Thursday, 19 March 2015

Two more local Tories defect to UKIP

Today the Medway UKIP were proud to announce that they are now the third biggest party in the Council having leapfrogged us (LibDems) having gained two new councillors via defection.

Yep, Councillors Vaughn Hewett and Tom Mason, both former mayors, have joined UKIP. No one seems too surprised at Mason but Hewett has raised a few eyebrows.

The big question is; Is this a prologue for May’s elections?

Hard to say at this point, all that can be said is that two people have swapped party, they were not selected by the people and their constituents in their wards will not get a choice until the May local elections.

The other thing is that these two former Conservatives have been close to the cabinet and the failings of the Conservative administration in Medway over the last God knows how many years. UKIP like the rest of us opposition parties is to defeat this incompetence with fresh voices and faces not bring those same faces back under another label.

Some might say that they have swapped sides because they saw which way the winds were blowing but that is just probably the ramblings of a bitter cynic isn’t it? After all if you are going to defect you should do so for your convictions and beliefs and that the new party represents our outlook more than your old party right? I’m sure that was for that reason, there has been quite a bit of desquite in the Local Conservative party with a long running split between the Rainham and Rochester branch and definitely between backbenchers and the cabinet.

It also makes me wonder about the disinterest and/or distrust of traditional parties that has grown to the point that people will vote UKIP even if they stood a pot of lard.

All that I can say is that Medway’s political landscape is going to change, maybe not the personnel but the colour of their ties and rosettes.

Enough of this Tories are bad with railfare BS

With my book deadline pushed ack to the end of the month and still a lot of work to do but I have taken ten minutes (odd) to question this latest Labour Tweet, the second of which I've seen in the last two weeks:

Rail season tickets in Chatham have gone up by 100% since 95. Tory complacency on economy as real pplfeel sting >>

— TrisOsborne (@cllrtrisosborne) March 18, 2015

Firstly I should state when it comes to rail fare I am completely neutral as I have been commuting for the last seven years and have watched my monthly Season ticket raise exponentially to the point that I am losing 33% of my wage which is somewhat unsupportable. It is something I have written about at length over the last five years feel free to browse.

I, like many commuters (the people that the tweet is aimed at in the hope of garnering support) know the history of the rising railfare.
The good ol' days of Cheap travel only 20 years ago!

Yes - the Tories privatised the railway. Was that a good move? Debateable. The people of Kent have had some bad franchises - Connex were awful and Southeastern, although debatably  *improving*, are still not a British company and a lot of their profits are being ploughed into the German railways and seemingly not into ours. Other franchises have been more successful on other networks. The reason for privatisation are at this exact moment beyond my memory and as mentioned earlier if it involves reading something that doesn't have a vessel sailing under a flag with an Iron Cross and Eagle on it then it is a waste of my time until the 2nd April.

The big point is that yes since 1994 the fare rise has gone up a significant rate but is it the Tories fault?

Let's consider who was running the country between 1995-2015. So John Major was Prime Minister up until 1997 (2 years) and the Coalition from 2010-2015 (5 years) which comes to 7 years of Conservative rule. From 1997-2010 we had 13 years of Labour Government in which the fares really started to go up with the introduction of RPI+3

Now when the government decided to construct HS1 from Ashford to St Pancras, you know that really expensive way to get to the wrong side of London that wasn't quicker than the other services from Medway (that's why the fast service to Victoria now stops at Meopham), you know the one that you can always get a seat on as it is too pricey? Anyway, they decided to spread the costs and so Labour came up with the escalator of RPI+3 (like they did for petrol) which ultimately is the Rate of inflation plus 3% so roughly your train fare would come up by 8% a year and they wrote it into the franchise contract so it could not be easily removed.

There was a fare freeze in 2010 (election year) I grant them. What did the Gillingham-Rainham MP do about it? Bugger and all as Paul Clarke (their candidate for 2015 for the same seat by the way) was a junior transport minister at the time. Thanks.

I'm not saying this government has been perfect either. Despite the remonstrations of Mark Reckless, Tracey Crouch and Rehman Chishti the government has done not much to improve it. Indeed the letter I received form the minister at the time Theresa Villiers basically was the written version of a shrug and a meh.

Yes prices have still gone up (though not always at the full RPI+3) this government but it hasn't been as bad. In fact for a percentage break down of 2004-12 which is telling check this out.

Basically to effect a movie/Star Wars metaphor ->

John Major's government came up with the idea of making Prequels to the popular Star Wars trilogy an arguably good/bad idea but sadly we got Phantom Menace.

Tony Blair/Gordon Brown's regime came up with the idea to make Phantom Menace that bit more appealing and make more money to fund episode II so they came up with the idea of the highly marketable Jar Jar Binks which ultimately made everybody's life gradually more unbearable.

Cameron's government have basically said Well it is made now  and we're releasing this but we'll throw in some more R2D2 will that make it better? No ah well....

So what are the solutions? I have no answers the only thing I can say is that;

1. This is a problem that ALL governments, both Labour and Tory, are responsible for this mess and something needs to be done and agreed on by Parliament as a whole before everyone but the rich are priced off the railways.

2. This kind of patronising political comment not only insults commuters, who are painfully aware of how we've got to this level of pricing, and is so opportunistic it actually stings my eyes to read it.

I had responded to a similar tweet a week ago asking about RPI but got no response. There is no need for this kind of BS and it is why people are turning away from blame the others style of politics of the big parties and turning to *Shudder* UKIP...

Right back to work, I have 6000 words on SMS Konigsberg to write before Saturday.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Poor economic recovery in Medway???

Today the Medway Labour twitter feed posted the following tweet and graph.

Now I'm not an economist, nor am I a mathematical whizz especially as it took me 3 attempts to get a C at GCSE having wracked up two Ds on the higher paper. One thing I did learn was graphs, in fact I love graphs and they can be used to show anything without resorting to dull tables.

What I see when I look at this graph is falling unemployment in the Medway towns across 2014. See the Orange line slowly descending? 

When we get to January '15 it does raise, I'll give them that, but only a small amount considering the number from which it fell in January last year.

What can we tell from this? Not much. 

We don't know if this is a continuing trend as February's figures aren't out yet. It could be a case of seasonal workers who were employed in retail expressly for the Christmas period, which now apparently starts in August or September, have been let go. I certainly would not say that this was a true indicator of a poor economic recovery in fact looking at this graph alone all you can say for certain is that unemployment is still down on what it was last year.

Is Labour trying to find a cloud on a silver lining? 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Letter to the Messenger about Policing in Gillingham South

My letter to today's Medway Messenger regarding the anti-social behaviour and policing in Gillingham. This is the letter in its original format.

There is growing anger in the Residential areas of Gillingham where residents are feeling abandoned by the local police. Time and again there is antisocial behaviour on Sturdee Avenue, Valley road, Franklin road and on the High street. Alleyways are haunted by youths smoking and under aged drinking and sometimes worse.The Forrester's hall on Sturdee Avenue was broken into and vandalised regularly and this has been reported to the Police on more than one occasion including by myself on 5th January.

However it took the neighbourhood watch meeting, which I attended as a resident, and the pressure of LibDem councillors Diana Smith and Geoff Juby that the council has acted. More importantly a WPC and PCSO were spotted securing the property on the 28th January the day after the meeting!
I tend to agree with one of the residents that if we were living Rochester then the Police and indeed Council officers would have acted more swiftly and attended the neighbourhood watch meeting in the first place!

The people of Gillingham South ward deserve better from both the council and police.

Chris Sams, Sturdee Avenue

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Anti-social behaviour in Gillingham South

Police patrolling Valley road tonight
Last night I attended the Valley Road neighbourhood watch at the Sturdee Club on Sturdee Avenue. Though I don't live in Valley Road, it was suggested I went along by Lib Dem Cllr. Diana Smith as I knew about a couple of the issues from first hand experience. 
Forrester's Hall sits opposite the Cricketers pub and has been used in the past as a polling station and general hall for hire, indeed two of my daughter's birthday parties were held there. In June 2013 the caretaker told me that he hoped to sell it but I never heard more than that until January 5th this year. On my way home from work I noticed the side door open and the lights on. Further investigation showed the extent of the damage with windows smashed, floor boards ripped up and evidence of a fire and alcohol consumption. I duly dialled 101 and informed the police. In the following week I saw students of Robert Napier school (in uniform) entering the hall before school though being late for work I did not have time to confront them and the hall has since been locked.
On other occasions I've encountered groups in the alleyways and garages between Sturdee and Valley who have either been confrontational or exceptionally sheepish but never thought much about it, except on one occasion when I was walking my children home from Woodlands. 
Last night proved the situation has become much worse. According to the residents of Valley Road, a street I had experienced as quiet and sleepy, a group of youths were causing mayhem. There was vandalism to vehicles, property, theft, dangerous driving of scooters, foul language, under aged smoking and drinking and even drug abuse. They use the alleys and garages as a rat run away from the main roads and escape route from the police should they turn up. The sense of outrage among residents was very clear to see and action is being demanded.
Gillingham South Liberal Democrat Councillor Geoff Juby, together with his two fellow ward candidates for the forthcoming 2015 Local Elections and Cllr. Diana Smith, with her fellow Lib Dem candidate for Watling ward listened and contributed to the meeting by promising to look into the cost of gating up the alleyways and the effectiveness of the consultation process. The Community Warden for Rainham North, who was also in attendance at the invitation of Cllr. Diana Smith also agreed he would pursue the matter and was a useful source of information.
Residents have been advised to report ALL anti-social behaviour on 101 and all public property damage to the council on 01634 333333. There were a lot of individual experiences of the antics of a small minority of youths but as a community everyone needs to stand up and say ‘No’ and this is what happened last night.
There was no police attendance at the meeting last night and despite the PCSOs letter of apology stating that not only was it his off duty night but he had prior plans (all understandable), there was anger that no stand-in would come. The residents are feeling abandoned and not important enough, strongly suggesting that if we were living in Rochester then this would have been sorted out very quickly. 
We will be following these matters up and collectively updating residents at an early future meeting.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Rochester and Strood by-election results

Well, after a very long night and a couple of hours snatched sleep I thought I’d write about what the heck happened yesterday.

Firstly the UKIP victory in the Parliamentary By-election. To be honest it was no big surprise. A month ago when it was announced there was a belief that it was all flash in the pan and that Mark Reckless would be handed an embarrassing defeat at the hands of his former masters or even Labour.

As the time has gone on the amount of UKIP activists, doners and support has grown (or been bussed in) and Rochester has been worked hard. This was met by the Tories and Labour who have had MP after MP down and even the Prime Minister. This was never going to be a normal election.

Ultimately the majority attained was nothing to significant. With a turnout of over 50% Mark only managed to get a majority of 3000 over Kelly Tolhurst (his majority back in 2010 was 10,000). The Tories were celebrating this last night. They know that come May when UKIP will be spreading their activists and money over a larger area of North Kent, especially if Farage is going to stand in Thanet, that Mark will see this lead eroded.

What does this mean for Medway politics in the local election (held on the same day as the General)? Well it could lead to one of two outcomes.

The first is that this victory may buoy up the local party and they will make a valiant charge snapping up council seats drastically altering the shape of the local authority. This is their aim.

The second is that with the removal of resources could force them to make tough decisions. As Mark’s lead is fairly tenuous they may be forced to through what resources they have available to keep him at the cost of local councillors.

This of course is fairly hypothetical we’d have to see.

Needless to say that the Tories are stung and will be coming for them.

As will the Labour party. Naushaba Kahn fought a tough campaign with a lot of support from the local party and Westminster elect. If anything there was a belief that this was Labour's chance to regain the swing seat with the usual right of centre voters torn between UKIP and Tories.

Although they worked hard and attracted a lot of support they failed to make much of a media imprint and ultimately ended well shy of Mark scoring only 6.713 votes.

This has massive ramifications for Ed Miliband and the Labour party, not necessarily the hard working local party.

Labour's main definition at the moment is not the Coalition and let's face it the Tories (and we've signed off on them or are guilty by association) have pushed through some really nasty stuff - badger culls, ATOS, cuts to services, tuition fees... the list is exhaustive and all along, week after week we have to suffer Ed saying he and Labour would never agree to any of this and Ed Balls promising that Labour's economic plan (whatever it is) was much better.

With the extreme views of UKIP and the unpopularity of the  Conservative Government you would have thought the swing seat may have swung back to Labour. The fact it didn't suggests another two things.

The first that voters saw the Conservatives with Kelly Tolhurst's Local girl, local issues campaign as the best alternative and didn't want to split the anti UKIP vote or, and perhaps more alarmingly for Labour, that there is a serious problem with their message.

The whole situation must be even more concerning for the Conservatives. They threw the Kitchen sink at UKIP and although performed really well coming short by a small margin in both the parliamentary and the Hoo Peninsula ward by-election (Ron Sands (CON)  got 1965 against Chris Irvine's (UKIP) 2850) they still failed, despite the resources flung, to make it closer.

As I've said, this could be a temporary blip or it could be the opening of the flood gates. Already some of the old stalwart supporters of the Medway Conservatives have already jumped ship and it might be the beginning of a landslide. There is also a general malaise against the local Tories and should UKIP erupt like a tumour with a handful of Tory Councillors going purple between now and May it could change the face of Medway's Council.

Now with heavy heart I turn to the Libdem result.  It looks awful. Geoff Juby got under 1% in the parliamentary and I gained just over 1% in the Hoo by-election. Geoff's share of the vote collapsed by 15% of its 2010 share. It is being hailed as the worse performance of the Liberal Democrats in a By-election ever...

Now this will sound like a lot of excuses but here is the truth.

Geoff worked hard, and I mean damn hard with a dedicated team of local activists with a few visits from Westminster but this was not Eastleigh. This was not to be our battle ground, not a target seat this time around and Clegg et al did not appear with armies of Libdems busing in from across the country bank rolled by HQ and shadowy donors. This was a local battle led by a local candidate backed up by local activists.

This was always going to be a battle between the Tories and UKIP.

As for me. I am ecstatic about my 1% after all I did absolutely no canvassing or campaigning. Hoo was never a seat we could have won, nor did we have any presence out there. As many regular readers know my son was born on 10th October, had his first operation on 13th and I have been busy with my family settling in George. I'm amazed I got that many votes by doing nothing and I would like to thank everyone who did vote for me, next time will be definitely different.

The two great stories to come out of this election was firstly -

Britain first only got 56 votes. This, although depressing that they got more votes than some of the Independents is uplifting (I got more votes than them in one ward by election!!!) because even the Monster raving loony party did better than them! Truly a laughing stock.

The other is the results of the Green party. They fought a good campaign with a good candidate and scored a respectable fourth place with (1692 votes) in the parliamentary and local (314 votes). This was a great result for them and I've already sent my congratulations via Twitter.

Not to take anything away from them but the rise in support may be because they are now the non-UKIP protest party.  Ten years ago that was the Libdem party (though my Mum always voted Green!) but with the Coalition we've become part of the establishment so people tend to vote for a non-governmental party. If you don't want UKIP then the next best choice is Green. We could see some serious gains by the Greens next year if UKIP continue to develop in the towns.

I know a lot of this is all speculation bolstered with educated guesses but there is so much that could happen that at this moment in time (with four hours sleep) I'm not prepared to tie my colours to the mast until February or even April.

I will however close with a warning however to the other parties. The results of last night belay how strong we are in our wards, getting rid of the Libdems in Medway is going to be a tough proposition.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Imperial War Museum to close its library and sell collection

A story lost?
I may have mentioned in previous posts that this year is the Centenary of the start of World War One.

 This was a conflict that changed the world in many ways politically and socially but most of all it was responsible for the deaths of millions of young men across Europe.

The Imperial War Museum was established to tell the story of those who were sacrificed on the alter of Nationalism and in a fight against a perceived evil. This was done with exhibits and collecting a library of books, documents, photographs and sound recordings which have combined into a great resource.

I fear this blogpost might cost me my job or at least find me in a disciplinary but sometimes, just sometimes you should stand up for what you believe in and this is one of those times.

The Museum has been caught up in the cuts issued by Government and had to try and make savings where they can and have brought in someone to evaluate the operation and cut away dead wood.

Recently the Library has been identified as dead wood. As I understand it (I missed the meeting as I was on Paternity leave) the Library will be closed, the librarians let go and the books (not the documents, photos or Sound recordings) will be sold to other libraries and institutions. Basically scattered to the winds though this is under review as some books were donations.

For me, a historian and lover of books, this is an atrocity. The average person probably thinks; what's the big deal?

The big deal is that the collection is there to augment the galleries. In fact many people are now being directed to the new (Only a three or four years old) open library to look up answers to queries. It is also very popular (especially this year) and the amount of telephone enquires per day and walk in enquires is phenomenal. In the last year the museum was closed for six months whilst the refit carried on but the Library was open and attracted a roaring trade.

By closing the library and getting rid of this vital resource in favour of a website service is a massive disservice to the founding belief and purpose of the museum. 

Former Director General Dr Sir Alan Borg wrote;

As a former Director General of the Museum I am horrified by the suggestion that the Library might be closed and dispersed.

If you agree with him, and me please sign this petition to make them rethink.

Thank you.