Saturday, 29 May 2010

I Won't Back Down

A grotty weekend’s weather for the Bank Holiday needs some cheer so here’s some music from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Apart from Tom Petty’s great music, he’s man from the left. He stopped George W Bush from using the song I Won’t Back Down in his campaigning.

Peter Bogdanovich’s film on Tom Petty, Runnin’ Down a Dream is well worth a watch - it is almost 4 hours long!

The soundtrack is constant classics but it highlights how Petty has never been afraid to stand up for himself. Early in his career he threatened to file for bankruptcy to get out of a very poor record deal

and he wrote this song in response to having his music ripped off and standing up to bullies.

Well I won't back down
No I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
... and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
and I won't back down

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin me around
but I'll stand my ground
...and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
hey I won't back down
(and I won't back down)
hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down)
hey I will stand my ground
(I won't back down)
No I won't back down...

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Left High and Dry

On the radio and television this morning there is rightly widespread coverage of the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo when the little ships rescued British soldiers from Dunkirk. I highlighted local plans last week.

Michael Child has more photos available here and I am grateful to him for the use of the top photo which shows Ramsgate's own Sundowner left high and dry by Thanet District Council.

At every event commemorating Dunkirk since 1965 Sundowner has been present. Hundreds of hours of volunteer time has gone into restoring and maintaining her. She's often to be seen in Ramsgate and is made freely available to visitors. Yet because Thanet District Council Conservatives' failure to sort out the mess that is Thanet's maritime heritage Sundowner is left high and dry. Whilst radio, television and newspapers rightly honour all those little boats and the people who served and died, Sundowner sheds a tear stuck on the side of the harbour as she is left stranded.

Almost a year ago Sundowner volunteer John Watkins detailed problems with East Kent Maritime Trust (EKMT)...

"More than £40,000 spent on consultants in recent years, whilst paying their own local permanent staff poverty rates of pay. £75,000 in fees, plus £62,000 penalty, paid over to the legal profession, for the mediation concerning their hugely expensive and totally unnecessary squabble over the tug Cervia.

In addition to all this, the EKMT inexplicably failed to produce any annual reports and accounts for over three years, until November 2008, contrary to Charity Commission rules. This was whilst still continuing to receive, with no questions asked, their regular annual £80,000 grant from Thanet District Council, funded by the local rate payers.

At the start of 2008 the East Kent Maritime Trustees, who included three senior local Tory politicians among their number, were able to carry forward funds of almost £223,000. This sum included money from bequests, donations, grants and sales. However, in spite of this they still found it unavoidable to make every one of their loyal staff members redundant, thus depriving seven local workers of their livelihoods and tipping them all out into a very uncertain future."

We hear much of the supposed Big Society that the David Cameron Conservative government wishes to see brought about. Yet here are volunteers giving their time freely frustrated by a lack of local political leadership, to ensure charities which have councillors involved with them and which have received public monies act in the community's best interests.

Sundowner the boat the Nazis couldn't stop has been left high and dry.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Clive's Choice - Rachelle Ferrell

Here's an end of the week selection of soulful music recommended to me by my fellow councillor Clive Hart. Turn on, tune in, chill out.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Time to Remember Dunkirk

Guest blog from my fellow Labour councillor and Volunteer Boats Officer at Ramsgate Marime Museum John Watkins:

"Ramsgate’s famous Little Ship Sundowner is due to be hoisted out of the inner marina to undergo routine hull maintenance, prior to joining around sixty vessels of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) on their cruise to Dunkirk to commemorate the 1940 Operation Dynamo. The flotilla will be accompanied by HMS Monmouth a Royal Navy, type 23 Duke Class Frigate and HMS Raider an RNR fast patrol vessel, together with an escorting RNLI lifeboat.

Sundowner has been present on the regular five yearly voyage, on each occasion since the 50th anniversary event in 1990, having arrived at the Royal Harbour in 1987, when she came under the care of the Ramsgate Maritime Museum. The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships hold a World War 2, Dynamo commemoration cruise and service every year at the end of May, choosing a different south east harbour each time. Last year the vessels attending the event assembled in the West India dock in London Docklands (see picture).
The previous year’s event was held on the River Medway at Chatham Marina, next to the dockyard.

With a fair wind and a following sea, Sundowner, having been built for the Royal Navy in 1912, could well be the oldest vessel taking part in the event this year. However, she has recently completed a thorough refit, conducted by a team of skilled Ramsgate harbour shipwrights and engineers (Messrs. Parrish, Mace and Barton). Her six naval trained, local volunteer crew members are now looking forward to her work up sea trials, prior to sailing for France with the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships on Thursday May 27th., then returning to Ramsgate on Monday the 31st.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

A Tribute to Steve Ladyman

It is hard to believe Thanet will see another MP to match Steve Ladyman for a long time. Steve’s commitment to the area provided him with an understanding and intuition which made him loved on the doorstep. Steve gave up a successful and lucrative career with Pfizer to represent local people, first as a councillor then as MP for South Thanet. The contrast with North Thanet’s Roger Gale’s whines about the need for money and expenses to recognises his, and his families merits could not be greater. Steve gave up a greater income and share options for longer hours, more pressure and less appreciative feedback than he would have received in his original career. At a time when many politicians have low regard and esteem it should be noted what Steve Ladyman chose to do for the people he lived amongst. He did not look for especial recognition, for it is within his DNA to represent and look after people, and I am sure in whatever he goes on to do he will again be looking out for others.

A good example of Steve's integrity is the way that he followed his beloved Liverpool. Steve's being supporting his beloved Reds for half a century and can recall when Liverpool were a Second division team and lost to non-league teams like Worcester City. So all the more reason to savour Liverpool reaching the European Champions League Cup Final. As a minister he was provided with the opportunity to go and watch the game all expenses paid. Yet he chose to watch the game at home on television. Some people would trumpet this, but Steve just saw it as the right thing to do.

When campaigning on a Saturday or Sunday morning it was notable that starting and finishing times for Steve might change if Liverpool were ont he television. I hope one benefit of him losing his seat is that he gets the chance to watch a lot more football.

Consistently in the years I campaigned for Steve I heard people say that they were voting Labour because Dr. Ladyman had helped them with housing, their autistic child, their health problem. I have been electioneering for 3 decades and there’s another remarkable to note about Steve’s commitment. Normally when you knock on a door and ask if someone wants to meet their MP the answer is yes, as they often have not met them. Time after time the answer for Steve has been no. “I’ve met him already”, “I know him through this organisation...”, “I’ve seen him at this event..” His consistent hard work meant a genuine pleasure in campaigning for Steve as people understood the high level of service and commitment he had provided.

So if he was so good, why did he lose? Well greater love has no man for his constituency than that he lays down his Parliamentary seat to make Thanet a better place. I first sensed that Steve was in danger of losing his seat 4 years ago. A friend 10 minutes walk from Ramsgate station sold their average semi-detached house. They had 15 prospective buyers view. 14 of them came from outside of Thanet, all from in and around London. Not every new arrival would be a natural Conservative voter, but the demographics of people moving into South Thanet to take advantage of the fast trains would generally be against Labour. There's many other factors here, boundary changes, and national trends too.This did not stop Steve consistently strenuously arguing at all times and levels of the government that Thanet must have fast trains as soon as possible.

To any outside observer it is clear that Broadstairs continues to quietly prosper, Margate’s decline has still not been arrested, yet Ramsgate is starting to quietly boom. In the last decade Ramsgate house prices have had the 3rd greatest increase in the country, a whopping 181%! So dear reader, if you are a former constituent of Steve Ladyman and you own a property you will have benefitted compared to national trends. A direct consequence of Labour government action. It is quite possible to answer to the question, what has my MP ever done for me? The answer is that Steve Ladyman’s campaigning, and consequent delivery of High Speed 1 fast trains increased the value of your home by tens of thousands of pounds. The Conservative government had the option before 1997 to provide fast trains for Thanet but dismissed the idea that public investment would regenerate Thanet. Steve always understood how fundamental improved transport links were, and ensured Labour delivered.

Trains alone do not begin to cover what Steve won for his constituents. Sure Start centres, lower crime, the QEQM hospital with all the new wards built in the last decade. Plenty of new NHS facilities eleswhere and many new buildings for GP practices. Schools refurbished and rebuilt. The High Speed trains are named after Olympic champions, it would be more fitting and appropriate if one of them was named after Dr. Stephen Ladyman – their greatest political champion.

Again the contrast with Roger Gale’s speculative plans for a Manston Parkway station could not be greater. There’s no demand to justify the tens of millions a new station would require. Plus if ever built Manston Parkway would take even more investment and people away from Margate accelerating Margate’s decline, not addressing it. Realism dictates that improved signalling between Canterbury and Ramsgate would cost less and improve rail services far more than a vanity project for an airport whose geographical position on a peninsula always means it will always struggle to become even a minor regional passenger airport.

I will miss also the frankness and insights Steve provided when briefing party activists. He answered the most difficult and awkward political questions with candour and directness. His reports gave political insights and information with a level of tact and discretion that meant that you understood quickly how influential Steve’s views were in Parliament. When Meg Hillier visited the Northwood ward I represent last month, she was just the latest minister to comment on how ceaselessly Steve lobbied for Thanet.

There are criticisms to be made of Gordon Brown. One misjudgement he made as Prime Minister was to fail to recognise Steve’s talents. I know several Conservative MPs were baffled as to why Steve was overlooked. You can insert here sadly the names of several Labour MPs who were Brown’s ministers but were less worthy.

Look at the shameful embarrassment Shahid Malik, Phil Hope, Jacqui Smith, Ann Keen and Tony McNulty brought forward with their unjustifiable expense claims. It is no wonder the electorate chose to vent their feelings by ejecting these and others from Parliament. It was a failure of Leadership for Gordon Brown’s to tolerate these MPs as ministers in his government, and then to allow them to stand as Labour candidates. The integrity of Steve Ladyman and many others stands in marked contrast. Note too, that where those with shoddy records were rightly not allowed to stand again Labour held seats in Livingston, Scunthorpe and Luton South. Steve was not the only Labour MP vindicated during the expenses furore who Gordon Brown overlooked. Future political students will write papers wondering how on earth Gordon Brown thought it was right to retain ministers who had failed the test of public opinion, and allow them to continue to sully Labour's name.

I make this not as a party political point. All the current parties had individuals who the electorate found wanting, David Heathcoat-Amory’s hundreds of sacks of horse manure in Wells and Lembit Opik’s £2,500 plasma television in Montgomery were judged too.

One thing Thanet can be certain of is that Steve’s commitment to Thanet will remain undiminished. It’s home and where his heart is. I hope he will take the chance to take an extended break. Even during recess, so often I saw him working in his constituency. All those snide pieces about the length of MPs holidays were irrelevant to Steve, as they are to most MPs I know. When he wasn’t working in Westminster he was on duty on Thanet working long, long hours. He has made an incalculable difference to life in Thanet today, and it is only with him no longer a MP that he will perhaps begin to get the recognition his endeavours have deserved.

I hope there will be ways for his knowledge, contacts and skills to still be available to public life in Thanet and elksewhere. For now though I know I speak for thousands in Thanet in thanking Steve for all that he has done.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Fat is a Political Issue

Steve Ladyman rightly identified Alan Johnson (pictured) as a man who could make an excellent Leader of the Labour Party. The quality of the man is shown in Alan's view of his propects of leading the Labour Party

"There is a role for me to play but we need to come back and regroup, reform. That is a big job - for five years in Opposition and however long after that. It is a 13 or 14 year job and I just think my talents are best served supporting whoever gets that job rather than going for it myself. It's probably best if the baby boomers do something else, particularly as we have such an exceptional pool of talent there. I think David (Miliband) is the best."

I hope all possible contenders will look at how they can serve the best interests of the Labour Party as Alan Johnson wisely has. As everybody says Labour needs a proper contest with several candidates. John McDonnell will fail to secure enough nominations, but will strive to represent the further left end of the Labour Party. For the rest of the possible candidates John Cruddas, Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, David Miliband and Ed Balls all bring different qualities. Harriet Harman and Alastair Darling would be welcome if they change their minds on standing in the contest.

There's a new criterion for candidates to consider when putting themselves forward. John Mann MP identified this saying

"I think it would be extremely important that we have a TV leadership debate between the candidates," he said. "For better or for worse that is one of the things a party leader is going to need to do in the future, and I think that it would open it out to the wider public, including the wider membership. And I think that is essential."

He's perceptive even though this makes for a shallow test.

You dear reader, like me are probably interested in politics and vote in every election. Yet in general elections two thirds of people vote, whereas in local elections only about a third of the population do. Amongst this third of the poulation who tend to vote in General elections but not local elections, there are some who come to their voting decision largely on the basis of events like the television debates. Would that it were tax, education or health policy, but knock on enough doors and you will find this is not always the case. On opinion polling of Radio 4 listeners to the leadership television debates Gordon Brown's performance was always higher than polling of television viewers.

It is unfair that his appearance and especially his jowls, should reduce his performance rating by a few percentage points. Nonetheless the genie is out of the bottle, and television debates will become the norm. So all political parties now need to reconsider whether at least for their leaders,

"Politics can be showbusiness for ugly people"

as Jay Leno quipped.

This General Election showed how even a percentage point here or there can make all the difference. 2% more votes for Labour and there would probably not be Prime Minister Cameron. So does this mean that highly able people like Liam Byrne may not be able to reach the highest post because they are balding? Regrettably, I think the more Presidential or X-factor style of British politics means this may now be the case.

For all the possible candidates for Labour Leader above, it is something they need to consider. When I was young in the 1970s I remember a cartoon I think in the Observer which played on the fact that Wilson, Healey, Callaghan and most of the leading Labour figures were portly, whereas Tony Benn was thin. Wilson saying to Benn in the cartoon that you couldn't get on in politics if you were wedge shaped, punning on Wedgwood-Benn. Now we see politics turned around in a few decades, so that obesity is less acceptable.

Fortunately, almost all Labour's propspective candidates will look good on television. And for Ed Balls if he is deciding to run, my sincere and comradely advice would be that he spends more time in the gym, and recaptures the days when less work and family commitments meant he played football regularly.

Size and appearance shouldn't matter, but it does.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Gordon Gone, David to take on Goliath's £Millions?

Gordon Brown resigned as Labour Party Leader within the last hour. It was the right thing to do. Harriet Harman, Alastair Darling, Alan Johnson and others have ruled themselves out as potential Leaders.

Of those that who might stand and talking to people on the doorsteps, the person best placed to be the next Leader of the Labour Party is David Miliband. It will be interesting to see who stands.