Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Coalition, UKIP and Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt MP
As the true depth of Jeremy Hunt's involvement with the Murdoch scandal is uncovered more than a few Liberal Democrat commentators have suggested that we should be rethinking the future of the party within the Coalition and whether we should even continue.

Martin Shapland tweeted this on 24th April;
Here's an idea. This would be an excellent time to walk out on the sleazy, Incompetent, onnishambolic Tories

I'm sure he speaks for a good many. After all we have taken A LOT of flak for the policies of the Coalition and a lot of Local politicians are upset by the way the National party has acted. There are others who point out that a lot of our members who resigned once we joined the Coalition would return.

Would it not be better to beat a fighting retreat and distance ourselves from these "Sleaze" allegations as well as the Pasty tax and pension changes, tuition fees, rising fuel etc etc... If we were to the head from the party and forge off standing up for our principles would we not be doing the party a great service?

UKIP have overtaken us as the third party of the nation in the polls too. How did this happen? A right-wing euro sceptic party who up until recently had no real policies short of withdrawal from Europe but now they're close on our tail. Is this the final death knell for the British Liberal Party?

I personally don't think it is time to call time on the Coalition. Yeah its tough but we've done a lot of good things and kept a lot more manifesto points than we've traded. If anything there is a lot of antipathy against us by some sections of the Conservatives because we have had such a disproportional sway over the Government. 2015 will be a tough time trying to get voters to recognise that but if we walk away with so much left undone would we not look like we couldn't stand the pressure? Our opponents would claim we choked and baled rather than stood up for what we believed. What ever happens there will have to be a leadership contest around an election as I know that many Libdems do not feel that Nick can lead us into a successful campaign. I still have faith in the Coalition, yeah I have moments of despair and horror but there is a lot to still be said for it.

So what about UKIP? What about them? Lets be honest when parties are in Government they lose popularity, the opposition always look better. However, even though Labour have recovered a lot of ground there is still a level of distrust because of the last administration and, I'm sorry guys, Ed Milliband has hardly won the hearts and minds of the populous as the face of capable opposition.
Indeed when I first asked Twitter whether we should bail out or not my friend Simon said;

would we get any difference in govt? Swap posh incompetents for Labour incompetents? Whoopie...

We're tied to the Conservatives and have made some glaring faux pas so we've lost support and the Conservatives likewise so who will people have to turn elsewhere...
There is a dislike for Europe which is exacerbated by the collapse of the Euro and the Greek economy and there was quite a few angry voices at the lack of referendum on Britain's role in the EU and people are looking at UKIP and wondering. They're no longer a party of crazies with Kilroy leading them, they're developing into a real party that may well hit the big stage in Parliament 2015 but I think they will gain places in Conservative seats rather than from us as they tend to attract right wing voters anyway and it would have to be a big swing of centralist to right. After all as the Conservatives and Labour's obsession of capturing the "Middle ground" and former Liberal territory, they begin to lose those on the Right/left of their respective parties, the ones they used to appeal to exclusively, now UKIP are absorbing those disenchanted. We'll have to wait and see what the future holds for them though.

Jeremy Hunt has to resign. Its that simple.
His position is untenable. The level of communication and collusion between him, his office and the Murdochs even before the removal of Dr Vince was far too close. It looks bad, even if it was all innocent, and it looks like grubby back room deals have been made - Not what fair and open Government should be about. Jeremy Hunt and his office should not have communicated with Murdoch's office whilst Dr Vince was dealing with the affair full stop. It reeks of favouritism and done deals. If David Cameron doesn't act now then we need to distance ourselves over this affair.
This is one incident that we should not get tarred over, after all we're not implicated and should refuse to take the flak for this.

This whole thing has been mishandled and it makes all of us look bad. The Leveson enquiry only has to mention a name and you are immediately tarred and discredited. The party Leadership would do well to distance itself from this immediately in the media, after all it wasn't our idea at all and something we opposed. Sounds harsh but a good dose of "I told you so" may be in order.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Me Mouthpiece? Really?

Over the weekend I published this about Asbestosis, Mesothelioma and the Legal aid bill. It is good to see local politicians/commentators uniting for the greater good of their constituents and agreeing on this as Tracey Crouch (Con) and Cllr Osborne (Lab) have. This is too serious issue within the Medway towns to become a party political point scoring exercises.

I truly believe the Government was wrong to vote the way it did and I fully stand by my closing statement in the piece;

We, as a nation, talk a lot about looking after our servicemen and women post war and the Veterans of the Second World War who fought for this country but those who worked for the Dockyards in a civilian capacity also did very essential war and military work. How can we let them down and leave their families without monetary compensation?

As someone whose family have worked in the Docks and as someone who may have been exposed (I'm assured we were all perfectly safe but you know...) I think that legal aid should be made available for the families of sufferers.

I agree, also that it is sad that some of our MPs (By our I mean Libdems as well as Mark Reckless (who voted yes) and Rehman Chishti (absent) ) voted with the Government. I think they were wrong.

Sadly though National parties do not always vote the way local parties or indeed members would want. I'm sure Local Conservatives, Labour, Libdem members alike agreed with Tracey's stance and the Medway Messenger's campaign and are equally disappointed. This was a local issue that, like so many, has been glossed over by national politicians. I'm sure that the local parties do support Tracey's argument but Nationally the Libdems and Conservatives didn't.

I truly feel people have been let down. Nor will I pretend that the Party voted a way it didn't.

My main point is, and I'm sure I've said this before - I don't speak for the Medway Libdems, I speak for me.

Yes I do write articles on how we do things, what we are standing for but I also write for me. (For the official line you'll be able to check out our shiny new website which should be coming soon!) I'm sure the Liberal Democrat Party has no stance on the U-boat on the Medway, Shark attacks in the Pacific, Caroline Bell's new job or indeed the anniversary of my Grandfathers passing nor is the Medway Libdem party as supportive of Tracey Crouch as I am.

 So although I am honoured that I'm thought of as the mouth piece of the Medway Libdems I am afraid that as my bio (The bit under my pic) says;
Lib-dem party member and liberal theorist. Married with a daughter and live in Medway.I write about Liberal Democrats in National government and Local areas. I also write about anything that I find interesting, including law, Opposition parties, Sharks. My views are not necessarily that of the party but are my own.

I would suggest that if anyone wants to find out the Local Libdem party stance on anything please ask them or await the website. I'll even announce the arrival of it!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sinking of Titanic and The banking crisis.

The 15th April 1912, at 3:40 GMT (11:40 Ship's time) RMS Titanic struck the Iceberg and two hours and forty minutes later she slipped beneath the waves taking some 1500 souls with her through drowning, injuries or exposure to the freezing cold waters of the North Atlantic, only 800 survived mostly from the First Class passengers.

As I mulled over the centenary I wanted to write something about it. I decided a potted History was a waste of time, especially as Walter Lord's excellent A night to remember and The night lives on cannot be surpassed. Instead, as a trailer for Made in Chelsea came on I began to think about Class divide and differences as well as the disaster itself and there are some striking similarities between the sinking of the liner and the current banking crisis.

For example, both were predicted in advance. Titanic was in a book entitled Futility: The sinking of the Titan, and the banking crisis by economists such as Dr Vince Cable. The banking system and the Titanic were not considered infallible but it was considered that nothing could do the amount of damaged needed to cause disaster. With Titanic it was obviously the Iceberg and the banks it was Lehman brothers.
Arguably Mr William McMaster Murdoch, the First Officer from Dalbeattie in South west Scottland, who held the duty watch at the time did all that could be done to avoid the catastrophe much like his fellow Countrymen Darling and Brown did with the banks although all three's conduct is open to interpretation as to whether they did the right thing or not.

A joint effort was taken on by Mr Lightholler, 2nd Officer on the Starboard side who was professional and strict observing "Women and Children First" as "Only" and the slightly more flexible and personable Murdoch who allowed men into life boats to fill them, an interesting Coalition of ideas, however the damage was done and nothing they could do would rectify the situation.

The point of comparison that really stuck in my head is that of Class struggle. Now, I'm no Marxist, nor am I a rabid left winger who bemoans class struggle and the Rich oppression of the poor, however there are things that anger the working/middle classes. On Titanic it made logical sense to evacuate the top decks (upper classes) first and unfortunately with the lack of life boats there was always going to be a small amount of lower classes getting off the ship as she foundered. There are also rumours of doors being locked to stop the 3rd Class passengers reaching the boat deck, again this is a sensible if harsh measure to stop a rising panic and crowds rushing the boat deck and putting more people in danger.
Before the banking crisis this notion of class was slowly dwindling but since money has become scarce it has swiftly been redefined. Upper classes are no longer necessarily land owners but those with large incomes (the middle being somewhere between £20k-£40k p.a) and those at the bottom on low incomes and usually renting or living in Council properties.
It is being argued, and I do tend to agree, that the Rich are getting away with a lot more than those on a lower income and there is only so much budgeting a house hold can do before you begin to feel the bite. Thus it does tend to grate on sensibilities when ever I see a trailer for Made in Chelsea and the young rich people are off on yet another holiday or whiskey tasting in the West end, or another champagne party and my family will be lucky if we get to go away at all this year, I can't really justify the price of one bottle of beer let alone a bottle of wine.

I know the Government are putting in measures to tax the richer especially with the new budget but it does seem that yet again the Rich and upper classes are abandoning ship and leaving us, the 3rd class passengers behind to deal with the worst part.

Just to complete the analogy I need to talk of the crew. The highest percentage of those lost aboard were the Ship's company. After all 50% of the Deck officers were killed, most of the Engineers, firemen, stewards, lift attendants, 50% of the Radio operators... In the analogy it is the Civil servants who take on the position of the crew (We do help run the nation after all!) and again they are suffering too. When it comes to cuts Government automatically looks at cutting the fat from the public sector and again they need to look at what needs to be done. Who needs museums over hospitals? *cut*
Who needs x thousand waste disposal guys when Y hundred can do it *cut*
We need to change the pension scheme *Cut*
As a low level civil servant in a dicey section of the public sector, I'm waiting for the axe to fall in my direction and leave me stricken on the liner one of the many who will suffer.

It may be a bleak analogy, but it is interesting. I don't know I may spend too much thinking about things on the train and not rationalising it all properly but that is how it feels.

This nation is sinking into the black icy waters of recession and it does seem that only the Rich and upper echelons are going to get away from it and suffer only a small amount and it is us the crew and working classes who are going to suffer.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Crouch rebels over Legal aid but where is Reh?

A serious work related health problem that blights the country, especially the older generations is the Mesothelioma from exposure to Asbestos dust. Those of you, like me, who work in old buildings will know of the lengthy procedures to verify the presence of of the substance and then an even lengthier procedure to remove it by experts in protective clothing. Also, as I work in a Museum filled with World War Two equipment we have on site staff who specialise in safety checks.

Unfortunately the effect of Asbestos dust on workers was not known at the time and the substance was widely used everywhere including Gas Masks, insulation in Lancaster bombers and also more relevantly to Medway in the lining of ships engines, wrapping of pipes, wrapping turbine parts and engines. Indeed in the USA, especially in the Hampton Roads Mesothelioma and Asbestosis are incredibly virulent. It is estimated that out of the 4.3 million ship workers some 14 out of every 1000 died of Mesotelioma (it is estimated that 100,000 have or will die from Mesohelioma.) and an unknown amount of Asbestosis. This is despite the fact that the condition and the danger of Asbestos was first used in Medical journals in 1931 and the Asbestos Industry regulations coming into affect in March 1932.

So what has this got to do with Medway and her MPs? Well Chatham dockyards was a hub of activity until the 1980's and many Royal Navy vessels were built and refitted in the docks including the construction of two U-class Submarines (HMS Umpire and HMS Una) HMS Ajax, of River Plate fame, was refitted in 1940 as well as countless others. Exposure to Asbestos was unavoidable and as time has gone by victims have begun to appear.

It was reported in the Medway Messenger (30th March Victims' Court victory in fight for compensation) that the Supreme Court had granted a landmark victory that means that any Insurance company that insured you (the claimant) at the time of your exposure must pay out rather than wait for the symptoms to appear to be diagnosed.

At the time Tracey Crouch MP said; It has taken a long time coming, but it is obvious that compensation should be made when workers are exposed and not when they have been diagnosed. It is an illness which catches up quickly. The earlier compensation the better for financial peace of mind.

However Tracey has had to continue fighting the cause in Parliament and has rebelled against the Government's position on the Legal Aid bill. The bill, as I understand it, will block legal aid to those involved in civil cases, such as this but still allow those facing a criminal conviction legal aid. This would mean that sufferers of Asbestosis or Mesothelioma would have to fund the cases themselves and thus lose a majority of their compensation to lawyers.
Speaking in Parliament: Anecdotal evidence shows that sufferers often pass away long before their claim has been settled, leaving their grieving families to settle the claim. Sometimes, the stress of doing so is too much and the claim is no longer pursued.
I want to see meso victims receive a fair package of compensation and I am concerned that the Bill as drafted will cause a significant sum of the compensation package to be lost in success fees paid to lawyers.

This conditions can be localised to certain areas and unfortunately Medway is one of them because of the Docks. You would hope, considering the geography, that the other two MPs for Medway would also support Miss Crouch on this. Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) voted with the Government and Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) was absent. It is especially interesting considering the fact that a large body of Gillingham residents worked in the docks, as did those of Chatham and yet Mr Chishti failed to turn up. I can understand voting for the Government if that is where your convictions lie but to be absent on a debate that has implications to your constituents like this... I hope that he had a good reason.

We, as a nation, talk a lot about looking after our servicemen and women post war and the Veterans of the Second World War who fought for this country but those who worked for the Dockyards in a civilian capacity also did very essential war and military work. How can we let them down and leave their families without monetary compensation?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Medway Libdems are far from dead

One of my all time favourite Movies of all time is Das Boot. It is truly an epic view of the effects of war and stress on the human condition. One such scene involves the U-96 laying on a sand bank off Gibraltar with no engines, no power... dead.

Which brings me handily to this.

Councillor Osborne's latest post featuring predictions of Labour's ultimate victory in 2015 and 2019 has the following sentence, as well as a descriptive paragraph to back up his claim;

Let's be generous; The 'Medway' Lib Dems are the equivalent of a quivering corpse. - Just like the U-96

It is an interesting suggestion that the Libdems are dying. If one were to talk to Cllr Juby, Tony Jeacock (our Chair) Garry Harrison, (vice chair), myself or many of the others we would all tell you that we're not dead yet. Indeed far from it.

Of course we would say that being Exec officers... so lets look at some facts!
I'm not going to lie, I understand 2010 was a difficult year with the Libdem vs. Independent split and both sides are responsible for some nastiness and lost us Cllrs Ruparel (retired) and Sutton (lost in 2011 election) but as I became active in February 2011 I cannot really comment further. All I can say really is that was the past and things have moved on in two years.

Electorally we suffered in 2011, I watched the results come in and the looks on faces. We didn't lose seats because of our actions locally though. This was clear from the results that hit the whole country as local Libdem councillors paid the price for National politics and the Tuition fees debacle. Indeed the Labour candidate for Gillingham South (the now Cllr Coleman) who beat Steve Kearney hardly campaigned and didn't bother turning up to the count as it was a foregone conclusion that we would hold Gillingham South.  There were not that many votes in that Labour victory, and Tony Jeacock who stood for Watling Ward lost
out to the Conservatives by all of 29 votes.
Interestingly despite the cuts and their lead in the Coalition, including the Tuition fees, as well as local bungling, it was the Conservatives who did very well. Labour failed to capitalise on a golden opportunity in the Medway towns, an opportunity not missed in Newcastle and Sheffield where the Libdems lost most of their Council seats. Perhaps Medway Labour need to look at their own campaigns.

As the U-96 lay prostrate upon the sandbank the crew turned to one man, the Captain (played by Jurgen Prochnow). The Captain, with his first officer, rallied the men and got them working as a team that saw the U-boat's engines fixed and ballast blown to get her to the surface.

Unlike Cllr Osborne's claim, our local leadership are far from incompetent. Councillor Juby has led the Council group well for years and continues to have the backing of the Executive committee and the Council group. The Executive committee, voted in at the end of last year, have worked hard at addressing issues both internal and within Medway. The only way is up and onwards with the hard work and passion that is within us all and well directed by Tony and Geoff. What people forget is the party has been "dead" before. After the Lloyd George-Asquith Split that devastated the post war party and the gradual decline from 1920 to the 1950's but we came back. We offer a responsible opposition, working with the Conservative Council to try and dull the cuts and protect those in real need rather than fighting every decision.

All Liberal Democrats have leaned from the Tuition fee problem, that is to be careful what you promise. Cllr Osborne is correct, Labour aren't in power nor hold responsibility so they can press the Tories hard but at the same time they're writing cheques that they one day may be asked to pay back and if/when they get in power they'll find it is impossible to keep all of them.

The Libdems are far from dead in the water, although I am not part of the planning section for 2015 or even 19(!) I can't say what will happen, even if I could it would be incredibly moronic to do so. I can say that we're not targeting Labour seats exclusively which is what Cllr Osborne is implying, that would be ludicrously stupid! What I can say is that a good and varied campaign will be fought and we will not be wiped of the map. Voting Liberal Democrat is far from a wasted vote, the party is far from dead and one could consider the posturing and down playing of the local party as nothing more than trying to make Labour better and the only choice which of course is Balderdash.
Our Councillors and Activists are working hard in all directions including Constituent issues for current and future (possibly) areas.

As the U-96 cruised back for France they passed the Royal Navy yard at Gibraltar and the Captain pointed out their enemies were already toasting the U-boat's destruction and were enjoying the Casinos and bars rather than watching for their survival in a similar way that we are being written off by commentators like Cllr Osborne.  I agree with the Captain's comment at the time and will hold on to it until 2015;

Not yet Kommeraden! Not yet!!!!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Labour are the only opposition in Medway?

There is an old episode of the Simpson's which the evil Aliens Kang and Kodos replace Bob Dole and Bill Clinton and so the people of America are doomed to vote for one or the other evil Aliens.
Homer Simpson suggests voting for a third party candidate.
Yeah Sure. Throw your vote away!!!

Basically this is what Councillor Osborne, Medway Labour Press officer is suggesting.

Labour is the only voice of opposition to the incompetent Tories.

The first part of the blog post is, rightly pointing out the Council overspend on the Stoke Crossing and calling the Council to account. Fair cop...

Of course this story was covered here on Tuesday and indeed on the same day as he posts his a letter from me appeared in the Medway Messenger. I find it interesting that he then goes on to say that Labour are leading on this and yet a Libdem got there first.

In the same vain the Care home closures and outsourcing. A Campaign to save Nelson Court was set up by a Lib dem and backed fully by Libdems. Labour played a part and took over most of the campaigning but in a way that made Maureen Ruparel (who started it) was disgusted with the way it  became politicised rather than about the patients. Indeed at the march I attended, organised by Jaqui Berry and the Socialist party it was attended by two of three Libdem councillors (Geoff Juby was away in the Phillipines), our Charmian Tony Jeacock, Treasurer Cathy Sutton, Vice Chair Gary Harrison, Secretary (Me) as well as other members and the only obvious Labour member was Vince Maple.
Of course when it came to addressing the crowd Jacqui never mentioned a party, Diana Smith and Gary didn't either but Vince did - extolling how hard the Labour party were working against the Tories.

So were does the accusation that the Libdems are only leading on arguably one issue.

This issue of City Status, and that it was badly managed. I don't think so. Yes the letter was sent late but information was gathered and the decision was made and then the letter sent. Yeah we got a negative response from the local press but then that was to be expected considering the Messenger backed the campaign.

The point is that we are forming a responsible opposition. The cuts are going to happen, they have too since the cut in grant from central Government. We're not happy about it but there it is. Instead of shouting "No" or accusing the Tory cabinet of failure etc we are making the tough decisions and working to try and dull the pain of the cuts and protect the most vulnerable such as the occupants of Nelson Court.

Also the notion of only Labour can stand is absolute balderdash. Labour are the larger party of opposition with more members and more activists with a lot more money than us, the Greens or the Independents (strangely omitted from Cllr Osborne's post - especially as they are as big us!) but we are still opposing parties. A century ago only the Liberal Party were seen as the credible opponents to the Conservatives see how things have changed. Politics is fluidic, it is arrogant to believe that you and you alone can stand.
Its very reminiscent of Himmler's statement to Eisenhower in 1945;
 Only Germany and my SS can stand against Stalinist Russia.

On a similiar tack does that mean that the people of Gillingham South should vote out Geoff Juby and Shelia Kearney after how ever many years of excellent work in the ward? Or the ever popular and dedicated Diana Smith who has dedicated countless years to the community and worked hard be expelled from Watling ward?
It happened in 2011. Stephen Kearney, a very popular and hard working councillor was voted out for a Labour Councillor and what has the result been?
Forget that I'm a Libdem, but since May last year I've had 4 Focus' about what the Libdems are doing and only 2 fliers from Cllr Coleman. One to introduce himself and one about Police cuts Nationally - A national government issue. I don't know when his surgeries is or even where. I see Geoff walking the Ward regularly on my way to the station. In fact the only thing I've heard of Councillor Coleman (from two separate sources) is that he claims to be responsible for the money granted to the ward through the Citizen Advice bureau - which of course is Balderdash as it was granted by central government. Why would I vote out a Councillor who works hard for the ward and works with the people just because they aren't Labour.

Personally, I'm not big on inflating my Party's image beyond what its capable of or for saying we're better than anything. I will say that Geoff, Shelia and Diana are working hard for their wards and constituents.

Friday, 13 April 2012

City Status bid: One last epilogue

One of my favourite singers, Miss Amy Lee of Evanescence, once wrote a song with the lyrics "This is the last song I shall waste on you." In a similar vain this is the last post I'm going to waste on Councillor Jarrett's comments on City status.

Firstly I should say that the failed bid increasing Medway's status Nationwide is a good thing and I'm pleased this has had the happy bi product/
However there has been a lot of negative press generated by the Council during the procedure. Dare I bring up the Trading standards ruling (how much did that cost us again?) and the Council's rather ungracious responses to the ruling body's decision.

This line of comments also came up in Councillor Jarrett's column in Party People (Medway Messenger 13th April) in which he refers to the newly named City of St Asaph as One tiny Welsh Village - ok in the 2001 census the town had over 3000 residents but like Rochester it was stripped of its Medieval city status, and like Rochester, it deserved it back.

Councillor Jarrett, also, either doesn't understand or isn't interested in the cost argument. We weren't arguing that the bid itself was where the real waste was but in the post decision re branding that would have taken place. £13,000 on the bid itself isn't a bad amount of money, compared to other wasteful projects, but how much would it have cost us to change all the stationary at Gunwharf? How much for the signs? The literature?

Finally, and this is a personal note and what really got me angry;
How sad that at the eleventh hour Medway's Liberals chose to write to the Deputy Prime Minister urging him not to award City status to Medway. It was an incredibly spiteful act from a political party which obviously has long since put its shallow political aims before the good of the wider community.

Well... That told us... or did it?

OK, maybe the letter was late in the sending but we have always opposed this bid and we spoke to people across the Medway towns and the ones we spoke to were not interested or didn't care. That's hardly a mandate for Amazing level of support and we represented those who were being ignored as Nay sayers and who formed the majority of the people we spoke to. Is that not what Politics is about rather than dragging the population in your chosen direction and only listening to the Yes sayers?
He has berated us in the press on several occasions and in a Full Council meeting. I understand that he, like many is disappointed but its not all down to us. We stood by our Principles, and it is time that he respected that and moved on.
I felt particular wrath that it was intimated that we did this for our own shallow ends as I know that Tony Jeacock and I (and the whole exec Committee) acted on our beliefs and the opinions we were told on the doorstep and I felt it a personal swipe at my honour. Had this been the 18th Century I would demand he meet me at Rookery fields at dawn with his choice of sword for a duel. Unfortunately that time has passed so I shall stick to defending myself, the Committees actions and our principles to this blog.

It was a difficult decision to make, and one that was not taken lightly as we knew the amount of negative press and feeling it would garner us and the boon it would give the Conservative group; If we got city status we'd be mocked as Medway knockers, if we didn't get it we were to blame. How was this us trying to get gain? The Committee vote itself was exceptionally close with only a few votes in it but the decision - democratically made- was reached. I should also say that neither myself nor Tony were members of the Exec at the time and it was made by the out going Exec of 2011.

Finally he ends with Medway is a City in all but name. Really? Well in that case my House is a Fort in all but name. For Pete's sake we are a conurbation of towns and I'm afraid his comments sounds like delusions of grandeur. His whole piece sounds like back slapping and sour grapes. I cannot wait to see the letter from the Cabinet Office outlining why Medway didn't get its city status and see where the "blame" really lies.

Letters to the editor II

Here is the original wording of the letter I wrote to the Medway Messenger concerning the overspend on the Stoke Crossing and appeared on the 13th April 2012.

 Sturdee Avenue,
Dear Editor,
I am writing with regards the Council’s overspend of approximately £1.2m on the Stoke Crossing. (Featured in Monday’s Paper  “A Bridge to nowhere or money well (over)spent.”)
How can the Council continue to overspend on projects like this? This is yet another example (The bus station, Medway park, photocopiers, Woodlands school to name a few) of the Council being reckless with our Council taxes and what makes it worse they were warned beforehand that there would be an overspend and yet they still gave it a green light.

Who is going to take responsibility? Councillor Jarrett? One of the officers? As a tax payer I’d really like to see someone apologise and fall on their sword for these continued errors in judgement or to be called to account. After all it is our services that have been are in danger of being cut because of a lack of money but yet someone continues to be wasteful in the halls of power. How many millions of pounds have been wasted on all of the afore mentioned projects?
We wouldn’t accept it from Westminster and we shouldn’t have to accept it from Gun Wharf.

Yours Faithfully

Chris Sams

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The death of history

The 3rd East Kents at Albuhera
Nothing lasts forever, memory and interest fade. As someone who has been fascinated with history since I was a small boy (as the age of 8 I surprised the tour guide at Dover Castle by being able to tell him loading procedure for a cannon!) and have gone on to study it to post graduate level I am horrified at the gradual loss of history.

Does anyone remember Lieutenant Latham's heroic actions at the battle of Albuhera in 1811?
He served in the East Kent regiment during the battle. He defended the Kings colour from the French cavalry suffering severe injuries, lost half his face and left arm, suffered multiple stabs from lances and slashes from sabres but survived protecting the flag. He was a hero and is one of the names remembered by the Regiment.

How many people thought that Titanic was just a movie? According to one paper quite a few!

Whenever I am in museums I am shocked by the lack of interest in the history by school children and at the Imperial War Museum by the lack of respect for those who fell to protect this country. The First World War is nothing to them and the Second World War mainly the backdrop to Call of Duty.

Even within the Medway towns no one knows who Waghorn is other than a good statue to place traffic cones on. To be honest I had to look him up! I bet not many people have even seen the memorial behind the statue opposite the petrol station to the crew of a Royal Navy vessel but... I must be honest, I have read it, once, and failed to commit it to memory.
Who knows the story of Osmonde the VC holder buried in Woodlands Cemetery?

I could go on. The point is no one is interested and the memory has faded. As a whole, national memory fades three maybe four generations on - how long before the First World War is forgotten like the Boer War which ended just 12 years before? I find this particularly sad as two of my Great great Grandfathers were killed in the Boer war, one of whom I know next to nothing about, the other Corperal G.W Bone who died in 1900,  was a Royal Engineer (commemorated in Brompton Barracks) and never saw his first and only child. Now he is all but forgotten. Even if you do a google search you'll find nothing apart from his name and date of death.

I find this is an incredibly sad state of affairs. We are forgetting what our ancestors have done, how we got to where we are. History is becoming a dim memory when really it is like the conscience of a nation. England and Great Britain have done a lot to be proud of such as Industry, Railways, exploration, democracy, art, literature...
It has also done a lot to be ashamed of including Genocide, Religious intolerance, Concentration camps (During the Second Boer War and considered to have been the inspiration for the Nazi camp Dachau.) Biological Warfare (General Amherst, the namesake of Medway's fort, suggested during Pontiac's rebellion that  blankets from Small pox hospitals should be handed out to the native population in the hope it would cleanse them) and of course Slavery.

It is important we hold on to this in going forward.

I also, personally believe that we should remember family members who have done something and their memory passed down unfortunately I don't know how long that can continue. I know both my Grandfather's war records and stories and I will pass them on to Sophie but how likely is she to remember. After all one of her Great Grandfathers has already died the other is in his 90's and may not be around when she's older. If she does pass them to her children why should they care for two men who they never met and were involved in things that happened almost a century beforehand?

It is sad but I guess inevitable that these experiences and actions are doomed to pass into obscurity. Should we forget it though?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Another Glorious Overspend.

The Hoo branch line at Stoke Crossing
First we had the Bus station, then the debacle of moving gas works at Medway Park so there could be a straight entrance, Woodlands school bail out, uncancelled Photocopier fees and now £1.2 million over spend on the Stoke Crossing to the Isle of Grain.

Firstly, I don't deny the importance of the crossing. After all the Island has but one way on and off - A fact highlighted by campaigners in Grain Village over health and safety concerns linked to the proximity of the liquid Gas facility. After all if the road is blocked then no one is coming.

The Bridge itself runs parallel to the old A228 but crosses the railway line that serves Thamesport (perhaps twice a day) but it cost £14m.


Yep, £14 million but it came from the national Government pot of £144m given to Medway Council for high profile regeneration projects. Think of all the things in the Medway towns that need improving or projects deserving money for regeneration. Then look at this. 
If it were me, I think £14m cold be spent much better elsewhere in Medway. We only have a train there about twice a day and you only have to wait a few minutes. Says Parish Council Chairman Chris Buckwell (con).

Can you put a price on Safety though?

As I said I'm not debating the bridge, ultimately if it saves lives or could prevent a disaster then surely it is a good thing, right?

My problem is the lack of procedure in the Procurement phase...
Ok the scheme was rushed a bit because of the deadline for spending the money was fast approaching and if it wasn't spent it would be taken back - fair enough. However in this fast tracking the project did not go through a "Procurement board." which would guarantee value for money. Officers even warned Councillors that the project would be over budget before the builders even won the contract!

So who is to blame for this over spend? Well in theory it is the Government because the rules governing Utility pipes has changed again and the Council has to pick up the tab to make sure they are protected during the building works.

But the warning that there was to be an overspend happened last year and some one still gave a green light on the project. So who is responsible? Someone must be... Is it Councillor Jarrett as the over all financial controller? Is it Robin Cooper Chief officer for regeneration? Or is it someone else?

It is time that someone took responsibility for yet another financial blunder and either fall on their swords or were punished.

Surely we cannot expect to continue like this when services are being cut and we suffer from continued bungling.

We wouldn't accept it from Westminster
We shouldn't accept it from Gun Wharf

A bridge to nowhere or money well (over) spent?- Dan Bloom, Medway Messenger 8-4-12, P.2

Is Liberalism to blame for Society's problems

Apparently so...
We've all experienced a certain amount of anti Libdem feeling (be it on the doorstep, in the form of comments or on Twitter) since the formation of the Coalition and not all of them have been warranted. Thursday, though I went up to the Mess room for the first time in a long while and got into a lively debate about politics with a couple of colleagues. I should be clear that they started it.

Both formerly voted Libdem in 2010 one had voted Tory in the past and the other Labour but is ardently anti Conservative - both felt let down. However their point was not that the Liberal Democrat party were evil (despite our current political situation) but rather the notion of Liberalism and neo-Liberalism had done some real damage to British society and politics.

It is easy to see extreme political ideologies as wrong or evil. Nazism for example is clearly wrong and damaging to society (especially non-German), Stalinism and far left/right dictatorships are more than happy to trample on citizens rights and drag a state kicking and screaming towards ITS goals and care for the few, generally at the top, rather than the many. But Liberalism, an ideology that is meant to be so inclusive of all within society and is ultimately about fairness for all and equality with a lack of state interference. Surely that cannot be a bad thing?

Well the argument that was put constructively put forward is that yes it has and not just perpetrated by the Liberal Democrats as we've been out of power since the 1920s we can only be blamed for so much - indeed the other parties are as much to blame.

I should point out that I do not necessarily agree with everything that will appear from this point onwards. I'm merely recording the conversation and giving us all food for thought.

The concern of the Government, both local and national, for every little interest group and sub sect of society means that ultimately measures that would benefit the majority of the nation have been dropped. The argument that was used was the Boris Island. North Kent would ultimately benefit from the people, bring in many jobs and with the correct transport links could rejuvenate the whole Country.
Although I agreed for the most part I also stood up for the environmental damage it would cause to an area of specific beauty and importance and also for residents like me who'd find themselves living under a flight path.

Other things came to Human rights and the law. In cases like Abu Qatada and Abu Hansa, men who were trying to incite violence against civilians and average British citizens and the Government had put them under house arrest with no access to computers or telephones but could not keep them imprisoned or deport them because of their rights. At least in Prison their contact could be regulated and it was known that they were where they were meant to be. After all are we not at war with these people? Would you have let a German officer roam the streets of London as long as he didn't tell people how great Nazism was or try to contact Berlin? The same thing with secret courts. Yes there should be fair trials but if the evidence that is to be heard is secret and the Intelligence used could be detrimental in the wrong hands then why not have it behind closed doors in the interest of Public safety? We'd be sacrificing the safety of the majority for a few possible terrorists. Again, are we not at war with terror and isn't this a sensible war time measure?

Then there was the alienation of the British Working class from politics by the big three paties. It cannot be denied that voters have turned away from politics and the big argument is that people at the top just don't get it. The big three in the Coalition (Cameron, Osborne and Clegg) are multi-millionaires they've never had to struggle on the bottom of the heap. Even some MPs are detached from the reality of life for the working classes and instead have their pet projects like Free schools, Big Society, Electoral reform all of which won't make the blindest bit of difference to the working man's life and is a waste of time and money. The do-gooders who want to help everyone and re balance society so that it is fairer are losing site of the majority and refocusing on the minorities that are being left behind and so that get more of a voice than they should have. Yes there should be equality and consideration to other people's views and lifestyles but you cannot force things like employment quotas. For example one company that one of us had worked for had stated in its new influx of employees there would be no white staff as they had fallen behind (due to natural wastage) in its diversity quota. The Metropolitan Police a few years back were only hiring officers from an Afro-Caribbean background and they were more likely to get fast tracked to Sergeant over white officers. The Labour front bench MUST have 33% women at least, so even if you'd make a great minister you may not get a position based on your gender. Surely, this is active discrimination they said, surely positions should be allocated on merit and not your ethnicity. Whether or not that is the case another argument put forward was that the working families or the unemployed see immigrants getting jobs, such as the local cleaning company being made up of South Americans, Africans and Asians, and UK citizens unemployed.
Though of course I honestly believe that part of the reason for that is because some people wouldn't take that sort of work deeming themselves better than that and holding out for a better job. But successive Government's attitude to Immigration has led, apparently, to this break down and it all comes from a liberal, Do gooder stance of; We must let these people come here. This coupled with the Politician's spin, in an attempt to look more liberal and helpful, supporting minority causes left right and centre which has left the majority under represented.

As I said at the beginning, I don't believe most of this but it did make me think. After all Liberalism is about everybody and Mills does warn of the "tyranny of the Minority."
It does seem that Westminster can get caught up in minority cases rather than the Majority. Week in week out an opposition MP will stand up at PMQS and say;Mrs X from my constiteuncy has been unemployed for 7 years anc cannot get a job and now the Government are taking her cat allowance from her because they've capped it at 3 cats. She has fourteen cats - does this government discriminate against Cat loving widows now?
Ok its a silly example but those who regularly watch PMQS will know what I mean. Of course anyone can use any single example to attack a case. I know of an SS judge who went to Buchenwald concentration camp and was so horrified at what he saw he order red the arrest of the Commandant for "Murdering Jewish prisoners." he also sent his adjutant to investigate Auschwitz believing that prisoners were being badly treated and executed there too. Does this mean that the Nazis were against Genocide?

It is the same for Mrs X above. A government measure that will benefit a majority of people and/or free up millions of pounds is being attacked because a minority of people will suffer from it - in this case crazy cat women. When the Government argue against it they just appear heartless and cruel - poor Mrs X!
There is also the Internationalist Liberal stance that dictates our European policy. Criticism of Europe and its many organs and processes are well known and I shan't repeat those here. What I will say is that the Liberal ideal of equal rights means and the attachment to the European Court of Human rights means that Britain is no longer the mistress of her own laws. Foreign Judges and legal experts can overturn British Law which many see as unconstitutional. How can unelected foreigners tell the British Government how to do its business? The Same is true for the EU - the arguments that Germany and France are the dictating powers and that Britain has to comply. This further alienates voters who have sympathy with other Libdem ideals and see them as a sensible opposition to Labour or the Conservatives but are not fond of Europe or the Internationalist part.

 I don't have any solutions. I take some of the criticisms on board, and I think to a degree it is clear that the majority do feel that they are maligned, whether they are or not is another story. We as a nation need to address that and readdress the balance. Minority causes attract a lot of media attention and thus politicians trying to get more and more votes which isn't necessarily the right thing to do. In some cases, like the Ghurkas, it is the right thing, in others its just a PR stunt. If anything maybe Liberalism is being taken to its extreme rather than the broad base that was suggested by Mill. Maybe we should take a step back and try to represent the Majority rather than every minority.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Tracey Crouch on unfair Banking fees

"Our Woman in Westminster"
Reading through Good Friday's Medway Messenger I turned to the "letters page" - Yeah I'm one of those people... Any way, this weeks Party People was another report from Tracey Crouch MP about bank charges. *woot!!!*

The thrust was about disproportionate bank charges and Tracey cited the example of forgetting to pay her credit card subscription, something all of us forget from time to time and the charge that came with it. In this case the original fine charge was £7.75 and the additional fine was a further £12. For the benefit of Mr Balls if he's reading this, it comes to £19.75 in the red.

Ok, for an MP on lets say £48k a year (as my maths is a little slow on the uptake, even I can divide that by 12!!!) and earning some £4k a month (see!) a £20 fine is inconvenient. For someone like me on £21k it is a pain in the arse, for someone on £10k and less it can lead to more spiralling debt.

As Tracey rightly says, yes Pay day loan companies do get a lot of press and rightly so, anyone who offers you a couple of grand til pay day and then whacks 2000% interest over a year - and I wish that was an exaggeration - should be brought to light. Seriously next time there is a advert on read the small print and look at the API and be staggered. So if you took out £100's and took a year to pay it back you could end up paying £200000s. Add this into a low salary and debts that are high enough for you to consider going to one of these companies and you are looking at a spiralling black hole that you may never get out of.
Similarly there is Brighthouse, which on the face of it offers good value. You can buy those pesky white goods and spread the cost but again check the API because its surprisingly high!

Anyway back to topic bank charges. Tracey is quite right these are a pain in the backside and one of the reasons my Wife and I closed our joint account at Natwest and joined HSBC. Every time we were but a couple of quid over the limit we got a £20 fine which was deducted the following month and because we were on a budget, which didn't include fines, would put us over the limit the following month and thus the cycle continued.
In fact, after my Grandfather died and I was waiting to see an adviser about closing his accounts I overheard a man in Chatham Natwest saying something along the lines that;

Every month I get a fresh fine that takes me over and then you fine me again! I can't afford it anymore! Do you know how much I've paid on bloody fines?

The problem is not that the bank is fining those who have maybe been a little bit flash with the cash or have had an extra expenditure this month but rather the amount that they charge you for doing so. After all £5's over should not result in a £12 fine. It can obviously trap people in a spiralling debt that is hard to get out of.

I look forward to seeing the outcome of Tracey raising this in Parliament, by removing disproportionate fines it will through another bone to the already hard pressed. The job of a bank is not to make money out of its patrons rather to be entrusted with our savings.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good bye Miss Bell...

Miss Bell with Martin Johnson during a visit
Today is a sad day for me.

One of my best friends is leaving work for a much better job and a bright future.

Caroline and I have been friends for about three and a half years and she's helped me through a particularly nasty period of my life and I've always tried to be there for her and help her through things.

More than once have we found ourselves walking around the park chatting things over or emergency talks down on Lower Ground floor... hugs and tears and fights and laughs.

We've had some really good times, like me prank calling her office, or trying to get Martin Johnson's autograph during a visit, or even her one day of Messenger training with me... We both went out on a delivery runs, I came back with a sack of post, she came back with nothing but a Latte!
Around the Easter 2010 we started talking politics for the first time and found we were on opposite sides of the spectrum, she is a Tory and was horrified to find I agreed with Nick and during the election we did have a clash over European and Immigration policy! We text through the all night results as they came in. During the Coalition discussions Caroline called me and said;
You... You wouldn't form a government with Labour would you?
I promised to speak to Nick for her... I did send an email off especially for her on the off chance.
Since the Coalition, we've decided not to talk politics!!!

It's going to be tough at work without her here, seeing her was always a highlight and I'll miss our lunches and trips to KFC... but most of all I'll miss her friendship. She's going to a much better post and I'm really pleased and proud of her.

We're going to stay in touch as much as possible and I hope to see her again for KFC especially on our birthday. (25th November - I'm 1980 she's 1983) I really hope that we can stay friends.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Five years on.

Five years ago today my Grandfather died.

My father left when I was eight and my two Grandfathers stepped in to fill the void and take his place. I was always closer to Pop, mainly because Granddad Pullen, though a good man, wasn't as warm when my sister and I were young. He'd been away a lot when my Mother was small and I think he was at a loss of what to do with us!

Pop always treated us as adults, he spoilt us rotten too, and he was always willing to talk, often over vast ranging topics and he really helped shape the way I am today and maybe my politics. I know he was a fan of Churchill and I convinced him once or twice to vote Libdem in local elections but apart from his Republicanism and love of Cromwell I knew little of his politics.
We used to talk for hours over Red/white wine about history and debate ideas and he would help me with my History and German.

He above all taught me to be a Gentleman and it is something I try to maintain and there were several words of wisdom I cling to;

Courtesy costs nothing.
Sometimes you are the statue, other times the pigeon.
You can slide further on Bull sh*t than you can on gravel.

I won't bore you with stories from his time fighting Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring or crime in Brixton as a Police Sargent but needless to say he had a good time and saw many amazing things.

I was in Edinburgh when he fell... My Mum told me not to worry... I called Medway hospital on the Monday and they wouldn't let me speak to him - I planned to see him on that Saturday but it was not to be. I should not have gone in to work that Wednesday, I should have charged my mobile and got the call earlier...
I missed him, I was almost home when I got the news that he had gone.

The next day I sat in the chapel of rest with him and promised him I would be a better man, that I'd pull myself out of the rut I'd found myself in... I'd like to hope that I have.

I have a mortgage on the house that had been his, I have a better job than before, I married Sam (though he was not fond of her) and I have a fantastic daughter that he would have adored with another on the way. I think back to that day I last saw him or to the funeral and think of what has happened in those five years and often think; What would Pop do or say or think? There have been many times I've needed his counsel. I miss him everyday.

Five years isn't that long a time yet it seems like an eternity.

I hope that he would be proud of me and that I've done the right thing. One day - if we are both wrong - we may see each other again and I hope that on that day we can chat, have a drink and I can tell him all about my family.

Until then, tonight I shall raise a glass of Rhinessen in fond memory of him.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Two Faced Tories?

Janus the Two faced God
Residents in Medway towns who have not heard of the on going sagaof Boris Island or the Grain hub have either just moved to the area - in which case; Welcome to the area- or just woken up from hibernation - in which case; Morning and welcome to 2012!

Various Political groups are trying to keep this in the public eye for numerous reasons (good and selfserving) and especially as the London Mayoral election reaches its climax.
The latest cries from the opposition is that Two faced local Tories are backing Boris in the election so putting the party before local electorate seeing as Boris wants the Hub and Ken doesn't.

On the face of the matter they're right, but life is just not that simple.

I've got a background in studying Military history. Years of studying and writing about the Luftwaffe and British Army in the Colonies and the facts are Black and White.
The Commanding officer gives their orders and the Pilots or Soldiers  carry out their orders and it has a cause and effect.

Marshall Ney ordered a mass Cavalry attack on Wellington's right flank at Waterloo. Wellington's officers order "Form Square," Battalion's form square and their officers order standard Infantry firing drill and the attack was repulsed... Quick, Dry, Simple.

Politics is not black and white but so many shades of grey.

Unfortunately it is not as simplistic. In this case it is easy to say the Conservatives are backing Boris before considering their own voters in Medway. Boris is indeed the original proponent of the Airport hub, no denial there. However the proposal has moved forward and there are many other supporters that will continue to push for the airport IF Boris goes in May.

The Proposal has also passed to the Ministry of Transport and is going to be put through the Aviation contingency plan and the whole thing is going out for Consultation - It is now completely out of Boris' hands in the same way as it would be out of Ken's hands (as he has promised to oppose the idea.). Damage has already been done by Boris.

Further to that, Boris has promised things that would benefit the Medway resident, including promising to review and cut Tube fares which would be a massive benefit to commuters like myself. There is also the green legacy of the Boris bike and.... I'm going to be honest now, I've not really looked into Boris' record as I'm not that interested in either of the key proponents but I do prefer Boris to the somewhat odious Ken. More importantly though this is not a single issue election.

I'm a Libdem, I agree with Nick and a lot of the things the Coalition and the Parliamentary party do But I don't agree with everything they do, which is why I continue to disagree with the Airport and will fight it all the way through consultation and beyond. I also do not agree with the Tuition Fees hike, I thought we were wrong to vote for it in the numbers we did but... I would still vote Libdem again locally and nationally because they have come through on other issues and not because I am a party member, I've not always blindly voted Libdem for everything.

Local Conservative Councillors back Boris because they believe (airport aside) that he has done a good job overall as Mayor. Is that so terrible?
Local Labour, who have called for tightening the tax laws to stop people skipping what they owe but back Ken because they believe he did a better job. Surely that could make them two faced as well over the tax issue?
The fact is, there is no harm in backing Boris now as the damage is done. Ken's promises to oppose the airport on his election is merely grabbing the opposite side of the debate to attract votes and nothing more.

Should Boris win and the airport get built he gets praise.
Should Boris win and the airport isn't built he gets praised for doing the best for London.
Should Ken win and the airport gets built then it was the Tory Government who let us down.
Should Ken win and the airport isn't built he gets praised for stopping it.

It is all a haze of overlapping interests and Party and issues. It is in no way as simplistic as the "Two faced Tories" claim makes it sound. In my opinion its disingenuous and is playing the electorate for fools. Why not be honest? Why is Politics full of these games?