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.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Olympic Flame Comes to Thanet on 19th July

Announced this morning, the Olympic Flame will be making its way to Thanet on Thursday 19th July 2012 stopping at the Turner Contemporary and will pass through: Cliffsend, St Lawrence, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, St Peters, Cliftonville, Margate, Westgate-on-Sea and Birchington.

On my part, there's a certain irony, as it's forty years, since I became inspired by athletics as a teenager and by the Russian sprinter,Valeri Borzov at Munich in 1972. I could never have imagined then, that the Olympic flame would pass so close.

I have a personal debt of gratitude to sport, rugby,Thanet Wanderers,  tennis (Margate & Broadstairs LTC) and athletics, Thanet Athletics Club, as these kept occupied and out of trouble in my teenage years in a Thanet, where there was very little to do but run, read and watch TV. Sport gave me a great deal, my first job and an opportunity to travel and I hope that today's generation will benefit from the Games and the rewards that sport can bring everyone, regardless of age and gender.

Leader of the Council, Cllr. Bob Bayford, said: “I am thrilled that Thanet will be playing host to the Olympic Flame and that so many of our communities have been included on the Torch Relay. This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of Thanet to join together to welcome the Olympic Flame and witness the spectacle of the Olympic Torch Relay. This will shine a global light on the Thanet communities hosting the Relay and I hope that this will encourage celebrations where people can share in the Olympic Spirit on the countdown to the Games and support members of the community who have been chosen to run with the Olympic Flame.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Watch the Birdie

I see the media made quite a meal of yesterday's banner over the Blackburn Rovers vs Chelsea Game. The weather was considerably better for the crew in the north of the country than here in Thanet but that didn't prevent a kamikaze seagull attempting to bring down the aircraft, 'Fowl Play' and causing the flight to be almost twenty minutes late over Ewood Park. You can see it just as the bird impacted in the photo at the delicate moment prior to picking-up the banner at Blackpool.

Actually getting airborne with a message in November is really a matter of luck, as the weather steadily deteriorates and managing the enormous expectations of football fans is one of the hardest jobs around. I've another big match to fly on the 19th of this month and this time, there's been a major fund-raising exercise to have a giant banner printed in the States, so I do hope the weather works out for the club involved.

Mind you, if you believe the adverts aviation doesn't involve lots of time waiting for the weather to clear, delays, ageing and temperamental aircraft but for a lucky few, as in the advert below, the Sun is always shining!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Away Days

I've been preoccupied this week, at the London Conference on Cyberspace, which attracted the great and the good, from all four corners of the earth into the QE II conference centre, for an event hosted by William Hague, with David Cameron dropping in on Tuesday for a speech to support the initiative.

Hilary Clinton cancelled at the last moment, because of the sudden death of her mother, which left Vice President, Joe Biden to make a speech on her behalf.

With so many big name politicians in town, security was pretty intense, as the media have complained, surrounding the conference centre and at the Science Museum in Kensington, for the reception the evening before. I was surprised to bump into John Kampfner getting his security pass and I think he was more surprised to bump into me, because he hadn't made a connection between my council role, here in Thanet and the 'day job.' Why should he? John was speaking in his role of Chief Executive at the Index on Censorship but we managed to have time for a chat about the Turner Contemporary and of course, The Queen's visit to Margate next week. If you haven't heard already the gallery will be closed all day Friday and of course there will be strict security crowd control in the town for the visit. Some of the more mundane elements of the arrangements for this Royal visit, fall within my portfolio responsibility and I'm sure, that in general, the population of Margate and indeed, Thanet are looking forward to it, with some predictable exceptions perhaps!

I'm not sure I will blogging as much as usual over the next month, as I'm in and out of the country several times on business;  as far as Abu Dhabi with my usual visit at this time of year, while of course remaining close to my council portfolio. Modern, 'always connected' technology and tele-presence is a wonderful thing. So you may find that I'm blogging a little more more intermittently than usual and may rely more on Twitter instead.

Before I forget, don't forget the new police non-emergency number is now 101. Late the other evening I had a telephone report from a passing resident of four teenage hoodies at the top of Westbrook avenue armed with aerosol paint cans. So I called the police and I'm pleased to say that while I was still on the line, they were apprehended; a good result I thought!