Thursday, 31 January 2013

Medway Libdem Press release on Labour and Tuition fees.

A week or so ago, Chatham & Aylesford's PPC Cllr Tristan Osborne posted this press release on the drop of UCAS applications and University fees.

As a Local Liberal democrat I had some problems with it and thankfully the Executive committee agreed and I am grateful that they gave the blessing and backing for the following letter to the Medway Messenger as an official press release:

In a recent press release Labour’s PPC for Chatham & Aylesford, Cllr Tristan Osborne, accused local Lib Dems of breaking their pre-election pledge and voting in favour of raising tuition fees up to £9000 a year.

Whilst I am touched that Cllr Osborne believes we locally have quite so much sway over Westminster, the fact is we don’t. With no Liberal Democrat MPs for the Medway towns how could they break/keep their pledge? Student numbers applying for university are declining. This is partly due to the questionable value of some University Degrees but also by the removal of free University for all by the previous Labour Government. Labour also pledged not to bring in top up fees for tuition and then broke their pledge. Labour also commissioned the Brown report that suggested fee rises in the first place. If anything, the Liberal Democrats have made the repayment of student loans fairer and easier to pay for graduates removing the shadow of debt from their heads. It is interesting to see that after a couple of years in opposition Cllr Osborne’s memory is purged of Labour’s abysmal record.

Perhaps he’ll take ownership of the last Labour Government’s many broken promises, e.g. their failure during 13 years of office to re-link State Pension rises to the National Average Earnings, having vehemently protested against Margaret Thatcher’s Tories for having broken the link in 1982, thereby eroding its’ purchasing power year on year. It took the Lib Dems in Government to not only re-establish that link, but also to secure the “triple-lock”, thus ensuring that the State pension will rise annually by the higher of the NAE, or CPI or 2.5%

It is also worth noting that there has also been an interesting shift against the predictions of the critics.

According to recent figures, the gap between those from an affluent background and a poor background is closing!

So there are more applying from low income families, could this be because the Liberal Democrats have made it easier to repay student loans with graduates paying less back from their wages?

Simple answer; Yes.

Has the Liberal Democrat presence made a positive difference to this otherwise sorry affair?


Lib dem Councillor Juby on EU referendum

Cllr Juby's column for the Medway Messenger:

I find it slightly worrying that so much energy and time is being spent on debating the pros and cons of a referendum on Europe.  Most people have definite views on whether we should stay in or come out, but I am getting vibes that the public would rather like to know sooner rather than later. Perhaps not only the public – if I were a foreign investor with a few billions to spare I might be thinking twice about putting my cash into Great Britain, given the fact that half our foreign markets may disappear by the time factories and built and are profitable. 

A few things have really benefitted working people here, the main one being the introduction of the minimum wage.  Also we have a couple of million British nationals who live in Europe, many of them with jobs – not to mention that the cheapest holidays to the sun, all involve travel within the European union (don’t forget that the Canary Islands, Majorca etc. all come in this category). Many Britons enjoy the ski slopes as well, and  we do not know how the rest of Europe will react to us pulling the plug - we may all end up holidaying in the rain here!

 Most of our problems seem to stem from popular objection to the  immigration from Europe, especially at a time when we are desperately short of jobs and houses.  A lot of European countries seem able cherry pick which dictats they choose to obey but it always looks as if we fall over backwards in order to meet the letter of European law!  Perhaps I am wrong in this, but public perceptions are a very powerful force and I am glad that Nick Clegg, for once, has spoken out on this issue.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Disbelief at Libdem abstaining over Gay Marriage motion

Before I start, I want to make it clear that is definitely a personal blog and has no connection to the Local or National party - more a vent.

Last week, at full council Medway's Labour group brought forward a motion to discuss Gay Marriage and urge the Council to write a letter to the Medway MPs urging them to support the motion as it passed through Parliament.

I was unable to attend full council as I had an early (4am) start the following day but I followed along on Twitter.

There was an amendment made by the Conservatives arguing the MPs had a free vote and that the Council should leave it to Parliament to vote on.

Without putting words in their mouth there is the problem of Rehman Chishti MP who also sits on the Council and is opposed to Gay Marriage. You can see that it could be embarrassing and that they'd argue this was a wholly political move.

I, on the other hand disagree with this hypothesis. I truly believe that Medway Labour submitted this as a genuine move with good motivations. After all this is an important piece of civil liberty legislature and has got a lot of support on the ground a fact ignored by Rehman Chishti who claims 80% of responses in Gillingham & Rainham have opposed it despite the petition he received from Mid-Kent College in favour.

Anyway, the chamber descended into a debate which became very heated with one Tory Councillor saying that marriage was out of the question as there could be no chance of children (-I Know! News flash adoption!) and another who intimated that next step would be polygamy!

Labour put in a spirited defence led by the indefatigable Vince Maple but the Tory wall stood firm and in a heated moment and understandably angry Cllr Osborne referred to the Tories as Thatcherite bigots - this obviously caused a backlash amongst the Conservative benchs especially with Cllr Tollhurst who took umbrage at being tarred with the same brush.

The motion was rejected by the Conservative majority and their amendment passed. Only Labour (minus Cllr Igwe who had a convenience break), the Independents and one Conservative (Cllr Watson) opposed.

So where were the Liberal Democrats? How did our three councillors feel?

Who knows? They didn't partake in the vote and abstained on both votes!!!!

When I read Ed Jennings' twitter stream I shared his horror and spent the next day exchanging DMs discussing wtf had gone amiss. As Exec members when been eager to speak to our councillors beforehand at our meeting two days before - unfortunately only Geoff had attended and we'd not got round to it before he left. Our mistake was presuming that a civil Liberty would be backed by Liberals.

The fact that the Council group sat on the fence on something we as a party have agreed as policy was ridiculous!

I could understand if they had voted for or against Labour's motion (not my view but I can respect their opinion) or if Geoff had taken the stand to say that in the group's opinion this was not a council matter or was purely an opportunistic move by Labour (again, not my position but at least it is a position!).

Both Ed and I have voiced our opinions publicly online and our local chair has been contacted - questions will be asked.

I feel the need to apologise for the council group dropping the ball on this, believe me that you aren't the only ones who have been let down by this inaction.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Letter from the Leader: People Count

Dear Chris,

The week in Westminster has been dominated by two events: the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe and this Friday’s Gross Domestic Product figures.

The GDP figures are always surrounded by secrecy. I am among a small group of people who get to see the data the day before it is released but with strict instructions not to breathe a word to anyone. In other words it's the exact opposite of the Prime Minister’s speech, which seemed to be the subject of about a year’s open speculation before we finally got to hear it.

The GDP numbers were disappointing, but not entirely surprising. This country is still recovering from the massive economic trauma of 2008 and our recovery will be slow and a bit choppy. But I firmly believe we are slowly but steadily pointing things in the right direction. The fragility of the recovery makes it all the more important that we remain pragmatic, rather than dogmatic, as we reduce the budget deficit. We faced a choice in the autumn, when it became apparent how badly damaged our economy was, and how deep the black hole in our finances had become. We could take more time to balance the books or rush to cut expenditure even more deeply. We took the sensible option and decided to take more time.

For me there was a number this week that was just as important as GDP, and that was the encouraging unemployment figure that we received on Wednesday. I don’t say that just because those numbers showed another improvement - another 90,000 people in work - but because every number represents a person’s livelihood, their ability to look after their family, and their hopes for the future. The difference between having a job and not having a job matters far more to people than fluctuations in the decimal points of GDP.

That’s one of the reasons why I disagreed with the Prime Minister about his speech. I believe our focus in Government has to be on making sure we get people in work and keep them in work. And with millions of jobs in Britain relying on our participation in the EU now is not the time to be putting that into doubt.

Of course, life in Westminster isn't only focused on the big things like Europe and jobs. This is a place that can get completely lost in its own introverted debates, as I learnt on Tuesday when I presented legislation to change the rules of Royal Succession so a princess can't be usurped by her younger brother and heirs to the throne are permitted to marry a Catholic (they can already marry anyone of any other religion). You'd think that in the 21st century, when we have outlawed sex and religious discrimination everywhere else, MPs would be able to agree quickly on outlawing it in the Royal Family. But no: MPs argued for a full hour about whether we were rushing things, before we even got to the debate about whether it was the right thing to do!

Ensuring the next royal baby accedes to the throne might not affect people's everyday lives. But it's another small achievement for liberal principles, even if it isn't one we'll be discussing on every doorstep.

Speaking of doorsteps, I hope you will all join me in our day of action of February 9 when we will be getting out and telling people how we have cut their income tax and put money back in their pockets, how we are creating green jobs and protecting the British economy.
You can sign up here.
I believe the Liberal Democrats are delivering real help to people on the issues that matter, and we should all take pride in getting that message across.
Best wishes,

Friday, 25 January 2013

Ed misses the boat on Europe Referendum

As the EU referendum row continues to rumble, one man seems left behind. Is it Cameron being dragged by extreme elements of his party? Is it Clegg, lost in a world of euro sceptics as a lone voice of Europe?

Nope - it's Ed Miliband.

While there are fundamental differences of opinion between Nick and Dave about this - and some Labourites are siding with Nick on this, at least they are both in touch with the general feeling of the population that there should be a referendum on Europe.

I know some of my readers will disagree with my stance on Europe but I am sure we agree that taking this to the populous to vote is the right strategy, in fact the only strategy.

I agree with Nick, however, that 2017 is far too late and could be detrimental to British business as it remains unclear as to what is going on and can and will have detrimental effects on investment. By putting at 2017 it is clearly a carrot for people to ignore UKIP and vote Conservative again so you can get a referendum.

That aside it is Ed, who has been hurriedly bypassed by some of his MPs, who is flailing. At PMQs he said that Labour did not support an In/Out referendum (despite it being in their last manifesto) only to be corrected on line by MPs saying We do support it just not in post 2015.

So, has Ed blundered?

Whether he got it confused or was just continuing Labour's seeming policy of being the complete opposite to the Coalition and Conservatives that just back fired, Ed has indeed put his foot in it.

There have been severe vocal grumblings by a minority of the country for quite sometime amd discontent from a much larger number too!

PMQs saw Ed struggling as he didn't seem to grasp Cameron's answer and kept playing the line;

He doesn't answer the question so I'll ask again.

He got the question Ed - You just didn't get the answer.

Cameron said that he was in favour of a reformed Europe and would clearly vote yes in a referendum if the EU could be reformed - duh!

The question is now Ed; Do you stand by your position that you are against a referendum (flying in the face of all popular and media opinion) or are you in favour of democracy and giving the people a voice (albeit against the 2017 time frame and want it sooner)?

If it is the former - God help the Labour party in 2015 as I fear many will vote Tory just to get a referendum on this EXCEPTIONALLY important issue.

As the EU has changed and other nations have held referendums so has the cry for a referendum grown in this country. Sooner rather than later is the cry now. Better for us as a nation, better for business, better for the EU as they can finally decide things and know where they stand rather than have the possibility of the UK leaving in four years time.

The people deserve a voice on this and there should be cross party support for actually giving it to them (with a time frame that can be agreed fairly.) not believing that the people are too incapable of deciding.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Defence cuts and reshaping

Lions led by Donkeys - as always
The British armed forces have always been badly treated by the Governments who sent them to war. The sailors who fought of Phillip II of Spain's armada were left in port to die from disease unpaid, the infamous redcoat of the 1770s was poorly paid in comparison to other less dangerous jobs in the motherland, battalions were sent to garrison forts in the Caribbean and decimated by yellow fever. The Boer war saw poorly trained troops massacred for financial gain and the First World War repeated the same mistakes for no gain at all.

Now occupation forces from Afghanistan are returning to redundancy and uncertainty on civy street- Thanks for all you've done guys!

Whilst I remain horrified at the human cost and the treatment of the heroes by the Ministry I can also see the motives, however cold, and insensitive they are.

Warfare is a fluidic and evolutionary creature that needs to be kept up with, something we failed to do in 1914.

Although the teachings of Guderian in Achtung Panzer and the Blitzkrieg showed that the day of the Infantry and Cavalry were well and truly over for successful offensives but it soon became evident that vast swathes of infantry still had to be used for garrisons and policing roles. Some seventy years on and we're in a similar boat. In fact things have moved backwards as aircraft design has accelerated. Modern fighter jets are too noisy and fast for photo reconnaissance and satellites too expensive to move. Moreover in a war against insurgents who hit and fade into the countryside rather than fight as a division it is hard to spot them, especially when you're travelling at 600mph and filling the area with noise sending people running for the hills. So who has to go on patrol and see what's what? The infantry.

Unmanned drones are silent, hard to spot on radar and visually, they're also slower as well as more fuel efficient. For recon purposes they are the pinnacle and they save lives. No one will be put in danger of attack and the drone can coordinate an artillery barrage, air strike or missile strike.

Once the occupation is started it is difficult to mount strikes with infantry ales time. Helicopter infantry is very dicey these days as any untrained fool can take down a helicopter with a one shot rocket launcher. Also the time needed to mobilise infantry, who aren't trained for surgical strikes, takes time. Modern warfare against plain clothed terrorist insurgents requires time and effort that is watched. If an incident happens around the world , and let's face it it is happening now in Mali, Algeria, Somalia - an armed response can be a logistical nightmare to organise and deploy.

Small teams of highly mobile elite squads is much more preferable for special operations. SAS and SBS teams can be mobilised and dropped into a combat zone within 48 hours rather than 48 days plus. They're harder to find and combat too. You can also arm and equip small teams with the best equipment for a lot less than outfitting a regiment and it's support staff with standard equip. It is thus very understandable, from an operational point of view, to why the MoD are scaling back and moving to a more fluidic form of warfare that will be more effective at combating terror and insurgents than sending our boys enmasse into a situation they're not equipped or trained to deal with properly.

If this scale back is to occur though, it is the duty of this government to thank the troops for their return and help get them jobs, homes in the same way demobbed troops were received after World War Two.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

SADS petition and Oliver King foundation

Sophie Howard - the post'll get more views if there is a picture of her
 on it, which will hopefully lead to more signatures!
I see a lot of petitions flying around Twitter, I do end up signing about half of them - at least the ones I believe are good causes!

Anyway, on the weekend, the former model posted a link to a petition that I duly read and signed and I think it is something that you should do too - after all it is a very worthy cause.

The basics are SADS - not the winter miseries but;

Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

It is a growing problem which effects 12-35 year olds killing 12 people a week!

All it will take to reverse this is a simple ECG to see if there is a heart murmer or a problem that could cause a heart attack or cardiac episode.

The other measure that is being discussed is that for all public buildings to have a defibrillator and trained staff to use it so that if someone does collapse, as Oliver King a twelve year old boy who died at a public swimming bath, something can be done.

I won't reinvent the wheel by re-writing all the information that is on the Petition, I would just strongly urge you to at least click the link and read it - then if you agree with it (and me) then do please sign it.

The petition will be discussed by backbenchers if it can get to 100,000 signatories (currently at 76923).

Let's do everything we can to stop senseless deaths in young people and expand our knowledge on this growing health problem.

I will be bringing this to the attention of the Medway Libdem Exec committee in tonight's meeting to see if we can find out and or influence Medway Council to do it's part with defibrillators in public spaces too.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Letter from the leader: Better pensions

This week's letter from the Leader - better pensions because of the Libdems in Government...

Dear Chris,
Steve Webb MP

This week I want to tell you about my good friend and colleague, Professor Steve Webb.

Steve is the Liberal Democrat MP for Thornbury and Yate, north west of Bristol. There are two things you will know about Steve if you have ever heard him speak. First: he is originally from Birmingham. Second: he is incredibly clever and understands more about pensions than almost anyone else in the country.

A former professor of social policy at Bath University, Steve’s CV includes a stint designing a new pensions system for the Ukraine after the fall of Communism and nearly ten years at the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysing taxes, benefits and pension policy in the minutest of detail.

So you can imagine how I felt, back in May 2010, when I got to appoint Steve as Minister for Pensions in the Coalition Government. It felt like serendipity. There simply couldn’t be a better person in the country to do the job.

And it wasn’t exactly a big surprise when, only a month or so later, Steve came back to say, with a glint in his eye: “I’ve got a plan. Let’s completely redesign the state pension.”

If anyone else said that to you it might be alarming. But from Steve, it was exciting. And after two and a half years that glint has turned into a concrete government proposal to introduce a new, simple basic state pension of £144 a week (up from £107), starting in 2017.

Until now, working out what pension you might be entitled to – and so, whether it was worth trying to save extra for your retirement – was a job for a professor alone. From now on, it will be easy for anyone who can count up to 35 (the number of years it will take to qualify in full) to work out what you’ll get in retirement. And it will be worth everyone’s while to save, because every pound in your private pension will be extra, with no more means testing.

The new system will be especially good for women, low earners and the self-employed, who can be sure of getting a decent pension instead of falling through the many cracks in the old rules.

So when people ask you, "What have the Lib Dems done for me in Government?", you know what to tell them. You can tell them Vince Cable's department is delivering more apprenticeships than ever before. You can tell them the Pupil Premium, an idea I wrote about in a pamphlet more 10 than years ago, is putting money into their local school. You can say we're delivering in April the biggest ever rise in their tax free allowance: a tax cut of £600, a promise that has made it from the front page of our manifesto directly into millions of people's pay packets.

And now you can tell them that Steve Webb has delivered a pension change that makes it worthwhile to save, and simple to prepare for retirement. It's a great step forward, and it wouldn't have happened without us - because it wouldn't have happened without Steve.
Best wishes,


Nick Clegg

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Take-aways, obesity and Medway's Kebabgate

Sturdee's take-aways; a thing of the past?
The debate over take-aways and schools within the Medway towns has reignited after a years silence.

The first whispers began in November with a report by the BBC stating the Council will be taking over from the NHS with responsibility over public health.

Cllr David Brake (con) is quoted in Dan Bloom's article Kebab-loving Tory: Let fast food firms sell near schools as saying;
I'm in favour (banning take-aways from opening near schools) it's taking away the temptation away for youngsters to nip out of school and up at the local chippy

However new zoning laws will not effect current take-aways.

Though this seems a bit like shutting the gate well after the horse has bolted as the BBC reveals "nearly all" of Medway's take-aways are within a 15 minute walk of a school.

My God! That means kids have to walk up to a mile to a chip shop! How many newsagents that sell coke and sweets or bakeries that sell cakes and pasties are also in this net?

If we start putting out restrictions where will it end? As Cllr Irvine said on his blog recently;

From my point of view it's a slippery slope, who decides what counts as healthy and what doesn't?

Then of course there is the School itself.

In December 2011 I was proud to announce that the then Children's minister Sarah Teather had brought in steps to capitalise on Labour's attempts to make School meals more healthy which had been sparked by Jamie Oliver's frightening expose!  She stated:

School meals beat takeaways hands down on the quality of food they serve but until now they have struggled to compete on price. Getting Children into the school canteen is vital - the benefits of healthy school meals are clear

The idea that Schools would now be able to compete with take-aways and offer meal deals to kids who would find it cheaper to eat in rather than wander out and get a Sausage and chips or cod and chips (paying £2.50 ish for a foot long sausage and a huge feast of chips from a local kebabbie).

This move was slightly undone when Michael Gove took away the obligation to meet the basic nutritional standard in academies and free schools which are unfortunately becoming the norm!

On top of that there is what the schools offer at dinner time. Chips, burgers, sausages, cake, chocolate are all freely available at school dining halls. When given a choice between Veg and chips I would put a fiver on nine kids out of ten saying chips! The Take-away isn't to blame and neither are the parents. After all when you send your child into school with money for school dinners you trust them to buy responsibly.

In response to Cllr Irvine's blog, Labours PPC and blogger Tristan Osborne is quoted (in the same Medway Messenger article) as saying the state should intervene: In the same way the council has the ability to change licences for alcohol sales in our pubs for the social good.
Erm... what?

I understand this is with a motivation to do good BUT it is ultimately striking a lot of innocents too. Firstly the take-away businesses themselves who are struggling to survive in this fragile economic climate as it is, secondly adults who, may want to get Fish'n'chips at lunchtime, the kids themselves....

The basis of British law is that you are free to do whatever you want as long as your actions or speech does not encroach on the sensibilities or freedoms of others.

How is nipping out for Sausage and chips encroaching on anyone's freedoms? The state cannot dictate be it pacifily or aggressively on what you eat. It's my body and if I want to eat Bigmacs until my heart explodes so be it. Any intervention by the state on freedom like this makes the German word Verbotten spring to mind.

I grant fact that obesity is on the rise, I also admit that my body is hardly a temple but I think going after hard working caterers directly is the wrong way to go about it, as is going after the schools - after all they can only effect kids during school hours and term time.

What needs to be done is advice and education for parents who are the ones who decide what their kids eat in packed lunches and also feed them for the other 2 meals a day. This is happening with new adverts on the television encouraging better nutrition.

This is also only part of the battle. Time constraints on busy families and the need to feed kids quickly means eating whatever can be made quickly or cheaply and super market chains do sell "Bad" food cheaply and veg for a lot more. Although, this again is changing as Sainsbury's are bringing in their "Eat healthier for cheaper" with almost War time frugality to stretch a joint of beef out over 3 dinners - something I can get behind!

If Medway Council want to discourage obesity and encourage a healthier lifestyle there are COUNTLESS options available to them. I've been working on one for the Medway Libdems and although I'm not allowed to talk about it yet it will encourage a healthier regime but more to follow soon!

They need to improve outside facilities, encourage places like the Blacklion swimming pool (I know it has had a name change but it will always be the Black lion to me), Splashes and other sporting venues to be cheaper for families and kids to go to, more green spaces for children to play in and better cycle routes.

Although the youth of today is now uploading itself to the internet or sat on their Xboxes during their free time rather than being out and running free, partially because society has waged war on "lay about teenagers on the streets" and partially because computer games offer more scope than wandering the streets of Gillingham in the cold and wet or sitting down at the Strand wasting time.

There are a lot of avenues open to the council to improve health in Medway and tackle obesity (if they can get over Society's sedatary past times) and scope to further educate and advise parents and children about nutrition, avenues that do not dictate what you can and can't do and curb freedom of action, a basic human right, because it's for the social good as they see it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Clegg v Cameron on Euro referendum

Since before recorded history the inhabitants of this island have not got on with the mainland and conflict has been rife between the two ranging from raids to invasion to full out genocide. This has all subsided in the aftermath of World War Two. As Britain's star waned and her position as the World's greatest superpower was lost, Germany's star has risen from complete annihilation to economic powerhouse and let's face it, the real voice in the EU.

The Conservative party has always had this divide over Europe that has gained even more relevance during the economic crisis and the collapse of the Eurozone. There are many calls from backbenchers, including Rochester & Strood's Mark Reckless MP, for a referendum.

There is also another dynamic to the Conservative divide and that is the Libdems. As a party, we're generally quite receptive to the notion or ideal of the EU, though not always the reality! It has however caused rumblings, one the The Telegraph were happy to exploit and make more news worthy than it probably is.

On Radio 4's Today programme Nick stated that;

We should be very careful, at a time when the British economy is still haltingly recovering from the worst economic shock for a generation, to create a very high and prolonged period of uncertainty.

His argument being that this continued debate and uncertainty of a referendum before the already legislated time has the potential to put off business and economic investment.

To a degree, I agree. Government has set the ball rolling on a referendum and the Coalition agreement clearly states that a referendum will only be called in this parliament if there is to be a serious shift of powers to Brussels.

However, the Tories have gone back on their word before...

However you feel about Europe, you must see it from a Business point of view. For stability and certainty you want a potential scheme to have a certain amount of continuity and not be subject to an expensive change in circumstances. It could be another painful pin prick to our already lacerated economy.

The Prime Minister's office have contradicted Nick and stated that it is in the National interest to have this debate now. Indeed many of the British public want to, UKIP want to and Tory strategists who want to halt their advance and heal rifts with in their own party want to.

As Pratchett's Lord Vetinari said;

What is in the public interest is seldom in the public interest

I tend to follow this point. Though a debate is needed caution and an ear to possible business and economic currents is needed. All of the uncertainty is causing ripples that are effecting many side issues like falling stones on a mountain that causes an avalanche.

I suppose my meandering, sleep deprived and overworked mind is to either, be quiet, stick to the agreement and wait for the legislated referendum or, lets schedule one for the summer and get it out of the way. The next battle would be for the vote to be fair and open. At current the British public would vote No based solely on misconceptions of certain issues - yes the EU has some horrednous problems but then agian it has its bonuses but it is not the purpose of this post to discuss that - that, is as they say - is another story.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

How do Libdems sleep at night?

I'm often asked, as a Libdem, how do I sleep at night?
I could ask similar questions of Labour activists (how can you believe half of what your party says sometimes?) and Conservatives (How can you believe that some of these policies are actually going to benefit anyone?).

That aside, the answer is not well. The last six or so months have been trying. At one point I was managing about 5 hours a night. Lots of staring at the ceiling and thinking;

How can one so small make so much noise?

Indeed, my conscience is clear. It is only my boy Ollie and the alarm for work that rises me from my slumber - and I do love my sleep!

The truth is, there are things that the Party has done within the Coalition that make me cringe. There are bills we've voted for that make my blood chill and sometimes I've bitten my tongue and told myself it is all for the greater good find there are some I've been vocal in my criticism of.

Unlike the caller to "Call Nick" who had torn up his membership card in disgust, I have no such plans.

The reasons are two fold;

1: I've paid for it and as a member I have a voice and can, with like minded others, effect change to the party I believe in and love.

2. I believe in our local message. Now I know our critics will sneer and say; "What message?" but we have one.

You have to ask yourself why we as a group were not wiped out in 2010? Why didn't Labour mount a serious challenge in Gillingham South?

The answer is simple; despite national politics our local councillors have a history and record of hard work. Geoff Juby, the Kearneys and Diana Smith work exceptionally hard for their residents. It is by sheer hard work rather than party politics that have kept them in.

We're beavering away in the background and with a list of future candidates due for release soon and a raft of policy ideas and aims to make Medway better for the residents that I'll, hopefully be able to talk about soon!

It is this local message, the local party and our local aims that help me keep the faith buttressed by the good work we have done in Parliament. That's how I keep the faith and, Ollie and Sophie allowing, get a good nights sleep.

Silence from Medway council over future of elderly care homes

Concern over the elderly and specialist care homes within Medway council are again under scrutiny. (some bits archieved here and here) Maureen Ruparal, a former Libdem Councillor who led the fight to defend the selling off of the Dementia care home of Nelson's court has again raised the issue with a letter to the Medway Messenger:

The ways of Medway council become more and more hard to understand.

  Residents, staff and relatives of service users in our linked service centres are fed up with sitting in limbo and not knowing what is happening.  At a meeting last Autumn, after the campaign to keep these centres in council control was lost council officers assured us that we would be kept informed, and we were also promised that specifications for the tendering process would be run past us before being published. 

 So far, nothing appears to have happened at all (after one and a half years of uncertainty), and I am forcibly reminded of the shambles when there was a huge rush (and incidentally huge expense) to empty out the sheltered schemes over six years ago.  Then Shalder House, one of the homes in question, was only sold last year!

  Private sector care homes in Medway have taken a bit of official criticism over the past few months, can we hope that the Tory controlled council are having second thoughts about disposing of the best run care homes in the area?

Medway Council are apparantly still not taking this seriously.

This is an important issue for residents and their families and will have serious ramifications if not addressed and handled correctly.

It is too late to save the homes, we tried and failed.

It is not too late to make the process of privitisation as painless as possible but we need the Council to assist in this and be as transparent as possible.

It is not playing politics to say;

Families and residents are concerned and worried, they can't be left in bureaucratic limbo - they're listening, time for the Council to start talking.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

US government says No to the Deathstar

It is indeed a dark day for the Empire.

Recently some 35,000 signatories signed a petition to lobby the US government to begin construction of a Deathstar in orbit.

Such a project would arguably create hundreds of thousands of jobs and have epic National defence implications.

The Whitehouse has predictably declined. Their response, laden with Star Wars clichés does have some good points too.

The overall cost to building a Deathstar is fairly astronomical. OK, so you don't have to build a fully functioning hyperdrive (after all if we had hyperdrive technology we would have access to the Galaxy!!!) which will save a vast amount of money but on the flip side the US will be paying its construction teams rather than using Wookie slaves and convicts from the planet Despayre.

Also there is the problem of resources. The Empire were able to strip mine whole planets for resources and leave them dead or heavilly polluted. We've only got one planet and if we were to construct a Deathstar on the scale of the Second Deathstar, which would be preferable, it would have a diameter of 900 km which, although small compared to the moon's 3476.28 km diameter, is still an lot of metal, more than would be attainable from this one planet.

There is of course the problem of the gravitational pull of this new small moon effecting the tides, weathers and seasons on Earth and interfearing with the Moon's own effects. For further details from renowned Star Wars physist Curtis Saxton on a much more detailed level try here.

As for the operational use of the station, the US government are indeed wrong. The Second battle station, perfected by Limelesk's team got rid of the thermal exhaust port that proved so hazardous to the first station and instead vented exhaust through 2cm square vents across the skin of the whole station. Had it been completed the station would have been somewhat indestructable from an external battle fleet and would have only been vulnerable to sabotage from the inside. Should the station explode in high orbit then the results planet side would be horrendous. As Curtis Saxton theorised the Forrest moon of Endor would have been plunged into a Nuclear winter. This may be a risk that religious fundamentalists are willing to take, in the resulting chaos and collapse of Government they could indeed take over. It is however not a risk the US government are willing to take.

As for the ability to destroy a planet, it would be seriously unlikely that any US officer would give the order to fire at full Primary ignition, but then again it only takes one! The weapon also has a powered down setting and can be used for orbnital bombardments or merely used for cutting the crust down to the molten core. A very powerful diplomatic tool yet would attract a lot of protesters and world wide condemnation as the US could hold the rest of us to ransom.

Although painful, I am going to admit the construction of my favoured battle/space station is best put on the backburner for now...

Instead let us commence lobbying the Americans to build a more efficient alternative:

Babylon 5

Babylon 5 is a much cheaper station with less high tech gizmos on her. She is only 8kms long built around a spinning hull (or O'neill hull) that creates an artificial gravity.

There are no scary superlasers, wings of TIE fighters and its destruction, although dangerous, would not plunge the Earth into a nuclear winter!

There is also the peaceful applications of the station with a UN style chambers and quarters which could allow ambassadors and delegates to have a better persective of the planet and scale of things. A truly neutral standpoint and one where groups could learn to understand one another.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Thoughts on "Call Nick"

I didn't hear "Call Nick" this morning on LBC, I was on a train to work and reception is fairly bad at the best of times. I did follow along with Twitter though.

Granted most of my Twitter feed is made up of Liberal Democrats but the general feeling was that Nick did well.

When I first heard of the "Call Nick" scheme I couldn't help but think this was a horrendously bad idea. Let's be honest he is hardly one of the best loved people in the UK, the general feeling amongst the public, rightly or wrongly, is that the Party sold out and checked its' values at the door. Surely an open forum would lead to all kinds of abuse?

However, I'd forgotten about that Clegg magic.

Nick is an exceptionally charismatic guy, very down to earth and chatty. It is easy to forget he went to Westminster college and from a well off background. He doesn't have the Etonian twang that David Cameron has, an unfortunate impediment in the modern age of politics when you are immediately labelled a toff.

As I understand it Nick weathered the storm of an angry student and an ex Libdem councillor who was disgusted at what has happened to the party in his stride.

It is true that my faith in the Party at parliamentary party has been shaken in the past and even as recently as Tuesday with the benefits vote but the anger never lasts long. I think of the good things and the tough decisions etc etc and at the centre is Clegg.

Some days I find myself asking "What are you doing Nick?" other days I think he's doing an exceptionally difficult job exceptionally well. I know that a meeting over a pint would end in my complete rejuvenation (even if I couldn't place why) and it would be the same for many I believe.

Going on LBC was a similar move of crazy mixed with genius.
How many political leaders have gone on regular radio interviews? None.
How many times do activists complain that leadership don't know what we're up against? All the time.
What better way is there for a politician to open their ears to what the public want, fear, get angry about?

This was actually a good way to raise the party's profile and achievements in the public eye. It also provides campaign committees with an idea of public opinion and a little bit of Clegg magic helps to!


Rail fares, Political football and inevitability

One of the top policy debates that will come up in 2015, as it did in 2010 is the constant rise in Rail fares. It is a burning issue here in the Medway towns and it was definitely one of the things that cost Paul Clarke (a junior transport minister) his seat. Local Conservatives, who protested at the Railway stations are now being supplanted by Labourites waving the same banners.

Although local MPs have fought hard to keep the rise in tickets to RPI+1 and limit the rise a rise has occurred.
Chelsea VS Man U.jpg.
The usual tired old arguments have come out again ->

You botched up Privatisation

You Brought in RPI+ system

You lot haven't kept your election pledges

You lot left us a deficit



Labour are now criticising the RPI+1 rise that has been brought in by the Coalition (after the hard work of local MPs) even though it is the amount their party proposed in an Opposition day motion.

Railfare has rapidly become a game of Political football.

OK, I know that I am a Liberal Democrat (boo hiss!) but primarily I am a husband and a father, a man who tries to earn an honest wage and support my family and I am seeing my wages slowly pouring down a black hole and it seems to me, as a consumer and voter that whomever wins - I still lose out.

It appears that successive Government legislation means that not much can be done.

Or is it?

To be honest, the local Tory MPs have done well to limit the rise having fought George Osborne's budget announcement (of RPI+3) and have lobbied the Ministers of transport on our behalf. Personally, Labour's calls seem a tad opportunistic.

But, if I was to carry on being honest - I'm starting to lose faith in the whole damn thing and am starting to feel pretty much defeated by the whole thing, resigned to paying more and more until I eventually can't afford to travel on the trains.

Here are the price rises from 2004-12 (thanks to John Ward's blog for 2004-11!!!)

Visual representation


I don't know who to put my faith in on this come the next election and I'm sure that most commuters feel the same way. Although the Conservatives have a better track record on this since coming into power they also have not fixed the problem, merely steemed the bleeding.

The fact of the matter is the prices keep rising and no one has any real solutions and it seems to be a constant rise under both parties.

There are a lot of Pie in the sky ideas like renationalising the network or cooperatively run franchises - all well and good but Southeastern still have the franchise and the Government are still setting the permission to raise prices.

So where does that leave us?

To be frank - I've almost given up and I'm walking out of the stands of this game, I tire of watching it and am resigned to paying more until the day I have to resign because I can't afford to travel.

It is issues like this and the petty squabbling and point scoring that has left many people disenchanted with politics as nothing seems to change.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Party failed us (except Sarah Teather et. al)

Sarah Teather stood against the BUB

Last night the headsman's axe fell missed the target and hacked at the body rather than a clean slice through the neck. This Government has taken a step to far in freezing benefit rise.

Don't get me wrong, there are elements of this bill that I think are just and fair. For example drawing a line where income exceeds a certain point and then scaling back child allowance, tax credits etc.

Boris Johnson was quoted as saying that he could have spent his child allowance etc on expensive holidays and champagne and estimated that his wife had received around £50k over the years for their children. Although a flippant remark, it is illustrative of the point that certain incomes don't require assistance. The level the government have is using is £50k PA which seems a fair amount to begin scaling back but it is also arbitrary in the fact that if ONE parent is earning 50K then they are eligible but two parents earning £49K each are not eligible - this is madness!

Although I do not subscribe to the scroungers vs. Strivers point that Iain Duncan Smith has put out on the whole, I do agree that such a "Scrounger" culture exists - just not in the scale that the Government and especially the DWP are suggesting. Moreover I think that the Government should go through an extended process of reform and legislation to combat this culture, the minority of people, and get them in work. Instead of cutting out the tumour with careful incisions they have attacked the whole damn system like Leather face in Texas Chainsaw massacre and everyone has been hit.

It seemed fair to us to distribute some of the pain in a more equitable way.

I agree, I also agree that the welfare bill cannot be insulated and should not be insulated. The problem is the way this bill seems to go about it.

Statutory Paternity/Maternity pay, Sick pay, Jobseeker's allowance, income support, family tax credits, adoption leave pay, couple and loan parent allowances - all frozen at a 1% rate in line with the public sector pay freeze of 1%.

Sounds fair... it isn't.

Inflation is still higher than 1% a year which means, before you get out of the blocks you are already losing when prices go up by inflation. You are then penalised if enterprising companies decide to make a little extra ON TOP of inflation. Look at train fare rise for example at RPI +1 or Sophie's nursery bill which went up by 5% and yet my pay stays at going up by 1% a year and now, the Child tax credits that low income families like mine rely on to help pay the way are also getting frozen at a 1% PA.

According to the IFS if the groups were sorted all of the groups were equal in size the averages work out thusly:
The lowest earning 10% will see 1.6% of their income lost,
Those on £9k a year will lose 1.67% (£150s a year)
The richest 10% will only see 0.03% of their income lost --> This percentage isn't entirely clear as the richest 10%, the Rio Ferdinand and Boris Johnson's of the UK earn so much that they aren't always eligible for certain benefits like income support and earn so much that the 0.03% is lost in a sea of other income.

Low income families are dependent on these little wavers of help from the government - it gives freedom to live and do things, spend money on other goods that generate VAT like days out, more expensive food stuff, alcohol or Cigarettes, electronics etc. The Government need the people to spend money to help the economy. Our family put the child tax credits straight into the nursery fund which alleviates the pressure from our wages and gives us financial freedom to take the children out, buy things for their education like books and educational toys, or to treat ourselves and for both of us to WORK. I don't remember the last time Sam and I went out to dinner, just the two of us because we simply can't afford it.

Those at the bottom are getting crushed by those who do not know what it is like to live at the bottom, £150s a year doesn't sound like much but that extra £10 is a lot when you don't have it. People are going to find themselves priced out of simple things and the only winners will be budget supermarkets and charity shops as people tighten their belts even further into a Warlike rationing or Victorian lifestyle of wage slavery, working under the lash of our betters until we fall into the dust.
It also further gets up my nose that some MPs are still working the expenses system (Helen Grant is an example) and getting away Scot free yet those of us who go to work and have always worked are getting screwed over by having our much needed support held back.

I'm also further disappointed that my party didn't stand up on this, other than Sarah Teather,(Read her comments as to why here) Julian Huppert, John Leech and David Ward with abstentions from Andrew George, Charles Kennedy and Adrian Saunders. We are supposed to be the listening party and this time the pleas of countless people across the UK and in communities such as Gillingham and Chatham where the average wage is well below £20K people are getting forgotten and ignored. Hard workers have been whitewashed as "Scroungers." In a very Victorian discipline;

The Innocent will suffer with the guilty.

When you can't run you walk, when you can't walk you limp and when you can't do that you need someone to carry you and that is where the Welfare system should come and help - those who can't keep up (though not those who won't).

Monday, 7 January 2013

Falkland islands - Let the islanders decide

Some thirty years after the war in the Falklands ended there is still diplomatic tension over the small islands with Argentina demanding the islands and Great Britain argues that it should be up to the islands in a self-determining vote, one is due to be held in three months time.

 The argument goes back to the early Nineteenth century when the British used strong arm tactic to remove an Argentine Garrison from the islands in January 1833. It is true that the British Empire has used hard line tactics and even bullied in its’ bid to dominate Trade routes and territory however did Britain have the right?

Well, the first sighting of the island was by a passing Dutch ship in 1600 and an English vessel under Captain Strong  sailed through the islands in 1690. The French were the first to land a colony in 1764 on  East Falkland and in a coincidence the following year the English landed the following year on Saunders Island but claimed the island group in the name of King George. Both colonies were in complete ignorance of each other.

This is where Argentina come in, teniously. In 1767 the French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire who put it under their local governor in Beunos Aires. Spain then decided to make things nice and neat and evicted the British from their colony in Port Egmont in 1770. Negotiations were held to avert a full blown war and the Spanish promised to restore the fort and all it's stores but retained the nature of sovereignty still remained unanswered.

War did tear the world assunder some six years later with the American War of Independence, which rapidly turned into a world wide conflict. The British government were forced to reannalyse how they used their resources and where they were scattered, even prior to the conflict. In 1774 the isles were abandonned with a plaque claiming sovereignty was left behind.

Spain, likewise maintained a governor until 1808 and a colony until 1811 before similiarly leaving a plaque stating their sovereignty.

Following the collapse of the Spanish Empire and the establishment of the United Provinces of the River Plate, a privateer captain David Jewett landed in 1820 and claimed them in the name of the latter. Luis Vermet was set up a settlement for the Provinces in 1828. He requested protection from Beunos Aires (who made him the military and Civil commander of the islands) and from Britain, should they ever return.

1831 saw Vermet fall out with the United States causing an incident by holding several fishing and Whaling vessels before the USN Lexington came down and carried out some gunboat diplomacy to free their citizens.

1832 the Royal Navy arrived and orderred the Argentine garrison to leave the islands, although the senior Argentine officer protested he failed to act and the islands passed peacefully to Britain. The islands did not fall under British jurisdiction so the perpetrators of the Gaucho murders could not be tried for killing British citizens. The Royal Navy set up a waystation and ran the islands as a Squadron base until 1840 whence it became an official colony.

It is a strange historical story as to who has right if any. Ultimatly though Britain has been in posession for almost two hundred years. Generations of islanders have grown up and descending from British citizens. It is completely different to contested land such as Alsace-Lorraine which changed between Germany and France on a generational time scale.

I know, as an Englishman my international view on this will be bias, indeed if I was Argentinean I'd probably be writing about the Malvinas belonging under Buenos Aires. However I'm only arguing that the islanders themselves should be given the voice, after all it is their home and their way of life.

Sean Penn may have said that the British are rattling the Imperialist sabre over the islands but the simple point of the matter is the Islands are British overseas territory until such time as the islanders say No. If after the referendum they do decide to become an Argentine province then I'm sure a timely hand back, like Hong Kong's will be carried out.

The question is, if the Islanders vote to stay British - will Argentina leave them alone?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Attack on the Scroungers maybe misplaced

After a debate on Twitter the other evening followed by some time to reflect I came up with this.
There are two stereotypes that are hyped up by Politicians and the Media at the moment and are two of the biggest scourges of today’s society.
They are:
The Multi-national Rich who hide their money to avoid paying tax – be they company or individual

The Benefit Scrounger

The former clearly exist and quite notable cases have been named and shamed.

The latter is a harder subject.

There are benefits cheats, undeniably so. Many of us low paid peons know of someone or a friend of a friend of a friend who is a clamant. There is also an almost urban mythology sprung up about the benefit scrounger and the amounts they are claiming.

The media, especially the Daily Mail and The Sun publish sensationalist stories of extreme cases, the former is often quick to bring up Foreign Nationals who are draining our resources and tax payers money. Yes, there are genuine cases of this happening that need to be addressed but how many cases like this actually like this?

It is something common in history, usually minority groups used as scapegoats by a state: Kulak landlords in Soviet Russia, communists in Fascist European states and an idea of “them” and “us” could be developed. The core parallel is the Russian example. Kulak landlords were demonised as taking the wealth from the poor farmers and economy. The Agricultural and working classes became so incensed that a class war was waged and the state was able to appropriate the land for its communised lands.

In the UK, tighter controls on benefit and an attack on working tax credits is being moved under the banner of tackling Benefit scroungers.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that tightening the loop holes is a good thing to an extent. I, like the majority of people get out of bed, go to work, pay my taxes and exist on the remainder, I too am angered by those who don’t want to play the same rules, who cheat the system and make the rest of us look stupid.

However, I do not believe the number of scroungers is as high as is being suggested. It seems like the DWP is making a sweeping generalisation to save money and wielding the axe like a drunk headsman to reach a target and worse yet it will gain support for going after the banner of “Scroungers” and catch lots of innocents in the process without the proper assessments being done first.

What is needed is a gradual cut with Liberal empathy and understanding is needed and the deft hand of a surgeon.

Working tax credits are vital for many families, including mine, and help pay for child care so both parents can go back to work.

My wife and I had already been balancing our days off with childcare – one at home, one at work and Sophie at nursery three days a week so we could squeeze more hours in and live outside of work rather than just subsist and only spend our time toiling away to pay for our mortgage, train fares, utilities.

The accusation that elements of this government seem to be aiming for a return to Victorian lifestyles looks like it is gradually gaining substance.

Liberal Democrats in Parliament need to be careful to review the legislation coming out of the DWP and to make sure that sweeping and potentially harmful policies are not just being carried along under the hyperbole and demonization of a social “evil” that will also persecute those in need.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

January Southeastern Fare rise

With the new year comes a fresh fare increase to Southeastern train's customers. Hard pressed commuters will be asked to fork out RPI +1 % on their tickets.

Indeed my ticket, a monthly season ticket from Gillingham to London not valid on the tube or HS1 will rise to something like £352s or roughly £4200 PA which is 20% of my £20.000 PA wage.

As a commuter and someone on a low to medium income with a mortgage and two children it is more money that I can ill afford and something I have consistently campaigned and written about on these very pages. I've also written to my MP, Rehman Chisthi who passed it to Theresa Villiers as well as Medway's other MPs Mark Reckless and Tracey Crouch.

RPI+1 is not a great outcome but it is an acceptable outcome. I've got a 2% breathing room which is better than a kick in the proverbials.

I'm not a Tory (no really!) but I know that the current incumbents fought hard over the last year to lower the fare increases that had been announced at the budget as RPI+3 to a more affordable RPI+1 and for that I give thanks.

Despite the other debacles that rocked the Department of Transport, such as the West Coast line franchise and blooper and with the state of the economy RPI+1 was the best we could hope for on the grand scale of things however much I, and many others on low to medium income prayed for a freeze or just an RPI rise!

RPI+1 was the position that the MPs in the Coalition (Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat) agreed upon and something that the Labour party put forward at an Opposition day motion and one that was very hotly debated and watched by commuters like myself with great interest!

Although I am confused as why the current PPC for Labour in Chatham and Aylesford whose press release stated:

Regular commuter and Parliamentary candidate Tristan Osborne has attacked the SouthEastern fare rise as a another Tory tax rise on low and middle income working people, and calls on Conservative MPs to stop the constant lip-service and call for the Department of Transport to sort out the fare and franchise mess

Even though it is by the amount that Labour wanted - I -

Y'know, bugger it, I'm not making any political point here, partially because I don't need to, words have failed me so I'm just going to skip on by.

What I am saying is, that RPI+1 was the best I guess we could have hoped for, not the best solution for people like myself but the best the Government and the companies were willing to offer and I would like to thank my representatives for fighting as hard as they did just to secure this little victory.

I echo Cllr Osborne's call for the Franchise to be sorted out, many suffering commuters will agree with me that Southeastern are far from perfect and that there are certainly big gaping holes in their customer service and state of their trains. stations and facilities which do not offer value for money and I would like to encourage local representatives of ALL parties to work together in our interest and try and sort this mess out.

I agree that the railways could end up becoming a rich man's transport and this is something that needs to be reversed before those on low incomes who commute to the capital find themselves forced to give up work because they simply cannot afford the price of transport.