Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Mixed Feelings

The Labour lead in the polls has now been confirmed today by ComRes shows topline figures of CON 36%(+1), LAB 40%(+3), LDEM 12%(-4). This echoes polls from ICM which has a Con 36%, Lab 38%, LDem 14% (21/11) and IPSOS-Mori which has Con 37%, Lab 38%, LDem 13% ( 19 /11).

Margins of error aside, the evidence from polls points to a Labour recovery from before and under the leadership of Ed Miliband. Given our 10% gain in the polls since January 2010, Labour leaves 2010 in a happier place in the polls than it entered. Who would have thought that would have reflected a year in which it lost the General Election?

For the opposition there is reason to have some merriment this Christmas. The right-leaning YouGov polling (in the sense that Telegraph / News International favoured) over the last month, shows that government satisfaction is falling and that Labour is at least on level pegging with the Cameron government. Given the responses to Ed Miliband in the media this is a remarkable result given the Labour collapse in May 2010. The austerity message and unpopular measures from government have indeed been announced but the impacts are yet to be felt.

The attacks on Ed Miliband from the right are also failing to land; we have had the petty jibes, we have had 'ignore' him as an irrelevance to actively challenging him on his links with the Unions. All of these attacks have failed to find a resonance with the public who at this stage just see a man who beat his brother, an underdog who came through to win. Ed would do well to take the RedEd label and make it his own, he would do well to distance himself from the Unions and he will do well to reflect that he needs to be Prime Ministerial and not partisan. He is ticking some of those boxes already.

This blog is used to the media in Kent being anti-establishment. Tories claim it is left-wing bias but actually the media is just anti-politics. Given the media tends to reflect the popular opinion of its readership, its commentary on Ed Miliband and his visit was about as fair as you could expect. Ed Miliband can not give firm policies because that is the whole point of having a National Policy forum and re-engaging with people to get policies. If Ed had come out with clear policies now, he would have been attacked for running roughshod over internal democracy and it would not have been outward looking to the public. A strong party setting direction was one of the strengths and weaknesses of new Labour. It lectured and did not listen. It is akward for Labour members used to government, but now is the time to set the mood and to build the tent. It is not the time to put the chairs down and invite the guests.

The key message from the National Policy Forum through was not delivered from the podium but to Council candidates. Medway matters and it is clear that with a new generation of activists for Council seats, who are engaging on issues with popular appeal, and taking the issues to the Conservatives, that Labour has a drive to win here. Given our inherent disadvantage this is not a small achievement. The Liberal Democrats have lost their appeal and we are attracting members at such a pace currently, that I am meeting several a month who want to get out and engage. The Greens do not have the capability to win and are simply not speaking to people on the doorstep but only in the Council chamber. UKIP has been undermined locally. The BNP are skint. The English Democrats have no local recognition on the doorstep. The Liberal Democrats who were once in a position to challenge are on the defensive, with poor leadership.

Labour however in Kent is still decimated and this recovery in the national polls can not be directly translated into big swings in Kent wards. The polling figures are nation wide and may reflect the solidification of the Labour vote in Scotland, Wales and the Northern areas of the UK. This is supported by polling which shows that Labour has a 10% lead over the SNP in Scotland and a 26% lead over the Tories. Wales also shows a significant Labour gain since May. On such numbers, Labour will gain the Scottish executive and hold the Wales Assembly as a majority party. Converse polling in London where Boris Johnson is well ahead and you get the sense that there is perhaps still a long way to go.

Labour polling is improving in areas which have an historic link with Labour, where the Labour Party and its resources are concentrated, and where the Tories have a socio-population and polling disadvantage. This does bode well for seats locally in Strood South and Luton & Wayfield which have held Labour Councillors in the past and where Labour has polled about 35%.

It must not be underestimated however, that the Tories rule Kent like a fiefdom and are the party of the establishment. They have significant resource, now including MPs for every seat in the county, and have the ability, if organised, to destroy any opposition through out-funding and out-resourcing. The River ward and Luton & Wayfield by-elections also show that they play dirty despite the pleasant platitudes. These dynamics do not favour Labour even with current polling so the swings next year must be measured on this line. Resources for opposition parties therefore must be funded where it can achieve the most. Sadly, the collapse of the Liberal Democrats in Medway benefits Tories and Labour alike.

Polling in England is much more difficult due to major regional discrepancies, but taking into account by-election results from marginal wards in swing seats, we are now polling ahead of the Tories for all results pre-21/11. The River Ward poll is too localised to spell a message for May 2011 but it does show that where Labour speaks to its vote, increases postal vote turnout from those who are unable to reach the polling station, and constant engagement can reward.

The overwhelming message to the Conservatives in Medway is also not as stark as the polls suggest. Given the fact they could loose seats to Labour on these national figures including Strood South, Luton & Wayfield and Princes Park. It also ignores the fact they could gain from a Liberal Democrat collapse. The Tories could still run the Council next May. Given the selection-situation for all the Parties I would pose that unless the polls massively shift, we must look at this outcome as a real potential.

Despite the inherent advantage, the Tories in Medway are cumbersome and they dislike each other. They are also the incumbents on a Council which has made some public relation disasters and who fail to consult and who do outwardly resemble the past. Canvassing on the doorstep in marginal wards show discontent with the manner in which the Council is being managed and despite significant resource all historic precedence shows opposition party gains at the expense of the government. The Tories will have inherent weaknesses in the national polls but have the potential to show organisational strength. The underlying polls tell you one message, but they sadly, do not tell you the whole story.

Expectations therefore managed.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Medway Broadside Launch

Today saw the launch of the Medway Broadside. A collection of articles from independent and local writers with varied cultural, social and political views on Medway.

Coupled with some of strongest supporting photography of any Medway publication this blogger has seen, the publication should be on the coffee tables of all those with an opinion on the Medway Towns.

What makes the Medway Broadside so refreshing to read is that it isn’t just another newspaper. In there own words 'It’s not another ad-heavy proseletising newsletter dropped through your door. It isn’t a money making venture or a voice for vested interests. It is a free, independent, community news and culture publication, produced by a team of talented, dedicated volunteers.'

This blogger is not independent but the first edition which can be read here is simply excellent because it uses fact in a non-emotive manner. Tackling youth unemployment, city status and many other topical issues are fairly commented upon with the reader left to think for themselves.

The paper is a community venture: anyone in Medway can write for them, send them pictures or give their thoughts on the paper. The only things that they will edit is grammatical errors and politically partisan or inflammatory rhetoric. Thank goodness for that.

Have a read and decide for yourself. And, if there’s something you’re passionate about, write an article and they will print it or put it online.

The Broadside newspaper is printed quarterly, with a regularly updated website at www.themedwaybroadside.com.

They will be announcing a full list of stockists on the website very soon.

As things stand, from Monday 29 November 2010, you can pick up a copy from the Deaf Cat CafĂ© in Rochester, the Nag’s Head pub in Chatham and the Barge pub or the Sunlight Centre in Gillingham.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

People's Party message to Medway

Rochester Labour team: Derek Munton, Oscar Davies, Teresa Murray, Ed Miliband and Sarah Hehir

Ed Miliband visited Medway today to set out a vision for re-creating a People's Party that must re-connect with the voters in Medway. To a packed audience of local press and all Medway Labour local election candidates next year he pledged to make Labour the party of people's "hopes and aspirations" as he launched a major review of its policies in the wake of the general election defeat across the three constituencies in Medway.

The failure of Medway Conservatives to address the concerns of local residents is now being echoed in national government by a coalition which is cutting services and hurting the same people that voted it into power in May 2010. The middle class are being targeted by Mark Reckless, Tracey Crouch and Rehman Chisthi for aggressive tax rises and service cuts. Fully supported by Tory Councillors.

In his first address to the party's national policy forum as leader, he said it had to recognise the need for change and move "beyond New Labour".

Unveiling 22 policy inquiries, Miliband told the forum, that the same old stance would not restore trust in the party.

"We have to show again we are the people who are the idealists, we are the people who are the optimists, we are the people who can represent the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations of the British people," he said. "So please join us on this journey. Join us on this journey which makes us once again the people's party, the party of people's hopes and aspirations, back on people's side, back in power making for the fairer, the more equal, the more just country we believe in."

Miliband said that while there was deep anger at the "broken promises" of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, Labour could not afford simply to wait for the coalition to "screw up".

"I know that we have got to change in order to win,"

"There is no short cut or quick fix to this. We shouldn't mistake the anger we feel at what the coalition is doing to the country for a sense that it isn't as much about us as it is about them.

"The strategy that says wait for them to screw it up, simply be a strong opposition, is not a strategy that is going to work for us. We need to do that hard thinking of our own."

Miliband said that he made no apology for speaking up for what he describes as the "squeezed middle".

"People were feeling squeezed before this government. They are feeling much, much more squeezed now this government is in power,"

"So it is about standing up for the hopes and aspirations of people. That must be our mission, to narrow the gap between the dreams that people can see around them and their chances of realising them."

Labour locally are standing up for the squeezed middle classes of Medway and will be focused on the issues which matter. A fairer tax system, cutting train fares, stopping the tution fee madness, opposing the economic policy of the Coalition which is cutting too fast and deep in uncertain periods globally. Supporting sustainability in government and supporting families must be the priority for a Medway Labour group seeking office.

After his speech Ed met the Medway Labour team and gave same advice on how to defeat the Tories and pledged his support for May 2011. He was impressed that Labour has picked a candidate under 35 in every winnable ward and continues to select a diverse slate of candidates from varying backgrounds and careers.

Ed Miliband then visited Mid-Kent College where he attended a Q&A sponsored by the KOS media group. He was asked non-vetted questions from a mixed audience which included several Conservative candidates.

The questions were broad but particular interest from this blogger was placed on the questions from the young students at the college who raised significant issue with tuition fees and the cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies. Both supported by Tory and Liberal Democrat Councillors on Thursday.

Ed dealt with the questions well and was warm with the audience and did set out a clearly progressive agenda in relation to the European Union, for government action and support in the third sector and on a Graduate tax for tuition fees. He was not partisan and never once attacked David Cameron.

For a party coming out of opposition there is no requirement to set a policy agenda but to underscore a narrative.

The narrative was clearly set today. A People's Party from the community which listens and learns.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Want to ask Ed Miliband a question?

Labour's vote in Kent was destroyed at the election and Mr Miliband is the man with the job of rebuilding his party.

Ed believes the Blair age is over and now he has pledged to re-invent New Labour.

And within five days of returning from paternity leave, the new Labour leader has decided to come to Kent to face the voters who rejected his party at the General Election.

This is your chance to ask the difficult questions you want answered.

You can be part of the audience of just 100 Kent people for a question and answer session with Mr Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party in the Medway Towns, on Saturday, November 27, from 1.15-2.15pm.

You will need to be at the Medway venue from 12.15pm.

Mr Miliband faces the tough job of rebuilding Labour in an effort to make it electable again, while still providing a credible parliamentary opposition.

Ed has chosen Medway to re-launch Labour because he acknowledges that we need to regain the trust of those who voted Labour in 1997,2001 and 2005. The people who work hard, pay taxes and want someone to put fairness into deficit reduction.

This is your opportunity to put his ideas to the test and take the measure of his credibility. The audience will be drawn at random by the Editor of Kent on Sunday from all the replies.

Details of the venue will be sent out by email on Friday afternoon. If selected you will need to bring photographic identification (such as driving licence or passport).

To apply to attend this unique event send your name, address and daytime telephone number to politics@kosmedia.co.uk.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Steady as she goes, Ed!

Labour has pulled ahead sharply in the latest Guardian/ICM poll, as both coalition parties lose support. The findings, published as Ed Miliband returns to Westminster after paternity leave, suggest only a minority of voters believe the coalition is taking Britain in the right direction.

The welcome news from the last fortnight is that Labour under Ed Miliband is now almost certainly on the cusp of overtaking the Conservative Party as the popular will of the people of this country.

This is welcome news and certainly, if reflected next May, would see Conservative and Liberal Democrat seats fall on large swings.

The closing of the polls over six-eight months represents the failure of David Cameron to connect with the British public. He failed to defeat Gordon Brown outright and with a new, younger, more dynamic leader, the Tories are now declining in the polls. It took the Tories eight years in opposition to catch up with Labour in the polls. It has taken a moderate and centrist Labour Party eight months.

The recent ICM poll of 38%, is two points higher than last month and the best in any ICM poll since Gordon Brown cancelled the planned 2007 general election.

Between them the coalition parties have shed five points. Conservative support has dropped three since last month to 36%, while the Liberal Democrats have fallen two points to 14%. The Lib Dem score is the lowest in the Guardian/ICM series since May 2001, and the lowest in any ICM poll since October 2007.

While 91% of the 2010 Conservative voters would vote that way again, and 93% of 2010 Labour voters, only 47% of 2010 Lib Dem voters plan to do the same. The Lib Dem vote has now fractured - they face certain electoral oblivion across a number of wards next year. The game is up, the curtains are closing on Cllr Geoff Juby and his less then fearsome collection of Councillors.

They know it, we know it, we all expect it.

Ed Miliband will be in Gillingham this weekend where he will make a key-note speech on the future of the Labour Party and the need to change to win.

Ed Miliband is a centrist new Labour leader who will represent the mainstream centre of the population. He will oppose over-aggressive Tory cuts to the NHS, Police and schools. He will oppose the increase in tution fee's to £9,000 per year and he will stand up for the squeezed middle class who are watching as Tories allow bankers to take million pound bonuses whilst millions struggle. A government that can bail out Ireland but can not bail out train commuters.

The Tories will try and push Labour to make policy judgements. Ed should resist this. The opposition does not need to set a narrative until it has had those debates about how it reflects the wishes of the British people. After 13 years, Labour has to learn its lessons, win Council seats, challenge the government and debate a new policy narrative.

We also need to defend a positive legacy of lower crime, cuts in waiting lists, a modern NHS, minimum wage and devolution of power. A legacy which was revolutionary in the late 1990s. We do need to reflect on how we went wrong but at some point move to focus on the likely public concerns of 2015, without making the same mistakes.

Labour needs to engage with an angry generation of new voters understandably reluctant to pay the bills of their parents? How can higher education be funded in ways that do not weight students with £40,000 dead weight in debt? What are the new routes to home ownership? How can new routes to employment be found for those unsuited to a paper-based degree? Fundamental questions which need to be answered.

The party has seen an increase in party membership of 20%, represented in the number of young Labour Candidates standing next year in Medway, requires new thinking on the role of a Labour member. We need to engage a new generation of voters, using the internet and social forums. We need to differentiate Labour as the younger aspiration party vs a Conservative Party locally which represents a dated dogma.

Lastly, the party needs to keep on engaging on this issues which motivate the middle class voter. We need to talk about police and fighting anti-social behaviour robustly. We need to talk about funding for carers and the elderly which is equitable. We need to talk about house prices and jobs and young people and their concerns around future debt and tuition fees. We need to talk about engaging in Europe, NATO and international bodies to improve our world and make it a safer place. We need to talk about managed immigration.

We also need to talk tax and maintaining a competitive economy which encourages business investment. Labour needs to represent small business owners across Medway.

If we can talk the language of the voters in Medway and win them over then Labour will once again return to its place in government.

CCTV Car Madness

The ward case work continues to come thick and fast. Anti-social behaviour, private land lord disputes and two cases on the CCTV car.

The CCTV car continues to endear itself in popular folklore as the 'white vulture' swooping down on the innocent and breaking the same laws it seeks to enforce. A policeman who does not comply by the same rules it seeks to impose on everyone else.

Mr Olde from Dunkirk Drive is one such apparent victim. A commercial taxi driver on a job, he was loading his vehicle on single yellow lines when he was caught by the CCTV car.

Despite protestations at the time that loading and unloading of vehicles is allowed on single yellow lines as per the Highway Code, Mr Olde has now received the fine and a rather abrupt letter from the Council. The pictures, quickly taken, once again prove why a mobile vehicle is not suitable when compared to a walking traffic warden who has discretion.

The rushed pictures clearly show Mr Olde parked on single-lines but do not show any loading activity because of the speed with which the CCTV car had moved around the vehicle, to show on the face of it, a traffic offence.

Of course his position will be independently assessed by the adjudicator.

Mr Olde incidently was not parked anywhere near a school and was not parking in a way which caused danger to the public.

The CCTV car in this case shows why driving past and rushing three photos is the wrong approach to traffic management. The vehicle needs to be fully reviewed and it is time it follows the community priorities, and not the priorities of Conservative Councillors trying to raise a quick buck from the hard-pressed tax payer of Medway.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Transport Chaos highlights need for Change

The fiasco over travelling in Medway continues to cause distress to thousands of residents, drivers, bus users and council tax payers. It also serves to highlight why Medway residents have been let down by Conservatives and the need for a coherent transport agenda for Medway.

The Medway Conservatives have a lamentable management record on transport and on representing commuter interests.

Over the last four years we have had constant roadworks, seemingly un-coordinted which have paralysed the town centres, undermined business and led to some business to move out of the towns altogether. Strood has suffered a annus horribilis this year with works on two major arteries and Rainham, Gillingham and Walderslade have also suffered. Rochester is about to suffer during a key trading period with the works on Corporation Street.

The bodged Chatham two-way traffic re-organisation which was opposed by local business in Chatham has undermined local trade. At a cost of £2.5m the cost-benefit of the road changes are clearly not visible yet, and at that cost, will probably never be.

The Chatham Bus station remains incomplete after months of complaints from residents that the creation of 'the mushroom patch' is an eye-sore and though 'dynamic' will leave people out-in-the-cold. Consultation was lamentable on this project, and though it may win awards in the future, the community was not consulted. A major artery into Chatham, via Globe Lane, will now be closed in a matter of days, leading to total chaos during the busy Christmas period.

The Medway Tunnel - another key artery into Chatham via the Peninsula and Strood is another fiasco just waiting to happen. The Tories purchases the tunnel for £1 with a donation from the wealthy Rochester Bridge Trust. The Tunnel is not only a financial liability but was given poor safety rating by the AA before its purchase. The multi-million pound donation will not cover the cost of the tunnel over the medium-long term. Despite the protests of Conservative Councillors to the Transport Minister this week, it is a Tory administration which purchased the tunnel in the first place. The risk of a toll in less then a decade on the Tunnel is a very real risk.

The bus franchise in Medway is also a major concern. The lack of scrutiny over bus travel has led to very poor service provision across the towns with many poorer areas left without bus services on a Sunday. The new bus station may improve the situation, but commuter responses in Medway are significantly worse then in other areas of the Country. Our roads in Medway have hardly any bus-only routes and it is clear that over the last decade, as other areas have invested in bus travel, Medway remains way behind the curve.

The quality of Medway residential roads was severely lacking in 2009 and was worsened by the extreme winter conditions. Gritting was poorly managed by the Tory administration leading to some areas being inadequately covered. We have supported the Labour Government increase in road-surfacing grant which has improved roads in 2010, but will continue to lobby government for road improvement grants.

The Tory plan for an airport on Cliffe coupled with a major A-road which will bulldoze over the peninsula needs to be opposed vigorously. The Tories have run a flop of a campaign against the Estuary Airport which has allowed futher plans to develop on Cliffe itself. The lobbying being undertaken by Cllr Chambers has failed to deliver results. His inability to challenge the Conservative mayor is causing schemes and plans to become developed in City Hall, and the lobbying of senior transport ministers to take place.

The train fare increases in Medway also represent Conservative duplicity. Local MPs and Conservative activists campaigned against fare increases until May 2010 and have now undertaken a total platform change. We have not only fare increases for one year, but Parliamentary term setting of fares which will lead to increase in ticket prices of £1,200 until 2014/2015. Medway Conservatives have targeted middle class commuters and have cut the government subsidy for rail travel. Commuters will pay more and get less.

The Conservatives have a lamentable record on transport. We need to get Medway Moving.

Medway Labour has a clear plan to get Medway moving which is already in the public domain:

i) Oppose Conservative train fare increases that will price-out middle class train commuters into London. We will lobby and highlight government hypocrisy and fight for improvements to train stations and services from our towns by working with SouthEastern on key improvement programmes.

ii) Ensure that bus services are affordable, on time and decent by actively scrutinising the operator and ensuring that the poorest in our community are able to get to work without hindrance. Oppose any attempt by Conservatives to cut the free bus pass for pensioners and will review the Yellow Bus scheme and the Medway Freedom Pass scheme to ensure the poorest students are not unfairly treated

iii) To publicise road works, introduce stricter rules on utility operators and ensure there is a consistency to road works which will not interfere with key trading periods, such as Christmas. We will not u-turn on major road schemes, like the Conservatives on the Hawkins Flyover. Funding for road improvements will move from town-centre to street corner to ensure that residential roads are not left in a state of disrepair.

iv) Oppose the Conservative plan for Cliffe Airport which will bulldoze over the historic villages of the Peninsula and actively lobby to ensure an effective campaign is run to halt this scheme in its tracks.

v) We will lobby government to put the Medway Tunnel onto the government books and provide full transparency around the purchase of the tunnel, its key authors, and the finance and cost of the tunnel. Transparency is the key.

Transport is a major problem in Medway. The Conservatives have the wrong answers for our community.

Next May you can judge them for the wasted hours you and your family have spent stuck in traffic jams, paying for train tickets and threatened by a future tunnel toll.

Friday, 19 November 2010

SouthEastern Train Fares come to Council

The Medway Labour Fares Fair campaign ramps up a gear next week with a full motion to the Conservative Council to stand up for thousands of Medway residents and commuters who face eye-wateringly eye fare increases at a time of austerity.

Labour believe that the government fare increases are unfair on the hard working commuter.

Not only have the Conservatives proposed huge fair increases despite repeated pre-election pledges that they would not, but they have now enshrined the principle of parliamentary-term setting of increases without any real control. They have in effect set train fares for 2013/14 without knowing anything of the economic conditions at the time. It is a policy of folly and one which penalises the passenger.

The Conservatives have also undermined the principle of government support for railways. This is a common theme for the Tories; they undermined public ownership in the 1990s which led to the wholesale and well-documented decline of the railway infrastructure. They bodged the franchise process which led to Connex being given responsibility in 1996 for the South East / South region. A company which lost its franchise and forced the rail travel from the South East into public ownership in the mid-2000s.

This key fact is ignored by Conservatives who have a rosy-eyed interpretation of fare increases between 2005-2010. Labour were left a terrible legacy of underinvestment which they sought to improve as soon as they could. Alas many did not live in the area prior to this period and so do not remember the total bodged franchise arrangement overseen by the Tories in 1996. A franchise which was so badly signed-off by Conservatives in 1996, that commuters have suffered the legacy ever since.

The Tories claim that it is Labour that has changed position. Incorrect, Labour locally did campaign for funded railways and annual fare increases if appropriate, but only if the government continued to match or increase its subsidy to match. Therefore increased fares and government grant meant increased investment in train stock, station safety and services. The improvement in rail usage, punctuality and the introduction of HS1 is a positive legacy.

The Tories however have not only ramped up train fares but they have cut government subsidy which, according to press reports, will make not only commuting more expensive but the conditions of travel worse. The Tories point to press cuttings which point to a Labour cut in subsidy but this was not the case according to the DfT. Whether this would have happened if Labour had won the 2010 General Election is pure conjecture.

The hypocrisy of Conservatives is now all but visible. We have received a lot of private email support and public support for the Labour petition. This is an issue which galvanises public support and it is now Labour that stands up for commuters.

Next week, Medway Labour will give Conservative Councillors a chance to oppose this fare increase by supporting our motion in Full Council on the 25th November. We are offering them the chance to stand up for the middle class, to mandate their elected representatives in Parliament to oppose the train fare increases.

If the Tories reject the motion, they slap thousands of middle class commuters in the face, and it is those voters who decide next May, whether to reward those same Conservatives with Council seats or not.

The stakes could not be higher; will Tories stand up for commuters or not?

Fare's Fair Motion

Council notes that:

(i) the Department of Transport financial settlement confirmed an increase of the cap on regulated rail fares to an average annual increase of RPI +3% for three years from January 2012;

(ii) on government figures this means fares will increase in real terms by 10% over the next four years;

(iii) the Campaign for Better Transport has calculated that a 2015 season ticket from Gillingham to London Cannon Street will cost £4,995, an increase of £1,200;

(iv) Kent Conservatives, Medway Fare's Fair and Kent Conservative MPs opposed a RPI + 3% increase in train fares prior to May 2010;

(v) centralised setting of train fares was not a manifesto commitment of either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties in the General Election.

Council believes:

(i) the Government has imposed upon South Eastern Trains a condition to run a subsidy-free network by 2014, resulting in an average increase in fares of 3% above the rate of inflation;

(ii) this Government’s imposition of year-on-year rail fare increases for Kent’s commuters threatens to damage the Kent economy, deterring visitors, commuters and businesses from coming here;

(iii) the increase in fares will discourage people from using public transport, impacting negatively both on its potential revenues, and on environmental targets;

(iv) That Conservatives have targeted the squeezed middle class commuter and have undertaken a u-turn on promises made regarding fare increases set for an entire Parliamentary term.

Council resolves:

(i) to urge all group leaders to write to the Secretary of State for Transport to highlight the major concerns of residents that the train fare increases are excessive and urging him to limit the increase to RPI;

(ii) to write to each of the three Medway MPs and urge them to vote against any legislation that will seek to impose this fares increase.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cllr Brice Standards Report Shame

The full report on the antics of disgraced former Conservative Nick Brice, from the Standard's Committee, has been released to the public a full 12 months after the incident.

The report is
damning on the antics of Councillor Brice and effectively states that whilst there is no formal recourse to expel the Councillor, they demand that he resigns immediately.

The Medway Conservative Group need to issue a statement following this independent committee advice on whether they will call for him to resign, as per the recommendations.

It is now simply unacceptable for them to sit on this issue. He was selected by the Rochester & Strood Conservative Association to be their representative. He continues to wear a blue rosette and is an active campaigner for the Conservative Party.

It is time they put public decency before narrow partisan interests and put their position on public record.

The main conclusion of the Report is as follows:

“That at the time of the incident in November 2009 there was no evidence to prove that Councillor Brice was not acting in his private capacity. As a result, the Sub-Committee were unable to find a breach of the code of conduct.

Sub –Committee recommendations

The Sub-Committee found Councillor Brice’s behaviour in relation to this incident unacceptable, and considered that Councillor Brice should resign from the Council. The Sub-Committee accepted that this was a matter for Councillor Brice, but felt that his behaviour had brought both him and the Council into disrepute.

The Sub-Committee believed that
he had acted improperly and without integrity, in breach of the principles of public life, and that he had shown a serious lack of judgment.

The Sub-Committee took into account the views of the Director of Childrens Services, and recommended to the Council that Councillor Brice should not be appointed to any committees, or to substitute on any committees, or to represent the Council in any way.

The Sub-Committee were of the opinion that the law should be altered to cover actions such as this, when carried out by a councillor in any capacity, and agreed to write to the Secretary of State to bring this to his attention"

Monday, 15 November 2010

Fare's not Fair - Sign the Petition

(A Tired looking) Labour Action Team at Chatham Station

Medway Labour action teams were at the majority of Medway commuter mainland train stations this morning highlighting our authority wide campaign against the Conservative increases in train fares which are hitting the commuter hard.

Labour will be standing up for commuters who face increases of £1200 - £1500, despite Kent Conservative statements before the election.

Labour will be running a series of co-ordinated activities to highlight how the commuter is being unfairly penalised by Conservatives who are pushing the burden onto the commuter at a difficult financial period.

More worryingly, the Conservative motion submitted by Mark Reckless MP has only received eight signatures which highlights the concern of residents that Conservatives are simply not listening to their concerns.

Interestingly, Rehman Chisthi still has not signed the EDM, despite this blog mentioning this issue weeks ago and it directly impacting Medway commuters.

We ask those reading to sign our petition website to keep the pressure on to government and Conservative MPs.

We will be lobbying Councillors in future months to support commuters against unfair increases.

We will not pay through the teeth for a worse service. It is not good enough.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Down, but not out

But the public have spoken...

The phrase first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, 1560, in Job 19:20, which provides a literal translation of the original Hebrew:

"I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe."

Teeth don't have skin, of course, so the writer may have been alluding to the teeth's surface or simply to a notional minute measure - something that might now be referred to, with less poetic imagery than the biblical version, as 'as small as the hairs on a gnat's ........'

This may come close to home but either way, this is one way of considering the Cllr Brice affair that is once again dominating the local press this weekend.

This blog has been relentless in its dismay about how Councillor Brice, and the Medway Conservatives more generally, have handled this issue in public. Councillor Brice was caught kerb-crawling in Medway by Kent Police. He pleaded guilty when challenged by the Vice Squad.

This blog accepts that he has now been formally vindicated by the Standard's Committee, because they could not define a line where the antics of one's private life interfere with that of a Councillor.

This issue is of course complex. The private life of individual politicians is not the business of the public, so long as the antics are not directly impacting the job of being a Councillor. If an individual is engaging in legal activities then what happens in private remains that. Now it seems, if they engage in illegal activities, this is also the case.

Obviously, there is a level or degree; a Councillor getting 3 points on a drivers licence should not be a resignable offence, a Councillor engaged in domestic abuse would surely be an immediate dismissal. The manner in which a Councillor can remain in office if the act does not interfere with his role is legally correct, but at some point someone will need to define the limits to the public / private interface. Obviously the line in this case erred on the side of caution based on previous case-law.

Whilst it is absolutely true that Cllr Brice formally did not break the rules, he must surely understand that in the eyes of the public, the voters, he is now simply toxic goods. His colleagues must now accept that the public are very unhappy that he continues to receive a salary as a Councillor.

The Council will discuss this issue in public on the 27th November and will probably remove all responsibilities and access to children and vulnerable adults.

No one cares what happens on the 27th November in the Council chamber. They care for a full public statement and apology and an absolute assurance that Cllr Brice will be banned from Conservative and Council events where children and vulnerable adults are involved. The Council can give this assurance on the 27th November, but we also need to see a full acceptance in the Conservative ranks, that what he did was damaging to the Council, and that he should now withdraw from public life.

There is absolutely no reason why Medway Conservatives can not release a statement. Not only would it be sign of basic decency and courtesy to the people of Medway, but it would also finally put this issue to rest.

The reason why is clear. Councillor Brice still parades and troops around with a blue rosette. He is given succour by the total lack of response from his former associates in the Tory ranks who are happy for him to attend by-election counts.

Sometimes saying nothing can be perceived by people as tacit support, and the 'down, but not out' attitude that we have noted, is simply taking stubbornness to a new level. His colleagues now need to publicly put a line in the sand. Ambiguity is a not acceptable.

This is not a witch-hunt by an opposition looking for an enemy scalp, because if he had stood down in January 2010 as this blog suggested, the resulting by-election would probably have been a Labour rout. Every one with a fair mind gave Councillor Brice a fair chance to fall on his own sword in the interest of public decency. The press made themselves fully heard. Everyone was resolute. He should go.

Instead, time and time again, he has chosen to cock-a-snoop, in every sense, at the public sensibility. His seeming total inability to understand the perception of his antics and the manner in which he casually dismisses it, underscores a major problem.

The CfJ Newswire, and writer Rebecca Hughes, have also been a leading cheer-leader in bringing the news on Councillor Brice and it has used innovative media techniques to garner public opinion.

They are currently running an online poll on the matter

A poll whose results will prove a problem not just for the Rochester & Strood Conservative Association who have selected the wrong type of person again, but also for vulnerable adults and children in his ward who may not feel they are able to approach a Councillor.

Medway Tunnel revisited

Road tolling. Happen in Medway?

It is not quite Brideshead Revisited but it does have a parody story-line with betrayal, scheming and Conservative revisionism embedded within.

The tale of the Medway Tunnel is a sordid affair. Like a Dickensian novel with old traditionalist protagonists, this is something which has the potential to damage and inflict terrible pain on future Council services and the car driver or commuter of Medway. It is a very real legacy of conservative back-room committee style politics that so permeated local government for decades.

At the time, the Medway Conservative Council said members voted to buy the freehold from the Rochester Bridge Trust to "safeguard the future of road transport" in the area. This despite the fact the Rochester Bridge Trust has millions of assets and was responsible in its own rule-book for managing the tunnel for its serviceable lifetime

The Conservative-controlled authority said the decision would give them greater freedom to manage it. The trust gave the council a £3.6m one-off payment towards the upkeep of the 12-year-old structure, on the A289 near Rochester. It also gave it responsibility for all liabilities.

The Tunnel was purchased by the Medway Conservative Council, rubber stamped by its administration, after the Rochester Bridge Trust wardens agreed to sell the Tunnel with a sizeable donation to the Council for its upkeep.

At the time the Medway Labour Group opposed the purchase of the tunnel and deployed the following reasons

i) That the Tunnel has a mixed safety record and that the cost of liabilities should be fully reviewed before going ahead with the purchase. In 2006, safety standards in the structure were rated "very poor" and it was placed 43rd out of 52 European tunnels in a survey by the AA
ii) That there is an inherent conflict of interest that Cllr Chambers was also the Conservative Leader of the Council and was also Senior Warden of the Bridge Trust from 2007 - 2009. He was therefore responsible for the Medway Tunnel and its standard before hand-over.
iii) That the contribution from the Rochester Bridge Trust negotiated by the Medway Conservative administration was disgraceful and was a gross abdication of responsibility to the Council tax payer.
iv) That £3.6m will not cover the liability or full cost of the Tunnel and was a miserly one off payment negotiated poorly and without transparency. Full details of conversations surrounding the Tunnel are not in the public domain.

Some may squirm at the prospect of full transparency but the fact is this is not a small sum of money and its potential legacy is devastating on the budgets of future Labour and Conservative administrations. If the government were not to take ownership, a future Council would be expected to raise cash itself to fund the structure, which at that point would require significant maintenance.

The Conservative administration has left Medway a potential terrible legacy. Negotiated behind closed-doors and without transparency, this poor deal will leave the Council in a very unfortunate situation. They will be forced to find an income stream to fund the tunnel. This will come out of local services and/or could be raised from measures such as a toll.

This would be a massive blow to thousands of commuters who rely on the Tunnel every day.

Conservative MPs are right to press for government ownership of the Tunnel and they are right to do so now. The worrying fact is that the government of course has no obligation to purchase the tunnel at all, and in times of cuts and austerity they will be aware of its liability on their own budgets.

In addition, government will be fully aware that Medway Conservatives negotiated themselves a miserly buffer of 5-10 years, so they are very much within their rights to say it was a Medway Council deal; 'Your mess, clear it.'

It is however a great pity that at the time of the purchase all three Conservative PPCs sat on their proverbial hands, said and did absolutely nothing. They abdicated responsibility.

Medway Labour will continue to raise this issue because of the future concerns on budgets. Once in office we will be utterly transparent around the costs of the tunnel that were negotiated by Rodney Chambers and the Medway Conservatives. This legacy is there's and we will remind people of this fact.

Medway Labour will also work to move the Tunnel onto the government books as has been stated on record and will work with any that seek this objective.

The purchase of the tunnel stinks. It stinks of back-room deals, it stinks of poorly negotiated contributions, it stinks of liabilities being deliberately moved onto the Council tax-payer books. It stinks that not one Conservative at the time opposed the deal in public.

If it does move into the government books then future Councillors can relax.

If it does not, it could form an issue which will set the local political agenda for the next twenty years.

Mark Reckless MP can see this, and he can see this now. Pity he did not say this in 2008.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Opposing fee's. Opposing violence

UMSA students with Medway Labour Council candidates

Medway Labour activists stood with the Universities at Medway Students Association (UMSA) today in support of the NUS campaign to oppose the Conservative and Liberal Democrat hike in fee's to £9,000 per year.

A hike in fee's that will leave a middle-class grammar school child in Medway a debt of £25,000 and a medical student a debt of £50,000

This blog believe it is grossly unfair that intelligent people should be penalised at the earliest point in their professional lives with unmanageable levels of debt. This blog does not believe that a 17 year old should face a financial burden which will weigh him/her down for close to two decades, and at a time when leaving University, they are joining an unstable employment market and thinking about housing and perhaps marriage.

The Conservatives opposed tuition fee's in 2003 under Howard and Ian Duncan-Smith. They have undertaken a change in stance, blaming the deficit, knowing full well that the deficit reduction period is driven on an electoral cycle (four years) and not an economic cycle. They have made a political choice out of ideology - marketisation of the University sector, marketisation of trains, marketisation of schools. These are all choices.

Around 50,000 students, lecturers and members of the general public took part in what is being labelled as the biggest student demonstration in a generation, jointly organised by NUS and the University and College Union (UCU). The majority marching were doing so peacefully.

The march covered a route pre-approved by police from Horse Guards Avenue to a rally outside the Tate Britain where protestors heard from UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt, NUS president Aaron Porter and TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady.

The rally focused on the Liberal Democrats who opposed tuition fee's for the General Election in May. They pledged to students they would never support an increase. They pledged to student families that any increase in fee's would be regressive. They have betrayed their voters and for that in May 2011 they face decimation in Medway.

NUS will target Liberal Democrat MPs for a recall ballot if they betray voters trust and vote for fee hikes.

NUS and not one member of its executive team support violent action. It was a minority of individuals who hijacked a just cause for personal ends.

The Tory spinners tonight are making out that the entire NUS protest was violent and was hell-bent on disorder. They can casually sneer at the hard-pressed middle class families of Medway but the fact is Mark Reckless, Tracey Crouch and Rehman Chisthi will leave an average grammar school pupil from Medway a £25,000 legacy of debt, before he/she starts working. If you become a medic, and help save peoples lives, you will have a £50,000 debt. It is the wrong values. It is Tory values.

Next week the windows will be be replaced, the glass cleared, the signs removed - but young people will still have the threat of Tory debt. Parents, pupils, teachers and lecturers all oppose a rise in fee's.

Today, they made that point.

A £9,000 fee is regressive. It is wrong. It is Conservative Party ideology against the interests of the majority of people in this Country.