Saturday, 28 April 2012

Tories silence local press

The furore surrounding the closure of the Medway Times continues to rumble in the press with Conservatives being challenged for the manner in which the Medway Times was evicted because of the apparent 'politically' controvertial views.

There is still an unwillingness by those in power to understand the distinction between the editorial views of the Medway Times with that of printing ad-verbatim press releases from all political views, and none, across Medway. 

There is also no response on whether it is really apprpopriate, reasonable or proportionate to evict a site such as this, on the back of the news site containing 'political' stories which I would argue do no way constitute a 'political campaign outfit' as defined by the Council. Whilst the tenancy agreement or contract does stipulate no political campaigning I believe that definition to hardly be covered by what Medway Times were doing. 

To call Medway Times a 'political campaign outfit' is laughable. 

Not only is the Medway Times not a politically registered party, agency or body but it prints none of its own political leaflets or views; nor does any of its staff have any outward or individual views expressed to change the party in power locally; The editorial position of the Medway Times was barely evident under Steven or Helmut; these guys really did have no axe to grind and to me were solely entrepreneurs trying to manage a small business; I know of no party political or other affiliations to the men.

The Tory administration via the Council are clearly happy to spend public tax payers money in challenging the press article yesterday in the Medway Messenger, which took the reasonable line that summarily shutting down news publications because they happen to deviate from a 'Conservative-sanctioned' line is perhaps an afront to democracy. It now looks like the KM Group is suffering the same form of hectoring that the Times experienced and does represent an overstepping of some form of grey line to me; in whose interest is it to push this issue, the public or the politicians?

It should be a warning light to organisations like Rochester People, Medway Eyes and Medway Broadside that should you deviate from the administrations position you will get a cold wind from Tories desperate for positive news.  

Tory Councillors pretend to be in it for the community; but shutting down community news sites is hardly community drive. It is the worst instincts of the controlling and lecturing right wing.

The rebuttal from the Council Press office makes no mention of any other reason for the eviction other then the political content. As I understand that totally contradicts a number of other briefs; and actually makes the Council position look even more unreasonable, because the public dont look favourably on independent news sites being closed solely because they had the audacity to challenge the administration. 

The reasonable course of action in this case would have been to ask Medway Times to retract and publish an apology on the content deemed inappropriate; to the life of me I still can not understand why the administration continues to be unwilling to accept it overeacted. 

Of course what this all points to is a loss of control. As we enter the fag-end years of the Tories in Gun Wharf they will become increasingly desperate to control the message that they are doing a reasonable job with your tax payers pounds. 

Of course they are not; and they are being exposed to this position by the cold reality of the print and online press.

Paul Godwin steps down

It is with great sadness to note that the Labour Leader for my group on the Council is to step down after 13 years of dedicated and strong leadership. 

As I tweeted yesterday; Paul always put principles and people first in his role as leader and was able to build bridges and alliances through logical and reasoned debate. A strong and diplomatic leader he always sought others views and was a truly consensual individual; his work on the Kent Police Authorty and his command of matters relating to law-and-order was second to none; and having been a leader of the Council was able to understand how the structures of the organisation work. 

A success of his leadership has been to retain Labour as the main and only party of legitimate opposition in Medway. Everyone accepts that during the Labour Government an area like Medway, with a larger Tory block vote, will struggle to elect a Labour majority administration, but he has successfully kept us as the only effective representative of opposing views in Medway.

Over the last 13 years the Labour Group has had difficult periods; as a party we lost control of Medway Council that we created in the early 2000s and have seen a number of issues around candidate selection resulting in a poor period from 2009-2011. The party opened up its selection in 2011 selecting a candidate under 35 in every target seat and is now very much looking to the next generation of activists to step up; it is becoming increasingly outward facing. It is talking about train fares, about water bills, about buses, about improved community safety. It has the right structures in place; its now about getting and training the next generation... 

Labour can now look to new future and leadership; a leadership that will continue, as Paul did, to reflect the fact that Council leaders and cabinet members can not continue to be divorced from campaigning and engaging with the public; a party that will work with people and groups on issues across all of our towns, involved in every argument for our future and most importantly challenging the record of lamentable fiscal management from our current administration in Gun Wharf.

Labour;  challenging power aggressively and robustly

Fuel Prices real local concern

A very interesting video from the CfJ on fuel prices from early March which has been missed by the local mainstream media. 

As Tories debate and squabble over who is going to be the next Kent Sheriff, or the next mayor, the reality on the ground is people are really struggling. We, sadly, have an out of touch mob not only in government but locally too; simply totally out of touch.

The Tories promised a Fuel Duty Stabiliser but it was another promise broken by Eton Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires.

Until the Tory Party puts working people, or those from normal backgrounds, at the top of government this will only get worse. Only utter fools would pledge support to a party that his riven with chauvanism and false hierarchy like the Tories; its entire structure is elitist from top-to-bottom which makes it, and its people, unrepresentative of the towns.

As Nadine Dorres, A True-blue Tory MP put below:

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Cream Lapping

Figures published as part of the Taxpayers’ Alliance Town Hall Rich List 2012 show that of the 10 highest paid town hall officials, nine work for Tory controlled councils, and one works for a Labour controlled council.

There we have it; the Tories 'talk' a good game but locally have botched multi-million pound projects whilst claiming they can protect front line services by cutting the same front line services

Medway Tories, like their colleagues elsewhere, are hoodwinking the electorate. They are fiscally incompetent and can not be trusted with your money. Indeed; when it comes to lapping the cream 9 out of 10 of the highest paid Council Chief Executives sit in Tory Council areas:

Remuneration 2009-10
Remuneration 2010-11
% increase
Hammersmith and Fulham
Chief Executive
Chief Executive
Kensington and Chelsea
Town Clerk and Chief Executive
Chief Executive
Chief Executive
Chief Executive
Chief Executive
Chief Executive
Chief Executive
Chief Executive

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Cllr Mike is running...

Well after weeks of intrigue, innuendo and investigative mutterings in Gun Wharf the multititled Cllr Mike has now put his copper hat in the ring for the Sheriff top-job. 

This blog has been leading the charge, without handcuffs, for the Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Customer Contact, and, Medway Community Safety Partnership Chair (breath) to announce his position on the role and put an end to the speculation. 

It is welcome to see him taking the advice of the opposition

We speculate however that Cllr Mike may be playing a clever move; ever the fox-like chess player; we think he may be pitching his deep blue tent firmly for the deputy job which will certainly not be a part-time undertaking if the Colonel takes the top job.

The big question on the lips of many is whether Cllr Mike can now continue to put the independent interests of Medway citizens first as Chair of the MSP, whilst also canvassing across the whole of Kent for this position; first as the Tory nominee and secondly as candidate for November 15th. 

The public will want a full-time pair of eyes on crime in Medway and not an individual with an eye on a bigger job elsewhere. Mike therefore should think about his position and dedicate himself full time to getting job. A foot in both camps and roles will look disengenious. 

All eyes are now the great and the 'white-haired' good on Kent County Council; will the blue-rinsers in Kent County Hall support a Medway Conservative candidate? I suspect they will find this difficult. Secondly eyes will be on the ever gregrarious Cllr 'River' MacKinlay, to see whether another Medway Tory will put his truncheon on the table for the top job

Medway is suffering at the moment; as Medway Tory factions play a death dance with each other over Council positions and police sheriffs we are seeing significant cuts to Police budgets of up to 20% and a rise in opportunistic theft; we are seeing crime statistics which were heading downward from 1997-2010 flatlining as upto 500 front line officers are being cut from the thin blue line

The Police are also threatened with privatisation as G4S and other private-providers move into police stations. The profit motive does not sit well with a force which is the last line of defence for individual liberty.

Meanwhile Labour will move ahead with its ballot for our candidate. I am hoping for a strong woman; who can show part-time Collins and sunset Mike a thing or two about managing law and order.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Mid-term blues hit early

With open hostility in the ruling group surrounding positions and the number of officer departures I suspect the hand-quivering clustershambolic leadership of Chambers and Jarrett must be on the close.

All eyes for this week will be on Full Council on Thursday night where we will finally get a confirmation on the Mayor and Deputy Mayor and on the discussion around member allowances. 

Medway Labour of course had a consistent policy on both these issues last year which we believed reflected the public interest; namely a return to the fair points-based system around mayoralty selection, which takes the pathetic partisanship (observed in the Conservative Group this year) out of the Queen's appointed representative for Medway; and a cut of the Conservative party chairman & deputy chairman perks who we believe are 'lapping the cream' of public money whilst the majority of Medway taxpayers continue to pay huge sums of Council tax for poor political leadership.

It is of course good to note that members will be taking a pay cut this year, as per the recommendations of the independent panel, but this does not go far enough in my mind and what we need is specific focus on those mid-level takers of public money.

We do not need so many Tories on the payroll at Gun Wharf. 

The other points to note from the meeting come from the public and member questions for the evening. A number of noticeable themes emerge

The first is that the Tory attempt to introduce a 'fake' Freedom Pass, as promised in their local manifesto in 2011, has clearly backfired badly. The Tories have a terrible record on the Freedom Pass having spent most of 2010 opposing any form of public subsidy for bus travel for young people because of cost, seemingly taken out of a hat, and pubicly lambasting the opposition Labour Party for proposing the idea. In 2011, the Tories took the Freedom Pass and audaciously added it to their local manifesto and claimed Labour were opposed; but the budget in 2011/12 only allocated a pathetic sum to the scheme, and so Labour called the Tory rat out. 

Rightly so, as we now have a scheme which to huge numbers of parents is woefully substandard; and I expect many more will continue to articulate not only the rank Conservative hypocrisy but also why we continue to suffer a worse deal then our neighbours in Gravesham, Sittingbourne and Maidstone who have a Conservative-controlled County Council.

Roads and re-surfacing also make an appearance with the announced overspend of £1.2m on the Stoke Crossing, dubbed the 'Bridge to Nowhere' by the press. With Tory-leaning Parish Chairman and Councillor's citing the money could have been better spent elsewhere, and the public outraged at the scale of spend whilst residential road budgets are seemingly 'gerrymandered' into Tory wards with a number of roads slipping budget cycles, this will prove controvertial.  We all know the Tories have spent millions on road schemes in Chatham no one voted for or wanted, and that have gone millions overbudget; taking money from what could have been spent on residential roads. 

Tories will no doubt spread the blame; who will it be this month... I cant wait. 

A number of other questions relate to the botched care home closures and privatisations which have been totally mishandled by the administration, and which descended into a farce, when the Council refused to extend the consultation on a proposal from Medway Health to take on the closing Balfour Centre. The Tories also ignored local campaigns calling for a limited partnership and stakeholder co-operative model of management favouring overt privatisation. We now go into the future with no public care home provision as a number of privately-owned homes continue to fail CQC reviews. 

The way in which the cabinet managed the Balfour process was nothing short of incompetent; as standard from Medway Tories. 

Marlowe Park and the campaign by Cllr Igwe to safeguard this facility is also on the table; Cllr Igwe led the campaign and called-in the manner in which the Medway PCT communicated and acted. 

Lastly the Community Safety Plan is due to be discussed; now that Cllr OBrien has returned from his 'fact-finding' tour of Kent it is interesting to note the precious little change in the document that all these visits were apparently tasked. Given Medway has seen a massive reduction in crime from 1997-2010 there will surely be commentary around the cuts to PCSOs, cuts to Police numbers and the real concern that opportunistic theft and crime is increasing across our towns. We may also get an announcement on whether our multitiled Cllr Mike will be standing for Police Commissioner on the back of his record as Medway CSP Chair. Then again; we may not.

A busy night ahead. 

Mesothelioma vote highlights lack of local concern

A lot of eyes were on the vote on Tuesday night for the Legal Aid, Setentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, dubbed LASPO by those in Westminster.

This was an important vote, not because it impacts everyone in Medway, but because Medway is currently a hotspot for mesothelioma. Not only is their a moral question therefore to the vote but also one which reflects whether our MPs are custodians for the local electorate, or simply concentrating on other issues.

The Lords had tabled several amendments to the bill which would allow mesothelioma sufferers to have greater legal entitlement and less exploitation by unscrupulous 'no-win, no-fee' legal firms who have been raking in huge fees off the back of peoples suffering. 

Sadly two of our MPs Rehman Chisthi and Mark Reckless failed to support amendment 30, relating specifically to respiratory disease cases, which the Coalition government won by 292 votes to 256, and the more general vote on industrial disease by 297 to 252.

Medway Labour is absolutely right to be dismayed that two Medway Conservative MPs failed to stand up for vulnerable mesothelioma sufferers across Medway. The asbestos death rate is 6.5 per 100,000 people whereas the national average is 2.5. Between 2006 – 2010 106 people from Medway died of mesothelioma, making it a national hotspot for asbestos deaths. Many people were employed at Chatham Dockyard where asbestos was widely used for ship repairs and building. There was also the British Uralite Factory in Higham, Medway where a number of asbestos-based products such as chimney pots and pipes were made from raw asbestos.

Not only does the Dockyard sit in the constituency of Mark Reckless, whose residents have been leading the calls locally for better representation, but Mark is himself a lawyer who should know full well the implications of the amendments. Once again, we have a serious case of him talking about issues which do not directly impact the constituency, whilst talking 'Westminster' centric issues like a referendum on the EU and the nuances of the ECHR. It is totally out of touch with the reality on the ground; people talking about rampant immigration under his government, an economy stagnating, the omnishambles that is the Conservative administration in Gun Wharf, the performance of local schools and the cuts to our armed forces. 

The complete mess that the Conservative Government made over Abu Qatada is alas a Conservative Party mess. The government is, as most voters now know, a clustershambles of Toffs who are simply out of touch. I congratulate Mark for highlighting this 'Olympic-standard screw up' but he has dropped the local ball once again.

Rehman is however a worse offender because at least Mark attended; given hundreds if not thousands of his constituents worked directly at the Chatham Docks, which the Conservative Party closed down in the early 1980s, leaving our towns bereft of blue-collar employment since. He should have been in Parliament at least making an argument either way. I understand he is out of the country at present; but that in itself when Parliament gets a huge holiday entitlement is questionable; I would argue it is not good enough for those in Gillingham & Rainham who did not vote for a part time MP. 

Of course there could be personal reasons to absent yourself from the vote, but none of the other Medway MPs made any apologies or cited a reason for his absence, and nor indeed has he done so on any public forum that I am aware of. It is almost a callous disregard for local issues which is becoming symptomatic of an MP who, if boundary changes are to be believed, needs to seriously up his game. I know huge numbers of Tory colleagues cant even bring themselves to mention his name, but there really isnt any excuse for not attending and speaking up for local residents.

It is interesting to see the local Liberal Democrats on this cause as well; there own colleagues in Westminster shamefully, and that is part of the reason why UKIP has now overtaken them as the third party, rejected the amendments as well. Dont let them pretend otherwise

This vote was symbolic of whether our local MPs would stand up for local voters. Two out of three of them are simply out of touch with the community they purport to represent. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Public Money wasted by Tories

The £1.8m overspend on botched bus station; and Tories not accepting blame...

The £1.2m overspend on bridge to nowhere; and Tories blaming each other

Tory overspends on these two projects alone: £3m of Council Tax payers money

I thought these two news items neatly juxtapose the current position of the Conservative Administration in Gun Wharf.

They simply can not be trusted with our money.

Meanwhile in the rest of Medway we all have to suffer with potholes and poor road quality

That is all

Monday, 16 April 2012

Medway Times eviction

Medway Times evicted because of 'political' content

The news last week that the Medway Times was evicted from its premises at the Medway Innovation Centre has been met by mumurs of concern amongst the chattering intelligentsia in Gun Wharf and beyond.

The Medway Times, for those that dont know, is an independent news website with a focus on the Medway Towns. Established about six months ago it has presented itself as a niche newsite in that it publishes, in one place, all the press releases from organisations, people and charities from across the Medway Towns.

What became quickly apparent was that the site did not have its own editorial position; it seemed to many to be quite literally a cut and paste of press releases.

It was therefore a surprise, no actually an angered shock, that I read that the Medway Times had been evicted from its premises last week and that the justification for its eviction was based on the content of a number of its press releases.

As a former legal editor of Palatinate (as Treasurer of the Student Union) I had to read over the content. On a number of occassions the articles over-stepped the mark and I would receive legal letters from media lawyers calling for me to withdraw the article because of libel. It is from that process that I know that proving libel is not only expensive but very difficult; in essence as long as their is a reasoned context to say something from evidence that you rationally believe, its likely it is not libel. If you make efforts to redress, in all but the most serious of cases, there is no further recourse.

The allegation by the Medway Times was that they had been evicted because they printed ad-verbatim the press release of Jack Hope.

What I cant understand is how one press release; they printed ad-verbatim and probably in good faith, could lead to a business being evicted on a whim. Surely, even if this were true, and of course that has to be proved, the appropriate sanction would be to request the paper withdrew the piece and print a retraction; which the paper did when requested as I understand. It should have ended there...

But it didnt end there.

What gets more fishy is that according to the Medway Times a senior politician had deliberately intervened in the process to ensure that the independent website was evicted from the premises. Not only is this a commercial breach of sensitivity but it smells fishy when any party (including my own) tries to control the content of the free media.

If true, and this is an if, it presents a very dangerous step indeed; because in effect a politician has used a contractural loop-hole on 'political organisation' to evict an independent media organisation solely for printing, and it is my belief not with malice, articles which could be deemed to libel.

A paper will have an editorial slant and in many cases a vantage point. The irony in this case is that Times has neither and in my mind was not party political; it printed everything sent to it. It is almost apolitical.

I absolutely understand the online forum has to be careful, but to the public this smells like something an overkill of dangerous propotions. My suspicion is that there is something behind this if someone were to dig.

Maybe there are other issues at play but then why would the editor deliberately lurch out as he did if this were solely an issue on premises and rent.

Allowing this type of incident to occur, without redress, makes it look like that political actions have led to the closing of the modern day equivalent of the print press. The public dont respond well to that type of behaviour; anywhere.

People respond badly when the free press is silenced and especially if there is a perceived political motivation behind it.

Luckily for the Medway Times they live to print another day; elsewhere.

Heathrow and Hoo as Tory Truth outs?

As someone with a big mouth you may say, I actually admire Boris Johnson for his brazen ability to put his proverbial foot in it.

Quirky characters in politics can be a good thing; they can make elections more exciting, engaging and energetic.

Boris Johnson however - gaffe prone that he is - presents a clear and present danger to Medway.

Thus far local Conservatives, many of whom slavishly serve the party machine in Westminster, have dutifully followed the line on Boris Johnson.

Many who actually stood apart from him in December and January are now effectively boosom buddies to him now. Endorsing his every move and whim.

I have expressed my major concern that local Conservatives need to make it clear that if they are now backing Boris, which many on the Peninsula appear to be doing, they are effectively backing the Estuary Airport. Boris is the lead, indeed the arch, proponent for the destruction of the Peninsula and with an electoral mandate for a Conservative in London we will see an elected individual with the full force of millions behind him. It makes the prospect of a full-blown fight, an expensive fight at that from your council tax, all but inevitable locally.

And what slipped out today should send shivers down the spine of anyone living on the Peninsula.

All the debate thus far has been about Heathrow v Estuary Airport and whether one woud need to close to open another. What if, the estuary airport was in addition to Heathrow; a smaller airport in the Thames Estuary.

That prospect today came very much closer when Boris spoke to the Evening Standard:

So there we have it. It is not either / or anymore. It is Heathrow AND Hoo. A very very different position indeed.

Cameron should come clean now; and tell us whether the government is considering the maintenance of Heathrow with additional capacity in the North Kent area.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Running the gauntlet

Another productive day meeting new members and working on a few issues in the ward which should come to fruition at full council in a few weeks.

One thing that is noticeable since 2010 is that there is a real energy and vibe to the Labour campaign locally; be that because we are making a major impact, morale is high with the polls, but because change is afoot. We have some great new leadership and talent coming through; professional, educated and good calibre.

A truly exciting time to be at the thick of it all.

This is not just the same old rhetoric; a Political party in opposition does tend to use the period out of office to renew. Out of office it is easier not to offend people and also easier to challenge those in office. When you have an inept administration with poor calibre and dated cabinet members; senior officers leaving in droves; and a leadership two-some in Chambers and Jarrett equivalent to Laurel & Hardy; it creates an environment in which persuading people as to the utter incompetence of the local Conservatives requires little effort.

Medway Labour is on the verge of a programme of renewal which will cement it as the only party of aspiring power in Medway. When the time comes to step up it will have a transformative programme with a truly progressive agenda.

Meanwhile the ConDem coalition is looking depressed, stressed and datad; The mafia like grip the ruling Tory claque holds authority over its lemming-like back benchers is the most comical of all. Some real intelligence and capability has to slavishy bend over to neophytic incapability; it would be comical if this third-rate band of cabinet alsorans could not see the wood for trees but they dont. How many senior officers will have to resign for them to grip that it is them that is the problem; they have no strategic direction and even less capability. How many more papers will have to be evicted? Journalists sanctioned via complaints to editors? How many programme budgets overblown? How many cabinet member gaffes? How many millions of taxpayers pounds wasted?

The backbenchers need to step up. We have a seeming abundance of weakness and incapability on the Tory backbenchers to stand up and do anything but prostate themselves to hand-quivering cabinet weakness.

Moving on from incompetence in office to those that are about loose all vestiges of office; The Medway Lib Dems do not present a true opposition. A party which is so factionalised it became a rump in Gillingham before 2010; a period of time they could have used to build a proper centre-left alternative, became a fiefdom to the election of a Parliamentary candidate who stood no chance of winning, and who then fell out in a public spat which painted them as homophobic, intolerant and tired. Instead of building up a local election base in areas of Rochester, Chatham and Strood which could have positioned they spent inordinate amount of energy on a futile gesture of vote packing in Gillingham. The election of poor leadership has done immense damage; they seem all but certain to make a major strategic error at the next election in fighting Labour against the tide, instead of trying to build a base to challenge the Tories in Rainham and the outer areas of the towns for 2019.

Lets be generous; The 'Medway' Lib Dems are the electoral equivalent of a quivering corpse

TUSC has evaporated into moaning at inactive male-only Trade Union meetings that represent nobody in the real world. The Greens have no grassroots or local branch structure and seem locally to be a collection of rather pleasant, but politically inactive mates without any strategy. The English Democrats are nothing more then the next poorly attended branch of the BNP as two of their former members have all but acknowledged. In all; there is no realistic prospect of opposition from any of the above.

I believe in local democracy which is why we need capability in office and out. The Medway public deserve pluralism and choice which is why the news UKIP is to field candidates in Medway for Parliamentary and Council elections is welcome for democracy.

I would never endorse or support a UKIP ticket but by goodness they have an opportunity, if any of them reading, had the capability to lead. You could hoover up votes in the 'Conservative-leaving' fiefdoms across the towns and step over the rigor mortis riven Lib Dems.

I will run the gauntlet now; I predict in 2015 that Medway will become a two-party race between an increasingly out-of-touch Tory group, in office but not in power, and a newly resurgent Labour Party under a more dynamic structure and approach.

Despite what some right-wingers say UKIP has a real opportunity to capitalise in 2015 and build a truly right wing and ideologically pure base; will they become the next third party in Medway? A real possibility exists.

The future for our towns is cast but for how long?