Monday, February 25, 2013

Enter the Clangers

On a rather too frequent basis, we see a flow of unreformed socialist rubbish appearing from Thanet's Labour Group. However, today, even I was amazed to discover that the national obsesity epidemic, is in reality, a sinister Conservative plot to oppress the working classes. This from a certain R.L.Symonds, a Labour candidate for Broadstairs and Sir Moses wards.

And what would this political meteor in waiting offer the people of Thanet if ever elected? "Move the main supermarkets into a franchised sphere of the economy, in a similar arrangement to that of the privatised railway companies" and learn from the Cuban revolution ."One kilo of mixed white rice and black beans peas and potatoes, were issued monthly to all families, free."

I'm absolutely certain that the good people of Broadstairs can't wait for the opportunity to reject Tesco and introduce not only their own modest version of the Cuban revolution to replace Folk Week but the simple state diet that accompanies such splendid ideologically-motivated class struggle. If they can produce good cigars as a by-product too then I'm up for it!

While I would be rather more concerned by the families that struggle locally to feed their children properly, this Guardianista-inspired political rhetoric sounds, rather like Cllr Driver and Cllr Worrow all over again.

If you didn't know already, local Councillors don't in fact have the power to nationalise our supermarkets or introduce the public to a healthy diet of rice and beans, even in the pursuit of a socialist utopia, like Cuba. Coincidentally, I've been there and I can tell you, that while rice and beans are a popular national dish, many people can't wait for the opportunity to enjoy calorie-laden fast food like their cousins in Miami.

If you weren't already convinced that Clive and Alan and Iris weren't already living in some ghastly pink parody of Oliver's Postgate's popular children's series, "The Clangers" then here's a short series clip to remind you of their many successes to date.

This week we have another full Council meeting and I have a question tabled over the £20,000 so generously given to the Margate Caves and Ramsgate Tunnels project.

Now, if we could bring both or either back into public use, that would be both welcome and wonderful but in the absence of any sound business plans or indeed, given the potential liability exposure and high estimated costs of safely bringing caves or tunnels safely into the tourism net, I'm wondering whether, with local elections only three months away, £20,000 is simply an extravagant political gesture in key wards at the taxpayer's expense.

After all, if you are going to pour money down a hole or even two, then you might rightly expect some kind of tangible, if not immediate return on the public's investment; oil  or votes perhaps? I'm hoping to see some figures on Thursday evening that will prove my cynicism wrong but I have a feeling that the Clangers' tunnel committee, may have dug themselves into an expensive hole and not even the fabulous Iron Chicken will be able to dig them out of it. Perhaps English Heritage will come to the rescue with a business plan or a large sum but I'm sure all will be revealed on Thursday night and I will be put firmly in my place for asking if there's any light at the end of this political tunnel, which starts in Margate and finishes in Ramsgate and perhaps more importantly, who feeds the soup dragon?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Start Blogging

When Daniel Hannan stood-up in the European Parliament in Brussels in March of 2009 and made a dramatic speech, attacking the catastrophic economic record of then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, it was one of dozens of speeches made that day and ignored by the mainstream political media. But then, something unusual happened, it was posted on YouTube and within hours had been watched by 40,000 people. Since then it's been seen by over three million viewers.

Why am I mentioning this? It's for the very reason, that two years before the impact of Twitter and the arrival of the 'The Arab Spring,' while the likes of the BBC thought the speech to be of no importance and 'lacking in substance,' the mainstream media were dragged reluctantly into recognising they no longer exercised centralised control of broadcasting the news any longer.

As Douglas Carswell puts it: "Thanks to the internet, news is no longer left to a tiny, self-regarding elite to interpret things on our behalf and feed us their opinions. As long as there are some more articulate than others, there will always be a class of commentators but it has been democratised."

Carswell observes that bloggers have rudely interrupted the monopoly of the old elite commentariat, while old-school newspaper pundits have to face inwards at the morning conference meeting. Its for this reason, I wanted to write a few words on the subject this morning.

Recently, several councillors of different political groups have told me they never read local blogs, thinking them sordid and scurrilous at worst and self indulgent at best. But what, I would ask are the useful local news sources? The Thanet Gazette, BBC Southeast Today?  Is that the best we can hope for offering a very narrow view of local news and events indeed.

Yes, of course some local blogs are pretty awful but there are others which can offer a very useful perspective on important Thanet issues, such as the Royal Sands debate and the changing perceptions surrounding  local democracy and politics on the island. The same I would argue is also true of Twitter, which offers a running ticker tape on millions of  issues and people that are of personal interest, whether it be SE Trains delays, the BBC, Clive Hart or Thanet Council.

For any politician, local, county or indeed national, not to keep an eye on local, internet-based news sources, just because they don't like what they read I find very hard to accept as a good reason. Politicians need to be engaged and informed at every level of the community and that includes the internet, whether they like it or not, unless of course, we're suggesting locking ourselves in a small windowless room equipped only with a television, telephone and Friday's copy of the Thanet Gazette?

The Royal Sands debate which is presently raging in Ramsgate around figures such as Cllr Ian Driver, illustrates how the internet and local blogging, is revealing weaknesses in both the processes and & the transparency of local democracy in the 21st century.

So I would ask all our councillors of all flavours and parties, to think a little more about what blogs and Twitter and the internet are starting to contribute to local debate, opinion and information. Ultimately, the very nature of politics is going to be changed by these mediums and in a number of examples already has by the special interest groups that are leveraging them. So if you can't beat them, join them!

Today, for example you can follow a moment by moment account on Twitter from Louise Oldfield (@margatearch), who is at Maidstone Crown Court, watching the trial of Sandy Ezekiel or you may read in the news and on the blogs that Thanet District Council is being sued by the Dutch animal exporters for the interruption in trade at the port of Ramsgate. I recall, warning Reg Bell this might happen as they have done the same before, successfully elsewhere, when port authority councils attempted to stop this vile trade. Now Thanet, may find that standing against such misery on principal can be an expensive exercise for the taxpayer.

Finally, if anyone is interested, here's the video of another successful marriage proposal I flew at Leeds castle yesterday, in bitterly cold weather, before staggering back, just in time for the Council's special briefing on the new remuneration package for local government employees, here in Thanet.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Quick Time

iPad Mini with Air Nav Pro
It's quite fascinating how quickly technology moves on. I now have an iPad mini mounted on the pilot's control column of my aircraft and a larger iPad 3.0 on the co-pilot side. Both adding extra navigation-related, 'bells and whistles', moving maps, live weather, email, Twitter and a variety of different charts and airfield approach plates at the touch of a finger.

One further advantage is that I can control the aircraft's two external video cameras from either iPad, with the GoPro wireless app, so it's all becoming a bit hi-tech in there at times.

Sunset 19th February 2013
Next week, I've two aircraft booked-up to film the next installment of a well-known television advertisement. The production company have managed to choose the most awkward spot possible; a location on the M3, just at the edge of Blackbushe airport and if the weather stays good enough to get in the air, the filming looks set to be a nightmare to choreograph. I plan to film some of the 'Out-takes' from my own cameras and will share these here if the results are promising.

Just for a brief moment there, I avoided local politics but I will comment I was sorry to hear that the 'Great Wall of Ramsgate' had been vandalised. Try as he might, I don't believe that Cllr Ian Driver can avoid at least part of the blame here on the simple argument of incitement. It really is time that he and his former TIG colleague, Cllr John Worrow, both with a flair for amateur dramatics, became a little less generous and outspoken on whatever opportunist topic or political bandwagon, catches their attention on an almost weekly basis

Meanwhile, once the fog had disappeared this afternoon, there was a promise of spring in the air when I walked the dog down to the beach before sunset. Just over a month before the clocks go forward again and I can't wait until the beach huts start to reappear along the promenade after Easter, signalling the official start of the 2013 season.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Passing Thoughts

Ewen Cameron
"Death," I was once told, ""is the worst possible form of ill health" and the random nature of our lives, was no more immediate than fifteen minutes earlier, on my lunchtime cycle ride to Minnis Bay and back.

I arrived back in West Bay, just as an ambulance appeared. on a 999 call to a middle-aged man who had collapsed at the road entrance to the promenade. He was very grey and the ambulance crew immediately started a full cardiac recovery protocol. My educated guess, is that he had been in arrest for at least ten minutes without intervention. A second ambulance arrived just as I left and I can only hope for him and his family that the two paramedics battling to save him, were successful.

I wanted to say a few words about the sudden death of former Conservative Councillor, Ewen Cameron last week and perhaps this is a good time.

Ewen, became a councillor for the Bradstowe ward at the same time as I entered district politics. As he lived in Westgate at the old St Peter's church guest house, I knew him and his wife Valerie quite well.

An economist by profession, Ewen was kind, frequently a little eccentric and in my opinion, among the brightest of all our Thanet councillors. When the recession struck in 2008, Ewen lost his job and this had a disastrous effect on him. Like many before him and I'm sure many more after, he found refuge in a glass of wine, which over time became several and then a bottle and more.

This is not the place to explore the history of Ewen's problems and his subsequent conviction and imprisonment for drink driving. As with all of us in public life, the courts expect us to set an example and quite rightly, deal with us harshly when we don't.

Prison was not the place for a gentle character like Ewen Cameron. He was assaulted, victimised, extorted and bullied and left Her Majesty's pleasure in a far more fragile state of health and mind than he entered.

I was shocked last week to hear of his sudden death and I'm still not in full possession of the details. I did notice searches rippling across this weblog and this alerted me to something unusual.

Regardless of our politics and differences locally, I would hope that we can remember Ewen for what he was before alcohol-dependence poisoned his life and wrecked his career. A kind and gentle man, a councillor who was always prepared to help others less fortunate than himself and who never had an unkind word to say of anyone.

His funeral is on the 28th February with a service at 2:40 at the Barham crematorium.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Where's the Beef?

I watched the chief executive of the Iceland supermarket having a 'Gerald Ratner' moment on the BBC's Andrew Marr show this morning. When asked about testing for horse meat in his prepared meals, he blamed local authorities for driving down the costs and quipped that his company 'Doesn't test for hedgehog either.'

It wasn't an interview to inspire confidence, 'any' confidence in him or his business, I'm sorry to say and the other, larger supermarket chains were sensible to stay well away from the dangers of such an interview on a sensitive subject provoking deep public concern.

The Conservative, Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) was also on the Andrew Marr Show, answering questions about the possible size of Romanian and Bulgarian migration at the end of this year. He remarked, that it was 'Absolutely pointless' to try and estimate the numbers, which has to be rather worrying to those areas of the country and local authorities, most likely to have the burden placed upon them.

IDS also commented that the policy of having to pay child benefit to the families of migrants, living abroad, was 'Absolutely crackers,' but that we were stuck with it under EU law. Something he added that it was up to David Cameron to try and re-negotiate. That would be sooner rather than later, I'm sure millions of frustrated, hard-working Britains, may hope.

Re-hab Urgently Required
Like many observers, I'm disappointed that the Labour candidate for the forthcoming Eastleigh by-election, has rather unorthodox views, which included his regret that Margaret Thatcher 'Wasn't murdered by the IRA in the Brighton bombing' and that he 'regrets we won the Falklands war.'Labour's justice secretary, Sadik Khan, describes this as his off-the-wall 'sense of humour' but I suspect he's been learning from the equally outrageous political 'humour' of `Cllr Ian Driver, here in Thanet.

My daughter's Chinchilla, pictured opposite, is now so depressed by the horse meat scandal and the political hyperbole flying around our island, he's now on tranquillisers. Fond of bling, experiencing delusions of being a small hat and worried about being turned into a pre-packaged Iceland lasagne, he's is in danger supporting the LibDem's latest plan to tax jewellery.

Several years ago, Thanet possibly had more blogs per square foot than any other spot in the country. Then, many of them them ran out of steam, either became bored with self indulgence, were cautioned, sectioned or simply intimidated out of existence.

Most recently, we are seeing another local blogging renaissance, with several new figures motivated to comment about Thanet, mostly because of the political atmosphere and partisan feelings over local developments and the environment. I see that councillors Nicholson and Johnston, have now been 'fingered' as playing an instrumental role in the original negotiations under their administration, that have led to the helpless-looking debacle that now surrounds the Royal Sands development in Ramsgate. I have added a couple more of these to the sidebar , so that readers can catch-up on the strength and direction of local opinion, good, bad, indifferent and occasionally a little crazy too!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Off Road Blogging

I read our local paper today, expecting to find angry letters to the editor at their treatment of Sir Roger Gale last week and I wasn't wrong.

Given the Thanet Gazette had at least two clear days to discover what our Member of Parliament had actually said in the Westminster gay marriage debate, rather than act as a proxy for the frequently unprintable opinions of Cllr Ian Driver, it's hardly surprising that people were upset. After, all, I sent the editor the clarification that appeared on Thanet Life hours after Sir Roger had written it but did any part of it appear in print locally? Of course it didn't.

And what's with the week in, week out, 'Mr Angry' letters to the paper from Mr Muir of Westgate that have appeared as long as I can remember? The common theme, is a sardonic and visceral dislike of our Thanet North MP, which implies a festering personal grievance, going back many years. So why print these unless the editor is very short of material or has a personal or indeed political motive. This may be connected to the fact that our local paper, having a duty to report news, fairly and impartially, is both distrusted and disconnected from the political process at the highest levels. As I've written before, that's not good for local politics and it's certainly not good for Thanet.

This month, one can't avoid being left with a sense that the wheels are rapidly falling-off Clive Hart's political bandwagon at Thanet District Council.

Other than Royal Sands and a troubled-looking Portas Pilot making the news, we have Cllr  John Worrow, who 'may or may not' have resigned or 'may or may not' have received a death threat from an anonymous address in Medway. There's Cllr Ian Driver, on a personal crusade and creating anarchy within the Council at a speed not witnessed since the glory days of Militant, of which he is a former member.

Passing Meteor
It's been a wild week in local politics for my opposite number, the political driving-force behind Clive Hart's Labour administration, Cllr Alan Poole, who having managed to successfully shoot himself in both feet simultaneously in front of the BBC then repeated the trick as an encore, at a public meeting on the Royal Sands development in Ramsgate. This time he was reportedly wearing a blindfold and a pair of lovingly hand-embroidered, red laughing trousers, supplied for the occasion by his inseparable colleague, Cllr Michelle Fenner.

One really has to admire Alan's political courage, dry wit and unique gift with words; a politician of the old school, who really knows how to work a difficult audience.

Over on the north side of the island,  Tony Flaig has also spotted that the 'Scobification' of the Mayoral process in Margate, is somewhat irregular, as the talented young 'Dave' is suspected of unfairly leveraging an office, which has been strictly apolitical for a century, to further his aspirations as a Labour County Council candidate in May. In fact, the political manoeuvring is so shameless , as Labour's own 'faites accompli', stealth youth opportunities scheme, it's quite breathtaking. However, the real casualty in this argument, has to be confidence in the office and political independence of the role of Mayor, which still needs to completely recover from the earlier scandal, associated with the prosecution of Ted Watt Ruffell.

There's rather more I could write about too, on another public meeting last week and the bizarre behaviour of another cabinet member; it's on an embarrassing par with Cllr Poole's legendary sense of tact but I'm saving this for a rainy day!

Finally, I've just spotted a problem that I identified locally a couple of years ago and wrote about from a concerned Thanet perspective and which was completely ignored by the media. At last and in the light of the serious  Romanian and Bulgarian immigration challenge facing us here at the end of the year, it's been revealed. This is long after me worrying over what I was seeing here in Thanet, with migrant children working the streets. Then, I had a conversation with a director at 'The Big Issue', who explained, how what can only be described as an 'immigration scam' at the magazine's expense, is quite legal under EU law:

"Under a loophole in EU immigration rules, Big Issue sellers can claim ‘self-employed status’, thereby gaining a National Insurance number and, with it, an instant legal foothold in the British labour market."

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Day After Valentine's

Another Valentine's Day comes around and nobody was more surprised that me, when the weather improved enough to get this year's flying proposal done at the Hindhead nature reserve, just off the A3 in Hampshire.

When I left Manston in the morning, the weather, in a 500 foot low overcast and drizzle was still pretty awful but as you can see from the video-clip of yesterday's action, that once I reached Blackbushe airport and the area behind the advancing weather front, there was a marked improvement in conditions.

On Wednesday, as you may have noticed from my Twitter sidebar updates, there was a Police and Community Partnership meeting at the Garlinge primary school and I was very pleased to hear, that in general local crime is down on last year. However, locally, burglary is up, please be warned and we have one juvenile, who is reportedly responsible for skewing the statistics and the police appear deeply frustrated that the criminal justice system have no answer to this one-boy campaign of crime. So please be particularly aware of the potential for shed and garden theft. For your phone book, the area office telephone number for Thanet's community wardens is now 01797 321884

Kent Police have re-designed their website with lots of useful local  information and statistics and you can find the link here.

In Westgate, Police and the Council have asked for residents help in finding the Lymington Road 'Dog Vandal.' I suspect this may be a 'Staffie-type' breed being trained for dog-fighting but whatever it is, the animal has now caused over £1,000 of damage to the dedicated children's recreation area and this has to stop as the money for constant repairs these days simply doesn't exist. If you live locally and see anything suspicious please call 101.

The Police have had some real success in closing down cannabis factories lately but I'm concerned at news that the influence of the London-based Jamaican drugs gangs is finally moving in our direction, where before we had been almost unique in not having suffered their violent presence.

Yesterday, on my early morning walk along the seafront, I cam across the car in the photo, lights on and engine running. Curious, I approached it and through the steamed-up glass, I could see a man covered in a blanket. I tried waking him but with no luck and so more than a little worried, I called the police 101 number.

Once again, this revealed the acute problem the police have with incidents taking place off the road grid with a control centre lacking any local knowledge. What really annoyed me was a long call, more interested in determining who I was and where I lived, rather than the circumstances and condition of the unresponsive man in the car. I commented to the police operator, that the call was now taking so long, that if carbon monoxide rather than possibly alcohol was involved, the driver was now 'Past his sell by date.'

This morning, I'm trying to help the latest homeless person to arrive in Westgate. You will know her when you see her and her name is Sarah, if you are able to buy her a cup of coffee rather than the can of cider she was drinking after 8am this morning. Her's like so many others, is a tragic story and I need to try and find the right department of the Council and the Porchlight charity to take action to find her somewhere to shelter out of the cold.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sea View

Ramsgate Seafront
Valentine's Day tomorrow and I'm trying to work out if the weather will be good enough afternoon in the afternoon to fly a marriage proposal down in Hampshire. I'm undecided as to where I should operate from, Blackbushe or Goodwood as the distances are almost equal. There's a small advantage in the latter, as if the weather turns nasty between Manston and either destination, I can fly higher and avoid being squeezed into the very narrow, low-level airspace which passes over the high ground tracking the M25 at Biggin Hill.

I've had an interesting job booked for the end of the month, by a film company that wants two aircraft up simultaneously. I think it's for the next installment of a well-known television advertisement but quite how I might get a Meerkat to wing-walk, I can't say. Duct tape is always a useful solution to most problems in unusual circumstances.

Back to Thanet and the action still surrounds the Royal Sands development at Ramsgate. I think we risk losing sight of the fact that projects, such as these, are approved with the very best intentions on the part of the Council, in a part of the country that is desperate for regeneration. Occasionally or as a consequence of the prevailing harsh financial climate, developments fail or struggle, for one reason or another; the Sea Bathing Hospital development at Margate being one very good example. Royal Sands is now the subject of intense public scrutiny and I will be most interested to see the outcome. However, what none of us want to see, is a derelict site blighting a strategic position on Ramsgate's seafront for many years to come.

Along with Karl Marx' Trip Advisor review of Margate and Nye Bevin's recollections of the political career of Iris Johnston, I see that the most popular reference work in the House of Commons library, a self-help, style-guide by Labour MP Paul Flynn, on 'How to be an MP', was the most borrowed book from the House of Commons library last year. Thinking I might learn something about the inner struggle that defines the somewhat opaque Westminster village, I've just bought a copy for my Amazon Kindle reader. I have to assume that young Will Scobie is way ahead of me though!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Great Ramsgate Cliffhangar

An interesting flyer on the Royal Sands development in Ramsgate  in circulation as far as Westgate this weekend. Louise Oldfield has some detailed coverage on her weblog and so of course does Cllr David Green and the town's 'agent provocateur,' Michael Child, who has been worrying about flooding for as long as I can remember. All I would add is that if the Pleasurama site floods in a one in two hundred year storm, then so I gather, may Margate and Ramsgate, from the flood risk and engineering reports that were passed to me, when I last inquired.

Quite what the legitimate tax affairs of any business have to do with the subject, much like the current Google and Starbucks controversy, I don't quite know. Tax avoidance is a matter for Government and not for a local council to determine but if the administration spent rather more time concentrating on important problems like Royal Sands, rather than being distracted by diversity and the vexing problem of gay giraffes, we might see a little more progress towards some kind of sensible, if not broadly acceptable resolution to a planning problem, which years after its inception, appears to have no end in sight.

Lastly, a friendly word of advice to Clive Hart which I'm sure he knows makes sense. Please keep your deputy leader, Cllr Alan Poole away from television cameras, BBC radio cars and where possible, public meetings. If not for his own good, then for the reputation of your own administration and the Council.

Update... Having just watched Cllr David Green on the BBC's Sunday Politics show, I'm reminded of a Punxsutawney Pete clip, in the movie, Groundhog Day, So as an act of political charity, please reconsider putting him in front of the camera again.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Margate - Behind the Scenes

Credit to Luke at Thanet Waves for spotting these very 'retro', Wayne Hemingway advertisements, featuring Margate at it's finest or at the very least, most colourful!

HemingwayDesign for Hush Puppies SS13 - Margate / Behind The Scenes from Jack Hemingway on Vimeo.

Not much to add today after my very long account of Thursday's Council meeting but I did want to remind Westgate readers, that it's the monthly WWRA meeting on Monday evening and this will be at the Westbrook Bowls Club at 7pm.

I was going to pop-out and buy a fine Findus lasagne for dinner, an important part of my stable diet, but have now reconsidered. Watching the news of a food chain, that stretched from Romania, via a processing plant in Luxembourg and then on to the likes of Burger King, Aldi and Findus, I have to wonder what on earth the businesses involved were thinking. Why would anyone, with even a shred of intelligence, take anything labelled and certified in eastern Europe and in particular, Romania and Bulgaria,at face value without a little extra scrutiny, given the prevalence of corruption and organised crime that blights the accession states?

Rather like the missing EU billions that went into preparing several countries for membership of the European club, Brussels appears to naively accept self-certification of economies and indeed, minor details, like food standards as sufficient. In many ways,this is like Greece, which self certified its economy for a decade in order to receive generous EU grants and subsidies, in a manner which would send you or I to jail if we tried the same with the Inland Revenue.

Lastly, I read that a much loved icon of the BBC, Sir David Attenborough, has been roundly castigated by one of his academic colleagues and now, our local Diversity Champion, Cllr Worrow, for not giving equal coverage to gay and bi-sexual animals in his popular natural history programmes.

It has of course now been over ten years since Hollywood embraced the subject, with the two gay Giraffes, that Ollie Reed's character complained so bitterly about in a scene from the blockbuster movie, 'Gladiator.' I now expect a motion to be bought before Thanet Council by Cllr Ian Driver, seconded by Cllr John Worrow, that the famous broadcaster be summoned before the Council's Scrutiny Committee to give a full account of himself, much like the motion involving the new Kent Police commissioner, which fell on Thursday night.

Over thirty years ago, I had the pleasure of Sir David, coming to my university to give a lecture and I'm really quite surprised, that I didn't think of drawing this serious programming omission to his attention then! I expect Cllr Michelle Fenner to pass a properly outraged comment at a future meeting of the Council.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Being There

It's a good strong adjective, 'Turgid' and rather like another expression of distaste, 'Sordid,' it offers a reasonably accurate impression of events in Thanet's Council chamber last night.

The important business of the evening was the island's budget for 2013 - 2014. Labour wanted to freeze Council Tax, do away with Margate's 'Big Event' and instead, give a generous donation of £10,000 each to the Ramsgate Tunnels and the Margate Caves; both arguably financial 'bottomless pits' of expense that remain unlikely to see any immediate return on investment in difficult times.

The Conservatives, calculated, that even with austerity and given Thanet's most recent windfall from central Government, if Labour didn't appoint an extra £90,000+ Council Director and expand its Cabinet, with an allowance to match, and cut back on the expanding bureacracy that invariably follows on the heels of any socialist admisitration on the island, then Council Tax could actually be 'Cut' by 2%,. This, they argued would send an important signal out to the residents of Thanet, that while times are tough, the Council can find cost savings and streamline its business to meet the demands of central Government.

Martin Wise, Shadow Member for Finance, remarked “Labour have added “nice to have” spending to the Council’s costs, including to confirm the 4.8% increase to the allowance they awarded themselves last year, rather than to give something back to Thanet residents. There is no justifiable reason why the Council Tax could not have been reduced by 2%, a relatively small sum in monetary terms, but hugely significant as a matter of principle”. “The reason our country is saddled with a huge annual financial deficit for which we are all now paying, is that Labour racked up public spending to unsustainable levels with exactly the kind of “nice to have” spending we are seeing in Thanet District Council’s spending”.

And then there's Councillor Driver and Councillor King, who together, cooked-up and then promptly cocked-up an amendment to the budget which was both admirable and impractical at the same moment. The proposal was that over £100,000 be set-aside for the Council's disadvantaged hardship fund and Cllr King became very agitated when this was rejected. The Chief Executive tried to explain that if the Council were to give deserving cases further support from a hardship fund, then this would have an immediate impact on their benefits and indeed, might be taxable too and so the novel idea was firmly kicked-into touch.

As Cllr's King and Driver, were both instrumental, through abstaining in the vote, in leading to the defeat of the Conservative amendment to reduce the Council tax and defeat Labour's budget, observer's were left with an impression from the every angry response to the loss of the Independent Group's amendment, that they had expected some kind of  'quid pro quo' from Clive Hart and didn't get it.

While Labour has it's own 'Diversity Champion,' Cllr John Worrow, the Conservatives now have a shadow champion of their own in Cllr Julie Marson, who delivered a fine speech on the 'One Billion Rising' campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence, a subject where Thanet sets all the wrong records, with over 3,000 reports of domestic absue in the year 2011 - 2012. A figure which continues to rise.

Following Cllr Iris Johnston's equally passionate speech supporting the campaign, Labour's own Diversity Champion, quite remarkably popped-up during Julie's speech, interrupting with a quite inappropriate outburst of his own, claiming that heterosexual councillors are treated differently during meetings. However, I seem to recall a letter last summer to the Thanet Gazette, where he claimed he wasn't, so perhaps he finally needs to make up his mind about his apparently confused orientation and indeed, the resignation he delivered via the BBC's South-east Today, in January.

Most hard-working local councillors are now heartily sick of important business being regularly hijacked and dragged into the playground to indulge the personal interests and vendettas of Cllr Ian Driver, Cllr Jack Cohen and Cllr John Worrow. In a minority administration however, Labour is paralysed and while it postures and preens about its policies, everyone knows it is intellectually deficient and lacks true substance. In order to stay in place and enjoy the temporary sense of political power, its Cabinet have no choice but look the other way when the fabulous three, run riot throught the Council Chamber.

One further point I want to add, which was raised by my colleagues Cllr Jo Gideon and Cllr Bob Bayford in the Chamber last night.

We heard from Clive Hart the allegation that Conservative Cabinet Members, like me, didn't work hard enough, didn't manage officers enough and were not in the council offices frequently enough, where in contrast, he and his colleagues are present most of the time.

There's a fundamental misunderstanding here, which goes to the hear of local government and illustrates a real difference between Labour and Conservatism.

Councillors aren't appointed to 'manage'. Period. They exist at Cabinet level to offer political direction and work with civil servants to deliver strategic direction, as well as being the accountable face of local democracy. In reality, they have no remit whatsover to manage anyone, other than indulge their inflated egos here in Thanet.

In contrast with camping-out in a council office with my name on the door - an anathema to me - I would be in and out on average two days a week, because I have a real job; basically what the whole idea of local democracy intended. Not I shoukld add career Labour politicians milking the taxpayer and interfering with the day to day business of local government.

You witness this kind of local government in the north of the country in a line from Liverpool to Newcastle, where public service becomes a ghastly entrenched bureacracy, an Orwellian fantasy that embeds poverty and deprivation where nothing has moved on since the turn of the last century.

It's not being there that matters above everything, with the frequently turgid and unpleasant company that keeps the Thanet Labour group in place. It's what you do in office; what you deliver and the confidence that you offer those who look to you for leadership in such difficult times.

So may I remind Clive Hart's Cabinet once again. You are not here to manage, it's not your job, and from the  unremarkable record of achievement to date, you are rather less than qualified to direct anything more complex than a shopping trolly in Tesco.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Great Budget Bunfight

It's late. Far too late to write any detailed or even whimsical account of this evening's full Council meeting. On the agenda was the budget for 2013 - 2014 but as you might expect, this was somewhat overshadowed by the homo-erotic or was that homophobic rhetoric that the crowded public gallery had probably come to hear.

The language from Cllr Ian Driver, was at times truly shocking and if I repeated it here, I might be in breach of my own acceptable use rules. Cllr Worrow didn't behave much better and interrupted an important motion on domestic violence against women to complain angrily that 'Heterosexual members get treated differently' in the Council meetings.

Labour's budget passed, just, with the help of Cllrs Worrow and Cohen. Hardly surprisingly, even though they are now a TIG 'party' of two, Labour's Clive Hart, who declared himself as Thanet's 'Economic Development'  supremo, voted to continue supporting them them in their committee and special responsibility allowance roles.

The Conservatives offered an alternative budget amendment that would cut out Labour's new Cabinet position and what they viewed as unnecessary bureaucracy. The end result would have been a Council Tax cut of 2.5%. This was voted down but required a count as the margin was so narrow, with Cllr Driver and Cllr Tom King abstaining, hoping to have their own amendment passed. Instead, it was thrown-out and one could not avoid the impression from the very angry outburst from Cllr King, that followed, that he had been cleverly distracted by Cllr Hart to abstain from voting for the Conservative amendment in return for something else. Perhaps I'm wrong.

I've got to go flying on Friday morning, so I will have plenty of time to think about Part 2. of the Great Budget Bunfight, for a further analysis of the events and the characters, later tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sir Roger Replies

The Thanet North MP's comments in yesterday's equal marriage debate at Westminster, has caused some controvers. He will be appearing on BBC Radio 2, this lunchtime at 1pm, with Jeremy Vine, and Labour's Chris Bryant to clarify the remarks, on concerns surrounding siblings caring for each other in a partnership, that have led some observers to draw the wrong impression from his speech.

I saw Sir Roger Gale this morning and below, you will find a letter to the Daily Telegraph, which you will read here first:


At the risk of spoiling a good story, your reporter, Michael Deacon's idiotic report that I have put forward a suggestion that "would apply not only to gay people but incestuous relationships" demonstrates, yet again, the infinite capacity of the press to misconstrue a fact.

Anyone who is conversant with the provisions of the Civil Partnerships Act - and Mr Deacon clearly is not - is aware that that law specifically excludes heterosexuals and siblings ( i.e. and the important distinction of an unmarried or widowed brother and sister, - or two brothers or two sisters - , caring for each other) from the protections in law and property rights afforded to same-sex couples.

It is in that context that I have proposed the abolition of civil marriage (registry office weddings) and civil partnerships and their replacement with a Civil Union that would be all-embracing, that has nothing to do with incest or sex but would most certainly include siblings and other heterosexual partnerships. This would leave marriage, in its' understood form as between one man and one woman, to faith organisations and would separate state involvement from religious marriage and afford to all the "equality" that I understood to be the order of the day.

The response that I have received from those disadvantaged by the current exclusion from civil partnerships indicates that this is a proposal that is worthy of serious consideration.


In the Detail

Last night's equal marriage debate may be over at Westminster but not in Thanet and the subject which has so poisoned the atmosphere of our local politics and paralysed the Labour administration, will, without doubt, be given yet another hearing in our Council chamber on Thursday evening.

I spent most of yesterday watching the debate in Parliament and learning from the often passionate arguments of both sides. What I concluded, is that the Equal Marriage Bill is a 'Swiss Cheese' piece of legislation, full or air but ambiguous on important detail. This led many MP's on both sides to insist that it be given further scrutiny as it moves through the different stages to becoming law.

So while the Minister may give assurances that faith groups will be immune to challenge under Article 5.0 of the European Human Rights legislation, that binds our Government, MPs were quick to point out that such assurances are meaningless and it was Thanet North MP, Sir Roger Gale, who with others, pointed-out that a challenge in the European Court was inveitable.

Some other details struck me, as MPs struggled to find consensus on vital details of the Bill. Firstly, that the legislation would now discriminate against heterosexual married couples in the conventional sense, because neither adultery, nor consummation, two important provisions of the Common Law in divorce proceedings, would have any bearing on gay marriage. This opens a legal can of worms because now one group is now 'more equal' than another, having no requirement for fidelity whilst enjoying the protection of both civil partnerships and soon, marriage.

A third point, is that the Bill, as argued by some MPs, now opens the door to polygamy, as seen in other countries with similar legislation and so there is no reason, why a marriage, under the Bill, could not involve, three or more partners, with full protection of their rights.

For many Conservative MPs, who expressed disquiet, it was not so much a matter of equal rights but rather, leaky legislation, introduced in haste and without any manifesto commitment and which delivers, at a stroke, an important goal of socialism, since Karl Marx and Lenin; The dissolution of the family unit as defined by marriage and replaced instead by the instruments of the State. This is what so many, with reference to George Orwell in the debate,  found so worrying, quite outside any discussion of equal marriage.

So back we go to Thursday night's important business at Thanet District Council, which is the 2013 - 2014 budget, where  and on what your Council Tax will be spent and indeed, whether there should be any increases. I for one think that's quite important but now and you guessed it, we have 'equalities and diversity' back on the agenda, as well as a couple of personal vendettas thrown in for good measure.

I spoke with the Council's Chief Executive this week, as have my colleagues and told her, that in my view, there was no good reason or purpose, in allowing the council chamber to descend, once again, into some frivolous and salacious dogfight on personal issues, when Thanet has so many more important challenges.

Labour, which holds the Chair of the Council, could of course reject such posing and posturing motions outright but for reasons best known to Clive Hart and Chair Doug Clark, they have been accepted into the business of the evening, perhaps to distract the public's attention away from any discussion of the budget or the Royal Sands development which share the same agenda.

I was censured and told last week, that by writing this weblog, I'm bringing the Council into disrepute, but it beggars belief that the minority administration continue to allow certain actors to turn the business of local government in Thanet, into a three ring circus as part of some sordid Faustian arrangement to cling on to power.

I think I may be courting trouble again....!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Day of Days

Abandoned Jet Trainer at Manston Airport
Today's the day of the big gay marriage debate in Parliament. I can't help but think, that political dialogue and intelligent debate on this important issue, is not in any way aided by partisan members of our own local council, sending out inflammatory and offensive messages on Twitter, aimed at one or both of our Thanet MPs.

This is a matter of conscience for Parliament to debate and not, as we witnessed last year, a soap-box opportunity to bring the business of our own council to a halt, by adding the subject to the agenda, on an evening where sensible argument was displaced by abuse and reason by rage. This evening, we should see an end to a matter which distracts from the real business of Government and we must be satisfied with the proper democratic outcome, whether we might agree with it or not.

Mad Dogs Collected in Westgate
Today is also "Safer Internet Day"  - have a look - and I wasn't exactly delighted to be woken-up by the BBC before 7am to give a radio interview on the subject. In my own view a safer internet is more of an oxymoron than it ever was, because, quite frankly, Government and the security industry has run out of answers. We all run anti-virus software but many of the more severe 'zero-day' threats can now avoid the PC's immune system and perhaps the only slim comfort, is that the bad guys and evil governments out there, are now very focused on their targets and much less interested in planting viruses on the man in the street. Of course it still happens, which is why we need AV software, up-to-date but the world and with it, the threat, has changed since I first chaired the international ecrime congress, eleven years ago.

Big Red Stearman
As a small example of safer use of the internet, lets look at two keyword searches on this weblog this week, both of which appeared more than twice. The first is "Brothels in Thanet" and the second. "Sex massage in Thanet." Put these terms in a search engine and it is almost guaranteed to give you a list of websites of which more than one might hold a nasty surprise, an STD if you like, should you visit the page, in the form of hidden code, which hopefully your AV software should spot and stop. The moral of the story is of course that nasty websites frequently hold nasty surprises and that's very true of many of the more sordid-looking weblogs too, so be warned.

On to some local news quickly, before I forget. I spoke to the Council about the planning permission required for the new cricket club building in Westgate. This is more of a formality for a new structure on KCC land and I don't forsee any immediate problems. I've asked the officer to contact me if anything comes-up but I expect it to go through with a nod.

TG Aviation at Manston have a new website with useful information and so if you fancy a trial lesson in the Big Red Stearman biplane or something a little smaller, a gift voucher for someonespecial for Valentine's Day perhaps, give them a call on 01843 823520.

The WhyNot micropub in  Westgate's Lymington Road, has a quiz night this Friday from 6-8pm,, with an Indian and Chinese food buffet. It's all in aid of charity and the entry price is £2.00.

Looking at the visit counter on the sidebar, I can see that ThanetLife has increased its monthly reach and so I'm always happy to consider passing on any interesting local business news and offers, as the more common complaint I hear, is that advertising in the local paper achieves very little these days.

By request, I've embedded the flyer for the next Frock-a-licious fashion show in April, so there's a date for your diary ladies... and gentlemen too of course in case our council diversity champion is watching!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Nature Watch

Stung to the political quick by allegations of invisibility surrounding Westgate councillor, Jodi Hibbert, Labour have sprung into action and are spending a cold and windy weekend, distributing a newsletter proving the existence of this rare and elusive creature.

Answering her critics and spiteful reports that she lives in France and hasn't been seen at a local public meeting since being elected in May of last year, Jodi explains: "I am getting close to finishing my undergraduate degree... and that means I am not always able to attend every meeting." So now you know.

I'm somewhat perplexed by the Labour newsletter claim opposite, to have introduced "a licensing scheme for landlords of HMO's." I really thought that the HMO (Houses of Multiple Occupation) initiative, was, as, I've been reminded, my own, as the former Conservative Cabinet Member for Planning. Furthermore, the Selective Licensing policy, was introduced by my very own larger than life, cabinet colleague, Cllr Chris Wells. In fact I think Jodi's newsletter is confusing two quite separate items of Council policy; easily done.

I'm delighted that her personal campaign to save the Minnis Bay Day Centre - in Birchington - has proved such a great success in addition to her notable victory in achieving world peace and overcoming planning objections to support a micro-pub in Lymington road. So well done indeed.

I've a shed-load of pressing casework to pass on and up today, after the surgery with Sir Roger Gale and maybe I should simply pass it on to more capable hands.

Work Starts at the Cricket Club
Once again I've heard at first hand, of the misery that some absentee landlords can inflict on vulnerable people, living in the more deprived areas of Margate and Cliftonville. No heating, vermin, damp and the very real threat of eviction if you complain, as in one example I need to deal with urgently on Monday. My views on the landlords that apparently thrive on the conditions of human misery and suffering, simply isn't printable; we might be living a hundred years ago.

On a much lighter note, I was delighted to see the early work for a replacement to the burned-out Westgate Cricket Cub, starting today but was 'stumped' to have a note in the Council mail today, telling me this re-build requires planning consent. This is F/TH/13/0005 and I think I know the reason why and this may surround a previous 'temporary structure consent.' but I will be on the case on Monday and let the club know.

The Westgate on Sea and Westbrook Residents' Association (WWRA) have a new aggregate webpage and I've placed a link to it in my sidebar.

As I go to press, I see that Ian Driver is now thinking seriously of running in the May, Kent County Council elections, on the heels of Will Scobie and of course, John Worrow's surprise announcement of last week. I'm sure Paul Carter, the KCC Leader, can't wait.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Ask Dave

I'm rather surprised to escape Smudger's acid wit in today's Thanet Gazette but instead, I see she's gone for a much taller and younger victim, young 'Dave,' of Dane Valley, in a none too subtle and unkind reference, linking Dom Perignon Champagne and caviar to 'The plonk in the Mayor's parlour'. While I don't believe the gentle art of satire comes easily to her, she also mentions in passing, that the Charter Trustees have received a 'slap on the wrist' from the district auditor and page two coverage is given to the prospect of a Town Council for Margate.

Before everyone jumps up and down with delight at the the idea, I should add that town councils don't come cheap and that neither do Labour mayors of the same, strangely enough and so I might add, 'be careful what you wish for.'

And then there's Cllr Worrow! Lots of him. You've letters to the paper, begging the publicity-hungry Birchington-based diversity champion, to reconsider his very public decision to resign and letters demanding quite the opposite. There's coverage of his resignation announcement and even the lovable 'fluffy Jane', in her weekly column, spares the time to devote a quarter of a page to the Worrow vs Gregory aids debate, which continues to fascinate and distract from the real and often dysfunctional business of running our local council.

Remaining with the subject of TDC for a little longer, I see that Cllr Worrow has submitted no less than three 'notices of motion' for next week's full Council meeting. Two of these are linked directly to his on-going personal grievances against one councillor or another and the third, is asking the Council to require the new Police Commissioner, Ann Barnes to attend a Scrutiny Committee meeting. This, without apparently realising, that much like the gay marriage debate of last year, it has nothing to do with the remit of Thanet District Council but no doubt, will provide yet one more soap box extravaganza, where we will hear further inflammatory and emotional remarks on the now very tired-looking subject of homophobia.

As a ward councillor who has already dealt with two requests for assistance this morning; one of these involving concern for a vulnerable elderly person, living on her own, I have to ask what one earth are we coming to when important council meetings become a children's playground for personal issues and vendettas. These too frequently now have no relation to the job that the usual suspects were voted in to do!

Readers may be surprised to know that while I was shamed, flogged and censured this week and informed that my writing this weblog today, breaches paragraph 3.2 of the Council's code: "You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or Authority into disrepute," another Birchington Councillor, who may hold the record for standards complaints and who has refused to apologise for his behaviour, has not been censured at all. This now leads a number of councillors on all sides, to believe that our standards system governing personal conduct is in urgent need of review.

Finally, I'm blogging in a personal capacity regardless of paragraph 3:2 and expect a visit from the diversity enforcement squad anytime soon!