Saturday, 25 January 2014

Greater transparency at Medway Council & citizen journalists

Interesting news came out of the debacle that was Thursday night's full council meeting with yesterday's announcement.

From this day forth there shall be a row of seats saved for "Citizen Journalists" at every Full Council meeting. The Conservative overlords have recognised that there is a hard-core group of tweeters and bloggers who attend these meetings and publish what is said or happens for good/ill.
It also means that should there be a repeat of Thursday night then, unless they cause a similar disturbance, they will not be ejected and can continue scrutinising and reporting.

This is good news for politicos and activists (as long as they've reserved their seat that morning) who can transcend any angry mob.

It does however throw up an interesting question, one that Labour Councillor Tristan Osborne has asked before, and that is one of greater transparency and that maybe these meetings and scrutiny meetings should be live streamed onto the net and archived so that more people can see how the council reaches it's decisions. At the moment, not all of us have the ability to down tools and abandon families to go to these meetings regularly and should they be available on line we could see them for ourselves and not just rely on the Medway Messenger to report these issues.

This is a good move for local democracy, it is just a shame that its announcement was in the shadow of such a bad night before.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Peasant's revolt, Adolf Hitler and Medway Full Council

Signs left by the protestors.
Last night I made a semi conscious decision that I would go home and spend the evening with my wife and watch comedy on E4 than go to the full Council meeting. It had been a long day at work and I was pretty hacked off and just wanted to go home but follow Ed Jenning's twitter commentary.

It appears I made a massive mistake!

There are a few issues in the Medway towns that are getting up people's noses and they are pretty passionate about.

One is the on going issue of the expansion of Rochester Airport costing the Medway Tax payer £4m for arguably very little in return, except for those few who can afford to run aircraft rather than repair roads etc. which I covered after the last meeting I attended last year.

The other is the proposed closing and re-siting of Strood Library which will result in the closure of a local Community project. Passions ran quite highly with this and a petition of 5000 names was collected in support of the Library - only for a swathe of it to be discounted because not all the signatories were from the Medway towns, indeed one was from France.

A very loud group of protesters turned up apparently and were demanding that they be heard by the Conservative Council but by all accounts they were treated in the same bluff, crass way as the Airport questions were treated. (see last link).

When the allotted 30 minutes for public questions ran out there were members of the Gallery who were less than satisfied and demanded to be heard and their questions asked in front of the Public and the gathered council rather than in the usual written form and they would not accept the Mayor's judgement to be silent and began clapping loudly. Finally the Mayor made the decision to lead the Council out and adjourn the meeting!

After ten minutes they tried a restart but the same thing occurred, with the added embarrassment that the Labour group refused to stand for the Mayor when she re-entered, showing her the same disrespect that the Conservatives were showing the public.

After another adjournment certain people were ejected from the galleries.

The problem is that, yes the protesters were over zealous and possibly went about things the wrong way but when you are passionate about something and look set to lose a valuable public asset and you are met with an arrogant answer from those who have already deemed you wrong in the first place then, yes, you are bound to get cross.

The problem with the ruling Conservative body as I, a humble observer, see it is that they think they are right all the time. They have these great ideas and plough ahead with them even against Public opinion. Time and again they have ignored public fears at Consultancy meetings over things like the Outsourcing of the Elderly care homes at Nelson's court and Robert Bean Lodge, again with the Airport where local residents and indeed people like me who fear it is an awful use of Council tax payer's money and now with Strood Library. They are quick to label those who criticise and complain as Medway KnockersWhen in actual fact these are members of the public who are genuinely aggrieved and angry at their blasé and frankly arrogant approach.

However the cherry on the cake was Cllr Jarrett, deputy Tory leader and portfolio holder for finance, dropped the H-bomb.

Labour government worse than Hitler?
During a too and froe with Councillor Osborne (Lab) he basically, (I'm afraid I don't know the exact word for word but am reliably informed) said that the last Labour administration brought the country to its' knees more effectively than Hitler.

Wow... just... wow...

Don't get me wrong, I have my problems with the last Labour administration and I am glad they were elected out in 2010 but brought the country to its knees? Baring in mind where I work, in our mess room right next to my head is a photograph of a Heinkel bomber (taken from another) over the London docks on a bombing run. Yes the country was brought to financial ruin in part by the last administration but compared to the Blitz, U-boat blockade, Channel guns, invading British territories and forcing evacuations of undesirables to their deaths this is nothing. What was he thinking?

I personally find it quite offensive and I'm sure that many others probably do as well.

After prompting from Vince Maple, Labour's leader, the comment was withdrawn but in all honesty it should not have been uttered in the first place. When you hold a position like that and a meeting like that you have to show that you are the grown up adult politician you claim to be and not continue to grand stand and politically score points.

It is behaviour like last night's display that is causing people to lose faith in politics and politicians. It is bad for Politics, it is bad for Democracy and above all, it is bad for Medway. Let's all grow up and treat the public, the voters and your employers as people to be listened to and not dismiss a negative opinion just because it is not in line with yours and above all show each other courtesy and dignity.

Monday, 20 January 2014

My take on Tim Farron on Lord Rennard

Today Tim Farron, Libdem Party president released this statement via email to Party members.

It has been a difficult few days for the party. Many of you have contacted me directly to express your anger and disappointment at Lord Rennard's refusal to apologise following the recommendations of the investigation into his behaviour. As President, I wanted you to hear from me.

Along with Nick Clegg, I made my view absolutely clear - Lord Rennard's refusal to apologise is unacceptable. Most importantly, Lord Rennard is actively rejecting calls to apologise from party members and is refusing to comply with a formal party body.

This refusal was grounds for further action.

Today it has been decided that Lord Rennard's membership of the Liberal Democrats will be suspended, and that he will be subject to a fresh investigation over his refusal to apologise.

This decision was taken by the Regional Parties’ Committee (the body which adjudicates on internal disciplinary matters in England) following a large number of complaints from party members. This decision means he will not be able to sit as a Liberal Democrat in the House of Lords, and will not be allowed to sit on our party's Federal Policy Committee.

I understand why some people have chosen to strongly defend Lord Rennard. He was instrumental in much of our electoral success, and has given many years of service. However, everyone in the party has a responsibility to treat others with respect, and no length of service can or should lessen that obligation.
No doubt some of you will want to share your thoughts on this issue with me directly. I hope that you do.

As President, I want to make sure that you always know that your thoughts, feelings, and feedback matter to me.

This is good news that shows the party leadership is acting decisively over this matter and have moved accordingly. It is no longer about Lord Rennard's guilt or innocence neither of which can be proved conclusively but about the recommendations and that he should apologise for his actions.
As I said in yesterday's post, the allegations were believed but not enough evidence existed for a proper trial. An apology was the least that could happen and a resignation before suspension would have been preferable.

It may have been slow but the Party, like any Party needs to follow the systems put in place and do things by the book.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The problem with Lord Rennard...

The situation with Lord Rennard is becoming more and more untenable for the Party and the
Leadership and needs to be resolved as quickly  as possible.

The big problem for Nick Clegg and Tim Farron is that there is not enough evidence for the CPS to prosecute. Those that know me or read my blog regularly (when I wrote regularly!) is that I have the utmost respect for the Law and belief that wrong doers are prosecuted. I also stand by the maxim that you are Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a Jury of your peers.

Unfortunately there are cases where someone is clearly guilty of a crime but there is not enough evidence for the CPS to construct a case for a court and would thusly be wasting everyone's time. The Rennard case appears to be just that. After an internal investigation and interviews the party leadership has said that they believe the accusations from the women concerned however there is not enough evidence for a criminal case. However his guilt or innocence cannot be unequivocally proven.

So, should Lord Rennard be kicked out of the party?

In my opinion, yes. Chris Rennard has been an energetic and enthusiastic member of the Liberal Democrats who has given many years of service to the party. I've seen him speak at conference and he was very inspiring. The thing is though, by his supposed actions and the fact that it was reported by the press (somewhat heavily!) he has undeniably brought the party into disrepute. If the victims' testimonies are good enough to believed by the Leadership and the internal investigation then it is good enough for me that guilt lies within.

The problem is that because there is not enough evidence for a criminal trial there isn't enough evidence to prove that he did do it so there is a lot of room for appeal and even for him to survive a disciplinary hearing so again making a farce of the whole thing.

Tim is right, rules need to be changed and I, and I'm sure many others support him in his moves to make sure these things do not repeat themselves.

As leader of the Party Nick should have the power to remove the party whip from Lord Rennard. Yes he has many powerful friends within the party, ones that have written a damning indictments in the Daily Mail and others who can make Nick's life hell but there is the support of many activists who are getting increasingly angry at the inaction. As leader, all positions of power and influence are decided by Nick and he is well within his rights to remove the whip and give it to someone else. If Lord Rennard cannot be removed from the party then this would go a long way to appeasing the membership.

More importantly Lord Rennard should fall upon his sword and either apologise for his actions (which would amount to admitting guilt so probably won't!) or stand down from the party. His presence will always be a reminder and a cause of vexation for activists who would feel (rightly or wrongly) that he has got away with treating women like objects and acting disrespectfully. Whether or not he is innocent or guilty standing away and resigning is the best thing he can do for the party.

If the party cannot, due to rules and red tape, act then Lord Rennard, if he does truly love the party and all it stands for, must do the decent thing and step back and resign. The party has survived many crisis' during the past four years and every time it looks like we are pulling it all back some fresh problem comes to light. Nick needs to act to limit the serious damage this has caused.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

My view on the Mark Duggan verdict.

The verdict into the shooting of Mark Duggan was announced yesterday to much furor. Basically the Jury agreed he had had a gun but must have disposed of it by the time the Police entered their final confrontation so he was unarmed when he was shot dead. The killing was wrong but the Police are not to blame.

This is a tragic result for his family and supporters but one that I support.

Let's be honest, by all accounts he was no saint, a self styled gangsta who was under investigation by Trident for gun crime and was suspected to be part of an attack. He had a gun that he picked up from Kevin Hutchinson-Foster and was seen exiting a cab with the weapon in hand. The fact that he threw the gun away (held in a sock to hide evidence if used like finger prints and powder) was obviously not picked up by the pursuing officers. He was ordered to stop three times (according to accounts) before the Police opened fire.

It is a decision that no officer takes lightly. My Grandad who was a policeman in the Met for many years and had served in the army during World War Two always maintained that you have to think on your feet and if the suspect or target looks like they have a weapon or are going to fire you should shoot - after all they won't hesitate to shoot at you.

My other grandad who was at the Seige of Meiktila in Burma said that when it comes to battles there are no cowards or heroes just men who react to situations and stimulus. These were trained soldiers, there were also trained pilots who mis-identified aircraft, shot down friendly planes - this sort of thing can happen. Training goes a long way but ultimately Police officers, like soldiers are human and react to their guts and emotions.

Ultimately the officer who fired the shots did so believing they had an armed felon making an escape to commit armed crime or even to return fire at them. When the trigger was pulled it was with the belief he was armed.

The court case has come back with a majority verdict of 8-2 that it was a lawful killing but the man was not armed. A lot of this is hindsight to say he was unarmed it looks like the Police didn't know that.

I understand that there are severe questions about the Police shooting an unarmed citizen on the streets but this was a criminal who was presumed armed and was running from the Police and the verdict was not reached by a judge, or the police but by a Jury of peers as any criminal or inquest is tried - the fairest way to try someone.

I also like to believe, and call me an idealist, that his colour had nothing to do with it. It just happened, on this occasion that he was black and I truly believe that if there was a white man it would be the same result,

I feel sorry for his family and at the loss that they feel, it must be terrible, but the courts have given their response and I believe, for what it is worth, that it was the right decision. I also echo the calls from Clegg, Cameron and the Met Commissioner that there should keep calm and keep things to the courts and not repeat the scenes of civil disorder from 2011.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Michael Gove's "History" and the First World War

I was very interested in Michael Gove's comments on the First World War over the weekend.

History is very much subjective and interpretive but there in his description of the First World War he has missed some very glaring facts.

Firstly, the Liberal paradise that every one was fighting to defend was deeply flawed and it took the War, and the preceding Liberal Government of Asquith, to bring in the reforms. Simple things like pensions for the elderly. The Rowntree commission had found that most urban areas were in need of sanitation and that the working poor were in an exceptionally bad way. 

The big problems that were causing even more civil unrest were Women's suffrage (as a whole gender wasn't allowed to vote) and the Ireland Home rule problem that the Conservatives had allowed to drag on. Britain was far from a paradise though it was home and so its' defence attracted many, my family included. Walter Sams, my Great grandfather was a Police constable but still left to fight.

I would also point out that although the German occupation of Belgium was harsh, no denials, it would be unfair to paint Britain as a saint of nations having just fourteen years previously allowed the rounding up of women and children, the burning of their property and putting them in concentration camps with small rations and poor medical and sanitation supplies causing the deaths of tens of thousands. Britain's motivations for starting the Boer war was meant to be to protect the Uitlanders but was also massively driven because of gold found in the Boer republics and greed over rode this. Also a nation which had bombarded the harbour of Zanzibar in the shortest war in history (40 minutes) because the new Sultan was anti British and the British Government would have preferred an alternate candidate.

The British Empire had been exceptionally aggressive and expansionist in the preceding century as had Russia, France and now Germany who were exceptionally late to the Imperial party. It would be wrong to paint Germany as the sole bad guy of the First World War, an attitude that went a long way to starting the Second World War, as all the Imperial powers had been at it. Russia had been given a bloody nose by the Japanese, Italy fighting in Ethiopia, Britain and the Boers, Germany and Namibia. Foreign policy of all the European Imperial powers had been very expanionistic in Asia, Africa and even in parts of Europe for many, many years.
The fighting itself was indeed tragic and the notion of industrial warfare was causing horrific casualties. However, Mr Gove is saying that the Generals were not as much to blame as some suggest. This could be true but for the simple fact that this type of warfare had been seen before and a solution had already been reached.

Much as the Spanish civil war was a test bed for Blitzkrieg so the Boer War demonstrated the horror that would befall the World in 1914. The battles of Modder river, Magersfontein and indeed Paardeberg demonstrated what an entrenched enemy with a great rate of fire and accuracy could do to advancing infantry regiments. Indeed at Magersfontein the Highland division were caught in the barbed wire and suffered heavy losses, Metheun's force suffered 948 casualties that day. At Paardeberg Kitchener ordered frontal assaults on the Boer laager despite all previous experience. After one day the British army had suffered 304 killed and 906 wounded. This was one of the heaviest losses and was named bloody Sunday.

Indeed further back in 1898 at the battle of Omdurman the British held a defencive line with rifles and Maxim machine guns against a full frontal assault of 50,000 dervishes and lost 47 men compared to the 10,000 killed 15,000 wounded of the enemy. The trenches and heavy fortifications of front lines was not a new development in warfare.

Although on a much smaller scale to the Somme it doesn't take an Oxbridge professor to spot the similarities and the warning of what was likely to come. Indeed General Buller also discovered that rolling barrages with infantry directly behind in lose formation worked well in smashing trenches.

Was any of this followed in 1914? When all those brave lads who'd signed up in a patriotic flash stepped over the top that bright morning in July 1916 advance behind rolling barrages with their senior officers with them? 

The first day of the Somme is still has the highest casualty count for the British army in one day. My nan lost her uncle on the Somme, others saw the manhood of whole boroughs and streets wiped out. It was slaughter. Who is there to blame for this? The General staff between the wars and the Field marshal at the top who repeated this same tactic even when it was seen to fail.

Yes there were break throughs at the Somme and the Germans were defeated and forced to withdraw in some sectors but the levels of loss were so high one has to wonder if the right decision was made? After the offencive the British didn't have the men to push the Germans back far enough as they were dead or wounded.

It isn't leftist or anti-establishment to recognise history from below, (a development that occurred in the study of History in the last few decades) to show the lives of soldiers and their experiences in war rather than the Generals. Nor is it leftist to point to examples and evolution of ideas and Military tactics in previous wars to show that things were ultimately heading towards the Somme some fifteen - twenty years before hand. It is the essence of the study of history not the broad sweep.

I would say I disagree with Mr Gove's comments on the First World War, yes that is his opinion and he does site some works but there is a greater body of work that points to him making a few out dated comments.