Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Closer Than You Think

The Government is taking the G20 summit rather too seriously from my point of view, as they've effectively closed-off all the airspace North of the Thames, virtually from Southend to the West and forcing me into the car for the next three days.

It all started this evening when Air Force One arrived at Stansted Airport and if any unwary pilot who hasn't read the latest Notams, bumbles in the wrong direction without an authorised 'Squawk' then he or she is likely to have unfriendly company very quickly indeed.

Of course, a £zillion or so is going to be spent policing the City of London from tomorrow, with so-called activists expected to gather in their thousands as they have done in every summit I can remember to date. Best give that day trip to London a miss I think!

If anyone built a tunnel under the Thames estuary between Southend and Sheerness, I suspect it would be of enormous benefit to the economy. It's only about 40 miles in a straight line between here and Brentwood but takes a couple of hours to work around the M2 and M25. Only when you get up in the air a couple of thousand feet do you realise how close we really are to Essex. because of the curvature of the horizon at 11 miles, people living in Thanet don't see how close we are to 'the other side' but the attractions of Chelmsford, Braintree and Southend are much closer than people think.

Perhaps we should think of a sponsored Margate to Southend marathon kayak race each year? It's almost exactly 26 miles!

Arnie's Back

Purest Green’ has been re-discovered or at least the Green party weblog has resurrected while its prodigal author, the literary inspiration behind Cllr Nottingham, waits on the deliberations of the Standards Committee; having arguably and allegedly plumbed the depths of tasteless comment over another lady councillor and landed himself in hot water as a consequence.

I should be flattered that the first thing the Shadow Member for Finance does on his literary renaissance is ‘have a pop’ at me and the new General Purposes Committee; the political equivalent of ‘stotting’ I assume? I find it amusing to receive a lecture from a member of any party that endorses the Sky Sports package as a valid Parliamentary expenses claim, (Gordon Brown) or whose second, second home secretary, expenses pornographic movies; by accident of course. Then of course there’s the Right Hon David McNulty MP, who lives with his parents and Mr Mandelson; well we won’t go there today!

Nothing to do with Thanet of course or even the new committee where Cllr Green writes:

“Only one item on the agenda "2009/10 pay negotiations proposals". What could this be that needs to be discussed in secret? Could it be the miserly 3% pay rise being offered to low paid Council staff, or could it be the increases that senior staff hope to gain from their recent "regrading" as Directors?”

So let’s pause for thought for a second. Is Labour, in the formidable shape of Comrade Cllr Green, in favour of public sector pay rises in the present financial turmoil or does he believe that the public sector should show some level of leadership and restraint; given that the private sector is cutting pay and lacks the same pension benefits to look forward to?

The new General Purposes Committee has a challenging task ahead of it and any decisions it may make in matters involving public sector negotiations, awards and salaries, are bound to be heavily scrutinised.

As a member of the Governance & Audit committee, I can tell readers that the attention to value for money and costs control is now a very high priority, not just here in Thanet but across the UK, given the almost catastrophic decline in revenues to local councils as a consequence of the growing recession. On a personal note, I believe we must be entirely pragmatic when we consider public sector pay and pensions and I would hope that the opposition party that bears the Lion’s share of responsibility for the mess the country is now in, would support the concept of a little fiscal prudence and pragmatism on a local basis.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ants and Grasshoppers in Thanet

Reading the letter in the Thanet Gazette from Labour's Councillor Nottingham this week, I confess to finding myself a little bemused.

The good councillor writes: "Local people may have seen Laura Sandys pledge that the Conservatives will reduce tax for local business at some time in the future. Pledges are fine. She could be taking action to save local people money now and is failing to do so. After Thanet Council’s 2009 budget was set the Government allocated an extra £314,324. This “windfall” came in late and as the Gazette (27/2/09) reported, Martin Wise Cabinet member for Finance has decided to keep the money for future years."

He adds: " I am therefore writing to ask her (Laura) Sandys) publicly to call on Thanet Council to spend this windfall payment right now when we all need it."

I do rather wonder if 'Local people' want to see the so-called windfall divided by the population of Thanet and imemdiately reduced from from their council tax or would prefer to see the money held in reserve as a contingency against further financial surprises which are almost bound to come,as the economy spirals steadly downward.

In fact, I'm not convinced Cllr Nottingham has done all his homework on the subject because I'm reminded that we've been landed by the Government, with the cost of concessionary bus fares, which quite possibly leaves enough change for a small burger and French fries and if your'e lucky, a milkshake; divided among 70,000 or so Thanet residents.

Do remember that the reccession is a Conservative myth, according to our local Labour opposition and I'm making all this up. It reminds me of Aesop's story of the Ant & the Grasshopper:

"The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.

Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold."

I believe, in the circumstances, it's only wise to keep any 'Windfall' in reserve because as each week goes by, it becomes apaarent that we haven't seen the bottom of the financial crisis. If we carry on as we are, councils across the land will soon be faced with very hard choices and little or no money to properly fund important community services to the level that the public quite rightly expects. So you can see that Cllr Nottingham and I are diametrically opposed on the subject and I support the fiscal prudence shown by Cllr Wise.

Finally, what Laura Sandys has got to do with this, other than Cllr Nottingham's rather frantic attempts to wave his 'little red book' , as a professional Labour activist, to prevent her, by any means, from winning Thanet South at the next General Election, I don't know.

Perhaps I should write to the Gazette too?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cash-Strapped in Westgate

I've just come in from Westgate where I can confirm the cashpoint in the town is still out of order. Thanks to the Thanet Strife weblog, I only discovered this today; as you know, I have been away this week.

Bertie Biggles writes: "Cllr King has been trying to get Cllr Latchford to help in getting a second ATM for Westgate. Cllr King has managed to persuade the owners of the building in the pic to allow an ATM to be installed but is having problems getting Nationwide or another provider to install one. Its all very complicated, but Cllr King (Ind) battles on, on behalf of Westgate with what seems precious little support. Is it because he is the last of the Mohicans, oops, last of The Independents?"

To set the record straight, the Westgate single cashpoint problem is a matter I discussed with Cllr Latchford last summer. I then approached both the banks and the building society and asked if we might have a second one installed in the village, as the existing unit frequently breaks down or becomes the target for criminal gangs trying to steal credit card details.

To cut a long story short, the reply I received was that we have two more cashpoints less than a mile away at the petrol station in the Canterbury Road and more in Birchington. The fact that some people, in the absence of a cashpoint, can't walk the distance to a second is not recognised.

I was told that the request would be considered and heard no more on the subject.

This is visibly a commercial decision. Councillors of any party can ask the banks and building societies to be helpful but the matter has, I'm afraid, little or nothing to do with the councillor's primary role in acting as an intermediary with the council in the delivery of public services.

I happen to be inconvenienced with everyone else when the cashpoint is out of order but beyond asking the banks politely, there is very little that I or Councillor King or indeed, Gordon Brown, can do to make them a little more respnsive to public needs at this time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Devalued Prime Minister - A YouTube Sensation

In case you missed it elsewhere!



Lot's of scope for comment on a speech that should perhaps have been made at Westminster and the House of Commons and not Brussels and the European Parliament!

A Tale of Two Councillors

One the one hand we have Labour's councillor Nottingham writing:

"A Conservative Council Leader resigned on principle. Yes it does happen, the silence from any Conservative representative on criticising Cllr. Sandy Ezekiel for his repeated anti-social behaviour remains deafening. I will be happy to publish an statement no matter how qualified confirming that any local Conservative considers Cllr. Ezekiel's misconduct to have been wrong."

While on the other hand, our independent councillor for Westbrook, Dean Bert McCastree writes:

"As an Independent Councillor, my primary purpose is to serve my constituent above all else and to work with the main political parties to facilitate good governance and value for money services for Thanet's residents.

Last week I was greeted with the news from a new Audit Commission's report, ranking TDC as 43rd out of 388 Authorities. Most significantly, was that TDC's money management and value for money was rated above average.

I am so elated by the news I feel the need to shout it out and share it with Thanet's residents although this is quite uncharacteristic of me to blow the trumpet for a political party, the reason is justifiable. Because despite the unwarranted negative gossips that plague TDC, the Audit Commission's report does prove that Thanet is not a failing Authority and far from it.

Being in the top 50 out of almost 400 Authorities is truly a remarkable achievement, given that only a year ago, TDC was deemed only fair. This goes to show the difference good competent Cabinet Members, Officers and a very able work force can make to a Local Authority.

The turn around of fortune for Thanet under councillor Sandy Ezekiel's leadership is attributed to sheer hard work, competence and the determination to deliver a first class service at a cost effective price for Thanet's residents.

The new positive drive to change Thanet for the better, which is adopted by almost every member is already beginning to bear fruits, for gone are the bad old days of continuous political squabbles, point scoring and axe grinding, coupled with the ego clashes all to the detriment of the voters.

Hopefully we have turned over to a new chapter and with the right attitude, ability and the willingness to work together towards a common objective irrespective of our political persuasion is a very positive way forward.
TDC and Thanet's residents will benefit enermously from that new approach because we will continuing to improve and go from strength to strength.

In that regard I congratulate the Officers, staff and the Cabinet Members for their positive contribution and hard work and in particular the Cabinet Member for Finance councillor Martin Wise and the Director of Finance and Corporate Services Sue McGonigal, thank you for a job well done, I appreciate your efforts which is truly remarkable,Thanet is now in the top 50 and a value for money Authority."


So there you have it, two different opinions and as a Conservative, I'll be accused quite correctly of bias and so I won't add much to my two penny worth!

Thanet council can't be so bad, after all, what really matters to the general public is how efficient the council is and not perhaps the somewhat exaggarated stories of so-called 'anti-social behaviour' that draw attention away from the real issues and problems that are challenging us every day as the recession bites.

How about some Labour Ministers setting an example and resigning over second homes, dodgy expenses allegations and milking the Parliamentary system for all it's worth. After all, it's George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' all over again among the so-called career socialists in Government and we see it almost every day, writ large in the newspapers.

Fast Service

As if in revenge for my cynical comments about the Microsoft Operating System on Radio 4 and at the ecrime congress this week, my desktop machine with Windows XP decided to go into self-destruct mode this morning.

On starting it up it announced that I hadn't configured 'Family Safety' and wasn't authorised to access the internet. It also conveniently ate its own Windows installer to make sure that I was completely helpless.

In despair, I took it up to Fast Micros in Westbrook and they have spent the whole day trying to repair the mess, succesfully I should add too. Buy an 'Apple Mac', my friends keep telling me and I never listen. Perhaps one day I should.

Grateful thanks to Fast Micros for saving the day, once again!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Organised Time

A rather long day away from home, that challenged the boundaries of the different 'hats' I wear.

The Times newspaper apparently want to do a story on Margate's regeneration and the many challenges that seaside towns face in general and so I'm trying to help the journalist along with the information she needs and perhaps a visit to the town next week. I should remind her that Ramsgate, the millionaire's playground of the far South-east is certainly worth a visit as well. She hasn't discovered ECR, Michael Child or even Tony Flaig yet but I'm sure she will in time!

Meanwhile, I've been buried in the depths of the ecrime congress watching a trickle of enquiries for aircraft banners trickle into my Blackberry. The season normally starts in a week and from now on, recession aside, the calls start coming in; starting with a marriage proposal over Brighton on Friday

Several fascinating presentations today, among them, Chris Kelly from Facebook (pictured), I forgot to turn on-on the flash as you can see. Online crime continues to defy efforts to contain it, leaving the head of the German Federal Police Intelligence Unit to comment in his lecture: "As long as we play fair, we will lose""

An old FBI friend, re-appeared to explain how he' dismantled' the entire Dark Market forum, used by organised cybercriminals around the world to buy and sell credit card data, user names and passwords. after becoming a highly trusted operator, he became the global crime network's administrator. Unfortunately, thanks to US freedom of information laws, a journalist after a scoop, released his name into the public domain. It would come as no surprise to me if Hollywood chose to make it into a movie, it's such a remarkable story.

Another fascinating lecture from the intelligence community today, was on crime, money-laundering and terrorism involving virtual worlds and games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. Where the latter is concerned I'm still trying to digest the fantastic scale of the criminal opportunities and the money that can be made and laundered outside the control of law-enforcement agencies and Governments. I hadn't realised until today that you can set-up your own virtual bank and from there, you might guess, the opportunities for crime are almost endless and almost as lucrative as running a real bank, given recent events in our domestic financial markets!

One encounter might amuse you. One of our foreign speakers had a British minder.

"Have you a badge for me too?" The minder asked.

"May I have your name sir", I replied, "So I can have one printed at reception for you."

"How about Peter", he replied. I looked quizzical. "And the surname?"

"I can't tell you that", he said.

"Your'e not from 'across the river are you?'" I asked.

"Yes, I am", he said.

"Ahh, I quite understand", I replied. "How about 'Peter Smith' then?

"That will do nicely", came the answer.

Of course he didn't look much like James Bond or even much like Jason Bourne either!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Your'e Fired

A quick reminder for any readers that don't know already, that Sir Alan Sugar's 'Apprentice' is scheduled to make it's Margate debut soon.

Whether the BBC episode involving an exercise in 'Re-branding' Margate, will take place soon, I don't know, as the first challenge of the new series involves setting up a cleaning company but one can almost guarantee that the population of the island will be glued to their TV sets in the weeks ahead, waiting for Margate to make an appearance and indeed, what 'Sir Alan' and his apprentices think of it all.

Quite by accident, I almost barged in to Sir Alan the other week at Stapleford where he keeps his Cirrus aircraft. It took me a few moments to recognise him but I suspect they have him sitting on a raised chair during the series to make him look somewhat larger than life.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spot the Witch Competition

Apparently, the Home Office are to train as many of 70,000 of us to spot potential terrorists, as a means of defending the population against the possibility of another terrorist incident.

I'm up in London this week chairing another law-enforcement event with the 'usual suspects' present and to be honest, I don't know anyone, all the way up to Whitehall, who doesn't fear the inevitability of another terrorist outrage.

It did seem rather different in the days of the 'Troubles' when London was being regularly bombed. I can't recall the same sense of apprehension but the incidents themselves were more regular and perhaps even taken for granted at the time.

When I was working at the Ideal Home exhibition at Olympia, the IRA blew that up; fortunately for me, on my day off but not for the the two lovely girls I knew who were working on a stand that afternoon, while I was safely playing Rugby for Roslyn Park at Esher.

On another occasion, a friend of mine was standing inside the entrance to Knightsbridge station when the 'Harrods bomb' went off. He told me that the blast wave passed him by but did terrible damage to an elderly man in front of him - selling the evening papers I think - who was just outside the entrance and took the direct force of the explosion.

Whether 70,000 citizen sleuths will actually prove useful, beyond unreasonably focusing on anyone in a public place with a beard of burkha or both, is a question that remains unresolved. However, we should remember that we are not supposed to 'profile' or unreasonably suspect any particular group within the population and that in fact, all of us should be treated with an equal level of suspicion; one worthy of a properly diverse society. I'm beginning to sound like Labour's Harriet Harman don't you think!

If you want a little entertaining reading, it's worth flicking through the complaints of cabin crew subjected to alleged 'unreasonable' security checks and searches at a number of our larger airports, mostly north of London. Some members of the aviation community have a hard time grasping how our human rights legislation allows individuals who might reasonably be regarded as a security risk from the nature of their extra-curricular activities, to work 'airside' or even potentially as airport security workers.

The expression 'Lunatics and Asylum' springs to mind.

I think that the best analogy can be found in this Month Python sketch:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Boom and Bust

Following on the heels of two million unemployed, yet another worrying econmic statistic was published today. The nation's public sector debt is set to grow to a colossal £180bn as the recession worsens in the next financial year.

The prediction by a leading independent forecasting body, suggests the Government will have to borrow some 12.6% of GDP in 2009/10 to counter a rapid surge in unemployment, a sharp increase in spending and a plunge in tax receipts. Today's Times newspaper comments that "Unless the government wants to do something politically suicidal - like protect all public spending and raise the basic rate of income tax by 9p - then spending cuts are going to have to be on the agenda."

So what does this mean for you and me, other than the very real threat of much higher direct and indirect taxation than we have previously experienced in our lives ? In real terms it implies huge cuts in the welfare dependent economy that such a large proportion of the population have come to depend on after ten years of Labour government.

A local resident wrote to me this week and asked why she pays three times more council tax here in Thanet than her relations in Scotland. I replied that is very likely,along with free prescriptions, university fees and more, that her relations are generously subsidised, North of the border, by those of us living further South. I rather wonder how long this level of subsidy - averaging, we are told, £1,500 a year per person - will be sustainable now that Scotland's ruling SNP, following the expensive collapse of its two proudest and largest financial institutions, is a little quieter in its calls for independence.

Here at the very oposite end of the country, we need to be realistic about the future. Local Government across the UK is now looking into a financial abyss and yet the population at large expects that the hundreds of services that Local Government provides on an almost invisible, daily basis, should continue uninterrupted.

Every Town Hall now has to consider what it can or can't afford over the next two years and the impact of the financial chaos that surrounds us on fast shrinking reserves. So next time you read in the 'Blogs', the council should spend money on this or that, consider whether the council can actually afford to indulge in any project that isn't necesary without, cutting back on more important services?

Businesses can go bust and they are doing so with alarming regularity at present. Councils can't go into adminstration in the same way and can only plan and exist within their means.

While Government tries very hard to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic, the ship is now showing an unhealthy list. Meanwhile, the Captain and First Officer still refuse to consider the prospect of it sinking on their watch. Passengers too are in a state of denial. This is after all one of the greatest economies in the world, how could it sink; it's unsinkable isn't it?

Whether we find ourselves in the freezing water or not is increasingly looking like a matter of luck and so all of us who have become very comfortable with the safety net of a generous welfare economy need to start asking where the lifeboats are kept because there will not be room enough in them for all of us without a very cunning plan to refloat a very damaged economy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Street View

It's a glorious spring day today in Thanet but a deceptive one, as we are firmly on the edge of dense fog, drifting down the estuary towards London and which starts at Whitstable.

I started off on my 'commute' to Stapleford this morning, optimistic that I might just get in as the fog burned away but the vision of the top half of the Kings North power station poking-up from a sea of white fog beneath soon set me right. Southend radar kindly gave Stapleford a call for the latest weather, which turned out to be an exciting 300/300 or three hundred feet cloudbase and three hundred metres visibilty, which was a very good reason to turn around. The fog should burn-off towards lunchtime and with the high pressure over the country, the next few days should feel very sping-like indeed.

Back through Birchington and I spotted what I think was one of the Google camera cars. You may have seen on the BBC news that Google is now adding street level perspective views to its map views and the vehicles the company is using are quite distinctive Vauxhalls with a camera mounted on the roof. Very soon then, you may be able to drive through Thanet virtually and enjoy its many sights and wonders from the comfort of your armchair!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Don't Look Down

Quite literally 'hanging-out' over the Old Kent Road today, taking photos of a development for a big construction company. You can't get in to London past City Airport without using a 'Twin' and in this case it was the standard noisy Seneca II, borrowed from Stapleford, with the rear door removed.

From a photographer's perspective it's all a bit tricky. First of all, there's a large wing just forward of the door, with the port engine throwing out heat ripples behind it. Secondly, there's nothing between the photographer and the ground, a thousand feet below, except a worn-looking seat belt and thirdly, the only way you can get a decent shot straight down is have the aircraft tip almost on its left wing, with the result that after a few minutes of these higher 'G' manoevers, said photographer starts going a tinge of green.

I doubt readers have any photographic interest in an Old Kent Road gasworks being demolished, so here's one I shot earlier on a local theme, the Winter Gardens in Margate

And for anyone interested, here's a passing shot of the Olympic site at Stratford. It's coming along as you can see but it was very hazy today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Pinch of Salt

It must be really hard for readers of our local weblogs to know what to believe anymore, particularly when it comes to the subject of politics and the council.

You can be sure though that truth is invariably the first casualty of party politics and on one weblog, I read that Thanet is: "the most underperforming Council in Britain" and on others I see how badly we compare with others when assessed by the audit commission and the blame for this apparently lies with the Conservative administration.

It's odd then, that a new report from the Audit Commission shows that Thanet District Council is in the top 50 out of almost 400 in the country for the improvements it has made to its services.

The Annual Audit and Inspection Letter ranks the council as 43rd out of 388 authorities for the number of performance indicators that improved between 2006/07 and 2007/08. The report states: “The council continued to focus on improving outcomes for local communities, linked to its ambitions. Crime has fallen and more people feel safe walking after dark. Streets are cleaner, recycling has increased and public satisfaction is improving.”

Other areas singled out for praise include the opening of Thanet’s Gateway Plus, which “has led to reduced waiting time and increased library usage”, the speed of decision making on planning applications and the award of the Charter Mark standard for customer service. Measures to make Thanet safer that are highlighted in the report include the extension of CCTV to Margate and Newington and increased prosecution of graffiti taggers.

Less successful areas included the percentage of private sector homes vacant for six months, the amount of overpayments in housing benefit that were recovered and the collection of rent.

Cllr. Martin Wise, Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services, said: “This report shows Thanet’s continued improvement. The fact that we’re now amongst the top 50 councils for improving our services is a great result and thanks to the hard work of all our officers. The fact that we’ve focused on services that matter most to local people, such as waste and recycling, reducing crime, benefits and planning applications is clearly paying dividends. Our challenge now will be continuing that journey of improvement in a tougher financial climate, but residents can rest assured, we will continue to offer the best possible value for money in everything we do.”

It comes after the Audit Commission’s Use of Resources assessment rated money management and value for money at Thanet District Council as above average. This was compared to a year earlier, when the council was classed as performing adequately.

I happen to be a member of the Governance & Audit Committee and we have a meeting, this evening to discuss the council's performance management, a stirring tale of adventure to be sure. Any council can do better and Thanet is no exception, having it's weak spots that need to be addressed and improved. However, to peddle the story that we are "most underperforming Council in Britain" among other allegations, illustrates the charged political atmosphere that now exists, with county elections just around the corner and perhaps even a General Election not too far away.

Some Blogs, like newspapers. are perhaps best read for their entertainment value, much like studyin the pages of the Daily Star or Sunday Sport for incisive political analysis.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Return to the Thirties?

There was an episode, in that classic political television satire, 'The New Statesman', when the Government was trying very hard to lose the next election, because it knew, the country was in such a mess, that the best option was to let the opposition take the blame for trying to clean it up. It would then make a swift return to power at the polls in five years, once that same opposition had become unelectable as a consequence.

I rather suspect that's the position that the Government finds itself in today. There's certainly talk among people I know, that a change of Government would be a 'poison chalice' for the Conservative opposition, with the economy on its knees and a legacy of ten years of misguided experimentation which has caused such damage to the fabric of our society.

The media are headlining a new warning from the Bank of England today which reports that the country is displaying early symptoms of being trapped in a so-called “debt deflation trap” where families find themselves pushed further and further into the red every month.

The Bank says that families with high debts could fall prey to the debt deflation trap. This means that the cost of their debts, which are fixed, would rise compared to average prices throughout the economy. While inflation erodes debts, deflation makes them relatively higher.

The report suggests that Britain is particularly at risk because there is a high proportion of families with significant levels of debt, and many of them are on fixed mortgage rate, which means they will not benefit from rate cuts.

Britons’ total personal debt – the amount owed on mortgages, loans and credit cards –now stands at £1.46 trillion, more than the value of what the country produces in a year.

Total personal debt has risen by 165 per cent since 1997 and each household now owes an average of about £60,000.

The Conservatives claim this is the highest personal debt level in the world but our Government may claim that it's worse in Zimbabwe, which is comforting!

Elsewhere, I'm seeing real fear among businesses as trade shrinks and more people I know are worrying about their future and that of their families as Government desperately tries to plug the gaps in the economy with more money.

I really hope that a collective effort on the part of the G20 Finance Ministers works but I suspect the pendulum of financial chaos has now swung so far in one direction that it will not rebalance itself to a point of equilibrium for a matter of years. By then, I'm certain we will have a new Government that will have to take all the blame for puttingthe economy and our broken society back on its feet again.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Budgie

I see that I have ‘headline’ billing on Cllr Nottingham’s Blog this afternoon. Not content with having discovered a new form of the “purest political green” in the absence of his colleague’s weblog, the good Councillor for Northwood appears to have thrown the public standards rule-book out of the window and with it, any advice he might have been given on our own strict laws governing defamation of character.

It’s all rather “Ooh ahh Daily Star” and any moment, I expect to read that it was Cllr Ezekiel and not Gordon Brown, who was principally responsible for the sudden, rapid collapse of the British economy.

Apparently as one who is reportedly running a single-handed campaign for the survival of “shirts and ties” in local government “to improve standards”, I’m accused of being “Silent on drunken abusive behaviour.”

Let’s be clear about one thing, Cllr Ezekiel has made an apology in the matter of the most recent standards board report and that’s good enough for me. Publishing vitriolic criticism of any person on my weblog, when we have processes in place to deal with standards complaints properly, is not a productive use of my time. Cllr Nottingham also refers to an earlier matter involving Cllr Clark. However, exploring such issues and allegations on councillors’ weblogs, is not, I believe, the proper place.

One can’t simply make unsupported allegations on a weblog when a public office is involved. For example, Cllr Nottingham, who has now accused the leader of the council of being a “coward”, writes:

“Cllr. Watkins went in person in the Leader’s office the following day and told him of his intentions, whereupon Cllr. Ezekiel called Cllr. Watkins ‘a gutless bastard.’

There being no witness to this abusive behaviour, Cllr. Watkins immediately left Cllr. Ezekiel's office.

Only an ignorant, rude fool would call Cllr. Watkins gutless.”


This is reported speech; it is not evidenced in that there are no witnesses to the conversation. Cllr Ezekiel might have also strangled Cllr Watkins’ budgie, ‘Lenin’ at the same meeting but you can’t be sure of the truth of that statement or the defamatory allegation of “drunken abusive behaviour.”

I do rather wonder if the Labour group’s leader, Cllr Nicholson is aware of what is being written in the group’s name, as Cllr Nottingham, beneath the photo of him and Gordon Brown of the strangely bleached smile, has the byline:” I am a Labour councillor for Northwood Ward, Ramsgate, Thanet District Council.”

If you are ECR and anonymous, you can write what you like but if you happen to be a councillor, Conservative, Labour or even the temporarily absent ‘Green' Party, there are strict rules and standards that have to be applied. What I think personally about Cllr Clark, or Cllr Ezekiel, Cllr Watkins or even Lenin the Budgie is irrelevant and wouldn’t make one iota of difference anyway. However, I support, irrespective of party, the notion of proper standards in public life and blazing away with a constant stream of unsupported and defamatory allegations runs against the very concept of a standard of public behaviour.

Should Winston Churchill have happened to have read Cllr Nottingham’s weblog this weekend; it may have led him to make that famous remark: “Everyone has his day and some days last longer than others.”

Unfortunately Winston been absent from public life for a rather long time now!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's Green

I see that the opposition is still missing David Green's weblog but that Cllr Nottingham is working hard to replace the political 'Green' vacuum.

Having read what's presently on offer in a search for signs of intelligent political comment, I'm none the wiser and have instead found rather more profound insight in the accompanying Blackadder sketch.

Any resemblance to local political characters here in Thanet, is of course entirely coincidental.

The Green Flash

A long day today, ninety minutes in the simulator and then some shuttling of aircraft around the South-east for maintenance, so I ended-up making six flights in all. In a short break at Stapleford, I was flicking through one of the CAA Safety & Regulation publications for larger passenger aircraft. Basically, it lists any 'reportable' incident and can make interesting reading; well for some at least.

What caught my eye most was the remarkable number of incidents involving "Violent & Obstructive Behaviour" by passengers on Easyjet flights. Across the board, there were quite a number of smoking in the toilet problems but it struck me as worrying, seeing the frequency that drunk and violent passengers, of both sexes, have to be restrained and subsequently arrested!

Another fact that caught my eye was the increase in the number of reports by pilots of green lasers being directed to the cockpit as they made their final approach into an airport. This is no less than a deliberate attempt to blind the pilot at a vital time in the flight, although, it's unlikely that the cheaper light-pen products would achieve such a warped objective.

Staying on the subject of aircraft and airports, while I recognise the right of the "Stop Manston Expansion Group", AKA 'SMEG' to protest at the presence of a facility that has been with us for close to a hundred years, I take issue with the constant alarmist drip of disinformation and exaggeration I find on their website. My view is that if you wish to influence the argument and potentially, local opinion, it's best to stick to the facts and not speculate wildly about matters which are totally irrelevant.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Save the Carlton Cinema

You may have read in this week’s Thanet Times and Your Thanet, the news that the parent company behind Westgate’s Carlton Cinema, RealTime Cinemas, has gone into administration.

A local landmark since 1910, the Carlton represents an important piece of local entertainment history which has fond memories for many generations of Thanet residents, me included.

The important thing to be aware of first is that the cinema remains open while the administrator, Mark Goldstein looks for interested parties who may wish to acquire it as a going concern and welcomes sensible offers. If the story that Thanet has more millionaires per square mile than anywhere else in Kent, than perhaps one of these might be attracted by a bargain philanthropic opportunity in the cinema business. Eastcliff Richard perhaps?

As a concerned local councillor, I met with Mr Goldstein this afternoon and while these are difficult times, there is always hope that a local gem, such as the Carlton can be saved for future generations; after all, most recently, impresario, Kevin Crace stepped in to save the Westgate Pavillion which had an uncertain future.

I have one request for any reader that wishes to help to save the Carlton and that is, to please use it. It’s only to be expected that in a recession people cut back from the luxuries of eating out and going to the cinema but if you can make an effort to support it by going to see a movie in the coming month or so I’m sure that would be a great help in illustrating how much a part of the community it is and as a consequence, how worthwhile it may be as a potential business investment for the future for anyone who might be attracted to the idea.

In the meantime, Mr Goldstein has promised to keep me up-to-speed with the administration and its ultimate direction.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Economy - What Economy?

A little cynical humour and internet entertainment from the Conservative Party, to start your Friday morning, a new website devoted exclusively to writing Gordon Brown's imagind apology for the present state of the economy, one where you can choose the words and expressions you might wish to include.

As readers will be aware, Gordon, firmly refuses to apologise or take any responsibility for any blame as Chancellor for the nations financial woes; regulating the banks, 'Boom and bust", it was all somebody else's fault and probably the fault of the 'Tories' before 1997.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister he can't blame it on Tony Blair either, as Tony is far too busy making millions as a public speaker, bringing peace to the Middle-east and is rapidly on his way to becoming a Saint or at the very least, America's most popular up and coming television evangelist.

So here's the link. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Take the Money and Run

Interest rates at 1/2 per cent. If that’s not the light at the end of the tunnel then it’s a train coming in our direction, carrying with it, a wagon-load of quantitative easing!

I need to go looking for one of those old photographs from the 1930’s of someone with a wheelbarrow full of cash on the way to the shops to buy a loaf of bread.

Everyone, I'm sure, irrespective of political allegiance will hope this move by the Bank of England, will breathe some life back into a fast failing economy. I’m reminded of a comment made by the instructor on the paramedic course I attended some years ago. “Death”, he said, “is the worst possible form of ill-health” and the same could be said of the major organs of the British economy, finance, manufacturing and even Emmerdale!

Strangely enough, I discovered a ray of sunlight here in Thanet yesterday, a local software development company, with a phenomenal idea and a proven working application and platform to support it. To say I was bowled-over by the possibilities wouldn’t do it justice; our Thanet North MP, Roger Gale, had asked me to take a look. I won’t say who it is and what it does just yet but I rather wonder if its idea might impact many of us in the future.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a small national technology success story came out of Thanet? We’ll have to wait and see, because it’s still in its infancy and faces the same challenges of every other small start-up business in the country in the present economic climate.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Comedic Moment in Mathematics

So much for the early start of spring!

I noticed the Thanet Way was blocked by an incident this morning just before the Shell petrol station outside Whitstable on the London-bound carriageway. I’m not sure whether it was an accident or the results of a police chase but the result was traffic mayhem visible back for miles.

Over at Stapleford I stepped into a proper simulator for the first time and to be honest the best analogy I can find is pedalling a unicycle along a tightrope, while simultaneously reading the instruction for flat-pack furniture assembly. While the modern ‘glass cockpit’ instrument system does everything except make tea, I rather wonder how anyone gets through the course and the flight test exam at the end.

You will see I’ve embedded a popular Blackadder sketch below. It was prompted by Cllr Green sending me an email asking if I might publish the Labour Group’s press release on the council budget, as his weblog is temporarily suspended or out of service; you choose!

I’m reminded that in concert with the ideas of Galileo, Da Vinci, Copernicus and others, a notable advance of the Italian Renaissance was the invention of double-entry bookkeeping and the rapid evolution of the European banking system, presently a sore topic. Sadly Labour’s collective grasp of our local finances conjures-up in my mind, that now famous Blackadder comment: “The Renaissance Baldric, was something that happened to other people.”

After watching last week's anodyne performance at the council's budget meeting, and out of interest, I do wonder how many members of our opposition party have ever run a business, successful or otherwise or even completed a VAT return. I’m sure someone will tell me.

Thanet has a unique and pressing set of challenges and at currently, there is a huge sensitivity to the argument for saving money while maintaining the highest possible standard of public services. I would agree that things can always be done better and economies of scale and cost can always be found somewhere. That said, with the FTSE now down as far as 3,520, (down 105 points today) I suspect that there’s not one of us who is not looking to make savings in our own domestic budgets. The implications of stock values remaining at this level for any length of time are almost too awful to contemplate where the public and private sector pension funds are concerned.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Last Call for UK Liberties

South Thanet`s Tory Slams the State’s increasing Control over our daily lives

Laura Sandys, Chairman of Open Democracy, has this weekend hit out at the advancing State control over our lives.

Speaking out at a national conference held in London, the Ramsgate resident said that the State was now interfering in more and more aspects of our private lives and eroding our civil liberties. Governments want to regulate our behaviour, our freedom of speech and now planning to monitor our every move through the introduction of Identity cards.

At the Convention for Modern Liberty Laura said:

“Hard fought freedoms that had placed this country as a beacon of Liberty around the world have been eroded year on year by this Government. From the petty misdemeanours that are now considered crimes through to the legislation passed under the umbrella of “security”, we have seen this country’s civil liberties change dramatically. Once lost freedoms are hard to retrieve but we need politicians who stand up to the creeping intrusion of the state and the public galvanised into fighting for their freedoms. I am extremely proud that Anthony Barnett from open Democracy, of which I am chairman, was instrumental in organising the Convention."

Delegates from NO2ID, Liberty, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrats questioned vigorously the erosion of civil liberties – the database society, the erosion of free speech, the surveillance society, the undermining of the trial system of justice and not least the implication that the Government has lost its abhorrence of torture.

There's some interesting independent and 'tongue-in-cheek' coverage of the event to be found in The Register here. It concludes:

"At the end of the day, did all the sound and fury signify anything much? From the LibDems, it elicited a commitment to a wide-ranging repeal Bill: it helped bind the Tories into what is a growing backlash against ten years of New Labour, increasing the likelihood that they, too, may end up repealing large chunks of what Labour have enacted.

But for the government, it probably made very little difference. After all, these were just white middle-class people speaking a language they no longer understand."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Matter of Perception

The political blogging scene here in Thanet is starting to become quite lively. According to Cllr Nottingham here, unusually wearing a tie, alongside the very man who promised an end to the boom and bust economy: -I have removed the photo on request!

"Simon has stated he opposes this modern use of technology, as do Thanet Tories.

This just means that people think that the Conservative councillors have something to hide. Some do, some don't, it would be nice if Simon could unequivocally come on to the side of openness rather than wasting time addressing meaningless issues such as whether councillors should wear ties in the Council Chamber or not."


I'm beginning to wonder that as a professional political agent for the Labour Party, that he simply doesn't bother to listen to anything other than the party line.

How Cllr Nottingham concludes that I or the Conservatives are opposed the use of modern technology I would dearly love to know,? I'm a vice chairman of the Conservative Technology Forum. and unlike Cllr Nottingham, I've been involved in electronic Government projects around the world and was even involved in the London School of Economics Global Civic Space project.

My own theory is that Thanet's Labour councillors, with a county council election coming up soon are becoming increasingly desperate, thanks to the growing disaster that now surrounds our economy and the deepening recession, which apparently doesn't exist.

As a result, we are starting to witness the arrival of local spin on an unprecedented scale; it doesn't matter if it's true or not, such as my stated 'Opposition' to technology. After ten years of Labour Government, I wouldn't expect anyone to expect anything close to the truth, because all we can now anticipate is an Orwellian form of revisionism and twisted statistics which are meant to support a political agenda. Material accuracy has become irrelevant, its all about managing perception instead.

I'll finish with something a wrote on the subject of electronic government a few years ago:

"If we in Europe are going to promote e-government as a tool for progressive change it has to be in a sound local context and with the financial and technical support that will take modest projects to the point of being able to deliver simple, useful services for the many. Or, to quote Winston Churchill: "It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best.' You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary."