Saturday, 12 April 2014

UKIP are most welcome in Medway

Blue and Red will get dented by UKIP
No - I haven't defected, nor have I banged my head and gained one of those epic life changing concussions where one loses all grasp of sanity.

For once in my life there is an iota of reason in something I think...

The Medway Tories have held the Medway towns in their iron grasp for too long. They have an arrogant outlook that means they are right at all times and surely anyone who is against them is against the whole towns!?! (see my posts on Medway Knockers)

Indeed when the Liberal Democrats dared to stand against the wasteful and unwanted City of Medway proposal we were denounced as traitors. When the people of Strood stood up against the moving of their library, or the people rejected the privatisation of the specialist Dementia unit at Nelson Lodge what did the ruling council do?

Bugger all.

The Council carried on with what it wanted to do regardless as in Councillor Chitty's words: A consultation is merely the Council informing the public of its' intentions.

Their massive majority means that they can bulldoze through anything they want - be it dodgy investment in Rochester airport or perhaps voting to become a part of Austria (something I could get on board!) They are even able to keep the inept like Cllr Wickes at the helm of education two years after he should have bowed out despite a consummate amount of public pressure!

As the race for 2015 and the local elections begin the various parties begin their march. The Tories are looking to fortify their position, maybe gain some more in Watling ward and play on their (our) record in Coalition.

Cllr Maple is preparing his Labour troops for a sweeping victory in swing seats, parliamentary seats and indeed wipe the Medway Libdems from the face of the Medway political map.

We are planning on holding our seats as well as modest gains in Watling, Rainham North and Gillingham North at the cost of Cllr Cooper or Stamp following their defection from Independent group to Labour. The latter one is of particular interest as I'm in the mix for that.

So why are UKIP welcome?

Firstly - it could cost the Conservatives quite a few seats as their vote divides in places leaving the way open to another opposition party, maybe Labour, maybe us depending on the area. The Tory's massive machine could lose up to a third in the enfilading fire from the right and protest votes - big hitters like Jarrett and Chambers could find the Tory heart lands dissolving in two.

Secondly - street campaigns and statistic collecting have shown the majority of people switching to vote UKIP have come from the Conservatives but also from Labour rather than from us. This is good as where as the big two need to go out and rally their voters and try and win back hearts and minds we just need to cling to our loyal voters and sway a few soft liberals - even soft Tories who are tired of this council's arrogance or are pro-Europe and fear the knee jerk drift right that may come from Cameron's leadership post '15.

This UKIP phase may just be flash in the pan, as we were once (if you listen to our critics) and if one of my friends stated once that those who say they'll vote UKIP are less likely to vote anyway then ultimately I'm wrong and another blue tide will sweep this Tory autocracy back into Gunwharf in 2015 having learnt nothing and the peoples of Medway can look forward to another four years of darkness with only Labour and the Libdems trading a few seats here or there.

Of course if I'm right... and let's face Gentlemen and Ladies of the Medway Conservative party... you've got to be looking at the Purple peril and thinking it is a possibility.... how prepared are UKIP? What are their strengths? Can they divide you?

Of course we'll have to wait and see in 2015 and I can only hope they do grow in the Conservative heartlands like the tumorous growth they are.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Chatham PPC Tristan Osborne's Misrepresentation on housing?

Yesterday's appearance by local Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Chatham & Aylesford
Tristan Osborne on a local BBC politics programme caused a stir on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.

Although I agree with the sentiment that the housing ladder is impossible to get onto for the majority of people of mine and Tristan's generation ( I think I'm 3 years older) and many of my friends who I went to Uni with have struggled and even had to get 90% mortgages with their parents acting as guarantors.

I was lucky - I guess - we are a small family and my granddad had divided his estate between my sister and I. I was able to get a 50% mortgage and it has kept our payments down so I've been able to support my small (and growing) family.

For others, it is a lot harder.

So what went wrong?

Well... Tristan made a bit of a sweeping generalisation and said... well here's what he said.

So why is that a problem.... Well there is an implication that he has struggled to get on the housing ladder with the rest of Generation Rent and is one of those that suffered as well.

Local Citizen Journalist Ed Jennings quickly dug out his home address from the Medway Councillor's register of interests (available on the Medway Council webpage) and then hopped on Zoopla to get an estimate value of the house.

It isn't up to me to reproduce Tristan's home address, the information is out there but I know how I'd feel if someone blogged my home address.

Ultimately the value of the terraced house came to approximately £306,942

As I understand it this property is owned not rented (I'm open to correction!!!) and the accusation from local Conservative Councillor Chris Irvine is that he has misrepresented himself to the viewers and voters.

I personally believe that it was a sweeping generalisation that people of our age are having trouble and was not meant to be a deliberate misrepresentation.

However I think that Tristan should clarify this.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Nick should not have gone against Nigel

Yesterday I renewed my Libdem membership again. I still have mixed feelings about some things but I do believe that we have a good record in Government and have achieved some great things that have benefited many working families like mine.

I also have mixed feelings about Nick as leader. Sometimes I find myself in despair of the things that we have signed up to and think that Nick should show more backbone and stand up for what he/we believe in but then I see him speak at conference, the news or listen to Call Clegg and I'm immediately back on side, there is definitely something charismatic and down to earth about Nick when he talks unlike the seemingly out of touch Etonian Cameron (A bit harsh I know but the way he is portrayed) and the tainted Ed Miliband whose role in the Brown regime has been white washed over but not forgotten. There is a new guy on the scene and he is dangerous, it is Nigel Farage.

I don't agree with Nigel or his party on a lot of things and I think some of their reported views are dangerous for society and this country. I fear the demonising of immigrants can lead to all kinds problems and stoke fires, fires that like minded people in the BNP would enjoy starting. The problem is UKIP is a lot more mainstream.

When you hear BNP you are immediately reviled and even though some might agree that Europe is a problem and there is an open door for "Johnny Foreigner" coming into the country deep down you know that they are racist with links to street mobs. UKIP is a similar sounding voice but is more rational. Instead of saying Get the foreigners out it is saying that immigration is a problem that needs to dealing with. Same point, different approach.

Farage's appeal to the average bod on the street is that he is pointing out all the things that we know are problems. The EU has mass problems with the way it is run and is far from perfect, the people of this country need a referendum to finally put this issue to bed one way or the other, immigration has been a concern for almost a decade and none of the big three parties have successfully dealt with it. The people of this country have been bombarded by lies and exaggeration about the European Union by newspapers like the Express and Mail for decades including the infamous "Your Bananas are to curved" story. He comes over as a man of the people seemingly speaking the views of the majority or indeed ideas that they can get behind or understand from the media - much in the same way that Nick did back in 2010 before he seemingly sold his soul to Cameron (again as portrayed in the media.).

With Nick's record and the accusations of pledge breaking and being under hand he will never win when it comes to arguing with Farage over how many laws are made for this Country in Brussels. The nation fears the worse and who are they going to believe?

Is it the guy who is seemingly confirming your worse fears and the stuff you sorta knew already from what you read in the papers or the guy who broke his pledge to the Students and who got the Tories into power bringing us fraking, bedroom tax, cuts and job losses through the Public sector? Nick can twist and turn with Farage and present facts but you cannot argue with the image of a man who is portrayed as talking sense and of the people when you yourself are considered a career politician who hasn't had a real job and is considered to be fast and lose with the truth.

What makes it worse is that if you hit the Twitterverse you see fellow Libdems saying; Didn't Nick do well? Didn't Farage look awful and like a zealot?

This is true, I thought he looked out of his depth and struggling in the face of the facts that Nick was presenting and playing down the alarmist stories and suggestions of a new City the size of Manchester being needed by 2019 (that is approximately homes for 502,900 (in the city and metropolitan area in 2011) people from Europe according to the accusation). The polls don't lie though, people are more inclined to believe Nigel with him coming out on top both times.

He has confessed he doesn't want power merely to bring the people of the UK to a vote and that is attracting so much support for common people who feel they should have a say, a say their parents and Grandparents never got in the 70s.

I should reiterate that I do agree with Nick on Europe and that we are better off in and working to reform from within rather than being powerless and sitting on the fence complaining about it. I also dislike Farage, I personally don't trust him and disagree with a lot of what his party says about things and believe that a lot of what they are doing is scare mongering and stoking fears to achieve their own political machinations.

I also think that although to some extent the debate was needed and it was good to see the differing opinions, it was also a bad idea. It has given far too much air time to a man who represents a party that has members with somewhat out dated (at best) and dangerous (as extreme) views about things and society in this country, a party that has at last count - zero MPs in parliament. He should not have been indulged on National Television and radio like this. A lot more people will have been attracted to his cause or party based on his performances rather than actual belief's and politics.

I also think Nick was wrong to go on personally. Like I said, I have a lot of time and admiration for Nick and he was one of my main inspirations and indeed role models for getting into politics and joining the party but his public image is not a good one. There was a reason (albeit petty) that Ed Miliband would not share a platform with Nick on equal marriage, he has become a political pariah and is considered almost a bogey man, a living embodiment of a man who has sold out his morals and beliefs for a ministerial car and office - which I still believe is untrue, mostly, depending on the day. The public believe the worse and that has come out of these polls leaving Farage all the more stronger.

We've even had people on the doorstep in Gillingham (thankfully in a Labour street!!!) telling us they are going to vote UKIP in 2015 because they're tired of the other parties and that Farage talks a lot of sense!!!!

All I cling to is that with declining numbers of people turning out to vote means hopefully less votes for UKIP - or they divide the Tory vote allowing more Libdems on Medway Council!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Campaigning for Europe in Gillingham

Catherine Bearder on the Streets of Gillingham
Last Saturday the Medway Liberal Democrats hit the streets of Gillingham - but this was not an average street canvassing or leafleting it was a special occasion.

The upcoming elections for the European Parliament are exceptionally important and as we are the only party of In and in full support of Europe we had to hit the streets and talk about the excellent work the party have achieved but we weren't doing it alone.

Standing with local party stalwarts like Councillor Diana Smith and Councillor Geoff Juby as well as regular activists and newbies was current standing MEP Catherine Bearder and candidate Antony Hook.

Whilst Nick Clegg has been standing up to Nigel Farage and the generalisations and lies about the European Union we took to the streets to try and dispel the myths on our doorstep.

There was quite some interest with many people drifting by on the bright sunny day and taking leaflets and others stopping to talk to our candidate and representative about specific issues like crime, immigration, economy and jobs.

The European Union is not the most perfect organisation in the world, there are a lot of questions that need answering and reform that needs to be done BUT the only way to reform it is to be inside it. I am a fan of Gillingham FC but I have serious questions about how the club is run and of the Chairman Paul Scally. The only way to have an input on this though is to be a shareholder - so I sit at home and mutter to myself. Should the UK leave the EU it will have to deal with them in the same way that Switzerland and Norway do but without any input into the trading agreements or how they work - so we will be sat at home muttering to ourselves.

The EU also provides money to worthy causes and projects including money for projects in Medway and regeneration of the Dock yard as well as charities - who is to say that our government, who have cut services and make massive efficiency savings would still invest in them as well?

It was a privilege to meet Catherine and Antony and to watch them talking with ease with the public in Gillingham High street and talk passionately about their work in the field and what the EU has to offer and the people we spoke to were impressed too.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Strood library move protests and Medway Council

One of the hot topics to hit the Medway Political scene at the moment is the proposed move of Strood Library from its current spot on Bryant Road, where it shares a building with the popular Community Hall and has parking for up to ten cars, to the main high street in a rented retail outlet that is currently home to a Community project.

There has been a lot of angry protests online, in local newspapers and indeed at the Full Council meeting on the 23rd January where placards were held and the disruption caused by the blunt and arguably rude answers received from the Conservative benches caused an outbreak of civil unrest which halted the meeting – twice – and resulted in the ejection of most of the Public Gallery. One of the causes was Councillor Chitty’s dismissal of the 5000 strong petition that was handed in objecting to the move because not all the signatories lived in Strood, in fact some were from Higham and Maidstone, overlooking the fact that residents of Higham may still use Strood library.

The Council has been working on the creation of Community Hubs within the Medway towns for quite some time. In the Council’s Cultural Strategy (2009-14) it proposes that all Library and Council services should be housed in central locations and one building making the Council that much more accessible. [1
] This has been a process that has been on going and debated at Gunwharf openly for some time. The Council plans for Strood Library have it put in a much more accessible location near really good parking and on the bus routes so that the elderly, who are the Library’s key demographic, can get there more easily and anyone who needs the Hub can just nip in whilst doing their shopping in the centre of town. All very compelling reasons to have the Library move.

So why the objections?

There are several on-going arguments about the relocation and what it would mean for Strood which the Council has argued against. Firstly that the Community project, which does a lot of good within Strood, is being evicted has been turned over because their lease has run out with the Private landlord. It is unfortunate but the Council argue it is coincidental and they should be rehoused within five to six months. Secondly, Councillor Stephen Hubbard of the Labour group points out on their website that the Tories are “milking the cash cow” of parking in the centre of Strood and that Labour don’t want the original building pulled down for high density housing as Strood is already too overcrowded. [2
] This is despite the fact that the Library has only ten spaces and whose key demographic would tend to use Public transport for free rather than drive and that no one has stated that there was a plan to redevelop the original site.

Medway Council has said that it will keep the local Community hall, the only one of its kind in Strood, for the youth groups and programs such as Judo, Ballet, talks, children’s activities and any other local Community group that wanted to use it which is a welcome move however it does beg the question about why move the Library out of that building and add another expense to the Public purse by renting a smaller shop space.

Another issue that has been raised is that of Public safety. Kim West raised warnings of at least eight crashes outside the proposed location since August last year (3 KM Medway Extra 29-1-14) and that one car almost went through the window. This has been treated as circumstantial and dismissed by Councillor Doe at Full Council who focused on the revitalising effect the move will have on the High Street and the shops.

The biggest problem has been that the Library’s move has been symptomatic of the way the Conservative Council has dealt with things recently. They haven’t listened to the public in the consultations, in fact Councillor Chitty responded at Full Council that Consultations are for informing the community of the Council’s decisions and not for helping to formulate a final decision. This was the same for the airport redevelopment and for the elderly care homes at Nelson’s Court and Robert Been Lodge. The basics of Consultation, where objections and problems can be aired and discussed before the council makes a decision are being totally disregarded and that is what has angered the protesters and the wider politico audience within Medway – the simple fact that they aren’t and won’t listen. If they did they might have taken into account the fact that two days a week the Strood Carparks are taken over by Market stalls effectively nullifying the extra parking, listened to concerns from people like Kim West, or they would have taken the petition and revaluated that this was clearly an issue the people of Strood feel strongly about rather than rubbishing it in Full Council.

Although this is an important topic for the people of Strood and has compelling arguments for both sides of the debate but the reason it has attracted so much anger and resentment is that the Council has, yet again disregarded what the public have to say and have yet again ploughed on regardless and handling the public.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

My view on an open political forum in Medway

One of the things that keeps appearing on my Twitter feed is the suggestion that Medway Council and the Political parties could form an interactive forum to discuss policies and answer questions in the Pentagon centre, Chatham.

On paper this would provide anyone in Medway the chance to meet their councillors or learn what each party's policies are so that informed decisions can be made and spark debate. Much of politics requires door knocking and handing out leaflets that, lets face it, probably don't get read by half of the residents or hoping that your story gets picked up by the local media and written about favourably so an open forum, like the leadership debates would be massively welcome.

There is just one major problem... The public are just not that interested.

The best place in the Pentagon to have it would be on the second floor which is where there is the most space. Sadly, as predicted on this blog, the new dynamic bus facility outside has left a very small footfall going upstairs now, rather than the crowds who would have drifted past to get the bus before.

There is also the fact that when people are in town shopping they don't want to be bothered by charity workers, people handing out leaflets or politicians. Just go stand out on the high street and people watch - you'll see people with headphones on, pretending to play with their phones, politely declining or straight out just cruising past ignoring their very existence. Time is valuable and shopping is a lengthy enough process as it is - that's why so many people are shopping online these days - so most people just want to get on with it and get home or to something more interesting.

There is also a major problem in the fact that no one trusts politicians anymore. Where as issues remain like cost of living, jobs, education etc people whenever political parties get together they do nothing but squabble and blame each other and spout political dogma. Even when they tell the truth about things, like the Liberal Democrats getting you your income tax back on the first £10.500 you earn - the message is lost in the din of all the other hot air and noise. People have heard it all before, trusted and been let down by the other guy. Why would they want to waste time on their Saturday off listening to more wasted words?

People have their own preconceptions of what parties stand for and although they can be hilariously wrong at times there is no way to budge them from their position even when you're presenting facts to the contrary. Others will stick to party loyalty through thick and thin rather than let "them" get in office. 

Another big problem is manning the stalls. Let's be honest, the big two parties have the most members. With the best will in the world smaller parties in Medway like the Lib Dems, Greens, English Democrats and UKIP will not have the people power to be there week in week out for the full day. This leads to the disparity and ultimately the strengthening of the same old two party system that has left this country in the state it is now.

This is even further strengthened by people who, reasonably, think that if they want something done go to either the Conservatives or Labour - why waste time on the smaller groups?

Ultimately this is just my opinion nothing more but it is where I stand in the proposal - people lack the interest, time and have (rightly or wrongly) preconceptions of political parties and what they stand for.

The Libdems put out regular Focus newsletters and our councillors hold surgeries regularly to discuss problems in the ward that people are more than welcome to attend. There is also regular campaigning in the street and if you're lucky enough to live in one of our target wards you may get a knock on the door soon!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Democracy week at MidKent College

Manning the stall
About a month ago the Medway Liberal Deomcrats were approached by MidKent College's Student Union President Matt, along with other parties who have a Parliamentary members - Us, Labour, Conservatives and the Greens, and asked if we wanted to attend the College's Democracy week.

The idea was, as part of the Bite the ballot campaign to get teenagers to get involved in politics and registered to vote. I spoke passionately at the last Exec meeting saying that we should go, so passionately in fact that I was volunteered to do it!

With a clutch of leaflets and having absorbed a good chunk of the Record of Achievement in government I marched down to the College unsure of what to expect but with trainers on in case I needed to make a quick get away from an army of angry students who felt betrayed about tuition fees.

What I found was a group of young people who were interested and open to what was said by the parties present (the Conservatives weren't there at all) and some were even up for debating!

Although my table was somewhat Spartan, as I was bank rolling it myself as I had been unable to go to HQ and plunder free gear, I was missed by a quite a few people who were drawn in by the much brighter Labour stall who had a mountain of free stuff and biscuits (If only I'd brought Haribo!!!), I did attract some attention. 

It was good to talk to people who have a genuine interest in things and debate with those who were willing to debate. Some had already made up their minds, others were keen to learn more from all of us before making an informed decision. The most important thing was it got people thinking and challenged preconceived ideas. 

Even better than that it got people registered and both Labour and I signed people up to our parties. 

The future of politics is looking grim in this country as every day people are rightly or wrongly casting any ideas of voting aside. The parties are all the same, you can't trust the Party leaders, they're all liars and in for it for themselves... Without voters there can be no change for good or ill and the number of them are dropping away..

It is only by having events such as these that gets people engaged and thinking and more importantly - Voting!

I look forward to the next time... and I will have to dig up some free stuff!