Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sunk Without Trace

Cllr Ian Driver appears well on his way to setting a new local record for being thrown out of Thanet Council meetings.

Hard on the heels of Cllr John Worrow who very publicly, flounced out of this week's Scrutiny Committee meeting, Cllr Driver, once again, made it impossible to conduct the business of the meeting while he belowed for Labour Leader, Clive Hart to resign over the TransEuropa Ferries debt.

Eventually, he had to be escorted from the room by two security guards, so the meeting could conclude, leaving only his colleague, Cllr Tom King, to mutter loudly about resignations.

I'm sure others will comment on this meeting and the Gazette's Thomas Brown was busy filming, so you will soon be able to see, at least part of what took place for yourself.

What did become very clear is that Cllrs Driver and King and a vociferous group in the audience, struggled to grasp the financial facts, as explained by the Council's Chief Executive, Dr Sue McGonigle. Both Labour and Conservative groups agreed, that in the circumstances, they would have both acted in the same way, their options were limited and the Chief Executive, argued, as I have here, that the port of Ramsgate benefited from the presence of TransEuropa. This was over and above the outstanding debt, while efforts were made to find a solution that might enable the Council to recover if not all of the money, at least some of it.

The Conservative's Cllr Bayford, reminded the Chamber, that it was not so long ago that TransEuropa was running a very successful service, with several ferries, plying back and forth each day from Ostende but it was overtaken by the huge rise in fuel prices which made the older ferries it used inefficient. During the time it was attempting to restructure its debt, it was also in discussion over buying new and more fuel efficient ships, designed specifically for the route but this was not to be.

At this point, we should perhaps draw a line under the matter and agree that in principle, it was right to attempt to save the service and agree to defer the debt. If there was any chance at all of the company recovering. the only alternative was to pull the plug much earlier with the consequence very much the same, a large outstanding berthing debt to the Council.

Some observers need to keep sight of the fact that this was a debt and that the only way of recovering the money was for the company to trade its way out of an increasingly difficult situation. As Labour's Cllr Rick Everett asked of Cllr Ian Driver: "What would you have done that might have been any different in the circumstances at the time?"

Back to the meeting, where the Royal Sands, Pleasurama business, was raced through so quickly by Labour's Cabinet that if you had blinked, you might have missed it. Observers may have been forgiven if they did and perhaps wondered what happened as a consequence.

I played very little part in last evening's performance, other than ask a question of Clive Hart in regard to our new local economic plan. I have a habit of over-intellectualising and last night, it was clear I lost Clive completely, when he answered that he didn't know what planet I was on and that I told lies on my weblog. Quite what the latter had to do with the question on our economy I really don't know. I should point out that if I do write anything in error here, then I encourage comment and correction.

The Future Looks Much Like the Past
If your'e curious, then I pointed out, that in my view, our local economic strategy was firmly trapped in the past, repeating the same tired-old phrases each time its shaken awake and re-written for an annual Council meeting to approve. "From 1897 to 2007" I said, the western economies grew by an average of 2% and that's enough to double the standard of living every generation, based on the innovation of a hundred years which gave us the electric light, the internal combustion engine, power tools, vertical cities and equal employment for women." "Since 2007", I added, "growth is about 0.8% and has collapsed as employment was decoupled from productivity and yesterdays dismal Eurozone figures are a rude wake-up call."

"Thanet," I said, "Faces a number of challenges we can all agree upon. It's position, a skills shortage, inward migration pressures and rising unemployment. we simply can't write an economic plan for the next five years which fails to recognise the evidence that circumstances may become very much worse among all these key challenges, rather than better, before the economy starts to recover.

This all proved too much for Clive, who instead quipped about me 'dragging'flags around the sky' while he and his Cabinet were 'successfully dealing with down to earth problems'. Very good. This weblog will be ten years old in November and I hope in another five years, I will be able to look back and see how Clive Hart's vision and leadership revitalised the new thriving Thanet local economy, through the simple expedient of fiddling with the worn-out phrases of a much older one. Good luck is all I can say.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Worrow's Wonga Moment

A Wonga Moment
A very important Thanet Council 'Extraordinary' Cabinet meeting tonight to explore the circumstances and decisions that led to the present crisis and the much reported £3 million TransEuropa Ferries debt.

In theory, the opposition should be allowed to ask how the situation developed, from an adjusted repayment and debt management schedule, under the Conservatives, which saw a brief dribble of income returning to the Council, to the money drying-up and the debt ballooning to well over £3 million, in the eighteen months of the present Labour administration.

The fact that I and other councillors or all parties were not made aware of a clearly out of control debt with such important financial implications and of this size is very worrying indeed. The public might have reasonably expected that this matter would have been examined or reported (even in camera) by the Council's Finance and Audit Committee, chaired by Cllr John Worrow or perhaps flagged in his annual report to Council this month but not a word.

Instead, I draw your attention to yet another secret piece of rather fuzzy filming from last night, that forced an adjournment of Council business and illustrates where Cllr Worrow's priorities lie in discharging his public duties, gifted to him in return for his vote, by Clive Hart and the Labour administration. I will let readers decide from this video whether Cllr Worrow is the correct choice to oversee the spending of your Council Tax or instead raises very important questions over Clive Hart's judgement in giving him such an important public role.

I'm prepared to bet that based on previous experience to date the 'Transparent' Labour Cabinet will  be reluctant to accept sensible cross-examination of their decisions tonight. After his celebrity video debut, I very much doubt that Cllr Worrow will be willing and available tonight to accept any questions, either on what he may or may not have known about the debt through his finance and audit committee.

I'm sure the public gallery will be crowded this evening and I think that's only right. But if you are looking for straight answers, to straight questions prepare to be disappointed.

Sadly, the Thanet Gazette have now disabled the embedding of the video, possibly because too much traffic was coming here rather than there and so you now have to go to their webpage to find it here! Rather begs the question of making something public and then withdrawing it when it becomes too public.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Picture Speaks

Woolwich Tribute - Photo Credit Jim Bennett
A picture speaks a thousand words and I really didn't want to add much further, to the powerful image taken yesterday lunchtime from a thousand feet over Woolwich.

I was called-out for the Daily Mail on what felt like the the first real day of summer weather, to help capture what was taking place outside the Woolwich barracks, as thousands of people came to pay their personal tribute to drummer Lee Rigby.

Photo Credit Jim Bennett
Orbiting on the very edge of the City Airport runway on the opposite side of the river, I would really like to thank the city controller for facilitating and clearing me into a very tight position, which would normally be very awkward to work and to Heathrow's watch manager, for approving the flight at such short notice.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Blighted by Neglect

Save Sea Road
There's a new petition available for Westgate residents to sign if they wish and it reflects concerns surrounding the development of the derelict site on Sea Road.

I have called one of these applications into the Council's Planning Committee and I suspect the wording of the petition is, I hope, self-explanatory. Should you wish to add your own signature, then you can find copies at Best One, Wishing Well, the Garden Centre, Angelo's delicatessen and Edwards in the town.

"We, the undersigned, object to the planning application 13/0251 at 45-51 Sea Road because it will lead to the demolition of historically important buildings, already blighted by deliberate neglect, irrevocably changing the character of this important section of Westgate-on- Sea ‘s Conservation Area. The proposed redevelopment is not of sufficiently high standard nor is it in keeping with Westgate’s vernacular architectural style. It would eradicate rather than enhance the character of the Sea Road, as required of all new developments in Conservation Areas by NPPF policies 129 through to 139. We would, therefore, ask that the Councillors and Officers of Thanet District Council consider the devastating impact of this application on the Conservation Area street-scene and reject this application."

Taking a Short Cut Across the City
It's the Bank Holiday weekend and I consider myself very lucky to have completed all my tasks in the last 48 hours and despite the terrible weather on Friday; my gore-tex boots are still wet. Arriving back on Friday afternoon in an intense rainstorm, I repeated author and Spitfire pilot, Geoffrey Wellum's experience during the war, when I used the towers at Reculver as a landmark, flying low across the water to remain visual.

Yesterday, I had to run back and forth across London and here's one of my transit views of the city and The Shard. Returning home via Essex, the traffic jam on the M25 must have stretched ten miles, with the motorway closed southbound and empty of cars,from Stapleford to the Dartford Crossing. This must have been a serous incidents. I've one chap on Monday,who wants to propose to his girlfriend tomorrow, on a punt, poling down the river at Cambridge, outside Magdelen College. Awkward but not impossible and I really prefer it if the ideas are kept simple as there's less chance for error.

Back to Thanet and I believe the local paper has some explaining to do, as on the street, people really appear to believe, that Thanet District Council "lent' or 'gambled' a physical sum of over £3 million to TransEuropa Ferries to keep it solvent. Given the impression the public have received from the newspaper, I have problems with the expression, 'Responsible Journalism' but that's hardly comes as a surprise to readers.

I was pleased to see last week, at least, that one reader of the Thanet Gazette, finally lost her patience with the regular letters of Mr Muir of Westgate and asked why the local paper gave space to what is clearly a single issue and long-running obsession with Sir Roger Gale, from the same correspondent, week-in and week out over as long as I can recall. Unfortunately, he's back again with another rant this week so the editor clearly took no notice whatsoever!

Street Blight
From the new 'Save Sea Road' campaign above and before that, the fight against Tesco in Station Road, you will have seen that a great many local people are trying very hard to resist Westgate's unique character being blighted by uncontrolled development or flouting of the laws surrounding the protection of our conservation area.

I've had a series of complaints about a sign that that appeared last week on what I think is railway property, adjacent to the footbridge in Station Road and pictured. Any permanent sign or structure in the conservation area requires planning consent and this one makes it very difficult for me and others to argue that our local traders are committed to preserving Westgate's unique street-scene and character. In this example, the Council's planning enforcement team are aware of the matter and I expect they will be taking the appropriate action.

Enjoy your weekend and let's hope it stays sunny!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Bird in the Hand

Waiting to see if a window in the weather might let me fly two jobs today but it's not looking hopeful as the 'Great British Summer" gets underway in traditional rain, sleet, hail and thunderstorms. Wonderful to have our Blue Flags back but it would take a brave soul to walk on the beach as I write this.

Keeping an eye on the vigorous blog debate surrounding the collapsed TransEuropa and the Port of Ramsgate and I wonder if several of the more exercised contributors may have missed something? If Thanet Council had foreclosed on the ferry operator three years ago, when the debt was hovering at £1 million would we be financially worse off than we are today?

After all, this is a large debt for the use of the harbour by a ferry company and not money the Council had in the first place. In the interim period the Council had an obligation to keep the Port of Ramsgate operating and there was a benefit to the local economy in having a cross-channel service operating, in much the same way as small regional airports in Europe are paid, a small pittance by the likes of Ryan Air but benefit from the tourist traffic in a broader sense.

Without a doubt, this is a serious debt that has run wildly out of control over the last year, with little or no chance of recovery. However, one question that needs addressing is whether Ramsgate is better or worse-off, as a consequence of the Council, like any sensible creditor, attempting to find a way of helping the ferry operator through its financial crisis, rather than pulling the plug on the debt two years ago?

Perhaps we should think hypothetically of the harbour, in terms of a large and expensive local car park, frequently empty and used by the lorries of a big supermarket delivering in and out of the island and subject to a regular billing process for the privilege. The supermarket chain admits to having cash-flow problems and the Council suggests a reduced payment schedule until the business can climb back on its feet. This works for a short while but then the business folds, leaving large debts everywhere. Was the Council, as a creditor, right to follow this initial course of action but wrong to let the debt run out of control?

Were the residents of Thanet better or worse-off as a consequence of the Council's decisions or was there really no change, as the £3 million only existed on paper, which would have been nice to have if there was any sensible way of achieving a solution that kept the cross-channel route operating in the long term?

It's a simplistic argument of course and there is of course a great deal more to explore next week in Cabinet in terms of the conduct of proper and correct local government process but I think we need to retain sight of the financial context as opposed to counting £ 3 million which never existed for us.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Support Help For Heroes

Millions of people will have been both shocked and appalled at the events that unfolded outside the Woolwich Barracks yesterday and words can't suitably frame the emotions of many.

From what I can see, the Help For Heroes website collapsed under the strain, not long after, as the public attempted to show solidarity through buying t-shirts and making donations. It was available briefly earlier this morning and I managed to make my own small donation and order a shirt to express my sense of solidarity with the men and woman of our  armed forces in the face of the atrocity that took place on the streets of London yesterday.

The direct link to the Help For Heroes shop is here. Good luck, as it is fading in an our of availability.

There's a suggestion today that the two visibly crazed individuals involved were radicalised through reading Al Qaeda material like the "Inspire" magazine opposite. Once again however and in the footsteps of 7/7 and a number of other foiled terror attempts, the threat of bloody violence stalks our streets and we still remain helpless to deport the likes of Abu Qatada and many other dangerous individuals, posing a threat to the public or our national security, held in our prisons. With luck, Qatada will be gone in a month, if the Jordanian Government ratifies a new law but I'm reminded that one of our local independent Councillors thinks he's a victim of discrimination.

I'm sure that like me, readers will approve that the police reportedly did not take any chances when they arrived on scene yesterday and shot both men on the spot. This is, I'm sure, a politically incorrect opinion but I believe the great British public are becoming heartily sick of the subject and its consequences.

Perhaps the grim events of yesterday afternoon in all its horror will serve as a wake-up call of sorts but I'm unconvinced by the feeble platitudes of our politicians. I'm  sure you will all join me in offering my deepest sympathy to the family of the soldier involved in this awful crime.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Ferry Fiasco?

The subject of the £3.3 million debt owed to Thanet District Council featured on last night's BBC Southeast news and of course several local weblogs with of course, the now compulsory ;'Green' Cllr Ian Driver, popping-up on his soap-box to give his opinion, rather than asking anyone with credibility or a command of the facts.

By any measure, it's a huge amount of money and there will be an extraordinary meeting of the Council's Cabinet, next week to discuss the debt.

As ever, wild speculation abounds across the blogs, much like the rumours of my impending arrest with other councillors and officers being pedalled after the Sandy Ezekiel trial. I am worried that some people are starting to believe the mischievous story, that the Council 'Gifted' TransEuropa £3 million pounds of taxpayers money, as opposed to the ferry operator running-up an enormous debt for its use of the Port of Ramsgate.

Let me try and place this story in its proper context, rather than debate the matter on the weblogs. There, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make a contribution, thanks to the usual suspects, with conspiracy theories or simply malicious 'trolls' who have their own agenda. This kind of behaviour simply means that local politicians are reluctant to engage in debate over the internet and for good reason too.

As I recollect, TransEuropa started to struggle at least three years ago, around March 2011. The Council, which also has a commercial responsibility for the Port of Ramsgate, wanted to quite sensibly do everything it could to help the operator through a difficult period, as did the Port of Ostend, which I believe, waived its berthing fees and other creditors, such as the fuel company which was vital to the operation. The cross Channel ferry trade is a fiercely competitive and commercially sensitive business and so the matter was treated with the discretion it required.

Once again, working from memory and I'm sure the exact figure and detail will be revealed next week, when the Conservatives lost control of the Council, the debt was large. Big enough to cause an atmosphere of concern but not large enough to provoke real budgetary alarm, as it is today. From what I remember, an adjusted repayment schedule was put in place while TransEuropa identified the new source of finance it appeared confident in pursuing at the time.

Since then of course, the paper debt to TDC has ballooned to over £3 million and that is more than enough to cause alarm, despondency and some despair. This was a source of much-needed income that was accounted for and that we now appear very unlikely to receive unless, it's a few pence in the pound from the administrators.

Over a decade ago, I was owed a significant amount of money by a company I had invested in. I recall, that at the time, I did something similar, I arranged a repayment schedule, supported by a solicitor's contract. At first, it worked until that first big recession arrived and the business started to collapse. At which point, I had no choice but with regret, to to join its other creditors in applying for a winding-up order and then wait more than ten years to receive a modest dividend cheque and a large loss.

The question we should ask today, is really no different than the dilemma I faced then. At what point in the last 18 months, did the present Labour administration and Council officers, realise that the debt was growing beyond the point of no return? Was that passing £1 million, £2 million or even £3 million? Cllr John Worrow (Ind) is Chair of the Finance and Audit committee. I wonder if he knows as one might think it should have appeared in the last year's accounts?

Why wasn't this information bought to Members attention earlier In fact, it looks as if the very opposite has taken place, as I found out at the same time as my readers did.

There is of course another very important question which comes from the story and that is whether a local Council should be involved in commercial activities of this size. The evidence suggests probably not but I suspect this will prove the focus of a fierce debate next week.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Marxist Margate
As people in Margate gathered to celebrate the opening of the fabulous new sea wall steps opposite the Turner Contemporary Gallery on Saturday afternoon, the big beasts of the national newspapers were packing-up their overnight siege equipment in a small road in Westgate-on-Sea and I had done a quick disappearing act to hide, rather unconvincingly, in the skies over Brighton.

This was the first marriage proposal of the season over Brighton Pier and even though one GoPro camera wasn't working, I was quite happy with the results as you can see below. If you should own the latest GoPro, then beware last week's software update which appears to reset the camera's wireless password. I only discovered this when I turned it on in the aircraft.

In the footsteps of last week's arguably disastrous Mary Portas, Ch4. television documentary and If you look at the sidebar, you'll see I'm experimenting with a different kind of branding for Margate outside of Tracy Emin's profound and insightful quote as a "Really Good Place for a ...."

I've a personal interest in Karl Marx and the irony isn't lost on me, sitting opposite several 'Marxists' in the Council Chamber. Marxist Margate, the web site I've created, I think, says it all and it's very much work under development, so don't expect great things. What I want to try and do is reinforce the battered image of the town, historically and intellectually in the public imagination, alongside the great work done by the Turner Contemporary; challenging the occasional sordid website and the prevailing derelict and fading seaside picture delivered by Mary Portas.

Margate is without doubt a seaside town of two compelling stories and one facing huge economic and social challenges. It also has a unique artistic and intellectual history and a wonderful coastline to celebrate. So perhaps I'm playing the part of the eccentric but the internet is a powerful tool and the more we present the positive and interesting side of the town, the more we are likely to benefit from tourism and visitors with a greater disposable income.

Karl Marx and political tourism is is huge for his home town of Trier in Germany and his burial place at Highgate cemetery in London. The Chinese, who I saw in great numbers in Prague recently, are great fans and we have an airport and a European shuttle service to Schipol from Manston on our doorstep. I think we should promote the fact that a global political figure of historical interest found peace and inspiration on his regular holidays to Margate and perhaps a commemorative blue plaque, Thanet District Council, might be a good start?

The BBC's Sunday Politics Show this morning and I'm wondering what they will present for their local story on UKIP and the County Elections and whether I'll appear sane in the rain, at best, if I have my fifteen seconds on camera alongside Col. Roger Latchford and Will Scobie. It always strikes me, that what one actually says in front of a camera is in sharp contrast with what one would really like to say but would be political suicide. Here's the BBC iPlayer link for later.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Walk This Way

"Petty and vindictive" was how the Conservative Group Leader, Bob Bayford, described Clive Hart's Labour decision to remove Cllr Shirley Tomlinson and Cllr Ken Gregory from all their Council committees last night and which led to a Conservative walk-out from the Annual Meeting of the Council in protest.

There had been some hope that this most important meeting of the new Council year might have led to a recognition that squabbles going back to 2003, (Mike Harrison mentioned one) and the baggage of the near and distant past, might have been left behind but apparently not.

The meeting started with the election of a new Chair of Council and brave Doug Clark, who recently suffered a stroke and now has speech difficulties, was dragged-in by Labour to make-up the critical voting numbers. As expected, the vote went unanimously across all Parties, to replace him with the admirable Cllr Kay Dark but the next surprise came with Labour putting Cllr Harry Scobie forward as Vice Chair and UKIP,'s Roz Duncan, siding with Labour to give it to him by one vote, flexing her new political muscles in a minority administration.

As one might expect, Cllrs Worrow and Cohen, sitting together, voted with Labour on every motion, reminding me of two ventriloquist's dummies and once again, were duly rewarded with the well-remunerated and influential roles of Chair of Planning and Chair of the Finance Committee. Cllr Ian Driver left the Chamber before the next vote as he was unceremoniously kicked-off his job of Chair of the Scrutiny Committee and this was awarded to Cllr Jo Gideon in return for the Conservatives not opposing Labour having the Chair of Council and its casting vote. Cllr Driver is now firmly back in the wilderness, where many would argue he belongs, together with his soapbox.

It's not, I fear, an auspicious start to the new Council year. Ian Driver, who has now turned Green, may have been booted-off scrutiny but Worrow and Cohen now represent a protected species in return for the two votes that keep Labour in control of the Council; that's if every Labour member turns-up to vote at every meeting until May of next year and UKIP sits on its hands.

None of us yet know what UKIP actually stand for locally or what they are actually able to achieve beyond representing the purple protest vote. Indeed, what we have here in Thanet, is the worst of all worlds with a minority administration in control and personal vendettas being pursued in the chamber, that go back a generation.

For some of us, the good news hidden by the walk-out, was the appointment of Cllr Julie Marson to the Conservative Cabinet, who will now 'Shadow' Cllr David Green on the Labour bench. It would be nice, I believe, if my colleagues and I could actually get on with business without being reminded of what happened in 1993, 1982 or indeed during the 19th century Peterloo Riots but I don't believe it's going to happen any time soon, given the tortured landscape of local politics.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dambusters Seventy Years On

Lancaster over Reculver Towers
A photo to celebrate today's 70th anniversary of the 'Dambusters' raid over the dams in Germany. Operation Chastise, was a pivotal mission of the Second World War, using Barnes Wallis' legendary 'Bouncing Bomb' which was refined in practice runs by the pilot's of the RAF's 617 Squadron, along the coast here with beach at Reculver Towers as an aiming point.

The targets between 16-17 May 1943 were three water dams in Germany's Ruhr industrial region. Two on the rivers Möhne and Sorpe, and a third on the River Eder.
The Start of the Mission - credit M.O.D
If anyone locally is still surviving, who perhaps saw this training take place as a young man or woman, it would be wonderful to hear their story.

Returning to the present, which is far less exciting, it's the annual general meeting of Thanet District Council tonight. This is when we witness the local 'Game of Thrones,' to determine who controls the three most important committees, as well as the appointment of a new Chair of Council.

Tonight of course, we not only have new microphones but two new members of UKIP sitting in the chamber, Zita Wiltshire and Roz Duncan and they will be looking to be recognised as a minority presence, alongside Cllr Worrow's surviving TIG party with Cllr Dr Jack Cohen and Cllr Tom King's Independents, Cllr Bob Grove and occasionally Cllr Ian Driver.

Clive Hart and Labour are clinging-on to a minority administration and need the independent vote to stay in place. So one may expect that Cllr Worrow and Cllr Cohen will hang on to the 'plum' committee jobs of Planning and Finance, in return for their votes, even though they have consistently proved themselves wanting. What happens to Cllr Ian Driver after his most recent series of outbursts is another question. Labour badly need his renegade vote but they simply can't afford the association with his toxic left of left wing personality politics as the County election result proved last week.

On a further note, a source tells me that a member of Labour's front bench is the subject of two separate bullying complaints from council staff. If this allegation is correct and I will leave the local paper to investigate, it's a very poor reflection indeed of their trades union credentials.
Cllr Will Scobie

Lastly, the BBC's Sunday Politics Show, this coming weekend, looks set to have a beauty contest between Colonel Roger Latchford, Will Scobie and me. I was interviewed in the rain on Margate's harbour arm yesterday afternoon and young Scobie, as he pointed out to me in a Twitter message, was interviewed in the sheltered warmth of the Cup Cake Cafe (a new political nickname perhaps?) Roger Latchford, UKIP's new leader at KCC, was interviewed in Ramsgate and one can only guess what he was up to?

Which one of us puts up the worst performance remains to be seen and I might put up a poll on Sunday morning for anyone who can bear to watch the result.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Among the Unbelievers

Mary Portas in Margate
Having watched last night's Channel 4. programme on retail guru, Mary Portas' attempt to regenerate Margate, I can only express my disappointment and that's an understatement.

I watched and took part in a massive national Twitter discussion which labelled the people of Margate as 'Vile,' 'backward,' 'ungrateful' and far worse and witnessed the good work of a great many people, swamped by a tide of criticism and negativity that may take some time from which to recover.

To be honest, I really think that Tracy Emin's contribution for a slogan for the town, only served to make matters worse and drag the popular opinion of Margate deeper into the cultural gutter of last night. I can now quite understand why Tracy is an eccentric artist and doesn't work in marketing but I guess we should be grateful that she didn't come-up with "Visit Margate for a really good ***" but it was uncomfortably close.

'St Mary,' as we might describe her, focusing sharply on the desperate, run-down, tatty state of Margate High Street, made almost a passing reference to the Turner Contemporary and said absolutely nothing about a thriving Old Town which is a great example of what can be achieved with investment and imagination.

I'm sure that most if not all of today's readers will have watched the programme last night and will have their own views but I didn't like the way that Mary Portas painted herself as a martyr to the vindictive and obstructive attitude of the people of Margate. From my photos and a story at the time, I saw how it was developing and I even wrote a rather cynical blog entry, which my wife convinced me to delete for fear of provoking a controversy. I now wish I had the courage to have pressed the publish button at the time.

A prize goes to that loose collection of left-wing militants, Occupy and former members of CND that publish 'Thanet Watch' and so convinced Mary Portas, that they expressed the voice of public opinion in rejecting her efforts, rather than simply being a sinister comic with a not-so hidden political agenda.

Several key figures involved in the project did themselves no favours appearing in front of the television cameras but the fears of others were justified in worrying over selective editing, which is indeed what actually took place in the programme, as one might expect. People may have been naive in believing that their views had any real weight on a national prime-time reality TV programme. It' was all about Mary and Margate was, I'm afraid was simply a coincidental backdrop to the script and the Daily Mail story hasn't helped either.

Arlington Margate
When I was working for a big computer company, many years ago, the Google of its time, Lotus Development, we used to have such a thing as a 'Sanity check' in our really important marketing meetings, just to make sure the 'Good Ideas Fairy' wasn't going to run amok and damage our reputation our budget or both. This patently didn't happen at any part of making this programme and the results were on public view last evening.

I'm writing this early, because a little later I have been invited to go and give an interview for the BBC's Sunday Politics Show. Quite why they want to speak with me than someone higher-up the political food chain I really can't fathom but from several years working with other broadcasters in the past, I'm sure the results will come as a surprise. You may have a good laugh at my expense on Sunday!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Sunday Tune

Somewhere between 'Finding Bin Laden' and 'The Bones of the Buddha' on Sky TV last night, I caught a glimpse of 'The Green Berets', starring John Wayne. A Vietnam war epic, filmed in the dense steamy jungles of California and slated for being one of the corniest US propaganda movies ever produced, it's an old favourite, none the less. I think I first saw it at the Carlton Cinema with my father when it was released.

For some bizarre reason, I thought the film's famous marching ballad might be an ideal tune for all those new UKIP councillors at County Hall and so if you've forgotten it, here it is again.

Thanet's only remaining, non-UKIP County Councillor, Will Scobie has announced that he has placed his 'Professional Profile' up on Linked-in this morning.

Being a 'professional network' which I use extensively, this is either a smug demonstration of political hubris, an embarrassing example of immaturity or both. If you consider for a moment that the young Labour 'wannabe' MP has never really had a full-time job that any hard-working person in Thanet might recognise as such and that his path to combined generous allowances approaching £20,000+, has been oiled by his family and Margate Party machine. This, in just two years, has eased him along Labour's gravy train, as someone who demonstrated no intention of joining the bulk of the people he now represents. If he had been a Conservative, just imagine the howls of protest at leveraging daddy's friends and the old boy network so cynically.

The principle surrounding public service as a councillor involves juggling a part-time commitment to the community, rather than offering a subsidised career path for the feckless, work-shy or unemployable; not so uncommon here in Thanet. Here I agree with fellow blogger Tony Flaig at such hypocrisy at the public's expense. Advising anyone much older than a schoolboy on how to live their lives without any life experience beyond sixth form, university and driving the minibus at a local school of English. Most of us I dare say would admit to being completely naive at age twenty-three and I had to go as far away as Saudi Arabia to find a job, as they were equally hard to come by at the time.

I may have found that perfect volunteer for a flying marriage proposal on the One Show, a young soldier, the same age as Cllr Scobie but possibly earning less, going back to Afghanistan. There was some brief discussion about involving James May, if he's available but that seems very unlikely. I did have one chap yesterday come back and ask if the BBC would 'pay him' to propose to his partner but I really don't think that's the spirit, as I'm sure you will agree.

On a different note I've been booked to fly over the coming India vs Pakistan cricket game at Edgbaston with a 'Good Luck' message but I'm checking it first as its bound to be sensitive but not as unusual as the 'Jesus Saves You' message scheduled for Brighton beach very soon.

Sea Road, Westgate on Sea
As everyone else seems to be commenting on the results of last Thursday's parish and district council elections, I thought I would give the topic a rest, other than remark that thanks, I suspect in part, to the antics of  our TIG party, independent candidates don't hold very much appeal to the electorate anymore and everyone else in local politics, is now far more worried by UKIP.

There's a campaign just starting in Westgate, to protect the now derelict buildings in Sea Road, pictured, from that old trick of applying for one kind of development, in sympathy with our conservation area and then revising the application, when granted, to deliver something very different indeed. I'm going to soon be pointing readers at another petition and very soon, a public discussion over whether we should be looking at writing our own neighbourhood plan for the town under the new Government legislation designed to give communities much greater control of local development. Watch this space.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Let the People Speak

Picture Credit Eastcliff Richard
Another protest drubbing for Conservatism in yesterday's two local District and Parish council elections but an even bigger disappointment for Labour in the mid-term of an unpopular coalition government.

Once again, the UKIP vote prevailed (see results below) and I really don't believe that anyone was really surprised at the result. Yesterday, I had an exchange of views with an old friend, Michael Fabricant, the Government Whip and he assured me that at Westminster local results of this kind are being taken very seriously indeed. I'm at a meeting in Parliament on Monday evening and so will be very interested to hear the opinions of my colleagues in the committee room.

What the last seven days illustrates is that Labour are no longer the main party of opposition and the LibDems have become locally irrelevant to the point of non-existence, as the public's resentment over their grip on coalition policy grows.

Labour have nothing really new to say other than deliver promises on the economy and welfare, they know they can't possibly keep. The big debate has moved elsewhere. Not to a financial crisis and a national debt accruing at £1,600 per second but to our place in Europe and most of all, immigration, which until not long ago was a subject that would raise howls of 'racism' from the socialists and politically correct; not be discussed in polite company.

Quite how David Cameron's Government now disentangles itself on central issues of Europe and Human Rights, from the corrosive brand of Nick Clegg and the LibDems, I really don't know. By voting UKIP, people are telling Government what they want but only one Party, the Conservatives, are prepared to listen or even consider a referendum on Europe, amending the Human Rights Act or far-reaching changes on immigration. Both Miliband and Clegg are now on the same page on Europe. They believe that David Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum by 2017 could put job-creating foreign investment at risk and lead to the EU exit door.

I have a sense that Government is now trapped in a cage and the public are now enjoying the opportunity of poking it with sharp sticks. But like UKIP, aren't really able to express what they really want beyond leaving Europe, the introduction of passport control at Birchington, bigger sticks for the police and if we are really lucky, free beer and the Sky Sports Channel on Sundays.

The real losers of the last week's results are likely to be the people of Thanet, because there will be no overall control of the Council, more facile bickering over subjects that have no real place in local government and new members of Kent County Council, with large budgets to administer locally and no clue about the gears of local government or influence over the big machine that holds a responsibility for our schools and roads. In one example, a retired, elected member for Herne Bay is still, I'm told away on a cruise because he never expected to win at the polls last week.

Meanwhile, here's a favourite clip to revisit with last week's military coup in Maidstone and the overall political balance in Kent in mind.

Cliftonville East Results: Rozanne Duncan (UKIP) 699 (41%) Wendy Chaplin (Conservative) 526 (31%) Alan Currie (Labour) 352 (20%) Louise Oldfield (Independent) 112 (7%) Proctor (Liberal Democrat) 32 (2%) Total votes 1,721 (35% turnout).

Thursday, May 09, 2013

A Big Day in Small Politics

Margate Harbour (c) Airads
Nice to see one of my aerial photos of Margate from the weekend on BBC's South-east news story on the town's new flood defences this morning. (see this excellent summary) I'm pleased to say they asked for permission too.

Another big day on the local election stage, once again, as Sandy Ezekiel's seat on Thanet Council is being fought. Labour have deployed a small army of activists in a desperate attempt to stall UKIP's advance and as a Conservative, I can only wait and see whether a week has been a long enough time in politics for local people to consider the wisdom of playing the protest vote against national issues in a local election. Curious to see our Cllr. Will Scobie pop-up on local TV, claiming that immigration is not the central problem but the minimum wage. Clutching his well-thumbed copy of 'Politics for Dummies,' young Will has been visibly brainwashed into delivering Orwellian 'Mili-speak' by the very same people who gave us the vexing national problem that so many people in Margate feel angry about. I recommend he revisits Karl Marx for his views on the subject, which make complete sense to many these days.

Required Reading for Aspiring Politicians
Not long now until the big Manston South-east Airshow on 22nd June and I hear ticket sales are going well and that there's a Groupon offer on these this week. I'm doing a small turn but people will be waiting to see the Vulcan, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Fokker Triplane and the B17 among many others for a great days out of displays and ground events.

For the aviation enthusiasts among my readers, you'll be delighted to know that in the United States, a Mosquito is flying for the first time in many years and below, is the video of its maiden flight. One of our Broadstairs residents and my father's best friend was one of the top Pathfinder pilot's in WWII and so I used to hear his amazing stories when I was a boy.

Finally, I'm looking for a volunteer who would like to propose to his partner in front of millions on national TV? The BBC's One Show are planning a couple of projects with me this summer and this is one of them.

Of course, it involves an aircraft and a romantic beauty spot and is a once in a lifetime opportunity but I would love to be able to help promote Thanet this summer, by filming it here if possible.

So far the 'proposers' on my books for the coming weeks are reluctant to pop-the-question on TV but perhaps there's someone living in Thanet who's made of sterner stuff?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Wild Geese

Former Thanet District Councillor, Colonel Roger Latchford, the new leader of UKIP at Kent County Council, announced today that he would be looking to repeal the new Gay Marriage Act, while another new UKIP councillor declared that he would be seeking to remove the vote from the unemployed.

A few days ago, I warned: "Be careful what you wish for" and in Thanet, this may have proved clairvoyant.

UKIP's success, may be a present day expression of the Peasants Revolt or simply an appeal or a sudden lurch to the more respectable right of British politics. Many people increasingly believe, that rather than playing a part of the political system in this country, politics is something that is inflicted upon them by distant figures in London. However, the charming and charismatic 'pub landlord' style of Nigel Farage remains a long way off from what looks vaguely like a retired colonels' military coup here in Kent.

There's no doubt that the politics of the Westminster village had become decoupled from the aspirations and worries of people in places like Thanet or Hastings or Sheerness but I don't believe that the rag-tag and bizarre, right-wing policies of UKIP, outside of its pledge to leave the European Union, really represent or address the real interests of the people who voted for them last week and that has to surround the economy above anything else.

This strikes me as the last hurrah of a generation alarmed at what this country has become and fearing for what the future may hold in less than twenty years, when the union with Scotland has been broken and there's the hovering spectre of, Islamic Sharia courts operating in cities such as Bradford. These are good people who want to say 'enough' and not just disillusioned Conservative and Labour voters, looking to turn back the clock to another age, reminiscing over Margaret Thatcher, black and white television and the right to smoke in pubs.

What people want everywhere is a return of common sense politics, control of our borders, the Human Rights Act reinserted back into Tony Blair and real leadership and vision from the top, not sound bites and condescending platitudes from what they view as a privileged class. They want a voice to express their real worries about their future. What they don't want is more of the same bland, teflon-coated career Westminster politicians,of all Parties who have visibly and steadily lost so much of the public's confidence.

The Great County Hall Coup
UKIP isn't going to give them this and in Thanet, it's going to offer them very little at all, outside of that protest vote and the sound of marching boots at County Hall. The real answers can only come from Westminster and there, the choices are every limited indeed. David Cameron is in a strained coalition with Nick Clegg and the latter has already said he will block any attempt at loosening our ties with Europe or changing the Human Rights Act. Ed Miliband is no different as Labour is committed to both.

So what does David Cameron do next I wonder? It's clear that that the public's trust deficit in respect of a promised European referendum in the next Parliament, remains an unbridgeable chasm. Such a powerful loss of confidence as expressed so tangibly in the polls, last week, needs to be remedied urgently but between now and then UKIP will muddy the waters as Nigel Farage uses his charm to eat away at the divisions between the two coalition partners.

And in Thanet, Mr Farage is becoming the bookies' favourite to contest either Roger Gale's Seat in North Thanet of Laura Sandys in South Thanet. If asked for an opinion, I think he may go for the former as he was born in Herne but I may yet be proved wrong. Certainly, the rumour mill is now working hard and the General Election is still two years away. I had quite forgotten until reminded by Jenny Matterface, that Mr Farage ran in South Thanet in 2005 and lost to Dr. Steve Ladyman, so maybe a second attempt is on the cards.

On Thursday, we have the district by-election in Cliftonville East, the disgraced Sandy Ezekiel's former seat. The result will send out a strong message locally in anticipating the landscape for the next set of local elections in two years Who would have thought, though, that Sandy's deputy leader would have ended-up leading UKIP at Kent County Council?

"May you live in interesting times" is the well-known Chinese curse!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Margate's Golden Sands

Margate Sea Wall May 2013(c) Airads
The Council asked me to take some new photos of Margate seafront, showing the new sea wall and I passed-by at lunchtime on the way back from refulleing at Lydd and another job at Bodiam earlier.

You can see these photos here which also stretch along the coast into Birchington. However, can I be very clear about the licensing please, if only for the benefit of our local paper, who, last month, I billed £50 for 'borrowing' one of my older photos of Margate Football Club. I've asked the editor to send me a charity donation made out to the RSPCA as this isn't the first time and my goodwill is wavering.

Margate Harbour 2013 (c) Airads
To share the sights of our wonderful island, I do make my photos available to Thanet Life readers under a non-commercial, attribution basis. So you can view them, download them and share them with friends but if you wish to reproduce, publish or sell them, then you would be in breach of my copyright and you would need my permission as I also sell my photos as part of my business.

You can always find the full photo library on the sidebar links of this weblog, so enjoy the ride as you can play them as a screenshow too. I warn you though, there are now over 500 photos of Thanet from the Air and the small book of photos is still available, I suspect, from Michael's Bookshop

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Now What?

It's the day after and the political landscape in Thanet has been plunged back into the sixties. For many, if not most of our new County Councillors, who I welcome, the internet, much like the renaissance,  is something that happened to other people; so I recommend an investment in some Basildon Bond writing paper and a fountain pen, should you wish to communicate with them in future.

This really is a serious issue for Thanet as a whole. While Nigel Farage is a lucid politician with great popular appeal, as yesterday's election results demonstrated, the same is not universally true of his growing army of supporters and that's a problem for everyone of us in Thanet, for the next four years.

Listening to Mr Farage on the BBC yesterday, debating in the studio against the leading lights of the other three main parties, he really did demonstrate that conventional politics is dangerously out of touch with popular opinion and I'm reminded of that SDP moment many years ago, which promised much and delivered little other than the political impetus which created New Labour. I write from experience here, having once cobbled-together speeches for the likes of Lord David Owen and having been on a parliamentary committee, when I was not much older than young Will Scobie, with Shirley Williams and Anne Sofer. You live and learn!

I did notice that yesterday, Labour's Chuka Ummana was trying to frighten Nigel Farage over leaving Europe and was put firmly in his place over the statistics. There's no doubt that Europe plays a vital part in our economy but our trade is increasingly moving out towards the new economies like Brazil and the former Commonwealth.

UK goods exports to EU in July 2012 £12.5 bn (48.6%) 
UK goods exports to non EU in July 2012 £13.2 bn (51.4%)

I'm with Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan in believing that we can negotiate a better deal with Europe as a vital trading partner, rather than have Europe take over our domestic governance and reduce our Westminster Parliament to an impotent rubber stamp.

People also get confused over the European Convention on Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU) of which we are a signatory and Tony Blair's Human Rights Act, which protects the likes of Abu Qatada and has our judges walk all over what many believe is our national interest in generously interpreting the 'Rights' of all kinds of disreputable and criminal individuals. The LibDems, committed to a federal Europe, aren't going to let us renegotiate our place in the EU or allow the Human Rights Act be 'Tweaked' in any way and Labour presently sits with them. That only leaves the Conservatives in a position to make change and without an overwhelming majority in the next Parliament, this simply won't happen and certainly won't take place if the natural Conservative vote splits, as was demonstrated so dramatically, here in Thanet yesterday.

Meanwhile, this short video illustrates where we find ourselves today, the clock having been turned back in protest. In Birchington, I'm sure that Roger Latchford is grateful to John Worrow, Christine Tongue and Bernard Le Roche, for the YouTube Nazi poster video 'set-up' of a week ago. This had absolutely the opposite effect of what they intended, giving the former deputy leader of Thanet Council under Sandy Ezekiel, a place at County Hall. Well done Worrow and Tongue. You could not make it up!


Friday, May 03, 2013

The Big Swing

UKIP Answers the Call
I suspect yesterday's headline: "A Joke is a Very Serious Thing," was a good predictions of today's Kent County Council results as UKIP victories sweep the board across Thanet. That's with the exception of Will Scobie in Cliftonville, who will require enormous patience to sit with the bizarre political company he will be keeping for the next four years; that's if he stays that long before the local Party propels him towards his ambition of a Parliamentary candidacy, which is the cunning plan.

Without a doubt, this powerful protest vote, uniting unemployed blue collar voters and well-pensioned colonels, sends a powerful message to Westminster and not just the Conservative Party. For county politics, I can't see that the successful candidates will prove universally good news for local people, given the manifold talents of many of those the public has, in its wisdom, voted into a position of influence for the next four years.

I'm reminded of Italian politics and the nationalist sentiment that propelled 1930s Germany, because this is what the result resembles and we should all be thankful that at least La Cicciolina wasn't standing alongside the members of UKIP. If she or her equivalent had, I would not have been at all surprised.

UKIP and many of its 'Wackier' candidates now have to learn to speak in term of cogent policies for the people of Kent rather than articulate simple populist protest. Perhaps the final word on the result should go to Monty Python's Flying Circus, which for me, says it all for the population of Thanet.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

A Joke is a Very Serious Thing

'Politics is almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.' Winston Churchill

It's County Council election day, just in case you hadn't noticed and so I will be out today, supporting my Conservative colleagues, as you might expect.

Thanet's voting is frequently polarised along the lines of partisan support for the equivalent of political football teams. Today, I would urge people to consider carefully what their valuable votes may actually deliver as an outcome for local issues of health and transport and schools in contrast to what they feel about national policies such as immigration and the European Union.

Once upon a time, politics was all about public service. But for some, as we have seen here in Thanet, the purpose, appears to surround the achievement of local notoriety or celebrity status or even a well-rewarded and cynical career path, at the tax-payer's expense; avoiding conventional employment.

In local politics, we can, too frequently, be expected to be disappointed by those we elect to an office of responsibility and given the unusual number of the blatantly self-serving candidates, among them perhaps even a risk of an occasional scoundrel, rogue or chancer, looking for your County Council, vote today, discretion on the part of the voter may indeed be the better part of political valour.

'A Joke is a Very Serious Thing' said Churchill and I expect a few laughs and some level of disappointment on Friday morning. But like our national weather and our football team, it goes hand in hand with an interest in our system of democracy which is presently the best we have to offer. I wish all the candidates luck today.

To remind people in Westgate, interested in supporting or assisting in the development of a neighbourhood plan for the town, to help us see-off some of the more ruthless efforts of the developers, there will be a meeting of our new committee at Pauls Wine Bar at 6pm on Friday. Groups can now apply for expert advice to support them through the process, and a grant of up to £7,000, to create their own neighbourhood plan and shape development in their local area. If you wish to assist, here's a link to the Government's information but do come along, politicians and public alike. It's absolutely non-political.