Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Great Storm of 53

Sixty years since the great storm of 1953 wreaked havoc on our coastline and I'm sure all of us would be daunted by the size of the 100 foot wave that one enterprising surfer caught in the seas off Portugal this week.

In the mid eighties, I stayed with friends on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu and watched the bravest surfers riding some of the biggest waves there. It's the only time ever, when I cam close to drowning, when in the same bay that Captain Cook once anchored, I forgot to leave a relatively modest wave before it broke and this then slammed me into the sea floor, with enormous force and I was trapped like a helpless kitten in a washing machine for rather too long.

Harbour Arm - Storm of 1953
I noticed that Mr Margate, 'MickT', was on the BBC South-east news last night, reminiscing about the great storm but I can't recall if he was Mayor at the time? I will ask him later!

Remaining with the subject of Margate and Mayors, the Charter Trustees of the town, now have to decide whether Margate will have a town council or not. On a personal note, I'd say that what seems like the inevitable has been valiantly resisted for some time now but at a time of austerity and costs cutting the debate is unavoidable.

I'm sorry to see that we will be losing one of our green-grocers in Westgate, next-door to the Co-Op next week. Another empty shopfront, with the Air Ambulance shop also closing, is a bit of a blow and it's not yet clear what the landlord's plans are for the site, having served notice on the business. I wish Sam and everyone else that worked there over the years and in all weathers, the very best of luck for the future.

Margate Flooded 1953
While I'm thinking of other items of news, I was stopped by a dog-owner yesterday on the seafront at St Mildred's Bay, who was looking for a lost white 'Staffie' bitch from Adrian Square. I have his number and so  should any local pet detective have some news, please get in touch.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's a Fair Cop Guv?

I'm home from the Council's Standard's Hearing and although I've been warned not to write about it or indeed, include, anything even vaguely satirical or disrespectful, I thought readers might wish to know the result.

So with the greatest respect, according to the panel, I am now 'Guilty of bringing the Council into disrepute' and it is agreed, that I should be both publically censured and that my name should appear on the Council website to shame me for a period of three months.

I'm not required to write any further apology to Cllr Dr Jack Cohen for describing him as 'Sober' or anything else. It was conceded that his well-stocked and 'Legendary drinks cabinet' is a matter of fact and well-known hospitality but that my use of satire,described as being a mixture of Punch and Private Eye, to describe council meetings and councillors represents a breach of the code.

Over on ThanetOnline, Michael Child makes a regular point of being critical about both the Council and some Councillors grasp of the Internet. What I did quite energetically express to the panel, is that the Council is falling behind the times in attempting to tie-my hands, through arguing that I'm always on duty and thus cannot pass comment or report, here or elsewhere, without potentially breaching the standards code. I might add, that in other recent and well-publicised political debacles, it appears other independent councillors appear to have escaped the level of censure applied to me, which I find curious.

While the panel busied itself examining the evidence, two of the complaints made by Cllr Dr Jack Cohen, were more serious allegations, that I might argue were both capricious and malicious were thrown out. I would direct your special interest to the first screen shot, which I would ask you to try for yourself and apparently was reason to raise a more serious complaint of 'anti-antisemitism'.

As far as understand the argument, if you put an 'antisemitic' expression into a search engine, like BING, against the name of a respected local councillor and "Thanet Blog" and this returns 'ThanetLife' at the very top of the search list, then this is sufficient for the complainant to argue that the weblog is antisemitic in character. I'm not making this up! And the screenshot evidence is attached.

While you are trying to get your head around the rather confused logic of this argument in the first screen shot let me try you on the second.

This is a YouTube clip of the Fast Show uploaded and posted by 'ptekptek' and which has had over 800,000 views. The argument here, appears to be that because I once used this clip to illustrate an entry on ThanetLife, I'm responsible for the 248 comments, that go with the clip on YouTube and which are in someway perceived to be directed at an obscure councillor, who is offended by the video.

If you happen to be a Monty Python fan, as I am, then you'll immediately think of the clip below, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I'm baffled by some of what I've read so far and a number of other surreal arguments in the document in front of me. In my view, these both defy simple logic and show a complete lack of understanding of how the internet and its popular search engines work. What worries me more is that public money is being spent, pursuing what appears to be a political cameo of the Monty Python farce below. But perhaps I'm living in some strange, alternate island reality instead.

Unfortunately, as I commented to Cllr Alasdair Bruce, my 'friend of the accused' this morning, the cost of this whole exercise quite possibly exceeds the entire floral budget for Birchington this summer. I will also be in hot water for adding the very satirical but unrelated video clip shown below.

Back Later

I have an appointment to keep at the Council offices in Cecil Square this morning. Captain, Cllr, Dr Alasdair Bruce will be acting as 'friend of the accused' and together, we will be planning a fiendishly cunning defence strategy, to present to the three senior members of the standards tribunal considering the complaint made by Cllr Dr. Jack Cohen.

More later...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Our Times

With my standards hearing only a matter of twenty-four hours away, exploring the available sanctions, remains a subject of energetic debate between councillors and officers - see today's video -.

On more important matters and I note on the BBC SE news this morning, that a Broadstairs man, Gareth Harnett, is on life support in a Thai hospital, following a heart attack while friends try and raise money to bring him home. Reportedly, and it's a familiar story of our times. He did not take-out medical insurance cover and having him airlifted home in addition to critical care, will cost a small fortune. His friends are trying to raise money with a Facebook campaign and I wish them well in their efforts in trying to get him home. The Escape Nightclub Facebook page also carries more information if you would like to help.

Sitting here this morning balancing the first bank statement after Christmas, it's not lost upon me, how the many standing orders have increased this month and many of these, well above inflation. How this is in any way justified and particularly among the essential utilities and insurance companies, I simply don't know but I'm sure that all those uncounted millions of consumers who were hurting with price rises before Christmas, will be feeling the pinch even more when they add-up all these small but significant incremental increases.

Having written about the dangers of looking for cheap loans and credit the other day, my comments section resembles a sharks feeding frenzy as dodgy loans companies try to leave comments here enticing readers to equally unsafe websites. Comment moderation is however stopping them at the first hurdle.

I see that one of today's search terms here is "pornographic photo models in thanet". I think someone is confusing my weblog with another. I can't think why!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Start the Week

This should be an interesting week. I've a meeting with a local business tomorrow, that contacted me with an offer to contribute some money to a worthy cause or event in Westgate; very welcome in hard times, so I'll keep readers advised of the result.

Sir Roger Gale has his monthly surgery at Westgate Library on Saturday from 10am. I will be assisting and if you need to see your MP for any reason, you should make an appointment with his office

Last night, I went to see 'Zero Dark Thirty" at the Carlton Cinema in Westgate. It's a good film but in my view, very long on detail and relatively short on action, which came as a surprise for a Kathryn Bigelow movie.

As an officially sanctioned account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, it's a good historical narrative but I think the small group of sixteen -year-olds in the front of the cinema may have been disappointed that the raid on OBL's compound in Abbotabad was over quite quickly and failed to show the lengthy preparation and training that went into the mission by the highly-trained counter-terrorism operatives of Seal Team 6.0 who reportedly didn't like their portrayal in the movie..

Watching the film, I found myself reminiscing about the period. I was in and out of Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia quite frequently at the time, as you can see from the earliest entries in this weblog and once even had dinner with one of Osama's uncles in Riyadh, when I was working with the British Embassy on a project.

Back to Thanet from the movie set of Abbotabad and this week, I've my Thanet District Council standards hearing on Wednesday morning, which will determine the outcome of the complaint bought by Cllr Dr. Cohen. I will confess to being a little baffled by some of the evidence presented in the rather thick but presently confidential document in front of me, that I may share after the event and which demonstrates a woeful, if not worrying confusion over the workings of the internet search engines, like Google.

Anticipating my sentence and If I may offer a small example from the somewhat bizarre, Monty Python-like political climate which we share, here in Thanet; any comments that might appear under someone else's YouTube account and video clip, like the one shown below, have absolutely nothing to do with me or indeed anyone else locally. They are not, surprisingly enough, directed at an obscure Thanet councillor by the global audience of viewers who may have left them there.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shark Attack

Sky News has a story running today about some 10,000 legitimate websites having their Google search details hacked by 'dodgy' payday loan companies, in an effort to increase their search rankings and push vulnerable people to their pages. I have just spoken with Sky News, because, it's not just websites that are being attacked, it's weblogs too.

Over the past few weeks, ThanetLife, because, quite possibly, it has a community element in a deprived area, has seen a concerted effort to leave comment spam, directing readers to fraudulent payday loan companies. You won't have seen any of these, as I block these 'shark attacks' immediately but the attempts seem to be becoming more energetic and the comments written in better English, in an effort to slip by.

I have had a chat with Jason Farrell at Sky News and he thinks that the comment spam may be coming from the same company but the targeting, of a vulnerable community, here in Thanet, by coincidence or by design, is absolutely reprehensible. I will bringing this to the attention of Sir Roger Gale.

There's a website with supporting 'Apps' for iPhone and Android called which keeps you up-to-date with the latest frauds, internet, phone and so on. So if it sounds dodgy, you might find it described there already.

I do try, from time to time to add an educational aspect into my writing and particularly on the economy, as you may have noticed lately, as I tried to describe how the Gold Standard, inflation and even the crash of 2008 actually happened and not the myths surrounding it.

I would like to think that members of the Labour group, here in Thanet, read some of this weblog from time to time, if only to help correct some of the myths they so firmly accept as facts and then peddle-on to their communities. There was a small ray of hope on Thursday night, when Clive Hart, conceded, that there was a difference of opinion, over whether the economic crisis was the fault of politicians or bankers or even both. This didn't prevent the Labour Cabinet lambasting the Conservatives for giving tax breaks to the rich.

But wait a moment. It was Labour's Chancellor, Alasdair Darling who argued with Gordon Brown that it made sense to reduce the upper rate of income tax and admitted that while it was politically unacceptable for his Government to do so, it was practically a sound idea. In the Guardian this weekend, Daniel Hannan explained why countries with the highest top rate of income tax are invariably poorer than those who have a lower flat rate. As Hannan argues: 'Wealth taxes create more equal, but poorer societies.'

St Clements Hotel
David Cameron made a speech on global tax reform at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. Much like that moment of insight that comes when socialists realise that 2+2 does actually add-up to 4, we have to accept that the tiny group of super-rich remain generally remain outside the reach of governments, thanks to the Swiss-cheese nature of tax law. The great majority of despised 'rich people'; the likes of headteachers, local government executives, senior police officers, bankers and doctors, among that 10% who make-up over 60% of the country's income tax revenue, need to be left income they can spend freely, to stimulate the growth of the economy, rather than hand more of it to government to pay off debt; it's a balancing act not an argument.

For those on Thanet's Labour seats, who dream nostalgically of former Albania and North Korea, we really do need to accept that the range of wealth in any vigorous society, should follow the classic bell-curve of statistical distribution. Tamper with it and the economic model starts to collapse. The Conservatives reduced the higher rate of income tax, not for any selfish reason but because, strangely enough, they agreed with the former Labour Chancellor, that it was a sensible, pragmatic stimulus decision for a struggling economy, crushed by the weight of consumer debt.

Now UKIP and the Conservatives are no longer fighting toe-to-toe over our place in Europe, Nigel Farage is going after Ed Miliband in today's Mail on Sunday. Among the topics, Labour's ignoring the 'vast potential problem' of uncontrolled European migration from Bulgaria and Romania, later this year. As without any doubt, Thanet, and Dover may be among those councils benefiting from yet one more ill-conceived European decision; it's inevitable, I wonder what view Clive Hart and his Labour administration has to say on the subject and perhaps more importantly, what steps our Council may be taking to anticipate greater pressure on our local services? It's bound to figure as an issue in the forthcoming County Council elections in May. According to Twitter, Clive and others are out delivering leaflets this weekend, so perhaps there's an answer revealed there?

To finish, some local news. I've found a nice local photo site, Thanet Skies on Tumblr and the former St Clement's hotel (Proprietors Lt.Colonel and Mrs Hugh Marr, Telephone Westgate '36') is for sale and having its roof repaired. I have been in touch with the Council's conservation department to keep a friendly eye on this local landmark, which I'm told is being turned into two dwellings.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Days Gone By

Westgate Station Rd - Circa 1910
I was sitting over Margate at 4,000 feet this morning, doing an aircraft check after three weeks of being parked in bad weather. Thanet's microclimate was visible once again, with a clear line between us and the rest of Kent, much of it still buried under the snow. This line starts more or less at Minster and then extends west as far as the eye can see.

Wandering around Westgate, taking photographs this afternoon, I spotted the photo opposite in Tony Deeprose's antique shop in Station Road. It's not one I've seen before of the town in Edwardian times and he kindly let me photograph it to share. It's amazing how a little modern technology can recover more of the detail than is seen in the original.

I will add it to my Flickr library with all the others, that you can access from this weblog sidebar, so they aren't lost again.

In fact, several of our shops were looking colourful this afternoon but I rather wish I had a time machine, in the fashion of HG Wells and could grab some better photographs of the start of the 20th century in the town

Earlier in the week of course, we saw a very successful fashion show take place at the Knot in Westgate and I'm delighted to announce that our  ever-vigiilant local law-enforcement team of Peter Curtis and James Coleman, swiftly apprehended a deranged fashionista, who fled the event wearing nothing but a faux-mink coat.

The fur coat has been returned to its owner and the suspect - pictured - can be bailed from detention on eBay for £80.00

I may write something a little more sensible tomorrow!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Another Day in Politics

I see our Council Diversity Champion, Cllr John Worrow, fresh from his much-publicised and widely reported BBC resignation and resurrection of Tuesday, has announced on Twitter today, that he will be challenging KCC Cllr Mike Jarvis, for a County Council seat in Birchington in May. Is there now anyone in Thanet politics, outside his immediate circle, he hasn't labelled as 'Homophobic' at one time or another?

I'm sure that the good voters of Birchington will turn out in their thousands to congratulate and support John on his popular platform of 'anti-heterocentrism.'

I'm rather wondering where Cllr Worrow's independent colleague, Cllr Dr.Jack Cohen stands on this issue, as he's been silent, since the sudden and dramatic departure of Cllr Ian Driver from TIG, earlier this month.

You may have read elsewhere that Conservative councillor, Zita Wiltshire, has now decided to sit as an independent.

Cllr Bob Bayford, Leader of the Conservative Group at TDC, has made the following statement in response to Cllr Wiltshire’s decision:

 “Cllr Wiltshire has been a valued member of the Conservative Group for many years, working hard for the people of St Peter’s, Broadstairs and Thanet. We wish her well for the future.”

Zero Dog Thirty

I'm spoiled for choice at Westgate's Carlton cinema this weekend. What with Spielberg's 'Lincoln' and Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' I might have to make an exception and go to the movies twice in one week!

My small friend, pictured opposite, would happily come to the movies too but she has a habit of trying to eat any popcorn I might have. In the photo, she's attempting to negotiate an exchange for one of the sausages I'm eating from the tray on my knee.

Being a local councillor, one frequently has to deal with a case load of unusual enquiries and the next photograph was sent-in, earlier in the week, by a concerned Westgate resident, who writes:

"Please can you advise me to weather the fields around my home in Westgate are growing GM penises  I am aware you walked around your ward last week and wondered if anyone spoke to you about seeing 6ft penis in the fields? As I'm not sure if my eyesight is playing up in these snowy cold winter months. Please find attachment photo."

Mystery Object
I replied...:

"Dear Mrs "N"

Thank you for your letter.

I am aware, that Westgate has experienced a sudden explosion in these phallic objects, dispersed around the town since the snowfall last weekend. On checking with Council officers, none of these new erections are in receipt of planning permission and neither are they linked to any event or celebration for the town that I am aware of.

Once I have have determined which of our Cabinet Members has a portfolio or political responsibility for this sudden appearance of 'members', I will be drawing the offending items to his or her, urgent attention at the earliest opportunity. This may reflect a new commitment to diversity on the part of the ruling Labour group that I am unaware of.

Until such a time as a properly trained council enforcement officer is able to investigate these objects more closely, I strongly recommend you remain in the house with your curtains drawn on both public decency and health and safety grounds."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Frocks Fantastic

Before I move quickly on to yesterday's main event, the Frock-a-licious charity fashion show at Westgate's 'The Knot' pub, the last 48-hours appears to have seen a local Councillor resign, quite dramatically, for the benefit of the BBC and then promptly change his mind and appear in the Council chamber on Tuesday evening. Ladies, please look away.

In the same Cabinet meeting, Labour's Cllr Michelle Fenner delivered one of the best political one-liners I have yet heard in Thanet to the amusement of those present, when arguing passionately against the petition for a dog ban at Dumpton Park Gap, during the summer months.

Cllr Fenner, who like her colleague, Cllr Poole, really does appear to believe in an international conspiracy of bankers against the working class, stated, in all seriousness: "The economic growth in Thanet will be hindered if people can't walk their dogs at Dumpton Gap." Thanks Michelle.We know the future of Ramsgate's dog walkers rest safe in your hands but I wonder if you might have any comments on the rather bizarre behaviour of your protege, the Council Diversity Champion, Cllr Worrow, this week?

Back to a delightful and packed charity fashion show at The Knot, in aid of the Oasis Womens Refuge and I've added a few of the photographs here and will try and upload some more later today.

Catching-up again with the raging Euro-debate on Twitter and elsewhere, on freeing us from the expensive and one-sided, bureaucratic shackles of Europe on our terms, I'm reminded of past times, when the 'strong Britain in Europe' business supporter,Roland Rudd and I wrote speeches for David Owen, back in the early days of the SDP. I remember, his younger sister, the equally gifted Hastings and Rye MP, Amber Rudd, when she started University and has come a very long way indeed, since the early 1980s, which does rather date me!

The Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate, features on the BBC's lunchtime news as the 10th worst-performing school in the country, even after having received £30 million as part of determined efforts to bring it up to equivalent educational standards with other schools in Kent.

This is very disappointing news, not only for the hard-working and dedicated staff but the students too but this reflects successive years of similar bad news, that now crosses generations. As a ward councillor living outside Ramsgate, I also have to ask how other local schools might have benefited from receiving even a fraction of that £30 million if it had been spread a little more evenly, given our very real challenges here in Thanet.

Staying with the subject of frocks and my own cruel reputation as the Blackadder of Thanet politics, I see our young Mayor of Margate, is 'Tweeting' that he's busy today delivering Labour leaflets in the Arlington tower and enjoying the view, with a nice photo of him in the mayor's robes. Whether, now he's finished university, he plans to find a job, to remain 'in chains' or join a number of his Party colleagues, enjoying life at the tax-payer's expense, indefinitely, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Where's Worrow?

The BBC local lunchtime news reported today that the leader of the TIG independent group in Thanet, Cllr John Worrow, has resigned.;

"A Thanet District Councillor says he is standing down because of a homophobic hate campaign against him. John Worrow, the councils lead member for equalities, claims he has been the victim of, what he calls, a 'heterocentric' attitude towards him and that he cannot continue in his post".

Cllr Worrow declared "That's all folks' on Twitter after the broadcast.'

Although I've been told he has written an official letter of resignation as a councillor, as of 3:30pm, nothing has been handed in to the Chief Executive's office at Thanet District Council and this has to happen for it to be official, rather than hearsay.

I will keep reader's updated (Twitter @simonmoores on the sidebar)as I hear more but I see that already, the political parties are gearing up for a snap by-election.

Any such decision, would place Clive Hart's stumbling minority Labour administration in a very awkward position, as over the past twelve months, it has depended on TIG, Cllr's Worrow, Driver and Cohen, to keep it in power. With Cllr Driver quitting TIG this month, and Cllr Worrow deciding to give-up on local politics, that only leaves Cllr Jack Cohen to fly the rather unorthodox party flag on his own. This leaves Clive Hart staring at either a hung council, a return to opposition or potentially, Westgate's Cllr Tom King holding the balance of power in 2013.

Given Cllr Worrow's history of publicity stunts, it's as well to remain cautious as he could as easily 'un-resign' "My public needs me", as he could resign in front of the television cameras.

Update. Cllr Worrow has just announced on Twitter: "Just to make it clear I WILL be attending and speaking at the February full council meeting in Margate as a Thanet Councillor" which leads me to suspect that this may be yet another stunt to coincide with Ken Gregory being permitted to re-join the Conservative Group, following his period of suspension and subsequent anger-management counselling.

Cllr Worrow had previously filed a standards complaint with Thanet District Council involving comments left on his voicemail by Cllr Gregory but the standards committee subsequently rejected Cllr Worrow's complaint and ruled that Cllr Gregory had been acting in a private capacity at the time.

Empty Handed

Tonight sees the first Council cabinet meeting of the year and the supporting document in front of me is at least an inch thick with the many different agenda items. These include the important 2013 - 2014 budget, the Council's housing strategy, from now until 2016, Cllr Driver's next motion to Council on the Royal Sands development and the enforcement of the terms of the lease agreement on the Arlington site in Margate. I expect it to be a long meeting.

I wanted to share a few of the figures from the Council's own statistics, so that readers were under no illusions over the challenges that Thanet faces, regardless of who might be in political control of the island.

One statistic that immediately catches my eye is "Over the last ten years, there has been a notable increase (over 10%) in the proportion of people in their twenties, forties, sixties and nineties but a notable decrease in the proportion of people in their thirties."

I might speculate that we are losing an important proportion of the population, just as they become economically significant and that's a worry. I'm sure there are other reasons too.

Education Secretary, Michael Gove, visited Cliftonville last week and I regret I had no opportunity to speak with him. Thanet has the highest rates in the country of children and young people living in social rented or private rented accommodation and at the same time we are also seeing homelessness "increasing rapidly." Council figures show that there were 18,808 vulnerable households on the island; a vulnerable person being one who is 18 or over and in receipt or need of a raft of services, which may include age, medical, mental or physical disability support. The headline figure is that of these vulnerable households, "62.2% live in non-decent accommodation."

The final statement, before I cease depressing you with local detail on this Tuesday morning, is that Thanet has the highest percentage of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) in Kent.

Let me attempt to put these figures in a much broader context. Imagine a Roman Galley attempting to row against a strong tide, through a narrow channel. With healthy oarsmen it might just make it but if only a third of those rowing are strong and fit enough to lift an oar and on one side of the galley, the majority are too ill to pull against the current or are disabled in one way or another, then the ship isn't going anywhere. For many small local economies across the country, the picture is much the same.

Our country is in a mess because our Government has been living beyond the productive capacity of the economy to sustain our public spending which, when the coalition came to power, was five times our economic output. In Britain, where we have approximately 4.9 million people living on benefit, we now hand out more in welfare cheques each year than the national income of Bangladesh, a country of 150 million people; in the UK, 900,000 people have been living on sickness or incapacity benefit for over a decade.

In 2011, Klaus Regling, the head of the European bailout fund, flew to China to ask for a loan of as much of $700 billion of the country's $3.2 trillion foreign exchange reserve. Regling was asking a country, with an annual income of $4,832 per head ($80 a week) to lend money to a continent with an annual income of $32,615. You can see the flaw in the argument here and the Chinese politely sent him away empty-handed.

What happened of course, is that interest rates everywhere were kept at artificial levels and governments attempting to kick-start the economy, started printing money; quantitative easing. with the result that for every $1 in circulation before the crisis of 2008, there are now $2.3. This remedial action has never demonstrated a successful cause and effect solution in the past and there is no good reason to believe that it will work to plan in the present. So, the coalition government here in the UK, is taking the sensible but painful step of attempting to cut the deficit before it buries us.

So what am I saying locally? It's that there are no easy answers and the brutal economic conditions that determine our future lie outside the control of simple district councillors and even member of parliament. We can hear hollow promises from Labour about fighting to reduce the impact of cuts on a local basis but in reality they are as meaningless as promising to stop the tide coming in tomorrow morning.

Politicians and councils everywhere simply have to work best within the narrow budget they have available. And if our welfare budget, like that of the United States and Europe absolutely depends on loans from elsewhere, then we have to ask what the future holds, if we can't run a balanced economy with a AAA status, when tomorrow's giants, such as China, aren't prepared to lend us the money to keep the great institutions of liberal democracy afloat?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In Snow

St Mildreds Bay Westgate
I have been out in the snow taking some photos today. Lots of children out playing on sleds and building snowmen, with a fair sprinkle of adults involved in the same. Some very large snowballs seen being pushed along the promenade at Westgate too!

I've put up a small photoset of my walk here.

What does strike me is how many children appear to be out playing in only hoodies, sweat-pants and trainers and with no gloves. Following-on from what I wrote yesterday, I'm sure Nike is a great company but its not always the brand logo or the fashion statement but the insulation content that keeps you warm in the snow on a day like this.

The forecast is for more of the same through tomorrow and although the council will have its gritting lorries out in force, a big freeze overnight, will demand considerable care on the roads on Monday morning.

I have put in a link to the Council's website information on waste recycling services in bad weather, if like me, your collection is due tomorrow morning. The important note is for wheeled-bins, where the message is:"If you are on a wheeled bin collection and your waste or recycling is not collected on the usual day, please keep your bin outside and the council will collect your bin as soon as they can during the course of the week."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nipper the Dog

Siberia is suffering from a snow 'Tsunami' with whole towns and buildings buried under huge volumes of snow. Here, by comparison, we had a modest dusting of snow overnight and already, the children are out with their trays and toboggans looking for anything resembling a slope on which to slide. From the weather forecast, this is just the start of the snow and we should expect more this evening and tomorrow, as the weather that passed us by yesterday, out towards Dover makes a slow circle back with the south-easterly wind, rather like a spoonful of salt on the edge of a slowly revolving gramophone record.

If you happen to be under the age of twenty, then perhaps someone will explain what a gramophone record is or was and what Nipper the dog, in the now defunct HMV trademark logo, was listening to; '"His master's voice.' being the by-line.

In fact, Wikipedia tells us that image comes from a painting by the artist Francis Barraud, acquired in 1899 by the newly-formed Gramophone Company. 'According to contemporary Gramophone Company publicity material, the dog, a fox terrier called Nipper, had originally belonged to Barraud's brother Mark. When Mark Barraud died, Francis inherited Nipper, along with a cylinder phonograph and a number of recordings of Mark's voice. Francis noted the peculiar interest that the dog took in the recorded voice of his late master emanating from the trumpet, and conceived the idea of committing the scene to canvas.'

With the cold snap and snow forecast, I invested in a new heavy weather jacket for the winter. I resent having to pay designer prices for well-known brands like the North Face, particularly as I suspect quality and price don't always go hand in hand. Because my winter aviation work frequently takes me to isolated cold, wet and muddy airstrips, I'm inclined to go with tough, waterproof and warm, military issue clothing, the classic submariner's sweater and Salomon boots. Outdoor clothing and synthetic materials have come a very long way in over thirty years, since I recall shivering in a snow dugout, wearing our standard issue NATO camouflage or spending over £100 on my first Gore-Tex running jacket. The best value for money products, in my opinion come from either Helikon or Mil-tech at less than half the cost of designer brands.

Early Gore-Tex - Thanet Half  Marathon 1983?
This weblog appears to be under a very determined attack by spammers, attempting to leave comments extolling the virtues of everything from online gambling sites to a drug to treat erectile dysfunction called 'cialis.' I wonder if they have an interest in Thanet-related news by coincidence or perhaps they know something about its tastes and demographics that I don't. In both examples, I can almost guarantee, that if I let any of the comments through and if anyone was foolish enough to follow one of their links, then they would likely be robbed or infected with a computer virus.

Before I forget. Southern Water have told me that the water leak in Cuthbert Road / Dent De Lion road in Westgate should now be fixed. Residents had reported flooding to another Councillor and it transpired that with the recent rain, their had been subsidence and a new gulley had to be dug. This took rather longer to resolve than I would have liked and I was unaware of the problem until I heard from our MP, Sir Roger Gale. I must apologise for the delay.

As many readers will know, I'm easy to contact through email, the internet, Twitter and phone and if you need a local matter dealt with urgently, I try and have an answer within the hour if not 24-hours. I should add, that I can't deal with residents requests from outside my own ward and have to direct these to the proper elected representative. With some 30,000 Thanet Life page views a month now and because I'm visible, I'm getting such approaches, more regularly, from as far away as Ramsgate. On occasions, I quite understand readers' frustration, when Councillors of any political party, reportedly ignore their attempts to make contact on pressing local matters. It should not happen and is quite unacceptable.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Inside Out

Icy Start at St Mildred's Bay
An attempt today, to break away from the literary equivalent of running a stick up and down the bars of Clive's political cage.

In passing, what I do find interesting, are the frantic mental gymnastics that Labour supporters will attempt in order to justify, what I and many others might regard as quite unsupportable arguments. Invariably these lead back to statements about David Cameron having been educated at Eton and Oxford, as if this well-known fact, rather than say, Ed Miliband's own life story, are a reason for pulling the wool over the eyes of local people.

So having failed miserably to avoid politics, I hate to say it but I'm starting to sound like former Ramsgate Labour Councillor Mark Nottingham and here's the link to his controversial letter to Labour leader, Clive Hart, which swiftly led to his deselection and sudden departure from local politics, giving us the larger than life figure of Ian Driver instead.

The BBC are warning of heavy snow from tomorrow through the weekend and it looks as if it will reach us here; although perhaps not as badly as forecast for west Kent and Sussex. If you haven't yet checked your anti-freeze and windscreen wash levels in your car, then today might be a good time.
New Park at St Mildred's Bay

You will see from my photos that we now have a new public part of sorts at Westgate's St Mildred's Bay, now the fence, bordering the former putting green has been removed. I would really ask dog walkers to respect the area and prevent their dogs from either fouling the grass or being anti-social, with other walkers.

One dog walker tells me this morning, that cars have been taking a short cut from the Royal Esplanade, along the path that runs down the side of the putting green (see photo) to the the big waste and recycling bins in the car park. Apparently a digger knocked the bollard down some months ago that prevented this access. I will get on to this immediately and ask for a replacement.

Can I also ask that if you see bit of litter floating around that you help me by picking-it up and putting it in a bin? The street cleaners don't often get that far in the winter and it would be wonderful if we could all work together, as many volunteer groups do, to care for our lovely seaside coast environment.

My wife and her friends went to see Les Miserables at the Carlton Cinema, last night. Apparently it was a packed house, the cinema was silent throughout, apart from muffled sobbing and the audience broke in to spontaneous applause at the end!

The Carlton, now under new management, has reduced its prices to Monday to Friday stall seats £2.50, Saturday and Sunday £3.50. (Saturday morning £1.00). Booking line 01843 834290

On a completely different subject, I went into the CoOp today to buy some bread and spotted a customer 'heads-up' looking rather suspicious as I came through the door. Glancing sideways, I noticed him hiding a large roll of beef under his sweatshirt, before looking decidedly pregnant, he sauntered past me and out of the door.

Wanting to be sure of what I thought I had seen, I followed him out, past the air ambulance shop, where he made a right turn and ducked into the back alley behind the shops in Station Road, adjusting his prize as he did. I called after him and politely suggested he return the item or I would for him but he claimed he was too busy and accelerated off towards the warren of flats, which is now Adrian Square..

I returned to the store and suggested the manager roll back the CCTV six minutes to catch the theft, but he's about 6' 3", slim build and I have passed a description to the store and warned Sam at the grocers, next-door that he may be back for some vegetables.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Only Mayors and Causes

The fuss over Easyjet's 'Malaga not Margate' campaign is finally dying down after a frenzy of national news coverage.

I thought I might remind readers of happier times; in particular the nostalgic 'Jolly Boys Outing' from the series, 'Only Fools and Horses.'

Having watched this week's somewhat excited BBC Southeast news coverage of the story, readers might be forgiven for imagining that the young Rodney had been reincarnated and returned to our seafront but perhaps that's my satirical imagination working late!

Staying with the subject of imagination, we'll be needing a new mayor of Margate very soon and already there's speculation surrounding the possibility Will's replacement as he propels himself towards a Parliamentary career with the help of Party friends. This may involve Clive and company reinforcing the present Mayor and Mayoress partnership, by using their voting majority among the Charter Trustees, to place Jodie Hibbert into the role, with the present mayoral incumbent, Will Scobie reportedly being presented with a relatively safe Margate county council seat to fight in May. You will recall that the energetic Scobie, after only eleven months as a Councillor, was a controversial choice last year, as he was still at University and unless Labour, having now turned 200 years of tradition on its head, chooses to recycle some of the tired but familiar Councillor choices for the job, the options remain very limited.

Call me old fashioned, which I am but as I've written before, I think a rapid progression from school to university and then to a safe and well-remunerated county political seat, without a job and a little life-experience somewhere in between, smacks of 18th century rotten boroughs, instead of the wider political debate we so desperately need in the 21st century. If Thanet's Conservatives acted so cynically, to accelerate the career of a son of one of their own at the taxpayer's expense, there would be howls of indignation and allegations of shameless 'nepotism' without any doubt.

I did miss the Mayor of Margate prediction out from my 2013 crystal-ball gazing exercise, mainly because I believed there was a limit to even my political cynicism where the present, diversity inclusive local Labour group are involved but perhaps not. Putting it in print now puts them on the spot and we shall see what comes of it all in April and May.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Soap Box Time

View over Margate in Snow 2013
Some minor snow disruption this morning but the bulk of any snowfall, if it reaches us here in Thanet, is supposed to arrive this afternoon; not as bad as some of the predictions for the northern part of the country though.

I took my camera with me on the way to the council offices and grabbed some scenic photos, which managed to make the town appear quite colourful in the sharp contrasts thrown by the light and snow.

Other than Easyjet's apology to the town of Margate, following the weekend's furore, I have news from Thanet Council, that my Standards hearing is now set for 10:00 am on 30th January, as a public hearing. I'm told that Cllr Dr. Jack Cohen has refused to accept my public apology for my satirical description of him here as 'Sober Jack' and so the matter will now proceed to its final inquisitorial stage at great public expense.

Presently, the Council's public works department is trying to establish whether the budget exists to build a scaffold in Cecil Square, outside the magistrates court and if not, would Cllr Driver's soap-box (more of a large crate really) and a length of rope thrown over the bus stop sign, satisfy the small army of Health and Safety officers.
Margate Rooftops in Snow 2013

I suspect that places at the hearing may in short supply, so best apply to the Council's democratic services department if you plan on saving a good seat.

The diversity examination by ordeal, subsequent sentencing and prompt execution, promises to be a family day out in the finest 18th century tradition and I plan to wear my best wig and make a fine speech, before the soap box is pulled away and I'm left to dangle in front of a cheering public.

One of my favourite Monty Python clips is shown below by complete coincidence!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

This Year End Up in Westgate

Howls of outrage from some quarters today, over Easyjet's very orange and new 'Malaga not Margate' advertisement; quite different to an earlier campaign. In my view, making a huge fuss and threatening to boycott the airline, only gives the company the attention it wanted in the first place.

Perhaps if the new advert were displayed prominently outside Lunar House or the council offices in Croydon; the last stop for many, before catching the train to Margate with a one-way ticket from Bromley South station, £26.80, would readers feel any differently?
Staying with photographs this morning, one of my readers sent-in this next newspaper cutting to share, on the importance of tax return accuracy. Some of us will of course be writing our balancing self-assessment cheques to HMRC this month and it's always encouraging to hear that they are still managing to get things so badly wrong that they consistently win awards for being the worst organisation in Britain to do business with.

This last photograph today shows a stirring team photo of Labour out canvassing in Cliftonville over the weekend; clearly the county elections have started early, see my sidebar, anonymous poll, although I haven't seen any official news of Will Scobie as a candidate yet. I'm assuming the Party will use the same tactic from the recent Westgate by-election and make doorstep promises to reverse the coalition's benefits cuts to local residents who are vulnerable and naive enough to believe them.

I notice the photo includes a lady who, rumour has it, may even be a district councillor for my own ward of Westgate on Sea. So now is a good time to remind local readers that it's the first Residents' Association (WWRA) meeting of the year, on Monday evening and with the by-election having taken place in May of last year, this might be an opportunity to meet some of the local people and tell them what good works she's been doing around Cliftonville for the last seven months, what plans exist to reverse those benefits cuts or indeed what's happening with plans for the building of a Tesco in the town. I'll be there.

Lorraine Hambidge of the WWRA has asked me to include a note from her: 

"The WWRA is 'Non-Political' and to those councillors and Political Parties who don't bother to turn up month after month . Please do not turn up to the WWRA meeting and think that they can use our meeting for canvassing and for votes, just because there is an election on this year. We had all that when we had the Westgate by-election last year and have never seen anyone since. We do keep a record of our councillors' attendances Tom King, Robert Burgess and yourself have outstanding attendance but the other three councillors you may as well ask who are they? As they hardly ever attend if at all.

I don't do politics so I will step in at the WWRA meetings and stop anyone from any Party from wasting out members' time with broken promises from all Parties particularly when we then never see them after the election." - Lorraine Hambidge (Vice-Chair WWRA)

Lastly, on this morning's BBC Daily Politics Show, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, confirmed that releasing EU immigration restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria at the end of this year, would introduce 29 million people to the privilege of settlement in Britain and not Malaga. Given the earlier fiasco with Poland in 2004 and pressed to give an estimate for the number that might come to settle, he declined to be drawn but the BBC's Andrew Neil offered an educated guess of at least 300,000 (plus any dependents); much more than all the new housing stock to be built over the coming term. Another reason perhaps for David Cameron to seek an urgent re-negotiation of our position as a member of the European Community.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Light the Blue Touchpaper

Like a modern version of the gunpowder plot, perhaps one day we will look back and trace Britain's exit from the European Union to a speech given one evening by the Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan in Thanet; setting light to a political fuse that may lead to an explosion in Brussels later this month.
Hannan is a remarkable figure and an inspiring orator of the kind that no longer exists in modern politics. The last time I came across an intellect as powerful, it was Gary Kasparov and like the former world chess champion, Hannan has an astonishing memory for detail, facts, figures and quotes.

His thesis, is that the European Union was created for the purpose of trade but instead it delivers suffocating regulation into every tiny corner of our lives.

He argues, that from Britain's point of view there is no national benefit to being a member, rather than being a free trade partner like Norway or Switzerland, simply because our balance of trade has moved away from Europe; they need us a great deal more than we need them, as our economy increasingly looks to the United States the Far-east and young nations like Brazil.

What we pay into Europe's tax and regulation coffers each year he claims, would very quickly bring down our own deficit and membership of the EU is strangling our own ability to recover, given that alone of all the members, as we remain outside the faltering common currency we are incrementally rebuilding our battered economy with new jobs and less debt.

Without any shadow of a doubt, Hannan delivered the most stirring and indeed logical, political speech I've every had the privilege of hearing and it's a shame it could not have been played to a national audience, rather than a small room, here in Thanet. However, I firmly believe its message is heard very clearly in the corridors of power, both in Brussels and Westminster and may well prove the prelude to a referendum decision from David Cameron before the month ends.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Plan

The MEP Daniel Hannan is coming to dinner tonight and if you haven't yet heard him speak passionately on the Orwellian woes of European regulation and government, or read his book, 'The Plan,' then I recommend you do. This in a week where the subject of a national referendum on our strained membership of the European Union is high on the news agenda,

Back to local news however and I had a chat with one of our council officers this week over the Tesco Metro application for Station Road in Westgate. It will probably appear before the Planning Committee sometime around March or beyond as it's been taken away and 'tweaked' by the applicant, to reflect concerns over the road access.

Unlike Sainsbury's on the Canterbury Road, which was seen-off, by residents of Birchington and Westgate, at least for now, principally because of the unsuitable highways issues, I'm told that Tesco is somewhat different. Apparently, if the company returns with a workable solution on traffic management in Station Road, then I'm advised that grounds for continued objection on the other arguments I shall be bringing, aren't very strong.

Of course, it's all speculation until the evening it comes before the members of the Planning Committee, briefed for their final decision, with the appropriate regulations and details by council officers but I thought it wise to manage readers' expectations in advance.

You will see from the photograph, that the fence on the northern side of the former Westgate putting green is being removed.

When I was the cabinet member, I had the green opened-up to the public and since then, some dog walkers have been irresponsibly trampling down the fence, to short-cut on to the grass from the cliff path. This has left it in a dangerous condition in places and just waiting for an accident specialist lawyer to take an active interest, once someone falls over it. The Council can't presently afford the potential legal costs or those of replacing the fencing and so I suggested we revert back to what it once was when I was a small boy.

I'm hoping that one day, someone will take a concession on what was the putting-green hut. It's been tried but the Council aren't prepared to compromise on costs and until they do or until such a time as I'm given back direct political responsibility for dealing with the issue and taking a personal initiative, it will, I fear, stay empty.

Amid the wilder and more unusual search terms used on my weblog over the last week, I've seen: "Birching boys," "Mature Women Massage in Thanet" and "Sex on fire chicken." The mind boggles!

On today's BBC News, I see the Ministry of Defense have announced they are replacing the respected but redundant Browning sidearm for our armed forces, with the 9mm Glock 17. Losing the Browning should be a relief, as they are completely unreliable and jam soon as look at them but the polymer Glock, although a fine and reliable piece of Austrian composite plastic, is completely unsuitable for a number of reasons, the first being the squeeze safety and the second that even the Americans now concede that the 9mm isn't going to stop a  bank robber or a Taliban high on substances, which is why they have been steadily moving up-calibre  to bigger rounds (.40, 10mm or .45) with more kinetic energy.

I predict that we will see a rash of accidental discharges and leg wounds, common to law-enforcement use of the Glock and I'm really very surprised at the army's bizarre decision.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The King's New Clothes

Housing & Residents Team at Westgate
I’m out on the annual estate inspection in my ward this morning with Cllr King, now once again the leader of the TOM party in Thanet. What was TIG has now been unofficially renamed the ‘WC’  party, to reflect the initials of its two remaining members.

It's also rumoured we have another councillor in Westgate but until such a time as anyone can prove her existence, I’ll keep an open mind.

At the next meeting of the Council, I’m sure we will hear Labour’s cabinet member, Michelle Fenner, once again speak colourfully and indignantly against the ‘greedy bankers’, she holds personally responsible for the recession. This without any demonstrable grasp of the facts, outside of the political rhetoric, of how we arrived at the biggest financial collapse since the ‘South Sea Bubble’ burst in the 18th century in similar circumstances. In fact, I recommend you listen to the podcast of Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ on BBC Radio 4, as an example of how those who don’t learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.

So for the benefit of readers who would prefer a short encounter with the facts, rather than the political fiction, here's the pocket-sized story of why the financial markets collapsed and governments and banks were equally complicit in the failure.

I think we would all agree that in areas of high home ownership, crime is lower and so, in relative terms, are unemployment and bad health. In fact pretty much every statistic that measures deprivation.

You may vaguely recollect that Fannie Mae survived the sinking of the Titanic but not the collapse of the United States economy in 2008. Of course, Fannie Mae was actually shorthand for the 'Federal National Mortgage Association', directed by the policies of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, (HUD).

In the late 90’s the United States Government, much like our own, was determined to increase home ownership among the poor and attempted to use the force of law to influence mortgage lenders to lend more readily to ‘disadvantaged’ groups. By 1996, 42% of  mortgage lending had to be to borrowers with incomes below the median and in 2005, this rose to an astonishing 52%.

I think readers may be ahead of me by now in seeing the catastrophe unfold. In fact, in the States, a manual was even published for banks, advising them that a mortgage applicant’s credit history should not be seen as a negative factor in assessing a home loan and that living on unemployment benefits should be no barrier to a lending decision.

On this side of the pond too, while less extreme than the States, Government, under the direction of Gordon Brown, also chose to favour a path of very loose touch regulation of banks like HBOS and RBS, through the FSA and Bank of England, when it came to home loans; following much the same path as the Americans toward the goal of increasing home ownership and greater prosperity built on property.

But then, as we know, it all went horribly wrong because house prices on both sides of the Atlantic stopped rising, promptly reversed and the cost of mortgages started to rise as the US economy stalled. At which point, mortgage debt ceased to pay for itself and the home-owners started missing their monthly payments to the banks.

What had happened is that international banks in a global financial village, had underwritten the mortgages held on the books of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac , the two largest financial institutions on the planet as packaged debt instruments, expecting someone else to be servicing them. When these debts started to default in huge numbers in the United States, the lenders, like Bank of America who had bought the debts and many in our own financial centres, started showing large gaps in the their balance sheets. This revealed that they had recklessly joined in this 21st century equivalent of the Pacific Bubble by lending way beyond their assets on loans that they thought were underwritten by government policy.

Of course, it’s a little more complex than this but my story represents the wider picture reasonably clearly. Government, both here and abroad, wanted people to buy homes so they could become happier, healthier and wealthier citizens through the responsibilities they perceived went hand in hand with home ownership.

Governments placed pressure on the banks to lend money at low interest to people who lacked any real ability to sustain a mortgage over time and looked the other way when banks started to lend more than they had in assets. When the bubble burst in the United States, the financial contagion spread to London and centres like Frankfurt and Madrid, with predictable catastrophic consequences.

So ‘Yes.’ bankers have been recklessly greedy encouraged by a culture of eye watering bonuses but since the crash, 20,000 have lost their jobs in the UK’s own financial services industry. However, this particular financial crisis happened principally because governments and politicians like Gordon Brown, thought they knew best, interfered with market forces and interest rates and pressured the banks to lend money, creating a crazy get-rich-quick scheme that fuelled the collective insanity until one day in New York; somebody asked the uncomfortable question about the 'King's new clothes', which caused the whole pack of cards to collapse, starting in Wall Street.

I'm invited to share a dinner with the MEP, Daniel Hannan, this week and I'm very much looking forward to hearing his often controversial views on the same subject and from a European economic perspective.