Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ticking Away

Wishing each and every one of my readers a very Happy New Year ahead for 2014; fully expecting to see the economic recovery continuing, step by very small step. Spare a thought for France which now has close to three million unemployed and perhaps, some of us at least, can agree that austerity was and is a necessary evil to avoid the harsher consequences of attempting to borrow and tax your way out of a recession, as opposed to cutting back on the cost of the rapaciously expanding European socialist bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, if you believe the Daily Mail this morning, every aircraft and bus between here and Bulgaria is fully-booked after tomorrow, with airlines and coach companies laying on extra schedules, simply to cope with the biggest economic migration since the great Californian Gold Rush of 1848. One minibus was reportedly stopped in transit with thirty-four passengers when it only had legal room for nine occupants.

If any such weary travelers should ask you for directions, then please direct them to the "Labour Party, 44, Northdown Road, Margate" where they may expect a warm welcome with hot drinks and the proper application forms to join the UNITE trades union to quickly assist them with their rightful entitlements under EU law.

It's been an odd year, with some equally bizarre local stories; mostly appearing on the blogs.

If you would believe a couple of these, then I should have been arrested, alongside several of my Conservative colleagues, the Chief Executive of the Council and others, following the trial of the former Council Leader, Sandy Ezekiel. Arrests were apparently' imminent' but nothing happened, which of course led to even more conspiracy theories rather than accepting the more simple explanation of individual greed, arrogance and stupidity in public office. This let each and everyone of us down and badly damaged public confidence and trust in local government and it will be a long time recovering.

It's been a year when the local weblogs have become a magnet for all kinds of wild allegations and stories. The best of these by far, is that a former Birchington shooting range was knowingly used by former councillors with secret links to MI5 to train Al Qaeda terrorists, years before Osama Bin Laden, who may or may not have been living in Broadstairs at the time, had thought of starting a global jihad.

Apparently, I may know all about this (picture left) and have been the subject of several failed FOI requests.

Equally bizarre but predictable, was the meteoric rise of young William Scobie from university student to Mayor, to County Councillor to Labour PPC for South Thanet and all inside the space of a single term as a local councillor. I'm not sure that even the legendary Pitt the Younger climbed the slippery political career ladder that fast and he may have still been at university when they made him Prime Minister in 1783.

As the hours tick away to 2014, there is of course another scandal brewing, as I'm surprised the police investigation hasn't concluded after so long. At some point, Clive Hart will have to deal with it, given that the Council's Chair of Finance and Audit is nowhere to be seen and hasn't appeared for several months. Until then, Clive's keeping his fingers firmly crossed.

So what can we expect for 2014 other than the European elections? Well, we have yet to hear who may try to step into Laura Sandy's very capable shoes in South Thanet, other than Will Scobie. Will Nigel Farage have a go? I'm not so sure. I think Farage is far more comfortable being an MEP and it pays so much better than a seat at Westminster. If I was in his position I think I would prefer to retain the many benefits of Brussels and Strasbourg in contrast to the often thankless and unglamorous workload of being a back-bench Member of Parliament.

Now that the Tesco on Margate's seafront has been given the green light, we can expect to see the start of some real changes to the appearance of what is really the shabby-side of the town, from the point of view of visitors arriving at the station or from London. It's controversial I accept but at the same time it's an opportunity to make the town more presentable and attractive and that must be a good thing.

Over in Ramsgate after looking at Twitter over the weekend, you can probably expect Will Scobie to start a campaign to save the town's Station, if Cllr Ian Driver doesn't get there first, not that it needs saving. Labour are very good at such things, like saving your NHS and not being in any way endangered, never stopped anything being saved did it?

Cllr Driver will of course be saving lots of things, very few if any being connected to his role as a local councillor but each and every one, guaranteed to deliver at least twenty seconds on BBC Southeast Today, where he may soon have his own dressing room. One thing is for sure, these topics will exhaust hours of debate in the coming year's Council meetings and like 2013, very little useful business will be achieved between these indignant outbursts, outraged interruptions and the occasional ruffled ejection from the council chamber.

I may continue later but have a great evening tonight and a great year ahead.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


It's a stunning, almost alpine-like afternoon on the costa del seaside, here in fabulous Thanet this afternoon and I have been out taking photos.

In contrast with last week's floods and plane-throwing hurricane, it's a pleasant change to see the weather on best behaviour, for a day or so at least before the next big Atlantic front rolls in our direction.

It's been ten years, since I spent my first family Xmas here and Thanet Life is a useful diary, for me at least, of what happened in the intervening years; being drawn into the often frustrating bear-pit of local politics in an attempt to make this a better place for all.

Perhaps in 2014, we can all finally move on from the miners strike and the 1970s or even 1993; a constant and tedious political reminder in almost every Council meeting.

The next two weeks will show whether fears of a mass influx of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania are alarmist or something we should be worrying about, here on a small, almost-island, with many community support services already stretched to near breaking point.

Whether we will be able to discuss this in Council, once we have a proper and accurate view, post January, is another question.  On previous form it's unlikely, but I intend to try, if only to establish the facts before UKIP start writing the script in advance of the European elections.

Reading the papers today, one story caught my eye above the others. This was the reported complaint of one of the Greenpeace activists, just released by President Putin, under an amnesty. Apparently, Russian prisons don't offer a vegetarian menu, which is somewhat vexing if you are arrested. Clearly he had never read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel, 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The story is set in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s and describes a single day of an ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.

He ate his supper without bread. A double helping and bread--that was going too far. The bread would do for tomorrow. The belly is a demon. It doesn't remember how well you treated it yesterday; it'll cry out for more tomorrow.” 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Still Wild Outside

It's a Google Robot Dog
It's been a pretty wild Christmas and we are still waiting for the worst of the weather to pass us by.

When I look at some of the chaos and destruction the storms have wreaked elsewhere in the country, it places my own experience in perspective. I'm a firm believer in the notion that we are best measured by how we respond to sudden adversity. For so many people, this Christmas will be fixed in their memories for yeas; one of my pilot friends only had his power back yesterday afternoon, after four days without electricity and two small children waiting for Santa.

The papers are desperate to have aerial photos of the small inland sea that was once called Surrey but as you can imagine, with my own aircraft looking very much worse for wear, I'm a bit stuck. Having built-up a reputation among the picture desks of being able to get the job done and delivered in all weathers, this particular Atlantic storm has defeated me in more ways than one.

This morning, I'm waiting for the arrival of the information 'Super Highway' as opposed to the 'Information Highway.' A BT engineer is scheduled to connect me to their 'Infinity' service, now available from the Westgate exchange and delivering up to 60Mb; which is nice. It's over two years since I pleaded with the MD of BT in Parliament's Committee Room 20, to make Thanet one of it's pilot locations for the service and quite honestly, nobody was more surprised than me, when they announced that Westgate was going to be one of the first; totally unexpected.

Pictured for Sale Today SE5A - I'm Tempted
I've noticed today, a surge in the number of crude malware and virus email attempts, not unusual in the Christmas holiday period. If you don't recognise the email sender, don't open any files and given the number of people who have had their Hotmail and Gmail accounts hacked, even if you do recognise the sender, think twice before opening anything unexpected or unusual. I'm sure several readers will probably receive an email from uncle Bob or Auntie Sue or a close friend who has lost everything in a far-off land and is begging that you send them a Western Union money transfer so they can get home. Anything with 'Western Union' should immediately set-off an alarm bell as it's an irrevocable money transfer. Once you have sent it to some nice chap in Lagos, it's gone for good.

I should really try and sit down to make some predictions for 2014 but I expect most if not all of them are rather predictable, at least here in Thanet. What I do expect however, is that the Internet and particularly Twitter, will become increasingly important as a local news source, as the printed reach of the local papers continues to decline. This is both good and bad news, if only because of something called 'affirmative bias,' in that people invariably select, read and believe what fits in with their own prejudices and beliefs rather than that which contradicts them. Increasingly, the Internet is becoming a place where the truth, whatever that might be at any moment in time, is increasingly had to find or even recognise when you see it. That unfortunately is most true of our local online news, with so many conflicting agendas, than possibly at any time in the past.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Remains of the Day

What hurricane, you may ask but around 1am this morning, when my greenhouse imploded, I started to worry about my aircraft parked outside at Manston, tied-down for a job today.

After, all, attached to three big concrete blocks, you might think that an aircraft is going nowhere but such was the strength of one the hurricane force gusts after midnight, that my aircraft was picked-up like a child's toy and hurled through the airport's perimeter fence, concrete blocks and all.

Most of the morning was spent talking to the insurers and arranging for a flatbed, 'cherry-picker' to come to the airport and recover the aircraft back from its position across the fence. It's a complete write-off as you might guess.

As the work I do is very specialised, I can't easily replace one aircraft with another as it has to be equipped and certified for banner-towing with modifications. The one small ray of sunlight is that it's December, the off-season and having spoken with my engineer and insurers, I expect to be fully operational again by March with a new aircraft but it has rather dampened my Christmas spirit.

The strength of yesterday's winds were remarkable and There's another storm on the way. I suspect the MetOffice may have slightly down-played this storm because of the criticism they received over last month's non-event, which my aircraft weathered quite happily. However, last night's  Storm Force 12 in the Channel was something else and I felt very sorry for all the passengers on the four cross-channel ferries who had to ride out the night in thirty-foot waves, unable to put into Dover or Calais.

So I guess I'm grounded for a while but don't let that stop me wishing each and every one of you a Very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Warmly Padded

Merry Christmas to all my readers
One of those days where the weather delivers a strong urge to stay firmly under the duvet but the madness of the last days before Christmas directs otherwise.

I even have a flying marriage proposal lined-up near Gatwick for Xmas Eve, with special approval from ATC to get close-in to the airport to do it. That said, my romantic client will require a special favour from Father Christmas and quite likely God as well, if the weather is going to be anywhere near my own operational safety limits.

Having the national papers pick-up my earlier U-boat photos yesterday came as an early Xmas present, as I really hadn't expected them to like the photos so much. It also goes to show that an investment in a very expensive F2.8 200mm lens was worth the risk, as it delivers the image quality I need under awkward conditions from a moving aerial platform. I have learned from my friends who work for The Sun and the Daily Mail that the latest generation of mid-range cameras are fine if photography is a hobby but commercial photography requires deep pockets for the kit.

Over on Thanet's other two most popular blogs, I see that both ECR and Michael Child are now so sick of dealing with the familiar collection of unmedicated, anonymous, delusional obsessives and attention-seeking trolls, that they have been forced along the route of comment moderation. I never thought I would see the day.

I'm very happy to engage in the occasionally heated political debate elsewhere on the local blogs but more recently, this has become quite impossible. Why, you might ask, would any local politician in his right mind, wish to put himself on offer, given the lonely individuals who appear to spend much of their lives cruising the comments section; tapping-out their bizarre remarks on a sticky iPad with a toothbrush, all wrapped neatly in a straight-jacket and from the comfort of a warmly-padded room.

I can just imagine the standards complaints that will now flood into Thanet District Council and I will subsequently forced to join Brighton's city councillors on a BBC-sponsored,  diversity course, which mixes self-criticism, political correctness and endless repeats of Strictly Come Dancing.

I should really start on predictions for 2014. I did predict that someone was bound to mix-up Nelson Mandela with Morgan Freeman and sure enough, in India they did, with huge sponsored posters paying tribute to the death of the great actor.

Back in Thanet,"I have seen the future and it is very much like the present, only longer." to quote a chap named Kehlog Albran.  I can predict that most people will have their bins emptied over Xmas but some will not. That Clive Hart will cling-on to Labour's control of the Council like many socialist dictators before him; until of course the small group of assorted anarchists and militant Leninists, who gather to toast marshmallows and sing old CND songs over in Broadstairs's Red Hall, decide that the time has come for revolution and march on Cecil Square; again....

Until then, I had better get on with the last of my Christmas shopping like everyone else.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The U Who

German U-Boat © Airads
It's been a fine day and as you can see from the first photo, I've been busy looking for the wreck of the recently exposed German U-Boat on the Hoo Peninsula, near Sheerness.

From the air, you can gain a much better idea of it's condition now the tidal surge has freed most of its structure from the mud. There's also a link to the Daily Mail story where you can find my other photos of the wreck.

What the submarine's story was is still to be revealed but if you know, perhaps you can share it here. It must have a a history and there must be records of its crew and actions in World War One.

KLM Flight Departing
Over at Manston I spotted the KLM flight returning to Amsterdam, as well as an RAF Tornado blazing through at low level. One had a bird-strike yesterday and I'm wondering if it was the same one returning home. It led me to speculate that at the present rate of attrition we will soon have more operational Spitfires in private hands than front-line fighters in the RAF.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Step This Way Please

After watching last night's BBC Panorama report, on the facts and fears surrounding the spectre of mass Romanian and Bulgarian migration in the months ahead, I reached the conclusion that Margate is about to be over-run by a wave of pharmacists, and concert pianists.

There was a lively, if somewhat critical debate that followed on Twitter and I made several small 140 character contributions.

One, that "I've a wild political theory that the BBC, with programmes like Panorama are working tirelessly to pave the way for Ed Miliband," and another; "Viewers can only conclude there are two issues. Romanian migration is open to discussion, the other, the Roma is more difficult."

When a camp of Romanian squatters were evicted from Hendon football club in June, 65 out of the 68 people they found sleeping in makeshift shelters were from the village of Apata, seen in last night's programme. The BBC conceded that it's the mass arrival of the unskilled and uncounted that worries people and encourages support for political parties such as UKIP but at the same time, it's self-censured coverage appears designed to drive opinion to the right of the debate, when viewers intelligence is treated little better than small children.

There's a problem here, that nobody wishes to explore in any depth; certainly not the BBC and which goes back in history almost a thousand years. The Roma people, are as Panorama revealed, a separate ethnic group in Europe and have faced terrible persecution, since they arrived from India, a very long time ago.

Most recently and in the 1940's as the Nazis attempted to build their own empire eastwards in Europe, the Roma, like the Jews, suffered greatly during the holocaust, forgotten by many and now a cause for a deep-rooted sense of guilt among today's new Europeans.

In their own countries, spread among the eastern-European accession states, the Roma are still widely persecuted and to a greater extent live in what we would regard as unacceptable poverty and so, it makes perfect and logical sense for them to seek opportunity in a generous and liberal society, such as our own.

"Unskilled and uncounted" said the Panorama reporter, speaking about nobody in particular and yet everyone watching knew exactly what he meant.

When the BBC talks about Bulgarian and Romanian migration and wheels-out fluent English-speaking pharmacists and engineers as evidence supporting the benefits of free-movement and a border-less workforce, it's being quite disingenuous to the people of towns like Slough or even Margate. It can't say "If you are educated and skilled your'e welcome but if you are not and you plan to beg and claim benefits, then stay at home."

And it's like that with the governments of every European country with some, like France, being more vocal than most and prepared to take direct action to move or repatriate targeted communities of economic migrants in direct conflict with European law but when has that ever bothered the French, who will always act in their own national self interest above anything else?

If we are to manage our nation's future in a diverse, much older, multicultural and possibly poorer society that will approach 70 million people by 2020 we need proper, intelligent debate. Instead however, we dance around many of our deepest issues, those that concern the public most, in a crazed effort of political correctness across both government and the media. Above all, we need to ensure that we achieve a proper balance in our ageing society between those who we can welcome, those who can make a contribution and those we need to sustain and support with shrinking tax revenues.

We need to take firm steps to secure our future here in Britain and stop fiddling at the edges and dithering over the legacy of Europe's violent and divided past.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

In Deep Sheep

It's not good news by any measure; the court case that has Thanet District Council facing damages of over £1 million for taking steps to block what many regard as the vile and inhuman trade in animal exports from the port of Ramsgate.

Of course, I've written about this before and the very real dangers of taking a moral stand with council taxpayers money. I recall several intense discussion among the Conservative Cabinet about the subject and even meeting Laura Sandys and Roger Gale at Westminster, before they went off to represent our problem to Jim Paice, the Minister, who I also happen to know.

From memory, we knew that both Portsmouth and Dover had attempted to stop the trade, had found themselves in court as a consequence and had lost very badly. We also knew that regardless of expressions of good intention from our own Government, we were at the mercy of EU Law - yet again - and as we all know Brussels trumps Westminster these days on virtually every domestic issue one can think of.

While I admire the courage of Clive Hart and Michelle Fenner taking a moral, animal welfare position, following that appalling episode, one day, in Ramsgate harbour, a local Council can't, as we have seen rather too often under the present Labour administration, choose to pursue political and moral crusades with taxpayers money. A local council is under an obligation to work within and interpret the law. It can't ignore it to suit a particular purpose or agenda, however laudable this might appear.

And now we are in a mess, 'In Deep Sheep' to toy with a well-known phrase and I think back to a Council meeting, two years ago, with Animal Rights protesters inside and outside the meeting and where the 'nasty' Conservatives were pilloried, by one member of the Labour group after another, for insisting that we could not take arbitrary and unilateral action against the Jolene and the animal exporter, outside of the law.

I'm sure that many readers, like me, feel very strongly indeed over needless cruelty and animal suffering and there is so much I would like to write but cannot for fear of ending-up alongside the Council in the High Court.

All of us are familiar with that famous expression that 'Evil prospers when good men look the other way' and most of us, equally recognise that animal welfare is a peculiarly British concept, that carries very little real legal weight in Europe the further South you go. It's just another one of those quaint, high-minded concepts we have surrendered to Brussels. While the Minister may wring his hands, nobody this side of the English Channel, has apparently any real powers to prevent it, even when the excesses are visibly at their most flagrant.

Staying with the Channel briefly, I may have to fly over to Calais, next week, to take photographs of 'The Jungle' again. In fact, I did this a couple of years ago for the papers, when the French police had a crack-down and dismantled it in an effort to disperse the refugees. However and according to BBC's South-east Today,the pathetic-looking tented village is back with a vengeance with a small army of desperate young men, from countries, like Syria and Afghanistan, gathering on the other side and the French are calling on us to take them in.

There's supposed to be a big storm coming-in again over the next twenty-four hours, so I may not be flying for some time. I suggest you tie-down any small dogs and children and from the radar chart, have your 'wellies' ready by the front door.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Plus Ca Change?

The Black Watch of 1974
When I started writing this weblog, ten years ago, not that many people in Thanet, compared with the present, had the Internet and Amazon sold books and little else. Today, super-high-speed broadband has just become available in Westgate; that's if you are prepared to pay £30 a month extra for the experience with BT.

Ten years on and it seems that everyone is shopping online and mostly at Amazon or eBay, iPads and tablet PCs are the gift of choice this year - how did we live without them -  and we are just emerging from the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s.

So what will the world look like in another ten years? You can be sure there's something making a big impact that none of us have thought about yet but in general terms the future, at least where the advances in technology are involved has become relatively predictable

With the good news from Government, we are hearing about jobs and growth; all those things we need to raise the standard of living and be competitive in a changing world. However, in China, workers wages are also rising and FoxConn Technology, which employs over over one million Chinese, assembling most of those high-tech goodies that will sit under your own Christmas tree, is on an ambitious programme to replace one million of its 1.2 million workers with robots over the coming decade. Labour costs, even in China, are now eating into the profits which once made its cheap labour so attractive. Google, a major disruptive force in the world, also wants to put together the definitive standard platform for a personal robotics revolution and is investing millions.

The Pebble Watch of 2013
As one example, a robotic hamburger kitchen already exists that can produce 360 gourmet hamburgers in one hour. McDonalds has enough profit to fund the development of automated machines that could provide a one year return on investment. Each McDonalds might need more than one machine. Each machine takes up 24 square feet and replaces the people who cook and the the kitchen too.

You see, the technology to automate humans out of many repetitive and semi-skilled jobs is now advancing so fast, that in the space of ten years, the world or work will start to look very different and for many, without professional skills, finding work may become much harder than ever.

All this is because as humans we are not good at recognising exponential rather than linear growth. We try and look at the future as a straight-line evolution of the past and today, with around eight technologies colliding, like genomics and robotics, we can't see clearly what's in front of us; the evidence appearing of the biggest changes since the start of the industrial revolution.

Let me take an example from a lecture I gave for KPMG's bigger clients last month.

Imagine that you are sitting in the top row seats of the FA Cup final at Wembley and the stadium has been made watertight. Far below, you see the captain of one of the teams and standing next to him is the referee, holding an eye dropper. He squeezes a single drop of water into the players palm and then one minute later two drops,  a minute after that four drops and then eight as the infinite eye-dropper carries on dripping water into the player's outstretched hand.

Sony's Smart Wig - It's No Joke
When does the pitch become covered with a film of water?

Some soccer loving mathematician has worked out that this happens in 43 minutes and you remark: "So what?"

But when does the stadium become filled to the brim with water and everybody has to learn to sink or swim? The answer to that is 49 minutes and is an example of exponential growth. Suddenly something that at first looks linear, suddenly leaps up dramatically and everything changes very quickly

From a technology perspective, we are now at roughly at the equivalent of 43 minutes since Moore's Law of 1965 which has processor power doubling every 18 months. The pitch is covered with water and subsequent changes to the landscape of work, the economy and with it, society, are going to start happening very quickly indeed over the coming five years, as all of a sudden, ground-breaking technologies swiftly move from the drawing board into the workplace and the living room.

In another ten years, with luck, I will still be writing this blog, if such things exist and perhaps drawing my pension in Bitcoins too; if these still exist but I promise you a bumpy ride, as all of a sudden, everyone realises that in the most part, distracted by gadgetry, we have been sleep-walking into a future that may look very different to the comfortable assumptions we hold today.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Shut that Door

Is Europe 'Off Limits' for Debate?
I see that even Laura Sandys has now expressed her 'disappointment' that at Thursday's Council meeting, Labour blocked any debate on Europe and a future referendum on membership.

On her Facebook page, the Thanet South MP writes: "I am extremely disappointed that Thanet’s Labour Councillors, including Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet Will Scobie, have voted to block a council debate on the EU Referendum. Thanet residents deserve a choice on the EU. Not only have Labour Councillors made clear that they are absolutely against giving them that choice, they won't even allow an open and democratic debate on the issue."

Earlier, the Conservatives had issued a press release that expressed concern that Clive Hart's Labour administration had "Dismissed  discussion on Europe as a ‘stunt’, the Labour Party, whose policy is to not allow the people of Britain a referendum on Europe, denied Thanet’s elected members their chance to debate this issue of huge public interest."

Why the fuss? Thanet is unusually polarised over the European question at the moment. The county elections this year showed very clearly, through electing UKIP councillors across the island, that the EU was a powerful  factor shaping people's opinions and yet, as Laura Sandys comments, the single surviving Labour county councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate for South Thanet, voted a firm "No" to any debate, in a recorded vote on Thursday evening, supported by all his Labour colleagues.

I say 'All' but there was a brief moment of  theatre, when young Scobie's partner, Jodie Hibbert's name was called to vote on Julie Marsen's motion of a debate on support for a European referendum or not. "Yes" she said in a firm voice. in quite possibly the first sound we have heard from her in Council since she was elected to my own ward of Westgate.

This caused a brief uproar on the Labour side of the chamber as councillors realised what she had done, as you will soon be able to enjoy from the video of the meeting. Moments later, having realised her awful mistake and having turned several shades of pink, she changed her vote to a more falsetto 'No'  causing a ripple of amusement on the Conservative side and a request to the Chair that only her first vote be recorded.

It was not to be, despite Cllr Hibert's brief loss of concentration. Labour narrowly won the vote and as I wrote in my last entry, Europe is firmly off limits for any discussion, as long as we have a Labour administration in Thanet.

This of course leaves a large purple and yellow striped elephant sitting firmly in the centre of Thanet politics, openly visible, to everyone it seems but the Labour group. The reason of course is that Ed Miliband's Westminster policy, like that of the LibDems, is one of liberal immigration, closer ties with Europe and greater political integration with Brussels, quite the opposite in fact of what an increasingly larger proportion of the public, here in Thanet and elsewhere want.

Here in Thanet, we simply cannot avoid the discussion of migration, regardless of the fascist jibes thrown at local politicians who try. We know, demographically, what is happening locally, we know where it is happening and from the passing remarks of a senior police officer in the Council chamber on Thursday, we expect our shrinking local authority resources to be further strained in the New Year. This is no different to the experience of Hastings or Dover or many other equally struggling authorities around the country. If we can't discuss any part of this existing and impending challenge in the Council chamber, simply because it's politically incorrect, then where does this leave us after January, once the immigration rules have been further relaxed for the new accession states?

The feelings at Westminster on this subject are equally strong. Last night, Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi commented on remarks made by James Morris a key member of Ed Miliband's strategy unit‘This shows the contempt Labour and Ed Miliband have for the public. They don’t want to hear people’s views about immigration. 'Instead they want to censor and shut down any sensible and rational debate on an extremely important subject.'

With all this in mind, I would value my reader's opinions. Leaving the primary subject of a future EU referendum aside, should the rapidly changing demographic nature of parts of Thanet and associated financial and social pressures, be a non-subject for discussion or should we have been allowed to debate this and the broader pressing issues, all very much relating to a growing public interest in renegotiating the terms of UK membership with Brussels?

You tell me?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Death by Inches

St Mildred's Bay - Westgate
The promenade in Westgate has been swept clean by the sea this morning. I was outside at 1AM, just before high tide and have never seen a sea that high in living memory. It was above the lip of the promenade in St Mildred's Bay but with the wind-speed relatively light and the wind direction, backing-off to the west, the tide didn't come in beyond the sea wall defences and so we must count ourselves fortunate in contrast with many other spots along the east and south coasts.

I was in the Council meeting until late and immediately noticed on returning home that the tide was in, just after 10pm, three hours earlier than it should have been, which indicated the size of the surge that was pushing along the North Sea coast.

In the Chamber, it was a lively evening and it's hard to know where to start or indeed finish.

Among the highlights, were Labour Leader, Clive Hart's spirited denial that his administration bore any responsibility at all in regard to poor public perception of local politics and the Council. The Victorian prime minister Lord Rosebery said of the increasingly embarrassing Commons performances of Lord Randolph Churchill in the 1890s that ‘he died by inches in public’. So, too, Clive Hart, though he died by the mile yesterday evening as he conspicuously failed to grasp the size of the reputational problem facing the Council.

Instead and for almost ten minutes, he blamed the Conservatives back to the time of Cyril Hoser and read out a list of achievements, the greater part of which were not his own, believing that these would close the door on any criticism of his administration over the last two years. This led the leader of the Conservatives, Bob Bayford, to retort that Cllr Hart was "Smug self satisfied, arrogant and self serving; sanctimonious;" "finger-pointing hogwash."

The debate over the Standards Committee report raged-on for what seemed like hours, often during business that had little or nothing to do with it, as it kept coming back, with one Labour member or another suddenly popping-up and delivering a long and frequently emotional speech about their personal achievements on the front line of socialism. Eventually, Cllr Bayford, submitted a motion asking the Council to invite the Standards Committee to rescind their resignations and at long last, everyone agreed that this sounded like a good idea and so peace may have broken out by the time the Councillors trooped-out for some traditional mince pies in the Chairman's office at the end of the evening.

The Conservative Cllr Julie Marsen, attempted to bring a motion before the Council, supporting a future EU referendum, as this appears to be a subject very close to the hearts of voters in Thanet. The motion was firmly outvoted and kicked into touch by Labour in a narrow recorded vote, with the parliamentary candidate for Thanet South, Will Scobie among those rejecting any suggestion of giving people a say on our relationship with the European Union or renegotiating our membership. Given that we are witnessing the 'benefits' of uncontrolled migration in deprived areas such as Cliftonville and Margate, placing an immense strain on our local resources as a consequence, this was disappointing.

I asked of question of my opposite number, Cllr Alan Poole, "Can residents expect to have their rubbish collected efficiently and on-time between now and the New Year' and was surprised to receive a five minute answer, which I think could have been settled by a simple 'Yes.'

Cllr Poole reported that most collections were being dealt with on-time but tactfully identified a reading problem among local residents as an issue. I retorted that a printing error in the Calendar delivered to households didn't help and that a straw poll among my own councillors revealed that some were still not having their bins emptied. I realise that any new system presents a challenge but we still have some way to go to iron out the problems and Xmas is just around the corner.

As predicted here first
For those of you thinking of voting UKIP in future, perhaps it's worth noting that our two UKIP councillors left the meeting early; late night Xmas shopping perhaps and consequently were not around to take part in an important vote, narrowly won by Labour.

I have deliberately omitted Cllr Driver because I'm sure he will blog about himself without my help. This time, he wasn't thrown out but having confessed in response to a jibe from Cllr Hart, to being a 'Trotskyist' in the 1980s and resplendent in a 'hoodie' rather than a shirt and tie, he flounced out of the chamber before the end of his meeting, taking his small coterie of vocal supporters with him.

Finally perhaps, there was an empty place, once again, for Cllr John Worrow. When I asked Cllr Fenner where her protege was and whether we might ever see him again, she told me that I should be "Ashamed" for asking. It's obviously none of my business but perhaps his constituents in Birchington might like to know as he is still paid a generous allowance as the absent chair of the Council's Finance & Audit committee as well as being the Council's Diversity Champion. A statement perhaps, from his TIG 'Leader' Cllr Dr Jack Cohen would be polite but please don't hold your breath.

So that's it for now. There was of course much more and for the highlights, well, I'm afraid you will have to wait for the official video, out soon!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Between the Tides

Merry Christmas from 1974
I've an eye on the tides over the coming twenty-four hours.

While we won't see the storm battering Scotland, the Met Office is warning about higher than normal tides along the East coasts, driven by the wind and we may see some stronger wind-blown tidal flow towards our small exposed part between Sheppey and Margate in the early hours of tomorrow. Margate today. is presently giving a high tide of 5.2m at 13:30 today according to my handy iPhone app, so nothing unusual there.

Thursday has a full meeting of the Council and it remains to be seen whether this will be used as an opportunity to play havoc with the meeting by the usual independent suspects. It will also be interesting to see if Cllr Worrow makes an appearance as he's not been seen since being interviewed in connection with an allegation which remains the subject of a police investigation. I did try and table a question to Cllr Fenner in regard to the position of our Diversity Champion in such circumstances but it was rejected.

Instead, I have asked the Council's Deputy Leader, Cllr Alan Poole, whether residents can be confident of an efficient and uninterrupted rubbish collection service between now and the New Year. The new regime, as many residents will be aware, has caused a barrage of complaints and I'm sure we are all keen to to be reassured that the teething problems are over.

Today, is the Chancellor's autumn statement and of course, everyone will wish to know if he's done anything to address the rising cost of living. One thing he will be doing, is raising the pension again by the 2030s because our Government and that of every other EU nation, is quite unable to meet the eye-watering commitments of a pension system invented after the Second World War and which assumed then, that most men would not live much beyond the age of 68.

Today it's very different and in 25 years, given rapid advances in medicine and science we may expect to live much longer; that's if millions of people learn not to smoke, drink to excess or indeed consume too many saturated fats; only about 15% of health outcomes are determined by health care and the remainder is down to lifestyle choice. As cancer takes one in three of us in the end and treatment is becoming increasingly effective, short of finding a magic pill, we can expect, statistically, to be enjoying a longer retirement than any other generation in human history. Someone has to pay for that and in particular, the cost of maintaining an NHS, which will have to expand to treat all those post-war 'Baby boomers' like me, who are fast becoming 'Golden oldies.'

Watching TV this morning over breakfast and the predictable 'Vox-pop' by the news channels, it remains depressingly clear, that most people have such a restricted view of the underlying conditions which have led to the present cost of living crisis, that they appear to believe there's a quick answer which may involve some form of economic black magic. Those of us here that study these things with interest, know very well that there isn't and while the good news of a growing economy is reason for optimism, we know the recovery is going to have to be sustained until at least 2020, simply to offset the financial crash of 2008.

We are moving from a society based on the pretense that everyone is given a reasonable standard of living to a society in which most of us will be expected to fend for ourselves, much more than any generation since the 1960s.

So, nobody can really make promises for the General Election of 2015. Politicians can either tell you the truth, that times are tough and will remain so until a stable recovery point is reached or they can spin an Orwellian yarn, promising a return to the generous and unsustainable welfare conditions that existed before this Government, cynically pandering to the millions in denial and which they know full-well, can't be delivered without plunging the nation back into deeper Greek-style debt.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Another Great Xmas Fun Day in Westgate

Once again, the annual Westgate Fun Day proved a great success and enormous credit goes to everyone involved in making it so.

No snow this year or even rain and the weather was almost perfect with a packed Station Road, and what looked like more stalls and entertainment than ever before.

It's great to see the community turn out in force to support this popular event and indeed, the number of visitors that came from across Thanet. I spotted Council Leader Clive Hart and his wife as well as the Mayor and Mayoress of Margate over the course of the afternoon.

With so many more people now using Twitter as a means of getting news; I used #Westgatefun13 to share my photos and updates today, I would like to suggest a Twiiter #tag for everyone to use to share Westgate news and announcements in future and I plan to start using it from tomorrow.

It's simply #WGOSEA for Westgate-on-Sea and if you get int the habit of sharing with that tag, anything that happens in the town of note, then we can very quickly develop the local equivalent of a fast and efficient local news service.

As most phones are now Smartphones and Twitter is free and very useful to track all kind of breaking news and events, I see every benefit to to the local community in using it and no disadvantages.

Let's take a couple of simple examples "There's a huge pothole in Westgate Bay Ave #WGOSEA" or "@simonmoores #WGOSEA there's a whale on the beach." In the second example you are letting me know directly to my smartphone with a @simonmoores and you are letting anyone know who might be watching the #WGOSEA hashtag on their Twitter account.

I hope that doesn't sound too complicated but for something like today, announcements, parking and public-safety messages could have easily been directed at anyone in today's crowds with a Twitter account and a smartphone, by the organisers, police, councillors etc, simply by using #WGOSEA.

I hope you will agree that it's a good idea for the future.

Once again, well done and thank you to everyone who made today such a great success and proved once again that here in Westgate, we have a community spirit to be truly proud of.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Really Big Question on Europe

The Bloom is Everywhere
I realise people expected me to pass some comment on the shock political news from Laura Sandys last Monday but as you may have noticed I was away. A regulatory debate on the future of online gambling in Brussels and then a keynote lecture to a railway industry event on Friday, about the emerging shape of technologies that might influence transport in 2030.

From the first photo taken outside the European Parliament, I wonder if the graffiti is a subtle reference to UKIP's wayward MEP, Godfrey Bloom?

As you might expect, the soaraway Thanet Gazette has its fevered speculation over the potential 2015 local candidates for South Thanet somewhat awry. The coming selection process for a candidate is the remit of the local association and they have two options; either select from a candidate who is already established on the Conservative 'A' list and has applied or follow an open hustings path. Time will tell what they decide and of course, who wishes to apply for what is very clearly going to be one of the country's most scrutinised seats.

While I was away, I noticed the rumour-mill was also playing overtime in the Labour Party direction, with the suggestion that Will Scobie might be asked to step aside in favour of a' more experienced and grown-up' candidate, now that a recent poll suggests a possible Labour victory if UKIP splits the Conservative vote or indeed, if Nigel Farage chooses to run as a candidate, in order to try for UKIP's first parliamentary seat.

But 2015 is still a long way away in political terms and at some point, people will have to ask themselves whether they simply regard UKIP as an anti-establishment protest vote or whether they really wish to pursue an agenda of taking us out of Europe. If it's the latter, then both Labour and the LibDems are firmly committed to keeping us under the growing political control of Brussels but David Cameron has promised a referendum.

Wandering over to the EU Parliament
I notice that at next week's Council meeting on 5th December, my colleague, Julie Marson, has tabled a motion: "This Council supports the EU Referendum Bill currently before Parliament, which makes provision for the UK to hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union before the end of 2017."

This put Clive Hart and the young Scobie in a difficult position, because Labour leader, Ed Miliband's policy is 'NOT' to offer any referendum on our future place in Europe and of course, the polls show here in Thanet that this is exactly what many people want, being exhausted and dismayed, by the local impact of so many Brussels imposed problems from fisheries to immigration.

Normally, motions surrounding central government policy, do not have a place in a local council chamber but since Clive Hart's Labour administration took control, it's used its position to curry favour with the Labour Party HQ and the Trades Unions, by consistently tabling motions that attack the Government, to be followed by wasted hours of Council time to debate, such vitally important local issues, such as gay marriage. This offer the circus act of Cllrs Driver and Worrow, the platform opportunity they need to cause the regular havoc, which has of course, helped bring the Council into disrepute and by many, is regarded as a form of cheap entertainment on a wet Thursday evening.

Quite how the embattled Council Leader Clive Hart will deal with the delicate European question remains to be seen, particularly with the spectre of unrestricted Bulgarian and Romanian immigration facing the island, after Xmas, which UKIP are locally making a great play of. I do believe, we have a problem to confront and I did notice, as an aside, that Hastings Council was complaining bitterly last night on the BBC News, that London's Newham Council, is involved in a programme of clandestine 'Social Cleansing' by sending families to house in the town. Thanet was mentioned in the same story but apparently our own problem, according to the BBC, lies with Lambeth Council.

Finally, I believe both main parties share the same concern that locally, UKIP is lurching to the far right of politics and I made reference to the rumour about homeless Somali families being resettled at Westwood Cross, which was raised without any supporting evidence. This was, I assume to alarm people, by a UKIP county councillor, the husband of UKIP's Kent Chairman, Mo Elenor, - the same lady who greeted the news that Laura Sandys was stepping down ,because she was frightened of losing to UKIP - at a Westgate residents meeting this month.

Regardless of our differences, we remain a tolerant society but much like the video clip above from Jeeves and Wooster, I'm increasingly reminded of the atmosphere of the 1930s and Thanet appears hell-bent on finding its own caricature version of the character of Sir Roderick Spode to spread alarm in the absence of anything that might resemble a coherent policy for the future of our island, North and South.

If local politics carries on in this unfortunate headlong direction in advance of 2015, I doubt that many like me, would wish to play any part in it beyond that date but there's always room for optimism, as I'm sure you will agree.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Night to Remember

Last night, the independent chair and members of the Standards Committee at TDC resigned, following bruising criticism of their report, which alleged a climate of secrecy and corruption at Thanet District Council.

Let me begin first though, with a small example of the personal impact of that report and subsequent media coverage. I had two calls this week. One from a business associate in Hastings who, making a joke of it, asked if I was one of the 'rogue councillors' he had heard about on BBC SE Today and another from a professor of criminology, asking if I could do a turn at a conference at University College Dublin next month. "Are you still with that dysfunctional Council I've heard about." he asked.

So in my own experience, the impact of what I regarded as an ill considered and badly researched report spread much further than the borders of Thanet and as I said in the Chamber last night: "Publish in haste, repent at leisure."

In the gallery, were a number of familiar faces from the local political interest scene, busily tweeting; among them Cllr Ian Driver, who clearly viewed the proceedings as a huge joke. At the very beginning, Robin Hills, the Chair of of the Committee, warned those watching that recording proceedings without approval was against the rules but I understand that Cllr Driver, who is equally bound by those same Council rules, ignored this and will publish the entire transcript. In principle, I've no problem with this but I do have a problem with any one councillor regarding himself above the rules and constitution of a democratically-elected Council, whether he agrees with it or not. This is nothing less than anarchy and anarchy and a collapsible soap-box have followed Cllr Driver through his political career, from one fringe party and local authority to another.

I had very much hoped that the evening's debate would prove objective and non-political but this was quickly dashed by Labour's Cllr Michelle Fenner, blaming the public's perception of the Council on government-imposed austerity, followed by Council Leader, Clive Hart, blaming it on the Conservatives and Cllr Poole, characteristically drifting-off and blaming it on the new bin collection scheme. For one, I don't recall any mention of bankers or Tory millionaires holding any responsibility, which was a small relief.

I won't go into a blow by blow account of what took place but Labour's Cllr Nicholson and Sandra Hart argued very lucidly as did the Conservatives Martin Wise and Julie Marson. Cllr Iris Johnston was reduced to tears.

My own small contribution lay in pointing out that social media lies very much outside our control and from looking at the Facebook and Twitter stream coming from the chamber and elsewhere, history had already been written and that what was taking place in the chamber, had become a vicarious form of entertainment, with many observers having with no real interest in the facts or the truth, whatever that might be. As an example: "Lies n cover ups. Truths exposed. All know what goes on..just cos not involved..letting it happen makes you just as guilty." What on earth does such a statement mean and where is the evidence that supports it outside a fertile imagination?

As I believe I said to the committee, "If you shout  fire in a crowded cinema, people are going to believe you" and this is basically what Cllr Driver and a few others are doing with almost monotonous regularity in an attempt to bring the democratic process at TDC to a halt; the same tactics used by Militant Tendency, AKA, The Revolutionary Socialist League, over thirty years ago in Councils across the country.

Once it became clear that the report, published without proper review, had indeed done considerable damage to the reputation of the Council and that it's methodology and conclusions were unsound at best and alarmist at worst. The position of independent members position then appeared untenable. Simply suggesting that councillors should undergo ethical training was hardly likely to deter Cllr Driver or indeed, Cllr Worrow, who had been previously instructed to do this by the Standards Committee and ignored it.

My own view at this point is that redoubles its efforts to produce good work with very little money available and that the main parties seek some consensus in working together on Thanet's real problems and not be hijacked by single issues or no real relevance to local government, such as gay marriage,  fracking, animal rights and more, which serve as an opportunistic platform for the two most vocal independents from which they can cause merry havoc.

Finally, councillors, like it or not, have to recognise that social media is a weapon that can be very effectively deployed against the democratic process in terms of opinion-forming. As Winston Churchill once remarked: 'A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.' It's time that councillors of all ages came to grips with the technologies, Twitter or TV which will reshape democracy in the second decade of the 21st century.

And now if the rain has finally stopped, I'm going for a walk with my dog.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

We Seek Him Here - We Seek Him There

'We seek him here, we seek him there, Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven? 
Is he in hell? 
That damned, elusive Pimpernel'

Readers of yesterday's column, will have seen that I had submitted a question for next month's Council meeting to Labour's Cabinet member, Cllr Michelle Fenner, asking if it would be appropriate for the Council's Diversity Champion. Cllr John Worrow, to stand aside, until the results of a police investigation had been completed and he had cleared his name.

This question may have caused a brief panic, because subsequently, I have received an email from the Council's democratic services officer that the question has been disallowed on the following grounds:

"The Monitoring Officer has ruled this question out on the grounds that it breaches the following part of the Council Procedure Rules:

“14.5 A question shall not be:

…related to the ethical conduct of individual Members of Council unless the conduct relates to the Member acting as a Member of the Council.

I see on Twitter, that at the Council's Planning Committee last evening, Cllr Worrow, did not appear to represent his Birchington constituents on an application that he had called in. I find this remarkable, much like a barrister not appearing in court to represent his client. Normally one would ask if it were possible for another ward Councillor to substitute in unavoidable personal circumstances.

While, like Cllr Tom King before me, I'm clearly not permitted to challenge Cllr Fenner in Council in regard to the role of her cherished Diversity Champion, I would ask her to consider whether the position remains tenable in the sensitive circumstances of an on-going investigation?

Cllr Worrow is also the Chair of the Council's Finance and Audit Committee, one of the three most senior and best remunerated committees in Thanet District Council. Do we take it that he will not be appearing to chair meetings there either?

In such circumstances, it may be in the public interest for the Labour administration to clearly state their position on their appointment, which, in tandem with Cllr Cohen, Cllr Worrow's TIG colleague, has kept the minority Labour administration in political control of the Council.

The Council's Standards Committee meets tonight at 7pm to further discuss the report raised this week. I plan to attend.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Benefit of Law

Last night, another committee meeting at Thanet Council, had to be abandoned, thanks to the publicity-seeking antics of Cllr Ian Driver.

While I recognise that Cllr Driver is very keen to film meetings rather than participate in a constructive manner as an elected Councillor, readers may have noticed that the question of filming Council meetings is presently a matter of debate. Only this week, the Conservative Group at TDC expressed their views on the matter, in response to a Standards Committee report. This I should add, is firmly focused on the antics and interruptions of Cllr's Driver and Worrow in the Chamber, which makes the proper conduct of Council business a struggle at best, a political farce at worst.

In regard to the former, I'm reminded once again of a quote from Sir Thomas More, in the film, 'A Man for All Seasons, " shown further below. Cllr Driver is a member of Thanet District Council and while he may have a long and distinguished record, over many years, as a political agitator for various socialist groups, he has signed-up to the members code. Until that code is changed, disrupting the business of the Council contradicts what he stands for and the interests of the very public he represents.

In regard to his former colleague, Cllr Worrow, I will be putting the following question to Cabinet Member, Cllr Michelle Fenner at the next full Council meeting in December:

"In view of the gravity of the Police investigation facing Cllr John Worrow, would it not be sensible to suspend his role as the Council's Diversity Champion and recommend that he step aside until he has had an opportunity to clear his name?"

I would expect that Cllr Jack Cohen, now the leader of TIG, would also ask his colleague, Cllr Worrow to stand-down until his name has been cleared in this matter.

In the meantime, here is that quote I mentioned earlier and perhaps it applies to Cllr Driver and Cllr Worrow in equal measures.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's No Game

The Conservative Group press release, welcoming the TDC Standards Committee findings, has provoked the anticipated reaction on both Twitter, the BBC and the more popular local weblogs. I would like to pass some comment of my own but that's always going to be difficult given my own political position and long experience here, of people reading between the lines and reaching conclusions, quite opposite to what I might be trying to say, neatly wrapped in my own literary straightjacket.

As I'm fond of Chess and my iPad just gave me a drubbing again, let's use an analogy from the game to try and express my argument.

Local government in many ways resembles a game of chess. It delivers some six hundred services, the moves on the board are governed strictly by volumes of different legislation, including human rights and any position, from bins to benefits starts to look pretty complex indeed within a few moves.

While the pieces may be moved around the board by professionals, in this case civil servants who know which moves are legal - well at least most of the time - the players are elected from the public at large to take part in a game lasting five years. As you might expect, the level of play reflects society at its best and worst from both ends of a wide spectrum of suitability.

There are those who can draw on their career, are intimately familiar with the game and its rules and then there are those whose life experience and limited education has never prepared them for a higher level of management or responsibility, have never sat in front of a chessboard and have absolutely no talent for the game. Invariably, this is a recipe for disaster as those same individuals, who may be Party or Trades Union stalwarts or perhaps a Captain Mainwaring or a Hyacinth Bucket look-alike, are thrown into local government tournament play, at the highest level with sadly predictable results.

Some of these may get as far as the middle game before a visibly weak position in the centre of the board collapses, others might even try and cheat by making an illegal move or more. This may temporarily elude the sharp eyes of the watching civil servants, who may be taking a nap at the time but who will eventually spot the move if one of the watching audience shouts loud enough.

Democracy may offer the best system of government but it was Winston Churchill who once said: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." Thanet, has in the past, suffered very badly from placing individuals who were simply names to tick on a ballot sheet, into positions of influence and responsibility, who, to quote a well-worn phrase, 'Shouldn't be left alone to push a shopping trolley around Sainsbury" and this sense is reflected in many of the comments I read elsewhere.

I wrote in my earlier piece, that we need to move on from the miners' strike and the glory days of Maggie Thatcher. In advance of 2015, we need to attract people with skills, experience and education that can be called-upon to improve the battered-looking political process here in Thanet and we need chess players who can think for themselves and not simply move the pieces around randomly to suit the status quo agenda in local government or to achieve some vague political mimicry of a real game of chess?

Over the years, we have had several characters involved in local politics who have done real damage to the name of the Council and to the reputation of politicians in general. Like my Conservative colleagues, I welcome the report of the Standards Committee but equally recognise that we have a way to go in changing a political culture which has attracted such shameless opportunism in the past.

Now would be a good a time as any to start.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Great Railway Journeys

On the train, travelling home from London St Pancras on Friday, I had a very interesting conversation to pass the time, with two fellow passengers, also returning to Thanet.

I'm sure that it comes as a surprise to many, on meeting a local councillor for the first time, that he's not out on license and can stand upright and chew gum at the same time. I'm definitely not in the first category but frequently struggle with the second.

By the way, I have to confess that I had a serendipitous encounter with Boris at Paddington and quite forgot to say anything about his eccentric project for an estuary airport. I'm not sure it would have been tactful to have offered my opinion on the subject anyway.

My fellow travellers, one from the South of the island and one from the North, in many ways confirmed what I know already and that is professional people are choosing to live here because it's a beautiful place to live, despite all the many problems we face as a community from time to time. Like everyone else, they wonder what people like me are going to do to try and make things better and I spent some time explaining what the challenges are.

Of course, I've one pet argument that many readers will disagree with and that my belief that Thanet is still living in some dreadful eighties, tribal politics drama, where many local councillors and their supporters are involved. We can't move on because quite simply, a number of our elected representatives have a deficit in imagination, are unwilling to leave the past behind or the personal differences built-up over thirty years.

Each and every one of us knows what's good and bad locally, what's wrong, what needs to be fixed, what can't be fixed and indeed, occasionally recognise the cynical, vote-catching political promises parroted by some, such as reversing the benefits cuts or significantly reducing tomorrow's energy bills, that can never be delivered. Meanwhile we have parties such as UKIP, which at last week's Westgate Residents' Association, raised 'the rumour' of 'London authorities, sending Somali families to live in social housing at the new development Westwood Cross.'

Of course it's only 'a rumour' which was promptly denied but simply mentioning it does the job and lights the blue touch paper, cynically shifting the political argument in the planned direction of travel, as if we didn't have too many Red Herrings to distract us already, thanks to the frequent political antics of Ian Driver and John Worrow.

With the next General Election and local elections now not so very far away, 2014 will be the time for all the political parties to look for people to stand as candidates in wards across the island. As a Conservative, in my own ward of Westgate, I will be looking for two new faces to contest Jodie Hibbert's and Tom King's seats and as the 'Deputy Chair Political' for North Thanet, many more new candidates across this side of the island.

If any reader believes that he or she has the right stuff, the patience and the strength of character to join me in what is frequently a difficult and mostly thankless task; that of trying to make Thanet a better place through intelligent political change then please consider becoming a political candidate. The challenges may be frequent and tough but the personal sense of reward which come with helping those who need it most, can't be underestimated. Perhaps between us, we can make a difference and move the island, somewhat reluctantly in parts into the 21st century and recover some of the confidence that so many people have lost in what they view as the tired, often personal and embattled political process that prevails across local government today.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest We Forget

As it's Remembrance Day, I wanted to include a few words of an excerpt from my own great uncle's memoirs, to remind us all of how terrible the conditions in which he lived were during the Battle of the Somme:

"One huge group of three or four hundred evidently mowed-down or gassed during an attack were wearing uniforms that had once been blue or greenish grey. Rank after rank of bodies, the corpses about five yards apart and each rank nearly four hundred yards long, lay there, rows of huddled things, just bunches now of bones and blackened rags, long lines of wasted manhood.

The dismal drenching rains of those winter months had filled every crater to the brim. These pools of desolation, coloured according to the nature of the objects they covered and perhaps the kind of explosives that had burrowed-out the original crater, were deep enough in many cases to have submerged an omnibus.

A thick oily scum, green or red or brown or inky black, often covered the surface, from which protruded barbed wire and the swollen bodies of men and animals. Shriveled hands - whitish of the newly killed or greenish black of those killed at the beginning of the Somme encounter, seemed to clutch at the air to warn or beckon others others to these pools of death."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

White to Move First

A cold and windy Remembrance ceremony in Westgate this morning but well attended in bright sunshine. Thank you all who supported it and special thanks to all churches, organisers, Royal British Legion and the many young people, from Scouts and Brownies and other associations who braved the cold for a lovely ceremony.

If I'm honest, the UKIP logo wreath placed on the memorial, I thought inappropriate. This was most certainly not a place or a time for political party promotion but perhaps I'm old-fashioned. A signed card, I thought would be more than sufficient.

Staying with politics, I found myself in strange agreement with Labour's Harriet Harman this morning, when she announced that Labour would insist that any unemployed person over the age of 22 should be looking for work.

This chimes in with a Twitter exchange I have been having with a local Labour activist, Malcolm Bailey, who is happy to justify Will Scobie's Parliamentary ambitions,  supported indirectly at the local taxpayers expense. This through the income of two Councillor allowance, three if you add that of his partner, Westgate ward Cllr Jodie Hibbert, who did not join us again this morning.

After all, one might validly argue that Will Scobie is unemployed as being a Councillor is not strictly employment with associated employment rights. It is really deemed a voluntary public service which pays an allowance; a generous one too,  if you happen to be a Kent County Councillor. So by Harriet's definition, he neally needs to find his first real job as she is dead-set against "Unemployed young people living-off the taxpayer."

Local Labour's bizarre excuse of comparing him with David Cameron at this stage of his political career, really doesn't wash. You may as well compare my own poor chess-playing ambitions with Gary Kasparov at the same age.

In fact, I've a chess theme to pursue this week, as I morph-out of the summer job as a pilot and carry-on with the winter speaking circuit.

This time I'm exploring the future implications of intelligent machines, like IBM's Watson computer and I'm using the analogy of two games of chess. The first happened in 1997, in which Garry Kasparov, the greatest player in the history of Chess, lost to Deep Blue, a $10 million specialized supercomputer programmed by a team from IBM and capable of evaluating 200 million positions each second.

The second game was a freestyle chess tournament in 2005, in which man and machine could enter together as partners, rather than opponents. At first, the results were predictable. Even a supercomputer was beaten by a grandmaster with a relatively weak laptop. The surprise came at the end. Who won? Not a grandmaster helped by a supercomputer, but actually two amateur players using three relatively weak laptops.

Sixteen years on, and the greatest change in how we relate to computers is the iPad, not HAL in the film 2001 and a Chess APP, such as Smallfish on you iPhone, teamed-up with even a a moderate Chess player, can give a grandmaster and a supercomputer a run for their money.

I was lucky enough to meet Kasparov through a mutual friend and if anyone is interested in knowing the story of how he lost to IBM's Deep Blue computer, ask me and I'll tell you the story.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A Very Local Tragedy

The Happier Opening of the Why Not Micropub
Without adding further comment, I'm deeply saddened at the news of tragedy that led to a murder, this week, in Whiteness Road, Kingsgate.

Because of the connection with the Micropub, there is a great deal of speculation and the local paper has only reported on the arrest and charging of Lee Birch, who has been charged with the murder of his wife Annand appears in court in Dover this morning.

Because of the number of searches on the subject I can see hitting this weblog, looking for news on the subject, there was no longer any purpose served by keeping the private. I'm sure we will read more on this tragic matter in the local paper.

I'm visiting the Why Not pub in Lymington Rd this afternoon to see if there is any way of the business continuing for the the local community it services.

Postscript. I have been over there speaking with neighbours in the heavy rain this morning but found the micropub all locked-up. While I was around, the BBC's Jon Hunt pitched-up and so I have expressed the community's shock and sadness at this news. There's very little else that I can offer on behalf of the shocked residents and clients who knew the family.