder does one draw the line these days in taking a stand to defend property or community or even fellow passengers?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Post

Now I had thought that the rather grubby folded scrap of paper I received in the council mailbag tonight was from a local 'eccentric' having a joke at my expense but having cross-checked, apparently not.

In particular, I liked the ruled exercise-paper touch and the subtle reminder of who the new 'Leader' is in the signature; as an afterthought perhaps, in case it had escaped my attention.

I suppose a Christmas card is out of the question. Anyway I plan to frame this piece of local history and give it a place of honour in my shed.

It's all part of the cost-cutting exercise I guess. We axed councillor business cards earlier in the year to save money but this new economy drive at TDC clearly involves the loss of Basildon Bond  personal headed stationery.

PS. While the note of thanks is appreciated,  I'm still waiting for someone to come and remove me from my office and I've stayed in waiting!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Score Draw

Of course, with a change of local administration and Cabinet, one has to wonder what will now happen with Margate Football Club's hotel and 125 year lease application decision, originally scheduled for Monday. What, I wonder will Labour decide to do with it now the ball, so to speak, has landed in their court. Will they follow the officer recommendations made to the Conservative Cabinet or decide on a separate course of action? I'm sure everyone, me included, will be watching the final result with some interest.

Back in the world of 'Real politik,' I wonder if anyone other than the LibDems and Labour leadership disagree with David Cameron exercising the principle of the veto on Europe, to prevent them, under a new EU constitution, from dismantling our position as the centre of global finance and allowing Brussels to set our taxes and not Westminster.

The alternative would be to find Britain in a position where we took on a much larger burden of the European debt at a time when we are already feeling the pain of austerity measures, that may be unpopular but have kept our interest rates low and prevented us following Spain, Italy, Ireland and Greece towards financial meltdown.

Just to remind Westgate residents that it's the Residents Association monthly meeting tomorrow and that will be held at the Westbrook Bowls Club at 7pm. I'm sure there will be lots to talk about in regards to the implications of the change in administration for Westgate.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Politics in Pictures

I've decided to tell the story of this extraordinary week and what led up to it, in a few pictures rather than words, drawing on iconic popular comedy with a rather large dose of political satire. Here's the first installment and if I think of any more, I will add them in. The characters portrayed of course bear no resemblance to anybody living here in Thanet!

Finally, would anyone wish to comment on what I have just been told by an informed individual, that Cllr Worrow approached Cllr Hart for the deputy leader's position in return for his vote? He may also have approached Nick Clegg and President Assad of Syria for all I know?

A Hard Left Turn for Thanet

More later I suspect when I catch-up with everything. For a narrowly balanced council to fall, on what some might describe as thinly concealed coercion over parking charges in one part of the district and the personal animosity of one Councillor towards another, seems bizarre.

Still, this leaves our island now looking very isolated in a sea of Conservative councils and a lurch to the left risks - on local Labour's almost  schoolboy grasp of finances to date -  a serious and consequential loss of basic common-sense in an economic crisis. Should you have any doubts then simply look back on the record from the Labour Cabinet over the last year which has contented itself on shouting down any attempts to debate the bigger and more serious numbers, while remaining quite conspicuous in being unable to suggest anything much more remarkable than removing the tea and coffee allowance for councillors.

Poor Thanet!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Room With a View

If you watched the second Channel 4 documentary last night, on 'Rogue Landlords'  and the awful suffering they can cause the most vulnerable people in our society, you may understand why I, for one, am very keen on the recent introduction of a limited, selective licensing scheme for landlords here in Thanet.

As a local councillor, I come across some pretty unpleasant stories from time to time and in I'm only too well aware that in the most deprived and hard-pressed areas here and elsewhere in the country there are those who are prepared to profit from the misery of others.

It surprises me at times how some social housing landlords, will deny the evidence of damp, unheated, crumbling, bug-ridden accommodation, when, like last night, they are confronted with incontrovertible evidence by the likes of John Snow and both Bournemouth and Croydon councils came out looking very poor as a consequence.

There are, of course, growing pressures on local authorities at present, in attempting to find suitable housing for the homeless and the vulnerable. At the same time, there are those who build a successful business in delivering slum accommodation for the desperate or unlicensed and illegal garden sheds for untold thousands of desperate migrants between Southall and Slough.

It's an enormous problem for Government of any party to tackle, facing a tide of demand with limited and over-stretched resources, against businessmen who may deploy the best lawyers to defend their often indefensible positions. All this in an environment where successful prosecution can be an expensive challenge.

This gives me one more reason to think that proper licensing and an enforceable contract between local government and landlords providing social housing in targetted deprived areas is a sensible if not necessary step and you can read the Shelter report here.

What do readers think I wonder? A good idea and used more widely or simply allow market forces to protest and prevail at the expense of those with most to lose in society?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Westgate Xmas Fun Day 2011

Out and about taking photos this morning and I have put the better ones up online on Flickr here for readers to share if they want them.

Lots to do and see, so come on down or listen to the action on Academy FM!

The Christmas lights will be turned-on at 4pm with our home-town X-Factor star, Luke Lucas.

A huge vote of thanks to the Kelly Stacey, Joe Fairbarn,the committee, traders, sponsors and volunteers, and everyone else who worked so hard behind the scenes to make it all possible!

A Home for Socks?

At the Westgate Xmas Fun Day today we have 'Socks' the homeless Chihuahua , who is in urgent need of a new owner. He's a lovely dog, two year's old with all his papers, neutered, micro-chipped and vaccinated and he's available from Pet Rescue on 01843 822931.

To be honest, if I didn't have two dogs of my own already, I would have taken him then and there.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Game On

I  wandered off in rather windy conditions, on an excursion to Stapleford this afternoon, for a CAA briefing on the proposed Olympic airspace restrictions; all rather depressing if one happens to be a pilot or indeed, has an aviation business of any size.

As you might imagine, flying anywhere, unless it's from the big airports, is going to be made extremely awkward and should an innocent pilot step-out of line, or cross any of the imaginary restricted lines in the London or Olympic events airspace, dotted around the country, then it's more than likely he or she will have an Apache gunship arriving as company, rather quickly. That's all very reassuring from a security perspective but does rather beg the question of what happens in a highly populated and urbanised environment, should some unwelcome guest plan a flying visit? To be honest, I'm not convinced that the reaction time, measured in a few minutes, is enough but the authorities are going to equal lengths to reassure the public and ensure they know where everyone is and who they are at all times.

It appears that all the country's smaller airports are going to be full to capacity and those, like Manston and Lydd, lying just outside the restricted zone, will be crammed with visiting executive jets, which must be good for us in Thanet, given the potential tourist traffic coming our way during the games. It should be a plane-spotters paradise.

Quite how the people from the smaller jets get to the Games, I don't quite know, as the Government have precluded any heliport around Stratford to keep the area 'Green.' I'm assuming there will be regular helicopter traffic to Southend, just inside the restricted zone and use of the high-speed rail link from Ramsgate. I can't imagine anyone taking the car because of the anticipated traffic chaos. I read yesterday that train drivers will be given a £600 bonus just for turning-up for work, which has pleased the RMT union leader, Bob Crow no end.

Mind you, if you can afford to visit the games in a business jet, then you won't be short of a bob or two for the rail or helicopter fare to take you to Stratford, I'm sure!

From my point of view, there is some small consolation that the Farnborough Airshow is just before the Games and they have inquired about opening the show every day with a big banner display. As I did at an earlier airshow for Dubai Aerospace, I may yet get lucky. Anyway, one Farnborough is finished and the airspace locks down, I may well have an enforced month off with my feet up for a change!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christmas Comes

With so many people to send Christmas cards, there's always a danger I will overlook someone, Family, friends, colleagues or readers of this weblog. So I'm putting-up my virtual Christmas wishes early, wishing everyone a happy holiday to come, while I get down to writing all the real world cards and sending them off in different directions.

There's a great deal happening this week on the political front, most of which would not be appropriate for me to comment on in advance of next Thursday's council meeting.

I would comment on the quite remarkable level of misinformation being peddled freely across the internet by those with their own ambitions and perhaps unorthodox political agenda and the old expression that 'A week is a long time in politics' rings true.

I'll give you one example of a headline being peddled on the local Labour-leaning blog scene today: "Thanet District Council and Freshwater had planned to evict residents of Arlington House."

This statement is completely untrue like so many others I see on a regular basis and yet it's presented as outraged fact without any regard to the evidence. Much like Cllr Alan Poole's letter in the Thanet Gazette this morning, which attacks Thanet's 'Low recycling rate', following on from the somewhat skewed report by the paper's Thomas Brown, the previous week, which rather importantly, failed to take account of the tens of thousands of blue wheelie bins in households across the island and counts the remaining black bag collections instead.

The earlier Gazette article and Cllr Poole's letter pointed out how low Thanet’s recycling rate was, with Alan Poole being outraged that Thanet - with it's Tory-led council - "is 9th out of 12 Kent Districts" but in fact if you add in the inconvenient bigger picture - Sorry Alan - Thanet’s actually the best in Kent for this. Equally, our dry recycling rate, which excludes food and garden waste, is the third best in the county, so credit to our residents where credit is due for doing their bit and using the blue-bin recycling service provided

These are just two examples of how local news is being regularly biased, manipulated and exaggerated and my advice then, is to take everything you might read with a large pinch of salt and perhaps ask what's best for the future of Thanet as we move quickly towards 2012.

A few thoughts on this week's strike before I go.

When I joined the Cabinet Office in 2000 there was an objective of taking 80,000 jobs out of the public sector through the introduction of online Government efficiences. Instead, what happened as Brown replaced Blair is that over 300,000 more jobs were added, with all the pension commitments and more besides across a rapidly ageing population demographic.

Most people will understand a Ponzi or Pyramid wealth scheme; they appear on a regular basis. It's the trap that socialist governments all over the world have fallen into, borrowing huge amounts to build-up a public sector, while allowing the private sector, which actually creates the national wealth, to waste away or in the case of western economies, being outsourced and automated away to the Far-east.

If a country isn't going to drown under its weight of public debt like Greece, then you need enough private sector jobs to balance the cost of providing a generous, public sector welfare state, with the pensions that go with it. However, as a nation, we fell behind years ago are almost completely reliant on our North Sea oil and city finance revenues to prop up the loss in manufacturing and have been using the credit card game to pay the bills ever since.

It may not be fair for any government of any party to introduce austerity measures but it's inevitable. I watched a very clever economist on Sky News deconstruct the argument of a Unison spokesperson the other evening and with the Euro, now close to collapse, the Trades Unions really need to wake-up to the reality rather than the rhetoric of the financial crisis. Sadly, here in Thanet, I see the same rhetoric on a regular basis across our own political divide, which lies at total odds with our share of the economic crisis and the common-sense decisions required to take us through it over the coming four years.

Photo, Karl Marx with his daughter in Margate 1866

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Soldiers Story

Friday was a day of surprises and among these was the unexpected resignation of Cllr John Worrow from the Conservative Group at TDC after only six short months as a councillor. You will find Bob Bayford's reaction to the news here but knowing John well, I'm equally surprised by his reasons, which to me appear quite bizarre and particularly in regard to his concerns over animal exports from the port of Ramsgate. John is well-aware that the ultimate responsibility lies with central government and DEFRA to resolve, as the matter has been discussed at some length within the Conservative Group.

The local council, members of all parties and our MPs have worked extremely hard to bring our shared concerns over this unpleasant trade to the attention of the Minister, Jim Paice and believe, like everyone else that the primitive laws governing it should be reformed. But beyond active lobbying at Westminster, the council has no power to prevent a legal trade taking place in an open port. Even the animal rights activists and Cllr Driver, will concede that this is the case and the matter was debated vigorously in council only recently.

Let's not forget the extraordinary financial pressures that face Thanet in the future and in regard to "Talk of a 21% increase in parking charges" for Birchington, then if he inquired a little further into the detail, then he might have discovered that this is I think, equivalent to 4p in two years time and so I remain somewhat baffled but I'm sure we'll hear more on his decision as time passes and I wish him well.

I should add here that there are many things I would like for my own ward of Westgate but resources have to be shared across the island and I can't always have what I ask for but that doesn't mean I'm going to leave the Conservative group. The maze of local government is a slow and often frustrating process for new ward councillors to negotiate and I would guess that it takes at least two years, before one discovers what levers to pull in order to help achieve one's local objectives.

Colonel Bob Stewart, was the guest of honour at the North Foreland golf club a Conservative association dinner on Friday evening and it was a pleasure to hear an inspiring account of his time serving in Bosnia.

I haven't seen Colonel Bob since I moved back down to Thanet and so I think he was a little surprised to see me here; our children attended the same school in Wimbledon.

Many readers will recall seeing those dark days in the Balkans on television, the siege of Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebenica and more and Bob, often with his hands tied with by the United Nations rules of engagement, saved countless lives through being creative in his interpretation of those same rules that frequently led to atrocity elsewhere.

In particular, I was struck by his account of saving the life of a woman and small child, who were about to be ethnically cleansed, on the roadside, by a soldier with an AK47 holding a rifle to the back of the helpless woman's skull. He told the small audience how he happened to be passing in his Landrover at that exact moment before the trigger was pulled and saved her life through the simple expedient of shooting the man dead. There were other similar stories of outstanding gallantry too and he lost a number of good friends in a very dirty conflict, being wounded in the leg himself.

In many respects, Bosnia was more visible and immediate to a domestic audience than Afghanistan. We had a real moral sense of what was right and what was wrong and what our soldiers were fighting and often dying for. In Afghanistan, this remains both expensive and muddy and I was struck by the comments of young Marines in a Ross Kemp documentary, who remain convinced that once we've left the country, the Taleban will be back. The lessons of history for Afghanistan have remained unchanged since the time of Alexander the Great and with Pakistan, now a failing if not failed State as it's neighbour on one side and Iran with its own ambitions on the other, a successful nation building exercise appears as far away as ever before.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Recycling Past the Office

You may have guessed I've been away this week; over in Abu Dhabi on business.

With some irony, I see that despite being officially listed as 'away, this minor travel detail was lost on the editor of Thanet Gazette, who gives me an acerbic mention in 'Smudger', for not being prepared to take journalists calls abroad. Instead, I did tell the paper by email, where I was and directed the enquiry on local recycling statistics to the press office at TDC. This apparently isn't good enough for the Gazette as I'm supposed to carry the complete detail in my head and snap to attention from the other side of the earth. I see that even when given the detailed information, the story on recycling in this morning's paper, is as wildly unbalanced as I might expect.

Let me explain that journalists seeking forensic detail on services should contact the council press office as a first port of call, because that's what a 'press office' exists for. For political and policy related issues related to my own portfolio, by all means send me an email or try a call but you might find that going through the press office first is much more effective in seeking and directing answers to questions as  people forget that being a councillor is a part-time and not a full-time role.

Thanks to email, I did manage to deal with all my other urgent council business, as well as two press releases and the unfortunate news that the wave of public toilet vandalism which curses our small island, carries on unabated.

With time to kill on two seven hour flights, I had plenty of opportunity to read through Karl Marx' 'Communist Manifesto' and arrive at the same conclusion as a number of economists have recently.

Marxism is frequently used a pejorative term but it appears as if Marx, quite successfully predicted the circumstances that have led us to question the success and future of unrestricted Capitalism in the face of the current global ;financial crisis. Marx (pictured in Margate below) offers a theory of history itself, or more precisely a theory of the dynamics of major historical change. He asks why social classes should live in a state of permanent warfare? His conclusion, is that the causes surrounds the history of material production and the nature of human labour as an entirely abstract phenomenon, one which establishes relationship with other commodities, independent of the concrete life of its producers.

It's a theme I may expand on later if time allows but with protesters camped-out in the financial centres of major cities, it's uncomfortably thought provoking and I wonder if there is some small political space for the Marxist argument and Conservative policy in the same room?

On a completely separate note, I did see that the BBC, in the new Nick Robinson Documentary, 'Your Money & How They Spend It' visited the Turner Contemporary for an interview with Victoria Pomeroy and a 'Vox Pop' in Margate. (Minute 22:54) Quite by magic, it seems, the only local councillor they could find to comment on the story, suited and booted outside the gallery, was, well, Cllr Ian Driver, from Ramsgate of course, not a member of the Cabinet or even our Mayor of Margate, Iris Johnston. It does rather lead me to wonder what the corporation's political  agenda really is these days. However, watch the programme anyway because it illustrates how the Government spends an average of £6,000 for every family in the land (pensions, benefits, education etc) but closer to £8,000, here in Thanet and much more in Scotland which benefits from Westminster genorosity.

I would ask the Labour Group, who consistently deny the public deficit argument to watch minute 31:00 of the programme to better understand the reality of the financial crisis and the size of the deficit, a loss of control over the nation's fiscal policy, explained by Mandleson and Darling rather than the revisionist political myth, presently peddled by Ed Balls.

Meanwhile, back in the air and the luxury airline of Abu Dhabi, Etihad, must also be making 'cuts' of sorts. The last snack before landing was a 'Pot Noodle' and warm water. Next time, I think I'll bring my own curry flavour choice with me!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Foggy Interlude

The high pressure and prevailing fog is becoming a frustrating nuisance. I've been trying since Monday to get over to Wycombe Air Park to pick up a repaired fuel tank and ferry it off towards Shoreham and the weather is having none of it.

With two aircraft out of action for maintenance, I've been lent a third, which is fuel-injected, faster, tidier and more modern than my own but lacks the extra 'Toys', I have installed in my aircraft, namely moving map GPS units. These are indispensable in conditions like this particularly while working around the tightly regulated London Control Zone. So while I could quite easily fly from A to B in the fog, getting back down again safely with a 500 foot cloudbase presents a challenge unless I happen to be following the precision approach ILS needles into a big airport like Manston.

This is where the GPS units come in handy because much like the kit you see on much bigger aircraft, they will give me a precise visual landing approach to smaller airfields which have no navigation beacons on a moving map, as opposed to seeing nothing at all with the traditional instruments, until one pops-out of cloud a couple of hundred feet above a big runway like Manston's.

In the first video, by way of example, this is an instrument approach test in a Diamond DA42 (lots of 'Toys' with a Garmin 1000 glass cockpit) with one engine failed, into Southend with the blind flying screens up. In the second there's a good example of how disconcerting fog can be even with a big jet.

Normally what one does is to spend as little time in the murk and try and climb above the fog, into the bright sunshine above the cloud - It's a glorious day a 1,000 feet up - and then follow the standard instruments or the GPS approach path on the colour display, down at the other end. We all like to see where we are going, where possible whether it's travelling on a motorway or an airway.

Hopefully, the wind direction will change tomorrow and I'll be able to get all my jobs in before the council cabinet meeting in the evening.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembrance Sunday 2011

The Sun was out for Remembrance Sunday in Thanet today and Westgate-on-Sea welcomed the United States Military Attache, Colonel Sonny Blinkinsop, photographed with the WWRA stalwart, Stephanie Sutton, joining the parade to the war memorial and the plaque dedicated to the Liberator bomber crews of WWII, where he also laid a poppy wreath.

Cllr Tom King and I both took part and I was delighted, once again, to see how many people and representative groups, of all generations, gathered for the multi-denominational parade and small ceremony in Sea Road. This year, for a change, we didn't get wet.

I had an opportunity to take the Colonel to the Turner Contemporary and then to the Spitfire Museum at Manston, where he was warmly welcomed by its trustees and given a an official tour of the exhibits.

For Westgate to be recognised by the United States Airforce in this way is a very special privilege for the town and with weather like today, helps spread the message of Thanet being a place of interest to visit for a broad variety of cultural, historical and tourism reasons.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Royal Remembrance Day at Turner Contemporary

I'm walking-off towards Margate and the Turner Contemporary Gallery very soon, as I suspect that with the road closures, driving is out of the question and I'm sure the morning exercise will do me good.

There's a small change of plan on my part now, as John Kampfner has very kindly invited me to the royal reception at the gallery and so I'll be going there rather than the old town hall.

As you might expect, I'm carrying my smallest Samsung compact camera, attached to my belt and so if I have any memorable photos of this very special event for Margate, I'll share them here. The challenge will be in not being too obtrusive and the light on the ground floor of the Turner makes good photography quite difficult with the glare coming through the huge window behind Rodin's 'Kiss'.

There's been a great deal of hard work going on behind the scenes to show the town of Margate at its best for the visit and I'll be planning some spot checks on my walk along the seafront. Unfortunately, it looks set to be a misty Remembrance Day but at least it's not raining.

More later I hope. It's a day to remember the fallen, to celebrate local regeneration and a special visit to look forward to. One that even the editor of our often cynical local paper will be hard-pressed to be negative about.

Please don't forget the Remembrance Sunday procession in Westgate at 10:45 to the Sea Road war memorial. The United States embassy is sending their military attaché  to join us, which is a considerable privilege for our small town.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Time to Reflect

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. ." - Ernest Hemingway

With just over a day before 11-11-2011 and the honour shown to the town of Margate by the visit of Her Majesty the Queen, my thoughts turn to two of my own relatives, each of whom played very different parts in the Great War of 1914 - 1918.

The first of these, Arthur Osburn an army doctor, wrote a book, 'Unwilling Passenger', which I recently shared with Ian Hislop and which I have blogged about before. He took part in the very first engagement, which happened to be a cavalry charge and most recently, Andy Robertshaw, who like Hislop, makes documentaries on the First World War, borrowed my copy for research into a unique eyewitness account of those first battles and the great retreat of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons.

He describes the first action of the Great War; the 23rd August 1914, a cavalry engagement at Soignies in Belgium, between the 4th Royal Dragoon Guards and German lancers. In a new chapter 'Mons the Overture', he describes the action in some depth as he was present.

The German cavalry he refers to as 'Bavarian ploughboys' who were routed by the professional British cavalry and adds: "Some of our men pursuing them had refrained at first from running them through because their backs were turned. This gallantry was not to last very long!"

He adds: "I asked one of the prisoners for a button, which he cut off, my first souvenir! Rather tearfully he insisted that his brother had been shot at Munich for refusing to join-up and that he himself was very pleased he had been taken prisoner and would not have to take any further part in the war."

My maternal great grand-father, Andrew, who lived both here in Westgate and in London, volunteered, much like the great  novellist Ernest Hemingway, to be an ambulance driver for the Belgian army at the very start of The Great War in 1914. From there, his life took an unusual turn and he became one of the first official war photographers, working for the Illustrated London News surviving the war unscathed and finally retiring back to a quiet life in Westgate on Sea at the Old Boat House. I recall seeing his Mons Medal as a boy.

I still have his issue Kodak camera, in excellent working condition, in its original leather case sitting on the shelf opposite, marked with the magazine's name on the inside and I may take it along with me to the ceremony on Friday as a mark of respect. By all means ask me if I have it if you wish to have a look at it. If you provide the film, it could still take photos, although what was seen through that small viewfinder, one can only guess.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Walpole Bay Water Mystery

Perhaps I should have change the title to 'Seaweed Matters' but for anyone interested in understanding more about the Environment Agency (EA) report on Walpole Bay, which figured in today's local news, here's a link to the interview I gave BBC Radio Kent this morning. (2:40 into the programme at 08:40)

Today's report appears to be a mystery of sorts and I'm waiting, with keen interest to see what the EA report identifies, scientifically, as the source of seawater contamination they refer to, beyond a speculative association with a seaweed build-up this summer. At any one time, we had as much as 2,000, tons of seaweed spreading across our beaches, more than anywhere else, I'm told in the country.

What we didn't hear on the news today, which only focused on the unusual reading from one beach, is that results show that water quality has significantly improved across the whole of Thanet. According to the Environment Agency the sea water quality around our beaches is excellent and has vastly improved. Not only have we exceeded their requirements by the minimum standards but have passed by European standards and that's something to be proud of.

With this in mind and on the basis of our improved water quality results we will be in a position to apply for a significantly higher number of blue flags in future, which is good news.

So back to Walpole Bay, where I once worked stacking deck chairs as a teenager and I have yet to see the evidence on which the EA report is based and I look forward to receiving as soon as possible.

As I say in the interview, it seems unlikely in my mind to be caused solely by the seaweed in the bay. As readers will know, seaweed in large quantities each summer, is prevalent in our waters across the whole of the district, and even more so in other areas outside of Walpole Bay, where beaches with more seaweed have water quality results are not just ‘standard’ but ‘excellent’.

So, I suspect the results are related to something else that the council is not aware of, as if it was purely down to seaweed then surely other areas, such as my own bay at St Mildreds would have been affected.

In answer to Tweets and questions I've had since this morning, although seaweed is removed from other bays, the council is unable to remove all of it due to the extremely high levels we receive on our coast line and one way of dealing with this is to push the seaweed back out into the sea as this is a natural and sustainable way of removing it from the bays. This also happens in other areas where our water quality results are excellent.

It is not unusual for seaweed to be left in an area like Walpole Bay, as the council focuses its resources on the the most popular and priority main bathing/tourist beaches to ensure this is removed as a priority.

As a councillor I have to make often difficult choices and ensure our priority areas are targeted,especially as Thanet receives such an abnormally high level of seaweed across its coast line, which is why, under my instruction, a new strategy document for dealing with this annual challenge is now being completed in advance of the summer of 2012.