Sunday, 24 March 2013

Lodge Hill, planning and Medway Regeneration

Earlier this week I read a really good blogpost on the Nightingale situation at Lodgehill and followed it up with the local press reports from the week before and felt moved to write to the Medway Messenger letters page for this Friday, on behalf of the local party - having received my Chair's green light.

Unfortunately it wasn't published but I have published it here instead, I have also expanded the letter as well as I have more space to manoeuvre and to explain.

The original letter appears in Italics.

I am sure I can speak for many who care about the conservation of England's wildlife when I say I'm pleased about the colony of Nightingales on the Hoo peninsula and the SSI.

Too often we see local authorities ready to send in the bulldozers and play havoc with our biosphere.

I was very disappointed by Councillor Chambers' comments in local and national press regarding Government agencies "delaying" the "much needed homes"

I'll come to the housing part in a moment. I want to concentrate on Cllr Chambers' comments (and those of Cllr Chitty the portfolio holder for this sort of thing) as they directly bemoaned a Government agency stopping another Government agency from doing its much needed business.

As Britain's natural habitats are quickly being eaten up, ancient woodlands, marshlands, green fields all swallowed up for the ever expanding urban areas.

Britain's natural wildlife is also in rapid decline, the number of sparrows have fallen, foxes are forced to enter urban areas in search of food as their natural habitats are destroyed.

We should be welcoming the discovery that this stretch of land is so vitally important to the Nation's Nightingale population.

Yes it is annoying, from the council's point of view, yes it voids the vasts amounts of tax payers money spent on the project up until now but to fight it and to remonstrate with another faceless "Government agency" (backed by the RSPB) over something like this is foreseeably a bigger waste of money and makes you look like a lot of (excuse my Anglo-Saxon) uncaring bastards.

It would be better to put your hands up say "Fair cop gov" and then look at ways that this could be exploited for everyone's benefit. Perhaps a nature walk, better roads out to the site and amenities for bird watchers, naturalists (not nudists!) and tourists. Make it part of the local economy in a good way so people will say:

Let's go to Medway, they've got that lovely park with the Nightingales

Does that not sound better?

Although the project would provide much needed jobs surely we could reemploy the resources on much needed regeneration within the existing towns like our crumbling roads and abandoned houses.

Win for the council, win for residents and win for nature. Don't waste more money on an appeal and tearing up a rare habitat and reinvest in what we already have?

It is true that the Medway does need more affordable housing especially new housing, to attract young couples to the towns to breathe in some life and much needed funds.

There is also a need for jobs. The average wage for someone in Medway is around £14k PA, this is not really enough. I'm in the job market at the moment looking to reallocate from working in London to working closer to home so I can spend more time with my young family and my bed! However as I'm not a labourer, nor qualified for teaching, estate agency or driving I'm finding it pretty hard to find anything at the moment and am forced to stay in my current employ.

Why did a young couple such as myself and Sam reallocate to Medway in the first place?

Well the answer is two fold;

 1. My grandfather had passed away and left me half the value of his house and we could get a mortgage.

2. Sam could be closer to her Mum who has not been to too well and as her younger Brother's guardian it would be better to be closer to home.

Otherwise, we might have stayed in Winchester where we had more opportunities and albeit a smaller flat.

The Medway towns needs something to attract workwise as well as the housing.

Unfortunately much of the existing Medway towns is run down and in dire need of regeneration. I'm not talking about Cllr Jarrett et al's plan to glorify Chatham Central, I mean residential, urban areas such as Gillingham North and South, parts of Chatham, Strood...

There are plenty of spots which could do with rejuvination, empty houses that could be sorted out and could be sold on to young couples. The Government have put in a scheme to make housing improvements easier, why not take advantage of this and encourage renevation businesses locally.

There's jobs, there's money, there's decent housing.

There are also other sites, former industrial and commercial sites in Medway where the same projects could be carried out on a much smaller scale and over a wider area.

In short, this is a kick in the nuts, unavoidably so and nothing that can be blamed on political ineptitude, it is just one of those things. However there are things that can be done, a redistribution of the resources and taking this opportunity to do something positive.

Also, as Councillor Chris Irvine said in his blog; It'll be interesting to see what this development will have on the plans for Boris Island etc...

Letter from the leader: Behind the budget

Dear Chris,

Agreeing the Budget is a long and painstaking process.

It started at the beginning of the year, with a presentation by the Chancellor to the Quad (that’s me, him, the PM and Danny Alexander). The information is confidential enough that everyone in the room –even the PM – has to give back the print outs at the end of the meeting for them to be locked away in the Treasury again.

And the discussions on the fine details of our policy plans went right up to the last minute with a succession of emails and phone calls between our offices agreeing changes to the small print.
The series of meetings in between were, as ever, all absorbing, as we traded proposal and counter-proposal and, slowly, a consensus emerged. The one that sticks in my mind most of all was held on a Sunday evening, in an otherwise deserted 10 Downing Street, right after our Spring Conference.
It being a Sunday evening, when most of us would have given anything to be at home with our families, someone laid on dinner. We all had cottage pie as we pored over the figures and agreed the plans.

And at the end of all that economic analysis, confidential briefings and cottage pie, I think we put together a Budget Liberal Democrats can be really proud of.

We cut taxes for people on low and middle incomes: ensuring that from next April no-one will pay tax on the first £10,000 they earn – a total £700 tax cut for millions of working people.
We stopped a planned rise in fuel duty, helping people with one of the biggest worries they face: how to afford to fill up the tank to get to work.

And we’re backing people who want to buy a home with a new scheme called Help to Buy which effectively makes the “bank of mum and dad”many first time buyers have had to rely on available to everyone: an equity loan, on favourable terms, to make your deposit money go further and help you get a mortgage.

This Budget has Lib Dem credentials all through it. Bringing forward the date for Steve Webb's flat rate pension and the cap on care costs for the elderly put forward by Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb. And the cut in beer duty my Yorkshire colleague Greg Mulholland has fought so valiantly for in his campaign to save the local pub!

Of course the Budget wasn’t all good news. The economy is still struggling to emerge from the massive shock it suffered. That's why we sensibly decided to let the debt target slip another year - sticking to our overall plan, but not dogmatically so. As I said at our Spring Conference, we've got to be unflinching but not unthinking in our approach.

That's why we are doing everything possible to get the economy moving, and balance the books. Even in these difficult times, more will be spent on infrastructure in this decade than Labour managed in the last - even though they spent money hand over fist on almost everything else. This budget announced investment in the construction of social and private rented homes, a new £2000 employee allowance to cut the cost of National Insurance when businesses take on staff, and an industrial strategy that has already put £1bn into Britain’s world-beating aviation industry.

This Budget does exactly what I hoped: it delivers on our core objective to build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Government money to pay for childcare

Hopefully good news from today's budget.

My two monkeys - Sophie & Ollie
The Government are set to announce that working families, such as mine, will be able to claim money towards child care costs up to £1200 a year.

This will be somewhat invaluable to those on low incomes.

Taking my family as an example, in July we'll have both of our children in day care for three days a week allowing Sam to go back to work and add to our income and then split our days off so that one of us will look after the kids on four days a week. The problem is that it will cost around £300s a month each.

With train fares, rising food costs and utilities that will leave us pretty much cleaned out at the end of the month. Child tax credits do help endlessly but if we could have extra money we could spend money on other things including much needed house repair (stop our bathroom ending up in our kitchen or double glazing or central heating that sort of thing). Without this we may have seen Sam have to give up work as it becomes more uneconomical to work.

This will be true for many across the country who are in a similar boat.

Though as Sam pointed out - it is ok to say people can go back to work but does that mean there are jobs to go back into...

Any way, here's what Nick had to say:

The Liberal Democrats set out in Government to help the millions of ordinary families that face crushingly high childcare costs each year.

Today I have announced that these families will soon be able to get up to £1200 off the cost of childcare for every child.

I'm sure you will agree that's much needed relief for many in these difficult times.
It will help parents make their own choices about how and when they return to work. Figures show that more than half of stay at home parents would rather work if good quality and affordable childcare was available. Many more would be able to increase the hours they work too.

That's the kind of fairer society we are fighting for.

The scheme is simple. The Government will pay 20% of your childcare costs – up to an upper limit of £6000 of total costs, i.e. £1200 per child per year. Parents simply need to open an online voucher account - For every 80p they pay in, the Government will add in an extra 20p to within the limits set. 20% is the same as the basic rate of tax – so we are effectively offering tax free childcare.

To ensure we help everyone – people on low as well as higher incomes – we've also announced that many working families receiving universal credit will have 85% of their childcare costs covered in future (up from 70% in the benefits system today.)  Those who earn enough to pay tax will be eligible for this extra support so we can make sure work pays. A great boost to help parents on low incomes back into work.

Don't forget, we couldn't have done this without you.

Together we are making the Liberal Democrat voice in Government stronger and more effective than our critics ever believed possible.

Whether it's on childcare, Ed Davey's work to cut energy bills, Steve Webb's work on a flat rate pension of about £140 a week or Danny Alexander cutting income tax bills by £600, we are making a real difference across Government.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Nick Clegg's Press release: Press regulation, a liberal solution

Having been in face to face negotiations till nearly midnight last night - followed by calls, texts and emails for many hours afterwards - I am delighted to have stood up this afternoon in the House of Commons to welcome the cross-party agreement on implementing the Leveson Report. It wasn’t easy but after a lot of hard work - led on our side by the tireless Jim Wallace, we have got there.

The Leveson Inquiry was established after public revulsion at the phone hacking scandal. So, when Lord Justice Leveson published his recommendations to reform the regulation of the press, the Liberal Democrats took a stand for the victims of press abuse, and supported them.

In fact, I took the unprecedented step of making a separate statement in the House of Commons, on an issue where we disagreed with the Prime Minister. Having been honest with the public about our differences, it was then our duty to sit down with all parties and come to an agreement.

As I mentioned in my latest “Letter from the Leader”, we set out three tests for press regulation in the future:

Delivering Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.

  1. Commanding the widest possible cross-party support, as Lord Justice Leveson also wanted.
  2. Striking the right balance between protecting and cherishing the great tradition of a free press in this country, and protecting innocent people from unwarranted intimidation and bullying by powerful interests in our media.
What has been agreed today meets those tests.

We will achieve Leveson through the Royal Charter published by the Liberal Democrats and Labour last week. Our Royal Charter ensures that editors cannot sign off their own code of conduct; cannot veto appointments to the watchdog; can accept complaints from third party groups, and must apologise properly when they make mistakes.

And, crucially, all parties have now agreed that there should be a minimal clause in law that will prevent future governments chopping and changing the new system on a whim. This was important to me as, without it, the door would be open to political meddling by future governments. We cannot take this risk.

With these protections we have got the best possible outcome today: a fair, independent press watchdog to serve the British people while protecting our free press – a thoroughly liberal solution.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Norman Baker making tracks

Interestingly, Libdem Rail minister Norman Baker's band is releasing an album.

The band was re-formed in 1990 and Mr Baker was quoted in the Metro as saying this;

I've done it now because I thought I should get round to it before I'm too clapped out. That'll be about ten years hence.

I would't write a song slagging the prime minister. I was never going to write about politics. That would be naff.

However, that's not the thrust of this post. As I read the Metro the reporter, Fred Attewill, had included a retort from the Tax Payers alliance's Jonathan Isaby:

I hope it doesn't distract him from the huge cost of HS2, with which he is about to burden the taxpayer. He needs to make sure his sums add up.


Ok, I get the relivance, really I do but for Pete's sake. It's what Norman Baker does in his personal time, completely devolved from politics.If Norman Baker was making a complete hash of his post or wasn't working dutifully then, yes I'd take the point but he is so what are the TPA chattering on about?

Everyone has there personal life away from Government be it local or national and in this case the story is a purely, almost fun story, of a minister showing his human side.

Would anyone judge local Cllr Chris Irvine for being in a band?

Would anyone judge Nick Clegg for taking time off with his kids? (sadly yes)

Would anyone judge David Cameron bringing his boys to the Imperial War Museum?

Would anyone judge Tracey Crouch for managing her Girls Football team?

It's got bugger all to do with politics or policy it's what he does in his personal time and as long as doesn't interfear with their work lives then what's the problem?

For me I'm kind of lucky, Politics is my hobby really, something I do when I'm not at work or with my family. It is for my quiet time or Train time until I can afford a really nice model train set - then I'm sure a detractor would attack me for doing that and not looking at policy!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Letter from the Nick Clegg; Protecting the individual and press freedom

Dear Chris,

When I came into work on Monday morning I thought this week was going to be about two things. First - National Apprenticeship Week, celebrating the achievements of the million new apprentices who have started training under this government. And second - finalising the Budget for next week.

But that got rather overtaken on Thursday morning. The Prime Minister decided to pull the plug on cross-party talks on implementing a new system of independent, self regulation for the press, as proposed by the Leveson Inquiry. I was surprised and disappointed by this decision, but I am determined not to walk away from the cross-party approach.

The next big moment on this will be on Monday, when the House of Commons will vote on what to do next.

This has been a long and painstaking process – it must not be derailed.

This is going to dominate headlines over the weekend, so I’ve made my own contribution by writing an article for this morning’s Times [subscription required], where I set out the position I’ve been taking in these negotiations, and what the party will seek to do on Monday.

We need a careful balance. On the one hand, we must vigorously defend our free press. On the other, we must protect people from harassment and bullying by powerful interests in the media.

The Prime Minister is arguing for a Royal Charter, but it falls short of meaningful reform. The other option, backed by some campaigners, is a full legislative approach. I’ve always agreed with them that this approach could work, But on an issue as sensitive as press freedom, we need as much agreement across the parties as possible. So I’ve been working for a middle way, one which I believe supporters of all three parties can back.

It simply takes the Prime Minister’s proposal Royal Charter and strengthens it in five specific ways.

One: editors would not be granted a special veto over the individuals sitting on the regulatory body.

Two: whilst editors, journalists and independent members of a standards committee will hold the pen in drafting any changes to the Press Code, those changes would require the consent of the regulator’s board.

Three: under David Cameron’s proposal, when mistakes are made newspapers would decide how to apologise to the individuals involved. Even if that meant the apology for an offensive front page was just a few sentences hidden away in the paper. Under our proposal, the regulator would ensure apologies are proportionate and fair.

Four: the regulator would have greater discretion in accepting complaints from third parties. So, for example, if a domestic violence charity wanted to voice its concern over the portrayal of a woman in a story about abuse, it would be easier for the regulator to consider that complaint.

Finally, we would put in place an explicit safeguard against future governments playing around with the Royal Charter – a crucial guarantee for both the public and the press.
My article in the Times goes into more detail on all of this, if you want to read more [subscription required].

But what I’d like you to do most of all, is get in touch with your MP and help persuade them to vote for this beefed-up Royal Charter on Monday. The vote is crucial for all of us who want press regulation to really change after the phone hacking scandal. This middle way is the best chance to secure the lasting change we all want.

Best wishes,

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Medway hospital; mergers, mortality and management

I remember my 27th birthday very clearly.

I was at Medway hospital with my Mum, sister, grandfather and my 90 year old grandmother who was suffering from dementia and had suffered a fall and had a nasty leg wound. After a long wait in triage she was moved on trolley to a staging area for another few hours. As time went by mum became most distraught and asked the only nearby nurse for assistance, namely the wound dressed and water for a dehydrated patient who had no idea what was happening.

"I'm doing my paperwork" she was told.

After half an hour my Mum spoke loudly and with a huff and a puff the nurse finally complied.

It boils down to a 90 year old dementia sufferer was left on a trolley with an untreated open wound with out water because paperwork is more important than care.

Medway's Liberal Democrats have worked hard with the hospital on many issues. We have also opposed the joint merger with Darant Valley because of fears that it was being done purely for financial reasons and that patient care would suffer immensely. Medway maritime has a large catchment area, covering much of North Kent and even Sheppey with approximately 1 million people.

Many of our ward constituents have voiced concerns over the merger as Daren't valley is difficult to get too by public transport, as well as expensive. Embarrassingly it is easier and cheaper to come up to London!

Unfortunately, the constituents have had very little voice during consultation as the regular meetings and forums were only available for the Trust's members. It seems that, even though problems have been identified and raised to the Hospital Board they had become fixed on pushing this through solely for the money and ignoring valid concerns of patients, users and patient groups as well as their elected local representitives.

However, the merger has been put on hold due to Medway's high levels of mortality. On Thursday Chatham & Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch raised concerns in Westminster;
The Medway Maritime hospital is under investigation for higher than expected hospital standardised mortality rates, and there is currently a specific outlier alert on septicaemia. Worrying, this is not the first time this has happened. Discrepancies in coding were highlighted way back in 2008 with the discovery that 8% of deaths were being recorded as end-of-life care when the proportion should have been 37% ... A clear manipulation and distortion.

I, like Tracey presumably, am not accusing Medway of repeated malpractice but clearly there are issues that need addressing. I would sincerely hope that there will be maximum transparency and not just to the Trust's members.

I'd like to tell another story.

About a decade ago a nurse was struck off for failing in patient care. On a night shift an understaffed ward (1 nurse, an auxiliary and an agency) forced the nurse, with no training or real supervisory training to take charge of the shift. In the middle of the night she heard a noise that could have been a slap but was unsure. Having seen the agency with a confused elderly patient moments before she presumed it had been an altercation. With no one senior about and with no evidence of wrong doing as well as dealing with a whole ward to deal with she thought she'd report it to a superior first thing in the
Morning. She was suspended and taken to tribunal for failure to act straight away despite all the problems.

She was sacked.

A more legally savvy relative tried to appeal the case and dig up information on the processes involved and was met with an sir of hostility that ended with the threat of legal action for harassment.

As I understand it there has been quite a history of bullying at Medway hospital, indeed Rehman Chishti has been up there three times for this reason yet it is still continuing, however it was Tracey (not Rehman) who bought it up in Parliament again;

A culture of bullying and its suppression within the NHS has been mentioned. The latest staff survey at the Medway Maritime hospital shows that there is still a perception that bullying is widespread.

Then of course there was the motivational speaker issue that made the national press (here) with up to a hundred jobs being lost but £140k available for a motivational speaker...

Something is not right up at the Maritime hospital. Although I can report that every time I have been there the nursing and medical staff have been fantastic and this is in no way a slight at hard working individuals on little pay, there is something questioning the management and its practises and would encourage greater transparity for patient groups and families and where there is liability the right course of action is taken.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Nick Clegg on Cameron's step down

As you may have seen this morning the Prime Minister has decided to call off the cross-party talks on implementing the Leveson proposals on press regulation.

Throughout the talks I have sought to defend a free press while making sure ordinary people can be protected from unwarranted harassment and bullying by powerful interests in the press.

I was surprised and disappointed when David Cameron told Ed Miliband and myself that he felt there was no chance of us reaching an agreement. The talks had appeared to be progressing well with a genuine desire to come to a solution that would provide a robust, independent press regulator.

There are some issues - such as allowing the press to veto who sits on the independent regulator and whether the regulator should be able to direct newspaper apologies - where I disagreed with the Prime Minister, but these appeared to be issues that could be worked through.

Lord Justice Leveson went to enormous lengths to deliver a considered verdict on the way independent self-regulation of the press should work in the future and then rightly told politicians that the ball was in our court.

I remain determined to meet his challenge and find a workable solution with like-minded members of all parties.

As I said in my statement to the House when the Leveson Report was published:

"We need to get on with this without delay. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing. Too long for an independent press watchdog in which they can put their trust. I am determined we do not make them wait any more."

That remains my view and it remains what I intend to help deliver.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Eastleigh spirit isn't enough

Unfortunatly Paddy can't be everywhere
Recently I saw an article comparing the hard fought Eastleigh by-election to the battle of Stalingrad. Though I can see some parallels in the great scheme of things and country wide campaigns it doesn't stand up, after all Stalingrad saw the beginning of the end of the Wehrmacht in Russia and the Soviets sweeping west to Berlin and victory.

A more fitting analogy would be the early years of German blitzkrieg.

Now bear with me whilst I indulge my other hobby...

The Blitzkrieg worked by massing forces at a Schwehrpunkt before creating conditions of aerial superiority. At the expense of the rest of the frontline they would dominate a local area. This was due to limited resources, equipment and money. The only thing they had in good supply were some of the finest trained and hard working infantry in the world.

In Eastleigh, hard working foot soldiers, years of vital intelligence and canvassing techniques were combined with the heavy artillery and armoured columns of our MPs, Tim Farron, Nick Clegg and the dynamic Lord Ashdown. With the whole party's attention and support coupled by what we do best, grafting and hard fought canvassing, victory could be achieved.

I'm not saying it was easy or down playing the hard work that every one put in, far from it, I'm in awe.

2015, however is a different campaign and on a wider scale. Such favourable ground and mass party support cannot be afforded when we will be fighting on a national scale as well as local elections. The country's media will not be paying the same amount of attention to every seat, if you get an opponent who has foot-in-mouth like Maria Hutchins the chances of national exposure are a lot smaller.

National party members won't be donating to your elections, local Chairs or candidates won't be able to call on Nick or Tim to help canvass. Without sounding like the voice of doom, local associations should plan for the likely event that they will be defending or attacking on their own. Though I'm sure HQ will form local Schwehrpunkts in areas that are seen as vital holds, areas like Medway will not be on the list as we will be low priority and resources will be ear marked for elsewhere.

Labour will be coming for our party in 2015 in a similar way as the Soviets post Stalingrad, with numbers, backing, media, propaganda and riding high on anti-Government vote.

What we can take from Eastleigh is that our activists work damn hard and are exceptional at what they do on the doorstep. We have a message of success in Government and locally and, just like Eastleigh we can dig in and fight - more importantly we can win and I intend to do that right here in the Medway towns.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Ashley Judd may not be allowed to stand in Kentucky

It was interesting to read on International Women's day last Friday that Television and Movie star Ashley Judd (pictured here in her role as Ensign Robin Lefler in Star Trek TNG) may be barred from standing for the US senate because she has appeared topless in her role as an actresss.

This seems unnecesarily ridiculous. Had she made pornographic movies or illegal material I could understand but if you take a few moments to IMDB her filmography you'll see there is nothing of that nature here at all. Even if she had made Pornography in the past why should that block someone from being an elected representitive? Surely that is up to the electorate to decide.

In the case of Ms Judd, the movies in which she has appeared nude she ha done so for entertainment value, because it was a requirement of the script and/or it was artistic. It seems a horrific double standard that the American entertainment industry, and indeed the movie going public are happy to have naked women in their productions but still castigate the actresses later for doing so.
The double standard is then further pushed when you think of the topless imagery of male actors, such as Governor Schwarzenehger and everyone just shrugs. So its ok for a man to do it but not a woman?

It hasn't been a problem in the UK where Glenda Jackson MP has a similar past and as an actress appeared naked on screen but it was never a focus of her excellent political career for this nation.

According to the Washington Post article by Chris Cillizza, the current Republican encumbant Mitch McConnell specialises in attacking his opponants and the movie appearances may be an extra arrow in his quiver, there will certainly be conservatives within Kentucky who would be turned away from her just because of it. Though let's be honest, the people who would take offence to it would probably vote Republican anyway.

Other problems facing Judd is that she has been parachuted in to the state to run and that her residence in Tenesee is proving a major road block and one that is being exploited by McConnell already. Even Kentucky Democrats are getting shakey about it, they fear that as a celebrity with plenty of soundbites that could be seen as controversial in Kentucky, there will be more than enough.

Electing Ashley Judd gets a Republican Legislature elected. That's what I see at stake here. Your perspective is different if you're in New York or Los Angeles. They don't live here. We do. Judd's candidacy makes it seamlessly easy to Obama-ize this election

Which is more than a fair comment, after all making comments like;

Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs... Dare I...go so to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women’s leaking fistulas

Although at the time, she was writing about the conflict mineral mining in Africa and the sufferings of locals that are often missed by consumers who don't think of where or how their finished products are made which is a very important cause but this will not be looked at kindly if taken out of context by the Republicans.

(I would urge you to read the original article though by Ms Judd (here) it is very thought provoking and should be of benefit to her cause. )

These sorts of causes are popular in California and even New York but the mostly rural Kentucky is going to have a mixed response to it unfortunately and that is what local democrats are fearing, that despite her money raising capability (which would match McConnell) she will also bring damage to the local democtratic brand where as an unknown candidate would point at McConnell's record in Senate without the detractions which their opponant specialises in.

Should Ashley Judd actually stand, this will be an amazing election to watch and I wish her luck in running!

Gillingham's roads dangerous - where are the gritters?

Franklin Road this morning
It is true that the weather in the Medway Towns has taken an unexpected turn for the worse with wind, snow and flurries but it also seems to have caught Medway Council by surprise!

Last night I was heartened by the sight of a solitary gritter going around Gillingham South ward but noted with some concern how icy the roads were like Canadian Avenue, Livingston road and Valley road. It seemed the main roads were OK though.

This morning though the near 0 degrees seems to have shut the whole area down. Despite the Council's twitter stream informing residents that the streets were being cleared and lots of hard work had been done I was forced to beg to differ!

Gillingham, seems to have been forgotten again as main arteries like Sturdee Avenue, Livingston circus and even Nelson Road ( A231) in Gillingham South were slushed, ice rinks and accidents waiting to happen.

I'm not belittling the hard (and difficult work) carried out by the Council's foot soldiers working in these adverse conditions to try and keep Medway running but their coordinators who have been slow on the up take to deal with things this morning. People still have to attempt to go to work, get kids to school or get to elderly relatives and winding up for 9am is simply too late in the day for this.Those of us who have to commute to work, OK I go by train but for those who drive, we need to be there for 9 or 10. I can't talk for the rest of the towns but Gillingham South's roads were left untreated and the pavements treacherous.  We knew this was coming, why on day two are we struggling?

The other question that the Council should be looking at is; are there enough gritters in the fleet. According to the website there are 8 gritters for the whole of the Medway towns. Now granted the main routes have to be a priority but clearly this morning they weren't even completed. Should we be looking at expanding the fleet somewhat or finding a more efficient way of coordinating them?

The twitter stream was helpful though and it did inform plenty of the service closures and a list of schools closed and I would urge residents to please check the Council's website for more information as to closures etc.

Let's just hope Better for less kicks in better tomorrow on Day 3!

Monday, 11 March 2013

NHS must remain in Public domain

About ten years ago documentary maker Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize me fame) made a documentary about living on the Minimum wage in the US. At one point he was injured and went to the local ER, where as he was unable to afford health insurance he had to pay $90 for filling out paperwork and sitting in the waiting room without treatment.

This is illustrative of what could occur here should the NHS start to be broken up.

As a case study let's take an average family and look at their NHS usage.

I was brought up to believe you weren't sick until you were bed ridden. I've very rarely been to the doctors and maintain a self medicated existence usually involving aspirin/ibuprofen or Lambs Navy rum. My health insurance would be quite good. The same is true for my wife who soldiers on through the same illnesses as me and apart from two trips to the maternity wing she has been fairly healthy.

Of course there are the attached services like weighing, health visitors (a service I would much rather do away with considering the hassle we have had from a non-mandatory service), etc etc that would be an added cost or drain on your premium.

Now we reach the kids.

My little girl Sophie has had problem's with walking, we thought it was a muscular problem and she has been attending psyiotherapy for the last two months, with a total of about 15 appointments. She has also been referred to the paediatrician who has seen her twice, she's been fitted with her third pair of Peadro boots to help her walking, a set of splints to help align her feet and is to be given a pair of special tights that have plates etc to help keep the legs where they are supposed to be and using the right muscles.

The latest news has been that she may have Cerebral Palsy or a type of hereditary Spastic Parapalgia (Though I keep getting the wrong condition - it was something like that), which can get worse over time and could in some extreme cases lead to paralysis. I'm hoping that this was just to prepare us for the worse but... Anyway, that aside, the fact is that Soph has more follow up appointments and an MRI scan.

If it turns out to be the second option - again I think it is a version of this I can't remember the exact term and keep getting it wrong but it is something like that - it is something my mother-in-law has (She's had similarly large amount of tests, medication and psyio for it) and developed in her late forties, my wife could similarly develop it.

My followers on Twitter will also be aware of the deteriation of my Grandfather's mental health with a possibility of dementia as well. Well that's been moved forward and he has undergone tests for a possible blood clot in his leg, referrals and we are looking at the possibility of being put into full time care.

Oliver, my son, has been pretty good but had a nasty recurring vomiting bug which saw him have several doctors appointments. Then about three weeks ago we saw a rash on his leg that wouldn't fade once rubbed. Immediately fearing meningitis we rushed to Casualty where he was examined and given a clean bill of health. Going back to the Morgan Spurlock example, that could have cost us quite heavily and how many people will think twice before seeking medical assistance? How many cases could turn out fatal?

A few years ago my wife found a lump on my back and I had it checked and was given the all clear. Her father had a lump, didn't go to the doctors until it was too late and he died when she was nine. Not going to the doctors could be fatal.

My concern is that certain medical care could become unaffordable for the working poor and only those who can afford treatments can have them. Whilst this is good for population figures it is bad for the majority who may not be able to afford things. An MRI can be exceptionally vital, the line between life and death but if you're not covered by insurance and you can't afford it you aren't having it. I'm going to be honest, had it been privatised I wouldn't be able to afford to pay for my daughter's treatments be it by premium or on the day. How many parents are in the same boat? You'd try and move Heaven and Earth to find the money but sometimes it just isn't there. Could you sit back and do nothing knowing you couldn't afford to do anything? It would be soul destroying...

The NHS has to remain a free service for all, with the option of using private providers if you so wish in certain services. What needs to happen is a streamlining of the NHS management, get rid of the middle managers and quangos that are there to solely make sure figures and would be targets are met - pay the nurses what they deserve and pump the rest of the money into improving services rather than them being forced to keep asking Government for it. Any move to fully privatise the NHS MUST be opposed.

Nick Clegg's Spring Conference speech 10-3-2013

Nick has the answer

Eastleigh. Conference, I have never seen anything like it. Thousands and thousands of activists flooding in from every part of the UK. Young people arriving in their droves. Hitting the pavements, the phones, Facebook, Twitter, email – finding any and every way to drive our message home. I want to thank you all – you were just brilliant.
They said we’d never win it.

 The same critics who try to write us off time and time again. But, you know what? The naysayers can tear up those political obituaries.  Liberal Democrats: you proved them wrong. And you proved what we have always known to be true: where we work, we win. There’s no great mystery to it. Mike Thornton, Keith House and their team didn’t just stop campaigning after the last General Election. They didn’t hang up their boots and say: ‘We got the seat, that’s it for five years’. They kept at it. Recruiting activists. Taking council seats. Building up their support. And when the time came, they were ready. Mike, Keith, everyone who helped: You ran an exemplary campaign; you have electrified this party – thank you very, very much.

The challenge now, Conference, is building on this momentum. As we approach the upcoming council elections in May. As we prepare for the General Election. We need to be clear on the lesson from Eastleigh: The odds were stacked against us. A fierce campaign, under a national spotlight, dogged by difficult headlines from day one. Extraordinary circumstances. Yet we still won. We beat the Tories. We squeezed Labour – don’t forget that bit. We won.

Why? Because, for the first time in a generation we could campaign on our record of local delivery and our record of national delivery too. Every leaflet dropped in the Eastleigh campaign combined both. And, when people took a long, hard look they liked what they saw. We didn’t win in Eastleigh in spite of being in power. We won in Eastleigh because we’re in power – locally and nationally. It’s important that everyone in this room knows that.

It’s three years since we took the decision to go into Government. I know some of you have had a quiet fear, ticking away at the back of your minds. The worry that the risk we took was too big. No, Liberal Democrats. It may have been a risk, but we took it for the right reasons: to steer Britain through a time of economic crisis; to govern in the national interest; to govern from the centre ground; to build a stronger economy, in a fairer society, enabling everyone in Britain to get on in life.
And that decision will pay off – for the country, and for us too. There is a myth that governing together, in coalition, diminishes the ability of the smaller party to beat the bigger party. The idea that, in Tory facing seats the Liberal Democrats will find it impossible to distinguish our record, our values, from theirs. But that myth has been utterly confounded. The opposite is true. The longer you stand side-by-side with your opponents, the easier your differences are to see. We don’t lose our identity by governing with the Conservatives. The comparison helps the British people understand who we are.

And we are the party that shares the country’s priorities: Fair taxes; better schools; jobs. The only party that will deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling every one to get on in life.
In the days after the by-election, even though we won, I was asked how I feel about our party no longer being a magnet for the protest vote. No longer the automatic ‘none-of-the-above’ choice. And my reply was this: the Liberal Democrats are not a party of protest, we are a party of change. A party that is for things, not simply against things. A successful political party cannot thrive just by picking up the votes that have been lost by its opponents. Our ambition is to reach out to the millions of people in this country who want a party that strikes the right balance between economic credibility and social fairness. We are not some kind of receptacle for people who don’t like the world – and don’t want to do anything about it. We grapple with the world. We strive to make it better. And the more people who see that, all the better too.

Conference, I don’t pretend it’s all sunny uplands from here. This journey we are on is not an easy one. As a party: from opposition to government. As a country: from austerity to prosperity. We will be tested more times along the way. And, throughout this journey, our focus will be the country’s focus. The economy. Britain’s economic recovery has proved more challenging than anyone imagined. The crash in 2008, deeper and more profound than we knew. Just two weeks ago, the uncertain outcome of the Italian election threatened to plunge Europe back into crisis. Suddenly we were reminded of the danger that looms when markets question the ability of governments to live within their means. Countries around the world face the same, hard truth: We must all pay the piper in the end. I want to make one thing clear: We will not flinch on the deficit. But to be unflinching is not to be unthinking. And the idea that the choice is between a cruel and unbending Plan A and a mythical plan B is simply not the case.

Balancing the books is a judgement, not a science. And our plan has always allowed room for manoeuvre. One of the most important things I have learnt in Government is this: in a fluid, fast-moving global economic environment, sticking to a plan requires government to be flexible, as well as resolute. Nimble, as well as determined. When economic circumstances around us deteriorated and UK growth forecasts suffered, voices on the right called for us to respond by cutting further and faster. But instead we took the pragmatic choice to extend the deficit reduction timetable. As tax receipts went down we let the automatic ebb and flow of government borrowing fill the gap. And it is simply not true – as our critics on the left pretend – that we are slashing and burning the state. By the end of this Parliament, public spending will still be 42% of GDP. That’s higher than at any time between 1995 and when the banks crashed, in 2008. And most importantly, reducing the deficit is essential, but as a means to an end. And that end is lasting, sustainable growth. Sound public finances are one piece of the jigsaw. But so are better skills, more apprenticeships, smarter regulation, a more competitive tax regime for business. All of which we are delivering.

And, yes, productive investment in our infrastructure too: energy, housing, transport. Creating jobs today and boosting the long-term strength of our economy: the extension of High Speed Rail; the new network of technology centres; the Green Investment Bank; Cross Rail – the biggest construction project in Europe. And, in an unprecedented break from the straitjacket of Treasury orthodoxy, an offer of £50bn worth of guarantees from central government to those people willing to invest in UK’s infrastructure and get construction going. No government has offered these kinds of guarantees, on this scale, ever before. And this year, Conference, we are spending more on capital than Labour spent, on average, between 1997 and 2010.

So let no one tell you that this Government isn’t straining every sinew to invest every available pound into UK infrastructure. We will and must do more to mobilise investment into our long-term infrastructure needs. I agree with that. Vince agrees with that. Danny agrees with that. But, as we all equally acknowledge, there are no cost-free, risk-free ways of finding such huge sums of money. Not at a time when Labour left the cupboard bare and we still have the second highest deficit in Europe, behind only Greece. Ours is a growth strategy guided by liberal pragmatism from a Coalition government anchored firmly in the centre ground. The deficit down by a quarter. Fixing our banks. A million jobs created in the private sector. Money back in people’s pockets. A stronger economy, a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

In the middle of the 20 Century, as Britain emerged from the ravages of war, its leaders were forced to think anew – just as we are now. The great liberal, Sir William Beveridge, established the modern welfare state, transforming this country forever. He said ‘Liberalism is a faith, not a formula’. And what he meant is that liberalism is a set of timeless principles, married to an unshakeable belief in human progress. That is why liberals never run from change. Our role remains the same today. In this Coalition Government, so much of the radical thinking on economic reform is liberal-led. Not just rebuilding the old economy. Not just repeating the same mistakes of the past. But building an economy that is resilient, sustainable, open, green. Ideas deliberated in this conference hall, now being administered by thousands of civil servants, in order to benefit millions of British citizens. The world’s first ever Green Investment Bank. The Business Bank; the bank levy; the Green Deal. Better schools and proper vocational learning. Greater shareholder democracy. Flexible working and shared parental leave. Tax cuts for working families, paid for by higher taxes on unearned wealth. We may be the smaller party, Conference, but we have all the biggest ideas.

And, remember: no one will know what we stand for unless we stand together. As our opponents argue among themselves and turn inwards it is even more important that we build on – rather than squander – the magnificent resolve and unity we have shown over the last three years. That unity is what our enemies most fear. That unity should make us proud.

Most importantly, liberals understand that economic renewal must be accompanied by social renewal. A stronger economy needs a fairer society. That is what this is about. Strong growth creates jobs and opportunities. If citizens are empowered and educated they are better able to grasp those opportunities. Their achievements, in turn, drive prosperity. Yet the Conservative and Labour governments of the past have, together, built a Britain characterised by intense concentrations of power. They allowed opportunity to be hoarded among elites. The untold story of the boom years is a story of lost potential. Previous governments placed unquestioning faith in London’s financial sector. And it led them to squander the talents and prospects of dozens of places, and millions of people. GDP may have been rising, but in some of our biggest cities, former industrial powerhouses like Nottingham and Birmingham, the private sector workforces were actually shrinking. One square mile may have been raking in astronomical profits. But we are a country of 100,000 square miles. And across the nation, communities suffered serious neglect.

And just as Labour and the Conservatives allowed our economy to become grossly unbalanced, they ignored deep social divides too. Despite the steps we have taken in Government, Britain remains a place where, for the vast majority of people, the life you are born into still determines the life you lead. It doesn't have to be like that. Yesterday I spoke to someone I've gotten to know over the last few years. A man called Kevin McLoughlin who owns a painting and decorating company in London. Kevin left school at 15. His dad was disabled. His mum was out of work. But he managed to get an apprenticeship. 40 years later and his business is thriving. He now gives the same opportunity to hundreds of youngsters. He told me his main motivation is simply to build a successful, profitable business. These young men and women are an asset to his company. But he also said, the reason he keeps doing it is he doesn't believe for one moment that British youngsters don't want to work - someone just needs to give them a chance. To be a liberal is to know that every man, woman and child is capable of remarkable things. That there is something extraordinary in every person. To be a liberal is to know that when we, as individuals, flourish, we, as a society, become greater than the sum of our parts.

And to be a liberal in government is to help every individual be the best they can be. A fairer society. That’s what the Pupil Premium is for. Billions of pounds to stop poor children falling behind. More free childcare. City Deals transferring economic powers from Whitehall to every corner of the UK. The biggest ever cash rise in the state pension; a generous new flat rate pension. And of course, raising the point at which people start paying income tax. So that millions of low earners pay none at all. And, as of April, millions of working people will be £600 better off. Liberal Democrat policies, delivered by Liberal Democrat ministers. Creating a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

The Conservatives, on their own, will never deliver the fairer society – it’s just not who they are. Take the Mansion tax. Even now, when millions of families are feeling the pinch, they still refuse to ask people who live in multi-million pound homes to chip in a bit more. The Conservative party knows it needs to stay on the centre ground to have any chance of speaking to ordinary people’s concerns. At least the leadership seem to. But they just can’t manage it, no matter how hard they try. They’re like a kind of broken shopping trolley. Every time you try and push them straight ahead they veer off to the right hand side.

Did you notice the bizarre mixed messages from the Conservative party after Eastleigh? An article in one Sunday newspaper, promising: no lurch to the right. Others splashed with the promise to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Something only one other European country has done: Belarus. The Conservatives would actively take away rights enjoyed by British citizens just to appease their backbenchers. Yesterday Theresa May made a speech arguing the option of leaving the Convention should remain ‘on the table’. Well, I tell you, it won’t be on the Cabinet Table so long as I’m sitting round it. Conference, make no mistake, no matter what the issue: Safeguarding the NHS, creating green jobs, stopping profit-making in schools, preventing a return to two tier O Levels, the Liberal Democrats will keep the Coalition firmly anchored in the centre ground.
What’s the only thing as unlikely as the Tories delivering a fairer society? Labour delivering a stronger economy. Let’s recap. First they destroy the economy. They spend all the money. They leave us with nothing. Then they oppose every single saving the Coalition has been forced to make with not a single suggestion for how to raise money instead. Then they finally do come up with an idea. And it’s brilliant. But it’s the Mansion Tax – and we came up with it first. Labour are embracing opposition in the worst possible way. All they are interested in is striking poses and playing parliamentary games. They try to lecture us about taxing the rich. Even though taxes on the richest are now higher than they were for every year under thirteen years of Labour. They conspired with Tory rebels to scupper Lords Reform, even though it was in their manifesto. By now I expected a re-energised Labour party, re-focused. The whole point of opposition parties is that they come up with ideas. But they haven’t. Under Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, Labour remain a blank page in British politics. These people were in the government that crashed the economy before. They’ve given us no apology. No solutions. No plans. No sign that they even understand what they did. The truth is, left to their own devices, they’d do it again. And, I’m sorry, but you do not stand tall for one nation when you still bow to the union barons.

You can’t trust Labour to build a strong economy. You can’t trust the Tories to build a fair society. Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. Get used to those words, Conference. Get used to saying them. That’s the message I need you to deliver across the country. I need you to explain it to people each and every day, from now, for the next two years and beyond. Tell them that only the Liberal Democrats have the values and ideas to build a better future. Tell them that only we can deliver the stronger economy and fairer society Britain needs.

Conference, we are on the eve of an important anniversary: It is ten years since the invasion of Iraq. Ten years since we opposed that war. Standing on our own within Parliament but with the people, outside of it. As I look back I am reminded of all of the times that the Liberal Democrats have led, rather than followed. Whether under Paddy Ashdown, as early converts in the fight against climate change. Whether as a lone voice warning against corporate recklessness and greed. Whether as a pioneer for equal rights, irrespective of colour, gender and creed. Regardless of whether you are old or young; rich or poor; gay or straight. Those memories are proud memories. But there’s a big difference between now and then. In the past we may have been right – but we couldn’t do anything about it. Now we can. Think of equal marriage. Not just an idea in this hall, but the law of the land because of us.

We know that change is not always possible overnight. We know that reform is always met with anger by those who cling to the status quo. But we also know that, if you have the argument on your side. If you have the courage of your convictions, change is only a matter of time. Liberal Democrats, I have spent nearly three years asking you to hold firm. Three years urging you to remain steady under fire. And you have.

But today, Liberal Democrats, I have a different message for you: Win. Get back out there. Tell our side of the story. And we will win again. On the door step, in town halls, in government. Keep fighting for what we believe in. Keep winning. Building a stronger economy, a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Battle field Medway 2015 - my retraction

I made a boo-boo and now am retreating
Occasionally I get things wrong... Ok, I get things wrong most, if not all, of the time.

At the time of writing my last post I believed I was writing fact.

When I was young I was taught, by my police Sergeant Grandfather taught me three tricks for investigation.

1. Rarely ask questions, you can learn more from just listening.

2. If you hear something once it is a rumour, twice coincidence, three times there is something in it.

The third thing he taught me, that was backed up by my History degree is always have evidence to back up your claims.

I have been reliably informed by Cllr Vince Maple (leader of the Medway Labour group), Cllr Tristan Osborne (Labour's press officer) and three activists that, and here comes the embarrassing part, Isaac Igwe has not been selected as Rochester & Strood's Labour candidate. At the time of writing they have no candidate yet.

I'd heard the rumour from three separate sources but hey - we all make mistakes.

So sorry for causing confusion, especially to Alan Collins, who based his blogpost on my faulty intel and also to Mark Reckless himself who contacted me to verify my claims.

Whether or not Isaac is the candidate or not is fairly irrelevant at this stage. Should Polls stay the same and barring a political disaster my prediction will stay the same for the same reasons. I am relieved that my reasoning has been supported by Alan Collins' predictive computer programme, if you've not read his post you really should.

Of course no one but my wife claims to be infallible and it is entirely possible that with the right candidate, enough hard work and campaigning then we could see Rochester & Strood go Gold...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Battle field Medway - 2015 General election

Well, the big two parties have selected their Candidates for the 2015 election and the lines are being drawn but the battlefield is constantly changing and 2015 is not 2010. Things have changed and a Tory walk over is far from certain. Indeed my predictions show them losing one MP, keeping one and a fight that is fairly difficult to call as it is dependent on so many factors. I’ll try and explainmy reasoning.

Rochester & Strood: Reckless vs. Igwe

Mark Reckless has been somewhat of a wild card within parliamentary politics. He has been very good to his constituency and very vocal in his achievements and activities. The main cause for concern for the area being Boris Island and of course rail fare increases, both of which he has fought tirelessly for.

There are things he has been weak on, where as Tracey Crouch rebelled against the Legal aid bill Mark voted for it which meant constituents with asbestosis would find it harder to get compensation, Medway is one of the hardest hit areas in the South east so there will be a bit of disappointment with some constituents.

There is also a lot of discontent on the Isle of Grain over the LNG gas works which vocally hits Twitter, but ultimately these votes probably won’t make that much of a difference.

As with most Cathedral cities Rochester is fairly conservative and there seems to be a general air of satisfaction with their incumbent. One of the reasons for this is that he has and will rebel against the Government if he feels it is not in the interests of the constituents or the country at wide. He is not “Lobbyfodder” in the least.

The greatest weakness and strength though is Europe. Mark is exceptionally anti-Europe and has been one of the Referendum’s greatest supporters which is a popular move with the somewhat older population in Rochester (especially my elderly Grandfather on the Davis Estate) and although the opposition will no doubt say that is his sole raison d’etre and attack him for not dealing with Welfare or cuts in general. However the otherside is – UKIP probably won’t field a candidate in Rochester. It wouldn’t necessarily be a target seat as Mark is so anti-Europe that it would be a waste of resources to replace him with someone who is saying the same thing.

As for Councillor Isaac Igwe, who is the only Labour representative in Strood South, elected in 2011, he is the Labour candidate for 2015. He is notably known for (under Declarations on the Medway Council website) for campaigning for keeping the Marlowe medical centre open. (Of course it was his Conservative Ward mates and the afore mentioned Mark Reckless who secured it, so the points cannot really go to Isaac Igwe). He is well thought of in local Labour circles and is definitely one to watch. The only criticism is that according to some sources he can be a little hard to understand due to his accent which means he may come off poorly in husting style events. However with a dedicated team of hard working activists, something Labour have quite a stock of in the Medway towns I’m sure they will dent Mark’s majority. However with all of the local council seats and three Parliamentary targets it may be a bridge too far especially with Mark’s record it.


Gillingham& Rainham: Chishti vs Clarke

Rehman Chishti has been a good Conservative MP, he has towed the party line to the utmost and according to ‘They work for you’ he Hardly ever rebels. He has voted for the rise in tuition and against AV, has backed EU integration and has worked hard for his constituency. I must say in the times I have contacted him on trains and Medway’s education standards he has been very helpful and forthright, I couldn’t ask for more.

However, certainly in Gillingham, his footprint is very small (no pun intended on his stature) and there is a lukewarm opinion of him. At my end of Gillingham I’ve received two news letters, six months apart but identical. It may seem silly but in today’s politics you need to be seen in the media and heard to be doing things or people lose interest.

The Labour candidate on the other hand is former MP Paul Clarke who arguably only lost his seat due to the violent swing away from Labour rather than his being a bad MP. In many circles he is still well thought of and fairly popular. His return was almost prophesied shortly after he lost his seat.
Rehman has got a strong Conservative base in Rainham, Walderslade and Hempstead but the Libdem, Independent and Labour wards of central Gillingham will cause him quite a bit of trouble especially if UKIP run a candidate and split the Tory vote. As he is a solid Coalition MP he will be judged, unlike Mark and Tracey who have displayed separate personality and rebelled for their constituents, on the Coalition’s record and I can’t see that ending well personally.

My Verdict: Labour Win.

Chatham & Aylesford: Crouch vs. Osborne.

This is a tough one to call. Regular readers know the high regard I hold Tracey Crouch in and that I think that she has done a good job as MP. She has proved critics wrong and has been consistently good for the people of Chatham & Aylesford and fought their corner, rather than the party’s when the necessity arose. Many constituents, or at least the ones I’ve spoken to, have a good opinion of her and her politics as well as her approachable manner and willingness to listen.

Her opponent is Cllr Tristan Osborne of Luton & Wayfield. Despite his on line persona and the opinions of the Conservative Council, Tris works very hard for his ward in Luton & Wayfield and is part of the regular group of Labour campaigners in the Medway towns and has begun his campaign online fairly early. Chatham is mainly a Labour area and if, with a large enough anti-government swing Tristan could find himself ahead by Tracey by a nose. This could be further helped by the UKIP factor. Although not pro-Europe like Rehman or anti like Mark, Tracey's approach seems to be take it as it comes and as she sits somewhere in the middle of the Conservative party her share of the votes may be further diminished by more right wingers turning away from Cameron's more liberal brand of Conservatism.

Then again, there is her track record. She may, on the sheer strength of her record and personality maintain the majority or at least lose an acceptable amount from the 2010 13% to see her through. It is hard to say at this point.

My verdict: Anyone's gain.

Just on a closing note though I have not mentioned the Liberal Democrats in the Medway towns. Our critics would say that the party is dead and that we haven't the strength to fight a general election and a local election in 2015. As a member of the Exec committee I'm not in a position to discuss our election stratagems or strengths and weaknesses. We have strong candidates and the party is stronger, more dangerous than the critics realise. Beware the Yellow Peril, we might just surprise you in 2015 or split the vote enough to cause an upset!

Letter from the leader: Winning

Latest Letter from the leader...

Dear Chris,

What a victory! After three weeks of seriously intense campaigning, we’ve done it. Mike Thornton is the new MP for Eastleigh.

Waiting for news from the count was nerve-wracking. We knew we’d had a stellar polling day operation and got our voters out: but was it going to be enough?
And then Hilary Stephenson, our campaigns director, texted me to say: the result is in. we’ve done it. And we did – a majority of nearly 1,800 votes.

There were hundreds of Lib Dems who made it to Eastleigh during this campaign. And the number of young people I saw out there confirmed for me, so clearly, that our party isn't just alive but it's thriving.

The most exhilarating thing for me about this victory is that no-one can dismiss it as a protest vote like they used to in the past.

Our critics have been telling us for two and a half years that joining a coalition would prevent us from winning elections again. We wouldn't be able to fight on our own values and record again, they said. Well, this week we proved them wrong. We can be in power -locally and nationally - and still win elections.

The decision of the Eastleigh voters to stick with us is a vindication of the decisions we've taken, and the steps we make every day, whether in local or in national government, to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling every person in Britain to get on in life.
Keith House, the leader of Eastleigh council, and his team have done an amazing job over the last ten years, building support from local people by listening and delivering. Protecting green spaces. Cutting council tax. Investing to create jobs. Ask anyone who was out on the doorsteps in Eastleigh and they'll tell you: it's a winning message.

And now, on top of those local achievements we have a great story to tell about what we're delivering in government in Westminster. Lower income tax for hard working families. A million new apprentices. A million new jobs.

We didn’t win in Eastleigh “in spite” of our record. We won because of our record.
I’m going to be so proud to welcome Mike to Westminster to help us continue that work, fighting for fair taxes, a balanced economy and opportunity for our young people.

Of course, this week wasn’t only about good news. The allegations of sexual harassment that have come to light in the last week or so are extremely serious. For me, the most important thing now is to ensure those women who have come forward are heard, with respect and dignity. That’s why I have established two investigations to follow up these allegations – and also to how we as a party deal with complaints and concerns. It’s clear mistakes were made in the handling
of allegations and that is something we have to put right.

I want to thank everyone who helped make our victory possible in Eastleigh: those of you who made it down to campaign in person, those who gave money or made phone calls. Whatever your contribution, you can be incredibly proud of the difference it made.

Our opponents threw everything they had at us over the last month. And we still emerged triumphant. That’s the kind of party we are: the harder they push us, the stronger we get.

The lesson from Eastleigh is clear: we can be in government and win if we work together. Let’s remember that in the next two months as we campaign for the local elections. They can push us as hard as they like; we will just get stronger.

Mike Thornton can win. We can win.

Best wishes,


Nick Clegg

Friday, 1 March 2013

Medway Libdems celebrate Eastleigh win

Mike Thornton MP and some of the team
Excellent news from Eastleigh - Mike Thornton has been returned as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats despite the Huhne and Rennard scadals.

Local Libdem Council group leader Geoff Juby had this to say:

 The general public have recognised the hard work that the Liberal Democrats have done, not only on Eastleigh borough council but also within the Coalition. We have delivered tax breaks to everyone and dulled the Tory cuts for millions of hard working families.

We are delighted for our candidate and glad that the hard work put in by all our dedicated members has been rewarded. This shows that the British Public have not been fooled by the adverse press coverage the Libdems have been subjected to over the past weeks and that the people of Eastleigh have confidence that in Mike Thornton they will have a hard working member of parliament.

This was always going to be a tough bi-election with a straight fight between the two Coalition parties. As their two party machines have printed on many occasions - Labour can't win here, and having lived in the Eastleigh/Winchester area for some eight years I can concur.

Had the Tories won it we would have shown exactly how much trouble the Libdems were in nationally. Locally there is a Libdem council with hard working councillors so for there to be a swing to the Blues would have been somewhat disastrous.

It can be argued (somewhat successfully) that the two Media stories pumped out - One that I saw re-posted by many Conservative MPs (including ex MP Louise Mensch) that the Libdems wanted to tax your grandparent's jewellery - which was of course nonsensical, and of course the Lord Rennard scandal, were pumped out on purpose. Indeed there has been some real bile published in the Daily Mail as well as scathing comments in the Tory Red tops recently. However the swing was not enough for the Conservatives.

It shows that the public, as Geoff said, it is validation of all the hard work that the Liberal Democrats have done in Parliament and of the benefits to hard working families including cutting income tax, pupil premiums, making student loans easier to pay back over a longer period of time as well as making university easier for those from a low income  background (borne out in this year's UCAS figures) and many more social policies to make Britain fairer. We are still defined against the background of Conservative cuts and George Osbornes's economic policy which is now beginning to fail.

The big surprise for me, and indeed for Maria Hutchins, is that UKIP have come in second with 11,571 votes (some 2000 behind the Libdems and 1000 more than the Tories with a 19.3% swing from the Libdems!)

Geoff also outlined:

This was so obviously a protest vote against all the main parties. If any lessons are to be learnt I think that they have to apply to politicians of all parties as has been shown repeatedly over the past few years.

Indeed it does show that people are discontent with the big three  parties and that, prior to 2010 when the Liberals were the protest vote, the rise of UKIP can be put in the protest vote.

If the Conservatives hadn't split our vote we would have won.What happened here in Eastleigh was not a freak result. Something is changing. People are sick and tired of having three social democrat parties that are frankly indistinguishable from each other

I think he's definitely right and as Geoff said, politicians of all parties (especially the Conservatives) are going to have to address this trend. Who knows, the next government could be a Conservative-UKIP coalition!

Any way - I'd like to add my voice to the other Congratulations to Mike Thornton MP for his victory last night as well as to the teams of Libdem activists, MPs and Lord Ashdown who hit the streets of Eastleigh in the proceeding weeks - I've seen the tweets and blogposts, you guys worked really hard and I'm just sorry I couldn't get down there to help.