Saturday, 27 February 2010

Laura Sandys Shoddy Lack of Opinions

As we get closer to the General Election people's views are firming up. Nationally the opinion polls are closing, and I detect locally people who are critical of some parts of Labour's record, recognising that overall and on the big matters - health, education and the economy it is the best choice.

Many people though vote on other issues, sometimes single issues. Some of these have been contacting local prospective candidates to find out their views. As I have recorded previously South Thanet Conservative Candidate refuses to respond to difficult political questions.

Local people have advised me recently that one issue she finds difficult to address is animal rights. Like David Cameron she comes from a family background which strongly supports fox hunting. Local people writing to her on this issue have had varying responses. One had no response. One advised me that she said she would ask North Thanet Conservative MP Roger Gale. An odd response as Laura Sandys should be able to formulate a view on fox hunting without needing to "phone a friend". Credit to Roger Gale who has taken a clear and prominent line on animal rights over many years.

Like many prospective Conservative candidates Laura is finding the process of the public scrutinising her performance difficult to handle. The League Against Cruel Sports report that

Up and down the country, our supporters have contacted the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) of all parties to seek their view on repeal of the Hunting Act. The responses are forwarded to us, and the current figures show that 69.8% of Conservative PPCs support repeal, as do 5.7% of Liberal Democrat PPCs and less than 1% of Labour PPCs.

But what’s most telling is the language used in the PPC responses. Most argue their point eloquently and effectively, but we’ve noticed a trend amongst some Conservatives to all use exactly the same wording. For instance, we now have twenty Conservative candidates all using the following line:

“I was also struck by the recent comments of Jim Barrington, the former Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, who said…”

The quote itself isn’t important, and anyway, we’ve all heard Mr Barrington’s arguments before. The key point is the very personal comment that “I was struck by…”. Now, we’re not politically naive enough to think that standard responses don’t exist, but we think it’s pretty shoddy that such a personal statement, loaded with feeling, should be used, word for word, by at least twenty candidates.

Now Laura Sandys could clear this matter up easily by acknowledging her error, it should be "A Conservative Central Office researcher was struck by, not I"

Like abortion and the death penalty, fox hunting is an issue of conscience with different views by individuals in every party. So Laura Sandys should as somebody who wants to be a MP have her own views. She should be able to think for herself and formulate her own views.

Every other candidate standing in Thanet is able to do this. Why as the League Against Cruel Sports puts it, is Laura Sandys acting so shoddily?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Chinese for Labour Campaigning and Fundraising

Yesterday evening I was honoured to be Thanet Labour Group’s representative at Chinese for Labour’s slightly belated Chinese New Year celebration. Compered by the inimitable Simon Fanshawe, who kindly posed mid quip to catch his best side in the photo shown. Simon kept the evening flowing, but also took the opportunity to celebrate Labour’s achievement on lesbian and gay rights. Pointing out several people present with civil partnerships, he said this had only happened because over three terms of Labour government there had been a confidence and commitment to equal rights for everybody in our community. David Cameron of course opposed gay rights. He now supports them. Has he genuinely changed his mind, or is he just expressing a view that he thinks will win him more votes?

Home Secretary, Alan Johnson highlighted David Cameron’s commitment to tax credits for married couples, not for those living together. He asked where the £4.9 billion this commitment will cost is coming from. No explanation from the Conservatives. Like their commitment to cut inheritance tax for millionaires they are promising money to people, without any explanation of where the money will come from. I would like to see Conservative candidates having to declare whether they personally would benefit from the inheritance tax cut. Declaring interests is a fundamental principle of British democracy. My understanding is that Laura Sandys in South Thanet and Charlie Elphicke in Dover and Deal, and their families would benefit by hundreds of thousands of pounds if this proposal they strongly support ever went through. Leaving ordinary working people paying to subsidise this millionaire’s glee club, we’re all in this together? Pass the sickbag.

Sonny Leong Chair of Chinese for Labour warned people to understand that if they woke up with a Conservative government there would be no morning after pill to put things right. He called upon the Labour Party to secure greater representation of Chinese people. This was endorsed by Keith Vaz who praised Lord Gulam Noon for his work in ensuring better representation of Black and Ethnic Minority people in public life. I have rarely seen so many government figures at a dinner, with International Development Minister Gareth Thomas, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw and many other Parliamentarians present.

As Alan Johnson said in his speech, that’s because this dinner is one of the highlights of the year. Host restaurant the Phoenix Palace in Marylebone has the best Chinese food I have ever tasted, and a range of dishes which puts many other restaurants to shame. So there is never any problem in attracting speakers for cuisine of the highest quality.
Ed Miliband has to be one of the sexiest people in politics from the comments from the diners with many women and men shouting out their lust for his looks! Ed emphasised that the more Conservatives came under scrutiny the more their poll ratings fell. He called for more publicity for Conservative proposals as they were helping Labour narrow the opinion poll gap every day. The key distinction for him was that Labour took an optimistic view of the future, where a 1930s style Depression emanating from America had been avoided. He contrasted this with a Conservative outlook based on talking Britain down.
When the Conservatives compare Britain to Greece they scare off potential investors and call upon them to put their money and our jobs elsewhere in the world. A personal observation here. David Cameron thinks Ed Miliband is a second class citizen. Ed’s brother David is married with children. Ed and his partner have a child, but are unmarried. In David Cameron’s Conservative world David should have more money through tax breaks than Ed why?
David Cameron does not understand that everybody I know has a couple in their family who have a long term commitment but are unmarried. David Cameron believes they are second class citizens. In my own extended family there is a couple who have been together longer than the other married couples of their generation. They have children and have been committed to each other for many years. They are saving to have the kind of wedding they would like, not just a quick visit to the registry office. Should they now just get married for a tax break, or shoyuld they be able to plan towards their dream wedding without being penalised.
The Conservatives do not understand modern British society.
Two examples from the speakers to illustrate this. Sonny Leong talked about the Conservative mindset that resulted in top Tory Lord Norman Tebbit assaulting a child because they had a different culture to his.
Alan Johnson explained that you had to have a contemptuous and utterly out of touch view of the world to believe 54% of 15-17 year olds had children rather than the correct figure of 5.4%. However, that's what dozens of Conservative Parliamentarians and officials thought was modern British society. They do not go to where ordinary people live and look down upon ordinary working people as an underclass.
My thanks to Mee Ling Ng and her hard working team of organisers for a superb evening. Congratulations on the thousands of pounds raised for Labour's General Election campaign against the Conservatives tens of millions of pounds.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

How an Elected Mayor can lead to crises

I have written before that I am agnostic about whether an elected mayor would be better for local government in Thanet. I am tending more and more against this idea. There are good examples, where it has worked well. The more I see and read about Doncaster though, the more I think it can lead to problems. After the well documented child abuse cases in Doncaster, now there is gridlock on the budget.

Those who advocated this system in Thanet have been quiet about this subject of late. I think reading here will give them interesting food for thought.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

South East Region Labour Party Conference

Another excellent South East Labour Party regional conference, which makes me realise that I have been blogging for over a year now and had not noticed the anniversary. Top marks to Regional Director Malcolm Powers and his team for securing the Reading Hilton as the venue with extremely advantageous room rates. Family and work commitments meant I only attended the second half of the Conference. Fellow East Kent delegates Anne Belworthy from Thanet North and Wendy Mitchell from Folkestone and Hythe who attended for the whole weekend were most impressed with the attentiveness and thoughtfulness of the Hilton staff. The Reading Hilton is just one building in this area of Reading where there has been regeneration. Just off Junction 11 of the M4 close to the single windmill and the Madjeski stadium. They demonstrate how Labour has rebuilt this part of the country after the years of Thatcher’s destruction.

Delegate numbers were down for the very good reason that many who would normally attend had decided that campaigning in their constituencies was a greater priority. My Thanet colleagues were out campaigning and it is great to welcome Nigel Singh to South Thanet as our new campaign organiser. Nigel's friendly enthusiasm has already been an instant hit.

John Prescott at the Conference dinner inspired everybody. When many people leave senior office they sometimes are seen infrequently on the front line. John’s been the exact opposite. I have seen him in my day job commuting on the Eurostar to Strasbourg where he leads Labour’s Council of Europe delegation. More frequently he is at Labour Party campaigning and fundraising events. Here he gave a keynote speech and the conference dinner speech bringing the house down on several occasions. He then did something that is not so regular. He did not shoot off back to relatively close London. Instead he went round very table, talking to everybody present, stayed for as many photos as delegates wanted, and he was back at breakfast inspiring people to GoFourth and campaign. Read his latest blog here

First thing Sunday morning before appearing on Adam Boulton on Sky News, Harriet Harman warned of how the Tories plan for early cuts threaten a double dip recession. She stressed how important it is to rebut the Tory lie that Gordon Brown created the recession. As she said, if that was the case, how did he create the recession in America, France, Germany Spain, Greece etc? It is clearly nonsense, and a sign of how desperate the Conservativees are that they have to resort to this repeated misrepresentation rather than outline a clear policy agenda.

At the end of her speech, Harriet present several awards. Oxford East was constituency of the year. The award was received by Labour national Executive Chair Ann Black. Ann is one of the constituency representatives on Labour’s governing body. Many of the delegates present told me of how much time she spent garnering their views, and feeding back national party strategy. Ann said that although Oxford was only a short distance away, the vast majority of the Labour Party had chosen not to come and receive the ward, but were as she spoke knocking on doors in the rain.

Janet Sully (seen addressing Conference) received the Year round campaigning award on behalf of Crawley Labour Party. Laura Moffat MP has the smallest majority in the country, but Janet promised that will not be the case after the next election

Margaret Rose of Maidstone and the Weald Labour Party who only joined the Labour Party two years ago after a lifetime of being a Labour voter, won virtual campaigner of the year. She is heading towards a thousand voter contacts on the phones assisting Paul Clark MP in Gillingham and Rainham. During the weekend there were canvassing sessions in both Reading seats and telephone canvassing by delegates.

Peter Skinner MEP conducted the fundraising on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning explained why David Cameron is so keen to keep quiet about his extreme Conservative MEPs and their appalling friends in their new ECR political grouping. He explained how this had lead to decent ant-fascist Conservatives like Edward McMillan-Scott being forced out in favour of Michael Kaminski from Poland. Delegates welcomed his frankness about the unseating of many hard working County Councillors across the South East in local government elections last year; lost as he put it in a sea of expenses. Peter called for work from now to win those seats back in 2013.

Peter took plenty of questions, but modestly omitted to mention the excellent revamp of his website, well worth a look, click here.

At the end I attended one of the workshop sessions on the manifesto. Ably chaired by Martin Phillips of Guildford, a delegate to Labour’s policy making body the National Policy Forum. Activists welcomed the opportunity to discuss policy with Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP for Portsmouth North and a junior Treasury minister. Sarah provided an insight of government thinking.

There's no doubt Labour's "fightback" campaign is coming together with the polls closing again this weekend down to a 6% gap. The one consistent voice I heard from those present I talked to was that things were far better than 6 months ago. People were still ready on the doorsteps to listen to Labour and come out and vote. Change was not enough for the Tories, change to what? On that nobody seems to have an answer. In my view Labour could do worse than consider using a theme like Walter Mondale's "where's the beef?" question, to see if there are real worked out Conservative policies that can be debated between the parties.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Ted Watt-Ruffell still a Conservative Councillor

I received disturbing news this evening. Despite his apparent statement that he had left the Conservative Group, Ted Watt-Ruffell remains a Conservative Councillor on Thanet District Council. Since Ted Watt-Ruffell's conviction for animal cruelty following his guilty plea, the Conservative Group have acted in a bizarre fashion. Instead of a clear written statement there has apparently been a series of telephone calls by Simon Moores. It is unclear why he is making telephone calls rather than issuing a clear written statement.

The Conservative Group Leader should issue a statement something along the lines of

"There is no place for breaking the law in the Conservative Party and we are appalled that a poor defenceless animal has been allowed to suffer. Cllr. Ted Watt-Ruffell has been immediately expelled from Thanet Conservative Group.

A member of Thanet Conservative Group will be issuing a Standards complaint against Ted Watt-Ruffell if he remains a councillor. I have asked for this statement to be published as widely as possible."

A clear simple message. Instead unclear phrases like stand aside are used. In order to resign from a political group or the Council, a councillor has to write to Thanet District Council's Chief Executive. So the various statements reportedly made by Ted Watt-Ruffell have no effect, and I am reliably informed that no official communication has been received to remove Ted from the Conservative Group. Now you could say this is a procedural oversight. Except exactly the same problem arose only a few months ago when Conservative councillor Stephen Broadhurst's resignation was delayed due to the failure to communicate it properly. Stephen Broadhurst was Ted Watt-Ruffell's fellow ward councillor, and remains his employer and friend. So Ted would be well aware of how to resign, or rather how to not resign and continue receiving allowances. I wrote then on 5th September...
"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?"

The same could be said again today.

Thanet Conservative Group should have taken action, but have chosen not to do so. Now why would this be? Well could it be that Ted is intending to remain a councillor, and the Conservative Group want to continue to work closely with him? If Ted resigns he will become an Independent, but I would be surprised if the current Independent councillors would want him as part of their group. Perhaps he should sit as an Independent Conservative, although I think he should resign as a councillor following his guilty plea and conviction.

As Thanet Conservatives buck national trends by losing by-elections and now possibly losing a councillor, majorities on committees become tighter. In particular the Margate Charter Trustees has become finely balanced with 8 Labour, 9 Conservative, 2 Independent councillors and Ted. The poorly run Margate Charter Trustees website run by Margate Conservatives continues to list Stephen Broadhurst as a councillor, months after his eventual resignation.
Independent Leader Cllr. Dean McCastree has tended to vote with the Conservatives. The other Independent Cllr. Tom King has not always voted with the Conservatives. This potentially brings a vote for the Mayor of Margate in 2009/10 in the next few months to almost deadlock. Potentially 9 people supporting a Labour nominee, 10 supporting a Conservative nominee with Ted as Mayor maker with the casting vote.

I understand local Conservatives are petrified at the prospect of a by-election in Dane Valley ward following their humiliation at the December 2009 by-election by Labour's Sandra Hart. Some of them are keen to keep Ted Watt-Ruffell as a councillor and to avoid a by-election.
So what could explain why Thanet Conservatives have gone easy towards Ted Watt-Ruffell and have kept him as a member of their group? The only explanation that fits for me is as follows. It requires a powerful individual with considerable influence who wishes to be Mayor of Margate in 2010/11. This could be their final year as a councillor prior to elections in 2011. Only one individual fits this scenario, Conservative Group Leader Sandy Ezekiel. He was particularly close to Ted, making him his Chief Whip and securing for him not just one additional allowance but as Bertie Biggles demonstrates two, when many other Conservative councillors received none. This is I note just a theory.
Cllr. Ezekiel is not just Conservative leader, he is Thanet District Council Leader. At a time when politics has a very poor reputation, he should not hesitate or bottle this decision. He should unequivocally publicly condemn Ted Watt-Ruffell's conduct as found by the courts. That would be real leadership. I think he should stop hiding, and express the views of the people of Thanet and remove Ted Watt-Ruffell from the Conservative Group. The longer this goes on, the more dubious it looks.
Margate Conservatives should be clear they are not seeking to rely on Ted Watt-Ruffell's support to ensure they select a Mayor of Margate.
UPDATE 17.02.2010 I am pleased to advise that a proper written resignation has now been submitted by Cllr. Ted Watt-Ruffell and has been recieved.
Thanet District Council Conservative Group continue to refuse to comment on this matter.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Wikio Ratings - Eastcliff Richard and Thanet Strife top

I've just received an email from Wikio rating my blog as the 680th most influential blog in the country. I have to say I doubt this as they rate not just blogs on politics but on all subjects. They also cover factual blogs on sport, technology, gastronomy, fashion and wine and beer.
Wikio says .....
"How are these rankings compiled?
The position of a blog in the Wikio ranking depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. These links are dynamic, which means that they are backlinks or links found within articles.
Only links found in the RSS feed are included. Blogrolls are not taken into account, and the weight of any given link increases according to how recently it was published.
We thus hope to provide a classification that is more representative of the current influence levels of the blogs therein.

Only links found in RSS feeds are counted. Blogrolls are not taken into account.
Our rankings are updated on a monthly basis and also include Top Blogs for several categories: Technology, Politics, etc. New categories will be added on a regular basis.

I thought I would have a look at other local blogs ratings to see how accurate this rating is. I found (sorry to any I have missed)
554 Eastcliff Richard
599 Thanet Strife
680 From One End of Kent
747 Thanet Press releases
957 Thanet Star
2181 Thanet Coast Life
2275 Village Voice
2672 Naked in Thanet
2857 Promote Thanet
3817 Old Woman of Margate
6770 Zentelligence (Simon Moores technology blog)
14869 Thanet No2ID
16330 Thanet Galaxy
16331 Thanet Scaly Wag
Thanet Life, Thanet Online, Big News Margate - unrated
I think it is great that Thanet has at least 5 blogs in the top 1,000 blogs across the country, making the Isle very influential for its size. I would certainly agree that Thanet Strife and Eastcliff Richard are more influential than this blog. I am surprised that Big News Margate and Thanet Online, other blogs I would estimate as more influential than mine do not feature, so this casts some doubts on the accuracy of the ratings.
On the other hand the ratings say that Simon Moores technology blog is uninfluential. They also do not rate Thanet Conservative councillor Simon Moores blog Thanet Life, preferring Cllr. Ken Gregory's Village Voice for a right wing view. That seems very accurate, although it is unfortunate for Simon that Wikio does not rate fiction and fantasy.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Guilty Mayor of Margate still claiming £1,000/month

It is appalling that Thanet councillor Ted Watt-Ruffell’s has been found guilty of animal cruelty resulting in the death of a defenceless kitten sucked dry by 150 fleas. For new readers a little history. Ted was a Labour councillor. However, there were a number of problems with his conduct and Thanet Labour Party were unprepared to have him representing them. No longer welcome in the Labour Party Ted turned to Thanet Conservatives where he was warmly welcomed. Informally, Labour members advised Conservatives of their concerns, but Thanet Conservatives dismissed them.

Ted was selected as a Conservative councillor for Dane Valley in Margate. As part of his election strategy he became a school governor. He was welcomed and earned a reputation for working hard. After his election though, his involvement with the school notably diminished, until his contribution was negligible. I have conflicting sources on what happened next. One side says the schools governors quietly asked Ted to leave, the other that Ted realised that in the context of his friend/fellow councillor/employer Stephen Broadhurst spectacularly bad attendance record, that it was time to go. Many local observers were concerned that the school had been cynically exploited as Ted strove onwards and upwards.

To his credit Ted was clear that Stephen Broadhurst’s position was untenable and told me that it was others in the Conservative Group who supported having a councillor living in Panama.
It was odd that Ted became both Mayor and Chief Whip. Mayor is a demanding position done well it is the equivalent of a full time job. With Ted working full time, and having a family, plus duties as a ward councillor it is odd that he sought out the position of Thanet Conservative Group Chief Whip. I am advised that he did not push for this position (it attracts no additional money), but rather that he was chosen.

To understand why Ted was overloaded with jobs you have to understand Thanet Conservative Group. It is dysfunctional. Misconduct is not just tolerated it is welcomed, seen as a “badge of honour.” Whilst a minority of Conservative councillors oppose this, the majority are at best prepared to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour, and many actually revel in it. There are circles of power, the leadership, an inner Cabinet, the rest of the Cabinet and other trusted lieutenants. One local Conservative advises me that the normal qualities of ability and integrity are of little importance. What matters above all is loyalty. Or as it was put to me what is prized above all is that like some gang, what matters most is whether you are staunch or not. Ted was staunch. Ted was elected Chief Whip.

Loyalty can work both ways. When there was an incident of drunkenness in December 2008 it was caught on camera. Whether Ted Watt-Ruffell was the person is not known. What is regrettable is that the business owner did not share the CCTV evidence with the police. This is compounded by the fact that when Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel became involved, he did not see drunken and abusive behaviour as a matter to be referred to the police, but one for private investigation only. This partial investigation leaves the whole matter unanswered. If Ted was the man, then Sandy Ezekiel acted loyally. If Ted was not the man Sandy Ezekiel failed the electorate by not involving the police.

Regular readers will know I try when I can to inject some humour into local politics. When at a hospital charity fundraising event I saw Ted wearing a Panama hat, the chance to comment on his fellow ward councillor being in Panama was too good an opportunity to miss. The post (click to link) used this photo. As you can see I carefully cropped it so the child could not be identified. Ted then made a complaint saying the child could be identified. Puzzled I discussed this with Ted. He said that it was not his idea to complain but that he had been asked to do so by one of his fellow Conservatives. Regular readers again will know that this blog has had a series of unfounded complaints by local Conservatives costing Thanet residents thousands of pounds. To Ted’s credit having discussed this with him he decided to take the matter no further. It gave me an interesting insight into the mindset of Thanet Conservatives and to have it confirmed that complaints are organised.

I have since been advised that the view is that it does not matter whether the complaint is well founded, what matters is to keep up a barrage to try and silence criticism. I did not know at the time but when I was discussing this with Ted the kitten we will come on to had died. Now Ted has pleaded guilty to the charge of neglecting the kitten, what should have happened? I should add here that I have no knowledge of whether Ted neglected his kitten, but I take his guilty plea in court at face value.

Ted has a private life but as Mayor of Margate he is Margate’s first citizen and the Queen’s representative. So any controversy about the Mayor makes for controversy about Margate. The Mayor is supposed to promote Margate, not bring it notoriety. My view is that what has motivated Ted throughout this is money. As Mayor of Margate he receives an allowance of £11,154 a year to spend on himself as he sees fit.

So when charged in October he should have either stood down or put out a statement protesting his innocence. Ted did neither, allowing speculation and starting the process of dragging Margate’s name down. When the charges became public on November 5th Mayoral events became two tier. If you were a local then Ted was allowed to continue. But if a senior figure came to visit Ted would become “unavailable.” Even when this featured in national media like Private Eye dragging down Margate, Ted did not seem to care. People were told he was "indisposed" but then he was seen at work, apparently fine.

His court appearance in Margate resulted in a postponement. I am advised that Ted’s claim that he could not receive a fair trial was accepted. He could though have put this forward several weeks previously. Instead he left it to the last minute. Instead of a prompt rearranged hearing this resulted in a delayed hearing. For Ted time was money. Every month he could claim as he did to many people that he was innocent, he received an extra £1,000/month. Now that he has pleaded guilty, it can be deduced that he knew from the start that he was guilty and that this would put his £1,000/month as Mayor of Margate in jeopardy. Even now having admitted his guilt he has not resigned after all every extra day as Mayor is worth an extra £33, so why rush to resign?

Let me declare an interest. Last November Ted became the latest member of Team Ezekiel to make an unfounded Standards complaint against me. He claimed this post prejudiced the chance of his receiving a fair trial. His complaint was false on 2 counts. First he knew he was guilty, so I could not prejudice his guilt as he has pleaded guilty himself. Second, he only made the application because it was free. My post was no different to what the local papers were reporting in its substance. However, to challenge the newspapers Ted would have to pay. To challenge me he could rely on Council Tax payers picking up the bill. So a few more thousand pounds could be wasted by a Thanet Conservative councillor.

Thanet’s Council's independent Standards Committee met and threw out Ted’s claim. In Ted world though, denial is everything. So Ted has now appealed this decision to the Standards Board of England. It is currently waiting to be heard. If Ted had pleaded innocent to the court charges he might have a point, but Ted knew he was guilty, and pleaded guilty. So Thanet Council has had to prepare a report to justify its Standards Committee decision. Thousands of pounds more of our money being poured down the drain. Now the cats out of the bag, and Ted has pleaded guilty, will he withdraw his appeal and save Council tax payers some money?

I won’t hold my breath! My prediction is that he will wiggle and wriggle to cling on for as long as possible, after all Ted’s getting £233/week as long as he is Mayor. Ted claims his health is affected, yet he has put up a tenacious and prolonged defence when he knew he was guilty from the start. He has had the staunch support of fellow councillors Simon Moores, Sandy Ezekiel and Roger Latchford. Roger Gale North Thanet MP who claims to have an interest in animal welfare, is silent when there is animal cruelty in his constituency. Ted has had £6,000 of "expenses" through this sorry affair, and no-one defends elected representatives rights to expenses more tenaciously than Roger.

Laura Sandys who has prospective South Thanet constituents in Cliftonville who are deeply angry at having a Mayor who allowed a defenceless kitten to be sucked dry by fleas until it died, stays silent, after all Ted is a loyal Conservative councillor.

Thanet Conservatives should ask Ted to resign as Mayor and councillor. If he refuses to do so they should take the Conservative Whip away from him.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Paul Conyers-Silverthorn - Let's Make Thanet Hum RIP

I am sad to hear that Paul Conyers-Silverthorn has died. Paul was a campaigner to improve tourism in Thanet and wrote regularly to local elected representatives with suggestions. He was passionate about Thanet, independent minded and as he wrote once his motivation was "Let's Make Thanet Hum"

A fine motto.

My condolences to his daughter Tanya and the rest of his family.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Airbrushed for Change

I have been meaning to have a look at the MyDavidCameron website which takes the mickey out of David Cameron's airbrushed poster for a while.
Tom Sutcliffe's column in the Independent steered me there today. His ratings seemed out of date as the current leader I found in the polls was this one with 1175 votes.
If you like some fun in your politics do have a look. Their stats page shows how effective they have been. Congratulations to Labour's Go Fourth website for coming up with the original idea.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Ramsgate's New Town Hall

Last Monday evening Ramsgate Town Council voted to move from its historical home on the Eastcliff, Albion House to Ramsgate's Custom House, right next to Ramsgate's Royal Harbour and in the middle of Ramsgate's cafe culture strip. (click on photos to enlarge them)

Last week I had the opportunity to look around the splendidly refurbished Cusom House which is a rich part of the town's history. There is plenty of space, far more than the Town Council needs. So this is not just a move to new premises, but a statement of intent by the Town Council that it wants to do more for the town.

Rooms could be rented out to generate income. The Atrium room could be a cafe. I think this is an ambitious plan in an area where there is plenty of well established competition. The Atrium does not have a great view out as my photo shows, and personally if I wanted a drink I would go for the view of the harbour every time in any of the numerous nearby establishments.
There is a long list of ambitious projects by Councils, where costs have overrun and projections have not been realised. You only need to go to the north of the Isle of Thanet and all the problems that the Turner Centre has had to see an example of the sort of problems that can happen.

Whilst I am not the greatest enthusiast for the Town Council (I think it is expensive for what it can do), if you knock on doors regularly in Ramsgate, there is no doubt it is what local people want.
So in going forward ambitiously the Town Councillors are reflecting the public's views. One thing that does concern me is that the Town Council is struggling to be a Council for the whole town. There's no doubt there are many people in the centre of town who care passionately about the Town Council.
In much of Northwood, Newington and Pegwell
people's priorities are services rather than symbols and heritage, important as these are. I attended a consultation meeting from the Town Council last week in Northwood where there were as many councillors as residents. (Thanks to the Town councillors for turning out in such good numbers.)
The thought crossed my mind that with such a ratio the consultation could have turned into a speed dating style event, where each resident could have had one on one's with each councillor and after 10 minutes move on to the next one....
Ok, perhaps not ...... a similar meeting in Albion House was packed with over 60 people present I am told. I attended two consultation meetings and the striking thing for me was the age of those present. Ramsgate Town Council could look for a joint venture with Saga as sponsors, as they can bring out their ideal target audience. I fear that however well intentioned the Town Council is, it listens to the voices of the older part of our community disproportionately. And I do not have an easy answer for how they can attract younger people to their meetings.
But, in the same week I went to a Police and Communities Together (PACT) meeting in Northwood where young parents were present. So tackling crime and anti-social behaviour should be something the Town Council considers further I would suggest.
Back to the building itself which is magnificent and if you get the chance to look inside, do. My favourite feature is the wind dial in the ceiling upstairs, which connects through to the weather vane on the dome on top. What ingenious and glorious design, an architectural treasure that should be available to be viewed by the people of Ramsgate.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Kent Conservative Councillor jailed

My recent post "Upholding Standards" touched a raw nerve with Thanet Conservatives. In it I questioned whether Thanet Conservatives would act if one of their councillors was convicted of kerb crawling. I did not criticise the individual councillor convicted, and praised the Medway Conservative administration for taking firm and swift action in removing the Conservative Whip. For new readers Thanet Conservatives are quite happy for swearing, abuse, drunkenness, and much else to be carried out by their councillors in their official roles. Click here and here.
There will be Labour and other parties councillors who get into trouble, it is not unique to one party. There will be more Conservative councillors who feature because the Conservative Party has more councillors in local government. The question is how do you react to misbehaviour. Do you turn a blind eye to it, or do you act?
Pictured is Tunbridge Wells councillor Len Horwood. He has been involved in his fellow Conservative councillor Graham Rumsey (Southborough Town Council) being sent to jail for failing to pay £13,500 council tax. As he had already appeared in court 3 times in the last year, at the least a suspension from the Conservative Party should have taken place?
The question I would like to know the answer to is whether Graham Rumsey still has the Conservative whip? After the expenses stories of the last year politicians have the lowest reputation for generations. All parties need to act to show they will not tolerate misconduct.
So I hope it will become clear that Cllr. Rumsey is not receiving invitations to Conservative group meetings whilst incarcerated, and is not having his apologies noted in the minutes.
Does it matter how parties treat their rotten apples?
I think it does and hope Tunbridge Wells Conservatives will act as Medway Conservatives did to expel Cllr. Rumsey from their Party. For Thanet Conservatives I know there are a minority who reject misconduct, but for the majority they must question what integrity they have by remaining silent, tolerating misconduct and saying it doesn't matter.
Wouldn't it be better for all in public life if my title above did not have the word Conservative in it?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Sandy No Mates

There was a letter in the Daily Telegraph (scroll down the link to see the letter) yesterday claiming:

"Conservative authorities have been committed, as always, to efficient and low-cost public services."

and it was signed by 35 Conservative Council leaders. Wisely there was no mention of Thanet Leader Cllr. Sandy Ezekiel joining the list of signatories, as nobody can claim Thanet District Council is either efficient or low-cost.

It is to these Conservatives credit that they confirm what local people know.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Voting with their Feet

This morning my first work meeting was very close to London’s Charing Cross station, so I took the old Southeastern trains service from Ramsgate rather than the wonderful new High Speed 1. I was stunned by how few people there were on the train, so I took this picture. I had an empty carriage to myself and did not need to use headphones to listen to podcasts as I worked. It is sad that instead of rejoicing that Thanet now has the fastest and best commuter service in the country; Thanet North MP Roger Gale carps and moans.
Local people are making up their own minds and ignoring him and voting with their feet. With a fast train leaving a quarter of an hour before the train I was on, why catch the slow train? When if you get up 15 minutes earlier you can be in London an hour earlier?