Friday, March 30, 2012

All in a Day's Work

Hardly what you might call a regular day today, which started-out with a 50th birthday banner for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, a surprise from his mother the Dowager Duchess.

This job had taken some planning, not only keeping it a secret from the Duke and most of the estate staff but also creating a landing strip adjacent to the 'Shoulder of Mutton Pond' for me to operate from, organising a five minute private road closure, liasing with the police and keeping the deer away while I was working.

As it was, the weather was far from great and when I transited over the 26 runway numbers at Luton, the visibility was awful and getting worse all the time. In fact, without my GPS, I doubt I would have found the abbey at all.

I dropped into the rather tight  and bumpy runway with the light wind all over the place and had immediate help to set-up the banner. Ready to go in ten minutes, I got airborne for a display right on time although the conditions were at their visual minimums.

Afterwards, the Duke and Duchess came out to meet and thank me and kindly helped  collect up the banner and I took his small son (pictured) for a brief ride, which I'm sure he enjoyed.

After that, it was another very misty transit over Luton and back to Rochester to refuel and then on to the next job for the afternoon, which involved locating and photographing, in equally poor visibility, the Sussex houses of celebrities Jordan, Adele and Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, which are all within two miles of each other and Jordan and Maude are next-door neighbours. Why I had to do all this you will find out in the Mail on Sunday but now I'm worn-out and could do with a cold beer and putting my feet-up in front of the tele.

Before I forget, Graham Cook of BBC Radio Kent called me earlier for an interview on Sainsbury's in Westgate. I was too far away to meet them but suggested they pull any details and comments from this weblog to help prepare any broadcast.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Westgate Residents Meeting Change of Date

Cllr King has asked if I could put up a note telling readers that the next Westgate & Westbrook Residents' Association (WWWRA) meeting will be this coming Monday, 2nd April at the Westbrook Bowls Club.

This is because Easter Monday falls on the second week of the month when the meeting is normally held.

As this is such a short entry, I will leave you with Friday's weather forecast for the south-east.

South-east News Yesterday

Lots of local Thanet coverage appeared on the BBC South-east news on Wednesday night. This included the live animal exports from Ramsgate and just as controversial, Sir Roger Gale and Cllr Ian Driver present their views on the rules presently governing gay marriage (minute 7:36").

It might have been nice if the BBC had looked, even momentarily at this weblog for some of the views expressed here. One chap being interviewed from Brighton doesn't appear to have read Sir Roger's argument.

It's probably worth noting here, that Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a speech in Cardiff, this week, warned that society is in danger of becoming fragmented by a preoccupation with homosexual rights, feminism and separate racial identities

Dr Williams claimed that identity had become a ‘slippery’ word and that, while much had been achieved for minority groups, it was time to focus on the common good.

For those readers who wish to support Cllr Driver's position, there will be public meeting in support of equal marriage on 12 April at Margate Media Centre from 7.00-9.00pm and will be chaired by Ian Driver. The meeting will feature local speakers and representatives from Stonewall have been invited to attend. Find out more here.

Typical BBC coverage of the the topic what do you think?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blogsy Blog

I'm trying out a new blog editor called 'Blogsy' on my iPad, sitting here waiting for the train to leave Victoria station, while reading through tomorrow night's Cabinet papers, so please forgive any typos!

In the report is the strategic assessment and community safety plan for 2012 - 2013 and I'm struck by a number of the statistics as I read through it, looking for signs of progress in dealing with some of the island's more immediate challenges.

What we can see is how levels of deprivation vary quite considerably across Thanet, with some areas among the nation's top 20% of deprived spots and others among the 20% least deprived areas. The former we all recognise as Margate Central, Cliftonville West and the latter as the Bradstowe ward in Broadstairs.

While crime overall is reportedly down by 3.2%, the most marked of which are burglary and theft from vehicles, domestic abuse remains the highest in Kent and I see far too many, in my judgement, residents admitted to hospital for mental and behavioural disorders as well as the growing impact of substance misuse, once again, in the more familiar problem areas but also, I'm worried to say, in Westgate, where I am a ward councillor.

Anti-social behaviour figures high on the statistics, particularly in the problem wards and this is not unexpected, given the relatively high numbers of unemployed young men, in contrast with the local and national average and the fact that we have a significant inward migration challenge; a high annual turnover in and out of the district. It's hardly surprising then that ASB frequently leads to other forms of criminality, such as receiving stolen goods, substance abuse or vandalism among those young men with little or no prospects, cultural or language challenges and a minimal level of education.

Of course, the good news is that we can see a very small improvement and the police have now changed the way that anti-social behaviour is reported. However, the bad news remains the fact that we remain a beacon of domestic violence in England, which is quite intolerable and might be a better subject for Council to debate next month, I hope you would agree, than the motion to discuss the rights and wrongs of gay marriage.

This week's news that the Marlowe academy has been placed in special measures by OFSTED saddens me. It is not, as Steve Ladyman said on BBC Radio Kent, a consequence of "Aggressive selection by local grammar schools." Rather, having now gone through several decades of failure under different names, it highlights a much broader and more serious social challenge that the catchment area needs to address. £30 million was spent on building an academy with unrivalled facilities and a dedicated team directed at solving the problems of the Ramsgate school before it. 'Special Measures' begs the question of whether the academy concept is a much wider failure or whether there exists a negative socio-cultural issue locally, one which simply makes it impossible to deliver a level of secondary education which reaches the even the lowest rung of national expectations?

I'm really intersted in seeing readers comments on this subject. Where do you think the problem(s) lie with the Marlowe

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Measured in Ounces

A stunning spring afternoon over Warwick castle and then back into Thanet, I spotted that the Thanet Way was closed westbound, with what looked like a car fire from the tunnel  outside Herne Bay.

A little earlier today, the London air traffic controllers routed me around the departing aircraft at City Airport and put me straight over the Olympic stadium, which is most unusual these days and gave me a great view of the work nearing completion.

Yesterday, I was on the train once again to London and Westminster and you may have seen from one of my 'Tweets' that I had yet another SouthEastern trains 'railway experience.' Hardly a journey goes by these days without them; invariably taking place somewhere between Westgate and Chatham.

This time, two sixteen year-old boys boarded the train at Favesham and sat across from me. I knew their age because they were discussing their birthdays, one white and one black with a nice set of dreadlocks.

The latter boy, then produced a large wad of notes and started counting them and they discussed the business the two had just done, apparently the takings at Faversham were £140 but I didn't catch how many 'ounces' were involved as it was really difficult to understand their teenage slang. Both were obsessed with buying new trainers; the most expensive Nike's of course, which they saw as a kind of status symbol.

The white lad's Blackberry kept going-off with messages every few seconds and then he decided to play the foulest rap music from its speaker you could ever imagine at full volume, for the entertainment of the passengers.

"Excuse me lad," I said, "Would you mind turning that down as I'm trying to have a nap."

Dreadlocks, who looked young for his age and his business experience, fixed me with a stare and said: "Why don't you go **** yourself."

A woman passenger, also tried but they just laughed at her and turned the volume up.

A number of strong and conflicting emotions went through my mind, including a powerful sense of violent anger. I could easily have grabbed the Blackberry and thrown that and the music out of the train but I suspect that someone's 'rights' would have been violated and I would have ended-up in a cell.

As it was, the passengers were relieved when the boys left the train at Chatham but on the entire trip to London,  I saw no sign of a conductor or guard and my ticket wasn't checked. I very much suspect the two boys had no ticket either as that's not an uncommon sight on the line when the conductor finally catches up with non-fare-paying passengers from time to time.

If there was zero tolerance and stiff fines for anti-social behaviour and fare-dodging then it might make a small difference and we might just possibly keep some of the characters I see off the trains. However, when I see the poor conductor faced with groups of teenagers fare-dodging, invariably nothing happens and he simply tells them to leave the train at the next stop. Can you blame him or her?

My final thought this evening is that we seem to be seeing a growing number of single young men arriving in Westgate, who look as if they have just stepped out of a Russian gulag. As an example, there were two of them smoking cannabis in the 'turret' above St Mildred's bay car park this evening; gaunt, dirty, tatooed and shaven-headed. I suspect from what I've seen walking around, that the probation service is now placing people in the cheaper accommodation here around Ethellbert and Adrian Squares, now it is becoming more difficult to use Cliftonville because of its special intervention status.

What we can do to monitor what I think may be happening I don't quite know, as the agencies or even greater London local authorities involved are under no obligation to inform the local council. I shall certainly try though!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Quite Possibly Yes

I did ask readers not to try and manipulate the poll on the sidebar but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. That said the poll has had, as I write, 107 votes of which 56% are against Cllr Driver's motion and 45% are in favour. This was, until, earlier today 82% against and 14% in favour but there's been a sudden rush of votes and one or several people have been very keen to cover their trails with 37 visits using which is a proxy website used to try and conceal an individual's identity and can be used to circumvent the poll's single vote safeguards, by concealing the unique IP address of the voter.

If this discussion tells us anything, then perhaps it is simply that a debate over the principle of gay marriage, which, I firmly believe has absolutely no place as local council business, is being dragged into the chamber, simply because it can.

I entered local politics to try and make a small difference to my community, not to indulge the personal LBGT interests and campaigns of two of our independent councillors. Thanks to a Faustian bargain in December with Cllr Worrow and Cllr Cohen, we have now had just over 100 days of a Labour council and  Clive Hart. Today,  I'm watching the progress the council had made, steadily unraveling, either through political dithering of the finest kind or the complete absence of anything even remotely recognisable as leadership.

Are we really going to have to face another three years of this soap-opera politics? The answer is quite possibly "Yes" so there will, I'm sure, be plenty to write about.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sainsbury's- A Public Meeting on 16th April

There will be a public meeting to discuss the proposed Sainsbury's development at Hundreds Farm, taking place at the Carlton cinema in Westgate on Monday 16th April at 7pm.

Councillors, Westgate Residents' Association, Birchington Parish Council members, traders' representatives and residents are invited, as well as our Sainsbury's own representatives and Simon Thomas, the planning manager at Thanet District Council.

I have been asked to chair the meeting and the discussion will focus on the planning application, the benefits that Sainsbury's believe that a new store may bring and the shared concerns of community groups and local business in both Westgate and Birchington. Thanet Council's Simon Thomas will be available to answer questions on the detail and process of any planning-related objections to the development when it comes before the Council's planning committee in a couple of months time.

This will be an opportunity for members of the public to listen to a  presentation from the company and a more detailed briefing on the application and ask questions about the process.

The application plans Ref:F/TH/12/0220 can be found here (enter the reference number in the box) and the link to the Sainsbury's information site is here. Earlier articles on the subject are collected here.

You can also lodge your own comments on the application with Thanet District Council by following the same link. I would however ask anyone who does wish to use the form to contribute or object, please frame any remarks in terms of either, local economic impact, traffic or road safety issues on the Canterbury Road or other useful detail that might be judged as valid reasons under existing planning regulations. This would be very helpful.

N.B I have now managed t get an extension to the time period to submit any objections from the public to TDC democratic services to the end of April.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Westbrook Dolphin Beaching

I've just come from the beach at Westbrook, where at lunchtime, a beached, North Atlantic, White-beaked Dolphin, was euthanised by a local vet.

Quite what it was doing here in the waters off Thanet is a mystery but it was injured, clearly from an encounter with a fishing net, which had damaged its flukes and it had fluid in its lungs, struggling to breathe, as well as being visibly malnourished.

Putting the Dolphin to sleep was the kindest thing to do in the circumstances and on the vet's advice but this was not an easy decision and a difficult task. I'm sure that I'm not alone in saying it caused visible emotion on the part of those who were trying to save the animal.

I can't thank the young lady volunteers from the local marine rescue enough for what they did and how hard they worked to try and save this beautiful animal. The paradox of a handful of volunteers trying to save a single Dolphin on our shores, while the Japanese and the Faroe islanders happily slaughter these intelligent, self-aware creatures in abundance, isn't lost on me.

The Dolphin fought very hard, right to the very end and to be perfectly honest, I could shed a tear or two of my own.

The Gazette's Andrew Woodman arrived in time to catch me for an impromptu video interview.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Asking the Question?

The earlier post, A Time and a Place, appears to have stirred-up quite considerable public debate on whether it is appropriate, or even proper, for Thanet District Council to debate Cllr Ian Driver and John Worrow's motion on gay marriage at the next council meeting in April.

Ian appears quite determined to invite LBGT rights champion, Peter Tatchell, to Thanet in order to give a briefing to the Council, a man he describes as: "One of the world's leading human rights campaigners a modern day Martin Luther King."

Given the large number of visitors and strength of feeling expressed on this weblog since Sunday, I've decided to put-up a quick poll on the sidebar, to better judge public opinion.

Do the people of Thanet, I wonder,  support Ian Driver and 'Diversity Champion' John Worrow in making this issue a business priority for the council or do people believe, as I do, that seeking consultation on the issue through normal channels is fine but our district councillors have rather more important matters to debate and squabble over in the Chamber?

Readers have expressed the view that this is not something which the council has any direct  influence over and simply represents a cheap and opportunistic publicity platform for the personal agendas of the two, now independent councillors Driver and Worrow for which I suspect they may have no mandate from those who elected them in May.

I may be wrong of course and so here's an opportunity to be counted on whatever side of the argument you fall. I would ask of course that readers don't vote twice. I'm sure some will try but I'm likely to spot it.

White Cliffs Down

Moving the subject away from the bizarre shenanigans of Thanet politics and independent politicians, for at least a day, a few photos for you to enjoy.

The first, taken when I was flying on Sunday morning, by my friend, Jim Bennett, is of the big cliff fall at Dover, which I'm sure you will agree is pretty impressive; more so when you happen to be looking down on the scene.

The second is from Rochester airport yesterday, when I had a look at a Cessna 152, a student pilot crashed on Sunday.

The pilot, was very lucky to climb out of the aircraft with nothing more than cuts and bruises and from the look of the airframe, it hit the ground very hard indeed, buckling the nose-wheel and the main undercarriage. It flipped on to its back, such was the force of the impact.

The aircraft is a write-off but happily the pilot wasn't.

The third photo, I spotted as I arrived home from a job at Dunsfold, yesterday evening; a banner for the wake of a young man killed by a hit and run driver last month.

Clearly the large teddy bear sitting on the front cowling is a symbolic message to the lady who owns the aircraft, likely from her boyfriend but what it means, I can't say.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Time and a Place

It's Mother's Day and I've been having a rather bizarre email dialogue with John Worrow, our council ‘diversity champion’ and leader of the new Thanet 'independent independent' party and I think I should share the conversation in the public interest.

John sent me : ‘A motion for your consideration to be moved at the next Full Council meeting' and once again, we may see where the priorities for council business lie with Cllrs Driver and Worrow now cracking the diversity whip!

“Council notes that the Government has launched a consultation on Equal Civil Marriage. Council also notes that the Government has invited local authorities to respond to this consultation by 14 June 2012. Council therefore agrees to submit the following response to the consultation.

That Thanet District Council:

a) Supports the removal of the ban on same-sex couples being able to have a marriage through a civil ceremony.

b) Supports the proposal to allow transsexual people to change their legal gender without having to legally end their existing marriage or civil partnership.”

This surrounds this news story from Friday, which if you haven’t seen already, I recommend you read.

What follows  is my email dialogue with John Worrow and I will let readers decide, which of the two of us has the more tenuous grip on reality. While I would rather not give him the publicity he craves, I’m sure, without any shadow of doubt, the good people of Birchington that he represents, would rather have their crusading councillor focusing his attention and efforts on pressing  and less controversial local issues but that’s a matter between John and the ballot box in another three years.

SM: “Don't you have better things to do....! This is a matter for Government and not for a local council which has a remit for the delivery of public services in difficult times.”

JW: “I suggust that you share that view with David Cameron, as it is his Government that is asking local councils to take part in the consultation.”

SM: “Please point me at the direction by Government to local councils and what is meant by consultation?”

JW: “Plenty of time to discuss it in April.”

SM “So you made it up then?

JW: “You have a very questionable attitude towards this subject.

SM: “Simply answer my question please John.. I asked you to kindly direct me to the Government's instructions for local councils as described in your first email. This will be the subject of tomorrow's weblog and so I welcome your un-ambivalent response to share with the general public.”

JW: “Your attitude proves how right we were to remove you.”

SM: “John you are really digging yourself into a larger and larger hole when all you have to do is answer a simple question.”

JW: “Bless x”

John then sends a link to the press release: 'Thanet Council First to Vote for Equal Marriage.'

SM: “You said ‘my government’ had directed councils to consult on the matter and I have asked you where? Simply passing me a press release of your own attempt to debate the matter doesn't really offer any enlightenment.”

JW:”LOL bless.”

The end of the conversation then lapses into the juvenile and It’s my opinion, one shared by a great many others, that a council has a remit that surrounds public services and the wise spending of your council taxes.

The definition of same-sex marriage and vexing matters of diversity are really matters for church and state to decide and this argument lies somewhat beyond my own pay grade, although of course, everyone is quite entitled to an opinion.

However, taking-up council business does no favours to the people of Thanet who, I believe, expect rather more of their council and councillors in difficult times.

You have to ask yourself what important business is not included in the agenda to accommodate the personal crusading interests of Cllr Driver and Cllr Worrow?

What we now see in Thanet, is a microcosm of what is now taking place at Westminster, as a small unrepresentative minority, the Liberal Democrats press the Government to waste valuable Parliamentary time on such equally pressing issues as the reform of the House of Lords and whether bankers should be forced to wear pointed hats in public.

The 'real' Home Office consultation on 'Equal & Civil Marriage' can be found here for readers and councillors to respond to if they wish

Meanwhile, I will leave you with a little light-hearted parody of our times, 'The Spanish Inquisition.'

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Squeezed Middle

Last week, I promised a column to celebrate Labour's first hundred days of power here in Thanet, listing the Party's many rapid achievements and initiatives since independent Councillors Jack and John handed them the council in December. The problem however, is that the wheels are now falling-off Clive Hart's administration, so quickly now, that even with the most generous intentions, it's really quite hard to find anything of any real substance which has succeeded since December, which wasn't already a council initiative or policy in progress. Quite frankly, wearing a suit and camping-out in the council offices, simply because there is nowhere else to go for a day's work, doesn't always make an effective political administration.

This week we have the Minnis Bay windsurfing championships, overnight parking debacle, to add to last week's collapse of Margate Football Club's new stadium plans, Arlington/Tesco and of course, the news of the sale of Manston airport.

One has to retain a sense of humour in local politics and I read that the local rag has gleefully picked-up a quote from Clive that all his problems are a consequence of 'dithering' by me and my colleagues in the previous Conservative administration.

I've been accused of a great many things over the last few years but being a ditherer hasn't been among them; quite the opposite in fact.

Back to the news from Margate Football Club for a moment. Readers will recall much striding around, a personal examination of each blade of grass at Hartsdown Park and quite frankly, the wool being vigorously pulled over the eyes of the public and the club's supporters, by Margate's Mayor, Cllr Iris Johnston.

The Thanet Gazette, in the form of reporter Thomas Brown, were no help to anyone, as they seem absolutely unprepared to ask the really important questions, even when I told them what they were. The paper appears to have pinned its colours firmly to the belief that between them, Clive and Iris could wave a magic wand over Hartsdown Park and a new hotel would appear within weeks.

There's a great deal of the football club story that the fans don't know and I would encourage them to ask searching questions of the club, rather than simply lay the blame for Travelodge's decision on council officers. The decision could have been made before Christmas, when it was on my Cabinet agenda, but it wasn't and the rest is, I'm sorry to say, history.

I'm told that the application for a new Sainsbury's at Hundreds Farm in Westgate has now been submitted and next week, I've a meeting with Councillor King and Trader's representative Reg Bell, to decide on the next step towards calling a public meeting which can involve both Birchington and Westgate interests.

This week, I also discovered that an application is being prepared for a small Tesco store in Station Road, Westgate, in the disused railway strip opposite Beano's cafe. and the new tapas bar, opening soon

This really did take me by surprise and there is a story attached. When the developer originally put in plans for this very tight spot, I was minded to oppose them but reached a compromise, which involved four small commercial shop units, in keeping with the style of the village, which might attract new businesses locally.

Mr Ellis received earlier planning approval for commercial use but now reportedly wishes to change the proposal quite radically. I'm quite unimpressed by this and do not believe that a Tesco store on this narrow spot is in any way appropriate; parking being the least of my objections.

It very much looks as if Westgate is now being squeezed tightly between the interests of Sainsbury's and Tesco and while that might be a good thing for shoppers' choice, I consider it a really bad position for local traders to find themselves in, so I will be keeping readers informed of what's happening as the weeks pass.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Coincidentally Thanet

Coincidences, like buses, often come along in threes and this week was no different.

The first involved a business dinner on Monday night in London, where the chap sitting opposite announced that he and his wife had visited the Turner Contemporary in Margate over the weekend.

My ears immediately pricked-up and apparently they had stayed in Broadstairs and very much enjoyed the great weather and their vist to 'Turner and the Elements' but were disappointed to find the Margate Shell Grotto closed.

Three things were important here. The first that their visit to Thanet had been positive overall and he had good things to say about Margate's regeneration. The second, was they intended to return for the next exhibit at the gallery and the third, was that people with a class of interests and income, who one would not normally visit Thanet, are coming, spending their money on the island and saying good things about the experience. I recommended they look into the Walpole Bay Hotel or the Reading Rooms, when they next return.

The other coincidences lend themselves to the opposite end of the spectrum and that's aspiration and opportunity among the young.

Last night I shared a beer in my hotel, with a former army officer, recently out of the SAS and now starting his own consultancy business. At a time when UK forces have been involved in the most intense actions since the Korean war, his personal story was remarkable enough but for the fact that he was from Thanet. The second person, a senior police officer in the Serious & Organised Crime Agency, was also a 'local lad' and follows this blog, I'm pleased to say.

What this tells me, together with another example, I wrote about once before, a nuclear submarine commander from Broadstairs, is that the constant drip of negativity frequently reflected in the pages of our local papers, isn't necessarily a true reflection of what exceptional young people from the Isle can and do achieve with the right encouragement, determination and luck to prove the cynics wrong.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Towers Come Down

I was sitting in the best seat in the house, at 2,000 feet opposite the Richborough cooling towers, this morning, as the demolition charges went-off at 09:00. here's a couple of photos (copyright) and more here, as I have to run over to Brighton beach for a job very soon.

The traffic on the approach roads was pretty dense and for a moment, I wondered if I was going to be able to get off the St Nicholas roundabout to the airfield, as a constant stream of cars circled it from the Herne Bay direction.

A pretty day for it but quite how lost aviators will now find their way home is anyone's guess! There will be some confused visitors from France too, I bet, as it's a major navigation landmark. I should say 'was' a landmark!

Friday, March 09, 2012

The High Cost of Dithering

There's only a week to go before the Labour administration here in Thanet, celebrates the first hundred days of Clive Hart's leadership and I'm planning a special pull-out supplement to celebrate this important political milestone for the island.
To date, it's been an unprecedented record of achievement and leadership for the former Health & Safety officer. Thanks in part to Labour's 'No Night Flights' manifesto committment, Manston airport is now up for sale, Travelodge have reportedly pulled-out of their plans to build a hotel which would have funded a new stadium for Margate football club. The council's new Diversity Champion, John Worrow, shot down in flames, a second manifesto commitment on councillor allowances and to cap it all, has started his own 'Independent, Independent' party, with Labour renegade, Ian Driver and may be joined by another, lady member of the local Labour group, if the rumours I'm hearing this afternoon are true.

There is of course more. The island-wide parking policy is looking like a fudge, litter has gone to the dogs and Arlington drags on.

Alternatively, you can read the Leader's column in today's Thanet Gazette and be offered a very different view of local Labour's achievements so far.

Businesses don't like uncertainty and this is  particularly true here in Thanet where political dithering carries a very high cost measured in lost jobs and opportunity. All rather like a slow-motion  train crash or watching a 'Carry-on' film but played out in real life and real time for the citizens of Thanet to enjoy. Thank God, Labour moved 'swiftly' to appoint the island's first 'Diversity Champion' as an urgent priority; firm evidence of Clive's leadership and sound political intuition in difficult times.

A Puff of Smoke

It's all getting a little beyond me. Not only has Infratil put Manston airport up for sale and the iconic Richborough cooling towers are about to go up in a large puff of smoke but we have a new and second independent party of two, in Thanet, led by you-know-who

My thanks to the reader who sent in a link to the Sir Roderick Spode speech on YouTube. This makes a change from Life of Brian's 'Judean People's Front' sketch but I hate to say it not only are Spode's extravagant rhetorical gestures familiar but political life in parts of Thanet is now parodying PG Wodehouse comedy, rather more than the opposite!

Whether it be the characters of Spode or Brian, it's all becoming rather silly and says far more about people than politics.

Finally, I hear that the Sainsbury's application for Westgate will appear on the list of new planning applications next week. Once that happens, we can call a public meeting to discuss it, inviting both Birchington and Westgate traders and residents.

From what I can judge so far, a large proportion of residents are in favour of having a new supermarket on the Canterbury road to challenge the pricing stranglehold of the Co-Op in the villages but traders are quite rightly worried by the potential impact on footfall that this might cause. We need to remind ourselves, that any challenge to Sainsbury's has to be on planning grounds, citing planning law or local council policy and while I expect a heated debate, the arguments need to remain within a tight focus if anything is to be achieved by a public meeting.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Time for a Guiness

I have been over in the south of Ireland this week, running a training course. First off, having refused to fly Ryan Air in the past on principle, I was pleasantly surprised at how how efficient and on-time the no-frills operation was between Stansted and Cork. I also found the airport security at Stansted to be a far less stressful and light-hearted experience. This is in contrast to the norm at Heathrow and Gatwick, where there's a constant risk of offending someone with a careless comment, as we heard on the news a week ago.

On this occasion, I was lucky enough to see a large chunk of Ireland's magnificent scenery from the air and stayed with another pilot, a well-known former RAF Harrier driver, at his farm, which has a convenient airstrip, a big Cessna Caravan (pictured) which he let me fly and three delightful pubs with perfect draught Guiness on tap, in the small village nearby. I must make the time to see more of the country and the small airfield we were using for training was adjacent to the 'Blackwater' which I'm told is famous for its fishing.

Back to Thanet and I hear that one of our independent councillors, having given-up on the idea of mounting his own palace coup to take over leadership of the independent group from Tom King, now plans to establish the Thanet 'Progressive Independent Party', which may be a first. I can understand why people are turned-off local politics when it becomes a matter of personalities and private ambition when it should be all about policies and delivery.

I'm warned, that tonight, our new council Diversity Champion will attempt to set Birchington on its course for independence from the rest of Thanet, declaring a form of UDI and beating Scotland's SNP to a referendum by over a year. Given the rather bizarre, personality-based political shenanigans presently taking place in Birchington, this will quite possibly provide the evening's best entertainment and I plan to go along and watch at the Birchington Centre 7.30 p.m

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Barking Jack Cohen

Is there a doctor in the house?

The recent antics of several of our independent councillors is giving me some cause for concern and I'm sure the same is true of the wider public.

This wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have a balanced council situation, where several, politically eccentric, individuals have a quite disproportional  influence on the lives of everyone living on the island.

Last week we had the spectacle of Cllr Ian Driver vs Cllr Mike Harrison, plastered all over Facebook and before that we had our new 'Diversity Champion' proposing the establishment of a corps of politically-correct blog wardens to 'police' the internet here in Thanet.

This evening we have another personal spat, Cllr 'Barking' Jack Cohen taking on Cllr Alasdair, 'Bearded' Bruce and from reading his widely circulated letter below, my first impression is that he must be having a laugh!

I should add here that Messrs Worrow and Cohen are Birchington councillors and so is Alasadair Bruce (Cons)and this all harks back to two independent double-act wanting free parking for the town in part exchange for the casting votes which switched the council from Conservative to Labour in December.

Jack Cohen writes:

"Dear Cllr Dr Bruce,

I have noted in your recent submission to the press appearing in "Your Views" that you address me as Mr Cohen , not Dr or Cllr as you always ensure is attached to your name.

You cannot plead ignorance as your reply relates to my recent press release that clearly states my professional and Cllr status.

I am not aware of the reason you call yourself Dr but I am sure you are unable to refute my credentials as shown on the General Dental Council National register.

Whatever, I consider your omissions as disrespectful, insulting and and demising. That may not be your intention but that is how it appears to me.

I do not wish to make this an issue that cost the community considerable expenses and rather than going to Standards at TDC I will give you the opportunity to publish an ungarnished ERRATUM in whatever paper you may have misrepresented me, the Gazette being the first that comes to mind. Naturally , I expect to see and agree to its content.

If I do not get confirmation of your concurrence by Wednesday 7th March 2012 I will take the alternative course of action."

Yours sincerely,
Cllr Dr Jack Cohen"

Alasdair Bruce's reply is given below but I really feel that with families needing food handouts from charities and people sleeping on our streets, the public expects more of their councillors. We have far more serious things to worry about here in Thanet and quite honestly, the prospect of spending public money on a standards investigation simply because Cllr Doctor Cohen, feels personally aggrieved, is distasteful in the extreme. What Dr Cllr Jack means by 'Demising', I'm not quite sure, as the dictionary definition is: "The end of existence or activity. termination." So perhaps he plans to leave us abruptly before the next council meeting; leaving Thanet's politicians breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Cllr Bruce replies:

"I note your comments below and would merely point out that I took my lead from your letter in the Gazette of the 24th of February 2012. To quote your letter:-

'Instead Mr Bruce opposed this resolution...........' and

'Now that Mr Bruce is no longer encumbered....'

If you still wish to take action now - please do, but be warned, I will take a counter action based on your earlier letter quoted from above."

Friday, March 02, 2012

Politically Correct

I've just come from Margate where you can see our 'diversity blogging warden' has been busy installing a gibbet on the harbour arm. I'm informed that our reportedly 'unreconstructed socialist' comrade councillor,  Mike Harrison will, as a penance, be invited to try it out for size by Ian Driver and will serve as a short-stay contemporary exhibit for Turner and the Elements, if you'll forgive the pun.

There's a prize for the first amateur photographer who can capture one of our trademark pink sunsets setting behind the gibbet. Quite what Stephen Fry will make of it all, when he visits the gallery is anyone's guess; what with Occupy Margate's tented protest village and an unreformed blogging socialist suspended precariously over the jetty as an artistic political statement!

I may have to run-off to Ireland for a couple of days on Sunday but I will make a point of not wearing a scarf when I pass through Gatwick's security zone either.

I had the 'third degree' a couple of years ago, when I was lucky enough to help position a Gulfstream executive jet from Manston to Milan's Linate airport.

Having arrived in Italy and passed through the private terminal, with a nod at passport control, I had to pick-up an Easyjet flight back into Gatwick an hour later.

I was still wearing my 'high-viz' yellow tabard and carrying my pilot's briefcase when I passed through the chaotic zoo the Italians call airport security and was immediately stopped. In the bottom of my bag was my top of the range Swiss Army knife, which I normally carried around in my own aircraft as a useful tool and I had quite forgotten it was there. After all, I had wandered unchallenged, through a near deserted Manston, unlocked a jet, climbed-in, started the engines and flown-over the Alps in 90-minutes with no problem but at that moment and being without a beard, I was clearly dodgy. After all, dressed as a pilot, I was armed with a pocket knife and so had some serious explaining to do.

In the end and having confessed to a series of misdemenours which fell short of traveling equipped to hijack an aircraft, my pen-knife was confiscated and I was allowed to catch my flight back to England' that's after the obligatory two hour delay!

Lord knows what might have happened if I had been foolish enough to be wearing a scarf!