Monday, 27 May 2013

EDL, Snoopers charter and reactions to the murder of Lee Rigby

Fire damage to Grimsby mosque (taken by Gerard Tubb)
The death of Drummer Lee Rigby on Wednesday was a great tragedy and my heart, and those of the nation goes out to his grieving family and the tragic loss of a partner, father and son. I cannot imagine the pain and grief that has rocked them and the void that cannot be filled.

The nation has greeted the news with shock and anger and in some cases violence.

Twenty five minutes after the news broke the Gillingham Mosque was broken into, property damaged and a copy of the Qur’an defiled by a local man who has now been held in the custody of Kent Police. There was also an 83 year old woman held after yelling racist abuse at Muslims leaving after prayer.

I’ve now read briefly through twitter, that the EDL are in Woolwich marking the spot where the murder occurred and there has been a spate of anti Muslim violence by members of the public.

Although understandable to a degree they cannot be condoned. It is unfair to punish innocent people for an act that they themselves are abhorred by. One picture that was doing the rounds was of a Klu Klux Klan meeting saying;

You cannot say that the views of terrorists are representative of Islam any more than you could say that the Ku Klux Klan’s were representative of Christianity.

The same can be said for the racists and petty criminals who come out of the woodwork at times like this capitalising on a horrific event like this with their politics and own vendettas. The EDL, as has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, are not the chivalric nationalistic order they’d like to think they are. There is a thin line between Nationalistic patriotism and racist xenophobia.

I’m sure that the NSDAP considered themselves patriotic and full of love of the Fatherland and Fuhrer but they were also racists xenophobes making Germany for the Germans – eerily echoed in making England English. It makes me nervous to think that people have not learnt from history, especially the most abhorrent period of modern history.

I hope that others do not judge the EDL, BNP or individuals are representative of the British people. After all, the majority of people were, like me, horrified by what happened and blame the individuals responsible rather than a demographic and religious community.

There are indeed questions that need to be asked, mainly as part of the Police and Intelligence forces investigations into radicalisation and the source and other groups need to wait for their findings. Indeed I would urge the EDL to crawl back under the rock they came from and stop encouraging violence and hatred against Muslims. Whatever they feel their input is in reality it isn’t helping the situation.

Within Government too, there is a sudden tack right from Conservatives who still back the "Snoopers charter" and Labour. Mr Miliband was quoted today on the BBC News website, as saying;

If he [the PM] wants a communications bill, we'll help him get it through.

There is a thin line between national security and police state too...

It has been acknowledged that such a charter would not necessarily have stopped the attack in Woolwich it might stop future attacks. However is this worth the rest of us having our personal freedoms curtailed?

Why should the state be able to look at my internet history, or know who I have been facebooking? It is of no one's business but my own if I am sending emails to either fellow Libdems, my family, my ex girlfriend or the King of Denmark until I've committed a crime.

Emma Carr of bigbrother watch hits the nail on the head for me with;

It is remarkable for politicians to be jumping to legislation to monitor the entire country when all the evidence to date shows this horrific attack would not have been prevented by the communications data bill.

The draft bill also prohibited the authorities from looking at the content of messages and surely we should expect people under the kind of surveillance possible in this case to be having their messages read?

Indeed the monitoring of emails only works if you know for a fact that one of the individuals is an extremist other wise how would you prove that an email sent from one person to another Might contain plans for an attack? Would it not be simple for coded emails to be sent so that only the sender and recipient would know what was the true nature of the message?

We wouldn't want our telephones to be tapped without a warrant and we would want our letters examined so why is an online message ok?

I do agree with cutting back on the Radicalisation of people in universities etc... Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of a Liberal society and human rights but with any freedom it must be curtailed if it is having a negative impact on other people's freedom - as in the case of racism or sexism.

This is something that can be restricted as preaching to kill or harm those who do not believe the same as you or are different is in fact incitement to violence or even to incite a hate crime and it has no place in any modern society.

In fact I agree with Nick Clegg's comments on Friday when he stated:

A religion of peace was being distorted, turned upside down and inside out, perverted in the cause of an abhorrent and violent set of intentions.

Terrorism has no religion because there is no religious conviction that can justify the kind of arbitrary, savage random violence that we saw on the streets of Woolwich.

We have a choice to either allow that powerful corrosive feeling of fear to seep into every second and minute and hour of our lives or we can make a choice that we're not going to change our behaviour.

To give in, to tack right and towards snoopers charters and ultra nationalism is to get rid of the very ideal that the terrorists abhor the most - freedom, our liberty to live and act freely. So, yes to curtailing hatred and those who preach it no matter which side of the void they sit, and no to curtailing the freedoms of innocent people on the off chance.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Rochester South and Horsted Focus and fairer Council tax for Medway

Vale drive on the Davis estate
One of the regular criticisms of the Medway Liberal Democrats is that their existence is limited to only Gillingham South and Watling wards in the Medway towns.

This however is untrue.

For example, one of our activists (Sid Kingman) has fought long and hard to convert derelect allotment space on Ottway Street (in Gillingham North ward) into a children’s play area. The opening will be tomorrow at 10:00 am if anyone wants to pop down there and see.

Then of course is Rochester South & Horsted ward where are activists are pretty active too. Last week Focus newsletters were dropped through letter boxes all over the Davis estate as Viv Parker and her team hit the streets.

The RS&H team have been working on several local issues including traffic safety. Having served a couple of Freedom of Information requests Viv has found that the junction of Beresford Avenue and Pattens lane, which was reported by a resident, has indeed been somewhat of a blackspot. Over an eighteen month period of June 2010
à January 2012, there have been three serious accidents, one including two children who walked out between parked cars and a three car pile up!

The Tigermoth roundabout has also been of concern and upon research it was found that between September 2009 and 2011 there have been five accidents with a serious injury to a motorcyclist.

On consultation with residents Viv will be pressing the Council further to improve road safety at these junctions for moterists and residents.

Viv has also been at full council asking searching questions of Medway’s ruling Conservative party.  As part of the Liberal Democrat Party’s aim to make tax fairer locally and Nationally, Viv has raised the concern that the removal of the Council tax benefit will be a return to the dark days of the Poll tax as those who cannot afford to pay are forced to. The fees are looking to be £15s a week, which doesn't sound like much but it does work out as 30% of jobseekers allowance!

Fuel poverty is considered to be spending 10% of your household income on gas and electricity so does this massive 30% mean there is such a thing as Council tax poverty?

  The Cabinet have ignored plans and suggestions from officers to use Council taxes to bring the 1400 odd empty houses back into use and instead opted for this (probably so they can blame the Government come election time). When asked by Viv if this would indeed be the case the response was;

It was down to the magistrates to send people to prison.

However this is ignoring the fact that Medway Council have to pay for the court proceedings in the first place and may end up paying a lot more to bring a case to trial than would be recovered in missing taxes from those who simply cannot afford it. More waste from Medway’s Conservative ruling body.

Indeed, on a national level the Liberal Democrats have cut 24 million people’s income tax by £600s a year and by 2015 it will be £700s a year meaning the first £10,000s you earn will be tax free which will make a massive difference in your yearly budgets in Medway – nearly an extra £58s a month which is the equivalent of two weeks food shopping!

We believe in fairer taxes for all be it locally and nationally and we are fighting for it.

If you are a resident of Rochester South & Horsted please do drop the party an email and we’ll do our best to help. Likewise if you want to help or join the local party.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Letter from the leader; Coming together and response to the attack in Woolwich

This was a week that put things in perspective. I know I speak for all Liberal Democrats when I say that our thoughts are with the family and friends of Drummer Lee Rigby – the British soldier attacked and killed in Woolwich on Wednesday. And I’ve made it clear, on the party’s behalf, that we are immensely grateful to our police, security services and armed forces, who do an extraordinarily important job.

That last few days have reminded me, and probably many of you, of a simple but important truth: when your values are under attack, you have to hold on to them even more firmly than before. 

Yesterday, at the request of some friends in the Muslim community, I convened a meeting, in London, of representatives from different faiths, community organisations and secular groups. Before the speeches I held a private discussion with a smaller group, and I wish I could have broadcast it across the nation. Just days after a brutal act of terror, men and women from across the faiths and political parties, gathered around the table, each calling for the same thing: unity. It would have made you immensely proud.

And there have been other victories for our values this week. Getting the Equal Marriage Bill through the House of Commons was no mean feat and it’s something all Liberal Democrats should feel good about. Britain is now one step closer to being a country where all forms of love – gay or straight – are celebrated equally, and that wouldn’t have happened without our party.

The Coalition was also able to confirm that hundreds of Afghan interpreters who served bravely alongside British forces will have the chance to settle in the UK.  Paddy’s been heavily involved with this campaign for a while. At one point, it was suggested that Afghan interpreters might not be granted this right, but clearly that was something I – we – couldn’t accept. Don’t forget, it was under pressure from the Liberal Democrats that the previous Labour government extended the right to reside here to Iraqi interpreters. When someone has risked their life to help our servicemen and women, it seems so obvious to me that we owe them a debt.

So it’s been a difficult week, but it’s also been a week which has reminded us who we are. This is an open, diverse and generous nation, where, in our toughest moments, we come together. That’s something no act of hate or violence will change.   
thoughts are with the family and friends of Drummer Lee Rigby – the British soldier attacked and killed in Woolwich on Wednesday. And I’ve made it clear, on the party’s behalf, that we are immensely grateful to our police, security services and armed forces, who do an extraordinarily important job.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Failure at the top of Medway Council Cabinet

When a football manager loses vital games, no matter how well their team performed, they are
Over seeing failure - Cllr Rodney Chambers

sacked or have the decency to resign.

When a military commander is defeated heavily in battle, no matter what the odds were against them, they are replaced or have the good grace to die in battle.

When a minister screws up massively or a Party leader losses an election by a serious amount they are promoted side ways, replaced or resign.

Not so for the Medway Conservatives.

The ruling Medway Council have been in power for quite some time with quite a majority, which against the trend they increased in 2011. Yet despite this there have been some well documented clangers that have been dropped from a very high height.

The Medway Bus station over spend, the bridge to no where on the Isle or Grain, the budget that simply doesn’t add up, the Darley rail bridge enlargement, the Ofsted results, the Medway test failure, farcical consultation and privitisation of vital elderly care homes, roads in dire need of repair – the list is fairly expansive and I could go on.

Who has resigned their post as portfolio holder in this time?


No one.

There had been quite a substansive move by politicos and opposition parties to get Councillor Wicks to resign as portfolio holder of Children’s services after the debacle of the Medway test and the Child services that protect the most vulnerable in society were rated unsatisfactory by Ofsted showing that basic consultation and referals were up to twice that of the acceptable national average. Whether he was personally responsible or not is no longer relevant, he should have biten the bullet and resigned as public confedence in him was/is exceptionally low and that is not what you need in someone who is overseeing our children’s wellbeing. I use the past tense as last week he was rotated out and Cllr Mike O'Brien has taken his place but it took two years for this to happen and this farce should not have been allowed to continue publically for so long.

Then we turn to Councillor Jarrett the portfolio holder for finance. After this year's budget meeting with figures that did not add up, parking fees shown as incorrect, failure to come up with a financial plan to pay for Medway Tunnel other than to rob from the road repair funds he has shown that when it comes to financial wizardry he is less of a Gandalf and more of a Paul Daniels.

When you slot in the other mistakes and almost reckless spending on capital projects gone wrong like the bus station or the Hoo bridge at the expense of Sure start centres and elderly care you are forced to ask serious questions about his financial management. Yes he is doing a tough job with limited funds and I do not envy him in that respect but at the same time he is wielding the axe and purse like a drunk headsman on pay day and my daughter who is just shy of three can add up figures slightly more convincingly. Again public perception is that the Sherriff of Capstone is taxing the heart and soul out of Medway’s poorest to pay for Mayoral dinners, capital projects and regeneration when they want a more “back to basics” approach. Confidence is being lost.

Then you have the top of the structure. Councillor Chambers the Conservative and Council leader prosiding over them all. Again, he has not been personally responsible for the actions of his subordinates but he is where the buck must stop. Going back to the original examples, should a goal keeper play consistently poorly and concede goals left, right and centre it is the manager who will lose his post first. After the disasterous German invasion of Norway it was Chamberlain who stood down as Prime Minister not Carton de Wiart as military officers. So why has Rodney Chambers still clung to his position? Should he not act and forcibly replace those who have failed so spectacularly as any good leader would do? Should he take the bullet himself or more likely cling to the map table to the bitter end moving phantom divisions whilst a Red (and Gold) steamroller relieve him of command at the next local election?
  No - the rumbling Conservative band wagon continues unabated here and the back slapping continues.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Letters to the editor on local child care.

My letter to the Medway Messenger that unfortunately didn't get published.

I would like to congratulate Councillor Mike O’Brien on hisappointment to portfolio holder for Children’s services but also to draw hisattention to this;

Due to funding cuts our local nursery is unable to take children under two years old. This is a bitter blow for my family as my wife has two months of maternity leave left and was preparing to go back to work with my son’s name down for the local nursery. We have two months to find a nearby nursery that will take him or my wife will have to give up work for at least a year cutting our already stretched household income virtually in half.

Many of my wife’s friends who, like us, were hoping their second child could go to the same local place as their first born are now faced with either giving up work or taking both children elsewhere, something that is not really an option for us.

The point is that both my wife and I have both worked our whole adult lives and paid all our taxes and now we find ourselves being persecuted for wanting to work. Had the Council really thought through this move before implementation and will they reverse it?

If not, it seems that they don’t care about hard working residents and will leave us contemplating which vital utility bill we have to live without.

Chris Sams,  Gillingham.

Game of Thrones: Strong female characters.

Last year I read something by Laurie Penny that really vexed me. I know that a lot of her columns do but this was one of the two that really got to me. It was about Game of thrones and the role of women and how it promoted negative stereotypes of women which stimulated a response from me that... Any way - it is here.

I'd thought nothing of it in a long while until I was browsing YouTube and found the following video with definite role model Brienne of Tarth.

I should really state *Spoilers ahoy* for anyone who has not read or watched the Songs of fire and ice but wants too.

There are several key female characters who are the antithesis of the naive maiden (Sansa Stark) or object to be bartered with (Sansa again and maybe Margaery Tyrell?) and i'll address them but I'm going to start with my favourite Brienne "The maiden" of Tarth.

Brienne of Tarth
Brienne is the complete opposite of Sansa. She is a warrior, always has been and has trained at martial skills from a young age spurning her father's attempts to make her a lady or to marry her off. As the books progress she shows herself to be more noble and chivalric than many of her Knightly counterparts.

She is often ridiculed for her unappealing looks and for the fact that she is a woman doing a man's job but the point is she does it exceptionally well, so well in fact that she is promoted to Renly's elite rainbow guard and is alone given the task of returning the Kingslayer to King's landing and returning the Stark girls.

A similar character is Arya Stark who goes against the accepted norm for women in Westeros and likewise learns to fight and actively despises courtly etiquette that Sansa so truly took to. Arya is the opposite of the quintessential Noble's daughter and that is probably why she has survived so long out in the wilds facing down opposing armies, mercenaries, murder and far worse, things that might have destroyed Sansa completely!

Daenerys Targaryen is another such character. No more than a girl of thirteen in the first book she is married of as a token by her brother for an army as so many women were throughout the middle ages. She soon discovers her voice after her brother and husband die and she leads what is left of her people through ruin to safety before carving out a kingdom of her own by the age of 15 or 16!

Though there are men in her life (like Mormont and Barristan) she knows her own mind and rules her lands as she sees fit often going against the grain. She is an inspirational character and one of my favourites.

Finally, it is often overlooked by people but the strong matriarch characters like Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark are likewise, very important roles. It is easy to want to see women hefting around halberds and getting elbow deep in someone else's entrails alongside their male counterparts but the point is the relentless scheming and ambition of Cersei's drives the first books. The strong maternal bond that turns to bloody vengeance of a mother left childless is a new occurrence that I'm looking forward to seeing develop.

I admit that the majority of A song of fire and ice are men but in a medieval society it was the men who did the fighting, the dying and the majority of the courtly duties. Seriously pick up a history book on the War of the roses and count how many influential women there were in comparison to the number of knights, lords, Dukes, Princes etc.

I know it isn't history, I know that compared to men, the number of strong female characters is low (especially when you throw in the amount of peasants and prostitutes.) but it is a period piece and I don't see many people kicking up a stink about Lord of the Rings or Pride and Prejudice so why attack Game of Thrones - other than it is topical? If you just watch the trailers and read the reviews you will miss out on characters like Brienne who in many ways is a role model and someone that can definitely be admired in their outlook and way they are bucking the trend.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Medway MPs and the right side of the party

Turn Right or stay put? Chishti, Crouch and Reckless

Yesterday I read Tristan Osborne's piece on Medway's MPs swinging right. Definitely worth reading and Medway could be a UKIP target.
concur there may be a shift right by Conservative elements. I've already postulated that

The Coalition was easily formed as both the Liberal Democrats and liberal centre ground Conservatives had similar aims and yearnings for change - albeit with different approaches and maybe different outcomes. Both parties have had their problems. We've lost good people because they are unhappy with us joining the Conservatives, others because we broke our pledge and/or signed off on policies that we've deemed as illiberal. It is a relief that Nick has started saying No more these days and reasserting the Party's will a bit more.

There have been divisions within the Conservative party who were upset about them joining the old enemy the wishy-washy Liberals. Ofcourse there was always a stigma about going further right as there lay the BNP and UKIP. One, a fairly disorganised rabble of racists and the other was seen as a one trick pony where Kilroy and Neil Hamilton went. Serious Conservatives fearing bad press wouldn't go near them. Instead they have held out haranguing the Government leadership and waiting for the Coalition to fail/end whichever happened first.

However the recent UKIP surge has got many Conservatives questioning their position. In 2010 many got in because they were simply not Labour, or from those who wished to see a return of a true Blue government like Thatcher and they have been disappointed. UKIP is suddenly an acceptable party to vote for and have talks with. Nadine Dorries, often seen as some what of a loose cannon made the step of trying to run on a joint ticket and I wonder how many other disgruntled Conservatives felt the same way. Suddenly many Conservatives who were happy to sit on the benches and not rock the Coalition boat too much have found their voices which would explain the 130 MPs, which had risen from 60 earlier in the week, who voted for an EU referendum.

What will that mean for Medway's blue team? Well, for the first time, the normally ultra loyal Rehman Chishti, who voted against a referendum in the past, found himself rebelling. Is this a move to recapture possible lost ground in Gillingham and Rainham? Ground support for him would be tough enough in 2015 with many flocking back to support Labour Candidate and former MP Paul Clarke, and to try and stop the right vote splitting it could be considered that he is trying to cut of UKIPs head before it starts. I think we could see more such moves from Rehman so do keep your eyes on him in the future.

Mark Reckless is unlikely to swing right. He's already been exceptionally vocal on his belief of pulling out of Europe and has been consistent in his voting and considered at one point the most rebellious! It would be pointless for UKIP to stand a candidate and split the vote which would allow Labour in through the backdoor.

Tracey Crouch also recently rebelled but this hasn't been a sharp turn right for her. Tracey has always stood with the Prime Minister's position that powers need to be recouped and has voted accordingly. Chatham & Aylesford could be an exceptionally close run thing in 2015 and I think there will be concerns that a UKIP surge could cost her the seat but I don't think that she will knee jerk right as Rehman has done so and depart from her normal voting position. If anything Tracey will continue being Tracey but again, we shall see.

The Conservative party has evolved a lot since the fall of Thatcher and still looks like it needs to find itself. It'll be interesting to watch where they settle and how our MPs in the Medway towns will shift and whether it will preserve them in 2015 or if I'll see them down the job centre in Chatham in June 2015!

Also, as a brief aside. Tris ends his piece with;

Alternatively, if they are too weak to speak out, then the choice is clear. Labour is the only moderate, centrist and socially liberal party in British politics.

I'm moved to ask... What about the Liberal Democrats? The quintessential Middle ground! Whilst Labour go left and the Tories right... Is it possible for us to be more central?

Also who is more liberal than the Liberals?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Letter from the Leader; Europe, Grimmond, and referendum

Dear Chris,

I'm writing this week's Letter to you from Kirkwall in Orkney. Alistair Carmichael and Jim Wallace
have been trying to persuade me to make the trip for a while and I've finally made it in order to join the celebrations of the centenary of Jo Grimond's birth.

The big debate this week in British politics, which featured strongly in PMQs - where I was standing in for the PM (you can watch it here) - has obviously been about our future role in Europe. An issue on which Jo Grimond was a pioneer and leader.

What's emerging in this debate is that there are three basic positions. The first is UKIP's and an increasingly large number of Conservatives' - they want to leave now. I am clear that would be a calamitous mistake for the country - it would make us poorer, make us less safe and jeopardise millions of jobs and billions of pounds of investment.

The second position is the Conservatives' official position (at least for now) which amounts to saying to the rest of the EU that they should keep all the EU rules for themselves, but we'll only abide by the bits we like. It's a have-your-cake-and-eat it strategy. It might sound seductive, but it's unlikely to work. Instead it will end up with either largely symbolic concessions from the other 26 member states "inconsequential" in Lord Lawson's words - or demanding so much that the other EU countries will simply refuse.

The third position is the Liberal Democrats' position. Of course the EU has to change. It is going to change because it's in a state of challenge and flux and so needs reform. It must be more competitive, more open, leaner and less bureaucratic. All things Britain should lead from the front on and work constructively with our European partners to achieve.

That is a vision of Europe and Britain's role in it that our party has long subscribed to. And importantly, it is actually achievable.

And in line with our previous manifesto, and the legislation we passed in 2011, when the EU rules change and new things are asked of the UK within the EU, the British people will have a say in a referendum. We are the first Government ever to give the British people such a guarantee in law.
So there are three positions: we can leave now; we can try and (almost certainly fail) to have our cake and eat it; or we can play our part at the heart of Europe promoting reform and guaranteeing a referendum when the EU rules change affecting Britain.

But as I argued in PMQs to the Tory backbenchers (who by the way seem to have developed an almost unhealthy interest in our Focus leaflets!), people are facing more pressing issues. And it is exactly those issues Liberal Democrats in this Coalition Government are currently taking a lead in tackling.

We won't always get the attention or coverage we deserve for things we are doing, such as introducing Steve Webb's single tier pension or the important work Norman Lamb has been talking about this week on Social Care. But we will keep delivering these things that make a real difference to people's lives.
That is what we are in Government for: anchoring it in the centre ground and building a stronger economy and a fairer society. I'm sure Jo wouldn't have wanted it any other way.




Saturday, 18 May 2013

Life sentences for Cop killers

Constable Peter Sams of the Met Police in 1948
Earlier this week Theresa May announced to the Police Federation conference that should a Police Officer
be murdered the culprit will serve the rest of their life in prison.

As the decedent of three generations of Police Officers who worked selflessly for their communities (three served in the Mertropolitan Police with two making Sargent and one in the Devon & Cornwall constabulary.), I can fully agree with this motion. A Police officer dedicates their time to serve and protect the community from crime and fear. It is unfortunate that officers can be killed in the line of duty, usually in RTIs, but straight murder is unacceptable, be it in the form of throwing bricks in a riot to shooting patrolmen dead in the street for no reason other than they are Cops.

Beyond the uniform they are people with families and lives. For the most part they are just doing a job.

However this throws up other problems. What about other members of the Emergency services? Paramedics and firemen have been abused on duty. If one was killed would they get a life sentence off the bat too?

Then of course there are other murderers. Some like Peter Sutcliffe and Ian Brady who, thankfully will never see the light of day again.Others like Ian Huntly only received 38 years as a sentence for the murder of those two young girls in Soham and it is a possibility, at one point that he will get out.

So - if you murder two innocent defenceless children you should be punished less than the killing of an adult trained to defend themselves and armed with pepper spray and an ASP?

Also - if as a teenager you are involved in the murder of a police officer will you be given parole later in life if you turn your life around or will you have to pay the price for a moment of teenage stupidity for the rest of your life where as a middle aged man who premeditates the murder o f several prostitutes or preys on and murders innocent children may still have parole as a possibility.

As much as I understand the sentiment and do agree that life sentences should be life (but with the possibility of parole) you have to be fair across the board. Can you weigh one human life against another and say that the killing of one is more devestating than another?

Another big question is if they do make life - life then how much will it cost the nation to build and maintain prisons? There is always the option of using decommissioned vessels as Prison hulks - still space on the Medway marshlands!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

EU vote - my two cents

Last night MPs voted on trying to bring forward an in/out referendum for the UK's EU membership however
they lost 270-130 as Labour and the LibDems voted against.

Already the tribal party politics has begun.

Even during yesterday's (D)PMQs, Conservative backbenchers tried to label Mr Clegg a hypocrite for pledging for a referendum in 2008 and 2010. On every turn he repeated the party line - which is clear in the 2010 manifesto - Like Nick I've read it, though not wrote any;

The Liberal Democrats will push for a referendum if there is any significant treaty changes that will effect the UK (Not a direct quote)

This seems fairly inevitable as the crisis in the Eurozone continues and even Germany feels the pinch.

Indeed the 2008 leaflet calling for a referendum was when Gordon Brown threw powers away in the Lisbon treaty. Since then we've stuck to the position of referendum when next there is a treaty change.

Europe has always been rightly or wrongly an obsession for elements of the Conservative party and I remember it being a severe problem for John Major's administration and helping to bring it down.

Now it looks like the party is rupturing again. The small number of hardcore MPs is growing but why?

It could be put down to a couple of reasons.

1. The rise of UKIP, especially after the last round of local elections, Conservatives are worrying about their supporters. Further to that the best way to take the wind out of their sails is to hold a referendum.

2. Sort of linked to the last point is the right wing worried that the Conservative party have drifted too centrist and given too many concessions to the Liberal Democrats. Where as support is leeching to UKIP there are those members who are loyal to the Conservative party and want to bring their party back.

David Cameron denies it being a serious problem from the other side of the Atlantic.

Labour are already attacking the Tories for having their priorities straight. Tackling issues that effect everyone like taxation, living standards, fuel prices to name but a few. I tend to agree - as do the Liberal Democrats which is why we are waiting for the "Inevitable" treaty change.

This Conservative obsession could, as it has in the past, cause a detrimental distraction at a vital moment.

I should just say that I am pro referendum on Europe but Pro Europe - much to the horror of some of my family!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Medway's Rubbish

Like many of my Wednesday's off I have spent the morning clearing out my front garden. Wednesday is rubbish day in my part of the Medway towns so it makes sense to get rid of all the rubbish in one foul swoop.

The thing I don't understand is why there is so much rubbish in my front garden - well that was until I started paying more attention.

You see I live opposite two take aways, a post office and a Tesco metro and as I watch people come out of the various outlets I see people drop receipts, jettison empty fag boxes, pull off cellophane wrappers and let them free to the wind.

I also on a main route to various different schools including Woodlands, Robert Napier, Barnsole and for some - Brompton academy and at certain times of the day I see streams of school kids going in either direction jettisoning their unwanted refuse which some how gravitates to my garden. Probably because I don't have a wall and an open driveway.

Then of course there is rubbish day itself. Not everyone ties up their bags well and on windy days
like today well...

This was a snap of my road today.

So who is to blame?

Well, during the local elections in 2011 the Independents claimed that the Libdem councillors of Gillingham South hadn't provided enough bins - which was proved to be hokum. Further to that the presence of the Council bins around Gillingham doesn't mean that people will use them. There is a bin right outside the Sturdee Avenue Tesco - is it used?

Well, is it Medway Council? Every morning I see the street cleaning team doing a Herculean job of cleaning rubbish from the streets in my area. The problem is, no sooner have they done it than people reappear and drop more litter. I will gripe about the bin bag situation though. A few years ago Medway Council stopped providing residents with rubbish bags - fair enough, I can understand the cut and applaud it as a good money saving scheme. The only problem was that the bags the Council provided were thick and large so if tied up properly they stayed so and were difficult to tear. Now that we have to get our own many people get economy or cheap bin bags because why spend a lot on something that is essentially rubbish?

It is some what of a false economy as they soon rip or need double bagging. If they rip outside though isn't that some other persons problem?

Yeah - mine!

I have to clean up refuse from my front garden and see it blowing up the street.

We all live in the Medway towns, it is not the job of the Council to run around clearing up your rubbish all day every day. Make sure your rubbish isn't just going to tear open, put your litter in the bin, take a moment just to tidy up after yourself and maybe things wouldn't look so untidy.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Lodgehill development will be devestating for Nightingales

I have always been a Country boy. Despite being born in Medway I grew up in Marden on the cusp of the Weald. During my A'levels I specialised in biology (mainly ecology and Marine biology) and have always had a love of wide open green spaces and nature as a whole.

I'm also a realist though and understand that the human race needs to strike a balance with nature. New housing has to be built for families and for the economy. I also realise that there is limited space for this in the Medway towns which is why the council are particularly miffed by the whole SSSI declaration on Lodge hill.

But you know what? The council are wrong.

Lodge Hill's SSSI was established because 80 mating pairs of Nightingales nest there. Not just one or two or a percentage of Kentish Nightingales but a significant number of a species that is becoming endangered.

If the Medway Conservative council and Rochester & Strood MP Mark Reckless are successful in their campaign to over turn the Environment agency's ruling there will be a catastrophic impact on the Nightingale population which may never recover.

Ecology and Ecospheres are exceptionally fragile things. Slight fluctuations on temperature, climate or availability of any number of inputs can have knock on impacts for centuries. Two escaped rabbits in Australia caused havoc for a century with the local ecosphere and had to be controlled with myxomatosis. Over fishing of tuna has made a massive dent in the Pelagic shark populations. Removing a vital habitat from an indigenous bird population could push them to the verge of extinction in the UK. The Nightingale's requirements for nesting areas are specific, they aren't like other birds who are less picky, and if an area doesn't match their requirements they simply won't nest there. Further to this with a reoccurring nest site they know it is there, if it is destroyed they have to find a new location which could put back the breeding season and ultimately it could mean no eggs this year.

I find it somewhat nonsensical that on the one hand Cllr Chambers et al are arguing that Boris Island or the Cliffe proposals will damage or irradiate marshland which is an SSI and national heritage site but at the same time willing to wipe out the Nightingales' habitat.

Our nations ecology has been hit quite hard over recent years by destruction of green spaces and the changes in the weather and we as a nation need to take steps now before species like the Nightingale are gone from these shores forever.
Trish Marchant of the Medway Green party is encouraging people who feel the same to write to Natural England (at kent Land management team, Natural England, International house, Dover place, Ashford, Kent TN23 1HU) to voice their support for the SSSI. I join her calls on this and will be speaking to our local party to drum up support.

This is a green and pleasent land but Councils up and down the country are happy to risk serious ecological disaster. As a good friend of mine said when I told her of the Lodge Hill development (quoting Richard Adams);

Man will not rest until they have destroyed this world.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Nick Clegg on the Queen's speech

Dear Chris,

Fair pensions. Decent care in your old age. A tax cut for small businesses taking on staff. A major new high speed railway. Energy investment to keep lights on and bills affordable. Shared parental leave. Rehabilitation of prisoners to set them back on the straight and narrow.

Just a few highlights from the Government’s plans for legislation this year, outlined this Wednesday in the Queen’s Speech, designed to build a stronger economy and a fairer society in Britain, enabling everyone to get on in life.

The state opening of Parliament is an eccentric highlight of the year in politics. Pomp and pageantry are not really my thing, but I’ll confess to a certain affection for the whole rigmarole: you have probably seen the marching up and down and slamming of doors in people's faces on TV. One thing you might not know is that we had to work to a very strict deadline to finalise Her Majesty's words. That's because the speech has to be written out on goatskin and it takes a few days to dry.

Plus of course, it’s rather fun to see my usually austere colleagues Alistair Carmichael and Dick Newby dressed up in robes looking like refugees from Hogwarts or a Gilbert and Sullivan production. One thing’s for sure: I’m relieved there aren’t any Deputy Prime Minister robes to wear.

What matters most is the substance of course. We made sure all the big measures needed to grow the economy, create jobs, and improve people’s quality of life were included. But we also made sure some things - plans for a Snooper's Charter tracking everyone's emails and social networking - were kept out.

It won't have escaped your attention that the mood has changed in the Conservative Party after the local elections, and that changes the rhetoric we’re hearing from them - about equal marriage, development aid, and most of all Europe. The lesson for us is clear and simple: it is more important than ever that we stick to our path. Our job is to anchor the Government in the centre ground, stopping others from lurching this way and that and making sure the Government delivers our core objectives: a stronger economy in a fairer society.

That's why major liberal reforms and investment – from childcare to pensions – will remain the core business of this Government. Not endless navel-gazing about when and how a referendum may take place in years to come in circumstances we can't predict. We Liberal Democrats must remain focused on the things people really care about, whatever other parties may say.

Please could you forward this message on to a family member or friend who might be interested?

PS I hope you noticed the Queen mention the drive for a “stronger economy and a fairer society” in the very first line of her speech. I knew our message was starting to hit home!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Girl's got game: Lucy Collette and Game reviews

I travel a lot by train and at Stupid O'clock in the morning. Sometimes a book is my only companion, most times I nap and other times I scroll through the day before's Tweets and conversations, which is what I did today, and I stumbled on an argument between some Tweeters and Lucy "Vixen" Collette the glamour model and Game reviewer for Nuts magazine.

It did get fairly personal in its nature, which was very uncalled for, but the original question was a valid one;

Does she actually play a lot of games or is she just the sexy figure head with a team of ghost writers?

Lucy claims that she does and what cause is their to disbelieve her?

Well, it is difficult, for some people, to believe that:-

a) A glamour model would be into gaming - after all surely it is the domain of geeks and kids?

b) The self same model wouldn't be able to formulate a review of a game without help.

This is pigeon holing and playing to stereotype. After all gaming is an open recreational pastime and although teenagers and students do predominantly control the market due to having more free time and money, there are also those who enjoy Call of Duty and Fifa games who are not in this bracket.

Gaming is also not gender specific, though mainly (from my experiences) a male pastime. However there are "Gamer girls" and more than you would expect. There are famous examples such as Ann Hathaway, Team Unicorn and Claire Grant. Again, from my own experiences I have met and know  some fantastic "Gamer girls" and even my wife has learnt to play and can use a Sniper rifle as well as anyone if not better. She has even surprised my mates (who presumed as a girl she was there to make up numbers and wouldn't be very good) with her savage tenacity and deadly aim!

I can understand the accusation that she is merely the face of the Games reviews as Nuts Magazine's demographic is teens and early 20s men and Lucy doing the reviews would attract more attention than

Let's be honest if you were in this demographic and wanted a games reviewer who would you want?

A redhead with cleavage and a Skyrim addiction or Miss Collette?

The other thing to bear in mind is that a Games review is a games review and ultimately if you want to read the review would it matter if the review was done by Lucy or by a nameless writer? Her presence definitely "Sexes up" the games section but it isn't a necessity.

Lucy does tweet about gaming - mostly Simpsons online, but there are others including an endearing picture of her beloved pet "Pookie" on one of her Controllers. People have based their judgements on the overall lack of tweets compared to other Glamour related posts.

Well that isn't a great basis, I was/am an avid gamer. My history of gaming stretches back to my teens (and an Amstrad 1512 CGA pc!!!) with addictions to games like Their finest hour, X-wing vs. TIE fighter, A-train, Dune II, GTA III, GTA San Andreas, Star Wars Battlefront (I & II), Force Unleashed (I & II) Fable III and recently Skyrim (blogged here and here) to name but a few.

If you read my twitter feed you will find very little about any of this except on the very rare occasion. Most of my boring stream is about Liberal Democrats, Medway Politics, Trains, my Kids and randomness.

If I started writing Games reviews would I be accused of having a ghost writer? It seems that the basis for the accusation is purely on the fact she is a Glamour model. The same could be said for complaints that she is aiding the objectification of women by writing the column. Forget for a moment that she also poses semi-naked elsewhere in the magazine, take her as the young, attractive woman (with a positive body image) who is breaking the mold of adolescent male Games reviewers and therefore a role model for "Girl gamers" by showing the world that women do game and they are as good if not better than many guys give them credit for and actually know what they're talking about. Gaming isn't about gender or background it is about your achievements and abilities in what ever genre of game you are playing - be it platform, strategy, sports, simulation or RPG. I was once outnumbered 15 to one by enemy fighters and still fought them all off and landed back on the air field with only minor damage to the 109. My wife made a head shot from across the Siberia map on Time Splitters future perfect, these small feats are to be celebrated why fixate on the gender or the background of the player?

I don't believe there is evidence to support the claim that she doesn't write the column or that she isn't a gamer and I think until given solid reason you should give her the benefit of the doubt - I believe Lucy is a gamer, I have also enjoyed her column so what's the big deal?

It is a sad commentary on today's culture and society that we immediately judge an attractive woman by her occupation and disbelieve that she is capable and must have ghost writers.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Child care must be affordable and for the kids

This morning it is hitting the news that Nick Clegg is opposing or Not convinced by the Government's
proposals to adjust the ratios of Children to staff in nurseries across the country.

The ratio will be increased to 1:4 (from 1:3) for babies and up to 1:6 for two year olds.

There are some concerns that your child will not necessarily get the attention they may need. Two year olds are exceptionally boisterous and into everything - which I am finding out for myself - and I have trouble keeping up with one let alone six! The level of quality can be much depleted.

Through in a child like mine, who has a certain amount of special needs and you are losing even more time. Due to Sophie's condition she does require phsyio and attention for her leg splints and boots. Her walking and running can be very dicey and if there is a fire alarm she needs to be carried out - this can take up a lot of time for a member of staff and we're more than fortunate that her nursery has some really good staff. However in a room where the girl has another five other children in need of attention things will become stretched.

I'm aware that the Ministers announced that the increased ratio is similar to Germany and less than France but let us not be hasty and rush into this - let us listen to parents and staff alike and progress at a reasonable rate and get this right. You cannot make rushed mistakes with Children's futures or education.

Children respond best with stimulation and as much contact as possible, by raising the ratio you are taking some of that time away from them.

Nick was quoted in the Guardian as saying;

It is not a great ideological thing, it is about getting it right for parents up and down the country. When the last government changed the so-called ratios for three- and four-year-olds, it had almost no effect in reducing the costs for parents whatsoever, so you do need to be led by the evidence and that is what I will continue to be in the debate

I would challenge you to spend a morning look after six two-year-olds

As I said recently, the Cuts are now going to impact my family in Gillingham with the rising of nursery costs on the one hand for parents and the slim lining of Surestart centres and nurseries who are asking staff to reapply for their jobs and taking voluntary redundancy.

The ratio of staff and thus the care and attention that a child needs are being cut and we - the already stretched taxpaying parents are being asked to pay more for less.

There is also the somewhat nonsensical approach that is seeing parents priced out of putting their young ones into day care so that they can go to work as the second income is barley covering the costs - it becomes more cost efficient for one parent to give up work completely and stay with the kids at home!

There are some serious (LibDem) boons that are helping working families like mine, the cut in Income tax means that my wife's income is now completely tax free, the free nursery placements for three year olds will help during term time too but until then we're quite stuck and so are many other families.
Many of the mothers that my wife knows through Sophie's friends have all expressed concern about the rising prices and are not in a position to pay it. My Sister's sister in law found that she had to give up work to look after her young children and my sister is looking at the same scenario.

David Cameron ran under the banner of making things fairer for families and working people and yet these reforms are getting kicked in the wallets and our children are being made to suffer in these reforms. Having a family, even the average of 2.4 kids, is now a hinderance and it feels like we're being persecuted for having kids. Child care has to be affordable for all so that children can go into daycare and both parents can work to pay for all the other rising prices in utilities, food and transport costs.

Let's take a moment. Look at the situation, talk to parents and staff then reevaluate the situation

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

John's retirement

Medway has known many disasters.

The Gillingham bus station firestorm of 1940.

The explosion of HMS Bulwark.

Mark Stinson's reign as manager of the Gills...

However, the Medway political scene has suffered a great loss. John Ward has retired from political
blogging and tweeting.

When I first started out almost three years ago the lines were very clear of blue, red and gold and John was the elder statesman and former Conservative Councillor. His opinion on things as well as his vast memory and catalogue of information and stats was respected from all sides.

To be honest I understand his decision, I too have considered it a few times recently.

John's decision is a great loss to the Medway Political scene and I will miss his input as I'm sure others will too, but he's not gone completely - check his blog out for animé and other cool things.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Britain to betray its former Translators in Afghanistan

British History likes to show the Imperial forces and the affiliated Trading companies as a beneficent power
that made the world better for the new citizens of the crown. There were those who resisted but on the whole a lot of what was done was for their own good.

Scratch under the surface and you will find Concentration camps, planned infection of native populations with Small Pox, trickery, deceit and betrayal. No wonder that across the world there was the maxim;

Never trust an Englishman

Now, Phillip Hammond MP, minister of Defence is reinforcing that credo. Native Afghans who risked their lives under fire and their families lives from reprisals to serve as translators to British forces are being refused Asylum and left in harms way with a proposed "Deal" from the Government.

The British establishment has always treated the military badly post war (save for WW1 and 2) all the way back to the defence of England in 1588. Many Native sympathisers have similarly been stepped on unless they were important enough through our history - even Ghurkas, the bravest of the brave, were refused Naturalisation rights until Nick Clegg and Joanna Lumley brought it to the public attention.

There is precedent as 1000 Iraqi translators and their families were granted asylum post occupation so why not Afghans? According to Mr Hammond it is completely different.

I, however, agree with Lord Ashdown, it is no different. The fragile democracy and fractured states left after occupation still harbour extremists and those who would bear a grudge who wouldn't sniff at a "traitor's" family murder. Can you trust the new local Government to protect these people for us?

New Zealand has decided that it cannot trust the new Afghan regime and has offered the translators a sanctuary and theirs is a country notoriously tough with immigration. So why can't England?
I'm not saying open the gates but allowing a finite amount of those who have risked their lives with and for our boys be given sanctuary on these shores. It is the least we can do.

If we can keep foreign criminals why not allow those who have risked their lives?

Saturday, 4 May 2013

UKIP target Medway?

Are UKIP's sights on Medway?
Over the last few days we've witnessed something that a few years ago would have been considered the
waking dreams of Nigel Farage and his inner circle. Eastleigh was the first warning flare but this round of local elections have shown the possibility of them making serious gains in the future.

One possible site is Medway.

The current Conservative council has done some good work over the last decade or so and has some good councillors.

However they also stand accused of some awful cockups. Massive overspends on capital projects like the bus station, the Medway test and ofsted fiascoes, a recent budget that was so hurriedly and ineptly put together that it displayed the wrong information and even failed to balance, accusations of not consulting or providing adequate safety on the Isle of Grain, taxation and cuts that are causing severe anguish and debt amongst residents.

It would seem likely that an opposition party could make real headway against them. Indeed Labour do seem intent on making serious inroads into the Local scene and stand to make some serious gains in certain areas of Medway, often using the national problems as a way of catching peoples eyes. However there is a vast swathe of people who do not trust Labour still (mainly on National politics) and there are vast areas of Rainham, Wigmore, Hempstead and areas of Rochester who are true blue and wouldn't vote Labour BUT could turn to UKIP instead. Many high profile Conservatives could find themselves losing seats or votes being split by UKIP if their local party could get organised and funded properly.

The downside for them is that the Medway Local elections will be on the same day as the General Election of 2015. This could be detrimental to the UKIP vote as if they are a protest vote which many still think they may be, they will not see the same returns during the General election as people prefer to vote for the big two parties (maybe Libdem on a good day) but we will have to see.

On the General Election side I can't imagine them fielding a candidate against Mark Reckless who already embodies their anti European stance and I believe that Tracey Crouch is critical enough of the current EU contract and campaigning for reform so she too should be safe especially combined with her good work ethic and generally liked by her constituents. Indeed Mr Farage offered both Tracey and Mark positions in UKIP should they wish to defect when they voted "Eurosceptically" back in 2011. Rehman Chishti however seems broadly pro-European and not generating as much interest as he did prior to 2010 and could be a target seat especially as there are rumblings from Conservative supporters that he has been too supportive of the Coalition and a reported lukewarm reception to Paul Clarke's announcement as Labour candidate. Will voters be swayed by another party? It is all conjecture at this stage but food for thought.

There is genuine scope for UKIP to do well in the Medway towns given the right amount of organisation etc but obviously we will have to wait and see how things develop and transpire. I am sure that some members of the Conservative Council will be watching things very carefully.

As a Liberal Democrat member and campaigner I'm certainly going to keep my eyes open and watching things develop.