Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Postcards from Brighton


A few snapshots from Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Walking down from the train station the Oxfam shop manager was prescient with this sign outside their shop. Peter Mandelson was like a box to box midfielder, here, there and everywhere. Breaking up things and scoring goals like a Frank Lampard. Cliche of the week were the many people who decided that they had finally decided to love Peter Mandelson. The star of Conference, with Ed Miliband the other person who had a very good Conference.
Brighton is always the most expensive place to attend a Conference. £3.50 for a so so (I'm told) cup of coffee in a paper cup was the worst example of overpricing I saw.
There are always protesters, impassioned, quirky and bizarre. My favourite was this man who went to fringe meetings and held up this sign quietly, turning it this way and that saying...
"Abraham Lincoln said: 'The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortaable living from a small piece of land.' Domicile Allotments - The Simple Solution to Climate Change."
We need to do more than just have more allotments but I am all in favour of more people growing their own fruit and vegetables.
I was sat next to the press section for Gordon Brown's speech. I watched how they observed Gordon Brown speaking. As soon as he started Ann Treneman of the Times rolled her eyes and clearly was deeply unimpressed. A closed mind from the start. Sat between Simon Carr of the Independent and Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail she was part of a little glee club whispering asides, nudging each other and sharing in jokes.
They behaved like the naughty children at the back of class who have attention deficit disorder and struggle to concentrate. By contrast many of their peers paid full attention, notably Jeremy Paxman. I suggest next week/year the television stations have a camera or two observing how sloppily some members of the press go about their work.
This is the last Conference in Brighton for 5 years I was told by a local. The Brighton Centre owned by the Council is to be redeveloped. Apparently the Conservative run Council is struggling to do this. The Council puts forward plans to Planning Committee only for the Planning Committee of the Council to reject the plans.....submitted by the Council. talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!
Local people are very concerned because conferences bring in a lot of money. The Council appear to be factoring in the loss of revenue as the Brighton Centre has become the Brighton Cent.


Monday, 28 September 2009

Chinese for Labour – Don’t Forget the Chinese Votes

The Chinese community is an ethnic vote that many people do not recognise the size and importance of. It is currently the fastest growing non-European ethnic group in the United Kingdom. There are a quarter a million people of Chinese ethnic origin distributed fairly evenly across the country. South Thanet had at the last census 273 people of Chinese origin. With a projected Conservative majority of 328 after boundary changes they could play a pivotal role.
Today Sonny Leong (top picture) Chair of Chinese for Labour hosted the first ever Chinese community fringe meeting in Britain by talking about the importance of how the many parliamentary candidates and MPs in the audience could use the provided campaign toolkit to identify and work with Chinese voters. In seats with majorities in the hundreds like Oxford East and Finchley and Golders Green with almost 2,000 Chinese voters, their votes can decide the outcome. In some seats in 2005 Labour lost votes amongst the Asian community because of Iraq, resulting in George Galloway winning his seat, and assisting the Liberal Democrats to win in a number of seats like Hornsey and Wood Green, Brent East and Manchester Withington.

These complications mean any headline about universal swings for the next general election between Labour and Conservative are lazy and ill informed. Most political correspondents in national newspapers should plead guilty. British politics has never been so complex and diverse as it is now. Our media do us a disservice by clinging to the swingometer politics of 50 years ago.

Harriet Harman thanked Sonny Leong for all his work and fundraising for Labour. Her speech was brief as like many Cabinet ministers she was speaking at a series of meetings during the lunch break of Conference. Keith Vaz MP (2nd picture) talked about the outstanding academic achievements of Chinese children, the best in the country. He also highlighted the failure of the Labour Party to have selected a Parliamentary candidate of Chinese ethnic origin for next year's General Election. He was especially disappointed because the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have done this. He hoped that this would be remedied in the forthcoming selections. He recalleded his first Parliamentary campaign in Richmond where he lost by 20,000 votes.

Jack Dromey (3rd picture) Deputy General Secretary of trade union UNITE talked about how Labour’s legislation on gangmasters addressed the exploitation of casual workers. This was tragically seen when Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecombe Bay.
Labour’s General Secretary Ray Collins talked about the low level of voter registration in the Chinese community. This is a failure that still hurts Labour where lower representation amongst ethnic communities means they do not punch their full electoral weight.

Finally, rushing in from previous meetings Foreign Secretary David Miliband apologised for the brevity of his appearance. He was the star attraction with the many photographers, and two television cameras zooming in to get their shots. David Miliband talked about the need to fight for the diverse values of Britain both domestically and internationally. We are diverse not homogenous and we should be proud of that.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Andrew Adonis on High Speed Trains

I am at Labour Party Conference in Brighton. With High Speed 1 now excitingly having started from Ramsgate I went along to the joint meeting from the rail unions ASLEF and TSSA on A High Speed Rail Policy to a Low Carbon Future. The main speaker was Lord Andrew Adonis the Secretary of State for Transport.

He arrived early for the meeting and discussed developments with a number of people. I had a chat with him and he was delighted that High Speed 1 has now started the trial service from Thanet and pleased the full service will commence with the Hitachi trains in December. What he wants is for there to be more High Speed rail links across the country. It is wonderful that East Kent now leads where the rest of the country will follow with a 21st century popular service for the future.

When he spoke from the platform he gave an exhilirating optimistic exposition of how he sees high speed rail leading economic development and environmental transport. Switching effortlessly between domestic and international examples his passion for how rail now can be as leading a part of the economy now, as it was when the Victorians were building new lines.

He talked about how rail could be popularised further noting how much demand for rail had increased. Talking about the distances between major conurbations in Britain he outlined how much better a fit rail was than short flights, or long drives in a car.

He spoke of how other countries like France have moved ahead of Britain and how Britain needs to match or better their network. Pointing out that countries round the world like China were recognising the importance of rail infrastructure and investing now, he noted how America was being left behind.

The role of trade unions in promoting environmentalism is often overlooked. ASLEF have been campaigning for many years to have the two thirds of the UK's rail track that have diesel services electrified. On the other hand trainspotters remain mostly male and this fringe meeting had a higher proportion of men than most meetings.

Gerry Doherty General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staff Association wanted to see the High Speed 2 service to the north of England and Scotland greeted with the enthusiasm that Spain was developing its new services. He warned though that it would not solve congestion quickly and that the principle of massive investment in rail needed to become the political norm.

Bob Rixham the National Rail Officer for Unite talked about building a wider coalition of support for rail expansion. Like Gerry he was enthused by Andrew Adonis' commitment but wanted a wider political commitment.

Tosh McDonald from ASLEF the train drivers union talked of Andrew Adonis as a breath of carbon neutral fresh air. Rarely is a government minister greeted with such unconditional acclamation from fellow speakers. He condemned the Conservative proposals to cut back rail investment in Crossrail across central London and that they would only have High Speed service to Leeds when the country needed a service that went further north.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

In the Air Tonight


Pictured left is an interesting initiative from Margate Mayor Ted Watt-Ruffell this evening. Several Christians have suggested to me that it is inappropriate for Council premises to be used for events with links to the occult and Satanism. I do not share their concerns. I think it is positive that committed Christian Ted is opening up Council premises to those with differing beliefs and I hope that other faith groups will have the same opportunities provided.



I am sceptical about mediums. However, I wonder if they will be able to assist with an unsolved local crime? Earlier in the year allegations were made that a Thanet councillor who was the worse for wear was abusive to a doorman at a Margate licensed establishment. When denied entry they demanded as to whether the doorman knew how important they were.


What concerns me was the way Thanet Conservative Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel investigated these serious matters. He contacted the establishment’s owners and asked them to review the evidence of the incident and assured them it was not the case that a Conservative councillor could have behaved in the alleged manner. This resulted in a letter which cleared the alleged councillor. My concern is the selective approach the Thanet Conservative administration take to anti-social behaviour.



As I understand there were CCTV pictures and a film of the alleged perpetrator why was this not published on the internet in a Thanet version of Criewatch? I know from members of my family who have worked in licensed establishments in Margate that they want a zero tolerance approach to any anti-social behaviour. They share knowledge and want to expose anybody who misbehaves.


In my view Cllr. Ezekiel should have done all in his efforts to have the available evidence circulated as widely as possible. This would have served two purposes. Firstly, it would have given an opportunity for the miscreant to be identified, charged if necessary and to be banned from licensed premises. Secondly, it would have meant that the alleged councillor could clearly be shown to have NOT been the individual involved in the incident.



I think it is most unfortunate that Cllr. Ezekiel did not take the opportunity to try and tackle this incident of anti-social behaviour vigorously. Perhaps someone in the audience tonight will be able to ask the medium to look into the past and identify the individual to clear up this matter.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Haine Road Traffic Calming to Start, Traffic Jams whilst work takes place




I am pleased that the campaigning I have been doing along with Liz Green and Alan Poole to improve Haine Road is finally going to bear fruit.

Pictured are local residents explaining the speeding problems they face on a daily basis to Thom Morris from the Isle of Thanet Gazette in July.

Work is scheduled to start on Monday 12th October. The works will involve the installation of 12 sets (2 cushions per set) of traffic calming speed cushions, 75mm in height, evenly spaced over the length of the 30mph speed restriction between the Toby Inn roundabout, and the roundabout at the Spratling Street junction with the A256. Traffic signing and associated white lining will also be installed.

The aim of the traffic calming scheme is to help reduce traffic speeds on the Old Haine Road and to get more traffic to use the New Haine Road.

Parts of the Old Haine Road will be closed for up to 5 weeks in 3 separate phases whilst the work takes place although residents will still be able to access their properties. The works are programmed to commence on Monday 12th October 2009 with a maximum duration of 5 weeks although it is hoped the works will be completed much sooner.

If you have any problems with the roadworks you can call Kent Highway Services on 01304 242326

I hope the work is successful and that Old Haine Road residents get the improved quality of life they deserve.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

And now for something completely different....

My thanks to soul man Clive Hart for steering me in the direction of this. If you have seen it before you will know how much fun it is, and if you haven't sit back, watch and smile for 5 minutes.....

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Making Waves


I am pleased to see a new young voice of blogging in Thanet, Luke Edwards who has established Thanet Waves. Luke's got a coarse strapline so I asked him why and this is what he said:

"Well, generally, a lot of my friends seem to regard Thanet as a "shithole," but I disagree. Even my old school friends from Deal seem to view Thanet with nothing but contempt - full of "chavs and pikeys," they regard it - so I thought "Shithole is a state of mind" would be an apt slogan for a blog. It's intended to mean that if people consider Thanet to be a "shithole" then it's more of a reflection of their jaded perspective than it is a reality.


In other words, if (like me) you want to strive to make Thanet a better place - and, let's face it, there is a bit of deprivation here and there - then "shithole is a state of mind" is my little rallying call for people to realize that instead of deriding it, we should accept that our negative perception of it is only a state of mind, and that we should endeavour to improve our little area in any way we can.


In general, my blog's really supposed to be lending a bit of constructive criticism or opinion pieces on local issues, but it's also grounded in a general appreciation for the area - I certainly don't enjoy the bad reputation Thanet has, largely because I think it's a lovely place in many ways and has a great deal of potential. Anyway, sorry my answer's a bit longwinded, and I know the slogan's a bit coarse or rude, but I felt like it needed to be said (especially to a lot of my disillusioned young friends)


Hope this explains where I'm coming from."


Spot on about how others can perceive us Luke and glad to see you challenging your contemporaries. We have one of the best, if not the best climate in the country and a coastline to be proud of. Nobody does more to Promote Thanet than Don.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Too sexy to be a Tory



I love this story about London Borough of Hillingdon Conservative Councillor Geoff Courtenay (pictured hunk of the day) being deselected by the Conservative Party for being "93% sexy". his main crime seems to have been to have had a sense of humour....



Posting on Facebook, councillor Courtenay filled out a 'How Sexy Am I' quiz, which told him he was '93 per cent sexy'. Posting below it, Courtenay wrote: "Why are they saying 93 per cent? I demand a recount, I want 100 per cent."

Councillor Courtenay is known among his counterparts for his sense of humour, but the top brass in the Conservative cabinet did not find it amusing. In a letter from Christopher White, Conservative group chairman, Councillor Courtenay was told: "The selection panel had several concerns when interviewing you, there is the issue of your lack of judgement over inappropriate material being placed by you on your social networking site Facebook
.

The Conservatives are continuing to try and oust him. Perhaps he should move to Thanet and become a councillor, there are after all several jokers who have done rather well in the local Conservative Party.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Now that's what I call a pub garden!


Today I found myself looking for a pub lunch on the east side of Deal. First pub was still locked at 12.15, second didn't do food and the third only did a fixed 3 course menu which seemd to only be available to locals. Heading back to Ramsgate I was glad none of the first three options had worked out as I found the Coach and Horses at Hacklinge on the Deal to Sandwich Road.

The pub with its charity bookshelf, jokes and golf memorabilia had more character than the first three combined, with just one table left it was good timing. Honesty meant later arrivals for food were turned away rather than being kept dangling. Politics is available for discussion from your hosts who predict VAT will be going up to 20%. I think they are wrong, but I was having a day off so noted rather than engaging with their views.

A classic roast went down very well, and the regular option rather than the available large meal was more than enough to fill you up. The highlight though is the pub garden which has an outdoor dining area and childrens swings and climbing frame.

To one side is a classic fruit and vegetable garden with a large greenhouse. The greenhouse has tomatoes, chilis and cucumbers. Like me Penny Barnes hostess and head gardener is suffering from mildew which started on the cucumbers but has now transferred to the tomatoes, at least it is towards the end of the season. Penny's father used to be a market gardener, and her vegetables are neatly laid out and healthy like a professional. Leeks, lettuce and all the usual favourites. Penny is particularly proud of her herbs. The carrots for the roast dinners are cooked with a selection from the garden. A particularly flavoursome touch to distinguish the roast was home grown caraway seeds cooked with the cabbage.

The south side of the vegetable garden has a border full of the pictured physalsis (Cape gooseberry). These foot high lanterns look glorious at this time of the year and are a tribute to her tender care. It will be a long time before I see such a superb pub garden again, go eat and enjoy seeing where some of your produce has come from.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Thank you to all my readers

Thank you to all those who have assisted me since I started blogging. Having not even been going for a year, I was very surprised to be in the top 100 Labour bloggers. As I am fond of quoting about others, this is a local blog for local people. Most winners of this award comment regularly on national affairs.

My aim is to concentrate on Thanet and Kent politics and I hope that is largely what I do. I am also fortunate that a number of Labour colleagues and others have given extensively of their time and knowledge. I am always happy to publish guest blogs. The suggestions of friends mean I have never been short of content, and I often do not get round to posting ideas or even drafted pieces because events move on. My apologies especially to those who have put in effort to things that do not see the light of day. My thanks to most local bloggers who have been encouraging and supportive. Having constructive disagreements is one of the pleasures of blogging. We can have political discourse at a level that a local paper can barely touch upon.

I am also fortunate that I have local Conservative opponents who provide colourful content. It motivates me to blog because I despair at their poor or double standards. I am lucky (but I do not think Thanet is) that what could be a sleepy District Council generates a lot of "interesting" stories.

I think Thanet probably has the leading local political blogging scene in the country. There could even be a doctorate in studying it for some bright politics student. In a small way I am playing a part in the local politics of the future right now. I have asked around, and nowhere with such a relatively small population has such vibrant views expressed eloquently and excruciatingly depending on your perspective.

I thank Eastcliff Richard for his congratulations and read Tony Flaig's analysis with interest. I'm a 3 by the way Tony. I do not write this blog to attract numbers or rankings, I write it because I enjoy it and to advance the Thanet Labour cause. We could have some interesting categories to assess Thanet blogs.

Best photography? Most amusing? Best analysis of Council meetings? Top airport coverage? Historical analysis? None of these would I have a chance of winning in Thanet. Then we could move on to the really important categories.....

Local politician with most photographs of himself on his blog? I know I cannot win that. Citing of most personal achievements? Again I have no chance. How about namedropping?

Should I mention the time I took tea with the Queen and Mrs. Thatcher, or my time working for Hillary Clinton? I cannot see what relevance they have to how I perform as a councillor in Thanet and to current events, so I will leave that to others.

I know though, that some others think these categories vitally important to their reputations in local politics. I occasionally have wicked thoughts about playing name dropping "ping-pong" with a fellow local blogger, but that would be a distraction from discussing how poor Thanet District Council is in some areas, and how unacceptable the conduct of several Conservative councillors is. That affects us all daily, costs us money, and gives Thanet a tarnished reputation it does not deserve.

To be clear I am happy as a backbencher who blogs. I do not seek to be a MP/MEP/Council Leader/Cabinet member. I do seek to have better results and value for money for Thanet, and believe that can be delivered best by Labour. I will continue to go on about green tourism, the need for more accountability and openness, campaign for better quality, and more representative councillors in Thanet, better street cleaning, and anything else that takes my fancy. Sometimes I will try to be a citizen journalist and report on local matters. Thank you to everybody who comments, emails me, writes for the blog or talks to me about my blog. It would not be where it is without you.

Thank you again to everybody who has helped and supported me.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Top Kent County Council Man to go

News has broken today that Kent County Council Chief Executive Peter Gilroy (pictured) is to stand down. The story on LocalGov states:

"He told staff last night that he will step down next May when his contract expires to pursue other interests. Speculation had been mounting over the summer that then man who has led one of the country’s top-performing councils for six years was reviewing his options."

Let's have a go at translating that - he has not been headhunted for another job (pursue other interests) and quite possibly means that he had been advised that his contract was not going to be renewed or was unlikely to be renewed (speculation has been mounting.......reviewing his options).

Interesting phrase that he was reviewing his options, as if Council Leader Paul Carter and his colleagues did not have the chance to review their option to renew Peter Gilroy's contract. No doubt it will all become clearer in time.

There have been some controversial matters.
In April Peter Gilroy was labelled a "disgrace" after Clive Hart exposed that he pocketed £12,000 on top of his £238,000 (£70,000 more than the Prime Minister receives) annual salary - for not taking all his annual holiday leave. More details here.

I highlighted last week the unnecessary money spent on Kent TV, but I think the responsibility there lies with politicians not officers no matter how committed they were to the project.

The biggest disappointment surely was all the millions of punds of money that recklessly went to Iceland when banks were collapsing (some people seem to forget it was reckless banks that caused our current financial circumstances) and was lost. For details click on my March guest post here from Mike Eddy . Let's recall what the Audit Commission wrote:

‘Kent negligently deposited money after credit ratings for Icelandic banks were downgraded below acceptable levels’

With hindsight, it can be seen that senior officer time that could have been devoted to having better financial systems for millions of pounds, was instead being prioritised to ensure senior officers were able to get paid thousands of pounds for not taking annual leave.

Peter Gilroy has undoubtedly many achievements in the past and especially with regard to social care. It is unfortunate that he leaves after poor decisions have come to light in the last 6 months. I do trust he will take all his holiday so we do not have to pay him any more money before he goes.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Thanet Council promotes shopping at Westwood Cross


I have covered recently proposed efforts by Thanet District Council to promote people shopping locally. The efforts though are ill thought out when street cleaning is still poor in town centre areas, and public toilets which shoppers use are being closed down. I know people who shop in St. Lawrence High Street Ramsgate were affected by the closure of the toilets there. The introduction of double yellow lines is being opposed by
traders in Minster.
Broadstairs Labour activist Jenny Matterface provides a guest blog showing how Thanet District Council's failure to look at matters strategically threatens another local shopping area. It is unclear whether Thanet District Council will be able to revive local shopping areas, but ill thought out actions like these threaten to close down shopping areas like St. Peters and drive shoppers to Westwood Cross with its free parking and absence of yellow lines.

"Having lived in the St. Peter's area for 38 years I've seen many changes, some for the better but many for the worse so it was with some anger I read Thanet District Council's (TDC) asset disposal list. There I spotted a scheme for the car park in Hopeville Avenue, St. Peter's, Broadstairs. Thanet District Council plans to make this a pay and display area with the possibility of some residential development on part of the car park which is pictured. Quite how this would fit in is anyone's guess.

Part is Co-operative retail property and is clearly separated from the rest of the car park by a low wall. The garage area is council property but there is speculation among locals that some of the rest is church property so that is a question to be sorted out by the church authorities before TDC gets its way.

This car park is essential to the life of the village from those attending the services and events at both St. Peter's Church and Salem Baptist next door; those hiring the church halls (bottom picture) for functions from wedding receptions, funeral teas, slimmers' classes, blood donor sessions, playgroup activities, clubs, flower shows; residents without on-street parking; the local shops, the café, the dentist, the newsagent, the pet supplies shop. The list is endless. The award-winning Village Tour brings many visitors to the area and for all these groups the availablilty of a free car park is a major attraction.

We mustn't forget those who visit the churchyard where their loved ones are buried nor the elderly who need local facilities since the only bus from here is an hourly one to Broadstairs.

The shops and other businesses have suffered this year from the six-week closure of the road for gas mains replacement. Extension of the 'yellow peril' of double yellow lines is on the cards so those who live here, shop here, drink or eat at the local café must be wondering how much more the area can take before more shops revert to houses and join the bakery, bank, hairdressing salon, greengrocer's, that have been lost to other shopping areas over the last few years.

I can report that local resident Cllr. Michelle Fenner is taking the matter up and Thanet Labour's Shadow Cabinet will be raising the asset disposal programme at tomorrow evening's Cabinet meeting. Thanks to my husband John Matterface for additional research on this."
I can recommend Nina's Cafe in St. Peters High Street, it is excellent with a superbly friendly proprietor.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Local businesswoman selected for Labour in Dane Valley




I am delighted to hear that Sandra Hart has been selected as Labour's candidate following belated news from Panama that Conservative Stephen Broadhurst is to finally resign. Members of Margate Branch of the Labour Party met at their local headquarters in Northdown Road on Monday evening and unanimously endorsed Sandra Hart as their Prospective Candidate for Dane Valley Ward.

Local girl Sandra spent all of her teenage years living in Upper Dane Road and as an adult, starting a family, her home for almost another decade was in Victoria Avenue. Sandra therefore knows Dane Valley Ward through the personal and practical experience of living, growing up and taking on new responsibilities in the area.

For the last ten years Sandra has owned a long-established hairdressing business in Northdown Road where she previously served her apprenticeship and managed a team of workers for a further twenty five years. Recently she has promoted it as a Fairtrade business.

Sandra said

"I've spent my personal life living in and bringing up a family locally and my working life looking after the needs of clients and staff. I would now welcome the opportunity to help people in a broader sense and to put something more into my local community"

Margate Labour Branch Chairman Cllr. John Watkins said

"Sandra has been an active member for the past decade, regularly helping to deliver ward newsletters and updates to local residents and for the past five years attending key council and group meetings as our local liaison officer. For the past six years Sandra has also supported her husband Cllr. Clive Hart with his office and public duties at both District and County level so she understands the role of a local councillor very well indeed"

I have been impressed at how many meetings Sandra attends. She is a very good listener, and this will redress the balance of those of us who maybe speak more frequently than we should! When she does speak Sandra summarises matters well, and bring an insightful perspective. She understsands as a businesswoman only too well the variable record of Thanet District Council in supporting local commerce. I know she was disappointed at the recent 10% increase in parking charges for shoppers in difficult economic times. The partisan approach taken by Thanet Conservatives to efforts to promote shopping locally is a further regret.

Having been involved in the process as a member of Thanet Labour's Local Government Committee I have been impressed by the conduct of Sandra's husband Clive who is Thanet Labour's Group Leader. He encouraged a number of other Labour Party members to stand for election, and it was unfortunate that family commitments forced an outstanding trade unionist to withdraw as a candidate during the selection process. At no stage did he canvass for his wife Sandra, declaring his interest at all stages of the selection process. There were a number of other very capable candidates who put themselves forward, which augurs well for Labour for the next elections.

In the end though Margate members selected Sandra from having seen her at so many community meetings, and recognising her outstanding local connections. Sandra's husband Clive was ineligible for both the shortlisting and selection meetings, but was very pleased when he got the call to say that Sandra wanted to spend more time with her family.

Good luck to Sandra, she will make an outstanding councillor.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Southwark Labour Party Conference


Work took me today to Southwark Labour Party's annual conference. This is an excellent innovative idea. The staid annual evening meeting of activists within a Council area has been transformed into a day of debate with access to decision makers. Labour is in opposition to a Liberal Democrat and Conservative administration in the London Borough of Southwark. This conference moves around Southwark, last year it was in Walworth, this year it was at the Beormund Centre in the heart of Simon Hughes MP's Bermondsey seat. There are many Labour councillors and plenty of activists present, including a sizable number of young people.
Turnout was higher than expected with standing room only for the almost 100 people attending. Thanks to fellow Labour blogger John Friary for these pictures.
It is always a good sign at Conferences like this when when you see the penultimate speaker of the day attending from first thing. Val Shawcross (4th picture) London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark has always been attentive to her work. She is a very sound choice to be Labour's candidate in Bermondsey at the general election. The Conference started with an overview from Southwark Labour Group Leader Peter John (picture 1 - sitting on left) highlighting how powerfully the Conservative minority in the governing coalition influenced the Liberal Democrats.
Notwithstanding her many Parliamentary duties Harriet Harman has always been an outstanding constituency MP. Harriet talks about the need to get out on the doors, and how against national trends her Camberwell and Peckham Labour Party have won seats at the last two elections. Her constituency now has Labour councillors representing every ward. Harriet's speech theme was words beginning with C. Commitment, Contact, Community,Councillors and Candidates for the London borough elections next year. Just like Thanet Labour Party she and her local party members are out knocking on doors every weekend.
After lunch, Councillor Steve Reed (picture 3), Leader of Lambeth Council spoke. Labour took back Lambeth from a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition in 2006 against national trends following a deep rooted campaign in the community, so hopefully Southwark will emulate this achievement next year. One of the reasons for Lambeth Labour's success was the way they converted Labour's support in ethnic minority communities into a greater number of candidates. Workshops on key themes for the borough election next year were conducted by leading councillors to help prepare the manifesto.
The Conference was drawn to a close by Ed Miliband MP. He is one of the most in demand speakers in the Labour Party, and he has a natural fluidity I have commended previously.

Friday, 11 September 2009

For the Few, Not the Many



With David Cameron adding yet another Old Etonian to the Shadow Cabinet - the Baronet Sir George Young - this Daily Mail cutting seems appropriate as it features at number one on the left George Osborne. Yesterday he made a speech on best practice by Conservative run local authorities. Unsurprisingly, he decided not to mention Thanet District Council as a top Tory run authority.

He did however, say this about Kent County Council:

"Kent County council has massively reduced their transactional costs by leading the way in E-government."


No evidence, just an assertion probably found for him by a researcher. Part of this is the Kent TV initiative and highlighted last month how this included money to fly people across the Atlantic to make videos about folk festivals. Not what I see as a core activity for a local authority.

Steve Ladyman MP said:

"George Osborne praised Kent County Council E-government yesterday,claiming that Kent people have got more for less. But when the Tories say more for less they mean more for the wealthiest few but less for the many. Kent Tories’ put the most vulnerable at risk by charging the elderly more for their care and used the extra money they raised to fund their £600,000 Kent TV e-project. Despite Cameron’s claims to have changed the Conservative Party, local Tory politicians pursue the same agenda which they always have done.”

I know which I want from a local authority, affordable care for our elderly and vulnerable members of our community. Especially poignant when we are marking 70 years since the outbreak of the Second World War and all that generation gave to us.

Not a TV station which could be run for free on Youtube.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Toilet Talk and Thanet Coast Project fights vandalism


As mentioned on Eastcliff Richard last week, I was one of the people protesting at the proposed closure of the toilets on Ramsgate Beach. This is featured in this week's Thanet Times.
One of the protesters gave me a detailed briefing on prostate problems, bladder weakness and how essential public toilets are to encourage visitors of all ages.

Moving further along under the Eastcliff there is Ramsgate's Sea Garden which is in need of a little TLC. Although as my picture shows (click on them to enlarge) the weeds were welcome to a cluster of snails.

I visited with officers from Thanet Coast Project who were keen and enthusiatic on the attractions of Ramsgate. They sadly showed me how quickly one of the shelters further along the cliff on the way to Broadstairs had been vandalised with graffiti.
The delightful murals had only been completed a few weeks ago and on the second one after the initial graffiti they added "This work was completed by young people."
Hopefully this will make those thinking of defacing the shelters think twice. The third shelter is due to be painted with a mural soon. They are great examples of public art undertaken by our local community and I hope they will be valued by everybody.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Salute to one of our Soldiers and Councillors


A Labour colleague has pointed out to me the story of Ipswich Labour Councillor Alasdair Ross (pictured). He is also a reserve Sergeant Major undertaking a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He is now halfway through his deployment, and his absence from Ipswich Council would normally have led to his removal as a Councillor for failing to attend a meeting for over six months.
I am pleased to hear that a report approving his non-attendance at meetings from January 2009 until December 2009 due to his reserves forces call-out received almost unanimous cross-party support, with only two abstentions.

His councillor colleagues from the Labour group and the two Conservative members with whom he shares his Rushmere ward have worked to ensure that neither local residents, nor Ipswich in general suffer as a consequence. The local media have also been supportive, running regular updates of his experiences in Afghanistan.
I have added Alasdair's blog to my blogroll as a small measure of recognition to one of our soldiers who is serving us. I feel a small bond as a councillor who occasionally works abroad. Like him I am able to keep in touch with colleagues and current affairs in the area I represent from afar. We both use mobile phones, email, Twitter and a blog to continue our Council work wherever we are. Alasdair has John Cook, Secretary of Ipswich Labour Party to open his correspondence for him, so it can then be forwarded electronically if necessary.

Alasdair must be one of the most outstanding councillors in the country. I salute him.
UPDATE 10.09.09
More on Alasdair in Helmond on John Gray's blog here and here.

Monday, 7 September 2009

RAMSGATE'S FASTEST EVER TRAIN STARTS SERVICE

A new dawn broke over Ramsgate train station this morning as the cliche goes. I boarded the 6am first ever High Speed 1 train to London St. Pancras and the train display showed Canterbury West for the first time as a high speed destination.

Labour's, Steve Ladyman MP posed for photographs between Cllr. Roger Latchford and Cllr. Sandy Ezekiel, Deputy Leader and Leader of tanet district Council. Regrettably, Roger Latchford was in a grouchy and bad tempered mood on this great day for Ramsgate and Thanet.



The journey flew by and I file this post from St. Pancras station where there is free w-fi throughout.

Several members of the press were present at Ramsgate. A great Labour government achievement for Thanet.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

MONEY FOR NOTHING


There has been much speculation as to whether and when Panama resident Cllr. Stephen Broadhurst (pictured) has resigned from Thanet District Council. I am advised that a written resignation letter was received by Thanet District Council on Friday and that this asks for a resignation date of 30th September.
Working in politics I am a keen student of elections. My understanding is that this letter may be incorrect. Resignations are normally effective from the date of the letter. Now allowing for the letter having to travel from Panama a post dated resignation is to say the least questionable.
My Labour colleagues we will be looking at Electoral Law to see if this "resignation" is legitimate. There is one thing that could be done to improve matters. Why do the Conservative Group on Thanet Council not take disciplinary action against Cllr. Broadhurst and suspend/expel him? Why do they tolerate this situation? Are there any circumstances in which they will take disciplinary action against one of their own?
Surely being uncontactable by constituents for a further month after several previous months of the same and still wanting to receive hundreds of pounds is reason enough to do something?

Thursday, 3 September 2009

A CONFLICT OF INTEREST?


I have seen a letter from Thanet District Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel inviting Cliftonville traders to a meeting on Monday 7th September at the Bellevue Tavern, Northdown Road at 6pm.
The meeting is to discuss a promotional campaign to encourage local residents to shop locally first. Thanet Council is seeking to support local businesses in 5 shopping areas Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Birchington and Northdown Road.
The aim is, and I quote, to "drive people and sales into your high street area."

Sandy Ezekiel writes "I would like to personally ask you to attend this meeting and give your feedback on our campaign."
He goes on to write

"At this meeting there will also be a chance for you to find out more about Small Business Relief and the Business Rates Deferral Scheme."
Disappointingly Sandy Ezekiel gives the impression that this help for businesses is from Conservative Thanet District Council, and fails to credit the Labour government for these initiatives.
I do not think this has been thought through. Firstly, this is the sort of meeting it is more appropriate for an officer to attend and advise, so that there can be no question of facts being represented in a partisan way. An officer will also have greater professional expertise on these matters than a councillor, and be better placed to answer business owners' questions, and meaningfully consult with them.
Secondly, if a councillor has to be involved then it should be the relevant Cabinet member. I am unclear why the Council Leader has to be in charge of this matter.
Thirdly, and most importantly I am surprised that Cllr. Ezekiel cannot see that he may have a conflict of interest. It is well known that he has business interests in Northdown Road. So if this initiative is successful then he stands to gain economically. Now I do not think for one moment that he has sat down and said how can I use Council resources to help my businesses, but that is the indirect consequence of his actions here.
I also think that he has not given consideration to how people will understand the phrase in his letter that he wants to "drive people and sales into your high street area." In Cliftonville more local shoppers will mean more money for Sandy Ezekiel.
It is this kind of oversight that gives people the opportunity to wrongly state that most councillors, are only councillors for what they can get out of it for themselves. I have written to Cllr. Ezekiel suggesting that he withdraws from this meeting, and finds another representative to take his place. It would be easy to let this meeting go ahead, and then raise concerns afterwards, but I think it is better that matters are out in the open at the earliest opportunity.
Finally, I find this intiative bemusing. I know Ramsgate best and as one of the areas due to receive this promotional shopping campaign I question whether this money is being well spent. There are simple things the money being spent on a promotional campaign could be better spent on. Keeping public toilets open. Cleaning the streets better. It can happen, the beaches are cleaner this year so why not our town centre streets?
This proposal shows a lack of understanding of what shoppers want. They do not want to be caught short. They want public toilet facilities to change nappies. They want to enjoy the experience of shopping, not despair at dirty streets. Thanet Council says it does not have enough money for more wheelie bins. This means that we continue to have the problems of sacks of rubbish being pecked open by seagulls whilst money is spent on a "promotional campaign."
Sandy Ezekiel has asked people to put out their rubbish just before the refuse lorries arrive. A nice idea but unrealistic. There are many people who work night shifts, other unsocial hours or have personal commitments which mean they do not have time to sit at home and wait until they hear the refuse lorry coming. Quite reasonably they expect to be able to put out their rubbish several hours before it is collected. that is what the pay their Council Tax for.
In the League of Gentleman comedy series the town of Royston Vasey has become renowned for the catchphrase "this is a local town for local people" and uses it for their offical website
It seems Sandy Ezekiel is a fan as he writes

"I look forward to seeing you and discussing how we can work together to promote local shopping to local people."
Perhaps there are plans for Cliftonville to twin with Royston Vasey as part of this promotional campaign?