Monday, December 31, 2012

Praedicatur atque Politics

St Mildred's bay
I've been gazing into my morning cup of Earl Grey, trying to discern the future from the tea leaves. Quite how this works when a Twining's finest tea-bag is involved, I can't quite say but the New Year's visions spilled from the drink's muddy depths in quick succession.

There will be more political scandals and indiscretions of one kind or another here in Thanet but given recent history, this more closely resembles an unavoidable statement of fact than a Nostradamus-like prediction. To the outsider, local politics frequently represents a series of long-running personal feuds, frequently nothing to do with politics and split in many directions age and ideology among them.

While Ian Driver's one-man medicine show crashes around the island in pursuit of news-worthy and populist causes and Cllr Dr.Jack Cohen continues to be supported by officers during planning meetings, Leader of the Independents, John Worrow, will, in return for his self-absorbed propping-up of the administration, demand that Council Leader, Clive Hart, proves his public commitment to 'progressive' diversity, by including an openly gay or at the very least, a bi-sexual councillor on his Labour cabinet. This would, he may insist, set a bold example to the Conservatives opposite, who, rather like me, would much rather get-on with the rather more important challenges facing the island, than continually waste Council time with staged bickering over diversity issues.

With the Kent County Council elections only five months away, Labour will be expecting to recover some of the seats it lost the last time around when it was effectively wiped-out at County Hall in the wake of Gordon Brown's charm offensive and the recession. Having written the obituary for the Margate Charter Trustees and finished university in the same year, the energetic, young Will Scobie, presently Mayor of Margate, will likely have a four week gap between the end of his mayoralty and being presented by patron, Clive Hart, with a relatively safe Margate county ward, to fight as part of Labour's on-going youth opportunities scheme. There are strong  rumours of an attempt, among members of the local Party, to try and position Will as a local youth candidate, just in time for the next General Election.

Hovercraft on Margate Sands
UKIP will become a force to be reckoned with both locally and nationally and Labour will hope that the same pattern of voting that split the Conservative vote and delivered Jodie Hibbert a surprise seat in Westgate, described by Cllr Jack Cohen in last week's Thanet Gazette as "A magnificent victory," may be repeated in the County elections. Given the message that I heard repeated on the doorstep, that voting Labour in Westgate would reverse the local benefits cuts, I'm looking forward to see if that particular conjuring trick is ever delivered to those who were naive enough to believe the promise.

Attempts will continue through the Council's standards process, by the independents, to put an end to this weblog and its clumsy satire. I should add that I spoke with the monitoring officer last week and informed him that I had apologised unreservedly for using the adjective 'Sober' in conjunction with Cllr Jack Cohen and in the circumstances, further public expense and a full hearing in January would appear unnecessary, at least to me. I'm afraid the earlier clip from the Woody Allen film, 'Bananas' stands the test of independent scrutiny and is deemed to be fair comment on the charged political atmosphere here in Thanet.

Labour, concerned that ThanetLife is now attracting rather too many readers, will stage a circulation fight-back with a resurrected weblog from the lovable 'Lenin', Cllr Mike Harrison, crammed-full of hot socialist news topics, personal reminiscences of the good times during the Spanish Civil War and the occasional Facebook indiscretion. In fact and in the interests of balance and fair play, I'm rather tempted to offer to write it myself!

Here in Westgate, where I live and work, I suspect we may see a resurrected Sainsburys application for the Canterbury Road as the company can afford to battle-it out with the Council over what is for it, small change planning costs. A Tesco Metro in Station Road may be a different story when it comes before the planning committee and if I were a betting man, I might think that residents and traders' objections in addition to the highways issues, like Sainsburys might stack the odds against it. Planning is of course based on legislation and not wishful thinking and like the courts, it's always very difficult to predict an outcome until the jury delivers its decision. That said, I'm vaguely optimistic that the Council will win the Dreamland CPO case and that at long last, the amusement park will have a future, however modest, on which Margate can help rebuild its fortunes as a popular seaside destination for all the family.

Before, I forget, another prediction, with my fingers firmly crossed, is an end to the flooding experienced in Westgate in 2012. Our MP, Sir Roger Gale has also been pursuing this complaint with Southern Water and I've  received a letter from Katie Lewis, KCC's Drainage and; Flood Manager advising that "the cleansing work has now been undertaken and there has been no further reports of flooding since this work was completed."What goes down the drains in Westgate and occasionally blocks them, is something I would rather not dwell-upon.

I've lost my flow of thought and the dog, asleep on my desk in front of me is no help as its excessive flatulence can drive me away from my work for short periods. So I'll take a break and wish everyone who has visited my weblog in 2012, a very Happy New Year in 2013 as well.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Harvey and Rabbit

My small dog is an avid television fan and is especially keen on programmes, such as 'The Dog Whisperer.' Meerkats of any shape or size and the movie, 'Ice Age.'

Causing particular excitement this Christmas, is the new TV advertisement by ThinkBox, 'Harvey and Rabbit.' As as a special request, I've embedded it here, so the small furry film critic, presently sitting on my desk and looking out of the window, can watch it on the iPad, which is a whole new experience for her.

Moving on to more serious issues and following-on from yesterday's entry, my daughter asked me recently why Governments can't just print more money to escape a recession. It's an astute question, because of course they do but call it 'quantitative easing' which brings the risk of inflation with it like a plague-infected flea on the back of a rat.

If you ask anyone in the street and many politicians, it's quite likely that they won't recall how we arrived at the mess we are now in and it's all to do with Gold.

Until 1971, the quantity of dollars the US Government placed into circulation was linked to the amount of Gold held in the treasury at Fort Knox; remember James Bond and Mr Goldfinger? Most western governments worked the same way and this was called the 'Bretton Woods' standard and quite simply prevented governments, like our own, from printing currency when they wanted to.

However, in the irresistible race to make government larger, raise money for huge projects and to employ millions of hitherto unemployed people in the public sector, two things happened which led us to the dilemma we face today.

Firstly, government did what it had always done when it couldn't raise money to meet costs through direct taxation, it issued bonds. However, this rapidly became the equivalent of you or I paying for Xmas on our credit cards as old debts were recycled into new ones; almost identical to moving the balance from one big debt, to a new credit card with an introductory and attractive lower rate but over a greater period of time, so you pay more interest in the longer term.

But who pays you might ask and this is when it becomes very clever and explains why the banks are a vital part of our twisted economic ecosystem. The Government issues, let's say £1billion of bonds at 5% interest and sells these to the big banks; exchanging the paper IOU's for hard money the government can spend. The paper is quite worthless unless of course, the Bank of England or any other central bank, then prints the money, which it gives to the private banks in return for the IOU's with interest and this is what happens. If you tried this in the real world you might get arrested for fraud.

So far, so good you might think but the collapse of the Gold Standard removed any restraint on government printing as much money as it wished, with the spectre of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s, hovering in the background. This is where you and I pay for this conjuring trick, without realising it, because that's how we get inflation. Western government agree on their inflation targets each year to synchronise their currencies to prevent them becoming worthless over time; think of the Zimbabwe dollar as an example of a currency outside the system.

Since 1971, the Pound has lost 90% of its value, in contrast with the Swiss Franc, which is still locked to the Gold their government holds in their Zurich vaults. This means that someone has to pay to pay for the interest each year, this is fundamentally what we call inflation, through a deliberate policy of allowing prices to rise to balance the decline in the value of the currency. And if everyone is in it together, the prospects of any one nation dropping-out of this poker game is rather too frightening to consider when countries like Greece and Spain can no longer pay the interest payments.

Lastly of course, the arrival of New Labour and in particular Prime Ministers Blair and Brown, introduced an even cleverer conjuring trick to fund the runaway expansion of government. This was called 'PFI.' the public finance initiative. It is no different to a really impressive credit card but one with extended payment terms and which isn't controlled by the banks but by private business instead. So if you want to build new schools and hospitals, you do a twenty-five year deal with a big company at eye-watering levels of interest; think of

You get get all the big projects which Government dreams about on credit, which convinces the voters that the government and in this case Labour, with its creative borrowing tricks going back to Harold Wilson, is wonderful with our taxes and great with its finances. All these vote-catching initiatives are of course mortgaged against the tax-returns of future generations and our grandchildren are saddled with the debts. And there's another problem and that's over time the number of people receiving more in benefits than they contribute in taxes has been rising steadily. These hidden' off books' liabilities are estimated at being worth over 20% of or GDP or £11,330 of debt per household, in addition to the existing £32,000 of 'official debt' left to each home by the last government.

The political argument is a relatively simple one. Conservatives are naturally resistant to borrowing against an uncertain future and the taxes of future generations but this represents a central pillar of Labour's game. This works when economies grow in a predictable fashion and income tax revenues remain sensibly proportionate to expenditure but this hasn't happened for over twenty years now as western economies stagnate and there is little guarantee that future generations will have the economic strength to repay the interest on these huge loans, let alone the capital. This explains why the present government is trying so hard to bring the debt down so fast in such painful austerity measures.

So when I sit across Thanet's council chamber and hear our present Labour administration carping about finance, toffs and 'greedy bankers' I consider that the sad joke is on them, because like some post-modern version of George Orwell's 'Animal farm' they've swallowed the hopeless fiction of the past, pedaled by Ed Balls and worse still perhaps, these same people are following the same dated class war agenda and control our local finances here in Thanet.

"It had become usual to give Napoleon the credit for every successful achievement and every stroke of good fortune. You would often hear one hen remark to another, 'Under the guidance of our Leader, Comrade Napoleon, I have laid five eggs in six days'; or two cows, enjoying a drink at the pool, would exclaim, 'Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes!'

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Zen and the Art of

A little late in life, I survived my first shaving encounter with a straight razor with both ears still intact and only a small scratch on my cheek. It's easy to understand now why the Victorians boasted such magnificent beards and mustaches, given the potential life and death nature of the daily shave.

In fact, shaving the traditional way, with a straight-razor, badger-hair brush, bowl and soap, like our grandparents did, is ecologically sound, and has the feeling of a long-lost and meditative, Zen-like ritual, I'm familiar with from the martial arts. But you can't do it quickly and most certainly have to run the blade across your face very carefully indeed.

Should you feel tempted to try it, here's a quick guide but I also recommend the excellent Braun electric shaver, my daughter bought me for Christmas, which does the same job in seconds, rather than fifteen minutes but without the excitement of a  near death experience.

Changing the subject completely, I see that one of more alarmist, irregular and less incisive weblogs is asking whether the 13,000 on benefits, here in Thanet, will soon have to choose between crime or starvation? Dismissing this statement out of hand for the rubbish it is, reminds me of the regular diatribe from Labour's Cllr Michelle Fenner, in the politically heated atmosphere of our local Council chamber.

Yes, times are hard and possibly the hardest in living memory and all across the Western-world, living standards are falling and jobs are under threat.

Just to remind ourselves of the underlying facts though, it's not just the fault of wealthy bankers, privately-educated 'Toffs' or indeed, 'The rich,' whoever they may be. In 2010 the American Government spent $1,900 billion more than it collected in tax and last year borrowed $100 billion each month to pay the bills, hence the real worry this week over the United States falling-off its 'Fiscal cliff' and taking us with it.

Thanks in the greater part to Gordon Brown and our last Labour Government, Britain's total public and private debts are proportionately larger than the USA, at more than five times our entire annual economic output. In Spain, France and Italy, this total debt is between three and four times annual output. Not as bad as Greece though, whose debt it 132% of its output.

Fortune Teller
As Douglas Carswell points out in his book, 'The End of Politics,' many of those countries that spent the last century pursuing a free market approach, now have bigger state sectors than those that followed the magnificently bearded Karl Marx; whose all-consuming concern for the welfare of the proletariat left him no time to shave.

Russia's state sector is smaller than our own and the more we spend on government, the more we get and just the cost of complying with European red-tape and regulation, now costs us £20 billion each year, 2% of our GDP. This places the £70 billion or so of bank rescues, most of which the Government will get back with interest, into perspective.

Despite the valiant efforts of the deficit deniers, like so many of my Labour diversity-obsessed colleagues on Thanet Council, we have reached a point in our history where our national debt and an addiction to cheap credit, built-up over the last twenty years, not only becomes unmanageable but saps our prospects for future growth.

In 1990 the western nations accounted for over 80% of global GDP. Today, it's 60% and falling fast; predicted to be less than 50% in five to seven years. On the other hand, since 2004, the Chinese economy's output increased by 126%, India by 90% and Brazil by 37%, while here, the only real growth of consequence, was in debt and taxation.

Thanks to our welfare state, nobody should starve to death, be denied free and prompt medical care or indeed, be forced into a life of crime. However, if collectively, we don't wake-up to what is taking place around us in the world, think less about entitlement and more about being competitive as a nation, then we will most assuredly go the way of other European economies that have discovered that the free lunch they once lived-on, is being eaten by younger and more energetic nations.

Reducing the huge debt that could sink us and drawing-back the unwieldy, bloated apparatus of expensive and inefficient government in Westminster and Brussels, isn't going to be easy for any political party of the left or right but it has to be done, as the alternative to decisive action, is really to frightening to contemplate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Morning After

With the Sun out this morning, I've been out walking the dog and stocking-up on a few supplies from town.

As you can see from the photo opposite, the bottle bank in the St Mildreds Bay car park is overflowing already and in Westgate's Station Road, some residents of the flats in between the shops, have once again ignored the Christmas rubbish collection schedule and simply left their food waste on the street in black bags for the Seagulls to pillage. This is an on-going problem which defies any resolution, that is unless the Council actually moves on its many letters and warnings to the absentee landlords and prosecutes. All the litter bins I saw in Station Road, are now full of domestic waste with black bags stacked to the side and it's still only Boxing Day.

Kevin, our road-sweeper, here in Westgate, stopped me on Christmas Eve and told me he is being moved to Cliftonville in the New Year. He tells me that this will leave Westgate without any regular sweeper, which given the photographs, you can see in this entry, would be a rubbish nightmare for the town. I plan to seek an urgent meeting with the Council's Director of Service and discover what this is all about, because as ward Councillor, and Shadow Cabinet Member for the Environment, I've heard nothing about any changes locally.

I was given one of those remarkble, tiny iPhone controlled helicopters for Christmas, with a small camera in the nose and I have rather unsuccesfully being trying to master it this morning, much to the amusement of the dog. I've very quickly reached the conclusion that I should stay with fixed-wing aircraft as I would very obviously be a complete failure as a helicopter pilot.

In a few years time, we can expect to see flocks of these little machines, buzzing around our world like giant dragonflies,as surveillance moves from the static CCTV cameras of today to the remote-controlled robot drones of tomorrow. The US military is already well-advanced in the development of tiny battlefield drones and its only a matter of time before the police join the queue, citing national security interests.

Earlier, I had a chap call me from Warrington and offer me the extravagent sum of £300 and a bag of crisps, to fly up there and display a personal message for him. He seemed quite hurt and surprised when I suggested that he would not even cover the petrol and hire costs of a beaten-up white van, let alone an aircraft and a pilot on Boxing Day.

Twenty-four hours into Christmas and I see I'm already 1.5 kilos heavier with a Boxing Day lunch yet to come. Time to rummage about downstairs and re-discover that pair of running shoes that rarely see the light of day from the bottom of the hall cupboard.

Dicing with death as ever, my wife has bought me a new - reconditioned classic razor; I always wanted to try the traditional type but whether I have the courage to use it is another question entirely. If you see me missing part of an ear in the New Year, you'll know why!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Elf Service

Cindy and Paul
I've been casting around all day, in miserable weather, for the perfect Christmas Eve photograph for this weblog and had given-up, that is until I was sent on a mission to the Co-Op for milk, bread, beans and bananas; no expense spared for Christmas Day lunch in my house.

At the supermarket, I spotted the perfect Christmas photo opportunity, catching Santa and one of his delightful elves inspecting the half price offers on the Xmas spirits aisle. As is ever the case, I wasn't carrying my grown-up camera, so once again, my iPhone had to do.

Without a doubt and if you shop in Westgate, you'll know that Paul is the most outrageously cheerful Santa that one could possibly imagine and even Scrooge himself has been know to smile when Paul is behind the cash register.

I 'Tweeted' earlier, that at times, Christmas feels like something we endure, rather than enjoy; a sentiment that appears to have picked-up a number of sympathetic re-tweets. It is however a very special time for everyone and in particular the younger members of the community and I'll make one last effort to read the traditional 'Night before Christmas' to my daughter, before she turns eighteen in two weeks. I might have trouble catching her however.

Whether I'll have the time, energy or indeed the enthusiasm to write over the remainder of this week, I don't know but I would like to wish each and every one of my readers a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to come.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Buried Past

I've been looking back on the Christmas entries on this blog over the last couple of year's and I'm reminded that in 2010 we were almost buried under the snow. This year, it's unceasing rain and we're very lucky not to be close to any rivers of any size.

In twelve month's time, I will have been writing this particular weblog diary of mine for ten years and you can find the archive, as well as links and photo libraries, along the right-hand margin. That's  if you fancy a stroll down memory lane to see what might have been happening here which caught my interest.

Back in 2006 I stumbled across 'Elf Yourself" which allows you to created a dancing Xmas card elf from your own photo. I've embedded the link again if you want to give it a try.

Also, this time in 2006, police charged two local men connection with the theft of a jet engine worth £60,000 from African International Airways at Manston. Whether they planned to try and sell it for the scrap metal value or pass it on via eBay, I never found out but 'Only in Thanet' was my remark at the time. I rather imagined the pilot of the cargo aircraft arriving on the Monday morning and discovering that one of the engines had been stolen during the night.

Map of Westgate on Sea - Survey 1872
In 2004, I wrote: "Will we discover that Osama Bin Laden isn’t really living in the mountains of Pakistan but in a council flat in Tower Hamlets."  I was close. We still have Abu Qatada, but Bin Laden wasn't in Afghanistan, as we subsequently learned but Abbotobad, which is actually twinned with Blackburn in Lancashire; as remarkable as Margate being twinned with Yalta.

A note of thanks to Lorraine Hambidge, who popped-in yesterday with copies of two old maps. The earliest, (1872 survey) shows what could be the remains of a sizeable Roman structure, which occupies the space between Beach Road and Sussex Gardens in Westgate, on the grounds of the old St Mildred's hotel. Just as interesting is reference to a Roman cemetery on the north-eastern side of Norman Road, (marked 44) which may explain the occasional lumps of white marble that appear. There's another unknown structure at note 16 with a series of walls, in the area of Saxon Road.

Roman Remain Map St Mildreds Bay
When I was flying down to Dorset  and Old Sarum, last Monday in a very bright and low morning Sun across Kent, after all the rain, the archaeology showed up remarkably well. If you are familiar with the Shell service station on the Thanet Way, the hill behind it is an ancient fort, (enter "Denstroude" into Google maps) complete with a buried wall structure, visible from the air. Further on towards Rochester, there are several lost ancient villages with the round hut markings and pathways still easily seen. One for Time Team perhaps. I could go on for hours but my dog is insisting I do something useful, like take her for a morning walk!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Not Quite the End

It's passed the moment of 11:11 am on Friday 21st December 2012 and to my great surprise, I'm still here with no visible signs of a passing apocalypse other than the small dog, sitting on my desk, breaking wind.

I suspect that you too  may have survived but as I look out of my window, towards the seafront at St Mildred's Bay, I don't see even a solitary seagull, so perhaps you have all been 'raptured' off to heaven without me, along with tens of thousands of credulous Americans and many hundreds of believers, camped outside Mayan pyramids on the Yucatan peninsula and now looking rather disappointed.

Strangely enough, the internet still appears to be working, at least for now, which is a good sign as Amazon still have a few late Christmas offers remaining with guaranteed delivery on Monday morning.

So while I'm waiting for everything to get back to normal, here's Jim Morrison and 'The Doors' famous Vietnam era, song 'The End' from the movie, Apocalypse Now . Strangely enough, Martin Sheen, the main actor, used to attend the same church as me, when he lived in London.

Finally and with another hundred thousand years to go before the next prophecy, does anyone recognise the black cat, that's now a regular at Molly's in Westgate. If you do, his bar tab has now run-out and he's quite partial to a saucer of Pina Colada, before passing out for the remainder of the day.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End

 Abel Gance's - The End of the World.
The predicted and much anticipated end of the world, expected just after 11am on Friday morning, may interfere with your last-minute Christmas shopping plans but it really can't be helped. However, I understand that Cllr Ian Driver is making a last minute attempt to bring the matter before the Council's Scrutiny Committee. This is despite the insistence of Labour's Council Leader, Clive Hart, that the imminent apocalypse is fully inclusive and that the residents of Ramsgate, lying directly in its path, have been properly consulted on potential environmental impact.

As the instrument of universal doom, still remains uncertain, Cllr Iris Johnston has returned from Dublin to be with us and has written a strongly-worded letter to Charles Buchanan at Manston airport, insisting that no rogue asteroids should be permitted to land before 7AM and the same applies to Father Christmas, as some Ramsgate residents have complained in the past over low flying reindeer arriving at the cargo terminal after dark on Christmas Eve.

I will of course attempt to keep blogging until the last possible moment and today, I'm promoting a special offer on flying marriage proposals for any reader that might wish to 'pop the question' before its too late. While here in Westgate, I'm recommending comfortable shoes and a supply of real ale, I understand that fellow, blogger, Michael Child, will be standing under the cliff at Ramsgate's Royal Sands, just after midnight, to see if it really does collapse and others who share his concerns are welcome to join him but please bring a vigil candle, wellington boots and warm clothing.

As this is very much a public service announcement, please send in comments on your own plans or those in your town to deal with the end of the world. It's recommended that you divest yourself of all your worldly goods and I have a small amount of room available in my attic for precious metals, expensive works of art and large denomination bank notes, should you feel the need to surrender them.

Our Council's 'Diversity Champion,' John Worrow will monitoring the situation to ensure that all minorities, faiths and interests are properly represented when the end finally comes, whatever shape it might take and that no one one group is seen to have an advantage over another on Judgement Day. His independent colleague, Cllr Dr Jack Cohen, has also negotiated free parking for all Birchington residents in the High Street from midnight.

Clive Hart will shortly be issuing a press release, announcing his satisfaction that the end of the world will take place under an inclusive Labour Council; not a Conservative one and Margate's Mayor, Cllr Will Scobie, will be 'twittering' a live commentary from the top of the Arlington tower, just after 10:55 am tomorrow, should you wish to tune-in.

Philip Hamberger, Thanet's new Director of Corporate Services & Transformation has reportedly left the Council before the end of the world arrives, leaving us all a little surprised and of course, the apocalypse will arrive after the Thanet Gazette goes to print, so nothing new there!

Jason, our very wet 'Postie' just advised me that I've had my last letters now as he can't guarantee the sorting office will exist in the morning, so good luck and I recommend reviewing the first chapter of Douglas Adam's 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' before the evening.

Lastly, the first picture, is a poster from an early cinema classic, the 1931 Abel Gance film, "The End of the World" which starred my grandmother, who was raised and lived in Westgate.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Motorway Chaos

I've been over Essex this morning and gave an impromptu 'Eye in the sky' traffic report to Julia George at BBC Radio Kent from the QE2 bridge at Dartford.

The M25 and its approach roads are a terrible mess. The motorway is closed on the north side of the bridge by lakeside after an incident, with several police cars and motorway recovery vehicles on the carriageway. The route into the tunnel looks blocked with all approach roads on the north side jammed.

On the south side of the river, the traffic jam extends as far as the eye can see towards Brands Hatch and from Blue Water and the M2 and M25 junction it stretched in both directions. A really bad day for drivers and I'm told the motorway may remain closed for four hours.

You'll see I've added an iPad 3.0 to my co-pilot control column and I've ordered an iPad mini to mount on my own. It's remarkable that in such a short period of time, the technology has completely overtaken the conventional avionics kit at a tiny fraction of the price and with more functionality.

With the iPad, I can immediately pull-up up to date weather, charts as well as instrument approach plates in bad conditions and its a huge safety innovation,as much if not all of the information I might need to navigate a flight is directly at my finger-tips without having to go 'heads down' at any time searching for it.

On a completely separate note of news, you may have heard that Erick Pickles has announced that Council's will see their spending drop a further 1.7% next year to add to those cuts already applied to date.

The landscape of local government is very obviously changing and the writing was on the wall and a subject of discussion, even before the recession struck and during Gordon Brown's time as Prime Minister.

The decade that followed Tony Blair, saw entitlement, costs, pensions and salaries run completely out of control. As the coalition seeks to reduce the deficit it inherited, the financial consequences will be seen across every service that we've become used to and frequently perceive as a right rather than simply incremental services local government was able to deliver through generous central funding in the past; spending money it had borrowed from our grandchildren.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Counting Down the Days

Views of Margate by Max Montagut

Views of Margate, a photo by Max Montagut on Flickr.
My Council email inbox this morning, has an invitation to attend a Council standards hearing in January, so I should feel privileged, as this is an extraordinary accolade, a result of a thorough expert and independent investigation of this weblog and a consequence of not inconsiderable tax payers' expense.

As this appears to be a week for Councillor's public apologies, a precedent set by Cllr Ian Driver, I thought I might reduce further public expense in these difficult times, by making my own public apology here.

The complaint in question, bought by one of our Independent councillors, surrounds several allegations in regard to reported content that appeared on this weblog earlier in the year. The Council appointed an independent, outside investigator, to take statements and research the content of ThanetLife in regards to the allegation that I was both antisemitic and disrespectful to one of our distinguished members in breach of the Standards Code.

However, to quote the investigator's comprehensive report, the Councillor was in fact' unable to produce evidence" of either anti-antisemitism or indeed, that a YouTube clip on ThanetLife, demonstrating a "Very drunk Rowley Birkin" character, shown in the clip, further below, was directed at him.

The investigator has independently established that 'The legendary drinks cabinet' "One careful owner", referred to in this weblog, "Is based in fact and potentially justified", is "an antique;" a matter of some personal pride to its owner. Reference to its "Leaving a trail of rare whiskey fumes and political broken glass in its wake", might be regarded as "satirical comment".

Which leaves two further remarks on this weblog, the report has considered to be in breach of the standards code. The first of these was made in reference to special, senior appointments, carrying a generous allowance, within the Council under Clive Hart's new minority Labour administration: "Follow the money" and the second, an allusion to diligent sobriety in regard to the character of a respected local councillor.

The investigator concluded that the "use of satire is commonplace within political commentary and Cllr Moores claims his right to free speech." She does however reach two conclusions. That the reference to financial gain in seeking a position of influence; i.e. 'Follow the money". "Is inaccurate, speculative and potentially damaging and a contravention of paragraph 3.2 of the Standards Code." She also concludes that I have "breached paragraph 3.2" again by describing the councillor as 'Sober' ..."Through the use of his nickname."(Sober Jack.)

Therefore and in order to help reduce further public expense in this lengthy investigation and the hearing yet to come and in the spirit of Christmas goodwill, I would like to unreservedly apologise to Cllr Dr Jack Cohen, for giving readers the impression, that his motives in seeking the position of independent Chair of Planning at Thanet District Council, were in any way financial. Furthermore, I wish to apologise for the disrespect shown in describing him as 'Sober; the independent investigator having decided against the nickname, "Sober in relation to Councillor Cohen;" being in an way appropriate or acceptable, a direct quote from her report.

I hope now we can bring an end to this drawn-out, unique and expensive public inquiry and I will leave you with an old favourite to enjoy and of course, not in any way related to the complaint in question.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Real Ale Christmas

I seem to be in the local micro-pubs so regularly this week that people may start to talk!

On this occasion, it was for the switching-on of the enormous Christmas tree in the very small Bake & Alehouse behind Westgate's Carlton cinema. This time as I was walking, I chanced a half pint of 'Snow Top' as the 'Ravening Wolf' was off.

Unfortunately, Brad and Angelina weren't able to drop-in from their busy filming schedule to turn on the lights but nobody noticed and Peter, the landlord (pictured) gave a short speech of welcome before the Christmas cake was wheeled-out.

I wasn't sure I would have room here to show a photo of the tree, borrowed from Trafalgar Square, but I'm sure you will agree it's magnificent and a good time was had by all.

This morning, I had an email from a local resident who appears to be under the impression that a Tesco Metro in Westgate is a 'Done deal' with the Council.

I can assure readers that this most certainly isn't the case and there is a process that is about to begin which is completely transparent and which will end with the application coming before the all-party Planning Committee, which people will be free to attend, as I have called in the application. I hope that's clear to all.

I will be keeping readers informed of dates and other news and will of course be speaking to the Westgate and Westbrook Residents' Association and traders on a regular basis.

I'm awfully behind with my Christmas cards this year, being much busier with work than usual. I've popped-up a quick card to all my readers on the sidebar, wishing each and everyone of you, trolls and politicians included, a wonderful Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pet Shop Boys

An overnight mystery raid at Westgate's pet supplies store in Station Road has pet detectives baffled.

The window was smashed and the motive for the crime is as yet undetermined, although a suspect, one-eyed, black 'Staffie', wearing a red bandana and gripping a crowbar between its teeth, was seen fleeing the scene in the early hours of Saturday morning!

Jackie, today's duty manager, tells ThanetLife, this isn't the first time the shop has been targeted and on the previous occasion, the supplies of Bob Martin's expensive 'Flea Clear' were removed from the shelves above the counter.

I'm led to understand that Flea Clear, other than being highly effective against 'Siphonaptera,' is also favoured by addicts who like to sniff or smoke its working ingredient, Fipronil. I can't actually find any medical reference to this but it's not recommended in animals or humans. I would count this as an all-time addictive low, even here in Westgate. Quite possibly it's the high cost of the medicine and the potential re-sale price to flea-sufferers, that makes it attractive instead.

Smash and Grab
If anyone should offer you a cheap packet of Flea Clear to smoke or even to rub on your pet, please inform the Police.

The pet supplies store is of course opposite the location for the proposed new Tesco Metro development in Westgate's Station Road and a planning application appeared online last week.

I dropped-in to the Council offices yesterday for an update and had a word with the the planning department, as I have been asked to represent the objectors to the scheme. I understand that in addition to the petition raised by traders, 500 separate letters of objection have been received by the planning office and I will let readers know of any further news and when it is scheduled to come before the committee for decision.

On a not unrelated topic, I spotted a characteristic 'Smudger' report in the Thanet Gazette, describing the opening of the 'Why Not' micro pub, that I covered in an earlier column here.

As a ward councillor, I was invited to cut the ribbon alongside the Gazette's Thomas Brown and that appears to have peeved the editor. You may recall that much like Tesco and Sainsburys. the residents of Lymington and Linksfield road, asked me to represent them in objecting to the micro-pub's planning application and license but it was however approved by the Council's planning committee.

As a Councillor, if I'm asked to represent or advise a local resident or a business on any Council-related matter, then I'm obliged to do this impartially and to the best of my ability, much like a solicitor in some ways. However, the Thanet Gazette writes:

"Biggles buried the hatchet after trying to put the brakes on businessman, Lee Birch's bid to open a micro pub in Westgate. He endorsed a petition to block his license application and spoke out at a meeting .. sic.. That did not stop him joining Lymington Road residents at the pub to drink humble pints."

Curiously enough, I'm the only politician in Thanet, the Gazette refers to in a consistently derisory manner and rarely if ever, you may have noticed, by the title 'Councillor'. So on this occasion, where I was invited by the landlord, Lee Birch to the opening and to cut the ribbon, with no hard feelings on his part, I'm instead painted by the paper as an opportunistic hypocrite, rather than simply doing the job of representing my ward. On the pattern of the last twelve months, I have to conclude the paper's coverage is becoming increasingly personal and deeply unprofessional.

Finally on a sad and more important note, I was sorry to hear of the death of the Walmer Castle pub landlord, John Teagle. I would like to express my condolences to his family as I'm sure would many other readers of this weblog from Westgate.

Friday, December 14, 2012

East Germany with Windmills

Fresh on the heels of Lisa Richards' acerbic' Great British 'Pizza Expose' of Margate and the town's success in being voted as one of the 2013's top tourist destinations, the Daily Mail, has promptly shot the Rough Guide review and the town squarely between the eyes, with Leo McKinstry's latest story.

"Trust me," writes the distinguished local journalist, who lives in Westgate, "it's East Germany with wind farms."

McKinstry quotes the poet, TS Elliot On Margate sands, I can connect nothing with nothing, ’from the poem, ‘The Waste Land’ and adds: "Anyone inspired by the Rough Guide to visit Margate may be in for disappointment. I should know because for the past six years my wife and I have lived on the outskirts of the resort. In a fit of inexplicable folly, for which I must entirely carry the blame, we decided to buy a house there in late 2006."

Like the review of the town from Lisa Richards, which provoked an outraged protest from Ramsgate councillor, Ian Driver, McKinstry's account in the Daily Mail is in dark contrast to the Rough Guide review,  and bound to ruffle more than a few local feathers. I tried to illustrate Margate's charm in some photographs on a fabulous Saturday afternoon walk to the Turner Contemporary, a week ago. If I had tried to do the same today, the results might have been very different, given the awful weather.

This morning I was in the Old Town and heard that footfall is down; dragged along to Westwood Cross as the days count-down towards Christmas. I also listened to what I thought was an excellent suggestion, which was that the Council should act proactively to encourage and attract small businesses to develop the High Street as offices, alongside boutique-style shops, as regeneration in the conventional sense, is seen by many as a pipe dream in the present economic crisis.

Havana View
I wonder what readers think but there's no doubt that Margate and its future still stimulates strong opinions, which are frequently contradictory. Sometimes the harsher truths on uncontrolled inward migration and as a place of exile for prisoners on probation, have to be seen alongside the wonderful Turner sunsets. It's certainly not Havana but there is something of Havana in Margate; the buildings perhaps and sometimes the light and colour which makes its scenery outstanding and inspires a special loyalty among those residents who are fighting to restore it to former and hopefully future glories.

McKinstry describes the Turner Contemporary Gallery: "The building itself looks like a warehouse on an East Midlands industrial estate, while its exhibits are mostly the worst kind of pretentious that that today passes for modern art."

While this may sound like a  jaundiced quote from the art critic, Brian Sewell, we need to recognise that regardless of architecture or artistic taste, the Turner has been a great success and a catalyst in moving the struggling seaside town forward and while I respect my constituent's cynicism and his opinions, I don't necessarily have to agree with his pessimism.

Turner Contemporary Opening
Perhaps it's best that readers consider the criticisms expressed in Leo McKinstry's lively and colourful account of the town and decide, like Lisa Richard's story before it, whether the rather opaque glass which is Margate's future, is half empty or half full?

PS.. Westgate residents, just to remind you of the micro-pub Bake &  Ale House 'Christmas lights extravaganza' which will take place at approx 7.00pm, tomorrow,Saturday 15th Dec behind the Carlton Cinema. As I'm walking home this time, I may try a little 'Ravening Wolf' and a bag of Quex crisps.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Not Indeed

Lee and Anne Birch - Why Not Micropub
It was the official opening of Westgate's newest micro-pub tonight, the 'Why Not' in Lymington Road and I was privileged to cut the ribbon, alongside reporter, Thomas Brown of the Thanet Gazette.

I was delighted to see the former hairdresser's packed with local residents and supporters. Despite the objections of local residents this summer, Lee and Anne Birch have done a fine job and speaking to local people, I believe that in the greater part, they have now be won over by the idea of having this small Real Ale, traditional pub on their doorstep.

I should add, that as I was driving, I only drank ginger ale, as someone is bound to comment otherwise.

I do wish Lee and Anne the very best of luck with their new venture, a long-held ambition for Lee. With a fine selection of real ales and wines to choose from, I'm sure the Linksfield and Lymington residents will have some entertaining and friendly winter's evenings yet to come. I would also like to thank them for their charity donation to the NSPCC from the opening night's raffle.
Thomas Brown  and Simon Moores

Earlier today, I was over at Spilsted Farm near Hastings for some aircraft maintenance. I've a night flight scheduled up to Chester this week and wanted to make sure everything was working perfectly, given the predicted freezing weather. Not quite 'Ice Pilots' but always sensible to make sure.

Spilsted is one of the more radical airfields in the south, as it's rather like a ski-jump. However, the wide angle lens on the Go-Pro wing camera makes it appear almost gentle, rather than a 40 degree slope that you can just about make-out on the take off run directly into the Sun, which doesn't do anything for the recording quality.

If you missed the uproar over the Royal Sands and Pleasurama vote in Council on Thursday, then the Conservative Group have issued a press release on the subject. It's been an unhappy week for our struggling local democracy.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Sunny Side of Margate

Margate Beach December 2012
The contrast in weather between yesterday and today couldn't be more extreme.

I took a walk into Margate a little earlier to enjoy the winter sunshine and shot some photos along the way. You can find the picture gallery here.

The Old Town looked delightful but I was unconvinced by the present exhibition at the Turner Contemporary, which didn't really excite my limited artistic imagination on this visit.

I was quite impressed by the gymnastics of the teenagers jumping of the sand berm on to the beach, opposite Primark and in particular, two lads, Mike in the white shirt and Dan in the red. Future Olympic hopefuls? You never know!

One Giant Leap
James Maskell has asked me what the result of the motion, surrounding mobile phones in the Council chamber was on Thursday night. Without going into detail, we have the neo-Luddites, on the extreme end of the political spectrum, who firmly believe that all phones and digital devices are the work of the devil and should be switched-off  and the digital-progressives, led by young Will Scobie, who believes quite the opposite and indeed, that 'Tweeting' should be encouraged.

I lean towards the 'Scobie-side' of the argument and believe that phones should be switched to silent, out of courtesy and that there should be no barrier to using tablets or smartphones to access data. I did exactly this at a Cabinet meeting earlier this year to bring-up the company records of the Royal Sands developer and correct an error in our own Council documents.

Margate's Old Town
Anyway, as far as I understand it, Will Scobie won the day with his amended motion and Thanet District Council has now officially entered the 21st century, leading Clive Hart to announce that he felt a "Tweet coming on."

Following Will Scobie's speech, there was talk of giving all Councillors a briefing on Social Media but I'm really not convinced, given the problems experienced with FaceBook and Blogs, that encouraging Members; a number of whom have yet to be introduced to the Internet, towards unrestrained 'Tweeting', is a good idea.

Meanwhile, I see that Cllr Ian Driver, is calling for the resignation of Council Chairman, Doug Clark for his “Appallingly partisan and unconstitutional abuse of power,” following Cllr Clark, a Labour Party stalwart, using his casting vote to kill any debate on the controversial Royal Sands development.

Council Business
On this occasion I have some sympathy for Cllr Driver, as I had seconded a very similar motion that was also rejected by the Chairman's casting vote, as reported in the previous blog entry.

Ironically, it was the same Council Chairman and distinguished, former Mayor of Margate,, who was proud to inform me, that he never uses the Internet and wouldn't know how to. I understand that sending baked clay tablets in cuneiform script is the recommended method of contacting him on Council business. If you don't believe me give his email address a try!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Tribal Troubles

Jimmy Choo - Picadilly
I was up in London in a rather busy Piccadilly yesterday and you can probably guess where I was from the photo. Westgate station was being given a thorough cleaning and weeding which was a wonderful early Xmas gift for the town

I arrived back for the evening Council meeting with five minutes to spare and so missed the BBC's 'expose' of so-called 'Tribalism' at Thanet District Council.

I've just watched the recording and here it is if you missed it. To me it looks very much as if the BBC have been manipulated by the Thanet Independents but draw your own conclusions and perhaps watch some of the Council meetings referred to.

Westgate on Sea Station
 Last night was particularly notable for two reasons. The first being Labour's rejection of a motion for the full Council to debate the Ramsgate Royal Sands Pleasurama development agreement, given the concerns expressed at the due diligence process. The second being the remarkable outburst by Cllr Ian Driver, who under privilege and with the developer's agent Terence Painter, present in the public gallery, alleged improper commercial behaviour, in detail that I certainly cannot risk repeating here, for fear of being sued. I'm sure Mr Painter's lawyer's will be busy this morning.

In the light of such grave allegations, for Clive Hart's group to vote against a Royal Sands debate, I feel goes straight against the public interest and I'm sure we will be hearing more on the subject very soon.

Cllr Iris Johnston made a revealing comment last night, when she objected to me using my iPad in the chamber. Councillors may have spotted that at times when Labour members aren't using political hyperbole: "Punishing the working classes," as we heard last evening, they can be rather economical with the truth.

While I explained to the Chairman that I was using the iPad to look up the actual contents of the Chancellor's autumn statement and not Labour's version, Iris Johnston, objected on the ground that it gave me an opportunity to make 'Smart comments.' And there good reader, the gulf between the tired political dinosaurs in the Chamber and the modern world becomes a chasm. Why, because I thought, that checking the real facts about Tuesday's budget speech on benefits and having the Council information available to search, instantly in PDF form on a tablet, was an advantage over tons of useless and expensive paper!

I have to pop-out for a while but more later I hope.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A Column of Smoke by Day

A quick morning entry as it's too wet to take the dog out for a a walk before starting work.

I arrived back from Cambridge in a record 35 minutes yesterday evening, thanks to a strong tail-wind and was lucky to have avoided the snow which has closed both Stansted and Luton this morning.

On the way out at Sunset on Monday, (see photo from above Whitstable wind farm) I spotted what I first thought was an unusual fog bank, stretching from the edge of the Blackwater on the Essex coast, reaching all the way to North Foreland. Then I heard a passing Easyjet flight into Southend, reporting a large fire and as my route took me towards it at 3,000 feet, I went to have a closer look.

Westgate 1920's Enhanced from Original
The fire was on the very edge of military Danger Area 138, which closes at 15:30 and was blazing away on a concrete apron with fierce intensity. This is where they test the big guns and explosives and it looked as if the army had gone home and left whatever was burning to go out on its own. Not very 'green' to say the least, as I reported to Southend ATC that the widening pall of thick smoke reaching up to 500 feet, extended at least 25 miles.

Westgate 1920's Enhanced
I've a presentation to prepare for London tomorrow and that's followed by a Council meeting and several interesting questions among the evening's business. I have signed a notice of motion, requesting that the Pleasurama decision be put before the full Council for proper debate, as I feel that it the proper place to discuss the matter, given events and revelations to date.

I have been asked if there has been any further news of the proposed Tesco Metro development in Westgate and the answer is 'Not yet.' When I hear anything more in regard to the application and the process, I will let everyone know here.

I did have in my diary, the invitation to the opening of the new micro-pub in Lymington road, Westgate on Sunday night. I went along but there was no sign of life. Can anyone tell me if the opening date plans have changed?

Finally, as seen in the photo below, brave staff and students from East Kent College doing a sponsored walk this morning in aid of the Porchlight charity in bitter weather and sleet along the seafront. I hope they find a warm drink along the way!